The breakfast in the barn was dispatched speedily
and in silence; and then Graham, drawing
his pipe from his pocket, and lighting it by a
flash from his pistol, seated himself upon an upturned
bushel measure, and called his men to order for
consultation. As to their own movements, they must
wait, of course, for David's return before they could
decide. Meanwhile another inquiry, of no less importance,
was, what should be done with their captive?
They could not talk of this very freely in his
presence; so one of their number was directed to take
him aside to one of the stables, where he would be out
Their meeting with him was the one misfortune
which threatened to upset all their skillfully devised
plans. They had so arranged their proceedings the
night before, that the alarm awakened by the robbery
should be turned in an entirely different direction, and
believed that nobody would think of looking for the
perpetrators of it in this out-of-the way region. Three
of the party belonged here; two others had relations
in the vicinity; so that their presence would occasion
no suspicion. Graham and Martin might easily be
concealed, it was thought, till a convenient opportunity
should be afforded for getting away. But now that
they had stumbled upon Chauncey, all this went for
naught. If he was released, he would disclose their
secret and concealment would be impossible. If he
was not released, his disappearance itself would create
an alarm, in that very neighborhood, which would
surely lead to a discovery.
The consultation was earnest, but brief. The exigencies
of the situation were too obvious to need
long consideration. It was very clear that they could not stay
in Gunntown, and equally clear that they must not
release their prisoner. But what should they do with
him? He might be kept in confinement at Mr. Wooster's,
or some of the other tory houses, till they could
get away; but this would be at the utmost peril of
their friends, or whoever should be engaged in it.
They might take him along with them; but he would
encumber their flight, and expose them every moment
to discovery. To every suggestion they could think
of, there were insuperable objections.
At last Graham, waxing impatient, exclaimed, with
What a fuss you make about the boy! I say
now, there's only one thing to be done, and if it an't
pleasant, you have to come to it. We must put him
out of the way, and then run for it. "Dead men tell
no tales," you know. In time of war, it's kill or be
killed; and when it comes to that, I an't long in
choosing which. Probably it is something worse
than that now. It is kill or â€“ Newgate, or some such
cursed nonsense as that.
The rest of the party at first stood aghast at this
speech. Bad as they were, they were not yet prepared
for downright murder. And yet, it was easier to object
than it was to find any other way out of the difficulty.
Graham was resolute, and, as he was wont to
be when opposed, overbearing. They needn't soil
their lily hands, he said; he would do the job himself.
Let them show him a place where the body might be
easily disposed of, and he would soon relieve them of
the burden. He only wished he could get rid of the
whole Yankee race as easily.
At that time the low grounds adjacent to Mr.
Gunn's house, now a beautiful meadow, were covered
with a thicket of alders and swamp willows. Through
this ran the Longmeadow Brook, a good-sized millstream,
then, under the melting of the snows and copious
March rains, flowing in full banks, and with a
swift and strong current. In this thicket a deed of
crime like that suggested might be committed without
molestation, and any one of the numerous eddies of
the brook would afford a place where a body might be
sunk out of sight. After a little more demurring from
some of the party, it was concluded to take the lad
The distance from the barn to the swamp was only
a few rods, down a lane, between two stone walls,
which served the cattle as a path to water. Calling
Chauncey and his keeper from the stable, the men set
off down the lane, after reconnoitering the house and
road, to ascertain that nobody was in sight. The
young man perceived, from the manner of his captors,
that something final had been decided on his fate,
and began to beg for release. He promised most solemnly
that he would keep his meeting with them a
secret, but it was without avail. Little was said to
him in reply, and the whole party only hurried forward
as fast as possible.
An open spot was found among the bushes, near
where the stream made a deep pool of dark water,
flecked with foam from the rapids above. Chauncey
was dragged to the brink, and bidden to fall upon his
knees, while Graham, with a loaded musket, withdrew
a short distance from him.
Young man, he said, in a low, but determined
you must prepare to die! We are very sorry
it has come to this, â€“ sorry that we met you at all, â€“
but it can't be helped now. It's hard, I admit; but
you are young, and haven't so much to answer for as
some that are older, and that's in your favor. So you
must make the best of it and submit. Say your
prayers as quick as you can. We have no time to
waste, but will give you ten minutes to do it in.
We cannot attempt to depict the consternation of
the poor lad at this announcement. Dark as his forebodings
had been, he had not dreamed of this, and the
sudden shock almost deprived him reason as well as
speech. Rallying again in a moment, he instinctively
fell on his knees to beg for his life. He besought them
to have pity upon him. He protested that he had no
wish to injure them, and repeated the most solemn
promises, that if they would release him, he would
never reveal their presence in the neighborhood to any
human being. He turned to the young men with
whom he had been acquainted, and whom he had met
at huskings and merry-makings, and entreated them
to save him. All seemed in vain. Graham stood immovable,
with his watch held forth in his open hand,
counting off the minutes as they passed.
Three, four, five!
God in heaven! cried the boy, frantically,
me! Oh, mother, mother! â€“ for in the hour of mortal
anguish, the heart leaps unconsciously to hide itself
upon the bosom which was so oft a safe place from
infancy's fears â€“
save me! save your boy!
Seven, eight! said Graham, in unaltered tones.
The of the lad sank into a low inarticulate
moan of despair. The robbers stood like statues
in silence, but with faces that revealed some misgivings
within. It must have been a hard heart indeed
that could resist such pleadings of innocence and
Nine, ten! time's up! exclaimed the captain,
returning the watch to his pocket, and raising the
musket to his shoulder.
At that moment Henry Wooster sprang forward
and clapped his hand over the muzzle.
No, captain, said he,
don't fire; it's too
Get out of the way! thundered the ruffian,
I'll blow your hand off!
Almost at the same moment both Cady and Scott
interposed, rushing in between him and Chauncey.
Wooster seized the gun and raised the muzzle into the
air. He was, though slender, a powerful young man,
and once roused to his full energy, was not to be trifled
with. With an oath that outdid for the moment
the captain's own, he said,â€“
You shan't kill him! He hasn't done us any
harm, and it's a mean, cowardly trick to shoot an unarmed
boy like him, just to save your precious carcass.
You've got to shoot me first!
And me! Â
And me too! cried
and the planted themselves firmly as a screen before
the kneeling figure of the youth.
Graham was pale with rage. He vented his anger
in the most passionate curses. But he saw that he
must desist from his purpose, at least for that time.
Great as was his influence over men ordinarily,
there was a point beyond which they would not go.
That point was reached, and he was obliged sulkily to
Before the altercation had subsided, a rustling was
heard in the thicket near by, and suddenly David
Wooster sprang into the open space among them.
Are you crazy, men? he shouted, in a hoarse
I heard you swearing clear up to the barn,
and in that way found out where you were. If you
are going to wrangle like this, we shall have all the
rebels in Waterbury down upon us before night.
What's the row, anyway?
Oh, David! cried the respited boy,
Don't let them shoot me!
Shoot you? Of course he won't I say, Captain,
Judd shan't be hurt. He's an old schoolfellow and
neighbor of mine, and I'll stand by him if he is a
Come, fellows, he added;
I've seen the old
folks, and the coast is clear. We can stay there safely
till night, and then we'll see what's to be done. But
don't go back to the barn now. Keep along here in
the swamp, out of sight, till you get near the house,
and then mind your chance, and you will get in without
being seen. Our things will be safe where they
are for a while, and father will send a team, by and
by, to take them home.
So saying, he led the way, by paths with which he
was familiar, through the swamp and the adjacent
fields, till they all arrived safely at Mr. Wooster's.
Henry and David kept Chauncey near to them, not
only to prevent his escape, but to secure him from
harm by Graham, who muttered imprecations on his
soul, if he was going to be foiled by a set of white-livered
cowards like them.