Read CHAPTER VIII.  STEAD IN POSSESSION of Under the Storm Steadfast Charge, free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on ReadCentral.com.

“At night returning, every labour sped,
He sits him down, the monarch of a shed.” 
Goldsmith.

Another day made it certain that the garrison of Bristol had surrendered to the besiegers.  A few shots were heard, but they were only fired in rejoicing by the Royalists, and while Steadfast was studying his barley field, already silvered over by its long beards, and wondering how soon it would be ripe, and how he should get it cut and stacked, his name was shouted out, and he saw Tom Oates and all the rest of the boys scampering down the lane.

“Come along, Stead Kenton, come on and see, the Parliament soldiers come out and go by.”

Poor Steadfast had not much heart for watching soldiers, but it struck him that he might see or hear something of Jephthah, so he came with the other boys to the bank, where from behind a hedge they could look down at the ranks of soldiers as they marched along, five abreast, the road was not wide enough to hold more.  They had been allowed to keep their weapons, so the officers had their swords, and the men carried their musquets.  Most of them looked dull and dispirited, and the officers had very gloomy, displeased faces.  In fact, they were very angry with their commander, Colonel Fiennes, for having surrendered so easily, and he was afterwards brought to a court-martial for having done so.

Stead did not understand this, he thought only of looking under each steel cap or tall, slouching hat for Jephthah.  Several times a youthful, slender figure raised his hopes, and disappointed him, and he began to wonder whether Jeph could have after all stayed behind in the town, or if he could have been hurt and was ill there.

By-and-by came a standard, bearing a Bible lying on a sword, and behind it rode a grave looking officer, with long hair, and a red scarf, whom the lads recognised as the same who had preached at Elmwood.  His men were in better order than some of the others, and as Steadfast eagerly watched them, he was sure that he knew the turn of Jeph’s head, in spite of his being in an entirely new suit of clothes, and with a musquet over his shoulder.

Stead shook the ash stem he was leaning against, the men looked up, he saw the well-known face, and called out “Jeph!  Jeph!” But some of the others laughed, Jeph frowned and shook his head, and marched on.  Stead was disappointed, but at any rate he could carry back the assurance to Patience that Jeph was alive and well, though he seemed to have lost all care for his brothers and sisters.  Yet, perhaps, as a soldier he could not help it, and it might not be safe to straggle from the ranks.

There was no more fighting for the present in the neighbourhood.  The princes and their army departed, only leaving a garrison to keep the city, and it was soon known in the village that the town was in its usual state, and that it was safe to go in to market as in former times.  Stead accordingly carried in a basket of eggs, which was all he could yet sell.  He was ferried across the river, and made his way in.  It was strange to find the streets looking exactly as usual, and the citizens’ wives coming out with their baskets just as if nothing had happened.

There was the good-natured face of Mistress Lightfoot, who kept a baker’s shop at the sign of the Wheatsheaf, and was their regular customer.

“Ha, little Kenton, be’st thou there?  I’m right glad to see thee.  They said the mad fellows had burnt the farm and made an end of all of you, but I find ’em civil enow, and I’m happy to see ’twas all leasing-making.”

“It is true, mistress,” said Stead, “that they burnt our house and shot poor father.”

“Eh, you don’t say so, my poor lad?” and she hurried her kind questions, tears coming into her eyes, as she thought of the orphans deserted by their brother.  She was very anxious to have Patience butter-making again and promised to come with Stead to give her assistance in choosing both a churn and a spinning wheel if he would come in the next day, for he had not ventured on bringing any money with him.  She bought all his eggs for her lodger, good Doctor Eales, who could hardly taste anything and had been obliged to live cooped up in an inner chamber for fear of the Parliament soldiers, who were misbehaved to Church ministers though civil enough to women; while these new comers were just the other way, hat in hand to a clergyman, but apt to be saucy to the lasses.  But she hoped the Doctor would cheer up again, now that the Cathedral was set in order, so far as might be, and prayers were said there as in old times.  In fact the bells were ringing for morning prayer, and Stead was so glad to hear them that he thought he might venture in and join in the brief daily service.  There were many others who had done so, for these anxious days had quickened the devotion of many hearts, and people had felt what it was to be robbed of their churches and forbidden the use of their prayer-books.  Moreover, some had sons or brothers or husbands fighting on the one side or the other, and were glad to pray for them, so that Stead found himself in the midst of quite a congregation, though the choir had been too much dispersed and broken up for the musical service, and indeed the organ had been torn to pieces by the Puritan soldiers, who fancied it was Popish.

But Stead found himself caring for the Psalms and Prayers in a manner he had never done before, and which came of the sorrow he had felt and the troubles that pressed upon him.  He fancied all would come right now, and that soon Mr. Holworth would be back, and he should be able to give up his charge; and he went home, quite cheered up.

When he came into the gulley he heard voices through the bushes, and pressing forward anxiously he saw Blane and Oates before the hovel door, Patience standing there crying, with the baby in her arms, and Rusha holding her apron, and an elderly man whom Stead knew as old Lady Elmwood’s steward talking to the other men, who seemed to be persuading him to something.

As soon as Stead appeared, the other children ran up to him, and Rusha hid herself behind him, while Patience said “O Stead, Stead, he has come to turn us all out!  Don’t let him!”

“Nay, nay, little wench, not so fast,” said the steward, not unkindly.  “I am but come to look after my Lady’s interests, seeing that we heard your poor father was dead, God have mercy on his soul (touching his hat reverently), and his son gone off to the wars, and nothing but a pack of children left.”

“But ’tis all poor father’s,” muttered Stead, almost dumbfounded.

“It is held under the manor of Elmwood,” explained the steward, “on the tenure of the delivery of the prime beast on the land on the demise of lord or tenant, and three days’ service in hay and harvest time.”

What this meant Steadfast and Patience knew as little as did Rusha or Ben, but Goodman Blane explained.

“The land here is all held under my Lady and Sir George, Stead ­mine just the same ­no rent paid, but if there’s a death ­landlord or tenant ­one has to give the best beast as a fee, besides the work in harvest.”

“And the question is,” proceeded the steward, “who and what is there to look to.  The eldest son is but a lad, if he were here, and this one is a mere child, and the house is burnt down, and here they be, crouching in a hovel, and how is it to be with the land.  I’m bound to look after the land.  I’m bound to look after my Lady’s interest and Sir George’s.”

“Be they ready to build up the place if you had another tenant?” asked Blane, signing to Stead to hold his peace.

“Well ­hum ­ha!  It might not come handy just now, seeing that Sir George is off with the King, and all the money and plate with him and most of the able-bodied servants, but I’m the more bound to look after his interests.”

That seemed to be Master Brown’s one sentence.  But Blane took him up, “Look you here, Master Brown, I, that have been friend and gossip this many years with poor John Kenton ­rest his soul ­can tell you that your lady is like to be better served with this here Steadfast, boy though he be, than if you had the other stripling with his head full of drums and marches, guns and preachments, and what not, and who never had a good day’s work in him without his father’s eye over him.  This little fellow has done half his share and his own to boot long ago.  Now they are content to dwell down here, out of the way of the soldiering, and don’t ask her ladyship to be at any cost for repairing the farm up there, but will do the best they can for themselves.  So, I say, Master Brown, it will be a real good work of charity, without hurt to my Lady and Sir George to let them be, poor things, to fight it out as they can.”

“Well, well, there’s somewhat in what you say Goodman Blane, but I’m bound to look after my Lady’s interests and Sir George’s.”

“I would come and work like a good one at my Lady’s hay and harvest,” said Stead, “and I shall get stronger and bigger every year.”

“But the beast,” said the steward, “my Lady’s interests must come first, you see.”

“O don’t let him take Croppie,” cried Patience.  “O sir, not the cows, or baby will die, and we can’t make the butter.”

“You see, Master Brown,” explained Blane, “it is butter as is their chief stand-by.  Poor Dame Kenton, as was took last spring, was the best dairywoman in the parish, and this little maid takes after her.  Their kine are their main prop, but there’s the mare, there’s not much good that she can do them.”

“Let us look!” said the steward.  “A sorry jade enow!  But I don’t know but she will serve our turn better than the cow.  There was a requisition, as they have the impudence to call it, from the Parliament lot that took off all our horses, except old grey Dobbin and the colt, and this beast may come in handy to draw the wood.  So I’ll take her, and you may think yourself well off, and thank my Lady I’m so easy with you.  ‘Be not hard on the orphans,’ she said.  ‘Heaven forbid, my Lady,’ says I, ‘but I must look after your interests.’”

The children hung round old Whitefoot, making much of her for the last time, and Patience and Rusha both cried sadly when she was led away; and it was hard to believe Master Blane, who told them it was best for Whitefoot as well as for themselves, since they would find it a hard matter to get food even for the more necessary animals in the winter, and the poor beast would soon be skin and bone; while for themselves the donkey could carry all they wanted to market; and it might be more important than they understood to be thus regularly accepted as tenants by the manor, so that no one could turn them out.

And Stead, remembering the cavern, knew that he ought to be thankful, while the two men went away, Brown observing, “One can scarce turn ’em out, poor things, but such a mere lubber as that boy is can do no good!  If the elder one had thought fit to stay and mind his own business now!”

“A good riddance, I say,” returned Blane.  “Stead’s a good-hearted lad, though clownish, and I’ll do what I can for him.”