The White Champion
Upon the Boston Green the Eternal Foes Contend
There was once a time when New England roiled and churned with a fury not to be equalled until that fateful age, near a century hence, when it would rise in open revolt. Good King James II, that man of steel emblazoned with the Cross, had turned his eyes upon the colonies. By his decree they were no longer to be divided into petty squabbling states, each one a dictatorship in its own right, but were to be united as one, ready to stand against France, Spain, or the savage tribes. What their children’s children would do by violence, King James sought to do by law.
Yet he reckoned without the restive, angry spirit of the Puritan; as stern and unyielding as his own, and in whom austere piety and the lust for wealth combined to a fire of near madness against any who would affront the one or check the other. This spirit, which had cut down the Maypole of the Merry Mount and hunted witches in the Salem woods, was arrayed against the meagre force of Sir Edmund Andros, the King’s representative, who as a youth had seen that same puritan power murder his lord and tyrannize England and who knew it for what it was. With naught but a small band of loyal confederates, Sir Edmund sought to enforce the law upon these men of flint. All the while, both in England and New England, plans were made and chances watched, and the drums of rebellion rumbled in the hills.
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Even as the fire built beneath them, Sir Edmund and his few allies remained at their posts. The grey, hard faces of the Massachusetts men passed them by in the street day after day, casting looks like stones upon the king’s men as they passed by in their warm, rich regalia. The white steepled meeting house trembled at the shadow of the ancient Sacrifice conducted within its walls, while the men who called themselves Godly stood outside and looked on with hate. Women with coarse grey dresses and coarser hearts turned their noses from the bright coats and manners of the ladies of the crown. For a long, hard winter the snows and frost of New England fell upon the town, cold as the hatred of it inhabitants for their new lords.
Rumour, that swift and elusive elf, as nimble in the woods of New England as the fields and towns of our Mother Kingdom danced from house to house and street to street. Parliament had laid its plans. The implacable king had fallen into their traps. Deception and betrayal once more rose from the countryside, cloaked as ever in the blessed word ‘liberty’. So she whispered and twittered all through the winter, and men heeded her and waited, their weapons ready to hand while the icy Atlantic beat upon the rocky shores as if stoking the fires of rebellion to ever greater fury.
On an April morning there came white sails through the New England fog. Ships from England passed the granite shores to dock in Boston harbour, and from their hulls there breathed forth the miasma of rebellion. Like a mounting wave formed by a meteor cast from heaven, it spread out from its place of impact, fell back a moment, then drove further with redoubled force. A multitude, driven by the wave, assembled in King-street, not far from where another multitude would one day, nearly a century afterwards, call upon a frightened band of soldiers to fire and so set the continent ablaze. A somber-faced, somber-clad mob, clutching muskets taken from hearth sides, or picks lately used in farming, or clubs from the docks. Not one mind in that band doubted but that they had heaven’s blessing for their enterprise, not one heart that felt the least qualm or pity for the king’s betrayal, nor indeed for any other who would dare stand across the path of the righteous. Ministers, their eyes rigid from a lifetime of studying the Scriptures, their voices ringing among the clapboard and brick, moved here and there among the crowd. Unlike all other mobs, the New England men regarded these moving pillars of calm with reverence, and by the influence of these holy men their hot anger was turned to cold and unyielding purpose.
So they marched, a somber force that sang no songs, across the square to the governor’s house. There was the sole spot of brightness and gaiety in that austere town. There alone the Easter flowers hung in bright ribbons upon the door, there alone was music played and did the floor ever ring with dancing feet. There alone, even amidst the shadow of rumour, had there been joy at the Saviour’s Resurrection.
Before the house there waited a small, loyal band. Bound to their place by the slender thread of sixpence a week, and by the stronger chains of duty, red coats upon their backs, muskets in hand. Upon the porch there waited Sir Andros, elderly, but erect and soldierly, who had never yet yielded to the forces of wealth and treason, and whose eyes did not waiver now. At his side were his officials, with whom he had striven to carry out his lord’s wishes, and the priest of the Church of England, who yet bore the lingering threads of Rome.
The New England men, though they far outnumbered the small band of red coats, drew to a halt. The voices of their ministers yet held back their desire to spill English blood. Then too, perhaps the courage of the hopeless band before them awoke some hesitation, some trace of honour long forgotten that lingered in the blood of men whose forefathers had fought with Henry and with Richard. For nothing checks the assurance of the powerful so much as the courage of the weak.
The scene was a picture of New England, and of all that was taking place among the English peoples. On one hand was the rising tide set loose so unwisely a century and a half before: the tide of men who looked upon the world and beheld no trace of God’s hand in it: the tide of wealth, of numbers, and of never-ending, gnawing envy. Stern, grey faces in stern, black clothes, so unquestioning of their own rectitude as to regard any check on their path as intolerable, with minds in heaven and hearts in the counting house. On the other was a last, flickering ember of a dying fire: of bright dress and merry music, of wine and dancing, of loyalty and obedience. Stern faces yet red with living blood, whose eyes could still read the mark of God’s hand in the world they saw, and for whom wealth and petty earthly success were as straw before the demands of honour and piety. Here and there, the image of Our Saviour yet gleamed upon their breasts.
“Tyrants!” cried the host. “Despots! Instruments of Rome! Your time is ended! Your tyrant is fled from England, and the people reign again!”
“My Lord the King has not yet relieved me of my post,” answered the governor. “Until I receive his leave, I shall not abandon my place. Get ye home! Disturb not the King’s Peace!”
Muskets clicked and hands worn hard by labor gripped their weapons until the knuckles were as white as the New England snow. Yet still the mob did not attack, for so great was even this last ember of chivalry that their numbers seemed insufficient to smother it.
“Oh! Lord of Hosts!” cried a voice among the crowd, “provide a Champion for thy people!”
No sooner had this ejaculation been uttered when the crowd stirred and rolled back at the sight of a most remarkable personage. He seemed to have emerged from the mob, and yet none could recall his joining them, nor of seeing him before. It was the figure of an ancient man, clad in the old puritan dress of a dark cloak and a steeple-crowned hat. Upon his thigh there rode a sword, yet in his hand was a staff to support the tremulous gait of age.
The old man walked some ten paces from the crowd, until he stood alone in the square between them and the governor’s small band. There he stopped and turned slowly round, casting his stern, unyielding gaze upon the people. His face was a mask of antique majesty, rendered doubly venerable by the hoary grey beard that fell upon his breast. He made a gesture at once of encouragement and warning, then turned again to face the governor.
“Who is this Grey Patriarch?” asked the young men of their sires.
But none could make reply. The patriarchs, those who had passed fourscore years and more, wondered that they should have forgotten, or never known one of such evident authority, one who must have been a young man with them, who had fought at their side against the Indians, who must have taken part in their assemblies and in the building of the colony. But neither old nor young had ever beheld him before.
The Grey Patriarch advanced further, until he stood near to the line of redcoats. It seemed incredible that such an ancient man should attempt an assault upon these young soldiers, and yet they trembled under his gaze.
“Well, grandfather,” called Sir Edmund. “What have you to say? Do you speak for this rabble?”
“These men speak for me,” answered the grey figure. “I am here, Sir Governor, because the cry of an oppressed people hath disturbed me in my secret place. Your popish tyrant sits no more upon the throne of England. The people you have crushed have arisen against you, and by tomorrow you and all that you are, all the tyranny, the oppression, the pagan pomp of Rome, the vanity of altar and throne, shall depart these shores, never to return. Come down, you who were governor! Come down and submit to the judgment of the people!”
Sir Edmund hesitated. Never in his life had his loyalty wavered, yet such authority was in the Grey Patriarch’s voice that he doubted. The great weight of the tide of history stood over him, as it had at Castle Cornet when he was yet a boy. Year after year all through his manhood, he had felt it press down upon him. Now he was old, and the weight was grown yet heavier. Hope, the hope that right should triumph in this world, which had stood against so many storms, now flickered in his heart and nearly went out.
Behind him, his councillors too wavered, and the small line of redcoats shook. For who can stand when all the world bids him yield?
Then there came a stir, and the thin red line drew aside, but not in surrender. For the door at their backs had opened, and from it emerged another remarkable personage. Down the steps he came, leaning upon his black ebony cane, but striding with the sure step of a born soldier. Upright he was, yet ancient, and clad in a style all-but unknown to these shores; a white doublet, a wide-brimmed hat crown with a white plumb, and a sash of blue. At his side hung a long sword, and beneath his snow-white beard a silver crucifix shone upon his breast.
With stiff, but firm steps, he passed through the ranks of redcoats, then paused and turned to offer a salute to the governor. Sir Edmund and his household looked upon him with wonder, for no such a man could they recall having seen before, though their circle was so small. And surely it was impossible in any case to have missed so noble, so venerable a figure in this land of austere piety and sullen greed.
The White Cavalier turned back and faced the Grey Patriarch, who answered him with a stare of hatred such as only Puritans can give.
“I know thee, old one,” said the cavalier. “I know thy lies and thy tricks. The cry of the oppressed, you say? The cry of the wealthy, the envious, and the proud, you mean. The cry of the ignorant they dupe into turning upon their friends and benefactors. Ever you promise freedom; ever you cheat the poor. Thou art a hawk dressed in sparrow’s feathers; thou art a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No crime is too base for thee, no treason beyond thy praise, if only thou canst claim a profit from it.
“’Tis true; thy friends in England have betrayed and deposed their rightful sovereign, the man thou callest a popish tyrant. What! Where wast thy passion for liberty when thy friend Cromwell deprived the poor of their faith, nay, even of their simple joys and feasts? Where was it when thou drovest Roger Williams and his people from Massachusetts? Where is it now, when many a poor man groans under the heel of Parliament, deprived of his livelihood for sake of his faith? Nay, as I say, I know thee, thou two-faced snake! Liberty is for thee but a means to tyranny. Honour, loyalty, piety, all are to thee but means to an end. All thy words are but fair-seeming dust to cast in the eyes of thy prey!”
Then the cavalier held high his cane and his voice rang against the stones of Boston.
“Hear me, ye men of New England! Here me, thou Governor of the King! For I speak a prophecy! This Grey Champion of thine shall triumph this day, and for many a day hereafter. The line placed upon the English throne by this treason shall itself feel the bite of your faithless teeth, and then this old liar shall rise again to lead you in triumph. Wealth, power, all that you sell your hearts for you shall have in abundance, but at this price: beware your children! For they shall learn rebellion at your knees and practice it upon you in their turn. Scarce a generation shall pass from the time of your independence than you shall look about in despair for what you imagined to be immortal. Later the time shall come when your own names shall be cursed in the same breath as the Kings you betray. The hour will come when this grey charlatan, in another guise, will turn his wrath upon you, and all that you and your children have built shall tremble under the madness he will then unleash. For above all be assured of this; he shall be as fickle and as false to you as he is to any other!”
The old man raised his voice yet higher, and a note of agony came into it, as though he saw and felt all the pain of the terrible time he foretold and would have wept for the poor souls who were doomed to suffer it.
“In that hour,” he wailed. “You shall choose between us again! In that hour, for your children’s children’s sake, remember me!”
His voice rang across the square, ringing as the last tolling of the bells that, half a world away, were announcing the Holy Sacrifice in lands yet unapostatized. His final words seemed to echo beyond the square, beyond Boston, and out across the whole vast, empty continent. Then silence fell.
For perhaps the first time in their lives, doubt descended into those cold, puritan hearts. The men of New England trembled and wavered for a moment. They looked upon one another with doubt, and even their ministers seemed to hesitate. The Grey Patriarch himself had no words, though he did not waver.
With his firm steps, the White Champion strode forward until he stood face to face with the Grey. The eternal adversaries stood still for a moment.
“Do what thou camest to do,” ordered the cavalier.
As if he had been waiting for the command, the puritan patriarch drew his sword and thrust the cavalier through the heart.
That same day, Sir Edmund and his officials were imprisoned, and at last sent back to England to be reconciled to the usurper as best they could. The men of New England, once more, had triumphed, as they would in days to come. But where was the Grey Champion? Some said that they had seen the venerable figure embracing the aged former governor, Bradstreet. Others affirmed that he stood with the crowd as they disarmed and bound the hapless soldiers, looking on with a severe satisfaction. But all agreed that by nightfall, as the mob dispersed to their homes, rejoicing in their stern manner, their momentary doubts forgotten in the pride of triumph, the old man was nowhere to be found. Neither could any recall what had become of the body of his slain adversary.
None of those men of New England ever beheld the Gray Champion again. But it is said that, eighty years later, he walked again in King-street, urging their enraged grandchildren to greater provocation against the King’s bewildered men. Five years later, he stood beside another mob at Lexington, where perhaps he himself fired the shot heard round the world.
Through all the long years after, of triumph and defeat, of hopes rising in a tide and falling back in bewilderment before ever growing wealth and power, the Gray Champion walked here and there, ever with his stern countenance, ever urging men to claim new and grander rights, ever whittling away at the Divine presence in their hearts.
And all the while, faint, scarce to be heard save by those who listened for it, from ever mountain, every wood, every cottage and city and home, there echoed those two final words of the fallen White Champion:
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