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- Under the Storm - 4/38 -
Patience, in her tight little white cap, sat spinning by the door, rocking the cradle with her foot, while Rusha sometimes built what she called houses with stones, sometimes trotted to look down the lane to see whether father and the lads were coming home from market.
Presently she brought word, "Stead is coming. He is leading Whitefoot, but I don't see father and Jeph."
Patience jumped up to put her wheel out of the way, and soon she saw that it was only Steadfast leading the old mare with the large crooks or panniers on either side. She ran to meet him, and saw he looked rather pale and dazed.
"What is it, Stead? Where's daddy?"
"Gone up to Elmwood! They told us in town that some of the soldiers and the folk of that sort were gone out to rabble cur church and our parson, and father is Churchwarden, you know. So he said he must go to see what was doing. And he bade me take Whitefoot home and give you the money," said Steadfast, producing a bag which Patience took to keep for her father.
She watched very anxiously, and so did Stead, while relieving Whitefoot of her panniers and giving her a rub down before turning her out to get her supper.
It was not long however before Kenton and Jeph both appeared, the one looking sad, the other sulky. "Too late," Jeph muttered, "and father won't let me go to see the sport."
"Sport, d'ye call it?" said Kenton. "Aye, Stead, you may well gape at what we have seen--our good parson with his feet tied to his stirrups on a sorry nag, being hauled off to town like a common thief!"
"Oh!" broke from the children, and Patience ventured to ask, "But what for, father?"
"They best know who did it," said the Churchwarden. "Something they said of a scandalous minister, as though his had not ever been a godly life and preaching. These be strange times, children, and for the life of me, I know not what it all means. How now, Jeph, what art idling there for? There's the waggon to be loaded for to-morrow with the faggots I promised Mistress Lightfoot."
Jeph moved away, murmuring something about fetching up the cows, to which his father replied, "That was Steadfast's work, and it was not time yet."
In fact Jeph was very curious to know what was going on in the village. If there was any kind of uproar, why should not he have his part in it? It was just like father to hinder him, and he had a great mind to neglect the faggots and go off to the village. He was rather surprised, and a good deal vexed to see his father walking along on the way to the pasture with Steadfast.
It was for the sake of saying "Aye, boy, best not go near the sorry sight! They would not let good Master Holworth speak with me; but I saw he meant to warn me to keep aloof lest Tim Green or the like should remember as how I'm Churchwarden."
"Did they ask after those things?" inquired Steadfast in a lowered voice.
"I can't say. But on your life, lad, not a word of them!"
After work was done for the evening, Jeph and Stead were too eager to know what had happened to stay at home. They ran across the bit of moorland to the village street and the grey church, whose odd-shaped steeple stood up among the trees. Already they could see that the great west window was broken, all the glass which bore the picture of the Last Judgment, and the Archangel Michael weighing souls in the balance was gone!
"Yes," said Tom Oates, leaping over two or three tombstones to get to them. "'Twas rare sport, Jeph Kenton. Why were you not there too?"
"At Bristol with father," replied Jeph.
"Worse luck for you. The red coat shot the big angel right in the eye, and shivered him through, and we did the rest with stones. I sent one that knocked the wing of him right off. You should have seen me, Stead! And old Clerk North was running about crying all the time like a baby. He'll never whack us over the head again!"
"What was the good?" said Steadfast.
"You never saw better sport," said the boys.
And indeed, since, when once begun, destruction and mischief are apt to be only too delightful to boys, they had thoroughly and thoughtlessly delighted in knocking down the things they had been taught to respect. A figure of a knight in a ruff kneeling on a tomb had had its head knocked off, and one of the lads heaved the bits up to throw at the last fragment of glass in the window.
"What do you do that for?" asked Stead.
"'Tis worshipping of idols," said a somewhat graver lad. "'Break down their idols,' the man in the black gown said, 'and burn their graven images in the fire.'"
"But we never worshipped them," said Stead.
"Pious preacher said so," returned the youth, "and mighty angered was he with the rails." (Jeph and Will were sparring with two fragments of them.) "'Down with them,' he cried out, so as it would have done your heart good to hear him."
"And the parson is gone! There will be no hearing the catechism on Sundays!" cried Ralph Wilkes, making a leap over the broken font.
"Good luck for you, Ralph," cried the others. "You, that never could tell how many commandments there be."
"Put on your hat, Stead," called out another lad. "We've done with all that now, and the parson is gone to prison for it."
"No, no," shouted Tom Oates, "'twas for making away with the Communion things."
"I heard the red coat say they had a warrant against scandalous ministers," declared Ralph Wilkes.
"I heard the man with the pen and ink-horn ask for the popish vessels, as he called them, and not a word would the parson say," said Oates.
"I'd take my oath he has hid them somewheres," replied Jack Beard, an ill-looking lad.
"What a windfall they would be for him as found them!" observed Wilkes.
"I'd like to look over the parsonage house," said Jeph.
"No use. Old dame housekeeper has locked herself in, as savage as a bear with a sore head."
"Besides, they did turn over all the parson's things and made a bonfire of all his popish books. The little ones be dancing their rounds about it still!"
Stead had heard quite enough to make him very uneasy, and wish to get home with his tidings to his father. There was a girl standing by with a baby in her arms, and she asked:
"What will they do to our minister?"
"Put him in Little Ease for a scandalous minister," was the ready answer. "But he _is_ a good man. He gave us all broth when father had the fever!"
"And who will give granny and me our Sunday dinner?" said a little boy.
"But there'll be no more catechising. Hurrah!" cried Oates, "hurrah!"
"'Tis rank superstition, said the red coat, Hurrah!" and up went their caps. "Halloa, Stead Kenton, not a word to say?"
"He likes being catechised, standing as he does like a stuck pig, and answering never a word," cried Jack.
"I do," said Steadfast, "and why not?"
"Parson's darling! Parson's darling!" shouted the boys. "A malignant! Off with him." They had begun to hustle him, when Jeph threw himself between and cried:
"Hit Steadfast, and you must hit me first."
"A match, a match!" they cried, "Jeph and Jack."
Stead had no fears about Jeph conquering, but while the others stood round to watch the boxing, he slipped away, with his heart perplexed and sad. He had loved his minister, and he never guessed how much he cared for his church till he saw it lying desolate, and these rude lads rejoicing in the havoc; while the words rang in his ears, "And now they break down all the carved work thereof with axes and with hammers."
THE GOOD CAUSE.
"And their Psalter mourneth with them O'er the carvings and the grace, Which axe and hammer ruin In the fair and holy place." Bp. CLEVELAND COXE.
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