Home Opinion Mike Scruggs The Gray Champion: Historical Fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne – 3/3

The Gray Champion: Historical Fiction by Nathaniel Hawthorne – 3/3

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Edited and Retold by Mike Scruggs –

Part 3 of 3

“Are you mad, old man?” demanded Sir Edmund, in loud and harsh tones. “How dare you stay the march of King James’s Governor?” He was about to give the order to trample this elderly gray nuisance into the pavement, when he was addressed by a voice that seemed possessed of compelling authority.

“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.

Sir Edmund Andros looked at the old man; then he cast his hard and cruel eye over the multitude, and beheld them burning with that lurid wrath, so difficult to kindle or to quench; and again he fixed his gaze on the aged form, which stood obscurely in an open space, where neither friend nor foe had thrust himself.

Whether Governor Andros was overawed by the Gray Champion’s look, or perceived his peril in the threatening attitude of the people, it is certain that he gave back, and ordered his soldiers to commence a slow and guarded retreat. Before another sunset, the Governor, and all that rode so proudly with him, were prisoners, and long before it was known that James had abdicated, William of Orange was proclaimed King throughout New England.

But where was the Gray Champion? Some reported, that when the troops had gone from King-street, and the people were thronging tumultuously in their rear, the aged Governor, Simon Bradstreet (1603-1697) was seen to embrace a form more aged than his own. Others soberly affirmed, that while they marveled at the venerable grandeur of his aspect, the old man had faded from their eyes, melting slowly into the hues of twilight, until, where he stood, there was an empty space. But all agreed, that the hoary shape was gone. The men of that generation watched for his re-appearance, in sunshine and in twilight, but never saw him more, nor knew when his funeral passed, nor where his grave-stone was.

And who was the Gray Champion? Perhaps his name might be found in the records of those who forced King John to sign that Great Charter of English Liberties, the Magna Carta, in 1215. Perhaps he was an apparition of “Old Ironsides” that great Christian soldier and Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Perhaps Boston was visited again by John Winthrop (1587-1649), first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, whose shipboard sermon upon arriving on our shores in 1630 pleaded that our righteousness be as a city upon on a hill giving light to all the world. Could the Gray Champion be the venerable reverend John Cotton (1585-1652) most prominent of Puritan ministers in New England, whose sharp sword was the Word of God?

I have heard that, whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again. When eighty years had passed, he walked once more in King-street (Boston “Massacre” 1770). Five years later, in the twilight of an April morning, he stood on the green, beside the meeting-house at Lexington, where now the obelisk of granite, with a slab of slate inlaid, commemorates the first fallen of the Revolution. And when our fathers were toiling at the breast-work on Bunker’s Hill, all through that night, the old warrior walked his rounds.

Perhaps he was also there with Washington at Valley Forge. Perhaps he inspired Southern bravery at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, and Greensboro. Perhaps he inspired an American Navy Captain aboard the Bonhomme Richard to defy the taunts of his adversary to surrender with: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

Long, long may it be, before he comes again! His hour is one of darkness, adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s boot pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come; for he is the type of New England’s hereditary spirit; and now that of all America. In his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, it must ever be the pledge, that New England’s sons, and all America’s, too, will vindicate the courage of their ancestors.

Is not the Gray Champion, in many forms and persons, the spirit of courage without which liberty must wane or perish? Is not the Gray Champion the entwining of both the Spirit of Liberty and the Spirit of Courage. Without courage, neither liberty nor virtue can long endure.

“Oh! Lord of Hosts, provide a Champion for thy people!”

“But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior (champion), so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.—Jeremiah 20:11a NIV

“At a time when liberty is under attack, decency under assault, the family under siege, and life itself is threatened, the good will arise in truth; they will arise in truth with the very essence and substance of their lives; they will arise in truth never shying from the Standard of Truth, never shrinking from the Author of Truth.”

—Henry Laurens, South Carolina patriot and President of the Continental Congress, 1777-78

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