Micah Clarke, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 20

Of the Muster of the Men of the West

Monmouth was at that time in his thirty-sixth year, and was remarkable for those superficial graces which please the multitude and fit a man to lead in a popular cause. He was young, well-spoken, witty, and skilled in all martial and manly exercises. On his progress in the West he had not thought it beneath him to kiss the village maidens, to offer prizes at the rural sports, and to run races in his boots against the fleetest of the barefooted countrymen. [Note G., Appendix] His nature was vain and prodigal, but he excelled in that showy magnificence and careless generosity which wins the hearts of the people. Both on the Continent and at Bothwell Bridge, in Scotland, he had led armies with success, and his kindness and mercy to the Covenanters after his victory had caused him to be as much esteemed amongst the Whigs as Dalzell and Claverhouse were hated. As he reined up his beautiful black horse at the gate of the city, and raised his plumed montero cap to the shouting crowd, the grace and dignity of his bearing were such as might befit the knight-errant in a Romance who is fighting at long odds for a crown which a tyrant has filched from him.

He was reckoned well-favoured, but I cannot say that I found him so. His face was, I thought, too long and white for comeliness, yet his features were high and noble, with well-marked nose and clear, searching eyes. In his mouth might perchance be noticed some trace of that weakness which marred his character, though the expression was sweet and amiable. He wore a dark purple roquelaure riding-jacket, faced and lapelled with gold lace, through the open front of which shone a silver breastplate. A velvet suit of a lighter shade than the jacket, a pair of high yellow Cordovan boots, with a gold-hilted rapier on one side, and a poniard of Parma on the other, each hung from the morocco-leather sword-belt, completed his attire. A broad collar of Mechlin lace flowed over his shoulders, while wristbands of the same costly material dangled from his sleeves. Again and again he raised his cap and bent to the saddle-bow in response to the storm of cheering. ‘A Monmouth! A Monmouth!’ cried the people; ‘Hail to the Protestant chief!’ ‘Long live the noble King Monmouth!’ while from every window, and roof, and balcony fluttering kerchief or waving hat brightened the joyous scene. The rebel van caught fire at the sight and raised a great deep-chested shout, which was taken up again and again by the rest of the army, until the whole countryside was sonorous.

In the meanwhile the city elders, headed by our friend the Mayor, advanced from the gate in all the dignity of silk and fur to pay homage to the King. Sinking upon one knee by Monmouth’s stirrup, he kissed the hand which was graciously extended to him.

‘Nay, good Master Mayor,’ said the King, in a clear, strong voice, ‘it is for my enemies to sink before me, and not for my friends. Prythee, what is this scroll which you do unroll?’

‘It is an address of welcome and of allegiance, your Majesty, from your loyal town of Taunton.’

‘I need no such address,’ said King Monmouth, looking round. ‘It is written all around me in fairer characters than ever found themselves upon parchment. My good friends have made me feel that I was welcome without the aid of clerk or scrivener. Your name, good Master Mayor, is Stephen Timewell, as I understand?’

‘The same, your Majesty.’

‘Too curt a name for so trusty a man,’ said the King, drawing his sword and touching him upon the shoulder with it. ‘I shall make it longer by three letters. Rise up, Sir Stephen, and may I find that there are many other knights in my dominions as loyal and as stout.’

Amidst the huzzahs which broke out afresh at this honour done to the town, the Mayor withdrew with the councilmen to the left side of the gate, whilst Monmouth with his staff gathered upon the right. At a signal a trumpeter blew a fanfare, the drums struck up a point of war, and the insurgent army, with serried ranks and waving banners, resumed its advance upon the town. As it approached, Saxon pointed out to us the various leaders and men of note who surrounded the King, giving us their names and some few words as to their characters.

‘That is Lord Grey of Wark,’ said he; ‘the little middle-aged lean man at the King’s bridle arm. He hath been in the Tower once for treason. ’Twas he who fled with the Lady Henrietta Berkeley, his wife’s sister. A fine leader truly for a godly cause! The man upon his left, with the red swollen face and the white feather in his cap, is Colonel Holmes. I trust that he will never show the white feather save on his head. The other upon the high chestnut horse is a lawyer, though, by my soul, he is a better man at ordering a battalion than at drawing a bill of costs. He is the republican Wade who led the foot at the skirmish at Bridport, and brought them off with safety. The tall heavy-faced soldier in the steel bonnet is Anthony Buyse, the Brandenburger, a soldado of fortune, and a man of high heart, as are most of his countrymen. I have fought both with him and against him ere now.’

‘Mark ye the long thin man behind him?’ cried Reuben. ‘He hath drawn his sword, and waves it over his head. ’Tis a strange time and place for the broadsword exercise. He is surely mad.’

‘Perhaps you are not far amiss,’ said Saxon. ‘Yet, by my hilt, were it not for that man there would be no Protestant army advancing upon us down yonder road. ’Tis he who by dangling the crown before Monmouth’s eyes beguiled him away from his snug retreat in Brabant. There is not one of these men whom he hath not tempted into this affair by some bait or other. With Grey it was a dukedom, with Wade the woolsack, with Buyse the plunder of Cheapside. Every one hath his own motive, but the clues to them all are in the hands of yonder crazy fanatic, who makes the puppets dance as he will. He hath plotted more, lied more, and suffered less than any Whig in the party.’

‘It must be that Dr. Robert Ferguson of whom I have heard my father speak,’ said I.

‘You are right. ’Tis he. I have but seen him once in Amsterdam, and yet I know him by his shock wig and crooked shoulders. It is whispered that of late his overweening conceit hath unseated his reason. See, the German places his hand upon his shoulder and persuades him to sheathe his weapon. King Monmouth glances round too, and smiles as though he were the Court buffoon with a Geneva cloak instead of the motley. But the van is upon us. To your companies, and mind that ye raise your swords to the salute while the colours of each troop go by.’

Whilst our companion had been talking, the whole Protestant army had been streaming towards the town, and the head of the fore-guard was abreast with the gateway. Four troops of horse led the way, badly equipped and mounted, with ropes instead of bridles, and in some cases squares of sacking in place of saddles. The men were armed for the most part with sword and pistol, while a few had the buff-coats, plates, and headpieces taken at Axminster, still stained sometimes with the blood of the last wearer. In the midst of them rode a banner-bearer, who carried a great square ensign hung upon a pole, which was supported upon a socket let into the side of the girth. Upon it was printed in golden letters the legend, ‘Pro libertate et religione nostra.’ These horse-soldiers were made up of yeomen’s and farmers’ sons, unused to discipline, and having a high regard for themselves as volunteers, which caused them to cavil and argue over every order. For this cause, though not wanting in natural courage, they did little service during the war, and were a hindrance rather than a help to the army.

Behind the horse came the foot, walking six abreast, divided into companies of varying size, each company bearing a banner which gave the name of the town or village from which it had been raised. This manner of arranging the troops had been chosen because it had been found to be impossible to separate men who were akin and neighbours to each other. They would fight, they said, side by side, or they would not fight at all. For my own part, I think that it is no bad plan, for when it comes to push of pike, a man stands all the faster when he knows that he hath old and tried friends on either side of him. Many of these country places I came to know afterwards from the talk of the men, and many others I have travelled through, so that the names upon the banners have come to have a real meaning with me. Homer hath, I remember, a chapter or book wherein he records the names of all the Grecian chiefs and whence they came, and how many men they brought to the common muster. It is pity that there is not some Western Homer who could record the names of these brave peasants and artisans, and recount what each did or suffered in upholding a noble though disastrous cause. Their places of birth at least shall not be lost as far as mine own feeble memory can carry me.

The first foot regiment, if so rudely formed a band could be so called, consisted of men of the sea, fishers and coastmen, clad in the heavy blue jerkins and rude garb of their class. They were bronzed, weather-beaten tarpaulins, with hard mahogany faces, variously armed with birding pieces, cutlasses, or pistols. I have a notion that it was not the first time that those weapons had been turned against King James’s servants, for the Somerset and Devon coasts were famous breeding-places for smugglers, and many a saucy lugger was doubtless lying up in creek or in bay whilst her crew had gone a-soldiering to Taunton. As to discipline, they had no notion of it, but rolled along in true blue-water style, with many a shout and halloo to each other or to the crowd. From Star Point to Portland Roads there would be few nets for many weeks to come, and fish would swim the narrow seas which should have been heaped on Lyme Cobb or exposed for sale in Plymouth market. Each group, or band, of these men of the sea bore with it its own banner, that of Lyme in the front, followed by Topsham, Colyford, Bridport, Sidmouth, Otterton, Abbotsbury, and Charmouth, all southern towns, which are on or near the coast. So they trooped past us, rough and careless, with caps cocked, and the reek of their tobacco rising up from them like the steam from a tired horse. In number they may have been four hundred or thereabouts.

The peasants of Rockbere, with flail and scythe, led the next column, followed by the banner of Honiton, which was supported by two hundred stout lacemakers from the banks of the Otter. These men showed by the colour of their faces that their work kept them within four walls, yet they excelled their peasant companions in their alert and soldierly bearing. Indeed, with all the troops, we observed that, though the countrymen were the stouter and heartier, the craftsmen were the most ready to catch the air and spirit of the camp. Behind the men of Honiton came the Puritan clothworkers of Wellington, with their mayor upon a white horse beside their standard-bearer, and a band of twenty instruments before him. Grim-visaged, thoughtful, sober men, they were for the most part clad in grey suits and wearing broad-brimmed hats. ‘For God and faith’ was the motto of a streamer which floated from amongst them. The clothworkers formed three strong companies, and the whole regiment may have numbered close on six hundred men.

The third regiment was headed by five hundred foot from Taunton, men of peaceful and industrious life, but deeply imbued with those great principles of civil and religious liberty which were three years later to carry all before them in England. As they passed the gates they were greeted by a thunderous welcome from their townsmen upon the walls and at the windows. Their steady, solid ranks, and broad, honest burgher faces, seemed to me to smack of discipline and of work well done. Behind them came the musters of Winterbourne, Ilminster, Chard, Yeovil, and Collumpton, a hundred or more pikesmen to each, bringing the tally of the regiment to a thousand men.

A squadron of horse trotted by, closely followed by the fourth regiment, bearing in its van the standards of Beaminster, Crewkerne, Langport, and Chidiock, all quiet Somersetshire villages, which had sent out their manhood to strike a blow for the old cause. Puritan ministers, with their steeple hats and Geneva gowns, once black, but now white with dust, marched sturdily along beside their flocks. Then came a strong company of wild half-armed shepherds from the great plains which extend from the Blackdowns on the south to the Mendips on the north — very different fellows, I promise you, from the Corydons and Strephons of Master Waller or Master Dryden, who have depicted the shepherd as ever shedding tears of love, and tootling upon a plaintive pipe. I fear that Chloe or Phyllis would have met with rough wooing at the hands of these Western savages. Behind them were musqueteers from Dorchester, pikemen from Newton Poppleford, and a body of stout infantry from among the serge workers of Ottery St. Mary. This fourth regiment numbered rather better than eight hundred, but was inferior in arms and in discipline to that which preceded it.

The fifth regiment was headed by a column of fen men from the dreary marches which stretch round Athelney. These men, in their sad and sordid dwellings, had retained the same free and bold spirit which had made them in past days the last resource of the good King Alfred and the protectors of the Western shires from the inroads of the Danes, who were never able to force their way into their watery strongholds. Two companies of them, towsy-headed and bare-legged, but loud in hymn and prayer, had come out from their fastnesses to help the Protestant cause. At their heels came the woodmen and lumberers of Bishop’s Lidiard, big, sturdy men in green jerkins, and the white-smocked villagers of Huish Champflower. The rear of the regiment was formed by four hundred men in scarlet coats, with white cross-belts and well-burnished muskets. These were deserters from the Devonshire Militia, who had marched with Albemarle from Exeter, and who had come over to Monmouth on the field at Axminster. These kept together in a body, but there were many other militiamen, both in red and in yellow coats, amongst the various bodies which I have set forth. This regiment may have numbered seven hundred men.

The sixth and last column of foot was headed by a body of peasants bearing ‘Minehead’ upon their banner, and the ensign of the three wool-bales and the sailing ship, which is the sign of that ancient borough. They had come for the most part from the wild country which lies to the north of Dunster Castle and skirts the shores of the Bristol Channel. Behind them were the poachers and huntsmen of Porlock Quay, who had left the red deer of Exmoor to graze in peace whilst they followed a nobler quarry. They were followed by men from Dulverton, men from Milverton, men from Wiveliscombe and the sunny slopes of the Quantocks, swart, fierce men from the bleak moors of Dunkerry Beacon, and tall, stalwart pony rearers and graziers from Bampton. The banners of Bridgewater, of Shepton Mallet, and of Nether Stowey swept past us, with that of the fishers of Clovelly and the quarrymen of the Blackdowns. In the rear were three companies of strange men, giants in stature, though somewhat bowed with labour, with long tangled beards, and unkempt hair hanging over their eyes. These were the miners from the Mendip hills and from the Oare and Bagworthy valleys, rough, half-savage men, whose eyes rolled up at the velvets and brocades of the shouting citizens, or fixed themselves upon their smiling dames with a fierce intensity which scared the peaceful burghers. So the long line rolled in until three squadrons of horse and four small cannon, with the blue-coated Dutch cannoniers as stiff as their own ramrods, brought up the rear. A long train of carts and of waggons which had followed the army were led into the fields outside the walls and there quartered.

When the last soldier had passed through the Shuttern Gate, Monmouth and his leaders rode slowly in, the Mayor walking by the King’s charger. As we saluted they all faced round to us, and I saw a quick flush of surprise and pleasure come over Monmouth’s pale face as he noted our close lines and soldierly bearing.

‘By my faith, gentlemen,’ he said, glancing round at his staff, ‘our worthy friend the Mayor must have inherited Cadmus’s dragon teeth. Where raised ye this pretty crop, Sir Stephen? How came ye to bring them to such perfection too, even, I declare, to the hair powder of the grenadiers?’

‘I have fifteen hundred in the town,’ the old wool-worker answered proudly; ‘though some are scarce as disciplined.

These men come from Wiltshire, and the officers from Hampshire. As to their order, the credit is due not to me, but to the old soldier Colonel Decimus Saxon, whom they have chosen as their commander, as well as to the captains who serve under him.’

‘My thanks are due to you, Colonel,’ said the King, turning to Saxon, who bowed and sank the point of his sword to the earth, ‘and to you also, gentlemen. I shall not forget the warm loyalty which brought you from Hampshire in so short a time. Would that I could find the same virtue in higher places! But, Colonel Saxon, you have, I gather, seen much service abroad. What think you of the army which hath just passed before you?’

‘If it please your Majesty,’ Saxon answered, ‘it is like so much uncarded wool, which is rough enough in itself, and yet may in time come to be woven into a noble garment.’

‘Hem! There is not much leisure for the weaving,’ said Monmouth. ‘But they fight well. You should have seen them fall on at Axminster! We hope to see you and to hear your views at the council table. But how is this? Have I not seen this gentleman’s face before?’

‘It is the Honourable Sir Gervas Jerome of the county of Surrey,’ quoth Saxon.

‘Your Majesty may have seen me at St. James’s,’ said the baronet, raising his hat, ‘or in the balcony at Whitehall. I was much at Court during the latter years of the late king.’

‘Yes, yes. I remember the name as well as the face,’ cried Monmouth. ‘You see, gentlemen,’ he continued, turning to his staff, ‘the courtiers begin to come in at last. Were you not the man who did fight Sir Thomas Killigrew behind Dunkirk House? I thought as much. Will you not attach yourself to my personal attendants?’

‘If it please your Majesty,’ Sir Gervas answered, ‘I am of opinion that I could do your royal cause better service at the head of my musqueteers.’

‘So be it! So be it!’ said King Monmouth. Setting spurs to his horse, he raised his hat in response to the cheers of the troops and cantered down the High Street under a rain of flowers, which showered from roof and window upon him, his staff, and his escort. We had joined in his train, as commanded, so that we came in for our share of this merry crossfire. One rose as it fluttered down was caught by Reuben, who, I observed, pressed it to his lips, and then pushed it inside his breastplate. Glancing up, I caught sight, of the smiling face of our host’s daughter peeping down at us from a casement.

‘Well caught, Reuben!’ I whispered. ‘At trick-track or trap and ball you were ever our best player.’

‘Ah, Micah,’ said he, ‘I bless the day that ever I followed you to the wars. I would not change places with Monmouth this day.’

‘Has it gone so far then!’ I exclaimed. ‘Why, lad, I thought that you were but opening your trenches, and you speak as though you had carried the city.’

‘Perhaps I am over-hopeful,’ he cried, turning from hot to cold, as a man doth when he is in love, or hath the tertian ague, or other bodily trouble. ‘God knows that I am little worthy of her, and yet —’

‘Set not your heart too firmly upon that which may prove to be beyond your reach,’ said I. ‘The old man is rich, and will look higher.’

‘I would he were poor!’ sighed Reuben, with all the selfishness of a lover. ‘If this war last I may win myself some honour or title. Who knows? Others have done it, and why not I!’

‘Of our three from Havant,’ I remarked, ‘one is spurred onwards by ambition, and one by love. Now, what am I to do who care neither for high office nor for the face of a maid? What is to carry me into the fight?’

‘Our motives come and go, but yours is ever with you,’ said Reuben. ‘Honour and duty are the two stars, Micah, by which you have ever steered your course.’

‘Faith, Mistress Ruth has taught you to make pretty speeches,’ said I, ‘but methinks she ought to be here amid the beauty of Taunton.’

As I spoke we were riding into the market-place, which was now crowded with our troops. Round the cross were grouped a score of maidens clad in white muslin dresses with blue scarfs around their waists. As the King approached, these little maids, with much pretty nervousness, advanced to meet him, and handed him a banner which they had worked for him, and also a dainty gold-clasped Bible. Monmouth handed the flag to one of his captains, but he raised the book above his head, exclaiming that he had come there to defend the truths contained within it, at which the cheerings and acclamations broke forth with redoubled vigour. It had been expected that he might address the people from the cross, but he contented himself with waiting while the heralds proclaimed his titles to the Crown, when he gave the word to disperse, and the troops marched off to the different centres where food had been provided for them. The King and his chief officers took up their quarters in the Castle, while the Mayor and richer burgesses found bed and board for the rest. As to the common soldiers, many were billeted among the townsfolk, many others encamped in the streets and Castle grounds, while the remainder took up their dwelling among the waggons in the fields outside the city, where they lit up great fires, and had sheep roasting and beer flowing as merrily as though a march on London were but a holiday outing.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:33