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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
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XIII. Jonah.

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MR. JOSEPH TWOMBLY was sitting on a
high stool at a desk in the countingroom
of Messrs. Rawlings & Sons, the Chicago
bankers. It was after bank hours, and the
office was deserted. The gray-haired head book-keeper,
and the spruce young clerks who occupied
the adjoining desks, had been gone an hour
or more. The monotonous ticking of the chronometer,
pinioned against the wall above the
massive iron safe, was the only sound that
broke the quiet of the room, except when
Twombly made an impatient movement with
one of his feet on the attenuated rungs of the
stool, or drummed abstractedly with his fingers
on the edge of the desk.

An open letter lay before him, and beside it
an envelope bearing a Shasta postmark and
addressed to Joseph Twombly at Rivermouth.

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This letter had just come to him inclosed in
one of the deacon's, and was to this effect:—

Shasta, Cal., October 31, 186-.
My dear Joe:—

You will probably be surprised to receive a letter
from me after all these months of silence,—or, rather,
years, for it is nearly three years, is n't it, since we
parted? I have been in no mood or condition to
write before, and I write now only because I may
not have another chance to relieve you of any uncertainty
you may feel on my account. I have
thought it my duty to do this since I came to the
resolve, within a few days, to give up my hopeless
pursuits here and go into the army. If you do not
hear from me or of me in the course of four or six
months, you will know that my bad luck, which began
in Montana, has culminated somewhere in the
South. Then you can show this to my Uncle Dent,
or even before, if you wish; I leave it to your discretion.
Perhaps I shall do something in the war;
who knows? It is time for me to do something. I
am a failure up to date. I'm not sure I am a
brave man, but I have that disregard for life which
well fits me to lead forlorn-hopes,—and I've led
many a forlorn-hope these past three years, Joe.

Ever since the day we said good by at Red Rock,

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I have been on the go. I have not stayed more than
a month in any one spot, except this last half-year
at a ranch in the neighborhood of Shasta, where I
went into the stock-raising business with another man
(who didn't know I was the spirit of Jonah revisiting
the earth), and would have made my fortune, if
the cattle-disease had not got into the herd just as
we were on the point of selling out at great profit.
I was not aware that I had the cattle-disease myself,
but I fancy I must have given it to the herd.

What had I been doing all the rest of the time?—
for it took me only six months to ruin my friend
the stock-raiser. I had been searching for George
Nevins, Joe Twombly!

What a story I could tell you, if I had the heart
and the patience to go over it all again! How I
first heard of him in California, where I tracked
him from place to place, sometimes only an hour or
so behind him; once I entered a mining-camp just
as he went out the other side, confound his cleverness! —
how I followed him to Texas, and thence to
Montana again, and from there to Mexico, where I
lost trace of him; what I suffered mentally and
physically in those mad hunts would not be believed
if I could write it out! — how I worked my way
from town to town, and from camp to camp, only

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halting here and there to earn a few dollars to help
me on. Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, I have known
them all, Joe, as few men have known them. Shall
I tell you — and that is the strangest thing! — what
took the life out of me more than the poverty and
the treachery and the rest? It was the conviction
that that man, though I could not put my hand on
him, had his eye on me all the while, — the certainty
that I never went to sleep without his knowing
where I lay down, that I never got up but he
was advised of my next move, that I was under his
espionage day and night!

I think my steps were dogged from the time I
first left Montana, though I had no suspicion of it
until long after. The suspicion fired me and gave
me strength in the beginning, and then it paralyzed
me, when I saw how easily he eluded my pursuit,
and how defenceless I was. I could trust nobody.
The fellow sleeping at my side by the camp-fire
might be Nevins's spy. Every stranger that looked
at me any way curiously sent a chill to my heart.
Whether there were three men or a hundred employed
to watch me, I cannot tell; but at every
point there was some one to mislead me or balk my
plan. The wilds of Montana seemed to be policed
by this terrible man. Why didn't he kill me, and

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have done with it? I don't know. My life was in
his hands, and is to-day. The sense of being surrounded
and dogged and snared grew insupportable
at last. Can you understand how maddening it
was? I gave up the hope of meeting Nevins face
to face, and only longed to hide myself somewhere
out of his sight.

About six months ago I fell in with a man at
Shasta, one Thompson, who owned a ranch twenty
miles back in the country; he wanted help in managing
his herds, and offered me a share in the stock.
This business has just turned out disastrously, as I
have said. Everything I touch turns worthless. It
was a sorry day for you, poor Joe, when you joined
fortune with me. I could sink a cork ship. I am
Jonah without Jonah's whale. If ever I am thrown
overboard, I shall be drowned, mark that.

I had to leave the ranch, and left it two days
ago. The moment I put foot in Shasta I felt I
was again under the eye of Nevins's invisible police.
I am not sure I shall escape them by going into
the army. I am not sure, on patriotic grounds, that
I ought to go into the army. My luck is enough to
bring on a national defeat.

In all these thirty-six months, Joe, I had not heard
a word from Rivermouth, — until last night. I

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suppose you must have written to me; if you have,
your letters missed fire. No one else, I imagine,
has been much troubled about my fate. My dear
old friend, Parson Wibird, is dead, and Miss Palfrey
is going to marry his successor. So runs the
world away! These two items of news gave a hard
tug at my heart-strings. I got the intelligence in
the oddest way. Last night, sitting on the porch
of the hotel, I overheard a stranger talking about
Rivermouth. You may fancy I pricked up my ears
at the word, and invented occasion to speak with
the man. He did not belong to the town, but he
appeared to have come from there lately, and I
gathered from him all I wanted to know — and
more! O Joe! there are things in the world that
cut one up more cruelly than hunger and cold. But
I can't write of this. I did not mean to write so
long a letter; I meant only to let you know I was
alive. Indeed, I am in frightfully good health. If
I had been rich and happy, I might have been dead
these two years. “There 's nae luck aboot the

I'm not breathing a word of reproach against
anybody, you understand. I have n't the right. I
have made my own bed, and if I don't lie in it
comfortably, there 's no one to blame except myself.

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I see my mistake. I ought to have stayed at Red
Rock, and gone to work again, like a man. But
it's too late now.

Good by, my dear Joe. I hope you are prospering,
you and your tribe. There must be a lot of you
by this time! You continue, I suppose, to have an
annual brother or sister? I trust Uncle Dent is well
also. He is a fine old fellow, and I've regretted a
thousand times that I quarrelled with him. But he
did brush my hair the wrong way. I start from
here to-morrow for the East. I have not decided
yet whether to join the army in the North or in the
West; but wherever I go, I am, my dear boy,

Your faithful and unfortunate friend,
John Dent.

Mr. Joseph Twombly read these eight pages
through twice very carefully, interrupting himself
from time to time to give vent to an exclamation
of surprise or pity or disapproval or
indignation, as the mood moved him.

“Poor Jack!” said Twombly. “He is a
kind of Jonah, sure enough, and I don't believe
the healthiest whale in the world could
keep him on its stomach for five minutes.
What a foolish fellow to throw himself away

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in that fashion! Why in thunder did n't he
tell me where to write him? October 31st.
That's more than a month ago. The Lord only
knows what may have happened since then.”

Twombly sat pondering for some time with
his elbows on the desk; then he folded up the
letter, and placed it in a fresh envelope, which
he directed in a large, round, innocent hand to
“Ralph Dent, Esq., Rivermouth, N. H.”

-- 222 --

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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
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