A WILL, AND THE WAY OF IT.
THE ATLANTIC MONTH :
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, SCIENCE, ART, AND POLITICS.
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 house-maid, with broom and dustpan in the front hall, dispatched 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 ?
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 he reunited in some more perfect sphere ; but so far as this earth is concerned, there’s an end of him. However neár 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 snow-flakes 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 in tents 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.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by H. O. HOUGHTON & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
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 shrouded him and his movements, had been in her thought almost constantly. Until 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 successful.
John Dent’s name was seldom spoken now by either Prudence or her guardian ; to all 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 baywindow, 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.
“ We have got hold of the parson’s will at last,” he said, looking up as she entered the room.
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 strong-box 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 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 Salome ! ”
“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 Sundayschool, 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.
“Isn’t that rather singular?” said Prudence, without ruffling a feather.
“ 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 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 Lane.”
“ 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 self-reliance. I did n’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 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 Prurience, but she was instantly curious to know what this surprising codicil was, and said so in that involuntary language which belongs to expressive eyes.
Mr. Dent took up one of the solemnlooking documents and glanced at the last page, then laid it down, then turned to it again, and re-read 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! ”
“ 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, — did n’t I mention it to you? — and I am not sure I should be justified in asking him. ”
Joseph Twombly, ex-knight and capitalist, had bowed gracefully and goodhumoredly 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. Ewelambs 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 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 Twombly.
“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 Joseph.”
“ He appears to be an estimable and faithful young person,” Mr. Dillingham replied, " and I 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 wild-goose 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.
“ 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 crest-fallen 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. 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.”
THE NEW MINISTER.
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 dispatched to the Town-Farm — seems almost like a branch of the Sunday-school. The community may be said to have lived for thirty 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
To maids with downcast eyes.”
In default of great events, small matters rise to the first magnitude in River-mouth. 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 brother-in-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 Captain Bell’s dinner-table the next day.
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 Fourthof-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 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 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 twentynine 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. won’t do,” and the ancient sexton gave a final tug at the hell-rope which he had retained in his hand. While the reverberation of the silvery crash that followed was floating above the housetops and stealing away to die among the outlying hills, Uncle Jedd softly closed the green baize doors which opened upon the three aisles.
A contagious ripple and flutter had passed over the congregation when Mr. Dillingham ascended the pulpit steps and seated himself in the antique highbacked chair at the left of the desk. This same flutter and ripple was duplicated as he rose to Open the service, which lie 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, subfile 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 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.
“ A young man of uncommon talent,” Mr. Lathers, the master of the Boys’ High-School, was heard to remark to Mr. Gargoyle, the retired plumber.
“ Oh, 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 Grafton.
“ 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 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 Phillips’s.”
“ 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 gold pieces.
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.
“ Well, well,” muttered Uncle Jedd, turning the key in the ponderous lock of the church-door, “ I dunno what th' world is a-comin’ ter!”
“ 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 he unconscious that he is conscious of it.”
“ 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.
“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 not 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 frescoes in which 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. Oh, 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.
A NEW ENGLAND IDOL.
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.
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 simoom 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 maidens 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 respectable walk of life, is easily understood. But a young man, because he buttons the top button of his coat and wears a white neck-tie, 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 men ?
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 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 he 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 store 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 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 penwipers and study-caps and carved papercutters 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 life-time. 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; 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 minister.
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, blonde prince 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 New Orleans, and had flirted in a highspirited way with various professions, became suddenly pensive. Hesba Grafton 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.
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 ewelamb 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 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, —
Tones so lugubrious, you perforce must fear :
If in such awful accents he should say,
“ Fear lovely Innocence ! " you ‘d run away !
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 spirit.
There was a new order of things in the Nortn 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 skeptical as to the duration of Mr. Dillingham’s popularity. If the towns-people were imageworshipers, they were iconoclasts also, when the mood was on them. But Mr. 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 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 ' first family’ nonsense about him. You can see with half an eye that he belongs to the Southern aristocracy, but he isn’t eternally shinning up his genealogical tree. There’s old Blydenburgh, who is always perching himself on the upper branches and hurling down the cocoa-nuts of his ancestors at common folks.”
It is not to be supposed that the Hon. Sam Knubley himself would have objected to a few 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 matter.
Mr. Dent witnessed with pride the success of his young friend; and Prudence, who, by the way, had naturally seen a great deal of Mr. Dillingham meanwhile, began to take herself to task for her cold demeanor towards him.
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 offense 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 presence.
“ 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. 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.
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 wellstocked 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.
“ 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 saddlehorse 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 hand-cart.”
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 keen.
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 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 cozy 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 he 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 eye-witness 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 department.”
“I really am,” spoke Prudence for herself. “If one is not down in time, one gets a cold breakfast.”
“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 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 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 isn’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.
“ Mortifying, isn’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 Prue. “ 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 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 Avas as light as day. In bending over the sward Mr. Dillingham had inadvertently brushed against Veronica’s shoulder, — that round white 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 reverie.
“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; but that could have been borne. It sank into insignificance beside this new version, in which she was made to play the heroine with disheveled 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 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 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 unamiablo. 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 twenty-one.
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 or 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 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 winch 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 sweet-tempered, 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 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 doesn’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 over night 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 horsewoman, and never lagged behind her comrades.
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 mapleleaves by the roadside seem tame in tint compared with her rich lips and cheeks.
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 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 pace.”
“ ‘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 off in a cloud of dust, Mr. Dent leaning on a cane at the drawingroom 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 Surgical and Medical 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 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. ”
“ Oh, you flatter me!” says Prue.
“ I fear I have already drawn heavily on Miss Prudence’s complaisance,” 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 off-set to any malicious criticism.
Mr. Dillingham had thawed perceptibly, and in a stately style was very gracious to her. Prudence’s passing desire to have him love her a little had evaporated; she was content with his friendship. The severest precisian 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 earth-works. 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 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 here, 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 paradeground 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 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, isn’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.
T. B. Aldrich