Mike Scruggs

The Gray Champion: Historical Fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne (2/3)

Edited and Retold by Mike Scruggs –

Part 2 of 3

Late on an April afternoon, in 1689, Governor Sir Edmund Andros marched his red-coated Guard into Kings-street in Boston for a show of force to quell any murmuring or resistance to his despotic rule of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the name of Britain’s James II. With drums rolling and arms ready, they marched like a machine toward the crowd of Boston citizens gathered at the other end of the street. Riding on horseback just behind the first ranks of these troops were Governor Andros and his chief deputies. On a word from Sir Andros, these mercenaries were prepared to deluge the street with blood to establish his authority.

“Oh! Lord of Hosts,” cried a voice among the crowd, “provide a Champion for thy people!”

This came like a herald’s cry to introduce some remarkable personage. Meanwhile, the crowd had rolled back to the end of the street as the red-coated ranks drew nearer. The intervening space between the two was empty pavement in the twilight shadow between lofty edifices on each side.

Suddenly, there was seen the figure of an ancient-looking old man, who seemed to have emerged from among the people. He walked alone along the center of the street to confront the approaching armed band. He was wearing the old Puritan dress with dark cloak and steeple-crowned hat, out of fashion by at least 50 years. He carried a heavy sword on his thigh, but carried a staff in his hand to steady the shaky gait of old age.

When some distance from the crowd, the old man turned slowly around displaying a face of antique majesty and a long white beard that descended on his breast. He made a gesture of encouragement and warning, and then turned and resumed his march toward the advancing ranks of soldiers.

“Who is this gray patriarch?’ asked the people among themselves. But not even the oldest could remember who he was, and the younger had never learned of him in history lessons. Yet he advanced with evident authority. “Where did he come from? What is his purpose? Who can this man be?” whispered the wondering crowd.

But the gray stranger, staff in hand, pursued his solitary walk toward the advancing troops. As he drew near them, and the roll of their drums was fully in his ears, he raised himself up to a loftier mien, while the frailties of his age seem to fall from his shoulders. In unbroken gray dignity, he marched onward to the drummers’ beat with a warrior’s step. When scarcely 20 yards remained between him and the first rank of advancing soldiers, the old man grasped his staff by the middle and held it before him.

“Stand!” cried this mysterious gray figure.

At the old man’s word and outstretched arm, the roll of the drums was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still. With this demonstration, an enormous enthusiasm seized upon the multitude of Boston citizens. That stately form, combining the leader and the saint, so gray, so dimly seen, in such an ancient garb, could only belong to some old champion of the righteous cause, whom the oppressor’s drum had summoned from his grave. They raised a shout of awe and exultation, and looked for the deliverance of New England.

The Governor and his deputies, realizing that they had been brought to an unexpected halt, immediately rode forward, as if to press their snorting horses right against the hoary apparition. He, however, did not retreat a step. Giving a fierce look at these riders who now half surrounded him, he looked sternly into the eyes of Sir Andros. One would have thought that this old man was chief ruler there, and that the Governor and Council, with soldiers at their back, representing the whole power and authority of the Crown, had no alternative but obedience.

“What does this old fellow here?” cried one of the Governor’s company. Bid the soldiers forward, and give this old dotard the same choice that you give all his countrymen–to stand aside or be trampled on!”

Another laughed and asked, who is this dignitary who hath lain asleep these thirty years, and knows nothing of the change of times?

“Are you mad, old man?” demanded Sir Edmund, in loud and harsh tones. “How dare you stay the march of King James’s Governor?”

“I have staid the march of a King himself, ere now,” replied the gray figure, with stern composure. “I am here, Sir Governor, because the cry of an oppressed people hath disturbed me in my secret place; and beseeching this favor earnestly of the Lord, it was vouchsafed me to appear once again on earth, in the good old cause of his Saints. And what speak ye of James? That tyrant is no longer on the throne of England, and by tomorrow noon, his name shall be a by-word in this very street, where ye would make it a word of terror. Back, thou that wast a Governor, back! With this night, thy power is ended—tomorrow, the prison!—back, lest I foretell the scaffold!”

The people had been drawing nearer and nearer, and drinking in the words of their champion, who spoke in accents long disused. But his voice stirred their souls. They confronted the soldiers, not wholly without arms, and ready to convert the very stones of the street into deadly weapons.

To be continued…

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