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UNDER THE STORM: OR STEADFAST'S CHARGE

by CHARLOTTE M YONGE

Author of 'The Heir of Redclyffe,' &c.

WITH SIX FULL PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS

CONTENTS.

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

UNDER THE STORM: OR STEADFAST'S CHARGE.

CHAPTER I. THE TRUST.

'I brought them here as to a sanctuary.'

SOUTHEY.

Most of us have heard of the sad times in the middle of the seventeenth century, when Englishmen were at war with one another and quiet villages became battlefields.

We hear a great deal about King and Parliament, great lords and able generals, Cavaliers and Roundheads, but this story is to help us to think how it must have gone in those times with quiet folk in cottages and farmhouses.

There had been peace in England for a great many years, ever since the end of the wars of the Roses. So the towns did not want fortifications to keep out the enemy, and their houses spread out beyond the old walls; and the country houses had windows and doors large and wide open, with no thought of keeping out foes, and farms and cottages were freely spread about everywhere, with their fields round them.

The farms were very small, mostly held by men who did all the work themselves with the help of their families.

Such a farm belonged to John Kenton of Elmwood. It lay at the head of a long green lane, where the bushes overhead almost touched one another in the summer, and the mud and mire were very deep in winter; but that mattered the less as nothing on wheels went up or down it but the hay or harvest carts, creaking under their load, and drawn by the old mare, with a cow to help her.

Beyond lay a few small fields, and then a bit of open ground scattered with gorse and thorn bushes, and much broken by ups and downs. There, one afternoon on a big stone was seated Steadfast Kenton, a boy of fourteen, sturdy, perhaps loutish, with an honest ruddy face under his leathern cap, a coarse smock frock and stout gaiters. He was watching the fifteen sheep and lambs, the old goose and gander and their nine children, the three cows, eight pigs, and the old donkey which got their living there.

From the top of the hill, beyond the cleft of the river Avon, he could see the smoke and the church towers of the town of Bristol, and beyond it, the slime of the water of the Bristol Channel; and nearer, on one side, the spire of Elmwood Church looked up, and, on the other, the woods round Elmwood House, and these ran out as it were, lengthening and narrowing into a wooded cleft or gulley, Hermit's Gulley, which broke the side of the hill just below where Steadfast stood, and had a little clear stream running along the bottom.

Steadfast's little herd knew the time of day as well as if they all had watches in their pockets, and they never failed to go down and have a drink at the brook before going back to the farmyard.

They did not need to be driven, but gathered into the rude steep path that they and their kind had worn in the side of the ravine. Steadfast followed, looking about him to judge how soon the nuts would be ripe, while his little rough stiff-haired dog Toby poked about in search of rabbits or hedgehogs, or the like sport.

Steadfast liked that pathway home beside the stream, as boys do love running water. Good stones could be got there, water rats might be chased, there were strawberries on the banks which he gathered and threaded on stalks of grass for his sisters, Patience and Jerusha. They used to come with him and have pleasant games, but it was a long time since Patience had been able to come out, for in the winter, a grievous trouble had come on the family. The good mother had died, leaving a little baby of six weeks old, and Patience, who was only thirteen, had to attend to everything at home, and take care of poor little sickly Benoni with no one to help her but her little seven years old sister.

The children's lives had been much less bright since that sad day; and Steadfast seldom had much time for play. He knew he must get home as fast as he could to help Patience in milking the cows, feeding the pigs and poultry, and getting the supper, or some of the other things that his elder brother Jephthah called wench-work and would not do.

He could not, however, help looking up at the hole in the side of the steep cliff, where one might climb up to such a delightful cave, in which he and Patience had so often played on hot days. It had been their secret, and a kind of palace to them. They had sat there as king and queen, had paved it with stones from the brook, and had had many plans for the sports they would have there this summer, little thinking that Patience would have been turned into a grave, busy little housewife, instead of a merry, playful child.

Toby looked up too, and began to bark. There was a rustling in the bushes below the cave, and Steadfast, at first in dismay to see his secret delight invaded, beheld between the mountain ash boughs and ivy, to his great surprise, a square cap and black cassock tucked up, and then a bit of brown leathern coat, which he knew full well. It was the Vicar, Master Holworth, and his father John Kenton was Churchwarden, so it was no wonder to see him and the Parson together, but what could bring them here--into Steadfast's cave? and with a dark lantern too! They seemed as surprised, perhaps as vexed as he was, at the sight of him, but his father said, ''Tis my lad, Steadfast, I'll answer for him.'

'And so will I,' returned the clergyman. 'Is anyone with you, my boy?'

'No, your reverence, no one save the beasts.'

'Then come up here,' said his father. 'Someone has been playing here, I see.'

'Patience and I, father, last summer.'

'No one else?'

'No, no one. We put those stones and those sticks when we made a fire there last year, and no one has meddled with them since.'

'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--'

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