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- Under the Storm - 2/38 -


"Thou and Patience," said Mr. Holworth thoughtfully. "Not Jephthah nor the little maid?"

"No, sir," replied Steadfast, "we would not let them know, because we wanted a place to ourselves."

For in truth the quiet ways and little arrangements of these two had often been much disturbed by the rough elder brother who teased and laughed at them, and by the troublesome little sister, who put her fingers into everything.

The Vicar and the Churchwarden looked at one another, and John Kenton muttered, "True as steel."

"Your father answers for you, my boy," said the Vicar. "So we will e'en let you know what we are about. I was told this morn by a sure hand that the Parliament men, who now hold Bristol Castle, are coming to deal with the village churches even as they have dealt with the minster and with St. Mary's, Redcliffe."

"A murrain on them!" muttered Kenton.

"I wot that in their ignorance they do it," gently quoted the Vicar. "But we would fain save from their hands the holy Chalice and paten which came down to our Church from the ancient times--and which bearing on them, as they do, the figure of the Crucifixion of our blessed Lord, would assuredly provoke the zeal of the destroyers. Therefore have we placed them in this casket, and your father devised hiding them within this cave, which he thought was unknown to any save himself--"

"Yea," said John, "my poor brother Will and I were wont to play there when we herded the cattle on the hill. It was climbing yon ash tree that stands out above that he got the fall that was the death of him at last. I've never gone nigh the place with mine own good will since that day--nor knew the children had done so--but methought 'twas a lonesome place and on mine own land, where we might safest store the holy things till better times come round."

"And so I hope they will," said Mr. Holworth.

"I hear good news of the King's cause in the north."

Then they began to consult where to place the precious casket. They had brought tinder and matches, and Steadfast, who knew the secrets of the cave even better than his father, showed them a little hollow, far back, which would just hold the chest, and being closed in front with a big stone, fast wedged in, was never likely to be discovered readily.

***the hiding of the casket***

"This has been a hiding place already."

"Methinks this has once been a chapel," said the clergyman presently, pointing to some rude carvings--one something like a cross, and a large stone that might have served as an altar.

"Belike," said Kenton, "there's an old stone pile, a mere hovel, down below, where my grandfather said he remembered an old monk, a hermit, or some such gear--a Papist--as lived in hiding. He did no hurt, and was a man from these parts, so none meddled with him, or gave notice to the Queen's officers, and our folk at the farm sold his baskets at the town, and brought him a barley loaf twice a week till he died, all alone in his hut. Very like he said his mass here."

John wondered to find that the minister thought this made the place more suitable. The whole cavern was so low that the two men could hardly stand upright in it, though it ran about twelve yards back. There were white limestone drops like icicles hanging above from the roof; and bats, disturbed by the light, came flying about the heads of their visitors, while streamers of ivy and old man's beard hung over the mouth, and were displaced by the heads of the men.

"None is like to find the spot," said John Kenton, as he tried to replace the tangled branches that had been pushed aside.

"God grant us happier days for bringing it forth," said the clergyman.

All three bared their heads, and Mr. Holworth uttered a few words of prayer and blessing; then let John help him down the steep scramble and descent, and looked up to see whether any sign of the cave could be detected from the edge of the brook. Kenton shook his head reassuringly.

"Ah!" said Mr. Holworth, "it minds me that none ever found again the holy Ark of the Covenant that King Josiah and the Prophet Jeremiah hid in a cavern within Mount Pisgah! and our sins be many that have provoked this judgment! Mayhap the boy will be the only one of us who will see these blessed vessels restored to their Altar once more! He may have been sent hither to that very end. Now, look you, Steadfast Kenton--Steadfast thou hast ever been, so far as I have known thee, in nature as well as in name. Give me thy word that thou wilt never give up the secret of yonder cavern to any save a lawfully ordained minister of the church."

"No doubt poor old Clerk North will be in distress about the loss," said Kenton.

"True, but he had best not be told. His mind is fast going, and he cannot safely be trusted with such a mighty secret."

"Patience knows the cavern," murmured Steadfast to his father.

"Best have no womenfolk, nor young maids in such a matter," said the Vicar.

"My wench takes after her good mother," said John, "and I ever found my secrets were safer in her breast than in mine own. Not that I would have her told without need. But she might take little Rusha there, or make the place known to others an she be not warned."

"Steadfast must do as he sees occasion, with your counsel, Master Kenton," said the Vicar. "It is a great trust we place in you, my son, to be as it were in charge of the vessels of the sanctuary, and I would have thy hand and word."

"And," said his father, "though he be slower in speech than some, your reverence may trust him."

Steadfast gave his brown red hand, and with head bare said, "I promise, after the minister and before God, never to give up that which lies within the cave to any man, save a lawfully ordained minister of the Church."

CHAPTER II.

THE STRAGGLERS.

"Trust me, I am exceedingly weary." SHAKESPEARE.

John Kenton, though a Churchwarden, was, as has been said, a very small farmer, and the homestead was no more than a substantial cottage, built of the greystone of the country, with the upper story projecting a little, and reached by an outside stair of stone. The farm yard, with the cowsheds, barn, and hay stack were close in front, with only a narrow strip of garden between, for there was not much heed paid to flowers, and few kitchen vegetables were grown in those days, only a few potherbs round the door, and a sweet-brier bush by the window.

The cows had made their way home of their own accord, and Patience was milking one of them already, while little Rusha held the baby, which was swaddled up as tightly as a mummy, with only his arms free. He stretched them out with a cry of gladness as he saw his father, and Kenton took the little creature tenderly in his arms and held him up, while Steadfast hurried off to fetch the milking stool and begin upon the other cow.

"Is Jeph come home?" asked the father, and Rusha answered "No, daddy, though he went ever so long ago, and said he would bring me a cake."

Upon this Master Kenton handed little Benoni back to Rusha, not without some sounds of fretfulness from the baby, but the pigs had to be shut up and fed, and the other evening work of the farmyard done; and it was not till all this was over, and Patience had disposed of the milk in the cool cellars, that the father could take him again.

Meantime Steadfast had brought up a bucket of water from the spring, and after washing his own hands and face, set out the table with a very clean, though coarse cloth, five brown bowls, three horn spoons and two wooden ones, one drinking horn, a couple of red earthen cups and two small hooped ones of wood, a brown pitcher of small ale, a big barley loaf, and a red crock, lined with yellow glazing, into which Patience presently proceeded to pour from a cauldron, where it had been simmering over the fire, a mess of broth thickened with meal. This does not sound like good living, but the Kentons were fairly well-to-do smock-frock farmers, and though in some houses there might be greater plenty, there was not much more comfort beneath the ranks of the gentry in the country.

As for seats, the father's big wooden chair stood by the fire, and there was a long settle, but only stools were used at the table, two being the same that had served the milkers. Just as Rusha, at her father's sign, had uttered a short Grace, there stood in the doorway a tall, stout, well-made lad of seventeen, with a high-crowned wide- brimmed felt hat, a dark jerkin with sleeves, that, like his breeches and gaiters, were of leather, and a belt across his shoulder with a knife stuck in it.

"Ha! Jeph," said Kenton, "always in time for meat, whatever else you miss."

"I could not help it, father," said Jephthah, "the red coats were at their exercise!"

"And thou couldst not get away from the gape-seed, eh! Come, sit down, boy, and have at thy supper."

"I wish I was one of them," said Jeph as he sat down.


Under the Storm - 2/38

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