Welcome to PhiloLogic  
   home |  the ARTFL project |  download |  documentation |  sample databases |   
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
To look up a word in a dictionary, select the word with your mouse and press 'd' on your keyboard.

Previous section

Next section

III. Mr. Dent And His Ward.

[figure description] Page 029.[end figure description]

And there we must leave her, with uplifted
hand and listening ear, while the reader
is made acquainted with the personages who
figure in this little drama, and is put into
possession of certain facts necessary to a
clear understanding of it.

Among those who had been instrumental in
removing Parson Hawkins from the pastorate
of the Brick Church was Mr. Ralph Dent, a
retired brewer of considerable wealth and much
local influence. He was not, as a general
thing, deeply concerned in parish affairs; he
contributed liberally to every worthy charitable
project, and was always to be seen in his pew
at the morning service; but it was of comparatively
small moment to him whether the
parson's discourse was long or short, brilliant
or dull, for he invariably went to sleep. Mr.

-- 030 --

[figure description] Page 030.[end figure description]

Dent, for reasons which will appear, did not
admire Parson Hawkins warmly; but if Mr.
Dent had loved him he would have gone to
sleep all the same. There are men who cannot,
to save themselves from perdition, keep
awake in sermon-time.

So Mr. Dent had no objection to Parson
Hawkins as a parson; but he was aware that
many in the parish had rather strong objections.
The congregation embraced a large
number of young people, chiefly women, who
always like their minister sleek and interesting,
and they were not content with what had
satisfied their grandparents. The old pastor
was visibly breaking up, and a new man was
wanted. Now it chanced that Mr. Dent, in
one of his periodical visits to New York, had
made the acquaintance of a Mr. James Dillingham,
a young gentleman of fortune and aristocratic
Southern connections, who was travelling
in the North for his health. Mr. Dillingham
had been educated for the ministry, but,
owing to ill-health, and perhaps to his passion
for travel, had never been settled permanently
over a society. A quick friendship sprung up

-- 031 --

[figure description] Page 031.[end figure description]

between the two men, despite the disparity of
their years, for Mr. Dillingham was not more
than twenty-eight, and Mr. Dent was well on
in the second half of that ridiculously brief
term allotted to moderns. In the course of
various conversations, Mr. Dillingham became
interested in Rivermouth, and thought that perhaps
he would visit the lovely New England
seaport before returning South. He would certainly
do so, if he undertook his proposed pilgrimage
to Quebec. But the Canadian tour,
and even his return South, were involved in
considerable uncertainty. The bombardment
of Fort Sumter by the South-Carolinians had
brought matters to a crisis; war was inevitable.
Mr. Dillingham's property was largely
invested in Western and Northern securities,
fortunately for him; for, though he was Southern
born and bred, he had no sympathy with
the disunionists of his native State. In the
mean time it might be necessary for him to
make the North his home.

It flashed on Mr. Dent that here was the
very man for the Old Brick Church. Young,
wealthy, in good social position, and of

-- 032 --

[figure description] Page 032.[end figure description]

unusually winning address, he would be a notable
acquisition to Rivermouth society. He broached
the subject indirectly to his friend, who was
not at first disposed to discuss it as a possibility;
then Mr. Dent urged the matter warmly,
and had nearly carried his point, when he
was obliged to go back to Rivermouth.

At Rivermouth he laid the case before the
deacons; they opened a correspondence with
Mr. Dillingham, which resulted in his agreement
to preach for them on the last Sunday in May
following. “Then,” he wrote, “we shall be in
a position to decide on the best course, should
the vacancy occur to which you allude in your
letter.” This was satisfactory. Mr. Dillingham
was not to be drawn into an inconsiderate
engagement. But then Mr. Dillingham was
rich, and not like those poor, drowning elergymen,
dragged down by large families, ready to
clutch at such frail straws of salary as Rivermouth
could hold out. Upon this it was decided
to relieve Parson Hawkins of his charge,
and take the chances of securing Mr. Dillingham.

Throughout the matter Mr. Dent had acted

-- 033 --

[figure description] Page 033.[end figure description]

on impulse, as the most practical man sometimes
will, and had been in no way swayed by
personal animosity towards Parson Hawkins,
for he felt none. But when all was said and
done, a misgiving shot across him. What
would Prue say? She all but worshipped the
old parson. Mr. Dent himself, as I have more
than intimated, did not worship the parson.
There had been an occasion, a painful passage
in Prue's life, when it seemed to Mr. Dent
that Parson Hawkins had stood between him
and the girl. All that was past and nearly
forgotten now; but the time had been when
he thought the minister was alienating Prue's
affections from him.

Prudence Palfrey was Mr. Dent's ward. His
guardianship had a certain tinge of romance
to it, though perhaps no man was less romantic
than Mr. Dent. He was a straightforward,
practical man, naturally amiable and accidentally
peppery, who had had his living to make,
and had made it by making beer. A romantic
brewer would be an anomaly. There is something
essentially prosaic in vats and barrels;
but this did not restrain Mr. Dent in early life

-- 034 --

[figure description] Page 034.[end figure description]

from falling in love with Mercy Gardner,—for
brewers are human, though they may not be
poetical,—nor is it likely that the brewery,
which was then a flourishing establishment,
had anything to do with her refusal to marry
him. She married his book-keeper, Edward
Palfrey, and went to the Bermudas, where
Palfrey had obtained a clerkship in an English
house. There, after five years, he fell a victim
to an epidemic, and the widow, with her
three-year-old girl, drifted back to Rivermouth.
Dent bore a constant mind, and would probably
have married his old love; but Mrs. Palfrey
died suddenly, leaving Prudence and what
small property there was to his charge.

He had been faithful to the trust, and had
had his reward. The pretty ways and laughter
of the child had been pleasant in his lonely
home, for he never married. Then the straight,
slim girl, looking at him with Mercy Gardner's
eyes and speaking to him with Mercy Gardner's
voice, had nearly consoled him for all;
and now the bloom of her womanhood filled
his house with subtile light and beauty. In
all his plans Prue's interest was the end.

-- 035 --

[figure description] Page 035.[end figure description]

Whatever tenderness there was in his nature
turned itself towards her. For her sake he
acquired a knowledge of books, and became an
insatiable reader, as men always do who take
to books late in life. He sold out the brewery,
not so much because he was tired of it
as that he did not want the townspeople to be
able to say that Prudence Palfrey was only
the brewer's girl. When she was of age to go
into society, the best houses in town were open
to Mr. Dent and his ward,—the Goldstones',
the Blydenburghs', and the Grimses',—which
might not have been the case if the old brewery
had not faded into the dim and blessed

It must be understood that there are circles
in Rivermouth into which a brewer in the
present tense could no more penetrate than a
particularly fat camel could go through the eye
of a remarkably fine cambric-needle,—charmed
circles, where the atmosphere is so rarefied
that after you have got into it the best thing
you can do, perhaps, is to get out of it again.
It is not well to analyze the thing closely. It
is all a mystery. One is pained to find that

-- 036 --

[figure description] Page 036.[end figure description]

the most exclusive people have frequently
passed their early manhood in selling tape or
West India groceries in homœopathic quantities.
This is not an immoral thing in itself,
but it is certainly illogical in these people to
be so intolerant of those less fortunate folks
who have not yet disposed of their stock.
However, this is much too vast and gloomy a
subject for my narrow canvas.

Mr. Dent was proud of social position for
Prue's sake. There was no girl like her in
Rockingham County. When he bought Willowbrook,
a spacious house with grounds and
outbuildings, a mile from the town, she sat at
the head of his table like a lady as she was,
for she had honest New England blood in her
veins. That Prudence was as dear to him as
if she had been his own daughter, he fully believed;
but how completely she had curled
about his heart, like a vine, he did not discover
until his nephew, John Dent, fell in love
with her and all but married her out of hand.
This must also be told while Prue is kept
waiting at the parson's study door.

-- 037 --

Previous section

Next section

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