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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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V. The Romance of Horseshoe Lane.

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JOHN DENT did not return to Willowbrook
to dinner. The meal was passed in unwonted
silence. Mr. Dent was preoccupied,
and Prudence was conscious of something in
the atmosphere inimical to conversation. Once
or twice her guardian looked up from his plate
as if to address her, and then seemed to
change his mind.

“Where is Cousin John?” at length asked
Prudence, setting the almonds and raisins
nearer to Mr. Dent.

“O, by the way, I forgot to say he was
not coming to dinner! He — he dines in

“At the Blydenburghs'?”

There was a certain Miss Veronica Blydenburgh,
and a very pretty girl, let me tell you.

“I don't know. How should I know?”
replied Mr. Dent, crisply.

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“Will he return to tea?” ventured Prudence,
after a pause.

“I don't think he will,” Mr. Dent said,
pushing back his chair. “In fact, I do not
think he will return here at all; he has some
matters in town requiring his attention for a
few days, and then he is off. He sent good-by
to you,” added Mr. Dent, committing a little
amiable perjury in the attempt to rob his
nephew's sudden departure of its brusqueness.

Then Mr. Dent walked out of the dining-room.

“Not coming back at all, and sent good-by
to me?” said Prudence to herself. “Assuredly,
Cousin John has not strained many
points to be polite, after being our guest for
six weeks.”

Then she recalled the walk which Cousin
John had taken with his uncle in the morning;
she put this and that together, and became

As Prudence and her guardian were sitting
on the piazza an hour or two later, Clem
Hoyt, the local Mercury and expressman, drove
up to the gate with an order for Mr. J. Dent's

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trunk, and an unsealed note for Miss Palfrey
which Mr. Dent handed to her with an indescribable

The writer expressed his regret on not being
able to say his adieux to her in person;
he had been called away unexpectedly; he
would never forget her kindness to him during
the past six weeks, but would always be
her very faithful cousin John Dent. That was

Prudence turned the paper over and over,
and upside down, to see if a postscript had
not escaped her; but that was the whole of it.
It was almost as telegrammatic as the royal
epistle to the queen in “Ruy Blas,” — Madam,
the wind is high, and I have killed six wolves.

“Uncle Ralph,” said Prue, folding up the
note and slipping it back into the envelope,
“I know that something unpleasant has happened.”

“What does he say?”

“He? — nothing. But something has happened.”

Mr. Dent tilted back his chair and made no

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“What is it? Have you quarrelled with

“We did have a misunderstanding.”

“What about, uncle?”

“About money matters chiefly.”

“If it was all about money,” said Prudence,
“I have no business to ask questions.”

“The boy made a fool of himself generally,”
returned Mr. Dent incautiously.

“Then it was not money chiefly?” said
Prudence, walking up to him and looking into
his eyes. “Uncle Ralph, was it anything connected
with me?”

“Prue, my dear, I would rather not discuss
the subject.”

“But, uncle, if it was about me, I ought to
know it. It would make me very unhappy to
be the cause of dissension between you and
your nephew, and not know what I have done. I
might keep on doing it all the time, you know.”

“You have n't done anything, child; it is
Jack's doing.”

What is Jack's doing?”

“Since you will have it, I suppose I must
tell you.”

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But Mr. Dent was at a loss how to tell her,
and hesitated. Should he treat the affair
lightly or seriously? The idea of Prue having
a lover was both comical and alarming to

“Well, what did Cousin John do?”

“He did me the honor, this morning, to say
that he was in love with you, —did you ever
hear anything so absurd?”

Prudence opened her eyes wide.


“Well? Well, I thought it rather absurd

“That anybody should love me?” said Prue,

“Not at all; but that Jack should allow
himself to be interested in any one under the
circumstances. I pointed out to him the mistake
of his even dreaming of marriage in his
present position. What folly! Setting you entirely
aside, what could Jack do with a wife?
She would be a millstone tied to his neck. Of
course I refused to sanction his insanity, and
offered to establish him in business if he
would behave himself sensibly.”

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“That is, if he would n't love anybody?”


“And then what did he say?” asked Prudence,
leaning on her guardian's arm persuasively,
and smiling up in his face.

Mr. Dent was pleased to see that his ward
took the matter with so much composure, and
felt that the subject was one which could be
treated best from a facetious point of view.

“He said he'd see me — no, he did not say
that exactly; but he meant it. He declared
he would go off somewhere and make his fortune
in a few weeks, or hours, I forget which,
and then come back and marry you — pretty
much without consulting anybody's taste but
his own. Upon my word, Prue, I think there
is something wrong with his brain. He refused
my advice and assistance point-blank.”

“Then you quarrelled?”

“Yes, I suppose we quarrelled. He was as
unreasonable as a lunatic. He cut off my
head,” said Mr. Dent, grimly.

“Cut off — your head?”

“Substantially. He snipped off the top of a
thistle with his walking-stick, and looked me

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straight in the eye, as much as to say, `Consider
your head off!' ”

“Oh!” cried Prue, faintly. “But how did
it end?”

“It ended by my forbidding him to come to
the house.”

Prue's hand slipped from her guardian's
shoulder with a movement like lightning.

“You turned him out of doors!”

“Well, perhaps that is stating it rather

“It was generous in him not to speak of his
love to me, and brave of him to go to you,—
and you have turned him out of doors!” and
Prue's eyes flashed curiously.

Now it was not, perhaps, a frightful thing
in itself, Prue's eyes flashing; but since she
was a baby, when her eyes could not flash,
she had never given Mr. Dent such a look,
and it all but withered him. It was so sudden
and unlike her!

“Why, Prue!” he managed to cry, “you
don't mean to say you love the fellow!”

“I do love him!” cried Prudence, with red
cheeks. “I did n't love him, but you have

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made me love him! I have beggared him, and
made him wretched besides, and I 'd marry
him to-morrow if he 'd ask me!”

“Gracious heaven, Prue! what else could I

“You ought to have sent him to me!

Struck by this reply into “amazement and
admiration,” Mr. Dent found no words at his
command as the girl glided by him and into
the house.

“And Prue loves him,” he said, in a subdued
voice, leaning against the balustrade heavily,
like a wounded man, “my Prue!”

Between his nephew and his ward Mr. Ralph
Dent had had a hard day of it.

If John Dent could have caught only an
echo of Prudence Palfrey's words as she swept
by her guardian that afternoon, he would not
have been the forlorn creature he was, over
there in Rivermouth, trying to read musty
books on knotty doctrinal points, borrowed
from Parson Hawkins's library, but forever
leaving them to wander down to points on the
river, where was afforded what the poet Gray

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would have called “a distant prospect” of
Willowbrook chimneys.

A week had passed since the rupture with
his uncle, and Dent's plans were matured. He
had fallen in with a brother knight-errant, a
Rivermouth boy and quondam schoolmate of
his, and the two had agreed to set forth together
in search of fortune. Their plan was
to go to San Francisco overland, and, failing
of adventures there, to push on to the mining
districts. It was a mad idea, and John Dent's
own. The day had long gone by when great
nuggets were unearthed by private enterprise
in California; but he had drawn the notion
into his brain that his fortune was to be made
at the mines. How or when the fancy first
took possession of him I cannot say. Perhaps
the accounts of the Australian gold-fields,
then a comparatively recent discovery, had
something to do with it; perhaps it was born
solely of his necessity. He wanted money, he
wanted a large quantity, and he wanted it immediately.
A gold-mine seemed to simplify the
matter. To bring it down to a fine point, it
was a gold-mine he wanted. He brooded over

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the subject until it became a fixed fact in his
mind that there was a huge yellow nugget
waiting for him somewhere, hidden in the
emerald side of a mountain or lying in the
bed of some pebbly stream among the gulches.
æons and æons ago Nature had secreted it in
her bounteous bosom to lavish it lovingly on
some man adventurous and faithful above the
rest. The Golden Fleece at Colchis was not
more real to Jason and his crew than this
nugget finally became to John Dent. He was
a poet in those days. Every man is a poet at
some period of his life, if only for half an

In Parson Hawkins's library was a work on
metallography, together with a certain history
of the gold-fever in the early days of California:
young Dent had pored over these volumes
as Cervantes's hero pored over the books
on chivalry, until his brain was a little touched;
and also like the simple gentleman of La
Mancha, John Dent had not been long in finding
a simpler soul to inoculate with his madness,—
to wit, Deacon Twombly's son Joe.

Their preparations for the journey were

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completed, and Joseph Twombly, set on fire by his
comrade's enthusiasm, was burning to be gone;
but John Dent lingered irresolutely day after
day in the old town by the river. An unconquerable
longing had grown up in his heart to
say good by to Prudence Palfrey.

In the mean while the days were passing
tranquilly but not happily at Willowbrook.

Mr. Dent was silent and gloomy, and Prudence
had lost her high spirits. She had also
lost a rose or two from her cheek, but they
came back impetuously whenever she thought
of the confession she had made to her guardian.
It had been almost as much a surprise
to herself as to him. John Dent's name had
not been breathed by either since that afternoon.
Whether he was still at Rivermouth or
not, neither knew. Both had cast a hasty
glance over the congregation, on entering the
church the succeeding Sunday, one half dreading
and the other half hoping he might be
there; but John Dent, seated in the gallery
behind the choir, had eluded them. He sat
with his eyes riveted on the back of Prue's
best bonnet, and it had not done the young
man any appreciable good.

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As matters stood Prudence could not, and
Mr. Dent did not, go to Rivermouth. Having
declared to him that she loved a man who had
not asked her for her love, she had cut herself
off from the town while young Dent remained
there. This involved a serious deprivation to
Prue, for she longed to carry her trouble to
the good old parson in Horseshoe Lane, who
had been her counsellor and comforter in all
her tribulations as far back as she could remember.

Towards the end of the second week Prudence
became restless. No doubt John Dent
had quitted the place long ago. And suppose
he had not? suppose he had decided to live
there? Was she to shut herself up forever like
a nun? There were calls owing in town, at the
Blydenburghs' and elsewhere. The whole routine
and pleasure of life was not to be interrupted
because her uncle had quarrelled with
his nephew.

At the breakfast-table she said, “I am going
to town this morning, uncle.”

“Will you have the phaeton?” asked Mr.
Dent, but not with effusion, as the French

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“I think I shall walk, for the sake of the

“But, Prue—”

“If you infer that I am going to town to
hunt up a young man who ran away from
me,” Prudence broke out with a singular dash
of impatience, “I will stay at home.”

“I do not infer anything of the kind,” Mr.
Dent answered. “I was simply going to say
you had better ride; it is dusty walking.”

Prudence bit her lip.

“I want you to be your own sensible self,
Prue. You are very strange recently. Many
a time you must have felt the lack of a gentler
hand than mine to guide you. You never
needed guidance more than now. I wish I
knew what wise words Mercy would speak to
her child, if she were alive.”

Prudence rose from her chair and went over
to his side.

“If my mother were here, I think she would
tell me to ask your forgiveness for all the annoyance
I have been to you from the time I
was a baby until now. I am very sorry for
the way I spoke the other day. I could not

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help I-liking John Dent, but I need n't have
been a fierce wolf about it, need I?”

Mr. Dent smiled at the fierce wolf, but he
could not help recognizing the appositeness of
simile. It was the first time he had smiled in
two weeks, and it was to Prudence like a
gleam of pure sunshine after dog-days. So the
cloud between them broke, floated off a little
way, and halted; for life to these two was
never to be just what it had been.

“If you don't wish me to go—” said Prue,

“But I do,” Mr. Dent answered. Then he
made a forlorn effort to be merry, and bade
her hurry off to town and get married, and
come back again as soon as possible.

And Prue said she would. She resolved,
however, that if by any chance John Dent was
still in Rivermouth, and if by any greater
chance she encountered him, — and nothing
was more remote from her design,—she would
behave with faultless discretion. She would
not marry him to-morrow, now, if he asked
her; she loved him, but her love should never
be a millstone about his neck. That phrase of
her guardian's had sunk into her mind.

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As she drew near the town, and saw the
roof-tops and spires taking sharper outlines
against the delicate lilac sky, her pulse quickended.
What if she were to meet him on the
bridge, or run against him suddenly at a street
corner? Would his conceit lead him to suppose
she was searching for him, or even wished
to meet him?

The thought sent the blood blooming up to
her temples, and she was half inclined to turn
back. Then, with a little imperious toss of the
head, like a spirited pony taking the bit between
its teeth, she went on.

Prudence avoided the main thoroughfares,
and, by a circuitous route through Pickering's
Court, reached the gate of the parsonage without
accident. She closed the gate behind her
carefully, with a dim apprehension that if she
let it swing to with a bang, John Dent, walking
somewhere a mile or two away, might hear
the click of the latch and be down on her.
An urchin passing the house at that instant
gave a shrill whistle through his fingers, in
facile imitation of a steam-engine, and the
strength went quite out of Prue's knees.

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Smiling at her own nervousness she ran up the
gravelled walk.

At the farther end of the piazza, completely
screened by vines from the street, sat John
Dent, with corrugated brow, reading Adam
Smith on “The Wealth of Nations.”

As Prudence stretched out her hand towards
the knocker, the young man looked up wearily
from the book and saw her, and then her eyes
fell upon him.

“I—I though you had gone!” stammered
Prudence, grasping at the flat-nosed brass
cherub for support.

“No, I have n't gone yet,” replied John
Dent, with beaming countenance.

“So I see,” said Prue, recovering herself.

“I hated to go without saying good by to
you, and of course I could not come to the

“Of course not,” said Prue.

“And so I waited.”

“Waited for me to come to you!” cried
Prue, flushing. “You might have waited a
long time if I had suspected it.”

“And you would n't have come?”

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A No kept on ice for a twelvemonth could
not have been colder than that.

“Are you angry with me, too?”

“I am very angry with you. You were entirely
in the wrong to quarrel with your uncle,
John Dent; he was your only friend.”

“He left me no choice, you see. I went to
him in great trouble and uncertainty, wanting
kindly advice, and he treated me harshly, as I
think. Unless he has told you why we fell
out, I shall say nothing about it. Did he tell
you, Prue?”

“Yes, he told me,” said Prudence, slowly.

“What could I do but go to him?”

“I was very sorry it happened.”

“What if I had come to you instead?”

“I should have been still more sorry.”

“Then after all,” said John Dent, “it seems
that I chose the lesser evil. There is some
small merit in that. But the mischief is done,—
the cat has eaten the canary,—and the only
atonement I can make is to take myself off as
soon as may be. I cannot tell you what a
comfort it is to see you once more. I have

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spent two or three hours here every day, hoping
some lucky chance would bring you. Parson
Wibird, you know, was my father's most intimate
friend when our family lived in the town,
and I didn't seem to have any one nearer to
me; so I've given him a good deal of my
unpleasant society. I have been reading the
parson's theological works,” he went on with
a dreary air, “and some books on mining, and
I'm pretty well up on the future state and

It was all Prudence could do not to laugh.

“But the minutes hung on my hands, I can
tell you. About the wretchedest hours of my
life I have passed on that little pine seat

Many a time afterwards Prudence recalled
these words, sitting disconsolately herself on
that same green bench under the vines.

“All that is past, now you are here; but I
don't believe I could have stood it another
week, even with the hope of seeing you at the
end of it. Cousin Prue, there are several
things I want to say to you; I hardly know
how to say them. May I try?”

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“That depends on what they are,” returned
Prudence. “There are some things which you
should not say to me.”

“I may tell you I love you?”

“No, you must not tell me that.”

“I need not, you mean. Uncle Ralph has
saved me the confusion of confession. If he
had trusted me fully I believe I should have
gone away with the word unspoken. I don't
see the harm of speaking it now. I am very
proud of loving you. I know I have laid up a
store of unhappiness, may be one that will last
me my days; but I shall never regret it. I
stand higher in my own estimation that I
couldn't live in the same house with you week
after week and not love you.”

“But I—I never gave you—”

“Now you are on dangerous ground,” said
John Dent. “If you hate me, don't tell me;
if you love me, don't tell me, for I could not
bear that either. I pledge you my honor I
don't know, I only hope, and would not know
for the world.”

Here was a lover—one man out of ten thousand—
who was ready to bind himself hand

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and foot for his sweetheart, and would have
no vows from her, even if she were willing to
make them. He said nothing less than the
truth when he declared his ignorance of the
nature of Prue's feelings. She liked him, of
course,—that went without saying; but further
than that he did not know. He was content
to go away with so much hope as lies in uncertainty,
and perhaps he was wise.

“You speak of love and hate,” said Prudence,
tracing a hieroglyphic on the piazza
with the toe of her boot, “as if there was
nothing between. What prevents me from being
your friend? Your plans and welfare interest
me very deeply, and I am glad of the
chance to talk with you about them. Where
are you going when you leave Rivermouth?”

“To California.”

“So far!”

“I am going to the mines,—the only short
cut to fortune open to me. I'm sadly in lack
of that kind of nerve which enables a man to
plod on year in and year out for a mere subsistence.
I am not afraid of hard work; I am
ready to crowd the labor of half a lifetime

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into a few months for the sake of having the
result in a lump. But I must have it in a
lump. I won't accept fortune in driblets. I
don't think I would stoop to pick up less than
an ounce of gold at a time. I've a convietion,
Prue, I shall light on some fat nuggets;
they can't all have been found.”

“I hope not,” responded Prudence, smiling.

John Dent did not smile. As he spoke, his
face flushed, and a lambent glow came into his
eyes, as if he saw rich masses of the yellow
ore cropping out among Parson Hawkins's marigold-beds.

“I have a theory,” he said, “that a man
never wants a thing as I want this, and is willing
to pay the price for it, without getting it.
I mean to come back independent, or not at
all. I have discovered that a man without
money in his pocket, or the knack to get it,
had better be in his family tomb,—if he has
a family tomb. That is about the only place
where he will not be in the way. Moralists,
surrounded by every luxury, frown down on
what they call the lust of riches. It is one of
the noblest of human instincts. The very pen

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and paper, and the small amount of culture
which enables these ungrateful fellows to write
their lopsided essays, would have been impossible
without it. Some one has said this before,—
but not so well,” added John Dent,
complacently, suddenly conscious that he was
hammering away at one of Mr. Arthur Helps's
ideas. “There was more sound sense in Iago's
advice than he gets credit for. I mean to put
money in my purse, Prue, and then come back
to Rivermouth, and ask you to be my wife.
There, I have said it. Are you angry?”

“N-o, not very,” said Prudence, a little flurried.
“But suppose I have married `auld
Robin Gray' in the mean time?” she added

“You are free to do it.”

“And you 'll not scowl at him, and make a
scene of it when you come back?”

“I shall hate him,” cried John Dent, as a
venerable figure of a possible “auld Robin
Gray” limped for an instant before his mind's
eye. “No, Prue; I shall have no right to
hate him. I shall only envy him. Perhaps
I'll be magnanimous if he 's a poor man,—

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though he was n't poor in the ballad,—and
turn over my wealth to him; it would be of
no use to me without you. Then I'd go back
to the wilds again.”

He said this with a bleak laugh, and Prudence
smiled, and her heart was as heavy as
lead. It required an effort not to tell him that
she would not marry though he stayed away a
thousand years. If John Dent had asked Prudence
that moment if she loved him, she would
have thrown her cautious resolves to the winds;
if he had asked her to go to the gold-fields
with him, she would have tightened her bonnetstrings
under her chin, and placed her hand in
his. But the moment went by.

Prudence had moved away from the front
door, and seated herself on the small bench at
the end of the piazza, much to the chagrin of
the Widow Mugridge, who had been feverishly
watching the interview, and speculating on its
probable nature, from a rear attic window
across the street.

“I must go now,” said Prudence, rising
hastily. “I promised Uncle Ralph not to be
long. I'm afraid I have been long. He will

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wonder what has kept me, and I have not seen
the parson yet.”

“I suppose I may write to you?” said John
Dent. “I shall want to write only two letters,”
he added, quickly; “one on my arrival
at the mines, and one some months afterwards,
to tell you the result of the expedition. As I
shall send these letters under cover to Uncle
Dent, there will be no offence. I do not ask
you to answer them.”

“He cannot object to that,” said Prudence.
“In spite of what has passed, I am sure he
will be glad to hear of your movements, and
anxious for your success.”

“I am not so positive on that head.”

“You do him injustice, then,” returned Prudence,
warmly. “You don't know how good
he is.”

“I know how good he is n't.”

“You mistake him entirely. He was willing
to look upon you as his own son.”

“But not as his son-in-law,” suggested John

“He has not told me the particulars of the
conversation,” said Prudence, “but I am

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conhe said nothing to you that was not
wise and kind and candid.”

“It was certainly candid.”

I see we shall not agree on this subject;
let us speak of something pleasanter. When
are you going away?”

“My going away is a pleasanter subject,

“Yes, because it is something we cannot
easily quarrel over.”

“I shall leave Rivermouth to-morrow. Now
that I have seen you, there is nothing to detain

“Us? you don't go alone, then?”

“No; Joe Twombly is going with me; you
know him, the deacon's son. A very good fellow,
Joe. His family made a great row at
first. He had to talk over the two old folks,
six grown sisters, the twins, and the baby.
He 's been bidding them good by ever since
the week before last. I quite envy him the
widespread misery he is causing. I have only
you and Parson Hawkins in the whole world to say good by to, and you can't begin to be as sorry as six sisters.”

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“But I can be as sorry as one,” said Prue,
giving him her ungloved hand, and not withdrawing
it. It was as white and cold as a

“I'd like to know what that Palfrey gal 's
a-doin' with Squire Dent's nevy on the parson's
front piazza,” muttered the Widow Mugridge,
as she stretched her pelican-like neck
out of the attic window.

“What, Prue!—you're not crying?”

“Yes, I am,” said Prudence, looking up
through two tears which had been troubling
her some time. “Cannot a sister cry if she
wants to?”

“If you are my sister—” And John Dent

Prudence gave a little sob.

“If you are my sister, you will let me kiss
you good-by.”

“Yes,” said Prudence.

Then John Dent stooped down and kissed

“Hoity-toity! what's this?” cried Parson
Hawkins, appearing suddenly in the doorway
with one finger shut in a vast folio, and his

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spectacles pushed up on his forehead, giving
him the aspect of some benevolent four-eyed

“There's the parson now,” soliloquized the
Widow Mugridge. “Mebbe he did n't come'
fore he's wanted. Sech goin's on!”

As Prue drew back, she pressed into John
Dent's hand a little bunch of fuchsias which
she had worn at her throat; he thanked her
with a look, and was gone.

So the two parted,—Prudence Palfrey to
resume the quiet, colorless life of Willowbrook,
and John Dent to go in search of his dragons.

-- 084 --

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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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