Search for the Fugitives
Let us return briefly, and trace the progress of the pursuit.
The party that were in search of the missing boy, being joined with those who had come from Bethany upon the track of the burglars, set forth from Mr. Judd's with eager expectation. The latter were on horseback, the former mostly on foot. Nearly all were armed, and fully resolved, if the plunderers made any resistance, to shoot them on the spot.
A few minutes brought them to the house of Mr. Jobamah Gunn. That gentleman had returned from his early morning ride, and professed entire ignorance as to the men they were inquiring after. He declared positively that they had not been at his house, nor did they find anything there to contradict his assertion. At the barn, however, there were very manifest traces of somebody besides the usual employees of the farm. The hay in the bays bore the appearance of having been tumbled about in an extraordinary manner. On the barn floor were found some remnants of a meal – a bit of bone, a crust of bread, and a fragment of fat sliced ham; and on one of the beams, a short tobacco pipe, which seemed to have been laid there and forgotten. The family professed to be unable to account for these, Mrs. Gunn protesting that she knew nothing of what had been done in the barn. The kitchen woman, however, was not skillful enough to evade their inquiries. Tangled by their sharp cross-examinations, she was at last obliged to confess that some men had slept in that place the night previous, and that these had compelled her mistress and herself to get them breakfast that morning, but they went away early, and where they then were she did not know.
Satisfied that they were on the right track, the pursuers pushed on rapidly, and soon reached Mr. Wooster's, as related. A portion of them stopped at the barn, where he and Seeley were threshing, and a part passed on to the house.
Short and unceremonious were the greetings which in those days were used when persons of opposite political parties met.
So saying, they dispersed themselves through the barn and outhouses; they looked under the hay and the grain; peered into oat-bins and stables, and wherever else it was possible the robbers or their booty might be concealed, but of course they were not successful. Then they passed on to the house, where a similar work was already going on.
The chambers and attics were examined, the beds overhauled, kitchen, pantries and wash-room visited. Then they went below to the basement kitchen and cellar. Nothing positive was found here, for the table and dishes used at dinner had been removed, but the fire still burning on the hearth, and the odor of tobacco, suggesting recent occupation, excited suspicions.
Mrs. Wooster, meantime, played her part to perfection. She had seated herself at the kitchen table, working over a pan full of newly-churned butter with as much apparent composure as if it was only a children's frolic which was going on. To their questions respecting the suspected persons, she only replied that they were not there, and she did not know where they were. As to the fire in the basement, about which they inquired, she said that she had been doing some kitchen work there, and that Seeley had been in once or twice, who, like other old soldiers, was an inveterate smoker, as they very well knew. These representations, with the evident good order of the house and the quiet demeanor of its mistress, were already producing some misgivings as to the result of their search, when suddenly a clew was obtained in a quarter least expected.
Mr. Wooster, we have before stated, had a large family of children. Two of these were of feeble intellect – not, indeed, wholly idiots, but destitute of ordinary understanding, and never able to take care of themselves. Whether these had any dim perception of the meaning of the unusual commotion in the house, or were simply captivated by the finery of the presents which David had made to his mother and sisters, we know not. One of them, however, having watched the course of the proceedings for some time, drew near to Mr. Judd, whom she had before seen, as he had called at the house, and with a meaningless giggle, exclaimed, –
The poor girl shrunk away abashed under the imperious command. But the clew had been given.
Mrs. Wooster saw that she was involved in a dilemma from which there was no apparent way of escape. She knew that goods of the description referred to were in the house, although all the men but David had carried away their packs with them, and from the resolute purpose and increasing number of the pursuers, she could not doubt that they would make good their threatening. She began likewise to see the dangers to which these proceedings were exposing her husband and all the family, as well as herself. At last she said,–
So saying, she departed, but soon returned with the aforesaid garment, and one or two similar articles which had been given to herself and others of the family. These were recognized as answering to the description contained in the advertisement. As to any knowledge of where David and his confederates then were, she declared positively that she had none.
A consultation was then held by the searching party as to the course to be pursued. It was evident that the gang of plunderers were not there, and equally evident that they had but recently left. Of course Mr. Wooster and his wife were both guilty of harboring and concealing them. Deacon Lewis, by virtue of his authority as a magistrate, ordered that the former, together with William Seeley, should be arrested and put under keepers, and that a sufficient guard should be stationed in the house to apprehend the robbers themselves if they should return there.
It was now near night, with all the symptoms of an approaching storm. The raw east wind of the morning had increased in violence during the day; the dark clouds, which had drifted northward, settled in a leaden pall over the sky; and the snow-flakes began to fall. Squire Lewis, Mr. Judd, and others of the elderly men of the party, prepared to return home, while the others declared their intention of pushing on further.
That night was a sleepless one at Mr. Judd's. He had himself returned from the pursuit shortly after dark, and reported the facts which had been ascertained as to the robbers, confirming the theory they had entertained that Chauncey had been carried away by them. Indeed, the elder David Wooster and Seeley, after their arrest, finding that longer denial was useless, confessed that the robbers had been at his house, and that the missing young man with them. The intelligence, while it relieved the suspense occasioned by their entire ignorance as to what had became of him, only turned their solicitude into new channels.
His captors were a set of ruffians who would not scruple at anything necessary for their own concealment. What severity or abuse they might inflict upon his could not be known. Their own condition must be a hard one, exposed to a driving storm, obliged to fly from one refuge to another, and subject to fatigue, loss of sleep, and constant apprehension of discovery, in all which, except the last, Chauncey himself was compelled to share. He was a slender youth, tenderly nurtured, and little accustomed to such hardships. So the mother's imagination depicted the sufferings he was enduring, and with the acute sensibilities of her own affection, suffering with him in them all.
The neighbors gathered there, both to manifest their sympathy and to learn what report came from those who had gone in pursuit. Ditha Webb had been there all the afternoon, and though the evening was growing late, could not persuade herself to return home. Indeed, she would not have dared to pass on the road where that dreadful party of men had been the night before and so accepted the urgent invitation of the family to stay with Ruth and Anna all night. From time to time some of the young men engaged in the pursuit returned, bring word of the progress they were making, and of the thousand rumors and surmises that were flying about, which ministered fresh fuel to the excitement, and kept all minds in a state of most painful expectation.
It is in such an hour as this that the devout heart
turns instinctively to the divine sympathy and help.
Mrs. Judd sat apart from the group of young
people that chattered incessantly, with one or two
of her little ones by her side,their hands clasping her
own, and their heads nestling upon her knee. Like
the mother of Samuel,
And there was given to her the answer which has so often come on the white wings of peace to the distressed – the consciousness of the Savior's presence, bidding her trust in him, and assuring her that he would care both for her and her child.