Chauncey Judd: Wooster's Well
Meanwhile, how passed the time with their prisoner in his place of confinement?
Let our young readers imagine it, for it is not easy to depict the reality. It was not the dreariness of the cold, damp apartment, striking a sepulchral chill through his frame; it was not the loneliness of his solitude, with no kindly face to behold, and no friendly voice to fall upon his ear, that most oppressed him. It was the terrible conviction that he was doomed to die. He had not recovered from the shock of the transaction that morning among the willows of the swamp; and though for the moment rescued from the threatened doom, he felt that it was but a temporary respite. He was in the power of ruffians that knew no pity; or if some of them had relented when in no imminent danger of their own, he could not doubt they would be as inexorable as their leader whenever their own safety could be secured only by sacrificing him. He had heard Graham's muttered imprecations upon his confederates, and knew that it was his purpose to have his own way still, notwithstanding the opposition.
But what was it to die? It is not a thought to which a young mind accustoms itself, and it required an effort to conceive of it. It was to leave home and friends, the mother, the father, never so dear as now when he was to be torn from their loving arms; the young brothers and sisters, playmates and companions of his childhood, bound to his heart by a thousand ties. It was to be torn from the bright world that looked so attractive to his youthful anticipations. It was to have his young life quenched in the blackness of night, in the horrors of the dark, cold grave. Nay, more, it was to go into the presence of God, his Judge, and receive from his lips that sentence which should fix his destiny in everlasting joy or woe. Let it not be deemed unmanly that as he thought all this he was overcome with terror, and he lifted up his voice and wept.
But the storm of anguish spent itself, and he was enabled to look more calmly at his situation. Chauncey, though trained to the strictest habits of morality, had never professed a personal experience of religion. In those days it was not expected of the young. Rarely was a person of either sex found in the membership of the church under twenty. We owe it chiefly to our Sunday schools and the increased attention awakened in the religious instruction of the young that things are so changed in our day, and that so large a proportion of those who are converted and enter the church are of the youth and children.
In the deep gloom of his prison there came to him the recollection of Joseph, who was cast into the dungeon for no fault of his own, and whose prayers God heard, and in due time granted him deliverance. But could he pray? Had he not hitherto lived in sin, unmindful of the claims of his Father and Saviour, and could he hope now in this hour of his necessity, that he would be heard? Still there remained the example, and it seemed to him as if it was written for those in trouble -
Joseph prayed and was heard; why may not I?
He threw himself upon the cold stone floor and poured out his soul unto God. He pleaded for life. He besought some divine interposition which would deliver him from the cruel men into whose power he had fallen. Or if this was denied him, he prayed that he might be prepared to die, that his sins might be washed away in the blood of Jesus, and that he might be received into that better world where there should be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying.
And God heard his prayer. Even as he spoke, the tempest of anguish and fear subsided, and a gentle peace stole into his heart. He felt that he was no longer alone. The darkness of his prison seemed full of the presence of One who would be his friend. Hope dawned upon his soul, and he grew strong to meet and suffer whatever was before him, for he felt that all would come out right in the end.
And through all his subsequent life Chauncey never forgot that feeling. The revelation which God makes of himself to the heart of His child in such an hour as this is an experience which no after sorrow can obliterate, the earnest and the pledge of the welcome that awaits him when he shall reach his Father's house at the last.
But while his prayer was heard, God had his own time and way of answering it. Like that of Jesus himself in Gethsemane, the bitter cup was to precede the deliverance and the glory.
Graham, having wrung a reluctant assent to his deed of blood, seized his pistol, and entered, with one or two more, the cellar and dairy-room. After taking a hasty survey of the premises, his eye fell upon the well, which at once suggested to him the mode of carrying his purpose into execution. The lad should be shot, and his body thrown into it, ballasted with a heavy weight which would sink it to the bottom.
A small Bible was procured from above and placed in his hands, and he was bidden to prepare for death. It was a fearful mandate, and though he had become calm in the contemplation sustained by the sense of the divine presence and sympathy, yet, confronted again thus suddenly with so awful a doom, with the dark, deep well yawning before him, Nature reasserted her instincts, and he burst anew into a passion of tears and importunities for mercy. He begged; he promised silence; be urged his innocence, and the wickedness of the act they were about to commit; but to no purpose. Their minds were made up. The plea of necessity stifled their misgivings, and though all but their leader withdrew from the room, it was with no thought of desisting from their purpose. At last, despairing of human help, Chauncey threw himself upon his knees, and poured out his anguish to God, praying that he who delivered Joseph from the pit would even yet interpose to save him.
The pleading cry of distress rose from the cellar, and was heard by the family above. It was more than Mrs. Wooster could bear. Her sympathies indeed, in political matters, were those of her husband and her sons. She was willing to render aid and comfort to those of that party in all ordinary matters, and did not scruple even to share in the spoils of the late expedition; but she was not yet ready for murder, unprovoked, and in her own special premises. She was a woman, nay, more, she was a mother. The young man whose lot it had been to fall into these cruel bands was a son, innocent and amiable. His mother was her neighbor, against whom the tongue of scandal was never heard to speak. She could not, and she would not, let such a deed of shame be done in her house.
Calling to one of her elder daughters to accompany her, she hastened down stairs, and threw herself between the victim and his murderers, who were just preparing to execute their purpose.
For shame! she cried.
Are you men, or wolves, to kill a poor boy in this way? I tell you, it shan't be done, - not in this house! Mr. Wooster, for God's sake, come down here and stop this villainy!
Better not meddle with what does not concern you, said he, descending the stairs.
It does concern me, she repeated.
I'll not have murder committed here. Let him alone, Sam! Take your bands off him, Captain!
She was a large and powerful woman, and once thoroughly aroused was a match for any antagonist. Her husband took her by the arm and bade David seize the other to drag her away. But she resisted their united strength, and at last, turning at bay, she cried,-
David Wooster, hear me! Stop these proceedings this moment, and spare the life of that boy, or by the God that made you, I'll go this very day and let the whole of it be known, the robbery and the murder both. Yes, Captain Graham, I'll have the rebels hold of you before night, if you touch a hair of his head again. See if I don't!
The loud tones of the excited woman, accompanied by the shrieks of her daughter, were irresistible, Wooster himself relented, for he knew the spirit and resolution of his wife, and saw that informers from his own family would be more dangerous than the testimony of the young man himself, while the added crime of murder would bring the entire party to the gallows.
Well, Captain, he said,
a willful woman must have her own way. You will have to give up to her. It is a rather hard case, I own, and you'd better keep him with you as long as you can. It you get into straits so that you must, why then you must. But may be you will get away safely, after all; and if you do you'll be glad you had not done it.
The robbers submitted, but with an ill grace, and muttered curses upon
women that couldn't mind their own business, and returned to the kitchen, leaving Chauncey with his deliverers. His gratitude to them knew no bounds. He said that God had sent them to him in answer to his prayer, and be poured out his thanksgiving both to them and his heavenly Father, whose messengers they were. The reaction from the intense excitement of the few minutes before, together with the moving utterances of the youth, were too much for their fortitude, and they burst into tears. Chauncey begged them still to befriend him, but they said they could do no more than to see that he was safe while there. They did not believe, however, that the crime would be attempted again, and encouraged him to trust that God, who, as he thought, had twice interfered to save him, would protect him still, and finally bring him to his friends in safety.
It was but a few moments after this when the door from the room above opened, and William Seeley appeared at the head of the stairs.
I've come to tell you, he cried,
that you had better take care of yourselves. There's a party of men coming up the road yonder that I suspect are looking for you; you can see them plainly from the east window - up here.
There, he continued, as several of the men sprang up the stairs to reconnoiter,
look for yourselves! There are Mr. Judd and two or three of his sons, Reuben and Daniel Williams, Sam Hickox. Jude Hoadley, and a dozen more. Some are on horseback and some afoot, and it won't be long before they are here!
This announcement threw the party into instant confusion. Their first impulse was to spring to their arms and stand upon self-defense, but a moment's reflection showed them that it would be madness to think of contending with many times their own number equally determined with themselves. Happily for them, the road from the Longmeadow valley ascended a long hill, which somewhat retarded their advance and partially concealed the house. Hastily slipping their packs upon their shoulders and seizing their weapons, they brought their prisoner from below, and fled through the wood-shed into the street westward, where they were out of sight of the approaching party, and after running a few rods in that direction, they sprang over the fence into the woods. Mr. Wooster and Seeley repaired with equal celerity to the barn, which stood by the road-side in the opposite direction, where they vigorously resumed their threshing, expecting that the pursuers would call first upon them, and might be detained a few moments in conversation until the fugitives should have time to escape.