Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1386
At Havant, near Portsmouth, young Micah Clarke grew up under the domination of his strong Puritan father, Joseph Clarke. He led a vigorous, active life, but he spent much time praying and hymn singing. He heard many tales of Cromwell and the Puritans from his father, who had fought in...
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- Critical Essays
At Havant, near Portsmouth, young Micah Clarke grew up under the domination of his strong Puritan father, Joseph Clarke. He led a vigorous, active life, but he spent much time praying and hymn singing. He heard many tales of Cromwell and the Puritans from his father, who had fought in the wars of those troubled times. Except for a year at an established Church school, Micah’s education was taken in hand by his father himself. At the age of twenty, Micah was the strongest man in the village.
As was their custom, Micah and his good friend Reuben set out to fish in Langston Bay. They pulled up to their favorite fishing ground just as the sun was setting, threw out the large anchor stone, and set their lines. Not far away a king’s ship stood in the channel. The two youths watched her until their attention was drawn to a large brig not over a quarter mile distant. The ship seemed to be out of control, for she yawed as if there were no hand at the tiller. While they watched, they heard two musket shots aboard the brig. A cannon shot sounded a few minutes later, and the ball passed close to their boat as the brig came about and headed down the channel. Reuben urged his friend to pull hard, for there was a man in the water. They could soon see him swimming easily along; as they came alongside, the swimmer expertly hoisted himself aboard. He was a tall, lean man, over fifty years old but wiry and strong. Their passenger looked them over coolly, drew out a wicked knife, and ordered them to head for the French coast. When Micah lifted his oar and threatened to knock the man over the head, their passenger gave in meekly and handed over his knife with good grace. He told them that he had jumped overboard from the brig after he and his brother, the captain, had exchanged musket shots during a quarrel.
As they headed shoreward, the stranger heard Reuben use the name Clarke. Instantly, the man became interested and asked Micah if he were the son of Joseph Clarke. When Micah replied that he was, the stranger pulled out his pouch and showed them that he carried a letter for Joseph Clarke, as well as for twenty other men in the district. Reassured, Micah took the man home, where he learned that the stranger was Decimus Saxon, a mercenary soldier recruiting soldiers for the army of the Duke of Monmouth, the Protestant pretender who was coming to wrest his throne from Catholic King James. Joseph was too old to fight; but mindful of his duty, he permitted Micah to go to the wars. With many prayers, Micah set out in Saxon’s company to meet Monmouth, who was soon to land somewhere in Devonshire. Although he was a good member of the Church of England, Reuben went with them for friendship’s sake.
Saxon soon threw off his sanctimonious manner, and to Micah’s dismay, he showed himself a hardened man of the world. One night at an inn, Saxon fought a king’s officer over a card game and they were forced to flee, pursued by a body of horsemen and dogs. Only by stout courage and luck were they able to kill the dogs and go on their way.
That night, they found shelter in the hut of a recluse, Sir Jacob Clancy. The hermit had lost all of his estates through helping Charles II to gain his throne. Now renounced by the Stuart kings, he worked at his alchemy in solitude. When he heard that his guests were going to join the rebel Monmouth, he pressed on Micah some bars of gold to give to the Protestant pretender and also a scroll on which was written:
When thy star is in the trineBetween darkness and shineDuke Monmouth, Duke MonmouthBeware of the Rhine.
On another night, the trio stayed at an inn kept by a buxom widow. The landlady cast sheep’s eyes at Saxon, and he seemed mightily interested. Reuben and Micah listened anxiously as he muttered to himself the advantages of keeping an inn. Saxon was shocked when a powdered and perfumed knight came into the tavern and heartily kissed the widow. In anger, he left the table, and the newly arrived fop took his seat.
Micah soon learned that the newcomer was Sir Gervas, a London dandy who had gambled and drunk away all of his estates. When Sir Gervas heard that Micah was going to join Monmouth, he nonchalantly agreed to go with them. Afterward, Saxon returned to the dining room. No longer thinking of settling down as an innkeeper, he welcomed Sir Gervas as a good recruit to the cause.
The Protestants were rallying at Taunton, the strong center of the Dissenters. The mayor, Stephen Timewell, was a wealthy wool merchant and a staunch enemy of Rome; therefore, the ragged but rugged horde of Dissenters found a secure headquarters in Taunton. On their arrival, Saxon was made a colonel, and Micah and Reuben became captains of infantry. Sir Gervas headed a hundred musketeers. In all the turmoil of drill and inspections, the most prominent figures were the gowned clergy, who intoned prayers and hymns for the godly rebels who were to fight the Lord’s battles against Papist King James.
Micah thrilled to see the arrival of Monmouth at the head of his small but growing army. Because of his strength and manly bearing, Micah soon found his way into Monmouth’s inner circle. At a council meeting, Micah gave over the gold and the scroll entrusted to him by Sir Jacob Clancy. Monmouth blanched at the prophecy, but after nervously exclaiming that he would be fighting in England, not in Germany, he ignored the warning.
The Protestants needed at least one great and powerful lord to support their cause. So far Monmouth had rallied the peasants, the ministers, and a few reckless cavaliers. He knew, however, that his forces were too weak to meet the royal army. After prolonged debate, the Protestants decided that the Duke of Beaufort was the most likely convert. Lord of all Wales, he had always been an enemy of Catholicism, and he was under obligations to Monmouth. Micah was chosen to bear a message to the noble lord.
Micah set off alone to make the long trip from Taunton to Bristol. Near the channel, he half dozed on his horse during the night. Suddenly, he was knocked from the saddle, bound, and dragged to a cave, where he learned that smugglers had kidnaped him because they had mistaken him for a tax collector. When he was able to establish his identity and errand, the smugglers changed their attitude; they even took him and his horse in a lugger up the channel to Bristol.
Micah tried to talk to Beaufort alone, but he was forced to deliver his papers in full sight of the Duke’s court. Beaufort became very angry at the idea of deserting King James and had Micah imprisoned in a dungeon. Expecting to be hanged as a traitor, Micah resigned himself to his last night on earth; but during the night, a rope dropped mysteriously from an opening in the ceiling. Climbing up, Micah saw that his deliverer was Beaufort himself. The Duke explained that he had not dared say anything in council, but if Monmouth could get to Bristol, Beaufort would join him.
Micah carried the news back to Monmouth, who announced his immediate decision to march toward Bristol. The ragged army encamped at Sedgemoor and decided to make a stand there. As Monmouth looked over the battlefield, he was startled to hear the natives refer to a big ditch nearby as the “rhine.” Indeed, the rhine was an omen, for the small band of Protestant zealots proved no match for the king’s men. As the battle raged, Monmouth fled in a vain attempt to save his own skin.
Micah was captured and sentenced to be sold as a slave. Saxon saved his life. Using money that he had blackmailed from Beaufort, Saxon bought Micah’s release. Thankfully, Micah set out for the Continent to become a man-at-arms in the foreign wars.