" Locked himself in ? '
" Yes, an' there he 's ben ever sence them
plaguey deacons went away, more 'n two hours."
28 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
" Maybe he will not care to see me just
now, Salome ? '
" Mebbe, dunno ; but do jest speak a word
" 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 2 ! J
MB. DENT AND HIS WARD.
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 com-
paratively small moment to him whether the
parson's discourse was long or short, brilliant
or dull, for he invariably went to sleep. Mr.
3U PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 can-
not, 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 objec-
tions. The congregation embraced a large
number of young people, chiefly women, who
always like their minister sleek and interest-
ing, 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 Dilling-
ham, a young gentleman of fortune and aris-
tocratic Southern connections, who was travel-
ling in the North for his health. Mr. Dilling-
ham 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 31
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 per-
haps he would visit the lovely New England
seaport before returning South. He would cer-
tainly do so, if he undertook his proposed pil-
grimage 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 inevita-
ble. Mr. Dillingham's property was largely
invested in Western and Northern securities,
fortunately for him; for, though he was South-
ern 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 Nortli 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 unusu-
32 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
ally 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 possi-
bility ; then Mr. Dent urged the matter warm-
ly, 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. Dilling-
ham was not to be drawn into an inconsider-
ate engagement. But then Mr. Dillingham was
rich, and not like those poor, drowning clergy-
men, dragged down by large families, ready to
clutch at such frail straws of salary as River-
mouth could hold out. Upon this it was de-
cided to relieve Parson Hawkins of his charge,
and take the chances of securing Mr. Dilling-
Throughout the matter Mr. Dent had acted
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 33
on impulse, as the most practical man some-
times 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 roman-
tic than Mr. Dent. He was a straightforward,
practical man, naturally amiable and accident-
ally peppery, who had had his living to make,
and had made it by making beer. A romantic
brewer would be an anomaly. There is some-
thing essentially prosaic in vats and barrels ;
but this did not restrain Mr. Dent in early life
84 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 vic-
tim to an epidemic, and the widow, with her
three-year-old girl, drifted back to Ri vermouth.
Dent bore a constant mind, and would proba-
bly have married his old love ; but Mrs. Pal-
frey 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 Gard-
ner'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.
PEUDENCE PALFREY. 35
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 brew-
ery, 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 brew-
ery 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
36 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
the most exclusive people have frequently
passed their early manhood in selling tape or
West India groceries in homoeopathic quanti-
ties. 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 Wil-
lowbrook, 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 be-
lieved ; but how completely she had curled
about his heart, like a vine, he did not dis-
cover 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.
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 37
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 River-
mouth. He had recently graduated, with not
too many honors, and was taking a breathing-
spell previous to setting out on his adventures
in the world ; for he had his dragons to over-
come 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 baron-
ess, his mother, sallies forth in a spick-and-
span new armor from the paternal castle,
and, snap ! that is the last of him. Now and
then one comes back with gold-pieces and dec-
38 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
orations, 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 asso-
ciated 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 affec-
tion for the place of one's nativity seems to
be one of the conditions of birth in New Eng-
land. 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 feel-
ing 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 39
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 Kivermouth 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 any-
thing 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 cabanas as if he had been born to
them, and amused Prue vastly with descrip-
tions of his college life and with the funny
little profiles of his college chums which he
40 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 to'
gether 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, brood-
ing 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
Reading one of Thackeray's novels in a ham-
mock on the piazza, or strolling in the garden
after supper, with his cigar glowing here and
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 41
there among the shrubbery like a panther's eye,
he did not appear much appalled by prospec-
tive 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 de-
spatch, like a brave modern knight in an Eng-
lish 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 neigh-
boring inland cities. They are mostly sickly
42 PRUDENCE PALFEEY.
eagles that are left. So Prudence had encoun-
tered few young men in her time, and those
she had not liked ; but she did like John Dent.
John Dent had come to Ri vermouth bearing
about his person some concealed wounds in-
flicted by the eldest daughter of his Greek pro-
fessor ; 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 noth-
ing in the world to do, let the season be
springtime or winter, and it requires no wiz-
ard 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 rea-
sons for these young people. If people who
pair were obliged to have good reasons for pair-
ing, 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 43
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 pro-
fession. 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
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
44 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 con-
juring, rose up between them and the pine
gro^je. 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 devel-
oped powers of sarcasm quite surprising to her-
self. She was full of liveliness those days.
John Dent was not lively now ; he was grad-
ually merging into that saturnine and melan-
choly-eyed student whom Prue had so dreaded.
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 45
Mr. Ralph Dent was struck by this phenom-
enon. 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 Prue. 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
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
46 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 per-
haps 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 47
was truthfulness. Mr. Dent was satisfied that
no mischief had been done so far, and he in-
tended 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 insur-
ance 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
" Are you going to town, uncle ? " inquired
John Dent, looking up.
"I '11 walk a bit of the way with you, if
" 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
48 PRUDENCE PALFKEY.
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 cir-
cumstance 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 spark-
ling 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 mad-
ness ! " And Mr. Dent stopped short in the
middle of the road.
" I did n't suppose it would meet with your
" My approval ? I tell you I never heard of
such insanity ! "
PRUDENCE PALFEEY. 49
" I know it is unfortunate," said John Dent,
humbly ; " but there are things which no man
" 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
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,
"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 blind-
ness 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."
50 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
" 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 ? "
" 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 dishonor-
able, 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 extraordi*
nary avowal >:
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 51
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 ? "
" 0, 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. Riv-
ermouth 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