Chauncey Judd: A Quilting Party
A Quilting Party
Year after year passed, and still the war dragged on. The battles of Trenton and Princeton had revived the drooping hopes of the patriots, and the capture of Burgoyne had gained for them the powerful assistance of France. Still it was an exhausting struggle. Thousands of men were called away from their homes and occupations, many of them never to return; labor was interrupted, the credit of the nation depressed, and the prospects of a successful issue seemed as remote as ever. The courage of the patriots, however, did not fail them, and from the very prolongation of the war rose a forlorn hope that the British cabinet would at length be convinced of the futility of their endeavor to conquer a people so determined, and ultimately concede their independence.
It was a bright day in March, 1780. Though spring according to the calendar, it was still winter in fact. Snow yet covered the ground, the buds showed no signs of awakening life, and the keen winds, blowing as only March winds can, kept the world still prisoner under the reign of the Frost King.
On the evening of that day, Judd's Meadow was enlivened with one of those festive occasions characteristic of the times one hundred years ago - a quilting. A young couple of the neighborhood was soon to be married, in anticipation of which the bride expectant invited her friends to assist her in completing that most indispensable article for housekeeping, a bed-quilt.
Marvelous achievements of industry and skill were those ancient specimens of patchwork. By some inexplicable rule of computation their value seems to have been estimated in exact proportion to the number of pieces of which they were composed. The gathering of these had been the work of years. They consisted largely of bits of the materials from which the dresses of friends and relatives, near and remote, had been made. Such a piece, you would be assured, was of sister Sally's wedding gown, such another was from cousin Hannah's. That chintz flower was from the dress of the minister's wife, that she wore on the very day of the ordination. This scrap was from the wardrobe of Lieutenant Lewis's second wife, who was the rich widow Hopkins, you know. Here was a bit from Mrs. Dr. Bird's wedding gown, which she first pieced into a cradle-quilt for her eldest baby, etc. Of course fragments of bridal robes and baby dresses were most precious of all. The fitting and sewing of these had been long going on, perhaps even from childhood; and now, as the eventful day, so full of hope and promise, draws nigh, the piecing is completed, and the final process of quilting is to be performed.
The invitation had been given on the previous Sunday, and on this blustering Tuesday afternoon a merry group of girls are assembled around the quilt-frames. in the best room. A blazing fire in the wide, old fireplace roars, and sparkles, and snaps, as if to do its utmost in adding warmth and cheer to the occasion. Fingers and tongues move with equal speed: quaint figures, in circles, and crescents, and stars and triangles, grow under the needlework, and by the time the daylight fails, the task is completed, the quilt cut from its frame, the room tidied of its disorder, and all is ready to welcome the guests of the evening.
I know not how it was that this piece of purely feminine industry could never be wholly finished without the aid of the young men. But such was the fact; and though these did not participate in the actual labor, yet it is unquestionably true that the expectation of their presence led to the production of many more quilts than would otherwise have been made. The evening was devoted to merry-making. Not infrequently a fiddler was engaged to officiate; but he was not always to be had, and indeed his presence was not, in the best families, quite approved. There were plenty of plays, however, to supply the lack. There was
button, button, and
roll the trencher, and
marching to Quebec, and
oats, peas, beans, and the
cushion dance, and
blind man's buff, and not least, if last,
running 'round the chimney, for which the structure of the houses in those days afforded splendid facilities. And then, at a seemly hour, rarely later than midnight, the party broke up, and the delicious after-play of
going home with the girls, followed; in regard to which we have this singular fact to record, that no matter how long or rough the road, or dark the night, no one either thus attendant or attended was ever known to complain of either.
At the quilting to which we have referred, the young people of the Judd, Williams, Hotchkiss, and other families in the town, were present; and on this occasion Chauncey Judd, for the first time in his life, ventured to offer himself for escort duty to a young lady on her way home. Her name was Ditha Webb, and she lived about half a mile west from Mr. Judd's, on the old road leading to Gunntown. Her father was a day laborer, working for the most part for Mr. Jobamah Gunn, the rich tory farmer near by. She was a sprightly girl, beaming with good nature, and something of a favorite among the young folks. Her mother was frequently employed by the neighboring families to assist them on special occasions, and in this capacity, as tailor or seamstress, she had worked for Mrs. Judd in cutting and making garments for her numerous household. Ditha was quite intimate with the girls of the family, and often found time of an afternoon to ramble with Anna or Ruth for berries and flowers in the fields.
Chauncey was now in his sixteenth year, tall, slender, with light-blue eyes and fair, brown hair. Naturally he had a poetic temperament, though be knew little of what poetry was. He felt the beauty of the landscape as it lay stretched out before him; of the hills and valleys, and the blue arch of heaven above; of the green foliage of summer, and the ermined mantle and hoarse voices of the winter. Especially did he feel the attractions of a fair face and a winning smile, though his own timidity made him repel with ingenuous blushes any intimation from his ruder companions of such a weakness as this.
Therefore it was with a beating heart that he made up his mind to offer his services that night as an escort to Ditha. He heard her voice in merry laughter from the room whither the girls had gone to don their hoods and cloaks, and when, with forced courage, he met her at the door when she came out, and asked,
May I have the pleasure of seeing you home, Ditha? and received her prompt reply,
Thank you, Chauncey, at the same time putting her little mittened hand within his arm, he felt that he was a lucky fellow, and that Ditha was as good as she was pretty.
They reached her home, as Chauncey thought, in an incredibly short time, and as the hour did not seem late, he accepted her invitation to go in. Mr. and Mrs. Webb had retired for the night, but the fire still smoldered on the hearth, and being replenished with the wood laid in readiness for the morning, it soon filled the room with its ruddy glow. Had it been a regular Sabbath evening visit, after the most approved mode of courtship, she would have made a fire in the best room; but as be only designed to remain a few minutes, that was dispensed with, and the kitchen where the family for the most part lived answered in its stead.
But he stayed longer than he had expected. What were the topics of conversation which beguiled those midnight hour we cannot affirm; we can only guess. Both were of an age when the young buds of the sweetest of all passions were beginning to swell in their bosoms, as would the germs of life in the vegetable world a few weeks later. It was this which gave its charm to the lateness, and made him forget both himself and the hour. True, there was no clock to tell him the lateness of the hour, nor had he a watch, for these were luxuries possessed only by the rich; but the full moon, already past the meridian, should have sufficiently supplied their place.
It must have been nearly or quite three o'clock before Chauncey rose to depart. Ditha took the candle and guided him to the back door, the only one used in the farmers' houses of the country during the winter. The good nights were spoken, and the young man started down the road homeward. With a bounding step he sped along the snowy path. Never did the world look so beautiful; never was his heart so light.