A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 9
The Reply to the Letter.
Several weeks had passed since the arrival of Revell Stacy's letter with its important message to Ruth, but as a reasonable time had been granted for a decision in so important a matter, a final decision had not been reached, and the serious discussion of the subject from time to time postponed, although Matthew Watson was anxious to send a reply, and had improved every opportunity to impress both upon Ruth and her mother the desirability of the former accepting the property on the terms offered by her uncle Timothy, and "remember, Ruth, Revell Stacy does not say that thee can never return to the province."
"Thee has never read me the full text of his letter, and I should be allowed to judge of it by hearing or seeing it," Ruth replied.
Matthew's face flushed as he heard these insinuating words, and he looked steadily at the blazing fire on the hearth, and then, as a reason for still looking anywhere than at Ruth, knowing her searching eyes were upon him, he poked viciously at the burning sticks and caused a shower of sparks to rush up the wide chimney throat. Not until then could he command himself as thoroughly as he knew was necessary, for Ruth was an antagonist, on occasion, that he really feared. She had too frequently divined his thoughts and without apparent interference thwarted his plans.
"Is it not most unseemly, and before thy brothers, too, to cast a doubt upon my words and intentions? I have told thee an estate is at thy command upon conditions, and what more need thee know? Friend Stacy's letter has other matter that is for my eyes and not thine, and am I not standing in thy father's place?" he asked, with some show of emotion but with more of vexation.
"And perhaps not thinking what would have been my father's thoughts."
"Ruth, Ruth!" exclaimed her mother, with a deprecatory tone.
"Mother dear, with the coming of the spring I shall be eighteen years old, and so expected to speak for myself where I only am concerned, and that is but a short time off. Let me have the privilege now, for the importance of this letter will not admit of more delay. Father has said a decision must be reached, and I agree with him." And then, turning to her step-father, she asked, "Am I to read the letter myself, or is what thee has told me all that I am to know?"
"What I have told thee is all that thee need know, as I have already said to thee."
"Then if I err in judgment from ignorance of the truth, the sin will fall upon thee," Ruth replied, with a trace of anger in her voice.
"Ruth, Ruth, do have greater concern as to thy words. Father should have thy confidence."
"Yes, mother, should have," Ruth replied, in a manner that plainly indicated that he had not.
What seemed a long silence followed, the family all gazing at the fire, the parents with troubled faces, the boys curious and looking first at one and then another of the three who were so intimately concerned with the subject under discussion.
Finally, Matthew Watson began moving uneasily in his chair and was about to speak, when Ruth, anticipating him, said, "Mother, will thee not decide for me? I have said again and again I would not leave thee, and thee has said I should not go against my will, but there has been a cloud of sorrow resting upon thee ever since the hateful letter came. It has made me a cause of discontent and worry, as father's actions show, and I would be led by those who should speak for me as to my duty. As Friend Bunting has said to others of me, "I am with you but not of you,' and if not as strict a Friend at heart as my parents, is that not my misfortune rather than my fault? Why will thee not decide for me, mother?" asked Ruth, with her voice trembling with emotion.
"Had thee given more heed to the solemn words of our meetings," began Matthew Watson, in his sing-song voice that made most people distrustful of the speaker without clearly knowing why, "thy mind would not be disturbed—" but Ruth was in no humor to listen to his cant, and cut it short, saying, "I want mother's decision now, and then I can better listen to whatever thee may have to suggest. Do speak, mother," again implored Ruth.
"I cannot, indeed, I cannot," her mother replied, still gazing intently at the fire.
"Thy mother—" again began Matthew Watson.
"Father, this conversation must be between mother and myself. We hold a relation to ourselves with which thee has nothing to do, and I cannot help it if thee is pained by what thee calls my perversity. To go to England means to leave my mother, and she shall decide, and would have decided before this if thee had not so persistently interfered. I can only guess thy wishes from thy guarded words, but it is mother who has to judge of this, not thee. She knew my father, and knows his people well; she can tell me, judge for me. They are world's people, are they not, like the Pearsons?"
"They are not Friends, Ruth, and thy father was disinherited because he became one. They would treat thee kindly, I have no doubt, but thee would not likely remain a Friend; but, Ruth dear, how can I judge in so weighty a matter? Matthew, can thee not lead us to a proper conclusion?" asked Ruth's mother, turning her face towards her husband.
"Mother," spoke up Ruth, quickly, "I will not have father's judgment; I want thine. Did thee not hear what I have said, or will thee not heed thy own daughter's prayer for guidance?"
Again a long silence followed, and it was well. Calmer thoughts came to each troubled breast, and there was reason to believe that the vexed question would be finally solved. Ruth had changed her position, and now sat on a low stool at her mother's feet, with one arm upon her lap and the other around the neck of her brother, who still sat on the floor unmoved, by the chimney corner, awed by the strange and at times angry discussion he had heard. Seated according to her wishes, and as she had so frequently sat for many years, Ruth looked long and lovingly into her mother's face, and then, her eyes brightening and her face that had been drawn and troubled broadening to a sweet smile, she said, "Father, my words were not what they should have been, but my heart was sorely tried; what, if thee will tell me, is thy wish?"
"I have had much concern," her step-father slowly replied, "upon my mind concerning the letter, and given it attention that its importance demands. I have conferred with thy mother and some of our meeting. There is not a unity of thought on the subject, but if thee can find thyself strong enough to remain a Friend, I would advise thy going. Thee is not called upon to change thy faith, and perhaps may be a means of changing others."
As the purport of his reply became evident, Ruth's mother slowly bent over her daughter, until her face nearly touched Ruth's floating wealth of golden hair, and when his last word was spoken, she exclaimed "Ruth!" and began sobbing unrestrainedly.
At that moment there came a loud knock at the door, and even Ruth's mother, who had for long years held her feeling under complete control, although she sat up and with a quick motion brushed away the tears from her eyes, could not conceal all trace of the intense excitement of the past few moments. Ruth made no effort to conceal her feelings.
Matthew Watson rose and went to the door. As it opened, Robert Pearson entered the room, and, with a courteous greeting to all, remarked in his cheerful way of the splendid weather then prevailing and his disappointment at not seeing him, Matthew, at the meeting about the survey of the new road. Then, seeing that both Ruth and her mother wore most anxious, troubled looks, his whole manner changed, and he asked if any one were ill or had bad news been received.
"Matters of great concern detained me, to my regret," Matthew replied, for he was one who did not wish any public matter to progress without his association with it, and the more prominently, the better he was pleased. He took it as a slight if his opinion was not always asked and his judgment requested. Robert Pearson saw that family matters had been under discussion, and he judged of their general character, for he had heard from Ruth all that she knew of the Stacy letter. "Goodness, Cousin Anne, you look as sober as an owl, and Ruth isn't much of an improvement over you. I'm almost afraid to mention my errand." By this time the traces of grief were pretty well effaced, and Ruth thought, as she saw her mother's effort to greet her cousin's chaffing with a smile,—
Grief doth quickly come and go;
How small a thing is sorrow!
To-day 'tis only ill we know,
But all goes well to-morrow.
"I hope I have not called at an unfortunate time and interrupted a family gathering."
"No, no, not at all, cousin; what was thy errand?" asked Ruth, hoping it referred to herself.
"It was to ask if Ruth might not return with me. Mrs. Pearson and the girls greatly desire her company, as we have planned a few simple games and pleasantries for the young folks. You have no objection, I hope." And Robert turned directly to Ruth's mother as he spoke.
Matthew Watson was annoyed beyond measure, but his fear of Ruth, who had finally deferred to his judgment, made him cautious. He waited a moment, and, finding his wife did not reply, said, "I hope, Neighbor Pearson, that thee has not in contemplation any worldliness to further poison Ruth's mind. Her lightness and want of care for spiritual things is a sore trial to us."
Ruth was on her feet in an instant, for she had not wholly risen when Robert entered the room, but a look from him checked her speech.
"As I am in thy house, and in their presence," pointing to Ruth and her mother, "it does not become me to inquire too closely into thy meaning. It sounds like rather a serious charge, this of poisoning Ruth's mind, but it is likely one of those high-sounding phrases so common in your people's mouths, that has very little behind it. Do you not suppose, though not a Quaker, that I have some care for my honor and that of my own house? Really, the more I see of your faith, as it is sometimes practised, the less I am drawn to it. What do you say, Ruth, would you like to come, and will my good cousin, your mother, consent?"
"If Matthew does not object, I am willing," Anne Watson replied, with a suspicion of doubt in her voice as to how her husband might take her words.
Ruth was again about to speak, but felt that her cousin's eye was upon her, and, looking up, caught from him a glance suggesting caution if not silence on her part; but she was too excited not to speak out, and, with fire on her tongue, was about to express her opinion of her step-father, when Robert's pleading look restrained her, and she said, so mildly that Robert laughed, "I will come, gladly; when do they expect me?"
"They hoped that you would return with me, so can you not say, 'I will go,' instead of 'I will come'? Then I shall have the pleasure of your company, and we will make the old oaks ring at the bend in the road and hide behind them when the girls come tearing down to meet us."
The two Watson boys stared as if frightened as Robert Pearson spoke in his cheery way, and the thought vaguely crossed their young minds, what good times the world's people have, and why is it so wicked?
"Father," said Ruth, as she was about to leave the house, "thee may write to Revell Stacy and say that I accept the conditions and will come as soon as I can." She did not look at her mother as she spoke; indeed, she dared not; but after pausing at the door a moment, she returned and kissed her, without speaking.