Chauncey Judd

Returning From Mill

Halloo, youngster! give me ride, said a young man bearing a musket, and having a military sash around his waist, at the same time springing into the cart, in which a lad of about thirteen was sitting. Been to mill?

Yes, replied the latter, with a flourish of his whip, and a word of command to the ox-team which he was driving; and this is the third time I've been after this grist. The water is so low in the river that the mill runs but half of the time. Where have you been, Dave?

Why, don't you see? I've been up to town, to training.

Oh, yes; I forgot. Have to train pretty often now, don't you? I wish I was only older; I should like to go, too. I believe I'd go as it is, if father and the boys were at home; but our folks can't spare me now.

You! What a pity you can't! A pretty soldier you'd make – such a whipper-snapper as that. You couldn't carry a musket all day if you tried; and as to going into the army, you'd die in a week of crying for your mammy.

Well, 'tan't no use talking about it, anyway; for I can't go; that's certain. But I wish father was at home, for all that.

When do you expect him? asked the young soldier.

We are looking for him now every day. Mother had word from him, three weeks ago, that Roswell could walk about some, and he hoped they'd be able to start for home in a few days.

What's been the matter with Roswell?

Oh, don't you know that he's been sick? He took cold one day when they had been out skirmishing, and this brought on lung fever and rheumatism. He was sick a long while, and the doctor said he would not be well enough to join his company again very soon, if ever; so they gave him his discharge. Father went to take care of him. He is better now, as I told you, and we are expecting him home every day. But tell me, David, when is your company going?

Don't know; orders haven't come yet. And it's my private opinion they won't come very soon. The whole thing's pretty much played out, I guess.

Played out! What do you mean by that? exclaimed the lad, with much spirit.

Oh, don't go to firing up before you're hurt. I mean just what I say. Your "independence," as you call it, is all humbug. That 'ere fight on Long Island, which happened a few days ago, has finished that, and no mistake.

What fight do you mean?

Why, haven't you heard of it yet? It was a big one, you may believe. The British pitched into Old Put, and just chawed up about half of his men, and, if General Clinton hadn't been over-careful, might just as well have had the rest. They were all cooped up in a corner with the Hessians behind them, and the general thought he'd keep them there till be could bring his vessels up the bay and take them in front; but Washington, for once, was too smart for him. That night there came up a fog so thick that you could cut it with a knife, and he took advantage of it to send over a parcel of boats, and hurry his men all across the river, before morning, into New York. Sergeant Hickox was up to the muster to-day, and told us all about it. He was not in the fight, but with the troops on this side, and has come home to see about getting some more men sent down there, and some stores for the hospitals. He boasts of the affair as a smart thing, and so it was for the fellows who got away; but the fact is, the rebels got a good sound thrashing, and – served them right, too.

The last words were spoken in a lower tone, and with a slight pause, as if expressing an opinion which he cared not to have reported. They met an indignant response from the young teamsman.

Dave Wooster, you are a tory and a villain! A pretty soldier you'll make to defend the cause of Liberty. You ought to be reported to the authorities. Guess you'll find there's independence enough to take care of such traitors as you.

Well, my pretty one, you'd better go and tell of me yourself, if you want your head broke. But what's the use of getting mad, Chauncey? I an't the only one that thinks so. I've heard lots of them talk this very day. Parson Scovill himself was one. Father and he were listening to the news; and says the parson, 'What a child's play all this training is! 'Tan't of any use. All the Continental army is no more account against the British redcoats than a parcel of squaws. The Assembly at Hartford has no right to take our time this way, and subject the colony to so much expense. Talk about liberty! What do they care for it? Just see what they did to Captain Bronson and Ensign Scovill, cashiering them for speaking their honest sentiments on this subject. They are as arbitrary as the Pope of Rome, and the people won't stand it much longer.'

Did he say that, David?

Yes, he did, for I heard him. He said the whole trouble was brought on by the rich men of Boston destroying the tea. He thought it a mean and contemptible thing that they shouldn't be willing to pay a tax of a few shillings to the king to help bear the expenses of the government. He has to defend us against the French and Indians, and it's no more than fair that we should pay our taxes, like any other loyal subjects.

But Squire Hotchkiss says he's no right to tax us without our consent. Besides, I don't believe anything about his defending us, as you call it, against the Indians and French. Who was it, I should like to know, that took Canada from them a few years ago? Squire Hotchkiss himself was one of the soldiers in that war, and a great many of his neighbors, I've heard him say, went with him. Parson Leavenworth, the minister, was chaplain of the regiment. I think, if anybody ought to be paid, it's our own people, for helping the king get a province that wasn't his before.

Much you know about! I'll take my father's opinion before the old Squire's any day. And I know he thinks much as parson Scovill does. I have heard him say the same kind of things scores of times. He says, now that we belong to England, we are somebody; but if we were independent and had to stand on our own feet, we should be just nobody. We are only a handful of us, put us all together, scattered along the shore a thousand miles, ready for France, or Spain or any foreign nation that chose to do it, to come and plunder us. We have no ships of any account to prevent it, and few soldiers, and each of the colonies is too poor to take care of itself, let alone doing anything for the rest. Here now in Waterbury look at the families. Half of them are starving. You can't get any money; and if you could, it wouldn't be good for anything. Father sold a cow last week, and took his pay in paper dollars, and it make a pile so high that he couldn't get it into his pocket-book.

Well, said Chauncey, plying his whip with unwonted severity upon the loitering cattle, 'tis rather hard times I know, – at any rate up at our house, – but for all that, we an't going to give up yet. We had a tolerable good harvesting of rye this summer, though, father and the boys being gone, it was rather tough on me to get it thrashed. However, the girls helped me and I got enough to make a grist, and we are going to have some bread. Father will be here pretty soon, and that will be a comfort. And I tell you what, David Wooster, the country will never submit to the rascally Britishers till we have had worse times than any we have seen yet. Be sure, I'm only a boy now, but I shall be bigger if I live; and when the old folks are dead or discouraged, the boys will take up the cause and fight it through. Mother and the girls haven't made a cup of tea for months, and they would not any more than they would brew poison. I believe every one of them would shoulder a musket, and march into the army to-morrow, if it were necessary, and shame you tories and cowards. Depend upon it, Dave, the cause is just and right, and it'll come out right by and by; you'll see.

Oh, blaze away, you young bantam! I don't care for what you say. I thank you for my ride, anyway. When Roswell gets home, I should like to see him. He'll have a good deal to tell us about the war, and maybe I'll run over some evening and have a chat.

So saying, the young man leaped from the cart as they reached a corner of the street, and turned down the road westward in the direction of his home.

But it is time that we more formally introduce to our readers the speakers in this colloquy.

David Wooster, Jr., and Chauncey Judd were members of two neighboring families, living in what was called, after certain of the principal inhabitants, "Gunntown," an out-district in the southwestern part of the town of Waterbury, in Connecticut. David was the older of the two, being of an age to be enrolled in one of the militia companies of the place, although boys of sufficient size and strength were sometimes admitted into them under the prescribed age. He was a stout, young man, with dark eyes and black, curling hair, fearless in his disposition, and with a sort of generous roughness of manners and speech that made him a favorite among his companions. We have not repeated all the terms with which he was wont to garnish his conversation – terms which he used, as many a thoughtless lad beside him has done, under the mistaken idea that they imparted force and smartness to his sayings. The two boys had sometimes attended the same school, which was usually kept a few weeks in the winter in that district, and had often met in their ordinary employments, as well as at huskings and raisings, and the other occasions which brought the people of the neighborhood together, so that a familiar, if not an intimate, acquaintance existed between them.

The interview above described was in the fall of the year 1776, one of the most gloomy periods of the war of the Revolution. The declaration of independence in July, which stirred to fresh enthusiasm the hearts of the patriot citizens, had been followed, a few weeks afterward, by the disastrous battle on Long Island, in which the Americans had lost five hundred men in killed and wounded, and over eleven hundred prisoners. The latter were confined in the hulks of old vessels in New York Bay, where they endured those fearful sufferings which made the name of the "British prisonships" a word of terror and indignation throughout the land. Requisitions were immediately made upon the colonists – or states, as they now began to call themselves – for fresh troops, and the business of recruiting men, and furnishing ammunition and commissary stores, was being vigorously prosecuted all over the country.