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- Under the Storm - 10/38 -


"Then there will be no more fighting," she anxiously asked of Master Blane.

"No man can tell," he answered.

"And will Jeph come back?"

But that he could tell as little, and indeed someone else spoke to him, and he paid the child no more attention.

Rusha had had a merry day among the children of her own age in the village; she fretted at coming away, and was frightened at turning into so lonely a path through the hazel stems, trotting after Patience because she was afraid to turn back alone, but making a low, peevish moan all the time.

***Stead stirring the porridge.

Patience hoped she would be comforted when they came out on their little glade, and she saw Stead stirring the milk porridge over the fire he had lighted by the house. For he had found the flint and steel belonging to the matchlock of his father's old gun, and there was plenty of dry leaves and half-burnt wood to serve as tinder. The fire for cooking would be outside, whenever warmth and weather served, to prevent indoor smoke. And to Patience's eyes it really looked pleasant and comfortable, with Toby sitting wisely by his young master's side, and the cat comfortably perched at the door, and Whitefoot tied to a tree, and the cows in their new abode. But Jerusha was tired and cross, she said it was an ugly place, and she was afraid of the foxes and the polecats, she wanted to go home, she wanted to go back to Goody Grace.

Stead grew angry, and threatened that she should have no supper, and that made her cry the louder, and shake her frock at him; but Patience, who knew better how to deal with her, let her finish her cry, and come creeping back, promising to be good, and glad to eat the supper, which was wholesome enough, though very smoky: however, the children were used to smoke, and did not mind it.

They said their prayers together while the sun was touching the tops of the trees, crept into their hut, curled themselves up upon their straw and went to sleep, while Toby lay watchful at the door, and the cat prowled about in quest of a rabbit or some other evening wanderer for her supper.

The next day Patience spent in trying to get things into somewhat better order, and Steadfast in trying to gather together his live stock, which he had been forced to leave to take care of themselves. Horse, donkey, and cows were all safe round their hut; but he could find only three of the young pigs and the old sow at the farmyard, and it plainly was not safe to leave them there, though how to pen them up in their new quarters he did not know.

The sheep were out on the moor, and only one of them seemed to be missing. The goat and the geese had likewise taken care of themselves and seemed glad to see him. He drove them down to their new home, and fed them there with some of the injured meal. "But what can we do with the pigs? There's no place they can't get out of but this," said Stead, looking doubtfully.

"Do you think I would have pigs in here? No, I am not come to that!"

It ended in Stead's going to consult Master Blane, who advised that the younger pigs should be either sold, or killed and salted, and nothing left but the sow, who was a cunning old animal, and could pretty well take care of herself, besides that she was so tough and lean that one must be very hungry indeed to be greatly tempted by her bristles,

But how sell the pigs or buy the salt in such days as these? There was, indeed, no firing.

There was a belief that treaties were going on, but leisure only left the besiegers more free to go wandering about in search of plunder; and Stead found all trouble saved him as to disposing of his pigs. They were quite gone next time he looked for them, and the poor old sow had been lamed by a shot; but did not seem seriously hurt, and when with some difficulty she had been persuaded to be driven into the glen, she seemed likely to be willing to stay there in the corner of the cattle shed.

The children were glad enough to be in their glen, with all its bareness and discomfort, when they heard that a troop of horse had visited Elmwood, and made a requisition there for hay and straw. They had used no violence, but the farmers were compelled to take it into the camp in their own waggons, getting nothing in payment but orders on the treasury, which might as well be waste paper. And, indeed, they were told by the soldiers that they might be thankful to get off with their carts and horses.

CHAPTER VIII.

STEAD IN POSSESSION.

"At night returning, every labour sped, He sits him down, the monarch of a shed." GOLDSMITH.

Another day made it certain that the garrison of Bristol had surrendered to the besiegers. A few shots were heard, but they were only fired in rejoicing by the Royalists, and while Steadfast was studying his barley field, already silvered over by its long beards, and wondering how soon it would be ripe, and how he should get it cut and stacked, his name was shouted out, and he saw Tom Oates and all the rest of the boys scampering down the lane.

"Come along, Stead Kenton, come on and see, the Parliament soldiers come out and go by."

Poor Steadfast had not much heart for watching soldiers, but it struck him that he might see or hear something of Jephthah, so he came with the other boys to the bank, where from behind a hedge they could look down at the ranks of soldiers as they marched along, five abreast, the road was not wide enough to hold more. They had been allowed to keep their weapons, so the officers had their swords, and the men carried their musquets. Most of them looked dull and dispirited, and the officers had very gloomy, displeased faces. In fact, they were very angry with their commander, Colonel Fiennes, for having surrendered so easily, and he was afterwards brought to a court-martial for having done so.

Stead did not understand this, he thought only of looking under each steel cap or tall, slouching hat for Jephthah. Several times a youthful, slender figure raised his hopes, and disappointed him, and he began to wonder whether Jeph could have after all stayed behind in the town, or if he could have been hurt and was ill there.

By-and-by came a standard, bearing a Bible lying on a sword, and behind it rode a grave looking officer, with long hair, and a red scarf, whom the lads recognised as the same who had preached at Elmwood. His men were in better order than some of the others, and as Steadfast eagerly watched them, he was sure that he knew the turn of Jeph's head, in spite of his being in an entirely new suit of clothes, and with a musquet over his shoulder.

Stead shook the ash stem he was leaning against, the men looked up, he saw the well-known face, and called out "Jeph! Jeph!" But some of the others laughed, Jeph frowned and shook his head, and marched on. Stead was disappointed, but at any rate he could carry back the assurance to Patience that Jeph was alive and well, though he seemed to have lost all care for his brothers and sisters. Yet, perhaps, as a soldier he could not help it, and it might not be safe to straggle from the ranks.

There was no more fighting for the present in the neighbourhood. The princes and their army departed, only leaving a garrison to keep the city, and it was soon known in the village that the town was in its usual state, and that it was safe to go in to market as in former times. Stead accordingly carried in a basket of eggs, which was all he could yet sell. He was ferried across the river, and made his way in. It was strange to find the streets looking exactly as usual, and the citizens' wives coming out with their baskets just as if nothing had happened.

There was the good-natured face of Mistress Lightfoot, who kept a baker's shop at the sign of the Wheatsheaf, and was their regular customer.

"Ha, little Kenton, be'st thou there? I'm right glad to see thee. They said the mad fellows had burnt the farm and made an end of all of you, but I find 'em civil enow, and I'm happy to see 'twas all leasing-making."

"It is true, mistress," said Stead, "that they burnt our house and shot poor father."

"Eh, you don't say so, my poor lad?" and she hurried her kind questions, tears coming into her eyes, as she thought of the orphans deserted by their brother. She was very anxious to have Patience butter-making again and promised to come with Stead to give her assistance in choosing both a churn and a spinning wheel if he would come in the next day, for he had not ventured on bringing any money with him. She bought all his eggs for her lodger, good Doctor Eales, who could hardly taste anything and had been obliged to live cooped up in an inner chamber for fear of the Parliament soldiers, who were misbehaved to Church ministers though civil enough to women; while these new comers were just the other way, hat in hand to a clergyman, but apt to be saucy to the lasses. But she hoped the Doctor would cheer up again, now that the Cathedral was set in order, so far as might be, and prayers were said there as in old times. In fact the bells were ringing for morning prayer, and Stead was so glad to hear them that he thought he might venture in and join in the brief daily service. There were many others who had done so, for these anxious days had quickened the devotion of many hearts, and people had felt what it was to be robbed of their churches and forbidden the use of their prayer-books. Moreover, some had sons or brothers or husbands fighting on the one side or the other, and were glad to pray for them, so that Stead found himself in the midst of quite a congregation, though the choir had been too much dispersed and broken up for the musical service, and indeed the organ had been torn to pieces by the Puritan soldiers, who fancied it was Popish.

But Stead found himself caring for the Psalms and Prayers in a manner he had never done before, and which came of the sorrow he had felt


Under the Storm - 10/38

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