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Micah Clarke Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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.

(The entire section is 1,386 words.)