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

IX. A Will, and the Way of it.

[figure description] Page 150.[end figure description]

IT was early in the forenoon, six or seven
days after the funeral of the parson, that
Mr. Dent, who had left the house an hour before
to take the morning train for Boston,
returned hurriedly to Willowbrook, and, capturing
Fanny the housemaid, with broom and
dust-pan in the front hall, despatched her to
her mistress.

“Tell Miss Prudence I want to speak with
her a moment in the library.”

This change in her guardian's purpose, and
his message, which was in itself something out
of the ordinary way, filled Prudence with wonder.
She had packed Mr. Dent's valise for an
absence of several days, and she knew it was
no trivial circumstance that had made him relinquish
or postpone the journey in question.
What could it be?

-- 151 --

[figure description] Page 151.[end figure description]

She was arranging the house-plants in the
bay-window room, as it was called, when Fanny
delivered Mr. Dent's message.

“He must have missed the train,” said Prudence
to herself. But Mr. Dent had gone to
town an hour earlier than was necessary to
catch the express. “Or perhaps Mr. Dillingham
has written that he is not coming, after
all.” Suddenly an idea flashed upon Prudence
and nearly caused her to drop the pot of jonquils
which she was in the act of lifting from
the flower-stand.

“He has heard from John Dent!”

When a friend dies and is buried, there's
an end of him. We miss him for a space out
of our daily existence; we mourn for him by
degrees that become mercifully less; we cling
to the blessed hope that we shall be reunited
in some more perfect sphere; but so far as
this earth is concerned, there's an end of him.
However near and dear he was, the time arrives
when he does not form a part of our daily
thought; he ceases to be even an abstraction.
We go no more with flowers and tears into
the quiet cemetery; only the rain and the

-- 152 --

[figure description] Page 152.[end figure description]

snowflakes fall there; we leave it for the fingers of
spring to deck the neglected mound.

But when our friend vanishes unaccountably
in the midst of a crowded city, or goes off on
a sea-voyage and is never heard of again, his
memory has a singular tenacity. He may be
to all intents and purposes dead to us, but we
have not lost him. The ring of the door-bell
at midnight may be his ring; the approaching
footstep may be his footstep; the unexpected
letter with foreign postmarks may be from his
hand. He haunts us as the dead never can.

The woman whose husband died last night
may marry again within a lustre of months.
Do you suppose a week passes by when the
woman whose husband disappeared mysteriously
ten years ago does not think of him? There
are moments when the opening of a door must
startle her.

There is no real absence but death.

For nearly three years, for two years and a
half, to be precise, the shadow of John Dent
had haunted Prudence more or less,—the
chance of tidings from him, the possibility of
his emerging suddenly from the darkness that

-- 153 --

[figure description] Page 153.[end figure description]

shrouded him and his movements, had been in
her thought almost constantly. UnBOD she saw
him once more or knew that he was dead, she
was not to be relieved of this sense of expectancy.
It was disassociated with any idea or
desire that he would claim her love; he had
surrendered that; he had written her that he
should never set foot in Rivermouth again; he
was a wrecked man. It was not for Prudence
to cling to a hope which he had thrown over,
however unwisely or weakly. She would have
waited for him loyally all her life; his misfortune
would have linked her closer to him; but
he had not asked her to wait, or to share the
misfortune; he had given her up, and the obvious
thing for Prudence had been to forget
him. In a circumscribed life like hers, how
was it possible for her to forget that she had
loved and been loved? She taught herself to
look upon his visit to Willowbrook, and what
had subsequently occurred, as a midsummer's
day-dream; but beyond that she had not been

John Dent's name was seldom spoken now
either by Prudence or her guardian; to all

-- 154 --

[figure description] Page 154.[end figure description]

appearance he was obliterated from their memories;
but the truth is, there was scarcely a
month when both Prudence and Mr. Dent did
not wonder what had become of him. “I don't
believe she ever thinks of him nowadays,” reflected
Mr. Dent. “He has quite forgotten
him,” Prudence would say to herself. But Mr.
Dent never took his letters from the languid
clerk at the post-office without half expecting
to find one from Jack; and Prudence never
caught an expression more than usually thoughtful
on her guardian's face without fancying he
had received news of his nephew.

The image of John Dent rose up before Prudence
with strange distinctness that morning
as she stood by the bay-window, and flitted
with singular persistence across her path on
the way down stairs.

Mr. Dent was seated at the library table,
upon which were spread several legal-looking
documents with imposing red-wax seals. His
eyebrows were drawn together, and there was
a perplexed look on his countenance which at
once reassured Prudence; whatever had occurred,
it was nothing tragic.

-- 155 --

[figure description] Page 155.[end figure description]

“We have got hold of the parson's will at
last,” he said, looking up as she entered the

A will had been found the day following
Parson Hawkins's death, in an old hair trunk
in which he kept private papers; but Mr. Jarvis,
the attorney, declared that a later testament
had been executed, different in tenor
from this, which was dated fifteen years back.
No such document was forthcoming, however,
after a most rigorous search among the old
clergyman's manuscripts. Mr. Jarvis had
drawn up the paper himself ten months before,
and was bent on finding it.

“My client was queer in such matters,” he
said. “He would keep scraps of verse and
paragraphs cut from newspapers in his strongbox
at the bank, and have bonds and leases
kicking around the library as if they were
worthless. You may depend upon it, he stuck
this will away in some corner, and forgot it.”

On the sixth or seventh day, when the belief
was become general that the parson had
destroyed it, the later will was discovered shut
up in a copy of the London folio edition of

-- 156 --

[figure description] Page 156.[end figure description]

Cotton Mather's “Magnalia,” on a shelf in the
little room where the parson had died.

“He has left Salome a life-interest in the
cottage and an annual sum for her support, to
revert at her death to the main estate.”

“I am glad of that,” said Prudence. “Poor

“And the residue of the property,” continued
Mr. Dent, “after deducting a few minor
bequests,—how do you think he has disposed
of that?”

“I am sure I cannot imagine. He had no
near relatives. To the Sunday school, perhaps.”


“To the Brick Church, then.”


“To the Mariner's Home.”

“No; the Mariner's Home gets two thousand
dollars, though.”

“Then I cannot guess.”

“He leaves it to John Dent,” said her guardian,
with a curious smile, watching Prudence
narrowly as he spoke the words.

“Is n't that rather singular?” said Prudence,
without ruffling a feather.

-- 157 --

[figure description] Page 157.[end figure description]

“She doesn't care the snap of her finger for
him, that is certain,” was Mr. Dent's internal
comment.—“No, not singular. My brother
Benjamin and Parson Hawkins were close
friends for many years. I believe Benjamin
helped him in some money affair when they
were at college together, and his gratitude is
not unnatural,—assuming that gratitude is a
great deal more common than it is. But the
injunction laid upon the executors—and I am
one—is singular. The executors are not to
make public the contents of the will, and Jack
is not to be informed of his inheritance—provided
we could find him—until a year after
the death of the testator.”

“What a strange provision!”

“The parson explains it by saying that every
man ought to earn his own living; that sudden
wealth is frequently the worst misfortune that
can befall a young man, and he wishes his
friend's son to rely on his own exertions for a
while, `in order'—and these are the parson's
very words—`that he may learn to estimate
riches at their proper value, and support prosperity
without arrogance.' All of which is

-- 158 --

[figure description] Page 158.[end figure description]

sensible enough, quite in the style of your
friend Dr. Johnson, but rather odd on the
whole. Indeed, the will is as angular as one
of the parson's sermons. Jarvis drew it up,
but he could not have composed a sentence of
it to save him. Any way, Jack falls heir to a
round sum,—about eighty thousand dollars, not
including the house and lot in Horseshoe

“And perhaps at this moment he is without
bread to eat, or a roof to shelter him!”

“Most likely. He has not condescended to
let his friends know what he has done with
himself. But as you said long ago, it will be
a great thing for him; it will teach him selfreliance.
I didn't think then he needed any
lessons in that branch of science; but I have
altered my opinion. It was cowardly in Jack
to strike his colors at the first fire. I was
mistaken and disappointed in him. I suppose
it is the fellow's pride that has kept him from
writing to me.”

“I am sure something ought to be done
about him now, uncle.”

“If I knew what to do. I could not tell

-- 159 --

[figure description] Page 159.[end figure description]

him of Parson Hawkins's will, if he were here.
I don't imagine an advertisement in the papers
would be a very tempting bait to Jack.
Letters have no effect on him, apparently.
When I saw you so unhap— I mean when
we got the story of that rascally Nevins, I
wrote Jack to come home and take a fresh
start; offered to organize a mining company,
make him superintendent, and go into the business
in a rational manner; but he never answered
my letter, if he got it.”

“That was very generous of you,” said Prudence,
to whom this was news.

“I don't like his silence. Why, it is two
years and a half, going on three years. Sometimes,
you know, I fancy he has fallen in with
that man, and come to harm. The idea may
have passed through the parson's mind also,
which would account for the surprising codicil
he added to the will.”

The subject of the will and all connected
with it was painful to Prudence, but she was
instantly curious to know what this surprising
codicil was, and said so in that involuntary
language which belongs to expressive eyes.

-- 160 --

[figure description] Page 160.[end figure description]

Mr. Dent took up one of the solemn-looking
documents and glanced at the last page, then
laid it down, then turned to it again, and reread
a certain passage deliberately, as if to
assure himself before he spoke.

“In case of John Dent's death,” he said,
“in case he dies within the twelve months specified,
the property comes to you.

“No, no! it must never come to me!” cried
Prudence, starting from the great arm-chair in
which she had curled herself. “He must be
found; whether he is told of it or not, he must
be found!”

“I think myself he ought to be looked up.
It is ridiculous for him to be roughing it out
there,—wherever he is,—with all this money
coming to him in a few months. But it is not
clear to me what can be done about it.”

“Cannot some one be sent to find him?
Joseph Twombly, for instance?”

“Yes, Twombly might be sent; and get
some buckshot in that other leg,—his luck.
He would go in a second if it was suggested;
but Twombly has just secured a good situation
in Chicago,—didn't I mention it to you?—

-- 161 --

[figure description] Page 161.[end figure description]

and I am not sure I should be justified in asking

Joseph Twombly, ex-knight and capitalist,
had bowed gracefully and good-humoredly to
fate, instead of throwing up his hands and rending
his garments, like other people we know of.
For many months after his return from El Dorado,
the good knight could get nothing to do,
and in truth he was not capable of doing much,
on account of his wound. He lay idle around
Rivermouth, to the no slight embarrassment of
Deacon Twombly, who was not prospering in a
worldly point of view. Ewe-lambs had become
chronic in the deacon's family, and he found
himself again banished, as the reader has been
informed, to the spare room in the attic, and a
new lamb had come to be fed even before the
little one of a previous season was fairly upon
its mottled legs. It was at this time,—two
weeks before Parson Hawkins's fatal stroke of
paralysis, and while Mr. Dent was urging his
friend Dillingham to consider the Rivermouth
proposal,—that a piece of sunny fortune fell
to the portion of Joseph Twombly.

Mr. Dent was not a man who unbosomed

-- 162 --

[figure description] Page 162.[end figure description]

himself to every chance acquaintance, but he
had been particularly communicative with Mr.
Dillingham touching Rivermouth affairs, and
had not left untold the history of his nephew's
misfortunes. I am inclined to suspect, however,
that Mr. Dent restricted himself to the
financial parts of the narrative, and said nothing
whatever of the trifling love-passage that
had taken place between his ward and John
Dent. It would have been hardly fair to Prudence
to speak of that; but he talked frequently
of his nephew, all the more frequently, perhaps,
because the subject was tabooed at home.
It chanced one evening, as the two gentlemen
were chatting together in a private parlor at the
Astor House, that the conversation turned on

“I am afraid Joseph is a heavy burden to
the deacon, just now,” Mr. Dent said. “I wish
I could help the fellow; but every one is retrenching
on account of the troubles down
South, and there seems to be no opening for

“He appears to be an estimable and faithful
young person,” Mr. Dillingham replied, “and I

-- 163 --

[figure description] Page 163.[end figure description]

should take it as a favor if I might be allowed
to join you in any plan to assist him. I have
no business influence here, but I am confident
that a word from me to my Chicago bankers
would secure interest for Mr. Twombly there.
Suppose I write to them?”

Mr. Dillingham did write, and Messrs. Rawlings
& Sons were pleased to find a place in
their office for a young man so highly spoken
of by their esteemed correspondent. A few
days afterwards Mr. Joseph Twombly, with a
comfortable check in his pocket, was on his
way to Chicago.

To recall him now, and send him on a wildgoose
chase after John Dent, was a step not to
be taken without consideration, if at all.

“He is out of the question at present. Perhaps
by and by, if I fail to obtain any clew to
Jack's whereabouts, I may be forced to make
use of Joseph. What was the name of that
banking firm at Salt Lake City which Jack
mentioned in his letter? Look it up, and I
will write to those people.”

“It was Tileston & Co.,” replied Prudence,
who had an excellent memory.

-- 164 --

[figure description] Page 164.[end figure description]

“And I'll write to Jack also at Red Rock,—
the rock on which he split,” supplemented Mr.
Dent; but his little pleasantry fell cold. Prudence
was not in a mood to encourage jests,
and Mr. Dent withdrew crestfallen into his
serious shell. “Perhaps it would be advisable
to drop him a line at San Francisco,” he said.
“What do you think?”

Mr. Dent went to work on his letters, and
Prudence stole off thoughtfully to the small bay-window
room over the hall door, where she
always did her meditating. This business of
the will weighed heavily upon her. There was
something chilling in the reflection that perhaps
the dead man had left his money to a
dead man, and it would thus fall to her,—an
avalanche of clammy gold-pieces slipping through
dead men's fingers! She would touch none of
it! The idea made her shiver.

She was still sitting by the open casement,
dismayed at the prospect, when Mr. Dent
stepped out of the door below, a valise in his
hand, and his spring overcoat thrown across
one arm.

Prudence drew back hastily, and when Mr.

-- 165 --

[figure description] Page 165.[end figure description]

Dent looked up at the window, she was not
visible. The movement had been mechanical
on her part, and she was instantly ashamed of
it. Of course it was perfectly proper that her
guardian should meet the Rev. Mr. Dillingham
in Boston, and conduct him to Rivermouth;
Mr. Dent was in a manner bound to so much
courtesy; but the thought of a stranger standing
in the dear old parson's pulpit brought the
tears to Prudence's eyes.

“It is very uncharitable and unchristian, I
know,” said Prudence, watching her guardian's
receding figure, “but I think I shall hate the
new minister.”

-- 166 --

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