Chauncey Judd

Captain John Wooster's

John Wooster, or Captain John, as he was most frequently called, was one of the five brothers already named, viz., David, Henry, Daniel, Thomas, and himself. His house was on the main road leading to Derby, about midway between the present villages of Oxford and Seymour. It was a large two-story building, with a long lean-to addition in the rear, and was standing till within two or three years past. Captain Wooster kept a tavern of some celebrity, and was himself a justice of the peace, and one of the leading men of the town.

It was to this house of their uncle that David and Henry Wooster, Jr., had brought their associates. The whole party stopped under the adjacent horse-shed, while these two, passing round to the back door, lifted the latch of the house and went in.

Captain and Mrs. Wooster were both in bed, in a room adjoining the long kitchen. The light which had been seen through the windows was in the parlor, on the opposite side of the hall from the bar-room, these two being the front rooms of the house. Here Miss Ruth Wooster, the captain's daughter, was enjoying the company of Mr. Bartimeus Fabrique: the visit, as was usual in such cases, having been prolonged till late in the night.

Being familiar with the premises, the young men drew near to the bed-room door, and spoke.

Halloo, Aunt Eunice! are you asleep?

Who's there? she cried.

Don't be alarmed, said they; it's only we, David and Henry. Sorry to disturb you, but we want to stay here to-night, and there's five or six others outside who would like to lodge here with us.

Well, we can't accommodate them. All our beds but one are occupied. Who are they, I should like to know coming here at such an hour as this?

Oh, they are only some friends of ours, with whom we have been transacting some business; and we started to go to Uncle Henry's at Chusetown, but the storm has come on, and it's terrible hard traveling. You must let them come in, aunt, for it snows awfully, and we can't go any further to-night. We'll sleep round the fire on the floor, rather than stay out any longer, if you can't find beds for us all. Besides, we want some supper, and are sure you have something good that you can give us. We never knew Aunt Eunice's pantry to fail.

Moved by the entreaty and the compliment, the lady consented to get up and see to the wants of her unseasonable guests. In a few minutes she appeared in the kitchen, where the young men had already kindled a blazing fire. By her permission the rest of the party were allowed to enter and bestow themselves around the hearth.

They were, indeed, in need of rest and refreshment. They were weak and hungry, and cold. Calling to her daughter, in the front room, to help her, Mrs. Wooster soon set before them a coarse, but ample meal. A huge platter of cold boiled beef and pork, with vegetables, was placed upon the table, a loaf of rye bread, a plate of lusty doughnuts, and the never failing pitcher of cider. They needed no invitation to gather around and help themselves.

While they were eating, Mrs. Wooster scanned narrowly the faces of the party. She was particularly struck with the appearance of Chauncey, who, she noticed, partook but sparingly, and whose countenance was so worn by suffering and fatigue at to excite her commiseration. Two or three of the others, beside her nephews, she recognized as young men belonging to Gunntown, whom she had before seen at the tavern.

The meal finished, the men gathered again round the fire, where, overcome with their fatigue, several of them, Chauncey included, presently fell asleep. Two or three prostrated themselves upon the floor, and were soon in a heavy slumber. At the same time, the question again arose of a lodging there for the night, when the landlady reiterated the fact that she had but one unoccupied bed, so that it would be absolutely impossible to accommodate more than two of their number.

Well, then, said David, two will take the bed, and the rest of us will do as we can. There's Cady, who seems to have settled the matter for himself on the floor. If we only had some blankets, Aunt Eunice, we might all do the same; it would be a great sight better than to turn out into the snow again, such a night as this.

But I haven't got spare blankets enough for you all, she replied. Besides, to tell the truth, I don't think you had better stay here anyway. I've a strong suspicion that you an't in any honest business. Toby says that he heard just at night that a great robbery had been committed somewhere over in Bethany, and that the robbers had been tracked to Gunntown. He said, too, there was a boy or young man missing, whom, it was suspected, they have murdered or carried off with them. I shouldn't wonder if you were the very rogues!

Oh no, Aunt Eunice, was the reply, half serious and half banter, you don't think so badly of us as that, I hope. The fact is, we have been drafted into the militia to go into the army, and we don't mean to go; so we are just hiding out of the way for a few days.

Militia? Nonsense! There has not been such a thing as a draft lately – you know there ha'n't. Besides, who is that young fellow nodding in his chair there! He looks as if he was ready to drop. I tell you, David, I believe he's the very boy you've stolen, and that you all deserve a hanging.

He? Oh he's all right. Appears to be a little tuckered out now, and so we all are, but he'll be wide awake in the morning.

Well, I don't like the looks of things, continued the lady. There's these packs of yours; what have you got in them? Stolen goods?

Oh, a few things that we are going to carry down to the Landing. May be we can find a nice silk apron, or something else, in them for you;– that is, he added in a lower voice, and with a significant expression, if you'll let us stay, and keep your lips shut.

Mrs. Wooster hesitated, and after a moment's reflection, went into the bed-room to consult her husband. While she was there, David said,–

Come, fellows, she'll let us stay; but as we can't all have the bed, we'll draw cuts for that, and the rest of us will go out to the barn. Not a bad place to sleep in, in a cold winter night, under the hay. I've tried it many a time.

This proposal was assented to by all the others who were sufficiently awake to give heed to the conversation. Espying his aunt's broom standing in a corner of the room, David seized it, and broke off several of the fibres of the corn of which it was made, and cut them into eight pieces of unequal length; then holding them between his thumb and forefinger, he bade each draw one out, it being understood that the two who drew the longest pieces should have the bed.

They all drew but Chauncey and the two sleepers on the floor. Wooster pushed one of these with his foot, exclaiming, Wake up, sleepy-head, and draw for your chance. But the spell in which the latter was sunk was too deep to be easily broken, and muttering something about being let alone, he went off again in a doze.

Let them sleep, said Graham, and I'll draw for them. Here, Wooster, bold your hand to me.

The drawing was thus completed, and the prize fell to Graham and Doolittle.

Mrs. Wooster related to her husband her suspicions respecting her unwelcome guests. He refused to get up, but sent for David, and Henry to come to him in the bed-room.

What does all this mean, boys? said he. Your aunt says that you pretend to be secreting yourselves to escape being drafted into the militia. Of course that is mere pretense. There an't any draft, and you are in no danger. You've been about some mischief, I believe. What is this burglary we've just been hearing of? Do you know anything about it?

We don't call it any such name as that, they replied. Everybody knows that Dayton got his money by privateering and plundering the loyal people on the island. His house was full of goods, which he had brought over from there in that way. What's the harm, we want to know, if we should just carry some of them back again where they came from, even if it be done without his consent.

I can't say what's the harm, replied the captain, but you are in a fair way to find out what's the consequences. If the rebels catch you, that plea won't be worth much, you may depend. Better clear out at once.

Well, uncle, we'll go in the morning, but we can't go to-night. It's awful cold and snowy and besides, we are 'most tired to death.

The conversation continued for some minutes, during which the particulars of the affair were related, including the abduction of young Judd, and the most feasible way of concealment was discussed. Captain Wooster expressed strong disapproval of their conduct, not so much from its criminality as for the danger and disgrace they would incur, and the trouble they were like to bring upon all their friends who should harbor or assist them, and reiterated his advice that they should escape from that neighborhood as speedily as possible. This they promised to do. He advised them, further, if they could not leave that night, to retire to a barn belonging to his brother Daniel Wooster, which stood in the meadow, some sixty rods south of his house. The driving storm would probably cover their tracks, and they might possibly be safe there till the next night.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fabrique, whom Ruth had left in the front room while she went to assist her mother, becoming tired of waiting for her return, followed into the kitchen to see who they were that made such unusual demands upon the hospitalities of the inn. Graham and Doolittle – for the two Woosters were engaged with their uncle, and the rest were asleep – scanned him at first very narrowly; but as he spoke to them in a courteous way, they soon fell into conversation, and presently they were invited to return with him into the parlor. Graham confessed to have recently come from the army; indeed, Doolittle hinted that he was a Continental officer. Of course he had much to tell that would interest his auditors. Finally, the hour having waxed late, Mr. Fabrique drew his watch, and remarked that it was past midnight, and time for him to go home. He rose to leave, when Doolittle interposed.

Don't go yet, sir. You seem to have a fine watch there. Will you let me see it?

Watches were very scarce in those days, and the possession of one marked a person at once as of more than ordinary distinction and wealth. Mr. Fabrique complied with the request, and handed him the watch, – a heavy, old-fashioned silver bull's-eye with a showy seal and key.

The watch was examined with much interest. The case was opened; within which lay a curiously constructed double heart, made of paper of different colors, cut into strips and woven together, the conventional emblem of true love and lasting union. The tell-tale blush on Miss Ruth's fair face left it not difficult to conjecture by whose fingers it had been fashioned.

It is said that the native born New Englander may be recognized the world over by the one question, which is ever on his lips, What did it cost? However that may be, Doolittle vindicated his claim to be a native by making that inquiry now, adding another equally characteristic; What will you take for it? It would be, he thought, something very pleasant to possess, and the money which he had obtained at Captain Dayton's was just in time to enable him to buy such an expensive luxury.

Oh, said Fabrique, I should not want to part with it, I think. I have become very much attached to it, and couldn't think of taking a penny less than fifteen pounds for it, seals and all, hard money, though that may be something more than it is actually worth.

The other had placed the watch in his pocket, or rather under his waistband, in the place where the fob would have been if he had had one, and was admiring the graceful swing of the chain and its appendages. Its attractions were too great to be resisted, even though the price named was exorbitant. Returning for his pack to the kitchen, he drew from it a bag heavily freighted with coin, and counting out fifty Spanish silver dollars, handed them to Mr. Fabrique, saying,–

It's a bargain, sir. Here's the money, good and true, and the watch is mine.

The latter was taken entirely by surprise, for he had not supposed it possible that a person of Doolittle's appearance could advance such a sum as this. At first he demurred to the sale, declaring that he had not made the offer in earnest, but Doolittle persisted in saying it was a bargain, and the gentleman was obliged to console himself as he best could with the reflection that he had received for the watch twice its value.[1]

Just at this time, two horsemen rode up to the tavern, and having hitched their horses in the shed, came to the door and knocked for admittance. Immediately Graham and Doolittle retreated to the kitchen, where they announced the new-comers, and called upon their comrades to stir themselves, and hasten to their place of lodging for the night.

The strangers proved to be residents of Bethany, Dr. Jesse Carrington and Mr. Isaac Hotchkiss, who had been engaged in the search for the gang of robbers. Seeing a light at the inn, they halted to make inquiries. While fastening their horses in the shed, they had perceived a musket standing there, which one of the party had carelessly left; and this excited their suspicions that possibly the persons they were seeking were in that house.

They were received by Ruth Wooster, who informed them that her parents had retired to bed. Their object in calling at that late hour, they said, was to inquire after the perpetrators of the crime just committed, a description of whom was given in the handbills they showed. They inquired particularly if she knew anything about the gun they had found in the horse-shed, or whether any persons carrying muskets had been there the day before.

She replied that two men had taken lodgings at the house that night, whom she understood to be officers in the Continental army, as they were in military dress; but of course these could not be among the robbers. It was possible that the gun belonged to one of them. As to the others, she felt sure they could not be in the house (certain noises which had come from the kitchen convincing her that they had already departed). These positive assurances seemed satisfactory, and the presence of the gentleman who was manifestly keeping company with her explained the light they had seen in the house; so, remarking that it was quite late, and with a sly caution from the doctor not to sit up too long if she would not drive the roses from her cheeks altogether, the gentlemen took their departure.

But they had very nearly discovered the persons of whom they were in pursuit. The alarm which had been given in the kitchen roused the sleepers on the hearth, but so deeply were they under the spell of slumber, that their movements were exceedingly clumsy. Cady had pulled off his wet shoes to dry his feet at the fire, and now found it difficult to put them on again; indeed, in the haste and confusion, he did not succeed in so doing, but was hurried away out of the back door in his stockings. A few minutes later Graham and Doolittle were shown up stairs by Mrs. Wooster, who now re-appeared from the bed-room. The rest, as Captain Wooster had advised, leaped the fence, and piloted by David, who knew the way, were soon snugly ensconced in the bay in his Uncle Daniel's barn.

  1. Rev. Smith Dayton informs me that several years after this, Mr. Fabrique came and paid to his mother, Mrs. Dayton, the money he had received from the robber for this watch, with the interest accruing from it to that time.