XVIII. A Rivermouth Mystery.
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The two Dents returned in silence to the Old
Bell Tavern, and went up directly to the
“First of all,” said John Dent, closing the
door and turning the key, “I want to know
how he came here, how he managed to step
into Parson Hawkins's shoes, and all the details.
Tell me slowly, for I feel I shall not comprehend
this thing, unless it is put in the simplest
The story of Mr. Dent's acquaintance with
Dillingham in New York, and the chain of commonplace
events that had ended in his coming
to Rivermouth as the pastor of the Old Brick
Church, was told in a few words. It was not
a strange story, taking it link by link; it was
only as a whole that it appeared incredible.
“He was an artist, that man,” said Mr. Dent, -- 302 --
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with an involuntary pang of admiration, as he
recalled the cleverness with which Dillingham
had put Joseph Twombly out of the way. He
recollected now that Dillingham had withheld his
consent to come to Rivermouth until the very
day Twombly started for Chicago. “Ah, Jack,
if good people, as a class, were one half as intelligent
and energetic as rogues, what a world
this would be!”
“Knowing Nevins as I do,” said John Dent
when his uncle had finished, “his adroitness
and cunning, I can understand what a tempting
thing it was to him to play at this masquerade;
but he must have had a deeper motive than a
mere whim to keep him here seven months.”
“He fell in love with Prue, of course,” said
Mr. Dent, with a twinge; “and then— I see
it all, Jack! you were right. He did have a
watch set on you; he meant to marry Prue,
and keep you out of the parson's money, even
if he had to kill you to do it!—it was Todhunter
who made the attempt on your life when
they saw you were coming East; it was Todhunter
who dogged your steps all the time!”
“The parson's money?” said John Dent.
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The words had escaped Mr. Dent in his excitement,
as the whole of the desperate game
which Dillingham had probably been playing
flashed upon him. It will be remembered that
on the morning when Parson Hawkins's later
will was found, Mr. Dent went to Boston to
meet Mr. Dillingham and conduct him to Rivermouth.
Mr. Dent was full of the matter, and
that night, at the Revere House, he had spoken
freely to his friend of the old parson's whimsical
testament. Perhaps it was in that same hour
Dillingham formed the purpose to possess himself
of the money,—admitting, for the moment,
that Dillingham was George Nevins.
John Dent stood looking inquiringly at his
uncle. It was too late to recall the words; the
circumstances seemed to warrant Mr. Dent now
in disregarding the restriction of the will, and
he told his nephew of the legacy.
At another moment, this undreamed-of fortune -- 304 --
would have filled John Dent's heart with both
joy and sadness; but the day, scarcely begun,
had been too crowded with other emotions, for
him to give way to either now. He walked to
the window and, rubbing a clear space on one
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of the panes, looked out into the snowy street
for several minutes; then he turned to Mr. Dent
and said quietly, “Let us look through these
A closer examination of the study and sleeping-room
afforded indubitable evidence that the
late occupant had abandoned them in desperate
haste, but also that he had left behind him no
letters or written memoranda giving any clew to
his intended movements. A quantity of papers
had been burnt in the grate; an undecipherable
fragment of the note Prudence had written him
lay on the hearth-rug, and near it the back of
a delicate pink envelope with which no one
would have thought of associating the fair Veronica,
if it had not borne her pretty monogram.
Mr. Dillingham had, so to speak, spiked his
guns; but a company of embroidered worsted
slippers,—as gay as a company of Zouaves,—
and a number of highly mounted dressing-gowns
sufficient properly to officer this metaphorical
detachment, fell into the hands of the enemy.
The younger man, on his side, conducted the -- 305 --
investigation with relentless scrutiny; but Mr.
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Dent only cursorily, for the place in his heart
which Dillingham had occupied was yet warm
with the late presence.
Two discoveries were made, unimportant in
themselves, but one of which interested the
nephew, and the other startled the uncle, who,
in the progress of the search, appeared to be
receiving a series of shocks from an invisible
“Here's a photograph which was lost some
time since with a certain pocket-book containing
a small sum of money”; and John Dent
held out at arm's length a faded vignette head
of Prudence, gazing at it thoughtfully. “The
finder would have been liberally rewarded if I
had got hold of him. Hullo! what's this?
Somebody's bracelet,” he added, fishing up a
piece of jewelry from the depths of the travelling-trunk
over which he was stooping.
“Dear, dear!” groaned Mr. Dent. It was
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Veronica Blydenburgh's bracelet. He knew of
its loss; everybody knew of it. You could no
more lose a bracelet in Rivermouth without
everybody knowing it than you could lose your
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This affair seemed blacker to Mr. Dent than
all the rest,—blacker than the attempt on
Jack's life, inasmuch as petty larceny lacks the
dignity of assassination. But I fancy Mr. Dent
was a trifle uncharitable here. As a reminiscence
of a lovely white wrist, the trinket may
have had a value to Mr. Dillingham which Mr.
Dent did not suspect.
“What a finished rogue he was! It is only
when a man adds hypocrisy to his rascality,
that he becomes a perfect knave.”
“Yes,” said John Dent, “that little lamb'sskin
does aggravate the offence.”
Mr. Dent walked off to the other end of the
room and began turning over a lot of books
and pamphlets piled in one corner.
“Look here, Jack!” he cried presently, -- 307 --
“here is where he got his sermons from,—
`South's Sermons,' `Robertson's Sermons,'
`Hooker's Sermons,' `Cumming's Great Tribulation,'
`Peabody's Discourses.' Gad! he mixed
them up, old and young. By heaven! here's
the very passage Prue thought so affecting
Fast Day. See where he's changed `London'
into Rivermouth, and `our Gracious Queen'
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into our honored Chief Executive. Jack,” said
Mr. Dent, solemnly, “let us go home!”
“Uncle Ralph, that is almost the only rational
suggestion you have made to-day. I am
“And I am frozen,” said Mr. Dent with a
shiver, picking up his overcoat. He drew on
one sleeve, and paused.
“Well?” said his nephew.
“Jack, this thing must be hushed up, for
Prue's sake. The deacons will have to know
the truth, and maybe one or two outsiders;
but the towns-people must never be allowed to
suspect the real character of that man. Some
plausible explanation of his flight must be circulated.
If he has left any bills,” continued
Mr. Dent, with an unconscious grimace, “I
shall pay them. I cannot eat a mouthful until
this is settled. I must see Blydenburgh and
Twombly and Wendell without wasting a moment,
and I want you to come with me.”
“For Prue's sake, and for your sake,” said
John Dent, laughing.
“Yes, for my sake too. Don't be hard on -- 308 --
a fallen brother. You can't afford to, Jack.
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If Dillingham deceived me, George Nevins was
too many for you.”
“That's a fact,” said John Dent.
In the course of an hour the deacons and
trustees of the Old Brick Church assembled together
mysteriously in Deacon Twombly's parlor,—
five or six honest, elderly, bald-headed
gentlemen, who now had the air of dark-browed
conspirators on the eve of touching off innumerable
barrels of gunpowder. Deacon Zeb
Twombly might have been taken for Guy
The next day it was known that the Rev.
Mr. Dillingham had quitted Rivermouth; it was
understood in the parish and in the town that
family matters, involving the jeopardy of large
estates, had called Mr. Dillingham away so suddenly
that he had had time to advise only his
immediate friends of his departure. It was
also understood that his return was problematical.
There were dark hints and whispers
and rumors and speculations, to be sure; but
for once a secret was kept in Rivermouth,—
though one woman knew it!
Prudence had to be told, of course, and she -- 309 --
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nearly died with desire one afternoon, six
months afterwards, to tell Veronica Blydenburgh
everything,—the afternoon Veronica
came to her and said,
“Only think, Prue, papa found my opal
bracelet under the flooring of the old summer-house.”
Veronica sat silent for a moment, dreamily
weaving the bright coil in and out her slender
fingers; then suddenly lifting her head, she
“Prue, will you swear never to breathe
it to a living soul if I tell you something?”
“Yes,” said Prudence, with a start.
“Well, then, the afternoon before he went
away so strangely—”
“Who went away?”
“The afternoon before he went away, he—
he offered himself to me.”
“What!” cried Prudence, turning white and
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red. It was beginning to appear that Cupid
had had two strings to his bow.
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“I say,” repeated Veronica, “that Mr. Dillingham
offered himself to me.”
“And you refused him!”
“O Prue! that's the bitterness of it!—I
I have not said—though I have let John
Dent say it—that the Rev. James Dillingham
was George Nevins. Is it improbable? As I
come to the close of my story, I have a feeling
that the career of James Dillingham in
Rivermouth, supposing him to be identical with
George Nevins, will strike the reader as improbable,
and it is improbable—as the things that
happen every day. But such as it is, the chronicle
And Prudence Palfrey?
The reader shall become my collaborator at
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this point and finish the romance to his own
liking. It is only fair for me to inform him,
however, that one morning last spring as I
was passing, portmanteau in hand, from the
station at Rivermouth to the old gambrel-roofed
house in a neighboring street where I always
find welcome, I saw a little man swinging on
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I had never seen this small personage before,
but there was something absurdly familiar in
the dark hair and alert black eyes, something
absurdly familiar in the lithe, wiry figure (it
was as if John Dent had been cut down from
five feet eight to three feet four); and when
he returned my salutation with that cavalier
air which stamps your six-year-old man of the
world, there was an intonation in his voice so
curiously like Prue's, that I laughed all to