Halloo, youngster! give me ride, said a
young man bearing a musket, and having
a military sash around his waist, at the
same time springing into the cart, in which a lad
of about thirteen was sitting.
Been to mill?
Yes, replied the latter, with a flourish of his
whip, and a word of command to the ox-team which
he was driving;
and this is the third time I've been
after this grist. The water is so low in the river that
the mill runs but half of the time. Where have you
Why, don't you see? I've been up to town, to
Oh, yes; I forgot. Have to train pretty often
now, don't you? I wish I was only older; I should
like to go, too. I believe I'd go as it is, if father and
the boys were at home; but our folks can't spare me
You! What a pity you can't! A pretty soldier
you'd make – such a whipper-snapper as that. You
couldn't carry a musket all day if you tried; and as
to going into the army, you'd die in a week of crying
for your mammy.
Well, 'tan't no use talking about it, anyway; for
I can't go; that's certain. But I wish father was at
home, for all that.
When do you expect him? asked the young
We are looking for him now every day. Mother
had word from him, three weeks ago, that Roswell
could walk about some, and he hoped they'd be able
to start for home in a few days.
What's been the matter with Roswell?
Oh, don't you know that he's been sick? He
took cold one day when they had been out skirmishing,
and this brought on lung fever and rheumatism.
He was sick a long while, and the doctor said he
would not be well enough to join his company again
very soon, if ever; so they gave him his discharge.
Father went to take care of him. He is better now,
as I told you, and we are expecting him home every
day. But tell me, David, when is your company
Don't know; orders haven't come yet. And it's
my private opinion they won't come very soon. The
whole thing's pretty much played out, I guess.
Played out! What do you mean by that? exclaimed
the lad, with much spirit.
Oh, don't go to firing up before you're hurt. I
mean just what I say. Your independence, as you
call it, is all humbug. That 'ere fight on Long
Island, which happened a few days ago, has finished
that, and no mistake.
What fight do you mean?
Why, haven't you heard of it yet? It was a big
one, you may believe. The British pitched into Old
Put, and just chawed up about half of his men, and,
if General Clinton hadn't been over-careful, might
just as well have had the rest. They were all cooped
up in a corner with the Hessians behind them, and
the general thought he'd keep them there till be could
bring his vessels up the bay and take them in front;
but Washington, for once, was too smart for him.
That night there came up a fog so thick that you
could cut it with a knife, and he took advantage of it
to send over a parcel of boats, and hurry his men all
across the river, before morning, into New York.
Sergeant Hickox was up to the muster to-day, and
told us all about it. He was not in the fight, but
with the troops on this side, and has come home to
see about getting some more men sent down there,
and some stores for the hospitals. He boasts of the
affair as a smart thing, and so it was for the fellows
who got away; but the fact is, the rebels got a good
sound thrashing, and – served them right, too.
The last words were spoken in a lower tone, and with a slight pause, as if expressing an opinion which he cared not to have reported. They met an indignant response from the young teamsman.
Dave Wooster, you are a tory and a villain! A
pretty soldier you'll make to defend the cause of Liberty.
You ought to be reported to the authorities.
Guess you'll find there's independence enough to take
care of such traitors as you.
Well, my pretty one, you'd better go and tell of
me yourself, if you want your head broke. But
what's the use of getting mad, Chauncey? I an't the
only one that thinks so. I've heard lots of them talk
this very day. Parson Scovill himself was one. Father
and he were listening to the news; and says the
What a child's play all this training is!
'Tan't of any use. All the Continental army is no
more account against the British redcoats than a parcel
of squaws. The Assembly at Hartford has no
right to take our time this way, and subject the colony
to so much expense. Talk about liberty! What do
they care for it? Just see what they did to Captain
Bronson and Ensign Scovill, cashiering them for speaking
their honest sentiments on this subject. They are
as arbitrary as the Pope of Rome, and the people
won't stand it much longer.
Did he say that, David?
Yes, he did, for I heard him. He said the whole
trouble was brought on by the rich men of Boston destroying
the tea. He thought it a mean and contemptible
thing that they shouldn't be willing to pay a tax
of a few shillings to the king to help bear the expenses
of the government. He has to defend us against the
French and Indians, and it's no more than fair that we
should pay our taxes, like any other loyal subjects.
But Squire Hotchkiss says he's no right to tax us
without our consent. Besides, I don't believe anything
about his defending us, as you call it, against
the Indians and French. Who was it, I should like
to know, that took Canada from them a few years
ago? Squire Hotchkiss himself was one of the
soldiers in that war, and a great many of his neighbors,
I've heard him say, went with him. Parson
Leavenworth, the minister, was chaplain of the regiment.
I think, if anybody ought to be paid, it's our
own people, for helping the king get a province that
wasn't his before.
Much you know about! I'll take my father's
opinion before the old Squire's any day. And I know
he thinks much as parson Scovill does. I have heard
him say the same kind of things scores of times. He
says, now that we belong to England, we are somebody;
but if we were independent and had to stand on
our own feet, we should be just nobody. We are only
a handful of us, put us all together, scattered along
the shore a thousand miles, ready for France, or Spain
or any foreign nation that chose to do it, to come and
plunder us. We have no ships of any account to prevent
it, and few soldiers, and each of the colonies is
too poor to take care of itself, let alone doing anything
for the rest. Here now in Waterbury look at
the families. Half of them are starving. You can't
get any money; and if you could, it wouldn't be good
for anything. Father sold a cow last week, and took
his pay in paper dollars, and it make a pile so high
that he couldn't get it into his pocket-book.
Well, said Chauncey, plying his whip with unwonted
severity upon the loitering cattle,
hard times I know, – at any rate up at our house, –
but for all that, we an't going to give up yet. We
had a tolerable good harvesting of rye this summer,
though, father and the boys being gone, it was rather
tough on me to get it thrashed. However, the girls
helped me and I got enough to make a grist, and we are
going to have some bread. Father will be here pretty
soon, and that will be a comfort. And I tell you
what, David Wooster, the country will never submit
to the rascally Britishers till we have had worse times
than any we have seen yet. Be sure, I'm only a boy
now, but I shall be bigger if I live; and when the old
folks are dead or discouraged, the boys will take up
the cause and fight it through. Mother and the girls
haven't made a cup of tea for months, and they
would not any more than they would brew poison.
I believe every one of them would shoulder a musket,
and march into the army to-morrow, if it were necessary,
and shame you tories and cowards. Depend
upon it, Dave, the cause is just and right, and it'll
come out right by and by; you'll see.
Oh, blaze away, you young bantam! I don't care
for what you say. I thank you for my ride, anyway.
When Roswell gets home, I should like to see him.
He'll have a good deal to tell us about the war,
and maybe I'll run over some evening and have a
So saying, the young man leaped from the cart as they reached a corner of the street, and turned down the road westward in the direction of his home.
But it is time that we more formally introduce to our readers the speakers in this colloquy.
David Wooster, Jr., and Chauncey Judd were members of two neighboring families, living in what was called, after certain of the principal inhabitants, Gunntown, an out-district in the southwestern part of the town of Waterbury, in Connecticut. David was the older of the two, being of an age to be enrolled in one of the militia companies of the place, although boys of sufficient size and strength were sometimes admitted into them under the prescribed age. He was a stout, young man, with dark eyes and black, curling hair, fearless in his disposition, and with a sort of generous roughness of manners and speech that made him a favorite among his companions. We have not repeated all the terms with which he was wont to garnish his conversation – terms which he used, as many a thoughtless lad beside him has done, under the mistaken idea that they imparted force and smartness to his sayings. The two boys had sometimes attended the same school, which was usually kept a few weeks in the winter in that district, and had often met in their ordinary employments, as well as at huskings and raisings, and the other occasions which brought the people of the neighborhood together, so that a familiar, if not an intimate, acquaintance existed between them.
The interview above described was in the fall of the year 1776, one of the most gloomy periods of the war of the Revolution. The declaration of independence in July, which stirred to fresh enthusiasm the hearts of the patriot citizens, had been followed, a few weeks afterward, by the disastrous battle on Long Island, in which the Americans had lost five hundred men in killed and wounded, and over eleven hundred prisoners. The latter were confined in the hulks of old vessels in New York Bay, where they endured those fearful sufferings which made the name of the British prisonships a word of terror and indignation throughout the land. Requisitions were immediately made upon the colonists – or states, as they now began to call themselves – for fresh troops, and the business of recruiting men, and furnishing ammunition and commissary stores, was being vigorously prosecuted all over the country.