Read CHAPTER VII.  THE HERMIT’S GULLEY of Under the Storm Steadfast Charge, free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on ReadCentral.com.

     “O Bessie Bell and Mary Grey,
      They were twa bonnie lasses ­
      They digged a bower on yonder brae,
      And theek’d it o’er wi’ rashes.”  Ballad.

Steadfast slept soundly on the straw with Toby curled up by his side till the morning light was finding its way in through all the chinks of his rude little hovel.

When he had gathered his recollections he knew how much there was to be done.  He sprang to his feet, showing himself still his good mother’s own boy by kneeling down to his short prayer, then taking off the clothes in which he had slept, and giving himself a good bath in the pool under the bush of wax-berried guelder rose, and as good a wash as he could without soap.

Then he milked the cows, for happily his own buckets had been at the stable and thus were safe.  He had just released Croppie and seen her begin her breakfast on the grass, when Patience in her little red hood came tripping through the glen with a broom over her shoulder, and without the other children.  Goody Grace had undertaken to keep them for the day, whilst Patience worked with her brother, and had further lent her the broom till she could make another, for all the country brooms of that time were home-made with the heather and the birch.  She had likewise brought a barley cake, on which and on the milk the pair made their breakfast, Goody providing for the little ones.

“We must use it up,” said Patience, “for we have got no churn.”

“And we could not get into the town to sell the butter if we had,” returned her brother.  “We had better take it up to some one in the village who might give us something for it, bread or cheese maybe.”

“I would like to make my own butter,” sighed Patience, whose mother’s cleanly habits had made her famous for it.

“So you shall some day, Patty,” said her brother, “but there’s no getting into Bristol to buy one or to sell butter now.  Hark! they are beginning again,” as the growl of a heavy piece of cannon shook the ground.

“I wonder where our Jeph is,” said the little girl sadly.  “How could he like to go among all those cruel fighting men?  You won’t go, Stead?”

“No, indeed, I have got something else to do.”

The children were hard at work all the time.  They cleared out the inside of their hovel, which had a floor of what was called lime ash, trodden hard, and not much cracked.  Probably other hermits in earlier times had made the place habitable before the expelled monk whom the Kentons’ great-grandfather recollected; for the cell, though rude, was wonderfully strong, and the stone walls were very stout and thick, after the fashion of the middle ages.  There was a large flat stone to serve as a hearth, and an opening at the top for smoke with a couple of big slaty stones bent towards one another over it as a break to the force of the rain.  The children might have been worse off though there was no window, and no door to close the opening.  That mattered the less in the summer weather, and before winter came, Stead thought he could close it with a mat made of the bulrushes that stood up in the brook, lifting their tall, black heads.

Straw must serve for their beds till they could get some sacking to stuff it into, and as some of the sheep would have to be killed and salted for the winter, the skins would serve for warmth.  Patience arranged the bundles of straw with a neat bit of plaiting round them, at one corner of the room for herself and Rusha, at the opposite one for Stead.  For the present they must sleep in their clothes.

Life was always so rough, and, to present notions, comfortless, that all this was not nearly so terrible to the farmer’s daughter of two centuries ago as it would be to a girl of the present day.  Indeed, save for the grief for the good father, the sense of which now and then rushed on them like a horrible, too true dream, Steadfast and Patience would almost have enjoyed the setting up for themselves and all their contrivances.  Some losses, however, besides that of the churn were very great in their eyes.  Patience’s spinning wheel especially, and the tools, scythe, hook, and spade, all of which had been so much damaged, that Smith Blane had shaken his head over them as past mending.

Perhaps, however, Stead might borrow and get these made for him.  As to the wheel, that must, like the churn, wait till the siege was over.

“But will not those dreadful men burn the town down and not leave one stone on another, if Jeph and the rest of them don’t keep them out?” asked Patience.

“No,” said Stead.  “That is not the way in these days ­at least not always.  So poor father said last time we went into Bristol, when he had been talking to the butter-merchant’s man.  He said the townsfolk would know the reason why, if the soldiers were for holding out long enough to get them into trouble.”

“Then perhaps there will not be much fighting and they will not hurt Jeph,” said Patience, to whom Jeph was the whole war.

“There’s no firing to-day.  Maybe they are making it up,” said Steadfast.

“I never heeded,” said Patience, “we have been so busy!  But Stead, how shall we get the things?  We have no money.  Shall we sell a sheep or a pig?”

Stead looked very knowing, and she exclaimed “Have you any, Stead?  I thought Jeph took it all away.”

Then Stead told her how his father had entrusted him with the bulk of the savings, in case of need, and had made it over to the use of the younger ones.

“It was well you did not know, Patty,” he added.  “You told no lie, and Jeph might have taken it all.”

“O! he would not have been so cruel,” cried Patience.  “He would not want Rusha and Ben to have nothing.”

Stead did not feel sure, and when Patience asked him where the hoard was, he shook his head, looked wise, and would not tell her.  And then he warned her, with all his might and main against giving a hint to anyone that they had any such fund in reserve.  She was a little vexed and hurt at first, but presently she promised.

“Indeed Stead, I won’t say one word about it, and you don’t think I would ever touch it without telling you.”

“No, Patty, you wouldn’t, but don’t you see, if you know nothing, you can’t tell if people ask you.”

In truth, Stead was less anxious about the money than about the other treasure, and when presently Patience proposed that the cave where they used to play should serve for the poultry, so as to save them from the foxes and polecats, he looked very grave and said “No, no, Patty, don’t you ever tell anyone of that hole, nor let Rusha see it.”

“Oh!  I know then!” cried Patience, with a little laugh, “I know what’s there then.”

“There’s more than that, sister,” and therewith Stead told in her ear of the precious deposit.

She looked very grave, and said “Why then it is just like church!  O no, Stead, I’ll never tell till good Mr. Holworth comes back.  Could not we say our prayers there on Sundays?”

Stead liked the thought but shook his head.

“We must not wear a path up to the place,” he said, “nor show the little ones the way.”

“I shall say mine as near as I can,” said Patience.  “And I shall ask God to help us keep it safe.”

Then the children became absorbed in seeking for a place where their fowls could find safe shelter from the enemies that lurked in the wood, and ended by an attempt of Stead’s to put up some perches across the beam above the cow-shed.

Things were forward enough for Rusha and Ben to be fetched down to their new home that night; when Patience went to fetch them, she heard that the cessation of firing had really been because the troops within the town were going to surrender to the King’s soldiers outside.

“Then there will be no more fighting,” she anxiously asked of Master Blane.

“No man can tell,” he answered.

“And will Jeph come back?”

But that he could tell as little, and indeed someone else spoke to him, and he paid the child no more attention.

Rusha had had a merry day among the children of her own age in the village; she fretted at coming away, and was frightened at turning into so lonely a path through the hazel stems, trotting after Patience because she was afraid to turn back alone, but making a low, peevish moan all the time.

Patience hoped she would be comforted when they came out on their little glade, and she saw Stead stirring the milk porridge over the fire he had lighted by the house.  For he had found the flint and steel belonging to the matchlock of his father’s old gun, and there was plenty of dry leaves and half-burnt wood to serve as tinder.  The fire for cooking would be outside, whenever warmth and weather served, to prevent indoor smoke.  And to Patience’s eyes it really looked pleasant and comfortable, with Toby sitting wisely by his young master’s side, and the cat comfortably perched at the door, and Whitefoot tied to a tree, and the cows in their new abode.  But Jerusha was tired and cross, she said it was an ugly place, and she was afraid of the foxes and the polecats, she wanted to go home, she wanted to go back to Goody Grace.

Stead grew angry, and threatened that she should have no supper, and that made her cry the louder, and shake her frock at him; but Patience, who knew better how to deal with her, let her finish her cry, and come creeping back, promising to be good, and glad to eat the supper, which was wholesome enough, though very smoky:  however, the children were used to smoke, and did not mind it.

They said their prayers together while the sun was touching the tops of the trees, crept into their hut, curled themselves up upon their straw and went to sleep, while Toby lay watchful at the door, and the cat prowled about in quest of a rabbit or some other evening wanderer for her supper.

The next day Patience spent in trying to get things into somewhat better order, and Steadfast in trying to gather together his live stock, which he had been forced to leave to take care of themselves.  Horse, donkey, and cows were all safe round their hut; but he could find only three of the young pigs and the old sow at the farmyard, and it plainly was not safe to leave them there, though how to pen them up in their new quarters he did not know.

The sheep were out on the moor, and only one of them seemed to be missing.  The goat and the geese had likewise taken care of themselves and seemed glad to see him.  He drove them down to their new home, and fed them there with some of the injured meal.  “But what can we do with the pigs?  There’s no place they can’t get out of but this,” said Stead, looking doubtfully.

“Do you think I would have pigs in here?  No, I am not come to that!”

It ended in Stead’s going to consult Master Blane, who advised that the younger pigs should be either sold, or killed and salted, and nothing left but the sow, who was a cunning old animal, and could pretty well take care of herself, besides that she was so tough and lean that one must be very hungry indeed to be greatly tempted by her bristles.

But how sell the pigs or buy the salt in such days as these?  There was, indeed, no firing.

There was a belief that treaties were going on, but leisure only left the besiegers more free to go wandering about in search of plunder; and Stead found all trouble saved him as to disposing of his pigs.  They were quite gone next time he looked for them, and the poor old sow had been lamed by a shot; but did not seem seriously hurt, and when with some difficulty she had been persuaded to be driven into the glen, she seemed likely to be willing to stay there in the corner of the cattle shed.

The children were glad enough to be in their glen, with all its bareness and discomfort, when they heard that a troop of horse had visited Elmwood, and made a requisition there for hay and straw.  They had used no violence, but the farmers were compelled to take it into the camp in their own waggons, getting nothing in payment but orders on the treasury, which might as well be waste paper.  And, indeed, they were told by the soldiers that they might be thankful to get off with their carts and horses.