no allusion to the past, except the passage
quoted, and the reading had been without awk-
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
100 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
" If 1 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 add-
ed, " 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 101
man within these sixty minutes ; he had tram-
pled his folly under foot, and was ready to
accept as very precious the only kind of affec-
tion 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 gar-
den 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 Ri vermouth
Barnacle. I declare I am alarmed about my-
self. 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 con-
duct than I am disposed to set down here,
though it is certainly a great piece of folly for
102 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 parson-
age, 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, fill-
ing 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,
" I suppose so ; but I don't see how he did
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 103
"Well, then, you did."
" Yes, by opposing us ! "
"0, if I had shut my eyes and allowed Jack
to make love to you, then you would n't have
loved him? "
" 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, leav-
ing 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 con-
temporary. Her existence had been so color-
less before, made up of unimportant happy
104 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 specta-
cles, mistress of Willowbrook in these vari-
ous stages, placidly pouring out tea for her
guardian and executing chefs-d'oeuvre in worsted
to be sold for the benefit of the heathen.
This tranquil picture - with that vague back-
ground of cemetery which will come into pic-
tures 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 twi-
light 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 un-
happily, as I have said. Nearly a year went
by, and then Prudence began to share the anx-
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 105
iety 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, cheer-
ingly. " More than likely the Bannock braves
are at this moment seated around the council-
fire, 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 dis-
pelled by the suggestion. She had a presenti-
ment which she could not throw off that all
was not well with the adventurers. What
might not happen to them, among the desper-
ate 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 brass-
mounted writing-desk that stood in her bed-
room. It was a letter with treachery and ship-
106 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
wreck 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.
PliUDENCE PALFHEY. 107
How JOHN DENT MADE HIS PILE AND LOST IT.
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 Kevins had associated themselves
drew rein, on a narrow bridle-path far up the
side of a mountain in Eastern Montana. Ris-
ing in their stirrups, and holding on by the
pommels of their saddles, they leaned over the
sheer edge of the precipice and saw the Prom-
ised Land lying at their feet. On one side of
an impetuous stream, that ran golden in the
108 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 canon, following the course of the stream,
were hundreds of blue and red and gray fig-
ures moving about restlessly like ants. These
were miners at work. Now and then the wan-
ing 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 isola-
tion that had brooded over it since the world
was made. Shut in by savage hills, stretch-
ing themselves cloudward like impregnable bat-
tlements, it seemed as if nothing but a miracle
had led the foot of man to its interior sol-
itude. What a lovely, happy nook it seemed,
flooded with the ruddy stream of sunset ! No
wonder the tired riders halted on the moun-
tain-side, gazing down half doubtingiy upon its
" Dent," whispered George Nevins, impres-
sively, " there is gold here." Then he sat mo-
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 109
tionless for a few minutes, taking in every
aspect of the canon. "What gold there is
over yonder," he presently added, in the same
low voice, "is pulverized, lying in secret crevi-
ces, or packed away in the sands of the
river-bed; troublesome hard work to get it,
too. How neatly Nature stows it away, con-
found her ! '
"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 jing-
ling 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 experi-
ence and readiness of great advantage to them,
110 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
and that afternoon, on arriving at the canon,
they had fresh cause to congratulate them-
selves 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
PRUDENCE PALFREY. Ill
is lost," said Nevins, turning to his compan-
ions. " If I had not meant fight, they would
have shot me. As it was I should have
" 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 fel-
low, 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 re-
volver 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 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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 canon, 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 sus-
picion, though " murder speaks with most mi-
raculous 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 Canon, 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 exist-
ence. Hither flocked all the ruffians that had
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 113
made other localities too hot to hold them,
gentlemen with too much reputation, and ladies
with too little ; and here was formed the nu-
cleus 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 his-
tory of American gold-seeking which closes
with the execution of Joe Pizanthia, Buck
Stinson, Haze Lyons, Boone Helrne, 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 adven-
turers 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
* 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."
114 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
canon," 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
mirabilis '49 we have seen none yet, though
there is a story afloat about a half-breed find-
ing 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
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, sug-
PRUDENCE PALFPT. 115
gested 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,"
" 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. Sun-
day 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 gath-
ered. A man had been shot at one of the
116 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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
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
all ! "
The close atmosphere of the camp stifled
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 117
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 Horse-
shoe 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
It was sunset when Dent sauntered pensively
118 PBUDENCE PALFREY.
into camp, meeting Twombly and Nevins on
the outskirts, looking for him.
"Jack!" cried Twombly, "you have given
me such a turn! It really isn't safe in this
place for a fellow to go off mooning by him-
self. What on earth have you been doing ? '
"Something quite unusual, Joseph, I've
"Homesick, eh?" said Nevins.
" Just a little."
Then they walked on in silence. Nevins
" What is that ? "
"A bit of rock I picked up out yonder ; say
what it is yourself." And Dent tossed the frag-
ment to Nevins, who caught it deftly.
" Pyrites," said Nevins, flinging it away con-
temptuously. " Come and have some supper."
The instant they were inside the tent Nev-
ins 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."
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 119
" Silver ! " shouted John Dent, " and you
threw it away ! ' :
" I '11 go get it directly, if you '11 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 horse-
back he became a part of the horse like a Co-
manche ; when a question in science or litera-
ture 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 gen-
tleman, though what it is that constitutes a
gentleman is an open question. It is not cul-
ture, 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."
120 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
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. Nev-
ins 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 zig-
zag 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 far-
ther 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.
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 121
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 unfortu-
nately 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, Kevins, and
122 PRUDENCE PALFREY.
Twombly recognized the fact that it had got
away from them, and that was the main griev-
" Anyhow, we have made a fair haul," re-
marked Nevins, " thanks to you, Jack, for it
was you who lighted on the thing."
" My luck is your luck and Twombly 's,"
They had, as Nevins stated, made a fair
haul. They had managed to get out close
upon a thousand tons of forty-dollar rock be-
fore 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 re-
duced 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 ap-
prehension, the coming of the cold season.
PRUDENCE PALFREY. 123
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 prospect-
ing. After varying fortunes -for a fortnight,
they had another find, TwomLly being the in-
voluntary Columbus. It was gold on this oc-
casion, and though it did not yield so bounte-
ously as the silver lode, it panned out hand-
So the weeks wore away, and the young men
saw their store steadily increasing day by day.