Chauncey Judd: Seizure of Henry Wooster
Seizure of Henry Wooster
When the teamsmen had reached a safe distance from the barn, Graham sprang from his biding-place, and began to swear at the unlucky individual, who by his ill-timed sneezing, had so nearly betrayed them. But the comic aspect of the matter, now that the danger was passed, soon rose above every other, and his wrath was smothered under the general laughter. They began to feel, too, both cold and hungry, and resolved themselves into a council of the whole, to devise the means of procuring supplies.
It was finally agreed that Henry should go up to the house of his uncle, taking care not to show his face where it could be seen, and have a fire made in a large fireplace, seldom used, in the cellar, where they might thaw their half-frozen limbs, and get something to eat. When all should be ready, if he found it safe, he was to appear at the rear of the house, from whence the barn was in view, and swing his hat as a signal. His gun should be left behind, but in place of it, he should take Graham's pistol, both for self-defense and to give the alarm if there was serious danger.
During that day, intelligence had been received by Captain Wooster and his family which greatly alarmed them. Mr. Henry Wooster, father of Henry Wooster, Jr., with another gentleman, had been there inquiring after his son. He brought the news, already mentioned in the conversation of Mr. Hazleton at the barn, that David Wooster, Sen., had been arrested the previous evening, and had confessed that his son and Henry were among the robbers; also that he was then in close custody of keepers, under the appointment of a magistrate. Henry's father was in great anxiety for his son, and begged his brother, if he should come there, or if be could get word to him, to send him home at once. This the captain promised to do.
When, therefore, Henry came up from the barn, his uncle informed him of what he had heard, and advised him most urgently to flee. He told him that all Derby, no less than Judd's Meadow and Gunntown, were aroused and engaged in the search for them. There was no possibility of the party, as a whole, escaping. Guards were stationed upon all the roads and at every bridge, and there was no chance for any of them but in dispersing and each looking out for himself the best way he could. Neither was there any time to be lost; the pursuers might be there at any moment. Just then the way was clear, and if be seized the opportunity be might get off safely, but if he waited a single minute he did so at his peril.
The young man was not a little alarmed. He knew that, if apprehended and brought to trial, he could not hope to escape a heavy punishment. The evident anxiety of his uncle moved him, and be saw the situation in which both himself and his companions stood more clearly than he had ever done before.
But, uncle, he exclaimed,
I cannot leave the fellows now. They have trusted me to come up here and get them something to eat, and I can't turn traitor to them.
Neither can you help them by staying. It won't be twelve hours before you will all be caught, any way, and it can't be any worse for them if you an't with them than if you are.
May be not, but it would be mean to leave them at such a time. Besides, we are all nearly starved - haven't had a mouthful to eat to-day. Will you let Toby get them something if I do as you wish?
I don't care what is done if I'm not made responsible for it. He may make a fire in the cellar, and by and by, after dark, they may come and warm, but neither I nor your aunt must know anything about it. We have done enough already to make it dangerous for us if we should be found out.
The arguments and entreaties of Captain Wooster at length prevailed. Henry went out into the wood-shed, in the rear of the house, where the negro was busy chopping and piling wood.
Tobiah. he said,
do you want to help a fellow when be is in trouble!
I does that, Massa Henry, he replied.
Tell dis nigger what he can do, an' he's boun' to do it.
Can you keep it secret too?
Can I? Takes dis child just to do dat. What for should Toby tell what's none of his business?
Well, Tobiah, I've got some friends down in Uncle Daniel's barn yonder-
Yes, massa; I knows dat.
You do - you rogue! Who told you!
Nobody tole me, but I knows it for all dat. I seed 'em dis morning when de cap'n sent 'em off in de snow.
Oh, you did - eh? and haven't mentioned it to any one?
Well, I've come up to make a fire in the cellar, and get them something to eat, but uncle says I'd better not stay till night. He wants me to go down to father's on an errand for him.
Yes, sar; I tinks so too. I'se heerd your fader, when he was here in de mornin', tell all about it.
All about what, Tobiah?
Oh, yer knows well enough, Massa Henry. He said you and David was 'mong 'em.
Well, it won't do for me to stay here, but I can't go away without doing as I promised for the fellows. Get them a good supper down in the cellar, and when all is ready, go out and swing your hat, and they'll come for it. But mind, don't let your master or mistress know what you are about. And if anybody comes to molest them, just fire a gun, and they'll take warning, and get away.
Han't got no gun, said the negro.
Gib me dat pistol I see in your pocket dere, an' den I fire, sure 'nuff.
Well, said Henry,
I don't care. It belongs to Captain Graham, and you may give it to him when be comes up, at the same time drawing the pistol from his pocket. and handing it to Tobiah.
The negro received the weapon with a hand trembling with excitement. He had been contriving all day how be could do something to aid in catching these tory thieves, as he called them, and now, very unexpectedly, the means were placed in his power. He did not know how many there were of the party, but he had seen two of them in the morning, and had learned from Henry's father that Henry and David were among them.
Is it loaded? he inquired, as he took the pistol, and carefully examined it.
Wid a bullet?
No, of course. It's only to give an alarm, you know, in case there's danger.
Wonder if de buckshot I went gunnin' wid t'other day wouldn't fit, said Tobiah, fumbling in a pocket of his ragged trousers. He took out two or three, and placed them in the pistol barrel with a grimace of delight, then, picking up a small twig lying at his feet, crowded these down upon the charge.
Good fit, Massa Henry, he cried. Then straightening himself up to his full height, and at the same time cocking the pistol, he brought it close to the young man's ear, and said,-
No, sar; you no leave here dis night. I knows you one of dem Dayton thieves, and now I'se got you, I takes care of you. You sees what's in dis yer pistol, and if yer tries to run away, yer feels it, too. Now, yer jess go into massa's kitchen yonder mighty quick!
Why, what do you mean, Toby, you rascal, by all this? You an't going to turn against us, are you? I thought you said you wanted to help a fellow when he is in trouble.
I means jess what I say. I'se got you, and now I keeps you. Toby knows what he's 'bout, and I specs yer'll know, too, if yer don't start mighty quick.
The commanding figure of the African, his flashing eyes and resolute tones, overawed the young man. He saw that he had placed himself in the negro's power, and that the latter was in no mood to be trifled with. Stifling his wrath for the moment, he turned and walked into the kitchen as directed, not doubting that his uncle would interpose at once. But he found himself mistaken in this expectation. To rescue him from Tobiah would expose himself to the charge of being an accomplice in their crime, and he hastened away to the bar-room, leaving the two in the kitchen.
Rachel, said Tobiah to his wife, who was at work at the sink,
go tell your fader to come here quick.
Rachel sped away, and presently returned with old Peter, who came as fast as his rheumatism would allow.
Wants yer to help take care of dis boy, said Tobiah.
Bring your clothes line, Rachel.
The order was obeyed, the pistol all this while being held in suggestive proximity to the head of the young man. The latter was now thoroughly alarmed, as well as exasperated. Finding that curses and threats were unavailing, be tried expostulation, and even entreaty, but with as little effect. His captors were immovable. With the aid of Peter, Henry's arms were securely bound behind him, and then the old man was dispatched to give the alarm to the neighbors.