Old Esther Dudley





Boston had surrendered. Washington was advancing from the heights where

he had trained his guns on the British works, and Sir William Howe

lingered at the door of Province House,--last of the royal governors who

would stand there,--and cursed and waved his hands and beat his heel on

the step, as if he were crushing rebellion by that act. The sound brought

an old woman to his side. Esther Dudley! he exclaimed. Why are you not

gone?



I shall never leave. As housekeeper for the governors and pensioner of

the king, this has been my home; the only home I know. Go back, but send

more troops. I will keep the house till you return.



Grant that I may return, he cried. Since you will stay, take this bag

of guineas and keep this key until a governor shall demand it.



Then, with fierce and moody brow, the governor went forth, and the faded

eyes of Esther Dudley saw him nevermore. When the soldiers of the

republic cast about for quarters in Boston town, they spared the official

mansion to this old woman. Her bridling toryism and assumption of old

state amused them and did no harm; indeed, her loyalty was half admired;

beside, nobody took the pride in the place that she did, or would keep it

in better order. That she sometimes had a half-dozen of unrepentant

codgers in to dinner, and that they were suspected of drinking healths to

George III. in crusted port, was a fact to blink. Rumor had it that not

all her guests were flesh and blood, but that she had an antique mirror

across which ancient occupants of the house would pass in shadowy

procession at her command, and that she was wont to have the Shirleys,

Olivers, Hutchinsons, and Dudleys out of their graves to hold receptions

there; so a touch of dread may have mingled in the feeling that kept the

populace aloof.



Living thus by herself, refusing to hear of rebel victories, construing

the bonfires, drumming, hurrahs, and bell-ringing to signify fresh

triumphs for England, she drifted farther and farther out of her time and

existed in the shadows of the past. She lighted the windows for the

king's birthday, and often from the cupola watched for a British fleet,

heeding not the people below, who, as they saw her withered face,

repeated the prophecy, with a laugh When the golden Indian on Province

House shall shoot his arrow and the cock on South Church spire shall

crow, look for a royal governor again. So, when it was bandied about the

streets that the governor was coming, she took it in no wise strange, but

dressed herself in silk and hoops, with store of ancient jewels, and made

ready to receive him. In truth, there was a function, for already a man

of stately mien, and richly dressed, was advancing through the court,

with a staff of men in wigs and laced coats behind him, and a company of

troops at a little distance. Esther Dudley flung the door wide and

dropping on her knees held forth the key with the cry, Thank heaven for

this hour! God save the king!



The governor put off his hat and helped the woman to her feet. A strange

prayer, said he; yet we will echo it to this effect: For the good of

the realm that still owns him to be its ruler, God save King George.



Esther Dudley stared wildly. That face she remembered now,--the

proscribed rebel, John Hancock; governor, not by royal grant, but by the

people's will.



Have I welcomed a traitor? Then let me die.



Alas! Mistress Dudley, the world has changed for you in these later

years. America has no king. He offered her his arm, and she clung to it

for a moment, then, sinking down, the great key, that she so long had

treasured, clanked to the floor.



I have been faithful unto death, she gasped. God save the king!



The people uncovered, for she was dead.



At her tomb, said Hancock, we will bid farewell forever to the past. A

new day has come for us. In its broad light we will press onward.





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