A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 12
Straightening the Lines.
Robert Pearson and John Bishop were so frequently seen together that it was but a short time before gossip had made them its victims, and the women were all agog to know what it meant, and John was always absent from Fifth day meetings and with his wits in the clouds on First day. He was a changed man, it was commonly said, and of course because led astray by the worldly Robert Pearson. Both men heard rumors to this effect, and let them pass unheeded. There was a steady growth in the population, and that was worth considering, and ship-loads of new-comers were soon expected. Such facts made them busy men, and, eminently practical, they foresaw the increased value of their lands and were ready to increase their acreage as opportunity afforded. The creek was the only water-way leading to Philadelphia, and the roads were of little use. Better shipping facilities should be provided. Whenever John could spare the time he and Robert were to be seen passing and repassing the ground, and they had kept William Emley pretty busy in surveying. For their own advantage, whether they proposed to retain or sell, it was decided by them that the whole region should be replotted, and various metes and bounds more definitely fixed. In this matter, which far more concerned Robert with his thousand acres than John with his hundred, it became necessary to consult with Matthew Watson, for to exactly define the limits of his tracts along the creek and those of Robert Pearsons was no easy matter; but Matthew was suspicious, and claimed he knew just how his property lay, and Robert ought to, as its former owner; and was not every foot of it recorded in Revell's Book of Surveys? What more did he need or could any one ask?
"The cost will be but trifling," Robert urged, "and a general resurvey of this whole valley with its tracts of marsh will prevent disputes that may arise in the future. Do you see that great ash-tree at the bend of the stream? Is it on your land or mine? Is it a boundary tree?"
"It is my corner, where it abuts against Hutchinson's land."
"So I supposed you'ld say. If you'll read the deed over again, you'll find it's the small ash twenty feet to the westward that marks the line. Freshets have carried off monuments, winds have uprooted trees, and if you wanted to put up a fence, you would be puzzled in the particulars, if right in a general way. I have induced John to buy the Hutchinson marshes, for some day, if ditched and banked, they will become excellent pasture, and what he does not buy I will take myself. We have seen the proprietor and agreed upon the price."
"Why was I not consulted?" asked Matthew, impatiently.
"About what,—our business?" replied Robert. "And since when have you shown such friendly interest in our affairs as to wish to advise with us? Really, Friend Watson, your manner is a puzzle to me. Would you have bought the unsurveyed tracts that have been begging for a purchaser since you came to the country? Before the passing of the deeds we purpose having the tract again surveyed, and the new survey compared with the old, and if our neighbors will not join us, John and I will form ourselves into a meadow improvement company, and perhaps some day startle the valley with a project to build wharves, deepen the channel, and generally cause a peaceful revolution. This is not a mere boast or an over-statement, John, do you think?"
"It is the subject of our thoughts of late, certainly, and is, I trust," said John, turning directly to Matthew Watson, "a proper concern for me. As the Friends in this township and in Nottingham so greatly outnumber all others, is it well that they should take no interest in the general betterment of our estates? You that have families should surely consider the welfare of those who have been intrusted to your care."
"Quite a sermon," whispered Robert, with a sly nudge that Matthew did not notice.
"I am inclined to thy views, John," Matthew deigned to admit; "but my surprise is that thee did not consult with Friends before entering upon such an enterprise. It was my advice, I think, that led thee to establish thy shop."
"Oh!" exclaimed Robert Pearson, with his eyes turned skyward, thinking, "Is that a sample of a Friend's veracity?" For it was he, and he alone, who had brought John Bishop and William Blake together.
"Well, Neighbor Watson, we cannot stand all the day idle, you know. John and I have an engagement, and will carry out our plans without you. The weather is superb, the meadows dry for a wonder, the frost is all gone, and yet it is but the middle of the month. The shop is in good hands, John's help being a very skilful man."
"Thee may be as rash as thy fancy that the winter is over; there will be snow and sleet yet." And Matthew turned away, glad, it would seem, to say something disagreeable in reply to Robert's abounding cheerfulness.
It was a splendid afternoon. The whole earth seemed upon the point of awakening. There was warm sunshine, a clear blue sky, the winding creek, now almost free from ice and glittering like polished gold; and everywhere faint traces of green showed in the sheltered nooks, where the warmth of the sun was held as one might hold water in the hollow of the hand. The air, the trees, the leafless shrubbery, alike were filled with birds. Over the meadows gathered the redwings fluting merrily; the grakles in the tall trees spluttered and croaked, as though they were hoarse from overmuch rejoicing; the wild-fowl, returning from the south, curved in and out among the scattered trees that bordered the creek's crooked channel, and whistled and chattered where they gathered in the shallow pools that dotted the marshes. Everywhere in the broad landscape there was abundant evidence of life, and above all other sounds rose the deep rattle of myriad frogs. Robert, loving more and more the wide landscape that had been so long familiar to him that it had entered into his daily life, touched John upon the arm and said, "Is this not beautiful? Do you remember a prettier scene in old England?" And without waiting for a reply continued: "And then to think, John, it is our home. What comfort in the thought we are not subject to the whims of a landlord, eh?" And Robert waved his arms about him, as if he would embrace the nearest tree and kiss it.
John smiled at his enthusiasm, but his thoughts were running in another channel. "If I mistake not, there comes Ruth; is she going to thy house?"
"I suppose so from the direction she is going; and that reminds me, John, have you taken my advice?"
John's face grew very red and he tried to turn the conversation, but Robert saw his aim and diverted it. "I believe you have, and she has not said thee 'nay,' or you wouldn't get so fiery red. Remember, John, I have a right to speak since our last conversation. But what of this plan of her going back to England for a fortune?" asked Robert, with a sneering tone as he spoke the last words. "Will you go with her?"
"How can I, with all these ventures in land upon my hands? I have hopes yet that she will not go; but if she does, I shall have to go after her and bring her back."
"If I can prevent it, she shall not go," said Robert, with an emphasis suggestive of an oath.
"But how can thee?" John asked, with much interest.
"How old is Ruth?"
"Eighteen in Third month next."
"Not eighteen until May; that's bad," said Robert, thoughtfully.
"Why, may I ask thee?"
"Until then she is a child and must obey her parents."
"Obey her mother, I suppose. Has Matthew any legal right over her?"
"His having supported her all these years would give him right, I suppose, but not if Ruth's mother had something from her first husband and she has supported Ruth, and I think that is the case. It would be an ill-judged step to interfere, but if Ruth will join us, if she really loves you and you her, why not circumvent Neighbor Watson? Plots and counter-plots, eh, John? Why, it is like reading a play of the olden time. We were going to straighten some lines in the meadows to-day; let us see if we cannot straighten some of the lines in Ruth's life and yours, John. Come, let's step about and join Ruth before she reaches my lane, or the girls will see her coming and you'll have no chance to get in a word." And Robert took John by the arm and they hurried in a new direction, the former full of the new plan and eager as a boy for the bloodless fight, while the latter had ideas in plenty, but just now in a bewildering state of confusion.