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- Under the Storm - 5/38 -
When next John Kenton went into Bristol to market he tried to discover what had become of Mr. Holworth, but could only make out something about his being sent up to London with others of his sort to answer for being Baal worshippers! Which, as he observed, he could not understand.
There seemed likely to be no service at the church on Sunday, but John thought himself bound to walk thither with his sons to see what was going on, and they heard such a noise that they looked at each other in amazement. It was not preaching, but shouting, laughing, screaming, stamping, and running. The rude village children were playing at hide-and-seek, and Jenny Oates was hidden in the pulpit. But at Master Kenton's loud "How now, youngsters" they all were frightened, some ran out headlong, some sneaked out at the little north door, and the place was quiet, but in sad confusion and desolation, the altar-table overthrown, the glass of the windows lying in fragments on the pavement, the benches kicked over.
Kenton, with his boys' help, put what he could straight again, and then somewhat to their surprise knelt down with bowed head, and said a prayer, for they saw his lips moving. Then he locked up the church doors, for the keys had been left in them, and slowly and sadly went away.
"Thy mother would be sad to see this work," he said to Steadfast, as he stopped by her grave. "They say 'tis done for religion's sake, but I know not what to make of it."
The old Parish Clerk, North, had had a stroke the night after the plunder of the church, and lay a-dying and insensible. His wife gave his keys to Master Kenton, and on the following Sunday there was a hue-and-cry for them, and Oates the father, the cobbler, a meddling fellow, came down with a whole rabble of boys after him to the farm to demand them. "A preacher had come out from Bristol," he said, "a captain in the army, and he was calling for the keys to get into the church and give them a godly discourse. It would be the worse for Master Kenton if he did not give them up."
John had just sat down in the porch in his clean Sunday smock with the baby on his knee, and Rusha clinging about him waiting till Stead had cleaned himself up, and was ready to read to them from the mother's books.
When he understood Gates' message he slowly said, "I be in charge of the keys for this here parish."
"Come, come, Master Kenton, this wont do, give 'un up or you'll be made to. Times are changed, and we don't want no parsons nor churchwardens now, nor no such popery!"
"I'm accountable to the vestry for the church," gravely said Kenton. "I will come and see what is doing, and open the church if so be as the parish require it."
"Don't you see! The parish does--"
"I don't call you the parish, Master Gates, nor them boys neither," said Kenton, getting up however, and placing the little one in the cradle, as he called out to Patience to keep back the dinner till his return. The two boys and Rusha followed him to see what would happen.
Long before they reached the churchyard they heard the sound of a powerful voice, and presently they could see all the men and women of the parish as it seemed, gathered about the lych gate, where, on the large stone on which coffins were wont to be rested, stood a tall thin man, in a heavy broad-brimmed hat, large bands, crimson scarf, and buff coat, who was in fiery and eager words calling on all those around to awaken from the sleep of sloth and sin, break their bonds and fight for freedom and truth. He waved his long sword as he spoke and dared the armies of Satan to come on, and it was hard to tell which he really meant, the forces of sin, or the armies of men whom he believed to be fighting on the wrong side.
Someone told him that the keys of the church were brought, but he heeded not the interruption, except to thunder forth "What care I for your steeple house! The Church of God is in the souls of the faithful. Is it not written 'The kingdom of heaven is within you?' What, can ye not worship save between four walls?" And then he went on with the utmost fervour and vehemence, calling on all around to set themselves free from the chains that held them and to strive even to the death.
He meant all he said. He really believed he was teaching the only way of righteousness, and so his words had a force that went home to people's hearts as earnestness always does, and Jephthah, with tears in his eyes, began begging and praying his father to let him go and fight for the good Cause.
"Aye, aye," said Kenton, "against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and welcome, my son."
"Then I'll go and enlist under Captain Venn," cried Jeph.
"Not so fast, my lad. What I gave you leave for was to fight with the devil."
"You said the good Cause!"
"And can you tell me which be the good Cause?"
"Why, this here, of course. Did not you hear the Captain's good words, and see his long sword, and didn't they give five marks for Croppie's bull calf?"
"Fine words butter no parsnips," slowly responded Kenton.
"But," put in Steadfast, "butter is risen twopence the pound."
"Very like," said Kenton, "but how can that be the good Cause that strips the Churches and claps godly ministers into jail?"
Jephthah thought he had an answer, but fathers in those times did not permit themselves to be argued with.
Prices began going up still higher, for the Cavaliers were reported to be on their way to besiege Bristol, and the garrison wanted all the provisions they could lay in, and paid well for them. When Kenton and his boys went down to market, they found the old walls being strengthened with earth and stones, and sentries watching at the gates, but as they brought in provisions, and were by this time well known, no difficulty was made about admitting them.
One day, however, as they were returning, they saw a cloud of dust in the distance, and heard the sounds of drums and fifes playing a joyous tune. Kenton drew the old mare behind the bank of a high hedge, and the boys watched eagerly through the hawthorns.
Presently they saw the Royal Standard of England, though indeed that did not prove much, for both sides used it alike, but there were many lesser banners and pennons of lords and knights, waving on the breeze, and as the Kentons peeped down into the lane below they saw plumed hats, and shining corslets, and silken scarves, and handsome horses, whose jingling accoutrements chimed in with the tramp of their hoofs, and the notes of the music in front, while cheerful voices and laughter could be heard all around.
"Oh, father! these be gallant fellows," exclaimed Jephthah. "Will you let me go with these?"
Kenton laughed a little to himself. "Which is the good Cause, eh, son Jeph?"
He was, however, not at all easy about the state of things. "There is like to be fighting," he said to Steadfast, as they were busy together getting hay into the stable, "and that makes trouble even for quiet folks that only want to be let alone. Now, look you here," and he pulled out a canvas bag from the corner of the bin. "This has got pretty tolerably weighty of late, and I doubt me if this be the safest place for it."
Stead opened his eyes. The family all knew that the stable was used as the deposit for money, though none of the young folks had been allowed to know exactly where it was kept. There were no banks in those days, and careful people had no choice but either to hoard and hide, or to lend their money to someone in business.
The farmer poured out a heap of the money, all silver and copper, but he did not dare to wait to count it lest he should be interrupted. He tied up one handful, chiefly of pence, in the same bag, and put the rest into a bit of old sacking, saying, "You can get to the brook side, to the place you wot of, better than I can, Stead. Take you this with you and put it along with the other things, and then you will have something to fall back on in case of need. We'll put the rest back where it was before, for it may come handy."
So Steadfast, much gratified, as well he might be, at the confidence bestowed on him by his father, took the bag with him under his smock when he went out with the cows, and bestowed it in a cranny not far from that in which that more precious trust resided.
"They shot him dead at the Nine Stonerig, Beside the headless Cross; And they left him lying in his blood, Upon the moor and moss." SURTEES.
More and more soldiers might be seen coming down the roads towards the town, not by any means always looking as gay as that first troop. Some of the feathers were as draggled as the old cock's tail after a thunderstorm, some reduced even to the quill, the coats looked threadbare, the scarves stained and frayed, the horses lean and bony.
There was no getting into the town now, and the growling thunder of a cannon might now and then be heard. Jeph would have liked to spend all his time on the hill-side where he could see the tents round the town, and watch bodies of troops come out, looking as small as toy soldiers, and see the clouds of smoke, sometimes the flashes, a
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