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

Previous section

Next section

XII. Prue!

[figure description] Page 194.[end figure description]

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.

-- 195 --

[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.

-- 197 --

[figure description] Page 197.[end figure description]

“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

-- 198 --

[figure description] Page 198.[end figure description]

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

-- 199 --

[figure description] Page 199.[end figure description]

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.

-- 200 --

[figure description] Page 200.[end figure description]

“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

-- 201 --

[figure description] Page 201.[end figure description]

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;

-- 202 --

[figure description] Page 202.[end figure description]

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

-- 203 --

[figure description] Page 203.[end figure description]

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

-- 204 --

[figure description] Page 204.[end figure description]

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

-- 205 --

[figure description] Page 205.[end figure description]

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

-- 206 --

[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

-- 207 --

[figure description] Page 207.[end figure description]

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

-- 208 --

[figure description] Page 208.[end figure description]

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

-- 209 --

[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

-- 210 --

[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.

-- 211 --

[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

-- 212 --

[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

-- 213 --

[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 --

Previous section

Next section

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