« ZurückWeiter »
some brief exercise of memory.
"Mistress Dudley is keeping jubilee for the King of England's birth-day."
Then the people laughed aloud, and would have thrown mud against the blazing transparency of the King's crown and initials, only that they pitied the poor old dame, who was so dismally triumphant amid the wreck and ruin of the system to which she appertained.
Oftentimes it was her custom to climb the weary staircase that wound upward to the cupola, and thence strain her dimmed eyesight seaward and country ward, watching for a British fleet, or for the march of a grand procession, with the King's banner floating over it. The passengers in the street below would discern her anxious visage, and send up a shout-"When the golden Indian on the Province-House shall shoot his arrow, and when the cock on the Old South spire shall crow, then look for a Royal Governor again!" for this had grown a by-word through the town. And at last, after long, long years, old Esther Dudley knew, or perchance she only dreamed, that a Royal Governor was on the eve of returning to the Province-House, to receive the heavy key which Sir William Howe had committed to her charge. Now it was the fact, that intelligence bearing some faint analogy to Esther's version of it, was current among the town's-people. She set the mansion in the best order that her means allowed, and arraying herself in silks and tarnished gold, stood long before the blurred mirror to admire her own magnificence. As she gazed, the gray and withered lady moved her aspen lips, murmuring half aloud, talking to shapes that she saw within the mirror, to shadows of her own fantasies, to the household friends of memory, and bidding them rejoice with her, and come forth to meet the Governor. And while absorbed in this communion, Mistress Dudley heard the tramp of many footsteps in the street, and looking out at the window, beheld what she construed as the Royal Governor's arrival.
"Oh, happy day! oh, blessed, blessed hour!" she exclaimed. "Let me but bid him welcome within the portal, and my task in the Province-House, and on earth, is done!"
Then with tottering feet, which age and tremulous joy caused to tread amiss, she hurried down the grand staircase, her silks sweeping and rustling as she went, so that the sound was as if a train of spectral courtiers were thronging from the dim mirror. And Esther Dudley fancied, that as soon as the wide door should be flung open, all the pomp and splendor of by gone times would pace majestically into the Province-House, and the gilded tapestry of the past would be brightened by the sunshine of the present. She turned the keywithdrew it from the lock-unclosed the door-and stept across the threshold. Advancing up the court-yard, appeared a person of most dignified mien, with tokens, as Esther interpreted them, of
gentle blood, high rank, and long accustomed authority, even in his walk and every gesture. He was richly dressed, but wore a gouty shoe, which, however, did not lessen the stateliness of his gait. Around and behind him were people in plain civic dresses, and two or three war-worn veterans, evidently officers of rank, arrayed in a uniform of blue and buff. But Esther Dudley, firm in the belief that had fastened its roots about her heart, beheld only the principal personage, and never doubted that this was the longlooked-for Governor, to whom she was to surrender up her charge. As he approached, she involuntarily sank down on her knees, and tremblingly held forth the heavy key.
"Receive my trust! take it quickly!" cried she; "for methinks death is striving to snatch away my triumph. But he comes too late. Thank Heaven for this blessed hour! God save King George!"
“That, Madam, is a strange prayer to be offered up at such a moment," replied the unknown guest of the Province-House, and courteously removing his hat, he offered his arm to raise the aged woman. "Yet, in reverence for your gray hairs and long-kept faith, Heaven forbid that any here should say you nay. Over the realms which still acknowledge his sceptre, God save King George!"
Esther Dudley started to her feet, and hastily clutching back the key, gazed with fearful earnestness at the stranger; and dimly and doubtfully, as if suddenly awakened from a dream, her bewildered eyes half recognized his face. Years ago, she had known him among the gentry of the Province. But the ban of the King had fallen upon him! How, then, came the doomed victim here? Proscribed, excluded from mercy, the monarch's most dreaded and hated foe, this New England merchant had stood triumphantly against a kingdom's strength; and his foot now trod upon humbled royalty, as he ascended the steps of the Province-House, the people's chosen Governor of Massachusetts.
"Wretch, wretch that I am!" muttered the old woman, with such a heart-broken expression, that the tears gushed from the stranger's eyes. "Have I bidden a traitor welcome! Come death! come quickly!"
"Alas, venerable lady!" said Governor Hancock, lending her his support with all the reverence that a courtier would have shown to a queen. "Your life has been prolonged until the world has changed around you. You have treasured up all that time has rendered worthless-the principles, feelings, manners, modes of being and acting, which another generation has flung aside-and you are a symbol of the past. And I, and these around me-we represent a new race of men, living no longer in the past, scarcely in the present-but projecting our lives forward into the future. Ceasing to model ourselves on ancestral superstitions, it is our
faith and principle to press onward, onward! Yet," continued he, turning to his attendants, "let us reverence, for the last time, the stately and gorgeous prejudices of the tottering past!"
While the Republican Governor spoke, he had continued to support the helpless form of Esther Dudley; her weight grew heavier against his arm; but at last, with a sudden effort to free herself, the ancient woman sank down beside one of the pillars of the portal. The key of the Province-House fell from her grasp, and clanked against the stone.
"I have been faithful unto death," murmured she. "God save the King!"
"She hath done her office!" said Hancock solemnly. "We will follow her reverently to the tomb of her ancestors; and then, my fellow-citizens, onward-onward! We are no longer children of the past!"
As the old Loyalist concluded his narrative, the enthusiasm which had been fitfully flashing within his sunken eyes, and quivering across his wrinkled visage, faded away, as if all the lingering fire of his soul were extinguished. Just then, too, a lamp upon the mantle-piece threw out a dying gleam, which vanished as speedily, as it shot upward, compelling our eyes to grope for one another's features by the dim glow of the hearth. With such a lingering fire, methought, with such a dying gleam, had the glory of the ancient system vanished from the Province-House, when the spirit of old Esther Dudley took its flight. And now, again, the clock of the Old South threw its voice of ages on the breeze, knolling the hourly knell of the Past, crying out far and wide through the multitudinous city, and filling our ears, as we sat in the dusky chamber, with its reverberating depth of tone. In that same mansion-in that very chamber-what a volume of history had been told off into hours, by the same voice that was now trembling in the air. Many a Governor had heard those midnight accents, and longed to exchange his stately cares for slumber. And as for mine host, and Mr. Bela Tiffany, and the old Loyalist, and me, we had babbled about dreams of the past, until we almost fancied that the clock was still striking in a by-gone century. Neither of us would have wondered, had a hoop-petticoated phantom of Esther Dudley tottered into the chamber, walking her rounds in the hush of midnight, as of yore, and motioned us to quench the fading embers of the fire, and leave the historic precincts to herself and her kindred shades. But as no such vision was vouchsafed, I retired unbidden, and would advise Mr. Tiffany to lay hold of another auditor, being resolved not to show my face in the Province-House for a good while thence-if ever.
"A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOREVER."
Farewell! how oft that word is said
By those who hope to meet again,
All speechless will I see thee part,
Nor think if cheerless I pursue
The path that thou hast mark'd with woe,
That joy itself can never know—
As in thy pride of youthful years!
When life and care have dimmed thine eye,
Till, guided by thy light divine,
My soul shall be refined at last
But thou-where'er thy choice may lead,
Then if at last thy lot may prove
One worthy of thy love to see,
The rapture of that love be his,
EUROPE LONG AGO.
We Americans are posterity to Europe, and my impressions being of posthumous publication, are nothing more, after all, than one version, of what most have read or heard, and many seen, otherwise-desultory as they will be, familiar and unpretending--with no claim but to historical truth and American independence.
England is a green spot enclosed in hedges, like a garden to an American eye-the country without woods, the roads without ruts, the travelling, thirty years ago, and taverns, much superior to ours, rather snug than showy, at which, as Spencer says, one likes to keep an in; such refreshing places for stopping at, (as the English express what we call staying) as gave rise to Dr. Johnson's rebuke of English hospitality, when he declared that our warmest welcome's at an Inn. Obliging landlords, attentive servants, smart postboys, and ci-devant fine horses, limping from the stable to go without a jolt in post-chaises, just as fast as you pay, were means of transport, not so quiet, quick or ostentatious as the multifarious steam ark, with its monotonous cargo of mankind, animals, and things, or the irksome railcar jerking, snorting and sparkling along over desolate places, but more exhilarating and agreeably exclusive. Travelling, and indeed all American existence in England, is annoyed by the continual depredations of innumerable beggars, for dues not alms, infesting the houses and highways with craving importunity; teaching at the cost of purse and forbearance, not only that nothing is done for nothing, but that paying for every thing you are always over-reached, if you suffer those gratuitous tax-gatherers to fix the rate of assessment. The English are not parsimonious, but so much more liberal than other Europeans in all pecuniary contributions, taxes, tythes, subscriptions, and ordinary expenses, (it is not the rich who supply the immense means of that spendthrift government, which are rasped out of labor rather than capital,) and so sturdily independent a people with all that universal civility and venality in certain classes are national inconsistencies. French, Dutch, Germans, Italians, and other Europeans are economists, what we Americans consider stingy, and without the rude manliness of the freeborn. They make a business and a boast of small savings, such as an Englishman seldom resorts to, then privately, and an American shuns as a shame. Yet the English lower classes are nearly all troublesome beggars, for what the same classes of the continent rarely expect, and never exact as their right. If they cheat they do not beg, unless mendicants by profession.