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- Under the Storm - 3/38 -
"And thou'dst soon wish thyself back again!" returned his father.
"How much did you get for the fowls and eggs?" demanded Patience.
Jephthah replied by producing a leathern bag, while Rusha cried out for her cake, and from another pocket came, wrapped in his handkerchief, two or three saffron buns which were greeted with such joy that his father had not the heart to say much about wasting pence, though it appeared that the baker woman had given them as part of her bargain for a couple of dozen of eggs, which Patience declared ought to have brought two pence instead of only three halfpence.
Jephthah, however, had far too much news to tell to heed her disappointment as she counted the money. He declared that the price of eggs and butter would go up gallantly, for more soldiers were daily expected to defend Bristol, and he had further to tell of one of the captains preaching in the Minster, and the market people flocking in to hear him. Jeph had been outside, for there was no room within, but he had scrambled upon an old tombstone with a couple of other lads, and through the broken window had seen the gentleman holding forth in his hat and feather, buff coat and crimson scarf, and heard him call on all around to be strong and hew down all their enemies, even dragging the false and treacherous woman and her idols out to the horse gate and there smiting them even to the death.
"Who was the false woman?" asked Steadfast.
"I wot not! There was something about Aholah, or some such name, but just then a mischievous little jackanapes pulled me down by the leg, and I had to thrash him for it, and by the time I had done, Dick, the butcher's lad, had got my place and I heard no more."
Whether the Captain meant Aholah or Athaliah, or alluded to Queen Henrietta Maria, or to the English Church, Jeph's auditors never knew. The baby began to cry, and Patience to feed him with the milk and water that had been warmed at the fire; his father and the boys went out to finish the work for the night, little Rusha running after them.
Presently, she gave a cry and darted up to her father "The soldiers! the soldiers!" and in fact three men with steel caps, buff coats, and musquets slung by broad belts were coming into the yard.
Kenton took up his little girl in his arms and went forward to meet them, but he soon saw they did not look dangerous, they were dragging along as if very tired and footsore and as if their weapons were a heavy weight.
"It's the goodman," said the foremost, a red-faced, good-natured looking fellow more like a hostler than a soldier, "have you seen Captain Lundy's men pass this way?"
"Not I!" said Kenton, "we lie out of the high road, you see."
"But I saw them, a couple of hours agone, marching into Bristol," said Jephthah coming forward.
"There now," said the man, "we did but stop at the sign of the 'Crab' the drinking of a pottle, and to bathe Jack's foot near there, and we have never been able to catch them up again! How far off be Bristol?"
"A matter of four mile across the ferry. You may see it from the hill above."
He looked stout enough though he gave a heavy sigh of weariness, and the other two, who were mere youths, not much older than Jeph, seemed quite spent, and heard of the additional four miles with dismay.
"Heart alive, lads," said their comrade, "ye'll soon be in good quarters, and mayhap the goodman here will give you a drink to carry ye on a bit further for the Cause."
"You are welcome to a draught for civility's sake," said Kenton, making a sign to his sons, who ran off to the house, "but I'm a plain man, and know nought about the Cause."
"Well, Master," said the straggler, as he leant his back against the barn, and his two companions sat down on the ground in the shelter, "I have heard a lot about the Cause, but all I know is that my Lord of Essex sent to call out five-and-twenty men from our parish, and the squire, he was in a proper rage with being rated to pay ship money, so--as I had fallen out with my master, mine host of the 'Griffin,' more fool I--I went with the young gentleman, and a proper ass I was to do so."
"Father said 'twas rank popery railing in the Communion table, when it was so handy to sit on or to put one's hat on," added one of the youths looking up. "So he was willing for me to go, and I thought I'd like to see the world, but I'd fain be at home again."
"So would not I," muttered the other lad.
"No," said the ex-tapster humorously, "for thou knowst the stocks be gaping for thee, Dick."
By this time Jeph and Stead had returned with a jug of small beer, a horn cup, and three hunches of the barley loaf. The men ate and drank, and then the tapster returning hearty thanks, called the others on, observing that if they did not make the best speed, they might miss their billet, and have to sleep in the streets, if not become acquainted with the lash.
On then unwillingly they dragged, as if one foot would hardly come after the other.
"Poor lads!" said Kenton, as he looked after them, "methinks that's enough to take the taste for soldiering out of thy mouth, son Jeph."
"A set of poor-spirited rogues," returned Jeph contemptuously, as he nevertheless sauntered on so as to watch them down the lane.
"Be they on the right side or the wrong, father?" asked Steadfast, as he picked up the pitcher and the horn.
"They be dead against our parson, lad," returned Kenton, "and he says they be against the Church and the King, though they do take the King's name, it don't look like the right side to be knocking out church windows, eh?"
"Nay!" said Steadfast, "but there's them as says the windows be popish idols."
"Never you mind 'em, lad, ye don't bow down to the glass, nor worship it. Thy blessed mother would have put it to you better than I can, and she knew the Bible from end to end, but says she 'God would have His worship for glory and for beauty in the old times, why not now?'"
John Kenton had an immense reverence for his late wife. She had been far more educated than he, having been born and bred up in the household of one of those gentlemen who held it as their duty to provide for the religious instruction of their servants.
She had been serving-woman to the lady, who in widowhood went to reside at Bristol, and there during her marketings, honest John Kenton had won her by his sterling qualities.
Puritanism did not mean nonconformity in her days, and in fact everyone who was earnest and scrupulous was apt to be termed a Puritan. Goodwife Kenton was one of those pious and simple souls who drink in whatever is good in their surroundings; and though the chaplain who had taught her in her youth would have differed in controversy with Mr. Holworth, she never discovered their diversity, nor saw more than that Elmwood Church had more decoration than the Castle Chapel. Whatever was done by authority she thought was right, and she found good reason for it in the Bible and Prayer-book her good lady had given her. She had named her children after the prevailing custom of Puritans because she had heard the chaplain object to what he considered unhallowed heathenish names, but she had been heartily glad that they should be taught and catechised by the good vicar. Happily for her, in her country home, she did not live to see the strife brought into her own life.
She had taught her children as much as she could. Her husband was willing, but his old mother disapproved of learning in that station of life, and aided and abetted her eldest grandson in his resistance, so that though she had died when he was only eleven or twelve years old, Jephthah could do no more than just make out the meaning of a printed sentence, whereas Steadfast and Patience could both read easily, and did read whatever came in their way, though that was only a broadside ballad now and then besides their mother's Bible and Prayer-book, and one or two little black books.
The three eldest had been confirmed, when the Bishop of Bath and Wells had been in the neighbourhood. That was only a fortnight after their mother died, and even Jeph was sad and subdued.
Since that sad day when the good mother had blessed them for the last time, there had been little time for anything. Patience had to be the busy little housewife, and what she would have done without Steadfast she could not tell. Jeph would never put a hand to what he called maids' work, but Stead would sweep, or beat the butter, or draw the water, or chop wood, or hold the baby, and was always ready to help her, even though it hindered him from ever going out to fish, or play at base ball, or any of the other sports the village boys loved.
His quiet, thoughtful ways had earned his father's trust, though he was much slower of speech and less ready than his elder brother, and looked heavy both in countenance and figure beside Jeph, who was tall, slim, and full of activity and animation. He had often made his mother uneasy by wild talk about going to sea, and by consorting with the sailors at Bristol, which was their nearest town, though on the other side of the Avon, and in a different county.
It was there that the Elmwood people did their marketing, often leaving their donkeys hobbled on their own side of the river, being ferried over and carrying the goods themselves the latter part of the way.
"When impious men held sway and wasted Church and shrine."
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