Alarm in Judd's Meadow
They were early risers at Mr. Judd's. The habits of industry in which the family were trained, from the oldest to the youngest, left no room for indolence or slothful indulgence. Besides, there were many things to be done in the morning. The cattle and horses had to be fed, the calves and young lambs to be cared for, and the numerous domestic dependents of the farm and kitchen to receive each its proper attention. Ample supplies of wood must be furnished and brought in for the fires, whose demands when stoves and furnaces were unknown, were large and unceasing. And all this must be done while breakfast was preparing, so that, after this and the morning worship, they might be ready to go forth to the employments of the day. Nothing had ever been heard then of what we are now so much talked of as "the rights of labor." A day's work was no mere eight hours, but the day of a whole day, from dawn till dark, or as late as men could see to work. Except in the long days of summer, breakfast and "chores" must all be completed before sunrise.
It was, then, with a slight tone of displeasure that Mr. Judd repeated his call to Chauncey, on that Wednesday morning, that it was time to get up. Like the other boys, he had his share of the morning work to do, and he ought to be about it. No response, however, was made to the call, and the father at last, with some misgivings of heart at the unusual occurrence, ascended the attic stairs to inquire the cause of the delay. It was with no small surprise that he found Chauncey's bed not only empty, but showing clearly that it had not been occupied during the night.
Inquiries were at once made of the other children if any of them knew where their brother was, but the answer from them all was in the negative. The absence was unusual and unaccountable, for the young man had always been exemplary in his habits, and was the last one that would be expected to stay away from his home over night without letting his parents know of it beforehand. Still there was nothing very alarming in it. Several families of relatives were living near by, and it was suggested that he might have been one of these, and for some unexplained reason have been detained till morning. So the family sat down to breakfast with the impression that he could not be far away, and the expectation that he would very soon make his appearance.
But the breakfast was dispatched, the devotions ended, and the absentee did not return. The question at length grew to be a serious one, what had become of Chauncey? A young man could not so easily go from his home and come again then as now. No railway train waited to carry him a hundred miles and return before night. Maternal solicitude, ever ready to take alarm, began to apprehend some evil. It was the time of war, and the country was full of stragglers, pretending to be going to or coming from the army, begging cider and sleeping in barns. The tories were all the while plotting mischief, and nobody could tell what tricks they would be engaged in next. Something certainly had happened to the lad to detain him like this. Messengers were sent to the neighbors to inquire who had seen him last, and what was known of his whereabouts the night before.
Mr. Judd's nearest neighbor was his brother-in-law, Mr. Reuben Williams, whose wife was a daughter of Captain Gideon Hotchkiss, before spoken of as one of the leading men in the town. Captain Hotchkiss had been a lieutenant in the company from Waterbury which served in the French war in 1757, and was now among the foremost in denouncing and contending against the aggressions of the British ministry. He had represented the town in the General Court for several years, was one of the committee appointed in 1774 to enforce the resolutions of non-intercourse with the mother country, and was active in the work of raising and equipping men to serve in the patriot army. After the organization of the church in Salem parish, he was chosen one of the first deacons, and at a later date was a founder and chief supporter of the church in the parish of Columbia, now Prospect, within whose limits he resided. He was no less conspicuous for his large family than for his office and honors, having had, by his two wives, no less than ninexsteen children, – twelve sons and seven daughters, – of whom seventeen lived to be married. It is recorded that, at his death in 1807, his descendants already amounted to one hundred and five grandchildren, one hundred and fifty-five great-grandchildren, and four of the fifth generation.
Two of these seven daughters were Mabel and Phebe Hotchkiss, then young girls of sixteen and fifteen respectively. These were often at the house of their elder sister, Mrs. Williams, who had a son, Reuben Williams, Jr., of nearly the same age. These, with the members of the Judd family, constituted a large circle of young people, who from their nearness of age and relationship, were united by ties of more than ordinary attachment.
It was known, of course, that Chauncey had been present at the quilting party the previous evening; and on sending to Mr. Williams', it was ascertained that at the close of it had had gone home with Ditha Webb. Messengers hastened to Mr. Webb's, but Ditha could give them no information. Chauncey had been there, she acknowledged, and at her invitation had come into the house, but after a little while he left to return home. She could not tell at what time it was, but thought it was not very late.
The mystery deepened. The road between Webb's and Judd's was retraced, and the footpath through the wood explored. Here his tracks were visible in the snow, but they disappeared when the road was reached, being obliterated by the wind, and the passage of other persons and teams. Inquiries were made at all of the neighboring dwellings, but he had not been at any of these. Suspense grew into alarm; the mystery became a secret of ominous portent. Had he been waylaid and murdered? But for what cause, and what had they done with the body? Had he been carried off? But by whom and whither?
There is no more appalling cry that can ring through the homes of a village than that of a child lost. That one of the members of the little community should suddenly disappear, no one knowing how or why, no one knowing his possible fate, every one left to form a thousand conjectures, and conjure up innumerable forms of evil, has in it something to assail the stoutest heart. Sudden calamity, known and certain, often overwhelms, but the element of suspense, the hardest to bear of all, is then withheld. When such a cry is heard, therefore, everybody is aroused. The alarm spreads from house to house, till, in an incredibly short time, it has reached the most remote habitation. Every one feels called to hasten to the search for the missing one, or to manifest his sympathies with the bereaved family. And when the lost one is found, there is joy over his return more than over all those who "went not astray."
Such was the excitement awakened throughout Judd's Meadow by the news that Chauncey was missing, and, as all appearances indicated, that he had in some way been foully dealt with. Inquiries and suggestions innumerable were made, and parties set off in various directions in the hope of finding some trace of him.
The day wore on, and it was already far in the afternoon when a half dozen horsemen were seen rapidly galloping, from the direction of the bridge, toward Mr. Judd's house. Their errand was quickly made known. A great robbery had been committed in Bethany, and the perpetrators of it, ascertained to be tories, had, it was believed, fled to Gunntown or its vicinity. Copies of the advertisement describing the robbers and offering a large reward for their apprehension, were exhibited. This intelligence at once threw light upon the question of what had become of young Judd. He had doubtless fallen into the hands of the plundering tories. He had not gone with them willingly; no one would believe that. He had been at Mr. Webb's till late in the night; he had started to go home, they had met him on the road, and forced him to go with him to prevent being exposed by him. The situation of affairs was evident to all.
Equally evident was the course to be taken in pursuit. The presence of the young Woosters in the party, with Scott, Cady, etc., indicated the places to which they had undoubtedly gone. The road by Mr. Webb's, in which Chauncey probably met them, led directly to Gunntown. Doubtless they were concealed at the houses of some of their tory relatives or friends, where immediate search, before they had time to get away, would probably discover them.