Read PROLOGUE of St George's Cross, free online book, by H. G. Keene, on

On a bright day in September of the year 1649 Mr. William Prynne, a suspended Member of Parliament, sat at the window of his lodging in the Strand, London, where the Thames at high water brimmed softly against the lawn, bearing barges, wherries, and other small craft, and gleaming very pleasantly in the slant brightness of an autumn noon.

The unprosperous politician looked upon the fair scene with quiet cheer.He was a man of austere aspect, and looked farther advanced in middle life than was actually the case.For he was bearing the unjust weight of a double enmity; and though his after conduct showed that the world’s injustice by no means threw him off his moral balance, yet it is impossible for a man to get into a position where every one but himself seems wrong and not acquire a certain sense of solitude, which, with a grave nature, will make him graver still.By the Cavaliers he had been pilloried, mutilated, fined and imprisoned:expelled from the University where he was a Master-of-Arts, driven out of the Inn-of-Court in which he had been a Bencher.By the Roundheads, on the other hand, he had been visited with a later and more intolerable wrong, exclusion from that House of Commons which was the only surviving seat of sovereignty.Thus excommunicated on all sides, Prynne still preserved his free and buoyant nature.He had the voice and impulsive manner of a young man; while there was a consistent moderation in his opinions which however it might weigh against his success as a party-man yet sprang from conviction, and was a guard against misanthropy.

In his apparel he was plain but not slovenly.His eyes were eager; his lean face, branded with the first letters of the words “Seditious Libeller,” was shaded by straight falls of lank hair, streaked here and there with grey, that was combed down on either side of his head to hide the loss of his ears.

Hearing a step without, Prynne laid down the book he had been reading a pamphlet by John Milton and advanced, with an air of polite reserve, to meet the entering visitor.This was a man more than ten years his junior, short of stature, with clear-cut features and thoughtful blue eyes contrasting with hair and moustache dark almost to blackness.His neatly brushed garments had a threadbare gloss, and his broad linen falling collar, though white and clean, was somewhat frayed.But his bearing was high-bred and distinguished, with an air of sober yet resolute earnestness.He wore no sword, and the hat which he carried in his hand was plain of shape and without adornment.

“M. de Maufant,” said Prynne, with the shy courtesy of a student, “will admire that I should seek speech of him after sundry passages that have been between us.”

“Alack!Mr. Prynne,” answered the stranger, with a slight foreign accent, “since your captivity in Mont Orgueil many things have befallen.’Tis not alone I, Michael Lempriere the exile, changed from the state of Seigneur de Maufant and Chief Magistrate of Jersey to that of an outcast deriving a precarious subsistence from teaching French in your Babylon here; but methinks you yourself have had a fall too, since the days you speak of:when you left Jersey for London you came here in a sort of triumph.But by this time, methinks, you must be cured of your high hopes:I say it not for offence, but rather out of sorrow.”

“Why no,” answered the ex-Member.“Though I be no longer one of yonder assembly, I am still a denizen of London; and, let me tell you, a citizen of no mean city.And I bear my share in advancing the great cause on which so many of us are now engaged.Have you not read what Mr. Milton hath said here as touching this?” And he took up the book which he had dropped in the window-seat “It is well said, as you will find.”

Motioning Lempriere to a chair, he took another and read as follows:

“’Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with its protection ... pens and hands there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas, wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching reformation.’As he saith a little further on, the fields of our harvest are white already; and it is your privilege and mine that live among this wise and active people, to see it coming, perhaps to put in a sickle.The pamphlet is becoming a force stronger than the sword; and those Ironsides and Woodenheads who turn us out of the Chamber where our fellow citizens had seated us, may find an ill time before them when our work is over.But our work will be the work of freedom.”

What more would have been said, now that Prynne was setting forth on his dearly-loved hobby, of which the name was Cedant arma, is unknown; for the serving-man entered at this moment with a simple but plentiful repast carried on his head from the adjacent tavern; and even Prynne’s eagerness was dashed with caution enough to keep him to ordinary topics of talk so long as the man was in the room.But Lempriere had seen and heard enough to put him in good humour with his host.The intimacy of the latter with the Carterets, and a suspicion of general lukewarmness in the popular cause, had begotten old enmities, of which Lempriere, in the long probation of failure, exile, and poverty, had already learned to be ashamed; and to see the man he had misjudged, looking him eagerly and earnestly in the face as he uttered the language of a genuine reformer, completed the Jerseyman’s conversion.After the servant had brought pipes and glasses and left the gentlemen to their tobacco and their wine, their talk grew more familiar as they looked at the flowing river, and the deserted towers of Lambeth away on the other side.

“The truth is,” said Prynne, “that I received from the cavaliers of your island kindnesses that I cannot forget; yet as touching the trial and execution of the late King, if I have gainsayed aught of the other side, yet I need not repeat that I have ever been a friend to Liberty, as witness these indentures,” and with a starched smile he pointed to the marks upon his face.“I know that you have reason to be angry with Sir George Cartwright....”

“Let us not talk of him,” answered the other, with a flush on his swarthy cheek.“I lose all patience when I think of the many mischiefs entailed upon my country by the cruelty and greed of that house.When his late uncle, your protector, made Sir George a substitute in the Government of the island, he was but 23 years old:but old enough to be a serpent more subtle than any that went before; and see what he hath made of our little Eden!He and his men the servants, not of the people, but of Jermyn; prelacy and malignancy spread abroad.In the twelve parishes seven Captains are Carterets:and the Knight himself, beside his Deputyship, Bailiff and Receiver of the revenues, which he holds at an easy farm.”

“I conceive that your Eves and Adams should lose their virtue with such a tempter; yet, had you and Dumaresq been less bent on Sir Philip’s ruin, and on grasping his powers and profits, if you can pardon my plain speaking, I will be bold to say Sir Philip was no friend to tyranny, and would, under God’s pleasure, have been still alive to forward the cause of reasonable freedom.”

“I will follow your good example and use equal plainness, Mr. Prynne.This wise man hath said that ‘the simple believeth every word.’But if we should do likewise and believe every word that is told of you, we might say ’that Mr. Prynne was seduced by Sir Philip and Lady Carteret when he was their prisoner in Mont Orgueil.’And farther, it hath even been said that at that time you sent out a recantation to the King of that for which you suffered.”

“It skills not,” answered the host, with evident self-control, “it skills not to rake into that which is passed.”

“Neither did I seek to do so,” rejoined the Jerseyman, “I seek no offence, nor mean any.But, as touching the Knight’s spirit, and whether he sought the welfare of our island with singleness of heart, let me have leave to be of mine own mind.Will you not let me take the affirmation from the doings of Sir George, his nephew, and present successor?Where is the place of profit that he hath not bestowed upon a kinsman or creature of his own?”

“Methinks,” said Prynne, shrewdly, “there be others than he who would gladly share those barley loaves and few small fishes.”

“That may be,” said Lempriere.“The labourer is worthy of his hire, to give you Scripture for Scripture.But what will you say to the piracies by which the traffic of the seas is intercepted, and Mr. Lieutenant daily enriched by plunder from English vessels?Surely, even the charitable protecting of Mr. Prynne will hardly serve to cover such a multitude of sins!”

The conference was once more growing warm, when fortunately, it was abridged by the sudden entrance of a man not unlike Lempriere in general appearance, though taller and many years his junior.He wore a steel cap, a gorget, and a buff coat; and received a hearty welcome from the Jerseyman, by whom he was presented to Prynne.

“Captain Le Gallais is newly arrived from our island,” said Lempriere, “and I made bold to leave word that I was here, in case of his coming to my lodgings while I tarried with you.He brings me news of ’domus et placens uxor,’” added the speaker, taking with a sad smile the letter which Le Gallais handed him.The servant having brought a third long stalked glass and placed it on the table, left the room once more, as the visitor, unbuckling his long basket-hilted sword, threw himself into a high-backed chair, and stretched his limbs, as one who rests after long travel.

“I am come post,” said he, “from Southampton.There is that to do in Jersey which it imports the rulers of this land to know.”

“That may well be,” observed Lempriere, who shared his countryman’s idea of the importance of their little island.“But how fares my Rose?A wanderer may love his Ithaca, but he loves his wife most.Have I your leave, Mr. Prynne, to examine this missive?”

Prynne bowed, and Lempriere cut open his letter.

“Penelope maketh such cheer as she may,” he added, after glancing at the contents:“but I see nothing of your mighty news, Alain.”

“The letter was written before I learned the same.The return of Ulysses did not then seem so far as it does now.”

“Leave riddling, Alain, and let us know the worst.”

“The worst is, Charles Stuart is in S. Helier, with a large power, warmly received by Sir George, and holding the island as a tool of Jermyn and the Queen, if not a pensioner of France.I saw his barge row into the harbour at high tide, followed by others laden with silken courtiers and musicians; horse-boats and cook-boats swelled the train; the great guns of the Castle fired salvoes, and the militia stood to their arms upon the quay, with drums beating, fifes squeaking, and our own company from Saint Saviour’s ranked among the rest, green leaves in their hats and round the poles of their colours.”

Lempriere leant his head on his hand with a discomfited and despondent gesture.Prynne addressed him kindly:

“Have a little patience, H. de Maufant,” said he.“The sun shines in heaven though earth’s clouds hide his face.”

“Lukewarm Reuben!” cried the other, impatiently.“What comfort can I have from such as thou?While we talk my country is indeed undone:my wife perhaps a wanderer, and my lands and house given over to the enemy.”

“Nay, but it need not be so,” said Prynne.“The Rump that ruleth here, even were it a complete Parliament, cannot be an idol to you and yours.I have read your island laws.Those that say that the Parliament hath jurisdiction there must, sure, be strangely ignorant.And so witnesseth Lord Coke, no slave of the prerogative.Your islands are the ancient patrimony of the Crown:what hinders you from casting in your lot with Charles?For my part, I would willingly compound with him.Let him rule as he pleases there, provided he make not slaves of us.”

“There spoke the self-loving Englishman,” cried Le Gallais, whom respect for his seniors had hitherto kept silent.“If you speak of hindering, what is to hinder Sir George, now that he hath the King for backer, from confiscating all our remaining lands and applying the produce to fitting out a fleet which will ruin the trade of all England?It is a question for you also, you perceive.”

Proximus Ucalegon,” said Lempriere, whom nothing could long restrain from airing his classical knowledge.“But leave me to speak to Mr. Prynne in terms that will not offend, and that he cannot fail to understand.Harkye, Mr. Prynne,” he said, turning to his host and resuming use of the English language in lieu of the patois in which he had addressed his countryman.“You love the Commonwealth, I know; your many sufferings in that behalf show you a true friend to the cause of English liberty.But to me it appears that this cause cannot be fitly separated from that of your small satellite yonder.”

“I do not seek to deny it,” answered Prynne.“Now this good fellow,” pursued Lempriere, laying his hand on his young friend’s shoulder, “(and let his zeal make amends for his blunt manner) hath brought tidings, from which it appears that our affairs are in such a state as calls for your interposition.And I learn moreover from this letter that Henry Dumaresq is stirring, and the greed and grasping of the Carterets have made them many ill-wishers.Nevertheless, Pierre Benoist hath been taken, and under torture may readily betray our plans.On the other hand, he that is called King there, the young Charles Stuart, is under the regimen of his mother, who is the tool of France.Between them all Jersey may be lost to the Commonwealth before a blow be stricken.”

“Nay,” cried Prynne, interrupting, “I would not have you say so.We English are neither braggarts nor cowards.Whitelocke knoweth the mind of Mazarin; and I pray you note that Cromwell, though as a man of State I do not uphold him, is a soldier whose zeal never sleeps, and who cares more for the welfare of England and such as depend upon her than any Stuart will ever do, or undo.I sent for you, indeed, on this very behalf; not minded to show you all the springs of politics, yet to give you a word of comfort and to ask of you a word of friendliness in return, yea, word for word, an you will.”

The politicians keen eye softened as he looked at the forlorn exile.The latter turned abruptly, as if to reveal no corresponding emotion:then, looking straight before him, said in low tones:

“For comfort, God knows whether or no it be needed.My place and power are lost such as they were a price is set upon my head by those who slew Maximilian Messervy.My wife who is to me like the apple of mine eye is alone, battling with hostile authority, and with tenants too ready to profit by her helpless condition.I am as one encompassed by quicksands, and nigh to be swallowed up.I am tempted to say with David, ‘Vain is the help of man.’Do you show me a bridge of escape?” he asked, turning to Prynne, “what is your meaning?I pray you speak it out.”

“You cannot,” said his host, “have forgotten Serjeant-Major Lydcott of this Army; and how with a slender company he landed on your island six years ago.It was about the end of August, 1643, I remember well, for Sir Philip had been dead bare three days and indeed was not yet buried:and the castles of Jersey still held out for the Cartwrights.I said then that, had Lydcott but taken three hundred of our sober, God fearing soldiers, he would have established himself as master of the island on behalf of the Commonwealth.George Cartwright had never come over from S. Maloes; the pirates of S. Aubin would have been confounded and brought to nought; Sir Peter Osborne had never held Castle Cornet in Guernsey (to the shame and sorrow of the well-affected in that island), had they but been backed and aided from Jersey.Even as things were, and with no more help but what he got from you I say it not to offend you how much did not Lydcott do?Three days after his landing he called together the States and opened before them his commission from the Earl of Warwick, Warden of the Isles and Lord High Admiral of England.You were present and presiding, as you must needs remember, together with all but three Jurats, all the Constables save one, and nearly half the Rectors.Without a dissentient voice you administered the oath of Lieutenant-Governor to Lydcott, yourself standing forth as Bailiff and sworn the first.What hindered you then from holding fast?Nothing but want of a backbone of strength.The militia, whom you now hold malignant, swore allegiance to a man, save and except one Colonel who was broke then and there.You may say George Cartwright drove you out; but what did he do that could justify your flight?I must be plain with you:with all outward and visible signs of power you gave way before three open boats and a mouldy ruin.”

“We gave way,” said Lempriere with an indignant flush, “because we were forsook by them on whom we leaned.”

“I know it,” pursued Prynne, “I say it not to blame you, but to blame the lukewarm weakness of those who held authority there on the part of the Commonwealth:for had Lydcott been ever so able and willing he lacked support from hence.We had our hands full of graver business.Only I neither desire nor expect such things should be done a second time.There be those now in power that will take better order.The future of your islands, the ties that bind them to us, were not known six years ago; and our friends as I have already said had other matters, more pressing, to attend to.But now is not then.Now, that a violent policy that I cannot altogether undertake to defend hath shorn the strength of tyranny, and that fair deceiver the late King whom none could safely trust or utterly despise is by that blow taken out of our path, we are free to set matters straight around us.It is therefore not to be endured that your small wasps’ nest yonder should continue to infest our ambient ocean with her petty and poisonous alarms.This is the word I have to give thee friendly meant, though thou mayest have been hitherto no friend to me.Jersey will be brought under the power of the Commonwealth, and you will be among the instruments of its reduction.I seek a word from you in return for mine.”

“Sir,” said the bewildered exile, “you have spoken hardly, but, I believe, with a meaning kinder than seemed:a good intent makes amends for a harsh manner, and a bitter drink may strengthen the heart, as has this day been done to mine by the mingled counsel and reproof that have been poured out for me.I seek not to pry into your affairs of State, and what I have heard Le Gallais hath heard also.I therefore make no scrutiny as touching the means to be employed; the end we will take thankfully according as promised.If the Parliament and the Lord General be so minded, I make no doubt but we shall return to our home.But as regards the word you seek from me, I would fain know to what it shall relate.You seek, I presume, to make conditions with me:let me know, in the hearing of my friend, what they be.That we of the island shall be true and faithful servants to the Commonwealth of England, not seeking to intermeddle in matters that may be beyond our concernment, I would gladly undertake for myself and for all with whom my wishes may have weight:but methinks it shall hardly need.And perchance your Honour may intend to glance at some more private matter?”

“I do so,” answered the politician.“I have never hidden from you the love that I bore for good Sir Philip living, nor how dear I hold his memory now that he is dead.I would not that any who were of his party should suffer damage when the cause shall prosper in the island.You have heard of Cromwell’s present doings in Ireland:all the world knows what things are being wrought in that unhappy country, where the Lord Ormonde hath been another Cartwright and hath met with an overthrow the like of which I pretell for his Jersey antitype.Cartwright is as unbending and will hold out to the last.

Mont Orgueil, indeed, can make no opposition to a regular siege:we are not now in the days of Du Guesclin.But it may be otherwise with Elizabeth Castle.Like her whose name she bears that fortress is a virgin, and not without a struggle will she yield.Cromwell loves not such defences.Let us be there when the hour comes, and let us combine to keep the garrison from perishing by the swords of our friends.”

“Gladly will I do my best in aid of mercy,” answered Lempriere, looking much relieved by the nature of the request.“If that be all that your Honour hath to ask, I can have no hesitancy in giving a hearty and honest pledge in such behalf.Jersey is no Corsica; and we love not revenge, do we, Alain?”

Alain readily endorsing his chiefs assertion, Prynne continued:

“It is not all.I have to pray you for the Lieutenant himself; misguided and grasping as you deem him, he is of my deceased friend’s name and blood.”

“Alack, Mr. Prynne!” answered Lempriere, “have you quite forgotten what I owe to that blood and name?And I speak not in this for myself only.There are the spirits of the Bandinels before me; unhappy victims of George Carteret’s revenge.There is the shade of my friend Maximilian Messervy, judged by an unlawful and corrupt Court, executed under warrant of one who had no warrant for himself.”

In his excitement Lempriere had forgotten to quote Latin; he began to pace the floor of the room.Prynne also rose and leaned by the window, looking out at the shrubs standing dark and blotted against the evening light that lay on the smooth water.

Take not your example, he said; from those whose deeds you abhor, neither make your enemies your pattern.Recollect who it is that hath said, Vengeance is mine:and in the hour of your triumph remember to spare.Come, give me your word, willingly.I am doing much for you, more than you are aware.I call to mind some solemn words that I have heard Mr. Milton quote:

“The quality of Mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle dew from Heaven
Upon the place beneath:it is twice blessed,
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Let your promise to bless come as freely as the dews that are falling out there on my little grass-plot.Peace is upon the world let peace be in our hearts also!”

The vehement controversial voice changed and became musical as it uttered the words.The fervour of an unwonted mood had brought something of a mist into the speaker’s eye; persuasion hung upon his gestures, and the voice of private rancour sank before the pleading of his lips.As the Jerseyman remained silent, Prynne went to the table and filled the glasses from the flagon of Rhenish wine that stood there.

“We Presbyterians,” he said, “are not given to the drinking of toasts.But ’tis no common occasion.England’s wars are over, may there be peace upon Israel.Let us drink one glass together, and let us join in the blessing of old, invoking it on our land: ’Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces:for my brethren and companions’ sake!’”

The guests followed their host’s example, and seemed to share his mood.Then, setting down their empty glasses, the three men parted in more loving-kindness, it might well be, than what had marked some early stages of their conversation.Prynne, when left alone, called for candles and sat down to his writing-table.The Jerseymen walked together towards Temple Bar.

“Knowest thou, mon cher,” said the Ex-Bailiff in the island language, “a heartier friend than one of these English that seem so cold?”

But tell me, I pray thee, wherefore they call the present master of our island by an English name?For surely yonder gentleman said Cartwright, which is a name not of Jersey but of England.They are stupid, Alain, that is all; and they think to weigh the world in their own scales.But whether we call him Cartwright or Carteret, it is equally hard to pardon his voracity.He is like Time Edax rerum. Nevertheless, I feel as if it was not only the sight of you and news from home that had made me of such good cheer to-night:but that I owe something of it to Mons. Prynne; aye! thanks to his schooling and a readiness to perform what he has made me promise, should Carteret ever stand at my disposal.The time may be near or it may be far; but I feel that it must come.”

“And then,” asked Alain shyly, “shall not I too have something to expect from thee:when thou art Bailiff again, and a man high in power, will thou still be willing to give me thy sister-in-law?”

Parbleu!” cried Lempriere, “if maids could be given like passports.But Marguerite will have her way; it is for thee, coquin, to make her way thine.”

Thus, jointly labouring at airy castles, the pair of islanders pricked their steps through the dirty and dimly-lighted streets till they reached a squalid row of houses on Tower Hill, where was situated the only lodging within the present means of the Seigneur of Maufant.

“To-night thou must share my chamber, telle quelle,” he said. “’Tis a poor one, as thou mayest suppose. Infelix, habitum temporis hujus habe?

“It is all one to me,” said Alain, lightly; “whether here or at Maufant thou art always good.”

As they neared the door a voice came to them from the shadow of a projecting oriel:

“Have a care, Jerseymen!You are betrayed.”

They ran to the shaded corner; but the moon was young and low and gave but little light in the narrow street.A figure, seemingly that of a tall man, was seen to glide away into another street, but they failed to recognise it or trace its departing movements.Silently, and with downcast looks they sought the entry of Lempriere’s lodging, the door of which he opened with a key that he carried in his pocket.Striking a light from flint and steel on the hall table, Lempriere kindled a hand-lamp, and led the way into a small chamber on the ground floor, where they wrapped themselves in their cloaks and lay down on a pallet in the corner.The younger man, fatigued with travel, was soon asleep; Lempriere, with more to think of, passed great part of the night in wakeful anxiety.Before he finally sank to slumber he had resolved to send Alain back at once to Jersey.