A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 7

A Colonial Wooing  (1895)  by Charles Conrad Abbott
Chapter 7: The Sale of the Shallop

Chapter VII.

The Sale of the Shallop.

Winter was fast approaching, but while the dreamy days of the Indian summer had come and gone, there was still a pleasant warmth at noon-tide, and wherever the sunshine found entrance among the old trees along the creek's north shore, one had little thought, while wandering there, of the deep and dreary snows that would so soon cover every winsome feature of the valley. Making some flimsy excuse, the shallowness of which was still too deep for his partner to fathom, John Bishop laid down his tools a little before noon, and saying he might not be back quite as promptly as usual, passed out of the shop. Instead of going towards his home, he walked in the opposite direction, and as he passed a neighbor's cottage, whistled to the dog, that was only too glad to follow. There was much passing in John's mind, as his countenance plainly showed, and while he felt he must have some one to talk to, there was but one to whom he could talk, and she was not accessible; so he whistled for the dog, and petted him extravagantly when he came bounding up to him. Man and dog made there, as they stood beneath the almost leafless trees, a pretty picture. John's brown hair, dark skin, and keen gray eyes, that flashed at times beneath the straight brows that shaded them, were now lighted by the mellow light of a late November day, one of those dreamy days when a man of brains will indulge in a contemplative stroll and be the better for it. There is a hazy, perhaps even an indistinct outlook, but the light is the better for this when we want to conjure up pictures and people and recall loved scenes that linger in the memory; and John, to-day, was in a retrospective mood. He desired to live over again some recent events and to talk about them, but not to the trees or the uncertain birds or to himself. His neighbor's dog would answer by the gleam of intelligence in its nutty brown eyes, and then John could frame such replies as he knew, or hoped, she would make. What a strange compound is a man in love! He has figured in books for many a century, but who has depicted him as he really is? John was no less himself because of a new feeling; other traits were not forced to the background to make room for this new-comer; but could not all the world see that all else had to stand aside, just a little? Even he thought this might be true, and he would that the world were blind. He was only sure of his own feelings, and in that blessed state of hopefulness as to Ruth that enabled him to think whatsoever best pleased him at the moment; but he also knew the storm that would break over his head if Matthew Watson knew positively he was seriously inclined. "What will come of all this, doggie? Come, now: two pats of your tail on the dead leaves for 'good' and three for 'no good;'" but the dog stood up when spoken to, and wagged his tail so rapidly, John could not count. "Well, what does that mean? Is everybody opposed to me, and this means brushing me away. Come, doggie, speak out." And the dog, moved by John's earnestness, gave a low, quick bark. "That is as much like 'yes' as 'no,' so I'll have to hunt up some witch of the woods to tell me my fortune. Come along!" And with the dog running ahead and sniffing at every tree where a squirrel or opossum might be hiding, John walked on and on, following the winding bluff that overlooked the meadows and creek until he came to the three big beeches where the single Indian family of the immediate neighborhood, an old basket-maker and his squaw, had their wigwam. There was no one about, and John sat at the foot of the largest of the three great trees, and looked out over the meadows and beyond them to the river. A boat with hoisted sail was just entering the creek, and another, heading for Philadelphia, was also well in view. "How this wilderness is changing!" remarked John to himself, as he looked about. "Every month brings newcomers, and they do not all remain in the settlements, but keep pushing farther and farther out into the back country. There is every reason to be hopeful; and what if I have so little I can call my own, have I not strength enough in these arms to earn more than my own living? They were strong enough on one occasion, and I think have been stronger. Come, doggie, old fellow, it's time we were going, or William will be sounding an alarm, thinking I am lost." And John Bishop laughed in a cheery way as he retraced his steps; and far sooner than he had made the journey from his shop to the three beeches he was back, and never knew that he had missed his dinner and kept the folks waiting and wondering.

"They have been asking after thee, John," William announced as soon as he entered the shop; "thee has not been to thy dinner."

"Oh, I nibbled a beech-nut and tried to solve a problem and—didn't," replied John, cheerfully. "But who has been here? Thee seems to have had company, from the placing of these broken chairs, which were hardly safe to offer heavy guests."

"Martin Nutt and Matthew Watson have been here. Martin called to see thee about his boat,—the one that plies between here and Philadelphia. He wishes to sell it, and Neighbor Watson has considered the matter and offers to join me in its purchase, and so, if thee still chooses, I will sell my interest in this venture. Thee can readily find a partner or helper, I think. But, John, has thee the money to buy my share?"

"If I had not," John replied, with a trace of anger in his tone and a contraction of the brows full of meaning,—" if I had not, I should not have made the suggestion. But why should I not buy Martin's boat, and let thee keep the shop? I can sail a boat, and thee cannot, and it was Martin's errand to see me, I think thee said."

"It was; but he happened to speak of the matter to Neighbor Watson, and he thought I had better buy it; and then thee knows I have forty—"

"Forty fiddle-sticks! William, I sometimes think thee is almost a dunce, and I'm so tired of hearing of thy forty pounds that I have wanted to have the shop here all to myself. Do follow Neighbor Watson's advice and buy the boat, and have Matthew join thee. But why does Martin Nutt wish to sell?"

"He is going to Philadelphia to open a ship chandlery and not follow the water any longer. He thinks he has earned the right to be a merchant and have an office, so he said, and Neighbor Watson agreed; and, John, when can thee pay me for my share in this venture?"

"Just as soon as we can get William Emley to draw up the necessary paper and thee signs it the money will be in thy hands," John replied, with a glow of amusement that lit his whole countenance and showed what a handsome man he was.

"But I did not know," remarked his partner, astonished at John's promptness in the matter, and not a little distrustful of the course he was pursuing,—" I did not know that thee had so much in hand; thy capital, I thought—"

"Was the ten pounds I put with thy forty. Well, William, I am not supposed to be responsible for thy way of thinking. Does thee not remember that when we started in business here that thee wondered where I got the ten, and supposed that I borrowed them from Robert Pearson? And what of the profits of the venture since that day? Does thee suppose I spend a penny every time I make one? Perhaps thee does; but I don't see how it is to be done, with no shops nearer than Burlington. But thy question calls for an answer, perhaps. There is a little oaken box with iron clasps and a lock somewhere, and there's forty pounds and to spare in it, good, honest, silver money that won't burn thy palms when it touches them."

"I am really sorry to leave thee," remarked William, with a vain effort to think over satisfactorily what John had just told him; "but tell me why, if thee had the money, thy share and mine of the venture, when we started here, were not the same. I thought thee had but ten pounds."

"Thee thought so, but I did not tell thee so. I only agreed to put in ten pounds against thy forty, for I thought my knowledge of the trade and skill in work of certain kinds was worth the difference, and so did thy friend, Neighbor Watson, if thee will but remember."

"It must be all proper, I do not doubt, but forty pounds—"

"Well, William, thee has now a chance to receive back thy money, and what has been thy share of the profits of the venture has proved an excellent interest. But thy capital as now invested is worth something more than the original sum now, and I will make a proper agreement with thee when we meet at William Emley's," John replied, assuringly, and his timid partner felt much more as if every penny due him was to be really paid back, but a flood of conflicting impressions so confused the poor fellow he could find nothing to say. He had been in safe hands while with John, and to some extent knew his business, but what of this new venture with all the glittering generalities that Matthew Watson hung about it? He could not feel so sure. William's brain was of one-idea capacity, and now he was forced to battle with a dozen; no wonder he was miserably bewildered.

After a lengthy pause, painful alike to both men, John remarked, "The season will soon be over for thy new trade, what has thee in mind to do while the river is closed?"

"I had not thought of that, and Neighbor Watson did not mention the matter when he and Martin were here," replied William; and he looked greatly distressed, and his fears of a long unoccupied winter were not allayed when John, with a slightly malicious gleam in his eyes, suggested that perhaps he "could board for the dull season with his new partner."

The poor man was more worried than ever. To lose forty pounds of flesh would have given him no particular concern, but to risk, as he might be doing, as many pounds sterling; that was terrible.

"As thee has never consulted with me about thy affairs, William, it is not my province to be thy adviser now; but I never knew thee was accustomed to sail a boat, even small river craft, and the winds on the river are sometimes full of danger, as we have cause to know; and has thee had any teaching in the matter of general trading? Thee was apprenticed a smith, and can do some things in thy line very well, and I hope to see thee successfully sail the boat that Martin Nutt wishes to sell. Thee knows, of course, that Neighbor Watson cannot help thee in these matters; thee must do all the work."

"But I never even tried to sail a boat; we must have that done by some one who knows how," replied William, becoming more and more thoroughly frightened at the disaster he fancied, with some reason, threatening him.

"Then what will thee do? Sit on the wharf at Philadelphia, while Matthew waits at the ferry?" And John laughed heartily at the picture he drew.

"Thy remarks are unkind, John. Friend Watson would not mislead me," said William, much depressed by his partner's chaffing.

"I would not have thee think that I thought so," replied John; "but really it is thy affair, not mine, and first let us attend to our joint concern. We will send word to William Emley to-morrow and settle this matter of ending our partnership. Then thee can have the ready money, so far as it will go, to buy the boat."

"I will go myself to Friend Emley's and make an appointment," said William, "as I cannot lift a hammer or move the bellows now after so much that has worked upon me." And he took up his hat and coat and went out.

"Poor William," remarked John to himself; "but really it is better that I should be alone."