Read CHAPTER XI.  THE FORTUNES OF WAR of Under the Storm Steadfast Charge, free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on ReadCentral.com.

“Hear and improve, he pertly cries,
I come to make a nation wise.” 
Gay

Very early in the morning, before indeed anyone except Patience was stirring, Steadfast set forth in search of Roger Fitter to consult him about the poor child who was fast asleep beside Jerusha; and propose to him to take her into Bristol to find her father.

Hodge, who had celebrated his return by a hearty supper with his friends, was still asleep, and his mother was very unwilling to call him, or to think of his going back to the wars.  However, he rolled down the cottage stair at last, and the first thing he did was to observe ­

“Well, mother, how be you?  I felt like a boy again, waking up in the old chamber.  Where’s my back and breast-piece?  Have you a cup of ale, while I rub it up?”

“Now, Hodge, you be not going to put on that iron thing again, when you be come back safe and sound from those bloody wars?” entreated his mother.

“Ho, ho! mother, would you have me desert?  No, no!  I must to my colours again, or Sir George and my lady might make it too hot to hold you here.  Hollo, young one, Stead Kenton, eh?  Didst find thy brother?  No, I’ll be bound.  The Roundhead rascals have all the luck.”

“I found something else,” said Steadfast, and he proceeded to tell about the child while Dame Fitter stood by with many a pitying “Dear heart!” and “Good lack!”

Hodge knew Serjeant Gaythorn, and knew that the poor man’s wife had been shot dead in the flight from Naseby; but he demurred at the notion of encumbering himself with the child when he went into the town.  He suspected that he should have much ado to get in himself, and if he could not find her father, what could he do with her?

Moreover, he much doubted whether the serjeant was alive.  He had been among those on whom the sharpest attack had fallen, and not many of them had got off alive.

“What like was he?” said Steadfast.  “We looked at a many of the poor corpses that lay there.  They’ll never be out of my eyes again at night!”

“A battlefield or two would cure that,” grimly smiled Hodge.  “Gaythorn ­he was a man to know again ­had big black moustaches, and had lost an eye, had a scar like a weal from a whip all down here from a sword-cut at Long Marston.”

“Then I saw him,” said Stead, in a low voice.  “Did he wear a green scarf?”

“Aye, aye.  Belonged to the Rangers, but they are pretty nigh all gone now.”

“Under the rail of the miller’s croft,” added Stead.

“Just so.  That was where I saw them make a stand and go down like skittles.”

“Poor little maid.  What shall I tell her?”

“Well, you can never be sure,” said Hodge.  “There was a man now I thought as dead as a door nail at Newbury that charged by my side only yesterday.  You’d best tell the maid that if I find her father I’ll send him after her; and if not, when the place is quiet, you might look at the mill and see if he is lying wounded there.”

Steadfast thought the advice good, and it saved him from what he had no heart to do, though he could scarcely doubt that one of those ghastly faces had been the serjeant’s.

When he approached his home he was surprised to hear, through the copsewood, the sound of chattering, and when he came in sight of the front of the hut, he beheld Patience making butter with the long handled churn, little Ben toddling about on the grass, and two little girls laughing and playing with all the poultry round them.

One, of course, was stout, ruddy, grey-eyed Rusha, in her tight round cap, and stout brown petticoat with the homespun apron over it; the other was like a fairy by her side; slight and tiny, dressed in something of mixed threads of white and crimson that shone in the sun, with a velvet bodice, a green ribbon over it, and a gem over the shoulder that flashed in the sun, a tiny scarlet hood from which such a quantity of dark locks streamed as to give something the effect of a goldfinch’s crown, and the face was a brilliant little brown one, with glowing cheeks, pretty little white teeth, and splendid dark eyes.

Patience could have told that this bright array was so soiled, rumpled, ragged, and begrimed, that she hardly liked to touch it, but to Steadfast, who had only seen the child in the moonlight, she was a wonderful vision in the morning sunshine, and his heart was struck with a great pity at her clear, merry tones of laughter.

As he appeared in the open space, Toby running before him, the little girl looked up and rushed to him crying out ­

“It’s you.  Be you the country fellow who took me home?  Where’s father?”

Stead was so sorry for her that he took her up in his arms and said ­

“Hodge Fitter is gone into town to look for him, my pretty.  You must wait here till he comes for you,” and he would have kissed her, but she turned her head away, pouted, and said, “I didn’t give you leave to do that, you lubber lad.”

Steadfast was much diverted.  He was now a tall sturdy youth of sixteen, in a short smock frock, long leathern gaiters, and a round straw hat of Patience’s manufacture, and he felt too clumsy for the dainty little being, whom he hastened to set on her small feet ­in once smart but very dilapidated shoes.  His sisters were somewhat shocked at her impertinence and Rusha breathed out “Oh !”

“I am to wait here for Serjeant Gaythorn,” observed the little damsel somewhat consequentially.  “Well! it is a strange little makeshift of a place, but ’tis the fortune of war, and I have been in worse.”

“It is beautiful!” said Rusha, “now we have got a glass window ­and a real door ­and beds ­” all which recent stages in improvement she enumerated with a gasp of triumph and admiration between each.

“So you think,” said little Mistress Gaythorn.  “But I have lived in a castle.”

She was quite ready to tell her history.  Her name was Emlyn, and the early part of the eight years of her life had been spent at Sir Harry Blythedale’s castle, where her father had been butler and her mother my lady’s woman.  Sir Harry had gone away to the wars, and in his absence my lady had held out the castle (perhaps it was only a fortified house) against General Waller, hoping and hoping in vain for Lord Goring to come to her relief.

“That was worst of all,” said Emlyn, “we had to hide in the cellars when they fired at us ­and broke all the windows, and a shot killed my poor dear little kitten because she wouldn’t stay down with me.  And we couldn’t get any water, except by going out at night; young Master George was wounded at the well.  And they only gave us a tiny bit of dry bread and salt meat every day, and it made little Ralph sick and he died.  And at last there was only enough for two days more ­and a great breach ­that’s a hole,” she added condescendingly, ­“big enough to drive my lady’s coach-and-six through in the court wall.  So then my lady sent out Master Steward with one of the best napkins on the end of a stick ­that was a flag of truce, you know ­and all the rascal Roundheads had to come in, and we had to go out, with only just what we could carry.  My lady went in her coach with Master George, because he was hurt, and the young ladies, and some of the maids went home; but the most of us kept with my lady, to guard her to go to his Honour and the King at Oxford.  Father rode big Severn, and mother was on a pillion behind him, with baby in her arms, and I sat on a cushion in front.”

After that, it seemed that my lady had found a refuge among her kindred, but that the butler had been enrolled in his master’s troop of horse, and there being no separate means of support for his wife and children, they had followed the camp, a life that Emlyn had evidently enjoyed, although the baby died of the exposure.  She had been a great pet and favourite with everybody, and no doubt well-cared for even after the sad day when her mother had perished in the slaughter at Naseby.  Patience wondered what was to become of the poor child, if her father never appeared to claim her; but it was no time to bring this forward, for Steadfast, as soon as he had swallowed his porridge, had to go off to finish his day’s labour for the lady of the manor, warning his sisters that they had better keep as close as they could in the wood, and not let the cattle stray out of their valley.

He had not gone far, however, before he met a party of his fellow labourers running home.  Their trouble had been saved them.  The Roundhead soldiers had taken possession of waggons, horses, corn and all, as the property of a malignant, and were carrying them off to their camp before the town.

Getting up on a hedge, Stead could see these strange harvestmen loading the waggons and driving them off.  He also heard that Sir George had come late in the evening, and taken old Lady Elmwood and several of the servants into Bristol for greater safety.  Then came the heavy boom of a great gun in the distance.

“The Parliament men are having their turn now ­as the King’s men had before,” said Gates.

And all who had some leisure ­or made it ­went off to the church tower to get a better view of the white tents being set up outside the city walls, and the compact bodies of troops moving about as if impelled by machinery, while others more scattered bustled like insects about the camp.

Steadfast, however, went home, very anxious about his own three cows, and seven sheep with their lambs, as well as his small patches of corn, which, when green, had already only escaped being made forage of by the Royalist garrison, because he was a tenant of the loyal Elmwoods.  These fields were exposed, though the narrow wooded ravine might protect the small homestead and the cattle.

He found his new guest very happy cracking nuts, and expounding to Rusha what kinds of firearms made the various sounds they heard.  Patience had made an attempt to get her to exchange her soiled finery for a sober dress of Rusha’s; but “What shall I do, Stead?” said the grave elder sister, “I cannot get her to listen to me, she says she is no prick-eared Puritan, but truly she is not fit to be seen.”  Stead whistled.  “Besides that she might bring herself and all of us into danger with those gewgaws.”

“That’s true,” said Stead.  “Look you here, little maid ­none can say whether some of the rebel folk may find their way here, and they don’t like butterflies of your sort, you know.  If you look a sober little brown bee like Rusha here, they will take no notice, but who knows what they might do it they found you in your bravery.”

“Bravery,” thought Patience, “filthy old rags, me seems,” but she had the prudence not to speak, and Emlyn nodded her head, saying, “I’ll do it for you, but not for her.”

And when all was done, and she was transformed into a little russet-robed, white-capped being, nothing would serve her, but to collect all the brightest cranesbill flowers she could find, and stick them in her own bodice and Rusha’s.

Patience could not at all understand the instinct for bright colours, but even little Ben shouted “Pretty, pretty.”

Perhaps it was well that the delicate pink blossoms were soon faded and crushed, and that twilight veiled their colours, for just as the cattle were being foddered for the night, there was a gay step on the narrow path, and with a start of terror, Patience beheld a tall soldier, in tall hat, buff coat, and high boots before her; while Growler made a horrible noise, but Toby danced in a rapture of delight.

“Ha! little Patience, is’t thou?”

“Jephthah,” she cried, though the voice as well as the form were greatly changed in these two years between boyhood and manhood.

“Aye, Jephthah ’tis,” he said, taking her hand, and letting her kiss him.  “My spirit was moved to come and see how it was with you all, and to shew how Heaven had prospered me, so I asked leave of absence after roll-call, and could better be spared, as that faithful man, Hold-the-Faith Jenkins, will exhort the men this night.  I came up by Elmwood to learn tidings of you.  Ha, Stead!  Thou art grown, my lad.  May you be as much grown in grace.”

“You are grown, too,” said Patience, almost timidly.  “What a man you are, Jeph!  Here, Rusha, you mind Jeph, and here is little Benoni.”

“You have reared that child, then,” said Jeph, as the boy clung to his sister’s skirts, “and you have kept things together, Stead, as I hardly deemed you would do, when I had the call to the higher service.”  It was an odd sort of call, but there was no need to go into that matter, and Stead answered gravely, “Yes, I thank God.  He has been very good to us, and we have fared well.  Come in, Jeph, and see, and have something to eat!  I am glad you are come home at last.”

Jephthah graciously consented to enter the low hut.  He had to bend his tall figure and take off his steeple-crowned hat before he could enter at the low doorway, and then they saw his closely cropped head.

Patience tarried a moment to ask Rusha what had become of Emlyn.

“She is hiding in the cow shed,” was the answer.  “She ran off as soon as she saw Jeph coming, and said he was a crop-eared villain.”

This was not bad news, and they all entered the hut, where the fire was made up, and one of Patience’s rush candles placed on the table with a kind of screen of plaited rushes to protect it from the worst of the draught.  Jeph had grown quite into a man in the eyes of his brothers and sisters.  He looked plump and well fed, and his clothes were good and fresh, and his armour bright, a contrast to Steadfast’s smock, stained with weather and soil, and his rough leathern leggings, although Patience did her best, and his shirt was scrupulously clean every Sunday morning.

The soldier was evidently highly satisfied.  “So, children, you have done better than I could have hoped.  This hovel is weather-tight and quite fit to harbour you.  You have done well to keep together, and it is well said that he who leaves all in the hands of a good Providence shall have his reward.”

Jeph’s words were even more sacred than these, and considerably overawed Patience, who, as he sat before her there in his buff coat and belt, laying down the law in pious language, was almost persuaded to believe that their present comfort and prosperity (such as it was) was owing to the faith which he said had led to his desertion of his family, though she had always thought it mere impatience of home work fired by revenge for his father’s death.

No doubt he believed in this reward himself, in his relief at finding his brothers and sisters all together and not starving, and considered their condition a special blessing due to his own zeal, instead of to Steadfast’s patient exertion.

He was much more disposed to talk of himself and the mercies he had received, but which the tone of his voice showed him to consider as truly his deserts.  Captain Venn had, it seemed, always favoured him from the time of his enlistment and nothing but his youth prevented him from being a corporal.  He had been in the two great battles of Marston Moor and Naseby, and come off unhurt from each, and moreover grace had been given him to interpret the Scriptures in a manner highly savoury and inspiriting to the soldiery.

Here Patience, in utter amaze, could not help crying out “Thou, Jeph!  Thou couldst not read without spelling, and never would.”

He waved his hand.  “My sister, what has carnal learning to do with grace?” And taking a little black Bible from within his breastplate, he seemed about to give them a specimen, when Emlyn’s impatience and hunger no doubt getting the better of her prudence, she crept into the room, and presently was seen standing by Steadfast’s knee, holding out her hand for some of the bread and cheese on the table.

“And who is this little wench?” demanded Jeph, somewhat displeased that his brother manifested a certain inattention to his exhortation by signing to Patience to supply her wants.  Stead made unusual haste to reply to prevent her from speaking.

“She is biding with us till she can join her father, or knows how it is with him.”

“Humph!  She hath not the look of one of the daughters of our people.”

“Nay,” said Steadfast.  “I went down last night to the mill, Jeph, to see whether perchance you might be hurt and wanting help, and after I had heard that all was well with you, I lighted on this poor little maid crouching under a bush, and brought her home with me for pity’s sake till I could find her friends.”

“The child of a Midianitish woman!” exclaimed Jeph, “one of the Irish idolaters of whom it is written, ’Thou shalt smite them, and spare neither man, nor woman, infant, nor suckling.’” “But I am not Irish,” broke out Emlyn, “I am from Worcestershire.  My father is Serjeant Gaythorn, butler to Sir Harry Blythedale.  Don’t let him kill me,” she cried in an access of terror, throwing herself on Steadfast’s breast.

“No, no.  He would not harm thee, on mine hearth.  Fear not, little one, he shall not.”

“Nay,” said Jephthah, who, to do him justice, had respected the rights of hospitality enough not to touch his weapon even when he thought her Irish, “we harm not women and babes save when they are even as the Amalekites.  Let my brother go, child.  I touch thee not, though thou be of an ungodly seed; and I counsel thee, Steadfast, touch not the accursed thing, but rid thyself thereof, ere thou be defiled.”

“I shall go so soon as father comes,” exclaimed Emlyn.  “I am sure I do not want to stay in this mean, smoky hovel a bit longer than I can help.”

“Such are the thanks of the ungodly people,” said Jeph, gravely rising.  “I must be on my way back.  We are digging trenches about this great city, assuredly believing that it shall be delivered into our hands.”

“Stay, Jeph,” said Patience.  “Our corn!  Will your folk come and cart it away as they have done my lady’s?”

“The spoil of the wicked is delivered over to the righteous,” said Jeph.  “But seeing that the land is mine, a faithful servant of the good cause, they may not meddle therewith.”

“How are they to know that?” said Steadfast, not stopping to dispute what rather startled him, since though Jeph was the eldest son, the land had been made over to himself.  To save the crop was the point.

“Look you here,” said Jeph, “walk down with me to my good Captain’s quarters, and he will give you a protection which you may shew to any man who dares to touch aught that is ours, be it corn or swine, ox or ass.”

It was a long walk, but Steadfast was only too glad to take it for the sake of such security, and besides, there was a real pleasure in being with Jeph, little as he seemed like the same idle, easy-going brother, except perhaps in those little touches of selfishness and boastfulness, which, though Stead did not realise them, did recall the original Jeph.

All through the moonlight walk Jeph expounded his singular mercies, which apparently meant his achievements in killing Cavaliers, and the commendations given to him.  One of these mercies was the retention of the home and land, though he kindly explained that his brothers and sisters were welcome to get their livelihood there whilst he was serving with the army, but some day he should come home “as one that divideth the spoil,” and build up the old house, unless, indeed, and he glanced towards the sloping woods of Elmwood Manor, “the house and fields of the malignants should be delivered to the faithful.”

“My lady’s house,” said Steadfast under his breath.

“Wherefore not?  Is it not written ‘Goodly houses that ye builded not.’  Thou must hear worthy Corporal Hold-the-Faith expound the matter, my brother.”

They crossed the ferry and reached the outposts at last, and Stead was much startled when the barrel of a musquet gleamed in the moonlight, and a gruff voice said “Stand.”

“The jawbone of an ass,” promptly answered Jephthah.

“Pass, jawbone of an ass,” responded the sentry, “and all’s well.  But who have you here, comrade!”

Jeph explained, and they passed up the narrow lane, meeting at the end of it another sentinel, with whom the like watchword was exchanged, and then they came out on a large village green, completely changed from its usual aspect by rows of tents, on which the moonlight shone, while Jeph seemed to know his way through them as well as if he were in the valley of Elmwood.  Most of the men seemed to be asleep, for snores issued from sundry tents.  In others there were low murmurings, perhaps of conversation, perhaps of prayer, for once Stead heard the hum of an “Amen.”  One or two men were about, and Jeph enquired of one if the Captain were still up, and heard that he was engaged in exercise with the godly Colonel Benbow.

Their quarters were in one of the best houses of the little village, where light gleamed from the window, and an orderly stood within the door, to whom Jeph spoke, and who replied that they were just in time.  In fact two officers in broad hats and cloaks were just coming out, and Stead admired Jeph’s military salute to them ere he entered the farmhouse kitchen, where two more gentlemen sat at the table with a rough plan of the town laid before them.

“Back again, Kenton,” said his captain in a friendly tone.  “Hast heard aught of thy brethren?”

“Yes, sir, I have found them well and in good heart, and have brought one with me.”

“A helper in the good cause?  Heaven be gracious to thee, my son.  Thou art but young, yet strength is vouchsafed to the feeble hands.”

“Please, sir,” said Steadfast, who was twisting his hat about, “I’ve got to mind the others, and work for them.”

“Yea, sir,” put in Jeph, “there be three younger at home whom he cannot yet leave.  I brought him, sir, to crave from you a protection for the corn and cattle that are in a sort mine own, being my father’s eldest son.  They are all the poor children have to live on.”

“Thou shalt have it,” said the captain, drawing his writing materials nearer to him.  “There, my lad.  It may be thou dost serve thy Maker as well by the plough as by the sword.”

Steadfast pulled his forelock, thanked the captain, was reminded of the word for the night, and safely reached home again.