Read CHAPTER XIV.  THE QUESTION of Under the Storm Steadfast Charge, free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on ReadCentral.com.

     “Dogged as does it.” ­Trollope.

“Stead, Stead,” cried Rusha, running up to him, as he was slowly digging over his stubble field to prepare it for the next crop, “the soldiers are in Elmwood.”

“Yes,” said Emlyn, coming up at the same time, “they are knocking about everything in the church and pulling up the floor.”

“Patience sent us to get some salt,” explained Rusha, “and we saw them from Dame Redman’s door.  She told us we had better be off and get home as fast as we could.”

“But I thought we would come and tell you,” added Emlyn, “and then you could get out the long gun and shoot them as they come into the valley ­that is if you can take aim ­but I would load and show you how, and then they would think it was a whole ambush of honest men.”

“Aye, and kill us all ­and serve us right,” said Stead.  “They don’t want to hurt us if we don’t meddle with them.  But there’s a good wench, Rusha, drive up the cows and sheep this way so that I can have an eye on them, and shew Captain Venn’s paper, if any of those fellows should take a fancy to them.”

“They are digging all over old parson’s garden,” said Rusha, as she obeyed.

“Was Jeph there?” asked Stead.

“I didn’t see him,” said the child.

Steadfast was very uneasy.  That turning up the parson’s garden looked as if they might be in search of the silver belonging to the Church, but after all they were unlikely to connect him with it, and it was wiser to go on with his regular work, and manifest no interest in the matter; besides that, every spadeful he heaved up, every chop he gave the stubble, seemed to be a comfort, while there was a prayer on his soul all the time that he might be true to his trust.

By-and-by he saw Tom Oates running and beckoning to him, “Stead, Stead Kenton, you are to come.”

“What should I come for?” said Stead, gruffly.

“The soldiers want you.”

“What call have they to me?”

“They be come to cleanse the steeple house, they says, and take the spoil thereof, and they’ve been routling over the floor and parson’s garden like so many hogs, and are mad because they can’t find nothing, and Thatcher Jerry says, says he, ’Poor John Kenton as was shot was churchwarden and was very great with Parson.  If anybody knows where the things is ‘tis Steadfast Kenton.’  So the corporal says, ’Is this so, Jephthah Kenton?’ and Jeph, standing up in his big boots, says, ’Aye, corporal, my father was yet in the darkness of prelacy, and was what in their blindness they call a Churchwarden, but as to my brother, that’s neither here nor there, he were but a boy and not like to know more than I did.’  But the corporal said, ‘That we will see.  Is the lad here?’ So I ups and said nay, but I’d seen you digging your croft, and then they bade me fetch you.  So you must come, willy-nilly, or they may send worse after you.”

Stead was a little consoled by hearing that his brother was there.  He suspected that Jeph would have consideration enough for his sisters and for the property that he considered his own to be unwilling to show the way to their valley; and he also reflected that it would be well that whatever might happen to himself should be out of sight of his sisters.  Therefore he decided on following Oates, going through on the way the whole question whether to deny all knowledge, and yet feeling that the things belonging to God should not be shielded by untruth.  His resolution finally was to be silent, and let them make what they would out of that, and Stead, though it was long since he had put it on, had a certain sullen air of stupidity such as often belongs to such natures as his, and which Jeph knew full well in him.

They came in sight of the village green where the soldiers were refreshing themselves at what once had been the Elmwood Arms, for though not given to excess, total abstinence formed no part of the discipline of the Puritans; and one of the men started forward, and seizing hold of Steadfast by the shoulder exclaimed ­

“As I live, ’tis the young prelatist who bowed himself down in the house of Rimmon!  Come on, thou seed of darkness, and answer for thyself.”

If he had only known it, he was making the part of dogged silence and resistance infinitely easier to Steadfast by the rudeness and abuse, which, even in a better cause, would have made it natural to him to act as he was doing now, giving the soldier all the trouble of dragging him onward and then standing with his hands in his pockets like an image of obstinacy.

“Speak,” said the corporal, “and it shall be the better for thee.  Hast thou any knowledge where the priests of Baal have bestowed the vessels of their mockery of worship.”

Stead moved not a muscle of his face.  He had no acquaintance with priests of Baal or their vessels, so that he was not in the least bound to comprehend, and one of them exclaimed “The oaf knows not your meaning, corporal.  Speak plainer to his Somerset ears.  He knows not the tongue of the saints.”

“Ho, then, thou child of darkness.  Know’st thou where the mass-mongering silver and gold of this church be hidden from them of whom it is written ‘haste to the spoil.’  Come, speak out.  A crown if thou dost speak ­the lash if thou wilt not answer, thou dumb dog.”

Stead was really not far removed from a dumb dog.  All his faculties were so entirely wrought up to resistance that he had hardly distinguished the words.

“Come, come, Stead,” said Jeph, “thou art too old for thine old sulky moods.  Speak up, and tell if thou know’st aught of the Communion Cup and dish, or it will be the worse for thee.  Yes or no?”

Stead made a move with his shoulder to push away his brother, and still stood silent.

“There,” said Jeph, “it is all Faithful’s fault for his rough handling.  His back is set up.  It was always so from a boy, and you’ll get nought out of him.”

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him,” quoted the Corporal, taking up a waggoner’s whip which stood by the inn door, and the like of which had no doubt once been a more familiar weapon to him than the sword.

“Speak lad ­or ­” and as no speech came, the lash descended on Stead’s shoulders, not, however, hurting him much save where it grazed the skin of his face.

“Now?  Not a word?  Take off his leathern coat, Faithful, then shall he feel the reward of sullenness.”

That Jeph did not interfere, while Faithful and another soldier tugged off his leathern coat, buffeting and kicking him roughly as they did so, brought additional hardness to Stead.  He had been flogged in his time before, and not without reason, and had taken a pride in not giving in, or crying out for pain; and the ancient habit acquired in a worse cause, came to his help.  He scarcely recollected the cause of his resistance; all his powers were concentrated in holding out, and when after another “Now, vile prelatic spawn, is thy heart still hardened?  Yes or no?” the terrible whip came stinging and biting down on his shoulders and back, only protected by his shirt, he was entirely bound up in the determination to endure the pain without a groan or cry.

But after blows enough had fallen to mark the shirt with streaks of blood, Jeph could bear it no longer.

“Hold!” he said.  “You will never make him speak that way.  Father and mother never could.  Strokes do but harden him.”

“The sure token of a fool,” said the corporal, and prepared for another lash.

“’Tis plain he knows,” said one of the others.  “He would never stand this if a word would save him.”

“Mere malice and obstinacy,” said Faithful, “and wilfulness.  He will not utter a word.  I would beat it out of him, as I was wont with our old ass.”

Another stroke descended, worse than all the others after the brief interval, but Jeph again spoke, “Look you, I know the lad of old and you’ll get no more that way than if you were flogging the sign-post there.  Whether he knows where the things are or not, the temper that is in him will never answer while you beat him, were it to save his life.  Leave him to me, and I’ll be bound to get an answer from him.”

“And I am constable, and I must say,” said Blacksmith Blane, moving forwards, with a bar of iron in his hand, and four or five stout men behind him, “that to come and abuse and flog a hard-working, fatherless lad, that never did you no harm, nor anyone else, is not what honest men look for from soldiers that talk so big about Parliament and rights and what not!”

“’Twas for contumacy,” began the corporal.

“Contumacy forsooth, as though ’twas the will of the honest gentlemen in Parliament that boys should be misused for nothing at all!”

“If the young dog would have spoken,” began the corporal, but somehow he did not like the look of Blane’s iron bar, and thought it best to look up at the sun, and discover that it was time to depart if the party were to be in time for roll-call.  As it was a private marauding speculation, it might not be well to have complaints made to Captain Venn, who never sanctioned plunder nor unnecessary violence.  Even Jeph had to march off, and Steadfast, who had no mind to be pitied, nor asked by the neighbours what was the real fact, had picked up his spade and jerkin, and was out of sight while the villagers were watching the soldiers away.

The first thing he did was to give thanks in heart that he had been aided thus far not to betray his trust, and then to feel that Corporal Dodd’s flogging was a far severer matter than the worst chastisement he had ever received from his father, even when he kept Jeph’s secret about the stolen apples.  Putting on his coat was impossible, and he was so stiff and sore that he could not hope to conceal his condition from Patience.

At home all were watching for him.  They ran up in anxiety, for one of the ever ready messengers of evil had rushed down the glen to tell Patience that the soldiers were beating Stead shamefully, and Jeph standing by not saying one word.  Little Ben broke out with “Poor, poor!” and Rusha burst into tears at sight of the blood, while Emlyn said “Just what comes of going among the rascal Roundheads,” and Patience looked up at him and said “Was it ?” he nodded, and she quietly said “I’m glad.”  He added, “Jeph’s coming soon,” and she knew that the trial was not over.  The brother and sister needed very few words to understand one another, and they were afraid to say anything that the younger ones could understand.  Patience washed the weals with warm water and milk, and wrapped a cloak round him, but even the next morning, he could not use his arms without fresh bleeding, and the hindrance to the work was serious.  He could do nothing but herd the cattle, and he was much inclined to drive them to the further end of the moorland where Jephthah would hardly find him, but then he recollected that Patience would be left to bear the brunt of the attack, so that he would not go far off, never guessing, poor fellow, that in his dull, almost blundering fashion, he was doing like the heroes and the martyrs, but only feeling that he must keep his trust at all costs.  Jeph, however, did not come that day or the next, so that inwardly, the wound-up feeling had passed into a weariness of expectation, and outwardly the stripes had healed enough for Stead to go about his work as usual only a little stiffly.  He went into Bristol on market day as usual, and then it was, on his way out that Jeph joined him, saying it was to bid Patience and the little ones farewell, since the marching orders were for the morrow.  He was unusually kind and good-natured; he had a load of comfits for Rusha and Ben, and a stout piece of woollen stuff for Patience which he said was such as he was told godly maidens wore, and which possibly the terror of his steel cap and corslet had cheapened at the mercer’s; also he had a large packet of tractates for Stead’s own reading, and he enquired whether they possessed a Bible.

Stead wondered whether all this was out of regret at the treatment he had undergone, or whether it was to put him off his guard, and this occupied him when Jeph began to preach, as he did uninterruptedly for the last mile, without any of the sense, if there were any, reaching the mind of the auditor.

They reached the hut, the gifts were displayed; and when the young ones, who were all a little afraid of the elder brother, had gone off to feast upon the sweets, Jeph began with enquiries after Steadfast’s back, and he replied that it was mending fast, while Patience exclaimed at the cruelty and wickedness of so using him.

“Why wouldn’t he speak then?” said Jeph.  “Yea or nay would have ended it in a moment, but that’s Stead’s way.  He looks like it now!” and he did, elbows on knees, and chin on hands.

“Come now, Stead, thou canst speak to me!  Was it all because Faithful hauled thee about?”

“He did, and he had no call to,” said Stead, surlily.

“Well, that’s true, but I’m not hauling thee.  Tell me, Stead, I mind now that thou wast out with father that last day ere the Parson was taken to receive his deserts.  I don’t believe that even thy churlishness would have stood such blows if thou hadst known naught of the idolatrous vessels, and couldst have saved thy skin by saying so!  No answer.  Why, what have these malignants done for thee that thou shouldst hold by them?  Slain thy father!  Burnt thine house!  No fault of theirs that thou art alive this day!  Canst not speak?”

Jeph’s temper giving way at the provocation, he forgot his conciliatory intentions and seizing Stead by the collar shook him violently.  Growler almost broke his chain with rage, Patience screamed and flew to the rescue, just as she had often done when they were all children together, and Jeph threw his brother from him so that he fell on the root of a tree, and lay for a moment or two still, then picked himself up again evidently with pain, though he answered Patience cheerfully that it was nought.

“Thou art enough to drive a man mad with thy surly silence,” exclaimed Jeph, whom this tussle had rendered much more like his old self, “and after all, knowing that even though thou art not one of the holy ones, thou wilt not tell a lie, it comes to the same thing.  I know thou wottest where these things are, and it is only thy sullen scruples that hinder thee from speaking.  Nevertheless, I shall leave no stone unturned till I find them!  For what is written ’Thou shalt break down their altars.’”

“Jeph,” said Stead, firmly.  “You left home because of your grief and rage at father’s death.  Would you have me break the solemn charge he laid on me?”

“Father was a good man after his light,” said Jeph, a little staggered, “but that light was but darkness, and we to whom the day itself is vouchsafed are not bound by a charge laid on us in ignorance.  Any way, he laid no bonds on me, but I must needs leave thee alone in thy foolishness of bondage!  Come, Patience, wench, and aid me, I know this rock is honeycombed with caves, like a rabbit warren, no place so likely.”

“I help thee ­no indeed’” cried Patience.  “Would I aid thee to do what would most grieve poor father, that thou once mad’st such a work about!  I should be afraid of his curse.”

Possibly if Jeph had not pledged himself to his comrades to overcome his brother’s resistance, and bring back the treasures, he might have desisted; but what he did was to call to Rusha to bring him a lantern, and show him the holes, promising her a tester if she would.  She brought the lantern, but she was a timid, little, unenterprising thing, and was mortally afraid of the caverns, a fear that Patience had thought it well not to combat.  Emlyn who had already scrambled all over the face of the slope, and peeped into all, could have told him a great deal more about them; but she hated the sight of a rebel, and sat on the ground making ugly faces and throwing little stones after him whenever his back was turned.

Stead, afraid to betray by his looks of anxiety, when Jeph came near the spot, sat all the time with his elbows on his knees, and his hands over his face, fully trusting to what all had agreed at the time of the burial of the chest, that there was no sign to indicate its whereabouts.

He felt rather than saw that Jeph, after tumbling out the straw and fern that served for fodder in the lower caves, where the sheep and pigs were sheltered in winter, had scrambled up to the hermit’s chapel, when suddenly there was a shout, but not at all of exultation, and down among the bushes, lantern and all came the soldier, tumbling and crashing into the midst of an enormous bramble, whence Stead pulled him out with the lantern flattened under him, and his first breathless words were ­

“Beelzebub himself!” Then adding, as he stood upright, “he made full at me, and I saw his eyes glaring.  I heard him groaning.  It is an unholy popish place.  No wonder!”

Patience and Rusha were considerably impressed, for it was astonishing to see how horribly terrified and shaken was the warrior, who had been in two pitched battles, and Ben screamed, and needed to be held in Stead’s arms to console him.

Jeph had no mind to pursue his researches any further.  He only tarried long enough to let Patience pick out half-a-dozen thorns from his cheeks and hands, and to declare that if he had not to march to-morrow, he should bring that singular Christian man, Captain Venn, to exorcise the haunt of Apollyon.  Wherewith he bade them all farewell, with hopes that by the time he saw them again, they would have come to the knowledge of the truth.

No sooner was he out of sight among the bushes than Emlyn seized on Rusha, and whirled her round in a dance as well as her more substantial proportions would permit, while Steadfast let his countenance expand into the broad grin that he had all this time been stifling.

“What do you think it was?” asked Patience, still awestruck.

“Why ­the old owl ­and his own bad conscience.  He might talk big, but he didn’t half like going against poor father.  Thank God!  He has saved His own, and that’s over!”