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Yet though thou wear'st the glory of the sky,
Shalt thou not teach me, in that calmer home,
THE VESTAL LAMP.
'As, far within a temple's solemn dome,
Is one deep shrine where sunbeam entereth not,
Whose holy calm no breath profane may stir,
One quenchless lamp before the shrine suspended, By purest essence fed that living light,
By purest hand the heav'nward flame is tended,Such in my heart's deep shrine one sacred ray, Undimmed, undying, burneth still alway!
TALES OF THE PROVINCE-HOUSE.
OLD ESTHER DUDLEY.
By Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Our host having resumed the chair, he, as well as Mr. Tiffany and myself, expressed much eagerness to be made acquainted with the story to which the Loyalist had alluded. That venerable man first of all saw fit to moisten his throat with another glass of wine, and then, turning his face towards our coal fire, looked steadfastly for a few moments into the depths of its cheerful glow. Finally, he poured forth a great fluency of speech. The generous liquid that he had imbibed, while it warmed his age-chilled blood, likewise took off the chill from his heart and mind, and gave him an energy to think and feel, which we could hardly have expected to find beneath the snows of fourscore winters. His feelings, indeed, appeared to me more excitable than those of a younger man; or, at least, the same degree of feeling manifested itself by more visible effects, than if his judgment and will had possessed the potency of meridian life. At the pathetic passages of his narrative, he readily melted into tears. When a breath of indignation swept across his spirit, the blood flushed his withered visage even to the roots of his white hair; and he shook his clenched fist at the trio of peaceful auditors, seeming to fancy enemies in those who felt very kindly towards the desolate old soul. But ever and anon, sometimes in the midst of his most earnest talk, this ancient person's intellect would wander vaguely, losing its hold of the matter in hand, and groping for it amid misty shadows. Then would he cackle forth a feeble laugh, and express a doubt whether his wits-for by that phrase it pleased our aged friend to signify his mental powerswere not getting a little the worse for wear.
Under these disadvantages, the old Loyalist's story required more revision to render it fit for the public eye, than those of the series which have preceded it; nor should it be concealed, that the sentiment and tone of the affair may have undergone some slight, or perchance more than slight metamorphosis, in its transmission to the reader through the medium of a thorough-going democrat. The tale itself is a mere sketch, with no involution of plot, nor any great interest of events, yet possessing, if I have rehearsed it aright, that pensive influence over the mind, which the shadow of the old Province-House flings upon the loiterer in its court-yard.
The hour had come-the hour of defeat and humiliation-when Sir William Howe was to pass over the threshold of the ProvinceHouse, and embark, with no such triumphal ceremonies as he once promised himself, on board the British fleet. He bade his servants and military attendants go before him, and lingered a moment in the loneliness of the mansion, to quell the fierce emotions that struggled in his bosom as with a death-throb. Preferable, then, would he have deemed his fate, had a warrior's death left him a claim to the narrow territory of a grave, within the soil which the King had given him to defend. With an ominous perception that, as his departing footsteps echoed adown the staircase, the sway of Britain was passing forever from New England, he smote his clenched hand on his brow, and cursed the destiny that had flung the shame of a dismembered empire upon him.
"Would to God," cr'ed he, hardly repressing his tears of rage, "that the rebels were even now at the door-step! A blood-stain upon the floor should then bear testimony that the last British ruler was faithful to his trust."
The tremulous voice of a woman replied to his exclamation. "Heaven's cause and the King's are one," it said. "Go forth, Sir William Howe, and trust in Heaven to bring back a Royal Governor in triumph."
Subduing at once the passion to which he had yielded only in the faith that it was witnessed, Sir William Howe became conscious that an aged woman, leaning on a gold-headed staff, was standing betwixt him and the door. It was old Esther Dudley, who had dwelt almost immemorial years in this mansion, until her presence seemed as inseparable from it as the recollections of its history. She was the daughter of an ancient and once eminent family, which had fallen into poverty and decay, and left its last descendant no resource save the bounty of the King, nor any shelter except within the walls of the Province-House. An office in the household, with merely nominal duties, had been assigned to her as a pretext for the payment of a small pension, the greater part of which she expended in adorning herself with an antique magnificence of attire. The claims of Esther Dudley's gentle blood were acknowledged by all the successive Governors; and they treated her with all the punctilious courtesy which it was her foible to demand, not always with success, from a neglectful world. The only actual share which she assumed in the business of the mansion, was to glide through its passages and public chambers, late at night, to see that the servants had dropped no fire from their flaring torches, nor left embers crackling and blazing on the hearths. Perhaps it was this invariable custom of walking her rounds in the hush of midnight, that caused the superstition of the times to invest the old woman with attributes of awe and mystery; fabling
that she had entered the portal of the Province-House, none knew whence, in the train of the first Royal Governor, and that it was her fate to dwell there till the last should have departed. But Sir William Howe, if he ever heard this legend, had forgotten it.
"Mistress Dudley, why are you loitering here?" asked he, with some severity of tone. "It is my pleasure to be the last in this mansion of the King."
"Not so, if it please your Excellency," answered the timestricken woman. "This roof has sheltered me long. I will not pass from it until they bear me to the tomb of my forefathers. What other shelter is there for old Esther Dudley, save the Province-House or the grave?
"Now Heaven forgive me!" said Sir William Howe to himself. "I was about to leave this wretched old creature to starve or beg. Take this, good Mistress Dudley," he added, putting a purse into her hands. "King George's head on these golden guineas is sterling yet. and will continue so, I warrant you, even should the rebels crown John Hancock their king. That purse will buy a better shelter than the Province-House can now afford."
"While the burthen of life remains upon me, I will have no other shelter than this roof," persisted Esther Dudley, striking her staff upon the floor, with a gesture that expressed immovable re"And when your Excellency returns in triumph, I will totter into the porch to welcome you."
"My poor old friend!" answered the British General,—and all his manly and martial pride could no longer restrain a gush of bitter tears. "This is an evil hour for you and me. The province which the King entrusted to my charge is lost. I go hence in misfortune-perchance in disgrace--to return no more. And you, whose present being is incorporate with the past--who have seen Governor after Governor, in stately pageantry, ascend these stepswhose whole life has been an observance of majestic ceremonies, and a worship of the King-how will you endure the change? Come with us! Bid farewell to a land that has shaken off its allegiance, and live still under a Royal government, at Halifax."
"Never, never!" said the pertinacious old dame. "Here will 1 abide; and King George shall still have one true subject in his disloyal province."
"Beshrew the old fool!" muttered Sir William Howe, growing impatient of her obstinacy, and ashamed of the emotion into which he had been betrayed. "She is the very moral of old-fashioned prejudice, and could exist nowhere but in this musty edifice. Well, then, Mistress Dudley, since you will needs tarry, I give the Province-House in charge to you. Take this key, and keep it safe until myself, or some other Royal Governor, shall demand it of you."
Smiling bitterly at himself and her, he took the heavy key of the Province-House, and delivering it into the old lady's hands, drew his cloak around him for departure. As the General glanced. back at Esther Dudley's antique figure, he deemed her well-fitted for such a charge, as being so perfect a representative of the decayed past-of an age gone by, with its manners, opinions, faith, and feelings, all fallen into oblivion or scorn-of what had once been a reality, but was now merely a vision of faded magnificence. Then Sir William Howe strode forth, smiting his clenched hands together, in the fierce anguish of his spirit; and old Esther Dudley was left to keep watch in the lonely Province-House, dwelling there with memory ;—and if hope ever seemed to flit around her, still it was memory in disguise.
The total change of affairs that ensued on the departure of the British troops did not drive the venerable lady from her strong-hold. There was not, for many years afterwards, a Governor of Massachusetts; and the magistrates, who had charge of such matters, saw no objection to Esther Dudley's residence in the ProvinceHouse, especially as they must otherwise have paid a hireling for taking care of the premises, which with her was a labor of love. And so they left her the undisturbed mistress of the old historic edifice. Many and strange were the fables which the gossips whispered about her, in all the chimney-corners of the town. Among the time-worn articles of furniture that had been left in the mansion, there was a tall, antique mirror, which was well worthy of a tale by itself, and perhaps may hereafter be the theme of one. The gold of its heavily-wrought frame was tarnished, and its surface so blurred, that the old woman's figure, whenever she paused before it, looked indistinct and ghostlike. But it was the general belief that Esther could cause the Governors of the overthrown dynasty, with the beautiful ladies who had once adorned their festivals, the Indian chiefs who had come up to the Province-House to hold council or swear allegiance, the grim Provincial warriors, the severe clergymen-in short, all the pageantry of gone daysall the figures that ever swept across the broad plate of glass in former times she could cause the whole to re-appear, and people the inner world of the mirror with shadows of old life. Such legends as these, together with the singularity of her isolated existence, her age, and the infirmity that each added winter flung upon her, made Mistress Dudley the object both of fear and pity; and it was partly the result of either sentiment, that, amid all the angry license of the times, neither wrong nor insult ever fell upon her unprotected head. Indeed, there was so much haughtiness in her demeanour towards intruders, among whom she reckoned all persons acting under the new authorities, that it was really an affair of no small nerve to look her in the face. And to do the people justice,