Legends of the Province House
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
One afternoon, last summer, while walking along Washington street,
my eye was attracted by a signboard protruding over a narrow arch-way,
nearly opposite the Old South Church. The sign represented the front of
a stately edifice, which was designated as the "Old Province House,
kept by Thomas Waite." I was glad to be thus reminded of a purpose,
long entertained, of visiting and rambling over the mansion of the old
royal governors of Massachusetts; and entering the arched passage,
which penetrated through the middle of a brick row of shops, a few
steps transported me from the busy heart of modern Boston, into a small
and secluded court-yard. One side of this space was occupied by the
square front of the Province House, three stories high, and surmounted
by a cupola, on the top of which a glided Indian was discernible, with
his bow bent and his arrow on the string, as if aiming at the
weathercock on the spire of the Old South. The figure has kept this
attitude for seventy years or more, ever since good deacon Drowne, a
cunning carver of wood, first stationed him on his long sentinel's
watch over the city.
The Province House is constructed of brick, which seems recently to
have been overlaid with a coat of light colored paint. A flight of red
free-stone steps, fenced in by a balustrade of curiously wrought iron,
ascends from the court-yard to the spacious porch, over which is a
balcony, with an iron balustrade of similar pattern and workmanship to
that beneath. These letters and figures—16 P.S. 79—are wrought into
the iron work of the balcony, and probably express the date of the
edifice, with the initials of its founder's name. A wide door with
double leaves admitted me into the hall or entry, on the right of which
is the entrance to the bar-room.
It was in this apartment, I presume, that the ancient governors held
their levees, with vice-regal pomp, surrounded by the military men, the
counsellors, the judges, and other officers of the crown, while all the
loyalty of the province thronged to do them honor. But the room, in its
present condition, cannot boast even of faded magnificence. The paneled
wainscot is covered with dingy paint, and acquires a duskier hue from
the deep shadow into which the Province House is thrown by the brick
block that shuts it in from Washington street. A ray of sunshine never
visits this apartment any more than the glare of the festal torches,
which have been extinguished from the era of the revolution. The most
venerable and ornamental object, is a chimney-piece set round with
Dutch tiles of blue-figured China, representing scenes from Scripture;
and, for aught I know, the lady of Pownall or Bernard may have sate
beside this fireplace, and told her children the story of each blue
tile. A bar in modern style, well replenished with decanters, bottles,
cigar-boxes, and net-work bags of lemons, and provided with a beer-pump
and a soda-fount, extends along one side of the room. At my entrance,
an elderly person was smacking his lips, with a zest which satisfied me
that the cellars of the Province House still hold good liquor, though
doubtless of other vintages than were quaffed by the old governors.
After sipping a glass of port-sangaree, prepared by the skilful hands
of Mr. Thomas Waite, I besought that worthy successor and
representative of so many historic personages to conduct me over their
He readily complied; but, to confess the truth, I was forced to draw
strenuously upon my imagination, in order to find aught that was
interesting in a house which, without its historic associations, would
have seemed merely such a tavern as is usually favored by the custom of
decent city boarders, and old fashioned country gentlemen. The
chambers, which were probably spacious in former times, are now cut up
by partitions, and subdivided into little nooks, each affording scanty
room for the narrow bed, and chair, and dressing table, of a single
lodger. The great staircase, however, may be termed, without much
hyperbole, a feature of grandeur and magnificence. It winds through
the midst of the house by flights of broad steps, each flight
terminating in a square landing-place, whence the ascent is continued
towards the cupola. A carved balustrade, freshly painted in the lower
stories, but growing dingier as we ascend, borders the staircase with
its quaintly twisted and intertwined pillars, from top to bottom. Up
these stairs the military boots, or perchance the gouty shoes of many a
governor have trodden, as the wearers mounted to the cupola, which
afforded them so wide a view over their metropolis and the surrounding
country. The cupola is an octagon, with several windows, and a door
opening upon the roof. From this station, as I pleased myself with
imagining, Gage may have beheld his disastrous victory on Bunker Hill,
(unless one of the tri-mountains intervened), and Howe have marked the
approaches of Washington's besieging army; although the buildings,
since erected in the vicinity, have shut out almost every object, save
the steeple of the Old South, which seems almost within arm's length.
Descending from the cupola, I paused in the garret to observe the
ponderous white-oak frame-work, so much more massive than the frames of
modern houses, and thereby resembling an antique skeleton. The brick
walls, the materials of which were imported from Holland, and the
timbers of the mansion, are still as sound as ever; but the floors and
other interior parts being greatly decayed, it is contemplated to gut
the whole, and build a new house within the ancient frame and brick
work. Among other inconveniences of the present edifice, mine host
mentioned that any jar or motion was apt to shake down the dust of
ages out of the ceiling of one chamber upon the floor of that beneath
We stepped forth from the great front window into the balcony,
where, in old times, it was doubtless the custom of the king's
representative to show himself to a loyal populace, requiting their
huzzas and tossed-up hats with stately bendings of his dignified
person. In those days, the front of the Province House looked upon the
street; and the whole site now occupied by the brick range of stores,
as well as the present courtyard, was laid out in grass plats,
overshadowed by trees and bordered by a wrought iron fence. Now, the
old aristocratic edifice hides its time-worn visage behind an upstart
modern building; at one of the back windows I observed some pretty
tailoresses, sewing, and chatting, and laughing, with now and then a
careless glance towards the balcony. Descending thence, we again
entered the bar-room, where the elderly gentleman above mentioned, the
smack of whose lips had spoken so favorably for Mr. Waite's good
liquor, was still lounging in his chair. He seemed to be, if not a
lodger, at least a familiar visiter of the house, who might be supposed
to have his regular score at the bar, his summer seat at the open
window, and his prescriptive corner at the winter's fireside. Being of
a sociable aspect, I ventured to address him with a remark, calculated
to draw forth his historical reminiscences, if any such were in his
mind; and it gratified me to discover, that, between memory and
tradition, the old gentleman was really possessed of some very
pleasant gossip about the Province House. The portion of his talk which
chiefly interested me, was the outline of the following legend. He
professed to have received it at one or two removes from an
eye-witness; but this derivation, together with the lapse of time, must
have afforded opportunities for many variations of the narrative; so
that, despairing of literal and absolute truth, I have not scrupled to
make such further changes as seemed conducive to the reader's profit
At one of the entertainments given at the Province House, during the
latter part of the siege of Boston, there passed a scene which has
never yet been satisfactorily explained. The officers of the British
army, and the loyal gentry of the province, most of whom were collected
within the beleagured town, had been invited to a masqued ball; for it
was the policy of Sir William Howe to hide the distress and danger of
the period, and the desperate aspect of the siege, under an ostentation
of festivity. The spectacle of this evening, if the oldest members of
the provincial court circle might be believed, was the most gay and
gorgeous affair that had occurred in the annals of the government. The
brilliantly lighted apartments were thronged with figures that seemed
to have stepped from the dark canvass of historic portraits, or to have
flitted forth from the magic pages of romance, or a least to have flown
hither from one of the London theatres, without a change of garments.
Steeled knights of the Conquest, bearded statesmen of Queen Elizabeth,
and high-ruffled ladies of her court, were mingled with characters of
comedy, such as a particolored Merry Andrew, jingling his cap and
bells; a Falstaffe, almost as provocative of laughter as his prototype;
and a Don Quixote, with a bean-pole for a lance, and a pot-lid for a
But the broadest merriment was excited by a group of figures
ridiculously dressed in old regimentals, which seemed to have been
purchased at a military rag-fair, or pilfered from some receptacle of
the cast-off clothes of both the French and British armies. Portions of
their attire had probably been worn at the siege of Louisburg, and the
coats of most recent cut might have been rent and tattered by sword,
ball, or bayonet, as long ago as Wolfe's victory. One of these
worthies—a tall, lank figure, brandishing a rusty sword of immense
longitude— purported to be no less a personage than General George
Washington; and the other principal officers of the American army, such
as Gates, Lee, Putnam, Schuyler, Ward and Heath, were represented by
similar scare-crows. An interview in the mock heroic style, between the
rebel warriors and the British commander-in-chief, was received with
immense applause, which came loudest of all from the loyalists of the
colony. There was one of the guests, however, who stood apart, eyeing
these antics sternly and scornfully, at once with a frown and a bitter
It was an old man, formerly of high station and great repute in the
province, and who had been a very famous soldier in his day. Some
surprise had been expressed, that a person of Colonel Joliffe's known
whig principles, though now too old to take an active part in the
contest, should have remained in Boston during the siege, and
especially that he should consent to show himself in the mansion of Sir
William Howe. But thither he had come, with a fair grand-daughter under
his arm; and there, amid all the mirth and buffoonery, stood this stern
old figure, the best sustained character in the masquerade, because so
well representing the antique spirit of his native land. The other
guests affirmed that Colonel Joliffe's black puritanical scowl threw a
shadow round about him; although in spite of his sombre influence,
their gaiety continued to blaze higher, like—(an ominous
comparison)—the flickering brilliancy of a lamp which has but a
little while to burn. Eleven strokes, full half an hour ago, had pealed
from the clock of the Old South, when a rumor was circulated among the
company that some new spectacle or pageant was about to be exhibited,
which should put a fitting close to the splendid festivities of the
`What new jest has your Excellency in hand?' asked the Reverend
Mather Byles, whose Presbyterian scruples had not kept him from the
entertainment. `Trust me, sir, I have already laughed more than beseems
my cloth, at your Homeric confabulation with yonder ragamuffin General
of the rebels. One other such fit of merriment, and I must throw off my
clerical wig and band.'
`Not so, good Doctor Byles,' answered Sir William Howe; `if mirth
were a crime, you had never gained your doctorate in divinity. As to
this new foolery, I know no more about it than yourself; perhaps not so
much. Honestly now, Doctor, have you not stirred up the sober brains of
some of your countrymen to enact a scene in our masquerade?'
`Perhaps,' slyly remarked the grand-daughter of Colonel Joliffe,
whose high spirit had been stung by many taunts against New
England—`perhaps we are to have a masque of allegorical figures.
Victory, with trophies from Lexington and Bunker Hill. Plenty, with her
overflowing horn, to typify the present abundance in this good
town—and Glory, with a wreath for his Excellency's brow.'
Sir William Howe smiled at words which he would have answered with
one of his darkest frowns, had they been uttered by lips that wore a
beard. He was spared the necessity of a retort, by a singular
interruption. A sound of music was heard without the house, as if
proceeding from a full band of military instruments stationed in the
street, playing not such a festal strain as was suited to the occasion;
but a slow funeral march. The drums appeared to be muffled, and the
trumpets poured forth a wailing breath, which at once hushed the
merriment of the auditors, filling all with wonder, and some with
apprehension. The idea occurred to many, that either the funeral
procession of some great personage had halted in front of the Province
House, or that a corpse, in a velvet-covered and gorgeously decorated
coffin, was about to be borne from the portal. After listening a
moment, Sir William Howe called, in a stern voice, to the leader of the
musicians, who had hitherto enlivened the entertainment with gay and
lightsome melodies. The man was drum-major to one of the British
`Dighton,' demanded the General, `what means this foolery? Bid your
band silence that dead march—or, by my word, they shall have
sufficient cause for their lugubrious strains! Silence it, sirrah!'
`Please your honor,' answered the drum-major, whose rubicund visage
had lost all its color, `the fault is none of mine. I and my band are
all here together; and I question whether there be a man of us that
could play that march without book. I never heard it but once before,
and that was at the funeral of his late Majesty, King George the
`Well, well!' said Sir William Howe, recovering his composure—`it
is the prelude to some masquerading antic. Let is pass.'
A figure now presented itself, but among the many fantastic masks
that were dispersed through the apartments, none could tell precisely
from whence it came. It was a man in an old fashioned dress of black
serge, and having the aspect of a steward, or principal domestic in the
household of a nobleman, or great English landholder. This figure
advanced to the outer door of the mansion, and throwing both its leaves
wide open, withdrew a little to one side and looked back towards the
grand staircase, as if expecting some person to descend. At the same
time, the music in the street sounded a loud and doleful summons. The
eyes of Sir William Howe and his guests being directed to the
staircase, there appeared, on the uppermost landing-place that was
discernible from the bottom, several personages descending towards the
door. The foremost was a man of stern visage, wearing a steeple-crowned
hat and a skull-cap beneath it; a dark cloak, and huge wrinkled boots
that came half way up his legs. Under his arm was a rolled-up banner,
which seemed to be the banner of England, but strangely rent and torn;
he had a sword in his right hand, and grasped a Bible in his left. The
next figure was of milder aspect, yet full of dignity, wearing a broad
ruff, over which descended a beard, a gown of wrought velvet, and a
doublet and hose of black satin. He carried a roll of manuscript in his
hand. Close behind these two, came a young man of very striking
countenance and demeanor, with deep thought and contemplation on his
brow, and perhaps a flash of enthusiasm in his eye. His garb, like that
of his predecessors, was of an antique fashion, and there was a stain
of blood upon his ruff. In the same group with these, were three or
four others, all men of dignity and evident command, and bearing
themselves like personages who were accustomed to the gaze of the
multitude. It was the idea of the beholders, that these figures went to
join the mysterious funeral that had halted in front of the Province
House; yet that supposition seemed to be contradicted by the air of
triumph with which they waved their hands, as they crossed the
threshold and vanished through the portal.
`In the devil's name, what is this?' muttered Sir William Howe to a
gentleman beside him; `a procession of the regicide judges of King
Charles the martyr?'
`These,' said Colonel Joliffe, breaking silence almost for the first
time that evening—`these, if I interpret them aright, are the Puritan
governors—the rulers of the old, original Democracy of Massachusetts.
Endicott, with the banner from which he had torn the symbol of
subjection, and Winthrop, and Sir Henry Vane, and Dudley, Haynes,
Bellingham, and Leverett.'
`Why had that young man a stain of blood upon his ruff?' asked Miss
`Because, in after years,' answered her grandfather, `he laid down
the wisest head in England upon the block, for the principles of
`Will not your Excellency order out the guard?' whispered Lord
Percy, who, with other British officers, had now assembled round the
General. `There may be a plot under this mummery.'
`Tush! we have nothing to fear,' carelessly replied Sir William
Howe. `There can be no worse treason in the matter than a jest, and
that somewhat of the dullest. Even were it a sharp and bitter one, our
best policy would be to laugh it off. See—here come more of these
Another group of characters had now partly descended the staircase.
The first was a venerable and white-bearded patriarch, who cautiously
felt his way downward with a staff. Treading hastily behind him, and
stretching forth his gauntleted hand as if to grasp the old man's
shoulder, came a tall, soldier-like figure, equipped with a plumed cap
of steel, a bright breastplate, and a long sword, which rattled against
the stairs. Next was seen a stout man, dressed in rich and courtly
attire, but not of courtly demeanor; his gait had the swinging motion
of a seaman's walk; and chancing to stumble on the staircase, he
suddenly grew wrathful, and was heard to mutter an oath. He was
followed by a noble-looking personage in a curled wig, such as are
represented in the portraits of Queen Anne's time and earlier; and the
breast of his coat was decorated with an embroidered star. While
advancing to the door, he bowed to the right hand and to the left, in a
very gracious and insinuating style; but as he crossed the threshold,
unlike the early Puritan governors, he seemed, to wring his hands with
`Prithee, play the part of a chorus, good Doctor Byles,' said Sir
William Howe. `What worthies are these?'
`If it please your Excellency, they lived somewhat before my day,'
answered the doctor; `but doubtless our friend, the Colonel, has been
hand and glove with them.'
`Their living faces I never looked upon,' said Colonel Joliffe,
gravely; `although I have spoken face to face with many rulers of this
land, and shall greet yet another with an old man's blessing, ere I
die. But we talk of these figures. I take the venerable patriarch to be
Bradstreet, the last of the Puritans, who was governor at ninety, or
thereabouts. The next is Sir Edmund Andros, a tyrant, as any New
England school-boy will tell you; and therefore the people cast him
down from his high seat into a dungeon. Then comes Sir William Phips,
shepherd, cooper, sea-captain and governor—may many of his countrymen
rise as high, from as low an origin! Lastly, you saw the gracious Earl
of Bellamont, who ruled us under King William.'
`But what is the meaning of it all?' asked Lord Percy.
`Now, were I a rebel,' said Miss Joliffe, half aloud, `I might fancy
that the ghosts of these ancient governors had been summoned to form
the funeral procession of royal authority in New England.'
Several other figures were now seen at the turn of the staircase.
The one in advance had a thoughtful, anxious, and somewhat crafty
expression of face; and in spite of his loftiness of manner, which was
evidently the result both of an ambitious spirit and of long
continuance in high stations, he seemed not incapable of cringing to a
greater than himself. A few steps behind came an officer in a scarlet
and embroidered uniform, cut in a fashion old enough to have been worn
by the Duke of Marlborough. His nose had a rubicund tinge, which,
together with the twinkle of his eye, might have marked him as a lover
of the wine cup and good fellowship; notwithstanding which tokens, he
appeared ill at ease, and often glanced around him, as if apprehensive
of some secret mischief. Next came a portly gentleman, wearing a coat
of shaggy cloth, lined with silken velvet; he had sense, shrewdness,
and humor in his face, and a folio volume under his arm; but his aspect
was that of a man vexed and tormented beyond all patience, and harassed
almost to death. He went hastily down, and was followed by a dignified
person, dressed in a purple velvet suit, with very rich embroidery; his
demeanor would have possessed much stateliness, only that a grievous
fit of the gout compelled him to hobble from stair to stair, with
contortions of face and body. When Doctor Byles beheld this figure on
the staircase, he shivered as with an ague, but continued to watch him
steadfastly, until the gouty gentleman had reached the threshold, made
a gesture of anguish and despair, and vanished into the outer gloom,
whither the funeral music summoned him.
`Governor Belcher!—my old patron!—in his very shape and dress!'
gasped Doctor Byles. `This is an awful mockery!'
`A tedious foolery, rather,' said Sir William Howe, with an air of
indifference. `But who were the three that preceded him?'
`Governor Dudley, a cunning politician—yet his craft once brought
him to a prison,' replied Colonel Joliffe. `Governor Shute, formerly a
Colonel under Marlborough, and whom the people frightened out of the
province; and learned Governor Burnet, whom the legislature tormented
into a mortal fever.'
`Methinks they were miserable men, these royal governors of
Massachusetts," observed Miss Joliffe. `Heavens, how dim the light
It was certainly a fact that the large lamp which illuminated the
staircase, now burned dim and duskily: so that several figures, which
passed hastily down the stairs and went forth from the porch, appeared
rather like shadows than persons of fleshly substance. Sir William Howe
and his guests stood at the doors of the contiguous apartments,
watching the progress of this singular pageant, with various emotions
of anger, contempt, or half acknowledged fear, but still with an
anxious curiosity. The shapes, which now seemed hastening to join the
mysterious procession, were recognised rather by striking peculiarities
of dress, or broad characteristics of manner, than by any perceptible
resemblance of features to their prototypes. Their faces, indeed, were
invariably kept in deep shadow. But Doctor Byles, and other gentlemen
who had long been familiar with the successive rulers of the province,
were heard to whisper the names of Shirley, of Pownal, of Sir Francis
Bernard, and of the well remembered Hutchinson; thereby confessing that
the actors, whoever they might be, in this spectral march of governors,
had succeeded in putting on some distant portraiture of the real
personages. As they vanished from the door, still did these shadows
toss their arms into the gloom of night, with a dread expression of wo.
Following the mimic representative of Hutchinson, came a military
figure, holding before his face the cocked hat which he had taken from
his powdered head; but his epaulettes and other insignia of rank were
those of a general officer; and something in his mien reminded the
beholders of one who had recently been master of the Province House,
and chief of all the land.
`The shape of Gage, as true as in a looking glass,' exclaimed Lord
Percy, turning pale.
`No, surely,' cried Miss Joliffe, laughing hysterically; `it could
not be Gage, or Sir William would have greeted his old comrade in arms!
Perhaps he will not suffer the next to pass unchallenged.'
`Of that be assured, young lady,' answered Sir William Howe, fixing
his eyes, with a very marked expression, upon the immovable visage of
her grandfather. `I have long enough delayed to pay the ceremonies of a
host to these departing guests. The next that takes his leave shall
receive due courtesy.'
A wild and dreary burst of music came through the open door. It
seemed as if the procession, which had been gradually filling up its
ranks, were now about to move, and that this loud peal of the wailing
trumpets, and roll of the muffled drums, were a call to some loiterer
to make haste. Many eyes, by an irresistible impulse, were turned upon
Sir William Howe, as if it were he whom the dreary music summoned to
the funeral of departed power.
`See!—here comes the last!' whispered Miss Joliffe, pointing her
tremulous finger to the staircase.
A figure had come into view as if descending the stairs; although so
dusky was the region whence it emerged, some of the spectators fancied
that they had seen this human shape suddenly moulding itself amid the
gloom. Downward the figure came, with a stately and martial tread, and
reaching the lowest stair was observed to be a tall man, booted and
wrapped in a military cloak, which was drawn up around the face so as
to meet the flapped brim of a laced hat. The features, therefore, were
completely hidden. But the British officers deemed that they had seen
that military cloak before, and even recognised the frayed embroidery
on the collar, as well as the gilded scabbard of a sword which
protruded from the folds of the cloak, and glittered in a vivid gleam
of light. Apart from these trifling particulars there were
characteristics of gait and bearing, which impelled the wondering
guests to glance from the shrouded figure to Sir William Howe, as if to
satisfy themselves that their host had not suddenly vanished from the
midst of them.
With a dark flush of wrath upon his brow, they saw the General draw
his sword and advance to meet the figure in the cloak before the latter
had stepped one pace upon the floor.
`Villain, unmuffle yourself!' cried he. `You pass no further!'
The figure, without blenching a hair's breadth from the sword which
was pointed at his breast, made a solemn pause and lowered the cape of
the cloak from about his face, yet not sufficiently for the spectators
to catch a glimpse of it. But Sir William Howe had evidently seen
enough. The sternness of his countenance gave place to a look of wild
amazement, if not horror, while he recoiled several steps from the
figure, and let fall his sword upon the floor. The martial shape again
drew the cloak about his features and passed on; but reaching the
threshold, with his back towards the spectators, he was seen to stamp
his foot and shake his clenched hands in the air. It was afterwards
affirmed that Sir William Howe had repeated that self-same gesture of
rage and sorrow, when, for the last time, and as the last royal
governor, he passed through the portal of the Province House.
`Hark!—the procession moves,' said Miss Joliffe.
The music was dying away along the street, and its dismal strains
were mingled with the knell of midnight from the steeple of the Old
South, and with the roar of artillery, which announced that the
beleaguering army of Washington had intrenched itself upon a nearer
height than before. As the deep boom of the cannon smote upon his ear,
Colonel Joliffe raised himself to the full height of his aged form, and
smiled sternly on the British General.
`Would your Excellency inquire further into the mystery of the
pageant?' said he.
`Take care of your gray head!' cried Sir William Howe, fiercely,
though with a quivering lip. `It has stood too long on a traitor's
`You must make haste to chop it off, then,' calmly replied the
Colonel; `for a few hours longer, and not all the power of Sir William
Howe, nor of his master, shall cause one of these gray hairs to fall.
The empire of Britain, in this ancient province, is at its last gasp
to-night;—almost while I speak it is a dead corpse;—and methinks
the shadows of the old governors are fit mourners at its funeral!'
With these words Colonel Joliffe threw on his cloak, and drawing his
grand-daughter's arm within his own, retired from the last festival
that a British ruler ever held in the old province of Massachusetts
Bay. It was supposed that the Colonel and the young lady possessed some
secret intelligence in regard to the mysterious pageant of that night.
However this might be, such knowledge has never become general. The
actors in the scene have vanished into deeper obscurity than even that
wild Indian band who scattered the cargoes of the tea ships on the
waves, and gained a place in history, yet left no names. But
superstition, among other legends of this mansion, repeats the wondrous
tale, that on the anniversary night of Britain's discomfiture, the
ghosts of the ancient governors of Massachusetts still glide through
the portal of the Province House. And, last of all, comes a figure
shrouded in a military cloak, tossing his clenched hands into the air,
and stamping his iron-shod boots upon the broad free-stone steps, with
a semblance of feverish despair, but without the sound of a foot-tramp.
When the truth-telling accents of the elderly gentleman were hushed,
I drew a long breath and looked round the room, striving, with the best
energy of my imagination, to throw a tinge of romance and historic
grandeur over the realities of the scene. But my nostrils snuffed up a
scent of cigar-smoke, clouds of which the narrator had emitted by way
of visible emblem, I suppose, of the nebulous obscurity of his tale.
Moreover, my gorgeous fantasies were wofully disturbed by the rattling
of the spoon in a tumbler of whisky punch, which Mr. Thomas Waite was
mingling for a customer. Nor did it add to the picturesque appearance
of the paneled walls, that the slate of the Brookline stage was
suspended against them, instead of the armorial escutcheon of some
fardescended governor. A stage-driver sat at one of the windows,
reading a penny paper of the day— the Boston Times—and presenting a
figure which could nowise be brought into any picture of `Times in
Boston,' seventy or a hundred years ago. On the window-seat lay a
bundle, neatly done up in brown paper, the direction of which I had the
idle curiosity to read. "Miss Susan Huggins, at the Province House." A
pretty chamber-maid, no doubt. In truth, it is desperately hard work,
when we attempt to throw the spell of hoar antiquity over localities
with which the living world, and the day that is passing over us, have
aught to do. Yet, as I glanced at the stately staircase, down which the
procession of the old governors had descended, and as I emerged through
the venerable portal, whence their figures had preceded me, it
gladdened me to be conscious of a thrill of awe. Then diving through
the narrow archway, a few strides transported me into the densest
throng of Washington street.
EDWARD RANDOLPH'S PORTRAIT.
The old legendary guest of the Province House abode in my
remembrance from mid-summer till January. One idle evening, last
winter, confident that he would be found in the snuggest corner of the
bar-room, I resolved to pay him another visit, hoping to deserve well
of my country by snatching from oblivion some else unheard of fact of
history. The night was chill and raw, and rendered boisterous by almost
a gale of wind, which whistled along Washington street, causing the
gas-lights to flare and flicker within the lamps. As I hurried onward,
my fancy was busy with a comparison between the present aspect of the
street, and that which it probably wore when the British Governors
inhabited the mansion whither I was now going. Brick edifices in those
times were few, till a succession of destructive fires had swept, and
swept again, the wooden dwellings and ware-houses from the most
populous quarters of the town. The buildings stood insulated and
independent, not, as now, merging their separate existences into
connected ranges, with a front of tiresome identity,—but each
possessing features of its own, as if the owner's individual taste had
shaped it,—and the whole presenting a picturesque irregularity, the
absence of which is hardly compensated by any beauties of our modern
architecture. Such a scene, dimly vanishing from the eye by the ray of
here and there a tallow candle, glimmering through the small panes of
scattered windows, would form a sombre contrast to the street, as I
beheld it, with the gas-lights blazing from corner to corner, flaming
within the shops, and throwing a noonday brightness through the huge
plates of glass.
But the black, lowering sky, as I turned my eyes upward, wore,
doubtless, the same visage as when it frowned upon the
ante-revolutionary New Englanders. The wintry blast had the same shriek
that was familiar to their ears. The Old South church, too, still
pointed its antique spire into the darkness, and was lost between earth
and heaven; and as I passed, its clock, which had warned so many
generations how transitory was their life-time, spoke heavily and slow
the same unregarded moral to myself. `Only seven o'clock,' thought I.
`My old friend's legends will scarcely kill the hours 'twixt this and
Passing through the narrow arch, I crossed the court-yard, the
confined precincts of which were made visible by a lantern over the
portal of the Province House. On entering the bar-room, I found, as I
expected, the old tradition-monger seated by a special good fire of
anthracite, compelling clouds of smoke from a corpulent cigar. He
recognised me with evident pleasure; for my rare properties as a
patient listener invariably make me a favorite with elderly gentlemen
and ladies of narrative propensities. Drawing a chair to the fire, I
desired mine host to favor us with a glass a-piece of whisky punch,
which was speedily prepared, steaming hot, with a slice of lemon at the
bottom, a dark-red stratum of port wine upon the surface, and a
sprinkling of nutmeg strewn over all. As we touched our glasses
together, my legendary friend made himself known to me as Mr. Bela
Tiffany; and I rejoiced at the oddity of the name, because it gave his
image and character a sort of individuality in my conception. The old
gentleman's draught acted as a solvent upon his memory, so that it
overflowed with tales, traditions, anecdotes of famous dead people, and
traits of ancient manners, some of which were childish as a nurse's
lullaby, while others might have been worth the notice of the grave
historian. Nothing impressed me more than a story of a black,
mysterious picture, which used to hang in one of the chambers of the
Province House, directly above the room where we were now sitting. The
following is as correct a version of the fact as the reader would be
likely to obtain from any other source, although assuredly, it has a
tinge of romance approaching to the marvellous:
In one of the apartments of the Province House there was long
preserved an ancient picture, the frame of which was as black as
ebony, and the canvas itself so dark with age, damp, and smoke, that
not a touch of the painter's art could be discerned. Time had thrown an
impenetrable veil over it, and left to tradition, and fable, and
conjecture, to say what had once been there portrayed. During the rule
of many successive governors, it had hung, by prescriptive and
undisputed right, over the mantelpiece of the same chamber; and it
still kept its place when Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson assumed the
administration of the province, on the departure of Sir Francis Bernard.
The Lieutenant Governor sat, one afternoon, resting his head against
the carved back of his stately arm chair, and gazing up thoughtfully at
the void blackness of the picture. It was scarcely a time for such
inactive musing, when affairs of the deepest moment required the
ruler's decision; for, within that very hour, Hutchinson had received
intelligence of the arrival of a British fleet, bringing three
regiments from Halifax to overawe the insubordination of the people.
These troops awaited his permission to occupy the fortress of Castle
William, and the town itself. Yet, instead of affixing his signature to
an official order, there sat the Lieutenant Governor, so carefully
scrutinizing the black waste of canvas, that his demeanor attracted the
notice of two young persons who attended him. One, wearing a military
dress of buff, was his kinsman, Francis Lincoln, the Provincial Captain
of Castle William; the other, who sat on a low stool beside his chair,
was Alice Vane, his favorite niece.
She was clad entirely in white, a pale, ethereal creature, who,
though a native of New England, had been educated abroad, and seemed
not merely a stranger from another clime, but almost a being from
another world. For several years, until left an orphan, she had dwelt
with her father in sunny Italy, and there had acquired a taste and
enthusiasm for sculpture and painting, which she found few
opportunities of gratifying in the undecorated dwellings of the
colonial gentry. It was said that the early productions of her own
pencil exhibited no inferior genius, though, perhaps, the rude
atmosphere of New England had cramped her hand, and dimmed the glowing
colors of her fancy. But observing her uncle's steadfast gaze, which
appeared to search through the mist of years to discover the subject of
the picture, her curiosity was excited.
`Is it known, my dear uncle,' inquired she, `what this old picture
once represented? Possibly, could it be made visible, it might prove a
masterpiece of some great artist—else why has it so long held such a
As her uncle, contrary to his usual custom, (for he was as attentive
to all the humors and caprices of Alice as if she had been his own best
beloved child,) did not immediately reply, the young Captain of Castle
William took that office upon himself.
`This dark old square of canvas, my fair cousin,' said he, `has been
an heir-loom in the Province House from time immemorial. As to the
painter, I can tell you nothing; but, if half the stories told of it be
true, not one of the great Italian masters has ever produced so
marvellous a piece of work, as that before you.'
Captain Lincoln proceeded to relate some of the strange fables and
fantasies, which, as it was impossible to refute them by ocular
demonstration, had grown to be articles of popular belief, in reference
to this old picture. One of the wildest, and at the same time the best
accredited accounts, stated it to be an original and authentic portrait
of the Evil One, taken at a witch meeting near Salem; and that its
strong and terrible resemblance had been confirmed by several of the
confessing wizards and witches, at their trial, in open court. It was
likewise affirmed that a familiar spirit, or demon, abode behind the
blackness of the picture, and had shown himself, at seasons of public
calamity, to more than one of the royal governors. Shirley, for
instance, had beheld this ominous apparition, on the eve of General
Abercrombie's shameful and bloody defeat under the walls of
Ticonderoga. Many of the servants of the Province House had caught
glimpses of a visage frowning down upon them, at morning or evening
twilight,—or in the depths of night, while raking up the fire that
glimmered on the hearth beneath; although, if any were bold enough to
hold a torch before the picture, it would appear as black and
undistinguishable as ever. The oldest inhabitant of Boston recollected
that his father, in whose days the portrait had not wholly faded out of
sight, had once looked upon it, but would never suffer himself to be
questioned as to the face which was there represented. In connection
with such stories, it was remarkable that over the top of the frame
there were some ragged remnants of black silk, indicating that a veil
had formerly hung down before the picture, until the duskiness of time
had so effectually concealed it. But, after all, it was the most
singular part of the affair, that so many of the pompous governors of
Massachusetts had allowed the obliterated picture to remain in the
state-chamber of the Province House.
`Some of these fables are really awful,' observed Alice Vane, who
had occasionally shuddered, as well as smiled, while her cousin spoke.
`It would be almost worth while to wipe away the black surface of the
canvas, since the original picture can hardly be so formidable as those
which fancy paints instead of it.'
`But would it be possible,' inquired her cousin, `to restore this
dark picture to its pristine hues?'
`Such arts are known in Italy,' said Alice.
The Lieutenant Governor had roused himself from his abstracted mood,
and listened with a smile to the conversation of his young relatives.
Yet his voice had something peculiar in its tones, when he undertook
the explanation of the mystery.
`I am sorry, Alice, to destroy your faith in the legends of which
you are so fond,' remarked he; `but my antiquarian researches have long
since made me acquainted with the subject of this picture—if picture
it can be called—which is no more visible, nor ever will be, than the
face of the long buried man whom it once represented. It was the
portrait of Edward Randolph, the founder of this house, a person famous
in the history of New England.'
`Of that Edward Randolph,' exclaimed Captain Lincoln, `who obtained
the repeal of the first provincial charter, under which our forefathers
had enjoyed almost democratic privileges! He that was styled the arch
enemy of New England, and whose memory is still held in detestation, as
the destroyer of our liberties!'
`It was the same Randolph,' answered Hutchinson, moving uneasily in
his chair. `It was his lot to taste the bitterness of popular odium.'
`Our annals tell us,' continued the Captain of Castle William, `that
the curse of the people followed this Randolph where he went, and
wrought evil in all the subsequent events of his life, and that its
effect was seen likewise in the manner of his death. They say, too,
that the inward misery of that curse worked itself outward, and was
visible on the wretched man's countenance, making it too horrible to be
looked upon. If so, and if this picture truly represented his aspect,
it was in mercy that the cloud of blackness has gathered over it.'
`These traditions are folly, to one who has proved, as I have, how
little of historic truth lies at the bottom, ' said the Lieutenant
Governor. `As regards the life and character of Edward Randolph too
implicit credence has been given to Dr. Cotton Mather, who— I must
say it, though some of his blood runs in my veins—has filled our
early history with old women's tales, as fanciful and extravagant as
those of Greece or Rome.'
`And yet,' whispered Alice Vane, `may not such fables have a moral?
And methinks, if the visage of this portrait be so dreadful, it is not
without a cause that it has hung so long in a chamber of the Province
House. When the rulers feel themselves irresponsible, it were well that
they should be reminded of the awful weight of a people's curse.'
The Lieutenant Governor started, and gazed for a moment at his
niece, as if her girlish fantasies had struck upon some feeling in his
own breast, which all his policy or principles could not entirely
subdue. He knew, indeed, that Alice, in spite of her foreign education,
retained the native sympathies of a New England girl.
`Peace, silly child,' cried he, at last, more harshly than he had
ever before addressed the gentle Alice. `The rebuke of a king is more
to be dreaded than the clamor of a wild, misguided multitude. Captain
Lincoln, it is decided. The fortress of Castle William must be occupied
by the Royal troops. The two remaining regiments shall be billeted in
the town, or encamped upon the Common. It is time, after years of
tumult, and almost rebellion, that his majesty's government should have
a wall of strength about it.'
`Trust, sir—trust yet awhile to the loyalty of the people,' said
Captain Lincoln; `nor teach them that they can ever be on other terms
with British soldiers than those of brotherhood, as when they fought
side by side through the French war. Do not convert the streets of your
native town into a camp. Think twice before you give up old Castle
William, the key of the province, into other keeping than that of true
born New Englanders.'
`Young man, it is decided,' repeated Hutchinson, rising from his
chair. `A British officer will be in attendance this evening, to
receive the necessary instructions for the disposal of the troops. Your
presence also will be required. Till then, farewell.'
With these words the Lieutenant Governor hastily left the room,
while Alice and her cousin more slowly followed, whispering together,
and once pausing to glance back at the mysterious picture. The captain
of Castle William fancied that the girl's air and mien were such as
might have belonged to one of those spirits of fable—fairies, or
creatures of a more antique mythology,—who sometimes mingled their
agency with mortal affairs, half in caprice, yet with a sensibility to
human weal or woe. As he held the door for her to pass, Alice beckoned
to the picture and smiled.
`Come forth, dark and evil Shape!' cried she. `It is thine hour!'
In the evening, Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson sat in the same
chamber where the foregoing scene had occurred, surrounded by several
persons whose various interests had summoned them together. There were
the Selectmen of Boston, plain, patriarchal fathers of the people,
excellent representatives of the old puritanical founders, whose sombre
strength had stamped so deep an impress upon the New England character.
Contrasting with these were one or two members of Council, richly
dressed in the white wigs, the embroidered waistcoats and other
magnificence of the time, and making a somewhat ostentatious display
of courtier-like ceremonial. In attendance, likewise, was a major of
the British army, awaiting the Lieutenant Governor's orders for the
landing of the troops, which still remained on board the transports.
The Captain of Castle William stood beside Hutchinson's chair, with
folded arms, glancing rather haughtily at the British officer, by whom
he was soon to be superseded in his command. On a table, in the centre
of the chamber, stood a branched silver candlestick, throwing down the
glow of half a dozen wax lights upon a paper apparently ready for the
Lieutenant Governor's signature.
Partly shrouded in the voluminous folds of one of the window
curtains, which fell from the ceiling to the floor, was seen the white
drapery of a lady's robe. It may appear strange that Alice Vane should
have been there, at such a time; but there was something so childlike,
so wayward, in her singular character, so apart from ordinary rules,
that her presence did not surprise the few who noticed it. Meantime,
the chairman of the Selectmen was addressing to the Lieutenant Governor
a long and solemn protest against the reception of the British troops
into the town.
`And if your Honor,' concluded this excellent, but somewhat prosy
old gentleman, `shall see fit to persist in bringing these mercenary
sworders and musketeers into our quiet streets, not on our heads be the
responsibility. Think, sir, while there is yet time, that if one drop
of blood be shed, that blood shall be an eternal stain upon your
Honor's memory. You, sir, have written, with an able pen, the deeds of
our forefathers. The more to be desired is it, therefore, that
yourself should deserve honorable mention, as a true patriot and
upright ruler, when your own doings shall be written down in history.'
`I am not insensible, my good sir, to the natural desire to stand
well in the annals of my country,' replied Hutchinson, controlling his
impatience into courtesy, `nor know I any better method of attaining
that end than by withstanding the merely temporary spirit of mischief,
which, with your pardon, seems to have infected elder men than myself.
Would you have me wait till the mob shall sack the Province House, as
they did my private mansion? Trust me, sir, the time may come when you
will be glad to flee for protection to the King's banner, the raising
of which is now so distasteful to you.'
`Yes,' said the British major, who was impatiently expecting the
Lieutenant Governor's orders. `The demagogues of this Province have
raised the devil, and cannot lay him again. We will exorcise him, in
God's name and the King's.'
`If you meddle with the devil, take care of his claws!' answered the
Captain of Castle William, stirred by the taunt against his countrymen.
`Craving your pardon, young sir,' said the venerable Selectman, `let
not an evil spirit enter into your words. We will strive against the
oppressor with prayer and fasting, as our forefathers would have done.
Like them, moreover, we will submit to whatever lot a wise Providence
may send us,— always, after our own best exertions to amend it.'
`And there peep forth the devil's claws!' muttered Hutchinson, who
well understood the nature of Puritan submission. `This matter shall be
expedited forthwith. When there shall be a sentinel at every corner,
and a court of guard before the town-house, a loyal gentleman may
venture to walk abroad. What to me is the outcry of a mob, in this
remote province of the realm? The King is my master, and England is my
country! Upheld by their armed strength, I set my foot upon the rabble,
and defy them!'
He snatched a pen, and was about to affix his signature to the paper
that lay on the table, when the Captain of Castle William placed his
hand upon his shoulder. The freedom of the action, so contrary to the
ceremonious respect which was then considered due to rank and dignity,
awakened general surprise, and in none more than in the Lieutenant
Governor himself. Looking angrily up, he perceived that his young
relative was pointing his finger to the opposite wall. Hutchinson's eye
followed the signal; and he saw, what had hitherto been unobserved,
that a black silk curtain was suspended before the mysterious picture,
so as completely to conceal it. His thoughts immediately recurred to
the scene of the preceding afternoon; and, in his surprise, confused by
indistinct emotions, yet sensible that his niece must have had an
agency in this phenomenon, he called loudly upon her.
`Alice!—Come hither, Alice!'
No sooner had he spoken than Alice Vane glided from her station, and
pressing one hand across her eyes, with the other snatched away the
sable curtain that concealed the portrait. An exclamation of surprise
burst from every beholder; but the Lieutenant Governor's voice had a
tone of horror.
`By heaven,' said he, in a low, inward murmur, speaking rather to
himself than to those around him, `if the spirit of Edward Randolph
were to appear among us from the place of torment, he could not wear
more of the terrors of hell upon his face!'
`For some wise end,' said the aged Selectman, solemnly, `hath
Providence scattered away the mist of years that had so long hid this
dreadful effigy. Until this hour no living man hath seen what we
Within the antique frame, which so recently had enclosed a sable
waste of canvas, now appeared a visible picture, still dark, indeed, in
its hues and shadings, but thrown forward in strong relief. It was a
half-length figure of a gentleman in a rich, but very old-fashioned
dress of embroidered velvet, with a broad ruff and a beard, and wearing
a hat, the brim of which overshadowed his forehead. Beneath this cloud
the eyes had a peculiar glare, which was almost life-like. The whole
portrait started so distinctly out of the back-ground, that it had the
effect of a person looking down from the wall at the astonished and
awe-stricken spectators. The expression of the face, if any words can
convey an idea of it, was that of a wretch detected in some hideous
guilt, and exposed to the bitter hatred, and laughter, and withering
scorn, of a vast surrounding multitude. There was the struggle of
defiance, beaten down and over-whelmed by the crushing weight of
ignominy. The torture of the soul had come forth upon the countenance.
It seemed as if the picture, while hidden behind the cloud of
immemorial years, had been all the time acquiring an intenser depth and
darkness of expression, till now it gloomed forth again, and threw its
evil omen over the present hour. Such, if the wild legend may be
credited, was the portrait of Edward Randolph, as he appeared when a
people's curse had wrought its influence upon his nature.
`'Twould drive me mad—that awful face!' said Hutchinson, who
seemed fascinated by the contemplation of it.
`Be warned, then!' whispered Alice. `He trampled on a people's
rights. Behold his punishment— and avoid a crime like his!'
The Lieutenant Governor actually trembled for an instant; but,
exerting his energy—which was not, however, his most characteristic
feature—he strove to shake off the spell of Randolph's countenance.
`Girl!' cried he, laughing bitterly, as he turned to Alice, `have
you brought hither your painter's art— your Italian spirit of
intrigue—your tricks of stage-effect— and think to influence the
councils of rulers and the affairs of nations, by such shallow
contrivances? See here!'
`Stay yet awhile,' said the Selectman, as Hutchinson again snatched
the pen; `for if ever mortal man received a warning from a tormented
soul, your Honor is that man!'
`Away!' answered Hutchinson fiercely. `Though yonder senseless
picture cried "Forbear!"—it should not move me!'
Casting a scowl of defiance at the pictured face, (which seemed, at
that moment, to intensify the horror of its miserable and wicked look,)
he scrawled on the paper, in characters that betokened it a deed of
desperation, the name of Thomas Hutchinson. Then, it is said, he
shuddered, as if that signature had granted away his salvation.
`It is done,' said he; and placed his hand upon his brow.
`May Heaven forgive the deed,' said the soft, sad accents of Alice
Vane, like the voice of a good spirit flitting away.
When morning came there was a stifled whisper through the household,
and spreading thence about the town, that the dark, mysterious picture
had started from the wall, and spoken face to face with Lieutenant
Governor Hutchinson. If such a miracle had been wrought, however, no
traces of it remained behind; for within the antique frame, nothing
could be discerned, save the impenetrable cloud, which had covered the
canvas since the memory of man. If the figure had, indeed, stepped
forth, it had fled back, spirit-like, at the day-dawn, and hidden
itself behind a century's obscurity. The truth probably was, that Alice
Vane's secret for restoring the hues of the picture had merely effected
a temporary renovation. But those who, in that brief interval, had
beheld the awful visage of Edward Randolph, desired no second glance,
and ever afterwards trembled at the recollection of the scene, as if
an evil spirit had appeared visibly among them. And as for Hutchinson,
when, far over the ocean, his dying hour drew on, he gasped for breath,
and complained that he was choking with the blood of the Boston
Massacre; and Francis Lincoln, the former Captain of Castle William,
who was standing at his bedside, perceived a likeness in his frenzied
look to that of Edward Randolph. Did his broken spirit feel, at that
dread hour, the tremendous burthen of a People's curse?
At the conclusion of this miraculous legend I inquired of mine host
whether the picture still remained in the chamber over our heads; but
Mr. Tiffany informed me that it had long since been removed, and was
supposed to be hidden in some out-of-the-way corner of the New England
Museum. Perchance some curious antiquary may light upon it there, and,
with the assistance of Mr. Howorth, the picture cleaner, may supply a
not unnecessary proof of the authenticity of the facts here set down.
During the progress of the story a storm had been gathering abroad, and
raging and rattling so loudly in the upper regions of the Province
House, that it seemed as if all the old Governors and great men were
running riot above stairs, while Mr. Bela Tiffany babbled of them
below. In the course of generations, when many people have lived and
died in an ancient house, the whistling of the wind through its
crannies, and the creaking of its beams and rafters, become strangely
like the tones of the human voice, or thundering laughter, or heavy
footsteps treading the deserted chambers. It is as if the echoes of
half a century were revived. Such were the ghostly sounds that roared
and murmured in our ears, when I took leave of the circle round the
fireside of the Province House, and plunging down the door-steps,
fought my way homeward against a drifting snow-storm.
LADY ELEANORE'S MANTLE.
Mine excellent friend, the landlord of the Province House, was
pleased, the other evening, to invite Mr. Tiffany and myself to an
oyster supper. This slight mark of respect and gratitude, as he
handsomely observed, was far less than the ingenious tale-teller, and
I, the humble note-taker of his narratives, had fairly earned, by the
public notice which our joint lucubrations had attracted to his
establishment. Many a segar had been smoked within his premises—many
a glass of wine, or more potent aqua vitæ, had been quaffed—many a
dinner had been eaten by curious strangers, who, save for the fortunate
conjunction of Mr. Tiffany and me, would never have ventured through
that darksome avenue, which gives access to the historic precincts of
the Province House. In short, if any credit be due to the courteous
assurances of Mr. Thomas Waite, we had brought his forgotten mansion
almost as effectually into public view as if we had thrown down the
vulgar range of shoeshops and dry-good stores, which hides its
aristocratic front from Washington street. It may be unadvisable,
however, to speak too loudly of the increased custom of the house, lest
Mr. Waite should find it difficult to renew the lease on so favorable
terms as heretofore.
Being thus welcomed as benefactors, neither Mr. Tiffany nor myself
felt any scruple in doing full justice to the good things that were set
before us. If the feast were less magnificent than those same paneled
walls had witnessed, in a by-gone century—if mine host presided with
somewhat less of state, than might have befitted a successor of the
royal Governors— if the guests made a less imposing show than the
bewigged, and powdered, and embroidered dignitaries, who erst banqueted
at the gubernatorial table, and now sleep within their armorial tombs
on Copp's Hill, or round King's Chapel—yet never, I may boldly say,
did a more comfortable little party assemble in the Province House,
from Queen Anne's days to the Revolution. The occasion was rendered
more interesting by the presence of a venerable personage, whose own
actual reminiscences went back to the epoch of Gage and Howe, and even
supplied him with a doubtful anecdote or two of Hutchinson. He was one
of that small, and now all but extinguished class, whose attachment to
royalty, and to the colonial institutions and customs that were
connected with it, had never yielded to the democratic heresies of
aftertimes. The young queen of Britain has not a more loyal subject in
her realm—perhaps not one who would kneel before her throne with such
reverential love—as this old grandsire whose head has whitened
beneath the mild sway of the Republic, which still, in his mellower
moments, he terms a usurpation. Yet prejudices so obstinate have not
made him an ungentle or impracticable companion. If the truth must be
told, the life of the aged loyalist has been of such a scrambling and
unsettled character— he has had so little choice of friends, and been
so often destitute of any—that I doubt whether he would refuse a cup
of kindness with either Oliver Cromwell or John Hancock; to say nothing
of any democrat now upon the stage. In another paper of this series, I
may perhaps give the reader a closer glimpse of his portrait.
Our host, in due season, uncorked a bottle of Madeira, of such
exquisite perfume and admirable flavor, that he surely must have
discovered it in an ancient bin, down deep beneath the deepest cellar,
where some jolly old butler stored away the Governor's choicest wine,
and forgot to reveal the secret on his death-bed. Peace to his
red-nosed ghost, and a libation to his memory! This precious liquor was
imbibed by Mr. Tiffany with peculiar zest; and after sipping the third
glass, it was his pleasure to give us one of the oddest legends which
he had yet raked from the store-house, where he keeps such matters.
With some suitable adornments from my own fancy, it ran pretty much as
Not long after Colonel Shute had assumed the government of
Massachusetts Bay, now nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, a young
lady of rank and fortune arrived from England, to claim his protection
as her guardian. He was her distant relative, but the nearest who had
survived the gradual extinction of her family; so that no more eligible
shelter could be found for the rich and high-born Lady Eleanore
Rochcliffe, than within the Province House of a trans-atlantic colony.
The consort of Governor Shute, moreover, had been as a mother to her
childhood, and was now anxious to receive her, in the hope that a
beautiful young woman would be exposed to infinitely less peril from
the primitive society of New England, than amind the artifices and
corruptions of a court. If either the Governor or his lady had
especially consulted their own comfort, they would probably have sought
to devolve the responsibility on other hands; since with some noble and
splendid traits of character, Lady Eleanore was remarkable for a harsh,
unyielding pride, a haughty consciousness of her hereditary and
personal advantages, which made her almost incapable of control.
Judging from many traditionary anecdotes, this peculiar temper was
hardly less than a monomania; or, if the acts which it inspired were
those of a sane person, it seemed due from Providence that pride so
sinful should be followed by as severe a retribution. That tinge of the
marvelous which is thrown over so many of these half-forgotten legends
has probably imparted an additional wildness to the strange story of
Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe.
The ship in which she came passenger had arrived at Newport, whence
Lady Eleanore was conveyed to Boston in the Governor's coach, attended
by a small escort of gentlemen on horseback. The ponderous equipage,
with its four black horses, attracted much notice as it rumbled through
Cornhill, surrounded by the prancing steeds of half a dozen cavaliers,
with swords dangling to their stirrups and pistols at their holsters.
Through the large glass windows of the coach, as it rolled along, the
people could discern the figure of Lady Eleanore, strangely combining
an almost queenly stateliness with the grace and beauty of a maiden in
her teens. A singular tale had gone abroad among the ladies of the
province, that their fair rival was indebted for much of the
irresistible charm of her appearance to a certain article of dress—
an embroidered mantle—which had been wrought by the most skilful
artist in London, and possessed even magical properties of adornment.
On the present occasion, however, she owed nothing to the witchery of
dress, being clad in a riding-habit of velvet, which would have
appeared stiff and ungraceful on any other form.
The coachman reined in his four black steeds, and the whole
cavalcade came to a pause in front of the contorted iron balustrade
that fenced the Province House from the public street. It was an
awkward coincidence, that the bell of the Old South was just then
tolling for a funeral; so that, instead of a gladsome peal with which
it was customary to announce the arrival of distinguished strangers,
Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe was ushered by a doleful clang, as if
calamity had come embodied in her beautiful person.
`A very great disrespect!' exclaimed Captain Langford, an English
officer, who had recently brought despatches to Governor Shute. `The
funeral should have been deferred, lest Lady Eleanore's spirits be
affected by such a dismal welcome.'
`With your pardon, sir,' replied Doctor Clarke, a physician, and a
famous champion of the popular party, `whatever the heralds may
pretend, a dead beggar must have precedence of a living queen. King
Death confers high privileges.'
These remarks were interchanged while the speakers waited a passage
through the crowd, which had gathered on each side of the gateway,
leaving an open avenue to the portal of the Province House. A black
slave in livery now leaped from behind the coach, and threw open the
door; while at the same moment Governor Shute descended the flight of
steps from his mansion, to assist Lady Eleanore in alighting. But the
Governor's stately approach was anticipated in a manner that excited
general astonishment. A pale young man, with his black hair all in
disorder, rushed from the throng, and prostrated himself beside the
coach, thus offering his person as a foot-stool for Lady Eleanore
Rochcliffe to tread upon. She held back an instant; yet with an
expression as if doubting whether the young man were worthy to bear the
weight of her footstep, rather than dissatisfied to receive such awful
reverence from a fellowmortal.
`Up, sir,' said the Governor, sternly, at the same time lifting his
cane over the intruder. `What means the Bedlamite by this freak?'
`Nay,' answered Lady Eleanore playfully, but with more scorn than
pity in her tone, `your Excellency shall not strike him. When men seek
only to be trampled upon, it were a pity to deny them a favor so easily
granted—and so well deserved!'
Then, though as lightly as a sunbeam on a cloud, she placed her foot
upon the cowering form, and extended her hand to meet that of the
Governor. There was a brief interval, during which Lady Eleanore
retained this attitude; and never, surely, was there an apter emblem of
aristocracy and hereditary pride, trampling on human sympathies and the
kindred of nature, than these two figures presented at that moment. et
the spectators were so smitten with her beauty, and so essential did
pride seem to the existence of such a creature, that they gave a
simultaneous acclamation of applause.
`Who is this insolent young fellow?' inquired Captain Langford, who
still remained beside Doctor Clarke. `If he be in his senses, his
impertinence demands the bastinado. If mad, Lady Eleanore should be
secured from further inconvenience, by his confinement. '
`His name is Jervase Helwyse,' answered the Doctor— `a youth of no
birth or fortune, or other advantages, save the mind and soul that
nature gave him; and being secretary to our colonial agent in London,
it was his misfortune to meet this Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe He loved
her—and her scorn has driven him mad'
`He was mad so to aspire,' observed the English officer
`It may be so,' said Doctor Clarke, frowning as he spoke. `But I
tell you, sir, I could well nigh doubt the justice of the Heaven above
us, if no signal humiliation overtake this lady, who now treads so
haughtily into yonder mansion. She seeks to place herself above the
sympathies of our common nature, which envelopes all human souls. See,
if that nature do not assert its claim over her in some mode that shall
bring her level with the lowest!'
`Never!' cried Captain Langford, indignantly— `neither in life nor
when they lay her with her ancestors. '
Not many days afterwards the Governor gave a ball in honor of Lady
Eleanore Rochcliffe. The principal gentry of the colony received
invitations, which were distributed to their residences, far and near,
by messengers on horseback, bearing missives sealed with all the
formality of official despatches. In obedience to the summons, there
was a general gathering of rank, wealth, and beauty; and the wide door
of the Province House had seldom given admittance to more numerous and
honorable guests than on the evening of Lady Eleanore's ball. Without
much extravagance of eulogy, the spectacle might even be termed
splendid; for, according to the fashion of the times, the ladies shone
in rich silks and satins, outspread over wide-projecting hoops; and the
gentlemen glittered in gold embroidery, laid unsparingly upon the
purple, or scarlet, or sky-blue velvet, which was the material of their
coats and waistcoats. The latter article of dress was of great
importance, since it enveloped the wearer's body nearly to the knees,
and was perhaps bedizened with the amount of his whole year's income,
in golden flowers and foliage. The altered taste of the present day—a
taste symbolic of a deep change in the whole system of society—would
look upon almost any of those gorgeous figures as ridiculous; although
that evening the guests sought their reflections in the pier-glasses,
and rejoiced to catch their own glitter amid the glittering crowd. What
a pity that one of the stately mirrors has not preserved a picture of
the scene, which, by the very traits that were so transitory, might
have taught us much that would be worth knowing and remembering!
Would, at least, that either painter or mirror could convey to us
some faint idea of a garment, already noticed in this legend—the Lady
Eleanore's embroidered mantle—which the gossips whispered was
invested with magic properties, so as to lend a new and untried grace
to her figure each time that she put it on! Idle fancy as it is, this
mysterious mantle has thrown an awe around my image of her, partly from
its fabled virtues, and partly because it was the handiwork of a dying
woman, and, perchance, owed the fantastic grace of its conception to
the delirium of approaching death.
After the ceremonial greetings had been paid, Lady Eleanore
Rochcliffe stood apart from the mob of guests, insulating herself
within a small and distinguished circle, to whom she accorded a more
cordial favor than to the general throng. The waxen torches threw their
radiance vividly over the scene, bringing out its brilliant points in
strong relief; but she gazed carelessly, and with now and then an
expression of weariness or scorn, tempered with such feminine grace,
that her auditors scarcely perceived the moral deformity of which it
was the utterance. She beheld the spectacle not with vulgar ridicule,
as disdaining to be pleased with the provincial mockery of a court
festival, but with the deeper scorn of one whose spirit held itself too
high to participate in the enjoyment of other human souls. Whether or
no the recollections of those who saw her that evening were influenced
by the strange events with which she was subsequently connected, so it
was, that her figure ever after recurred to them as marked by something
wild and unnatural; although, at the time, the general whisper was of
her exceeding beauty, and of the indescribable charm which her mantle
threw around her. Some close observers, indeed, detected a feverish
flush and alternate paleness of countenance, with a corresponding flow
and revulsion of spirits, and once or twice a painful and helpless
betrayal of lassitude, as if she were on the point of sinking to the
ground. Then, with a nervous shudder, she seemed to arouse her
energies, and threw some bright and playful, yet half-wicked sarcasm
into the conversation. There was so strange a characteristic in her
manners and sentiments, that it astonished every right-minded
listener; till looking in her face, a lurking and incomprehensible
glance and smile perplexed them with doubts both as to her seriousness
and sanity. Gradually, Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe's circle grew smaller,
till only four gentlemen remained in it. These were Captain Langford,
the English officer before mentioned; a Virginian planter, who had come
to Massachusetts on some political errand; a young Episcopal clergyman,
the grandson of a British Earl; and lastly, the private secretary of
Governor Shute, whose obsequiousness had won a sort of tolerance from
At different periods of the evening the liveried servants of the
Province House passed among the guests, bearing huge trays of
refreshments, and French and Spanish wines. Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe,
who refused to wet her beautiful lips even with a bubble of Champaigne,
had sunk back into a large damask chair, apparently overwearied either
with the excitement of the scene or its tedium; and while, for an
instant, she was unconscious of voices, laughter, and music, a young
man stole forward, and knelt down at her feet. He bore a salver in his
hand, on which was a chased silver goblet, filled to the brim with
wine, which he offered as reverentially as to a crowned queen, or
rather with the awful devotion of a priest doing sacrifice to his idol.
Conscious that some one touched her robe, Lady Eleanore started, and
unclosed her eyes upon the pale, wild features and disheveled hair of
`Why do you haunt me thus?' said she, in a languid tone, but with a
kindlier feeling than she ordinarily permitted herself to express.
`They tell me that I have done you harm.'
`Heaven knows if that be so,' replied the young man solemnly. `But,
Lady Eleanore, in requital of that harm, if such there be, and for your
own earthly and heavenly welfare, I pray you to take one sip of this
holy wine, and then to pass the goblet round among the guests. And this
shall be a symbol that you have not sought to withdraw yourself from
the chain of human sympathies—which whoso would shake off must keep
company with fallen angels.'
`Where has this mad fellow stolen that sacramental vessel?'
exclaimed the Episcopal clergyman.
This question drew the notice of the guests to the silver cup, which
was recognised as appertaining to the communion plate of the Old South
Church; and, for aught that could be known, it was brimming over with
the consecrated wine.
`Perhaps it is poisoned,' half whispered the Governor's secretary.
`Pour it down the villain's throat!' cried the Virginian, fiercely.
`Turn him out of the house!' cried Captain Langford, seizing Jervase
Helwyse so roughly by the shoulder that the sacramental cup was
overturned, and its contents sprinkled upon Lady Eleanore's mantle.
`Whether knave, fool, or Bedlamite, it is intolerable that the fellow
should go at large.'
`Pray, gentlemen, do my poor admirer no harm,' said Lady Eleanore,
with a faint and weary smile. `Take him out of my sight, if such be
your pleasure; for I can find in my heart to do nothing but laugh at
him—whereas, in all decency and conscience, it would become me to
weep for the mischief I have wrought!'
But while the bystanders were attempting to lead away the
unfortunate young man, he broke from them, and with a wild, impassioned
earnestness, offered a new and equally strange petition to Lady
Eleanore. It was no other than that she should throw off the mantle,
which, while he pressed the silver cup of wine upon her, she had drawn
more closely around her form, so almost to shroud herself within it.
`Cast it from you!' exclaimed Jervase Helwyse, clasping his hands in
an agony of entreaty. `It may not yet be too late! Give the accursed
garment to the flames!'
But Lady Eleanore, with a laugh of scorn, drew the rich folds of the
embroidered mantle over her head, in such a fashion as to give a
completely new aspect to her beautiful face, which—half-hidden,
half-revealed—seemed to belong to some being of mysterious character
`Farewell, Jervase Helwyse!' said she. `Keep my image in your
remembrance, as you behold it now.'
`Alas, lady!' he replied, in a tone no longer wild, but sad as a
funeral bell. `We must meet shortly, when your face may wear another
aspect—and that shall be the image that must abide within me.'
He made no more resistance to the violent efforts of the gentlemen
and servants, who almost dragged him out of the apartment, and
dismissed him roughly from the iron gate of the Province House. Captain
Langford, who had been very active in this affair, was returning to the
presence of Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe, when he encountered the
physician, Doctor Clarke, with whom he had held some casual talk on the
day of her arrival. The Doctor stood apart, separated from Lady
Eleanore by the width of the room, but eyeing her with such keen
sagacity, that Captain Langford involuntarily gave him credit for the
discovery of some deep secret.
`You appear to be smitten, after all, with the charms of this
queenly maiden,' said he, hoping thus to draw forth the physician's
`God forbid!' answered Doctor Clarke, with a grave smile; `and if
you be wise you will put up the same prayer for yourself. Wo to those
who shall be smitten by this beautiful Lady Eleanore! But yonder stands
the Governor—and I have a word or two for his private ear. Good
He accordingly advanced to Governor Shute, and addressed him in so
low a tone that none of the bystanders could catch a word of what he
said; although the sudden change of his Excellency's hitherto cheerful
visage betokened that the communication could be of no agreeable
import. A very few moments afterwards, it was announced to the guests
that an unforeseen circumstance rendered it necessary to put a
premature close to the festival.
The ball at the Province House supplied a topic of conversation for
the colonial metropolis, for some days after its occurrence, and might
still longer have been the general theme, only that a subject of all
engrossing interest thrust it, for a time, from the public
recollection. This was the appearance of a dreadful epidemic, which, in
that age, and long before and afterwards, was wont to slay its hundreds
and thousands, on both sides of the Atlantic. On the occasion of which
we speak, it was distinguished by a peculiar virulence, insomuch that
it has left its traces— its pitmarks, to use an appropriate
figure—on the history of the country, the affairs of which were
thrown into confusion by its ravages. At first, unlike its ordinary
course, the disease seemed to confine itself to the higher circles of
society, selecting its victims from among the proud, the well-born and
the wealthy, entering unabashed into stately chambers, and lying down
with the slumberers in silken beds. Some of the most distinguished
guests of the Province House—even those whom the haughty Lady
Eleanore Rochcliffe had deemed not unworthy of her favor—were
stricken by this fatal scourge. It was noticed, with an ungenerous
bitterness of feeling, that the four gentlemen—the Virginian, the
British officer, the young clergyman, and the Governor's
secretary—who had been her most devoted attendants on the evening of
the ball, were the foremost on whom the plague-stroke fell. But the
disease, pursuing its onward progress, soon ceased to be exclusively a
prerogative of aristocracy. Its red brand was no longer conferred like
a noble's star, or an order of knighthood. It threaded its way through
the narrow and crooked streets, and entered the low, mean, darksome
dwellings, and laid its hand of death upon the artisans and laboring
classes of the town. It compelled rich and poor to feel themselves
brethren, then; and stalking to and fro across the Three Hills, with a
fierceness which made it almost a new pestilence, there was that mighty
conqueror—that scourge and horror of our forefathers—the Small Pox!
We cannot estimate the affright which this plague inspired of yore,
by contemplating it as the fangless monster of the present day. We must
remember, rather, with what awe we watched the gigantic footsteps of
the Asiatic cholera, striding from shore to shore of the Atlantic, and
marching like destiny upon cities far remote, which flight had already
half depopulated. There is no other fear so horrible and unhumanizing,
as that which makes man dread to breathe Heaven's vital air, lest it be
poison, or to grasp the hand of a brother or friend, lest the gripe of
the pestilence should clutch him. Such was the dismay that now followed
in the track of the disease, or ran before it throughout the town.
Graves were hastily dug, and the pestilential relics, as hastily
covered, because the dead were enemies of the living, and strove to
draw them headlong, as it were, into their own dismal pit. The public
councils were suspended, as if mortal wisdom might relinquish its
devices, now that an unearthly usurper had found his way into the
ruler's mansion. Had an enemy's fleet been hovering on the coast, or
his armies trampling on our soil, the people would probably have
committed their defence to that same direful conqueror, who had wrought
their own calamity, and would permit no interference with his sway.
This conqueror had a symbol of his triumphs. It was a blood-red flag,
that fluttered in the tainted air, over the door of every dwelling into
which the Small Pox had entered.
Such a banner was long since waving over the portal of the Province
House; for thence, as was proved by tracking its footsteps back, had
all this dreadful mischief issued. It had been traced back to a lady's
luxurious chamber—to the proudest of the proud— to her that was so
delicate, and hardly owned herself of earthly mould—to the haughty
one, who took her stand and above human sympathies—to Lady Eleanore!
There remained no room for doubt, that the contagion had lurked in that
gorgeous mantle, which threw so strange a grace around her at the
festival. Its fantastic splendor had been conceived in the delirious
brain of a woman on her death-bed, and was the last toil of her
stiffening fingers, which had interwoven fate and misery with its
golden threads. This dark tale, whispered at first, was now bruited far
and wide. The people raved against the Lady Eleanore, and cried out
that her pride and scorn had evoked a fiend, and that, between them
both, this monstrous evil had been born. At times, their rage and
despair took the semblance of grinning mirth; and whenever the red flag
of the pestilence was hoisted over another, and yet another door, they
clapt their hands and shouted through the streets, in bitter mockery:
`Behold a new triumph for the Lady Eleanore!'
One day in the midst of these dismal times, a wild figure approached
the portal of the Province House, and folding his arms, stood
contemplating the scarlet banner, which a passing breeze shook
fitfully, as if to fling abroad the contagion that it typified. At
length, climbing one of the pillars by means of the iron balustrade, he
took down the flag, and entered the mansion, waving it above his head.
At the foot of the staircase he met the Governor, booted and spurred,
with his cloak drawn around him, evidently on the point of setting
forth upon a journey.
`Wretched lunatic, what do you seek here?' exclaimed Shute,
extending his cane to guard himself from contact. `There is nothing
here but Death. Back—or you will meet him!'
`Death will not touch me, the banner-bearer of the pestilence!'
cried Jervase Helwyse, shaking the red flag aloft. `Death, and the
Pestilence, who wears the aspect of the Lady Eleanore, will walk
through the streets to-night, and I must march before them with this
`Why do I waste words on the fellow?' muttered the Governor, drawing
his cloak across his mouth. `What matters his miserable life, when none
of us are sure of twelve hours' breath? On, fool, to your own
He made way for Jervase Helwyse, who immediately ascended the
staircase, but, on the first landing-place, was arrested by the firm
grasp of a hand upon is shoulder. Looking fiercely up, with a madman's
impulse to struggle with, and rend asunder his opponent, he found
himself powerless beneath a calm, tern eye, which possessed the
mysterious property of quelling frenzy at its height. The person whom
he had now encountered was the physician, Doctor Clarke, the duties of
whose sad profession had led him to the Province House, where he was an
infrequent guest in more prosperous times.
`Young man, what is your purpose?' demanded he.
`I seek the Lady Eleanore,' answered Jervase Helwyse, submissively.
`All have fled from her,' said the physician. `Why do you seek her
now? I tell you, youth, her nurse fell death-stricken on the threshold
of that fatal chamber. Know ye not, that never came such a curse to our
shores as this lovely Lady Eleanore?—that her breath has filled the
air with posion?—that she has shaken pestilence and death upon the
land, from the folds of her accursed mantle?'
`Let me look upon her!' rejoined the mad youth, more wildly. `Let me
behold her, in her awful beauty, clad in the regal garments of the
pestilence! She and Death sit on a throne together. Let me kneel down
`Poor youth!' said Doctor Clarke; and, moved by a deep sense of
human weakness, a smile of caustic humor curled his lip even then.
`Wilt thou still worship the destroyer, and surround her image with
fantasies the more magnificent, the more evil she has wrought? Thus
man doth ever to his tyrants! Approach, then! Madness, as I have noted,
has that good efficacy, that it will guard you from contagion— and
perchance its own cure may be found in yonder chamber.'
Ascending another flight of stairs, he threw open a door, and signed
to Jervase Helwyse that he should enter. The poor lunatic, it seems
probable, had cherished a delusion that his haughty mistress sat in
state, unharmed herself by the pestilential influence, which, as by
enchantment, she scattered round about her. He dreamed, no doubt, that
her beauty was not dimmed, but brightened into superhuman splendor.
With such anticipations, he stole reverentially to the door at which
the physician stood, but paused upon the threshold, gazing fearfully
into the gloom of the darkened chamber.
`Where is the Lady Eleanore?' whispered he.
`Call her,' replied the physician.
`Lady Eleanore!—Princess!—Queen of Death!' cried Jervase
Helwyse, advancing three steps into the chamber. `She is not here!
There, on yonder table, I behold the sparkle of a diamond which once
she wore upon her bosom. There'—and he shuddered— `there hangs her
mantle, on which a dead woman embroidered a spell of dreadful potency.
But where is the Lady Eleanore!'
Something stirred within the silken curtains of a canopied bed; and
a low moan was uttered, which, listening intently, Jervase Helwyse
began to distinguish as a woman's voice, complaining dolefully of
hirst. He fancied, even, that he recognised its ones.
`My throat!—my throat is scorched,' murmured he voice. `A drop of
`What thing are thou?' said the brain-stricken youth, drawing near
the bed and tearing asunder its curtains. `Whose voice hast thou stolen
for thy murmurs and miserable petitions, as if Lady Eleanore could be
conscious of mortal infirmity? Fie! Heap of diseased mortality, why
lurkest thou in my lady's chamber?'
`Oh, Jervase Helwyse,' said the voice—and as it spoke, the figure
contorted itself, struggling to hide its plasted face—`look not now
on the woman you once loved! The curse of Heaven hath stricken me,
because I would not call man my brother, nor woman sister. I wrapt
myself in PRIDE as in a MANTLE, and scorned the sympathies of nature;
and therefore has nature made this wretched body the medium of a
dreadful sympathy. You are avenged—they are all avenged—Nature is
avenged—for I am Eleanore Rochcliffe!'
The malice of his mental disease, the bitterness lurking at the
bottom of his heart, mad as he was, for a blighted and ruined life, and
love that had been paid with cruel scorn, awoke within the breast of
Jervase Helwyse. He shook his finger at the wretched girl, and the
chamber echoed, the curtains of the bed were shaken, with his outburst
of insane merriment.
`Another triumph for the Lady Eleanore!' he cried. `All have been
her victims! Who so worthy to be the final victim as herself?'
Impelled by some new fantasy of his crazed intellect, he snatched
the fatal mantle, and rushed from the chamber and the house. That
night, a procession passed, by torch light, through the streets,
bearing in the midst, the figure of a woman, enveloped with a richly
embroidered mantle; while in advance stalked Jervase Helwyse, waving
the red flag of the pestilence. Arriving opposite the Province House,
the mob burned the effigy, and a strong wind came and swept away the
ashes. It was said, that, from that very hour, the pestilence abated,
as if its sway had some mysterious connection, from the first
plague-stroke to the last, with Lady Eleanore's Mantle. A remarkable
uncertainty broods over that unhappy lady's fate. There is a belief,
however, that, in a certain chamber of this mansion, a female form may
sometimes be duskily discerned, shrinking into the darkest corner, and
muffling her face within an embroidered mantle. Supposing the legend
true, can this be other than the once proud Lady Eleanore?
Mine host, and the old loyalist, and I, bestowed no little warmth of
applause upon this narrative, in which we had all been deeply
interested; for the reader can scarcely conceive how unspeakably the
effect of such a tale is heightened, when, as in the present case, we
may repose perfect confidence in the veracity of him who tells it. For
my own part, knowing how scrupulous is Mr. Tiffany to settle the
foundation of his facts, I could not have believed him one whit the
more faithfully, had he professed himself an eye-witness of the doings
and sufferings of poor Lady Eleanore. Some skeptics, it is true, might
demand documentary evidence, or even require him to produce the
embroidered mantle, forgetting that— Heaven be praised—it was
consumed to ashes. But now the old loyalist, whose blood was warmed by
the good cheer, began to talk, in his turn, about the traditions of the
Province House, and hinted that he, if it were agreeable, might add a
few reminisences to our legendary stock. Mr. Tiffany, having no cause
to dread a rival, immediately besought him to favor us with a specimen;
my own entreaties, of course, were urged to the same effect; and our
venerable guest, well pleased to find willing auditors, awaited only
the return of Mr. Thomas Waite, who had been summoned forth to provide
accommodations for several new arrivals. Perchance the public— but be
this as its own caprice and ours shall settle the matter—may read the
result in another Tale of the Province House.
OLD ESTHER DUDLEY.
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 ancient friend to signify his mental
powers—were 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 Province House, 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,' cried 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
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
Subduing at once the passion to which he had yielded only in the
faith that it was unwitnessed, 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 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 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
`Not so, if it please your Excellency,' answered the time-stricken
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 resolve. `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 incorporated with the past—who have seen Governor after Governor,
in stately pageantry, ascend these steps—whose 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
`Never, never!' said the pertinacious old dame. `Here will I abide;
and King George shall still have one true subject in his disloyal
`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 Province House, 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 days—all the
figures that ever swept across the broad plate of glass in former
times—she could cause the whole to reappear, 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 demeanor 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, stern republicans as they had now become, they
were well content that the old gentlewoman, in her hoop-petticoat and
faded embroidery, should still haunt the palace of ruined pride and
overthrown power, the symbol of a departed system, embodying a history
in her person. So Esther Dudley dwelt, year after year, in the Province
House, still reverencing all that others had flung aside, still
faithful to her King, who, so long as the venerable dame yet held her
post, might be said to retain one true subject in New England, and one
spot of the empire that had been wrested from him.
And did she dwell there in utter loneliness? Rumor said, not so.
Whenever her chill and withered heart desired warmth, she was wont to
summon a black slave of Governor Shirley's from the blurred mirror, and
send him in search of guests who had long ago been familiar in those
deserted chambers. Forth went the sable messenger, with the starlight
or the moonshine gleaming through him, and did his errand in the
burial-grounds, knocking at the iron doors of tombs, or upon the marble
slabs that covered them, and whispering to those within: `My mistress,
old Esther Dudley, bids you to the Province House at midnight.' And
punctually as the clock of the Old South told twelve, came the shadows
of the Olivers, the Hutchinsons, the Dudleys, all the grandees of a
bygone generation, gliding beneath the portal into the well-known
mansion, where Esther mingled with them as if she likewise were a
shade. Without vouching for the truth of such traditions, it is certain
that Mistress Dudley sometimes assembled a few of the stanch, though
crest-fallen old tories, who had lingered in the rebel town during
those days of wrath and tribulation. Out of a cobwebbed bottle,
containing liquor that a Royal Governor might have smacked his lips
over, they quaffed healths to the King, and babbled treason to the
Republic, feeling as if the protecting shadow of the throne were still
flung around them. But, draining the last drops of their liquor, they
stole timorously homeward, and answered not again, if the rude mob
reviled them in the street.
Yet Esther Dudley's most frequent and favored guests were the
children of the town. Towards them she was never stern. A kindly and
loving nature, hindered elsewhere from its free course by a thousand
rocky prejudices, lavished itself upon these little ones. By bribes of
gingerbread of her own making, stamped with a royal crown, she tempted
their sunny sportiveness beneath the gloomy portal of the Province
House, and would often beguile them to spend a whole play-day there,
sitting in a circle round the verge of her hoop-petticoat, greedily
attentive to her stories of a dead world. And when these little boys
and girls stole forth again from the dark mysterious mansion, they went
bewildered, full of old feelings that graver people had long ago
forgotten, rubbing their eyes at the world around them as if they had
gone astray into ancient times, and become children of the past. At
home, when their parents asked where they had loitered such a weary
while, and with whom they had been at play, the children would talk of
all the departed worthies of the Province, as far back as Governor
Belcher, and the haughty dame of Sir William Phips. It would seem as
though they had been sitting on the knees of these famous personages,
whom the grave had hidden for half a century, and had toyed with the
embroidery of their rich waistcoats, or roguishly pulled the long curls
of their flowing wigs `But Governor Belcher has been dead this many a
year,' would the mother say to her little boy. `And did you really see
him at the Province House?' `Oh, yes, dear mother! yes!' the half
dreaming child would answer. `But when old Esther had done speaking
about him he faded away out of his chair.' Thus, without affrighting
her little guests, she led them by the hand into the chambers of her
own desolate heart, and made childhood's fancy discern the ghosts that
Living so continually in her own circle of ideas, and never
regulating her mind by a proper reference to present things, Esther
Dudley appears to have grown partially crazed. It was found that she
had no right sense of the progress and true state of the Revolutionary
war, but held a constant faith that the armies of Britain were
victorious on every field, and destined to be ultimately triumphant.
Whenever the town rejoiced for a battle won by Washington, or Gates, or
Morgan, or Greene, the news, in passing through the door of the
Province House, as through the ivory gate of dreams, became
metamorphosed into a strange tale of the prowess of Howe, Clinton, or
Cornwallis. Sooner or later; it was her invincible belief, the colonies
would be prostrate at the footstool of the King. Sometimes she seemed
to take for granted that such was already the case. On one occasion,
she startled the town's people by a brilliant illumination of the
Province House, with candles at every pane of glass, and a transparency
of the King's initials and a crown of light, in the great balcony
window. The figure of the aged woman, in the most gorgeous of her
mildewed velvets and brocades, was seen passing from casement to
casement, until she paused before the balcony, and flourished a huge
key above her head. Her wrinkled visage actually gleamed with triumph,
as if the soul within her were a festal lamp.
`What means this blaze of light? What does old Esther's joy
portend?' whispered a spectator. `It is frightful to see her gliding
about the chambers, and rejoicing there without a soul to bear her
`It is as if she were making merry in a tomb,' said another.
`Pshaw! It is no such mystery,' observed an old man, after 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
countryward, 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 ashen
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 key—withdrew 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 long-looked-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 recognised 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 trode
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
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 mantelpiece
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 hence—if ever.