Micah Clarke, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 21

Of my Hand-grips with the Brandenburger

King Monmouth had called a council meeting for the evening, and summoned Colonel Decimus Saxon to attend it, with whom I went, bearing with me the small package which Sir Jacob Clancing had given over to my keeping. On arriving at the Castle we found that the King had not yet come out from his chamber, but we were shown into the great hall to await him, a fine room with lofty windows and a noble ceiling of carved woodwork. At the further end the royal arms had been erected without the bar sinister which Monmouth had formerly worn. Here were assembled the principal chiefs of the army, with many of the inferior commanders, town officers, and others who had petitions to offer. Lord Grey of Wark stood silently by the window, looking out over the countryside with a gloomy face. Wade and Holmes shook their heads and whispered in a corner. Ferguson strode about with his wig awry, shouting out exhortations and prayers in a broad Scottish accent. A few of the more gaily dressed gathered round the empty fireplace, and listened to a tale from one of their number which appeared to be shrouded in many oaths, and which was greeted with shouts of laughter. In another corner a numerous group of zealots, clad in black or russet gowns, with broad white bands and hanging mantles, stood round some favourite preacher, and discussed in an undertone Calvinistic philosophy and its relation to statecraft. A few plain homely soldiers, who were neither sectaries nor courtiers, wandered up and down, or stared out through the windows at the busy encampment upon the Castle Green. To one of these, remarkable for his great size and breadth of shoulder, Saxon led me, and touching him on the sleeve, he held out his hand as to an old friend. ‘Mein Gott!’ cried the German soldier of fortune, for it was the same man whom my companion had pointed out in the morning, ‘I thought it was you, Saxon, when I saw you by the gate, though you are even thinner than of old. How a man could suck up so much good Bavarian beer as you have done, and yet make so little flesh upon it, is more than I can verstehen. How have all things gone with you?’

‘As of old,’ said Saxon. ‘More blows than thalers, and greater need of a surgeon than of a strong-box. When did I see you last, friend? Was it not at the onfall at Nurnberg, when I led the right and you the left wing of the heavy horse?’

‘Nay,’ said Buyse. ‘I have met you in the way of business since then. Have you forgot the skirmish on the Rhine bank, when you did flash your snapphahn at me? Sapperment! Had some rascally schelm not stabbed my horse I should have swept your head off as a boy cuts thistles mit a stick.’

‘Aye, aye,’ Saxon answered composedly, ‘I had forgot it. You were taken, if I remember aright, but did afterwards brain the sentry with your fetters, and swam the Rhine under the fire of a regiment. Yet, I think that we did offer you the same terms that you were having with the others.’

‘Some such base offer was indeed made me,’ said the German sternly. ‘To which I answered that, though I sold my sword, I did not sell my honour. It is well that cavaliers of fortune should show that an engagement is with them — how do ye say it?— unbreakable until the war is over. Then by all means let him change his paymaster. Warum nicht?’

‘True, friend, true!’ replied Saxon. ‘These beggarly Italians and Swiss have made such a trade of the matter, and sold themselves so freely, body and soul, to the longest purse, that it is well that we should be nice upon points of honour. But you remember the old hand-grip which no man in the Palatinate could exchange with you? Here is my captain, Micah Clarke. Let him see how warm a North German welcome may be.’

The Brandenburger showed his white teeth in a grin as he held out his broad brown hand to me. The instant that mine was enclosed in it he suddenly bent his whole strength upon it, and squeezed my fingers together until the blood tingled in the nails, and the whole hand was limp and powerless.

‘Donnerwetter!’ he cried, laughing heartily at my start of pain and surprise. ‘It is a rough Prussian game, and the English lads have not much stomach for it.’

‘Truly, sir,’ said I, ‘it is the first time that I have seen the pastime, and I would fain practise it under so able a master.’

‘What, another!’ he cried. ‘Why, you must be still pringling from the first. Nay, if you will I shall not refuse you, though I fear it may weaken your hold upon your sword-hilt.’

He held out his hand as he spoke, and I grasped it firmly, thumb to thumb, keeping my elbow high so as to bear all my force upon it. His own trick was, as I observed, to gain command of the other hand by a great output of strength at the onset. This I prevented by myself putting out all my power. For a minute or more we stood motionless, gazing into each other’s faces. Then I saw a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead, and I knew that he was beaten. Slowly his grip relaxed, and his hand grew limp and slack while my own tightened ever upon it, until he was forced in a surly, muttering voice to request that I should unhand him.

‘Teufel und hexerei!’ he cried, wiping away the blood which oozed from under his nails, ‘I might as well put my fingers in a rat-trap. You are the first man that ever yet exchanged fair hand-grips with Anthony Buyse.’

‘We breed brawn in England as well as in Brandenburg,’ said Saxon, who was shaking with laughter over the German soldier’s discomfiture. ‘Why, I have seen that lad pick up a full-size sergeant of dragoons and throw him into a cart as though he had been a clod of earth.’

‘Strong he is,’ grumbled Buyse, still wringing his injured hand, ‘strong as old Gotz mit de iron grip. But what good is strength alone in the handling of a weapon? It is not the force of a blow, but the way in which it is geschlagen, that makes the effect. Your sword now is heavier than mine, by the look of it, and yet my blade would bite deeper. Eh? Is not that a more soldierly sport than kinderspiel such as hand-grasping and the like?’

‘He is a modest youth,’ said Saxon. ‘Yet I would match his stroke against yours.’

‘For what?’ snarled the German.

‘For as much wine as we can take at a sitting.

‘No small amount, either,’ said Buyse; ‘a brace of gallons at the least. Well, be it so. Do you accept the contest?’

‘I shall do what I may,’ I answered, ‘though I can scarce hope to strike as heavy a blow as so old and tried a soldier.’

‘Henker take your compliments,’ he cried gruffly. ‘It was with sweet words that you did coax my fingers into that fool-catcher of yours. Now, here is my old headpiece of Spanish steel. It has, as you can see, one or two dints of blows, and a fresh one will not hurt it. I place it here upon this oaken stool high enough to be within fair sword-sweep. Have at it, Junker, and let us see if you can leave your mark upon it!’

‘Do you strike first, sir,’ said I, ‘since the challenge is yours.’

‘I must bruise my own headpiece to regain my soldierly credit,’ he grumbled. ‘Well, well, it has stood a cut or two in its day.’ Drawing his broadsword, he waved back the crowd who had gathered around us, while he swung the great weapon with tremendous force round his head, and brought it down with a full, clean sweep on to the smooth cap of steel. The headpiece sprang high into the air and then clattered down upon the oaken floor with a long, deep line bitten into the solid metal.

‘Well struck!’ ‘A brave stroke!’ cried the spectators. ‘It is proof steel thrice welded, and warranted to turn a sword-blade,’ one remarked, raising up the helmet to examine it, and then replacing it upon the stool.

‘I have seen my father cut through proof steel with this very sword,’ said I, drawing the fifty-year-old weapon. ‘He put rather more of his weight into it than you have done. I have heard him say that a good stroke should come from the back and loins rather than from the mere muscles of the arm.’

‘It is not a lecture we want, but a beispiel or example,’ sneered the German. ‘It is with your stroke that we have to do, and not with the teaching of your father.’

‘My stroke,’ said I, ‘is in accordance with his teaching;’ and, whistling round the sword, I brought it down with all my might and strength upon the German’s helmet. The good old Commonwealth blade shore through the plate of steel, cut the stool asunder, and buried its point two inches deep in the oaken floor. ‘It is but a trick,’ I explained. ‘I have practised it in the winter evenings at home.’

‘It is not a trick that I should care to have played upon me,’ said Lord Grey, amid a general murmur of applause and surprise. ‘Od’s bud, man, you have lived two centuries too late. What would not your thews have been worth before gunpowder put all men upon a level!’

‘Wunderbar!’ growled Buyse, ‘wunderbar! I am past my prime, young sir, and may well resign the palm of strength to you. It was a right noble stroke. It hath cost me a runlet or two of canary, and a good old helmet; but I grudge it not, for it was fairly done. I am thankful that my head was not darin. Saxon, here, used to show us some brave schwertspielerei, but he hath not the weight for such smashing blows as this.’

‘My eye is still true and my hand firm, though both are perhaps a trifle the worse for want of use,’ said Saxon, only too glad at the chance of drawing the eyes of the chiefs upon him. ‘At backsword, sword and dagger, sword and buckler, single falchion and case of falchions, mine old challenge still holds good against any comer, save only my brother Quartus, who plays as well as I do, but hath an extra half-inch in reach which gives him the vantage.’

‘I studied sword-play under Signor Contarini of Paris,’ said Lord Grey. ‘Who was your master?’

‘I have studied, my lord, under Signer Stern Necessity of Europe,’ quoth Saxon. ‘For five-and-thirty years my life has depended from day to day upon being able to cover myself with this slip of steel. Here is a small trick which showeth some nicety of eye: to throw this ring to the ceiling and catch it upon a rapier point. It seems simple, perchance, and yet is only to be attained by some practice.’

‘Simple!’ cried Wade the lawyer, a square-faced, bold-eyed man. ‘Why, the ring is but the girth of your little finger. A man might do it once by good luck, but none could ensure it.’

‘I will lay a guinea a thrust on it,’ said Saxon; and tossing the little gold circlet up into the air, he flashed out his rapier and made a pass at it. The ring rasped down the steel blade and tinkled against the hilt, fairly impaled. By a sharp motion of the wrist he shot it up to the ceiling again, where it struck a carved rafter and altered its course; but again, with a quick step forward, he got beneath it and received it on his sword-point. ‘Surely there is some cavalier present who is as apt at the trick as I am,’ he said, replacing the ring upon his finger.

‘I think, Colonel, that I could venture upon it,’ said a voice; and looking round, we found that Monmouth had entered the room and was standing quietly on the outskirts of the throng, unperceived in the general interest which our contention had excited. ‘Nay, nay, gentlemen,’ he continued pleasantly, as we uncovered and bowed with some little embarrassment; ‘how could my faithful followers be better employed than by breathing themselves in a little sword-play? I prythee lend me your rapier, Colonel.’ He drew a diamond ring from his finger, and spinning it up into the air, he transfixed it as deftly as Saxon had done. ‘I practised the trick at The Hague, where, by my faith, I had only too many hours to devote to such trifles. But how come these steel links and splinters of wood to be littered over the floor?’

‘A son of Anak hath appaired amang us,’ said Ferguson, turning his face, all scarred and reddened with the king’s evil, in my direction. ‘A Goliath o’ Gath, wha hath a stroke like untae a weaver’s beam. Hath he no the smooth face o’ a bairn and the thews’ o’ Behemoth?’

‘A shrewd blow indeed,’ King Monmouth remarked, picking up half the stool. ‘How is our champion named?’

‘He is my captain, your Majesty,’ Saxon answered, resheathing the sword which the King had handed to him; ‘Micah Clarke, a man of Hampshire birth.’

‘They breed a good old English stock in those parts,’ said Monmouth; ‘but how comes it that you are here, sir? I summoned this meeting for my own immediate household, and for the colonels of the regiments. If every captain is to be admitted into our councils, we must hold our meetings on the Castle Green, for no apartment could contain us.’

‘I ventured to come here, your Majesty,’ I replied, ‘because on my way hither I received a commission, which was that I should deliver this small but weighty package into your hands. I therefore thought it my duty to lose no time in fulfilling my errand.’

‘What is in it?’ he asked.

‘I know not,’ I answered.

Doctor Ferguson whispered a few words into the King’s ear, who laughed and held out his hand for the packet.

‘Tut! tut!’ said he. ‘The days of the Borgias and the Medicis are over, Doctor. Besides, the lad is no Italian conspirator, but hath honest blue eyes and flaxen hair as Nature’s certificate to his character. This is passing heavy — an ingot of lead, by the feel. Lend me your dagger, Colonel Holmes. It is stitched round with packthread. Ha! it is a bar of gold — solid virgin gold by all that is wonderful. Take charge of it, Wade, and see that it is added to the common fund. This little piece of metal may furnish ten pikemen. What have we here? A letter and an enclosure. “To James, Duke of Monmouth”— hum! It was written before we assumed our royal state. “Sir Jacob Glancing, late of Snellaby Hall, sends greeting and a pledge of affection. Carry out the good work. A hundred more such ingots await you when you have crossed Salisbury Plain.” Bravely promised, Sir Jacob! I would that you had sent them. Well, gentlemen, ye see how support and tokens of goodwill come pouring in upon us. Is not the tide upon the turn? Can the usurper hope to hold his own? Will his men stand by him? Within a month or less I shall see ye all gathered round me at Westminster, and no duty will then be so pleasing to me as to see that ye are all, from the highest to the lowest, rewarded for your loyalty to your monarch in this the hour of his darkness and his danger.’

A murmur of thanks rose up from the courtiers at this gracious speech, but the German plucked at Saxon’s sleeve and whispered, ‘He hath his warm fit upon him. You shall see him cold anon.’

‘Fifteen hundred men have joined me here where I did but expect a thousand at the most,’ the King continued. ‘If we had high hopes when we landed at Lyme Cobb with eighty at our back, what should we think now when we find ourselves in the chief city of Somerset with eight thousand brave men around us? ’Tis but one other affair like that at Axminster, and my uncle’s power will go down like a house of cards. But gather round the table, gentlemen, and we shall discuss matters in due form.’

‘There is yet a scrap of paper which you have not read, sire,’ said Wade, picking up a little slip which had been enclosed in the note.

‘It is a rhyming catch or the posy of a ring,’ said Monmouth, glancing at it. ‘What are we to make of this?

“When thy star is in trine,
Between darkness and shine,
Duke Monmouth, Duke Monmouth,
Beware of the Rhine!”

Thy star in trine! What tomfoolery is this?’

‘If it please your Majesty,’ said I, ‘I have reason to believe that the man who sent you this message is one of those who are deeply skilled in the arts of divination, and who pretend from the motions of the celestial bodies to foretell the fates of men.’

‘This gentleman is right, sir,’ remarked Lord Grey. ‘“Thy star in trine” is an astrological term, which signifieth when your natal planet shall be in a certain quarter of the heavens. The verse is of the nature of a prophecy. The Chaldeans and Egyptians of old are said to have attained much skill in the art, but I confess that I have no great opinion of those latter-day prophets who busy themselves in answering the foolish questions of every housewife.’

‘And tell by Venus and the moon,
Who stole a thimble or a spoon.’
muttered Saxon, quoting from his favourite poem.

‘Why, here are our Colonels catching the rhyming complaint,’ said the King, laughing. ‘We shall be dropping the sword and taking to the harp anon, as Alfred did in these very parts. Or I shall become a king of bards and trouveurs, like good King Rene of Provence. But, gentlemen, if this be indeed a prophecy, it should, methinks, bode well for our enterprise. It is true that I am warned against the Rhine, but there is little prospect of our fighting this quarrel upon its banks.’

‘Worse luck!’ murmured the German, under his breath.

‘We may, therefore, thank this Sir Jacob and his giant messenger for his forecast as well as for his gold. But here comes the worthy Mayor of Taunton, the oldest of our councillors and the youngest of our knights. Captain Clarke, I desire you to stand at the inside of the door and to prevent intrusion. What passes amongst us will, I am well convinced, be safe in your keeping.’

I bowed and took up my post as ordered, while the council-men and commanders gathered round the great oaken table which ran down the centre of the hall. The mellow evening light was streaming through the three western windows, while the distant babble of the soldiers upon the Castle Green sounded like the sleepy drone of insects. Monmouth paced with quick uneasy steps up and down the further end of the room until all were seated, when he turned towards them and addressed them.

‘You will have surmised, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘that I have called you together today that I might have the benefit of your collective wisdom in determining what our next steps should be. We have now marched some forty miles into our kingdom, and we have met wherever we have gone with the warm welcome which we expected. Close upon eight thousand men follow our standards, and as many more have been turned away for want of arms. We have twice met the enemy, with the effect that we have armed ourselves with their muskets and field-pieces. From first to last there hath been nothing which has not prospered with us. We must look to it that the future be as successful as the past. To insure this I have called ye together, and I now ask ye to give me your opinions of our situation, leaving me after I have listened to your views to form our plan of action. There are statesmen among ye, and there are soldiers among ye, and there are godly men among ye who may chance to get a flash of light when statesman and soldier are in the dark. Speak fearlessly, then, and let me know what is in your minds.’

From my central post by the door I could see the lines of faces on either side of the board, the solemn close-shaven Puritans, sunburned soldiers, and white-wigged moustachioed courtiers. My eyes rested particularly upon Ferguson’s scorbutic features, Saxon’s hard aquiline profile, the German’s burly face, and the peaky thoughtful countenance of the Lord of Wark.

‘If naebody else will gie an opeenion,’ cried the fanatical Doctor, ‘I’ll een speak mysel’ as led by the inward voice. For have I no worked in the cause and slaved in it, much enduring and suffering mony things at the honds o’ the froward, whereby my ain speerit hath plentifully fructified? Have I no been bruised as in a wine-press, and cast oot wi’ hissing and scorning into waste places?’

‘We know your merits and your sufferings, Doctor,’ said the King. ‘The question before us is as to our course of action.’

‘Was there no a voice heard in the East?’ cried the old Whig. ‘Was there no a soond as o’ a great crying, the crying for a broken covenant and a sinful generation? Whence came the cry? Wha’s was the voice? Was it no that o’ the man Robert Ferguson, wha raised himsel’ up against the great ones in the land, and wouldna be appeased?’

‘Aye, aye, Doctor,’ said Monmouth impatiently. ‘Speak to the point, or give place to another.’

‘I shall mak’ mysel’ clear, your Majesty. Have we no heard that Argyle is cutten off? And why was he cutten off? Because he hadna due faith in the workings o’ the Almighty, and must needs reject the help o’ the children o’ light in favour o’ the bare-legged spawn o’ Prelacy, wha are half Pagan, half Popish. Had he walked in the path o’ the Lord he wudna be lying in the Tolbooth o’ Edinburgh wi’ the tow or the axe before him. Why did he no gird up his loins and march straight onwards wi’ the banner o’ light, instead o’ dallying here and biding there like a half-hairted Didymus? And the same or waur will fa’ upon us if we dinna march on intae the land and plant our ensigns afore the wicked toun o’ London — the toun where the Lord’s wark is tae be done, and the tares tae be separated frae the wheat, and piled up for the burning.’

‘Your advice, in short, is that we march on!’ said Monmouth.

‘That we march on, your Majesty, and that we prepare oorselves tae be the vessels o’ grace, and forbear frae polluting the cause o’ the Gospel by wearing the livery o’ the devil’— here he glared at a gaily attired cavalier at the other side of the table —‘or by the playing o’ cairds, the singing o’ profane songs and the swearing o’ oaths, all which are nichtly done by members o’ this army, wi’ the effect o’ giving much scandal tae God’s ain folk.’

A hum of assent and approval rose up from the more Puritan members of the council at this expression of opinion, while the courtiers glanced at each other and curled their lips in derision. Monmouth took two or three turns and then called for another opinion.

‘You, Lord Grey,’ he said, ‘are a soldier and a man of experience. What is your advice? Should we halt here or push forward towards London?’

‘To advance to the East would, in my humble judgment, be fatal to us,’ Grey answered, speaking slowly, with the manner of a man who has thought long and deeply before delivering an opinion. ‘James Stuart is strong in horse, and we have none. We can hold our own amongst hedgerows or in broken country, but what chance could we have in the middle of Salisbury Plain? With the dragoons round us we should be like a flock of sheep amid a pack of wolves. Again, every step which we take towards London removes us from our natural vantage ground, and from the fertile country which supplies our necessities, while it strengthens our enemy by shortening the distance he has to convey his troops and his victuals. Unless, therefore, we hear of some great outbreak elsewhere, or of some general movement in London in our favour, we would do best to hold our ground and wait an attack.’

‘You argue shrewdly and well, my Lord Grey,’ said the King. ‘But how long are we to wait for this outbreak which never comes, and for this support which is ever promised and never provided? We have now been seven long days in England, and during that time of all the House of Commons no single man hath come over to us, and of the lords none gave my Lord Grey, who was himself an exile. Not a baron or an earl, and only one baronet, hath taken up arms for me. Where are the men whom Danvers and Wildman promised me from London? Where are the brisk boys of the City who were said to be longing for me? Where are the breakings out from Berwick to Portland which they foretold? Not a man hath moved save only these good peasants. I have been deluded, ensnared, trapped — trapped by vile agents who have led me into the shambles.’ He paced up and down, wringing his hands and biting his lips, with despair stamped upon his face. I observed that Buyse smiled and whispered something to Saxon — a hint, I suppose, that this was the cold fit of which he spoke.

‘Tell me, Colonel Buyse,’ said the King, mastering his emotion by a strong effort. ‘Do you, as a soldier, agree with my Lord Grey?’

‘Ask Saxon, your Majesty,’ the German answered. ‘My opinion in a Raths-Versammlung is, I have observed, ever the same as his.’

‘Then we turn to you, Colonel Saxon,’ said Monmouth. ‘We have in this council a party who are in favour of an advance and a party who wish to stand their ground. Their weight and numbers are, methinks, nearly equal. If you had the casting vote how would you decide?’ All eyes were bent upon our leader, for his martial bearing, and the respect shown to him by the veteran Buyse, made it likely that his opinion might really turn the scale. He sat for a few moments in silence with his hands before his face.

‘I will give my opinion, your Majesty,’ he said at last. ‘Feversham and Churchill are making for Salisbury with three thousand foot, and they have pushed on eight hundred of the Blue Guards, and two or three dragoon regiments. We should, therefore, as Lord Grey says, have to fight on Salisbury Plain, and our foot armed with a medley of weapons could scarce make head against their horse. All is possible to the Lord, as Dr. Ferguson wisely says. We are as grains of dust in the hollow of His hand. Yet He hath given us brains wherewith to choose the better course, and if we neglect it we must suffer the consequence of our folly.’

Ferguson laughed contemptuously, and breathed out a prayer, but many of the other Puritans nodded their heads to acknowledge that this was not an unreasonable view to take of it.

‘On the other hand, sire,’ Saxon continued, ‘it appears to me that to remain here is equally impossible. Your Majesty’s friends throughout England would lose all heart if the army lay motionless and struck no blow. The rustics would flock off to their wives and homes. Such an example is catching. I have seen a great army thaw away like an icicle in the sunshine. Once gone, it is no easy matter to collect them again. To keep them we must employ them. Never let them have an idle minute. Drill them. March them. Exercise them. Work them. Preach to them. Make them obey God and their Colonel. This cannot be done in snug quarters. They must travel. We cannot hope to end this business until we get to London. London, then, must be our goal. But there are many ways of reaching it. You have, sire, as I have heard, many friends at Bristol and in the Midlands. If I might advise, I should say let us march round in that direction. Every day that passes will serve to swell your forces and improve your troops, while all will feel something is astirring. Should we take Bristol — and I hear that the works are not very strong — it would give us a very good command of shipping, and a rare centre from which to act. If all goes well with us, we could make our way to London through Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. In the meantime I might suggest that a day of fast and humiliation be called to bring down a blessing on the cause.’

This address, skilfully compounded of worldly wisdom and of spiritual zeal, won the applause of the whole council, and especially that of King Monmouth, whose melancholy vanished as if by magic.

‘By my faith, Colonel,’ said he, ‘you make it all as clear as day. Of course, if we make ourselves strong in the West, and my uncle is threatened with disaffection elsewhere, he will have no chance to hold out against us. Should he wish to fight us upon our own ground, he must needs drain his troops from north, south, and east, which is not to be thought of. We may very well march to London by way of Bristol.’

‘I think that the advice is good,’ Lord Grey observed; ‘but I should like to ask Colonel Saxon what warrant he hath for saying that Churchill and Feversham are on their way, with three thousand regular foot and several regiments of horse?’

‘The word of an officer of the Blues with whom I conversed at Salisbury,’ Saxon answered. ‘He confided in me, believing me to be one of the Duke of Beaufort’s household. As to the horse, one party pursued us on Salisbury Plain with bloodhounds, and another attacked us not twenty miles from here and lost a score of troopers and a cornet.’

‘We heard something of the brush,’ said the King. ‘It was bravely done. But if these men are so close we have no great time for preparation.’

‘Their foot cannot he here before a week,’ said the Mayor. ‘By that time we might be behind the walls of Bristol.’

‘There is one point which might be urged,’ observed Wade the lawyer. ‘We have, as your Majesty most truly says, met with heavy discouragement in the fact that no noblemen and few commoners of repute have declared for us. The reason is, I opine, that each doth wait for his neighbour to make a move. Should one or two come over the others would soon follow. How, then, are we to bring a duke or two to our standards?’

‘There’s the question, Master Wade,’ said Monmouth, shaking his head despondently.

‘I think that it might be done,’ continued the Whig lawyer. ‘Mere proclamations addressed to the commonalty will not catch these gold fish. They are not to be angled for with a naked hook. I should recommend that some form of summons or writ be served upon each of them, calling upon them to appear in our camp within a certain date under pain of high treason.’

‘There spake the legal mind,’ quoth King Monmouth, with a laugh. ‘But you have omitted to tell us how the said writ or summons is to be conveyed to these same delinquents.’

‘There is the Duke of Beaufort,’ continued Wade, disregarding the King’s objection. ‘He is President of Wales, and he is, as your Majesty knows, lieutenant of four English counties. His influence overshadows the whole West. He hath two hundred horses in his stables at Badminton, and a thousand men, as I have heard, sit down at his tables every day. Why should not a special effort be made to gain over such a one, the more so as we intend to march in his direction?’

‘Henry, Duke of Beaufort, is unfortunately already in arms against his sovereign,’ said Monmouth gloomily.

‘He is, sire, but he may be induced to turn in your favour the weapon which he hath raised against you. He is a Protestant. He is said to be a Whig. Why should we not send a message to him? Flatter his pride. Appeal to his religion. Coax and threaten him. Who knows? He may have private grievances of which we know nothing, and may be ripe for such a move.’

‘Your counsel is good, Wade,’ said Lord Grey, ‘but methinks his Majesty hath asked a pertinent question. Your messenger would, I fear, find himself swinging upon one of the Badminton oaks if the Duke desired to show his loyalty to James Stuart. Where are we to find a man who is wary enough and bold enough for such a mission, without risking one of our leaders, who could be ill-spared at such a time?’

‘It is true,’ said the King. ‘It were better not to venture it at all than to do it in a clumsy and halting fashion. Beaufort would think that it was a plot not to gain him over, but to throw discredit upon him. But what means our giant at the door by signing to us?’

‘If it please your Majesty,’ I asked, ‘have I permission to speak?’

‘We would fain hear you, Captain,’ he answered graciously. ‘If your understanding is in any degree correspondent to your strength, your opinion should be of weight.’

‘Then, your Majesty,’ said I, ‘I would offer myself as a fitting messenger in this matter. My father bid me spare neither life nor limb in this quarrel, and if this honourable council thinks that the Duke may be gained over, I am ready to guarantee that the message shall be conveyed to him if man and horse can do it.’

‘I’ll warrant that no better herald could he found,’ cried Saxon. ‘The lad hath a cool head and a staunch heart.’

‘Then, young sir, we shall accept your loyal and gallant offer,’ said Monmouth. ‘Are ye all agreed, gentlemen, upon the point?’ A murmur of assent rose from the company.

‘You shall draw up the paper, Wade. Offer him money, a seniority amongst the dukes, the perpetual Presidentship of Wales — what you will, if you can but shake him. If not, sequestration, exile, and everlasting infamy. And, hark ye! you can enclose a copy of the papers drawn up by Van Brunow, which prove the marriage of my mother, together with the attestations of the witnesses. Have them ready by tomorrow at daybreak, when the messenger may start.’ [Note H, Appendix.]

‘They shall be ready, your Majesty,’ said Wade.

‘In that case, gentlemen,’ continued King Monmouth, ‘I may now dismiss ye to your posts. Should anything fresh arise I shall summon ye again, that I may profit by your wisdom. Here we shall stay, if Sir Stephen Timewell will have us, until the men are refreshed and the recruits enrolled. We shall then make our way Bristolwards, and see what luck awaits us in the North. If Beaufort comes over all will be well. Farewell, my kind friends! I need not tell ye to be diligent and faithful.’

The council rose at the King’s salutation, and bowing to him they began to file out of the Castle hall. Several of the members clustered round me with hints for my journey or suggestions as to my conduct.

‘He is a proud, froward man,’ said one. ‘Speak humbly to him or he will never hearken to your message, but will order you to be scourged out of his presence.’

‘Nay, nay!’ cried another. ‘He is hot, but he loves a man that is a man. Speak boldly and honestly to him, and he is more like to listen to reason.’

‘Speak as the Lord shall direct you,’ said a Puritan. ‘It is His message which you bear as well as the King’s.’

‘Entice him out alone upon some excuse,’ said Buyse, ‘then up and away mit him upon your crupper. Hagelsturm! that would be a proper game.’

‘Leave him alone,’ cried Saxon. ‘The lad hath as much sense as any of ye. He will see which way the cat jumps. Come, friend, let us make our way back to our men.’

‘I am sorry, indeed, to lose you,’ he said, as we threaded our way through the throng of peasants and soldiers upon the Castle Green. ‘Your company will miss you sorely. Lockarby must see to the two. If all goes well you should be back in three or four days. I need not tell you that there is a real danger. If the Duke wishes to prove to James that he would not allow himself to be tampered with, he can only do it by punishing the messenger, which as lieutenant of a county he hath power to do in times of civil commotion. He is a hard man if all reports be true. On the other hand, if you should chance to succeed it may lay the foundations of your fortunes and be the means of saving Monmouth. He needs help, by the Lord Harry! Never have I seen such a rabble as this army of his. Buyse says that they fought lustily at this ruffle at Axminster, but he is of one mind with me, that a few whiffs of shot and cavalry charges would scatter them over the countryside. Have you any message to leave?’

‘None, save my love to my mother,’ said I.

‘It is well. Should you fall in any unfair way, I shall not forget his Grace of Beaufort, and the next of his gentlemen who comes in my way shall hang as high as Haman. And now you had best make for your chamber, and have as good a slumber as you may, since tomorrow at cock-crow begins your new mission.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/micah/chapter21.html

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