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- Under the Storm - 20/38 -


could seldom resist her coaxing, or be entirely disabused of the notion that his sister expected too much of her. And perhaps it was true. Patience was scarcely likely to understand differences of character and temperament, and not merely to recollect that Emlyn was only eighteen months younger than she had been when she had been forced into the position of the house mother. So, while Emlyn's wayward fancies were a great trial, Steadfast's sympathy with them was a greater one.

Stead continued to see Jeph when taking in the market produce, for which he was always duly paid. Jeph also wished the whole family to come in on Sunday to profit by the preaching of some of the great Independent lights; but Stead, after trying it once, felt so sure that Patience would be miserable at anything so unaccustomed, so thunderous, and, as it seemed to him, so abusive, that he held to it that the distance was too great, and that the cattle could not be left. The soldiery seemed to him to spend their spare time in defacing the many churches of the city, chiefly in order to do what they called purifying them from all idols, in which term they included every sort of carving or picture, or even figures on monuments.

And in this work of destruction a chest containing church plate had been come upon, making their work greedy instead of only mischievous.

When all the churches in Bristol had been ransacked, they began to extend their search to the parish churches in the neighbourhood, and Stead began to be very anxious, though he hoped and believed that the cave was a perfectly safe place.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE QUESTION.

"Dogged as does it."--TROLLOPE.

Stead, Stead," cried Rusha, running up to him, as he was slowly digging over his stubble field to prepare it for the next crop, "the soldiers are in Elmwood."

"Yes," said Emlyn, coming up at the same time, "they are knocking about everything in the church and pulling up the floor."

"Patience sent us to get some salt," explained Rusha, "and we saw them from Dame Redman's door. She told us we had better be off and get home as fast as we could."

"But I thought we would come and tell you," added Emlyn, "and then you could get out the long gun and shoot them as they come into the valley--that is if you can take aim--but I would load and show you how, and then they would think it was a whole ambush of honest men."

"Aye, and kill us all--and serve us right," said Stead. "They don't want to hurt us if we don't meddle with them. But there's a good wench, Rusha, drive up the cows and sheep this way so that I can have an eye on them, and shew Captain Venn's paper, if any of those fellows should take a fancy to them."

"They are digging all over old parson's garden," said Rusha, as she obeyed.

"Was Jeph there?" asked Stead.

"I didn't see him," said the child.

Steadfast was very uneasy. That turning up the parson's garden looked as if they might be in search of the silver belonging to the Church, but after all they were unlikely to connect him with it, and it was wiser to go on with his regular work, and manifest no interest in the matter; besides that, every spadeful he heaved up, every chop he gave the stubble, seemed to be a comfort, while there was a prayer on his soul all the time that he might be true to his trust.

By-and-by he saw Tom Oates running and beckoning to him, "Stead, Stead Kenton, you are to come."

"What should I come for?" said Stead, gruffly.

"The soldiers want you."

"What call have they to me?"

"They be come to cleanse the steeple house, they says, and take the spoil thereof, and they've been routling over the floor and parson's garden like so many hogs, and are mad because they can't find nothing, and Thatcher Jerry says, says he, 'Poor John Kenton as was shot was churchwarden and was very great with Parson. If anybody knows where the things is 'tis Steadfast Kenton.' So the corporal says, 'Is this so, Jephthah Kenton?' and Jeph, standing up in his big boots, says, 'Aye, corporal, my father was yet in the darkness of prelacy, and was what in their blindness they call a Churchwarden, but as to my brother, that's neither here nor there, he were but a boy and not like to know more than I did.' But the corporal said, 'That we will see. Is the lad here?' So I ups and said nay, but I'd seen you digging your croft, and then they bade me fetch you. So you must come, willy-nilly, or they may send worse after you."

Stead was a little consoled by hearing that his brother was there. He suspected that Jeph would have consideration enough for his sisters and for the property that he considered his own to be unwilling to show the way to their valley; and he also reflected that it would be well that whatever might happen to himself should be out of sight of his sisters. Therefore he decided on following Oates, going through on the way the whole question whether to deny all knowledge, and yet feeling that the things belonging to God should not be shielded by untruth. His resolution finally was to be silent, and let them make what they would out of that, and Stead, though it was long since he had put it on, had a certain sullen air of stupidity such as often belongs to such natures as his, and which Jeph knew full well in him.

They came in sight of the village green where the soldiers were refreshing themselves at what once had been the Elmwood Arms, for though not given to excess, total abstinence formed no part of the discipline of the Puritans; and one of the men started forward, and seizing hold of Steadfast by the shoulder exclaimed--

"As I live, 'tis the young prelatist who bowed himself down in the house of Rimmon! Come on, thou seed of darkness, and answer for thyself."

If he had only known it, he was making the part of dogged silence and resistance infinitely easier to Steadfast by the rudeness and abuse, which, even in a better cause, would have made it natural to him to act as he was doing now, giving the soldier all the trouble of dragging him onward and then standing with his hands in his pockets like an image of obstinacy.

"Speak," said the corporal, "and it shall be the better for thee. Hast thou any knowledge where the priests of Baal have bestowed the vessels of their mockery of worship."

Stead moved not a muscle of his face. He had no acquaintance with priests of Baal or their vessels, so that he was not in the least bound to comprehend, and one of them exclaimed "The oaf knows not your meaning, corporal. Speak plainer to his Somerset ears. He knows not the tongue of the saints."

"Ho, then, thou child of darkness. Know'st thou where the mass- mongering silver and gold of this church be hidden from them of whom it is written 'haste to the spoil.' Come, speak out. A crown if thou dost speak--the lash if thou wilt not answer, thou dumb dog."

Stead was really not far removed from a dumb dog. All his faculties were so entirely wrought up to resistance that he had hardly distinguished the words.

"Come, come, Stead," said Jeph, "thou art too old for thine old sulky moods. Speak up, and tell if thou know'st aught of the Communion Cup and dish, or it will be the worse for thee. Yes or no?"

Stead made a move with his shoulder to push away his brother, and still stood silent.

"There," said Jeph, "it is all Faithful's fault for his rough handling. His back is set up. It was always so from a boy, and you'll get nought out of him."

"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," quoted the Corporal, taking up a waggoner's whip which stood by the inn door, and the like of which had no doubt once been a more familiar weapon to him than the sword.

"Speak lad--or--" and as no speech came, the lash descended on Stead's shoulders, not, however, hurting him much save where it grazed the skin of his face.

"Now? Not a word? Take off his leathern coat, Faithful, then shall he feel the reward of sullenness."

That Jeph did not interfere, while Faithful and another soldier tugged off his leathern coat, buffeting and kicking him roughly as they did so, brought additional hardness to Stead. He had been flogged in his time before, and not without reason, and had taken a pride in not giving in, or crying out for pain; and the ancient habit acquired in a worse cause, came to his help. He scarcely recollected the cause of his resistance; all his powers were concentrated in holding out, and when after another "Now, vile prelatic spawn, is thy heart still hardened? Yes or no?" the terrible whip came stinging and biting down on his shoulders and back, only protected by his shirt, he was entirely bound up in the determination to endure the pain without a groan or cry.

But after blows enough had fallen to mark the shirt with streaks of blood, Jeph could bear it no longer.

"Hold!" he said. "You will never make him speak that way. Father and mother never could. Strokes do but harden him."

"The sure token of a fool," said the corporal, and prepared for another lash.

"'Tis plain he knows," said one of the others. "He would never stand


Under the Storm - 20/38

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