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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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XV. Colonel Peyton Todhunter.

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AT the end of those two weeks, Mr. Dillingham,
who had not spoken to Mr. Dent
relative to the position of affairs between himself
and Prudence, took occasion to do so one
December afternoon, as he was sitting with his
friend before the open wood-fire in the library.

There is a quality in an open wood-fire that
stimulates confidence; it is easy, in the warm,
mellow glow, to say what it would be impossible
with other accessories to put into unreluctant
words; there is no place like an old-fashioned
chimney-side in which to make love
or to betray the secret of your bosom.

Mr. Dent was in an unusually receptive state
for the young minister's confidence. The slow
process by which Prudence was arriving at a
knowledge of her own mind did not rhyme
well with her guardian's impatience, and was

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beginning to depress him. He had expected,
as a matter of course, that his friend Dillingham
would seize the first opportunity, and he
had given him several, to broach the subject;
but two weeks had elapsed, and the young man
had not spoken. Mr. Dent drew a distressing
inference from this silence. Perhaps while Prudence
was pondering what to do, Mr. Dillingham
was regretting what he had done. Mr.
Dent ached to give the young minister an encouraging
word; but he could not, without a
sacrifice to his dignity, be the first to touch
upon the topic. He desired above all things
that Prudence should wed Dillingham, but he
was not going to throw her at his head.

When Mr. Dillingham saw fit, then, this
December afternoon, to break through his reticence,
his friend welcomed the confidence eagerly.
The younger man was gratified, but
presumably not surprised, to find that Mr.
Dent had his interests very much at heart.

“Nothing in the world, Dillingham, would
make me happier,” Mr. Dent was saying, with
his hand resting on the young minister's
shoulder, when Fanny came into the room and
gave Mr. Dent a card.

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“ `Colonel Peyton Todhunter,' ” Mr. Dent
read aloud. “What an extraordinary name!
Wants to see me? I don't know any Colonel
Todhunter. Another subscription to the soldiers'
fund, maybe. Show him in, Fanny.”

“Perhaps I had better withdraw,” suggested
Mr. Dillingham.

“Not at all; the gentleman will not detain
me long, and I have a great deal to say to

Mr. Dillingham rose from the chair and
walked to the farther part of the library, where
he occupied himself in looking over a portfolio
of Hogarth prints. Presently Fanny, with a
rather confused air, ushered in the visitor,—
a compactly built gentleman somewhat above
the medium height, with closely cut hair, light
whiskers and mustache, inclining to red, and a
semi-military bearing. He wore, in fact, the
undress uniform of an officer of artillery.

“Mr. Dent,—Mr. Ralph Dent?” inquired
this personage.

“Yes, sir; I am Mr. Ralph Dent.”

“My name is Todhunter,—Colonel Todhunter,
of South Carolina.”

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Mr. Dent bowed somewhat formally, for he
was an uncompromising Union man, and a
South Carolinian colonel—a prisoner on parole,
he supposed—was not a savory article to his

“Of South Carolina?” repeated Mr. Dent,
placing a chair at the colonel's disposal.

“Perhaps I ought to say, sir,” said Colonel
Todhunter, seating himself stiffly, “that I am
in the United States army. I am one of the
few West Point officers born in the South who
have stuck to the old flag. Stuck to the old
flag, sir.”

Mr. Dent complimented him on his loyalty,
and begged, with a slight access of suavity, to
know how he could be of service to him.

“I come on very unhappy business; business
of a domestic nature, sir,” said the colonel,
glowering at Mr. Dillingham as much as to say,
“Who in the devil is that exceedingly lady-like
young gentleman in the white choker?”

“Whatever your business is,” said Mr. Dent,
disturbed by this gloomy preamble, “do not
hesitate to speak in the presence of my friend,
the Rev. Mr. Dillingham. Mr. Dillingham,
Colonel Todhunter.”

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The two gentlemen bowed distantly.

“I am the bearer of bad news for you, sir,”
said the colonel, turning to Mr. Dent. “Your

“Gad, I knew it was Jack!” muttered Mr.
Dent. “My nephew, Colonel Todhunter? I
hope he is in no trouble.”

“In very serious trouble, sir. In fact, sir,
you must prepare yourself for the worst. In a
skirmish with the enemy last month, near Rich
Mountain, he was wounded and taken prisoner,
and has since died. He was in my regiment,
sir; the 10th Illinois.”

Mr. Dent, who had partly risen from his
chair, sank back into the seat. Though Jack's
letter, when it came a fortnight before, had annoyed
him, he had been glad to know the boy
was alive and well, gladder than he acknowledged
to himself. The intelligence of Jack's
death, dropping upon him like a shell from a
mortar,—for the colonel had acquitted himself
of his duty with military brevity and precision,—
nearly prostrated Mr. Dent.

“Dear me, Dillingham,” he said huskily,
“this is very sad.”

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He sat for several moments without speaking,
and then, recollecting his position as host,
he begged the young minister to ring for Fanny
and ask her to bring in some sherry and biscuits
for the colonel.

Mr. Dent took a glass of the wine mechanically,
which he held untasted in his hand,
leaving it to Mr. Dillingham to entertain the

“Did I understand you to say you were from
South Carolina?” asked Mr. Dillingham, breaking
through the thin ice of his reserve.

“From South Carolina, sir,” replied the

“That is also my State,” said the young
clergyman. “I am distantly connected by marriage
with one branch of the Todhunters,—
the Randalls.”

“I come from the Peyton branch, sir. I beg
a hundred pardons, sir, but I did not quite
catch your name when our afflicted friend did
me the honor.”


“Ah, yes, I recollect,” said the colonel, fixing
his eye abstractedly on the ceiling, and

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fingering his glass, “a Todhunter did marry a
Dillingham; but it was one of the other branch.
However, sir, delighted to make your acquaintance;
delighted”; and Colonel Todhunter, who
had not spared the sherry, shook hands effusively
with Mr. Dillingham, who immediately
froze over again.

The conversation between them still went on,
with a difference, and the colonel explained
how he came to be the bearer of the mournful
news just delivered. Young Dent had joined
his regiment only a short time before, but he
had taken a liking to the young man; saw his
ability with half an eye, sir. Was terribly cut
up when the report came in that young Dent
was hurt. Dent had mentioned the fact of his
uncle living at Rivermouth, and the colonel,
being at Boston on private affairs, determined
to bring the information in person. The report
of Dent's death in the rebel hospital—or rather
in an ambulance, for he died on the way to
the hospital, sir—had reached the colonel as
he was on the point of starting for the North.

After this the conversation flagged; the colonel
made several attempts to leave, but the

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decanter of sherry seemed to exert a baleful fascination
over him. Finally he departed.

“Upon my word, Dillingham,” said Mr.
Dent, “this grieves me more than I can tell

“I can understand your sorrow,” said Mr.
Dillingham softly. “I once lost a nephew, and
though he was only a child, and I was very
young then, the impression lingered with me
for years. It was my first knowledge of

“I have known death before,” said Mr. Dent
sadly; “it is always new and strange.” Then
after a long pause: “I would like to have your
advice on one point, Dillingham. Years ago
there was a slight love-passage between Prue
and my nephew,—a boy's and girl's love affair,
which amounted to nothing; but for all that,
this news will affect Prue seriously—under
the circumstances. I am certain of it. How
can I tell her?”

“Is it necessary to inform her immediately?”
asked Mr. Dillingham, thoughtfully.

“I am afraid it is; there is, you know, a
question of property involved.”

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“Of course,” said Mr. Dillingham, “I would
naturally advocate any step to shield Miss Palfrey
from a thing likely to afflict her. So perhaps
my judgment is not worth much; but
suppose there should be some mistake in this?
Colonel Todhunter's account, according to his
own showing, is at second hand. It may or
may not be authentic. Why take the darkest
view of the case, while there is a chance to
hope that he has been misinformed or deceived?
Either of these things is likely. If I were entirely
disinterested, I believe I should advise
keeping this from Miss Palfrey as long as possible.
In the mean time, with her mind undisturbed—”

“You are right; you are always right, Dillingham.”

Mr. Dent grasped eagerly at the slight hope
held out by the young minister's words. There
was Lieutenant Goldstone, Goldstone's youngest
son, reported killed at Big Bethel, reported
officially; prayers were offered in church for
the family, and they had gone into mourning,
when young Goldstone announced himself at
head-quarters one day, having escaped through

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the Confederate lines. This and two or three
similar instances occurred to Mr. Dent, and he
began to be sanguine that the worst had not
happened. It would be a remarkable thing,
indeed, if Jack, after passing three years unscathed
among the desperadoes of Montana and
California, should be killed within a week after
setting foot on civilized ground, even in a
state of war. Mr. Dent was one of those men
who have the faculty of deferring the unpleasant,
and seem, superficially considered, to be
lacking in proper sensibility; while in fact it
is the excess of sensibility that causes them to
shrink, as long as may be, from facing what is

“Dillingham,” he exclaimed, looking up
quickly, “I hope Colonel Todhunter will not
spread this rumor in town. It would be dreadful
for Prue to hear it unprepared. Stories fly
so! I wish you would hunt up the colonel and
caution him.”

“I will,” returned Mr. Dillingham, “and I
will do it without delay. I confess, however,
that nothing less urgent would induce me to
continue his acquaintance. I was not favorably
impressed by him.”

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“Nor I. He likes his sherry,” observed Mr.
Dent, glancing at the empty decanter, and

“Much too well,” said Mr. Dillingham

The young minister lost no time in returning
to the hotel, and the first person he met
was Colonel Todhunter, who had been refreshing
himself at the sample-room attached to
Odiorne's grocery. The colonel was in so
boisterous a mood that it was not pleasant to
confer with him in a public place like the
doorway of the Old Bell Tavern, and Mr. Dillingham
was obliged to invite the gentleman
into the study.

During the four days he remained in town,
Colonel Todhunter left very few sample-rooms
unexplored. By sheer force of instinct, and
seemingly without effort on his part, he went
directly to every place where mixed drinks
were obtainable. He made the acquaintance
of everybody, spent his money with a lavish
hand, and was continually saying, “Gentlemen,
will you walk up and cool your coppers?” In
less than twenty-four hours Colonel Peyton

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Todhunter was a marked character in Rivermouth,
and stood deservedly high in the estimation
of those gentlemen—mostly congregated
at Odiorne's grocery—whose coppers required
periodical cooling.

Jeremiah Bowditch was seen flitting about
the streets at this period, in a state of high
cerebral excitement. He became almost ubiquitous
under the colonel's inspiration, and
nearly accomplished the difficult feat of taking
two drinks at the same instant in two different
sections of the town. Those were halcyon
days for Mr. Bowditch.

Mr. Dillingham was grossly scandalized by
the unseemly conduct of Colonel Todhunter,
who, on the score of the far-off matrimonial
alliance between their families, claimed a near
relationship with the young minister, and insisted
on dropping into his rooms at all hours
of the day and night. “My cousin James,”
he would remark, a little pompously, to the
admiring circle in Odiorne's store, “has lost
something of his hearty Southern manner since
he came up North; but he's a good fellow at
bottom.” “Dill, my boy,” he was overheard

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to say one night, when the young clergyman
was vainly remonstrating with him on the
staircase of the hotel,—“Dill, my boy, you're
a trump,—you are!

All this was very shocking, and for once the
gentle face of Mr. Dillingham lost its serenity.
The anxious, worn expression that came upon
it showed how keenly he was suffering from
the colonel's persecutions.

The day succeeding Colonel Todhunter's visit
to Willowbrook Mr. Dent drove over to town
to pay his respects to the colonel, if he had
not already gone, and to interrogate him more
explicitly as to the sources of his information
concerning the unhappy tidings he had brought.
At the interview the day before Mr. Dent had
been too much distressed to inquire, as he afterwards
wished to do, into the particulars of
the case. The colonel was not in.

“Perhaps you are fortunate in not finding
him,” said Mr. Dillingham wearily. “He is
drinking, and behaving himself in the most
reckless manner. I have no doubt Colonel
Todhunter is a warm-hearted, loyal person,”—
Mr. Dillingham would not speak unleavened

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evil of any one,—“and in the South his free,
liberal ways would be thought nothing of; but
here they seem strange, to say the least, and
I shall be heartily glad when he clears out.”

“I hope he has not been indiscreet about
Jack,” said Mr. Dent, uneasily.

“I do not think he has. I cautioned him,
and he appeared to understand that he was
not to mention the matter.”

“But a man in his cups will talk.”

“Still, I believe he has said nothing on the
subject. I fancy he does not care enough about
it. I trust to that for his silence rather than
to his promise. I only wish he would go.”

Mr. Dent went back to Willowbrook without
seeing the colonel, who vanished from the town
at the end of the week. But the fame of Colonel
Peyton Todhunter was long kept green in
Rivermouth,—in the confused brain of Mr.
Bowditch, and in the annals of Odiorne's grocery
store, where the colonel had neglected to
pay for numerous miscellaneous drinks. Fanny,
the chambermaid at Willowbrook, used to allude
to him as “that merry gentleman,” his merriment
(as Fanny afterwards confessed to

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Wingate, the coachman), having expressed itself to
her in a most astonishing wink just as she
was ushering him that day into Mr. Dent's
library. Against the dull background of New
England life, the figure of the gay artillery officer
stood out like a dash of scarlet in a twilight

The gallant colonel had dawned on the Rivermouthians
like the god Quetzalcoatl on the
Aztecs, like Hiawatha on the Indian tribes of
North America; and like them, also, he had
departed mysteriously. A belief in his second
coming, to inaugurate an era of gratuitous Jamaica
rum, formed a creed all by itself among
a select few. Mr. Odiorne was very anxious
to have him come again; but his was a desire
rather than a belief.

The more Mr. Dent reflected on Colonel Todhunter's
visit, the more sceptical he grew on
the subject of his nephew's death.

“He's a rattle-brained, worthless fellow,”
said Mr. Dent, meaning Colonel Todhunter,
“and I don't believe a word of it. But what
could possess him to come to me with such a
story? What possesses people to do all sorts

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of mad things? Maybe it was a drunken freak
of the colonel's; perhaps he intended to borrow
money of me, and forgot to do so. Very
likely he borrowed money of Dillingham. I'll
ask him.”

Colonel Todhunter had borrowed fifty dollars
of the young clergyman. Mr. Dent enjoyed

“You may smile, my friend,” said Mr. Dillingham,
acknowledging the fact, “but I was
not so blind a victim as you imagine. I attached
a slight condition to the loan,—that he
should clear out on the instant. If he had
suspected his strength he could have wrung
ten times the sum from me. The colonel was
an infliction, a positive agony, and I think I
did very well to invest fifty dollars in his departure.”

“You may rely upon it, Dillingham, that
man was an impostor, and his purpose was

“I begin to fear so,” said Mr. Dillingham.
“It is disheartening to see a man of good
average ability, like the colonel's, fallen so

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Mr. Dent laughed, not at the unworldliness
of the young clergyman,—that was rather
touching to Mr. Dent,—but at the picture he
had in his mind of the consternation and panic
into which his friend must have been thrown
by the insolent familiarity of the dashing Southern
colonel during his sojourn at the Old Bell
Tavern. The man had necessarily stayed at
the same house, there being but one hotel in
the town.

That Colonel Peyton Todhunter was an adventurer
and a rascal was so excellent a key
to the enigma of his raid on Rivermouth, that
Mr. Dent in his heart forgave him, and felt
rather under obligations to him for his moral
turpitude. If the colonel had been a gentleman,
Mr. Dent would have been forced to receive
his communication in good faith; as it
was, Mr. Dent was not going to give it the
faintest credence.

“Must know Jack, though,” Mr. Dent reflected;
“must have known that Jack was not
in the habit of writing to me, or the man
would not have dared to come here with any
such yarn. If the colonel is a sample of the

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friends Jack has picked up, I hope he has not
picked up many.”

The result of Mr. Dent's cogitations was that
Colonel Todhunter's statement was a fabrication,
at least the tragic part of it; the man
must have had a general knowledge of Jack's
antecedents and of his present surroundings,
or he would not have been able to invent so
plausible a story. The colonel was a bountyagent,
a camp hanger-on of some kind, and
had come across Jack in the army. It was
clear that Jack had carried out the intention,
expressed in his letter to Twombly, to join
the service; the rest was apocryphal.

Strengthened by Mr. Dillingham's view of
the case, Mr. Dent concluded for the present
to keep from Prudence the nature of Colonel
Todhunter's visit, and also decided not to mention
the letter which John Dent had written to
Twombly. If it had not been for Parson Hawkins's
will, Mr. Dent would have laid both
matters before her now without hesitation; but
he remembered how Prudence had recoiled at
the mere suggestion of becoming John Dent's
heir,—it was not to be wondered at under

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the circumstances,—and he lacked the courage
to inform her of Colonel Todhunter's ridiculous

If Jack had actually been killed in action, it
was not a difficult thing to obtain an official
statement of the fact; if there was nothing in
the story, it would be worse than useless to
annoy Prue with it. The matrimonial question
still remained open, and was sufficiently vexatious
without other complications.

Prudence's capricious delay in making up her
mind about Mr. Dillingham pressed more heavily
each day on Mr. Dent. It was so unfair
to Dillingham; but what could he, Mr. Dent,
do? If he urged her to marry the young man,
she would probably refuse. If he let matters
take their own turn, they might be Heaven
only knew how long in coming to a satisfactory
end. In the mean time there was John
Dent likely to be alive or likely to be dead at
any moment.

Mr. Dent's was an open nature, and to be
the repository of secrets weighed him down.
His face was a dial on which the workings of
the inner man were recorded with inconvenient

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accuracy. Prudence observed her guardian's
perturbed state, and attributed it to her own
perversity in not loving Mr. Dillingham on the

Though Mr. Dent discredited the colonel's
assertions, they troubled him; but Prudence's
procrastination troubled him more. Mr. Dillingham
had borne it with noble patience, but
he was obviously becoming restless under the
suspense. A man may be a saint, yet, after
all, there are circumstances under which a saint
may be forgiven for recollecting that he is a

“I don't think Prue understands how painful
this is for Dillingham,” thought Mr. Dent.
“She takes it very coolly herself. She was
twice as much exercised the other day in
deciding whether she should put a green or a
purple stripe into an afghan. I never saw such
a girl!”

Of the three persons concerned, Mr. Dent
was perhaps the most worthy of commiseration,
though Prudence was far from being as unruffled
and happy as she had the grace to

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The conference between Mr. Dent and the
young minister, interrupted by the apparition
of Colonel Peyton Todhunter that winter afternoon,
was resumed a few days subsequently,
and was most satisfactory to both parties.
Prue's conscientiousness, which amounted almost
to a flaw in her character, explained her
hesitation in responding to his young friend's
wishes. (That was the way Mr. Dent put it.)
When she did give him her heart, it would be
a heart of gold, and would be given royally.
Mr. Dillingham did not regard this extreme
delicacy as a flaw in Miss Palfrey; on the
contrary, it heightened his admiration for her,
and he would await the event with as much
patience as he could teach himself.

“By the by, Dillingham,” said the amiable
tactician, “I got a letter this morning from
the War Department. My nephew is not down
on the pay-roll of the 10th Illinois. I wrote
to them relative to Colonel Todhunter. The
colonel of the 10th Illinois is—what's his
name?—I declare it has slipped my mind;
and there's no such person in the regiment as
Todhunter. Practically, I suppose there are

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plenty of tod-hunters in the regiment, but they
are not so named.”

Mr. Dillingham smiled, as one smiles at
the jokes of one's meditated father-in-law.

“And so the man really was an impostor?”

“Of course he was. I suspected it the instant
I set eyes on him,” said Mr. Dent unblushingly.

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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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