THE GRAY CHAMPION

THE GRAY CHAMPION

There was once a time when New England groaned under the actual
pressure of heavier wrongs than those threatened ones which
brought on the Revolution. James II, the bigoted successor of
Charles the Voluptuous, had annulled the charters of all the
colonies, and sent a harsh and unprincipled soldier to take away
our liberties and endanger our religion. The administration of
Sir Edmund Andros lacked scarcely a single characteristic of
tyranny: a Governor and Council, holding office from the King,
and wholly independent of the country; laws made and taxes levied
without concurrence of the people immediate or by their
representatives; the rights of private citizens violated, and the
titles of all landed property declared void; the voice of
complaint stifled by restrictions on the press; and, finally,
disaffection overawed by the first band of mercenary troops that
ever marched on our free soil. For two years our ancestors were
kept in sullen submission by that filial love which had
invariably secured their allegiance to the mother country,
whether its head chanced to be a Parliament, Protector, or Popish
Monarch. Till these evil times, however, such allegiance had been
merely nominal, and the colonists had ruled themselves, enjoying
far more freedom than is even yet the privilege of the native
subjects of Great Britain.

At length a rumor reached our shores that the Prince of Orange
had ventured on an enterprise, the success of which would be the
triumph of civil and religious rights and the salvation of New
England. It was but a doubtful whisper: it might be false, or the
attempt might fail; and, in either case, the man that stirred
against King James would lose his head. Still the intelligence
produced a marked effect. The people smiled mysteriously in the
streets, and threw bold glances at their oppressors; while far
and wide there was a subdued and silent agitation, as if the
slightest signal would rouse the whole land from its sluggish
despondency. Aware of their danger, the rulers resolved to avert
it by an imposing display of strength, and perhaps to confirm
their despotism by yet harsher measures. One afternoon in April,
1689, Sir Edmund Andros and his favorite councillors, being warm
with wine, assembled the red-coats of the Governor's Guard, and
made their appearance in the streets of Boston. The sun was near
setting when the march commenced.

The roll of the drum at that unquiet crisis seemed to go through
the streets, less as the martial music of the soldiers, than as a
muster-call to the inhabitants themselves. A multitude, by
various avenues, assembled in King Street, which was destined to
be the scene, nearly a century afterwards, of another encounter
between the troops of Britain, and a people struggling against
her tyranny. Though more than sixty years had elapsed since the
pilgrims came, this crowd of their descendants still showed the
strong and sombre features of their character perhaps more
strikingly in such a stern emergency than on happier occasions.
There were the sober garb, the general severity of mien, the
gloomy but undismayed expression, the scriptural forms of speech,
and the confidence in Heaven's blessing on a righteous cause,
which would have marked a band of the original Puritans, when
threatened by some peril of the wilderness. Indeed, it was not
yet time for the old spirit to be extinct; since there were men
in the street that day who had worshipped there beneath the
trees, before a house was reared to the God for whom they had
become exiles. Old soldiers of the Parliament were here, too,
smiling grimly at the thought that their aged arms might strike
another blow against the house of Stuart. Here, also, were the
veterans of King Philip's war, who had burned villages and
slaughtered young and old, with pious fierceness, while the godly
souls throughout the land were helping them with prayer. Several
ministers were scattered among the crowd, which, unlike all other
mobs, regarded them with such reverence, as if there were
sanctity in their very garments. These holy men exerted their
influence to quiet the people, but not to disperse them.
Meantime, the purpose of the Governor, in disturbing the peace of
the town at a period when the slightest commotion might throw the
country into a ferment, was almost the universal subject of
inquiry, and variously explained.

"Satan will strike his master-stroke presently," cried some,
"because he knoweth that his time is short. All our godly pastors
are to be dragged to prison! We shall see them at a Smithfield
fire in King Street!"

Hereupon the people of each parish gathered closer round their
minister, who looked calmly upwards and assumed a more apostolic
dignity, as well befitted a candidate for the highest honor of
his profession, the crown of martyrdom. It was actually fancied,
at that period, that New England might have a John Rogers of her
own to take the place of that worthy in the Primer.

"The Pope of Rome has given orders for a new St. Bartholomew!"
cried others. "We are to be massacred, man and male child!"

Neither was this rumor wholly discredited, although the wiser
class believed the Governor's object somewhat less atrocious. His
predecessor under the old charter, Bradstreet, a venerable
companion of the first settlers, was known to be in town. There
were grounds for conjecturing, that Sir Edmund Andros intended at
once to strike terror by a parade of military force, and to
confound the opposite faction by possessing himself of their
chief.

"Stand firm for the old charter Governor!" shouted the crowd,
seizing upon the idea. "The good old Governor Bradstreet!"

While this cry was at the loudest, the people were surprised by
the well-known figure of Governor Bradstreet himself, a patriarch
of nearly ninety, who appeared on the elevated steps of a door,
and, with characteristic mildness, besought them to submit to the
constituted authorities.

"My children," concluded this venerable person, "do nothing
rashly. Cry not aloud, but pray for the welfare of New England,
and expect patiently what the Lord will do in this matter!"

The event was soon to be decided. All this time, the roll of the
drum had been approaching through Cornhill, louder and deeper,
till with reverberations from house to house, and the regular
tramp of martial footsteps, it burst into the street. A double
rank of soldiers made their appearance, occupying the whole
breadth of the passage, with shouldered matchlocks, and matches
burning, so as to present a row of fires in the dusk. Their
steady march was like the progress of a machine, that would roll
irresistibly over everything in its way. Next, moving slowly,
with a confused clatter of hoofs on the pavement, rode a party of
mounted gentlemen, the central figure being Sir Edmund Andros,
elderly, but erect and soldier-like. Those around him were his
favorite councillors, and the bitterest foes of New England. At
his right hand rode Edward Randolph, our arch-enemy, that
"blasted wretch," as Cotton Mather calls him, who achieved the
downfall of our ancient government, and was followed with a
sensible curse, through life and to his grave. On the other side
was Bullivant, scattering jests and mockery as he rode along.
Dudley came behind, with a downcast look, dreading, as well he
might, to meet the indignant gaze of the people, who beheld him,
their only countryman by birth, among the oppressors of his
native land. The captain of a frigate in the harbor, and two or
three civil officers under the Crown, were also there. But the
figure which most attracted the public eye, and stirred up the
deepest feeling, was the Episcopal clergyman of King's Chapel,
riding haughtily among the magistrates in his priestly vestments,
the fitting representatives of prelacy and persecution, the union
of church and state, and all those abominations which had driven
the Puritans to the wilderness. Another guard of soldiers, in
double rank, brought up the rear.

The whole scene was a picture of the condition of New England,
and its moral, the deformity of any government that does not grow
out of the nature of things and the character of the people. On
one side the religious multitude, with their sad visages and dark
attire, and on the other, the group of despotic rulers, with the
high churchman in the midst, and here and there a crucifix at
their bosoms, all magnificently clad, flushed with wine, proud of
unjust authority, and scoffing at the universal groan. And the
mercenary soldiers, waiting but the word to deluge the street
with blood, showed the only means by which obedience could be
secured.

"O Lord of Hosts," cried a voice among the crowd, "provide a
Champion for thy people!"

This ejaculation was loudly uttered, and served as a herald's
cry, to introduce a remarkable personage. The crowd had rolled
back, and were now huddled together nearly at the extremity of
the street, while the soldiers had advanced no more than a third
of its length. The intervening space was empty--a paved solitude,
between lofty edifices, which threw almost a twilight shadow over
it. Suddenly, there was seen the figure of an ancient man, who
seemed to have emerged from among the people, and was walking by
himself along the centre of the street, to confront the armed
band. He wore the old Puritan dress, a dark cloak and a
steeplecrowned hat, in the fashion of at least fifty years
before, with a heavy sword upon his thigh, but a staff in his
hand to assist the tremulous gait of age.

When at some distance from the multitude, the old man turned
slowly round, displaying a face of antique majesty, rendered
doubly venerable by the hoary beard that descended on his breast.
He made a gesture at once of encouragement and warning, then
turned again, and resumed his way.

"Who is this gray patriarch?" asked the young men of their sires.

"Who is this venerable brother?" asked the old men among
themselves.

But none could make reply. The fathers of the people, those of
fourscore years and upwards, were disturbed, deeming it strange
that they should forget one of such evident authority, whom they
must have known in their early days, the associate of Winthrop,
and all the old councillors, giving laws, and making prayers, and
leading them against the savage. The elderly men ought to have
remembered him, too, with locks as gray in their youth, as their
own were now. And the young! How could he have passed so utterly
from their memories--that hoary sire, the relic of longdeparted
times, whose awful benediction had surely been bestowed on their
uncovered heads, in childhood?

"Whence did he come? What is his purpose? Who can this old man
be?" whispered the wondering crowd.

Meanwhile, the venerable stranger, staff in hand, was pursuing
his solitary walk along the centre of the street. As he drew near
the advancing soldiers, and as the roll of their drum came full
upon his ears, the old man raised himself to a loftier mien,
while the decrepitude of age seemed to fall from his shoulders,
leaving him in gray but unbroken dignity. Now, he marched onward
with a warrior's step, keeping time to the military music. Thus
the aged form advanced on one side, and the whole parade of
soldiers and magistrates on the other, till, when scarcely twenty
yards remained between, the old man grasped his staff by the
middle, and held it before him like a leader's truncheon.

"Stand!" cried he.

The eye, the face, and attitude of command; the solemn, yet
warlike peal of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the
battle-field or be raised to God in prayer, were irresistible. At
the old man's word and outstretched arm, the roll of the drum was
hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still. A tremulous
enthusiasm seized upon the multitude. That stately form,
combining the leader and the saint, so gray, so dimly seen, in
such an ancient garb, could only belong to some old champion of
the righteous cause, whom the oppressor's drum had summoned from
his grave. They raised a shout of awe and exultation, and looked
for the deliverance of New England.

The Governor, and the gentlemen of his party, perceiving
themselves brought to an unexpected stand, rode hastily forward,
as if they would have pressed their snorting and affrighted
horses right against the hoary apparition. He, however, blenched
not a step, but glancing his severe eye round the group, which
half encompassed him, at last bent it sternly on Sir Edmund
Andros. One would have thought that the dark old man was chief
ruler there, and that the Governor and Council, with soldiers at
their back, representing the whole power and authority of the
Crown, had no alternative but obedience.

"What does this old fellow here?" cried Edward Randolph,
fiercely. "On, Sir Edmund! Bid the soldiers forward, and give the
dotard the same choice that you give all his countrymen--to stand
aside or be trampled on!"

"Nay, nay, let us show respect to the good grandsire," said
Bullivant, laughing. "See you not, he is some old round-headed
dignitary, who hath lain asleep these thirty years, and knows
nothing o' the change of times? Doubtless, he thinks to put us
down with a proclamation in Old Noll's name!"

"Are you mad, old man?" demanded Sir Edmund Andros, in loud and
harsh tones. "How dare you stay the march of King James's
Governor?"

"I have stayed 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? There is no
longer a Popish tyrant on the throne of England, and by to-morrow
noon, his name shall be a byword in this very street, where ye
would make it a word of terror. Back, thou wast a Governor, back!
With this night thy power is ended--to-morrow, 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,
like one unaccustomed to converse, except with the dead of many
years ago. 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. What were his
thoughts, he uttered no word which might discover. But whether
the oppressor were 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 ere it was known that James had abdicated, King William
was proclaimed 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, Bradstreet, the aged Governor, was
seen to embrace a form more aged than his own. Others soberly
affirmed, that while they marvelled at the venerable grandeur of
his aspect, the old man had faded from their eyes, melting slowly
into the hues of twilight, till, 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 reappearance, in sunshine
and in twilight, but never saw him more, nor knew when his
funeral passed, nor where his gravestone was.

And who was the Gray Champion? Perhaps his name might be found in
the records of that stern Court of Justice, which passed a
sentence, too mighty for the age, but glorious in all
after-times, for its humbling lesson to the monarch and its high
example to the subject. 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. 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
Revolutions. And when our fathers were toiling at the breastwork
on Bunker's Hill, all through that night the old warrior walked
his rounds. Long, long may it be, ere he comes again! His hour is
one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic
tyranny oppress us, or the invader's step pollute our soil, still
may the Gray Champion come, for he is the type of New England's
hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger,
must ever be the pledge, that New England's sons will vindicate
their ancestry.

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