Old Esther Dudley by Charles M. Skinner
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
"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
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
"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."