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Authors: Linda Spalding

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BOOK: The Purchase
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Ruth did not know that Mary told the boys to follow the pigs into the woods the minute they got to the timber lot. She did not know that Mary then forgot her brothers entirely and only applied her vigorous program of instruction to Simus, who listened so ardently. Mary’s instruction consisted of introducing Simus to one new word each day and then stringing the words together into something resembling sentences, although she found that he did best with nouns – things he could touch and feel.
Stone, pig, boy, acorn, tree
. With the help of drawings, these were words he quickly learned to read. Verbs, adjectives, and adverbs were much harder, since she had no way to make a picture of bigness or highness or slowness. Whenever she tried, he grew impatient and even laughed at her. Well, his hands were not idle during his learning process anyway. Listening all the while, he used a drawknife to make octagonal house pegs because Daniel insisted on this odd shape. “No doubt dbook
tellm so,” Simus scoffed, but he came to see that Daniel and the book were right: an octagonal peg held the joists fast. Simus fashioned pegs and Daniel and Ruth applied them to the hewn beams and then to the logs, and by early summer the house had four right-angled sides.

“Mary is with the boy again,” Ruth once complained to Daniel because the friendship chafed at her like scratchy cloth. “Teachin him to read when he should be harder workin.”

Daniel wondered if he allowed Mary to go on teaching Simus precisely because it proved his tolerance. Ruth might well go to Prayer Meeting every day of the week but she would never come up to his fineness of feeling with regard to Simus. And it would not hurt the boy to learn to read simple lists and perhaps even make his signature since he would one day be free. Isaac would provide inspiration, for he was a clever student. In fact, Daniel was bound to prove Ruth’s narrow opinion wrong by allowing Mary to go where he would prefer she didn’t go, although this pride in his own emancipated view would have been harshly addressed by the Quaker Elders if he had not been disowned from their fellowship.

Once or twice Daniel walked down to the timber lot after dark, when everyone else was clammed together in the bed, and on those occasions he heard Simus talking to himself in a whispered voice. Perhaps he was memorizing the alphabet or saying his prayers. Or talking to spirits only such as he could see? Daniel did not believe the listening he did was unworthy. He believed that he was the boy’s protector, although Simus seemed oddly content now sticking to the timber lot with the piglets who were fast growing into pigs. The boys, Simus said, were not yet strong enough, not yet even growed enough to manage those pushing, snorting animals. They were growing alongside them but not so fast, Simus said, when Daniel announced that
the bone was surely healed enough now to bear his weight with the aid of a crutch and that they must begin work on shingles for the house roof. It was then that Simus admitted that he had not been entirely truthful when he said he had never done any house building. He had helped his mother build their cabin in the quarters, he said. He was ashamed of his efforts, however, and knew every inch of his failing. “Yesar. My mam never knowed a night without rain or stick fallin to her head.” Simus concluded that his master must be regretting the day he had bought so useless a slave.

Daniel said kindly, “You will follow my directions, Simus. And in the evenings you will please me and plant out my corn.”

“Miss Root dun plantit out,” Simus replied.

“No, Simus, of course she did not as she would first have to borrow a plow.”

“She plantit wid a pokey stick down da hollow where she strippin trees.”

Turning fast, Daniel ran out of the timber lot toward the hollow. “Ruth Boyd!” It was too much to bear, the utter and futile waste of his family’s provision after his lecture about the loss of garden seeds. “Ruth Boyd!” After months with his family, logic was as foreign to her as Latin. Daniel stopped, put his hands on his thighs, and leaned over to breathe. She is a child still, he reminded himself. But. Then. She is older than Mary by two years. Would Mary take such thoughtless advantage? He commenced to running again, thinking that even fodder would be lost to his cow and pigs. Everything he had hoped for. Because he had married Ruth Boyd. Because his father had been correct.
Thee must find a proper mother for thy orphans
. And the Elders, who had refused to speak to him and turned away from him in the street, who had even barred the door to the Meeting House when he came there on First Day – they
also were right. And when they refused to open the school door to his children, lest there be contagion due to the Methodist in their midst, they were right again! Ruth Boyd was a contagion, a spoiler of things. Still running, still panting, he tried to discern which sin it was that he had committed in marrying her. Neither greed nor sloth nor envy … but he had not wanted to accept advice. Like the prodigal, he had ridden away from his parents’ home without looking back. Marrying Ruth had been an act of pride, and life provided no opportunity to take back his mistake. His children would go hungry. His animals would starve. As he reached the hollow, which bordered the creek downstream, he saw his child bride bent over a line of green sprouts. Daniel pulled to a halt, took a deep breath, and shouted, “Ruth Boyd! What are you doing there?”

When Ruth looked up, she was smiling.

Dear Grandmother Dickinson
,

We name the bean sprouts which are like friends because we have no others and we eat them or dry them to plant for next year because we are farmers now. My papa is a farmer. And with no teacher, no school, no friends or Mother I wish I could live with my grandparents where I could be helpful and of use and provide cheer from

Mary Dickinson June 1799

I
saac and Benjamin followed the pigs while Mary sat with Simus, telling him about Aeneas or David and Goliath or anyone she could think of who might interest him. She drew pictures on her little slate and wrote words above them.
Hero. Horse. Ship
. Then she put the slate away and lay on the ground next to him and told him about the beautiful city of Carthage where Dido long ago lived as a queen. She told him that Aeneas loved Dido and was altogether happy with her but that he sailed away in his ship.

“How he can do it?”

“Aeneas must find a place for his people to be free. They do not want Dido for a queen.”

When Simus did not find this explanation satisfying, Mary told him the story of Joseph and his many-coloured coat, explaining that Joseph was also a slave. She told him about the sin
of envy while Simus used the drawknife to make good roof pegs.

In July, Daniel rode to the Jones place. It was hot and he urged Mulberry to trot so that he could feel some wind on his face. He approached his neighbour without removing his hat or signalling a greeting, and Frederick Jones stopped hoeing and turned to take in Daniel’s straight shoulders and the long fingers that twitched and jerked over his chest as if he were counting. “I have gathered enough stones now,” said Daniel abruptly, “for the chimney that is to be added to my house.” Then he remembered himself. “Good morning,” he added. “I am growing unused to civility.”

Jones chuckled. “A chimney is no addition but necessity,” he said kindly, reaching out to pat Daniel’s long leg. The German settler’s brow was red from the sun, and he took off his neck scarf and put it over his head, giving himself the look of an old woman when he bobbed his head. “And how be those rooting pigs?”

Daniel shrugged. “They are fine, Frederick Jones, but the angle of the flue … on the chimney, you see. I cannot leave it to chance.” He looked at the chimney on the Jones house. “Did you and your son build that? It looks to be very fine. Does it draw well?”

Jones clutched his hoe and stirred it a little in the soil. “No, sir. No … We did not build such a fine chimney piece. My boy is only good as a hunter of game. And pretty girls. The new world, it spoils him for other working. It is Mister Fox over just to the north is the stone man. Irish as he is, and built my chimney making no smoke to come in the house. He would do for you the same if you was to pay him by a pig. You got a roof on yet?”

Daniel said he was ready to make shingles. Did Frederick Jones own a shingle knife? And Frederick went off to find it
while Daniel sat on his horse thinking his thoughts. When Frederick Jones handed the shingle knife over, he told Daniel again to speak to Jester Fox. “A piglet in the autumn will sure to make the deal.”

That evening Daniel told Ruth that he was going to sell the cow. “I have to think of the roof now,” he said. “For shingles, we must have nails.”

Ruth said, “Your children need milk more’n shingles.”

Daniel said, “They need a roof over their heads.”

“There are men without wives who would buy butter if we had a churn,” said Ruth, staring him down, hands on her narrow hips and lips thrust out. “Also wives who are too lazy to churn.”

Daniel hitched Mulberry to the wagon and drove into town, where Silas Murray’s trading post operated out of the front portion of his house. When he returned to his family, he growled at Ruth. “A churn is beyond our means. I have nothing to trade for it but the cow.”

That Saturday, Ruth built a fire and boiled water in the cooking pot. Until now, she and Mary had seen to their own washing, going down to the cold creek furtively with a bit of soap to scrub clothes while they scrubbed themselves. Ruth had never asked Daniel if she could wash for him, but now she told him to bring his shirts and trousers. Mary had good reason to keep her laundry to herself, for some of it was spotted with blood. Was she dying the way her mother died? She was afraid to ask. But fifteen-year-old Ruth would not have had an opinion. Her body was immature and her mind was uninformed. She brought her small pile of clothing outside – all but the linsey dress she was wearing and the bloomers under it. The pile consisted of two brown aprons with plain bodices, a pair of bloomers, a shift, a pair of stockings, and one overskirt. She had already collected the children’s things.

Daniel was lying under the wagon out of the sun and he watched Ruth wipe her face with one of the boy’s filthy shirts. Then he rolled away from the wagon and stood up stiffly, reaching into the bed of the wagon and handing Ruth three cambric shirts and his collars. He handed her a pair of woollen breeches and his extra stockings. Ruth said, “S’posed to be a pastor come Sundee.”

Daniel now offered a misunderstanding: “We shall take the wagon then,” is what he said. He did not say that he would merely drop Ruth at the door of the cabin where the pastor was going to preach. He did not say that what he knew about preaching did not accord with any spiritual example, that the more he heard of such sermonizing, the more Quaker he felt. He did not say that a pastor was a priest and to be avoided.

The next morning he changed into his clean clothes so as to drive Ruth to the Sharpes’ cabin, where the sermonizing would take place. He kept a small piece of silvered glass in the wagon, well away from Mary, who might be tempted to look on herself with interest. The mirror had belonged to Rebecca and now he used it to shave and to trim and comb his hair, asking Mary to see that his collar was put straight. Then he stood forth in his clean clothes, having brushed his hat.

Ruth came out of the lean-to with something sure in her stride as she got herself into the wagon without his aid, tying the ribbons of her straw hat under her chin. She had washed her long hair along with the family clothes and it was pulled into a tight knot through the use of several pins. Daniel clucked at Mulberry as they set out, meaning it as a sign to Ruth that he had noticed her efforts. They were alone together for the first time since the hour he had driven her home from the Methodist Church in Brandywine. No wonder they were aware of themselves, of their newly clean clothes and unfamiliarity. “It is a nice hat,” he said.

Ruth looked out at the landscape she had not really seen, having been bound to the lean-to for several months. All winter she had been pasted, glued, cemented to Daniel’s six acres. Now they were going out.

Daniel remembered travelling to the Meeting House for First Day worship with his family, all of them snug in the carriage, with Miss Patch snorting proudly as they passed other carriages, carts, and buggies. Men would nod and women barely smile. Children were less inhibited, waving and calling out. What contentment used to fill him at such times. He glanced down at the child he had married. For mercy, if nothing else.

Ruth smiled up at him. Nice hat, he’d said. Well then, if he had forgotten that this was the hat she’d been married in, why so he had and what of it, for at that time hadn’t he been full of earned grief? She listened to the wheels against the chalky road. A ping of gravel, a shush of sand. Then, in the unbuilt town, Mulberry was pulled to a halt and Ruth stood up in the swaying wagon bracing her legs.

“Wait,” Daniel commanded lightly. “Until I hand thee down.”

Sitting back quickly, Ruth made as if to smoothe her hair, although it was well tucked under her hat. No one had taught her etiquette. Orphans grew up to be kitchen maids or seamstresses or field hands. When Daniel got out and put his hand up for hers, the confidence she’d felt during the long ride disappeared. At that moment, coming down over the wheel, she was bare of everything. Who, after all, was Ruth? What beliefs did she own? What talents or thoughts? She remembered the landscape of her earliest childhood, but not the faces, not the voices, not the events. Sometimes she tightened every muscle of her mind and tried to bring some part of that formative infancy back, but aside from the smell of apple trees in spring, and the feel of clay between her toes, and the strange song of the almshouse
mockingbirds, there was nothing on which to build a history. Sometimes in the dark of night, she thought she remembered being tied to a tree so as not to run.

BOOK: The Purchase
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