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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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p450-014 I. In which Parson Wibird Hawkins retires from Business.

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Parson Wibird Hawkins was in trouble.
The trouble was not of a pecuniary nature,
for the good man had not only laid up treasures
in heaven, but had kept a temporal eye
on the fluctuations of real estate in Rivermouth,
and was the owner of three or four of
the nicest houses in Hollyhock Row. Nor was
his trouble of a domestic nature, whatever it
once might have been, for Mrs. Wibird Hawkins
was dead this quarter of a century. Nor
was it of the kind that sometimes befalls
too susceptible shepherds, for the parson had
reached an age when the prettiest of his flock
might have frisked about him without stirring
a pulse.

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His trouble was the trouble of all men who,
having played their parts nearly if not quite to
the end, persist in remaining on the stage to
the exclusion of more fiery young actors who
have their pieces to speak and their graces to
show off. These hapless old men do not
perceive that the scene has been changed
meanwhile, that twenty or thirty or forty years
are supposed to have elapsed; it never occurs
to them that they are not the most presentable
poets, lunatics, and lovers, until the audience
rises up and hoots them, gray hairs
and all, from the foot-lights.

Parson Wibird Hawkins had been prattling
innocently to half-averted ears for many a summer
and winter. The parish, as a parish, had
become tired of old man Hawkins. After fifty
years he had begun to pall on them. For fifty
years he had christened them and married them
and buried them, and held out to them the
slightest possible hopes of salvation, in accordance
with their own grim theology; and now
they wanted to get rid of him, and he never
once suspected it, — never suspected it, until
that day when the deacons waited upon him in

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his study in the cobwebbed old parsonage, and
suggested the expediency of his retirement
from active parochial duties. Even then he
did not take in the full import of the deacons'
communication. Retire from the Lord's
vineyard just when his experience was ripest
and his heart fullest of his Master's work,—
surely they did not mean that! Here he was
in his prime, as it were; only seventy-nine
last Thanksgiving. He had come among them
a young man fresh from the University on
the Charles, he had given them the enthusiasm
of his youth and the wisdom of his mature
manhood, and he would, God willing,
continue to labor with them to the end. He
would die in the harness. It was his prayer
that when the Spirit of the Lord came to
take him away, it might find him preaching
His word from the pulpit of the Old Brick

“It was very good of you, Deacon Wendell,
and you, Deacon Twombly,” said the poor old
parson, wiping the perspiration from his brow
with a large red silk handkerchief dotted with
yellow moons; “it was, I must say, very

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considerate in you to think that I might wish to
rest awhile after all these years of labor; but
I cannot entertain the idea for a moment.”

He had got it into his head that the deacons
were proposing a vacation to him, were possibly
intending to send him to Europe on a tour
through Palestine, as the Saint Ann's parish
had sent the Rev. Josiah Jones the year

“Not,” he went on, “but I should like to
visit the Holy Land and behold with my own
eyes the places made sacred by the footsteps
of our Saviour,—Jerusalem, and Jordan, and
the Mount of Olives,—ah! I used to dream
of that; but my duties held me here then, and
now I cannot bring myself to desert, even
temporarily, the flock I have tended so long.
Why, I know them all by face and name, and
love them all, down to the latest ewe-lamb.”

The latest ewe-lamb, by the way, was Deacon
Twombly's, and the allusion made him feel
very uncomfortable indeed. He glaneed uneasily
at Deacon Wendell, and Deacon Wendell
glanced covertly at him, and they both
wished that the duty of dismissing Parson

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Hawkins had fallen upon somebody else. But
the duty was to be performed. The matter
had been settled, and the new minister all but
decided on, before the deacons went up to the
parsonage that afternoon. Even before the
king was cold, his subjects had in a manner
thrown up their caps for the next in succession.
All this had not been brought about,
however, without a struggle.

Some of the less progressive members of the
parish clung to the ancient order of things.
Parson Wibird had been their main-stay in
life, sickness, and death for full half a century;
they had sprung to manhood and grown
gray under his ministrations, and they held it
a shame to throw him over now that his voice
was a little tremulous and his manner not
quite so vigorous as it was. They acknowledged
he was not the man he used to be. He
wrote no new sermons now; he was turning
the barrel upside-down, and his latest essay
dated back as far as 1850. They admitted it
was something of a slip he made, in resurrecting
one of those by-gone sermons, to allude to
General Jackson as “our lately deceased

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President”; but then the sermon was a good
sermon, enough sight better than those sugary
discourses without a word of sound doctrine
in 'em, which they had listened to from
flibberty-jibberty young ministers from the
city. There was one of them the other day,—
the Sabbath Parson Hawkins was ill,—who
preached all about somebody named Darwin.
Who was Darwin? Darwin was n't one of
the Apostles.

“Fur my part,” said Mr. Wiggins, the
butcher, “I'll be shot ef I don't stan' by the
parson. He buried my Merriah Jane fur me,
an' I don't forgit it nuther.”

As it was notorious that the late Maria Jane
had led Mr. Wiggins something of a dance in
this life, the unconscious sarcasm of his gratitude
caused ill-natured people to smile.

Uncle Jedd, the sexton of the Old Brick
Church, threatened never to dig another grave
if they turned off Parson Wibird. Uncle Jedd
had a loose idea that such a course on his
part would make it rather embarrassing for
Rivermouth folks. “Ther' is graves an' ther'
is holes,” Uncle Jedd would say; “I makes

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graves, myself, an' I'm th' only man in th'
county thet can.”

Unfortunately the parson's supporters constituted
the minority, and not an influential
minority. The voice of the parish was for the
dismissal of the Rev. Wibird Hawkins, and
dismissed he should be.

Deacons Wendell and Twombly found their
mission perplexing. “We tried to let him
down easy, of course,” remarked Deacon Zeb
Twombly, relating the circumstance afterwards
to a group of eager listeners in Odiorne's grocery-store;
“but, Lord bless you, you never
see an old gentleman so unwillin' and so hard
to be let down.” The parson persisted in not
understanding the drift of the deacons' proposition
until, at last, they were forced to use
the most explicit language, and in no way
soften the blow which they suspected rather
than knew would be a heavy one, however
adroitly delivered. But when, finally, he was
made to comprehend the astounding fact that
the Old Brick Church of Rivermouth actually
wished him to relinquish his pastorate, then
the aged clergyman bowed his head, and, waving

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his hands in a sort of benediction over the
two deacons, retreated slowly, with his chin
on his breast, into a little room adjoining the
study, leaving the pillars of the church standing
rather awkwardly in the middle of the

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p450-022 II. A Parson of the Old School.

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Ever since the death of his wife, some
twenty-five years previous to the events I
am relating, Parson Hawkins had lived in the
small house at the foot of Horseshoe Lane.
The house stood in the middle of a garden
under the shadow of two towering elms, and
was so covered by a network of vines, honeysuckle
and Virginia creeper, that the oddities
of its architecture were not distinetly visible
from the street. Though the cottage was not
built by the parson, its interior arrangements
were as eccentric and inconvenient as if he
had designed it. It consisted of three or four
one-story Ls which had apparently been added
to the main building at various periods, according
to the whim or exigency of the occupant.
At the right of the hall, which paused abruptly
and went up stairs, so to speak, was the

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parson's study; opening from this was a smaller
chamber, the sanctum sanctorum, lined to the
ceiling with theological works; and beyond
this again, though not communicating with it,
was the room where the parson slept. At the
left of the hall was the parlor, redolent of mahogany
furniture and the branches of pungent
spruce which choked the wide chimney-place
summer and winter, for the parlor was seldom
used. Then came the dining-room, and next
to that the kitchen. Leading from the former
were two sleeping-chambers, one occupied by
Salome Pinder, the parson's housekeeper. The
second story of the main building had been
left unfinished on the inside. Viewed from
the garden gate, the zigzag roofs, touched here
and there with patches of purple and gold
moss, presented the appearance of a collection
of military cocked-hats.

It was altogether a grotesque, ruinous, tumbledown
place, and people wondered why Parson
Hawkins should have given up his stately
house on Pleasant Street and moved to Horseshoe
Lane, and why he remained there. But
Salome Pinder understood it.

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“The parson, you see,” said Salome, “is
gittin' a leetle near in his old age. He 'pears
to git nearer an' nearer ev'ry year. When
Miss Hawkins was alive, why, bless you! there
was n't nothin' too handsum nor expensive for
her, an' I won't say she was over an' above
grateful, for she was n't; but she 's dead, the
poor creeter, an' the best of us lack more 'n
wings to be angils. The day after the funeral
the parson says, `S'lome,' says he, `we 'll
move into the cottage, it 's quite good enough
for me.' `Nothin' 's too good for you, Parson
Wibird,' says I. But he did n't feel content
in the great house, an' it was sort o' lonely;
so move we did, to the disapp'intment of
some,—I don't mention no names,—who
thought that mebbe the parson would invite'
em up to Pleasant Street permanent. P'rhaps
the Widder Mugridge was the most disapp'inted.
But, Lord love you, the parson ain't
one of them that is always runnin' after wimmin
folks. He 's ben married onst.”

That was very true, and that Parson Hawkins's
matrimonial venture was not altogether
of an encouraging complexion seems likely;

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for he declined to repeat the experiment. For
several years after the translation of Mrs.
Hawkins, the parish supposed he would take
another helpmeet, and, in fact, more than one
seductive cap had been sedately set for him;
but the parson had shown himself strangely
obtuse. He was not an old man at that time,
but he loved quiet, and perhaps his life had
not been too tranquil under Mrs. Hawkins's
reign. Besides, as Salome said, the parson
was becoming a little near, not in a general
way, but in his personal expenses. The poor
knew how broad and practical his charity was.
His closeness manifested itself only in matters
pertaining to his own comfort. He seemed to
regard himself as an unworthy and designing
person, who was obtaining food and clothes
under false pretences from Parson Hawkins.

These economical tendencies had flowered out
occasionally in his wife's time, but had been
promptly taken up by the roots. Whenever
his coat showed signs of wear or his hat became
a trifle dilapidated, Mrs. Hawkins had
made him buy a new one. It was whispered
in and out of the parish that once, when the

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parson protested against replenishing his wardrobe,
Mrs. Hawkins, who appears to have been
a person of considerable executive ability, settled
the question by putting the parson's best
waistcoat on the kitchen fire. I do not vouch
for the truth of the story, for, though nothing
occurs in Rivermouth without being known, a
great many things are known there that never
occur at all.

This may have been one of them; but it is
certain that after Parson Hawkins took up his
abode in the small house he neglected himself
frightfully. His linen was always scrupulously
neat and fresh, for Salome saw to that; but
he wore his coats until the seams stood out
pathetically, like the bones of the late Mr.
Jamison, the Living Skeleton, who used to
travel with Van Amburgh's circus, and must
have given Death very little trouble to make a
ghost of him. Of course Salome could not
put the old gentleman's coats into the kitchen
stove when they became shabby. The parson's
thriftiness increased with his years, and no
doubt sorely cramped Salome, who had a New
England housewife's appreciation of bountiful

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living, and to whom a riotous number of mincepies
was a necessity at Thanksgiving. She
uttered no complaint, however, and was quick
to resent any reflection on her master's domestic

“We could live on the fat of the land if we
wanted to,” said Salome to Mrs. Waldron, who
had dropped in of an afternoon to gossip.
“The parson he's a rich man as time goes,
an' the pore oughter be thankful for it. He
feeds the widder an' the fatherless, instead of
a-stuffin' hisself.”

“I wanter know, now!”

Salome's homely statement was strictly accurate.
However severe the internal economy
at the small house in Horseshoe Lane, the
poor were not scrimped. The Widow Pepperell
had her winter fuel regularly; and the two
Clemmer boys, whose father had leaned against
a circular saw in the Miantonomoh Mills, knew
precisely where their winter jackets were coming
from. Even wayside tramps—there were
no professional mendicants in Rivermouth—
halted instinctively at the modest white gate.
Doubtless the parson helped many a

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transparent impostor on his winding way. There was
a certain yellow dog that used to walk lame
up to the scullery door for a bone, and then
run away with it very nimbly on four legs.
Sandy Marden's Skye-terrier was likely enough
only a fair type of many that shared the parson's

He had been a prosperous man. When he
first came to Rivermouth he purchased a lot
of land at the west end of the town, as a pasture
for a horse which he neglected or forgot
to buy. The “minister's pasture” became a
standing joke. It turned out a very excellent
joke in the end. Several times he was tempted
to sell the land for less than he gave for it;
but it had cost him little, and he thought that
perhaps it might be worth something more by
and by; so he held on to it. As the town
grew, fashion drifted in that direction. Then
Captain Pendexter put up his haughty Gothic
mansion at the head of Anchor Street. That
settled the business. A colony of French-roof
houses sprang up as if by magic along Josselyn
Avenue, and the “minister's pasture”
was about as valuable a piece of property as

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there was in Rivermouth. So it came to pass
that Parson Hawkins was a moderately rich
man. The people thought the parson was
pretty shrewd, when perhaps he was only pretty
lucky: if he had been shrewd he would have
sold the land long before it was worth anything.
Another speculation he entered into at
this time was not so successful. If the local
tradition is correct, Colonel Trueworthy Dennett's
daughter Dorcas got the best of that

But for many years now the parson's lines
had fallen in pleasant places. The tumult and
jar of life never reached him among his books
in the seven-by-nine library in Horseshoe Lane.
The fateful waves of time and chance that beat
about the world surged and broke far away
from the little garden with its bright row of
sentinel hollyhocks and its annual encampments
of marigolds and nasturtiums. To be
sure he had had, four or five years before this
chronicle opens, what he regarded as a grievous
affliction. The parish, contrary to his
wishes, had removed the old pine-wood pulpit
and replaced it with an ornate new-fangled

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black-walnut affair thick with grotesque carvings
like a heathen idol. The old pulpit was
hallowed by a hundred associations; it had
been built in King George's time; eminent
divines whose names are fresh in our colonial
history had stood under that antiquated sounding-board;
but, after all, what did it matter
to him whether he expounded the Seriptures
from pine or black-walnut, so long as he was
permitted to teach his children the way and
the life? His annoyance was but transient, and
he came to look upon it as a vanity and vexation
of spirit on his part. But now a real
trouble had come to him.

While the two deacons were engaged with
the parson in the study that May afternoon,
Salome Pinder moved about the hall and the
dining-room with strange restlessness. Few
things went on in the cottage without her cognizance.
Not that Salome was given to eavesdropping;
but the rooms were contracted, the
partitions thin, and words spoken in even the
usual conversational tone had a trick of repeating
themselves in the adjacent apartments.
The study door was ajar, and Salome could

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scarcely help catching scraps of the dialogue
from time to time.

Long before the deacons took their departure
she knew very well what had happened.
In fact, when she saw Deacon Twombly and
Deacon Wendell coming up the garden walk,
she felt their visit to be ominous. Salome
knew of the dissatisfaction that had been
brewing in the parish for months past. That
Parson Hawkins never dreamed of it shows
how unfitted he was to serve longer. The appearance
of the executioners, with warrant and
bow-string, was the first intimation he had of
his downfall.

Salome was appalled by what had taken
place, though in a degree prepared for it. She
was so flustered that she neglected to open the
front door for the retreating deacons, but left
them, as the parson had done, to find their
way out as best they might.

It was some time before she could gather
strength to cross the hall and look into the
study. The parson was not there; he was in
the little inner room, and the door was locked.
Salome tried the latch and spoke to him

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several times without getting a reply. Then the
parson told her gently to go away, he was engaged,
he would talk with her presently. But
Salome did not go away; she sunk into a chair
and sat there with her hands folded listlessly
in her lap, — a more abject figure, perhaps,
than the old parson on the other side of the

The scent of the lilacs blew in at the open
window, and the leaves of the vines trailing
over the casement outside made wavering silhouettes
on the uncarpeted floor of the study.
The robins sang full-throated in the garden, as
if there were no such thing in the world as
care. Salome listened and wondered vaguely
at their merriment.

The afternoon sunlight slipped from the
eaves and the shadows deepend under the
great elms. The phantom leaves at Salome's
feet had vanished; the songs of the robins had
died away to faint and intermittent twitterings,
and the early twilight crept into the
study. Now and then she fancied she heard
the parson moving in the little room; he
seemed to be walking to and fro at intervals,

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like some poor caged animal. She could not

It was nearly dark when the garden gate
swung to with a sharp click, and a quick, light
footstep sounded on the gravel-walk. Salome
rose hastily from the chair, and reached the
street-door just as some one stepped upon the

It was a girl of nineteen or twenty, but
looking younger with her hair blown about her
brows by the fresh May wind. She held in
one hand a chip-straw hat which had slipped
from its place, and with the other was pushing
back an enviable mass of brown hair, showing a
serious, pale face, a little flushed at the cheeks
with walking. It was a face which, passing it
heedlessly in the street, you would be likely
to retain in your memory unconsciously. The
wide gray eyes, capable of great tenderness
and great haughtiness, would come back to
you vividly, maybe, years afterwards. The girl
was not a beauty in the ordinary sense, but
she had what some one has described as a
haunting face. Who has not caught a chance
expression on some face in a crowd,—a

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lifting of the eye, a turn of the lip, an instantaneous
revelation of strength or weakness,—
and never forgotten it? I have a fancy, which
I do not thrust upon the reader, that the person
who casts this spell on us would exert a
marked influence over our destiny if circumstance
brought us in contact with him or her.
He or she would be our good angel or our
evil star.

As the girl stood there now on the porch,
she looked little enough like playing the part
of a Fate. With her heavy hair blown in
clouds over her eyes, she looked rather like a
Shetland pony.

“O Miss Prue! is that you, honey?” cried
Salome. “Do jest step in an' speak to the
parson; he 's in a peck of trouble.”

“I was afraid so, Salome. Where is he?”
asked the girl, pushing open the door of the
study and seeing it unoccupied.

“He 's locked hisself in the sanctrum,”
whispered Salome.

“Locked himself in?”

“Yes, an' there he 's ben ever sence them
plaguey deacons went away, more 'n two hours.”

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“Maybe he will not care to see me just
now, Salome?”

“Mebbe,—dunno; but do jest speak a word
to him.”

“If you think I had better?”

“I do, honey.”

“How strange,—to lock himself in!”

Then Prudence Palfrey crossed the study,
and tapped softly on the panel of the inner

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p450-036 III. Mr. Dent And His Ward.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 --

p450-044 IV. Dragons.

[figure description] Page 037.[end figure description]

When Prudence was turning seventeen,—
that is to say, nearly three years before
that afternoon in May when she is introduced
to the reader,—John Dent had come to Rivermouth.
He had recently graduated, with not
too many honors, and was taking a breathingspell
previous to setting out on his adventures
in the world; for he had his dragons to overcome
and his spurs to win, like any young
knight in a legend. Poverty and Inexperience,
among the rest, are very formidable dragons.
They slay more young men every year than
are ever heard of. The stripling knight, with
his valise neatly packed by the tearful baroness,
his mother, sallies forth in a spick-andspan
new armor from the paternal castle,—
and, snap! that is the last of him. Now and
then one comes back with gold-pieces and

-- 038 --

[figure description] Page 038.[end figure description]

decorations, but, ah! for the numbers that go
down before the walls of great towns like New
York and Boston and Chicago!

John Dent's family had formerly lived in
Rivermouth, where he had lost his mother in
infancy. At this time his father was associated
in the proprietorship of the brewery, from
which he subsequently withdrew to engage in
some Western railroad enterprise. When Mr.
Benjamin Dent moved to Illinois, John was a
mere child; he had not been in Rivermouth
since; his vacations had been passed with his
father, and he had only the vaguest memory
of his childhood's home. It was a cherished
memory, nevertheless; for an unwavering affection
for the place of one's nativity seems to
be one of the conditions of birth in New England.
It was during John Dent's last term in
college that his father had died, leaving his
railroad affairs hopelessly complicated. Though
communication between the two brothers had
been infrequent of late years, the warmest feeling
had existed on both sides, and Mr. Ralph
Dent was eager with purse and advice to assist
his nephew in any business or profession he
might select.

-- 039 --

[figure description] Page 039.[end figure description]

John Dent was quite undecided what to do
with himself. When some outlying personal
debts were paid off there would be enough
left to keep him afloat a year. Within that
year of course he must have his plans definitely
settled. He had come to Rivermouth to talk
over those plans with his uncle, and a room
had been provided for him at Willowbrook.

“Look here, Prue,” Mr. Dent had said,
laughingly, the day his nephew was expected,
“I won't have you making eyes at him.”

“But I will, though!” Prudence had cried,
glancing back over her shoulder, “if he is anything
like his uncle.”

But John Dent did not resemble his uncle,
and Prue did not make eyes at him. She
found him very agreeable, nevertheless, a tall,
frank-hearted young fellow with dark hair and
alert black eyes,—in every way different from
the abstracted young student her fancy had
taken the liberty to paint for her. He smoked
his uncle's cabañas as if he had been born to
them, and amused Prue vastly with descriptions
of his college life and with the funny
little profiles of his college chums which he

-- 040 --

[figure description] Page 040.[end figure description]

drew on blotting-paper in the library. If he
could have been examined in caricature, or
allowed to graduate from the gymnasium, he
would not have come off so poorly for honors.

Prudence had rather dreaded the advent of
the gloomy scholastic, and had been rather
curious about him also. They had played together
at a period when Prue was learning to
walk and John Dent wore pinafores. They
had not met since then. It was odd for her
old playfellow to be an utter stranger to her
now. What sort of man was that little boy
whom she had lost so long ago in the misty
fairyland of babyhood? A solemn young man
in black, she had fancied. She had pictured
him prowling about the house and lawn, brooding
like the young Prince of Denmark, not on
psychological subtleties indeed, but on sordid
questions as to how on earth he was going to
get his living. How he was going to get his
living did not seem to trouble John Dent in
the least.

Reading one of Thackeray's novels in a hammock
on the piazza, or strolling in the garden
after supper, with his cigar glowing here and

-- 041 --

[figure description] Page 041.[end figure description]

there among the shrubbery like a panther's eye,
he did not appear much appalled by prospective
struggles for existence. The Dents were
always that way, Mr. Ralph Dent remarked;
free and easy, with lots of latent energy. Put
a Dent in a desert, and he would directly build
some kind of a manufactory. A brewery likely

And indeed there was something under John
Dent's careless manner which seemed to give
the assurance that when the time arrived he
would overthrow the wicked giants and slay
the enchanted dragons with neatness and despatch,
like a brave modern knight in an English
walking-coat and a mauve silk neckerchief
drawn through an amethyst ring. Uncle Ralph
thought there was a good deal to the boy,—
and so did Prue.

He was superior to any young man she had
ever seen. She had seen few, to be sure, for
Rivermouth is a sterile spot in which to pick
up a sustenance, and her young male eagles
generally fly from the nest as soon as they are
fledged, some seaward and others to the neighboring
inland cities. They are mostly sickly

-- 042 --

[figure description] Page 042.[end figure description]

eagles that are left. So Prudence had encountered
few young men in her time, and those
she had not liked; but she did like John Dent.

John Dent had come to Rivermouth bearing
about his person some concealed wounds inflicted
by the eldest daughter of his Greek professor;
he had, in fact, been “stabbed with a
white wench's black eye, shot through the ear
with a love-song,” as Mercutio phrases it; but
before ten days were gone at Willowbrook
these wounds had somehow healed over, leaving
scarcely a cicatrice on his memory.

Given a country-house, with a lawn and a
pine grove, and two young people with nothing
in the world to do,—let the season be
springtime or winter,—and it requires no wizard
to tell the result. Prue, with her genuine
fresh nature and trim figure and rich hair and
gray eyes, was easy to like, and very much
easier to love. I am not trying to find reasons
for these young people. If people who
pair were obliged to have good reasons for pairing,
there would be a falling off in the census.

It came to pass, then, at the end of four
weeks, that John Dent found himself thinking

-- 043 --

[figure description] Page 043.[end figure description]

night and day of his uncle's ward. He knew
it was a hopeless thing from the start. He
was twenty-three, penniless, and without a profession.
Nothing was less tenable than the
idea that his uncle would permit Prudence to
engage herself to a man who might not be in
a position these five years to give her a home.
Then as to Prudence herself, he had no
grounds for assuming that she cared for him.
She had been very frank and pleasant, as was
permissible to the nephew of her guardian; her
conduct had been from the beginning without
a shadow of coquetry. She had made no eyes
at him.

Prudence would not have been a woman and
eighteen if she had not seen somewhat how
matters were going with the young gentleman.
She did not love him, as yet; but she liked
him more than any one she had ever known.
She knew as well as he that anything beyond
friendship between them would be unfortunate.
She determined to afford him no opportunity to
speak to her of love, if he were so unwise.
She would keep him at such a distance as
would render it difficult for him to indulge in

-- 044 --

[figure description] Page 044.[end figure description]

the slightest sentiment with her. Prue had
passed to her eighteenth birthday without so
much as a flirtation; but she at once set to
work managing John Dent with the cool skill
of a seaside belle in her second season. It is
so a young duck takes to water.

There were no moonlight walks on the lawn
any more; but it fell out so naturally that
John Dent saw no diplomacy in it. Household
duties, which she could have no hand in conjuring,
rose up between them and the pine
grove. People from the town, very stupid
people, dropped into the drawing-room of an
evening, or his uncle failed to drop out. When
they were alone together, and frequently when
Mr. Dent was present, Prudence would rally
the young man about the professor's daughter
whom he had mentioned incidentally early in
his visit. She suspected a tenderness in that
direction, and in handling the subject developed
powers of sarcasm quite surprising to herself.
She was full of liveliness those days.

John Dent was not lively now; he was gradually
merging into that saturnine and melancholy-eyed
student whom Prue had so dreaded.

-- 045 --

[figure description] Page 045.[end figure description]

Mr. Ralph Dent was struck by this phenomenon.
It seemed to him latterly that his ward
laughed too much and his nephew not enough.
It had been the other way. Mr. Dent was, as
I have said, a practical man, except in this,
that he expected other people to be practical.
He did not dream that his nephew would have
the audacity to fall in love with Pure. But
the change that had come over the two gave
Mr. Dent a twinge of uneasiness. Perhaps he
had not been wholly wise in having John Dent
at Willowbrook.

The more he reflected on Prue's high spirits
and his nephew's sudden low ones, the less he
admired it. If there had been any nonsense
between them, he would put a stop to it before
it went any further.

Running through the Willowbrook grounds
was a winding rivulet spanned by a rustic
bridge, at the farther end of which, under a
clump of willows, stood a summer-house,—an
octagon-shaped piece of lattice-work with four
gilt balls suspended from a little blue spire on
the roof: a Yankee's idea of a pagoda. Here
John Dent was thoughtfully smoking a cigar

-- 046 --

[figure description] Page 046.[end figure description]

one morning when he saw his uncle cross the
birch-bark bridge and come towards him. Mr.
Dent stepped into the summer-house, seated
himself opposite the young man, took out his
cigar-case, and went directly to the business in

“Jack,” said Mr. Dent, “I hope you have n't
been talking any nonsense to Prue.”

“I don't think I understand you,” said
Jack, with a little start. “I have n't, to my
knowledge, been talking any nonsense to

“For the last week or so you have not
seemed like yourself, and I fancied that perhaps
something had happened between you and
Prue,—a little tiff maybe.”

“Nothing in the world, sir.”

Mr. Dent, like Hamlet, wanted something
“more relative than this.”

“You are sure you have not been making
love to her, Jack?”

“I have certainly not been making love to
Miss Palfrey, if that is what you mean.”

Mr. Dent drew a breath of relief. If his
nephew had one trait stronger than another, it

-- 047 --

[figure description] Page 047.[end figure description]

was truthfulness. Mr. Dent was satisfied that
no mischief had been done so far, and he intended
to preclude the possibility of mischief.
“How stupid of me,” he reflected, “to put the
notion into the fellow's head!” He would
cover his maladroit move by getting his nephew
into a New York banking-house or an insurance
office at once. The sooner Jack made a
start in life the better. Mr. Dent bit off the
end of his cigar, and, taking a light from the
young man, said, “Of course, Jack, I did n't
seriously think you had.”

With this he rose and was about to leave
the summer-house.

“Are you going to town, uncle?” inquired
John Dent, looking up.


“I 'll walk a bit of the way with you, if
you like.”

“Certainly, Jack.”

As the garden gate closed on uncle and
nephew, Prudence looked out of the bay-window
over the hall door, and her busy, intelligent
needle came to a dead halt half-way through a
piece of cambric muslin. She was aware that

-- 048 --

[figure description] Page 048.[end figure description]

her guardian was going to town; but it was
not one of John Dent's habits to take long
walks with his uncle. Prue pondered the circumstance
for a minute or so, and then the
needle went on again as busily as before.

“Uncle Ralph,” said John Dent, as they
reached a rise of ground overlooking the spires
and gables of Rivermouth and the picturesque
harbor, where a man-of-war lay at anchor with
its masts and spars black against the sparkling
atmosphere, “I had half resolved to say
something to you this morning, but after your
question in the summer-house I feel it my duty
to say it.”

“What is that, Jack?”

“I told you I had not been making love to
Miss Palfrey, but I am bound to tell you that
I love her all the same.”

“What! why, I never heard of such madness!”
And Mr. Dent stopped short in the
middle of the road.

“I did n't suppose it would meet with your
approval, sir.”

“My approval? I tell you I never heard of
such insanity!”

-- 049 --

[figure description] Page 049.[end figure description]

“I know it is unfortunate,” said John Dent,
humbly; “but there are things which no man
can help.”

“But a man should help falling in love with
a girl when he is not able to provide birdseed
for a canary.”

“The birdseed will come in good time; it
always does.”

Mr. Dent's glance, by the merest accident,
rested on the red-brick Almshouse which loomed
up on the left. John Dent followed his glance,
and colored.

“Do you expect a young woman to waste
the bloom of her life waiting for you, and
finally go with you over there?”

“The girl who will not wait a year or two,
or ten years, for the man she loves, is not
worth working for,” said John Dent, nettled.

Then Mr. Dent cursed himself for his blindness
in bringing these two together.

“And Prue loves you?” he gasped.

“I did n't say that, sir.”

“What in the devil did you say, then?”

“I said I loved her. I think she does n't
care a straw for me.”

-- 050 --

[figure description] Page 050.[end figure description]

“But you spoke of her waiting for you a
year or two.”

“That was merely a supposititious case.”

“Have you hinted anything of this to Prue?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I depend on your honor not to. I
won't have it! I won't have it!” And Mr.
Dent stood there quite white with anger.

“You will bear in mind, Uncle Ralph, that
I need not have told you this.”

“That would have been dishonorable.”

“It would have been dishonorable, sir; and
so I came to you directly, without breathing a
word to Miss Palfrey. I did not forget I was
under your roof.”

Certainly John Dent had not been dishonorable,
however mad. Mr. Dent knew that his
nephew was wrong in falling in love with his
ward, and that he himself was right in being
indignant; yet he was conscious that his young
kinsman had in a fashion disarmed him.

“This is exceedingly awkward,” he said,
after a silence. “I was very glad to have
you at Willowbrook, but with this extraordinary

-- 051 --

[figure description] Page 051.[end figure description]

John Dent interrupted him: “Of course my
visit is at an end. I knew that. I shall leave

“What are your plans?”

“I have none, that is, nothing definite.”

“I mean, where are you going?”

“O, I shall take a room somewhere in the
town for the present.”

Mr. Dent did not like that. The nice sense
of honor which had sealed the young man's
lips while beneath the avuncular roof might
take wing under different circumstances. Rivermouth
was a strong strategical position from
which to lay siege to Willowbrook. Mr. Dent
did not like that at all.

“Why waste your time in Rivermouth? There
is no opening for you there. Why not go to
Boston, or, better still, to New York” (or
to Jericho, Mr. Dent interpolated mentally),
“where there are countless chances for a
young man like you?”

“I can live more economically in the town.
Besides, I do not intend to settle in any of
our Eastern cities. I shall go to some new
country where there are wider and less crowded

-- 052 --

[figure description] Page 052.[end figure description]

fields for enterprise, where fortunes are
made rapidly. I wish to make my pile at

“Quite a unique case,” Mr. Dent could not
refrain from remarking.

“Then,” continued John Dent, shedding the
sarcasm placidly, “I shall come back and ask
Miss Palfrey to be my wife, if her heart and
hand are free.”

“You will do me the favor to delay the
question until you come back,” cried Mr. Dent,
whose wrath was fanned into flame again.
“If you insist on idling about Rivermouth, I
insist on your promise that you will not explain
your views to Miss Palfrey.”

“I will not make any promises,” returned
John Dent, “because I have an unfortunate
habit of keeping them.”

Was it possible that Prue was tangled, even
ever so slightly, in the meshes of the same net
that had caught this luckless devil-fish? After
his nephew's confession, Mr. Dent was prepared
for almost anything.

Mr. Dent said: “But unless you do give
me some such assurance, I shall be constrained

-- 053 --

[figure description] Page 053.[end figure description]

to forbid your visits to the house, and that
would cause people to talk.”

“Even with that alternative I cannot make
you any promise. To be candid, I have n't at
this moment the faintest intention of telling
Miss Palfrey what my sentiments are. It is
not likely I shall see her again, since you have
walled up the doors of Willowbrook,” he added,
with a smile. “Uncle Ralph, let us talk

“Thanks for the compliment implied.”

“Don't mention it,” said Jack, politely.

“Look here,” said Mr. Dent, resting his
hand on his young kinsman's shoulder, “I do
not want to shut my doors on you. It annoys
me beyond measure to have my brother Ben's
boy flying in the face of reason in this way,
and setting himself up in antagonism to me,
his best friend. Come, now, Jack, don't be a
simpleton. Go to New York, look up some
business or profession to your taste, and you
shall have any capital you require, if you will
give over this foolishness about Prue.”

“I could not do it, Uncle Ralph. I love

-- 054 --

[figure description] Page 054.[end figure description]

He had said that before quietly enough. The
words were spoken passionately this time, and
they went through Mr. Dent's heart with inexplicable

“I love her, and I should despise myself if
I could be bought. All the chances are against
me, I know; but if I cannot have her, I can
at least try to be worthy of her.”

“Stuff and nonsense! How many girls have
you fallen in love with before now?”

“Seven or eight, first and last, as nearly as
I can remember,” replied young Dent, candidly;
“but there was no Prudence Palfrey
among them. I think that when a man loves
a girl like her, he loves but once.”

“All this comes of your verse-writing and
moonshine. I don't know where you got them
from. Your father was a plain, practical man,
and kept his head cool. When I was a young

“You fell in love with Mercy Gardner,”
cried John Dent, “and never loved any but

Mr. Dent winced a little as he parried the

-- 055 --

[figure description] Page 055.[end figure description]

“But I could not have her, and I made the
best of it, like a sensible man. You cannot
have her daughter, and you are making the
worst of it, like an obstinate fellow.”

“But I am not sure I cannot have the
daughter—some time.”

“I tell you so.”

John Dent decapitated a thistle with one
impatient stroke of his cane. Off came his
uncle's head—by proxy!

“When Miss Palfrey tells me with her own
lips to go about my business, then it will be
time enough for me to draw on those stores
of philosophy and hard common-sense which
are supposed to be handed down in the Dent

Mr. Dent's anger flashed out at that, and it
must be owned his nephew was exasperating.

“I command you never to speak to her of

“But I must, one of these days.”

“You refuse positively to quit Rivermouth?”

“At present I do.”

“And you will make no promise relative to
Miss Palfrey?”

-- 056 --

[figure description] Page 056.[end figure description]

“I cannot do that, either, sir.”

“Then you cannot call at the house, you
know,” cries Mr. Dent. “I forbid you to
speak to her when you meet her, on the street
or elsewhere, and I'll have nothing to do with
you from this out!”

And Mr. Dent turned on his heel and walked
rapidly down the road in the direction of Willowbrook,
forgetful of those two ounces and a
half of scarlet Saxony wool which he had been
commissioned by Prue to purchase at Rivermouth.

“ `How poor are they that have not patience'!”
said the young man to himself;
then he added, a second after, “How poor are
they that have not prudence!” probably meaning
Prudence Palfrey.

John Dent looked at his cigar. It had gone
out. He threw the stump among some barberry-bushes
by the stone-wall, and set his
face towards the town.

-- 057 --

p450-064 V. The Romance of Horseshoe Lane.

[figure description] Page 057.[end figure description]

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.

-- 058 --

[figure description] Page 058.[end figure description]

“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

-- 059 --

[figure description] Page 059.[end figure description]

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

-- 060 --

[figure description] Page 060.[end figure description]

“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.”

-- 061 --

[figure description] Page 061.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 062 --

[figure description] Page 062.[end figure description]

“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

-- 063 --

[figure description] Page 063.[end figure description]

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

-- 064 --

[figure description] Page 064.[end figure description]

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

-- 065 --

[figure description] Page 065.[end figure description]

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

-- 066 --

[figure description] Page 066.[end figure description]

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

-- 067 --

[figure description] Page 067.[end figure description]

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.

-- 068 --

[figure description] Page 068.[end figure description]

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

-- 069 --

[figure description] Page 069.[end figure description]

“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

-- 070 --

[figure description] Page 070.[end figure description]

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.

-- 071 --

[figure description] Page 071.[end figure description]

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.

-- 072 --

[figure description] Page 072.[end figure description]

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?”

-- 073 --

[figure description] Page 073.[end figure description]


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

-- 074 --

[figure description] Page 074.[end figure description]

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?”

-- 075 --

[figure description] Page 075.[end figure description]

“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

-- 076 --

[figure description] Page 076.[end figure description]

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

-- 077 --

[figure description] Page 077.[end figure description]

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

-- 078 --

[figure description] Page 078.[end figure description]

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,—

-- 079 --

[figure description] Page 079.[end figure description]

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

-- 080 --

[figure description] Page 080.[end figure description]

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

-- 081 --

[figure description] Page 081.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 082 --

[figure description] Page 082.[end figure description]

“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

-- 083 --

[figure description] Page 083.[end figure description]

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 --

p450-091 VI. Concerning a Skeleton in a Closet.

[figure description] Page 084.[end figure description]

PRUE, on returning home, said nothing to
her guardian touching the interview with
John Dent at the parsonage.

She did not intend to hide the matter, but
it was all too new and distracting for her to
speak about just then. She was flurried, and
wanted time to think it over. She lay awake
half the night thinking of it, and began reproaching
herself for her coldness and coquetry.
How generous John Dent had been
with her, and how calculating and worldly wise
she had been on her part. He was going away
to face hardship and danger, perhaps death itself,
for her sake,—she understood clearly it
was for her sake,—and she had let him go
without speaking the word that would have
made this comparatively easy for him. It was
true, he had begged her not to speak the

-- 085 --

[figure description] Page 085.[end figure description]

word; but she might have spoken it like an
honest girl. She had given him a marble
cheek to salute, when she ought to have thrown
her arms around his neck. What was there
to prevent her loving him and telling him so?

The generosity had been wholly on the side
of her lover, and no woman is content with
that; so Prue's heart warmed to him all the
more because she had not been allowed to
sacrifice herself in the least, and she fell asleep
with the vow upon her lips that if she did not
marry John Dent she would never marry.

At the breakfast-room door the next morning,
Prudence met her guardian returning from
a walk. He had been marketing at Rivermouth
bright and early, and had had the unlooked-for
satisfaction of beholding at a distance
his nephew and Joseph Twombly standing
in the midst of their luggage on the platform
of the railway station. But it chanced
that on the way home Mr. Dent had picked up
a piece of intelligence which turned the edge
of his satisfaction.

“Laws'a mercy, if that ain't Mr. Ralph
Dent!” cried a shrill, querulous voice at his

-- 086 --

[figure description] Page 086.[end figure description]

elbow, as that gentleman turned into Penhallow
Place. It was the Widow Mugridge sweeping
the flag-stones in front of her domicile.
“Who 'd 'a' thought you 'd ketch me tidyin'
up a bit this airly in the mornin'! It's the
airly bird that gits the worm, Mr. Dent. Ben
to see your nevy off to Califerny, I s'pose! I
see him an' Miss Prudence a-chirpin' thicker'n
blackbirds over there on the parson's piazzer
yisterday forenoon, an' thought likely's not he
was goin' away at last. An' Joe, too—dear
me! They do say Deacon Twombly's folks is
dreffully cut up—”

Buz, buz, buz! Mr. Dent did not wait to
hear more, but lifting his hat to the old lady,
hurried down the street.

“I'd wager a cookey, now,” said the good
soul, leaning on the broom-handle meditatively,
and following Mr. Dent's vanishing figure with
a lack-lustre blue eye,—“I'd wager a cookey,
now, young Dent has ben settin' up to that
Palfrey gal, an' there's ben trouble. Thought
so all 'long. Clem Hoyt fetched away young
Dent's trunk more'n two weeks ago, and he
has n't set in the family pew sence. Guess

-- 087 --

[figure description] Page 087.[end figure description]

things muster ben purty lively up to Willowbrook
house. Well, now, it's cur'ous, how
folks will fall to sixes an' sevins, 'specially relations,
right in the face of their Creater!”

Mr. Dent gave Prudence a frigid good morning.
He had no heart to arraign her for her
seeming duplicity; he had no heart for anything.
Prue loved his nephew, and the two
had met,—met in secret. One had defied him
and the other had deceived him.

I scarcely know how to describe the emotions
and perplexities that beset Mr. Dent at this
period, without shearing him of some of those
practical attributes which I have claimed for

When his nephew, that day on the road to
Rivermouth, declared his intentions regarding
Prue, Mr. Dent was startled and alarmed.
That Prudence would marry some time or
other, had occurred to him faintly as a possibility,—
a possibility so far in the future as
not to be considered; but John Dent had
taught him that the time was come when his
hold on Prue would be slight, were the right
man to demand her. John Dent was clearly

-- 088 --

[figure description] Page 088.[end figure description]

not the right man, and Mr. Dent had opposed
the arrangement, chiefly, as he imagined, because
his nephew was not in a position to
marry; but under it all was a strangely born
and indefinable jealousy. Prue's declaration
on the piazza that afternoon fell upon Mr.
Dent like lightning from a cloudless sky; by
the flash of her love he saw the depth of his
own affection. It sometimes happens, outside
the covers of romances, that a man rears an
adopted girl from the cradle, and falls in love
with her when she gets into long dresses,—
that the love creeps into existence unsuspected,
and asserts itself suddenly, full-grown. It was
something very like this that had happened to
Mr. Dent.

There is said to be a skeleton in every house.
Until then there had never been a skeleton at
Willowbrook, at least since Mr. Dent owned
the property; but there was one now, and Mr.
Dent's task henceforth was to see that the
ghastly thing did not peep out of its closet.
Prudence should never dream of its existence;
he would stand a grim sentinel over the secret
until the earth covered him and it. He thought

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it hard, after the disappointment of his youth,
that such a burden should be laid upon his
later years; but he would bear it as he had
borne the other.

He saw his duty plainly enough, but there
were almost insuperable difficulties in the performance
of it. It was next to impossible for
him to meet Prudence on the same familiar
footing as formerly; the unrestrained intimacy
that had held between them was full of peril
for his secret. He must be always on his
guard lest she should catch a glimpse into the
Bluebeard chamber where he had hidden his
stifled love. An unconsidered word or look
might be a key to it. Now it so fell out, in
his perplexity as to which was the least dangerous
method to pursue, that this amiable and
honest gentleman began treating the girl with
a coldness and constraint which gradually
merged into a degree of harshness he was far
from suspecting.

Acknowledging to herself that she had given
her guardian some grounds for displeasure,
Prudence was ready to make any advances
towards a reconciliation; but Mr. Dent gave

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her no encouragement; he was ice to her. At
this stage business called him to Boston, where
he remained a fortnight.

“He will forgive me before he comes home,”
Prudence said to herself; but he came home
as he went away, gelid.

As she leaned over his chair at bedtime that
night to offer him her forehead to kiss, a
pretty fashion which had outlived her childhood,
he all but repulsed her. Prue shrank
back, and never attempted to repeat the caress.

“He is still angry,” she thought, “because
he fancies there is some engagement between
me and John Dent.”

But she was too proud now, as she had been
too timid before, to tell him what had passed
at Parson Hawkins's. He evidently knew they
had met there; she had forfeited his confidence
and respect, and that was hard to bear, harder
than John Dent's absence, a great deal. She
would have borne that cheerfully if her guardian
had let her; but he made even that

The old parson was Prue's only resource at

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this time. Whenever household duties gave her
leave, she went straight to the parsonage, and
sat for hours on the little green bench under
the vines, nearly leafless now, where John
Dent had waited for her. She called it her
stool of penitence. Here she actually read
through Adam Smith on “The Wealth of Nations,”
a feat which I venture to assert has
been accomplished by few young women in New
England or elsewhere. It was like a novel to

Sometimes the parson would bring his arm-chair
out on the piazza into the sunshine, and
the two would hold long discourses on California
and John Dent; for the parson had a foundness
for the young fellow; he had taught Jack
Latin when he was a kid; besides, the boy's
father had been dear to him. How far the
young man had taken Parson Hawkins into
his confidence, I do not know; but it is presumable
that Prudence told her old friend all
there was to tell. Often the parson was absent
from home, visiting parishioners, and Prudence
sat there alone, thinking of John Dent. She
had fallen into so pitiable a state that this

-- 092 --

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became her sole pleasure,—to walk a mile and a
quarter to a place where she could be thoroughly

These frequent pilgrimages to Horseshoe
Lane filled Mr. Dent with lively jealousy. He
grew to hate the simple old gentleman, whose
society was openly preferred to his own, though
he did not make his own too agreeable.

He blamed the parson for coming between
him and Prudence; most of all he blamed him
for allowing John Dent to meet her clandestinely
under his roof. He made no doubt but
the intriguing old woman—for what was he
but an old woman?—had connived at the
meeting, very likely brought it about. Perhaps
he saw a pitiful marraige-fee at the end of his
plots and his traps, the wretched old miser!

If Prudence was rendered unhappy by her
guardian's harsh humor, he was touched to the
heart by her apparent indifference. They saw
each other rarely now, only at meals and sometimes
in the sitting-room after dinner. Mr.
Dent spent his time mostly in the library, and
Prudence kept out of the way. She no longer
played chess with him or read to him of an

-- 093 --

[figure description] Page 093.[end figure description]

evening. The autumn evenings were dull and
interminable at Willowbrook. If it had been
Mr. Dent's purpose to make Prudence miss his
nephew every hour of the day, Machiavelli himself
could not have improved on the course he
was pursuing.

One afternoon, after nearly three months of
this, Mr. Dent received an envelope from his
nephew enclosing a letter for Prudence. Mr.
Dent's first impulse was to throw the missive
into the grate; but he followed his second impulse,
and carried it to her, though it burnt
his fingers like a hot coal.

Prudence started and colored when her eyes
fell upon the superscription, but she made no
motion to take the letter; she let it lie on the
table where he had placed it.

“She wishes to read it alone,” said Mr. Dent
to himself, bitterly. He was marching off to
the door as stiff as a grenadier when Prudence
intercepted him.

“Are we never going to be friends again?”
she said, laying her hand lightly on his arm.
“Are you never going to like me any more?
I begin to feel that I am a stranger in the

-- 094 --

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house; it is no longer my home as it was.
Do you know what I shall do when I am convinced
you have entirely ceased to care for me?
I shall go away from you.”

He gave a quick glance at Prudence's face,
and saw that she meant it.

“Go away from me?” he exclaimed. “What
in God's world could I do without you!”

“I cannot go on living here if you don't love
me. I have done nothing to deserve your unkindness.
I saw John Dent only by chance, I
did not go to meet him, there is no engagement
between us; but I love him, and shall
love him always. I regret every day of my life
that I did not tell him so, like an honest girl.
That is really my only fault. For all this I
ask your forgiveness so far as you consider
yourself disobeyed. You have been unjustly
severe with me. In a little while your severity
will lose the power of wounding, and I shall
think only of your injustice.”

Then Prudence walked away and sat down
by the work-table.

Every word of this was a dagger to Mr.
Dent. Had he been cruel to her? It was

-- 095 --

[figure description] Page 095.[end figure description]

plain he had. He was struck now by the
change that had taken place in Prudence within
three months. He had not noticed until
then how pale she was; there were dark circles
under her eyes that seemed to darken her
whole face, and the eyes themselves were grown
large and lustrous, like a consumptive's. As
her hands lay in her lap, he observed how
white and thin they were; and his conscience
smote him. It was not enough he should keep
the skeleton securely locked in its closet; his
duty went further; the girl's health and happiness
were to be looked after a little, and he
had neglected that.

“Prue,” he said, with sudden remorse, “I
have been very blind and unreasonable. Only
be a happy girl again, and I will ask you to
do nothing else except to forgive me for not
finding it easy to yield you up to the first
young fellow that came along and asked for
you. You have been my own girl for so many
years, that the thought of losing you distracted
me. But we won't speak about that. Write
to Jack, and tell him to come home; he shall
be welcome to Willowbrook. I'll bury a bushel

-- 096 --

[figure description] Page 096.[end figure description]

of gold eagles in the lawn for him to dig up,
if he is still mad on the subject. All I have
is yours and his. What do I care for beyond
your happiness?” And Mr. Dent put his arm
around Prudence and kissed her much the
same as he might have done before John Dent
ever came to Rivermouth.

The wisest way to treat a skeleton is to
ignore it. There is nothing a skeleton likes
more than coddling: nothing it likes less than
neglect. Neglect causes it to pine away—if a
skeleton, even in a metaphor, can be said to
pine away—and crumble into dust.

“And now,” cried Mr. Dent, “let us see
what the young man has to say for himself.”

He never did things by halves, this honest
gentleman. When he made beer he made the
best beer Rivermouth ever tasted; though he
was no longer proud of it.

He picked up the letter and handed it to
Prudence, who could not speak for surprise
and joy over this sudden transformation. She
sat motionless for a minute, with her eyes
bright with tears, and then broke the seal.

“I'll read it aloud,” said Prue primly, as
one with authority.

-- 097 --

[figure description] Page 097.[end figure description]

The letter was not from California, as they
had expected, but was dated at an obscure little
post-village with a savage name somewhere
on the frontiers of Montana.

Bewildering rumors of gold discoveries in
the Indian Territory had caused a change in
the plans of the adventurers at the last moment.
* Instead of proceeding to San Francisco,
they had struck for the other side of
the Rocky Mountains. They were now on
their way to the new gold regions. At Salt
Lake City, where they had halted to purchase
mining implements, tents, provisions, etc., John
Dent had been too busy to write; he did not
know when he would be able to write again;
probably not for several months. They were
going into the wilds where postal arrangements
were of the most primitive order. The
country was said to be infested by bushwhack-ers,
on the lookout for unprotected baggage-trains
bound for the diggings, and for lucky
miners returning with their spoils. Besides,
scouting parties of the Bannock tribe had an

-- 098 --

[figure description] Page 098.[end figure description]

ugly fashion of waylaying the mail and decorating
their persons with cancelled postagestamps.
Under these circumstances communication
with the States would be difficult and
might be impossible. Dent and Twombly were
travelling with a body of forty or fifty men,
among whom certain claims already secured
were to be divided on their arrival at the point
of destination in Red Rock Cañon. Their
special mess consisted of Twombly, Dent, and
a young man named Nevins, whom they had
picked up at Salt Lake City. This Nevins, it
appeared, had made a fortune in California in'
56, and lost it in some crazy silver-mining
speculation two years before. He had come
over with a crowd from Nevada, and found himself
in Salt Lake City with one suit of clothes
and a large surplus of unemployed pluck. He
was thoroughly up in gold-digging, a very superior
fellow in every way, and would be of
immense service to the tyros. The three were
to work on shares, Nevins putting his knowledge
and experience against their capital and
ignorance. John Dent was in high spirits.

If there was any gold in Montana, he and

-- 099 --

[figure description] Page 099.[end figure description]

Twombly and Nevins had sworn to have it.
There was no doubt of the gold; and three
bold hearts and three pairs of strong hands
were going to seek it all they knew. “I
thank my stars,” he wrote, “that Uncle Dent
opposed me as he did in a certain matter; if
he had not, I should probably at this moment
be lying around New York on a beggarly salary,
instead of marching along with a score or
so of brave fellows to pick up a princely fortune
in Red Rock Cañon.”

“Well, I hope he will pick up the princely
fortune, with all my heart,” remarked Mr.
Dent, when they came to the end of the disjointed
and incoherent four pages.

There was not a word of love in them, and
no allusion to the past, except the passage
quoted, and the reading had been without awkwardness.

Prue was relieved, for she had broken the
seal with some doubt as to the effect of a
love-letter on her guardian even in his present
blissful mood; and Mr. Dent himself was well
satisfied with the absence of sentiment, though
the spirit underlying the letter was evident

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[figure description] Page 100.[end figure description]

“If I were a man,” Prudence said, “I would
not be a clerk in a shop, or sit all day like a
manikin on a stool with a pen stuck behind
my ear, while new worlds full of riches and
adventures lay wide open for gallant souls.
Cousin John was right to go, and I would not
have him return, until he has done his best
like a man. It will be a great thing for him,
uncle, it will teach him self-assurance and—”

“But, Prue, dear, I don't think that was a
quality he lacked,” put in Mr. Dent, with a
twinkle in his eye.

“Well, it will do him good, anyhow,” said
Prue, didactically; then, sinking her voice to
a minor key and sweeping her guardian from
head to foot with her silken lashes, she added,
“and I do not mind so much his being
away, now you are kind to me. What trouble
could be unbearable while I can turn to you
who have been father, mother, lover, and all
the world to me!”

She was rewarding him for his concessions.
The words dropped like honey from the girl's
lips. An hour before they would have been
full of bitterness to him; but he was a new

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[figure description] Page 101.[end figure description]

man within these sixty minutes; he had trampled
his folly under foot, and was ready to
accept as very precious the only kind of affection
she had to give him. The color must be
lured back into those cheeks and the troubled
face taught to wear its happy look again.
What a cruel egotist he had been, nursing his
own preposterous fancies and breaking down
the health of the girl!

“A perfect dog in the manger,” he said to
himself, as he marched up and down the garden
walks, in the afternoon sunshine, with a
lighter heart than he had carried for many a
week. “And what a sentimental old dog!
I shall be writing verses next, and printing
them in the poet's corner in the Rivermouth
Barnacle. I declare I am alarmed about myself.
A man ought n't to be in his dotage at
fifty-six. If Jack knew of this he would be
justified in placing me in the State Lunatic

So Mr. Dent derided himself pleasantly that
afternoon, and said severer things of his conduct
than I am disposed to set down here,
though it is certainly a great piece of folly for

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a young lad of fifty-six to fall in love with an
old lady of eighteen,—particularly when she
is his ward, and especially when she loves his

The four or five months that succeeded the
receipt of John Dent's letter sped swiftly and
happily over the Willowbrook people. Mr.
Dent was, if anything, kinder to Prudence
than he had ever been. His self-conquest was
so complete that on several occasions he led
himself in chains, so to speak, to the parsonage,
and took a morbid pleasure in playing
backgammon with the old clergyman.

No further tidings had come to them from
John Dent; but Prudence had been prepared
for a long silence, and did not permit this to
disturb her. She was her own self again, filling
the house with sunshine.

Mr. Dent said to her one day: “Prue, I
really believe that you love Jack.”

Prudence beamed upon him.

“What made you?” asked her guardian,

“He did.”

“I suppose so; but I don't see how he did

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[figure description] Page 103.[end figure description]

“Well, then, you did.”


“Yes,—by opposing us!”

“O, if I had shut my eyes and allowed Jack
to make love to you, then you would n't have
loved him?”

“Possibly not.”

“I wish I had let him!”

“I wish you had,” said Prue, demurely.

“It was obstinacy, then?”

“Just sheer obstinacy,” said Prue, turning
a hem and smoothing it on her knee with the
rosy nail of her forefinger. Then she leaned
one elbow on the work, and, resting her chin
on her palm, looked up into her guardian's
face after the manner of that little left-hand
cherub in the foreground of Raphael's Madonna
di San Sisto.

Mr. Dent went on with his newspaper, leaving
Prue in a brown study.

The period preceding John Dent's visit seemed
to Prudence like some far-off historical epoch
with which she could not imagine herself contemporary.
Her existence had been so colorless
before, made up of unimportant happy

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[figure description] Page 104.[end figure description]

nothings. It was so full now of complicated
possibilities. A new future had opened upon
her, all unlike that eventless one she had been
in the habit of contemplating, in which she
was to glide from merry girlhood with its
round hats, into full-blown spinstership with
its sedate bonnets, and thence into serene old
age with its prim caps and silver-bowed spectacles,—
mistress of Willowbrook in these various
stages, placidly pouring out tea for her
guardian and executing chefs-d'œuvre in worsted
to be sold for the benefit of the heathen.

This tranquil picture—with that vague background
of cemetery which will come into pictures
of the future—had not been without its
charm for Prudence. To grow old leisurely in
that pleasant old mansion among the willows,
and to fall asleep in the summer or winter twilight
after an untroubled, secluded-violet sort of
life, had not appeared so hard a fate to her.
But now it seemed to Prudence that that would
be a very hard fate indeed.

In the mean while the days wore on, not unhappily,
as I have said. Nearly a year went
by, and then Prudence began to share the

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anxiety of the Twombly family, who had heard
nothing from Joseph since the enclosure sent
in John Dent's letter.

“You remember what he wrote about the
uncertainty of the mails,” said Mr. Dent, cheeringly.
“More than likely the Bannock braves
are at this moment seated around the councilfire,
with all their war-paint on, perusing Jack's
last epistle, and wondering what the deuce he
is driving at.”

Prue laughed, but her anxiety was not dispelled
by the suggestion. She had a presentiment
which she could not throw off that all
was not well with the adventurers. What
might not happen to them, among the desperate
white men and lawless savages, out there
in the Territory? Mr. Dent called her his little
pocket Cassandra, and tried to laugh down her
fancies; but in the midst of his pleasantries
and her forebodings a letter came,—a letter
which Prudence read with blanched lip and
cheek, and then laid away, to grow yellow with
time, in a disused drawer of the old brassmounted
writing-desk that stood in her bedroom.
It was a letter with treachery and

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[figure description] Page 106.[end figure description]

shipwreck and despair in it. A great calamity
had befallen John Dent. He had made his
pile—and lost it. But how he made it and
how he lost it must be told by itself.


* In point of fact, the discovery of gold in Montana took
place at a period somewhat later than that indicated here.

-- 107 --

p450-114 VII. How John Dent made his Pile and lost it.

[figure description] Page 107.[end figure description]

IT is an epic that ought to be sung at length,
if one had the skill and the time; but I have
neither the time nor the skill, and must make
a ballad of it. The material of this chapter
is drawn chiefly from Joseph Twombly's verbal
narrative, and the fragments of a journal which
John Dent kept at intervals in those days.

It was an afternoon in the latter part of
September that the party with which Dent and
Twombly and Nevins had associated themselves
drew rein, on a narrow bridle-path far up the
side of a mountain in Eastern Montana. Rising
in their stirrups, and holding on by the
pommels of their saddles, they leaned over the
sheer edge of the precipice and saw the Promised
Land lying at their feet. On one side of
an impetuous stream, that ran golden in the

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reflected glow of the remoter peaks, lay a city
of tents, pine-huts, and rude brush wakiups,
from which spiral columns of smoke slowly
ascended here and there, and melted as they
touched the upper currents of the wind. Along
the cañon, following the course of the stream,
were hundreds of blue and red and gray figures
moving about restlessly like ants. These
were miners at work. Now and then the waning
sunlight caught the point of an uplifted
pick, and it sparkled like a flake of mica.

It was a lonely spot. All this busy human
life did not frighten away the spirit of isolation
that had brooded over it since the world
was made. Shut in by savage hills, stretching
themselves cloudward like impregnable battlements,
it seemed as if nothing but a miracle
had led the foot of man to its interior solitude.
What a lovely, happy nook it seemed,
flooded with the ruddy stream of sunset! No
wonder the tired riders halted on the mountain-side,
gazing down half doubtingly upon its

“Dent,” whispered George Nevins, impressively,
“there is gold here.” Then he sat

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[figure description] Page 109.[end figure description]

motionless for a few minutes, taking in every
aspect of the cañon. “What gold there is
over yonder,” he presently added, in the same
low voice, “is pulverized, lying in secret crevices,
or packed away in the sands of the
river-bed; troublesome hard work to get it,
too. How neatly Nature stows it away, confound

“But there is gold?”

“Tons—for the man that can find the rich

“And nuggets?”

And nuggets.”

“Let us go!” cried John Dent, plunging
the spurs into his horse. The rest of the
party, refreshed by the halt, followed suit, and
the train swept down the mountain-path, the
rowels and bells of their Spanish spurs jingling
like mad.

So they entered the Montana diggings.

More than once on their journey to Red
Rock, which had not been without its perils,
Dent and Twombly had found Nevins's experience
and readiness of great advantage to them,

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[figure description] Page 110.[end figure description]

and that afternoon, on arriving at the cañon,
they had fresh cause to congratulate themselves
on having him for a comrade. Two
diggers, who were working a pit below them
on the ravine, had encroached on their claim,
and seemed indisposed to relinquish a certain
strip of soil next the stream very convenient
for washing purposes. Nevins measured the
ground carefully, coolly pulled up the stakes
which had been removed, and set them back
in their original holes. He smiled while he
was doing this, but it was a wicked sort of
smile, as dangerous as a sunstroke.

The men eyed him sullenly for a dozen or
twenty seconds; then one of them walked up
to his mate and whispered in his ear, and then
the pair strolled off, glancing warily from time
to time over their shoulders.

Dent and Twombly looked on curiously.
Dent would have argued the case, and proved
to them, by algebra, that they were wrong;
Twombly would have compromised by a division
of the disputed tract; but Nevins was an old
hand, and knew how to hold his own.

“The man who hesitates in this community

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[figure description] Page 111.[end figure description]

is lost,” said Nevins, turning to his companions.
“If I had not meant fight, they would
have shot me. As it was — I should have
shot them.”

“Why, Nevins!” cried Twombly, “what a
bloodthirsty fellow you are, to be sure!”

“You wait,” Nevins said. “You don't
know what kind of crowd you have got into.
Here and there, maybe, there's an honest fellow,
but as for the rest, — jail-birds from the
States, gamblers from San Francisco, roughs
from Colorado and Nevada, and blackguards
from everywhere. Our fellow-citizens in the
flourishing town of Red Rock are the choice
scum and sediment of society, and I shall be
out of my reckoning if the crack of the revolver
does n't become as familiar to our ears
as the croak of the bullfrogs over there in the

Nevins had not drawn a flattering picture of
the inhabitants of Red Rock; but it was as
literal as a photograph.

The rumors of a discovery of rich placer
diggings in Montana had flown like wildfire
through the Territories and the border States,

-- 112 --

[figure description] Page 112.[end figure description]

and caused a stampede among the classes first
affected by that kind of intelligence. Two
months before, the valley was a solitude. Only
the songs of birds, the plunge of a red-deer
among the thickets, or the cry of some savage
animal, broke its stillness. One day a trapper
wandered by chance into the cañon, and got
benighted there. In the morning, eating his
breakfast, he had stuck his sheath-knife for
convenience into the earth beside him; on
withdrawing it he saw a yellow speck shining
in the bit of dirt adhering to the blade. The
trapper quietly got up and marked out his
claim. He knew it could not be kept secret.
A man may commit murder and escape suspicion,
though “murder speaks with most miraculous
organ”; but he may never hope to
discover gold and not be found out.

Two months later there was a humming
town in Red Rock Cañon, with a population
of two thousand and upwards.

There was probably never a mining town of
the same size that contained more desperadoes
than Red Rock in the first year of its existence.
Hither flocked all the ruffians that had

-- 113 --

[figure description] Page 113.[end figure description]

made other localities too hot to hold them, —
gentlemen with too much reputation, and ladies
with too little; and here was formed the nucleus
of that gang of marauders, known as
Henry Plummer's Road Agent Band, which
haunted the mountain-passes, pillaging and
murdering, until the Vigilantes took them in
hand and hanged them with as short shrift
and as scant mercy as they had given their
fellow-men. That is a black page in the history
of American gold-seeking which closes
with the execution of Joe Pizanthia, Buck
Stinson, Haze Lyons, Boone Helme, Erastus
Yager, Dutch John, Club-foot George, and
Bill Graves, — their very names are a kind of
murder.* And these were prominent citizens
of Red Rock when our little party of adventurers
set up their tent and went to work on
their claim in the golden valley.

“Nevins has not mistaken the geological any
more than he has the moral character of the

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[figure description] Page 114.[end figure description]

cañon,” writes John Dent in his journal under
date of October 12. “Gold-dust has been found
scattered all along the bed of the river, and in
some instances lucky prospectors have struck
rich pockets; but of those massive nuggets
which used to drive men wild in the annus
'49 we have seen none yet, though
there is a story afloat about a half-breed finding
one as big as a cocoanut! I am modest
myself, and am willing to put up with a dozen
or twenty nuggets of half that size. It does n't
become a Christian to be grasping. Mem.
Digging for gold, however it may dilate the
imagination in theory, is practically devilish
hard work.”

This is a discovery which it appears was made
by our friends long before they discovered the
gold itself. For a fortnight they toiled like
Trojans; they gave themselves hardly time to
eat; at night they dropped asleep like beasts
of burden; and at the end of fourteen days
they had found no gold. At the end of the
third week they had made nearly a dollar a
day each, — half the wages of a day-laborer at
the East. John Dent, with a heavy sigh,

-- 115 --

[figure description] Page 115.[end figure description]

suggested that they had better look up a claim
for a cemetery.

“I never like to win the first hand,” said
Nevins, genially; “it brings bad luck.”

“The fellows from Sacramento, down the
stream, are taking out seven hundred a week,”
remarked Twombly.

“Our turn will come,” Nevins replied, cheerly
still, like Abou Ben Adhem to the Angel.

This was on Sunday. The trio had knocked
off work, and so had the camp generally. Sunday
was a gala day. The bar-rooms and the
gambling-saloons were thronged; at sundown
the dance-house would open, — the Hurdy-Gurdy
House, as it was called. Lounging about camp,
but as a usual thing in close propinquity to
some bar, were knots of unsuccessful diggers,
anathematizing their luck and on the alert for
an invitation to drink. All day Sunday an
odor of mixed drinks floated up from Red
Rock and hung over it in impalpable clouds.

The three friends strolled through the town
on a tour of observation, and brought up at
the door of a saloon where a crowd was gathered.
A man had been shot at one of the

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tables, and his comrades were fetching him
out, dead, with his derringer, still smoking,
clutched in his hand. Following the corpse
was a lame individual, apparently the chief
mourner, carrying the dead man's hat on a
stick. The crowd opened right and left to let
the procession pass, and our friends came full
upon it.

Dent and Twombly turned away, sickened
by the spectacle. Nevins looked on with an
expression of half-stimulated curiosity, and
stroked his long, yellow beard.

“And this is Sunday,” thought John Dent.
“In Rivermouth, the old sexton is tolling the
bell for the afternoon service; Uncle Dent and
my little girl are sitting in the high-backed
wall-pew,—I can see them now! Uncle Dent
preparing to go to sleep, Prue looking like a
rose, and Parson Wibird, God bless his old
white head! going up the pulpit stairs in his
best coat shiny at the seams. Outside are the
great silver poplars, and the quiet street, and
the sunshine like a blessing falling over

The close atmosphere of the camp stifled

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him as he conjured up this picture. He longed
to be alone, and, dropping silently behind his
companions, wandered off beyond the last row
of wakiups and out into the deserted ravine.

There he sat down under a ledge, and
with his elbows resting on his knees, dreamed
of the pleasant town by the sea, of Prudence
and his uncle, and the old minister in Horseshoe
Lane. Presently he took from his pocket-book
a knot of withered flowers and leaves;
these he spread in the palm of his hand with
great care, and held for half an hour or more,
looking at them from time to time in a way
that seemed idiotic to a solitary gentleman in
a slouched hat and blanket-overcoat who was
digging in a pit across the gully. What slight
things will sometimes entertain a man when
he is alone! This handful of faded fuchsia
blossoms made John Dent forget the thousands
of weary miles that stretched between him and
New England; holding it so, in his palm, it
bore him through the air back to the little
Yankee seaport as if it had been Fortunatus's
magic cap.

It was sunset when Dent sauntered pensively

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into camp, meeting Twombly and Nevins on
the outskirts, looking for him.

“Jack!” cried Twombly, “you have given
me such a turn! It really is n't safe in this
place for a fellow to go off mooning by himself.
What on earth have you been doing?”

“Something quite unusual, Joseph,—I've
been thinking.”

“Homesick, eh?” said Nevins.

“Just a little.”

Then they walked on in silence. Nevins
stopped abruptly.

“What is that?”

“A bit of rock I picked up out yonder; say
what it is yourself.” And Dent tossed the fragment
to Nevins, who caught it deftly.

“Pyrites,” said Nevins, flinging it away contemptuously.
“Come and have some supper.”

The instant they were inside the tent Nevins
laid his hand on Dent's shoulder.

“Do you happen to remember the spot where
you picked up that—bit of rock?”

“Yes, why?”

“Nothing,—only it was as fine a specimen
of silver as we shall be likely to see.”

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“Silver!” shouted John Dent, “and you
threw it away!”

“I'll go get it directly, if you'll be quiet.
Did you see those two fellows watching us?
It behooves a man here to keep his eye open
on the Sabbath-day.”

He was a character, this Nevins, in his way,
though it would be difficult perhaps to state
what his special way was. In the gulches,
with pick and spade, he was simply a miner
who knew his business thoroughly; on horseback
he became a part of the horse like a Comanche;
when a question in science or literature
came up, as sometimes happened between
him and Dent, he talked like a man who had
read and thought. “Nevins has apparently
received a collegiate education,” John Dent
writes in the diary, “and is certainly a gentleman,
though what it is that constitutes a
gentleman is an open question. It is not culture,
for I have known ignorant men who
were gentlemen, and learned scholars who were
not; it is not money, nor grace, nor goodness,
nor station. It is something indefinable, like
poetry, and Nevins has it.”

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From the hour they met him at Salt Lake
City, he had been a puzzle to the two New-Englanders;
his talents and bearing were so
out of keeping with his circumstances. But,
as for that matter, so were John Dent's. Nevins
was candor itself, and if he said little of
his past life, he did not hesitate to speak of it,
and seemed to have nothing to conceal. One
fact was clear to both our Rivermouth friends,—
Nevins was worth his weight in gold to

The piece of rock that John Dent had
picked up on the mountain-side was, in fact,
a fragment of silver-bearing quartz,—the zigzag
thread of blue which ran like a vein across
the broken edge betrayed its quality to Nevins
at a glance.

A week after this it was noised through
Red Rock that a party from New England had
struck a silver lode of surprising richness farther
up the valley. That night John Dent
wrote a long letter to Prudence. Three nights
afterwards the Road Agents overhauled the
Walla Walla Express, and the gutted mail-bag
was thrown into a swamp.

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Perhaps there was more truth than jest in
Mr. Dent's picture of the Bannock chieftains
puzzling over the rhetoric of Jack's epistle.

John Dent's visions of wealth would have
been realized in a few months, but unfortunately
the silver lode, as if repenting its burst
of generosity, abruptly turned coy, and refused
to lavish any more favors. Just when their
shaft was piercing deeper and deeper into the
earth, and their rock growing richer and richer,—
just as they had fallen into a haughty habit
of looking upon each other as millionnaires,—
the lode began to narrow. It was six feet
wide when it began to narrow; from that
point it narrowed relentlessly day by day for
a fortnight, and then was a thin seam like a
knife-blade,—then “pinched out” and utterly
disappeared. After four weeks of drifting, and
shafting, and all manner of prospecting, they
failed to find it again, and gave up. Some
said it was only a rich “chamber”; some said
it was one of those treacherous “pockets”; and
some said it was a good “chimney,” and was
down there yet, somewhere: but whatever its
name or its nature might be, Dent, Nevins, and

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Twombly recognized the fact that it had got
away from them, and that was the main grievance.

“Anyhow, we have made a fair haul,” remarked
Nevins, “thanks to you, Jack, for it
was you who lighted on the thing.”

“My luck is your luck and Twombly's,”
Dent replied.

They had, as Nevins stated, made a fair
haul. They had managed to get out close
upon a thousand tons of forty-dollar rock before
the calamity came, and after all expenses
of mining and crushing were paid, they found
themselves nearly thirty thousand dollars in

Their pile was so large now,—they had reduced
it to greenbacks which they concealed
on the premises,—and its reputation so much
exaggerated, that they took turns in guarding
the tent, only two going to work at a time.
The presence of thieves in the camp had been
successfully demonstrated within the month,
and the fear of being robbed settled upon
them like a nightmare. Dent had another apprehension,
the coming of the cold season.

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Nevins reassured him on that point. Though
the winter was severe in Montana, they were in
a sheltered valley; at the worst there would be
only a few weeks when they could not work.

The silver exhausted, they fell to prospecting.
After varying fortunes for a fortnight,
they had another find, Twombly being the involuntary
Columbus. It was gold on this occasion,
and though it did not yield so bounteously
as the silver lode, it panned out handsomely.

So the weeks wore away, and the young men
saw their store steadily increasing day by day.
It was heart-breaking work sometimes, and
back-breaking work always; but it was the
kind of work that makes a man willing to
have his back, if not his heart, broken.

The winter which Dent had looked forward
to so apprehensively was over, and had been
propitious to the gold-hunters. Spring-time
again filled the valley to the very brim with
color and perfume, as a goblet is filled with
wine. Then the long summer set in.

All this while John Dent had refrained from

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writing home; it was his design to take Prudence
and his uncle by surprise, by walking
unheralded into Willowbrook some happy day,
with his treasures.

Those treasures had become a heavy care to
the young men. “We keep the dust”—I am
quoting from the journal—“in a stout candlebox
set into the earth at the foot of the tentpole,
and one of us lies across it at night.
There have been two attempts to rob us. The
other night Joe turned over in his sleep, and
found himself clutching a man by the leg.
An empty boot was left in his hand, and a
black figure darted out of the tent. There
was a search the next morning for that
other boot. There were plenty of men with
two boots, and not a few with none at all;
but the man with one boot was wanting, and
well for him! If he had been caught it would
have been death on the spot; the blackest
scoundrels in camp would have assisted at his
execution, for there 's nothing so disgusts
knaves as a crime of this sort,—when they
have n't a finger in it themselves.”

The morning after this attempt at burglary,

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—it was the second,—the following conversation
took place:—

“It will never do for us to keep all this
dust here,” said Nevins; “we can't hide it as
cunningly as we do the greenbacks.”

“What can we do with it?” asked John

“There's an agent here of Tileston & Co.'s
who will give us drafts on Salt Lake City, or
turn it into bank-notes at a Jewish discount.”

Dent and Twombly preferred the bank-notes.

“Drafts would be safer,” suggested Nevins.

“Suppose Tileston & Co. should fail?”

“That is true, again,” observed Nevins.

The bank-notes were decided on, and fortyfive
slips of crisp paper in all, each with an
adorable M on it, were shut up in a leather
pocket-book, which they buried in the middle
of the tent, piling their saddles over the hiding-place.

They had now been nearly twelve months
at the diggings, and John Dent's share in the
property reached five figures. It was not the
wealth of his dreams; every day in Wall Street
men make three times as much by a scratch

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of the pen; but it was enough to set him on
his feet. With fifteen thousand dollars in his
pocket he could ask Prudence Palfrey to marry
him. Red Rock was overrun, and the supply
of metal giving out. If he remained without
lighting on fresh finds, what he had would
melt away like snow in the March sunshine.
Was it worth while to tempt fortune further?
was it likely that two such golden windfalls
would happen to the same mortal? He put
these questions to Nevins and Twombly, who
were aware of the stress that drew him to
New England. They knew his love-affair by
heart, and had even seen a certain small photograph
which John Dent had brought with
him from Rivermouth.

Nevins declared his own intention to hold
on by Red Rock. Twombly was for instantly
returning home. With fifteen thousand dollars
in the Nautilus Bank at Rivermouth, he would
snap his fingers at Count Monte Cristo himself,
who, by the way, was as real a personage
to Twombly as John Jacob Astor. The two
New England men decided to join the next
large party that started for the East.

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The incalculable sums which our friends were
imagined to have accumulated rendered their
position critical. They took turns regularly on
the night-watch now, and waited with increasing
apprehension and impatience for the making
up of a train to cross the mountains.

Red Rock had not improved with time. It
seethed and bubbled, like a witch's caldron,
with all evil passions. Men who might have
been decently honest if they had been decently
fortunate, turned knaves. Crowds of successful
diggers had already shaken the gold-dust
from their feet and departed; only the dissolute
and the vicious remained, with here and
there a luckless devil who could not get away.
The new-comers, and there were throngs of
them, were of the worst description. Every
man carried his life in his hand, and did not
seem to value it highly. It was suicide to
stray beyond the limits of the town after dusk.
Tents were plundered every night. Now, though
murder did not shock the nerves of this community,
the thieving did. An attempt was made
by indignant citizens of Red Rock to put a
stop to that. They went so far as to suspend

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from the bough of a butternut-tree one of their
most influential townsmen, a gentleman known
as the Great American Pie-Eater (on account
of certain gastronomic feats performed at Salt
Lake City), but the proceeding met with so
little popular favor, that the culprit was taken
down and resuscitated and invited by his executioners
to stand drinks all round at Gallagher's
bar, — which he did.

When the Vigilantes sprung into existence,
they managed these things differently in Montana:
they did n't take their man down so
soon, for one thing.

“If we had been there by ourselves,” said
Joseph Twombly, describing Red Rock at this
period, “we'd have been murdered in less than
a week.” But there was, it seemed, something
about Nevins that had a depressing effect
upon the spirits of sundry volatile gentlemen in

One morning just before daybreak, John
Dent awoke suddenly and sat up in his blankets,
trembling from head to foot. At what he
did not know. He had not been dreaming,

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and it was not a noise that had broken his
sleep. He looked about him; every object
stood out clearly in the twilight; Twombly lay
snoring in his shake-down, but Nevins, whose
watch it was, was not in the tent. Dent was
somehow struck cold by that. He rolled out
of the blankets, and crawling over to the spot
where the money was hidden, felt for it under
the saddles. The earth around the place had
been newly turned up, and THE POCKET-BOOK

The pocket-book was gone, and one of the
three saddles — Nevins's — was missing. The
story told itself. The outcries of the two men
brought a crowd of diggers to the tent.

“We have been robbed by our partner,”
cried Twombly, picking up a saddle by the
stirrup-strap and hurrying out to the corral
for his horse.

John Dent lay on the ground with his fingernails
buried in the loose earth near the empty
hole. A couple of worthies, half roughly and
half compassionately, set him upon his feet.

“Do you care to know who that mate of
yours was?”

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The speaker was a gaunt, sunburnt man,
with deer-skin leggins, fringed at the seams
and gathered at the waist by a U. S. belt, from
which hung the inevitable bowie-knife and revolver.
Dent looked at him stupidly, and dimly
recognized one of the two miners who had disputed
the claim with Nevins that first afternoon
in camp.

“I knew he'd levant with the pile, some day.
But I did n't like to let on, for fear of mistakes.
I thought, maybe, you other two was
the same kind. I knew that man in Tuolumne
County. He's a devil. He's the only man
breathing I'm afraid of. No, I don't mind
allowing I'm afraid of him. There's something
about him, when I think of it, — a sort
of cold cheek, — so that I'd rather meet a Bannock
war-party in a narrer gully than have
any unpleasantness with that man. His true
name was n't Dick King, I reckon, because he
said it was. Cool Dick was what they called
him in Tuolumne County in '56.”

Several ears in the crowd pricked up at the
words Cool Dick. It was a pseudonyme rather
well known on the Pacific slope. John Dent
had recovered his senses by this.

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“Are there any true lads here,” he cried,
“that will go with me to bring back that

A dozen volunteered at once, and half an
hour later twenty armed men galloped out of
Red Rock Cañon.

They returned with jaded horses, at sunset,
without having struck the trail of either
Twombly or Nevins. The next day, at noon,
Twombly himself rode into camp and dropped
heavily out of the saddle at the door of the
tent. He had a charge of buck-shot in his leg.
Some one had fired on him from the chaparral
near Big Hole Ranch. It was not Nevins,
for he had no gun, so far as known; probably
some confederate of his.

And this was the end of it. This was the
result of their twelve months' hardship and industry
and pluck and endurance.

Then John Dent wrote that letter to Prudence,
which she laid away in the drawer, telling
her the story, not as I have told it, tamely
and at second-hand, but with fire and tears.
Then, in a few weeks, came Joseph Twombly,
limping back into Rivermouth, alone. There

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were no more El Dorados for him, poor knight;
he was lamed for life, or he would never have
deserted his comrade. John Dent himself had
gone off, Twombly did not know where; but
to California, he fancied, in search of George

And this was the end of it for Prudence,
too. She shut up the letter and her dream in
the writing-desk with the brass clamps. It was
a year before she could read the letter without
a recurrence of the old poignant pain. At the
end of another twelvemonth, when she unfolded
the pages, the words wore a strange,
faded look, as if they had been written by one
long since dead, and dealt only with dimly remembered
events and persons,—so far off
seemed that summer morning when she first
read them. She shed no tears now, but held
the letter in her hand thoughtfully.

It was nearly three years since John Dent
went away from Rivermouth, and nothing more
had been heard of him. A silence like and
unlike that of the grave had gathered about his
name. Life at Willowbrook flowed back into

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its accustomed channels. Mr. Dent had disposed
of the skeleton effectively and forever,
and Prudence had passed into the early summer
of her womanhood. It was at this point
my chronicle began.

This was the situation—to borrow a technical
term from dramatic art—when the congregation
of the Old Brick Church, after much
ruffling of parochial plumage, resolved to relieve
Parson Wibird Hawkins of his pastorate.


* An account of the careers of these men is to be found in
a curious little work by Prof. Thomas J. Dimsdale, of Virginia
City, who narrowly escaped writing a very notable book when
he wrote “The Vigilantes of Montana.”

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p450-141 VIII. The Parson's Last Text.

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THIS brings my story again to that afternoon
in May, when Prudence Palfrey made
her appearance at the cottage in Horseshoe
Lane, and was solicited by Salome to speak to
the parson, who had locked himself in the little
room after the departure of the two deacons.

It was with an inexplicable sense of uneasiness
that Prudence crossed the library, and
knocked softly on the panel of the inner door.
The parson did not seem to hear the summons;
at all events, he paid no attention to it, and
Prudence knocked again.

“He's gittin' the least bit hard of hearin',
pore soul,” said Salome. “Mebbe he heard
that, though,” she added, more cautiously, “for
he always hears when you don't s'pose he will.
Do jest speak to him, honey; he'll know your
vice in a minit.”

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Prudence put her lips down to the key-hole
and called, “Parson Wibird!—it's Prue,—
won't you speak to me?”

He made no response to this, and in the
silence that ensued, broken only by the quick
respiration of the two women, there was no
sound as if he were preparing to undo the
fastenings. Prudence rose up with a half-frightened
expression on her countenance and
looked at Salome.

“What can have happened?” she said hurriedly.

“Lord o' mercy knows,” replied Salome,
catching Prue's alarm. “Don't stare at me
in sech a way, dear; I'm as nervous as

“Are you sure he is there?”

“Sartin. I all but see him goin' in, an' I
have n't ben out of the room sence. He must
be there.”

“Is he subject to vertigo, ever?”

“Dunno,” said Salome, doubtfully.

“I mean, does he ever faint?”

“He did have a cur'ous sort of spell two or
three weeks ago, an' Dr. Theophilus give him
some med'cine for it.”

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“He has fainted, then! Get a candle—
quick. Stop, Salome, I'll go with you.”

Prudence was afraid to remain in the library
alone. She was impressed by some impalpable
presence in the half darkness. The shadows
huddled together in the corners. The long
rows of books in their time-stained leather
bindings looked down sombrely from the
shelves. On the table was an open volume,
with an ivory paper-cutter upon it, which he
had been reading. His frayed dressing-gown
lay across a chair in front of the table. It
seemed like some weired, collapsed figure, lying
there. All the familiar objects in the room
had turned strange and woe-begone in the twilight.
Prudence would not have been left
alone for the world.

The two went out together for the candle,
which Salome with a trembling hand lighted
at the kitchen stove. Then they flitted back
to the library silently, with white sharp faces,
like ghosts.

“What shall we do?”

“We must break in the door,” said Prudence
under her breath. “You hold the

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She placed her knee against the lower panel
and pressed with all her strenght. The lock
was old and rusty, and the screws worked
loosely in the worm-eaten wood-work. The
door yielded at the second pressure and flew
open, with a shower of fine dust sifting down
from the lintel.

The girl retreated a step or two, and shading
her eyes with the palm of her hand,
peered into the darkened space.

Nothing was distinct at first, but as Salome
raised the light above Prue's head, the figure
of the parson suddenly took shape against the

He was sitting in an old-fashioned arm-chair,
with his serene face bent over a great
Bible covered with green baize, which he held
on his knees. His left arm hung idly at his
side, and the forefinger of his right hand
rested lightly on the middle of the page, as if
slumber had overtaken him so, reading.

“Laws o' mercy, if the parson has n't gone
to sleep!” exclaimed Salome, stepping into the
small compartment.

“Asleep!” repeated Prudence, the reassured
color returning to her cheek.

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Salome laid her hand on the parson's arm,
and then passed it quickly over his forehead.

“He's dead!” cried Salome, dropping the

The hour-hand of the cuckoo-clock in the
hall at Willowbrook pointed at seven; the toy
bird popped out on the narrow ledge in front
of the carved Swiss cottage, shook seven flutelike
notes into the air, popped in again hastily,
and the little door went to with a spiteful

Mr. Dent glanced at the timepiece over the
fireplace in the sitting-room, and wondered
what was detaining Prue. She had gone to
town on a shopping expedition shortly after
dinner, and here it was an hour and a half
past tea-time. Fanny had brought in the teaurn
and carried it off again. It was as if the
sun-dial had forgotten to mark the movements
of the sun; the household set its clocks by

For the last hour or two Mr. Dent had been
lounging restlessly in the sitting-room, now
snatching up a book and trying to read, now

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looking out on the lawn, and now vigorously
poking the coals in the grate, for it was one
of those brisk days which make a fire comfortable
in our delusive New England May.

Mr. Dent was revolving in his mind how he
should break to Prudence the intelligence of
Parson Hawkins's dismissal, and more especially
in what terms he should confess his
own part in the transaction. “What will Prue
say?” was a question he put to himself a
dozen times without eliciting a satisfactory reply.
He was a little afraid of Prudence,—he
had that tender awe of her with which a pure
woman inspires most men. He could imagine
what she would have said three years ago; but
she had altered in many respects since then;
she had grown quieter and less impulsive. That
one flurry of passion in which she had confessed
her love for John Dent did not seem
credible to her guardian as he looked back to
it. As a matter of course, she would be indignant
at the action of the deacons, and would
probably not approve of the steps he had taken
to bring Mr. Dillingham to Rivermouth; but
she would not storm at him. He almost wished

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[figure description] Page 140.[end figure description]

she would storm at him, for her anger was
not so unmanageable as the look of mute reproach
which she knew how to bring into her
gray eyes.

The cuckoo in the Swiss châlet had hopped
out again on the ledge, and was just sounding
the half-hour in his clear, business-like way,
when Prudence opened the drawing-room door.

“I thought you had run off for good,” said
Mr. Dent, rising from his chair; then he stopped
and looked at her attentively. “Why, Prue,
what is the matter?”

“The parson—” Prudence could not finish
the sentence.
The nervous strength that had
sustained her through the recent ordeal gave
way; she sank upon the sofa and buried her
face in the cushions.

“She has heard of it already,” thought Mr.
Dent. He crossed to the sofa and rested his
hand softly on her shoulder. “My dear girl,
you must be reasonable. It had to come sooner
or later; he could not go on preaching forever,
you know. He is a very old man now, and
ought to take his ease. He will be all the
happier with the cares of the parish off his

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“All the happier, yes!”

“And we'll have him up to Willowbrook
often; he shall have a room here—”

Prudence lifted her face beseechingly.

“O, you don't know! you don't know!”
she cried. “He is dead! he died this afternoon,
sitting in his chair. Ah!—it was so
dreadfully sudden!” And Prudence covered
her eyes with her hands as if to shut out the
scene in the library.

Mr. Dent was greatly shocked. He leaned
against the mantel-piece, and stared vacantly
at Prudence, while she related what had happened
at Horseshoe Lane. She had completed
her purchases in town, and was on the way
home when she met Miss Blydenburgh, who
told her of the deacons' visit to Parson Hawkins
to request his resignation. Knowing that
the poor old man was unprepared for any such
proposition, she had turned back and hastened
down to the parsonage, to say and do what
she could to comfort him in his probable distress.
Then she and Salome, alone there in
the dark, had found him dead in the chair.

Mr. Dent left his tea untasted. He had the

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horse saddled, and rode over to town. He was
greatly shocked. And Deacon Zeb Twombly,
that night, as he stood for a moment beside
the cradle in which the little ewe-lamb lay
nestled in its blankets, was a miserable man.
He crept off to the spare room in the attic—
where he was undergoing a temporary but not
unprecedented exile—with the conviction that
he was little better than a murderer.

“I hope Parson Wibird will forgive me my
share in the business,” murmured the deacon,
blowing out the candle; then he lingered by
the window dejectedly. It was a dreamy May
night; the air, though chilly, was full of the
odors of spring, and the mysterious blue spaces
above were sown thick with stars. “P'rhaps
he knows all up there,” he said, lifting his eyes
reverently, “an' how it went agin me to give
him any pain. I wonder how brother Wendell
feels about it.”

Deacon Wendell, fortunately or unfortunately,
as the case may be, was of that tougher fibre
out of which the strong sons of the world are
made. He had performed the duty that devolved
upon him, as he had performed other

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unpleasant duties, having been sheriff once, and
there was nothing to be said. He was sorry
the parson died just as he did. “Looks as
though he done it on purpose to spite us,”
reflected Deacon Wendell. Perhaps his chief
emotion when he first heard the news—it was
all over Rivermouth now—was an ill-defined
feeling of resentment against Parson Wibird
for having cut up rough.

The effect produced on Mr. Dent was more
complex. Though neither so callous as Deacon
Wendell nor so soft-hearted as Deacon
Twombly, he shared to some extent the feelings
of both. He keenly regretted the death
of the old parson, and particularly the manner
of it. It was an unlucky coincidence,—he
could not look upon it as anything more than
a coincidence,—and would give rise to much
disagreeable gossip. If it had happened a
month or two before, or a month or two later,
he would have been sorry, as anybody is sorry
when anybody dies; but he would not have
been shocked. He wished he had not been
quite so warm in advocating the desirableness
of Mr. Dillingham. If he could have foreseen

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the present catastrophe, he would have thrust
his hand into the flames rather than move in
the matter.

But what was done was done; and as he
urged the mare across the long wooden bridge
which ended among the crumbling wharves and
shabby warehouses of Market Street, he trusted
something would transpire showing that the
parson's death was the result of natural causes
and in no degree to be attributed to—to what
had probably caused it.

There was an unusual glimmer and moving
of lights in the windows of the parsonage, and
a mysterious coming and going of shadows on
the brown Holland shades, as Mr. Dent turned
into Horseshoe Lane. He was within a dozen
rods of the cottage, when the gate creaked on its
hinges and Dr. Theophilus Tredick passed out,
walking off rapidly in an opposite direction.

Mr. Dent pushed on after the doctor, and
overtook him at the doorstep of a neighboring

“A moment, doctor,” said Mr. Dent, leaning
over the horse's neck. “Has there been an

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“Yes; we have just finished the examination.”



“Attributable to any sudden mental excitement
or anything of that nature? You know
he had a conversation on church affairs with
the deacons this afternoon; could that have
affected him in any way?” Mr. Dent put the
query anxiously.

“It would be difficult to say,” replied the
doctor. “It is open to conjecture of course;
but at the worst it could only have hastened
what was inevitable. I am not prepared to
affirm that it hastened it; in fact, I do not
think it did.”

“I do not entirely catch your meaning,
doctor,” Mr. Dent said.

“I mean that Parson Hawkins had had two
slight strokes of paralysis previously; one last
winter and the second three weeks ago. I was
apprehensive that the third would terminate

“I never heard of that.”

“No one knew of it, I think; not even Mrs.

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Pinder, the housekeeper. It was at his own
urgent request I kept the matter secret. At the
time of the occurrence of the second attack I
had a long talk with our friend, and advised
him strongly to give up work altogether; finding
him obstinate on that point, I urged him
to have an assistant. I warned him plainly
that he might be taken ill at any moment in
the pulpit. He declared that that was the
place of all others where he could wish to die;
but he promised to consider my suggestion of
an associate minister.”

“Which he never did.”

“For the last three Sundays,” continued the
doctor, “I have gone to church expecting to
see him drop down in the pulpit in the midst
of the service. He was aware of his condition,
and not at all alarmed by it. Though he
overrated his strength, and had some odd notions
of duty,—he did have some odd notions,
our estimable old friend,—he was a man of
great clear sense, and I do not believe the recent
action of the parish affected him in the
manner or to the extent idle people will suppose.
What has happened would probably have
happened in any case.”

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Dr. Tredick's statement lifted a weight from
Mr. Dent's bosom, and from Deacon Twombly's
when he heard of it; though there were numerous
persons in the town who did not hesitate
to assert that the parson's dismissal killed him.
To look on the darkest side of a picture is in
strict keeping with the local spirit; for Rivermouth,
in its shortcomings and in its uncompromising
virtues, is nothing if not Puritan.

“Might as well have took a muskit and shot
the ole man,” observed Mr. Wiggins.

“Capital punishment ought to be abolished
in New Hampshire,” said ex-postmaster Snelling,
“if they don't hang Deacon Wendell and
the rest of 'em.”

Mr. Snelling was not naturally a sanguinary
person, but he had been superseded in the post-office
the year before by Deacon Wendell, and
flesh is flesh.

The event was the only topic discussed for
the next ten days. Parson Wibird had so long
been one of the features of the place, that he
seemed a permanence, like the brick church
itself, or the post-office with its granite façade.
If either of these had been spirited off

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overnight, the surprise and the shock could not
have been more wide-spread. That tall, stooping
figure, clad always in a rusty suit of black,
was as familiar an object on the main street as
the swinging sign of the Old Bell Tavern.
There were grandfathers and grandmothers
who, as boys and girls, remembered Parson
Wibird when he looked neither older nor
younger than he did that day lying in the
coffin,—nay, not so young, for the deep wrinkles
and scars of time had faded out of the
kindly old face, and the radiance of heavenly
youth rested upon it.

There was one circumstance connected with
the old minister's death that naturally made a
deeper impression than any other. When Salome
summoned the neighbors, that night, they
found the parson with the Bible lying open before
him, and one finger resting upon the page
as if directing attention to a particular passage.
There was something startlingly life-like and
imperative in the unconscious pointing of that
withered forefinger, and those who peered
hastily over the slanted shoulder and read the
verse indicated never forgot it.

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“Thet was th' parson's las' tex',” said Uncle
Jedd, leaning on his spade worn bright with oh!
so many graves: “Well done, thou good an'
faithful servant, enter thou inter th' joy of thy

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p450-157 IX. A Will, and the Way of it.

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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[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

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[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.

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“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

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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

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[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.

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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?—

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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

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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

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[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.

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[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.

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[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.”

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p450-173 X. The New Minister.

[figure description] Page 166.[end figure description]

RIVERMOUTH is a town where almost literally
nothing happens. Sometimes somebody
is married, and sometimes somebody dies,—
with surprising abruptness, as the old parson
did, for example,—and sometimes a vessel
is blown on the rocks at the mouth of the harbor.
But of those salient tragedies and comedies
which make up the sum of life in cities,
Rivermouth knows next to nothing. Since the
hanging of a witch or two in the pre-revolutionary
days, the office of sheriff there has been
virtually a sinecure. The police-court—where
now and then a thoughtless, light-fingered person
is admonished of the error of his ways,
and the one habitual drunkard is periodically
despatched to the Town-Farm—seems almost
like a branch of the Sunday school. The community
may be said to have lived for thirty

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[figure description] Page 167.[end figure description]

years on a single divorce case, growing out of
the elopement of Major Tom Deering with Mrs.
Honoria Maddox,—to this day a perilous story

“That matrons tell, with sharpened tongue,
To maids with downeast eyes.”

In default of great events, small matters rise
to the first magnitude in Rivermouth. There
are people there who can give you, if you chance
to be to the manner born, the most minute particulars
of the career of your great-grandfather,
and to whom what you have for dinner is far
from being an uninteresting item.

“I see Capen Chris Bell at Seth Wiggins's
this mornin',” says Mr. Uriah Stebbens to Mr.
Caleb Stokels; “he bought that great turkey
of Seth's, and six poun's of steak—right off
the tenderline. Guess he expects his brotherin-law's
family down from Bostin. Capen
Chris Bell always was a good provider.”

This piece of information lies like a live coal
upon the brain of Mr. Stokels until, with becoming
gravity, he turns it over to some other
inquiring neighbor. At a moderate estimate,
not less than two thirds of the entire population
of Rivermouth sit down in imagination at

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[figure description] Page 168.[end figure description]

Captain Christopher Bell's dinner-table the next

Unless the reader is familiar with the interior
life of secluded New England towns like
Rivermouth, he will find it difficult to understand
the excitement that prevailed on the
Sunday when the Rev. Mr. James Dillingham
preached his first sermon in the Old Brick
Church. Yet even a stranger, passing through
the streets, crowded at the earliest stroke of the
bells,—I think there is no music this side of
heaven sweeter than the clangor of those same
Rivermouth bells,—could not have failed to
notice an unwonted, eager look on the faces of
the neatly dressed throng. There was something
in the very atmosphere different from
that of ordinary days. A sort of pious Fourth-of-July
halo diffused itself through the fleecy,
low-hanging clouds, which, with May-time capriciousness,
broke into fine rain before the service
was concluded. A circumstance in which
Uncle Jedd detected, with microscopic eye, the
marked disapproval of Providence.

If such was the significance of the unheralded
shower that drenched Rivermouth's

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[figure description] Page 169.[end figure description]

spring-bonnets, and bedraggled alike the just and the unjust,
it was not so accepted by the congregation
of the Old Brick Church.

The Rev. Mr. Dillingham had achieved a signal
triumph, and had triumphed in the teeth
of very serious obstacles. A small number of
the parishioners had been against him from the
first, and the death of Parson Hawkins had
not only strengthened their opposition, but created
a reaction among those who had insisted
most strenuously on the removal of the old
minister. It so chanced, then, that Mr. Dillingham
came to face as critical and unsympathetic
a congregation as could well be. Perhaps
the only really impartial listeners among
his audience were those belonging to other parishes;
for it was a noticeable fact that all the
other churches in town were nearly empty on
this occasion. The Rev. Josiah Jones, who had
not spared himself in preparing his sermon for
that forenoon, saw with ill-concealed distaste
that the larger portion of his flock had strayed
into the neighboring pasture.

If Mr. Dillingham had had an intimation of
the actual state of things, he would perhaps not

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have been so little self-conscious and so entirely
composed as he appeared; but happily he had
no suspicion of the unfriendly spirit that animated
the majority of his hearers.

With a slight flush on his cheeks, which
faded out almost immediately, Mr. Dillingham
passed from the small room at the rear of the
church, and ascended the pulpit stairs,—a slim
young man, nearly six feet in height, with
gentle blue eyes, and long hair of a dull gold
color, which he wore brushed behind his ears.
It was not a remarkably strong face, Mr. Dillingham's,
but it was not without character.
The firmly cut mouth and chin saved it, perhaps,
from being effeminate. He was twenty-nine
or thirty, but did not look it; his closely
shaved face and light complexion gave him
quite a youthful air, to one looking at him
across the church.

“Why, he ain't nothin' but a boy,” said
Uncle Jedd to himself, regarding the new minister
critically for a moment from the vestibule.
He won't do.” And the ancient sexton gave a
final tug at the bell-rope which he had retained
in his hand. While the reverberation of the

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silvery crash that followed was floating above
the house-tops and stealing away to die among
the outlying hills, Uncle Jedd softly closed the
green-baize doors which opened upon the three

A contagious ripple and flutter had passed
over the congregation when Mr. Dillingham ascended
the pulpit steps and seated himself in
the antique high-backed chair at the left of the
desk. This same flutter and ripple was duplicated
as he rose to open the service, which he
did by repeating the Lord's Prayer in a clear,
melodious voice, making it seem a new thing
to some who had only heard it droned before.
Quick, subtile glances, indicative of surprise
and approval, were shot from pew to pew. The
old familiar hymn, too, as he read it, gathered
fresh beauty from his lips. A chapter from
the Scriptures followed, in which Mr. Dillingham
touched the key-note of his sermon. There
was a strange light come into the gentle blue
eyes now, and the serene, pale face that had
seemed to promise so little was alive with intelligence.

By the time he had reached this portion of

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the service, the young minister had taken more
than half of his listeners captive. The sermon
itself completed the victory, — Mr. Seth Wiggins
and Uncle Jedd alone remaining unconquered,
the former having dropped into oblivious
slumber after the first hymn, and the latter
having retreated into the belfry, where he had
sat ruminative on a rafter, communing with
the glossy pigeons and ringdoves, until it was
time for him to open the doors below.

Mr. Wiggins awoke instinctively, with a jerk,
for the benediction, and assumed that half-deprecatory,
half-defiant expression which marks
the chronic delinquent; and Uncle Jedd threw
open the padded doors just at the critical instant,
as if he had been waiting there a century.

As the people filed out of church, both these
gentlemen were made aware that the new minister
had created a deep impression on the congregation.
A drizzling warm rain had begun
to fall, as I have said, and groups of elderly
ladies and pretty girls, grasping their skirts
with despairing clutches, stood about the vestibule
waiting for umbrellas to be brought.

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“A young man of uncommon talent,” Mr.
Lathers, the master of the Boys' High-School,
was heard to remark to Mr. Gargoyle, the retired

“O, uncommon!” responded that gentleman.

“I think he is just perfectly splendid,” said
Miss Imogen Browne, bringing her creaseless
lavender gloves together ecstatically.

“So modest,” said Miss Hesba Godfrey.

“And such fine eyes,” chimed Miss Amelia,
the younger sister.

“How lovely it was in him,” remarked Miss
Blydenburgh, composedly fastening her bracelet,
which had come unlinked, and giving it a
little admonitory pat, “to choose for his text
the very verse which Parson Hawkins was
reading when he died, — `Thou good and faithful
servant,' etc., etc.”

“And how beautifully he spoke of Parson
Hawkins,” said young Mrs. Newbury, looking
distractingly cool and edible — something like
celery — in her widows'-weeds. “I was ready
to cry.”

I did.”

“What a spiritual face he has!” observed

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the elder Miss Trippew, who painted in water-colors;
“it reminded me of our Saviour's in
the engraving of Leonardo da Vinci's `Last
Supper.' ”

“And what a delicious voice, — like Wendell

“Then such a sermon! It is certainly an
improvement on the poor old parson's interminable
ninthlies and finallies.”

“I wonder if he is married,” said Miss Candace
Woodman, a compact little person, with
almond-shaped brown eyes and glittering yellow
ringlets which might have been sent to
the mint and cut up instantly into five-dollar

Miss Candace's remark cast a strange gloom
for a moment over the group in which she
stood. Presently the umbrellas appeared;
snowy skirts were daintily gathered up; the
vestibule was deserted; the voices melted away
into the distance. Here and there along the
streets, darting to and fro in the rain like
swallows, one might have caught scores of
such light-winged adjectives as enthusiastic
young women let loose when they give expression
to their admiration.

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“Well, well,” muttered Uncle Jedd, turning
the key in the ponderous lock of the church-door,
“I dunno what th' world is a-comin'

“And what do you think of Mr. Dillingham,
Prue?” asked Mr. Dent, as the hoofs of
the horses struck on the slippery planks of the
bridge leading from town.

Mr. Dent had not even blinked that day in
church. It had been noticed and commented
on by the local satirist, that that suspicious
smooth place on the wooden pillar intersecting
the northwest corner of Mr. Dent's pew was
not covered once during the sermon. Mr.
Dent himself had observed that “damnéd spot”
for the first time with remorse, and had secretly
determined to have the interior of the
church repainted at his own expense.

“I think,” said Prudence, in reply to her
guardian's question, — “I think he reads well
and speaks well.”

“Gad, I never heard anybody speak better,
except one, and that was Daniel Webster.”

“He is very handsome, and seems to be unconscious
that he is conscious of it.”

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“I declare, Prue, you are too deep for me!”

“Is n't he, and with good reason, just a little
bit — you know — meekly conceited?”

“Not at all,” said Mr. Dent. “I don't know
a man with less conceit than Dillingham. He
is in earnest. He is going to be very much
interested in his work here, and will make his
mark. I am only afraid we shall not be able
to keep so brilliant a fellow.”

“Why not?”

“When he becomes known, some wealthy
Boston or New York society will be sure to
make him tempting offers.”

“But if he is very much interested in his
work here, he will not be tempted.”

“Perhaps not. But the best of them like fat
salaries,” said Mr. Dent, absently.

Prudence pictured to herself Parson Wibird
deserting the North Parish, or any parish where
he thought his duty lay, to accept a call from
some richer congregation; but she was not able
to draw a distinct picture of it.

“Then I suppose the fatter the salary is the
deeper the interest they take in their work?”
Prudence remarked.

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“Yes,” said Mr. Dent, shortly.

He felt that he had cast a reflection upon his
friend Dillingham; he did not see exactly how,
and it annoyed him. The rest of the ride home
was in silence. Prudence, too, was not satisfied
with herself. In intimating that she
thought Mr. Dillingham conceited, she had departed
from her usual candor.

Throughout the services his manner had been
without a tinge of self-consciousness. She had
taken her seat in the pew rather sadly. To
see a new minister standing in the place hallowed
so many years by the presence of Parson
Wibird — it was only a fortnight ago that he
stood there, with his placid, venerable face —
could but be painful to her. The first few
words Mr. Dillingham uttered had grated on
her heart; then she had yielded insensibly to
the charm which had fallen upon most of the
congregation, and found herself listening to him
with hushed breath. The strains of the organ
seemed to take up the prayer where he had
paused; the tones of his voice and the rich
swell of the music blended and appeared to
have one meaning, like those frescos in which

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the same design repeats itself in different tints.
She listened and listened, and when Uncle
Jedd suddenly threw open the muffled green
doors, it was as if a spell had been broken.
O, glorious gift of speaking golden words with
a golden tongue!

A sense of having been disloyal to the memory
of the old parson was troubling Prudence
when Mr. Dent put his question, and she had
not answered him fairly. It was sins like that
which Prudence would have had to confess if
she had been a Roman Catholic.

She liked Mr. Dillingham more than she had
believed it possible to like Parson Wibird's
successor; but the limitations of her character
would not allow her to acknowledge it upon
compulsion. On leaving the church she felt in
her heart that she disliked Mr. Dillingham for
having made her listen to him; and there
shaped itself in Prudence's mind an inexplicable
wish,—often enough she thought of it
afterwards, — that he had never come to Rivermouth.

-- 179 --

p450-186 XI. A New England Idol.

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On the following Sunday the Rev. James
Dillingham was formally installed pastor
of the Old Brick Church. The Rev. Josephus
Starleigh delivered the installation sermon (afterwards
printed in pamphlet form at the request
of the parish), and Mr. Thomas Jefferson
Greene, a young poet of local celebrity,
composed an original hymn for the occasion.

So the mantle of Parson Wibird Hawkins
fell upon the shoulders of the young minister,
and the solemn chant ascended, while the
great guns were booming down South.

Those were the days — what ages ago they
seem! — when the tap of the snare-drum and
the shrill treble of the fife startled New England
from her dream, and awoke the vengeful
echoes which had been slumbering in the
mountain fastnesses and among the happy valleys
for nearly half a century.

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It had long ceased to be at Mr. Dillingham's
option to return to South Carolina, and he
must have congratulated himself on having
found so pleasant a haven as Rivermouth to
rest in until the simoon blew over. And certainly
Rivermouth congratulated itself on sheltering
so brilliant a young divine. I happened
to be there at that period, recovering from a
protracted illness, and I had the privilege of
witnessing a spectacle which is possible only
in genteel decayed old towns like that in which
the scene of my story lies. To see one or two
hundred young New England vestals burning
incense and strewing flowers before a slim
young gentleman in black is a spectacle worth
witnessing once in the course of one's life.

The young man who, putting behind him
the less spiritual rewards of other professions,
selects the ministry as the field of his labors—
drawn to his work by the consciousness
that it is there his duty points — is certain to
impress us with the purity of his purpose.
That he should exert a stronger influence over
our minds than a young lawyer does, or a
young merchant, or a young man in any

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respectable walk of life, is easily understood.
But a young man, because he buttons the top
button of his coat and wears a white necktie,
is not necessarily a person of exalted purpose
or shining ability. Yet he is apt, without any
very searching examination, to be so regarded
in some of our provincial towns. I think the
straight-cut black coat must possess a subtile
magnetism in itself, something analogous to
the glamour there is in the uniform of a
young naval or army officer. How else shall
we explain the admiration which we have many
a time seen lavished on very inferior young

I am not speaking in this vein of the Rev.
James Dillingham. The secret of his popularity
was an open secret. It was his manly
bearing and handsome face and undeniable eloquence
that made him a favorite at once in
Rivermouth, and would have commended him
anywhere. If Mr. Dillingham turned the heads
of all the young women in the parish, he won
the hearts of nearly all the elderly people also.
I think he would have done this by his amiability
and talents, if he had not been rich or

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young or handsome. If he had been married?
Well, I cannot say about that. A young unmarried
clergyman, especially if he is rich, is
likely to be well thought of in a sequestered
valley where there are a surplus of blooming
Rachels and a paucity of available Jacobs.

From my point of view, it was something of
an ordeal that Mr. Dillingham passed through
in those first three months. As much as I
admired his sermons, and they were above the
average both in style and texture, I admired
greatly more the modest good sense which enabled
him to keep his bark trim in those pleasant
but perilous waters. A vain man would
have been wrecked in a week. But the Rev.
Mr. Dillingham, as Mr. Ralph Dent had declared,
was without conceit of the small kind.
The attentions Mr. Dillingham received from
all quarters would have gone far to spoil eight
men in ten placed in his position. It is so
easy to add another story to the high opinion
which other people have of you.

There were evening parties made for Mr.
Dillingham at the Blydenburghs', the Goldstones',
and the Grimes's; there were picnics

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up the river, and excursions down the harbor,
and innumerable teaings on shore. I do not
know if Mr. Dillingham had a very strong
sense of humor; but even if he were only
mildly humorous, he must have been amused
as well as embarrassed by the number of embroidered
slippers and ingenious pen-wipers and
study-caps and carved paper-cutters that fell to
his lot at the fair held about this time for the
benefit of the foreign missions. If he had
been a centipede he could not have worn out
the slippers under four years, wearing them
day and night; if he had been a hydra he
could not have made head against the study-caps
in a lifetime. Briareus would have lacked
hands to hold the paper-cutters. The slippers
overran Mr. Dillingham's bedroom like the
swarms of locusts that settled upon Egypt.
The pen-wipers made his study-table look like
a bed of variegated dahlias.

There were other expressions of regard, less
material and tangible than these, to be sure,
but which must have been infinitely harder to
dispose of. There were sudden droopings of
eyelashes, black or golden, when he spoke;

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furtive glances of shyness or reverence; half-parted
lips, indicating that breathless interest
which is the very cream of compliment, and
flies to the head like wine.

Mr. Dillingham moved gracefully and serenely
among the shoals and quicksands; he
listened to the songs of the sirens, and passed
on. He did not, however, accept the flattery
as if it were only his due; he accepted it modestly,
and was simply natural, and candid, and
good-natured, like a man who finds himself
among friends. “I see how it is,” he once
remarked to Mr. Dent, “I am standing in the
sunshine created by my predecessor.” It was
no glory of his own; he was fortunate in falling
among a people who took kindly to their

If Mr. Dillingham had been blind, he might
have seen that he could have his choice of
Rivermouth's belles; and he was far from sightless.
He read women and men very well in
his quiet fashion. Clearly, he was in no haste
to be fettered. What a crowd of keen, fair
slave-merchants would have flocked down to
the market-place, if this slender, blond prince

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from Southland had been chained by the ankle
to one of the stalls, to be knocked down by
Mr. Wiggins to the highest bidder!

Miss Veronica Blydenburgh, who passed her
winters in New York and Baltimore, and
had flirted in a high-spirited way with various
professions, became suddenly pensive. Hesba
Godfrey candidly owned that she had fallen in
love with Mr. Dillingham before he got half-way
up the pulpit stairs the first Sunday, but
that Fred Shelborne refused to release her, and
she supposed she should be obliged to marry
Fred,—just to keep him quiet. Young Mrs.
Newbury in her widows'-weeds, like a diamond
set in jet, seemed to grow lovelier day by day.
In my own mind I put the widow down as
dangerous. Not that I had any reason for so
doing. Mr. Dillingham smiled upon her with
precisely the same smile he gave to the Widow
Mugridge. There was not a shade of difference
perceptible between his manner to the
elder Miss Trippew, a remarkably plain lamb,
and his manner to Miss Veronica of the golden
fleece. I said it before, and I say again, I
admired the way he carried himself through
all this.

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When Mr. Dillingham, the morning following
his initial sermon, signified to the deacons
his acceptance of the pastorate of the Old
Brick Church, a knotty question arose as to
the residence of the new minister. There was
no parsonage attached to the church; the cottage
which Parson Hawkins had occupied so
many years did not belong to the society; besides,
if there had been a parsonage, Mr. Dillingham
had no family, and the absurdity of
his going to housekeeping without a family
was obvious. The three or four private boarding-places
suggested to him failed to meet his
views. Deacon Twombly, who saw the advantage
of having a lucrative boarder, hinted at
his first-floor as furnishing desirable accommodation;
but the ewe-lamb was brought up as
an objection.

Mr. Dillingham, who was staying at the Bell
Tavern, the only hotel in town, — having declined
Mr. Dent's offer of hospitality, — cut
the Gordian knot by deciding to remain where
he was.

This gave a sensible shock to some of the
congregation, for it seemed scarcely proper for

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the pastor of the Old Brick Church to live at
a hotel. Deacon Wendell adroitly intimated as
much to Mr. Dillingham, who replied that he
did not see why it was proper for him to remain
six days at the hotel, as he had done, if
it was improper for him to remain there six
months, or six years. Propriety was not a
question of time. The house was quiet, his
rooms commodious and comfortable, and he did
not see how he could do better. He invited
Deacon Wendell to dinner, and no further objections
were heard of.

In the first bloom of his popularity Mr. Dillingham
could have done pretty much as he
pleased, and he did.

Among other innovations, he brought sunshine
into the Old Brick Church. Parson
Hawkins had been a good man, a saint, indeed;
but his saintliness had been of the sombre
sort; listening to some of his doctrinal sermons,
one might have applied to him that epigram
of Landor's, —

“Fear God!” says Percival; and when you hear
Tones so lugubrious, you perforce must fear:
If in such awful accents he should say,
“Fear lovely Innocence!” you'd run away!

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That early Puritan taint which sometimes
appeared in Parson Hawkins's theology, but
never in his daily life, was an alien thing to
Mr. Dillingham in or out of the pulpit. The
spirit of his teaching was eminently a cheerful

There was a new order of things in the North
Parish. The late parson had stood a great deal
of browbeating first and last. A conservative
man, leaning perhaps a little too heavily on
the pillars of the church, he had ever consulted
the inclination of the deacons. They had an
independent minister now; a parson who settled
questions for himself, and did not embarrass
his mind by loading it with outside opinions.
There was a spice of novelty in this
surprisingly agreeable to the palate of a community
long accustomed to domineer over its
pastor. How long will it last? I used to
wonder. I had seen so many idols set up reverently,
and bowled over ruthlessly, that I was
slightly sceptical as to the duration of Mr. Dillingham's
popularity. If the towns-people were
image-worshippers, they were iconoclasts also,
when the mood was on them. But Mr.

-- 189 --

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Dillingham's popularity did not wane during my
three months' stay in Rivermouth; it went on
steadily increasing. The war-fever was at its
height in those months; and the loyalty of Mr.
Dillingham, a Southerner, stood out in striking
contrast with the mild patriotism of several of
our native-born statesmen. When his first
quarter's salary fell due, Mr. Dillingham set
the seal to public favor by turning over the
amount to the fund for the Soldiers' Hospital.
Uncle Jedd himself, one of the last in the parish
that held out against the new minister, was
obliged to admit that this was very handsome
in the young man.

Mr. Dillingham had not been three weeks in
Rivermouth before he knew all the queer old
men and women in the place, and stood in
their good graces. Even the one habitual
drunkard, when he was not hiding the light of
his countenance at the Town-Farm, would touch
his battered hat convulsively, meeting the young
parson on the street.

Mr. Dillingham was gifted in a high degree
with the genius for knowing people, and displayed
consummate tact in his dealings with

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the poor of the parish. When he made the
Widow Pepperell and the Clemmer boys his
pensioners, he did it so delicately that the obligation
seemed on his side. “The parson's
smile,” said Sandy Marden, “jest doubles what
he gives a feller.” Jeremiah Bowditch, the
unfortunate inebriate mentioned, — a shy, morbid
man, and as sensitive as an exposed
nerve, — was not afraid to apply to the parson
for a dollar, having discovered that the coin
would not be dropped upon him from such a
moral height as to knock the breath out of his
body and wound all his finer feelings.

“What I like in Dillingham,” said the Hon.
Sam Knubley, democratic member of the General
Court, “is that there is n't any `firstfamily'
nonsense about him. You can see
with half an eye that he belongs to the Southern
aristocracy, but he is n't eternally shinning
up his genealogical tree. There 's old Blydenburgh,
who is always perching himself on the
upper branches and hurling down the cocoanuts
of his ancestors at common folks.”

It is not to be supposed that the Hon. Sam
Knubley himself would have objected to a few

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[figure description] Page 191.[end figure description]

brilliant ancestors. To have the right to fall
in at the end of a long queue of men and
women distinguished in their day and generation,
is a privilege which none but a simpleton
would undervalue. It is a privilege, however,
which often has its drawbacks. Much is expected
of a man whose progenitors have been
central figures. To inherit the great name
without the great gifts is a piece of ironical
good fortune. When one's ancestors have been
everything, and one's self is nothing, it is perhaps
just as well not to demand from the
world the same degree of consideration that
was given voluntarily to one's predecessors. I
have encountered two or three young gentlemen
in the capital of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts who seemed to have the idea
that they were killed at the battle of Bunker
Hill. It was possibly this sort of assumption
that displeased the Hon. Sam Knubley; if so,
the Hon. Sam Knubley was quite right in the

Mr. Dent witnessed with pride the success
of his young friend; and Prudence, who, by
the way, had naturally seen a great deal of

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[figure description] Page 192.[end figure description]

Mr. Dillingham meanwhile, began to take herself
to task for her cold demeanor towards

If the truth must be told, she had been far
from cordial to Mr. Dillingham. Now, it is as
mortifying to have one's lack of cordiality unnoticed
as it is to have one's warmth overlooked.
Mr. Dillingham had apparently not
observed that Miss Palfrey had treated him
with haughtiness. If she had been the Widow
Mugridge, he could not have smiled upon her
more benignly, or listened to her more attentively,
when she was pleased to address him.
The offence to her self-love was so subtile that
Prudence was never able to account for the
restless and half-provoked mood which, up to
this time, had always possessed her in his

“The fact is,” Prudence soliloquized one
evening when the young clergyman had taken
tea at Willowbrook, “I have an unamiable disposition;
Uncle Ralph has spoiled me by humoring
me. I must discipline myself, and I'll
begin by treating Mr. Dillingham with a little
politeness, if his royal highness will allow it.

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[figure description] Page 193.[end figure description]

I always feel as if he stepped down from a
throne to converse with me. In spite of his
smile and deference, when one is speaking,
there's something depressing and condescending
in his air. If King Cophetua was the
least like that, I wonder the beggar-maid had
anything to do with him.”

It was, by the way, Miss Veronica Blydenburgh
who had christened him King Cophetua.

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p450-201 XII. Prue!

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THOUGH the Rev. Mr. Dillingham had too
much diplomacy to stroke one lamb on
the head more tenderly than another, and so
throw the whole flock into confusion, he made
no secret of his preference for Mr. Dent.

Mr. Dillingham passed most of his leisure
hours at Willowbrook. Since his installation,
he had taken tea there every Sunday evening.
When Mr. Dent went to town, which was three
or four times a week, he always dropped into
his friend's study, and frequently Mr. Dillingham
rode home with him and remained to
dinner. There was a well-stocked fish-pond a
few miles beyond Willowbrook; both gentlemen
were expert anglers, and they spent their
mornings together in the season. Then there
were horseback rides, in which Prudence occasionally
joined. Mr. Dillingham had purchased
a fine animal, which he rode admirably.

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[figure description] Page 195.[end figure description]

“We all ride in the South,” he said to Miss
Palfrey. “The people in the town stare at
me as if I were a part of a circus caravan,
but I trust they will get accustomed to the
sight. A saddle-horse is a necessity to me; I
have had one since I was six years old. To
drive around in a gig with side-lanterns, like
great goggles, as that good soul Dr. Tredick
does, would kill me. I should never get out
alive so far as Willowbrook, Miss Palfrey. I'd
much prefer being brought here in Mr. Plunket's

Plunket was a harmless, half-witted old fellow
about town who picked up a living by carrying
packages in a small hand-cart as aged and
shattered as himself. He had not escaped Mr.
Dillingham, whose eye for every sort of eccentric
character was, as I have said, exceptionally

The friendship between Mr. Dillingham and
Mr. Dent deepened as the weeks passed, and
the latter gentleman experienced something like
a sinking at heart whenever his thought recurred
to the possibility that his young friend
might be tempted some time or other to desert

-- 196 --

[figure description] Page 196.[end figure description]

Rivermouth for a more extended field of operation.

“I wish to heaven, Dillingham,” exclaimed
Mr. Dent one evening at the tea-table, “that
you would give up your apartments in town,
and come out here with us. There's a cosey
room leading from the south chamber that
would make a capital study for you.”

“I am afraid I should find it too pleasant,”
returned Mr. Dillingham, “and fall into a
habit of not working. Besides, my parish
calls? I am very sensible of your kindness,
my friend; but, really, I think I am better off
in my present quarters. You see, two sermons
a week keep me pretty busy. Then I
am not a lark as regards early rising. I should
be a dreadful infliction in a private house. All
Miss Palfrey's methodical domestic laws would
be overthrown at once.”

“I'd like to be an eyewitness to that,” Mr.
Dent said, laughing; “her law is as the law
of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
Prue is a regular martinet in the commissary

“I really am,” spoke Prudence for herself.

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“If one is not down in time, one gets a cold

“There, you see,” said Mr. Dillingham.
“Now there are two things I never can do;
I cannot endure a cold breakfast, and I never
can get down early to a warm one.”

In spite of this obstacle, however, Mr. Dillingham
often occupied that spare room with
the southern exposure, which Mr. Dent had
mentioned, sometimes spending several days in
succession with his Willowbrook friends. Then
they met him continually in society in town,
and in point of fact saw as much of him as if
he had accepted Mr. Dent's proposition.

This intimacy could not fail to give rise to
remarks. It was soon whispered, and not too
softly, that the young minister was paying
attentions to Mr. Dent's ward. Now, though
Prudence's coldness had moderated somewhat,
and she no longer had to make exertions to
be polite to Mr. Dillingham, Mr. Dillingham
had not in the least changed his manner to
her. She was aware, and the reflection sometimes
piqued her, that she was no better acquainted
with him after months of intercourse

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than she was on the day she first saw him.
Perhaps it was her own fault they were not
warmer friends in the beginning; but it was
not her fault now. She had learned to respect
his character, to admire his intellect, and to
derive a quiet pleasure from his presence; but
she had evidently not taught him to like her
more than he had liked her at the start. This
was not flattering under the circumstances.
The inference was, Mr. Dillingham disliked her,
and tolerated her only on account of his friendship
for Mr. Dent.

Prudence secretly resented this, and formed
a misty idea that it would be an agreeable
thing to have him fall slightly in love with
her, not seriously in love, but just enough to
enable her to teach him a lesson. This idea,
in no respect a commendable one, took a more
definite shape, and became almost a wish subsequently.
Nice young women are not to be
treated cavalierly with impunity.

It was rumored at first that Mr. Dillingham
was very much interested in Miss Palfrey;
that was sufficiently annoying; but later on,
rumor changed its tactics, and reported that

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Miss Palfrey was very much interested in Mr.
Dillingham. Gossip, like Providence, is inscrutable
in its ways; it has its laws, we may
suppose, clearly defined, if one could get at
them; but they are not to be reached by inductive
reasoning, and it must remain a mystery
how it came to be believed in Rivermouth
that Prudence was very unhappy in consequence
of her unreturned love for Mr. Dillingham.

To say that she did not hear of this exasperating
story as soon as it was born, would
be to say that Prudence had no intimate female
friend, and there was Miss Veronica Blydenburgh.

“And there is n't the least shadow of truth
in it, Prue?” said Veronica.

“Not the faintest. How absurd! I don't
care that for him,” said Prudence, measuring
off an infinitesimal portion of her little finger's
tip, “nor he for me. He and Uncle Ralph
talk fish-hooks and theology and war, and I
don't believe Mr. Dillingham has noticed
whether I am sixteen or sixty.”

“Dear me,” said Veronica, thoughtfully.

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“Mortifying, is n't it?”

“To be sure it is.”

“I like him, of course,” continued Prudence;
“he is extremely agreeable, and all that. If
there was, or could be, anything more, I should
be the first to tell you.”

“Dear me,” repeated Veronica. “And it
came so straight—from the Goldstones, you
know.” And Veronica, who had put her interrogation
rather solemnly, became unnecessarily
merry over the absurdity of the thing.

“The Goldstones?” said Prude. “I am very
grateful to them!”

After they had parted, Prudence thought of
the abrupt change of mood in her friend, and
it brought her to a full stop in the middle of
the bridge, for Prudence was walking in from
Rivermouth. Then she recalled a trivial incident
that had taken place a few nights before
in town, at a party at the Blydenburghs'. It
had made no impression on her at the time,
but now she recalled it. Veronica had missed
her bracelet late in the evening, a valuable
bracelet, a large opal with diamonds. She had
been in the garden; she had danced in the

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parlors; and had gone twice to the supperroom.
The bracelet was not to be found in
the house, and Veronica with several of the
guests, among others Prudence and Mr. Dillingham,
went into the garden to search for it
in a certain arbor where ices had been served.
There were a score or two of Chinese lanterns
hung about the trellis-work, and the place was
as light as day. In bending over the sward
Mr. Dillingham had inadvertently brushed
against Veronica's shoulder,—that snowy
shoulder which had such an innocent arch way
of shrinking from the corsage,—and Veronica
had started back with a pretty cry, blushing
absurdly. Mr. Dillingham had been disconcerted
for an instant, then he had bowed in a
formal way to Veronica.

This little scene came up before Prudence's
eyes again, and she walked on in a revery.

“It would be a very good match, though,”
said Prudence, thinking aloud.

The piece of gossip which Miss Blydenburgh
had unfolded to her friend vexed that young
lady exceedingly. The other rumor, placing
Mr. Dillingham at her feet, had vexed her too;

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but that could have been borne. It sank into
insignificance beside this new version, in which
she was made to play the heroine with dishevelled
hair and unrequited affections,—a rôle
to which she was not kindly disposed; for
Prudence was as proud as Mrs. Lucifer, if I
may make the comparison without assuming
the responsibility of creating the personage.

Prudence's prompt impulse was to fall back
on her former frosty manner towards Mr. Dillingham;
but that was hardly practicable now;
besides, the Rivermouth censors would be sure
to misconstrue her indifference and attribute it
to wounded vanity.

Her wisest course was to treat Mr. Dillingham
naturally, and let the shameless scandal
die of its own inanity. He would never hear
the silly report; there was no one who would
venture to touch on so delicate a matter with
him. Even the Widow Mugridge, who was
capable of almost anything in that line, might
be pictured as shrinking before such an attempt;
for though Mr. Dillingham was as generally
affable and approachable as the sunshine, his
familiarity did not breed contempt. In the sea

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of adulation that dimpled around him, there
was a gentle under-tow of wholesome respect.
The young clergyman's independence and sharpness,
when called for, were quite well understood
in the parish. He had wit, but no humor;
and the difference between wit and humor, it
seems to me, is just the difference between an
open and a shut penknife. So there was no
chance of anybody coming to him with tittle-tattle,
especially about Miss Palfrey.

Having settled this in her mind, Prudence
calmed; but the gossip still rankled in her
bosom, and she felt it would be a most satisfying
vindication and triumph if Mr. Dillingham
would only fall in love with her mildly, and
afford her the opportunity of proving that she
did not care for him, in that way.

In other ways she cared for him greatly. Indeed,
she had a strong desire for his friendship.
Every one had always liked her; she had never
been courteously snubbed before, or snubbed at
all, and had no taste for it. The hurt went
deeper than her vanity. It was a shocking novelty
to encounter a person—a person whom she
esteemed, too—whose whole demeanor said to

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her as plainly as words, but politely, of course:
“Miss Palfrey, when you laugh, and say sharp
things to me, I smile upon you; when you are
demure and repentant and inclined to be
friendly, I smile upon you all the same; for,
really, I do not care whether you are amiable
or unamiable. It is a matter that concerns
you, and you alone.”

If Mr. Dillingham had studied Prudence from
her infancy, and had wished to win her regard,
he could not have proceeded more judiciously.
It is true, John Dent did not win her by this
method; but she was younger then, and maybe
off her guard. Perhaps if John Dent had had
it to do over again, he might not have found
it so easy. What is efficacious at seventeen or
eighteen is by no means certain of success at

Prudence did not think often of John Dent
at this epoch. The phantom that had haunted
her so long had somehow withdrawn itself.
For four of five months now she had breathed
with a conscious sense of freedom from the
past. Mr. Dent's letters to Montana and California
had brought no response, and the

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subject of the will was one that could well lie in
abeyance. Nothing could be done about it, and
it was not agreeable to talk or think about.

Mr. Dent observed with pleasure Prudence's
growing appreciation of Mr. Dillingham, and
had some views which he cautiously kept to
himself. Nothing would have delighted him
more than to see Prue well married now, however
much the idea of losing her had distracted
him two or three years before; but he was
not going to interfere. He had once come
near making her very unhappy, and had learned
to distrust his own sagacity in matters of the
heart. He purposed in the present case to let
things take their own course.

Things were taking their course, perhaps a
little lazily, but on the whole to his satisfaction.
Prudence was never so lovely or sweettempered,
and Mr. Dent wondered time and
again that Dillingham did not see more clearly
than he seemed to see that Prudence was a
very charming young person. Mr. Dillingham
held the stirrup for her to mount Jenny, he
folded her shawl neatly under the carriage-seat,
and was remiss in none of those attentions

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[figure description] Page 206.[end figure description]

which a well-bred man pays to a lady, young
or old; but in everything he did or said there
was an air of having been introduced to Miss
Palfrey yesterday. To be sure, he had once
or twice addressed her as “Miss Prudence,”
instead of Miss Palfrey, striking her speechless
with astonishment; but then he had corrected
himself in the same breath.

“Why in the deuce does n't he call her
Prue, like everybody else?” muttered Mr. Dent.
“He has known her five months intimately,
and Jack called her Prue after fifteen minutes'
acquaintance. But that was Jack all over.”

The autumn of this year was unprecedentedly
lovely, — it was one prolonged Indian
summer, — and horseback rides early in the
morning were the chief diversion at Willowbrook,
where Mr. Dillingham frequently remained
overnight to accompany Mr. Dent and
his ward. If Mr. Dillingham had a constitutional
objection to breakfasting with the
larks, he had none whatever to rising at five
o'clock to take a four-mile gallop along the
Rivermouth lanes, now wonderful with their
brilliant foliage. Prudence was an excellent

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horse-woman, and never lagged behind her comrades.

“As she fled fast through sun and shade
The happy winds upon her played,
Blowing the ringlet from the braid.”

Mr. Dillingham must have been a stupid
fellow if he did not notice how this autumnal
weather heightened Prue's beauty. She had
caught a trick of color from nature, and made
the rosy maple-leaves by the roadside seem
tame in tint compared with her rich lips and

On one of these excursions Mr. Dent was
unlucky enough to sprain his ankle, and the
rides came to an end, at least Mr. Dent's did.

Mr. Dillingham, who came often now to read
and chat with his friend, rode alone several
mornings, and then, rather to the surprise of
Prudence, invited her to bear him company.

“Would it be proper for me to go, uncle?”
asked Prudence, standing with drooped eyelids
by Mr. Dent's lounge.

“Would it be proper!” he echoed. “Why,
the female population of Rivermouth would turn
out in a body, and Dillingham would certainly

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meet the fate of old Floyd Ireson, who, as you
remember, was `tarred and feathered and carried
in a cart by the women of Marblehead'!”

“Very well, then,” cried Prue, gayly, “I'll
ride Kate instead of Jenny. Jenny pokes
along so, and Mr. Dillingham likes a rapid

“ `Pokes along so!' what a phrase from a
young lady's lips!” said Mr. Dent, critically.

“I said polks,” cried Prue, shamelessly.

Mr. Dillingham unbent a little that morning.
Being in some sense a host, he was constrained
to look after the entertainment of his guest
and render himself agreeable. The ride was
without incident, save its uninterrupted pleasantness,
and Prudence returned with her cheeks
in bloom and her gray eyes with the daybreak
in them.

Three or four days afterwards the young
minister rode up to the gate just before sundown,
and asked if Miss Palfrey would repeat
her gallop. He had discovered a road leading
to some old earthworks overlooking the harbor,
where the sunset was a thing to see. Kate
was saddled, and the two young people went

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[figure description] Page 209.[end figure description]

off in a cloud of dust, Mr. Dent leaning on a
cane at the drawing-room window and smiling
on them like an amiable Fate.

Mr. Dent's sprained ankle was a phenomenal
case, and I am strongly tempted to prepare an
elaborate paper on the subject for the pages
of the “Boston Medical and Surgical Gazette.”
At the time of the accident — he turned his
foot in the stirrup while dismounting — it was
thought serious enough to merit Dr. Tredick's
attention, who relieved Prudence's solicitude by
treating the injury lightly. But the weakened
limb did not recover its strength, even after a
course of arnica bandages that ought to have
caused a new leg to grow, or at least to have
mended the old one though it had been fractured
in twenty places.

The ankle did not get well, and science in
the person of Dr. Tredick was at a loss to explain
why, and more especially to explain why
it should be most troublesome in the afternoons.
Mr. Dent was able in the morning to walk on
the piazza or go about the house without excessive
inconvenience; but towards three or
four o'clock, at which hour Mr. Dillingham

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[figure description] Page 210.[end figure description]

generally appeared to inquire after the invalid,
Mr. Dent found it necessary to take to the
lounge in the parlor, or to sit with his foot
supported by another chair.

“Don't mind me, Dillingham,” Mr. Dent
said one day, with touching cheerfulness. “I
shall be all right after a while. I miss our
rides confoundedly, and I know you detest riding
alone. However, there's Prue; she's better
than nobody.”

“O, you flatter me!” says Prue.

“I fear I have already drawn heavily on
Miss Prudence's complainsance,” replied Mr. Dillingham.
He did not correct himself this time.
But Prudence was passionately fond of riding,
and to ride with Mr. Dillingham was like waltzing
with a good partner. She did not require
other incitive. So it came about, owing to Mr.
Dent's slow recovery, that she often accompanied
the young minister alone, not caring greatly
now what people said. She was doing nothing
wrong, and the innocent enjoyment was an offset
to any malicious criticism.

Mr. Dillingham had thawed perceptibly, and
in a stately style was very gracious to her.

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[figure description] Page 211.[end figure description]

Prudence's passing desire to have him love her
a little had evaporated; she was content with
his friendship. The severest precision could
have discovered nothing to cavil at in Prudence's
conduct. As in the old time she had
not flirted with John Dent, so in the new she
did not flirt with Mr. Dillingham. She made
no eyes at him, as Mr. Dent would have stated
it, and would have stated it regretfully.

There was not much conversation during
these horseback excursions, which usually had
the fort for destination; a swift gallop through
the bracing autumn air, a halt in the lonely
redoubt to breathe the horses and see the sunset,
and a dashing gait homeward, being the
ends in view.

It was a charming landscape which unrolled
itself, like a colored map, at the foot of the
precipitous hill crowned by the deserted earthworks.
First came a series of cultivated fields,
orchards, and gardens, nestled among which
were red-roofed barns and comfortable white
farm-houses, with striped chimneys, peering
through the leafless tree-tops. Then came the
river spanned by a many-arched bridge, linking

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[figure description] Page 212.[end figure description]

the picturesque town with the open country.
Here and there along the wharves the slender
masts of fishing-smacks shot up sharply. The
clusters of round islands in the harbor were
like emeralds set in turquois, for the water at
this point, at certain seasons, is of a singularly
opaque blue. Beyond the town lay the bright
salt marshes softly folded in an azure arm of the
sea. All this, in the glow of the declining sun,
was fair to look upon.

One November afternoon, in the middle of
the month, Prudence and Mr. Dillingham drew
rein within the parade-ground of the old fortification
just as the sun was sinking. The embrasure
at which they halted formed the frame
of a fairy picture in which sea and sky and
meadow were taking a hundred opaline tints
from the reflection of the sunset. While the
horses stood champing the bits, and panting,
the two riders let the reins slip idly from their
fingers, and sat watching the scene in silence.

In a few minutes the vivid colors faded out
of the sky, save at the horizon, where a strip
of angry scarlet still lingered, leaving the landscape
of a soft pearly gray. By and by the

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[figure description] Page 213.[end figure description]

strip of scarlet melted into cinnabar, then into
faint gold, then into silver, then into indistinguishable
ashes-of-roses like the rest, and the
early twilight stretched across land and sea.

“It is like a dream, is n't it?” murmured
Prue to herself, for at the instant she had forgotten
the presence of her companion.

Mr. Dillingham leaned forward without speaking,
and laid his hand lightly on Prudence's,
which rested ungloved on the black mane of
the mare.

The girl lifted her eyes with a swift movement
to the face of the young minister, and
then very slowly withdrew her hand.

“Prue!” said Mr. Dillingham, softly.

-- 214 --

p450-221 XIII. Jonah.

[figure description] Page 214.[end figure description]

MR. JOSEPH TWOMBLY was sitting on a
high stool at a desk in the countingroom
of Messrs. Rawlings & Sons, the Chicago
bankers. It was after bank hours, and the
office was deserted. The gray-haired head book-keeper,
and the spruce young clerks who occupied
the adjoining desks, had been gone an hour
or more. The monotonous ticking of the chronometer,
pinioned against the wall above the
massive iron safe, was the only sound that
broke the quiet of the room, except when
Twombly made an impatient movement with
one of his feet on the attenuated rungs of the
stool, or drummed abstractedly with his fingers
on the edge of the desk.

An open letter lay before him, and beside it
an envelope bearing a Shasta postmark and
addressed to Joseph Twombly at Rivermouth.

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[figure description] Page 215.[end figure description]

This letter had just come to him inclosed in
one of the deacon's, and was to this effect:—

Shasta, Cal., October 31, 186-.
My dear Joe:—

You will probably be surprised to receive a letter
from me after all these months of silence,—or, rather,
years, for it is nearly three years, is n't it, since we
parted? I have been in no mood or condition to
write before, and I write now only because I may
not have another chance to relieve you of any uncertainty
you may feel on my account. I have
thought it my duty to do this since I came to the
resolve, within a few days, to give up my hopeless
pursuits here and go into the army. If you do not
hear from me or of me in the course of four or six
months, you will know that my bad luck, which began
in Montana, has culminated somewhere in the
South. Then you can show this to my Uncle Dent,
or even before, if you wish; I leave it to your discretion.
Perhaps I shall do something in the war;
who knows? It is time for me to do something. I
am a failure up to date. I'm not sure I am a
brave man, but I have that disregard for life which
well fits me to lead forlorn-hopes,—and I've led
many a forlorn-hope these past three years, Joe.

Ever since the day we said good by at Red Rock,

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[figure description] Page 216.[end figure description]

I have been on the go. I have not stayed more than
a month in any one spot, except this last half-year
at a ranch in the neighborhood of Shasta, where I
went into the stock-raising business with another man
(who didn't know I was the spirit of Jonah revisiting
the earth), and would have made my fortune, if
the cattle-disease had not got into the herd just as
we were on the point of selling out at great profit.
I was not aware that I had the cattle-disease myself,
but I fancy I must have given it to the herd.

What had I been doing all the rest of the time?—
for it took me only six months to ruin my friend
the stock-raiser. I had been searching for George
Nevins, Joe Twombly!

What a story I could tell you, if I had the heart
and the patience to go over it all again! How I
first heard of him in California, where I tracked
him from place to place, sometimes only an hour or
so behind him; once I entered a mining-camp just
as he went out the other side, confound his cleverness! —
how I followed him to Texas, and thence to
Montana again, and from there to Mexico, where I
lost trace of him; what I suffered mentally and
physically in those mad hunts would not be believed
if I could write it out! — how I worked my way
from town to town, and from camp to camp, only

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[figure description] Page 217.[end figure description]

halting here and there to earn a few dollars to help
me on. Hunger, thirst, cold, and heat, I have known
them all, Joe, as few men have known them. Shall
I tell you — and that is the strangest thing! — what
took the life out of me more than the poverty and
the treachery and the rest? It was the conviction
that that man, though I could not put my hand on
him, had his eye on me all the while, — the certainty
that I never went to sleep without his knowing
where I lay down, that I never got up but he
was advised of my next move, that I was under his
espionage day and night!

I think my steps were dogged from the time I
first left Montana, though I had no suspicion of it
until long after. The suspicion fired me and gave
me strength in the beginning, and then it paralyzed
me, when I saw how easily he eluded my pursuit,
and how defenceless I was. I could trust nobody.
The fellow sleeping at my side by the camp-fire
might be Nevins's spy. Every stranger that looked
at me any way curiously sent a chill to my heart.
Whether there were three men or a hundred employed
to watch me, I cannot tell; but at every
point there was some one to mislead me or balk my
plan. The wilds of Montana seemed to be policed
by this terrible man. Why didn't he kill me, and

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[figure description] Page 218.[end figure description]

have done with it? I don't know. My life was in
his hands, and is to-day. The sense of being surrounded
and dogged and snared grew insupportable
at last. Can you understand how maddening it
was? I gave up the hope of meeting Nevins face
to face, and only longed to hide myself somewhere
out of his sight.

About six months ago I fell in with a man at
Shasta, one Thompson, who owned a ranch twenty
miles back in the country; he wanted help in managing
his herds, and offered me a share in the stock.
This business has just turned out disastrously, as I
have said. Everything I touch turns worthless. It
was a sorry day for you, poor Joe, when you joined
fortune with me. I could sink a cork ship. I am
Jonah without Jonah's whale. If ever I am thrown
overboard, I shall be drowned, mark that.

I had to leave the ranch, and left it two days
ago. The moment I put foot in Shasta I felt I
was again under the eye of Nevins's invisible police.
I am not sure I shall escape them by going into
the army. I am not sure, on patriotic grounds, that
I ought to go into the army. My luck is enough to
bring on a national defeat.

In all these thirty-six months, Joe, I had not heard
a word from Rivermouth, — until last night. I

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suppose you must have written to me; if you have,
your letters missed fire. No one else, I imagine,
has been much troubled about my fate. My dear
old friend, Parson Wibird, is dead, and Miss Palfrey
is going to marry his successor. So runs the
world away! These two items of news gave a hard
tug at my heart-strings. I got the intelligence in
the oddest way. Last night, sitting on the porch
of the hotel, I overheard a stranger talking about
Rivermouth. You may fancy I pricked up my ears
at the word, and invented occasion to speak with
the man. He did not belong to the town, but he
appeared to have come from there lately, and I
gathered from him all I wanted to know — and
more! O Joe! there are things in the world that
cut one up more cruelly than hunger and cold. But
I can't write of this. I did not mean to write so
long a letter; I meant only to let you know I was
alive. Indeed, I am in frightfully good health. If
I had been rich and happy, I might have been dead
these two years. “There 's nae luck aboot the

I'm not breathing a word of reproach against
anybody, you understand. I have n't the right. I
have made my own bed, and if I don't lie in it
comfortably, there 's no one to blame except myself.

-- 220 --

[figure description] Page 220.[end figure description]

I see my mistake. I ought to have stayed at Red
Rock, and gone to work again, like a man. But
it's too late now.

Good by, my dear Joe. I hope you are prospering,
you and your tribe. There must be a lot of you
by this time! You continue, I suppose, to have an
annual brother or sister? I trust Uncle Dent is well
also. He is a fine old fellow, and I've regretted a
thousand times that I quarrelled with him. But he
did brush my hair the wrong way. I start from
here to-morrow for the East. I have not decided
yet whether to join the army in the North or in the
West; but wherever I go, I am, my dear boy,

Your faithful and unfortunate friend,
John Dent.

Mr. Joseph Twombly read these eight pages
through twice very carefully, interrupting himself
from time to time to give vent to an exclamation
of surprise or pity or disapproval or
indignation, as the mood moved him.

“Poor Jack!” said Twombly. “He is a
kind of Jonah, sure enough, and I don't believe
the healthiest whale in the world could
keep him on its stomach for five minutes.
What a foolish fellow to throw himself away

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[figure description] Page 221.[end figure description]

in that fashion! Why in thunder did n't he
tell me where to write him? October 31st.
That's more than a month ago. The Lord only
knows what may have happened since then.”

Twombly sat pondering for some time with
his elbows on the desk; then he folded up the
letter, and placed it in a fresh envelope, which
he directed in a large, round, innocent hand to
“Ralph Dent, Esq., Rivermouth, N. H.”

-- 222 --

p450-229 XIV. King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid.

[figure description] Page 222.[end figure description]

MR. DENT had watched the increasing intimacy
between Prudence and the young
minister with much peculiar, secret satisfaction,
as the reader has been informed; and
that afternoon, while she and Mr. Dillingham
were gazing at the sunset through the embrasure
of the fort, Mr. Dent, in spite of the pain
in his ankle, of which he had complained earlier
in the day, was walking briskly up and down
the library, building castles for the young

When a man has reached the age of Mr.
Dent, and is too rheumatic himself to occupy
castles in the air, he indulges in this kind of
architecture for the benefit of others, that is,
if he has a generous nature, and Mr. Dent had
a very generous nature. To see Prue well settled
in life, and to have two or three of Prue's

-- 223 --

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children playing around the arm-chair of his
old age, was his only dream now. So, in constructing
his castles, he added to each a wing
for a nursery on a scale more extensive, perhaps,
than would have been approved by either
of the prospective tenants, if the architect had
submitted his plans to them.

Mr. Dent had never asked himself—and possibly
the question would have posed him—why
he was so willing now for Prudence to marry,
when the thought of her marrying had appeared
so terrible to him in connection with his nephew.
It was John Dent's misfortune, perhaps, that
he was the first to stir Mr. Dent's parental
jealousy; maybe Mr. Dillingham would have
fared no better, if he had come first. At all
events, he had come second, and Mr. Dent was
far from raising objections.

He was in the sunniest of humors, this afternoon,
contemplating Prue's possible happiness
and his own patriarchal comfort in it, when
Fanny brought in the evening papers, and with
them the letter which Mr. Joseph Twombly
had considerately mailed to Mr. Dent a few
days before.

-- 224 --

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He tore open the envelope carelessly, recognizing
Twombly's handwriting, but the sight of
John Dent's penmanship gave him a turn. He
ran over the pages hurriedly, and with various
conflicting emotions, among which a sympathy
for Jack's past and present sufferings was not,
it is to be feared, so pronounced as Twombly's
had been.

It was unquestionably a relief to know that
Jack was alive and in good health; but it was
a little unfortunate to have the letter come
just then, when everything was going on
so smoothly. The reflection that Jack might
take it into his head to return to Rivermouth
and insist on marrying Prue, was not agreeable
to Mr. Dent. He had assented to this at one
time; he had overlooked his nephew's poverty,
but since then John Dent had not behaved
handsomely to Prue.

Whatever Prudence's feelings were, this letter
could but disturb her. It would set her to
thinking of the past, and that was not desirable.
But why show her the letter, at present?—he
would have to show it to her if he spoke of it;
why not wait until he heard again from Jack,

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whose plans were still with loose ends? He
could not be put into possession of the Hawkins
property or even informed that he was to
inherit it, for the year specified in the will
lacked several months of expiration. Moreover,
the letter was one that for several reasons
could not well be shown to Prudence; it spoke
of her marriage as a foregone conclusion,—the
very way to unsettle everything; and then what
business had Jack to go and say there were
things in the world that cut one up more cruelly
than hunger and cold? What an intemperate
kind of phraseology that was!

These reflections were struggling through Mr.
Dent's mind when he heard the clatter of hoofs
at the gate. He crumpled the letter in his
hand, and thrusting it into his pocket, hastened
out to the front door. In the middle of
the hall he recollected what a bad state his
ankle was in, and limped the rest of the way.

“Won't you stop to tea, Dillingham?” he
cried, as he saw the young clergyman with one
foot in the stirrup, Mr. Dillingham having dismounted
to assist Prudence from the saddle.

“Thanks, my friend; but to-night, you know,

-- 226 --

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is the night I am obliged to prepare my sermon.”

With which words Mr. Dillingham touched
his hat to Miss Palfrey, waved his hand smilingly
to Mr. Dent, and rode away.

As Prudence came up the gravelled path, with
the trail of her riding habit thrown over her
arm, showing two neat bronze boots, she was
too much engaged with her own thoughts to
notice Mr. Dent closely; at another time she
would have seen that something had disturbed
him. Mr. Dent was sharper sighted, and he
saw that Prudence was laboring under unusual
excitement. Had Dillingham spoken at last,
and if so, how had Prue taken it? He did not
dare to conjecture, for he felt it would be a
bitter disappointment to him if she had refused

“At any rate,” Mr. Dent said to himself,
“Jack's letter is not the thing for popular
reading just now.”

After tea Prudence told her guardian what
had passed between her and Mr. Dillingham.
He had asked her to be his wife, but so abruptly
and unexpectedly, that he had startled

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her more than she liked. He had, without any
warning, leaned forward and taken her hand
while they were looking at the sunset in the
bastion of the ruined fort; then he had stepped
down from his horse, much as King Cophetua
must have stepped down from the throne, and
stood at her stirrup-side.

Prudence felt it would be dreadfully sentimental
to repeat what Mr. Dillingham had said
to her, so she did not repeat his words, but
gave Mr. Dent the substance of them. The
young man perceived that the suddenness of
his action had displeased Prudence, and begged
to be forgiven for that, and for the abruptness
of his words, if they seemed abrupt to her;
they did not seem so to him, for he had carried
her presence in his thought from the hour
he first saw her. If during the past months
he had concealed his feelings in regard to her,
it was because he knew his own unworthiness,
and did not dare to hope for so great happiness
as her love would be to him. He had
betrayed his secret involuntarily; the hour, the
place, and her nearness must plead for him.

“He really turned it very neatly,” said Prue,

-- 228 --

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trying to brush off the bloom of romance which
she was conscious overspread her story, though
she had endeavored to tell it in as prosaic a
manner as possible.

“He's a noble fellow,” exclaimed Mr. Dent
warmly, “and is worthy of any woman,—the
best of women, and that's you.”

“He is noble,” said Prudence, meditatively;
“and as he stood there, looking up at me, I
think I more than half loved him.”

“And you told him so!” cried Mr. Dent.

“No, I did not,” said Prudence, with a perplexed
expression clouding her countenance.
“The words were on my lips, but I could not
say them. I could not say anything at first;
he quite took away my breath. When I was
able to speak I was full of doubt. I do not
know if I love him. I esteem him and admire
him; he has genius and goodness, and I can
understand how a woman might be very proud
of his love; but when he asked me to marry
him, it startled me and pained me, instead of—
of making me very happy, you know.”

Mr. Dent did not know at all; Prudence's
insensibility and hesitation were simply

-- 229 --

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incomprehensible to him; but he nodded his head
appreciatively, as if he took in the whole situation.

“What did you say to him?”

“Almost what I am saying to you.”

“But that was not a very definite answer to
a proposal of marriage, it strikes me.”

“I asked him not to refer to the subject
again at present.”

“That was dodging the question, Prue.”

“I wanted time, uncle, to know my own

In effect, Prudence had neither accepted nor
rejected the young minister.

“Rather flattering for a man of Dillingham's
character and position,” thought Mr. Dent, “to
be kept cooling his heels in an anteroom that

“You see, uncle, it was too important a step
to be taken without reflection. Thoughtless
people should not be allowed to marry, ever.”

“How long will it take you, Prue, to know
your mind?”

“I don't know,” she said, restlessly; “a
week—a month, perhaps.”

-- 230 --

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“And in the mean time Dillingham will continue
his visits here just the same?”

“Just the same. I arranged all that.”

“O, you arranged all that?”


“But won't it be a little awkward for everybody?”

“I suppose so,” said Prudence, looking
wretched as she thought it over.

Mr. Dent was too wily to say anything more,
for he saw that if Prudence was urged in her
present wavering humor to give Dillingham a
conclusive answer, it might possibly be in the

However, the ice was broken, that was one
point gained; the rest would naturally follow;
for Prue could not long remain blind to the
merits of a man like Dillingham, after knowing
that he loved her. Mr. Dent laughed in
his sleeve, thinking how sly it was in the
young parson to corner Prue up there in the
old fort, and attempt to carry her by storm.
A vague exultation at Prue's not allowing herself
to be taken in this sudden assault, formed,
in spite of him, an ingredient in the good
gentleman's merriment.

-- 231 --

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Mr. Dillingham passed the following evening
at Willowbrook as though nothing unusual had
occurred between him and Miss Palfrey. If
the beggar maid, instead of accepting King
Cophetua on the spot,—as I suppose the minx
did,—had reserved her decision for a month
or two to consider the matter, the king could
not have behaved meanwhile with more tact
and delicacy than Mr. Dillingham exercised on
this evening and in his subsequent visits.

Prudence carefully but not ostensibly avoided
being left alone with him, and there was none
of that awkwardness or constraint attending
the resumption of purely friendly intercourse
which Mr. Dent had anticipated.

Observing that the young people no longer
rode horseback, Mr. Dent hastened the cure
of his ankle, and the rides were resumed under
his supervision; but the bridle-path leading
to the old earthworks was tacitly ignored
by all parties. Prudence and Mr. Dillingham
had gone that road once too often if nothing
was to come of it.

Mr. Dillingham retraced his steps so skilfully,
and had come back with so good grace

-- 232 --

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to the point from which he had diverged, that
Prudence began to doubt if she had not dreamed
that tender episode of the old fort, and to
question if the old fort itself were not a figment.
The whole scene and circumstance had
become so unreal to her that one morning,
riding alone, as she sometimes did now, she
let Jenny turn into the rocky path leading to
the crest of the hill, and secured ocular proof
that the ruined earthwork at least was a fact.
Standing there in the embrasure, she felt for
an instant as if the young clergyman's hand
rested on her own. That same evening Mr.
Dillingham made it all seem like a delusion
again by talking to her and smiling upon her
just as he had done the month previously.
But the recollection that he had asked her to
be his wife, and that she had a response to
make to the momentous question, now and
then came over Prudence like a chill.

Rather vexatiously for Mr. Dent, somewhat
restlessly for his ward, and perhaps not altogether
happily for Mr. Dillingham,—however
composed he seemed,—two weeks went by.

-- 233 --

p450-240 XV. Colonel Peyton Todhunter.

[figure description] Page 233.[end figure description]

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

-- 234 --

[figure description] Page 234.[end figure description]

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.

-- 235 --

[figure description] Page 235.[end figure description]

“ `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.”

-- 236 --

[figure description] Page 236.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 237 --

[figure description] Page 237.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 238 --

[figure description] Page 238.[end figure description]

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

-- 239 --

[figure description] Page 239.[end figure description]

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

-- 240 --

[figure description] Page 240.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 241 --

[figure description] Page 241.[end figure description]

“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

-- 242 --

[figure description] Page 242.[end figure description]

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.”

-- 243 --

[figure description] Page 243.[end figure description]

“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

-- 244 --

[figure description] Page 244.[end figure description]

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

-- 245 --

[figure description] Page 245.[end figure description]

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

-- 246 --

[figure description] Page 246.[end figure description]

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

-- 247 --

[figure description] Page 247.[end figure description]

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

-- 248 --

[figure description] Page 248.[end figure description]

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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[figure description] Page 249.[end figure description]

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

-- 250 --

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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

-- 251 --

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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.

-- 255 --

p450-262 XVI. How Prue sang “Auld Robin Gray. ”

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WHEN, months before, Mr. Dillingham's
intimacy at Willowbrook had given rise
to those cruel stories which made Prudence
half wish the young minister would fall in
love with her, that she might refuse him and
prove how far she was from dying of blighted
affections,—at that time it had seemed a simple
thing to Prudence to tell Mr. Dillingham
that she valued his esteem very highly, that
she wanted him always for her friend, but that
she could never love him. One cannot be positive
that she had not, in some idle moment,
framed loosely in her thought a pretty little
speech embodying these not entirely novel sentiments;
but if this were the case, there was
a difficulty now which she had not anticipated
in the pronouncing of that little sentence.

Did she want to pronounce it? If such was

-- 256 --

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to be the tenor of her reply to Mr. Dillingham,
why had she not spoken the words that evening
in the fort? There had been her time and
chance to sweep all the Rivermouth gossips
from the board with one wave of her hand,
and so end the game. To be sure, Mr. Dillingham
had confused her by the abruptness
of his declaration; but she had recovered herself
almost instantly, and ought to have been
frank with him then and there. But she had
been unable to give him an answer then, and
now two weeks and more had slipped away,
leaving her in the same abject state of indecision.
Thus far Mr. Dillingham had shown to
Prudence no sign of impatience; but her guardian
was plainly harassed by her temporizing,
and to Prudence herself the situation had grown

She knew what her guardian's wishes were,
though he had not expressed them, and his delicacy
in not attempting to sway her influenced
Prue greatly. She knew that her hesitation was
adding to the disappointment and mortification
Mr. Dillingham would have to face if she finally
said No. He could but draw a happy augury

-- 257 --

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from her delay; for if, in grammar, two negatives
make an affirmative, in love, too much
hesitation is equivalent to at least half a Yes.
She was not certain that her vacillation had
not made it imperative on her to accept his
addresses. She stood aghast when she reflected
that, without speaking a word, she had
partly promised to be his wife.

The time when she could think lightly of
putting aside his proffered love was gone; she
shrunk now from the idea of giving him pain.
Since Mr. Dillingham settled in Rivermouth
her life had been very different, and if he
passed out of it, as he must if she could not
love him, the days would be blank again.
Her esteem and friendship for him had deepened
month by month, and during the past
two weeks his bearing towards her, his deference,
his patience, and his tenderness, had
filled her with gratitude to him. There were
moments when she felt impelled to go to him
and place her hand in his, but some occult influence
withheld her. There were other moments,
for which she blamed herself, when the
thought of him made her cold, a sense of

-- 258 --

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aversion came over her,—an inexplicable thing.
Mr. Dillingham was so wise and noble and
conscientious, there was no one with whom to
compare him. He had the stable character,
the brilliant trained intellect, all the sterling
qualities, in short, that—that John Dent had
not had. He was not arrogant, or impetuous,
or light-minded, as John Dent had been: he
had a singularly gentle and affectionate nature,
and yet — and the absurdity of the fancy
caused Prudence to laugh in the midst of her
distractions — she could not imagine herself
daring to call Mr. Dillingham “James.” It
was twice as easy to say “Jack!” even now.
In her girlish love for him there had been
none of these doubts and repulsions and conflicts.
She had given him her whole heart,
and had not known any better than to be
happy about it. Why could she not do that

It was the oddest thing how, whenever she
set herself to thinking of Mr. Dillingham, she
thought of John Dent.

There was no one to whom Prudence could
appeal for guidance out of the labyrinth into

-- 259 --

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which she had strayed. Mr. Dent could not
offer her unprejudiced counsel; she had an intuitive
perception of the unfitness of her friend
Veronica to help her, and the old parson was
in his grave.

It was positively necessary that she should
come to some determination soon; but she was
as far away from it as ever that afternoon
when these thoughts passed through her mind
for the hundredth time.

“Let me think! let me think!” cried Prudence,
walking up and down her room with a
tortoise-shell dressing-comb rather unheroically
in one hand. Unheroically? I suppose Ophelia
twined those wild-flowers in her tresses with
some care before she drowned herself. Medea
and Clytemnestra would not make so graceful
an end of it if they did not look a little to
the folds of their drapery. One must eat, and
drink, and dress, while life goes on. And if I
show my poor little New England heroine in
the act of putting up her back hair,—it being
nearly six o'clock, and Mr. Dillingham coming
to tea,—I feel that I am as true to nature
as if I set her on a pedestal.

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It was her chief beauty, that brown hair, and
there were floods of it, with warm sparkles in
it here and there, like those bits of gold-leaf
that glimmer in a flask of Eau-de-vie de Dantzic
when you shake it. She was arranging
the hair, after the style of that period, in one
massive braid over the brows, making a coronet
which a duchess might have been proud to
wear. The wonder of this braid was, it cost
her nothing.

As Prudence set the last pin in its place,
she regarded herself attentively for a moment
in the cheval-glass, and smiled a queer little
smile, noticing

“With half-conscious eye,
She wore the colors he approved,”—
a cherry ribbon at the throat and waist.

“I'm growing to be a fright,” said Prudence,
looking so unusually lovely that she
could well afford to say it, as women always
can — when they say it.

There was a richer tint to her cheeks than
ordinarily, and a deeper glow in her eyes this
evening, and it did not escape the young minister,
who, without seeming to see, saw everything.

-- 261 --

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When she came into the library where the
two gentlemen sat, both were conscious of the
brightness that surrounded her like an atmosphere.
“Dillingham's fate is to be signed,
sealed, and delivered to-night,” was Mr. Dent's
internal comment; “there is business in her
eye.” But poor Prue's brave looks sadly belied
her irresolute, coward heart. She had no
purpose but to look pretty, and that she accomplished
without trying.

It was Mr. Dillingham's custom to leave
Willowbrook at ten o'clock, unless there was
other company; then he kept later hours.
There were no visitors on this occasion, and
the evening appeared endless to Prudence, who
paused absently in the midst of her sentences
when the timepiece over the fireplace doled
out the reluctant half-hours. It seemed to her
as if ten o'clock had made up its mind not to
come. Once or twice in the course of the
evening the conversation flickered and went out
curiously, as it was not in the habit of doing
among these friends.

When the talk turns cold in this sort, it requires
great tact to bury the corpse decently.

-- 262 --

[figure description] Page 262.[end figure description]

Even with a gifted young divine to conduct
the services, the ceremony is not always a

At half past nine Mr. Dent violated the
tacit covenant that had existed between him
and Prudence, by leaving her alone with Mr.
Dillingham,—for the first time since it had
become embarrassing to be left alone with him.
They had been discussing a stanza in Lowell's
“Vision of Sir Launfal,” and Mr. Dent had
coolly walked off to the library on a pretext
to look up the correct reading.

Prudence regarded her guardian's action as
a dreadful piece of treachery, and the transparency
of it was perhaps plain to Mr. Dillingham,
who came to her rescue, for an awkward
silence had immediately fallen upon
Prue, by requesting her to sing a certain air
from Les Huguenots which she had been practising.

Prudence was in no humor for music, but
she snatched at the proposition with a kind of
gratitude, and sang the passage charmingly,
with a malicious enjoyment, meanwhile, in the
reflection that her recreant guardian, hearing

-- 263 --

[figure description] Page 263.[end figure description]

the piano, would know that his purpose was
frustrated. And in fact, at the first note that
reached the library, there came over Mr. Dent's
face an expression of mingled amusement and
disgust, in strange contrast with the exquisite
music that provoked it. He stood with one
hand lifted to a book-shelf, and listened in a
waiting attitude; but when the aria was finished,
he made no motion to return to the

Prudence sat with her fingers playing in
dumb-show on the ivory keys, wondering what
the next move would be. Mr. Dillingham, who
had been turning over a portfolio of tattered
sheet-music, took up a piece which he had selected
from the collection, and came with it to
the piano.

“I wish you would sing this, Miss Prudence.
It is an old favorite of mine, and it is many
years since I heard it. These homely Scotch
ballads are not perhaps high art, but they have
a pathos and an honesty in them which I confess
to admiring.”

As the young minister spoke he spread out
on the piano-rack some yellowed pages

-- 264 --

[figure description] Page 264.[end figure description]

containing the words and music of “Auld Robin

Prudence gave a little start, and a peculiar
look flitted across her face; then she dropped her
eyes, and let her hands lie listlessly in her lap.

“But perhaps you don't sing it?” said Mr.
Dillingham, catching her half-dreamy, half-pained

“O yes, I do,” said Prudence, rousing herself
with an effort, “if I have not forgotten
the accompaniment.”

She touched the keys softly, and the old air
came back to her like a phantom out of the
past. She played the accompaniment through
twice, then her voice took up the sweet burden,
half inaudibly at first, but gathering strength
and precision as she went on. It was not a
voice of great compass, but of pure quality and
without a cold intonation in it. One has heard
famous cantatrici, all art down to their fingernails,
who could not sing a simple ballad as
Prudence sang this, because they lacked the
one nameless touch of nature that makes the
whole world kin. “ `Young Jamie loo'd me
weel,' ” sang Prue,—

-- 265 --

[figure description] Page 265.[end figure description]

“Young Jamie loo'd me weel, and socht me for his bride;
But saving a croun, he had naething else beside:
To mak that croun a pund, young Jamie gaed to sea;
And the croun and the pund were baith for me.
“He hadna been awa a week but only twa,
When my mother she fell sick, and the cow was stown awa;
My father brak his arm, and young Jamie at the sea,
And auld Robin Gray cam' a-courtin' me.”

Mr. Dillingham, who understood music thoroughly,
as he seemed to understand everything,
listened to Prudence with a sort of wonder,
though he had heard her sing many a time before.
The strange tenderness and passion there
was in her voice brought a flush to his pale
cheek, as he leaned over the end of the piano,
with his eyes upon her.

“My father couldna work, and my mother couldna spin;
I toiled day and nicht, but their bread I couldna win;
Auld Rob maintained them baith, and wi' tears in his ee,
Said, Jenny, for their sakes, O, marry me!
“My heart it said nay, for I looked for Jamie back;
But the wind it blew high, and the ship it was a wrack:
The ship it was a wrack—why didna Jamie dee?
Or why do I live to say, Wae's me?
“My father argued sair; my mother didna speak;
But she lookit in my face till my heart was like to break:
So they gied him my hand, though my heart was in the sea;
And auld Robin Gray was gudeman to me.”

-- 266 --

[figure description] Page 266.[end figure description]

It was with unconscious art that Prudence
was rendering perfectly both the sentiment and
the melody of the song, for her thought was
far away from the singing. It was a day in
midsummer; the wind scarcely stirred the honeysuckles
that clambered over the porch of the
little cottage in Horsehoe Lane; John Dent
was telling her of his plans and his hopes and
his love; it was sunshine and shadow, and
something sad; again he was holding her hand;
she felt the touch of his lips on her cheek;
then she heard the gate close, and the robins
chattering in the garden, and the tears welled
up to Prue's eyes, as she sang, just as they
had done that day when all this had really happened.
And still the song went on:—

“I hadna been a wife a week but only four,
When, sitting sae mournfully at the door,
I saw my Jamie's wraith, for I couldna think it he,
Till he said, I'm come back for to marry thee.
“O, sair did we greet, and muckle did we say;
We took but ae kiss, and we tore ourselves away:
I wish I were dead—”

Suddenly something grew thick in Prudence's
throat; the dual existence she was leading came

-- 267 --

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to an end, and the music died on her lip. She
looked up, and met the young clergyman's
eyes glowing upon her.

“I—I can't sing it, after all,” she said, with
a wan look. “I will sing it another time.”

Then she pushed back the piano-stool abruptly,
hesitated a moment, and glided swiftly
out of the room.

Mr. Dillingham followed her with his eyes,
much mystified, as he well might have been, at
Prudence's inexplicable agitation and brusqueness.
He leaned against the side of the piano,
waiting for her to return; but she did not come
back again to the drawing-room.

In a few minutes Mr. Dent appeared, and
could scarcely control his astonishment at finding
the young minister alone.

It was as plain to Mr. Dent as one and one
make two (though they sometimes refuse to
be added together) that events had culminated
during his absence. He had intended they
should; but there was a depressing heaviness
in the atmosphere for which he was not prepared.
He did not dare to ask what had happened.

-- 268 --

[figure description] Page 268.[end figure description]

Mr. Dillingham was ill at ease, and after
one or two commonplace remarks, he said good
night mechanically and withdrew.

“She has thrown him over, the foolish girl!”
muttered Mr. Dent, as he went gloomily up
stairs with his bedroom candle in his hand,
“and I am devilishly sorry.”

For my part, I think the young minister's
fortunate star was not in the ascendant that
night, when he asked Prue to sing “Auld
Robin Gray.”

-- 269 --

p450-276 XVII. How Mr. Dillingham Looked Out of a Window.

[figure description] Page 269.[end figure description]

It was a blustery, frosty morning; the sensitive
twigs of trees snapped with the cold;
the brass knockers on old-fashioned doors here
and there had a sullen, vindictive look, daring
you to take hold of them; the sky was slatecolor.
There was no snow on the ground, but
the wind, sweeping up the street, now and then
blew the white dust into blinding clouds, which,
bursting in the air and sifting lazily downward,
seemed to Mr. Dillingham, as he leaned against
the casement of a window in the Old Bell Tavern,
quite like falling snow.

The window at which the young minister
stood was directly over the front door, and commanded
a prospect of the entire length of the
street that ran at right angles with the main
thoroughfare and terminated at the steps of the
hotel. At the other end of this street was the

-- 270 --

[figure description] Page 270.[end figure description]

long bridge—hidden from time to time that
morning by the swirls of dust — leading to

Mr. Dillingham had his eyes fixed upon a distant
object approaching from that direction. It
was a mere speck when he first descried it on
the bridge, tossed and blown hither and thither
by the gale; but as it struggled onward he was
not slow to detect in this atom the person of
Mr. Dent's coachman, Wingate.

Not an especially interesting atom, Wingate,
as a general thing, to the rest of the human
family; but he interested Mr. Dillingham very
deeply this morning.

As the coachman drew nearer, the young minister
saw that he held something white clutched
in his hand, which the marauding winds, now
and then swooping down on him from around
the corners, attempted to wrest from his grasp.
That it was a note from. Miss Palfrey, that it
was for him, Mr. Dillingham, and that it contained
the death-warrant of his hopes, were the
conclusions at which he arrived before Wingate
gained the stone-crossing opposite the hotel.

As Wingate reached this point, and was

-- 271 --

[figure description] Page 271.[end figure description]

backing up against the wind which just then swept
furiously around the paint-shop on the corner, a
hack stopped suddenly on the crossway. A man
leaned from the window, and called to Wingate,
who stared at him stupidly for a moment, then
rushed to the side of the carriage and grasped
the hand of the occupant; then the two entered
into an animated dialogue, if one might judge
by the energetic pantomime that ensued.

Mr. Dillingham watched this encounter—
evidently unexpected by both parties—with a
feverish restlessness not characteristic of him.
His breath came and went quickly, and his impatience
seemed to take shape and become crystallized
in eccentric zigzag lines on the pane of
glass nearest his lips. It was rapidly growing
bitter cold without, and the frost was stretching
its silvery antennæ over all the windows.

Finally the carriage drove off, and Wingate,
as if possessed to prolong the tantalizing suspense
of the young clergyman, stood motionless
on the curbstone several minutes looking after
the retreating vehicle. Then it appeared to
occur to Wingate that he was freezing to death,
and he crossed over briskly to the Old Bell

-- 272 --

[figure description] Page 272.[end figure description]

Mr. Dillingham hurried into the hall and
snatched the note from the benumbed fingers
of the astonished coachman, who was accustomed
to much suavity and frequent fifty-cent
pieces from the parson.

“All right,—Wingate,—thank you!” and
the door was closed unceremoniously upon the

Mr. Dillingham broke the seal of the envelope,
and read the note at a glance, for it was very
brief. Directly after reading it he tore the paper
into minute fragments, which he threw into the
grate. The gesture with which he accompanied
the action, rather than his face, betrayed strong
emotion; for his face was composed now, and
something almost like a smile played about his lips.

He stood for a few seconds irresolute in the
middle of the apartment; then he went into
the adjoining room, his sleeping-chamber, and
took down his overcoat from a shelf in the
black-walnut wardrobe.

This was the morning after Prue's musical
failure. She had despatched the note to Mr.

-- 273 --

[figure description] Page 273.[end figure description]

Dillingham as soon as breakfast was over, but
it had been written long before. She had written
it in the early gray of the morning,—sitting
in a ghostly way at her desk, wrapped in a
white cashmere shawl, with her feet thrust into
a pair of satin slippers of the Cinderella family,
while the house slept. It was one of four
letters. The first was six pages, this was sixteen
lines—a lesson for scribblers.

While Wingate was on his way to town with
the missive, Prudence was in her room summoning
up the resolution to tell Mr. Dent what
she had done. It was not a cheerful task to
contemplate, remembering how unreasonable and
angry he had been when she opposed his wishes
before. She had an unclouded perception of
the disappointment she was going to give him
this time. It was pretty clear to her that he
had set his heart on the marriage.

Mr. Dent was trying to read the morning
paper, when the library door opened gently; he
did not look up at once, supposing it was Bodge,
the house-boy, bringing in the coals, or Prudence
coming to tell him what he dreaded to
know positively.

-- 274 --

[figure description] Page 274.[end figure description]

When he did look up he saw John Dent
standing on the threshold and smiling upon
him apologetically.

“Good God, Jack! is that you?” cried Mr.
Dent, letting the paper slip in a heap to his

“Yes, I—I have come back.”

Mr. Dent was not a superstitious person, but
he felt for maybe ten seconds that that was an
apparition standing over there in the doorway.
And there was much in John Dent's aspect
calculated to strengthen the impression.

He was worn and pale, as if he had just
recovered from a long illness, or died of it; his
cheeks were sunken, his eyes brilliant, and his
unkempt black hair was blacker than midnight
against his pallor. A shabby overcoat was
thrown across one shoulder, concealing the left
arm which he carried stiffly at his side. There
was a squalor and a misery about him, heightened
by his smile, that would have touched the
compassion of a stranger. Mr. Dent was in a
depressed mood that morning, and this woful
figure of his nephew, standing there and smiling
upon him like a thing out of the churchyard,
nearly brought the tears to his eyes.

-- 275 --

[figure description] Page 275.[end figure description]

“Why, Jack, boy, how ill you are!”

“I am only tired,” said John Dent, dropping
into a chair; “that and the slight hurt I've

“Yes, I heard about that.”

“You heard about it?”

“To be sure I did.”

“How could you have heard of it?”

“Colonel Todhunter brought the news. Gad!
I've done the Colonel something of an injustice.”

“Colonel Todhunter?”

“I did n't believe a word he said; but then
he declared you were dead.”

“Colonel Todhunter did?”


“I do not want to contradict Colonel Todhunter,
for that would n't be polite,” said John
Dent, with one of his old smiles, “but I regret
to state that I am not dead. Who is Colonel
Todhunter, any way?”

Mr. Dent stared at him.

“What! you don't know the Colonel? the
Colonel knows you very well. He told us all
about it; the skirmish, you know, in which you

-- 276 --

[figure description] Page 276.[end figure description]

were wounded, and taken prisoner, and—” Here
Mr. Dent paused, seeing by the vacuous expression
of his nephew's face that the words were
meaningless to him. “Dear me,” he thought,
“how very much broken up he is; his memory
is wholly gone.”

“Uncle Ralph,” said John Dent, “I never
heard of Colonel Todhunter until this moment;
I have not been in the army; I have not been
in any skirmish; and I have not been taken

This was too calm and categorical a statement
not to shake Mr. Dent a little in his
suspicion that the speaker was laboring under
some mental derangement.

“I have been wounded, to be sure,” continued
John Dent. “I was shot in Western Virginia,
in the woods, on my way to join the army,—
shot by George Nevins,” he added between his
teeth. “I imagine he got tired of me at last,
and concluded to kill me. He failed this time;
but he will do it, if that is his purpose.”

In reading John Dent's letter to Joseph
Twombly, Mr. Dent had smiled at what he considered
Jack's hallucination touching the watch

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which he supposed Nevins was keeping over him
night and day; but this attempt on Jack's life,
if there had really been one, at a spot so remote
from the scene of the robbery three years
before, gave a hue of probability to the idea.

Mr. Dent looked out of the corner of his
eye at his nephew. Perhaps Jack was insane.
Mr. Dent's faith in the general correctness of
the Colonel's statements was coming back to
him. Sitting with his arms hanging at his side
and his head resting on his chest broodingly,
Jack seemed like a person not quite right in
his mind.

“Where is this Colonel Todhunter?” he
exclaimed, starting to his feet.

“Good heavens! don't be so violent!”

“Where is he, I say?”

“How can I tell? The man's gone.”

“How long since?”

“A fortnight ago.”

“Was he here,—in this house?”

“He came here one afternoon, representing
himself as your friend; he stayed in the town
four or five days after that, I believe.”

“It is three weeks since I was shot,” said

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John Dent, reflecting. “Did Twombly see

“I really can't say whether the deacon saw
him or not.”

“I don't mean the deacon, I mean Joe.”

“Joseph was in Chicago; been there these
six months.”

“Uncle, what kind of person was this Colonel
Todhunter? Describe him to me.”

“He was something of a character, I should
say; a cool customer; he made himself very
much at home—with my sherry.”

“Very gentlemanly, and rather pale?”

“Well, the sherry was pale,” returned Mr.
Dent laughing, “but the Colonel was rather
florid and not at all gentlemanly; that is to
say, he carried it with a high hand in the
town, though he behaved decently enough when
he called on me.”

“What was he like?”

“A tall man, taller than you, for instance;
strongly built, with blue eyes and long sandy

“George Nevins!”

“Nonsense!” said Mr. Dent.

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“It was George Nevins, I tell you!”

“Pooh! you're mad. What would bring
him here, of all the places in the world?”

“I don't know; there are many things I
cannot fathom; but this I do know, you have
stood face to face with the most daring and
accomplished scoundrel that lives. There is n't
his match in California or Nevada.”

“Good heavens!” ejaculated Mr. Dent, uneasily,
with a sensation of having two or three
bullet-holes in the small of his back. “You
don't really believe that that man was the fellow

“I do, assuredly. He thought he had disposed
of me, and he came here prospecting. It
was like his impudence. He told you I was dead?
Well, he had good reason to suppose so.”

“I can't believe it. Gad, I don't believe it!
If it had been he, I think I should have turned
desperado instinctively, and brought him down
with the old shot-gun”; and Mr. Dent was
making a motion to that nearly harmless
weapon, which had hung for years unloaded
over the library mantel-piece, when Prudence
walked into the room.

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“Drop Colonel Todhunter,” whispered Mr.
Dent hastily.

In romances and on the stage, the meeting
between two people who, happily or unhappily,
have been long separated, is made the occasion
of much sensational business; but I have observed
that people in real life, who have loved
or hated each other, are not apt, when they
meet after a lapse of years, either to swoon or
scowl or do anything strikingly dramatic.

Prudence neither started nor fainted when
she found John Dent with her uncle; she had
seen John Dent descend from the hack at the
gate ten or fifteen minutes previously,—perhaps
it gave her a turn at the instant,—and
she had now come to welcome him home.
Nothing could have been more simple or natural
than the meeting between them. If Prudence's
hand was a trifle cold, her hands were
habitually cold; if John Dent's hand was hot,
he had a gunshot-wound, and was feverish.

“I am glad to see you, Cousin John,” said
Prudence, simply, as if she had parted with him
yesterday, and had not eaten three thousand
two hundred and eighty-five meals since that
day when he failed to come back to dinner.

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This is shockingly commonplace and realistic,
I know, and will cost me a great many
sentimental readers; but I must stand or fall
by the facts.

Prudence was unaffectedly glad to see John
Dent; and the sincere friendliness of her greeting
placed him at his ease. He had much to
tell of his wanderings, and much to be told
of Rivermouth affairs; and very soon the conversation
flowed on between these three with
only the slightest undercurrent of constraint.
Indeed, it seemed to Prudence like that first
day, long ago, when John Dent came to Rivermouth
and surprised her by being a frank,
light-hearted young fellow, instead of the mousing
Dryasdust she expected. As in that time
also, he had come to remain only a brief period;
there were dragons still at large and giants
yet unslain. As soon as his arm was well, he
would bid good by again to Rivermouth. The
gold he was going in quest of now was that
small quantity of bullion which is to be found
in a lieutenant's shoulder-straps.

The parallel between his two visits occurred
to John Dent himself, as he sat there chatting;

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and so far as his impecuniosity went, the parallel
was too close to be agreeable. Before, he
had had only a slender outfit and a few hundred
dollars; and now he was the possessor of
a navy revolver, and a suit of clothes which
his uncle eyed thoughtfully from time to time,
and resolved to have buried in the back-garden
at no remote period.

But in spite of this, a blissful serenity, born
of the home-like atmosphere he was breathing,
took possession of John Dent. His misfortunes
were visions and chimeras; he was as a man
who, awaking from a nightmare, finds himself
in a comfortable warm room with the daylight
pouring through the windows, and strives in
vain to recollect the dream that a moment ago
appalled him.

He looked so shabby, and uncared-for, and
happy, that Prudence was touched. In speaking
of Parson Wibird, she was obliged to exert
all her self-control not to tell John Dent
of the legacy. Whatever he did, he should not
go away until he was informed of that. She
lingered on the subject of the parson's death,
and came back to it at intervals, with the

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hope that her guardian would be tempted to
break through the now slightly binding condition
of the will. But the old parson recalled
to Mr. Dent's mind the new parson, and he
broke out, with that fine tact which characterized
him, “By the way, Jack, you must know
Dillingham; he's a capital fellow.”

John Dent had learned from Wingate, in
their hurried conference at the street corner,
that Prudence was still unmarried; and for the
moment he had forgotten everything save the
delicious fact that he and Prue were sitting
and talking together as of old. But now his
countenance fell.

“I shall be glad to know him,” he contrived
to say, with more or less enthusiasm.

With this, Mr. Dillingham passed out of the
conversation, and did not drift into it again.
No other unfortunate word or allusion ruffled
the tranquillity of that morning, which made
way with itself so quickly that Fanny caused a
sensation when she announced dinner.

The afternoon showed a similar suicidal tendency;
and shortly after tea, John Dent, who
began to feel the reaction of the excitement

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he had undergone, went to bed in the same
room where he had slept three years before.

Apparently not a piece of the ancient mahogany
furniture, which resolved itself, wherever
it was practicable, into carven claws grasping
tarnished gilt balls, had been moved since he
was last there. It struck him, while undressing,
that it would be only the proper thing
for him to go around the chamber and shake
hands with all the friendly old-fashioned paws,—
they stretched themselves out from tables
and chairs and wardrobes with such a faithful,
brute-like air of welcome.

The castellated four-post bedstead, with its
snowy dimity battlements, seemed an incredible
thing to John Dent as he stood and looked at
it in the weird winter moonlight. It was many
a month since he had lain in such a sumptuous

A sensuous calm stole over his limbs when
he stretched himself on the pliant springs of
the mattress; then the impossible blue canaries,
pecking at the green roses on the wallpaper,
lulled him to sleep, and would have hopped
down from the twigs and covered him with

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leaves, as the robins covered the babes in the
wood, if he had not been amply protected by
a great silk patch-quilt, deftly done into variegated
squares and triangles by Prue's own fingers.

He slept the sleep of the just that night; he
was a failure, but he slept the sleep of success;
and his uncle, in the next room, dropped
off with the soothing reflection that events had
proved his wisdom in not telling Prue anything
about Colonel Peyton Todhunter; but
Prudence scarcely slept at all.

John Dent's wound was of the slightest, and
the stiffness had nearly gone out of his shoulder
when he awoke the next morning. He
awoke in the same state of beatitude in which
he had fallen asleep.

“I know I don't amount to much when I'm
added up,” he said, smiling at himself in the
glass as if he enjoyed representing a very
small vulgar fraction in the sum of human
happiness; “but I am not going to trouble myself
about it any more. I'll go down to Virginia,
and come back presently with one leg
and a pension, and spend the rest of my days

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[figure description] Page 286.[end figure description]

telling stories to Prue's little ones.” And John
Dent sighed cheerfully as he pictured himself
a gray-haired, dilapidated captain, or maybe
colonel, with two or three small Dillinghams
clinging to his coat-skirts.

It was a singular coincidence that both uncle
and nephew should have reached that philosophical
stage when they could look calmly on
the prospect of playing grandfather and godfather
respectively to Prue's children.

John Dent descended, and found Prudence
and his uncle in the library, making a pretty
domestic picture, with the wood-fire blazing
cheerily on the hearth, lighting up the red
damask curtains, and the snow outside dashing
itself silently in great feathery flakes against
the windows. It was like an interior by Boughton,
with that glimpse of bleak winter at the

“Good morning,” said John Dent, enveloping
the pair in one voluminous smile.

“Good morning, Jack,” returned Mr. Dent,
and “Good morning, Cousin John,” said Prudence,
who hurried off to see to breakfast, for
the Prodigal was to have a plate of those

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[figure description] Page 287.[end figure description]

sublimated waffles of which only Prudence knew
the secret. The art of their composition was
guarded at Willowbrook as the monks in the
Old-World convents guard the distillation of
their famous cordials.

The young man saw that he had interrupted
a conversation between his uncle and Prudence,
and experienced that uncomfortable glow about
the ears which comes over one when the dialogue
stops instantly at one's appearance.

However, as Prudence departed to superintend
the serving up of the fatted waffle, John
Dent drew a chair towards the fireplace and
was about to seat himself, when his eyes fell
upon a small cabinet photograph which rested
against a vase at one end of the mantel-piece.

The back of the chair slipped from John
Dent's fingers, and he stood, transfixed for a
moment, looking at the picture; then he approached
the mantel-shelf and took the photograph
in his hand.

“Who is this?” he asked quickly; and he
pointed a quivering finger at the face.

“That? why, that's my friend Dillingham,
a cap—”

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[figure description] Page 288.[end figure description]

“Dillingham be ——!” cried John Dent.
“That is George Nevins!”

Mr. Dent leaned back in his chair and suppressed

“Quiet yourself,” he said, soothingly. “You
have n't slept well, you—”

“Do you suppose I don't know that face!”

“That is just precisely what I suppose,” cried
Mr. Dent, giving way to his irritation, “and I
could n't have expressed it better.”

“Not know it! Have n't I thought of it
every day for two years, fallen asleep thinking
of it every night, dreamed of it a thousand
times? He has cut his mustache and beard,”
said John Dent slowly and to himself, “and
wears no collar to his coat. What—what is
this doing here?” he cried, with sudden fury.

“Why, Jack, my boy, I tell you that that is
the Rev. James Dillingham, the pastor of the
Old Brick Church, Prue's friend and mine.”

“You can't mean it!”

“Don't be an idiot. If you discover any resemblance
to Colonel Todhunter in that picture,
you've a fine eye for resemblance.”

“Todhunter was not the man,” cried John
Dent. “This is the man!”

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[figure description] Page 289.[end figure description]

It was patent now to Mr. Dent that his
nephew was a monomaniac on the subject of
George Nevins. First it had been Colonel Todhunter,
now it was Dillingham, and by and by
it would be somebody else, Prue or himself
possibly. Mr. Dent coughed, and restrained the
impatient words that rose to his lips. The boy's
mind was turned by his misfortunes, and yet
he seemed rational enough on other topics.

“You think I am crazy?” said the young
man, reading his uncle's open countenance as
if it were a book. “Well, I am not. I am as
sane as you are, and as clear in the head as a
bell. How long has your friend Mr. Dillingham
been settled over the Brick Church?”
And John Dent seated himself, crossing his
legs comfortably, with the aspect of a man
who is going to take things philosophically and
not fret himself about trifles.

“Since last June,” returned Mr. Dent, relieved
to see his nephew calm again. “Dillingham
came here in the latter part of May,
and it is now December. Consequently he has
been here a little over six months.”

“While I was at Shasta,” muttered the

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[figure description] Page 290.[end figure description]

young man. “But who fired on me in Virginia,
if it was n't Nevins?” Then in a negligent
way to his uncle, “Where does your
friend Dillingham live?”

“In Rivermouth, of course.”


“At the Old Bell Tavern.”

John Dent went out of the room like a flash.

After an instant of panic, Mr. Dent dashed
after him. The hall door was locked and
bolted; there was a complicated bolt with a
chain, and the young man was tugging at the
chain when his uncle seized him by the arm.

“What are you trying to do?”

“I must see this man Dillingham, Uncle

“Certainly, so you shall see Dillingham.
Ten to one he will ride out here before the
morning is over, in spite of the storm; and
then you will discover how absurd you are.”

“Granting I am wrong,” said John Dent as
composedly as he could, “I cannot wait to have
proof of it. If he is the man I think he is, he
knows where I am by this time, and will not
show his face here. I must go to him.”

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[figure description] Page 291.[end figure description]

“Before breakfast?”

“This instant!”

Mr. Dent reflected that perhaps the only cure
for his nephew's delusion was to bring him face
to face with the young minister, whom, by the
way, Mr. Dent himself was anxious to see; he
was still ignorant of what had passed in the
drawing-room two nights previously, for Prudence
had found no fitting moment since John
Dent's arrival to inform her guardian of her
decision and the letter she had written to Mr.

So one of the carriage horses was ordered to
be harnessed to the buggy and driven around to
the side door. Meanwhile John Dent paced the
hall chafing; and Prudence, with her eyebrows
raised into interrogation-points, stood behind
the coffee-urn in the breakfast-room, wondering
what it all meant.

When the buggy was ready, Mr. Dent proposed
to go to town alone and bring the young
minister back with him; but John Dent would
not listen to the suggestion, and the two drove
off together in the storm.

The snow beat so persistently in their faces

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[figure description] Page 292.[end figure description]

all the way, that there was no chance for conversation,
if either had been disposed to talk.
Mr. Dent stole a glance now and then at the
young man, whose eyes glowed wickedly over
a huge white mustache which he had got riding
in the teeth of the wind. “I've half a mind
to tip the pair of us over the next bank,” muttered
Mr. Dent; “he's as crazy as a loon!”

On driving up to the door of the Old Bell
Tavern, Mr. Dent begged his nephew to control
himself and do nothing rash. John Dent promised
this, but with set teeth and in a manner
not reassuring.

“You are making a dreadful mistake; and
if you involve me in any absurdity I'll never
forgive you. Dillingham is my friend, and one
of the noblest fellows in the world. It is rather
early for a call, I'll go up first, Jack.”

“And I'll go with you,” said John Dent
with disgusting promptness.

Mr. Dillingham's suite of rooms was on the
second floor, and the door of his parlor or study
gave upon the main staircase. Mr. Dent, inwardly
consigning his nephew to the shades
below, knocked two or three times without

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[figure description] Page 293.[end figure description]

awakening the well-known voice which always
said “come in” to his recognized knock; then
he turned the handle of the door which was
not fastened.

“He's in bed at this hour, of course,” he
remarked. The town clock was striking eight.
“We'll step into his parlor and wait for him.”

The room was in the greatest disorder; the
drawers of a large escritoire between the windows
were standing wide open, the grate was
full of dead ashes, and over the carpet everywhere
were scattered half-torn letters and
papers. John Dent cast one glance around the
apartment, and then rushed into the small bedchamber
adjoining. The bed was unrumpled.

“Gone!” moaned John Dent, dropping into
a chair.

“Gone? nonsense. Gone to breakfast,” said
Mr. Dent.

“It's no use,” said the young man, settling
himself gloomily in the chair; “he is hundreds
of miles away by this time. While we
were sitting in the chimney-corner over younger,
fire and steam and all infernal powers were
whisking him off beyond my reach.”

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[figure description] Page 294.[end figure description]

Mr. Dent pulled at the bell-cord as if he had
suddenly had a bite, and jerked in Larkin the
waiter. Where was Mr. Dillingham? Larkin
did not know where Mr. Dillingham was. He
would inquire at the office.

He returned shortly with the information
that Mr. Dillingham had gone out quite early
the day before, and had not been in since.
The young minister was in the habit of absenting
himself for several days together without
notifying the office-clerk, who supposed in
this instance, as in the others, that Mr. Dillingham
was visiting his friend Mr. Dent at

“That'll do, Larkin,” said Mr. Dent. “Northing
particular. We'll look in again.”

Exit Larkin, lined with profanity.

Mr. Dent, with a feeble smile on his lips,
stood looking at his nephew.

“It is too late,” said the young man, “but
I would like to send a telegram to Boston and
one to New York.”

“To whom?”

“To the chief of police.”

Mr. Dent started. “Don't you do it! I

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[figure description] Page 295.[end figure description]

know you are wrong, though I acknowledge
that the thing has a strange look. You would
feel rather flat if, after you had sent off a
couple of libellous messages, Dillingham should
turn up and explain it all in a dozen words,
as I am positive he will. I could never look
him in the face again.”

“You won't, any way,” said John Dent.
“However, I don't want to use the name of
Dillingham in the matter. I shall simply give
a description of the person of George Nevins.
That will not inconvenience any one, I'm afraid.
See how he slips through my fingers! I should
call the man an eel, if he was n't a devil.”

Mr. Dent made no further objection; the
two descended to the street and drove to the

In the midst of writing a despatch, young
Dent paused and nibbled the top of the penholder.
“I wonder I did n't think of that before,”
he said to himself; and then in a low
voice to his uncle, “Ask the operator if Dillingham
has sent or received anything over the
wires lately.”

Mr. Dillingham had sent two telegrams the
day before.

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[figure description] Page 296.[end figure description]

“Will you allow me to look at them a moment?”

Knowing Mr. Dent to be the intimate friend
of the young pastor, the clerk obligingly took
the copies of the two despatches from a clip on
his desk and handed them to the elderly gentleman.

Dropping the date, the telegrams read as

To Rawlings & Son, Bankers,
Chicago, Illinois:

Place the balance due me on account, and the six
U. S. bonds you hold for me, to the credit and subject
to the order of Colonel Peyton Todhunter.

James Dillingham.

To Colonel Peyton Todhunter,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

Go to Chicago instantly. Draw funds from Rawlings.
Will join you at 6666. You have failed.
He is here.

J. D.

“Are you convinced now?” whispered John
Dent, having with breathless interest read these
documents over his uncle's shoulder. “It

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[figure description] Page 297.[end figure description]

appears, though I don't understand the last telegram
at all, that your friend Colonel Peyton
Todhunter is the friend of your worthy friend
the Rev. James Dillingham; and a precious
pair they are, if I may say so without hurting
your feelings. `He is here' means me of
course; but what is meant by `You have
failed'? `6666' evidently designates some
point of rendezvous.”

“Jack,” whispered Mr. Dent thickly, “I
can't believe my eyes!”

“I would n't,” said Jack. “I'd stand it
out. In the mean time I will send off this description,
and then we'll go back to the hotel.
He decamped in haste, and may have left behind
him something in the way of letters or
papers that will be useful to me.”

The young man seated himself at a desk,
and, after a moment's reflection, wrote the
following message, which he handed to his

Messrs. Rawlings & Son,
Chicago, Ill.:

Has Colonel Todhunter drawn the funds described
in the despatch of yesterday? If not, stop payment
until further advices.

J. D.

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[figure description] Page 298.[end figure description]

“That's a clever idea,” said Mr. Dent,
awaking from the stupor that had fallen upon
him. “We will have an injunction on them,
if it is not too late; but is n't it a sort of
forgery to use Dillingham's name this way?”

“I have n't used his name,” answered Jack,
laughing; “I have put my own initials to the
document, like a man. Are you working
through?” he asked, turning to the clerk.
“Then send this along.”

He resumed his seat at the desk, and fell
to work on a personal description of George Nevins.
This was a task of some difficulty, requiring
a conciseness and clearness of diction which
cost him considerable trouble. More than half
an hour elapsed before John Dent had completed
the portrait to his satisfaction. He was
in the midst of his second despatch, when the
operator received from Rawlings & Son a telegram
that seemed to puzzle him somewhat.

“This appears to be an answer to your
despatch, sir, but it is addressed to Mr. Dillingham.”

“A mistake at the other end,” said Mr. Dent,

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[figure description] Page 299.[end figure description]

“What do they say?” asked John Dent,
reaching forward to take the long narrow strip
of paper from the clerk's hand.

Colonel Todhunter had drawn out the funds
in full. The Messrs. Rawlings & Son trusted
there was nothing wrong in the matter; they
had acted strictly according to instructions.

“Just as I expected,” said Jack, tossing the
paper to his uncle, “luck is dead against me.”
Then he went on with his writing: “Five feet
eight or nine inches; blue eyes; light hair,
probably cut close; no beard or mustache,”
etc., etc.

“This is simply horrible,” murmured Mr.
Dent; and as he walked nervously up and
down the office, he recalled the afternoon when
he introduced Dillingham to Colonel Todhunter,
and how they had saluted each other as strangers,
and seemed to dislike each other, being
such different men; then he reflected that it
was chiefly through his own means that this
scandal had been brought upon Rivermouth;
then he thought of Prue, and he turned cold
and hot, and pale and flushed, by turns; and
the rapid scratching of John Dent's pen over

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[figure description] Page 300.[end figure description]

the paper, and the monotonous clicking of the
satanic little telegraph instrument behind the
wire screen, drove him nearly distracted.

“And now, if you please, we will inspect
the sanctum sanctorum of the late incumbent,”
said John Dent gayly.

It was only human that he should relish the
consternation of his uncle. But as they were
passing out into the street, John Dent's face
underwent a change; he halted on the last of
the three steps leading to the sidewalk, and,
grasping the iron railing, seemed unable to
move further.

“What is it now?” asked Mr. Dent, nervously.

“Uncle Ralph, was Prue engaged to that
man?—did she love him?”

“No!” cried Mr. Dent; “I believe she
hated him instinctively,—thank God!”

“Amen!” said John Dent, drawing a long
breath. “He has got my money, he has blighted
two years of my life, but if he has n't got at the
pure gold of Prue's heart, I forgive him!”

-- 301 --

p450-308 XVIII. A Rivermouth Mystery.

[figure description] Page 301.[end figure description]

The two Dents returned in silence to the Old
Bell Tavern, and went up directly to the
deserted study.

“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,

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[figure description] Page 302.[end figure description]

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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[figure description] Page 303.[end figure description]

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
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
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
galvanic battery.

“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
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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[figure description] Page 306.[end figure description]

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,
“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
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
Fawkes himself.

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

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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?”

“Mr. Dillingham.”


“The afternoon before he went away, he—
he offered himself to me.”

“What!” cried Prudence, turning white and
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
accepted him!”

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
ends here.

And Prudence Palfrey?

The reader shall become my collaborator at
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
a gate.

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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

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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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