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The House of the Seven Gables

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Table of Contents


I. THE OLD PYNCHEON FAMILY
II. THE LITTLE SHOP-WINDOW
III. THE FIRST CUSTOMER
IV. A DAY BEHIND THE COUNTER
V. MAY AND NOVEMBER
VI. MAULE'S WELL
VII. THE GUEST
VIII. THE PYNCHEON OF TO-DAY
IX. CLIFFORD AND PHOEBE
X. THE PYNCHEON GARDEN
XI. THE ARCHED WINDOW
XII. THE DAGUERREOTYPIST
XIII. ALICE PYNCHEON
XIV. PHOEBE'S GOOD-BY
XV. THE SCOWL AND SMILE
XVI. CLIFFORD'S CHAMBER
XVII. THE FLIGHT OF TWO OWLS
XVIII. GOVERNOR PYNCHEON
XIX. ALICE'S POSIES
XX. THE FLOWER OF EDEN
XXI. THE DEPARTURE

 

I. The Old Pyncheon Family

 

HALFWAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands
a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing
towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered
chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house
is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference,
rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by
the title of the Pyncheon Elm. On my occasional visits to the
town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon Street,
for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities,
--the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice.

The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like
a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward
storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of
mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed
within. Were these to be worthily recounted, they would form a
narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing,
moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem
the result of artistic arrangement. But the story would include
a chain of events extending over the better part of two centuries,
and, written out with reasonable amplitude, would fill a bigger
folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could prudently
be appropriated to the annals of all New England during a similar
period. It consequently becomes imperative to make short work
with most of the traditionary lore of which the old Pyncheon House,
otherwise known as the House of the Seven Gables, has been the
theme. With a brief sketch, therefore, of the circumstances
amid which the foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid
glimpse at its quaint exterior, as it grew black in the prevalent
east wind,--pointing, too, here and there, at some spot of more
verdant mossiness on its roof and walls,--we shall commence the
real action of our tale at an epoch not very remote from the
present day. Still, there will be a connection with the long
past--a reference to forgotten events and personages, and to
manners, feelings, and opinions, almost or wholly obsolete
--which, if adequately translated to the reader, would serve
to illustrate how much of old material goes to make up the
freshest novelty of human life. Hence, too, might be drawn a
weighty lesson from the little-regarded truth, that the act of
the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce
good or evil fruit in a far-distant time; that, together with
the seed of the merely temporary crop, which mortals term
expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring
growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.

The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not
the first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same
spot of ground. Pyncheon Street formerly bore the humbler appellation
of Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil,
before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of
soft and pleasant water--a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula
where the Puritan settlement was made--had early induced Matthew
Maule to build a hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although
somewhat too remote from what was then the centre of the village.
In the growth of the town, however, after some thirty or forty
years, the site covered by this rude hovel had become exceedingly
desirable in the eyes of a prominent and powerful personage, who
asserted plausible claims to the proprietorship of this and a
large adjacent tract of land, on the strength of a grant from the
legislature. Colonel Pyncheon, the claimant, as we gather from
whatever traits of him are preserved, was characterized by an
iron energy of purpose. Matthew Maule, on the other hand, though
an obscure man, was stubborn in the defence of what he considered
his right; and, for several years, he succeeded in protecting the
acre or two of earth which, with his own toil, he had hewn out
of the primeval forest, to be his garden ground and homestead.
No written record of this dispute is known to be in existence.
Our acquaintance with the whole subject is derived chiefly from
tradition. It would be bold, therefore, and possibly unjust,
to venture a decisive opinion as to its merits; although it
appears to have been at least a matter of doubt, whether Colonel
Pyncheon's claim were not unduly stretched, in order to make it
cover the small metes and bounds of Matthew Maule. What greatly
strengthens such a suspicion is the fact that this controversy
between two ill-matched antagonists --at a period, moreover,
laud it as we may, when personal influence had far more weight
than now--remained for years undecided, and came to a close only
with the death of the party occupying the disputed soil. The mode
of his death, too, affects the mind differently, in our day,
from what it did a century and a half ago. It was a death that
blasted with strange horror the humble name of the dweller in
the cottage, and made it seem almost a religious act to drive
the plough over the little area of his habitation, and obliterate
his place and memory from among men.

Old Matthew Maule, in a word, was executed for the crime of
witchcraft. He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion,
which should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential
classes, and those who take upon themselves to be leaders of the
people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever
characterized the maddest mob. Clergymen, judges, statesmen,--the
wisest, calmest, holiest persons of their day stood in the inner
circle round about the gallows, loudest to applaud the work of
blood, latest to confess themselves miserably deceived. If any
one part of their proceedings can be said to deserve less blame
than another, it was the singular indiscrimination with which
they persecuted, not merely the poor and aged, as in former
judicial massacres, but people of all ranks; their own equals,
brethren, and wives. Amid the disorder of such various ruin,
it is not strange that a man of inconsiderable note, like Maule,
should have trodden the martyr's path to the hill of execution
almost unremarked in the throng of his fellow sufferers. But,
in after days, when the frenzy of that hideous epoch had subsided,
it was remembered how loudly Colonel Pyncheon had joined in the
general cry, to purge the land from witchcraft; nor did it fail
to be whispered, that there was an invidious acrimony in the
zeal with which he had sought the condemnation of Matthew Maule.
It was well known that the victim had recognized the bitterness
of personal enmity in his persecutor's conduct towards him, and
that he declared himself hunted to death for his spoil. At the
moment of execution--with the halter about his neck, and while
Colonel Pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at the scene
Maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy,
of which history, as well as fireside tradition, has preserved
the very words. "God," said the dying man, pointing his finger,
with a ghastly look, at the undismayed countenance of his enemy,
--"God will give him blood to drink!" After the reputed wizard's
death, his humble homestead had fallen an easy spoil into Colonel
Pyncheon's grasp. When it was understood, however, that the
Colonel intended to erect a family mansion-spacious, ponderously
framed of oaken timber, and calculated to endure for many generations
of his posterity over the spot first covered by the log-built hut
of Matthew Maule, there was much shaking of the head among the
village gossips. Without absolutely expressing a doubt whether
the stalwart Puritan had acted as a man of conscience and integrity
throughout the proceedings which have been sketched, they,
nevertheless, hinted that he was about to build his house over
an unquiet grave. His home would include the home of the dead
and buried wizard, and would thus afford the ghost of the latter
a kind of privilege to haunt its new apartments, and the chambers
into which future bridegrooms were to lead their brides, and where
children of the Pyncheon blood were to be born. The terror and
ugliness of Maule's crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment,
would darken the freshly plastered walls, and infect them early
with the scent of an old and melancholy house. Why, then, --while
so much of the soil around him was bestrewn with the virgin forest
leaves,--why should Colonel Pyncheon prefer a site that had
already been accurst?

But the Puritan soldier and magistrate was not a man to be turned
aside from his well-considered scheme, either by dread of the
wizard's ghost, or by flimsy sentimentalities of any kind, however
specious. Had he been told of a bad air, it might have moved him
somewhat; but he was ready to encounter an evil spirit on his own
ground. Endowed with commonsense, as massive and hard as blocks
of granite, fastened together by stern rigidity of purpose, as with
iron clamps, he followed out his original design, probably without
so much as imagining an objection to it. On the score of delicacy,
or any scrupulousness which a finer sensibility might have taught him,
the Colonel, like most of his breed and generation, was impenetrable.
He therefore dug his cellar, and laid the deep foundations of his
mansion, on the square of earth whence Matthew Maule, forty years
before, had first swept away the fallen leaves. It was a curious,
and, as some people thought, an ominous fact, that, very soon after
the workmen began their operations, the spring of water, above
mentioned, entirely lost the deliciousness of its pristine quality.
Whether its sources were disturbed by the depth of the new cellar,
or whatever subtler cause might lurk at the bottom, it is certain
that the water of Maule's Well, as it continued to be called,
grew hard and brackish. Even such we find it now; and any old
woman of the neighborhood will certify that it is productive of
intestinal mischief to those who quench their thirst there.

The reader may deem it singular that the head carpenter of the new
edifice was no other than the son of the very man from whose dead
gripe the property of the soil had been wrested. Not improbably he
was the best workman of his time; or, perhaps, the Colonel thought
it expedient, or was impelled by some better feeling, thus openly
to cast aside all animosity against the race of his fallen antagonist.
Nor was it out of keeping with the general coarseness and matter-of-fact
character of the age, that the son should be willing to earn an honest
penny, or, rather, a weighty amount of sterling pounds, from the purse
of his father's deadly enemy. At all events, Thomas Maule became the
architect of the House of the Seven Gables, and performed his duty so
faithfully that the timber framework fastened by his hands still
holds together.

Thus the great house was built. Familiar as it stands in the writer's
recollection,--for it has been an object of curiosity with him from
boyhood, both as a specimen of the best and stateliest architecture
of a longpast epoch, and as the scene of events more full of human
interest, perhaps, than those of a gray feudal castle,--familiar as
it stands, in its rusty old age, it is therefore only the more
difficult to imagine the bright novelty with which it first caught
the sunshine. The impression of its actual state, at this distance
of a hundred and sixty years, darkens inevitably through the picture
which we would fain give of its appearance on the morning when the
Puritan magnate bade all the town to be his guests. A ceremony of
consecration, festive as well as religious, was now to be performed.
A prayer and discourse from the Rev. Mr. Higginson, and the outpouring
of a psalm from the general throat of the community, was to be made
acceptable to the grosser sense by ale, cider, wine, and brandy,
in copious effusion, and, as some authorities aver, by an ox, roasted
whole, or at least, by the weight and substance of an ox, in more
manageable joints and sirloins. The carcass of a deer, shot within
twenty miles, had supplied material for the vast circumference of a
pasty. A codfish of sixty pounds, caught in the bay, had been dissolved
into the rich liquid of a chowder. The chimney of the new house,
in short, belching forth its kitchen smoke, impregnated the whole air
with the scent of meats, fowls, and fishes, spicily concocted with
odoriferous herbs, and onions in abundance. The mere smell of such
festivity, making its way to everybody's nostrils, was at once an
invitation and an appetite.

Maule's Lane, or Pyncheon Street, as it were now more decorous to
call it, was thronged, at the appointed hour, as with a congregation
on its way to church. All, as they approached, looked upward at
the imposing edifice, which was henceforth to assume its rank among
the habitations of mankind. There it rose, a little withdrawn from
the line of the street, but in pride, not modesty. Its whole visible
exterior was ornamented with quaint figures, conceived in the
grotesqueness of a Gothic fancy, and drawn or stamped in the
glittering plaster, composed of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass,
with which the woodwork of the walls was overspread. On every side
the seven gables pointed sharply towards the sky, and presented the
aspect of a whole sisterhood of edifices, breathing through the
spiracles of one great chimney. The many lattices, with their small,
diamond-shaped panes, admitted the sunlight into hall and chamber,
while, nevertheless, the second story, projecting far over the base,
and itself retiring beneath the third, threw a shadowy and thoughtful
gloom into the lower rooms. Carved globes of wood were affixed under
the jutting stories. Little spiral rods of iron beautified each of
the seven peaks. On the triangular portion of the gable, that fronted
next the street, was a dial, put up that very morning, and on which
the sun was still marking the passage of the first bright hour in a
history that was not destined to be all so bright. All around were
scattered shavings, chips, shingles, and broken halves of bricks;
these, together with the lately turned earth, on which the grass
had not begun to grow, contributed to the impression of strangeness
and novelty proper to a house that had yet its place to make among
men's daily interests.

The principal entrance, which had almost the breadth of a
church-door, was in the angle between the two front gables, and
was covered by an open porch, with benches beneath its shelter.
Under this arched doorway, scraping their feet on the unworn
threshold, now trod the clergymen, the elders, the magistrates,
the deacons, and whatever of aristocracy there was in town or
county. Thither, too, thronged the plebeian classes as freely as
their betters, and in larger number. Just within the entrance,
however, stood two serving-men, pointing some of the guests to
the neighborhood of the kitchen and ushering others into the
statelier rooms,--hospitable alike to all, but still with a
scrutinizing regard to the high or low degree of each. Velvet
garments sombre but rich, stiffly plaited ruffs and bands,
embroidered gloves, venerable beards, the mien and countenance
of authority, made it easy to distinguish the gentleman of worship,
at that period, from the tradesman, with his plodding air, or the
laborer, in his leathern jerkin, stealing awe-stricken into the
house which he had perhaps helped to build.

One inauspicious circumstance there was, which awakened a hardly
concealed displeasure in the breasts of a few of the more punctilious
visitors. The founder of this stately mansion--a gentleman noted
for the square and ponderous courtesy of his demeanor, ought surely
to have stood in his own hall, and to have offered the first welcome
to so many eminent personages as here presented themselves in honor
of his solemn festival. He was as yet invisible; the most favored
of the guests had not beheld him. This sluggishness on Colonel
Pyncheon's part became still more unaccountable, when the second
dignitary of the province made his appearance, and found no more
ceremonious a reception. The lieutenant-governor, although his
visit was one of the anticipated glories of the day, had alighted
from his horse, and assisted his lady from her side-saddle, and
crossed the Colonel's threshold, without other greeting than that
of the principal domestic.

This person--a gray-headed man, of quiet and most respectful
deportment --found it necessary to explain that his master still
remained in his study, or private apartment; on entering which,
an hour before, he had expressed a wish on no account to be disturbed.

"Do not you see, fellow," said the high-sheriff of the county,
taking the servant aside, "that this is no less a man than the
lieutenant-governor? Summon Colonel Pyncheon at once! I know that
he received letters from England this morning; and, in the perusal
and consideration of them, an hour may have passed away without his
noticing it. But he will be ill-pleased, I judge if you suffer him
to neglect the courtesy due to one of our chief rulers, and who may
be said to represent King William, in the absence of the governor
himself. Call your master instantly."

"Nay, please your worship," answered the man, in much perplexity,
but with a backwardness that strikingly indicated the hard and
severe character of Colonel Pyncheon's domestic rule; "my master's
orders were exceeding strict; and, as your worship knows, he
permits of no discretion in the obedience of those who owe him
service. Let who list open yonder door; I dare not, though the
governor's own voice should bid me do it!"

"Pooh, pooh, master high sheriff!" cried the lieutenant-governor,
who had overheard the foregoing discussion, and felt himself high
enough in station to play a little with his dignity. "I will take
the matter into my own hands. It is time that the good Colonel came
forth to greet his friends; else we shall be apt to suspect that he
has taken a sip too much of his Canary wine, in his extreme deliberation
which cask it were best to broach in honor of the day! But since he
is so much behindhand, I will give him a remembrancer myself!"

Accordingly, with such a tramp of his ponderous riding-boots as
might of itself have been audible in the remotest of the seven
gables, he advanced to the door, which the servant pointed out,
and made its new panels reecho with a loud, free knock. Then,
looking round, with a smile, to the spectators, he awaited a
response. As none came, however, he knocked again, but with the
same unsatisfactory result as at first. And now, being a trifle
choleric in his temperament, the lieutenant-governor uplifted the
heavy hilt of his sword, wherewith he so beat and banged upon the
door, that, as some of the bystanders whispered, the racket might
have disturbed the dead. Be that as it might, it seemed to produce
no awakening effect on Colonel Pyncheon. When the sound subsided,
the silence through the house was deep, dreary, and oppressive,
notwithstanding that the tongues of many of the guests had already
been loosened by a surreptitious cup or two of wine or spirits.

"Strange, forsooth!--very strange!" cried the lieutenant-governor,
whose smile was changed to a frown. "But seeing that our host
sets us the good example of forgetting ceremony, I shall likewise
throw it aside, and make free to intrude on his privacy."

He tried the door, which yielded to his hand, and was flung wide
open by a sudden gust of wind that passed, as with a loud sigh,
from the outermost portal through all the passages and apartments
of the new house. It rustled the silken garments of the ladies,
and waved the long curls of the gentlemen's wigs, and shook the
window-hangings and the curtains of the bedchambers; causing
everywhere a singular stir, which yet was more like a hush.
A shadow of awe and half-fearful anticipation--nobody knew
wherefore, nor of what--had all at once fallen over the company.

They thronged, however, to the now open door, pressing the
lieutenant-governor, in the eagerness of their curiosity, into
the room in advance of them. At the first glimpse they beheld
nothing extraordinary: a handsomely furnished room, of moderate
size, somewhat darkened by curtains; books arranged on shelves;
a large map on the wall, and likewise a portrait of Colonel
Pyncheon, beneath which sat the original Colonel himself, in an
oaken elbow-chair, with a pen in his hand. Letters, parchments,
and blank sheets of paper were on the table before him. He
appeared to gaze at the curious crowd, in front of which stood
the lieutenant-governor; and there was a frown on his dark and
massive countenance, as if sternly resentful of the boldness that
had impelled them into his private retirement.

A little boy--the Colonel's grandchild, and the only human being
that ever dared to be familiar with him--now made his way among
the guests, and ran towards the seated figure; then pausing
halfway, he began to shriek with terror. The company, tremulous
as the leaves of a tree, when all are shaking together, drew
nearer, and perceived that there was an unnatural distortion in
the fixedness of Colonel Pyncheon's stare; that there was blood
on his ruff, and that his hoary beard was saturated with it.
It was too late to give assistance. The iron-hearted Puritan,
the relentless persecutor, the grasping and strong-willed man was
dead! Dead, in his new house! There is a tradition, only worth
alluding to as lending a tinge of superstitious awe to a scene
perhaps gloomy enough without it, that a voice spoke loudly among
the guests, the tones of which were like those of old Matthew
Maule, the executed wizard,--"God hath given him blood to drink!"

Thus early had that one guest,--the only guest who is certain,
at one time or another, to find his way into every human dwelling,
--thus early had Death stepped across the threshold of the House
of the Seven Gables!

Colonel Pyncheon's sudden and mysterious end made a vast deal
of noise in its day. There were many rumors, some of which have
vaguely drifted down to the present time, how that appearances
indicated violence; that there were the marks of fingers on his
throat, and the print of a bloody hand on his plaited ruff; and
that his peaked beard was dishevelled, as if it had been fiercely
clutched and pulled. It was averred, likewise, that the lattice
window, near the Colonel's chair, was open; and that, only a few
minutes before the fatal occurrence, the figure of a man had been
seen clambering over the garden fence, in the rear of the house.
But it were folly to lay any stress on stories of this kind, which
are sure to spring up around such an event as that now related,
and which, as in the present case, sometimes prolong themselves
for ages afterwards, like the toadstools that indicate where the
fallen and buried trunk of a tree has long since mouldered into
the earth. For our own part, we allow them just as little
credence as to that other fable of the skeleton hand which the
lieutenant- governor was said to have seen at the Colonel's throat,
but which vanished away, as he advanced farther into the room.
Certain it is, however, that there was a great consultation and
dispute of doctors over the dead body. One,--John Swinnerton
by name,--who appears to have been a man of eminence, upheld it,
if we have rightly understood his terms of art, to be a case of
apoplexy. His professional brethren, each for himself, adopted
various hypotheses, more or less plausible, but all dressed out
in a perplexing mystery of phrase, which, if it do not show a
bewilderment of mind in these erudite physicians, certainly causes
it in the unlearned peruser of their opinions. The coroner's
jury sat upon the corpse, and, like sensible men, returned an
unassailable verdict of "Sudden Death!"

It is indeed difficult to imagine that there could have been
a serious suspicion of murder, or the slightest grounds for
implicating any particular individual as the perpetrator.
The rank, wealth, and eminent character of the deceased must
have insured the strictest scrutiny into every ambiguous
circumstance. As none such is on record, it is safe to assume
that none existed Tradition,--which sometimes brings down truth
that history has let slip, but is oftener the wild babble of the
time, such as was formerly spoken at the fireside and now congeals
in newspapers,--tradition is responsible for all contrary averments.
In Colonel Pyncheon's funeral sermon, which was printed, and is
still extant, the Rev. Mr. Higginson enumerates, among the many
felicities of his distinguished parishioner's earthly career,
the happy seasonableness of his death. His duties all performed,
--the highest prosperity attained,--his race and future generations
fixed on a stable basis, and with a stately roof to shelter them
for centuries to come,--what other upward step remained for this
good man to take, save the final step from earth to the golden
gate of heaven! The pious clergyman surely would not have uttered
words like these had he in the least suspected that the Colonel
had been thrust into the other world with the clutch of violence
upon his throat.

The family of Colonel Pyncheon, at the epoch of his death, seemed
destined to as fortunate a permanence as can anywise consist with
the inherent instability of human affairs. It might fairly be
anticipated that the progress of time would rather increase and
ripen their prosperity, than wear away and destroy it. For, not only
had his son and heir come into immediate enjoyment of a rich estate,
but there was a claim through an Indian deed, confirmed by a subsequent
grant of the General Court, to a vast and as yet unexplored and
unmeasured tract of Eastern lands. These possessions--for as such
they might almost certainly be reckoned--comprised the greater part
of what is now known as Waldo County, in the state of Maine, and were
more extensive than many a dukedom, or even a reigning prince's
territory, on European soil. When the pathless forest that still
covered this wild principality should give place--as it inevitably
must, though perhaps not till ages hence--to the golden fertility
of human culture, it would be the source of incalculable wealth
to the Pyncheon blood. Had the Colonel survived only a few weeks
longer, it is probable that his great political influence, and
powerful connections at home and abroad, would have consummated
all that was necessary to render the claim available. But, in
spite of good Mr. Higginson's congratulatory eloquence, this
appeared to be the one thing which Colonel Pyncheon, provident
and sagacious as he was, had allowed to go at loose ends. So far
as the prospective territory was concerned, he unquestionably
died too soon. His son lacked not merely the father's eminent
position, but the talent and force of character to achieve it:
he could, therefore, effect nothing by dint of political interest;
and the bare justice or legality of the claim was not so apparent,
after the Colonel's decease, as it had been pronounced in his
lifetime. Some connecting link had slipped out of the evidence,
and could not anywhere be found.

Efforts, it is true, were made by the Pyncheons, not only then,
but at various periods for nearly a hundred years afterwards,
to obtain what they stubbornly persisted in deeming their right.
But, in course of time, the territory was partly regranted to more
favored individuals, and partly cleared and occupied by actual
settlers. These last, if they ever heard of the Pyncheon title,
would have laughed at the idea of any man's asserting a right--on
the strength of mouldy parchments, signed with the faded autographs
of governors and legislators long dead and forgotten--to the lands
which they or their fathers had wrested from the wild hand of
nature by their own sturdy toil. This impalpable claim, therefore,
resulted in nothing more solid than to cherish, from generation to
generation, an absurd delusion of family importance, which all along
characterized the Pyncheons. It caused the poorest member of the
race to feel as if he inherited a kind of nobility, and might yet
come into the possession of princely wealth to support it. In the
better specimens of the breed, this peculiarity threw an ideal grace
over the hard material of human life, without stealing away any truly
valuable quality. In the baser sort, its effect was to increase the
liability to sluggishness and dependence, and induce the victim of a
shadowy hope to remit all self-effort, while awaiting the realization
of his dreams. Years and years after their claim had passed out of
the public memory, the Pyncheons were accustomed to consult the
Colonel's ancient map, which had been projected while Waldo County
was still an unbroken wilderness. Where the old land surveyor had
put down woods, lakes, and rivers, they marked out the cleared spaces,
and dotted the villages and towns, and calculated the progressively
increasing value of the territory, as if there were yet a prospect of
its ultimately forming a princedom for themselves.

In almost every generation, nevertheless, there happened to be
some one descendant of the family gifted with a portion of the
hard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably
distinguished the original founder. His character, indeed, might
be traced all the way down, as distinctly as if the Colonel himself,
a little diluted, had been gifted with a sort of intermittent
immortality on earth. At two or three epochs, when the fortunes
of the family were low, this representative of hereditary qualities
had made his appearance, and caused the traditionary gossips of
the town to whisper among themselves, "Here is the old Pyncheon
come again! Now the Seven Gables will be new-shingled!" From father
to son, they clung to the ancestral house with singular tenacity of
home attachment. For various reasons, however, and from impressions
often too vaguely founded to be put on paper, the writer cherishes
the belief that many, if not most, of the successive proprietors of
this estate were troubled with doubts as to their moral right to
hold it. Of their legal tenure there could be no question; but old
Matthew Maule, it is to be feared, trode downward from his own age
to a far later one, planting a heavy footstep, all the way, on the
conscience of a Pyncheon. If so, we are left to dispose of the
awful query, whether each inheritor of the property-conscious of
wrong, and failing to rectify it--did not commit anew the great
guilt of his ancestor, and incur all its original responsibilities.
And supposing such to be the case, would it not be a far truer
mode of expression to say of the Pyncheon family, that they
inherited a great misfortune, than the reverse?

We have already hinted that it is not our purpose to trace down
the history of the Pyncheon family, in its unbroken connection
with the House of the Seven Gables; nor to show, as in a magic
picture, how the rustiness and infirmity of age gathered over the
venerable house itself. As regards its interior life, a large,
dim looking-glass used to hang in one of the rooms, and was fabled
to contain within its depths all the shapes that had ever been
reflected there,--the old Colonel himself, and his many descendants,
some in the garb of antique babyhood, and others in the bloom of
feminine beauty or manly prime, or saddened with the wrinkles of
frosty age. Had we the secret of that mirror, we would gladly sit
down before it, and transfer its revelations to our page. But there
was a story, for which it is difficult to conceive any foundation,
that the posterity of Matthew Maule had some connection with the
mystery of the looking-glass, and that, by what appears to have
been a sort of mesmeric process, they could make its inner region
all alive with the departed Pyncheons; not as they had shown themselves
to the world, nor in their better and happier hours, but as doing
over again some deed of sin, or in the crisis of life's bitterest
sorrow. The popular imagination, indeed, long kept itself busy
with the affair of the old Puritan Pyncheon and the wizard Maule;
the curse which the latter flung from his scaffold was remembered,
with the very important addition, that it had become a part of the
Pyncheon inheritance. If one of the family did but gurgle in his
throat, a bystander would be likely enough to whisper, between jest
and earnest,"He has Maule's blood to drink!" The sudden death of a
Pyncheon, about a hundred years ago, with circumstances very similar
to what have been related of the Colonel's exit, was held as giving
additional probability to the received opinion on this topic. It was
considered, moreover, an ugly and ominous circumstance, that Colonel
Pyncheon's picture--in obedience, it was said, to a provision of his
will--remained affixed to the wall of the room in which he died.
Those stern, immitigable features seemed to symbolize an evil influence,
and so darkly to mingle the shadow of their presence with the sunshine
of the passing hour, that no good thoughts or purposes could ever
spring up and blossom there. To the thoughtful mind there will be no
tinge of superstition in what we figuratively express, by affirming
that the ghost of a dead progenitor--perhaps as a portion of his own
punishment--is often doomed to become the Evil Genius of his family.

The Pyncheons, in brief, lived along, for the better part of two
centuries, with perhaps less of outward vicissitude than has
attended most other New England families during the same period
of time. Possessing very distinctive traits of their own, they
nevertheless took the general characteristics of the little
community in which they dwelt; a town noted for its frugal,
discreet, well-ordered, and home-loving inhabitants, as well as
for the somewhat confined scope of its sympathies; but in which,
be it said, there are odder individuals, and, now and then,
stranger occurrences, than one meets with almost anywhere else.
During the Revolution, the Pyncheon of that epoch, adopting the
royal side, became a refugee; but repented, and made his reappearance,
just at the point of time to preserve the House of the Seven Gables
from confiscation. For the last seventy years the most noted
event in the Pyncheon annals had been likewise the heaviest
calamity that ever befell the race; no less than the violent
death--for so it was adjudged--of one member of the family by
the criminal act of another. Certain circumstances attending
this fatal occurrence had brought the deed irresistibly home to
a nephew of the deceased Pyncheon. The young man was tried and
convicted of the crime; but either the circumstantial nature of
the evidence, and possibly some lurking doubts in the breast of
the executive, or" lastly--an argument of greater weight in a
republic than it could have been under a monarchy,--the high
respectability and political influence of the criminal's connections,
had availed to mitigate his doom from death to perpetual imprisonment.
This sad affair had chanced about thirty years before the action
of our story commences. Latterly, there were rumors (which few
believed, and only one or two felt greatly interested in) that
this long-buried man was likely, for some reason or other, to be
summoned forth from his living tomb.

It is essential to say a few words respecting the victim of this
now almost forgotten murder. He was an old bachelor, and possessed
of great wealth, in addition to the house and real estate which
constituted what remained of the ancient Pyncheon property.
Being of an eccentric and melancholy turn of mind, and greatly given
to rummaging old records and hearkening to old traditions, he had
brought himself, it is averred, to the conclusion that Matthew Maule,
the wizard, had been foully wronged out of his homestead, if not out
of his life. Such being the case, and he, the old bachelor, in
possession of the ill-gotten spoil,--with the black stain of blood
sunken deep into it, and still to be scented by conscientious nostrils,
--the question occurred, whether it were not imperative upon him,
even at this late hour, to make restitution to Maule's posterity.
To a man living so much in the past, and so little in the present,
as the secluded and antiquarian old bachelor, a century and a
half seemed not so vast a period as to obviate the propriety of
substituting right for wrong. It was the belief of those who knew
him best, that he would positively have taken the very singular
step of giving up the House of the Seven Gables to the representative
of Matthew Maule, but for the unspeakable tumult which a suspicion
of the old gentleman's project awakened among his Pyncheon relatives.
Their exertions had the effect of suspending his purpose; but it
was feared that he would perform, after death, by the operation of
his last will, what he had so hardly been prevented from doing in
his proper lifetime. But there is no one thing which men so
rarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath
patrimonial property away from their own blood. They may love other
individuals far better than their relatives,--they may even cherish
dislike, or positive hatred, to the latter; but yet, in view of death,
the strong prejudice of propinquity revives, and impels the testator
to send down his estate in the line marked out by custom so immemorial
that it looks like nature. In all the Pyncheons, this feeling had the
energy of disease. It was too powerful for the conscientious scruples
of the old bachelor; at whose death, accordingly, the mansion-house,
together with most of his other riches, passed into the possession of
his next legal representative.

This was a nephew, the cousin of the miserable young man who
had been convicted of the uncle's murder. The new heir, up to
the period of his accession, was reckoned rather a dissipated youth,
but had at once reformed, and made himself an exceedingly respectable
member of society. In fact, he showed more of the Pyncheon quality,
and had won higher eminence in the world, than any of his race since
the time of the original Puritan. Applying himself in earlier manhood
to the study of the law, and having a natural tendency towards office,
he had attained, many years ago, to a judicial situation in some
inferior court, which gave him for life the very desirable and
imposing title of judge. Later, he had engaged in politics, and
served a part of two terms in Congress, besides making a considerable
figure in both branches of the State legislature. Judge Pyncheon
was unquestionably an honor to his race. He had built himself a
country-seat within a few miles of his native town, and there spent
such portions of his time as could be spared from public service in
the display of every grace and virtue--as a newspaper phrased it,
on the eve of an election--befitting the Christian, the good citizen,
the horticulturist, and the gentleman.

There were few of the Pyncheons left to sun themselves in the
glow of the Judge's prosperity. In respect to natural increase,
the breed had not thriven; it appeared rather to be dying out.
The only members of the family known to be extant were, first,
the Judge himself, and a single surviving son, who was now travelling
in Europe; next, the thirty years' prisoner, already alluded to,
and a sister of the latter, who occupied, in an extremely retired
manner, the House of the Seven Gables, in which she had a life-estate
by the will of the old bachelor. She was understood to be wretchedly
poor, and seemed to make it her choice to remain so; inasmuch as
her affluent cousin, the Judge, had repeatedly offered her all the
comforts of life, either in the old mansion or his own modern
residence. The last and youngest Pyncheon was a little country-girl
of seventeen, the daughter of another of the Judge's cousins,
who had married a young woman of no family or property, and died
early and in poor circumstances. His widow had recently taken
another husband.

As for Matthew Maule's posterity, it was supposed now to be extinct.
For a very long period after the witchcraft delusion, however,
the Maules had continued to inhabit the town where their progenitor
had suffered so unjust a death. To all appearance, they were a quiet,
honest, well-meaning race of people, cherishing no malice against
individuals or the public for the wrong which had been done them;
or if, at their own fireside, they transmitted from father to child
any hostile recollection of the wizard's fate and their lost patrimony,
it was never acted upon, nor openly expressed. Nor would it have
been singular had they ceased to remember that the House of the
Seven Gables was resting its heavy framework on a foundation that
was rightfully their own. There is something so massive, stable,
and almost irresistibly imposing in the exterior presentment of
established rank and great possessions, that their very existence
seems to give them a right to exist; at least, so excellent a
counterfeit of right, that few poor and humble men have moral
force enough to question it, even in their secret minds. Such is
the case now, after so many ancient prejudices have been overthrown;
and it was far more so in ante-Revolutionary days, when the aristocracy
could venture to be proud, and the low were content to be abased.
Thus the Maules, at all events, kept their resentments within their
own breasts. They were generally poverty-stricken; always plebeian
and obscure; working with unsuccessful diligence at handicrafts;
laboring on the wharves, or following the sea, as sailors before
the mast; living here and there about the town, in hired tenements,
and coming finally to the almshouse as the natural home of their old
age. At last, after creeping, as it were, for such a length of time
along the utmost verge of the opaque puddle of obscurity, they had
taken that downright plunge which, sooner or later, is the destiny
of all families, whether princely or plebeian. For thirty years
past, neither town-record, nor gravestone, nor the directory,
nor the knowledge or memory of man, bore any trace of Matthew
Maule's descendants. His blood might possibly exist elsewhere;
here, where its lowly current could be traced so far back, it had
ceased to keep an onward course.

So long as any of the race were to be found, they had been
marked out from other men--not strikingly, nor as with a sharp
line, but with an effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by
an hereditary character of reserve. Their companions, or those
who endeavored to become such, grew conscious of a circle round
about the Maules, within the sanctity or the spell of which, in
spite of an exterior of sufficient frankness and good-fellowship,
it was impossible for any man to step. It was this indefinable
peculiarity, perhaps, that, by insulating them from human aid,
kept them always so unfortunate in life. It certainly operated
to prolong in their case, and to confirm to them as their only
inheritance, those feelings of repugnance and superstitious terror
with which the people of the town, even after awakening from their
frenzy, continued to regard the memory of the reputed witches.
The mantle, or rather the ragged cloak, of old Matthew Maule had
fallen upon his children. They were half believed to inherit
mysterious attributes; the family eye was said to possess strange
power. Among other good-for-nothing properties and privileges,
one was especially assigned them,--that of exercising an influence
over people's dreams. The Pyncheons, if all stories were true,
haughtily as they bore themselves in the noonday streets of their
native town, were no better than bond-servants to these plebeian
Maules, on entering the topsy-turvy commonwealth of sleep.
Modern psychology, it may be, will endeavor to reduce these
alleged necromancies within a system, instead of rejecting
them as altogether fabulous.

A descriptive paragraph or two, treating of the seven-gabled
mansion in its more recent aspect, will bring this preliminary
chapter to a close. The street in which it upreared its venerable
peaks has long ceased to be a fashionable quarter of the town;
so that, though the old edifice was surrounded by habitations of
modern date, they were mostly small, built entirely of wood, and
typical of the most plodding uniformity of common life. Doubtless,
however, the whole story of human existence may be latent in each
of them, but with no picturesqueness, externally, that can attract
the imagination or sympathy to seek it there. But as for the old
structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its boards,
shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered
chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and
meanest part of its reality. So much of mankind's varied experience
had passed there,--so much had been suffered, and something, too,
enjoyed,--that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture
of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life
of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.

The deep projection of the second story gave the house such a
meditative look, that you could not pass it without the idea that
it had secrets to keep, and an eventful history to moralize upon.
In front, just on the edge of the unpaved sidewalk, grew the
Pyncheon Elm, which, in reference to such trees as one usually
meets with, might well be termed gigantic. It had been planted
by a great-grandson of the first Pyncheon, and, though now
fourscore years of age, or perhaps nearer a hundred, was still in
its strong and broad maturity, throwing its shadow from side to
side of the street, overtopping the seven gables, and sweeping the
whole black roof with its pendant foliage. It gave beauty to the
old edifice, and seemed to make it a part of nature. The street
having been widened about forty years ago, the front gable was
now precisely on a line with it. On either side extended a ruinous
wooden fence of open lattice-work, through which could be seen
a grassy yard, and, especially in the angles of the building,
an enormous fertility of burdocks, with leaves, it is hardly an
exaggeration to say, two or three feet long. Behind the house
there appeared to be a garden, which undoubtedly had once been
extensive, but was now infringed upon by other enclosures, or shut
in by habitations and outbuildings that stood on another street.
It would be an omission, trifling, indeed, but unpardonable,
were we to forget the green moss that had long since gathered
over the projections of the windows, and on the slopes of the
roof nor must we fail to direct the reader's eye to a crop, not
of weeds, but flower-shrubs, which were growing aloft in the air,
not a great way from the chimney, in the nook between two of the
gables. They were called Alice's Posies. The tradition was, that
a certain Alice Pyncheon had flung up the seeds, in sport, and that
the dust of the street and the decay of the roof gradually formed
a kind of soil for them, out of which they grew, when Alice had
long been in her grave. However the flowers might have come there,
it was both sad and sweet to observe how Nature adopted to herself
this desolate, decaying, gusty, rusty old house of the Pyncheon
family; and how the even-returning summer did her best to gladden
it with tender beauty, and grew melancholy in the effort.

There is one other feature, very essential to be noticed, but
which, we greatly fear, may damage any picturesque and romantic
impression which we have been willing to throw over our sketch of
this respectable edifice. In the front gable, under the impending
brow of the second story, and contiguous to the street, was a
shop-door, divided horizontally in the midst, and with a window
for its upper segment, such as is often seen in dwellings of a
somewhat ancient date. This same shop-door had been a subject
of No slight mortification to the present occupant of the august
Pyncheon House, as well as to some of her predecessors. The matter
is disagreeably delicate to handle; but, since the reader must
needs be let into the secret, he will please to understand, that,
about a century ago, the head of the Pyncheons found himself
involved in serious financial difficulties. The fellow (gentleman,
as he styled himself) can hardly have been other than a spurious
interloper; for, instead of seeking office from the king or the
royal governor, or urging his hereditary claim to Eastern lands,
he bethought himself of no better avenue to wealth than by cutting
a shop-door through the side of his ancestral residence. It was
the custom of the time, indeed, for merchants to store their goods
and transact business in their own dwellings. But there was
something pitifully small in this old Pyncheon's mode of setting
about his commercial operations; it was whispered, that, with his
own hands, all beruffled as they were, he used to give change for
a shilling, and would turn a half-penny twice over, to make sure
that it was a good one. Beyond all question, he had the blood of
a petty huckster in his veins, through whatever channel it may have
found its way there.

Immediately on his death, the shop-door had been locked, bolted,
and barred, and, down to the period of our story, had probably
never once been opened. The old counter, shelves, and other
fixtures of the little shop remained just as he had left them.
It used to be affirmed, that the dead shop-keeper, in a white
wig, a faded velvet coat, an apron at his waist, and his ruffles
carefully turned back from his wrists, might be seen through the
chinks of the shutters, any night of the year, ransacking his till,
or poring over the dingy pages of his day-book. From the look
of unutterable woe upon his face, it appeared to be his doom to
spend eternity in a vain effort to make his accounts balance.

And now--in a very humble way, as will be seen--we proceed to
open our narrative.

 

 

II The Little Shop-Window

 

 

IT still lacked half an hour of sunrise, when Miss Hepzibah
Pyncheon--we will not say awoke, it being doubtful whether the
poor lady had so much as closed her eyes during the brief night
of midsummer--but, at all events, arose from her solitary pillow,
and began what it would be mockery to term the adornment of her
person. Far from us be the indecorum of assisting, even in
imagination, at a maiden lady's toilet! Our story must therefore
await Miss Hepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming,
meanwhile, to note some of the heavy sighs that labored from her
bosom, with little restraint as to their lugubrious depth and
volume of sound, inasmuch as they could be audible to nobody save
a disembodied listener like ourself. The Old Maid was alone in
the old house. Alone, except for a certain respectable and orderly
young man, an artist in the daguerreotype line, who, for about
three months back, had been a lodger in a remote gable,--quite a
house by itself, indeed,--with locks, bolts, and oaken bars on
all the intervening doors. Inaudible, consequently, were poor
Miss Hepzibah's gusty sighs. Inaudible the creaking joints of
her stiffened knees, as she knelt down by the bedside. And
inaudible, too, by mortal ear, but heard with all-comprehending
love and pity in the farthest heaven, that almost agony of prayer
--now whispered, now a groan, now a struggling silence--wherewith
she besought the Divine assistance through the day Evidently, this
is to be a day of more than ordinary trial to Miss Hepzibah, who,
for above a quarter of a century gone by, has dwelt in strict
seclusion, taking no part in the business of life, and just as
little in its intercourse and pleasures. Not with such fervor
prays the torpid recluse, looking forward to the cold, sunless,
stagnant calm of a day that is to be like innumerable yesterdays.

The maiden lady's devotions are concluded. Will she now issue
forth over the threshold of our story? Not yet, by many moments.
First, every drawer in the tall, old-fashioned bureau is to be
opened, with difficulty, and with a succession of spasmodic jerks
then, all must close again, with the same fidgety reluctance.
There is a rustling of stiff silks; a tread of backward and
forward footsteps to and fro across the chamber. We suspect Miss
Hepzibah, moreover, of taking a step upward into a chair, in order
to give heedful regard to her appearance on all sides, and at full
length, in the oval, dingy-framed toilet-glass, that hangs above
her table. Truly! well, indeed! who would have thought it! Is all
this precious time to be lavished on the matutinal repair and
beautifying of an elderly person, who never goes abroad, whom
nobody ever visits, and from whom, when she shall have done her
utmost, it were the best charity to turn one's eyes another way?

Now she is almost ready. Let us pardon her one other pause; for it
is given to the sole sentiment, or, we might better say, --heightened
and rendered intense, as it has been, by sorrow and seclusion,--to the
strong passion of her life. We heard the turning of a key in a small
lock; she has opened a secret drawer of an escritoire, and is probably
looking at a certain miniature, done in Malbone's most perfect style,
and representing a face worthy of no less delicate a pencil. It was
once our good fortune to see this picture. It is a likeness of a
young man, in a silken dressing-gown of an old fashion, the soft
richness of which is well adapted to the countenance of reverie,
with its full, tender lips, and beautiful eyes, that seem to
indicate not so much capacity of thought, as gentle and voluptuous
emotion. Of the possessor of such features we shall have a right
to ask nothing, except that he would take the rude world easily,
and make himself happy in it. Can it have been an early lover of
Miss Hepzibah? No; she never had a lover--poor thing, how could she?
--nor ever knew, by her own experience, what love technically means.
And yet, her undying faith and trust, her freshremembrance,
and continual devotedness towards the original of that miniature,
have been the only substance for her heart to feed upon.

She seems to have put aside the miniature, and is standing again
before the toilet-glass. There are tears to be wiped off. A few
more footsteps to and fro; and here, at last,--with another pitiful
sigh, like a gust of chill, damp wind out of a long-closed vault,
the door of which has accidentally been set, ajar--here comes Miss
Hepzibah Pyncheon! Forth she steps into the dusky, time-darkened
passage; a tall figure, clad in black silk, with a long and shrunken
waist, feeling her way towards the stairs like a near-sighted person,
as in truth she is.

The sun, meanwhile, if not already above the horizon, was
ascending nearer and nearer to its verge. A few clouds, floating
high upward, caught some of the earliest light, and threw down its
golden gleam on the windows of all the houses in the street, not
forgetting the House of the Seven Gables, which--many such sunrises
as it had witnessed--looked cheerfully at the present one. The
reflected radiance served to show, pretty distinctly, the aspect
and arrangement of the room which Hepzibah entered, after
descending the stairs. It was a low-studded room, with a beam
across the ceiling, panelled with dark wood, and having a large
chimney-piece, set round with pictured tiles, but now closed by
an iron fire-board, through which ran the funnel of a modern stove.
There was a carpet on the floor, originally of rich texture,
but so worn and faded in these latter years that its once brilliant
figure had quite vanished into one indistinguishable hue. In the
way of furniture, there were two tables: one, constructed with
perplexing intricacy and exhibiting as many feet as a centipede;
the other, most delicately wrought, with four long and slender
legs, so apparently frail that it was almost incredible what a
length of time the ancient tea-table had stood upon them. Half a
dozen chairs stood about the room, straight and stiff, and so
ingeniously contrived for the discomfort of the human person
that they were irksome even to sight, and conveyed the ugliest
possible idea of the state of society to which they could have
been adapted. One exception there was, however, in a very
antique elbow-chair, with a high back, carved elaborately in oak,
and a roomy depth within its arms, that made up, by its spacious
comprehensiveness, for the lack of any of those artistic curves
which abound in a modern chair.

As for ornamental articles of furniture, we recollect but two, if
such they may be called. One was a map of the Pyncheon territory
at the eastward, not engraved, but the handiwork of some skilful
old draughtsman, and grotesquely illuminated with pictures of Indians
and wild beasts, among which was seen a lion; the natural history
of the region being as little known as its geography, which was
put down most fantastically awry. The other adornment was the
portrait of old Colonel Pyncheon, at two thirds length, representing
the stern features of a Puritanic-looking personage, in a skull-cap,
with a laced band and a grizzly beard; holding a Bible with one hand,
and in the other uplifting an iron sword-hilt. The latter object,
being more successfully depicted by the artist, stood out in far
greater prominence than the sacred volume. Face to face with this
picture, on entering the apartment, Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon came
to a pause; regarding it with a singular scowl, a strange
contortion of the brow, which, by people who did not know her,
would probably have been interpreted as an expression of bitter
anger and ill-will. But it was no such thing. She, in fact, felt
a reverence for the pictured visage, of which only a far-descended
and time-stricken virgin could be susceptible; and this forbidding
scowl was the innocent result of her near-sightedness, and an
effort so to concentrate her powers of vision as to substitute a
firm outline of the object instead of a vague one.

We must linger a moment on this unfortunate expression of poor
Hepzibah's brow. Her scowl,--as the world, or such part of it as
sometimes caught a transitory glimpse of her at the window, wickedly
persisted in calling it,--her scowl had done Miss Hepzibah a very
ill office, in establishing her character as an ill-tempered old maid;
nor does it appear improbable that, by often gazing at herself in a
dim looking-glass, and perpetually encountering her own frown with
its ghostly sphere, she had been led to interpret the expression
almost as unjustly as the world did. "How miserably cross I look!"
she must often have whispered to herself; and ultimately have fancied
herself so, by a sense of inevitable doom. But her heart never frowned.
It was naturally tender, sensitive, and full of little tremors and
palpitations; all of which weaknesses it retained, while her visage
was growing so perversely stern, and even fierce. Nor had Hepzibah
ever any hardihood, except what came from the very warmest nook in
her affections.

All this time, however, we are loitering faintheartedly on the
threshold of our story. In very truth, we have an invincible
reluctance to disclose what Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon was about to do.

It has already been observed, that, in the basement story of the
gable fronting on the street, an unworthy ancestor, nearly a
century ago, had fitted up a shop. Ever since the old gentleman
retired from trade, and fell asleep under his coffin-lid, not only
the shop-door, but the inner arrangements, had been suffered to
remain unchanged; while the dust of ages gathered inch-deep over
the shelves and counter, and partly filled an old pair of scales,
as if it were of value enough to be weighed. It treasured itself
up, too, in the half-open till, where there still lingered a base
sixpence, worth neither more nor less than the hereditary pride
which had here been put to shame. Such had been the state and
condition of the little shop in old Hepzibah's childhood, when
she and her brother used to play at hide-and-seek in its forsaken
precincts. So it had remained, until within a few days past.

But Now, though the shop-window was still closely
curtained from the public gaze, a remarkable change had taken
place in its interior. The rich and heavy festoons of cobweb,
which it had cost a long ancestral succession of spiders their
life's labor to spin and weave, had been carefully brushed away
from the ceiling. The counter, shelves, and floor had all been
scoured, and the latter was overstrewn with fresh blue sand. The
brown scales, too, had evidently undergone rigid discipline, in an
unavailing effort to rub off the rust, which, alas! had eaten
through and through their substance. Neither was the little old
shop any longer empty of merchantable goods. A curious eye,
privileged to take an account of stock and investigate behind the
counter, would have discovered a barrel, yea, two or three barrels
and half ditto,--one containing flour, another apples, and a third,
perhaps, Indian meal. There was likewise a square box of
pine-wood, full of soap in bars; also, another of the same size,
in which were tallow candles, ten to the pound. A small stock of
brown sugar, some white beans and split peas, and a few other
commodities of low price, and such as are constantly in demand,
made up the bulkier portion of the merchandise. It might have
been taken for a ghostly or phantasmagoric reflection of the old
shopkeeper Pyncheon's shabbily provided shelves, save that some
of the articles were of a description and outward form which
could hardly have been known in his day. For instance, there was
a glass pickle-jar, filled with fragments of Gibraltar rock; not,
indeed, splinters of the veritable stone foundation of the famous
fortress, but bits of delectable candy, neatly done up in white
paper. Jim Crow, moreover, was seen executing his world-renowned
dance, in gingerbread. A party of leaden dragoons were galloping
along one of the shelves, in equipments and uniform of modern cut;
and there were some sugar figures, with no strong resemblance to
the humanity of any epoch, but less unsatisfactorily representing
our own fashions than those of a hundred years ago. Another
phenomenon, still more strikingly modern, was a package of lucifer
matches, which, in old times, would have been thought actually to
borrow their instantaneous flame from the nether fires of Tophet.

In short, to bring the matter at once to a point, it was
incontrovertibly evident that somebody had taken the shop and
fixtures of the long-retired and forgotten Mr. Pyncheon, and
was about to renew the enterprise of that departed worthy, with
a different set of customers. Who could this bold adventurer be?
And, of all places in the world, why had he chosen the House of
the Seven Gables as the scene of his commercial speculations?

We return to the elderly maiden. She at length withdrew her eyes
from the dark countenance of the Colonel's portrait, heaved a sigh,
--indeed, her breast was a very cave of Aolus that morning, --and
stept across the room on tiptoe, as is the customary gait of elderly
women. Passing through an intervening passage, she opened a door
that communicated with the shop, just now so elaborately described.
Owing to the projection of the upper story--and still more to the
thick shadow of the Pyncheon Elm, which stood almost directly in
front of the gable--the twilight, here, was still as much akin to
night as morning. Another heavy sigh from Miss Hepzibah! After a
moment's pause on the threshold, peering towards the window with
her near-sighted scowl, as if frowning down some bitter enemy, she
suddenly projected herself into the shop. The haste, and, as it were,
the galvanic impulse of the movement, were really quite startling.

Nervously--in a sort of frenzy, we might almost say--she began to
busy herself in arranging some children's playthings, and other
little wares, on the shelves and at the shop-window. In the aspect
of this dark-arrayed, pale-faced, ladylike old figure there was a
deeply tragic character that contrasted irreconcilably with the
ludicrous pettiness of her employment. It seemed a queer anomaly,
that so gaunt and dismal a personage should take a toy in hand;
a miracle, that the toy did not vanish in her grasp; a miserably
absurd idea, that she should go on perplexing her stiff and sombre
intellect with the question how to tempt little boys into her premises!
Yet such is undoubtedly her object. Now she places a gingerbread
elephant against the window, but with so tremulous a touch that it
tumbles upon the floor, with the dismemberment of three legs and its
trunk; it has ceased to be an elephant, and has become a few bits of
musty gingerbread. There, again, she has upset a tumbler of marbles,
all of which roll different ways, and each individual marble,
devil-directed, into the most difficult obscurity that it can find.
Heaven help our poor old Hepzibah, and forgive us for taking a ludicrous
view of her position! As her rigid and rusty frame goes down upon its
hands and knees, in quest of the absconding marbles, we positively
feel so much the more inclined to shed tears of sympathy, from the
very fact that we must needs turn aside and laugh at her. For
here,--and if we fail to impress it suitably upon the reader, it
is our own fault, not that of the theme, here is one of the truest
points of melancholy interest that occur in ordinary life. It was
the final throe of what called itself old gentility. A, lady--who
had fed herself from childhood with the shadowy food of aristocratic
reminiscences, and whose religion it was that a lady's hand soils
itself irremediably by doing aught for bread,--this born lady,
after sixty years of narrowing means, is fain to step down from
her pedestal of imaginary rank. Poverty, treading closely at her
heels for a lifetime, has come up with her at last. She must earn
her own food, or starve! And we have stolen upon Miss Hepzibah
Pyncheon, too irreverently, at the instant of time when the
patrician lady is to be transformed into the plebeian woman.

In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social
life, somebody is always at the drowning-point. The tragedy is enacted
with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday,
and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary
noble sinks below his order. More deeply; since, with us, rank is the
grosser substance of wealth and a splendid establishment, and has no
spiritual existence after the death of these, but dies hopelessly along
with them. And, therefore, since we have been unfortunate enough to
introduce our heroine at so inauspicious a juncture, we would entreat
for a mood of due solemnity in the spectators of her fate. Let us behold,
in poor Hepzibah, the immemorial, lady--two hundred years old, on this
side of the water, and thrice as many on the other, --with her antique
portraits, pedigrees, coats of arms, records and traditions, and her
claim, as joint heiress, to that princely territory at the eastward,
no longer a wilderness, but a populous fertility,--born, too, in
Pyncheon Street, under the Pyncheon Elm, and in the Pyncheon House,
where she has spent all her days, --reduced. Now, in that very house,
to be the hucksteress of a cent-shop.

This business of setting up a petty shop is almost the only
resource of women, in circumstances at all similar to those of
our unfortunate recluse. With her near-sightedness, and those
tremulous fingers of hers, at once inflexible and delicate, she
could not be a seamstress; although her sampler, of fifty years
gone by, exhibited some of the most recondite specimens of
ornamental needlework. A school for little children had been
often in her thoughts; and, at one time, she had begun a review
of her early studies in the New England Primer, with a view to
prepare herself for the office of instructress. But the love of
children had never been quickened in Hepzibah's heart, and was
now torpid, if not extinct; she watched the little people of the
neighborhood from her chamber-window, and doubted whether she
could tolerate a more intimate acquaintance with them. Besides,
in our day, the very A B C has become a science greatly too abstruse
to be any longer taught by pointing a pin from letter to letter.
A modern child could teach old Hepzibah more than old Hepzibah
could teach the child. So--with many a cold, deep heart-quake
at the idea of at last coming into sordid contact with the world,
from which she had so long kept aloof, while every added day of
seclusion had rolled another stone against the cavern door of her
hermitage--the poor thing bethought herself of the ancient shop-window,
the rusty scales, and dusty till. She might have held back a little
longer; but another circumstance, not yet hinted at, had somewhat
hastened her decision. Her humble preparations, therefore, were
duly made, and the enterprise was now to be commenced. Nor was
she entitled to complain of any remarkable singularity in her fate;
for, in the town of her nativity, we might point to several little
shops of a similar description, some of them in houses as ancient
as that of the Seven Gables; and one or two, it may be, where a
decayed gentlewoman stands behind the counter, as grim an image
of family pride as Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon herself.

It was overpoweringly ridiculous,--we must honestly confess it,
--the deportment of the maiden lady while setting her shop in
order for the public eye. She stole on tiptoe to the window,
as cautiously as if she conceived some bloody-minded villain to
be watching behind the elm-tree, with intent to take her life.
Stretching out her long, lank arm, she put a paper of pearl
buttons, a jew's-harp, or whatever the small article might be,
in its destined place, and straightway vanished back into the dusk,
as if the world need never hope for another glimpse of her. It
might have been fancied, indeed, that she expected to minister to
the wants of the community unseen, like a disembodied divinity
or enchantress, holding forth her bargains to the reverential and
awe-stricken purchaser in an invisible hand. But Hepzibah had no
such flattering dream. She was well aware that she must ultimately
come forward, and stand revealed in her proper individuality; but,
like other sensitive persons, she could not bear to be observed
in the gradual process, and chose rather to flash forth on the
world's astonished gaze at once.

The inevitable moment was not much longer to be delayed. The
sunshine might now be seen stealing down the front of the opposite
house, from the windows of which came a reflected gleam, struggling
through the boughs of the elm-tree, and enlightening the interior
of the shop more distinctly than heretofore. The town appeared
to be waking up. A baker's cart had already rattled through the
street, chasing away the latest vestige of night's sanctity with the
jingle-jangle of its dissonant bells. A milkman was distributing
the contents of his cans from door to door; and the harsh peal of a
fisherman's conch shell was heard far off, around the corner. None
of these tokens escaped Hepzibah's notice. The moment had arrived.
To delay longer would be only to lengthen out her misery. Nothing
remained, except to take down the bar from the shop-door, leaving
the entrance free--more than free--welcome, as if all were household
friends--to every passer-by, whose eyes might be attracted by the
commodities at the window. This last act Hepzibah now performed,
letting the bar fall with what smote upon her excited nerves as a
most astounding clatter. Then--as if the only barrier betwixt herself
and the world had been thrown down, and a flood of evil consequences
would come tumbling through the gap--she fled into the inner parlor,
threw herself into the ancestral elbow-chair, and wept.

Our miserable old Hepzibah! It is a heavy annoyance to a writer,
who endeavors to represent nature, its various attitudes and
circumstances, in a reasonably correct outline and true coloring,
that so much of the mean and ludicrous should be hopelessly mixed
up with the purest pathos which life anywhere supplies to him.
What tragic dignity, for example, can be wrought into a scene
like this! How can we elevate our history of retribution for the
sin of long ago, when, as one of our most prominent figures, we
are compelled to introduce--not a young and lovely woman, nor even
the stately remains of beauty, storm-shattered by affliction--but
a gaunt, sallow, rusty-jointed maiden, in a long-waisted silk gown,
and with the strange horror of a turban on her head! Her visage is
not evenugly. It is redeemed from insignificance only by the
contraction of her eyebrows into a near-sighted scowl. And, finally,
her great life-trial seems to be, that, after sixty years of idleness,
she finds it convenient to earn comfortable bread by setting up a
shop in a small way. Nevertheless, if we look through all the
heroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this same entanglement
of something mean and trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or
sorrow. Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all
the deeper trust in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might
hence be led to suspect the insult of a sneer, as well as an
immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. What is
called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in this sphere
of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which
are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.

 

 

III The First Customer

 

 

MISS HEPZIBAH PYNCHEON sat in the oaken elbow-chair, with her
hands over her face, giving way to that heavy down-sinking of the
heart which most persons have experienced, when the image of hope
itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on the eve of an enterprise
at once doubtful and momentous. She was suddenly startled by the
tinkling alarum--high, sharp, and irregular--of a little bell.
The maiden lady arose upon her feet, as pale as a ghost at cock-crow;
for she was an enslaved spirit, and this the talisman to which she
owed obedience. This little bell,--to speak in plainer terms,
--being fastened over the shop-door, was so contrived as to vibrate
by means of a steel spring, and thus convey notice to the inner regions
of the house when any customer should cross the threshold. Its ugly
and spiteful little din (heard now for the first time, perhaps, since
Hepzibah's periwigged predecessor had retired from trade) at once set
every nerve of her body in responsive and tumultuous vibration. The
crisis was upon her! Her first customer was at the door!

Without giving herself time for a second thought, she rushed into
the shop, pale, wild, desperate in gesture and expression, scowling
portentously, and looking far better qualified to do fierce battle
with a housebreaker than to stand smiling behind the counter, bartering
small wares for a copper recompense. Any ordinary customer, indeed,
would have turned his back and fled. And yet there was nothing fierce
in Hepzibah's poor old heart; nor had she, at the moment, a single
bitter thought against the world at large, or one individual man or
woman. She wished them all well, but wished, too, that she herself
were done with them, and in her quiet grave.

The applicant, by this time, stood within the doorway. Coming
freshly, as he did, out of the morning light, he appeared to have
brought some of its cheery influences into the shop along with him.
It was a slender young man, not more than one or two and twenty
years old, with rather a grave and thoughtful expression for his
years, but likewise a springy alacrity and vigor. These qualities
were not only perceptible, physically, in his make and motions,
but made themselves felt almost immediately in his character.
A brown beard, not too silken in its texture, fringed his chin,
but as yet without completely hiding it; he wore a short mustache,
too, and his dark, high-featured countenance looked all the better
for these natural ornaments. As for his dress, it was of the
simplest kind; a summer sack of cheap and ordinary material,
thin checkered pantaloons, and a straw hat, by no means of the
finest braid. Oak Hall might have supplied his entire equipment.
He was chiefly marked as a gentleman--if such, indeed, he made
any claim to be--by the rather remarkable whiteness and nicety
of his clean linen.

He met the scowl of old Hepzibah without apparent alarm,
as having heretofore encountered it and found it harmless.

"So, my dear Miss Pyncheon," said the daguerreotypist, --for it
was that sole other occupant of the seven-gabled mansion,-- "I am
glad to see that you have not shrunk from your good purpose.
I merely look in to offer my best wishes, and to ask if I can
assist you any further in your preparations."

People in difficulty and distress, or in any manner at odds with the
world, can endure a vast amount of harsh treatment, and perhaps be
only the stronger for it; whereas they give way at once before the
simplest expression of what they perceive to be genuine sympathy.
So it proved with poor Hepzibah; for, when she saw the young man's
smile,--looking so much the brighter on a thoughtful face,--and heard
his kindly tone, she broke first into a hysteric giggle and then
began to sob.

"Ah, Mr. Holgrave," cried she, as soon as she could speak, "I
never can go through with it Never, never, never I wish I were
dead, and in the old family tomb, with all my forefathers! With
my father, and my mother, and my sister. Yes, and with my brother,
who had far better find me there than here! The world is too chill
and hard,--and I am too old, and too feeble, and too hopeless!"

"Oh, believe me, Miss Hepzibah," said the young man quietly,
"these feelings will not trouble you any longer, after you are
once fairly in the midst of your enterprise. They are unavoidable
at this moment, standing, as you do, on the outer verge of your
long seclusion, and peopling the world with ugly shapes, which
you will soon find to be as unreal as the giants and ogres of a
child's story-book. I find nothing so singular in life, as that
everything appears to lose its substance the instant one actually
grapples with it. So it will be with what you think so terrible."

"But I am a woman!" said Hepzibah piteously. "I was going to say,
a lady,--but I consider that as past."

"Well; no matter if it be past!" answered the artist, a strange
gleam of half-hidden sarcasm flashing through the kindliness of
his manner. "Let it go You are the better without it. I speak
frankly, my dear Miss Pyncheon! for are we not friends? I look
upon this as one of the fortunate days of your life. It ends an
epoch and begins one. Hitherto, the life-blood has been gradually
chilling in your veins as you sat aloof, within your circle of
gentility, while the rest of the world was fighting out its battle
with one kind of necessity or another. Henceforth, you will at
least have the sense of healthy and natural effort for a purpose,
and of lending your strength be it great or small--to the united
struggle of mankind. This is success,--all the success that
anybody meets with!"

"It is natural enough, Mr. Holgrave, that you should have ideas
like these," rejoined Hepzibah, drawing up her gaunt figure with
slightly offended dignity. "You are a man, a young man, and brought
up, I suppose, as almost everybody is nowadays, with a view to seeking
your fortune. But I was born a lady. and have always lived one;
no matter in what narrowness of means, always a lady."

"But I was not born a gentleman; neither have I lived like one,"
said Holgrave, slightly smiling; "so, my dear madam, you will
hardly expect me to sympathize with sensibilities of this kind;
though, unless I deceive myself, I have some imperfect
comprehension of them. These names of gentleman and lady had
a meaning, in the past history of the world, and conferred
privileges, desirable or otherwise, on those entitled to bear
them. In the present--and still more in the future condition
of society-they imply, not privilege, but restriction!"

"These are new notions," said the old gentlewoman, shaking her
head. "I shall never understand them; neither do I wish it."

"We will cease to speak of them, then," replied the artist, with
a friendlier smile than his last one, "and I will leave you to
feel whether it is not better to be a true woman than a lady.
Do you really think, Miss Hepzibah, that any lady of your family
has ever done a more heroic thing, since this house was built,
than you are performing in it to-day? Never; and if the Pyncheons
had always acted so nobly, I doubt whether an old wizard Maule's
anathema, of which you told me once, would have had much weight
with Providence against them."

"Ah!--no, no!" said Hepzibah, not displeased at this allusion to
the sombre dignity of an inherited curse. "If old Maule's ghost,
or a descendant of his, could see me behind the counter to-day.
he would call it the fulfillment of his worst wishes. But I thank
you for your kindness, Mr. Holgrave, and will do my utmost to be
a good shop-keeper."

"Pray do" said Holgrave, "and let me have the pleasure of being
your first customer. I am about taking a walk to the seashore,
before going to my rooms, where I misuse Heaven's blessed sunshine
by tracing out human features through its agency. A few of those
biscuits, dipt in sea-water, will be just what I need for breakfast.
What is the price of half a dozen?"

"Let me be a lady a moment longer," replied Hepzibah, with a manner
of antique stateliness to which a melancholy smile lent a kind of grace.
She put the biscuits into his hand, but rejected the compensation.
"A Pyncheon must not, at all events under her forefathers' roof,
receive money for a morsel of bread from her only friend!"

Holgrave took his departure, leaving her, for the moment, with
spirits not quite so much depressed. Soon, however, they had
subsided nearly to their former dead level. With a beating heart,
she listened to the footsteps of early passengers, which now
began to be frequent along the street. Once or twice they seemed
to linger; these strangers, or neighbors, as the case might be,
were looking at the display of toys and petty commodities in
Hepzibah's shop-window. She was doubly tortured; in part, with
a sense of overwhelming shame that strange and unloving eyes
should have the privilege of gazing, and partly because the idea
occurred to her, with ridiculous importunity, that the window was
not arranged so skilfully, nor nearly to so much advantage, as it
might have been. It seemed as if the whole fortune or failure of
her shop might depend on the display of a different set of articles,
or substituting a fairer apple for one which appeared to be specked.
So she made the change, and straightway fancied that everything was
spoiled by it; not recognizing that it was the nervousness of the
juncture, and her own native squeamishness as an old maid, that
wrought all the seeming mischief.

Anon, there was an encounter, just at the door-step, betwixt two
laboring men, as their rough voices denoted them to be. After
some slight talk about their own affairs, one of them chanced to
notice the shop-window, and directed the other's attention to it.

"See here!" cried he; "what do you think of this? Trade seems to
be looking up in Pyncheon Street!"

"Well, well, this is a sight, to be sure!" exclaimed the other.
"In the old Pyncheon House, and underneath the Pyncheon Elm! Who
would have thought it? Old Maid Pyncheon is setting up a cent-shop!"

"Will she make it go, think you, Dixey;" said his friend. "I don't
call it a very good stand. There's another shop just round the
corner."

"Make it go!" cried Dixey, with a most contemptuous expression,
as if the very idea were impossible to be conceived. "Not a bit
of it! Why, her face--I've seen it, for I dug her garden for her
one year--her face is enough to frighten the Old Nick himself, if
he had ever so great a mind to trade with her. People can't stand
it, I tell you! She scowls dreadfully, reason or none, out of pure
ugliness of temper."

"Well, that's not so much matter," remarked the other man.
"These sour-tempered folks are mostly handy at business, and
know pretty well what they are about. But, as you say, I don't
think she'll do much. This business of keeping cent-shops is
overdone, like all other kinds of trade, handicraft, and bodily
labor. I know it, to my cost! My wife kept a cent-shop three
months, and lost five dollars on her outlay."

"Poor business!" responded Dixey, in a tone as if he were shaking
his head,--"poor business."

For some reason or other, not very easy to analyze, there had
hardly been so bitter a pang in all her previous misery about the
matter as what thrilled Hepzibah's heart on overhearing the above
conversation. The testimony in regard to her scowl was frightfully
important; it seemed to hold up her image wholly relieved from the
false light of her self-partialities, and so hideous that she dared
not look at it. She was absurdly hurt, moreover, by the slight and
idle effect that her setting up shop--an event of such breathless
interest to herself--appeared to have upon the public, of which
these two men were the nearest representatives. A glance; a passing
word or two; a coarse laugh; and she was doubtless forgotten before
they turned the corner. They cared nothing for her dignity, and just
as little for her degradation. Then, also, the augury of ill-success,
uttered from the sure wisdom of experience, fell upon her half-dead
hope like a clod into a grave. The man's wife had already tried the
same experiment, and failed! How could the born, lady the recluse of
half a lifetime, utterly unpractised in the world, at sixty years of
age,--how could she ever dream of succeeding, when the hard, vulgar,
keen, busy, hackneyed New England woman had lost five dollars on her
little outlay! Success presented itself as an impossibility, and the
hope of it as a wild hallucination.

Some malevolent spirit, doing his utmost to drive Hepzibah mad,
unrolled before her imagination a kind of panorama, representing
the great thoroughfare of a city all astir with customers. So many
and so magnificent shops as there were! Groceries, toy-shops,
drygoods stores, with their immense panes of plate-glass, their
gorgeous fixtures, their vast and complete assortments of
merchandise, in which fortunes had been invested; and those
noble mirrors at the farther end of each establishment, doubling
all this wealth by a brightly burnished vista of unrealities! On
one side of the street this splendid bazaar, with a multitude of
perfumed and glossy salesmen, smirking, smiling, bowing,
and measuring out the goods. On the other, the dusky old House
of the Seven Gables, with the antiquated shop-window under its
projecting story, and Hepzibah herself, in a gown of rusty black
silk, behind the counter, scowling at the world as it went by!
This mighty contrast thrust itself forward as a fair expression
of the odds against which she was to begin her struggle for a
subsistence. Success? Preposterous! She would never think of it
again! The house might just as well be buried in an eternal fog
while all other houses had the sunshine on them; for not a foot
would ever cross the threshold, nor a hand so much as try the door!

But, at this instant, the shop-bell, right over her head, tinkled
as if it were bewitched. The old gentlewoman's heart seemed to be
attached to the same steel spring, for it went through a series of
sharp jerks, in unison with the sound. The door was thrust open,
although no human form was perceptible on the other side of the
half-window. Hepzibah, nevertheless, stood at a gaze, with her
hands clasped, looking very much as if she had summoned up an evil
spirit, and were afraid, yet resolved, to hazard the encounter.

"Heaven help me!" she groaned mentally. "Now is my hour of need!"

The door, which moved with difficulty on its creaking and rusty
hinges, being forced quite open, a square and sturdy little urchin
became apparent, with cheeks as red as an apple. He was clad
rather shabbily (but, as it seemed, more owing to his mother's
carelessness than his father's poverty), in a blue apron, very
wide and short trousers, shoes somewhat out at the toes, and a
chip hat, with the frizzles of his curly hair sticking through
its crevices. A book and a small slate, under his arm, indicated
that he was on his way to school. He stared at Hepzibah a moment,
as an elder customer than himself would have been likely enough
to do, not knowing what to make of the tragic attitude and queer
scowl wherewith she regarded him.

"Well, child," said she, taking heart at sight of a personage so
little formidable,--"well, my child, what did you wish for?"

"That Jim Crow there in the window," answered the urchin, holding
out a cent, and pointing to the gingerbread figure that had attracted
his notice, as he loitered along to school; "the one that has not a
broken foot."

So Hepzibah put forth her lank arm, and, taking the effigy from
the shop-window, delivered it to her first customer.

"No matter for the money," said she, giving him a little push
towards the door; for her old gentility was contumaciously
squeamish at sight of the copper coin, and, besides, it seemed
such pitiful meanness to take the child's pocket-money in exchange
for a bit of stale gingerbread. "No matter for the cent. You are
welcome to Jim Crow."

The child, staring with round eyes at this instance of liberality,
wholly unprecedented in his large experience of cent-shops, took
the man of gingerbread, and quitted the premises. No sooner had
he reached the sidewalk (little cannibal that he was!) than Jim
Crow's head was in his mouth. As he had not been careful to
shut the door, Hepzibah was at the pains of closing it after him,
with a pettish ejaculation or two about the troublesomeness of
young people, and particularly of small boys. She had just placed
another representative of the renowned Jim Crow at the window,
when again the shop-bell tinkled clamorously, and again the door
being thrust open, with its characteristic jerk and jar, disclosed
the same sturdy little urchin who, precisely two minutes ago, had
made his exit. The crumbs and discoloration of the cannibal feast,
as yet hardly consummated, were exceedingly visible about his mouth.

"What is it now, child?" asked the maiden lady rather impatiently;
"did you Come back to shut the door?"

"No," answered the urchin, pointing to the figure that had just
been put up; "I want that other Jim. Crow"

"Well, here it is for you," said Hepzibah, reaching it down; but
recognizing that this pertinacious customer would not quit her On
any other terms, so long as she had a gingerbread figure in her
shop, she partly drew back her extended hand, "Where is the cent?"

The little boy had the cent ready, but, like a true-born Yankee,
would have preferred the better bargain to the worse. Looking
somewhat chagrined, he put the coin into Hepzibah's hand, and
departed, sending the second Jim Crow in quest of the former one.
The new shop-keeper dropped the first solid result of her commercial
enterprise into the till. It was done! The sordid stain of that
copper coin could never be washed away from her palm. The little
schoolboy, aided by the impish figure of the negro dancer, had wrought
an irreparable ruin. The structure of ancient aristocracy had been
demolished by him, even as if his childish gripe had torn down the
seven-gabled mansion. Now let Hepzibah turn the old Pyncheon
portraits with their faces to the wall, and take the map of her
Eastern territory to kindle the kitchen fire, and blow up the flame
with the empty breath of her ancestral traditions! What had she to
do with ancestry? Nothing; no more than with posterity! No lady,
now, but simply Hepzibah Pyncheon, a forlorn old maid, and keeper
of a cent-shop!

Nevertheless, even while she paraded these ideas somewhat
ostentatiously through her mind, it is altogether surprising what
a calmness had come over her. The anxiety and misgivings which
had tormented her, whether asleep or in melancholy day-dreams,
ever since her project began to take an aspect of solidity, had
now vanished quite away. She felt the novelty of her position,
indeed, but no longer with disturbance or affright. Now and then,
there came a thrill of almost youthful enjoyment. It was the
invigorating breath of a fresh outward atmosphere, after the
long torpor and monotonous seclusion of her life. So wholesome
is effort! So miraculous the strength that we do not know of!
The healthiest glow that Hepzibah had known for years had come
now in the dreaded crisis, when, for the first time, she had
put forth her hand to help herself. The little circlet of the
schoolboy's copper coin--dim and lustreless though it was, with
the small services which it had been doing here and there about
the world --had proved a talisman, fragrant with good, and
deserving to be set in gold and worn next her heart. It was
as potent, and perhaps endowed with the same kind of efficacy,
as a galvanic ring! Hepzibah, at all events, was indebted to its
subtile operation both in body and spirit; so much the more,
as it inspired her with energy to get some breakfast, at which,
still the better to keep up her courage, she allowed herself an
extra spoonful in her infusion of black tea.

Her introductory day of shop-keeping did not run on, however,
without many and serious interruptions of this mood of cheerful
vigor. As a general rule, Providence seldom vouchsafes to
mortals any more than just that degree of encouragement which
suffices to keep them at a reasonably full exertion of their
powers. In the case of our old gentlewoman, after the excitement
of new effort had subsided, the despondency of her whole life
threatened, ever and anon, to return. It was like the heavy mass
of clouds which we may often see obscuring the sky, and making
a gray twilight everywhere, until, towards nightfall, it yields
temporarily to a glimpse of sunshine. But, always, the envious
cloud strives to gather again across the streak of celestial azure.

Customers came in, as the forenoon advanced, but rather slowly;
in some cases, too, it must be owned, with little satisfaction
either to themselves or Miss Hepzibah; nor, on the whole, with
an aggregate of very rich emolument to the till. A little girl,
sent by her mother to match a skein of cotton thread, of a peculiar
hue, took one that the near-sighted old lady pronounced extremely
like, but soon came running back, with a blunt and cross message,
that it would not do, and, besides, was very rotten! Then, there
was a pale, care-wrinkled woman, not old but haggard, and already
with streaks of gray among her hair, like silver ribbons; one of
those women, naturally delicate, whom you at once recognize as worn
to death by a brute--probably a drunken brute--of a husband, and
at least nine children. She wanted a few pounds of flour, and
offered the money, which the decayed gentlewoman silently rejected,
and gave the poor soul better measure than if she had taken it.
Shortly afterwards, a man in a blue cotton frock, much soiled, came
in and bought a pipe, filling the whole shop, meanwhile, with the
hot odor of strong drink, not only exhaled in the torrid atmosphere
of his breath, but oozing out of his entire system, like an
inflammable gas. It was impressed on Hepzibah's mind that this
was the husband of the care-wrinkled woman. He asked for a paper
of tobacco; and as she had neglected to provide herself with the
article, her brutal customer dashed down his newly-bought pipe and
left the shop, muttering some unintelligible words, which had the
tone and bitterness of a curse. Hereupon Hepzibah threw up her
eyes, unintentionally scowling in the face of Providence!

No less than five persons, during the forenoon, inquired for
ginger-beer, or root-beer, or any drink of a similar brewage,
and, obtaining nothing of the kind, went off in an exceedingly
bad humor. Three of them left the door open, and the other two
pulled it so spitefully in going out that the little bell played
the very deuce with Hepzibah's nerves. A round, bustling,
fire-ruddy housewife of the neighborhood burst breathless into
the shop, fiercely demanding yeast; and when the poor gentlewoman,
with her cold shyness of manner, gave her hot customer to understand
that she did not keep the article, this very capable housewife took
upon herself to administer a regular rebuke.

"A cent-shop, and No yeast!" quoth she; "that will never do!
Who ever heard of such a thing? Your loaf will never rise, no
more than mine will to-day. You had better shut up shop at once."

"Well," said Hepzibah, heaving a deep sigh, "perhaps I had!"

Several times, moreover, besides the above instance, her lady-like
sensibilities were seriously infringed upon by the familiar,
if not rude, tone with which people addressed her. They evidently
considered themselves not merely her equals, but her patrons and
superiors. Now, Hepzibah had unconsciously flattered herself with
the idea that there would be a gleam or halo, of some kind or
other, about her person, which would insure an obeisance to her
sterling gentility, or, at least, a tacit recognition of it.
On the other hand, nothing tortured her more intolerably than when
this recognition was too prominently expressed. To one or two rather
officious offers of sympathy, her responses were little short of
acrimonious; and, we regret to say, Hepzibah was thrown into a
positively unchristian state of mind by the suspicion that one of
her customers was drawn to the shop, not by any real need of
the article which she pretended to seek, but by a wicked wish to
stare at her. The vulgar creature was determined to see for
herself what sort of a figure a mildewed piece of aristocracy,
after wasting all the bloom and much of the decline of her life
apart from the world, would cut behind a counter. In this
particular case, however mechanical and innocuous it might be at
other times, Hepzibah's contortion of brow served her in good stead.

"I never was so frightened in my life!" said the curious customer,
in describing the incident to one of her acquaintances. "She's a
real old vixen, take my word of it! She says little, to be sure;
but if you could only see the mischief in her eye!"

On the whole, therefore, her new experience led our decayed
gentlewoman to very disagreeable conclusions as to the temper
and manners of what she termed the lower classes, whom heretofore
she had looked down upon with a gentle and pitying complaisance,
as herself occupying a sphere of unquestionable superiority.
But, unfortunately, she had likewise to struggle against a bitter
emotion of a directly opposite kind: a sentiment of virulence,
we mean, towards the idle aristocracy to which it had so recently
been her pride to belong. When a lady, in a delicate and costly
summer garb, with a floating veil and gracefully swaying gown,
and, altogether, an ethereal lightness that made you look at her
beautifully slippered feet, to see whether she trod on the dust
or floated in the air,--when such a vision happened to pass through
this retired street, leaving it tenderly and delusively fragrant
with her passage, as if a bouquet of tea-roses had been borne along,
--then again, it is to be feared, old Hepzibah's scowl could no
longer vindicate itself entirely on the plea of near-sightedness.

"For what end," thought she, giving vent to that feeling of
hostility which is the only real abasement of the poor in presence
of the rich,--"for what good end, in the wisdom of Providence,
does that woman live? Must the whole world toil, that the palms
of her hands may be kept white and delicate?"

Then, ashamed and penitent, she hid her face.

"May God forgive me!" said she.

Doubtless, God did forgive her. But, taking the inward and
outward history of the first half-day into consideration, Hepzibah
began to fear that the shop would prove her ruin in a moral and
religious point of view, without contributing very essentially
towards even her temporal welfare.

 

 

IV A Day Behind the Counter

 

 

TOWARDS noon, Hepzibah saw an elderly gentleman, large and
portly, and of remarkably dignified demeanor, passing slowly
along on the opposite side of the white and dusty street. On
coming within the shadow of the Pyncheon Elm, he stopt, and
(taking off his hat, meanwhile, to wipe the perspiration from his
brow) seemed to scrutinize, with especial interest, the dilapidated
and rusty-visaged House of the Seven Gables. He himself, in a
very different style, was as well worth looking at as the house.
No better model need be sought, nor could have been found, of
a very high order of respectability, which, by some indescribable
magic, not merely expressed itself in his looks and gestures, but
even governed the fashion of his garments, and rendered them all
proper and essential to the man. Without appearing to differ,
in any tangible way, from other people's clothes, there was yet a
wide and rich gravity about them that must have been a characteristic
of the wearer, since it could not be defined as pertaining either
to the cut or material. His gold-headed cane, too,--a serviceable
staff, of dark polished wood,--had similar traits, and, had it chosen
to take a walk by itself, would have been recognized anywhere as a
tolerably adequate representative of its master. This character
--which showed itself so strikingly in everything about him, and the
effect of which we seek to convey to the reader--went no deeper
than his station, habits of life, and external circumstances.
One perceived him to be a personage of marked influence and authority;
and, especially, you could feel just as certain that he was opulent
as if he had exhibited his bank account, or as if you had seen him
touching the twigs of the Pyncheon Elm, and, Midas-like, transmuting
them to gold.

In his youth, he had probably been considered a handsome man;
at his present age, his brow was too heavy, his temples too bare,
his remaining hair too gray, his eye too cold, his lips too closely
compressed, to bear any relation to mere personal beauty. He would
have made a good and massive portrait; better now, perhaps, than at
any previous period of his life, although his look might grow
positively harsh in the process of being fixed upon the canvas.
The artist would have found it desirable to study his face, and prove
its capacity for varied expression; to darken it with a frown,
--to kindle it up with a smile.

While the elderly gentleman stood looking at the Pyncheon House,
both the frown and the smile passed successively over his countenance.
His eye rested on the shop-window, and putting up a pair of gold-bowed
spectacles, which he held in his hand, he minutely surveyed Hepzibah's
little arrangement of toys and commodities. At first it seemed not to
please him,--nay, to cause him exceeding displeasure,--and yet, the
very next moment, he smiled. While the latter expression was yet on
his lips, he caught a glimpse of Hepzibah, who had involuntarily bent
forward to the window; and then the smile changed from acrid and
disagreeable to the sunniest complacency and benevolence. He bowed,
with a happy mixture of dignity and courteous kindliness, and pursued
his way.

"There he is!" said Hepzibah to herself, gulping down a very bitter
emotion, and, since she could not rid herself of it, trying to drive
it back into her heart. "What does he think of it, I wonder? Does it
please him? Ah! he is looking back!"

The gentleman had paused in the street, and turned himself half
about, still with his eyes fixed on the shop-window. In fact, he
wheeled wholly round, and commenced a step or two, as if designing
to enter the shop; but, as it chanced, his purpose was anticipated
by Hepzibah's first customer, the little cannibal of Jim Crow, who,
staring up at the window, was irresistibly attracted by an elephant
of gingerbread. What a grand appetite had this small urchin!
--Two Jim Crows immediately after breakfast!--and now an elephant,
as a preliminary whet before dinner. By the time this latter purchase
was completed, the elderly gentleman had resumed his way, and turned
the street corner.

"Take it as you like, Cousin Jaffrey." muttered the maiden lady,
as she drew back, after cautiously thrusting out her head, and
looking up and down the street,--"Take it as you like! You have
seen my little shop--window. Well!--what have you to say?--is
not the Pyncheon House my own, while I'm alive?"

After this incident, Hepzibah retreated to the back parlor, where
she at first caught up a half-finished stocking, and began knitting
at it with nervous and irregular jerks; but quickly finding herself
at odds with the stitches, she threw it aside, and walked hurriedly
about the room. At length she paused before the portrait of the
stern old Puritan, her ancestor, and the founder of the house. In
one sense, this picture had almost faded into the canvas, and hidden
itself behind the duskiness of age; in another, she could not but
fancy that it had been growing more prominent and strikingly
expressive, ever since her earliest familiarity with it as a child.
For, while the physical outline and substance were darkening away
from the beholder's eye, the bold, hard, and, at the same time,
indirect character of the man seemed to be brought out in a kind of
spiritual relief. Such an effect may occasionally be observed in
pictures of antique date. They acquire a look which an artist
(if he have anything like the complacency of artists nowadays)
would never dream of presenting to a patron as his own
characteristic expression, but which, nevertheless, we at once
recognize as reflecting the unlovely truth of a human soul. In
such cases, the painter's deep conception of his subject's inward
traits has wrought itself into the essence of the picture, and is
seen after the superficial coloring has been rubbed off by time.

While gazing at the portrait, Hepzibah trembled under its eye.
Her hereditary reverence made her afraid to judge the character
of the original so harshly as a perception of the truth compelled
her to do. But still she gazed, because the face of the picture
enabled her--at least, she fancied so--to read more accurately, and
to a greater depth, the face which she had just seen in the street.

"This is the very man!" murmured she to herself. "Let Jaffrey
Pyncheon smile as he will, there is that look beneath! Put on him
a skull-cap, and a band, and a black cloak, and a Bible in one
hand and a sword in the other,--then let Jaffrey smile as he
might,--nobody would doubt that it was the old Pyncheon come
again. He has proved himself the very man to build up a new house!
Perhaps, too, to draw down a new curse!"

Thus did Hepzibah bewilder herself with these fantasies of the old
time. She had dwelt too much alone,--too long in the Pyncheon House,
--until her very brain was impregnated with the dry-rot of its timbers.
She needed a walk along the noonday street to keep her sane.

By the spell of contrast, another portrait rose up before her,
painted with more daring flattery than any artist would have
ventured upon, but yet so delicately touched that the likeness
remained perfect. Malbone's miniature, though from the same
original, was far inferior to Hepzibah's air-drawn picture,
at which affection and sorrowful remembrance wrought together.
Soft, mildly, and cheerfully contemplative, with full, red lips,
just on the verge of a smile, which the eyes seemed to herald
by a gentle kindling-up of their orbs! Feminine traits, moulded
inseparably with those of the other sex! The miniature, likewise,
had this last peculiarity; so that you inevitably thought of the
original as resembling his mother, and she a lovely and lovable
woman, with perhaps some beautiful infirmity of character, that
made it all the pleasanter to know and easier to love her.

"Yes," thought Hepzibah, with grief of which it was only the more
tolerable portion that welled up from her heart to her eyelids,
"they persecuted his mother in him! He never was a Pyncheon!"

But here the shop-bell rang; it was like a sound from a remote
distance,--so far had Hepzibah descended into the sepulchral
depths of her reminiscences. On entering the shop, she found
an old man there, a humble resident of Pyncheon Street, and
whom, for a great many years past, she had suffered to be a kind
of familiar of the house. He was an immemorial personage, who
seemed always to have had a white head and wrinkles, and never
to have possessed but a single tooth, and that a half-decayed one,
in the front of the upper jaw. Well advanced as Hepzibah was,
she could not remember when Uncle Venner, as the neighborhood
called him, had not gone up and down the street, stooping a
little and drawing his feet heavily over the gravel or pavement.
But still there was something tough and vigorous about him,
that not only kept him in daily breath, but enabled him to fill
a place which would else have been vacant in the apparently
crowded world. To go of errands with his slow and shuffling gait,
which made you doubt how he ever was to arrive anywhere; to saw a
small household's foot or two of firewood, or knock to pieces an
old barrel, or split up a pine board for kindling-stuff; in summer,
to dig the few yards of garden ground appertaining to a low-rented
tenement, and share the produce of his labor at the halves; in winter,
to shovel away the snow from the sidewalk, or open paths to the
woodshed, or along the clothes-line; such were some of the essential
offices which Uncle Venner performed among at least a score of families.
Within that circle, he claimed the same sort of privilege, and probably
felt as much warmth of interest, as a clergyman does in the range of
his parishioners. Not that he laid claim to the tithe pig; but,
as an analogous mode of reverence, he went his rounds, every morning,
to gather up the crumbs of the table and overflowings of the dinner-pot,
as food for a pig of his own.

In his younger days--for, after all, there was a dim tradition that
he had been, not young, but younger--Uncle Venner was commonly
regarded as rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits. In
truth he had virtually pleaded guilty to the charge, by scarcely
aiming at such success as other men seek, and by taking only that
humble and modest part in the intercourse of life which belongs to
the alleged deficiency. But now, in his extreme old age,--whether it
were that his long and hard experience had actually brightened him,
or that his decaying judgment rendered him less capable of fairly
measuring himself,--the venerable man made pretensions to no little
wisdom, and really enjoyed the credit of it. There was likewise, at
times, a vein of something like poetry in him; it was the moss or
wall-flower of his mind in its small dilapidation, and gave a charm
to what might have been vulgar and commonplace in his earlier and
middle life. Hepzibah had a regard for him, because his name was
ancient in the town and had formerly been respectable. It was a still
better reason for awarding him a species of familiar reverence that
Uncle Venner was himself the most ancient existence, whether of man
or thing, in Pyncheon Street, except the House of the Seven Gables,
and perhaps the elm that overshadowed it.

This patriarch now presented himself before Hepzibah, clad in an
old blue coat, which had a fashionable air, and must have accrued
to him from the cast-off wardrobe of some dashing clerk. As for
his trousers, they were of tow-cloth, very short in the legs,
and bagging down strangely in the rear, but yet having a suitableness
to his figure which his other garment entirely lacked. His hat had
relation to no other part of his dress, and but very little to the
head that wore it. Thus Uncle Venner was a miscellaneous old gentleman,
partly himself, but, in good measure, somebody else; patched together,
too, of different epochs; an epitome of times and fashions.

"So, you have really begun trade," said he,--" really begun trade!
Well, I'm glad to see it. Young people should never live idle in
the world, nor old ones neither, unless when the rheumatize gets
hold of them. It has given me warning already; and in two or
three years longer, I shall think of putting aside business and
retiring to my farm. That's yonder,--the great brick house, you
know,--the workhouse, most folks call it; but I mean to do my
work first, and go there to be idle and enjoy myself. And I'm
glad to see you beginning to do your work, Miss Hepzibah!"

"Thank you, Uncle Venner" said Hepzibah, smiling; for she always
felt kindly towards the simple and talkative old man. Had he been
an old woman, she might probably have repelled the freedom, which
she now took in good part. "It is time for me to begin work,
indeed! Or, to speak the truth, I have just begun when I ought
to be giving it up."

"Oh, never say that, Miss Hepzibah!" answered the old man. "You
are a young woman yet. Why, I hardly thought myself younger than
I am now, it seems so little while ago since I used to see you playing
about the door of the old house, quite a small child! Oftener, though,
you used to be sitting at the threshold, and looking gravely into the
street; for you had always a grave kind of way with you,--a grown-up
air, when you were only the height of my knee. It seems as if I saw
you now; and your grandfather with his red cloak, and his white wig,
and his cocked hat, and his cane, coming out of the house, and stepping
so grandly up the street! Those old gentlemen that grew up before the
Revolution used to put on grand airs. In my young days, the great
man of the town was commonly called King; and his wife, not Queen
to be sure, but Lady. Nowadays, a man would not dare to be called
King; and if he feels himself a little above common folks, he only
stoops so much the lower to them. I met your cousin, the Judge,
ten minutes ago; and, in my old tow-cloth trousers, as you see,
the Judge raised his hat to me, I do believe! At any rate, the Judge
bowed and smiled!"

"Yes," said Hepzibah, with something bitter stealing unawares
into her tone; "my cousin Jaffrey is thought to have a very
pleasant smile!"

"And so he has" replied Uncle Venner. "And that's rather remarkable
in a Pyncheon; for, begging your pardon, Miss Hepzibah, they never
had the name of being an easy and agreeable set of folks. There
was no getting close to them. But Now, Miss Hepzibah, if an old
man may be bold to ask, why don't Judge Pyncheon, with his great
means, step forward, and tell his cousin to shut up her little shop
at once? It's for your credit to be doing something, but it's not
for the Judge's credit to let you!"

"We won't talk of this, if you please, Uncle Venner," said Hepzibah
coldly. "I ought to say, however, that, if I choose to earn bread
for myself, it is not Judge Pyncheon's fault. Neither will he deserve
the blame," added she more kindly, remembering Uncle Venner's privileges
of age and humble familiarity, "if I should, by and by, find it
convenient to retire with you to your farm."

"And it's no bad place, either, that farm of mine!" cried the old
man cheerily, as if there were something positively delightful in
the prospect. "No bad place is the great brick farm-house,
especially for them that will find a good many old cronies there,
as will be my case. I quite long to be among them, sometimes,
of the winter evenings; for it is but dull business for a
lonesome elderly man, like me, to be nodding, by the hour together,
with no company but his air-tight stove. Summer or winter,
there's a great deal to be said in favor of my farm! And, take it
in the autumn, what can be pleasanter than to spend a whole day
on the sunny side of a barn or a wood-pile, chatting with somebody
as old as one's self; or, perhaps, idling away the time with a
natural-born simpleton, who knows how to be idle, because even
our busy Yankees never have found out how to put him to any use?
Upon my word, Miss Hepzibah, I doubt whether I've ever been so
comfortable as I mean to be at my farm, which most folks call
the workhouse. But you,--you're a young woman yet,--you never
need go there! Something still better will turn up for you.
I'm sure of it!"

Hepzibah fancied that there was something peculiar in her
venerable friend's look and tone; insomuch, that she gazed into
his face with considerable earnestness, endeavoring to discover
what secret meaning, if any, might be lurking there. Individuals
whose affairs have reached an utterly desperate crisis almost
invariably keep themselves alive with hopes, so much the more
airily magnificent as they have the less of solid matter within
their grasp whereof to mould any judicious and moderate expectation
of good. Thus, all the while Hepzibah was perfecting the scheme
of her little shop, she had cherished an unacknowledged idea that
some harlequin trick of fortune would intervene in her favor.
For example, an uncle--who had sailed for India fifty years before,
and never been heard of since--might yet return, and adopt her to
be the comfort of his very extreme and decrepit age, and adorn her
with pearls, diamonds, and Oriental shawls and turbans, and make
her the ultimate heiress of his unreckonable riches. Or the member
of Parliament, now at the head of the English branch of the family,
--with which the elder stock, on this side of the Atlantic, had held
little or no intercourse for the last two centuries,--this eminent
gentleman might invite Hepzibah to quit the ruinous House of the
Seven Gables, and come over to dwell with her kindred at Pyncheon
Hall. But, for reasons the most imperative, she could not yield to
his request. It was more probable, therefore, that the descendants
of a Pyncheon who had emigrated to Virginia, in some past generation,
and became a great planter there,--hearing of Hepzibah's destitution,
and impelled by the splendid generosity of character with which their
Virginian mixture must have enriched the New England blood,--would
send her a remittance of a thousand dollars, with a hint of repeating
the favor annually. Or,--and, surely, anything so undeniably just
could not be beyond the limits of reasonable anticipation,--the great
claim to the heritage of Waldo County might finally be decided in
favor of the Pyncheons; so that, instead of keeping a cent-shop,
Hepzibah would build a palace, and look down from its highest tower
on hill, dale, forest, field, and town, as her own share of the
ancestral territory.

These were some of the fantasies which she had long dreamed about;
and, aided by these, Uncle Venner's casual attempt at encouragement
kindled a strange festal glory in the poor, bare, melancholy chambers
of her brain, as if that inner world were suddenly lighted up with gas.
But either he knew nothing of her castles in the air,--as how should he?
--or else her earnest scowl disturbed his recollection, as it might a
more courageous man's. Instead of pursuing any weightier topic,
Uncle Venner was pleased to favor Hepzibah with some sage counsel in
her shop-keeping capacity.

"Give no credit!"--these were some of his goldenmxims,--"Never
take paper-money. Look well to your change! Ring the silver on
the four-pound weight! Shove back all English half-pence and base
copper tokens, such as are very plenty about town! At your leisure
hours, knit children's woollen socks and mittens! Brew your own
yeast, and make your own ginger-beer!"

And while Hepzibah was doing her utmost to digest the hard little
pellets of his already uttered wisdom, he gave vent to his final,
and what he declared to be his all-important advice, as follows:--

"Put on a bright face for your customers, and smile pleasantly as
you hand them what they ask for! A stale article, if you dip it
in a good, warm, sunny smile, will go off better than a fresh one
that you've scowled upon."

To this last apothegm poor Hepzibah responded with a sigh so
deep and heavy that it almost rustled Uncle Venner quite away,
like a withered leaf,--as he was,--before an autumnal gale.
Recovering himself, however, he bent forward, and, with a good
deal of feeling in his ancient visage, beckoned her nearer to him.

"When do you expect him home?" whispered he.

"Whom do you mean?" asked Hepzibah, turning pale.

"Ah? you don't love to talk about it," said Uncle Venner. "Well,
well! we'll say no more, though there's word of it all over town.
I remember him, Miss Hepzibah, before he could run alone!"

During the remainder of the day, poor Hepzibah acquitted herself
even less creditably, as a shop-keeper, than in her earlier efforts.
She appeared to be walking in a dream; or, more truly, the vivid
life and reality assumed by her emotions made all outward
occurrences unsubstantial, like the teasing phantasms of a
half-conscious slumber. She still responded, mechanically,
to the frequent summons of the shop-bell, and, at the demand of
her customers, went prying with vague eyes about the shop,
proffering them one article after another, and thrusting aside
--perversely, as most of them supposed--the identical thing
they asked for. There is sad confusion, indeed, when the spirit
thus flits away into the past, or into the more awful future, or,
in any manner, steps across the spaceless boundary betwixt its
own region and the actual world; where the body remains to guide
itself as best it may, with little more than the mechanism of
animal life. It is like death, without death's quiet privilege,
--its freedom from mortal care. Worst of all, when the actual duties
are comprised in such petty details as now vexed the brooding soul
of the old gentlewoman. As the animosity of fate would have it,
there was a great influx of custom in the course of the afternoon.
Hepzibah blundered to and fro about her small place of business,
committing the most unheard-of errors: now stringing up twelve,
and now seven, tallow-candles, instead of ten to the pound; selling
ginger for Scotch snuff, pins for needles, and needles for pins;
misreckoning her change, sometimes to the public detriment, and
much oftener to her own; and thus she went on, doing her utmost
to bring chaos back again, until, at the close of the day's labor,
to her inexplicable astonishment, she found the money-drawer almost
destitute of coin. After all her painful traffic, the whole proceeds
were perhaps half a dozen coppers, and a questionable ninepence which
ultimately proved to be copper likewise.

At this price, or at whatever price, she rejoiced that the day had
reached its end. Never before had she had such a sense of the
intolerable length of time that creeps between dawn and sunset,
and of the miserable irksomeness of having aught to do, and of
the better wisdom that it would be to lie down at once, in sullen
resignation, and let life, and its toils and vexations, trample over
one's prostrate body as they may! Hepzibah's final operation was
with the little devourer of Jim Crow and the elephant, who now
proposed to eat a camel. In her bewilderment, she offered him
first a wooden dragoon, and next a handful of marbles; neither
of which being adapted to his else omnivorous appetite, she
hastily held out her whole remaining stock of natural history in
gingerbread, and huddled the small customer out of the shop. She
then muffled the bell in an unfinished stocking, and put up the
oaken bar across the door.

During the latter process, an omnibus came to a stand-still under
the branches of the elm-tree. Hepzibah's heart was in her mouth.
Remote and dusky, and with no sunshine on all the intervening
space, was that region of the Past whence her only guest might
be expected to arrive! Was she to meet him. now?

Somebody, at all events, was passing from the farthest interior of
the omnibus towards its entrance. A gentleman alighted; but it was
only to offer his hand to a young girl whose slender figure, nowise
needing such assistance, now lightly descended the steps, and made
an airy little jump from the final one to the sidewalk. She rewarded
her cavalier with a smile, the cheery glow of which was seen
reflected on his own face as he reentered the vehicle. The girl
then turned towards the House of the Seven Gables, to the door of
which, meanwhile,--not the shop-door, but the antique portal,--the
omnibus-man had carried a light trunk and a bandbox. First giving
a sharp rap of the old iron knocker, he left his passenger and
her luggage at the door-step, and departed.

"Who can it be?" thought Hepzibah, who had been screwing her
visual organs into the acutest focus of which they were capable.
"The girl must have mistaken the house." She stole softly into
the hall, and, herself invisible, gazed through the dusty side-lights
of the portal at the young, blooming, and very cheerful face
which presented itself for admittance into the gloomy old
mansion. It was a face to which almost any door would have
opened of its own accord.

The young girl, so fresh, so unconventional, and yet so orderly
and obedient to common rules, as you at once recognized her to
be, was widely in contrast, at that moment, with everything about
her. The sordid and ugly luxuriance of gigantic weeds that grew
in the angle of the house, and the heavy projection that overshadowed
her, and the time-worn framework of the door,--none of these things
belonged to her sphere. But, even as a ray of sunshine, fall into
what dismal place it may, instantaneously creates for itself a
propriety in being there, so did it seem altogether fit that the
girl should be standing at the threshold. It was no less evidently
proper that the door should swing open to admit her. The maiden
lady herself, sternly inhospitable in her first purposes, soon began
to feel that the door ought to be shoved back, and the rusty key be
turned in the reluctant lock.

"Can it be Phoebe?" questioned she within herself. "It must be
little Phoebe; for it can be nobody else,--and there is a look
of her father about her, too! But what does she want here? And
how like a country cousin, to come down upon a poor body in
this way, without so much as a day's notice, or asking whether
she would be welcome! Well; she must have a night's lodging,
I suppose; and to-morrow the child shall go back to her mother."

Phoebe, it must be understood, was that one little offshoot of the
Pyncheon race to whom we have already referred, as a native of
a rural part of New England, where the old fashions and feelings
of relationship are still partially kept up. In her own circle,
it was regarded as by no means improper for kinsfolk to visit one
another without invitation, or preliminary and ceremonious warning.
Yet, in consideration of Miss Hepzibah's recluse way of life, a letter
had actually been written and despatched, conveying information of
Phoebe's projected visit. This epistle, for three or four days past,
had been in the pocket of the penny-postman, who, happening to have
no other business in Pyncheon Street, had not yet made it convenient
to call at the House of the Seven Gables.

"No--she can stay only one night," said Hepzibah, unbolting the
door. "If Clifford were to find her here, it might disturb him!"

 

 

V May and November

 

 

PHOEBE PYNCHEON slept, on the night of her arrival, in a chamber
that looked down on the garden of the old house. It fronted
towards the east, so that at a very seasonable hour a glow of
crimson light came flooding through the window, and bathed the
dingy ceiling and paper-hangings in its own hue. There were
curtains to Phoebe's bed; a dark, antique canopy, and ponderous
festoons of a stuff which had been rich, and even magnificent,
in its time; but which now brooded over the girl like a cloud,
making a night in that one corner, while elsewhere it was
beginning to be day. The morning light, however, soon stole
into the aperture at the foot of the bed, betwixt those faded
curtains. Finding the new guest there,--with a bloom on her
cheeks like the morning's own, and a gentle stir of departing
slumber in her limbs, as when an early breeze moves the foliage,
--the dawn kissed her brow. It was the caress which a dewy
maiden--such as the Dawn is, immortally--gives to her sleeping
sister, partly from the impulse of irresistible fondness, and
partly as a pretty hint that it is time now to unclose her eyes.

At the touch of those lips of light, Phoebe quietly awoke, and,
for a moment, did not recognize where she was, nor how those heavy
curtains chanced to be festooned around her. Nothing, indeed,
was absolutely plain to her, except that it was now early morning,
and that, whatever might happen next, it was proper, first of all,
to get up and say her prayers. She was the more inclined to devotion
from the grim aspect of the chamber and its furniture, especially
the tall, stiff chairs; one of which stood close by her bedside,
and looked as if some old-fashioned personage had been sitting there
all night, and had vanished only just in season to escape discovery.

When Phoebe was quite dressed, she peeped out of the window,
and saw a rosebush in the garden. Being a very tall one, and of
luxuriant growth, it had been propped up against the side of the
house, and was literally covered with a rare and very beautiful
species of white rose. A large portion of them, as the girl
afterwards discovered, had blight or mildew at their hearts; but,
viewed at a fair distance, the whole rosebush looked as if it had
been brought from Eden that very summer, together with the mould
in which it grew. The truth was, nevertheless, that it had been
planted by Alice Pyncheon,--she was Phoebe's great-great-grand-aunt,
--in soil which, reckoning only its cultivation as a garden-plat,
was now unctuous with nearly two hundred years of vegetable decay.
Growing as they did, however, out of the old earth, the flowers
still sent a fresh and sweet incense up to their Creator; nor could
it have been the less pure and acceptable because Phoebe's young
breath mingled with it, as the fragrance floated past the window.
Hastening down the creaking and carpetless staircase, she found
her way into the garden, gathered some of the most perfect of the
roses, and brought them to her chamber.

Little Phoebe was one of those persons who possess, as their
exclusive patrimony, the gift of practical arrangement. It
is a kind of natural magic that enables these favored ones to
bring out the hidden capabilities of things around them; and
particularly to give a look of comfort and habitableness to any
place which, for however brief a period, may happen to be their
home. A wild hut of underbrush, tossed together by wayfarers
through the primitive forest, would acquire the home aspect by
one night's lodging of such a woman, and would retain it long
after her quiet figure had disappeared into the surrounding shade.
No less a portion of such homely witchcraft was requisite to
reclaim, as it were, Phoebe's waste, cheerless, and dusky
chamber, which had been untenanted so long--except by spiders,
and mice, and rats, and ghosts--that it was all overgrown with
the desolation which watches to obliterate every trace of man's
happier hours. What was precisely Phoebe's process we find it
impossible to say. She appeared to have no preliminary design,
but gave a touch here and another there; brought some articles of
furniture to light and dragged others into the shadow; looped up
or let down a window-curtain; and, in the course of half an hour,
had fully succeeded in throwing a kindly and hospitable smile over
the apartment. N o longer ago than the night before, it had
resembled nothing so much as the old maid's heart; for there was
neither sunshine nor household fire in one nor the other, and,
Save for ghosts and ghostly reminiscences, not a guest, for many
years gone by, had entered the heart or the chamber.

There was still another peculiarity of this inscrutable charm.
The bedchamber, No doubt, was a chamber of very great and varied
experience, as a scene of human life: the joy of bridal nights
had throbbed itself away here; new immortals had first drawn
earthly breath here; and here old people had died. But--whether
it were the white roses, or whatever the subtile influence might
be--a person of delicate instinct would have known at once that
it was now a maiden's bedchamber, and had been purified of all
former evil and sorrow by her sweet breath and happy thoughts.
Her dreams of the past night, being such cheerful ones, had
exorcised the gloom, and now haunted the chamber in its stead.

After arranging matters to her satisfaction, Phoebe emerged from
her chamber, with a purpose to descend again into the garden.
Besides the rosebush, she had observed several other species of
flowers growing there in a wilderness of neglect, and obstructing
one another's development (as is often the parallel case in human
society) by their uneducated entanglement and confusion. At the
head of the stairs, however, she met Hepzibah, who, it being still
early, invited her into a room which she would probably have called
her boudoir, had her education embraced any such French phrase.
It was strewn about with a few old books, and a work-basket, and a
dusty writing-desk; and had, on one side, a large black article of
furniture, of very strange appearance, which the old gentlewoman
told Phoebe was a harpsichord. It looked more like a coffin than
anything else; and, indeed,--not having been played upon, or opened,
for years,--there must have been a vast deal of dead music in it,
stifled for want of air. Human finger was hardly known to have
touched its chords since the days of Alice Pyncheon, who had
learned the sweet accomplishment of melody in Europe.

Hepzibah bade her young guest sit down, and, herself taking a
chair near by, looked as earnestly at Phoebe's trim little figure
as if she expected to see right into its springs and motive secrets.

"Cousin Phoebe," said she, at last, "I really can't see my way
clear to keep you with me."

These words, however, had not the inhospitable bluntness with
which they may strike the reader; for the two relatives, in a talk
before bedtime, had arrived at a certain degree of mutual
understanding. Hepzibah knew enough to enable her to appreciate
the circumstances (resulting from the second marriage of the
girl's mother) which made it desirable for Phoebe to establish
herself in another home. Nor did she misinterpret Phoebe's
character, and the genial activity pervading it,--one of the most
valuable traits of the true New England woman,--which had
impelled her forth, as might be said, to seek her fortune, but with
a self-respecting purpose to confer as much benefit as she could
anywise receive. As one of her nearest kindred, she had naturally
betaken herself to Hepzibah, with no idea of forcing herself on
her cousin's protection, but only for a visit of a week or two,
which might be indefinitely extended, should it prove for the
happiness of both.

To Hepzibah's blunt observation, therefore, Phoebe replied as frankly,
and more cheerfully.

"Dear cousin, I cannot tell how it will be," said she. "But I really
think we may suit one another much better than you suppose."

"You are a nice girl,--I see it plainly," continued Hepzibah; "and
it is not any question as to that point which makes me hesitate.
But, Phoebe, this house of mine is but a melancholy place for a
young person to be in. It lets in the wind and rain, and the Snow,
too, in the garret and upper chambers, in winter-time, but it never
lets in the sunshine. And as for myself, you see what I am,--a dismal
and lonesome old woman (for I begin to call myself old, Phoebe),
whose temper, I am afraid, is none of the best, and whose spirits
are as bad as can be I cannot make your life pleasant, Cousin Phoebe,
neither can I so much as give you bread to eat."

"You will find me a cheerful little, body" answered Phoebe, smiling,
and yet with a kind of gentle dignity. "and I mean to earn my bread.
You know I have not been brought up a Pyncheon. A girl learns many
things in a New England village."

"Ah! Phoebe," said Hepzibah, sighing, "your knowledge would do
but little for you here! And then it is a wretched thought that
you should fling away your young days in a place like this.
Those cheeks would not be so rosy after a month or two. Look
at my face!"and, indeed, the contrast was very striking,--"you see
how pale I am! It is my idea that the dust and continual decay
of these old houses are unwholesome for the lungs."

"There is the garden,--the flowers to be taken care of," observed
Phoebe. "I should keep myself healthy with exercise in the open air."

"And, after all, child," exclaimed Hepzibah, suddenly rising, as if
to dismiss the subject, "it is not for me to say who shall be a guest
or inhabitant of the old Pyncheon House. Its master is coming."

"Do you mean Judge Pyncheon?" asked Phoebe in surprise.

"Judge Pyncheon!" answered her cousin angrily. "He will hardly
cross the threshold while I live! No, no! But, Phoebe, you shall
see the face of him I speak of."

She went in quest of the miniature already described, and
returned with it in her hand. Giving it to Phoebe, she watched
her features narrowly, and with a certain jealousy as to the mode
in which the girl would show herself affected by the picture.

"How do you like the face?" asked Hepzibah.

"It is handsome!--it is very beautiful!" said Phoebe admiringly.
"It is as sweet a face as a man's can be, or ought to be. It has
something of a child's expression,--and yet not childish,--only one
feels so very kindly towards him! He ought never to suffer
anything. One would bear much for the sake of sparing him toil
or sorrow. Who is it, Cousin Hepzibah?"

"Did you never hear," whispered her cousin, bending towards her,
"of Clifford Pyncheon?"

"Never. I thought there were no Pyncheons left, except yourself
and our cousin Jaffrey," answered Phoebe. "And yet I seem to
have heard the name of Clifford Pyncheon. Yes!--from my father
or my mother. but has he not been a long while dead?"

"Well, well, child, perhaps he has!" said Hepzibah with a sad,
hollow laugh; "but, in old houses like this, you know, dead
people are very apt to come back again! We shall see. And,
Cousin Phoebe, since, after all that I have said, your courage
does not fail you, we will not part so soon. You are welcome,
my child, for the present, to such a home as your kinswoman
can offer you."

With this measured, but not exactly cold assurance of a
hospitable purpose, Hepzibah kissed her cheek.

They now went below stairs, where Phoebe--not so much assuming
the office as attracting it to herself, by the magnetism of
innate fitness--took the most active part in preparing breakfast.
The mistress of the house, meanwhile, as is usual with persons
of her stiff and unmalleable cast, stood mostly aside; willing
to lend her aid, yet conscious that her natural inaptitude would
be likely to impede the business in hand. Phoebe and the fire
that boiled the teakettle were equally bright, cheerful, and
efficient, in their respective offices. Hepzibah gazed forth
from her habitual sluggishness, the necessary result of long
solitude, as from another sphere. She could not help being
interested, however, and even amused, at the readiness with
which her new inmate adapted herself to the circumstances,
and brought the house, moreover, and all its rusty old appliances,
into a suitableness for her purposes. Whatever she did, too,
was done without conscious effort, and with frequent outbreaks of
song, which were exceedingly pleasant to the ear. This natural
tunefulness made Phoebe seem like a bird in a shadowy tree;
or conveyed the idea that the stream of life warbled through her
heart as a brook sometimes warbles through a pleasant little dell.
It betokened the cheeriness of an active temperament, finding joy
in its activity, and, therefore, rendering it beautiful; it was a
New England trait,--the stern old stuff of Puritanism with a gold
thread in the web.

Hepzibah brought out Some old silver spoons with the family
crest upon them, and a china tea-set painted over with grotesque
figures of man, bird, and beast, in as grotesque a landscape.
These pictured people were odd humorists, in a world of their
own,--a world of vivid brilliancy, so far as color went, and still
unfaded, although the teapot and small cups were as ancient as
the custom itself of tea-drinking.

"Your great-great-great-great-grandmother had these cups, when
she was married," said Hepzibah to Phoebe."She was a
Davenport, of a good family. They were almost the first teacups
ever seen in the colony; and if one of them were to be broken,
my heart would break with it. But it is Nonsense to speak so
about a brittle teacup, when I remember what my heart has gone
through without breaking."

The cups--not having been used, perhaps, since Hepzibah's
youth--had contracted no small burden of dust, which Phoebe
washed away with so much care and delicacy as to satisfy even
the proprietor of this invaluable china.

"What a nice little housewife you. are" exclaimed the latter,
smiling, and at the Same time frowning so prodigiously that the
smile was sunshine under a thunder-cloud. "Do you do other
things as well? Are you as good at your book as you are at
washing teacups?"

"Not quite, I am afraid," said Phoebe, laughing at the form of
Hepzibah's question. "But I was schoolmistress for the little
children in our district last summer, and might have been so still."

"Ah! 'tis all very well!" observed the maiden lady, drawing herself
up. "But these things must have come to you with your mother's
blood. I never knew a Pyncheon that had any turn for them."

It is very queer, but not the less true, that people are generally
quite as vain, or even more so, of their deficiencies than of their
available gifts; as was Hepzibah of this native inapplicability,
so to speak, of the Pyncheons to any useful purpose. She regarded
it as an hereditary trait; and so, perhaps, it was, but unfortunately
a morbid one, such as is often generated in families that remain
long above the surface of society.

Before they left the breakfast-table, the shop-bell rang sharply,
and Hepzibah set down the remnant of her final cup of tea, with
a look of sallow despair that was truly piteous to behold. In cases
of distasteful occupation, the second day is generally worse than
the first. we return to the rack with all the soreness of the
preceding torture in our limbs. At all events, Hepzibah had fully
satisfied herself of the impossibility of ever becoming wonted to
this peevishly obstreperous little bell. Ring as often as it might,
the sound always smote upon her nervous system rudely and suddenly.
And especially now, while, with her crested teaspoons and antique
china, she was flattering herself with ideas of gentility, she felt
an unspeakable disinclination to confront a customer.

"Do not trouble yourself, dear cousin!" cried Phoebe, starting
lightly up. "I am shop-keeper today."

"You, child!" exclaimed Hepzibah. "What can a little country girl
know of such matters?"

"Oh, I have done all the shopping for the family at our village
store," said Phoebe. "And I have had a table at a fancy fair, and
made better sales than anybody. These things are not to be learnt;
they depend upon a knack that comes, I suppose," added she,
smiling, "with one's mother's blood. You shall see that I am
as nice a little saleswoman as I am a housewife!"

The old gentlewoman stole behind Phoebe, and peeped from the
passageway into the shop, to note how she would manage her
undertaking. It was a case of some intricacy. A very ancient
woman, in a white short gown and a green petticoat, with a string
of gold beads about her neck, and what looked like a nightcap
on her head, had brought a quantity of yarn to barter for the
commodities of the shop. She was probably the very last person
in town who still kept the time-honored spinning-wheel in constant
revolution. It was worth while to hear the croaking and hollow
tones of the old lady, and the pleasant voice of Phoebe, mingling
in one twisted thread of talk; and still better to contrast their
figures,--so light and bloomy,--so decrepit and dusky,--with only
the counter betwixt them, in one sense, but more than threescore
years, in another. As for the bargain, it was wrinkled slyness
and craft pitted against native truth and sagacity.

"Was not that well done?" asked Phoebe, laughing, when the
customer was gone.

"Nicely done, indeed, child!" answered Hepzibah."I could not
have gone through with it nearly so well. As you say, it must be
a knack that belongs to you on the mother's side."

It is a very genuine admiration, that with which persons too shy
or too awkward to take a due part in the bustling world regard
the real actors in life's stirring scenes; so genuine, in fact,
that the former are usually fain to make it palatable to their
self-love, by assuming that these active and forcible qualities
are incompatible with others, which they choose to deem higher
and more important. Thus, Hepzibah was well content to acknowledge
Phoebe's vastly superior gifts as a shop-keeper'--she listened,
with compliant ear, to her suggestion of various methods whereby
the influx of trade might be increased, and rendered profitable,
without a hazardous outlay of capital. She consented that the
village maiden should manufacture yeast, both liquid and in cakes;
and should brew a certain kind of beer, nectareous to the palate,
and of rare stomachic virtues; and, moreover, should bake and
exhibit for sale some little spice-cakes, which whosoever tasted
would longingly desire to taste again. All such proofs of a
ready mind and skilful handiwork were highly acceptable to the
aristocratic hucksteress, so long as she could murmur to herself
with a grim smile, and a half-natural sigh, and a sentiment of
mixed wonder, pity, and growing affection,--

"What a nice little body she is! If she only could be a lady;
too--but that's impossible! Phoebe is no Pyncheon. She takes
everything from her mother."

As to Phoebe's not being a lady, or whether she were a lady or
no, it was a point, perhaps, difficult to decide, but which could
hardly have come up for judgment at all in any fair and healthy
mind. Out of New England, it would be impossible to meet with
a person combining so many ladylike attributes with so many
others that form no necessary (if compatible) part of the
character. She shocked no canon of taste; she was admirably in
keeping with herself, and never jarred against surrounding
circumstances. Her figure, to be sure,--so small as to be almost
childlike, and so elastic that motion seemed as easy or easier to
it than rest,would hardly have suited one's idea of a countess.
Neither did her face--with the brown ringlets on either side, and
the slightly piquant nose, and the wholesome bloom, and the
clear shade of tan, and the half dozen freckles, friendly
remembrances of the April sun and breeze--precisely give us a
right to call her beautiful. But there was both lustre and depth in
her eyes. She was very pretty; as graceful as a bird, and graceful
much in the same way; as pleasant about the house as a gleam of
sunshine falling on the floor through a shadow of twinkling leaves,
or as a ray of firelight that dances on the wall while evening is
drawing nigh. Instead of discussing her claim to rank among ladies,
it would be preferable to regard Phoebe as the example of feminine
grace and availability combined, in a state of society, if there
were any such, where ladies did not exist. There it should be
woman's office to move in the midst of practical affairs, and to
gild them all, the very homeliest,--were it even the scouring of
pots and kettles,--with an atmosphere of loveliness and joy.

Such was the sphere of Phoebe. To find the born and educated
lady, on the other hand, we need look no farther than Hepzibah,
our forlorn old maid, in her rustling and rusty silks, with her
deeply cherished and ridiculous consciousness of long descent,
her shadowy claims to princely territory, and, in the way of
accomplishment, her recollections, it may be, of having formerly
thrummed on a harpsichord, and walked a minuet, and worked an
antique tapestry-stitch on her sampler. It was a fair parallel
between new Plebeianism and old Gentility.

It really seemed as if the battered visage of the House of the
Seven Gables, black and heavy-browed as it still certainly looked,
must have shown a kind of cheerfulness glimmering through its
dusky windows as Phoebe passed to and fro in the interior.
Otherwise, it is impossible to explain how the people of the
neighborhood so soon became aware of the girl's presence. There
was a great run of custom, setting steadily in, from about ten o'
clock until towards noon,--relaxing, somewhat, at dinner-time,
but recommencing in the afternoon, and, finally, dying away a half
an hour or so before the long day's sunset. One of the stanchest
patrons was little Ned Higgins, the devourer of Jim Crow and the
elephant, who to-day signalized his omnivorous prowess by
swallowing two dromedaries and a locomotive. Phoebe laughed,
as she summed up her aggregate of sales upon the slate; while
Hepzibah, first drawing on a pair of silk gloves, reckoned over
the sordid accumulation of copper coin, not without silver
intermixed, that had jingled into the till.

"We must renew our stock, Cousin Hepzibah!" cried the little
saleswoman. "The gingerbread figures are all gone, and so are
those Dutch wooden milkmaids, and most of our other playthings.
There has been constant inquiry for cheap raisins, and a great
cry for whistles, and trumpets, and jew's-harps; and at least a
dozen little boys have asked for molasses-candy. And we must
contrive to get a peck of russet apples, late in the season as
it is. But, dear cousin, what an enormous heap of copper!
Positively a copper mountain!"

"Well done! well done! well done!" quoth Uncle Venner, who had
taken occasion to shuffle in and out of the shop several times
in the course of the day. "Here's a girl that will never end
her days at my farm! Bless my eyes, what a brisk little soul!"

"Yes, Phoebe is a nice girl!" said Hepzibah, with a scowl of
austere approbation. "But, Uncle Venner, you have known the
family a great many years. Can you tell me whether there ever
was a Pyncheon whom she takes after?"

"I don't believe there ever was," answered the venerable man.
"At any rate, it never was my luck to see her like among them,
nor, for that matter, anywhere else. I've seen a great deal of
the world, not only in people's kitchens and back-yards but at
the street-corners, and on the wharves, and in other places
where my business calls me; and I'm free to say, Miss Hepzibah,
that I never knew a human creature do her work so much like one
of God's angels as this child Phoebe does!"

Uncle Venner's eulogium, if it appear rather too high-strained
for the person and occasion, had, nevertheless, a sense in which
it was both subtile and true. There was a spiritual quality in
Phoebe's activity. The life of the long and busy day--spent in
occupations that might so easily have taken a squalid and ugly
aspect--had been made pleasant, and even lovely, by the
spontaneous grace with which these homely duties seemed to
bloom out of her character; so that labor, while she dealt with
it, had the easy and flexible charm of play. Angels do not toil,
but let their good works grow out of them; and so did Phoebe.

The two relatives--the young maid and the old one--found time
before nightfall, in the intervals of trade, to make rapid advances
towards affection and confidence. A recluse, like Hepzibah,
usually displays remarkable frankness, and at least temporary
affability, on being absolutely cornered, and brought to the point
of personal intercourse; like the angel whom Jacob wrestled with,
she is ready to bless you when once overcome.

The old gentlewoman took a dreary and proud satisfaction in
leading Phoebe from room to room of the house, and recounting
the traditions with which, as we may say, the walls were
lugubriously frescoed. She showed the indentations made by the
lieutenant-governor's sword-hilt in the door-panels of the
apartment where old Colonel Pyncheon, a dead host, had received
his affrighted visitors with an awful frown. The dusky terror of
that frown, Hepzibah observed, was thought to be lingering ever
since in the passageway. She bade Phoebe step into one of the
tall chairs, and inspect the ancient map of the Pyncheon territory
at the eastward. In a tract of land on which she laid her finger,
there existed a silver mine, the locality of which was precisely
pointed out in some memoranda of Colonel Pyncheon himself, but
only to be made known when the family claim should be recognized
by government. Thus it was for the interest of all New England
that the Pyncheons should have justice done them. She told, too,
how that there was undoubtedly an immense treasure of English
guineas hidden somewhere about the house, or in the cellar, or
possibly in the garden.

"If you should happen to find it, Phoebe," said Hepzibah, glancing
aside at her with a grim yet kindly smile, "we will tie up the
shop-bell for good and all!"

"Yes, dear cousin," answered Phoebe; "but, in the mean time, I hear
somebody ringing it!"

When the customer was gone, Hepzibah talked rather vaguely,
and at great length, about a certain Alice Pyncheon, who had
been exceedingly beautiful and accomplished in her lifetime,
a hundred years ago. The fragrance of her rich and delightful
character still lingered about the place where she had lived,
as a dried rosebud scents the drawer where it has withered
and perished. This lovely Alice had met with some great and
mysterious calamity, and had grown thin and white, and gradually
faded out of the world. But, even now, she was supposed to
haunt the House of the Seven Gables, and, a great many times,
--especially when one of the Pyncheons was to die,--she had
been heard playing sadly and beautifully on the harpsichord.
One of these tunes, just as it had sounded from her spiritual
touch, had been written down by an amateur of music; it was so
exquisitely mournful that nobody, to this day, could bear to
hear it played, unless when a great sorrow had made them know
the still profounder sweetness of it.

"Was it the same harpsichord that you showed me?" inquired Phoebe.

"The very same," said Hepzibah. "It was Alice Pyncheon's
harpsichord. When I was learning music, my father would never
let me open it. So, as I could only play on my teacher's
instrument, I have forgotten all my music long ago."

Leaving these antique themes, the old lady began to talk about
the daguerreotypist, whom, as he seemed to be a well-meaning
and orderly young man, and in narrow circumstances, she had
permitted to take up his residence in one of the seven gables.
But, on seeing more of Mr. Holgrave, she hardly knew what to
make of him. He had the strangest companions imaginable; men
with long beards, and dressed in linen blouses, and other such
new-fangled and ill-fitting garments; reformers, temperance
lecturers, and all manner of cross-looking philanthropists;
community-men, and come-outers, as Hepzibah believed, who
acknowledged no law, and ate no solid food, but lived on the
scent of other people's cookery, and turned up their noses at
the fare. As for the daguerreotypist, she had read a paragraph
in a penny paper, the other day, accusing him of making a speech
full of wild and disorganizing matter, at a meeting of his
banditti-like associates. For her own part, she had reason to
believe that he practised animal magnetism, and, if such things
were in fashion nowadays, should be apt to suspect him of studying
the Black Art up there in his lonesome chamber.

"But, dear cousin," said Phoebe, "if the young man is so
dangerous, why do you let him stay? If he does nothing worse,
he may set the house on fire!"

"Why, sometimes," answered Hepzibah, "I have seriously made
it a question, whether I ought not to send him away. But, with
all his oddities, he is a quiet kind of a person, and has such
a way of taking hold of one's mind, that, without exactly liking
him (for I don't know enough of the young man), I should be
sorry to lose sight of him entirely. A woman clings to slight
acquaintances when she lives so much alone as I do."

"But if Mr. Holgrave is a lawless person!" remonstrated Phoebe,
a part of whose essence it was to keep within the limits of law.

"Oh!" said Hepzibah carelessly,--for, formal as she was, still,
in her life's experience, she had gnashed her teeth against human
law,--"I suppose he has a law of his own!"

 

 

VI MAULE'S WELL

 

 

AFTER an early tea, the little country-girl strayed into the
garden. The enclosure had formerly been very extensive, but was
now contracted within small compass, and hemmed about, partly
by high wooden fences, and partly by the outbuildings of houses
that stood on another street. In its centre was a grass-plat,
surrounding a ruinous little structure, which showed just enough
of its original design to indicate that it had once been a
summer-house. A hop-vine, springing from last year's root,
was beginning to clamber over it, but would be long in covering
the roof with its green mantle. Three of the seven gables either
fronted or looked sideways, with a dark solemnity of aspect,
down into the garden.

The black, rich soil had fed itself with the decay of a long
period of time; such as fallen leaves, the petals of flowers,
and the stalks and seed--vessels of vagrant and lawless plants,
more useful after their death than ever while flaunting in the sun.
The evil of these departed years would naturally have sprung up
again, in such rank weeds (symbolic of the transmitted vices of
society) as are always prone to root themselves about human
dwellings. Phoebe Saw, however, that their growth must have
been checked by a degree of careful labor, bestowed daily and
systematically on the garden. The white double rose-bush had
evidently been propped up anew against the house since the
commencement of the season; and a pear-tree and three damson-trees,
which, except a row of currant-bushes, constituted the only varieties
of fruit, bore marks of the recent amputation of several superfluous
or defective limbs. There were also a few species of antique
and hereditary flowers, in no very flourishing condition, but
scrupulously weeded; as if some person, either out of love or
curiosity, had been anxious to bring them to such perfection as
they were capable of attaining. The remainder of the garden
presented a well-selected assortment of esculent vegetables,
in a praiseworthy state of advancement. Summer squashes almost
in their golden blossom; cucumbers, now evincing a tendency to
spread away from the main stock, and ramble far and wide; two
or three rows of string-beans and as many more that were about
to festoon themselves on poles; tomatoes, occupying a site so
sheltered and sunny that the plants were already gigantic, and
promised an early and abundant harvest.

Phoebe wondered whose care and toil it could have been that had
planted these vegetables, and kept the soil so clean and orderly.
Not surely her cousin Hepzibah's, who had no taste nor spirits
for the lady-like employment of cultivating flowers, and--with
her recluse habits, and tendency to shelter herself within the
dismal shadow of the house--would hardly have come forth under
the speck of open sky to weed and hoe among the fraternity of
beans and squashes.

It being her first day of complete estrangement from rural
objects, Phoebe found an unexpected charm in this little nook
of grass, and foliage, and aristocratic flowers, and plebeian
vegetables. The eye of Heaven seemed to look down into it
pleasantly, and with a peculiar smile, as if glad to perceive
that nature, elsewhere overwhelmed, and driven out of the dusty
town, had here been able to retain a breathing-place. The spot
acquired a somewhat wilder grace, and yet a very gentle one, from
the fact that a pair of robins had built their nest in the
pear-tree, and were making themselves exceed ingly busy and happy
in the dark intricacy of its boughs. Bees, too,--strange to say,
--had thought it worth their while to come hither, possibly from
the range of hives beside some farm-house miles away. How many
aerial voyages might they have made, in quest of honey, or
honey-laden, betwixt dawn and sunset! Yet, late as it now was,
there still arose a pleasant hum out of one or two of the
squash-blossoms, in the depths ofwich these bees were plying
their golden labor. There was one other object in the garden
which Nature might fairly claim as her inalienable property,
in spite of whatever man could do to render it his own. This was
a fountain, set round with a rim of old mossy stones, and paved,
in its bed, with what appeared to be a sort of mosaic-work of
variously colored pebbles. The play and slight agitation of
the water, in its upward gush, wrought magically with these
variegated pebbles, and made a continually shifting apparition
of quaint figures, vanishing too suddenly to be definable. Thence,
swelling over the rim of moss-grown stones, the water stole away
under the fence, through what we regret to call a gutter, rather
than a channel. Nor must we forget to mention a hen-coop of very
reverend antiquity that stood in the farther corner of the garden,
not a great way from the fountain. It now contained only Chanticleer,
his two wives, and a solitary chicken. All of them were pure
specimens of a breed which had been transmitted down as an heirloom
in the Pyncheon family, and were said, while in their prime, to
have attained almost the size of turkeys, and, on the score of
delicate flesh, to be fit for a prince's table. In proof of
the authenticity of this legendary renown, Hepzibah could have
exhibited the shell of a great egg, which an ostrich need hardly
have been ashamed of. Be that as it might, the hens were now
scarcely larger than pigeons, and had a queer, rusty, withered
aspect, and a gouty kind of movement, and a sleepy and melancholy
tone throughout all the variations of their clucking and cackling.
It was evident that the race had degenerated, like many a noble
race besides, in consequence of too strict a watchfulness to keep
it pure. These feathered people had existed too long in their
distinct variety; a fact of which the present representatives,
judging by their lugubrious deportment, seemed to be aware.
They kept themselves alive, unquestionably, and laid now and
then an egg, and hatched a chicken; not for any pleasure of their
own, but that the world might not absolutely lose what had once
been so admirable a breed of fowls. The distinguishing mark of
the hens was a crest of lamentably scanty growth, in these latter
days, but so oddly and wickedly analogous to Hepzibah's turban,
that Phoebe--to the poignant distress of her conscience, but
inevitably --was led to fancy a general resemblance betwixt these
forlorn bipeds and her respectable relative.

The girl ran into the house to get some crumbs of bread,
cold potatoes, and other such scraps as were suitable to the
accommodating appetite of fowls. Returning, she gave a peculiar
call, which they seemed to recognize. The chicken crept through
the pales of the coop and ran, with some show of liveliness, to
her feet; while Chanticleer and the ladies of his household regarded
her with queer, sidelong glances, and then croaked one to another,
as if communicating their sage opinions of her character. So wise,
as well as antique, was their aspect, as to give color to the idea,
not merely that they were the descendants of a time-honored
race, but that they had existed, in their individual capacity,
ever since the House of the Seven Gables was founded, and were
somehow mixed up with its destiny. They were a species of tutelary
sprite, or Banshee; although winged and feathered differently
from most other guardian angels.

"Here, you odd little chicken!" said Phoebe; "here are some nice
crumbs for you!"

The chicken, hereupon, though almost as venerable in appearance
as its, mother--possessing, indeed, the whole antiquity of its
progenitors in miniature,--mustered vivacity enough to flutter
upward and alight on Phoebe's shoulder.

"That little fowl pays you a high compliment!" said a voice
behind Phoebe.

Turning quickly, she was surprised at sight of a young man, who
had found access into the garden by a door opening out of
another gable than that whence she had emerged. He held a hoe
in his hand, and, while Phoebe was gone in quest of the crumbs,
had begun to busy himself with drawing up fresh earth about the
roots of the tomatoes.

"The chicken really treats you like an old acquaintance,"
continued he in a quiet way, while a smile made his face
pleasanter than Phoebe at first fancied it. "Those venerable
personages in the coop, too, seem very affably disposed. You are
lucky to be in their good graces so soon! They have known me much
longer, but never honor me with any familiarity, though hardly a
day passes without my bringing them food. Miss Hepzibah,
I suppose, will interweave the fact with her other traditions,
and set it down that the fowls know you to be a Pyncheon!"

"The secret is," said Phoebe, smiling, "that I have learned how
to talk with hens and chickens."

"Ah, but these hens," answered the young man,--"these hens of
aristocratic lineage would scorn to understand the vulgar language
of a barn-yard fowl. I prefer to think--and so would Miss Hepzibah
--that they recognize the family tone. For you are a Pyncheon?"

"My name is Phoebe Pyncheon," said the girl, with a manner of
some reserve; for she was aware that her new acquaintance could
be no other than the daguerreotypist, of whose lawless propensities
the old maid had given her a disagreeable idea. "I did not know
that my cousin Hepzibah's garden was under another person's care."

"Yes," said Holgrave, "I dig, and hoe, and weed, in this black
old earth, for the sake of refreshing myself with what little
nature and simplicity may be left in it, after men have so long
sown and reaped here. I turn up the earth by way of pastime.
My sober occupation, so far as I have any, is with a lighter
material. In short, I make pictures out of sunshine; and, not to
be too much dazzled with my own trade, I have prevailed with Miss
Hepzibah to let me lodge in one of these dusky gables. It is like
a bandage over one's eyes, to come into it. But would you like to
see a specimen of my productions?"

"A daguerreotype likeness, do you mean?" asked Phoebe with less reserve;
for, in spite of prejudice, her own youthfulness sprang forward to meet
his. "I don't much like pictures of that sort,--they are so hard and
stern; besides dodging away from the eye, and trying to escape altogether.
They are conscious of looking very unamiable, I suppose, and therefore
hate to be seen."

"If you would permit me," said the artist, looking at Phoebe,
"I should like to try whether the daguerreotype can bring out
disagreeable traits on a perfectly amiable face. But there
certainly is truth in what you have said. Most of my likenesses
do look unamiable; but the very sufficient reason, I fancy, is,
because the originals are so. There is a wonderful insight in
Heaven's broad and simple sunshine. While we give it credit only
for depicting the merest surface, it actually brings out the secret
character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon,
even could he detect it. There is, at least, no flattery in my
humble line of art. Now, here is a likeness which I have taken
over and over again, and still with no better result. Yet the
original wears, to common eyes, a very different expression.
It would gratify me to have your judgment on this character."

He exhibited a daguerreotype miniature in a morocco case.
Phoebe merely glanced at it, and gave it back.

"I know the face," she replied; "for its stern eye has been
following me about all day. It is my Puritan ancestor, who hangs
yonder in the parlor. To be sure, you have found some way of
copying the portrait without its black velvet cap and gray beard,
and have given him a modern coat and satin cravat, instead of his
cloak and band. I don't think him improved by your alterations."

"You would have seen other differences had you looked a little
longer," said Holgrave, laughing, yet apparently much struck.
"I can assure you that this is a modern face, and one which you
will very probably meet. Now, the remarkable point is, that the
original wears, to the world's eye,--and, for aught I know, to his
most intimate friends,--an exceedingly pleasant countenance,
indicative of benevolence, openness of heart, sunny good-humor,
and other praiseworthy qualities of that cast. The sun, as you see,
tells quite another story, and will not be coaxed out of it, after
half a dozen patient attempts on my part. Here we have the man,
sly, subtle, hard, imperious, and, withal, cold as ice. Look at
that eye! Would you like to be at its mercy? At that mouth! Could
it ever smile? And yet, if you could only see the benign smile
of the original! It is so much the More unfortunate, as he is a
public character of some eminence, and the likeness was intended
to be engraved."

"Well, I don't wish to see it any more," observed Phoebe, turning
away her eyes. "It is certainly very like the old portrait. But my
cousin Hepzibah has another picture,--a miniature. If the original
is still in the world, I think he might defy the sun to make him
look stern and hard."

"You have seen that picture, then!" exclaimed the artist, with an
expression of much interest. "I never did, but have a great
curiosity to do so. And you judge favorably of the face?"

"There never was a sweeter one," said Phoebe. "It is almost too
soft and gentle for a man's."

"Is there nothing wild in the eye?" continued Holgrave, so earnestly
that it embarrassed Phoebe, as did also the quiet freedom with which
he presumed on their so recent acquaintance. "Is there nothing dark
or sinister anywhere? Could you not conceive the original to have been
guilty of a great crime?"

"It is nonsense," said Phoebe a little impatiently, "for us to talk
about a picture which you have never seen. You mistake it for
some other. A crime, indeed! Since you are a friend of my
cousin Hepzibah's, you should ask her to show you the picture."

"It will suit my purpose still better to see the original," replied
the daguerreotypist coolly. "As to his character, we need not
discuss its points; they have already been settled by a competent
tribunal, or one which called itself competent. But, stay! Do not
go yet, if you please! I have a proposition to make you."

Phoebe was on the point of retreating, but turned back, with
some hesitation; for she did not exactly comprehend his manner,
although, on better observation, its feature seemed rather to be
lack of ceremony than any approach to offensive rudeness. There
was an odd kind of authority, too, in what he now proceeded to
say, rather as if the garden were his own than a place to which
he was admitted merely by Hepzibah's courtesy.

"If agreeable to you," he observed, "it would give me pleasure to
turn over these flowers, and those ancient and respectable fowls,
to your care. Coming fresh from country air and occupations,
you will soon feel the need of some such out-of-door employment.
My own sphere does not so much lie among flowers. You can trim
and tend them, therefore, as you please; and I will ask only the
least trifle of a blossom, now and then, in exchange for all the
good, honest kitchen vegetables with which I propose to enrich Miss
Hepzibah's table. So we will be fellow-laborers, somewhat on the
community system."

Silently, and rather surprised at her own compliance, Phoebe
accordingly betook herself to weeding a flower-bed, but busied
herself still more with cogitations respecting this young man,
with whom she so unexpectedly found herself on terms approaching
to familiarity. She did not altogether like him. His character
perplexed the little country-girl, as it might a more practised
observer; for, while the tone of his conversation had generally
been playful, the impression left on her mind was that of gravity,
and, except as his youth modified it, almost sternness. She
rebelled, as it were, against a certain magnetic element in the
artist's nature, which he exercised towards her, possibly without
being conscious of it.

After a little while, the twilight, deepened by the shadows of
the fruit-trees and the surrounding buildings, threw an obscurity
over the garden.

"There," said Holgrave, "it is time to give over work! That last
stroke of the hoe has cut off a beanstalk. Good-night, Miss Phoebe
Pyncheon! Any bright day, if you will put one of those rosebuds in
your hair, and come to my rooms in Central Street, I will seize the
purest ray of sunshine, and make a picture of the flower and its
wearer." He retired towards his own solitary gable, but turned his
head, on reaching the door, and called to Phoebe, with a tone which
certainly had laughter in it, yet which seemed to be more than half
in earnest.

"Be careful not to drink at Maule's well!" said he. "Neither drink
nor bathe your face in it!"

"Maule's well!" answered Phoebe. "Is that it with the rim of
mossy stones? I have no thought of drinking there,--but why not?"

"Oh," rejoined the daguerreotypist, "because, like an old lady's
cup of tea, it is water bewitched!"

He vanished; and Phoebe, lingering a moment, saw a glimmering
light, and then the steady beam of a lamp, in a chamber of the
gable. On returning into Hepzibah's apartment of the house, she
found the low-studded parlor so dim and dusky that her eyes
could not penetrate the interior. She was indistinctly aware,
however, that the gaunt figure of the old gentlewoman was sitting
in one of the straight-backed chairs, a little withdrawn from the
window, the faint gleam of which showed the blanched paleness
of her cheek, turned sideways towards a corner.

"Shall I light a lamp, Cousin Hepzibah?" she asked.

"Do, if you please, my dear child," answered Hepzibah. "But put
it on the table in the corner of the passage. My eyes are weak;
and I can seldom bear the lamplight on them."

What an instrument is the human voice! How wonderfully
responsive to every emotion of the human soul! In Hepzibah's
tone, at that moment, there was a certain rich depth and moisture,
as if the words, commonplace as they were, had been steeped in
the warmth of her heart. Again, while lighting the lamp in the
kitchen, Phoebe fancied that her cousin spoke to her.

"In a moment, cousin!" answered the girl. "These matches just
glimmer, and go out."

But, instead of a response from Hepzibah, she seemed to hear the
murmur of an unknown voice. It was strangely indistinct, however,
and less like articulate words than an unshaped sound, such as would
be the utterance of feeling and sympathy, rather than of the intellect.
So vague was it, that its impression or echo in Phoebe's mind was
that of unreality. She concluded that she must have mistaken some
other sound for that of the human voice; or else that it was
altogether in her fancy.

She set the lighted lamp in the passage, and again entered the
parlor. Hepzibah's form, though its sable outline mingled with the
dusk, was now less imperfectly visible. In the remoter parts of
the room, however, its walls being so ill adapted to reflect light,
there was nearly the same obscurity as before.

"Cousin," said Phoebe, "did you speak to me just now?"

"No, child!" replied Hepzibah.

Fewer words than before, but with the same mysterious music in
them! Mellow, melancholy, yet not mournful, the tone seemed to
gush up out of the deep well of Hepzibah's heart, all steeped in
its profoundest emotion. There was a tremor in it, too, that
--as all strong feeling is electric--partly communicated itself
to Phoebe. The girl sat silently for a moment. But soon, her senses
being very acute, she became conscious of an irregular respiration
in an obscure corner of the room. Her physical organization,
moreover, being at once delicate and healthy, gave her a perception,
operating with almost the effect of a spiritual medium, that somebody
was near at hand.

"My dear cousin," asked she, overcoming an indefinable reluctance,
"is there not some one in the room with us?"

"Phoebe, my dear little girl," said Hepzibah, after a moment's
pause,"you were up betimes, and have been busy all day. Pray go
to bed; for I am sure you must need rest. I will sit in the parlor
awhile, and collect my thoughts. It has been my custom for more
years, child, than you have lived!" While thus dismissing her, the
maiden lady stept forward, kissed Phoebe, and pressed her to her
heart, which beat against the girl's bosom with a strong, high,
and tumultuous swell. How came there to be so much love in this
desolate old heart, that it could afford to well over thus abundantly?

"Goodnight, cousin," said Phoebe, strangely affected by Hepzibah's
manner. "If you begin to love me, I am glad!"

She retired to her chamber, but did not soon fall asleep, nor then
very profoundly. At some uncertain period in the depths of night,
and, as it were, through the thin veil of a dream, she was
conscious of a footstep mounting the stairs heavily, but not with
force and decision. The voice of Hepzibah, with a hush through
it, was going up along with the footsteps; and, again, responsive
to her cousin's voice, Phoebe heard that strange, vague murmur,
which might be likened to an indistinct shadow of human utterance.

 

 

VII The Guest

 

 

WHEN Phoebe awoke,--which she did with the early twittering
of the conjugal couple of robins in the pear-tree,--she heard
movements below stairs, and, hastening down, found Hepzibah
already in the kitchen. She stood by a window, holding a book
in close contiguity to her nose, as if with the hope of gaining
an olfactory acquaintance with its contents, since her imperfect
vision made it not very easy to read them. If any volume could
have manifested its essential wisdom in the mode suggested,
it would certainly have been the one now in Hepzibah's hand;
and the kitchen, in such an event, would forthwith have streamed
with the fragrance of venison, turkeys, capons, larded partridges,
puddings, cakes, and Christmas pies, in all manner of elaborate
mixture and concoction. It was a cookery book, full of innumerable
old fashions of English dishes, and illustrated with engravings,
which represented the arrangements of the table at such banquets
as it might have befitted a nobleman to give in the great hall
of his castle. And, amid these rich and potent devices of the
culinary art (not one of which, probably, had been tested, within
the memory of any man's grandfather), poor Hepzibah was seeking
for some nimble little titbit, which, with what skill she had,
and such materials as were at hand, she might toss up for breakfast.

Soon, with a deep sigh, she put aside the savory volume, and
inquired of Phoebe whether old Speckle, as she called one of the
hens, had laid an egg the preceding day. Phoebe ran to see,
but returned without the expected treasure in her hand. At that
instant, however, the blast of a fish-dealer's conch was heard,
announcing his approach along the street. With energetic raps at
the shop-window, Hepzibah summoned the man in, and made purchase
of what he warranted as the finest mackerel in his cart, and as
fat a one as ever he felt with his finger so early in the season.
Requesting Phoebe to roast some coffee,--which she casually observed
was the real Mocha, and so long kept that each of the small berries
ought to be worth its weight in gold,--the maiden lady heaped fuel
into the vast receptacle of the ancient fireplace in such quantity
as soon to drive the lingering dusk out of the kitchen. The country-girl,
willing to give her utmost assistance, proposed to make an Indian cake,
after her mother's peculiar method, of easy manufacture, and which
she could vouch for as possessing a richness, and, if rightly
prepared, a delicacy, unequalled by any other mode of breakfast-cake.
Hepzibah gladly assenting, the kitchen was soon the scene of
savory preparation. Perchance, amid their proper element of smoke,
which eddied forth from the ill-constructed chimney, the ghosts of
departed cook-maids looked wonderingly on, or peeped down the great
breadth of the flue, despising the simplicity of the projected meal,
yet ineffectually pining to thrust their shadowy hands into each
inchoate dish. The half-starved rats, at any rate, stole visibly
out of their hiding-places, and sat on their hind-legs, snuffing the
fumy atmosphere, and wistfully awaiting an opportunity to nibble.

Hepzibah had no natural turn for cookery, and, to say the truth,
had fairly incurred her present meagreness by often choosing to
go without her dinner rather than be attendant on the rotation of
the spit, or ebullition of the pot. Her zeal over the fire,
therefore, was quite an heroic test of sentiment. It was touching,
and positively worthy of tears (if Phoebe, the only spectator, except
the rats and ghosts aforesaid, had not been better employed than
in shedding them), to see her rake out a bed of fresh and glowing
coals, and proceed to broil the mackerel. Her usually pale cheeks
were all ablaze with heat and hurry. She watched the fish with
as much tender care and minuteness of attention as if,--we know
not how to express it otherwise,--as if her own heart were on the
gridiron, and her immortal happiness were involved in its being
done precisely to a turn!

Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly
arranged and well-provisioned breakfast-table. We come to it
freshly, in the dewy youth of the day, and when our spiritual
and sensual elements are in better accord than at a later period;
so that the material delights of the morning meal are capable of
being fully enjoyed, without any very grievous reproaches, whether
gastric or conscientious, for yielding even a trifle overmuch to
the animal department of our nature. The thoughts, too, that run
around the ring of familiar guests have a piquancy and mirthfulness,
and oftentimes a vivid truth, which more rarely find their way into
the elaborate intercourse of dinner. Hepzibah's small and ancient
table, supported on its slender and graceful legs, and covered with
a cloth of the richest damask, looked worthy to be the scene and
centre of one of the cheerfullest of parties. The vapor of the broiled
fish arose like incense from the shrine of a barbarian idol, while
the fragrance of the Mocha might have gratified the nostrils of a
tutelary Lar, or whatever power has scope over a modern breakfast-table.
Phoebe's Indian cakes were the sweetest offering of all,--in their
hue befitting the rustic altars of the innocent and golden age,--or,
so brightly yellow were they, resembling some of the bread which was
changed to glistening gold when Midas tried to eat it. The butter
must not be forgotten,--butter which Phoebe herself had churned,
in her own rural home, and brought it to her cousin as a propitiatory
gift,--smelling of clover-blossoms, and diffusing the charm of
pastoral scenery through the dark-panelled parlor. All this, with
the quaint gorgeousness of the old china cups and saucers, and the
crested spoons, and a silver cream-jug (Hepzibah's only other article
of plate, and shaped like the rudest porringer), set out a board at
which the stateliest of old Colonel Pyncheon's guests need not have
scorned to take his place. But the Puritan's face scowled down out
of the picture, as if nothing on the table pleased his appetite.

By way of contributing what grace she could, Phoebe gathered
some roses and a few other flowers, possessing either scent or
beauty, and arranged them in a glass pitcher, which, having long
ago lost its handle, was so much the fitter for a flower-vase.
The early sunshine--as fresh as that which peeped into Eve's bower
while she and Adam sat at breakfast there--came twinkling through
the branches of the pear-tree, and fell quite across the table.
All was now ready. There were chairs and plates for three.
A chair and plate for Hepzibah,--the same for Phoebe,--but what
other guest did her cousin look for?

Throughout this preparation there had been a constant tremor in
Hepzibah's frame; an agitation so powerful that Phoebe could see
the quivering of her gaunt shadow, as thrown by the firelight on the
kitchen wall, or by the sunshine on the parlor floor. Its manifestations
were so various, and agreed so little with one another, that the girl
knew not what to make of it. Sometimes it seemed an ecstasy of
delight and happiness. At such moments, Hepzibah would fling out
her arms, and infold Phoebe in them, and kiss her cheek as tenderly
as ever her mother had; she appeared to do so by an inevitable impulse,
and as if her bosom were oppressed with tenderness, of which she must
needs pour out a little, in order to gain breathing-room. The next
moment, without any visible cause for the change, her unwonted joy
shrank back, appalled, as it were, and clothed itself in mourning;
or it ran and hid itself, so to speak, in the dungeon of her heart,
where it had long lain chained, while a cold, spectral sorrow took
the place of the imprisoned joy, that was afraid to be enfranchised,
--a sorrow as black as that was bright. She often broke into a
little, nervous, hysteric laugh, more touching than any tears could be;
and forthwith, as if to try which was the most touching, a gush of
tears would follow; or perhaps the laughter and tears came both
at once, and surrounded our poor Hepzibah, in a moral sense, with a
kind of pale, dim rainbow. Towards Phoebe, as we have said, she was
affectionate, --far tenderer than ever before, in their brief acquaintance,
except for that one kiss on the preceding night,--yet with a Continually
recurring pettishness and irritability. She would speak sharply to her;
then, throwing aside all the starched reserve of her ordinary manner,
ask pardon, and the next instant renew the just-forgiven injury.

At last, when their mutual labor was all finished, she took
Phoebe's hand in her own trembling one.

"Bear with me, my dear child," she cried; "for truly my heart is
full to the brim! Bear with me; for I love you, Phoebe, though
I speak so roughly. Think nothing of it, dearest child! By and by,
I shall be kind, and only kind!"

"My dearest cousin, cannot you tell me what has happened?" asked Phoebe,
with a sunny and tearful sympathy. "What is it that moves you so?"

"Hush! hush! He is coming!" whispered Hepzibah, hastily wiping
her eyes. "Let him see you first, Phoebe; for you are young and rosy,
and cannot help letting a smile break out whether or no. He always
liked bright faces! And mine is old now, and the tears are hardly dry
on it. He never could abide tears. There; draw the curtain a little,
so that the shadow may fall across his side of the table! But let there
be a good deal of sunshine, too; for he never was fond of gloom, as some
people are. He has had but little sunshine in his life,--poor Clifford,
--and, oh, what a black shadow. Poor, poor Clifford!"

Thus murmuring in an undertone, as if speaking rather to her
own heart than to Phoebe, the old gentlewoman stepped on tiptoe
about the room, making such arrangements as suggested
themselves at the crisis.

Meanwhile there was a step in the passage-way, above stairs.
Phoebe recognized it as the same which had passed upward, as
through her dream, in the night-time. The approaching guest,
whoever it might be, appeared to pause at the head of the staircase;
he paused twice or thrice in the descent; he paused again at the foot.
Each time, the delay seemed to be without purpose, but rather from
a forgetfulness of the purpose which had set him in motion, or as if
the person's feet came involuntarily to a stand-still because the
motive-power was too feeble to sustain his progress. Finally,
he made a long pause at the threshold of the parlor. He took hold
of the knob of the door; then loosened his grasp without opening it.
Hepzibah, her hands convulsively clasped, stood gazing at the entrance.

"Dear Cousin Hepzibah, pray don't look so!" said Phoebe, trembling;
for her cousin's emotion, and this mysteriously reluctant step,
made her feel as if a ghost were coming into the room. "You really
frighten me! Is something awful going to happen?"

"Hush!" whispered Hepzibah. "Be cheerful! whatever may happen,
be nothing but cheerful!"

The final pause at the threshold proved so long, that Hepzibah,
unable to endure the suspense, rushed forward, threw open the
door, and led in the stranger by the hand. At the first glance,
Phoebe saw an elderly personage, in an old-fashioned dressing-gown
of faded damask, and wearing his gray or almost white hair of an
unusual length. It quite overshadowed his forehead, except when
he thrust it back, and stared vaguely about the room. After a very
brief inspection of his face, it was easy to conceive that his footstep
must necessarily be such an one as that which, slowly and with as
indefinite an aim as a child's first journey across a floor, had just
brought him hitherward. Yet there were no tokens that his physical
strength might not have sufficed for a free and determined gait. It
was the spirit of the man that could not walk. The expression of his
countenance--while, notwithstanding it had the light of reason in it
--seemed to waver, and glimmer, and nearly to die away, and feebly to
recover itself again. It was like a flame which we see twinkling among
half-extinguished embers; we gaze at it more intently than if it were
a positive blaze, gushing vividly upward,--more intently, but with
a certain impatience, as if it ought either to kindle itself into
satisfactory splendor, or be at once extinguished.

For an instant after entering the room, the guest stood still,
retaining Hepzibah's hand instinctively, as a child does that
of the grown person who guides it. He saw Phoebe, however,
and caught an illumination from her youthful and pleasant aspect,
which, indeed, threw a cheerfulness about the parlor, like the
circle of reflected brilliancy around the glass vase of flowers
that was standing in the sunshine. He made a salutation, or,
to speak nearer the truth, an ill-defined, abortive attempt at
curtsy. Imperfect as it was, however, it conveyed an idea, or,
at least, gave a hint, of indescribable grace, such as no practised
art of external manners could have attained. It was too slight to
seize upon at the instant; yet, as recollected afterwards, seemed
to transfigure the whole man.

"Dear Clifford," said Hepzibah, in the tone with which one
soothes a wayward infant, "this is our cousin Phoebe,--little
Phoebe Pyncheon,--Arthur's only child, you know. She has come
from the country to stay with us awhile; for our old house has
grown to be very lonely now."

"Phoebe--Phoebe Pyncheon?--Phoebe?" repeated the guest, with
a strange, sluggish, ill-defined utterance. "Arthur's child! Ah,
I forget! No matter. She is very welcome!"

"Come, dear Clifford, take this chair," said Hepzibah, leading him
to his place. "Pray, Phoebe, lower the curtain a very little more.
Now let us begin breakfast."

The guest seated himself in the place assigned him, and looked
strangely around. He was evidently trying to grapple with the
present scene, and bring it home to his mind with a more
satisfactory distinctness. He desired to be certain, at least,
that he was here, in the low-studded, cross-beamed, oaken-panelled
parlor, and not in some other spot, which had stereotyped itself
into his senses. But the effort was too great to be sustained with
more than a fragmentary success. Continually, as we may express
it, he faded away out of his place; or, in other words, his mind
and consciousness took their departure, leaving his wasted, gray,
and melancholy figure--a substantial emptiness, a material
ghost--to occupy his seat at table. Again, after a blank moment,
there would be a flickering taper-gleam in his eyeballs. It
betokened that his spiritual part had returned, and was doing its
best to kindle the heart's household fire, and light up intellectual
lamps in the dark and ruinous mansion, where it was doomed to
be a forlorn inhabitant.

At one of these moments of less torpid, yet still imperfect
animation, Phoebe became convinced of what she had at first
rejected as too extravagant and startling an idea. She saw that
the person before her must have been the original of the beautiful
miniature in her cousin Hepzibah's possession. Indeed, with a
feminine eye for costume, she had at once identified the damask
dressing-gown, which enveloped him, as the same in figure, material,
and fashion, with that so elaborately represented in the picture.
This old, faded garment, with all its pristine brilliancy extinct,
seemed, in some indescribable way, to translate the wearer's untold
misfortune, and make it perceptible to the beholder's eye. It was
the better to be discerned, by this exterior type, how worn and
old were the soul's more immediate garments; that form and
countenance, the beauty and grace of which had almost transcended
the skill of the most exquisite of artists. It could the more
adequately be known that the soul of the man must have suffered
some miserable wrong, from its earthly experience. There he
seemed to sit, with a dim veil of decay and ruin betwixt him
and the world, but through which, at flitting intervals, might be
caught the same expression, so refined, so softly imaginative,
which Malbone--venturing a happy touch, with suspended breath
--had imparted to the miniature! There had been something so
innately characteristic in this look, that all the dusky years,
and the burden of unfit calamity which had fallen upon him, did
not suffice utterly to destroy it.

Hepzibah had now poured out a cup of deliciously fragrant coffee,
and presented it to her guest. As his eyes met hers, he seemed
bewildered and disquieted.

"Is this you, Hepzibah?" he murmured sadly. then, more apart,
and perhaps unconscious that he was overheard, "How changed!
how changed! And is she angry with me? Why does she bend
her brow so?"

Poor Hepzibah! It was that wretched scowl which time and her
near-sightedness, and the fret of inward discomfort, had rendered
so habitual that any vehemence of mood invariably evoked it. But
at the indistinct murmur of his words her whole face grew tender,
and even lovely, with sorrowful affection; the harshness of her
features disappeared, as it were, behind the warm and misty glow.

"Angry! she repeated; "angry with you, Clifford!"

Her tone, as she uttered the exclamation, had a plaintive and really
exquisite melody thrilling through it, yet without subduing a certain
something which an obtuse auditor might still have mistaken for asperity.
It was as if some transcendent musician should draw a soul-thrilling
sweetness out of a cracked instrument, which makes its physical imperfection
heard in the midst of ethereal harmony,--so deep was the sensibility that
found an organ in Hepzibah's voice!

"There is nothing but love, here, Clifford," she added,--"nothing
but love! You are at home!"

The guest responded to her tone by a smile, which did not half
light up his face. Feeble as it was, however, and gone in a
moment, it had a charm of wonderful beauty. It was followed
by a coarser expression; or one that had the effect of coarseness
on the fine mould and outline of his countenance, because there
was nothing intellectual to temper it. It was a look of appetite.
He ate food with what might almost be termed voracity; and seemed
to forget himself, Hepzibah, the young girl, and everything else
around him, in the sensual enjoyment which the bountifully spread
table afforded. In his natural system, though high-wrought and
delicately refined, a sensibility to the delights of the palate
was probably inherent. It would have been kept in check, however,
and even converted into an accomplishment, and one of the thousand
modes of intellectual culture, had his more ethereal characteristics
retained their vigor. But as it existed now, the effect was painful
and made Phoebe droop her eyes.

In a little while the guest became sensible of the fragrance of
the yet untasted coffee. He quaffed it eagerly. The subtle
essence acted on him like a charmed draught, and caused the opaque
substance of his animal being to grow transparent, or, at least,
translucent; so that a spiritual gleam was transmitted through it,
with a clearer lustre than hitherto.

"More, more!" he cried, with nervous haste in his utterance, as if
anxious to retain his grasp of what sought to escape him. "This is
what I need! Give me more!"

Under this delicate and powerful influence he sat more erect,
and looked out from his eyes with a glance that took note of what
it rested on. It was not so much that his expression grew more
intellectual; this, though it had its share, was not the most
peculiar effect. Neither was what we call the moral nature so
forcibly awakened as to present itself in remarkable prominence.
But a certain fine temper of being was now not brought out in
full relief, but changeably and imperfectly betrayed, of which it
was the function to deal with all beautiful and enjoyable things.
In a character where it should exist as the chief attribute, it
would bestow on its possessor an exquisite taste, and an enviable
susceptibility of happiness. Beauty would be his life; his
aspirations would all tend toward it; and, allowing his frame and
physical organs to be in consonance, his own developments
would likewise be beautiful. Such a man should have nothing to
do with sorrow; nothing with strife; nothing with the martyrdom
which, in an infinite variety of shapes, awaits those who have the
heart, and will, and conscience, to fight a battle with the world.
To these heroic tempers, such martyrdom is the richest meed in the
world's gift. To the individual before us, it could only be a grief,
intense in due proportion with the severity of the infliction. He
had no right to be a martyr; and, beholding him so fit to be happy
and so feeble for all other purposes, a generous, strong, and noble
spirit would, methinks, have been ready to sacrifice what little
enjoyment it might have planned for itself, --it would have flung
down the hopes, so paltry in its regard,--if thereby the wintry
blasts of our rude sphere might come tempered to such a man.

Not to speak it harshly or scornfully, it seemed Clifford's nature
to be a Sybarite. It was perceptible, even there, in the dark old
parlor, in the inevitable polarity with which his eyes were
attracted towards the quivering play of sunbeams through the
shadowy foliage. It was seen in his appreciating notice of the
vase of flowers, the scent of which he inhaled with a zest almost
peculiar to a physical organization so refined that spiritual
ingredients are moulded in with it. It was betrayed in the
unconscious smile with which he regarded Phoebe, whose fresh
and maidenly figure was both sunshine and flowers,--their essence,
in a prettier and more agreeable mode of manifestation. Not less
evident was this love and necessity for the Beautiful, in the
instinctive caution with which, even so soon, his eyes turned
away from his hostess, and wandered to any quarter rather than
come back. It was Hepzibah's misfortune,--not Clifford's fault.
How could he,--so yellow as she was, so wrinkled, so sad of
mien, with that odd uncouthness of a turban on her head, and
that most perverse of scowls contorting her brow,--how could he
love to gaze at her? But, did he owe her no affection for so
much as she had silently given? He owed her nothing. A nature
like Clifford's can contract no debts of that kind. It is--we
say it without censure, nor in diminution of the claim which it
indefeasibly possesses on beings of another mould--it is always
selfish in its essence; and we must give it leave to be so, and
heap up our heroic and disinterested love upon it so much the
more, without a recompense. Poor Hepzibah knew this truth, or,
at least, acted on the instinct of it. So long estranged from
what was lovely as Clifford had been, she rejoiced--rejoiced,
though with a present sigh, and a secret purpose to shed tears
in her own chamber that he had brighter objects now before his
eyes than her aged and uncomely features. They never possessed
a charm; and if they had, the canker of her grief for him would
long since have destroyed it.

The guest leaned back in his chair. Mingled in his countenance
with a dreamy delight, there was a troubled look of effort and
unrest. He was seeking to make himself more fully sensible of
the scene around him; or, perhaps, dreading it to be a dream,
or a play of imagination, was vexing the fair moment with a
struggle for some added brilliancy and more durable illusion.

"How pleasant!--How delightful!" he murmured, but not as if
addressing any one. "Will it last? How balmy the atmosphere
through that open window! An open window! How beautiful that play
of sunshine! Those flowers, how very fragrant! That young girl's
face, how cheerful, how blooming!--a flower with the dew on it,
and sunbeams in the dew-drops! Ah! this must be all a dream!
A dream! A dream! But it has quite hidden the four stone walls"

Then his face darkened, as if the shadow of a cavern or a
dungeon had come over it; there was no more light in its expression
than might have come through the iron grates of a prison window-still
lessening, too, as if he were sinking farther into the depths. Phoebe
(being of that quickness and activity of temperament that she seldom
long refrained from taking a part, and generally a good one, in what
was going forward) now felt herself moved to address the stranger.

"Here is a new kind of rose, which I found this morning in the
garden," said she, choosing a small crimson one from among the
flowers in the vase. "There will be but five or six on the bush
this season. This is the most perfect of them all; not a speck of
blight or mildew in it. And how sweet it is!--sweet like no other
rose! One can never forget that scent!"

"Ah!--let me see!--let me hold it!" cried the guest, eagerly seizing
the flower, which, by the spell peculiar to remembered odors,
brought innumerable associations along with the fragrance that
it exhaled. "Thank you! This has done me good. I remember how
I used to prize this flower,--long ago, I suppose, very long
ago!--or was it only yesterday? It makes me feel young again!
Am I young? Either this remembrance is singularly distinct, or
this consciousness strangely dim! But how kind of the fair young
girl! Thank you! Thank you!"

The favorable excitement derived from this little crimson rose
afforded Clifford the brightest moment which he enjoyed at the
breakfast-table. It might have lasted longer, but that his eyes
happened, soon afterwards, to rest on the face of the old Puritan,
who, out of his dingy frame and lustreless canvas, was looking
down on the scene like a ghost, and a most ill-tempered and
ungenial one. The guest made an impatient gesture of the hand,
and addressed Hepzibah with what might easily be recognized as
the licensed irritability of a petted member of the family.

"Hepzibah!--Hepzibah!" cried he with no little force and
distinctness, "why do you keep that odious picture on the wall?
Yes, yes!--that is precisely your taste! I have told you, a
thousand times, that it was the evil genius of the house!--my evil
genius particularly! Take it down, at once!"

"Dear Clifford," said Hepzibah sadly, "you know it cannot be!"

"Then, at all events," continued he, still speaking with some
energy,"pray cover it with a crimson curtain, broad enough to
hang in folds, and with a golden border and tassels. I cannot
bear it! It must not stare me in the face!"

"Yes, dear Clifford, the picture shall be covered," said Hepzibah
soothingly. "There is a crimson curtain in a trunk above stairs,--a
little faded and moth-eaten, I'm afraid,--but Phoebe and I will do
wonders with it."

"This very day, remember" said he; and then added, in a low,
self-communing voice, "Why should we live in this dismal house
at all? Why not go to the South of France?--to Italy?--Paris,
Naples, Venice, Rome? Hepzibah will say we have not the
means. A droll idea that!"

He smiled to himself, and threw a glance of fine sarcastic
meaning towards Hepzibah.

But the several moods of feeling, faintly as they were marked,
through which he had passed, occurring in so brief an interval of
time, had evidently wearied the stranger. He was probably
accustomed to a sad monotony of life, not so much flowing in a
stream, however sluggish, as stagnating in a pool around his feet.
A slumberous veil diffused itself over his countenance, and had an
effect, morally speaking, on its naturally delicate and elegant
outline, like that which a brooding mist, with no sunshine in it,
throws over the features of a landscape. He appeared to become
grosser,--almost cloddish. If aught of interest or beauty--even
ruined beauty--had heretofore been visible in this man, the beholder
might now begin to doubt it, and to accuse his own imagination of
deluding him with whatever grace had flickered over that visage,
and whatever exquisite lustre had gleamed in those filmy eyes.

Before he had quite sunken away, however, the sharp and peevish tinkle
of the shop-bell made itself audible. Striking most disagreeably on
Clifford's auditory organs and the characteristic sensibility of his
nerves, it caused him to start upright out of his chair.

"Good heavens, Hepzibah! what horrible disturbance have we
now in the house?" cried he, wreaking his resentful impatience
--as a matter of course, and a custom of old--on the one person
in the world that loved him." I have never heard such a hateful
clamor! Why do you permit it? In the name of all dissonance,
what can it be?"

It was very remarkable into what prominent relief--even as if
a dim picture should leap suddenly from its canvas--Clifford's
character was thrown by this apparently trifling annoyance.
The secret was, that an individual of his temper can always
be pricked more acutely through his sense of the beautiful and
harmonious than through his heart. It is even possible--for similar
cases have often happened--that if Clifford, in his foregoing life,
had enjoyed the means of cultivating his taste to its utmost
perfectibility, that subtile attribute might, before this period,
have completely eaten out or filed away his affections. Shall we
venture to pronounce, therefore, that his long and black calamity
may not have had a redeeming drop of mercy at the bottom?

"Dear Clifford, I wish I could keep the sound from your ears,"
said Hepzibah, patiently, but reddening with a painful suffusion
of shame. "It is very disagreeable even to me. But, do you know,
Clifford, I have something to tell you? This ugly noise,--pray run,
Phoebe, and see who is there!--this naughty little tinkle is nothing
but our shop-bell!"

"Shop-bell!" repeated Clifford, with a bewildered stare.

"Yes, our shop-bell," said Hepzibah, a certain natural dignity,
mingled with deep emotion, now asserting itself in her manner.
"For you must know, dearest Clifford, that we are very poor.
And there was no other resource, but either to accept assistance
from a hand that I would push aside (and so would you!) were
it to offer bread when we were dying for it,--no help, save from
him, or else to earn our subsistence with my own hands! Alone,
I might have been content to starve. But you were to be given
back to me! Do you think, then, dear Clifford," added she, with
a wretched smile, "that I have brought an irretrievable disgrace
on the old house, by opening a little shop in the front gable?
Our great-great-grandfather did the same, when there was far less
need! Are you ashamed of me?"

"Shame! Disgrace! Do you speak these words to me, Hepzibah?"
said Clifford,--not angrily, however; for when a man's spirit has
been thoroughly crushed, he may be peevish at small offences, but
never resentful of great ones. So he spoke with only a grieved
emotion. "It was not kind to say so, Hepzibah! What shame can
befall me now?"

And then the unnerved man--he that had been born for enjoyment,
but had met a doom so very wretched--burst into a woman's passion
of tears. It was but of brief continuance, however; soon leaving
him in a quiescent, and, to judge by his countenance, not an
uncomfortable state. From this mood, too, he partially rallied
for an instant, and looked at Hepzibah with a smile, the keen,
half-derisory purport of which was a puzzle to her.

"Are we so very poor, Hepzibah?" said he.

Finally, his chair being deep and softly cushioned, Clifford fell
asleep. Hearing the more regular rise and fall of his breath (which,
however, even then, instead of being strong and full, had a feeble kind
of tremor, corresponding with the lack of vigor in his character),
--hearing these tokens of settled slumber, Hepzibah seized the opportunity
to peruse his face more attentively than she had yet dared to do. Her
heart melted away in tears; her profoundest spirit sent forth a moaning
voice, low, gentle, but inexpressibly sad. In this depth of grief and
pity she felt that there was no irreverence in gazing at his altered,
aged, faded, ruined face. But no sooner was she a little relieved than
her conscience smote her for gazing curiously at him, now that he was
so changed; and, turning hastily away, Hepzibah let down the curtain
over the sunny window, and left Clifford to slumber there.

 

 

VIII The Pyncheon of To-day

 

PHOEBE, on entering the shop, beheld there the already familiar
face of the little devourer--if we can reckon his mighty deeds
aright--of Jim Crow, the elephant, the camel, the dromedaries,
and the locomotive. Having expended his private fortune, on the
two preceding days, in the purchase of the above unheard-of
luxuries, the young gentleman's present errand was on the part
of his mother, in quest of three eggs and half a pound of raisins.
These articles Phoebe accordingly supplied, and, as a mark of
gratitude for his previous patronage, and a slight super-added
morsel after breakfast, put likewise into his hand a whale! The
great fish, reversing his experience with the prophet of Nineveh,
immediately began his progress down the same red pathway of
fate whither so varied a caravan had preceded him. This
remarkable urchin, in truth, was the very emblem of old Father
Time, both in respect of his all-devouring appetite for men and
things, and because he, as well as Time, after ingulfing thus
much of creation, looked almost as youthful as if he had been
just that moment made.

After partly closing the door, the child turned back, and mumbled
something to Phoebe, which, as the whale was but half disposed
of, she could not perfectly understand.

"What did you say, my little fellow?" asked she.

"Mother wants to know" repeated Ned Higgins more distinctly, "how
Old Maid Pyncheon's brother does? Folks say he has got home."

"My cousin Hepzibah's brother?" exclaimed Phoebe, surprised at
this sudden explanation of the relationship between Hepzibah and
her guest." Her brother! And where can he have been?"

The little boy only put his thumb to his broad snub-nose, with
that look of shrewdness which a child, spending much of his
time in the street. so soon learns to throw over his features,
however unintelligent in themselves. Then as Phoebe continued
to gaze at him, without answering his mother's message, he took
his departure.

As the child went down the steps, a gentleman ascended them,
and made his entrance into the shop. It was the portly, and,
had it possessed the advantage of a little more height, would have
been the stately figure of a man considerably in the decline of
life, dressed in a black suit of some thin stuff, resembling
broadcloth as closely as possible. A gold-headed cane, of rare
Oriental wood, added materially to the high respectability of
his aspect, as did also a neckcloth of the utmost snowy purity,
and the conscientious polish of his boots. His dark, square
countenance, with its almost shaggy depth of eyebrows, was
naturally impressive, and would, perhaps, have been rather stern,
had not the gentleman considerately taken upon himself to
mitigate the harsh effect by a look of exceeding good-humor and
benevolence. Owing, however, to a somewhat massive accumulation
of animal substance about the lower region of his face, the look
was, perhaps, unctuous rather than spiritual, and had, so to speak,
a kind of fleshly effulgence, not altogether so satisfactory as he
doubtless intended it to be. A susceptible observer, at any rate,
might have regarded it as affording very little evidence of the
general benignity of soul whereof it purported to be the outward
reflection. And if the observer chanced to be ill-natured, as well
as acute and susceptible, he would probably suspect that the smile
on the gentleman's face was a good deal akin to the shine on his
boots, and that each must have cost him and his boot-black,
respectively, a good deal of hard labor to bring out and
preserve them.

As the stranger entered the little shop, where the projection of
the second story and the thick foliage of the elm-tree, as well as
the commodities at the window, created a sort of gray medium, his smile
grew as intense as if he had set his heart on counteracting the whole
gloom of the atmosphere (besides any moral gloom pertaining to
Hepzibah and her inmates) by the unassisted light of his countenance.
On perceiving a young rose-bud of a girl, instead of the gaunt presence
of the old maid, a look of surprise was manifest. He at first knit his
brows; then smiled with more unctuous benignity than ever.

"Ah, I see how it is!" said he in a deep voice,--a voice which,
had it come from the throat of an uncultivated man, would have
been gruff, but, by dint of careful training, was now sufficiently
agreeable,--"I was not aware that Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon had
commenced business under such favorable auspices. You are her
assistant, I suppose?"

"I certainly am," answered Phoebe, and added, with a little air
of lady-like assumption (for, civil as the gentleman was,
he evidently took her to be a young person serving for wages),
"I am a cousin of Miss Hepzibah, on a visit to her."

"Her cousin?--and from the country? Pray pardon me, then," said
the gentleman, bowing and smiling, as Phoebe never had been
bowed to nor smiled on before; "in that case, we must be better
acquainted; for, unless I am sadly mistaken, you are my own
little kinswoman likewise! Let me see,--Mary?--Dolly?--Phoebe?
--yes, Phoebe is the name! Is it possible that you are Phoebe
Pyncheon, only child of my dear cousin and classmate, Arthur?
Ah, I see your father now, about your mouth! Yes, yes! we must
be better acquainted! I am your kinsman, my dear. Surely you must
have heard of Judge Pyncheon?"

As Phoebe curtsied in reply, the Judge bent forward, with the
pardonable and even praiseworthy purpose--considering the
nearness of blood and the difference of age--of bestowing on his
young relative a kiss of acknowledged kindred and natural
affection. Unfortunately (without design, or only with such
instinctive design as gives no account of itself to the intellect)
Phoebe, just at the critical moment, drew back; so that her highly
respectable kinsman, with his body bent over the counter and his
lips protruded, was betrayed into the rather absurd predicament
of kissing the empty air. It was a modern parallel to the case of
Ixion embracing a cloud, and was so much the more ridiculous
as the Judge prided himself on eschewing all airy matter, and
never mistaking a shadow for a substance. The truth was,--and it
is Phoebe's only excuse,--that, although Judge Pyncheon's
glowing benignity might not be absolutely unpleasant to the
feminine beholder, with the width of a street, or even an
ordinary-sized room, interposed between, yet it became quite
too intense, when this dark, full-fed physiognomy (so roughly
bearded, too, that no razor could ever make it smooth) sought to
bring itself into actual contact with the object of its regards.
The man, the sex, somehow or other, was entirely too prominent in
the Judge's demonstrations of that sort. Phoebe's eyes sank, and,
without knowing why, she felt herself blushing deeply under his
look. Yet she had been kissed before, and without any particular
squeamishness, by perhaps half a dozen different cousins, younger
as well as older than this dark-browned, grisly-bearded,
white-neck-clothed, and unctuously-benevolent Judge! Then, why
not by him?

On raising her eyes, Phoebe was startled by the change in Judge
Pyncheon's face. It was quite as striking, allowing for the
difference of scale, as that betwixt a landscape under a broad
sunshine and just before a thunder-storm; not that it had the
passionate intensity of the latter aspect, but was cold, hard,
immitigable, like a day-long brooding cloud.

"Dear me! what is to be done now?" thought the country-girl to
herself." He looks as if there were nothing softer in him than
a rock, nor milder than the east wind! I meant no harm! Since he
is really my cousin, I would have let him kiss me, if I could!"

Then, all at once, it struck Phoebe that this very Judge Pyncheon
was the original of the miniature which the daguerreotypist had
shown her in the garden, and that the hard, stern, relentless look,
now on his face, was the same that the sun had so inflexibly
persisted in bringing out. Was it, therefore, no momentary mood,
but, however skilfully concealed, the settled temper of his life?
And not merely so, but was it hereditary in him, and transmitted
down, as a precious heirloom, from that bearded ancestor, in
whose picture both the expression and, to a singular degree, the
features of the modern Judge were shown as by a kind of prophecy?
A deeper philosopher than Phoebe might have found something very
terrible in this idea. It implied that the weaknesses and defects,
the bad passions, the mean tendencies, and the moral diseases which
lead to crime are handed down from one generation to another, by a
far surer process of transmission than human law has been able to
establish in respect to the riches and honors which it seeks to
entail upon posterity.

But, as it happened, scarcely had Phoebe's eyes rested again on
the Judge's countenance than all its ugly sternness vanished; and
she found herself quite overpowered by the sultry, dog-day heat,
as it were, of benevolence, which this excellent man diffused out
of his great heart into the surrounding atmosphere,--very much
like a serpent, which, as a preliminary to fascination, is said
to fill the air with his peculiar odor.

"I like that, Cousin Phoebe!" cried he, with an emphatic nod of
approbation. "I like it much, my little cousin! You are a good
child, and know how to take care of yourself. A young
girl--especially if she be a very pretty one--can never be too
chary of her lips."

"Indeed, sir," said Phoebe, trying to laugh the matter off, "I did
not mean to be unkind."

Nevertheless, whether or no it were entirely owing to the
inauspicious commencement of their acquaintance, she still acted
under a certain reserve, which was by no means customary to her
frank and genial nature. The fantasy would not quit her, that the
original Puritan, of whom she had heard so many sombre traditions,
--the progenitor of the whole race of New England Pyncheons, the
founder of the House of the Seven Gables, and who had died so
strangely in it,--had now stept into the shop. In these days of
off-hand equipment, the matter was easily enough arranged. On his
arrival from the other world, he had merely found it necessary to
spend a quarter of an hour at a barber's, who had trimmed down the
Puritan's full beard into a pair of grizzled whiskers, then,
patronizing a ready-made clothing establishment, he had exchanged
his velvet doublet and sable cloak, with the richly worked band
under his chin, for a white collar and cravat, coat, vest, and
pantaloons; and lastly, putting aside his steel-hilted broadsword
to take up a gold-headed cane, the Colonel Pyncheon of two centuries
ago steps forward as the Judge of the passing moment!

Of course, Phoebe was far too sensible a girl to entertain this
idea in any other way than as matter for a smile. Possibly, also,
could the two personages have stood together before her eye,
many points of difference would have been perceptible, and perhaps
only a general resemblance. The long lapse of intervening years,
in a climate so unlike that which had fostered the ancestral
Englishman, must inevitably have wrought important changes in
the physical system of his descendant. The Judge's volume of
muscle could hardly be the same as the Colonel's; there was
undoubtedly less beef in him. Though looked upon as a weighty
man among his contemporaries in respect of animal substance,
and as favored with a remarkable degree of fundamental development,
well adapting him for the judicial bench, we conceive that the
modern Judge Pyncheon, if weighed in the same balance with his
ancestor, would have required at least an old-fashioned fifty-six
to keep the scale in equilibrio. Then the Judge's face had lost
the ruddy English hue that showed its warmth through all the
duskiness of the Colonel's weather-beaten cheek, and had taken
a sallow shade, the established complexion of his countrymen.
If we mistake not, moreover, a certain quality of nervousness
had become more or less manifest, even in so solid a specimen
of Puritan descent as the gentleman now under discussion.
As one of its effects, it bestowed on his countenance a quicker
mobility than the old Englishman's had possessed, and keener
vivacity, but at the expense of a sturdier something, on which
these acute endowments seemed to act like dissolving acids.
This process, for aught we know, may belong to the great system
of human progress, which, with every ascending footstep, as it
diminishes the necessity for animal force, may be destined
gradually to spiritualize us, by refining away our grosser
attributes of body. If so, Judge Pyncheon could endure a century
or two more of such refinement as well as most other men.

The similarity, intellectual and moral, between the Judge and
his ancestor appears to have been at least as strong as the
resemblance of mien and feature would afford reason to anticipate.
In old Colonel Pyncheon's funeral discourse the clergyman absolutely
canonized his deceased parishioner, and opening, as it were, a vista
through the roof of the church, and thence through the firmament
above, showed him seated, harp in hand, among the crowned choristers
of the spiritual world. On his tombstone, too, the record is highly
eulogistic; nor does history, so far as he holds a place upon its page,
assail the consistency and uprightness of his character. So also,
as regards the Judge Pyncheon of to-day, neither clergyman, nor legal
critic, nor inscriber of tombstones, nor historian of general or local
politics, would venture a word against this eminent person's sincerity
as a Christian, or respectability as a man, or integrity as a judge,
or courage and faithfulness as the often-tried representative of his
political party. But, besides these cold, formal, and empty words
of the chisel that inscribes, the voice that speaks, and the pen that
writes, for the public eye and for distant time,--and which inevitably
lose much of their truth and freedom by the fatal consciousness of so
doing,--there were traditions about the ancestor, and private diurnal
gossip about the Judge, remarkably accordant in their testimony.
It is often instructive to take the woman's, the private and domestic,
view of a public man; nor can anything be more curious than the
vast discrepancy between portraits intended for engraving and the
pencil-sketches that pass from hand to hand behind the original's back.

For example: tradition affirmed that the Puritan had been greedy
of wealth; the Judge, too, with all the show of liberal expenditure,
was said to be as close-fisted as if his gripe were of iron. The
ancestor had clothed himself in a grim assumption of kindliness,
a rough heartiness of word and manner, which most people took to be
the genuine warmth of nature, making its way through the thick and
inflexible hide of a manly character. His descendant, in compliance
with the requirements of a nicer age, had etherealized this rude
benevolence into that broad benignity of smile wherewith he shone
like a noonday sun along the streets, or glowed like a household
fire in the drawing-rooms of his private acquaintance. The Puritan
--if not belied by some singular stories, murmured, even at this
day, under the narrator's breath--had fallen into certain
transgressions to which men of his great animal development,
whatever their faith or principles, must continue liable, until
they put off impurity, along with the gross earthly substance that
involves it. We must not stain our page with any contemporary
scandal, to a similar purport, that may have been whispered
against the Judge. The Puritan, again, an autocrat in his own
household, had worn out three wives, and, merely by the remorseless
weight and hardness of his character in the conjugal relation,
had sent them, one after another, broken-hearted, to their graves.
Here the parallel, in some sort, fails. The Judge had wedded but
a single wife, and lost her in the third or fourth year of their
marriage. There was a fable, however,--for such we choose to
consider it, though, not impossibly, typical of Judge Pyncheon's
marital deportment,--that the lady got her death-blow in the honeymoon,
and never smiled again, because her husband compelled her to serve him
with coffee every morning at his bedside, in token of fealty to her
liege-lord and master.

But it is too fruitful a subject, this of hereditary resemblances,
--the frequent recurrence of which, in a direct line, is truly
unaccountable, when we consider how large an accumulation of
ancestry lies behind every man at the distance of one or two
centuries. We shall only add, therefore, that the Puritan--so,
at least, says chimney-corner tradition, which often preserves
traits of character with marvellous fidelity--was bold, imperious,
relentless, crafty; laying his purposes deep, and following them
out with an inveteracy of pursuit that knew neither rest nor
conscience; trampling on the weak, and, when essential to his
ends, doing his utmost to beat down the strong. Whether the
Judge in any degree resembled him, the further progress of our
narrative may show.

Scarcely any of the items in the above-drawn parallel occurred
to Phoebe, whose country birth and residence, in truth, had left
her pitifully ignorant of most of the family traditions, which
lingered, like cobwebs and incrustations of smoke, about the rooms
and chimney-corners of the House of the Seven Gables. Yet there
was a circumstance, very trifling in itself, which impressed her
with an odd degree of horror. She had heard of the anathema flung
by Maule, the executed wizard, against Colonel Pyncheon and his
posterity,--that God would give them blood to drink,--and likewise
of the popular notion, that this miraculous blood might now and
then be heard gurgling in their throats. The latter scandal
--as became a person of sense, and, more especially, a member of
the Pyncheon family--Phoebe had set down for the absurdity which
it unquestionably was. But ancient superstitions, after being
steeped in human hearts and embodied in human breath, and passing
from lip to ear in manifold repetition, through a series of
generations, become imbued with an effect of homely truth.
The smoke of the domestic hearth has scented them through and
through. By long transmission among household facts, they grow
to look like them, and have such a familiar way of making themselves
at home that their influence is usually greater than we suspect.
Thus it happened, that when Phoebe heard a certain noise in Judge
Pyncheon's throat, --rather habitual with him, not altogether
voluntary, yet indicative of nothing, unless it were a slight
bronchial complaint, or, as some people hinted, an apoplectic
symptom,--when the girl heard this queer and awkward ingurgitation
(which the writer never did hear, and therefore cannot describe),
she very foolishly started, and clasped her hands.

Of course, it was exceedingly ridiculous in Phoebe to be
discomposed by such a trifle, and still more unpardonable to
show her discomposure to the individual most concerned in it.
But the incident chimed in so oddly with her previous fancies
about the Colonel and the Judge, that, for the moment, it seemed
quite to mingle their identity.

"What is the matter with you, young woman?" said Judge Pyncheon,
giving her one of his harsh looks. "Are you afraid of anything?"

"Oh, nothing" sir--nothing in the world!" answered Phoebe, with
a little laugh of vexation at herself. "But perhaps you wish to
speak with my cousin Hepzibah. Shall I call her?"

"Stay a moment, if you please," said the Judge, again beaming
sunshine out of his face. "You seem to be a little nervous this
morning. The town air, Cousin Phoebe, does not agree with your
good, wholesome country habits. Or has anything happened to
disturb you?--anything remarkable in Cousin Hepzibah's family?
--An arrival, eh? I thought so! No wonder you are out of sorts,
my little cousin. To be an inmate with such a guest may well
startle an innocent young girl!"

"You quite puzzle me, sir," replied Phoebe, gazing inquiringly at
the Judge. "There is no frightful guest in the house, but only a
poor, gentle, childlike man, whom I believe to be Cousin Hepzibah's
brother. I am afraid (but you, sir, will know better than I) that
he is not quite in his sound senses; but so mild and quiet he
seems to be, that a mother might trust her baby with him; and
I think he would play with the baby as if he were only a few
years older than itself. He startle me!--Oh, no indeed!"

"I rejoice to hear so favorable and so ingenuous an account of
my cousin Clifford," said the benevolent Judge. "Many years ago,
when we were boys and young men together, I had a great affection
for him, and still feel a tender interest in all his concerns.
You say, Cousin Phoebe, he appears to be weak minded. Heaven
grant him at least enough of intellect to repent of his past sins!"

"Nobody, I fancy," observed Phoebe, "can have fewer to repent of."

"And is it possible, my dear" rejoined the Judge, with a
commiserating look," that you have never heard of Clifford
Pyncheon?--that you know nothing of his history? Well, it is all
right; and your mother has shown a very proper regard for the good
name of the family with which she connected herself. Believe
the best you can of this unfortunate person, and hope the best!
It is a rule which Christians should always follow, in their
judgments of one another; and especially is it right and wise
among near relatives, whose characters have necessarily a degree
of mutual dependence. But is Clifford in the parlor? I will just
step in and see."

"Perhaps, sir, I had better call my cousin Hepzibah," said Phoebe;
hardly knowing, however, whether she ought to obstruct the entrance
of so affectionate a kinsman into the private regions of the house.
"Her brother seemed to be just falling asleep after breakfast; and
I am sure she would not like him to be disturbed. Pray, sir, let
me give her notice!"

But the Judge showed a singular determination to enter unannounced;
and as Phoebe, with the vivacity of a person whose movements
unconsciously answer to her thoughts, had stepped towards the door,
he used little or no ceremony in putting her aside.

"No, no, Miss Phoebe!" said Judge Pyncheon in a voice as deep
as a thunder-growl, and with a frown as black as the cloud
whence it issues." Stay you here! I know the house, and know
my cousin Hepzibah, and know her brother Clifford likewise.--nor
need my little country cousin put herself to the trouble of
announcing me!"--in these latter words, by the bye, there were
symptoms of a change from his sudden harshness into his
previous benignity of manner. "I am at home here, Phoebe, you
must recollect, and you are the stranger. I will just step in,
therefore, and see for myself how Clifford is, and assure him and
Hepzibah of my kindly feelings and best wishes. It is right, at
this juncture, that they should both hear from my own lips how
much I desire to serve them. Ha! here is Hepzibah herself!"

Such was the case. The vibrations of the Judge's voice had
reached the old gentlewoman in the parlor, where she sat, with
face averted, waiting on her brother's slumber. She now issued
forth, as would appear, to defend the entrance, looking, we must
needs say, amazingly like the dragon which, in fairy tales, is
wont to be the guardian over an enchanted beauty. The habitual
scowl of her brow was undeniably too fierce, at this moment, to
pass itself off on the innocent score of near-sightedness; and it
was bent on Judge Pyncheon in a way that seemed to confound, if not
alarm him, so inadequately had he estimated the moral force of a
deeply grounded antipathy. She made a repelling gesture with her
hand, and stood a perfect picture of prohibition, at full length,
in the dark frame of the doorway. But we must betray Hepzibah's
secret, and confess that the native timorousness of her character
even now developed itself in a quick tremor, which, to her own
perception, set each of her joints at variance with its fellows.

Possibly, the Judge was aware how little true hardihood lay behind
Hepzibah's formidable front. At any rate, being a gentleman of
steady nerves, he soon recovered himself, and failed not to approach
his cousin with outstretched hand; adopting the sensible precaution,
however, to cover his advance with a smile, so broad and sultry, that,
had it been only half as warm as it looked, a trellis of grapes might
at once have turned purple under its summer-like exposure. It may
have been his purpose, indeed, to melt poor Hepzibah on the spot,
as if she were a figure of yellow wax.

"Hepzibah, my beloved cousin, I am rejoiced!" exclaimed the Judge
most emphatically. "Now, at length, you have something to live for.
Yes, and all of us, let me say, your friends and kindred, have more
to live for than we had yesterday. I have lost no time in hastening
to offer any assistance in my power towards making Clifford comfortable.
He belongs to us all. I know how much he requires,--how much he used
to require,--with his delicate taste, and his love of the beautiful.
Anything in my house, --pictures, books, wine, luxuries of the table,
--he may command them all! It would afford me most heartfelt
gratification to see him! Shall I step in, this moment?"

"No," replied Hepzibah, her voice quivering too painfully to allow
of many words. "He cannot see visitors!"

"A visitor, my dear cousin!--do you call me so?" cried the Judge,
whose sensibility, it seems, was hurt by the coldness of the phrase.
"Nay, then, let me be Clifford's host, and your own likewise.
Come at once to my house. The country air, and all the conveniences,
--I may say luxuries,--that I have gathered about me, will do wonders
for him. And you and I, dear Hepzibah, will consult together,
and watch together, and labor together, to make our dear Clifford
happy. Come! why should we make more words about what is both a
duty and a pleasure on my part? Come to me at once!"

On hearing these so hospitable offers, and such generous
recognition of the claims of kindred, Phoebe felt very much in
the mood of running up to Judge Pyncheon, and giving him, of
her own accord, the kiss from which she had so recently shrunk
away. It was quite otherwise with Hepzibah; the Judge's smile
seemed to operate on her acerbity of heart like sunshine upon
vinegar, making it ten times sourer than ever.

"Clifford," said she,--still too agitated to utter more than an
abrupt sentence,--"Clifford has a home here!"

"May Heaven forgive you, Hepzibah," said Judge Pyncheon,
--reverently lifting his eyes towards that high court of equity
to which he appealed,--"if you suffer any ancient prejudice or
animosity to weigh with you in this matter. I stand here with an
open heart, willing and anxious to receive yourself and Clifford
into it. Do not refuse my good offices,--my earnest propositions
for your welfare! They are such, in all respects, as it behooves
your nearest kinsman to make. It will be a heavy responsibility,
cousin, if you confine your brother to this dismal house and
stifled air, when the delightful freedom of my country-seat is
at his command."

"It would never suit Clifford," said Hepzibah, as briefly as before.

"Woman!" broke forth the Judge, giving way to his resentment, "what
is the meaning of all this? Have you other resources? Nay, I suspected
as much! Take care, Hepzibah, take care! Clifford is on the brink of
as black a ruin as ever befell him yet! But why do I talk with you,
woman as you are? Make way!--I must see Clifford!"

Hepzibah spread out her gaunt figure across the door, and seemed
really to increase in bulk; looking the more terrible, also, because
there was so much terror and agitation in her heart. But Judge
Pyncheon's evident purpose of forcing a passage was interrupted
by a voice from the inner room; a weak, tremulous, wailing voice,
indicating helpless alarm, with no more energy for self-defence
than belongs to a frightened infant.

"Hepzibah, Hepzibah!" cried the voice; "go down on your knees
to him! Kiss his feet! Entreat him not to come in! Oh, let him
have mercy on me! Mercy! mercy!"

For the instant, it appeared doubtful whether it were not the
Judge's resolute purpose to set Hepzibah aside, and step across
the threshold into the parlor, whence issued that broken and
miserable murmur of entreaty. It was not pity that restrained him,
for, at the first sound of the enfeebled voice, a red fire kindled
in his eyes, and he made a quick pace forward, with something
inexpressibly fierce and grim darkening forth, as it were, out of
the whole man. To know Judge Pyncheon was to see him at that moment.
After such a revelation, let him smile with what sultriness he would,
he could much sooner turn grapes purple, or pumpkins yellow, than
melt the iron-branded impression out of the beholder's memory. And
it rendered his aspect not the less, but more frightful, that it
seemed not to express wrath or hatred, but a certain hot fellness
of purpose, which annihilated everything but itself.

Yet, after all, are we not slandering an excellent and amiable man?
Look at the Judge now! He is apparently conscious of having erred,
in too energetically pressing his deeds of loving-kindness on persons
unable to appreciate them. He will await their better mood, and hold
himself as ready to assist them then as at this moment. As he draws
back from the door, an all-comprehensive benignity blazes from his
visage, indicating that he gathers Hepzibah, little Phoebe, and
the invisible Clifford, all three, together with the whole world
besides, into his immense heart, and gives them a warm bath in its
flood of affection.

"You do me great wrong, dear Cousin Hepzibah!" said he, first
kindly offering her his hand, and then drawing on his glove
preparatory to departure. "Very great wrong! But I forgive it,
and will study to make you think better of me. Of course, our
poor Clifford being in so unhappy a state of mind, I cannot think
of urging an interview at present. But I shall watch over his
welfare as if he were my own beloved brother; nor do I at all
despair, my dear cousin, of constraining both him and you to
acknowledge your injustice. When that shall happen, I desire no
other revenge than your acceptance of the best offices in my power
to do you."

With a bow to Hepzibah, and a degree of paternal benevolence
in his parting nod to Phoebe, the Judge left the shop, and went
smiling along the street. As is customary with the rich, when
they aim at the honors of a republic, he apologized, as it were,
to the people, for his wealth, prosperity, and elevated station,
by a free and hearty manner towards those who knew him; putting
off the more of his dignity in due proportion with the humbleness
of the man whom he saluted, and thereby proving a haughty
consciousness of his advantages as irrefragably as if he had
marched forth preceded by a troop of lackeys to clear the way.
On this particular forenoon, so excessive was the warmth of Judge
Pyncheon's kindly aspect, that (such, at least, was the rumor
about town) an extra passage of the water-carts was found essential,
in order to lay the dust occasioned by so much extra sunshine!

No sooner had he disappeared than Hepzibah grew deadly white,
and, staggering towards Phoebe, let her head fall on the young
girl's shoulder.

"O Phoebe!" murmured she, "that man has been the horror of my
life! Shall I never, never have the courage,--will my voice never
cease from trembling long enough to let me tell him what he is?"

"Is he so very wicked?" asked Phoebe. "Yet his offers were
surely kind!"

"Do not speak of them,--he has a heart of iron!" rejoined Hepzibah.
"Go, now, and talk to Clifford! Amuse and keep him quiet! It would
disturb him wretchedly to see me so agitated as I am. There, go,
dear child, and I will try to look after the shop."

Phoebe went accordingly, but perplexed herself, meanwhile, with
queries as to the purport of the scene which she had just witnessed,
and also whether judges, clergymen, and other characters of that
eminent stamp and respectability, could really, in any single
instance, be otherwise than just and upright men. A doubt of this
nature has a most disturbing influence, and, if shown to be a fact,
comes with fearful and startling effect on minds of the trim, orderly,
and limit-loving class, in which we find our little country-girl.
Dispositions more boldly speculative may derive a stern enjoyment
from the discovery, since there must be evil in the world, that a
high man is as likely to grasp his share of it as a low one. A wider
scope of view, and a deeper insight, may see rank, dignity, and
station, all proved illusory, so far as regards their claim to human
reverence, and yet not feel as if the universe were thereby tumbled
headlong into chaos. But Phoebe, in order to keep the universe in its
old place, was fain to smother, in some degree, her own intuitions
as to Judge Pyncheon's character. And as for her cousin's testimony
in disparagement of it, she concluded that Hepzibah's judgment
was embittered by one of those family feuds which render hatred
the more deadly by the dead and corrupted love that they
intermingle with its native poison.

 

 

IX Clifford and Phoebe

 

TRULY was there something high, generous, and noble in the
native composition of our poor old Hepzibah! Or else,--and it
was quite as probably the case,--she had been enriched by
poverty, developed by sorrow, elevated by the strong and solitary
affection of her life, and thus endowed with heroism, which
never could have characterized her in what are called happier
circumstances. Through dreary years Hepzibah had looked
forward--for the most part despairingly, never with any
confidence of hope, but always with the feeling that it was her
brightest possibility--to the very position in which she now found
herself. In her own behalf, she had asked nothing of Providence
but the opportunity of devoting herself to this brother, whom she
had so loved,--so admired for what he was, or might have been,
--and to whom she had kept her faith, alone of all the world,
wholly, unfalteringly, at every instant, and throughout life.
And here, in his late decline, the lost one had come back out of
his long and strange misfortune, and was thrown on her sympathy,
as it seemed, not merely for the bread of his physical existence,
but for everything that should keep him morally alive. She had
responded to the call. She had come forward,--our poor, gaunt
Hepzibah, in her rusty silks, with her rigid joints, and the
sad perversity of her scowl,-- ready to do her utmost; and with
affection enough, if that were all, to do a hundred times as much!
There could be few more tearful sights,--and Heaven forgive us
if a smile insist on mingling with our conception of it!--few
sights with truer pathos in them, than Hepzibah presented on that
first afternoon.

How patiently did she endeavor to wrap Clifford up in her great,
warm love, and make it all the world to him, so that he should
retain no torturing sense of the coldness and dreariness without!
Her little efforts to amuse him! How pitiful, yet magnanimous,
they were!

Remembering his early love of poetry and fiction, she unlocked
a bookcase, and took down several books that had been excellent
reading in their day. There was a volume of Pope, with the Rape
of the Lock in it, and another of the Tatler, and an odd one of
Dryden's Miscellanies, all with tarnished gilding on their covers,
and thoughts of tarnished brilliancy inside. They had no success
with Clifford. These, and all such writers of society, whose new
works glow like the rich texture of a just-woven carpet, must be
content to relinquish their charm, for every reader, after an age
or two, and could hardly be supposed to retain any portion of it
for a mind that had utterly lost its estimate of modes and
manners. Hepzibah then took up Rasselas, and began to read of
the Happy Valley, with a vague idea that some secret of a contented
life had there been elaborated, which might at least serve
Clifford and herself for this one day. But the Happy Valley
had a cloud over it. Hepzibah troubled her auditor, moreover, by
innumerable sins of emphasis, which he seemed to detect, without
any reference to the meaning; nor, in fact, did he appear to take
much note of the sense of what she read, but evidently felt the
tedium of the lecture, without harvesting its profit. His sister's
voice, too, naturally harsh, had, in the course of her sorrowful
lifetime, contracted a kind of croak, which, when it once gets
into the human throat, is as ineradicable as sin. In both sexes,
occasionally, this lifelong croak, accompanying each word of joy
or sorrow, is one of the symptoms of a settled melancholy; and
wherever it occurs, the whole history of misfortune is conveyed
in its slightest accent. The effect is as if the voice had been
dyed black; or,--if we must use a more moderate simile,--this
miserable croak, running through all the variations of the voice,
is like a black silken thread, on which the crystal beads of speech
are strung, and whence they take their hue. Such voices have put
on mourning for dead hopes; and they ought to die and be buried
along with them!

Discerning that Clifford was not gladdened by her efforts,
Hepzibah searched about the house for the means of more exhilarating
pastime. At one time, her eyes chanced to rest on Alice Pyncheon's
harpsichord. It was a moment of great peril; for,--despite the
traditionary awe that had gathered over this instrument of music,
and the dirges which spiritual fingers were said to play on it,--the
devoted sister had solemn thoughts of thrumming on its chords for
Clifford's benefit, and accompanying the performance with her voice.
Poor Clifford! Poor Hepzibah! Poor harpsichord! All three would have
been miserable together. By some good agency,--possibly, by the
unrecognized interposition of the long-buried Alice herself,--the
threatening calamity was averted.

But the worst of all--the hardest stroke of fate for Hepzibah to
endure, and perhaps for Clifford, too was his invincible distaste
for her appearance. Her features, never the most agreeable, and
now harsh with age and grief, and resentment against the world for
his sake; her dress, and especially her turban; the queer and quaint
manners, which had unconsciously grown upon her in solitude,--such
being the poor gentlewoman's outward characteristics, it is no great
marvel, although the mournfullest of pities, that the instinctive
lover of the Beautiful was fain to turn away his eyes. There was no
help for it. It would be the latest impulse to die within him. In
his last extremity, the expiring breath stealing faintly through
Clifford's lips, he would doubtless press Hepzibah's hand, in
fervent recognition of all her lavished love, and close his eyes,
--but not so much to die, as to be constrained to look no longer
on her face! Poor Hepzibah! She took counsel with herself what
might be done, and thought of putting ribbons on her turban; but,
by the instant rush of several guardian angels, was withheld from
an experiment that could hardly have proved less than fatal to
the beloved object of her anxiety.

To be brief, besides Hepzibah's disadvantages of person, there
was an uncouthness pervading all her deeds; a clumsy something,
that could but ill adapt itself for use, and not at all for ornament.
She was a grief to Clifford, and she knew it. In this extremity,
the antiquated virgin turned to Phoebe. No grovelling jealousy
was in her heart. Had it pleased Heaven to crown the heroic
fidelity of her life by making her personally the medium of
Clifford's happiness, it would have rewarded her for all the past,
by a joy with no bright tints, indeed, but deep and true, and
worth a thousand gayer ecstasies. This could not be. She
therefore turned to Phoebe, and resigned the task into the young
girl's hands. The latter took it up cheerfully, as she did
everything, but with no sense of a mission to perform, and
succeeding all the better for that same simplicity.

By the involuntary effect of a genial temperament, Phoebe soon
grew to be absolutely essential to the daily comfort, if not the
daily life, of her two forlorn companions. The grime and
sordidness of the House of the Seven Gables seemed to have
vanished since her appearance there; the gnawing tooth of the
dry-rot was stayed among the old timbers of its skeleton frame;
the dust had ceased to settle down so densely, from the antique
ceilings, upon the floors and furniture of the rooms below,--or,
at any rate, there was a little housewife, as light-footed as the
breeze that sweeps a garden walk, gliding hither and thither to
brush it all away. The shadows of gloomy events that haunted
the else lonely and desolate apartments; the heavy, breathless
scent which death had left in more than one of the bedchambers,
ever since his visits of long ago,--these were less powerful than
the purifying influence scattered throughout the atmosphere of the
household by the presence of one youthful, fresh, and thoroughly
wholesome heart. There was no morbidness in Phoebe; if there
had been, the old Pyncheon House was the very locality to ripen
it into incurable disease. But now her spirit resembled, in its
potency, a minute quantity of ottar of rose in one of Hepzibah's
huge, iron-bound trunks, diffusing its fragrance through the
various articles of linen and wrought-lace, kerchiefs, caps,
stockings, folded dresses, gloves, and whatever else was treasured
there. As every article in the great trunk was the sweeter for the
rose-scent, so did all the thoughts and emotions of Hepzibah and
Clifford, sombre as they might seem, acquire a subtle attribute of
happiness from Phoebe's intermixture with them. Her activity of
body, intellect, and heart impelled her continually to perform the
ordinary little toils that offered themselves around her, and to
think the thought proper for the moment, and to sympathize,--now
with the twittering gayety of the robins in the pear-tree, and now
to such a depth as she could with Hepzibah's dark anxiety, or the
vague moan of her brother. This facile adaptation was at once the
symptom of perfect health and its best preservative.

A nature like Phoebe's has invariably its due influence, but is
seldom regarded with due honor. Its spiritual force, however, may
be partially estimated by the fact of her having found a place for
herself, amid circumstances so stern as those which surrounded
the mistress of the house; and also by the effect which she
produced on a character of so much more mass than her own. For
the gaunt, bony frame and limbs of Hepzibah, as compared with
the tiny lightsomeness of Phoebe's figure, were perhaps in some
fit proportion with the moral weight and substance, respectively,
of the woman and the girl.

To the guest,--to Hepzibah's brother,--or Cousin Clifford, as
Phoebe now began to call him,--she was especially necessary.
Not that he could ever be said to converse with her, or often
manifest, in any other very definite mode, his sense of a charm
in her society. But if she were a long while absent he became
pettish and nervously restless, pacing the room to and fro with
the uncertainty that characterized all his movements; or else
would sit broodingly in his great chair, resting his head on his
hands, and evincing life only by an electric sparkle of ill-humor,
whenever Hepzibah endeavored to arouse him. Phoebe's presence,
and the contiguity of her fresh life to his blighted one, was usually
all that he required. Indeed, such was the native gush and play
of her spirit, that she was seldom perfectly quiet and
undemonstrative, any more than a fountain ever ceases to dimple
and warble with its flow. She possessed the gift of song, and
that, too, so naturally, that you would as little think of inquiring
whence she had caught it, or what master had taught her, as of
asking the same questions about a bird, in whose small strain of
music we recognize the voice of the Creator as distinctly as in
the loudest accents of his thunder. So long as Phoebe sang, she
might stray at her own will about the house. Clifford was
content, whether the sweet, airy homeliness of her tones came
down from the upper chambers, or along the passageway from
the shop, or was sprinkled through the foliage of the pear-tree,
inward from the garden, with the twinkling sunbeams. He would
sit quietly, with a gentle pleasure gleaming over his face,
brighter now, and now a little dimmer, as the song happened to
float near him, or was more remotely heard. It pleased him best,
however, when she sat on a low footstool at his knee.

It is perhaps remarkable, considering her temperament, that
Phoebe oftener chose a strain of pathos than of gayety. But the
young and happy are not ill pleased to temper their life with a
transparent shadow. The deepest pathos of Phoebe's voice and
song, moreover, came sifted through the golden texture of a
cheery spirit, and was somehow so interfused with the quality
thence acquired, that one's heart felt all the lighter for having
wept at it. Broad mirth, in the sacred presence of dark
misfortune, would have jarred harshly and irreverently with the
solemn symphony that rolled its undertone through Hepzibah's
and her brother's life. Therefore, it was well that Phoebe so
often chose sad themes, and not amiss that they ceased to be so
sad while she was singing them.

Becoming habituated to her companionship, Clifford readily
showed how capable of imbibing pleasant tints and gleams of
cheerful light from all quarters his nature must originally have
been. He grew youthful while she sat by him. A beauty,--not
precisely real, even in its utmost manifestation, and which a
painter would have watched long to seize and fix upon his canvas,
and, after all, in vain,--beauty, nevertheless, that was not a
mere dream, would sometimes play upon and illuminate his face.
It did more than to illuminate; it transfigured him with an
expression that could only be interpreted as the glow of an
exquisite and happy spirit. That gray hair, and those furrows,
--with their record of infinite sorrow so deeply written across
his brow, and so compressed, as with a futile effort to crowd
in all the tale, that the whole inscription was made illegible,
--these, for the moment, vanished. An eye at once tender and
acute might have beheld in the man some shadow of what he was
meant to be. Anon, as age came stealing, like a sad twilight,
back over his figure, you would have felt tempted to hold an
argument with Destiny, and affirm, that either this being
should not have been made mortal, or mortal existence should
have been tempered to his qualities. There seemed no necessity
for his having drawn breath at all; the world never wanted him;
but, as he had breathed, it ought always to have been the
balmiest of summer air. The same perplexity will invariably haunt
us with regard to natures that tend to feed exclusively upon the
Beautiful, let their earthly fate be as lenient as it may.

Phoebe, it is probable, had but a very imperfect comprehension
of the character over which she had thrown so beneficent a spell.
Nor was it necessary. The fire upon the hearth can gladden a
whole semicircle of faces round about it, but need not know the
individuality of one among them all. Indeed, there was something
too fine and delicate in Clifford's traits to be perfectly
appreciated by one whose sphere lay so much in the Actual as
Phoebe's did. For Clifford, however, the reality, and simplicity,
and thorough homeliness of the girl's nature were as powerful a
charm as any that she possessed. Beauty, it is true, and beauty
almost perfect in its own style, was indispensable. Had Phoebe
been coarse in feature, shaped clumsily, of a harsh voice, and
uncouthly mannered, she might have been rich with all good gifts,
beneath this unfortunate exterior, and still, so long as she
wore the guise of woman, she would have shocked Clifford, and
depressed him by her lack of beauty. But nothing more beautiful
--nothing prettier, at least--was ever made than Phoebe. And,
therefore, to this man,--whose whole poor and impalpable enjoyment
of existence heretofore, and until both his heart and fancy died
within him, had been a dream,--whose images of women had more and
more lost their warmth and substance, and been frozen, like the
pictures of secluded artists, into the chillest ideality,--to him,
this little figure of the cheeriest household life was just what
he required to bring him back into the breathing world. Persons
who have wandered, or been expelled, out of the common track of
things, even were it for a better system, desire nothing so much
as to be led back. They shiver in their loneliness, be it on a
mountain-top or in a dungeon. Now, Phoebe's presence made a home
about her,--that very sphere which the outcast, the prisoner, the
potentate,--the wretch beneath mankind, the wretch aside from it,
or the wretch above it, --instinctively pines after,--a home! She
was real! Holding her hand, you felt something; a tender something;
a substance, and a warm one: and so long as you should feel its
grasp, soft as it was, you might be certain that your place was good
in the whole sympathetic chain of human nature. The world was no
longer a delusion.

By looking a little further in this direction, we might suggest an
explanation of an often-suggested mystery. Why are poets so apt
to choose their mates, not for any similarity of poetic endowment,
but for qualities which might make the happiness of the rudest
handicraftsman as well as that of the ideal craftsman of the spirit?
Because, probably, at his highest elevation, the poet needs no human
intercourse; but he finds it dreary to descend, and be a stranger.

There was something very beautiful in the relation that grew up
between this pair, so closely and constantly linked together, yet
with such a waste of gloomy and mysterious years from his birthday
to hers. On Clifford's part it was the feeling of a man naturally
endowed with the liveliest sensibility to feminine influence, but
who had never quaffed the cup of passionate love, and knew that it
was now too late. He knew it, with the instinctive delicacy that
had survived his intellectual decay. Thus, his sentiment for Phoebe,
without being paternal, was not less chaste than if she had been
his daughter. He was a man, it is true, and recognized her as a
woman. She was his only representative of womankind. He took
unfailing note of every charm that appertained to her sex, and
saw the ripeness of her lips, and the virginal development of her
bosom. All her little womanly ways, budding out of her like
blossoms on a young fruit-tree, had their effect on him, and
sometimes caused his very heart to tingle with the keenest thrills
of pleasure. At such moments,--for the effect was seldom more than
momentary,--the half-torpid man would be full of harmonious life,
just as a long-silent harp is full of sound, when the musician's
fingers sweep across it. But, after all, it seemed rather a
perception, or a sympathy, than a sentiment belonging to himself
as an individual. He read Phoebe as he would a sweet and simple
story; he listened to her as if she were a verse of household
poetry, which God, in requital of his bleak and dismal lot, had
permitted some angel, that most pitied him, to warble through the
house. She was not an actual fact for him, but the interpretation
of all that he lacked on earth brought warmly home to his conception;
so that this mere symbol, or life-like picture, had almost the
comfort of reality.

But we strive in vain to put the idea into words. No adequate
expression of the beauty and profound pathos with which it
impresses us is attainable. This being, made only for happiness,
and heretofore so miserably failing to be happy,--his tendencies
so hideously thwarted, that, some unknown time ago, the delicate
springs of his character, never morally or intellectually strong,
had given way, and he was now imbecile,--this poor, forlorn
voyager from the Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a
tempestuous sea, had been flung, by the last mountain-wave of
his shipwreck, into a quiet harbor. There, as he lay more
than half lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly
rose-bud had come to his nostrils, and, as odors will, had
summoned up reminiscences or visions of all the living and
breathing beauty amid which he should have had his home. With
his native susceptibility of happy influences, he inhales the
slight, ethereal rapture into his soul, and expires!

And how did Phoebe regard Clifford? The girl's was not one of
those natures which are most attracted by what is strange and
exceptional in human character. The path which would best have
suited her was the well-worn track of ordinary life; the
companions in whom she would most have delighted were such
as one encounters at every turn. The mystery which enveloped
Clifford, so far as it affected her at all, was an annoyance,
rather than the piquant charm which many women might have found
in it. Still, her native kindliness was brought strongly into play,
not by what was darkly picturesque in his situation, nor so much,
even, by the finer graces of his character, as by the simple
appeal of a heart so forlorn as his to one so full of genuine
sympathy as hers. She gave him an affectionate regard, because
he needed so much love, and seemed to have received so little.
With a ready tact, the result of ever-active and wholesome
sensibility, she discerned what was good for him, and did it.
Whatever was morbid in his mind and experience she ignored;
and thereby kept their intercourse healthy, by the incautious,
but, as it were, heaven-directed freedom of her whole conduct.
The sick in mind, and, perhaps, in body, are rendered more darkly
and hopelessly so by the manifold reflection of their disease,
mirrored back from all quarters in the deportment of those about
them; they are compelled to inhale the poison of their own breath,
in infinite repetition. But Phoebe afforded her poor patient a
supply of purer air. She impregnated it, too, not with a wild-flower
scent, --for wildness was no trait of hers,--but with the perfume
of garden-roses, pinks, and other blossoms of much sweetness, which
nature and man have consented together in making grow from summer
to summer, and from century to century. Such a flower was Phoebe
in her relation with Clifford, and such the delight that he
inhaled from her.

Yet, it must be said, her petals sometimes drooped a little, in
consequence of the heavy atmosphere about her. She grew more
thoughtful than heretofore. Looking aside at Clifford's face,
and seeing the dim, unsatisfactory elegance and the intellect
almost quenched, she would try to inquire what had been his life.
Was he always thus? Had this veil been over him from his birth?
--this veil, under which far more of his spirit was hidden than
revealed, and through which he so imperfectly discerned the actual
world, --or was its gray texture woven of some dark calamity?
Phoebe loved no riddles, and would have been glad to escape the
perplexity of this one. Nevertheless, there was so far a good
result of her meditations on Clifford's character, that, when her
involuntary conjectures, together with the tendency of every
strange circumstance to tell its own story, had gradually taught
her the fact, it had no terrible effect upon her. Let the world
have done him what vast wrong it might, she knew Cousin Clifford
too well--or fancied so--ever to shudder at the touch of his thin,
delicate fingers.

Within a few days after the appearance of this remarkable
inmate, the routine of life had established itself with a good
deal of uniformity in the old house of our narrative. In the
morning, very shortly after breakfast, it was Clifford's custom
to fall asleep in his chair; nor, unless accidentally disturbed,
would he emerge from a dense cloud of slumber or the thinner mists
that flitted to and fro, until well towards noonday. These hours
of drowsihead were the season of the old gentlewoman's attendance
on her brother, while Phoebe took charge of the shop; an arrangement
which the public speedily understood, and evinced their decided
preference of the younger shopwoman by the multiplicity of their
calls during her administration of affairs. Dinner over, Hepzibah
took her knitting-work,--a long stocking of gray yarn, for her
brother's winter wear,--and with a sigh, and a scowl of affectionate
farewell to Clifford, and a gesture enjoining watchfulness on
Phoebe, went to take her seat behind the counter. It was now the
young girl's turn to be the nurse,--the guardian, the playmate,
--or whatever is the fitter phrase,--of the gray-haired man.

 

 

X The Pyncheon Garden

 

 

CLIFFORD, except for Phoebe's More active instigation would
ordinarily have yielded to the torpor which had crept through all
his modes of being, and which sluggishly counselled him to sit
in his morning chair till eventide. But the girl seldom failed
to propose a removal to the garden, where Uncle Venner and the
daguerreotypist had made such repairs on the roof of the ruinous
arbor, or summer-house, that it was now a sufficient shelter from
sunshine and casual showers. The hop-vine, too, had begun to
grow luxuriantly over the sides of the little edifice, and made
an interior of verdant seclusion, with innumerable peeps and
glimpses into the wider solitude of the garden.

Here, sometimes, in this green play-place of flickering light,
Phoebe read to Clifford. Her acquaintance, the artist, who
appeared to have a literary turn, had supplied her with works
of fiction, in pamphlet form,--and a few volumes of poetry, in
altogether a different style and taste from those which Hepzibah
selected for his amusement. Small thanks were due to the books,
however, if the girl's readings were in any degree more
successful than her elderly cousin's. Phoebe's voice had always
a pretty music in it, and could either enliven Clifford by its
sparkle and gayety of tone, or soothe him by a continued flow
of pebbly and brook-like cadences. But the fictions--in which
the country-girl, unused to works of that nature, often became
deeply absorbed--interested her strange auditor very little,
or not at all. Pictures of life, scenes of passion or sentiment,
wit, humor, and pathos, were all thrown away, or worse than
thrown away, on Clifford; either because he lacked an experience
by which to test their truth, or because his own griefs were a
touch-stone of reality that few feigned emotions could withstand.
When Phoebe broke into a peal of merry laughter at what she read,
he would now and then laugh for sympathy, but oftener respond with
a troubled, questioning look. If a tear--a maiden's sunshiny tear
over imaginary woe--dropped upon some melancholy page, Clifford
either took it as a token of actual calamity, or else grew
peevish, and angrily motioned her to close the volume. And
wisely too! Is not the world sad enough, in genuine earnest,
without making a pastime of mock sorrows?

With poetry it was rather better. He delighted in the swell and
subsidence of the rhythm, and the happily recurring rhyme. Nor
was Clifford incapable of feeling the sentiment of poetry,--not,
perhaps, where it was highest or deepest, but where it was most
flitting and ethereal. It was impossible to foretell in what
exquisite verse the awakening spell might lurk; but, on raising
her eyes from the page to Clifford's face, Phoebe would be made
aware, by the light breaking through it, that a more delicate
intelligence than her own had caught a lambent flame from what
she read. One glow of this kind, however, was often the
precursor of gloom for many hours afterward; because, when the
glow left him, he seemed conscious of a missing sense and
power, and groped about for them, as if a blind man should go
seeking his lost eyesight.

It pleased him more, and was better for his inward welfare, that
Phoebe should talk, and make passing occurrences vivid to his
mind by her accompanying description and remarks. The life of
the garden offered topics enough for such discourse as suited
Clifford best. He never failed to inquire what flowers had
bloomed since yesterday. His feeling for flowers was very
exquisite, and seemed not so much a taste as an emotion; he was
fond of sitting with one in his hand, intently observing it, and
looking from its petals into Phoebe's face, as if the garden flower
were the sister of the household maiden. Not merely was there
a delight in the flower's perfume, or pleasure in its beautiful
form, and the delicacy or brightness of its hue; but Clifford's
enjoyment was accompanied with a perception of life, character,
and individuality, that made him love these blossoms of the
garden, as if they were endowed with sentiment and intelligence.
This affection and sympathy for flowers is almost exclusively a
woman's trait. Men, if endowed with it by nature, soon lose,
forget, and learn to despise it, in their contact with coarser things
than flowers. Clifford, too, had long forgotten it; but found it
again now, as he slowly revived from the chill torpor of his life.

It is wonderful how many pleasant incidents continually came to
pass in that secluded garden-spot when once Phoebe had set
herself to look for them. She had seen or heard a bee there, on
the first day of her acquaintance with the place. And often,
--almost continually, indeed,--since then, the bees kept coming
thither, Heaven knows why, or by what pertinacious desire, for
far-fetched sweets, when, no doubt, there were broad clover-fields,
and all kinds of garden growth, much nearer home than this. Thither
the bees came, however, and plunged into the squash-blossoms, as if
there were no other squash-vines within a long day's flight, or as
if the soil of Hepzibah's garden gave its productions just the very
quality which these laborious little wizards wanted, in order to
impart the Hymettus odor to their whole hive of New England honey.
When Clifford heard their sunny, buzzing murmur, in the heart of
the great yellow blossoms, he looked about him with a joyful sense
of warmth, and blue sky, and green grass, and of God's free air in
the whole height from earth to heaven. After all, there need be
no question why the bees came to that one green nook in the dusty
town. God sent them thither to gladden our poor Clifford. They
brought the rich summer with them, in requital of a little honey.

When the bean-vines began to flower on the poles, there was
one particular variety which bore a vivid scarlet blossom.
The daguerreotypist had found these beans in a garret, over one
of the seven gables, treasured up in an old chest of drawers
by some horticultural Pyncheon of days gone by, who doubtless
meant to sow them the next summer, but was himself first sown
in Death's garden-ground. By way of testing whether there were
still a living germ in such ancient seeds, Holgrave had planted
some of them; and the result of his experiment was a splendid
row of bean-vines, clambering, early, to the full height of the
poles, and arraying them, from top to bottom, in a spiral
profusion of red blossoms. And, ever since the unfolding of the
first bud, a multitude of humming-birds had been attracted
thither. At times, it seemed as if for every one of the hundred
blossoms there was one of these tiniest fowls of the air,--a
thumb's bigness of burnished plumage, hovering and vibrating
about the bean-poles. It was with indescribable interest, and
even more than childish delight, that Clifford watched the
humming-birds. He used to thrust his head softly out of the
arbor to see them the better; all the while, too, motioning
Phoebe to be quiet, and snatching glimpses of the smile upon her
face, so as to heap his enjoyment up the higher with her sympathy.
He had not merely grown young;--he was a child again.

Hepzibah, whenever she happened to witness one of these fits of
miniature enthusiasm, would shake her head, with a strange
mingling of the mother and sister, and of pleasure and sadness,
in her aspect. She said that it had always been thus with Clifford
when the humming-birds came,--always, from his babyhood,--and
that his delight in them had been one of the earliest tokens by
which he showed his love for beautiful things. And it was a
wonderful coincidence, the good lady thought, that the artist
should have planted these scarlet-flowering beans--which the
humming-birds sought far and wide, and which had not grown in
the Pyncheon garden before for forty years--on the very summer
of Clifford's return.

Then would the tears stand in poor Hepzibah's eyes, or overflow
them with a too abundant gush, so that she was fain to betake
herself into some corner, lest Clifford should espy her agitation.
Indeed, all the enjoyments of this period were provocative of
tears. Coming so late as it did, it was a kind of Indian summer,
with a mist in its balmiest sunshine, and decay and death in its
gaudiest delight. The more Clifford seemed to taste the happiness
of a child, the sadder was the difference to be recognized. With
a mysterious and terrible Past, which had annihilated his memory,
and a blank Future before him, he had only this visionary and
impalpable Now, which, if you once look closely at it, is nothing.
He himself, as was perceptible by many symptoms, lay darkly behind
his pleasure, and knew it to be a baby-play, which he was to
toy and trifle with, instead of thoroughly believing. Clifford saw,
it may be, in the mirror of his deeper consciousness, that he was
an example and representative of that great class of people whom
an inexplicable Providence is continually putting at cross-purposes
with the world: breaking what seems its own promise in their
nature; withholding their proper food, and setting poison before
them for a banquet; and thus--when it might so easily, as one
would think, have been adjusted otherwise--making their existence
a strangeness, a solitude, and torment. All his life long, he had
been learning how to be wretched, as one learns a foreign
tongue; and now, with the lesson thoroughly by heart, he could
with difficulty comprehend his little airy happiness. Frequently
there was a dim shadow of doubt in his eyes. "Take my hand,
Phoebe," he would say, "and pinch it hard with your little
fingers! Give me a rose, that I may press its thorns, and prove
myself awake by the sharp touch of pain!" Evidently, he desired
this prick of a trifling anguish, in order to assure himself, by
that quality which he best knew to be real, that the garden, and
the seven weather-beaten gables, and Hepzibah's scowl, and Phoebe's
smile, were real likewise. Without this signet in his flesh, he
could have attributed no more substance to them than to the empty
confusion of imaginary scenes with which he had fed his spirit,
until even that poor sustenance was exhausted.

The author needs great faith in his reader's sympathy; else he
must hesitate to give details so minute, and incidents apparently
so trifling, as are essential to make up the idea of this
garden-life. It was the Eden of a thunder-smitten Adam, who had
fled for refuge thither out of the same dreary and perilous
wilderness into which the original Adam was expelled.

One of the available means of amusement, of which Phoebe
made the most in Clifford's behalf, was that feathered society,
the hens, a breed of whom, as we have already said, was an
immemorial heirloom in the Pyncheon family. In compliance with
a whim of Clifford, as it troubled him to see them in confinement,
they had been set at liberty, and now roamed at will about the
garden; doing some little mischief, but hindered from escape by
buildings on three sides, and the difficult peaks of a wooden
fence on the other. They spent much of their abundant leisure
on the margin of Maule's well, which was haunted by a kind of
snail, evidently a titbit to their palates; and the brackish
water itself, however nauseous to the rest of the world, was so
greatly esteemed by these fowls, that they might be seen tasting,
turning up their heads, and smacking their bills, with precisely
the air of wine-bibbers round a probationary cask. Their generally
quiet, yet often brisk, and constantly diversified talk, one to
another, or sometimes in soliloquy,--as they scratched worms out
of the rich, black soil, or pecked at such plants as suited their
taste,--had such a domestic tone, that it was almost a wonder
why you could not establish a regular interchange of ideas about
household matters, human and gallinaceous. All hens are well
worth studying for the piquancy and rich variety of their manners;
but by no possibility can there have been other fowls of such odd
appearance and deportment as these ancestral ones. They probably
embodied the traditionary peculiarities of their whole line of
progenitors, derived through an unbroken succession of eggs; or
else this individual Chanticleer and his two wives had grown to
be humorists, and a little crack-brained withal, on account of
their solitary way of life, and out of sympathy for Hepzibah,
their lady-patroness.

Queer, indeed, they looked! Chanticleer himself, though stalking
on two stilt-like legs, with the dignity of interminable descent in
all his gestures, was hardly bigger than an ordinary partridge; his
two wives were about the size of quails; and as for the one chicken,
it looked small enough to be still in the egg, and, at the same
time, sufficiently old, withered, wizened, and experienced, to have
been founder of the antiquated race. Instead of being the youngest
of the family, it rather seemed to have aggregated into itself the
ages, not only of these living specimens of the breed, but of all
its forefathers and foremothers, whose united excellences and oddities
were squeezed into its little body. Its mother evidently regarded
it as the one chicken of the world, and as necessary, in fact, to
the world's continuance, or, at any rate, to the equilibrium of the
present system of affairs, whether in church or state. No lesser
sense of the infant fowl's importance could have justified, even
in a mother's eyes, the perseverance with which she watched over
its safety, ruffling her small person to twice its proper size, and
flying in everybody's face that so much as looked towards her hopeful
progeny. No lower estimate could have vindicated the indefatigable
zeal with which she scratched, and her unscrupulousness in digging
up the choicest flower or vegetable, for the sake of the fat earthworm
at its root. Her nervous cluck, when the chicken happened to be
hidden in the long grass or under the squash-leaves; her gentle
croak of satisfaction, while sure of it beneath her wing; her note
of ill-concealed fear and obstreperous defiance, when she saw her
arch-enemy, a neighbor's cat, on the top of the high fence,--one
or other of these sounds was to be heard at almost every moment
of the day. By degrees, the observer came to feel nearly as much
interest in this chicken of illustrious race as the mother-hen did.

Phoebe, after getting well acquainted with the old hen, was
sometimes permitted to take the chicken in her hand, which was
quite capable of grasping its cubic inch or two of body. While
she curiously examined its hereditary marks,--the peculiar speckle
of its plumage, the funny tuft on its head, and a knob on each
of its legs,--the little biped, as she insisted, kept giving her a
sagacious wink. The daguerreotypist once whispered her that
these marks betokened the oddities of the Pyncheon family, and
that the chicken itself was a symbol of the life of the old house,
embodying its interpretation, likewise, although an unintelligible
one, as such clews generally are. It was a feathered riddle; a
mystery hatched out of an egg, and just as mysterious as if the
egg had been addle!

The second of Chanticleer's two wives, ever since Phoebe's
arrival, had been in a state of heavy despondency, caused, as it
afterwards appeared, by her inability to lay an egg. One day,
however, by her self-important gait, the sideways turn of her
head, and the cock of her eye, as she pried into one and another
nook of the garden,--croaking to herself, all the while, with
inexpressible complacency,--it was made evident that this
identical hen, much as mankind undervalued her, carried something
about her person the worth of which was not to be estimated either
in gold or precious stones. Shortly after, there was a prodigious
cackling and gratulation of Chanticleer and all his family, including
the wizened chicken, who appeared to understand the matter quite as
well as did his sire, his mother, or his aunt. That afternoon Phoebe
found a diminutive egg,--not in the regular nest, it was far too
precious to be trusted there,--but cunningly hidden under the
currant-bushes, on some dry stalks of last year's grass. Hepzibah,
on learning the fact, took possession of the egg and appropriated
it to Clifford's breakfast, on account of a certain delicacy of
flavor, for which, as she affirmed, these eggs had always been famous.
Thus unscrupulously did the old gentlewoman sacrifice the continuance,
perhaps, of an ancient feathered race, with no better end than to
supply her brother with a dainty that hardly filled the bowl of a
tea-spoon! It must have been in reference to this outrage that
Chanticleer, the next day, accompanied by the bereaved mother of
the egg, took his post in front of Phoebe and Clifford, and delivered
himself of a harangue that might have proved as long as his own pedigree,
but for a fit of merriment on Phoebe's part. Hereupon, the offended
fowl stalked away on his long stilts, and utterly withdrew his notice
from Phoebe and the rest of human nature, until she made her peace
with an offering of spice-cake, which, next to snails, was the
delicacy most in favor with his aristocratic taste.

We linger too long, no doubt, beside this paltry rivulet of life
that flowed through the garden of the Pyncheon House. But we deem
it pardonable to record these mean incidents and poor delights,
because they proved so greatly to Clifford's benefit. They had
the earth-smell in them, and contributed to give him health and
substance. Some of his occupations wrought less desirably upon him.
He had a singular propensity, for example, to hang over Maule's well,
and look at the constantly shifting phantasmagoria of figures produced
by the agitation of the water over the mosaic-work of colored pebbles
at the bottom. He said that faces looked upward to him there,
--beautiful faces, arrayed in bewitching smiles,--each momentary
face so fair and rosy, and every smile so sunny, that he felt
wronged at its departure, until the same flitting witchcraft made
a new one. But sometimes he would suddenly cry out, "The dark
face gazes at me!" and be miserable the whole day afterwards.
Phoebe, when she hung over the fountain by Clifford's side,
could see nothing of all this,--neither the beauty nor the
ugliness,--but only the colored pebbles, looking as if the
gush of the waters shook and disarranged them. And the dark
face, that so troubled Clifford, was no more than the shadow
thrown from a branch of one of the damson-trees, and breaking
the inner light of Maule's well. The truth was, however,
that his fancy--reviving faster than his will and judgment,
and always stronger than they--created shapes of loveliness that
were symbolic of his native character, and now and then a stern
and dreadful shape that typified his fate.

On Sundays, after Phoebe had been at church,--for the girl had
a church-going conscience, and would hardly have been at ease
had she missed either prayer, singing, sermon, or benediction,
--after church-time, therefore, there was, ordinarily, a sober
little festival in the garden. In addition to Clifford, Hepzibah,
and Phoebe, two guests made up the company. One was the artist
Holgrave, who, in spite of his consociation with reformers, and
his other queer and questionable traits, continued to hold an
elevated place in Hepzibah's regard. The other, we are almost
ashamed to say, was the venerable Uncle Venner, in a clean shirt,
and a broadcloth coat, more respectable than his ordinary wear,
inasmuch as it was neatly patched on each elbow, and might be
called an entire garment, except for a slight inequality in the
length of its skirts. Clifford, on several occasions, had seemed
to enjoy the old man's intercourse, for the sake of his mellow,
cheerful vein, which was like the sweet flavor of a frost-bitten
apple, such as one picks up under the tree in December. A man at
the very lowest point of the social scale was easier and more
agreeable for the fallen gentleman to encounter than a person at
any of the intermediate degrees; and, moreover, as Clifford's young
manhood had been lost, he was fond of feeling himself comparatively
youthful, now, in apposition with the patriarchal age of Uncle
Venner. In fact, it was sometimes observable that Clifford half
wilfully hid from himself the consciousness of being stricken in
years, and cherished visions of an earthly future still before him;
visions, however, too indistinctly drawn to be followed by
disappointment--though, doubtless, by depression--when any casual
incident or recollection made him sensible of the withered leaf.

So this oddly composed little social party used to assemble under
the ruinous arbor. Hepzibah--stately as ever at heart, and yielding
not an inch of her old gentility, but resting upon it so much the more,
as justifying a princess-like condescension--exhibited a not ungraceful
hospitality. She talked kindly to the vagrant artist, and took sage
counsel--lady as she was--with the wood-sawyer, the messenger of
everybody's petty errands, the patched philosopher. And Uncle Venner,
who had studied the world at street-corners, and other posts equally
well adapted for just observation, was as ready to give out his
wisdom as a town-pump to give water.

"Miss Hepzibah, ma'am," said he once, after they had all been
cheerful together, "I really enjoy these quiet little meetings
of a Sabbath afternoon. They are very much like what I expect
to have after I retire to my farm!"

"Uncle Venner" observed Clifford in a drowsy, inward tone, "is always
talking about his farm. But I have a better scheme for him, by and by.
We shall see!"

"Ah, Mr. Clifford Pyncheon!" said the man of patches, "you may
scheme for me as much as you please; but I'm not going to give
up this one scheme of my own, even if I never bring it really to
pass. It does seem to me that men make a wonderful mistake in
trying to heap up property upon property. If I had done so, I
should feel as if Providence was not bound to take care of me;
and, at all events, the city wouldn't be! I'm one of those people
who think that infinity is big enough for us all--and eternity
long enough."

"Why, so they are, Uncle Venner," remarked Phoebe after a pause;
for she had been trying to fathom the profundity and appositeness
of this concluding apothegm. "But for this short life of ours, one
would like a house and a moderate garden-spot of one's own."

" It appears to me," said the daguerreotypist, smiling, "that Uncle
Venner has the principles of Fourier at the bottom of his wisdom;
only they have not quite so much distinctness in his mind as in
that of the systematizing Frenchman."

"Come, Phoebe," said Hepzibah, "it is time to bring the currants."

And then, while the yellow richness of the declining sunshine
still fell into the open space of the garden, Phoebe brought out
a loaf of bread and a china bowl of currants, freshly gathered
from the bushes, and crushed with sugar. These, with water,--but
not from the fountain of ill omen, close at hand,--constituted all
the entertainment. Meanwhile, Holgrave took some pains to establish
an intercourse with Clifford, actuated, it might seem, entirely
by an impulse of kindliness, in order that the present hour
might be cheerfuller than most which the poor recluse had spent,
or was destined yet to spend. Nevertheless, in the artist's deep,
thoughtful, all-observant eyes, there was, now and then, an
expression, not sinister, but questionable; as if he had some other
interest in the scene than a stranger, a youthful and unconnected
adventurer, might be supposed to have. With great mobility of
outward mood, however, he applied himself to the task of enlivening
the party; and with so much success, that even dark-hued Hepzibah
threw off one tint of melancholy, and made what shift she could
with the remaining portion. Phoebe said to herself,--"How pleasant
he can be!" As for Uncle Venner, as a mark of friendship and
approbation, he readily consented to afford the young man his
countenance in the way of his profession,--not metaphorically,
be it understood, but literally, by allowing a daguerreotype of
his face, so familiar to the town, to be exhibited at the entrance
of Holgrave's studio.

Clifford, as the company partook of their little banquet, grew to
be the gayest of them all. Either it was one of those up-quivering
flashes of the spirit, to which minds in an abnormal state are
liable, or else the artist had subtly touched some chord that made
musical vibration. Indeed, what with the pleasant summer
evening, and the sympathy of this little circle of not unkindly
souls, it was perhaps natural that a character so susceptible as
Clifford's should become animated, and show itself readily
responsive to what was said around him. But he gave out his
own thoughts, likewise, with an airy and fanciful glow; so that
they glistened, as it were, through the arbor, and made their
escape among the interstices of the foliage. He had been as
cheerful, no doubt, while alone with Phoebe, but never with such
tokens of acute, although partial intelligence.

But, as the sunlight left the peaks of the Seven Gables, so did
the excitement fade out of Clifford's eyes. He gazed vaguely and
mournfully about him, as if he missed something precious, and missed
it the more drearily for not knowing precisely what it was.

"I want my happiness!" at last he murmured hoarsely and
indistinctly, hardly Shaping out the words. "Many, many years
have I waited for it! It is late! It is late! I want my happiness!"

Alas, poor Clifford! You are old, and worn with troubles that
ought never to have befallen you. You are partly crazy and partly
imbecile; a ruin, a failure, as almost everybody is,--though some
in less degree, or less perceptibly, than their fellows. Fate has
no happiness in store for you; unless your quiet home in the old
family residence with the faithful Hepzibah, and your long summer
afternoons with Phoebe, and these Sabbath festivals with Uncle
Venner and the daguerreotypist, deserve to be called happiness!
Why not? If not the thing itself, it is marvellously like it,
and the more so for that ethereal and intangible quality which
causes it all to vanish at too close an introspection. Take it,
therefore, while you may Murmur not,--question not,--but make
the most of it!

 

 

XI The Arched Window

 

 

FROM the inertness, or what we may term the vegetative
character, of his ordinary mood, Clifford would perhaps have
been content to spend one day after another, interminably,--or,
at least, throughout the summer-time,--in just the kind of life
described in the preceding pages. Fancying, however, that it
might be for his benefit occasionally to diversify the scene,
Phoebe sometimes suggested that he should look out upon the
life of the street. For this purpose, they used to mount the
staircase together, to the second story of the house, where, at
the termination of a wide entry, there was an arched window, of
uncommonly large dimensions, shaded by a pair of curtains. It
opened above the porch, where there had formerly been a balcony,
the balustrade of which had long since gone to decay, and been
removed. At this arched window, throwing it open, but keeping
himself in comparative obscurity by means of the curtain,
Clifford had an opportunity of witnessing such a portion of the
great world's movement as might be supposed to roll through one
of the retired streets of a not very populous city. But he and
Phoebe made a sight as well worth seeing as any that the city
could exhibit. The pale, gray, childish, aged, melancholy, yet
often simply cheerful, and sometimes delicately intelligent aspect
of Clifford, peering from behind the faded crimson of the curtain,
--watching the monotony of every-day occurrences with a kind of
inconsequential interest and earnestness, and, at every petty
throb of his sensibility, turning for sympathy to the eyes of
the bright young girl!

If once he were fairly seated at the window, even Pyncheon
Street would hardly be so dull and lonely but that, somewhere or
other along its extent, Clifford might discover matter to occupy
his eye, and titillate, if not engross, his observation. Things
familiar to the youngest child that had begun its outlook at
existence seemed strange to him. A cab; an omnibus, with its
populous interior, dropping here and there a passenger, and
picking up another, and thus typifying that vast rolling vehicle,
the world, the end of whose journey is everywhere and nowhere;
these objects he followed eagerly with his eyes, but forgot them
before the dust raised by the horses and wheels had settled along
their track. As regarded novelties (among which cabs and
omnibuses were to be reckoned), his mind appeared to have lost
its proper gripe and retentiveness. Twice or thrice, for example,
during the sunny hours of the day, a water-cart went along by
the Pyncheon House, leaving a broad wake of moistened earth,
instead of the white dust that had risen at a lady's lightest
footfall; it was like a summer shower, which the city authorities
had caught and tamed, and compelled it into the commonest
routine of their convenience. With the water-cart Clifford could
never grow familiar; it always affected him with just the same
surprise as at first. His mind took an apparently sharp impression
from it, but lost the recollection of this perambulatory shower,
before its next reappearance, as completely as did the street
itself, along which the heat so quickly strewed white dust again.
It was the same with the railroad. Clifford could hear the
obstreperous howl of the steam-devil, and, by leaning a little
way from the arched window, could catch a glimpse of the trains
of cars, flashing a brief transit across the extremity of the
street. The idea of terrible energy thus forced upon him was
new at every recurrence, and seemed to affect him as disagreeably,
and with almost as much surprise, the hundredth time as the first.

Nothing gives a sadder sense of decay than this loss or
suspension of the power to deal with unaccustomed things, and
to keep up with the swiftness of the passing moment. It can
merely be a suspended animation; for, were the power actually
to perish, there would be little use of immortality. We are less
than ghosts, for the time being, whenever this calamity befalls us.

Clifford was indeed the most inveterate of conservatives. All
the antique fashions of the street were dear to him; even such
as were characterized by a rudeness that would naturally have
annoyed his fastidious senses. He loved the old rumbling and
jolting carts, the former track of which he still found in his
long-buried remembrance, as the observer of to-day finds the
wheel-tracks of ancient vehicles in Herculaneum. The butcher's
cart, with its snowy canopy, was an acceptable object; so was
the fish-cart, heralded by its horn; so, likewise, was the
countryman's cart of vegetables, plodding from door to door,
with long pauses of the patient horse, while his owner drove a
trade in turnips, carrots, summer-squashes, string-beans, green
peas, and new potatoes, with half the housewives of the neighborhood.
The baker's cart, with the harsh music of its bells, had a pleasant
effect on Clifford, because, as few things else did, it jingled the
very dissonance of yore. One afternoon a scissor-grinder chanced
to set his wheel a-going under the Pyncheon Elm, and just in front
of the arched window. Children came running with their mothers'
scissors, or the carving-knife, or the paternal razor, or anything
else that lacked an edge (except, indeed, poor Clifford's wits),
that the grinder might apply the article to his magic wheel, and
give it back as good as new. Round went the busily revolving
machinery, kept in motion by the scissor-grinder's foot, and wore
away the hard steel against the hard stone, whence issued an intense
and spiteful prolongation of a hiss as fierce as those emitted by
Satan and his compeers in Pandemonium, though squeezed into smaller
compass. It was an ugly, little, venomous serpent of a noise,
as ever did petty violence to human ears. But Clifford listened
with rapturous delight. The sound, however disagreeable, had very
brisk life in it, and, together with the circle of curious children
watching the revolutions of the wheel, appeared to give him a more
vivid sense of active, bustling, and sunshiny existence than he had
attained in almost any other way. Nevertheless, its charm lay
chiefly in the past; for the scissor-grinder's wheel had hissed
in his childish ears.

He sometimes made doleful complaint that there were no
stage-coaches nowadays. And he asked in an injured tone what
had become of all those old square-topped chaises, with wings
sticking out on either side, that used to be drawn by a
plough-horse, and driven by a farmer's wife and daughter,
peddling whortle-berries and blackberries about the town.
Their disappearance made him doubt, he said, whether the
berries had not left off growing in the broad pastures and
along the shady country lanes.

But anything that appealed to the sense of beauty, in however
humble a way, did not require to be recommended by these old
associations. This was observable when one of those Italian boys
(who are rather a modern feature of our streets) came along with
his barrel-organ, and stopped under the wide and cool shadows
of the elm. With his quick professional eye he took note of the
two faces watching him from the arched window, and, opening his
instrument, began to scatter its melodies abroad. He had a
monkey on his shoulder, dressed in a Highland plaid; and, to
complete the sum of splendid attractions wherewith he presented
himself to the public, there was a company of little figures,
whose sphere and habitation was in the mahogany case of his
organ, and whose principle of life was the music which the Italian
made it his business to grind out. In all their variety of
occupation,--the cobbler, the blacksmith, the soldier, the lady
with her fan, the toper with his bottle, the milkmaid sitting by
her, cow--this fortunate little society might truly be said to
enjoy a harmonious existence, and to make life literally a dance.
The Italian turned a crank; and, behold! every one of these small
individuals started into the most curious vivacity. The cobbler
wrought upon a shoe; the blacksmith hammered his iron, the soldier
waved his glittering blade; the lady raised a tiny breeze with
her fan; the jolly toper swigged lustily at his bottle; a scholar
opened his book with eager thirst for knowledge, and turned his
head to and fro along the page; the milkmaid energetically drained
her cow; and a miser counted gold into his strong-box,--all at the
same turning of a crank. Yes; and, moved by the self-same impulse,
a lover saluted his mistress on her lips! Possibly some cynic,
at once merry and bitter, had desired to signify, in this
pantomimic scene, that we mortals, whatever our business or
amusement,--however serious, however trifling, --all dance to
one identical tune, and, in spite of our ridiculous activity,
bring nothing finally to pass. For the most remarkable aspect
of the affair was, that, at the cessation of the music, everybody
was petrified at once, from the most extravagant life into a dead
torpor. Neither was the cobbler's shoe finished, nor the blacksmith's
iron shaped out; nor was there a drop less of brandy in the toper's
bottle, nor a drop more of milk in the milkmaid's pail, nor one
additional coin in the miser's strong-box, nor was the scholar a
page deeper in his book. All were precisely in the same condition
as before they made themselves so ridiculous by their haste to toil,
to enjoy, to accumulate gold, and to become wise. Saddest of all,
moreover, the lover was none the happier for the maiden's granted
kiss! But, rather than swallow this last too acrid ingredient,
we reject the whole moral of the show.

The monkey, meanwhile, with a thick tail curling out into
preposterous prolixity from beneath his tartans, took his station
at the Italian's feet. He turned a wrinkled and abominable little
visage to every passer-by, and to the circle of children that soon
gathered round, and to Hepzibah's shop-door, and upward to the
arched window, whence Phoebe and Clifford were looking down.
Every moment, also, he took off his Highland bonnet, and performed
a bow and scrape. Sometimes, moreover, he made personal application
to individuals, holding out his small black palm, and otherwise
plainly signifying his excessive desire for whatever filthy
lucre might happen to be in anybody's pocket. The mean and low,
yet strangely man-like expression of his wilted countenance;
the prying and crafty glance, that showed him ready to gripe
at every miserable advantage; his enormous tail (too enormous to
be decently concealed under his gabardine), and the deviltry of
nature which it betokened,--take this monkey just as he was,
in short, and you could desire no better image of the Mammon of
copper coin, symbolizing the grossest form of the love of money.
Neither was there any possibility of satisfying the covetous
little devil. Phoebe threw down a whole handful of cents,
which he picked up with joyless eagerness, handed them over
to the Italian for safekeeping, and immediately recommenced
a series of pantomimic petitions for more.

Doubtless, more than one New-Englander--or, let him be of what
country he might, it is as likely to be the case--passed by,
and threw a look at the monkey, and went on, without imagining
how nearly his own moral condition was here exemplified. Clifford,
however, was a being of another order. He had taken childish
delight in the music, and smiled, too, at the figures which it
set in motion. But, after looking awhile at the long-tailed imp,
he was so shocked by his horrible ugliness, spiritual as well as
physical, that he actually began to shed tears; a weakness which
men of merely delicate endowments, and destitute of the fiercer,
deeper, and more tragic power of laughter, can hardly avoid,
when the worst and meanest aspect of life happens to be
presented to them.

Pyncheon Street was sometimes enlivened by spectacles of more
imposing pretensions than the above, and which brought the multitude
along with them. With a shivering repugnance at the idea of personal
contact with the world, a powerful impulse still seized on Clifford,
whenever the rush and roar of the human tide grew strongly audible
to him. This was made evident, one day, when a political procession,
with hundreds of flaunting banners, and drums, fifes, clarions,
and cymbals, reverberating between the rows of buildings, marched
all through town, and trailed its length of trampling footsteps,
and most infrequent uproar, past the ordinarily quiet House of the
Seven Gables. As a mere object of sight, nothing is more deficient
in picturesque features than a procession seen in its passage through
narrow streets. The spectator feels it to be fool's play, when he can
distinguish the tedious commonplace of each man's visage, with the
perspiration and weary self-importance on it, and the very cut of his
pantaloons, and the stiffness or laxity of his shirt-collar, and the
dust on the back of his black coat. In order to become majestic, it
should be viewed from some vantage point, as it rolls its slow and
long array through the centre of a wide plain, or the stateliest
public square of a city; for then, by its remoteness, it melts all
the petty personalities, of which it is made up, into one broad mass
of existence,--one great life,--one collected body of mankind, with
a vast, homogeneous spirit animating it. But, on the other hand,
if an impressible person, standing alone over the brink of one of
these processions, should behold it, not in its atoms, but in its
aggregate,--as a mighty river of life, massive in its tide, and
black with mystery, and, out of its depths, calling to the kindred
depth within him,--then the contiguity would add to the effect.
It might so fascinate him that he would hardly be restrained from
plunging into the surging stream of human sympathies.

So it proved with Clifford. He shuddered; he grew pale; he threw
an appealing look at Hepzibah and Phoebe, who were with him at
the window. They comprehended nothing of his emotions, and
supposed him merely disturbed by the unaccustomed tumult. At
last, with tremulous limbs, he started up, set his foot on the
window-sill, and in an instant more would have been in the
unguarded balcony. As it was, the whole procession might have
seen him, a wild, haggard figure, his gray locks floating in
the wind that waved their banners; a lonely being, estranged
from his race, but now feeling himself man again, by virtue of
the irrepressible instinct that possessed him. Had Clifford
attained the balcony, he would probably have leaped into the
street; but whether impelled by the species of terror that
sometimes urges its victim over the very precipice which he
shrinks from, or by a natural magnetism, tending towards the
great centre of humanity, it were not easy to decide. Both
impulses might have wrought on him at once.

But his companions, affrighted by his gesture,--which was that
of a man hurried away in spite of himself,--seized Clifford's
garment and held him back. Hepzibah shrieked. Phoebe, to whom
all extravagance was a horror, burst into sobs and tears.

"Clifford, Clifford! are you crazy?" cried his sister.

"I hardly know, Hepzibah," said Clifford, drawing a long breath.
"Fear nothing,--it is over now,--but had I taken that plunge, and
survived it, methinks it would have made me another man!"

Possibly, in some sense, Clifford may have been right. He needed
a shock; or perhaps he required to take a deep, deep plunge into
the ocean of human life, and to sink down and be covered by its
profoundness, and then to emerge, sobered, invigorated, restored
to the world and to himself. Perhaps again, he required nothing
less than the great final remedy--death!

A similar yearning to renew the broken links of brotherhood with
his kind sometimes showed itself in a milder form; and once it
was made beautiful by the religion that lay even deeper than
itself. In the incident now to be sketched, there was a touching
recognition, on Clifford's part, of God's care and love towards
him,--towards this poor, forsaken man, who, if any mortal could,
might have been pardoned for regarding himself as thrown aside,
forgotten, and left to be the sport of some fiend, whose
playfulness was an ecstasy of mischief.

It was the Sabbath morning; one of those bright, calm Sabbaths,
with its own hallowed atmosphere, when Heaven seems to diffuse
itself over the earth's face in a solemn smile, no less sweet than
solemn. On such a Sabbath morn, were we pure enough to be its
medium, we should be conscious of the earth's natural worship
ascending through our frames, on whatever spot of ground we stood.
The church-bells, with various tones, but all in harmony, were
calling out and responding to one another,--"It is the Sabbath!
--The Sabbath!--Yea; the Sabbath!"--and over the whole city the
bells scattered the blessed sounds, now slowly, now with livelier
joy, now one bell alone, now all the bells together, crying
earnestly,--"It is the Sabbath!" and flinging their accents afar
off, to melt into the air and pervade it with the holy word.
The air with God's sweetest and tenderest sunshine in it, was
meet for mankind to breathe into their hearts, and send it forth
again as the utterance of prayer.

Clifford sat at the window with Hepzibah, watching the neighbors
as they stepped into the street. All of them, however unspiritual
on other days, were transfigured by the Sabbath influence; so that
their very garments--whether it were an old man's decent coat well
brushed for the thousandth time, or a little boy's first sack and
trousers finished yesterday by his mother's needle--had somewhat
of the quality of ascension-robes. Forth, likewise, from the
portal of the old house stepped Phoebe, putting up her small
green sunshade, and throwing upward a glance and smile of parting
kindness to the faces at the arched window. In her aspect there
was a familiar gladness, and a holiness that you could play with,
and yet reverence it as much as ever. She was like a prayer,
offered up in the homeliest beauty of one's mother-tongue.
Fresh was Phoebe, moreover, and airy and sweet in her apparel;
as if nothing that she wore--neither her gown, nor her small
straw bonnet, nor her little kerchief, any more than her snowy
stockings--had ever been put on before; or, if worn, were all
the fresher for it, and with a fragrance as if they had lain
among the rose-buds.

The girl waved her hand to Hepzibah and Clifford, and went up the
street; a religion in herself, warm, simple, true, with a substance
that could walk on earth, and a spirit that was capable of heaven.

"Hepzibah," asked Clifford, after watching Phoebe to the corner,
"do you never go to church?"

"No, Clifford!" she replied,--"not these many, many years!"

"Were I to be there," he rejoined, "it seems to me that I could pray
once more, when so many human souls were praying all around me!"

She looked into Clifford's face, and beheld there a soft natural
effusion; for his heart gushed out, as it were, and ran over at his
eyes, in delightful reverence for God, and kindly affection for his
human brethren. The emotion communicated itself to Hepzibah. She
yearned to take him by the hand, and go and kneel down, they two
together,--both so long separate from the world, and, as she now
recognized, scarcely friends with Him above,--to kneel down among
the people, and be reconciled to God and man at once.

"Dear brother," said she earnestly, "let us go! We belong
nowhere. We have not a foot of space in any church to kneel
upon; but let us go to some place of worship, even if we stand
in the broad aisle. Poor and forsaken as we are, some pew-door
will be opened to us!"

So Hepzibah and her brother made themselves, ready--as ready
as they could in the best of their old-fashioned garments, which
had hung on pegs, or been laid away in trunks, so long that the
dampness and mouldy smell of the past was on them,--made themselves
ready, in their faded bettermost, to go to church. They descended
the staircase together,--gaunt, sallow Hepzibah, and pale, emaciated,
age-stricken Clifford! They pulled open the front door, and stepped
across the threshold, and felt, both of them, as if they were standing
in the presence of the whole world, and with mankind's great and
terrible eye on them alone. The eye of their Father seemed to be
withdrawn, and gave them no encouragement. The warm sunny air of
the street made them shiver. Their hearts quaked within them at
the idea of taking one step farther.

"It cannot be, Hepzibah!--it is too late," said Clifford with deep
sadness. "We are ghosts! We have no right among human beings,--no
right anywhere but in this old house, which has a curse on it, and
which, therefore, we are doomed to haunt! And, besides," he continued,
with a fastidious sensibility, inalienably characteristic of the man,"
it would not be fit nor beautiful to go! It is an ugly thought that
I should be frightful to my fellow-beings, and that children would
cling to their mothers' gowns at sight of me!"

They shrank back into the dusky passage-way, and closed the door.
But, going up the staircase again, they found the whole interior
of the house tenfold, more dismal, and the air closer and heavier,
for the glimpse and breath of freedom which they had just snatched.
They could not flee; their jailer had but left the door ajar in
mockery, and stood behind it to watch them stealing out. At the
threshold, they felt his pitiless gripe upon them. For, what other
dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable
as one's self!

But it would be no fair picture of Clifford's state of mind were
we to represent him as continually or prevailingly wretched. On
the contrary, there was no other man in the city, we are bold to
affirm, of so much as half his years, who enjoyed so many
lightsome and griefless moments as himself. He had no burden
of care upon him; there were none of those questions and
contingencies with the future to be settled which wear away all
other lives, and render them not worth having by the very process
of providing for their support. In this respect he was a child,
--a child for the whole term of his existence, be it long or short.
Indeed, his life seemed to be standing still at a period little
in advance of childhood, and to cluster all his reminiscences about
that epoch; just as, after the torpor of a heavy blow, the sufferer's
reviving consciousness goes back to a moment considerably behind
the accident that stupefied him. He sometimes told Phoebe and
Hepzibah his dreams, in which he invariably played the part of a
child, or a very young man. So vivid were they, in his relation
of them, that he once held a dispute with his sister as to the
particular figure or print of a chintz morning-dress which he
had seen their mother wear, in the dream of the preceding night.
Hepzibah, piquing herself on a woman's accuracy in such matters,
held it to be slightly different from what Clifford described;
but, producing the very gown from an old trunk, it proved to be
identical with his remembrance of it. Had Clifford, every time
that he emerged out of dreams so lifelike, undergone the torture
of transformation from a boy into an old and broken man, the
daily recurrence of the shock would have been too much to bear.
It would have caused an acute agony to thrill from the morning
twilight, all the day through, until bedtime; and even then would
have mingled a dull, inscrutable pain and pallid hue of misfortune
with the visionary bloom and adolescence of his slumber. But the
nightly moonshine interwove itself with the morning mist, and
enveloped him as in a robe, which he hugged about his person, and
seldom let realities pierce through; he was not often quite awake,
but slept open-eyed, and perhaps fancied himself most dreaming then.

Thus, lingering always so near his childhood, he had sympathies
with children, and kept his heart the fresher thereby, like a
reservoir into which rivulets were pouring not far from the
fountain-head. Though prevented, by a subtile sense of propriety,
from desiring to associate with them, he loved few things better
than to look out of the arched window and see a little girl driving
her hoop along the sidewalk, or schoolboys at a game of ball.
Their voices, also, were very pleasant to him, heard at a distance,
all swarming and intermingling together as flies do in a sunny room.

Clifford would, doubtless, have been glad to share their sports.
One afternoon he was seized with an irresistible desire to blow
soap-bubbles; an amusement, as Hepzibah told Phoebe apart, that
had been a favorite one with her brother when they were both
children. Behold him, therefore, at the arched window, with an
earthen pipe in his mouth! Behold him, with his gray hair, and
a wan, unreal smile over his countenance, where still hovered a
beautiful grace, which his worst enemy must have acknowledged
to be spiritual and immortal, since it had survived so long!
Behold him, scattering airy spheres abroad from the window into
the street! Little impalpable worlds were those soap-bubbles,
with the big world depicted, in hues bright as imagination, on the
nothing of their surface. It was curious to see how the passers-by
regarded these brilliant fantasies, as they came floating down,
and made the dull atmosphere imaginative about them. Some stopped
to gaze, and perhaps, carried a pleasant recollection of the
bubbles onward as far as the street-corner; some looked angrily
upward, as if poor Clifford wronged them by setting an image of
beauty afloat so near their dusty pathway. A great many put out
their fingers or their walking-sticks to touch, withal; and were
perversely gratified, no doubt, when the bubble, with all its
pictured earth and sky scene, vanished as if it had never been.

At length, just as an elderly gentleman of very dignified presence
happened to be passing, a large bubble sailed majestically down,
and burst right against his nose! He looked up,--at first with a
stern, keen glance, which penetrated at once into the obscurity
behind the arched window,--then with a smile which might be
conceived as diffusing a dog-day sultriness for the space of
several yards about him.

"Aha, Cousin Clifford!" cried Judge Pyncheon. "What! still
blowing soap-bubbles!"

The tone seemed as if meant to be kind and soothing, but yet had
a bitterness of sarcasm in it. As for Clifford, an absolute palsy
of fear came over him. Apart from any definite cause of dread
which his past experience might have given him, he felt that native
and original horror of the excellent Judge which is proper to a
weak, delicate, and apprehensive character in the presence of
massive strength. Strength is incomprehensible by weakness, and,
therefore, the more terrible. There is no greater bugbear than
a strong-willed relative in the circle of his own connections.

 

 

XII The Daguerreotypist

 

 

IT must not be supposed that the life of a personage naturally so
active as Phoebe could be wholly confined within the precincts
of the old Pyncheon House. Clifford's demands upon her time
were usually satisfied, in those long days, considerably earlier
than sunset. Quiet as his daily existence seemed, it nevertheless
drained all the resources by which he lived. It was not physical
exercise that overwearied him,--for except that he sometimes
wrought a little with a hoe, or paced the garden-walk, or, in
rainy weather, traversed a large unoccupied room,--it was his
tendency to remain only too quiescent, as regarded any toil of
the limbs and muscles. But, either there was a smouldering fire
within him that consumed his vital energy, or the monotony that
would have dragged itself with benumbing effect over a mind
differently situated was no monotony to Clifford. Possibly, he
was in a state of second growth and recovery, and was constantly
assimilating nutriment for his spirit and intellect from sights,
sounds, and events which passed as a perfect void to persons more
practised with the world. As all is activity and vicissitude to
the new mind of a child, so might it be, likewise, to a mind that
had undergone a kind of new creation, after its long-suspended life.

Be the cause what it might, Clifford commonly retired to rest,
thoroughly exhausted, while the sunbeams were still melting
through his window-curtains, or were thrown with late lustre
on the chamber wall. And while he thus slept early, as other
children do, and dreamed of childhood, Phoebe was free to
follow her own tastes for the remainder of the day and evening.

This was a freedom essential to the health even of a character
so little susceptible of morbid influences as that of Phoebe.
The old house, as we have already said, had both the dry-rot
and the damp-rot in its walls; it was not good to breathe no other
atmosphere than that. Hepzibah, though she had her valuable and
redeeming traits, had grown to be a kind of lunatic by imprisoning
herself so long in one place, with no other company than a single
series of ideas, and but one affection, and one bitter sense of
wrong. Clifford, the reader may perhaps imagine, was too inert
to operate morally on his fellow-creatures, however intimate and
exclusive their relations with him. But the sympathy or magnetism
among human beings is more subtile and universal than we think;
it exists, indeed, among different classes of organized life, and
vibrates from one to another. A flower, for instance, as Phoebe
herself observed, always began to droop sooner in Clifford's hand,
or Hepzibah's, than in her own; and by the same law, converting
her whole daily life into a flower fragrance for these two sickly
spirits, the blooming girl must inevitably droop and fade much sooner
than if worn on a younger and happier breast. Unless she had now
and then indulged her brisk impulses, and breathed rural air in a
suburban walk, or ocean breezes along the shore,--had occasionally
obeyed the impulse of Nature, in New England girls, by attending
a metaphysical or philosophical lecture, or viewing a seven-mile
panorama, or listening to a concert,--had gone shopping about the
city, ransacking entire depots of splendid merchandise, and bringing
home a ribbon,--had employed, likewise, a little time to read the
Bible in her chamber, and had stolen a little more to think of her
mother and her native place--unless for such moral medicines as the
above, we should soon have beheld our poor Phoebe grow thin and put
on a bleached, unwholesome aspect, and assume strange, shy ways,
prophetic of old-maidenhood and a cheerless future.

Even as it was, a change grew visible; a change partly to be
regretted, although whatever charm it infringed upon was repaired
by another, perhaps more precious. She was not so constantly
gay, but had her moods of thought, which Clifford, on the whole,
liked better than her former phase of unmingled cheerfulness;
because now she understood him better and more delicately,
and sometimes even interpreted him to himself. Her eyes looked
larger, and darker, and deeper; so deep, at some silent moments,
that they seemed like Artesian wells, down, down, into the
infinite. She was less girlish than when we first beheld her
alighting from the omnibus; less girlish, but more a woman.

The only youthful mind with which Phoebe had an opportunity
of frequent intercourse was that of the daguerreotypist.
Inevitably, by the pressure of the seclusion about them, they had
been brought into habits of some familiarity. Had they met under
different circumstances, neither of these young persons would
have been likely to bestow much thought upon the other, unless,
indeed, their extreme dissimilarity should have proved a principle
of mutual attraction. Both, it is true, were characters proper
to New England life, and possessing a common ground, therefore,
in their more external developments; but as unlike, in their
respective interiors, as if their native climes had been at
world-wide distance. During the early part of their acquaintance,
Phoebe had held back rather more than was customary with her frank
and simple manners from Holgrave's not very marked advances.
Nor was she yet satisfied that she knew him well, although they
almost daily met and talked together, in a kind, friendly, and what
seemed to be a familiar way.

The artist, in a desultory manner, had imparted to Phoebe
something of his history. Young as he was, and had his career
terminated at the point already attained, there had been enough
of incident to fill, very creditably, an autobiographic volume.
A romance on the plan of Gil Blas, adapted to American society
and manners, would cease to be a romance. The experience of
many individuals among us, who think it hardly worth the telling,
would equal the vicissitudes of the Spaniard's earlier life; while
their ultimate success, or the point whither they tend, may be
incomparably higher than any that a novelist would imagine for
his hero. Holgrave, as he told Phoebe somewhat proudly, could
not boast of his origin, unless as being exceedingly humble, nor
of his education, except that it had been the scantiest possible,
and obtained by a few winter-months' attendance at a district
school. Left early to his own guidance, he had begun to be
self-dependent while yet a boy; and it was a condition aptly
suited to his natural force of will. Though now but twenty-two
years old (lacking some months, which are years in such a life),
he had already been, first, a country schoolmaster; next,
a salesman in a country store; and, either at the same time or
afterwards, the political editor of a country newspaper. He had
subsequently travelled New England and the Middle States, as a
peddler, in the employment of a Connecticut manufactory of
cologne-water and other essences. In an episodical way he had
studied and practised dentistry, and with very flattering success,
especially in many of the factory-towns along our inland streams.
As a supernumerary official, of some kind or other, aboard a
packet-ship, he had visited Europe, and found means, before his
return, to see Italy, and part of France and Germany. At a later
period he had spent some months in a community of Fourierists.
Still more recently he had been a public lecturer on Mesmerism,
for which science (as he assured Phoebe, and, indeed, satisfactorily
proved, by putting Chanticleer, who happened to be scratching near
by, to sleep) he had very remarkable endowments.

His present phase, as a daguerreotypist, was of no more importance
in his own view, nor likely to be more permanent, than any of the
preceding ones. It had been taken up with the careless alacrity of
an adventurer, who had his bread to earn. It would be thrown aside
as carelessly, whenever he should choose to earn his bread by some
other equally digressive means. But what was most remarkable, and,
perhaps, showed a more than common poise in the young man, was the
fact that, amid all these personal vicissitudes, he had never lost
his identity. Homeless as he had been,--continually changing his
whereabout, and, therefore, responsible neither to public opinion
nor to individuals,--putting off one exterior, and snatching up
another, to be soon shifted for a third,--he had never violated
the innermost man, but had carried his conscience along with him.
It was impossible to know Holgrave without recognizing this to be
the fact. Hepzibah had seen it. Phoebe soon saw it likewise,
and gave him the sort of confidence which such a certainty inspires.
She was startled. however, and sometimes repelled,--not by any doubt
of his integrity to whatever law he acknowledged, but by a sense that
his law differed from her own. He made her uneasy, and seemed to
unsettle everything around her, by his lack of reverence for what
was fixed, unless, at a moment's warning, it could establish its
right to hold its ground.

Then, moreover, she scarcely thought him affectionate in his nature.
He was too calm and cool an observer. Phoebe felt his eye, often;
his heart, seldom or never. He took a certain kind of interest in
Hepzibah and her brother, and Phoebe herself. He studied them
attentively, and allowed no slightest circumstance of their
individualities to escape him. He was ready to do them whatever
good he might; but, after all, he never exactly made common cause
with them, nor gave any reliable evidence that he loved them better
in proportion as he knew them more. In his relations with them,
he seemed to be in quest of mental food, not heart-sustenance.
Phoebe could not conceive what interested him so much in her friends
and herself, intellectually, since he cared nothing for them, or,
comparatively, so little, as objects of human affection.

Always, in his interviews with Phoebe, the artist made especial
inquiry as to the welfare of Clifford, whom, except at the Sunday
festival, he seldom saw.

"Does he still seem happy?" he asked one day.

"As happy as a child," answered Phoebe; "but--like a child, too
--very easily disturbed."

"How disturbed?" inquired Holgrave. "By things without, or by
thoughts within?"

"I cannot see his thoughts! How should I?" replied Phoebe with
simple piquancy. "Very often his humor changes without any
reason that can be guessed at, just as a cloud comes over the
sun. Latterly, since I have begun to know him better, I feel it
to be not quite right to look closely into his moods. He has had
such a great sorrow, that his heart is made all solemn and sacred
by it. When he is cheerful,--when the sun shines into his mind,
--then I venture to peep in, just as far as the light reaches,
but no further. It is holy ground where the shadow falls!"

"How prettily you express this sentiment!" said the artist. "I can
understand the feeling, without possessing it. Had I your opportunities,
no scruples would prevent me from fathoming Clifford to the full depth
of my plummet-line!"

"How strange that you should wish it!" remarked Phoebe
involuntarily. "What is Cousin Clifford to you?"

"Oh, nothing,--of course, nothing!" answered Holgrave with a smile.
"Only this is such an odd and incomprehensible world! The more I look
at it, the more it puzzles me, and I begin to suspect that a man's
bewilderment is the measure of his wisdom. Men and women, and children,
too, are such strange creatures, that one never can be certain that he
really knows them; nor ever guess what they have been from what he
sees them to be now. Judge Pyncheon! Clifford! What a complex riddle
--a complexity of complexities--do they present! It requires intuitiv
e sympathy, like a young girl's, to solve it. A mere observer, like
myself (who never have any intuitions, and am, at best, only subtile
and acute), is pretty certain to go astray."

The artist now turned the conversation to themes less dark than
that which they had touched upon. Phoebe and he were young
together; nor had Holgrave, in his premature experience of life,
wasted entirely that beautiful spirit of youth, which, gushing
forth from one small heart and fancy, may diffuse itself over the
universe, making it all as bright as on the first day of creation.
Man's own youth is the world's youth; at least, he feels as if it
were, and imagines that the earth's granite substance is something
not yet hardened, and which he can mould into whatever shape he
likes. So it was with Holgrave. He could talk sagely about the
world's old age, but never actually believed what he said; he was
a young man still, and therefore looked upon the world--that
gray-bearded and wrinkled profligate, decrepit, without being
venerable--as a tender stripling, capable of being improved into
all that it ought to be, but scarcely yet had shown the remotest
promise of becoming. He had that sense, or inward prophecy,
--which a young man had better never have been born than not
to have, and a mature man had better die at once than utterly
to relinquish,--that we are not doomed to creep on forever in
the old bad way, but that, this very now, there are the harbingers
abroad of a golden era, to be accomplished in his own lifetime.
It seemed to Holgrave,--as doubtless it has seemed to the hopeful
of every century since the epoch of Adam's grandchildren,--that
in this age, more than ever before, the moss-grown and rotten Past
is to be torn down, and lifeless institutions to be thrust out of
the way, and their dead corpses buried, and everything to begin anew.

As to the main point,--may we never live to doubt it!--as to the
better centuries that are coming, the artist was surely right.
His error lay in supposing that this age, more than any past or
future one, is destined to see the tattered garments of Antiquity
exchanged for a new suit, instead of gradually renewing themselves
by patchwork; in applying his own little life-span as the measure
of an interminable achievement; and, more than all, in fancying
that it mattered anything to the great end in view whether he
himself should contend for it or against it. Yet it was well for
him to think so. This enthusiasm, infusing itself through the
calmness of his character, and thus taking an aspect of settled
thought and wisdom, would serve to keep his youth pure, and
make his aspirations high. And when, with the years settling
down more weightily upon him, his early faith should be modified
by inevitable experience, it would be with no harsh and sudden
revolution of his sentiments. He would still have faith in man's
brightening destiny, and perhaps love him all the better, as he
should recognize his helplessness in his own behalf; and the
haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered
for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man's best
directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the
sole worker of realities.

Holgrave had read very little, and that little in passing through
the thoroughfare of life, where the mystic language of his books
was necessarily mixed up with the babble of the multitude, so
that both one and the other were apt to lose any sense that might
have been properly their own. He considered himself a thinker,
and was certainly of a thoughtful turn, but, with his own path
to discover, had perhaps hardly yet reached the point where an
educated man begins to think. The true value of his character
lay in that deep consciousness of inward strength, which made
all his past vicissitudes seem merely like a change of garments;
in that enthusiasm, so quiet that he scarcely knew of its existence,
but which gave a warmth to everything that he laid his hand on;
in that personal ambition, hidden--from his own as well as other
eyes--among his more generous impulses, but in which lurked a
certain efficacy, that might solidify him from a theorist into
the champion of some practicable cause. Altogether in his culture
and want of culture,--in his crude, wild, and misty philosophy,
and the practical experience that counteracted some of its
tendencies; in his magnanimous zeal for man's welfare, and his
recklessness of whatever the ages had established in man's behalf;
in his faith, and in his infidelity. in what he had, and in what
he lacked,--the artist might fitly enough stand forth as the
representative of many compeers in his native land.

His career it would be difficult to prefigure. There appeared to
be qualities in Holgrave, such as, in a country where everything
is free to the hand that can grasp it, could hardly fail to put
some of the world's prizes within his reach. But these matters
are delightfully uncertain. At almost every step in life, we meet
with young men of just about Holgrave's age, for whom we anticipate
wonderful things, but of whom, even after much and careful inquiry,
we never happen to hear another word. The effervescence of youth
and passion, and the fresh gloss of the intellect and imagination,
endow them with a false brilliancy, which makes fools of themselves
and other people. Like certain chintzes, calicoes, and ginghams,
they show finely in their first newness, but cannot stand the sun
and rain, and assume a very sober aspect after washing-day.

But our business is with Holgrave as we find him on this particular
afternoon, and in the arbor of the Pyncheon garden. In that point
of view, it was a pleasant sight to behold this young man, with so
much faith in himself, and so fair an appearance of admirable
powers,--so little harmed, too, by the many tests that had tried
his metal,--it was pleasant to see him in his kindly intercourse
with Phoebe. Her thought had scarcely done him justice when it
pronounced him cold; or, if so, he had grown warmer now. Without
such purpose on her part, and unconsciously on his, she made the
House of the Seven Gables like a home to him, and the garden a
familiar precinct. With the insight on which he prided himself,
he fancied that he could look through Phoebe, and all around her,
and could read her off like a page of a child's story-book. But
these transparent natures are often deceptive in their depth; those
pebbles at the bottom of the fountain are farther from us than we
think. Thus the artist, whatever he might judge of Phoebe's capacity,
was beguiled, by some silent charm of hers, to talk freely of what
he dreamed of doing in the world. He poured himself out as to
another self. Very possibly, he forgot Phoebe while he talked to
her, and was moved only by the inevitable tendency of thought, when
rendered sympathetic by enthusiasm and emotion, to flow into the
first safe reservoir which it finds. But, had you peeped at them
through the chinks of the garden-fence, the young man's earnestness
and heightened color might have led you to suppose that he was making
love to the young girl!

At length, something was said by Holgrave that made it apposite
for Phoebe to inquire what had first brought him acquainted with
her cousin Hepzibah, and why he now chose to lodge in the desolate
old Pyncheon House. Without directly answering her, he turned
from the Future, which had heretofore been the theme of his
discourse, and began to speak of the influences of the Past.
One subject, indeed, is but the reverberation of the other.

"Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?" cried he, keeping up
the earnest tone of his preceding conversation. "It lies upon the
Present like a giant's dead body In fact, the case is just as if a
young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying
about the corpse of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a
long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried. Just think
a moment, and it will startle you to see what slaves we are to
bygone times,--to Death, if we give the matter the right word!"

"But I do not see it," observed Phoebe.

"For example, then," continued Holgrave: "a dead man, if he
happens to have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own;
or, if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the
notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all
our judgment-seats; and living judges do but search out and repeat
his decisions. We read in dead men's books! We laugh at dead men's
jokes, and cry at dead men's pathos! We are sick of dead men's
diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with
which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living
Deity according to dead men's forms and creeds. Whatever we seek
to do, of our own free motion, a dead man's icy hand obstructs us!
Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man's white, immitigable
face encounters them, and freezes our very heart! And we must be
dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence
on our own world, which will then be no longer our world, but the
world of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of
a right to interfere. I ought to have said, too, that we live in
dead men's houses; as, for instance, in this of the Seven Gables!"

"And why not," said Phoebe, "so long as we can be comfortable in them?"

"But we shall live to see the day, I trust," went on the artist,
"when no man shall build his house for posterity. Why should
he? He might just as reasonably order a durable suit of clothes,
--leather, or guttapercha, or whatever else lasts longest,
--so that his great-grandchildren should have the benefit of them,
and cut precisely the same figure in the world that he himself does.
If each generation were allowed and expected to build its own houses,
that single change, comparatively unimportant in itself, would imply
almost every reform which society is now suffering for. I doubt
whether even our public edifices--our capitols, state-houses,
court-houses, city-hall, and churches,--ought to be built of such
permanent materials as stone or brick. It were better that they
should crumble to ruin once in twenty years, or thereabouts, as a
hint to the people to examine into and reform the institutions which
they symbolize."

"How you hate everything old!" said Phoebe in dismay. "It makes
me dizzy to think of such a shifting world!"

"I certainly love nothing mouldy," answered Holgrave. "Now, this
old Pyncheon House! Is it a wholesome place to live in, with its
black shingles, and the green moss that shows how damp they are?
--its dark, low-studded rooms--its grime and sordidness, which are
the crystallization on its walls of the human breath, that has been
drawn and exhaled here in discontent and anguish? The house ought
to be purified with fire,--purified till only its ashes remain!"

"Then why do you live in it?" asked Phoebe, a little piqued.

"Oh, I am pursuing my studies here; not in books, however,"
replied Holgrave. "The house, in my view, is expressive of that
odious and abominable Past, with all its bad influences, against
which I have just been declaiming. I dwell in it for a while,
that I may know the better how to hate it. By the bye, did you
ever hear the story of Maule, the wizard, and what happened
between him and your immeasurably great-grandfather?"

"Yes, indeed!" said Phoebe; "I heard it long ago, from my father,
and two or three times from my cousin Hepzibah, in the month
that I have been here. She seems to think that all the calamities
of the Pyncheons began from that quarrel with the wizard, as you
call him. And you, Mr. Holgrave look as if you thought so too!
How singular that you should believe what is so very absurd, when
you reject many things that are a great deal worthier of credit!"

"I do believe it," said the artist seriously; "not as a superstition,
however, but as proved by unquestionable facts, and as exemplifying
a theory. Now, see: under those seven gables, at which we now look
up, --and which old Colonel Pyncheon meant to be the house of his
descendants, in prosperity and happiness, down to an epoch far beyond
the present,--under that roof, through a portion of three centuries,
there has been perpetual remorse of conscience, a constantly defeated
hope, strife amongst kindred, various misery, a strange form of death,
dark suspicion, unspeakable disgrace, --all, or most of which calamity
I have the means of tracing to the old Puritan's inordinate desire to
plant and endow a family. To plant a family! This idea is at the
bottom of most of the wrong and mischief which men do. The truth is,
that, once in every half-century, at longest, a family should be
merged into the great, obscure mass of humanity, and forget all about
its ancestors. Human blood, in order to keep its freshness, should
run in hidden streams, as the water of an aqueduct is conveyed in
subterranean pipes. In the family existence of these Pyncheons,
for instance,--forgive me, Phoebe. but I, cannot think of you as
one of them,--in their brief New England pedigree, there has been
time enough to infect them all with one kind of lunacy or another."

"You speak very unceremoniously of my kindred," said Phoebe,
debating with herself whether she ought to take offence.

"I speak true thoughts to a true mind!" answered Holgrave, with a
vehemence which Phoebe had not before witnessed in him. "The truth
is as I say! Furthermore, the original perpetrator and father of
this mischief appears to have perpetuated himself, and still walks
the street,--at least, his very image, in mind and body,--with the
fairest prospect of transmitting to posterity as rich and as wretched
an inheritance as he has received! Do you remember the daguerreotype,
and its resemblance to the old portrait?"

"How strangely in earnest you are!" exclaimed Phoebe, looking at
him with surprise and perplexity; half alarmed and partly inclined
to laugh. "You talk of the lunacy of the Pyncheons; is it contagious?"

"I understand you!" said the artist, coloring and laughing.
"I believe I am a little mad. This subject has taken hold of
my mind with the strangest tenacity of clutch since I have lodged
in yonder old gable. As one method of throwing it off, I have
put an incident of the Pyncheon family history, with which I
happen to be acquainted, into the form of a legend, and mean
to publish it in a magazine."

"Do you write for the magazines?" inquired Phoebe.

"Is it possible you did not know it?" cried Holgrave. "Well, such
is literary fame! Yes. Miss Phoebe Pyncheon, among the multitude
of my marvellous gifts I have that of writing stories; and my name
has figured, I can assure you, on the covers of Graham and Godey,
making as respectable an appearance, for aught I could see, as any
of the canonized bead-roll with which it was associated. In the
humorous line, I am thought to have a very pretty way with me;
and as for pathos, I am as provocative of tears as an onion.
But shall I read you my story?"

"Yes, if it is not very long," said Phoebe,--and added laughingly,
--"nor very dull."

As this latter point was one which the daguerreotypist could not
decide for himself, he forthwith produced his roll of manuscript,
and, while the late sunbeams gilded the seven gables, began to read.

 

 

XIII Alice Pyncheon

 

 

THERE was a message brought, one day, from the worshipful Gervayse
Pyncheon to young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, desiring his immediate
presence at the House of the Seven Gables.

"And what does your master want with me?" said the carpenter to
Mr. Pyncheon's black servant. "Does the house need any repair?
Well it may, by this time; and no blame to my father who built
it, neither! I was reading the old Colonel's tombstone, no longer
ago than last Sabbath; and, reckoning from that date, the house
has stood seven-and-thirty years. No wonder if there should be
a job to do on the roof."

"Don't know what massa wants," answered Scipio. "The house is
a berry good house, and old Colonel Pyncheon think so too, I
reckon;--else why the old man haunt it so, and frighten a poor
nigga, As he does?"

"Well, well, friend Scipio; let your master know that I'm coming,"
said the carpenter with a laugh. "For a fair, workmanlike job,
he'll find me his man. And so the house is haunted, is it? It will
take a tighter workman than I am to keep the spirits out of the
Seven Gables. Even if the Colonel would be quiet," he added,
muttering to himself, "my old grandfather, the wizard, will be pretty
sure to stick to the Pyncheons as long as their walls hold together."

"What's that you mutter to yourself, Matthew Maule?" asked
Scipio. "And what for do you look so black at me?"

"No matter, darky." said the carpenter. "Do you think nobody
is to look black but yourself? Go tell your master I'm coming;
and if you happen to see Mistress Alice, his daughter, give Matthew
Maule's humble respects to her. She has brought a fair face from
Italy,--fair, and gentle, and proud,--has that same Alice Pyncheon!"

"He talk of Mistress Alice!" cried Scipio, as he returned from his
errand. "The low carpenter-man! He no business so much as to look
at her a great way off!"

This young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, it must be observed,
was a person little understood, and not very generally liked,
in the town where he resided; not that anything could be alleged
against his integrity, or his skill and diligence in the handicraft
which he exercised. The aversion (as it might justly be called)
with which many persons regarded him was partly the result of
his own character and deportment, and partly an inheritance.

He was the grandson of a former Matthew Maule, one of the early
settlers of the town, and who had been a famous and terrible
wizard in his day. This old reprobate was one of the sufferers
when Cotton Mather, and his brother ministers, and the learned
judges, and other wise men, and Sir William Phipps, the sagacious
governor, made such laudable efforts to weaken the great enemy
of souls, by sending a multitude of his adherents up the rocky
pathway of Gallows Hill. Since those days, no doubt, it had
grown to be suspected that, in consequence of an unfortunate
overdoing of a work praiseworthy in itself, the proceedings
against the witches had proved far less acceptable to the
Beneficent Father than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were
intended to distress and utterly overwhelm. It is not the less
certain, however, that awe and terror brooded over the memories
of those who died for this horrible crime of witchcraft. Their
graves, in the crevices of the rocks, were supposed to be incapable
of retaining the occupants who had been so hastily thrust into them.
Old Matthew Maule, especially, was known to have as little hesitation
or difficulty in rising out of his grave as an ordinary man in
getting out of bed, and was as often seen at midnight as living
people at noonday. This pestilent wizard (in whom his just punishment
seemed to have wrought no manner of amendment) had an inveterate
habit of haunting a certain mansion, styled the House of the
Seven Gables, against the owner of which he pretended to hold
an unsettled claim for ground-rent. The ghost, it appears,--with
the pertinacity which was one of his distinguishing characteristics
while alive,--insisted that he was the rightful proprietor of the
site upon which the house stood. His terms were, that either the
aforesaid ground-rent, from the day when the cellar began to be dug,
should be paid down, or the mansion itself given up; else he, the
ghostly creditor, would have his finger in all the affairs of the
Pyncheons, and make everything go wrong with them, though it should
be a thousand years after his death. It was a wild story, perhaps,
but seemed not altogether so incredible to those who could remember
what an inflexibly obstinate old fellow this wizard Maule had been.

Now, the wizard's grandson, the young Matthew Maule of our story,
was popularly supposed to have inherited some of his ancestor's
questionable traits. It is wonderful how many absurdities were
promulgated in reference to the young man. He was fabled, for example,
to have a strange power of getting into people's dreams, and regulating
matters there according to his own fancy, pretty much like the
stage-manager of a theatre. There was a great deal of talk among
the neighbors, particularly the petticoated ones, about what they
called the witchcraft of Maule's eye. Some said that he could look
into people's minds; others, that, by the marvellous power of this
eye, he could draw people into his own mind, or send them, if he
pleased, to do errands to his grandfather, in the spiritual world;
others, again, that it was what is termed an Evil Eye, and possessed
the valuable faculty of blighting corn, and drying children into
mummies with the heartburn. But, after all, what worked most to the
young carpenter's disadvantage was, first, the reserve and sternness
of his natural disposition, and next, the fact of his not being a
church-communicant, and the suspicion of his holding heretical tenets
in matters of religion and polity.

After receiving Mr. Pyncheon's message, the carpenter merely
tarried to finish a small job, which he happened to have in hand,
and then took his way towards the House of the Seven Gables.
This noted edifice, though its style might be getting a little out
of fashion, was still as respectable a family residence as that
of any gentleman in town. The present owner, Gervayse Pyncheon,
was said to have contracted a dislike to the house, in consequence
of a shock to his sensibility, in early childhood, from the sudden
death of his grandfather. In the very act of running to climb
Colonel Pyncheon's knee, the boy had discovered the old Puritan
to be a corpse. On arriving at manhood, Mr. Pyncheon had visited
England, where he married a lady of fortune, and had subsequently
spent many years, partly in the mother country, and partly in various
cities on the continent of Europe. During this period, the family
mansion had been consigned to the charge of a kinsman, who was
allowed to make it his home for the time being, in consideration
of keeping the premises in thorough repair. So faithfully had this
contract been fulfilled, that now, as the carpenter approached the
house, his practised eye could detect nothing to criticise in its
condition. The peaks of the seven gables rose up sharply; the shingled
roof looked thoroughly water-tight; and the glittering plaster-work
entirely covered the exterior walls, and sparkled in the October sun,
as if it had been new only a week ago.

The house had that pleasant aspect of life which is like the
cheery expression of comfortable activity in the human countenance.
You could see, at once, that there was the stir of a large family
within it. A huge load of oak-wood was passing through the gateway,
towards the outbuildings in the rear; the fat cook--or probably it
might be the housekeeper--stood at the side door, bargaining for
some turkeys and poultry which a countryman had brought for sale.
Now and then a maid-servant, neatly dressed, and now the shining
sable face of a slave, might be seen bustling across the windows,
in the lower part of the house. At an open window of a room in the
second story, hanging over some pots of beautiful and delicate
flowers,--exotics, but which had never known a more genial sunshine
than that of the New England autumn, --was the figure of a young
lady, an exotic, like the flowers, and beautiful and delicate as
they. Her presence imparted an indescribable grace and faint witchery
to the whole edifice. In other respects, it was a substantial,
jolly-looking mansion, and seemed fit to be the residence of a
patriarch, who might establish his own headquarters in the front
gable and assign one of the remainder to each of his six children,
while the great chimney in the centre should symbolize the old
fellow's hospitable heart, which kept them all warm, and made a
great whole of the seven smaller ones.

There was a vertical sundial on the front gable; and as the
carpenter passed beneath it, he looked up and noted the hour.

"Three o'clock!" said he to himself. "My father told me that dial
was put up only an hour before the old Colonel's death. How
truly it has kept time these seven-and-thirty years past! The
shadow creeps and creeps, and is always looking over the
shoulder of the sunshine!"

It might have befitted a craftsman, like Matthew Maule, on being
sent for to a gentleman's house, to go to the back door, where
servants and work-people were usually admitted; or at least to
the side entrance, where the better class of tradesmen made
application. But the carpenter had a great deal of pride and
stiffness in his nature; and, at this moment, moreover, his heart
was bitter with the sense of hereditary wrong, because he
considered the great Pyncheon House to be standing on soil
which should have been his own. On this very site, beside
a spring of delicious water, his grandfather had felled the
pine-trees and built a cottage, in which children had been born
to him; and it was only from a dead man's stiffened fingers that
Colonel Pyncheon had wrested away the title-deeds. So young
Maule went straight to the principal entrance, beneath a portal
of carved oak, and gave such a peal of the iron knocker that you
would have imagined the stern old wizard himself to be standing
at the threshold.

Black Scipio answered the summons in a prodigious, hurry; but showed
the whites of his eyes in amazement on beholding only the carpenter.

"Lord-a-mercy! what a great man he be, this carpenter fellow."
mumbled Scipio, down in his throat. "Anybody think he beat on
the door with his biggest hammer!"

"Here I am!" said Maule sternly. "Show me the way to your
master's parlor."

As he stept into the house, a note of sweet and melancholy music
thrilled and vibrated along the passage-way, proceeding from one
of the rooms above stairs. It was the harpsichord which Alice Pyncheon
had brought with her from beyond the sea. The fair Alice bestowed most
of her maiden leisure between flowers and music, although the former
were apt to droop, and the melodies were often sad. She was of
foreign education, and could not take kindly to the New England modes
of life, in which nothing beautiful had ever been developed.

As Mr. Pyncheon had been impatiently awaiting Maule's arrival,
black Scipio, of course, lost no time in ushering the carpenter
into his master's presence. The room in which this gentleman sat
was a parlor of moderate size, looking out upon the garden of
the house, and having its windows partly shadowed by the foliage
of fruit-trees. It was Mr. Pyncheon's peculiar apartment,
and was provided with furniture, in an elegant and costly style,
principally from Paris; the floor (which was unusual at that day)
being covered with a carpet, so skilfully and richly wrought that
it seemed to glow as with living flowers. In one corner stood a
marble woman, to whom her own beauty was the sole and
sufficient garment. Some pictures--that looked old, and had a
mellow tinge diffused through all their artful splendor--hung on
the walls. Near the fireplace was a large and very beautiful
cabinet of ebony, inlaid with ivory; a piece of antique furniture,
which Mr. Pyncheon had bought in Venice, and which he used
as the treasure-place for medals, ancient coins, and whatever
small and valuable curiosities he had picked up on his travels.
Through all this variety of decoration, however, the room showed
its original characteristics; its low stud, its cross-beam, its
chimney-piece, with the old-fashioned Dutch tiles; so that it was
the emblem of a mind industriously stored with foreign ideas,
and elaborated into artificial refinement, but neither larger,
nor, in its proper self, more elegant than before.

There were two objects that appeared rather out of place in this
very handsomely furnished room. One was a large map, or
surveyor's plan, of a tract of land, which looked as if it had
been drawn a good many years ago, and was now dingy with smoke,
and soiled, here and there, with the touch of fingers. The other
was a portrait of a stern old man, in a Puritan garb, painted
roughly, but with a bold effect, and a remarkably strong
expression of character.

At a small table, before a fire of English sea-coal, sat Mr.
Pyncheon, sipping coffee, which had grown to be a very favorite
beverage with him in France. He was a middle-aged and really
handsome man, with a wig flowing down upon his shoulders; his coat
was of blue velvet, with lace on the borders and at the button-holes;
and the firelight glistened on the spacious breadth of his waistcoat,
which was flowered all over with gold. On the entrance of Scipio,
ushering in the carpenter, Mr. Pyncheon turned partly round, but
resumed his former position, and proceeded deliberately to finish
his cup of coffee, without immediate notice of the guest whom he
had summoned to his presence. It was not that he intended any
rudeness or improper neglect,--which, indeed, he would have
blushed to be guilty of,--but it never occurred to him that a
person in Maule's station had a claim on his courtesy, or would
trouble himself about it one way or the other.

The carpenter, however, stepped at once to the hearth, and turned
himself about, so as to look Mr. Pyncheon in the face.

"You sent for me," said he. "Be pleased to explain your business,
that I may go back to my own affairs."

"Ah! excuse me," said Mr. Pyncheon quietly. "I did not mean to
tax your time without a recompense. Your name, I think, is Maule,
--Thomas or Matthew Maule,--a son or grandson of the builder
of this house?"

"Matthew Maule," replied the carpenter,--"son of him who built
the house,--grandson of the rightful proprietor of the soil."

"I know the dispute to which you allude," observed Mr. Pyncheon
with undisturbed equanimity. "I am well aware that my grandfather
was compelled to resort to a suit at law, in order to establish
his claim to the foundation-site of this edifice. We will not,
if you please, renew the discussion. The matter was settled at the
time, and by the competent authorities,--equitably, it is to be
presumed,--and, at all events, irrevocably. Yet, singularly enough,
there is an incidental reference to this very subject in what I am
now about to say to you. And this same inveterate grudge,--excuse
me, I mean no offence,--this irritability, which you have just shown,
is not entirely aside from the matter."

"If you can find anything for your purpose, Mr. Pyncheon," said
the carpenter, "in a man's natural resentment for the wrongs done
to his blood, you are welcome to it."

"I take you at your word, Goodman Maule," said the owner of
the Seven Gables, with a smile, "and will proceed to suggest a
mode in which your hereditary resentments--justifiable or
otherwise--may have had a bearing on my affairs. You have
heard, I suppose, that the Pyncheon family, ever since my
grandfather's days, have been prosecuting a still unsettled
claim to a very large extent of territory at the Eastward?"

"Often," replied Maule,--and it is said that a smile came over his
face,--"very often,--from my father!"

"This claim," continued Mr. Pyncheon, after pausing a moment,
as if to consider what the carpenter's smile might mean,
"appeared to be on the very verge of a settlement and full
allowance, at the period of my grandfather's decease. It was well
known, to those in his confidence, that he anticipated neither
difficulty nor delay. Now, Colonel Pyncheon, I need hardly say,
was a practical man, well acquainted with public and private
business, and not at all the person to cherish ill-founded hopes,
or to attempt the following out of an impracticable scheme. It is
obvious to conclude, therefore, that he had grounds, not apparent
to his heirs, for his confident anticipation of success in the
matter of this Eastern claim. In a word, I believe,--and my legal
advisers coincide in the belief, which, moreover, is authorized,
to a certain extent, by the family traditions,--that my grandfather
was in possession of some deed, or other document, essential to
this claim, but which has since disappeared."

"Very likely," said Matthew Maule,--and again, it is said, there
was a dark smile on his face,--"but what can a poor carpenter
have to do with the grand affairs of the Pyncheon family?"

"Perhaps nothing," returned Mr. Pyncheon, "possibly much!"

Here ensued a great many words between Matthew Maule and
the proprietor of the Seven Gables, on the subject which the
latter had thus broached. It seems (although Mr. Pyncheon had
some hesitation in referring to stories so exceedingly absurd in
their aspect) that the popular belief pointed to some mysterious
connection and dependence, existing between the family of the
Maules and these vast unrealized possessions of the Pyncheons.
It was an ordinary saying that the old wizard, hanged though he
was, had obtained the best end of the bargain in his contest with
Colonel Pyncheon; inasmuch as he had got possession of the great
Eastern claim, in exchange for an acre or two of garden-ground.
A very aged woman, recently dead, had often used the metaphorical
expression, in her fireside talk, that miles and miles of the
Pyncheon lands had been shovelled into Maule's grave; which, by
the bye, was but a very shallow nook, between two rocks, near
the summit of Gallows Hill. Again, when the lawyers were making
inquiry for the missing document, it was a by-word that it would
never be found, unless in the wizard's skeleton hand. So much
weight had the shrewd lawyers assigned to these fables, that (but
Mr. Pyncheon did not see fit to inform the carpenter of the fact)
they had secretly caused the wizard's grave to be searched. Nothing
was discovered, however, except that, unaccountably, the right hand
of the skeleton was gone.

Now, what was unquestionably important, a portion of these
popular rumors could be traced, though rather doubtfully and
indistinctly, to chance words and obscure hints of the executed
wizard's son, and the father of this present Matthew Maule. And
here Mr. Pyncheon could bring an item of his own personal
evidence into play. Though but a child at the time, he either
remembered or fancied that Matthew's father had had some job
to perform on the day before, or possibly the very morning of
the Colonel's decease, in the private room where he and the
carpenter were at this moment talking. Certain papers belonging
to Colonel Pyncheon, as his grandson distinctly recollected, had
been spread out on the table.

Matthew Maule understood the insinuated suspicion.

"My father," he said,--but still there was that dark smile, making
a riddle of his countenance,--"my father was an honester man
than the bloody old Colonel! Not to get his rights back again
would he have carried off one of those papers!"

"I shall not bandy words with you," observed the foreign-bred
Mr. Pyncheon, with haughty composure. "Nor will it become me
to resent any rudeness towards either my grandfather or myself.
A gentleman, before seeking intercourse with a person of your
station and habits, will first consider whether the urgency of
the end may compensate for the disagreeableness of the means.
It does so in the present instance."

He then renewed the conversation, and made great pecuniary
offers to the carpenter, in case the latter should give information
leading to the discovery of the lost document, and the consequent
success of the Eastern claim. For a long time Matthew Maule is
said to have turned a cold ear to these propositions. At last,
however, with a strange kind of laugh, he inquired whether Mr.
Pyncheon would make over to him the old wizard's
homestead-ground, together with the House of the Seven Gables,
now standing on it, in requital of the documentary evidence so
urgently required.

The wild, chimney-corner legend (which, without copying all its
extravagances, my narrative essentially follows) here gives an
account of some very strange behavior on the part of Colonel
Pyncheon's portrait. This picture, it must be understood, was
supposed to be so intimately connected with the fate of the
house, and so magically built into its walls, that, if once it
should be removed, that very instant the whole edifice would
come thundering down in a heap of dusty ruin. All through the
foregoing conversation between Mr. Pyncheon and the carpenter,
the portrait had been frowning, clenching its fist, and giving
many such proofs of excessive discomposure, but without
attracting the notice of either of the two colloquists. And
finally, at Matthew Maule's audacious suggestion of a transfer
of the seven-gabled structure, the ghostly portrait is averred to
have lost all patience, and to have shown itself on the point of
descending bodily from its frame. But such incredible incidents
are merely to be mentioned aside.

"Give up this house!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, in amazement at
the proposal. "Were I to do so, my grandfather would not rest
quiet in his grave!"

"He never has, if all stories are true," remarked the carpenter
composedly. "But that matter concerns his grandson more than it
does Matthew Maule. I have no other terms to propose."

Impossible as he at first thought it to comply with Maule's
conditions, still, on a second glance, Mr. Pyncheon was of
opinion that they might at least be made matter of discussion.
He himself had no personal attachment for the house, nor any
pleasant associations connected with his childish residence in it.
On the contrary, after seven-and-thirty years, the presence of his
dead grandfather seemed still to pervade it, as on that morning
when the affrighted boy had beheld him, with so ghastly an
aspect, stiffening in his chair. His long abode in foreign parts,
moreover, and familiarity with many of the castles and ancestral
halls of England, and the marble palaces of Italy, had caused him
to look contemptuously at the House of the Seven Gables,
whether in point of splendor or convenience. It was a mansion
exceedingly inadequate to the style of living which it would be
incumbent on Mr. Pyncheon to support, after realizing his
territorial rights. His steward might deign to occupy it, but never,
certainly, the great landed proprietor himself. In the event of
success, indeed, it was his purpose to return to England; nor, to
say the truth, would he recently have quitted that more congenial
home, had not his own fortune, as well as his deceased wife's,
begun to give symptoms of exhaustion. The Eastern claim
once fairly settled, and put upon the firm basis of actual
possession, Mr. Pyncheon's property--to be measured by miles,
not acres--would be worth an earldom, and would reasonably
entitle him to solicit, or enable him to purchase, that elevated
dignity from the British monarch. Lord Pyncheon!--or the Earl of
Waldo!--how could such a magnate be expected to contract his
grandeur within the pitiful compass of seven shingled gables?

In short, on an enlarged view of the business, the carpenter's
terms appeared so ridiculously easy that Mr. Pyncheon could
scarcely forbear laughing in his face. He was quite ashamed,
after the foregoing reflections, to propose any diminution of
so moderate a recompense for the immense service to be rendered.

"I consent to your proposition, Maule," cried he." Put me in
possession of the document essential to establish my rights,
and the House of the Seven Gables is your own!"

According to some versions of the story, a regular contract to
the above effect was drawn up by a lawyer, and signed and sealed
in the presence of witnesses. Others say that Matthew Maule was
contented with a private written agreement, in which Mr. Pyncheon
pledged his honor and integrity to the fulfillment of the terms
concluded upon. The gentleman then ordered wine, which he and
the carpenter drank together, in confirmation of their bargain.
During the whole preceding discussion and subsequent formalities,
the old Puritan's portrait seems to have persisted in its shadowy
gestures of disapproval; but without effect, except that, as Mr.
Pyncheon set down the emptied glass, he thought be beheld his
grandfather frown.

"This sherry is too potent a wine for me; it has affected my brain
already," he observed, after a somewhat startled look at the picture.
"On returning to Europe, I shall confine myself to the more delicate
vintages of Italy and France, the best of which will not bear
transportation."

"My Lord Pyncheon may drink what wine he will, and wherever he
pleases," replied the carpenter, as if he had been privy to Mr.
Pyncheon's ambitious projects. "But first, sir, if you desire tidings
of this lost document, I must crave the favor of a little talk with
your fair daughter Alice."

"You are mad, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon haughtily; and now,
at last, there was anger mixed up with his pride. "What can my
daughter have to do with a business like this?"

Indeed, at this new demand on the carpenter's part, the proprietor
of the Seven Gables was even more thunder-struck than at the cool
proposition to surrender his house. There was, at least, an
assignable motive for the first stipulation; there appeared to be
none whatever for the last. Nevertheless, Matthew Maule sturdily
insisted on the young lady being summoned, and even gave her
father to understand, in a mysterious kind of explanation,--which
made the matter considerably darker than it looked before,--that
the only chance of acquiring the requisite knowledge was through
the clear, crystal medium of a pure and virgin intelligence, like
that of the fair Alice. Not to encumber our story with Mr. Pyncheon's
scruples, whether of conscience, pride, or fatherly affection,
he at length ordered his daughter to be called. He well knew that
she was in her chamber, and engaged in no occupation that could not
readily be laid aside; for, as it happened, ever since Alice's name
had been spoken, both her father and the carpenter had heard the sad
and sweet music of her harpsichord, and the airier melancholy of her
accompanying voice.

So Alice Pyncheon was summoned, and appeared. A portrait of this
young lady, painted by a Venetian artist, and left by her father
in England, is said to have fallen into the hands of the present
Duke of Devonshire, and to be now preserved at Chatsworth; not on
account of any associations with the original, but for its value
as a picture, and the high character of beauty in the countenance.
If ever there was a lady born, and set apart from the world's vulgar
mass by a certain gentle and cold stateliness, it was this very Alice
Pyncheon. Yet there was the womanly mixture in her; the tenderness,
or, at least, the tender capabilities. For the sake of that redeeming
quality, a man of generous nature would have forgiven all her pride,
and have been content, almost, to lie down in her path, and let Alice
set her slender foot upon his heart. All that he would have required
was simply the acknowledgment that he was indeed a man, and a
fellow-being, moulded of the same elements as she.

As Alice came into the room, her eyes fell upon the carpenter,
who was standing near its centre, clad in green woollen jacket,
a pair of loose breeches, open at the knees, and with a long
pocket for his rule, the end of which protruded; it was as proper
a mark of the artisan's calling as Mr. Pyncheon's full-dress
sword of that gentleman's aristocratic pretensions. A glow of
artistic approval brightened over Alice Pyncheon's face; she was
struck with admiration--which she made no attempt to conceal--of
the remarkable comeliness, strength, and energy of Maule's figure.
But that admiring glance (which most other men, perhaps, would
have cherished as a sweet recollection all through life) the
carpenter never forgave. It must have been the devil himself
that made Maule so subtile in his preception.

"Does the girl look at me as if I were a brute beast?" thought he,
setting his teeth. "She shall know whether I have a human spirit;
and the worse for her, if it prove stronger than her own!"

"My father, you sent for me," said Alice, in her sweet and harp-like
voice. "But, if you have business with this young man, pray let me
go again. You know I do not love this room, in spite of that Claude,
with which you try to bring back sunny recollections."

"Stay a moment, young lady, if you please!" said Matthew Maule.
"My business with your father is over. With yourself, it is now to begin!"

Alice looked towards her father, in surprise and inquiry.

"Yes, Alice," said Mr. Pyncheon, with some disturbance and
confusion. "This young man--his name is Matthew Maule--professes,
so far as I can understand him, to be able to discover, through
your means, a certain paper or parchment, which was missing long
before your birth. The importance of the document in question
renders it advisable to neglect no possible, even if improbable,
method of regaining it. You will therefore oblige me, my dear Alice,
by answering this person's inquiries, and complying with his lawful
and reasonable requests, so far as they may appear to have the
aforesaid object in view. As I shall remain in the room, you need
apprehend no rude nor unbecoming deportment, on the young man's
part; and, at your slightest wish, of course, the investigation,
or whatever we may call it, shall immediately be broken off."

"Mistress Alice Pyncheon," remarked Matthew Maule, with the
utmost deference, but yet a half-hidden sarcasm in his look
and tone, "will no doubt feel herself quite safe in her father's
presence, and under his all-sufficient protection."

"I certainly shall entertain no manner of apprehension, with my
father at hand," said Alice with maidenly dignity. "Neither do I
conceive that a lady, while true to herself, can have aught to
fear from whomsoever, or in any circumstances!"

Poor Alice! By what unhappy impulse did she thus put herself at once
on terms of defiance against a strength which she could not estimate?

"Then, Mistress Alice," said Matthew Maule, handing a chair,
--gracefully enough, for a craftsman, "will it please you only
to sit down, and do me the favor (though altogether beyond a
poor carpenter's deserts) to fix your eyes on mine!"

Alice complied, She was very proud. Setting aside all advantages
of rank, this fair girl deemed herself conscious of a power
--combined of beauty, high, unsullied purity, and the preservative
force of womanhood--that could make her sphere impenetrable,
unless betrayed by treachery within. She instinctively knew,
it may be, that some sinister or evil potency was now striving
to pass her barriers; nor would she decline the contest. So Alice
put woman's might against man's might; a match not often equal
on the part of woman.

Her father meanwhile had turned away, and seemed absorbed in
the contemplation of a landscape by Claude, where a shadowy
and sun-streaked vista penetrated so remotely into an ancient
wood, that it would have been no wonder if his fancy had lost
itself in the picture's bewildering depths. But, in truth,
the picture was no more to him at that moment than the blank
wall against which it hung. His mind was haunted with the many
and strange tales which he had heard, attributing mysterious if
not supernatural endowments to these Maules, as well the grandson
here present as his two immediate ancestors. Mr. Pyncheon's long
residence abroad, and intercourse with men of wit and fashion,
--courtiers, worldings, and free-thinkers,--had done much towards
obliterating the grim Puritan superstitions, which no man of New
England birth at that early period could entirely escape. But,
on the other hand, had not a whole Community believed Maule's
grandfather to be a wizard? Had not the crime been proved? Had
not the wizard died for it? Had he not bequeathed a legacy of
hatred against the Pyncheons to this only grandson, who, as it
appeared, was now about to exercise a subtle influence over the
daughter of his enemy's house? Might not this influence be the
same that was called witchcraft?

Turning half around, he caught a glimpse of Maule's figure in
the looking-glass. At some paces from Alice, with his arms
uplifted in the air, the carpenter made a gesture as if directing
downward a slow, ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden.

"Stay, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, stepping forward. "I forbid
your proceeding further!"

"Pray, my dear father, do not interrupt the young man," said Alice,
without changing her position. "His efforts, I assure you, will
prove very harmless."

Again Mr. Pyncheon turned his eyes towards the Claude. It was then
his daughter's will, in opposition to his own, that the experiment
should be fully tried. Henceforth, therefore, he did but consent,
not urge it. And was it not for her sake far more than for his own
that he desired its success? That lost parchment once restored,
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon, with the rich dowry which he could
then bestow, might wed an English duke or a German reigning-prince,
instead of some New England clergyman or lawyer! At the thought,
the ambitious father almost consented, in his heart, that, if the
devil's power were needed to the accomplishment of this great object,
Maule might evoke him. Alice's own purity would be her safeguard.

With his mind full of imaginary magnificence, Mr. Pyncheon heard
a half-uttered exclamation from his daughter. It was very faint
and low; so indistinct that there seemed but half a will to shape
out the words, and too undefined a purport to be intelligible.
Yet it was a call for help!--his conscience never doubted it;--and,
little more than a whisper to his ear, it was a dismal shriek,
and long reechoed so, in the region round his heart! But this time
the father did not turn.

After a further interval, Maule spoke.

"Behold your daughter." said he.

Mr. Pyncheon came hastily forward. The carpenter was standing
erect in front of Alice's chair, and pointing his finger towards
the maiden with an expression of triumphant power, the limits of
which could not be defined, as, indeed, its scope stretched
vaguely towards the unseen and the infinite. Alice sat in an
attitude of profound repose, with the long brown lashes drooping
over her eyes.

"There she is!" said the carpenter. "Speak to her!"

"Alice! My daughter!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon. "My own Alice!"

She did not stir.

"Louder!" said Maule, smiling.

"Alice! Awake!" cried her father. "It troubles me to see you thus! Awake!"

He spoke loudly, with terror in his voice, and close to that
delicate ear which had always been so sensitive to every discord.
But the sound evidently reached her not. It is indescribable what
a sense of remote, dim, unattainable distance betwixt himself and
Alice was impressed on the father by this impossibility of
reaching her with his voice.

"Best touch her" said Matthew Maule "Shake the girl, and roughly,
too! My hands are hardened with too much use of axe, saw, and plane,
--else I might help you!"

Mr. Pyncheon took her hand, and pressed it with the earnestness
of startled emotion. He kissed her, with so great a heart-throb in
the kiss, that he thought she must needs feel it. Then, in a gust of
anger at her insensibility, he shook her maiden form with a violence
which, the next moment, it affrighted him to remember. He withdrew
his encircling arms, and Alice--whose figure, though flexible, had
been wholly impassive--relapsed into the same attitude as before these
attempts to arouse her. Maule having shifted his position, her face
was turned towards him slightly, but with what seemed to be a reference
of her very slumber to his guidance.

Then it was a strange sight to behold how the man of conventionalities
shook the powder out of his periwig; how the reserved and stately
gentleman forgot his dignity; how the gold-embroidered waistcoat
flickered and glistened in the firelight with the convulsion of rage,
terror, and sorrow in the human heart that was beating under it.

"Villain!" cried Mr. Pyncheon, shaking his clenched fist at Maule.
"You and the fiend together have robbed me of my daughter. Give her
back, spawn of the old wizard, or you shall climb Gallows Hill in
your grandfather's footsteps!"

"Softly, Mr. Pyncheon!" said the carpenter with scornful
composure. "Softly, an it please your worship, else you will spoil
those rich lace ruffles at your wrists! Is it my crime if you have
sold your daughter for the mere hope of getting a sheet of yellow
parchment into your clutch? There sits Mistress Alice quietly
asleep. Now let Matthew Maule try whether she be as proud as
the carpenter found her awhile since."

He spoke, and Alice responded, with a soft, subdued, inward
acquiescence, and a bending of her form towards him, like the
flame of a torch when it indicates a gentle draught of air.
He beckoned with his hand, and, rising from her chair,--blindly,
but undoubtingly, as tending to her sure and inevitable centre,
--the proud Alice approached him. He waved her back, and,
retreating, Alice sank again into her seat.

"She is mine!" said Matthew Maule. "Mine, by the right of the
strongest spirit!"

In the further progress of the legend, there is a long, grotesque,
and occasionally awe-striking account of the carpenter's incantations
(if so they are to be called), with a view of discovering the lost
document. It appears to have been his object to convert the mind
of Alice into a kind of telescopic medium, through which Mr. Pyncheon
and himself might obtain a glimpse into the spiritual world.
He succeeded, accordingly, in holding an imperfect sort of intercourse,
at one remove, with the departed personages in whose custody the so
much valued secret had been carried beyond the precincts of earth.
During her trance, Alice described three figures as being present
to her spiritualized perception. One was an aged, dignified,
stern-looking gentleman, clad as for a solemn festival in grave
and costly attire, but with a great bloodstain on his richly
wrought band; the second, an aged man, meanly dressed, with a
dark and malign countenance, and a broken halter about his neck;
the third, a person not so advanced in life as the former two,
but beyond the middle age, wearing a coarse woollen tunic and
leather breeches, and with a carpenter's rule sticking out of
his side pocket. These three visionary characters possessed a
mutual knowledge of the missing document. One of them, in truth,
--it was he with the blood-stain on his band,--seemed, unless his
gestures were misunderstood, to hold the parchment in his immediate
keeping, but was prevented by his two partners in the mystery from
disburdening himself of the trust. Finally, when he showed a
purpose of shouting forth the secret loudly enough to be heard
from his own sphere into that of mortals, his companions struggled
with him, and pressed their hands over his mouth; and forthwith
--whether that he were choked by it, or that the secret itself was
of a crimson hue --there was a fresh flow of blood upon his band.
Upon this, the two meanly dressed figures mocked and jeered at the
much-abashed old dignitary, and pointed their fingers at the stain.

At this juncture, Maule turned to Mr. Pyncheon.

"It will never be allowed," said he. "The custody of this secret,
that would so enrich his heirs, makes part of your grandfather's
retribution. He must choke with it until it is no longer of any
value. And keep you the House of the Seven Gables! It is too
dear bought an inheritance, and too heavy with the curse upon it,
to be shifted yet awhile from the Colonel's posterity."

Mr. Pyncheon tried to speak, but--what with fear and passion--could
make only a gurgling murmur in his throat. The carpenter smiled.

"Aha, worshipful sir!--so you have old Maule's blood to drink!"
said he jeeringly.

"Fiend in man's shape! why dost thou keep dominion over my child?"
cried Mr. Pyncheon, when his choked utterance could make way. "Give
me back my daughter. Then go thy ways; and may we never meet again!"

"Your daughter!" said Matthew Maule. "Why, she is fairly mine!
Nevertheless, not to be too hard with fair Mistress Alice, I will
leave her in your keeping; but I do not warrant you that she shall
never have occasion to remember Maule, the carpenter."

He waved his hands with an upward motion; and, after a few
repetitions of similar gestures, the beautiful Alice Pyncheon
awoke from her strange trance. She awoke without the slightest
recollection of her visionary experience; but as one losing herself
in a momentary reverie, and returning to the consciousness of
actual life, in almost as brief an interval as the down-sinking
flame of the hearth should quiver again up the chimney. On
recognizing Matthew Maule, she assumed an air of somewhat cold
but gentle dignity, the rather, as there was a certain peculiar
smile on the carpenter's visage that stirred the native pride of
the fair Alice. So ended, for that time, the quest for the lost
title-deed of the Pyncheon territory at the Eastward; nor, though
often subsequently renewed, has it ever yet befallen a Pyncheon
to set his eye upon that parchment.

But, alas for the beautiful, the gentle, yet too haughty Alice!
A power that she little dreamed of had laid its grasp upon her
maiden soul. A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do
its grotesque and fantastic bidding. Her father as it proved, had
martyred his poor child to an inordinate desire for measuring his
land by miles instead of acres. And, therefore, while Alice
Pyncheon lived, she was Maule's slave, in a bondage more humiliating,
a thousand-fold, than that which binds its chain around the body.
Seated by his humble fireside, Maule had but to wave his hand; and,
wherever the proud lady chanced to be,--whether in her chamber, or
entertaining her father's stately guests, or worshipping at church,
--whatever her place or occupation, her spirit passed from beneath
her own control, and bowed itself to Maule. "Alice, laugh!"--the
carpenter, beside his hearth, would say; or perhaps intensely will
it, without a spoken word. And, even were it prayer-time, or at a
funeral, Alice must break into wild laughter. "Alice, be sad!"--and,
at the instant, down would come her tears, quenching all the mirth
of those around her like sudden rain upon a bonfire. "Alice, dance."
--and dance she would, not in such court-like measures as she had
learned abroad, but Some high-paced jig, or hop-skip rigadoon,
befitting the brisk lasses at a rustic merry-making. It seemed to
be Maule's impulse, not to ruin Alice, nor to visit her with any
black or gigantic mischief, which would have crowned her sorrows
with the grace of tragedy, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn upon
her. Thus all the dignity of life was lost. She felt herself too
much abased, and longed to change natures with some worm!

One evening, at a bridal party (but not her own; for, so lost from
self-control, she would have deemed it sin to marry), poor Alice
was beckoned forth by her unseen despot, and constrained, in her
gossamer white dress and satin slippers, to hasten along the street
to the mean dwelling of a laboring-man. There was laughter and
good cheer within; for Matthew Maule, that night, was to wed
the laborer's daughter, and had summoned proud Alice Pyncheon
to wait upon his bride. And so she did; and when the twain were
one, Alice awoke out of her enchanted sleep. Yet, no longer
proud,--humbly, and with a smile all steeped in sadness,--she
kissed Maule's wife, and went her way. It was an inclement
night; the southeast wind drove the mingled snow and rain into
her thinly sheltered bosom; her satin slippers were wet through
and through, as she trod the muddy sidewalks. The next day a
cold; soon, a settled cough; anon, a hectic cheek, a wasted form,
that sat beside the harpsichord, and filled the house with music!
Music in which a strain of the heavenly choristers was echoed! Oh;
joy For Alice had borne her last humiliation! Oh, greater joy! For
Alice was penitent of her one earthly sin, and proud no more!

The Pyncheons made a great funeral for Alice. The kith and kin
were there, and the whole respectability of the town besides.
But, last in the procession, came Matthew Maule, gnashing his
teeth, as if he would have bitten his own heart in twain,--the
darkest and wofullest man that ever walked behind a corpse! He
meant to humble Alice, not to kill her; but he had taken a woman's
delicate soul into his rude gripe, to play with--and she was dead!

 

 

XIV Phoebe's Good-By

 

 

HOLGRAVE, plunging into his tale with the energy and absorption
natural to a young author, had given a good deal of action to
the parts capable of being developed and exemplified in that
manner. He now observed that a certain remarkable drowsiness
(wholly unlike that with which the reader possibly feels himself
affected) had been flung over the senses of his auditress.
It was the effect, unquestionably, of the mystic gesticulations
by which he had sought to bring bodily before Phoebe's perception
the figure of the mesmerizing carpenter. With the lids drooping
over her eyes,--now lifted for an instant, and drawn down again
as with leaden weights,--she leaned slightly towards him, and
seemed almost to regulate her breath by his. Holgrave gazed at
her, as he rolled up his manuscript, and recognized an incipient
stage of that curious psychological condition which, as he had
himself told Phoebe, he possessed more than an ordinary faculty
of producing. A veil was beginning to be muffled about her,
in which she could behold only him, and live only in his thoughts
and emotions. His glance, as he fastened it on the young girl,
grew involuntarily more concentrated; in his attitude there was
the consciousness of power, investing his hardly mature figure
with a dignity that did not belong to its physical manifestation.
It was evident, that, with but one wave of his hand and a
corresponding effort of his will, he could complete his mastery
over Phoebe's yet free and virgin spirit: he could establish an
influence over this good, pure, and simple child, as dangerous,
and perhaps as disastrous, as that which the carpenter of his
legend had acquired and exercised over the ill-fated Alice.

To a disposition like Holgrave's, at once speculative and active,
there is no temptation so great as the opportunity of acquiring
empire over the human spirit; nor any idea more seductive to a young
man than to become the arbiter of a young girl's destiny. Let us,
therefore, --whatever his defects of nature and education, and in
spite of his scorn for creeds and institutions,--concede to the
daguerreotypist the rare and high quality of reverence for another's
individuality. Let us allow him integrity, also, forever after to
be confided in; since he forbade himself to twine that one link more
which might have rendered his spell over Phoebe indissoluble.

He made a slight gesture upward with his hand.

"You really mortify me, my dear Miss Phoebe!" he exclaimed,
smiling half-sarcastically at her. "My poor story, it is but
too evident, will never do for Godey or Graham! Only think of
your falling asleep at what I hoped the newspaper critics would
pronounce a most brilliant, powerful, imaginative, pathetic, and
original winding up! Well, the manuscript must serve to light
lamps with;--if, indeed, being so imbued with my gentle dulness,
it is any longer capable of flame!"

"Me asleep! How can you say so?" answered Phoebe, as unconscious
of the crisis through which she had passed as an infant of the
precipice to the verge of which it has rolled. "No, no! I consider
myself as having been very attentive; and, though I don't remember
the incidents quite distinctly, yet I have an impression of a vast
deal of trouble and calamity,--so, no doubt, the story will prove
exceedingly attractive."

By this time the sun had gone down, and was tinting the clouds
towards the zenith with those bright hues which are not seen
there until some time after sunset, and when the horizon has
quite lost its richer brilliancy. The moon, too, which had long
been climbing overhead, and unobtrusively melting its disk into
the azure,--like an ambitious demagogue, who hides his aspiring
purpose by assuming the prevalent hue of popular sentiment,--now
began to shine out, broad and oval, in its middle pathway. These
silvery beams were already powerful enough to change the character
of the lingering daylight. They softened and embellished the aspect
of the old house; although the shadows fell deeper into the angles
of its many gables, and lay brooding under the projecting story,
and within the half-open door. With the lapse of every moment,
the garden grew more picturesque; the fruit-trees, shrubbery, and
flower-bushes had a dark obscurity among them. The commonplace
characteristics--which, at noontide, it seemed to have taken a
century of sordid life to accumulate--were now transfigured by
a charm of romance. A hundred mysterious years were whispering
among the leaves, whenever the slight sea-breeze found its way
thither and stirred them. Through the foliage that roofed the
little summer-house the moonlight flickered to and fro, and fell
silvery white on the dark floor, the table, and the circular bench,
with a continual shift and play, according as the chinks and wayward
crevices among the twigs admitted or shut out the glimmer.

So sweetly cool was the atmosphere, after all the feverish day,
that the summer eve might be fancied as sprinkling dews and
liquid moonlight, with a dash of icy temper in them, out of a
silver vase. Here and there, a few drops of this freshness
were scattered on a human heart, and gave it youth again, and
sympathy with the eternal youth of nature. The artist chanced
to be one on whom the reviving influence fell. It made him
feel--what he sometimes almost forgot, thrust so early as he
had been into the rude struggle of man with man--how youthful
he still was.

"It seems to me," he observed, "that I never watched the coming
of so beautiful an eve, and never felt anything so very much
like happiness as at this moment. After all, what a good world
we live in! How good, and beautiful! How young it is, too, with
nothing really rotten or age-worn in it! This old house, for
example, which sometimes has positively oppressed my breath
with its smell of decaying timber! And this garden, where the
black mould always clings to my spade, as if I were a sexton
delving in a graveyard! Could I keep the feeling that now
possesses me, the garden would every day be virgin soil, with the
earth's first freshness in the flavor of its beans and squashes;
and the house!--it would be like a bower in Eden, blossoming with
the earliest roses that God ever made. Moonlight, and the
sentiment in man's heart responsive to it, are the greatest of
renovators and reformers. And all other reform and renovation,
I suppose, will prove to be no better than moonshine!"

"I have been happier than I am now; at least, much gayer," said
Phoebe thoughtfully. "Yet I am sensible of a great charm in this
brightening moonlight; and I love to watch how the day, tired as
it is, lags away reluctantly, and hates to be called yesterday
so soon. I never cared much about moonlight before. What is there,
I wonder, so beautiful in it, to-night?"

"And you have never felt it before?" inquired the artist, looking
earnestly at the girl through the twilight.

"Never," answered Phoebe; "and life does not look the same, now
that I have felt it so. It seems as if I had looked at everything,
hitherto, in broad daylight, or else in the ruddy light of a
cheerful fire, glimmering and dancing through a room. Ah, poor
me!" she added, with a half-melancholy laugh. "I shall never be
so merry as before I knew Cousin Hepzibah and poor Cousin
Clifford. I have grown a great deal older, in this little time.
Older, and, I hope, wiser, and,--not exactly sadder,--but, certainly,
with not half so much lightness in my spirits! I have given them
my sunshine, and have been glad to give it; but, of course, I
cannot both give and keep it. They are welcome, notwithstanding!"

"You have lost nothing, Phoebe, worth keeping, nor which it was
possible to keep," said Holgrave after a pause. "Our first youth
is of no value; for we are never conscious of it until after it is
gone. But sometimes--always, I suspect, unless one is exceedingly
unfortunate--there comes a sense of second youth, gushing out of
the heart's joy at being in love; or, possibly, it may come to
crown some other grand festival in life, if any other such there
be. This bemoaning of one's self (as you do now) over the first,
careless, shallow gayety of youth departed, and this profound
happiness at youth regained,--so much deeper and richer than that
we lost,--are essential to the soul's development. In some cases,
the two states come almost simultaneously, and mingle the sadness
and the rapture in one mysterious emotion."

"I hardly think I understand you," said Phoebe.

"No wonder," replied Holgrave, smiling; "for I have told you a
secret which I hardly began to know before I found myself giving
it utterance. remember it, however; and when the truth becomes
clear to you, then think of this moonlight scene!"

"It is entirely moonlight now, except only a little flush of
faint crimson, upward from the west, between those buildings,"
remarked Phoebe. "I must go in. Cousin Hepzibah is not quick
at figures, and will give herself a headache over the day's
accounts, unless I help her."

But Holgrave detained her a little longer.

"Miss Hepzibah tells me," observed he, "that you return to the
country in a few days."

"Yes, but only for a little while," answered Phoebe; "for I look
upon this as my present home. I go to make a few arrangements,
and to take a more deliberate leave of my mother and friends.
It is pleasant to live where one is much desired and very useful;
and I think I may have the satisfaction of feeling myself so here."

"You surely may, and more than you imagine," said the artist.
"Whatever health, comfort, and natural life exists in the house
is embodied in your person. These blessings came along with you,
and will vanish when you leave the threshold. Miss Hepzibah, by
secluding herself from society, has lost all true relation with
it, and is, in fact, dead; although she galvanizes herself into
a semblance of life, and stands behind her counter, afflicting
the world with a greatly-to-be-deprecated scowl. Your poor
cousin Clifford is another dead and long-buried person, on whom
the governor and council have wrought a necromantic miracle.
I should not wonder if he were to crumble away, some morning,
after you are gone, and nothing be seen of him more, except a
heap of dust. Miss Hepzibah, at any rate, will lose what little
flexibility she has. They both exist by you."

"I should be very sorry to think so," answered Phoebe gravely.
"But it is true that my small abilities were precisely what they
needed; and I have a real interest in their welfare,--an odd
kind of motherly sentiment,--which I wish you would not laugh at!
And let me tell you frankly, Mr. Holgrave, I am sometimes
puzzled to know whether you wish them well or ill."

"Undoubtedly," said the daguerreotypist, "I do feel an interest
in this antiquated, poverty-stricken old maiden lady, and this
degraded and shattered gentleman,--this abortive lover of the
beautiful. A kindly interest, too, helpless old children that
they are! But you have no conception what a different kind of
heart mine is from your own. It is not my impulse, as regards
these two individuals, either to help or hinder; but to look on,
to analyze, to explain matters to myself, and to comprehend the
drama which, for almost two hundred years, has been dragging
its slow length over the ground where you and I now tread. If
permitted to witness the close, I doubt not to derive a moral
satisfaction from it, go matters how they may. There is a
conviction within me that the end draws nigh. But, though
Providence sent you hither to help, and sends me only as a
privileged and meet spectator, I pledge myself to lend these
unfortunate beings whatever aid I can!"

"I wish you would speak more plainly," cried Phoebe, perplexed
and displeased; "and, above all, that you would feel more like
a Christian and a human being! How is it possible to see people
in distress without desiring, more than anything else, to help
and comfort them? You talk as if this old house were a theatre;
and you seem to look at Hepzibah's and Clifford's misfortunes,
and those of generations before them, as a tragedy, such as I
have seen acted in the hall of a country hotel, only the present
one appears to be played exclusively for your amusement. I do
not like this. The play costs the performers too much, and the
audience is too cold-hearted."

"You are severe," said Holgrave, compelled to recognize a degree
of truth in the piquant sketch of his own mood.

"And then," continued Phoebe, "what can you mean by your
conviction, which you tell me of, that the end is drawing near?
Do you know of any new trouble hanging over my poor
relatives? If so, tell me at once, and I will not leave them!"

"Forgive me, Phoebe!" said the daguerreotypist, holding out his
hand, to which the girl was constrained to yield her own." I am
somewhat of a mystic, it must be confessed. The tendency is in my
blood, together with the faculty of mesmerism, which might have
brought me to Gallows Hill, in the good old times of witchcraft.
Believe me, if I were really aware of any secret, the disclosure
of which would benefit your friends,--who are my own friends,
likewise,--you should learn it before we part. But I have no
such knowledge."

"You hold something back!" said Phoebe.

"Nothing,--no secrets but my own," answered Holgrave. "I can
perceive, indeed, that Judge Pyncheon still keeps his eye on
Clifford, in whose ruin he had so large a share. His motives
and intentions, however are a mystery to me. He is a determined
and relentless man, with the genuine character of an inquisitor;
and had he any object to gain by putting Clifford to the rack,
I verily believe that he would wrench his joints from their sockets,
in order to accomplish it. But, so wealthy and eminent as he is,
--so powerful in his own strength, and in the support of society
on all sides,--what can Judge Pyncheon have to hope or fear from
the imbecile, branded, half-torpid Clifford?"

"Yet," urged Phoebe, "you did speak as if misfortune were impending!"

"Oh, that was because I am morbid!" replied the artist. "My mind
has a twist aside, like almost everybody's mind, except your own.
Moreover, it is so strange to find myself an inmate of this old
Pyncheon House, and sitting in this old garden--(hark, how Maule's
well is murmuring!)--that, were it only for this one circumstance,
I cannot help fancying that Destiny is arranging its fifth act
for a catastrophe."

"There." cried Phoebe with renewed vexation; for she was by
nature as hostile to mystery as the sunshine to a dark corner.
"You puzzle me more than ever!"

"Then let us part friends!" said Holgrave, pressing her hand. "Or,
if not friends, let us part before you entirely hate me. You, who
love everybody else in the world!"

"Good-by, then," said Phoebe frankly. "I do not mean to be angry
a great while, and should be sorry to have you think so. There
has Cousin Hepzibah been standing in the shadow of the doorway,
this quarter of an hour past! She thinks I stay too long in the
damp garden. So, good-night, and good-by."

On the second morning thereafter, Phoebe might have been seen, in
her straw bonnet, with a shawl on one arm and a little carpet-bag
on the other, bidding adieu to Hepzibah and Cousin Clifford. She
was to take a seat in the next train of cars, which would transport
her to within half a dozen miles of her country village.

The tears were in Phoebe's eyes; a smile, dewy with affectionate
regret, was glimmering around her pleasant mouth. She wondered
how it came to pass, that her life of a few weeks, here in this
heavy-hearted old mansion, had taken such hold of her, and so
melted into her associations, as now to seem a more important
centre-point of remembrance than all which had gone before.
How had Hepzibah--grim, silent, and irresponsive to her overflow
of cordial sentiment--contrived to win so much love? And Clifford,
--in his abortive decay, with the mystery of fearful crime upon
him, and the close prison-atmosphere yet lurking in his breath,
--how had he transformed himself into the simplest child, whom
Phoebe felt bound to watch over, and be, as it were, the providence
of his unconsidered hours! Everything, at that instant of farewell,
stood out prominently to her view. Look where she would, lay her
hand on what she might, the object responded to her consciousness,
as if a moist human heart were in it.

She peeped from the window into the garden, and felt herself
more regretful at leaving this spot of black earth, vitiated with
such an age-long growth of weeds, than joyful at the idea of again
scenting her pine forests and fresh clover-fields. She called
Chanticleer, his two wives, and the venerable chicken, and threw
them some crumbs of bread from the breakfast-table. These being
hastily gobbled up, the chicken spread its wings, and alighted
close by Phoebe on the window-sill, where it looked gravely into
her face and vented its emotions in a croak. Phoebe bade it be
a good old chicken during her absence, and promised to bring it
a little bag of buckwheat.

"Ah, Phoebe!" remarked Hepzibah, "you do not smile so naturally
as when you came to us! Then, the smile chose to shine out; now,
you choose it should. It is well that you are going back, for
a little while, into your native air. There has been too much
weight on your spirits. The house is too gloomy and lonesome;
the shop is full of vexations; and as for me, I have no faculty
of making things look brighter than they are. Dear Clifford has
been your only comfort!"

"Come hither, Phoebe," suddenly cried her cousin Clifford, who
had said very little all the morning. "Close!--closer!--and look
me in the face!"

Phoebe put one of her small hands on each elbow of his chair, and
leaned her face towards him, so that he might peruse it as carefully
as he would. It is probable that the latent emotions of this parting
hour had revived, in some degree, his bedimmed and enfeebled faculties.
At any rate, Phoebe soon felt that, if not the profound insight of a
seer, yet a more than feminine delicacy of appreciation, was making
her heart the subject of its regard. A moment before, she had known
nothing which she would have sought to hide. Now, as if some secret
were hinted to her own consciousness through the medium of another's
perception, she was fain to let her eyelids droop beneath Clifford's
gaze. A blush, too,--the redder, because she strove hard to keep it
down,--ascended bigger and higher, in a tide of fitful progress,
until even her brow was all suffused with it.

"It is enough, Phoebe," said Clifford, with a melancholy smile.
"When I first saw you, you were the prettiest little maiden in the
world; and now you have deepened into beauty. Girlhood has passed into
womanhood; the bud is a bloom! Go, now--I feel lonelier than I did."

Phoebe took leave of the desolate couple, and passed through the
shop, twinkling her eyelids to shake off a dew-drop; for--considering
how brief her absence was to be, and therefore the folly of being
cast down about it--she would not so far acknowledge her tears as
to dry them with her handkerchief. On the doorstep, she met the
little urchin whose marvellous feats of gastronomy have been
recorded in the earlier pages of our narrative. She took from the
window some specimen or other of natural history,--her eyes being
too dim with moisture to inform her accurately whether it was a
rabbit or a hippopotamus,--put it into the child's hand as a
parting gift, and went her way. Old Uncle Venner was just coming
out of his door, with a wood-horse and saw on his shoulder; and,
trudging along the street, he scrupled not to keep company with
Phoebe, so far as their paths lay together; nor, in spite of his
patched coat and rusty beaver, and the curious fashion of his
tow-cloth trousers, could she find it in her heart to outwalk him.

"We shall miss you, next Sabbath afternoon," observed the street
philosopher." It is unaccountable how little while it takes some
folks to grow just as natural to a man as his own breath; and,
begging your pardon, Miss Phoebe (though there can be no offence
in an old man's saying it), that's just what you've grown to me!
My years have been a great many, and your life is but just
beginning; and yet, you are somehow as familiar to me as if I
had found you at my mother's door, and you had blossomed,
like a running vine, all along my pathway since. Come back
soon, or I shall be gone to my farm; for I begin to find these
wood-sawing jobs a little too tough for my back-ache."

"Very soon, Uncle Venner," replied Phoebe.

"And let it be all the sooner, Phoebe, for the sake of those
poor souls yonder," continued her companion. "They can never
do without you, now,--never, Phoebe; never--no more than if one
of God's angels had been living with them, and making their dismal
house pleasant and comfortable! Don't it seem to you they'd be in
a sad case, if, some pleasant summer morning like this, the angel
should spread his wings, and fly to the place he came from? Well,
just so they feel, now that you're going home by the railroad!
They can't bear it, Miss Phoebe; so be sure to come back!"

"I am no angel, Uncle Venner," said Phoebe, smiling, as she offered
him her hand at the street-corner. "But, I suppose, people never
feel so much like angels as when they are doing what little good
they may. So I shall certainly come back!"

Thus parted the old man and the rosy girl; and Phoebe took the
wings of the morning, and was soon flitting almost as rapidly
away as if endowed with the aerial locomotion of the angels to
whom Uncle Venner had so graciously compared her.

 

 

XV The Scowl and Smile

 

 

SEVERAL days passed over the Seven Gables, heavily and drearily
enough. In fact (not to attribute the whole gloom of sky and
earth to the one inauspicious circumstance of Phoebe's departure),
an easterly storm had set in, and indefatigably apply itself to
the task of making the black roof and walls of the old house look
more cheerless than ever before. Yet was the outside not half so
cheerless as the interior. Poor Clifford was cut off, at once,
from all his scanty resources of enjoyment. Phoebe was not there;
nor did the sunshine fall upon the floor. The garden, with its
muddy walks, and the chill, dripping foliage of its summer-house,
was an image to be shuddered at. Nothing flourished in the cold,
moist, pitiless atmosphere, drifting with the brackish scud of
sea-breezes, except the moss along the joints of the shingle-roof,
and the great bunch of weeds, that had lately been suffering from
drought, in the angle between the two front gables.

As for Hepzibah, she seemed not merely possessed with the east
wind, but to be, in her very person, only another phase of this
gray and sullen spell of weather; the east wind itself, grim and
disconsolate, in a rusty black silk gown, and with a turban of
cloud-wreaths on its head. The custom of the shop fell off,
because a story got abroad that she soured her small beer and
other damageable commodities, by scowling on them. It is, perhaps,
true that the public had something reasonably to complain of in
her deportment; but towards Clifford she was neither ill-tempered
nor unkind, nor felt less warmth of heart than always, had it
been possible to make it reach him. The inutility of her best
efforts, however, palsied the poor old gentlewoman. She could
do little else than sit silently in a corner of the room,
when the wet pear-tree branches, sweeping across the small
windows, created a noon-day dusk, which Hepzibah unconsciously
darkened with her woe-begone aspect. It was no fault of
Hepzibah's. Everything--even the old chairs and tables, that had
known what weather was for three or four such lifetimes as her
own--looked as damp and chill as if the present were their worst
experience. The picture of the Puritan Colonel shivered on the
wall. The house itself shivered, from every attic of its seven
gables down to the great kitchen fireplace, which served all the
better as an emblem of the mansion's heart, because, though built
for warmth, it was now so comfortless and empty.

Hepzibah attempted to enliven matters by a fire in the parlor.
But the storm demon kept watch above, and, whenever a flame was
kindled, drove the smoke back again, choking the chimney's
sooty throat with its own breath. Nevertheless, during four days
of this miserable storm, Clifford wrapt himself in an old cloak,
and occupied his customary chair. On the morning of the fifth,
when summoned to breakfast, he responded only by a broken-hearted
murmur, expressive of a determination not to leave his bed. His
sister made no attempt to change his purpose. In fact, entirely
as she loved him, Hepzibah could hardly have borne any longer
the wretched duty--so impracticable by her few and rigid faculties
--of seeking pastime for a still sensitive, but ruined mind,
critical and fastidious, without force or volition. It was at
least something short of positive despair, that to-day she might
sit shivering alone, and not suffer continually a new grief,
and unreasonable pang of remorse, at every fitful sigh of her
fellow sufferer.

But Clifford, it seemed, though he did not make his appearance
below stairs, had, after all, bestirred himself in quest of
amusement. In the course of the forenoon, Hepzibah heard a note
of music, which (there being no other tuneful contrivance in the
House of the Seven Gables) she knew must proceed from Alice
Pyncheon's harpsichord. She was aware that Clifford, in his
youth, had possessed a cultivated taste for music, and a
considerable degree of skill in its practice. It was difficult,
however, to conceive of his retaining an accomplishment to
which daily exercise is so essential, in the measure indicated by
the sweet, airy, and delicate, though most melancholy strain,
that now stole upon her ear. Nor was it less marvellous that the
long-silent instrument should be capable of so much melody.
Hepzibah involuntarily thought of the ghostly harmonies, prelusive
of death in the family, which were attributed to the legendary
Alice. But it was, perhaps, proof of the agency of other than
spiritual fingers, that, after a few touches, the chords seemed
to snap asunder with their own vibrations, and the music ceased.

But a harsher sound succeeded to the mysterious notes; nor was
the easterly day fated to pass without an event sufficient in
itself to poison, for Hepzibah and Clifford, the balmiest air
that ever brought the humming-birds along with it. The final
echoes of Alice Pyncheon's performance (or Clifford's, if his
we must consider it) were driven away by no less vulgar a
dissonance than the ringing of the shop-bell. A foot was heard
scraping itself on the threshold, and thence somewhat ponderously
stepping on the floor. Hepzibah delayed a moment, while muffling
herself in a faded shawl, which had been her defensive armor in
a forty years' warfare against the east wind. A characteristic
sound, however,--neither a cough nor a hem, but a kind of rumbling
and reverberating spasm in somebody's capacious depth of chest;
--impelled her to hurry forward, with that aspect of fierce
faint-heartedness so common to women in cases of perilous
emergency. Few of her sex, on such occasions, have ever looked
so terrible as our poor scowling Hepzibah. But the visitor
quietly closed the shop-door behind him, stood up his umbrella
against the counter, and turned a visage of composed benignity,
to meet the alarm and anger which his appearance had excited.

Hepzibah's presentiment had not deceived her. It was no other
than Judge Pyncheon, who, after in vain trying the front door,
had now effected his entrance into the shop.

"How do you do, Cousin Hepzibah?--and how does this most inclement
weather affect our poor Clifford?" began the Judge; and wonderful
it seemed, indeed, that the easterly storm was not put to shame, or,
at any rate, a little mollified, by the genial benevolence of his
smile. "I could not rest without calling to ask, once more,
whether I can in any manner promote his comfort, or your own."

"You can do nothing," said Hepzibah, controlling her agitation as
well as she could." I devote myself to Clifford. He has every
comfort which his situation admits of."

"But allow me to suggest, dear cousin," rejoined the Judge," you
err,--in all affection and kindness, no doubt, and with the very
best intentions,--but you do err, nevertheless, in keeping your
brother so secluded. Why insulate him thus from all sympathy
and kindness? Clifford, alas! has had too much of solitude. Now
let him try society,--the society, that is to say, of kindred and
old friends. Let me, for instance, but see Clifford, and I will
answer for the good effect of the interview."

"You cannot see him," answered Hepzibah. "Clifford has kept his
bed since yesterday."

"What! How! Is he ill?" exclaimed Judge Pyncheon, starting with
what seemed to be angry alarm; for the very frown of the old
Puritan darkened through the room as he spoke. "Nay, then, I
must and will see him! What if he should die?"

"He is in no danger of death," said Hepzibah,--and added, with
bitterness that she could repress no longer, "none; unless he shall
be persecuted to death, now, by the same man who long ago
attempted it!"

"Cousin Hepzibah," said the Judge, with an impressive earnestness
of manner, which grew even to tearful pathos as he proceeded,
"is it possible that you do not perceive how unjust, how unkind,
how unchristian, is this constant, this long-continued bitterness
against me, for a part which I was constrained by duty and conscience,
by the force of law, and at my own peril, to act? What did I do,
in detriment to Clifford, which it was possible to leave undone?
How could you, his sister,--if, for your never-ending sorrow, as it
has been for mine, you had known what I did,--have, shown greater
tenderness? And do you think, cousin, that it has cost me no pang?
--that it has left no anguish in my bosom, from that day to this,
amidst all the prosperity with which Heaven has blessed me?--or that
I do not now rejoice, when it is deemed consistent with the dues of
public justice and the welfare of society that this dear kinsman,
this early friend, this nature so delicately and beautifully
constituted,--so unfortunate, let us pronounce him, and forbear
to say, so guilty,--that our own Clifford, in fine, should be given
back to life, and its possibilities of enjoyment? Ah, you little
know me, Cousin Hepzibah! You little know this heart! It now throbs
at the thought of meeting him! There lives not the human being
(except yourself,--and you not more than I) who has shed so many
tears for Clifford's calamity. You behold some of them now.
There is none who would so delight to promote his happiness!
Try me, Hepzibah! --try me, cousin! --try the man whom you have
treated as your enemy and Clifford's! --try Jaffrey Pyncheon,
and you shall find him true, to the heart's core!"

"In the name of Heaven," cried Hepzibah, provoked only to
intenser indignation by this outgush of the inestimable tenderness
of a stern nature,--"in God's name, whom you insult, and whose
power I could almost question, since he hears you utter so many
false words without palsying your tongue,--give over, I beseech
you, this loathsome pretence of affection for your victim! You hate
him! Say so, like a man! You cherish, at this moment, some black
purpose against him in your heart! Speak it out, at once!--or,
if you hope so to promote it better, hide it till you can triumph
in its success! But never speak again of your love for my poor
brother. I cannot bear it! It will drive me beyond a woman's
decency! It will drive me mad! Forbear. Not another word!
It will make me spurn you!"

For once, Hepzibah's wrath had given her courage. She had spoken.
But, after all, was this unconquerable distrust of Judge Pyncheon's
integrity, and this utter denial, apparently, of his claim to stand
in the ring of human sympathies,--were they founded in any just
perception of his character, or merely the offspring of a woman's
unreasonable prejudice, deduced from nothing?

The Judge, beyond all question, was a man of eminent respectability.
The church acknowledged it; the state acknowledged it. It was denied
by nobody. In all the very extensive sphere of those who knew him,
whether in his public or private capacities, there was not an
individual--except Hepzibah, and some lawless mystic, like the
daguerreotypist, and, possibly, a few political opponents--who would
have dreamed of seriously disputing his claim to a high and honorable
place in the world's regard. Nor (we must do him the further justice
to say) did Judge Pyncheon himself, probably, entertain many or very
frequent doubts, that his enviable reputation accorded with his
deserts. His conscience, therefore, usually considered the surest
witness to a man's integrity,--his conscience, unless it might be
for the little space of five minutes in the twenty-four hours, or,
now and then, some black day in the whole year's circle,--his
conscience bore an accordant testimony with the world's laudatory
voice. And yet, strong as this evidence may seem to be, we should
hesitate to peril our own conscience on the assertion, that the
Judge and the consenting world were right, and that poor Hepzibah
with her solitary prejudice was wrong. Hidden from mankind,
--forgotten by himself, or buried so deeply under a sculptured
and ornamented pile of ostentatious deeds that his daily life
could take no note of it,--there may have lurked some evil and
unsightly thing. Nay, we could almost venture to say, further,
that a daily guilt might have been acted by him, continually
renewed, and reddening forth afresh, like the miraculous
blood-stain of a murder, without his necessarily and at every
moment being aware of it.

Men of strong minds, great force of character, and a hard texture
of the sensibilities, are very capable of falling into mistakes of
this kind. They are ordinarily men to whom forms are of paramount
importance. Their field of action lies among the external phenomena
of life. They possess vast ability in grasping, and arranging, and
appropriating to themselves, the big, heavy, solid unrealities, such
as gold, landed estate, offices of trust and emolument, and public
honors. With these materials, and with deeds of goodly aspect, done
in the public eye, an individual of this class builds up, as it were,
a tall and stately edifice, which, in the view of other people,
and ultimately in his own view, is no other than the man's character,
or the man himself. Behold, therefore, a palace! Its splendid halls
and suites of spacious apartments are floored with a mosaic-work
of costly marbles; its windows, the whole height of each room, admit
the sunshine through the most transparent of plate-glass; its high
cornices are gilded, and its ceilings gorgeously painted; and a
lofty dome--through which, from the central pavement, you may gaze
up to the sky, as with no obstructing medium between--surmounts the
whole. With what fairer and nobler emblem could any man desire to
shadow forth his character? Ah! but in some low and obscure nook,
--some narrow closet on the ground-floor, shut, locked and bolted,
and the key flung away,--or beneath the marble pavement, in a
stagnant water-puddle, with the richest pattern of mosaic-work
above,--may lie a corpse, half decayed, and still decaying, and
diffusing its death-scent all through the palace! The inhabitant
will not be conscious of it, for it has long been his daily breath!
Neither will the visitors, for they smell only the rich odors which
the master sedulously scatters through the palace, and the incense
which they bring, and delight to burn before him! Now and then,
perchance, comes in a seer, before whose sadly gifted eye the
whole structure melts into thin air, leaving only the hidden nook,
the bolted closet, with the cobwebs festooned over its forgotten
door, or the deadly hole under the pavement, and the decaying
corpse within. Here, then, we are to seek the true emblem of the
man's character, and of the deed that gives whatever reality it
possesses to his life. And, beneath the show of a marble palace,
that pool of stagnant water, foul with many impurities, and,
perhaps, tinged with blood,--that secret abomination, above which,
possibly, he may say his prayers, without remembering it,--is this
man's miserable soul!

To apply this train of remark somewhat more closely to Judge
Pyncheon. We might say (without in the least imputing crime to
a personage of his eminent respectability) that there was enough
of splendid rubbish in his life to cover up and paralyze a more
active and subtile conscience than the Judge was ever troubled
with. The purity of his judicial character, while on the bench;
the faithfulness of his public service in subsequent capacities;
his devotedness to his party, and the rigid consistency with which
he had adhered to its principles, or, at all events, kept pace with
its organized movements; his remarkable zeal as president of a
Bible society; his unimpeachable integrity as treasurer of a widow's
and orphan's fund; his benefits to horticulture, by producing two
much esteemed varieties of the pear and to agriculture, through
the agency of the famous Pyncheon bull; the cleanliness of his
moral deportment, for a great many years past; the severity with
which he had frowned upon, and finally cast off, an expensive
and dissipated son, delaying forgiveness until within the final
quarter of an hour of the young man's life; his prayers at
morning and eventide, and graces at meal-time; his efforts in
furtherance of the temperance cause; his confining himself, since
the last attack of the gout, to five diurnal glasses of old sherry
wine; the snowy whiteness of his linen, the polish of his boots,
the handsomeness of his gold-headed cane, the square and roomy
fashion of his coat, and the fineness of its material, and, in
general, the studied propriety of his dress and equipment; the
scrupulousness with which he paid public notice, in the street,
by a bow, a lifting of the hat, a nod, or a motion of the hand,
to all and sundry of his acquaintances, rich or poor; the smile
of broad benevolence wherewith he made it a point to gladden the
whole world,--what room could possibly be found for darker traits
in a portrait made up of lineaments like these? This proper face
was what he beheld in the looking-glass. This admirably arranged
life was what he was conscious of in the progress of every day.
Then might not he claim to be its result and sum, and say to
himself and the community, "Behold Judge Pyncheon there"?

And allowing that, many, many years ago, in his early and
reckless youth, he had committed some one wrong act,--or that,
even now, the inevitable force of circumstances should
occasionally make him do one questionable deed among a
thousand praiseworthy, or, at least, blameless ones,--would you
characterize the Judge by that one necessary deed, and that
half-forgotten act, and let it overshadow the fair aspect of a
lifetime? What is there so ponderous in evil, that a thumb's
bigness of it should outweigh the mass of things not evil which
were heaped into the other scale! This scale and balance system
is a favorite one with people of Judge Pyncheon's brotherhood.
A hard, cold man, thus unfortunately situated, seldom or never
looking inward, and resolutely taking his idea of himself from
what purports to be his image as reflected in the mirror of
public opinion, can scarcely arrive at true self-knowledge,
except through loss of property and reputation. Sickness will
not always help him do it; not always the death-hour!

But our affair now is with Judge Pyncheon as he stood confronting
the fierce outbreak of Hepzibah's wrath. Without premeditation,
to her own surprise, and indeed terror, she had given vent, for
once, to the inveteracy of her resentment, cherished against this
kinsman for thirty years.

Thus far the Judge's countenance had expressed mild forbearance,
--grave and almost gentle deprecation of his cousin's unbecoming
violence,--free and Christian-like forgiveness of the wrong inflicted
by her words. But when those words were irrevocably spoken, his look
assumed sternness, the sense of power, and immitigable resolve; and
this with so natural and imperceptible a change, that it seemed as
if the iron man had stood there from the first, and the meek man not
at all. The effect was as when the light, vapory clouds, with their
soft coloring, suddenly vanish from the stony brow of a precipitous
mountain, and leave there the frown which you at once feel to be
eternal. Hepzibah almost adopted the insane belief that it was her
old Puritan ancestor, and not the modern Judge, on whom she had just
been wreaking the bitterness of her heart. Never did a man show
stronger proof of the lineage attributed to him than Judge Pyncheon,
at this crisis, by his unmistakable resemblance to the picture in
the inner room.

"Cousin Hepzibah," said he very calmly, "it is time to have done
with this."

"With all my heart!" answered she. "Then, why do you persecute
us any longer? Leave poor Clifford and me in peace. Neither of
us desires anything better!"

"It is my purpose to see Clifford before I leave this house,"
continued the Judge. "Do not act like a madwoman, Hepzibah! I am
his only friend, and an all-powerful one. Has it never occurred
to you,--are you so blind as not to have seen,--that, without not
merely my consent, but my efforts, my representations, the exertion
of my whole influence, political, official, personal, Clifford
would never have been what you call free? Did you think his release
a triumph over me? Not so, my good cousin; not so, by any means!
The furthest possible from that! No; but it was the accomplishment
of a purpose long entertained on my part. I set him free!"

"You!" answered Hepzibah. "I never will believe it! He owed his
dungeon to you; his freedom to God's providence!"

"I set him free!" reaffirmed Judge Pyncheon, with the calmest
composure. "And I came hither now to decide whether he shall
retain his freedom. It will depend upon himself. For this purpose,
I must see him."

"Never!--it would drive him mad!" exclaimed Hepzibah, but with an
irresoluteness sufficiently perceptible to the keen eye of the Judge;
for, without the slightest faith in his good intentions, she knew not
whether there was most to dread in yielding or resistance. "And why
should you wish to see this wretched, broken man, who retains hardly
a fraction of his intellect, and will hide even that from an eye
which has no love in it?"

"He shall see love enough in mine, if that be all!" said the Judge,
with well-grounded confidence in the benignity of his aspect.
"But, Cousin Hepzibah, you confess a great deal, and very much to
the purpose. Now, listen, and I will frankly explain my reasons
for insisting on this interview. At the death, thirty years since,
of our uncle Jaffrey, it was found,--I know not whether the
circumstance ever attracted much of your attention, among the
sadder interests that clustered round that event,--but it was
found that his visible estate, of every kind, fell far short of
any estimate ever made of it. He was supposed to be immensely rich.
Nobody doubted that he stood among the weightiest men of his day.
It was one of his eccentricities, however,--and not altogether a
folly, neither,--to conceal the amount of his property by making
distant and foreign investments, perhaps under other names than
his own, and by various means, familiar enough to capitalists, but
unnecessary here to be specified. By Uncle Jaffrey's last will
and testament, as you are aware, his entire property was bequeathed
to me, with the single exception of a life interest to yourself in
this old family mansion, and the strip of patrimonial estate
remaining attached to it."

"And do you seek to deprive us of that?" asked Hepzibah, unable
to restrain her bitter contempt." Is this your price for ceasing
to persecute poor Clifford?"

"Certainly not, my dear cousin!" answered the Judge, smiling
benevolently. "On the contrary, as you must do me the justice to
own, I have constantly expressed my readiness to double or treble
your resources, whenever you should make up your mind to accept
any kindness of that nature at the hands of your kinsman. No, no!
But here lies the gist of the matter. Of my uncle's unquestionably
great estate, as I have said, not the half--no, not one third, as I
am fully convinced--was apparent after his death. Now, I have the
best possible reasons for believing that your brother Clifford can
give me a clew to the recovery of the remainder."

"Clifford!--Clifford know of any hidden wealth? Clifford have it
in his power to make you rich?" cried the old gentlewoman, affected
with a sense of something like ridicule at the idea. "Impossible!
You deceive yourself! It is really a thing to laugh at!"

"It is as certain as that I stand here!" said Judge Pyncheon,
striking his gold-headed cane on the floor, and at the same time
stamping his foot, as if to express his conviction the more forcibly
by the whole emphasis of his substantial person. "Clifford told
me so himself!"

"No, no!" exclaimed Hepzibah incredulously. "You are dreaming,
Cousin Jaffrey."

"I do not belong to the dreaming class of men," said the Judge
quietly. "Some months before my uncle's death, Clifford boasted
to me of the possession of the secret of incalculable wealth. His
purpose was to taunt me, and excite my curiosity. I know it well.
But, from a pretty distinct recollection of the particulars of our
conversation, I am thoroughly convinced that there was truth in
what he said. Clifford, at this moment, if he chooses,--and choose
he must!--can inform me where to find the schedule, the documents,
the evidences, in whatever shape they exist, of the vast amount of
Uncle Jaffrey's missing property. He has the secret. His boast
was no idle word. It had a directness, an emphasis, a particularity,
that showed a backbone of solid meaning within the mystery of
his expression."

"But what could have been Clifford's object," asked Hepzibah,
"in concealing it so long?"

"It was one of the bad impulses of our fallen nature," replied the
Judge, turning up his eyes. "He looked upon me as his enemy.
He considered me as the cause of his overwhelming disgrace,
his imminent peril of death, his irretrievable ruin. There was
no great probability, therefore, of his volunteering information,
out of his dungeon, that should elevate me still higher on the
ladder of prosperity. But the moment has now come when he must
give up his secret."

"And what if he should refuse?" inquired Hepzibah. "Or,--as I
steadfastly believe,--what if he has no knowledge of this wealth?"

"My dear cousin," said Judge Pyncheon, with a quietude which
he had the power of making more formidable than any violence,
"since your brother's return, I have taken the precaution (a highly
proper one in the near kinsman and natural guardian of an
individual so situated) to have his deportment and habits
constantly and carefully overlooked. Your neighbors have been
eye-witnesses to whatever has passed in the garden. The butcher,
the baker, the fish-monger, some of the customers of your shop,
and many a prying old woman, have told me several of the secrets
of your interior. A still larger circle--I myself, among the
rest--can testify to his extravagances at the arched window.
Thousands beheld him, a week or two ago, on the point of finging
himself thence into the street. From all this testimony, I am
led to apprehend--reluctantly, and with deep grief--that Clifford's
misfortunes have so affected his intellect, never very strong,
that he cannot safely remain at large. The alternative, you must
be aware,--and its adoption will depend entirely on the decision
which I am now about to make,--the alternative is his confinement,
probably for the remainder of his life, in a public asylum for
persons in his unfortunate state of mind."

"You cannot mean it!" shrieked Hepzibah.

"Should my cousin Clifford," continued Judge Pyncheon, wholly
undisturbed, "from mere malice, and hatred of one whose
interests ought naturally to be dear to him,--a mode of passion
that, as often as any other, indicates mental disease,--should he
refuse me the information so important to myself, and which he
assuredly possesses, I shall consider it the one needed jot of
evidence to satisfy my mind of his insanity. And, once sure of
the course pointed out by conscience, you know me too well,
Cousin Hepzibah, to entertain a doubt that I shall pursue it."

"O Jaffrey,--Cousin Jaffrey." cried Hepzibah mournfully, not
passionately, "it is you that are diseased in mind, not Clifford!
You have forgotten that a woman was your mother!--that you
have had sisters, brothers, children of your own!--or that there
ever was affection between man and man, or pity from one man
to another, in this miserable world! Else, how could you have
dreamed of this? You are not young, Cousin Jaffrey!--no, nor
middle-aged,--but already an old man! The hair is white upon
your head! How many years have you to live? Are you not rich
enough for that little time? Shall you be hungry,--shall you
lack clothes, or a roof to shelter you,--between this point
and the grave? No! but, with the half of what you now possess,
you could revel in costly food and wines, and build a house twice
as splendid as you now inhabit, and make a far greater show to the
world,--and yet leave riches to your only son, to make him bless
the hour of your death! Then, why should you do this cruel,
cruel thing?--so mad a thing, that I know not whether to call it
wicked! Alas, Cousin Jaffrey, this hard and grasping spirit has
run in our blood these two hundred years. You are but doing
over again, in another shape, what your ancestor before you did,
and sending down to your posterity the curse inherited from him!"

"Talk sense, Hepzibah, for Heaven's sake!" exclaimed the Judge,
with the impatience natural to a reasonable man, on hearing
anything so utterly absurd as the above, in a discussion about
matters of business. "I have told you my determination. I am
not apt to change. Clifford must give up his secret, or take
the consequences. And let him decide quickly; for I have several
affairs to attend to this morning, and an important dinner
engagement with some political friends."

"Clifford has no secret!" answered Hepzibah. "And God will not
let you do the thing you meditate!"

"We shall see," said the unmoved Judge. "Meanwhile, choose whether
you will summon Clifford, and allow this business to be amicably
settled by an interview between two kinsmen, or drive me to harsher
measures, which I should be most happy to feel myself justified in
avoiding. The responsibility is altogether on your part."

"You are stronger than I," said Hepzibah, after a brief
consideration; "and you have no pity in your strength! Clifford
is not now insane; but the interview which you insist upon may
go far to make him so. Nevertheless, knowing you as I do,
I believe it to be my best course to allow you to judge for
yourself as to the improbability of his possessing any valuable
secret. I will call Clifford. Be merciful in your dealings with
him!--be far more merciful than your heart bids you be!--for God
is looking at you, Jaffrey Pyncheon!"

The Judge followed his cousin from the shop, where the
foregoing conversation had passed, into the parlor, and flung
himself heavily in to the great ancestral chair. Many a former
Pyncheon had found repose in its capacious arms: rosy children,
after their sports; young men, dreamy with love; grown men,
weary with cares; old men, burdened with winters, --they had
mused, and slumbered, and departed to a yet profounder sleep.
It had been a long tradition, though a doubtful one, that this
was the very chair, seated in which the earliest of the Judge's
New England forefathers--he whose picture still hung upon the
wall--had given a dead man's silent and stern reception to the
throng of distinguished guests. From that hour of evil omen
until the present, it may be,--though we know not the secret
of his heart,--but it may be that no wearier and sadder man
had ever sunk into the chair than this same Judge Pyncheon,
whom we have just beheld so immitigably hard and resolute.
Surely, it must have been at no slight cost that he had thus
fortified his soul with iron. Such calmness is a mightier effort
than the violence of weaker men. And there was yet a heavy task
for him to do. Was it a little matter--a trifle to be prepared
for in a single moment, and to be rested from in another moment,
--that he must now, after thirty years, encounter a kinsman
risen from a living tomb, and wrench a secret from him, or else
consign him to a living tomb again?

"Did you speak?" asked Hepzibah, looking in from the threshold
of the parlor; for she imagined that the Judge had uttered some
sound which she was anxious to interpret as a relenting impulse.
"I thought you called me back."

"No, no" gruffly answered Judge Pyncheon with a harsh frown,
while his brow grew almost a black purple, in the shadow of the
room. "Why should I call you back? Time flies! Bid Clifford
come to me!"

The Judge had taken his watch from his vest pocket and now
held it in his hand, measuring the interval which was to ensue
before the appearance of Clifford.

 

 

XVI Clifford's Chamber

 

 

NEVER had the old house appeared so dismal to poor Hepzibah
as when she departed on that wretched errand. There was a
strange aspect in it. As she trode along the foot-worn passages,
and opened one crazy door after another, and ascended the
creaking staircase, she gazed wistfully and fearfully around.
It would have been no marvel, to her excited mind, if, behind
or beside her, there had been the rustle of dead people's
garments, or pale visages awaiting her on the landing-place above.
Her nerves were set all ajar by the scene of passion and terror
through which she had just struggled. Her colloquy with Judge
Pyncheon, who so perfectly represented the person and attributes
of the founder of the family, had called back the dreary past.
It weighed upon her heart. Whatever she had heard, from legendary
aunts and grandmothers, concerning the good or evil fortunes of
the Pyncheons,--stories which had heretofore been kept warm in
her remembrance by the chimney-corner glow that was associated
with them,--now recurred to her, sombre, ghastly, cold, like most
passages of family history, when brooded over in melancholy
mood. The whole seemed little else but a series of calamity,
reproducing itself in successive generations, with one general hue,
and varying in little, save the outline. But Hepzibah now felt as
if the Judge, and Clifford, and herself,--they three together,
--were on the point of adding another incident to the annals of
the house, with a bolder relief of wrong and sorrow, which would
cause it to stand out from all the rest. Thus it is that the grief
of the passing moment takes upon itself an individuality, and a
character of climax, which it is destined to lose after a while,
and to fade into the dark gray tissue common to the grave or glad
events of many years ago. It is but for a moment, comparatively,
that anything looks strange or startling,--a truth that has the
bitter and the sweet in it.

But Hepzibah could not rid herself of the sense of something
unprecedented at that instant passing and soon to be accomplished.
Her nerves were in a shake. Instinctively she paused before the
arched window, and looked out upon the street, in order to seize
its permanent objects with her mental grasp, and thus to steady
herself from the reel and vibration which affected her more
immediate sphere. It brought her up, as we may say, with a kind
of shock, when she beheld everything under the same appearance
as the day before, and numberless preceding days, except for the
difference between sunshine and sullen storm. Her eyes travelled
along the street, from doorstep to doorstep, noting the wet
sidewalks, with here and there a puddle in hollows that had been
imperceptible until filled with water. She screwed her dim optics
to their acutest point, in the hope of making out, with greater
distinctness, a certain window, where she half saw, half guessed,
that a tailor's seamstress was sitting at her work. Hepzibah
flung herself upon that unknown woman's companionship, even thus
far off. Then she was attracted by a chaise rapidly passing,
and watched its moist and glistening top, and its splashing wheels,
until it had turned the corner, and refused to carry any further
her idly trifling, because appalled and overburdened, mind.
When the vehicle had disappeared, she allowed herself still
another loitering moment; for the patched figure of good Uncle
Venner was now visible, coming slowly from the head of the street
downward, with a rheumatic limp, because the east wind had got
into his joints. Hepzibah wished that he would pass yet more
slowly, and befriend her shivering solitude a little longer.
Anything that would take her out of the grievous present, and
interpose human beings betwixt herself and what was nearest to
her,--whatever would defer for an instant the inevitable errand
on which she was bound,--all such impediments were welcome. Next
to the lightest heart, the heaviest is apt to be most playful.

Hepzibah had little hardihood for her own proper pain, and far
less for what she must inflict on Clifford. Of so slight a nature,
and so shattered by his previous calamities, it could not well be
short of utter ruin to bring him face to face with the hard,
relentless man who had been his evil destiny through life. Even
had there been no bitter recollections, nor any hostile interest
now at stake between them, the mere natural repugnance of the
more sensitive system to the massive, weighty, and unimpressible
one, must, in itself, have been disastrous to the former. It would
be like flinging a porcelain vase, with already a crack in it,
against a granite column. Never before had Hepzibah so adequately
estimated the powerful character of her cousin Jaffrey,--powerful
by intellect, energy of will, the long habit of acting among men,
and, as she believed, by his unscrupulous pursuit of selfish ends
through evil means. It did but increase the difficulty that Judge
Pyncheon was under a delusion as to the secret which he supposed
Clifford to possess. Men of his strength of purpose and customary
sagacity, if they chance to adopt a mistaken opinion in practical
matters, so wedge it and fasten it among things known to be true,
that to wrench it out of their minds is hardly less difficult than
pulling up an oak. Thus, as the Judge required an impossibility of
Clifford, the latter, as he could not perform it, must needs perish.
For what, in the grasp of a man like this, was to become of Clifford's
soft poetic nature, that never should have had a task more stubborn
than to set a life of beautiful enjoyment to the flow and rhythm of
musical cadences! Indeed, what had become of it already? Broken!
Blighted! All but annihilated! Soon to be wholly so!

For a moment, the thought crossed Hepzibah's mind, whether
Clifford might not really have such knowledge of their deceased
uncle's vanished estate as the Judge imputed to him. She remembered
some vague intimations, on her brother's part, which--if the
supposition were not essentially preposterous --might have been
so interpreted. There had been schemes of travel and residence
abroad, day-dreams of brilliant life at home, and splendid castles
in the air, which it would have required boundless wealth to build
and realize. Had this wealth been in her power, how gladly would
Hepzibah have bestowed it all upon her iron-hearted kinsman, to buy
for Clifford the freedom and seclusion of the desolate old house!
But she believed that her brother's schemes were as destitute of
actual substance and purpose as a child's pictures of its future life,
while sitting in a little chair by its mother's knee. Clifford had
none but shadowy gold at his command; and it was not the stuff to
satisfy Judge Pyncheon!

Was there no help in their extremity? It seemed strange that there
should be none, with a city round about her. It would be so easy
to throw up the window, and send forth a shriek, at the strange
agony of which everybody would come hastening to the rescue,
well understanding it to be the cry of a human soul, at some
dreadful crisis! But how wild, how almost laughable, the fatality,
--and yet how continually it comes to pass, thought Hepzibah, in this
dull delirium of a world,--that whosoever, and with however kindly
a purpose, should come to help, they would be sure to help the
strongest side! Might and wrong combined, like iron magnetized,
are endowed with irresistible attraction. There would be Judge
Pyncheon, --a person eminent in the public view, of high station
and great wealth, a philanthropist, a member of Congress and of the
church, and intimately associated with whatever else bestows good
name,--so imposing, in these advantageous lights, that Hepzibah
herself could hardly help shrinking from her own conclusions as
to his hollow integrity. The Judge, on one side! And who, on the
other? The guilty Clifford! Once a byword! Now, an indistinctly
remembered ignominy!

Nevertheless, in spite of this perception that the Judge would
draw all human aid to his own behalf, Hepzibah was so
unaccustomed to act for herself, that the least word of counsel
would have swayed her to any mode of action. Little Phoebe
Pyncheon would at once have lighted up the whole scene, if not
by any available suggestion, yet simply by the warm vivacity of
her character. The idea of the artist occurred to Hepzibah.
Young and unknown, mere vagrant adventurer as he was, she had
been conscious of a force in Holgrave which might well adapt him
to be the champion of a crisis. With this thought in her mind,
she unbolted a door, cobwebbed and long disused, but which had
served as a former medium of communication between her own part
of the house and the gable where the wandering daguerreotypist had
now established his temporary home. He was not there. A book, face
downward, on the table, a roll of manuscript, a half-written sheet,
a newspaper, some tools of his present occupation, and several
rejected daguerreotypes, conveyed an impression as if he were
close at hand. But, at this period of the day, as Hepzibah might
have anticipated, the artist was at his public rooms. With an
impulse of idle curiosity, that flickered among her heavy thoughts,
she looked at one of the daguerreotypes, and beheld Judge Pyncheon
frowning at her. Fate stared her in the face. She turned back from
her fruitless quest, with a heartsinking sense of disappointment.
In all her years of seclusion, she had never felt, as now, what it
was to be alone. It seemed as if the house stood in a desert, or,
by some spell, was made invisible to those who dwelt around, or
passed beside it; so that any mode of misfortune, miserable accident,
or crime might happen in it without the possibility of aid. In her
grief and wounded pride, Hepzibah had spent her life in divesting
herself of friends; she had wilfully cast off the support which God
has ordained his creatures to need from one another; and it was now
her punishment, that Clifford and herself would fall the easier
victims to their kindred enemy.

Returning to the arched window, she lifted her eyes,--scowling,
poor, dim-sighted Hepzibah, in the face of Heaven!--and strove
hard to send up a prayer through the dense gray pavement of clouds.
Those mists had gathered, as if to symbolize a great, brooding mass
of human trouble, doubt, confusion, and chill indifference, between
earth and the better regions. Her faith was too weak; the prayer too
heavy to be thus uplifted. It fell back, a lump of lead, upon her
heart. It smote her with the wretched conviction that Providence
intermeddled not in these petty wrongs of one individual to his
fellow, nor had any balm for these little agonies of a solitary
soul; but shed its justice, and its mercy, in a broad, sunlike
sweep, over half the universe at once. Its vastness made it nothing.
But Hepzibah did not see that, just as there comes a warm sunbeam
into every cottage window, so comes a lovebeam of God's care and
pity for every separate need.

At last, finding no other pretext for deferring the torture that she
was to inflict on Clifford,--her reluctance to which was the true
cause of her loitering at the window, her search for the artist,
and even her abortive prayer,--dreading, also, to hear the stern
voice of Judge Pyncheon from below stairs, chiding her delay,--she
crept slowly, a pale, grief-stricken figure, a dismal shape of woman,
with almost torpid limbs, slowly to her brother's door, and knocked!

There was no reply.

And how should there have been? Her hand, tremulous with the
shrinking purpose which directed it, had smitten so feebly against
the door that the sound could hardly have gone inward. She knocked
again. Still no response! Nor was it to be wondered at. She had
struck with the entire force of her heart's vibration, communicating,
by some subtile magnetism, her own terror to the summons. Clifford
would turn his face to the pillow, and cover his head beneath the
bedclothes, like a startled child at midnight. She knocked a third
time, three regular strokes, gentle, but perfectly distinct, and with
meaning in them; for, modulate it with what cautious art we will,
the hand cannot help playing some tune of what we feel upon the
senseless wood.

Clifford returned no answer.

"Clifford! dear brother." said Hepzibah. "Shall I come in?"

A silence.

Two or three times, and more, Hepzibah repeated his name,
without result; till, thinking her brother's sleep unwontedly
profound, she undid the door, and entering, found the chamber
vacant. How could he have come forth, and when, without her
knowledge? Was it possible that, in spite of the stormy day,
and worn out with the irksomeness within doors he had betaken
himself to his customary haunt in the garden, and was now
shivering under the cheerless shelter of the summer-house? She
hastily threw up a window, thrust forth her turbaned head and the
half of her gaunt figure, and searched the whole garden through,
as completely as her dim vision would allow. She could see the
interior of the summer-house, and its circular seat, kept moist
by the droppings of the roof. It had no occupant. Clifford was
not thereabouts; unless, indeed, he had crept for concealment
(as, for a moment, Hepzibah fancied might be the case) into a great,
wet mass of tangled and broad-leaved shadow, where the squash-vines
were clambering tumultuously upon an old wooden framework,
set casually aslant against the fence. This could not be,
however; he was not there; for, while Hepzibah was looking,
a strange grimalkin stole forth from the very spot, and picked
his way across the garden. Twice he paused to snuff the air,
and then anew directed his course towards the parlor window.
Whether it was only on account of the stealthy, prying manner
common to the race, or that this cat seemed to have more than
ordinary mischief in his thoughts, the old gentlewoman, in spite
of her much perplexity, felt an impulse to drive the animal away,
and accordingly flung down a window stick. The cat stared up at her,
like a detected thief or murderer, and, the next instant, took
to flight. No other living creature was visible in the garden.
Chanticleer and his family had either not left their roost,
disheartened by the interminable rain, or had done the next wisest
thing, by seasonably returning to it. Hepzibah closed the window.

But where was Clifford? Could it be that, aware of the presence
of his Evil Destiny, he had crept silently down the staircase,
while the Judge and Hepzibah stood talking in the shop, and had
softly undone the fastenings of the outer door, and made his
escape into the street? With that thought, she seemed to behold
his gray, wrinkled, yet childlike aspect, in the old-fashioned
garments which he wore about the house; a figure such as one
sometimes imagines himself to be, with the world's eye upon
him, in a troubled dream. This figure of her wretched brother
would go wandering through the city, attracting all eyes, and
everybody's wonder and repugnance, like a ghost, the more to be
shuddered at because visible at noontide. To incur the ridicule
of the younger crowd, that knew him not,--the harsher scorn and
indignation of a few old men, who might recall his once familiar
features! To be the sport of boys, who, when old enough to run
about the streets, have no more reverence for what is beautiful
and holy, nor pity for what is sad,--no more sense of sacred
misery, sanctifying the human shape in which it embodies itself,
--than if Satan were the father of them all! Goaded by their
taunts, their loud, shrill cries, and cruel laughter,--insulted
by the filth of the public ways, which they would fling upon him,
--or, as it might well be, distracted by the mere strangeness of
his situation, though nobody should afflict him with so much as
a thoughtless word,--what wonder if Clifford were to break into
some wild extravagance which was certain to be interpreted as
lunacy? Thus Judge Pyncheon's fiendish scheme would be ready
accomplished to his hands!

Then Hepzibah reflected that the town was almost completely
water-girdled. The wharves stretched out towards the centre of
the harbor, and, in this inclement weather, were deserted by the
ordinary throng of merchants, laborers, and sea-faring men; each
wharf a solitude, with the vessels moored stem and stern, along
its misty length. Should her brother's aimless footsteps stray
thitherward, and he but bend, one moment, over the deep, black
tide, would he not bethink himself that here was the sure refuge
within his reach, and that, with a single step, or the slightest
overbalance of his body, he might be forever beyond his kinsman's
gripe? Oh, the temptation! To make of his ponderous sorrow a
security! To sink, with its leaden weight upon him, and never
rise again!

The horror of this last conception was too much for Hepzibah.
Even Jaffrey Pyncheon must help her now She hastened down
the staircase, shrieking as she went.

"Clifford is gone!" she cried. "I cannot find my brother.
Help, Jaffrey Pyncheon! Some harm will happen to him!"

She threw open the parlor-door. But, what with the shade of
branches across the windows, and the smoke-blackened ceiling,
and the dark oak-panelling of the walls, there was hardly so
much daylight in the room that Hepzibah's imperfect sight could
accurately distinguish the Judge's figure. She was certain,
however, that she saw him sitting in the ancestral armchair,
near the centre of the floor, with his face somewhat averted,
and looking towards a window. So firm and quiet is the nervous
system of such men as Judge Pyncheon, that he had perhaps stirred
not more than once since her departure, but, in the hard composure
of his temperament, retained the position into which accident had
thrown him.

"I tell you, Jaffrey," cried Hepzibah impatiently, as she turned
from the parlor-door to search other rooms, "my brother is not in
his chamber! You must help me seek him!"

But Judge Pyncheon was not the man to let himself be startled
from an easy-chair with haste ill-befitting either the dignity
of his character or his broad personal basis, by the alarm of an
hysteric woman. Yet, considering his own interest in the matter,
he might have bestirred himself with a little more alacrity.

"Do you hear me, Jaffrey Pyncheon?" screamed Hepzibah, as she
again approached the parlor-door, after an ineffectual search
elsewhere. "Clifford is gone."

At this instant, on the threshold of the parlor, emerging from
within, appeared Clifford himself! His face was preternaturally
pale; so deadly white, indeed, that, through all the glimmering
indistinctness of the passageway, Hepzibah could discern his
features, as if a light fell on them alone. Their vivid and wild
expression seemed likewise sufficient to illuminate them; it was
an expression of scorn and mockery, coinciding with the emotions
indicated by his gesture. As Clifford stood on the threshold,
partly turning back, he pointed his finger within the parlor,
and shook it slowly as though he would have summoned, not Hepzibah
alone, but the whole world, to gaze at some object inconceivably
ridiculous. This action, so ill-timed and extravagant,--accompanied,
too, with a look that showed more like joy than any other kind of
excitement,--compelled Hepzibah to dread that her stern kinsman's
ominous visit had driven her poor brother to absolute insanity.
Nor could she otherwise account for the Judge's quiescent mood
than by supposing him craftily on the watch, while Clifford
developed these symptoms of a distracted mind.

"Be quiet, Clifford!" whispered his sister, raising her hand to
impress caution. "Oh, for Heaven's sake, be quiet!"

"Let him be quiet! What can he do better?" answered Clifford,
with a still wilder gesture, pointing into the room which he had
just quitted. "As for us, Hepzibah, we can dance now!--we can
sing, laugh, play, do what we will! The weight is gone, Hepzibah!
It is gone off this weary old world, and we may be as light-hearted
as little Phoebe herself."

And, in accordance with his words, he began to laugh, still
pointing his finger at the object, invisible to Hepzibah, within
the parlor. She was seized with a sudden intuition of some horrible
thing. She thrust herself past Clifford, and disappeared into the
room; but almost immediately returned, with a cry choking in her
throat. Gazing at her brother with an affrighted glance of inquiry,
she beheld him all in a tremor and a quake, from head to foot, while,
amid these commoted elements of passion or alarm, still flickered
his gusty mirth.

"My God! what is to become of us?" gasped Hepzibah.

"Come!" said Clifford in a tone of brief decision, most unlike what
was usual with him. "We stay here too long! Let us leave the old
house to our cousin Jaffrey! He will take good care of it!"

Hepzibah now noticed that Clifford had on a cloak,--a garment
of long ago,--in which he had constantly muffled himself during
these days of easterly storm. He beckoned with his hand, and
intimated, so far as she could comprehend him, his purpose that
they should go together from the house. There are chaotic, blind,
or drunken moments, in the lives of persons who lack real force
of character,--moments of test, in which courage would most assert
itself,--but where these individuals, if left to themselves,
stagger aimlessly along, or follow implicitly whatever guidance
may befall them, even if it be a child's. No matter how preposterous
or insane, a purpose is a Godsend to them. Hepzibah had reached
this point. Unaccustomed to action or responsibility,--full of
horror at what she had seen, and afraid to inquire, or almost to
imagine, how it had come to pass,--affrighted at the fatality which
seemed to pursue her brother,--stupefied by the dim, thick, stifling
atmosphere of dread which filled the house as with a death-smell,
and obliterated all definiteness of thought,--she yielded without
a question, and on the instant, to the will which Clifford expressed.
For herself, she was like a person in a dream, when the will always
sleeps. Clifford, ordinarily so destitute of this faculty, had found
it in the tension of the crisis.

"Why do you delay so?" cried he sharply. "Put on your cloak
and hood, or whatever it pleases you to wear! No matter what;
you cannot look beautiful nor brilliant, my poor Hepzibah! Take
your purse, with money in it, and come along!"

Hepzibah obeyed these instructions, as if nothing else were to be
done or thought of. She began to wonder, it is true, why she did
not wake up, and at what still more intolerable pitch of dizzy
trouble her spirit would struggle out of the maze, and make her
conscious that nothing of all this had actually happened. Of
course it was not real; no such black, easterly day as this had
yet begun to be; Judge Pyncheon had not talked with, her. Clifford
had not laughed, pointed, beckoned her away with him; but she
had merely been afflicted--as lonely sleepers often are--with a
great deal of unreasonable misery, in a morning dream!

"Now--now--I shall certainly awake!" thought Hepzibah, as she went
to and fro, making her little preparations. "I can bear it no longer
I must wake up now!"

But it came not, that awakening moment! It came not, even
when, just before they left the house, Clifford stole to the
parlor-door, and made a parting obeisance to the sole occupant
of the room.

"What an absurd figure the old fellow cuts now!" whispered he
to Hepzibah. "Just when he fancied he had me completely under
his thumb! Come, come; make haste! or he will start up, like
Giant Despair in pursuit of Christian and Hopeful, and catch
us yet!"

As they passed into the street, Clifford directed Hepzibah's
attention to something on one of the posts of the front door.
It was merely the initials of his own name, which, with somewhat
of his characteristic grace about the forms of the letters, he had
cut there when a boy. The brother and sister departed, and left
Judge Pyncheon sitting in the old home of his forefathers, all by
himself; so heavy and lumpish that we can liken him to nothing
better than a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst
of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of
the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might!

 

 

XVII The Flight of Two Owls

 

 

SUMMER as it was, the east wind set poor Hepzibah's few
remaining teeth chattering in her head, as she and Clifford faced
it, on their way up Pyncheon Street, and towards the centre of
the town. Not merely was it the shiver which this pitiless blast
brought to her frame (although her feet and hands, especially,
had never seemed so death-a-cold as now), but there was a moral
sensation, mingling itself with the physical chill, and causing
her to shake more in spirit than in body. The world's broad,
bleak atmosphere was all so comfortless! Such, indeed, is the
impression which it makes on every new adventurer, even if he
plunge into it while the warmest tide of life is bubbling through
his veins. What, then, must it have been to Hepzibah and
Clifford,--so time-stricken as they were, yet so like children
in their inexperience,--as they left the doorstep, and passed
from beneath the wide shelter of the Pyncheon Elm! They were
wandering all abroad, on precisely such a pilgrimage as a child
often meditates, to the world's end, with perhaps a sixpence and
a biscuit in his pocket. In Hepzibah's mind, there was the
wretched consciousness of being adrift. She had lost the faculty
of self-guidance; but, in view of the difficulties around her,
felt it hardly worth an effort to regain it, and was, moreover,
incapable of making one.

As they proceeded on their strange expedition, she now and then
cast a look sidelong at Clifford, and could not but observe that
he was possessed and swayed by a powerful excitement. It was
this, indeed, that gave him the control which he had at once, and
so irresistibly, established over his movements. It not a little
resembled the exhilaration of wine. Or, it might more fancifully
be compared to a joyous piece of music, played with wild vivacity,
but upon a disordered instrument. As the cracked jarring note
might always be heard, and as it jarred loudest amidst the loftiest
exultation of the melody, so was there a continual quake through
Clifford, causing him most to quiver while he wore a triumphant
smile, and seemed almost under a necessity to skip in his gait.

They met few people abroad, even on passing from the retired
neighborhood of the House of the Seven Gables into what was
ordinarily the more thronged and busier portion of the town.
Glistening sidewalks, with little pools of rain, here and there,
along their unequal surface; umbrellas displayed ostentatiously in
the shop-windows, as if the life of trade had concentrated itself
in that one article; wet leaves of the, horse-chestnut or elm-trees,
torn off untimely by the blast and scattered along the public way;
an unsightly, accumulation of mud in the middle of the street,
which perversely grew the more unclean for its long and laborious
washing,--these were the more definable points of a very sombre
picture. In the way of movement and human life, there was the
hasty rattle of a cab or coach, its driver protected by a waterproof
cap over his head and shoulders; the forlorn figure of an old man,
who seemed to have crept out of some subterranean sewer, and was
stooping along the kennel, and poking the wet rubbish with a stick,
in quest of rusty nails; a merchant or two, at the door of the
post-office, together with an editor and a miscellaneous politician,
awaiting a dilatory mail; a few visages of retired sea-captains at
the window of an insurance office, looking out vacantly at the vacant
street, blaspheming at the weather, and fretting at the dearth as
well of public news as local gossip. What a treasure-trove to
these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the secret which
Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with them! But their two
figures attracted hardly so much notice as that of a young girl,
who passed at the same instant, and happened to raise her skirt
a trifle too high above her ankles. Had it been a sunny and
cheerful day, they could hardly have gone through the streets
without making themselves obnoxious to remark. Now, probably,
they were felt to be in keeping with the dismal and bitter weather,
and therefore did not stand out in strong relief, as if the sun
were shining on them, but melted into the gray gloom and were
forgotten as soon as gone.

Poor Hepzibah! Could she have understood this fact, it would have
brought her some little comfort; for, to all her other troubles,
--strange to say!--there was added the womanish and old-maiden-like
misery arising from a sense of unseemliness in her attire. Thus,
she was fain to shrink deeper into herself, as it were, as if in the
hope of making people suppose that here was only a cloak and hood,
threadbare and woefully faded, taking an airing in the midst of the
storm, without any wearer!

As they went on, the feeling of indistinctness and unreality kept
dimly hovering round about her, and so diffusing itself into her
system that one of her hands was hardly palpable to the touch of
the other. Any certainty would have been preferable to this. She
whispered to herself, again and again, "Am I awake?--Am I awake?"
and sometimes exposed her face to the chill spatter of the wind,
for the sake of its rude assurance that she was. Whether it was
Clifford's purpose, or only chance, had led them thither, they
now found themselves passing beneath the arched entrance of a
large structure of gray stone. Within, there was a spacious
breadth, and an airy height from floor to roof, now partially
filled with smoke and steam, which eddied voluminously upward
and formed a mimic cloud-region over their heads. A train of
cars was just ready for a start; the locomotive was fretting and
fuming, like a steed impatient for a headlong rush; and the bell
rang out its hasty peal, so well expressing the brief summons
which life vouchsafes to us in its hurried career. Without
question or delay,--with the irresistible decision, if not rather
to be called recklessness, which had so strangely taken possession
of him, and through him of Hepzibah,--Clifford impelled her
towards the cars, and assisted her to enter. The signal was given;
the engine puffed forth its short, quick breaths; the train began
its movement; and, along with a hundred other passengers, these
two unwonted travellers sped onward like the wind.

At last, therefore, and after so long estrangement from everything
that the world acted or enjoyed, they had been drawn into the
great current of human life, and were swept away with it, as by
the suction of fate itself.

Still haunted with the idea that not one of the past incidents,
inclusive of Judge Pyncheon's visit, could be real, the recluse
of the Seven Gables murmured in her brother's ear,--

"Clifford! Clifford! Is not this a dream?"

"A dream, Hepzibah!" repeated he, almost laughing in her face.
"On the contrary, I have never been awake before!"

Meanwhile, looking from the window, they could see the world
racing past them. At one moment, they were rattling through a
solitude; the next, a village had grown up around them; a few
breaths more, and it had vanished, as if swallowed by an earthquake.
The spires of meeting-houses seemed set adrift from their foundations;
the broad-based hills glided away. Everything was unfixed from its
age-long rest, and moving at whirlwind speed in a direction opposite
to their own.

Within the car there was the usual interior life of the railroad,
offering little to the observation of other passengers, but full
of novelty for this pair of strangely enfranchised prisoners.
It was novelty enough, indeed, that there were fifty human beings
in close relation with them, under one long and narrow roof, and
drawn onward by the same mighty influence that had taken their
two selves into its grasp. It seemed marvellous how all these
people could remain so quietly in their seats, while so much
noisy strength was at work in their behalf. Some, with tickets
in their hats (long travellers these, before whom lay a hundred
miles of railroad), had plunged into the English scenery and
adventures of pamphlet novels, and were keeping company with dukes
and earls. Others, whose briefer span forbade their devoting
themselves to studies so abstruse, beguiled the little tedium of
the way with penny-papers. A party of girls, and one young man,
on opposite sides of the car, found huge amusement in a game
of ball. They tossed it to and fro, with peals of laughter that
might be measured by mile-lengths; for, faster than the nimble
ball could fly, the merry players fled unconsciously along,
leaving the trail of their mirth afar behind, and ending their
game under another sky than had witnessed its commencement.
Boys, with apples, cakes, candy, and rolls of variously tinctured
lozenges,--merchandise that reminded Hepzibah of her deserted
shop,--appeared at each momentary stopping-place, doing up their
business in a hurry, or breaking it short off, lest the market
should ravish them away with it. New people continually entered.
Old acquaintances--for such they soon grew to be, in this rapid
current of affairs--continually departed. Here and there, amid
the rumble and the tumult, sat one asleep. Sleep; sport; business;
graver or lighter study; and the common and inevitable movement
onward! It was life itself!

Clifford's naturally poignant sympathies were all aroused.
He caught the color of what was passing about him, and threw it
back more vividly than he received it, but mixed, nevertheless,
with a lurid and portentous hue. Hepzibah, on the other hand,
felt herself more apart from human kind than even in the seclusion
which she had just quitted.

"You are not happy, Hepzibah!" said Clifford apart, in a tone
of aproach. "You are thinking of that dismal old house, and
of Cousin, Jaffrey"--here came the quake through him,--"and of
Cousin Jaffrey sitting there, all by himself! Take my advice,
--follow my example,--and let such things slip aside. Here
we are, in the world, Hepzibah!--in the midst of life!--in the
throng of our fellow beings! Let you and I be happy! As happy
as that youth and those pretty girls, at their game of ball!"

"Happy--" thought Hepzibah, bitterly conscious, at the word, of
her dull and heavy heart, with the frozen pain in it,--"happy.
He is mad already; and, if I could once feel myself broad awake,
I should go mad too!"

If a fixed idea be madness, she was perhaps not remote from it.
Fast and far as they had rattled and clattered along the iron
track, they might just as well, as regarded Hepzibah's mental
images, have been passing up and down Pyncheon Street. With miles
and miles of varied scenery between, there was no scene for her
save the seven old gable-peaks, with their moss, and the tuft of
weeds in one of the angles, and the shop-window, and a customer
shaking the door, and compelling the little bell to jingle fiercely,
but without disturbing Judge Pyncheon! This one old house was
everywhere! It transported its great, lumbering bulk with more
than railroad speed, and set itself phlegmatically down on whatever
spot she glanced at. The quality of Hepzibah's mind was too
unmalleable to take new impressions so readily as Clifford's.
He had a winged nature; she was rather of the vegetable kind,
and could hardly be kept long alive, if drawn up by the roots.
Thus it happened that the relation heretofore existing between
her brother and herself was changed. At home, she was his guardian;
here, Clifford had become hers, and seemed to comprehend whatever
belonged to their new position with a singular rapidity of
intelligence. He had been startled into manhood and intellectual
vigor; or, at least, into a condition that resembled them,
though it might be both diseased and transitory.

The conductor now applied for their tickets; and Clifford, who
had made himself the purse-bearer, put a bank-note into his hand,
as he had observed others do.

"For the lady and yourself?" asked the conductor. "And how far?"

"As far as that will carry us," said Clifford. "It is no great
matter. We are riding for pleasure merely."

"You choose a strange day for it, sir!" remarked a gimlet-eyed
old gentleman on the other side of the car, looking at Clifford
and his companion, as if curious to make them out." The best
chance of pleasure, in an easterly rain, I take it, is in a man's
own house, with a nice little fire in the chimney."

"I cannot precisely agree with you," said Clifford, courteously
bowing to the old gentleman, and at once taking up the clew of
conversation which the latter had proffered. "It had just occurred
to me, on the contrary, that this admirable invention of the railroad
--with the vast and inevitable improvements to be looked for, both as
to speed and convenience--is destined to do away with those stale
ideas of home and fireside, and substitute something better."

"In the name of common-sense," asked the old gentleman rather
testily, "what can be better for a man than his own parlor and
chimney-corner?"

"These things have not the merit which many good people attribute
to them," replied Clifford. "They may be said, in few and pithy
words, to have ill served a poor purpose. My impression is,
that our wonderfully increased and still increasing facilities
of locomotion are destined to bring us around again to the
nomadic state. You are aware, my dear sir,--you must have
observed it in your own experience,--that all human progress is
in a circle; or, to use a more accurate and beautiful figure,
in an ascending spiral curve. While we fancy ourselves going
straight forward, and attaining, at every step, an entirely new
position of affairs, we do actually return to something long ago
tried and abandoned, but which we now find etherealized, refined,
and perfected to its ideal. The past is but a coarse and sensual
prophecy of the present and the future. To apply this truth to
the topic now under discussion. In the early epochs of our race,
men dwelt in temporary huts, of bowers of branches, as easily
constructed as a bird's-nest, and which they built,--if it should
be called building, when such sweet homes of a summer solstice
rather grew than were made with hands,--which Nature, we will
say, assisted them to rear where fruit abounded, where fish and
game were plentiful, or, most especially, where the sense of
beauty was to be gratified by a lovelier shade than elsewhere,
and a more exquisite arrangement of lake, wood, and hill. This
life possessed a charm which, ever since man quitted it, has
vanished from existence. And it typified something better than
itself. It had its drawbacks; such as hunger and thirst, inclement
weather, hot sunshine, and weary and foot-blistering marches over
barren and ugly tracts, that lay between the sites desirable for
their fertility and beauty. But in our ascending spiral, we escape
all this. These railroads--could but the whistle be made musical,
and the rumble and the jar got rid of--are positively the greatest
blessing that the ages have wrought out for us. They give us wings;
they annihilate the toil and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize
travel! Transition being so facile, what can be any man's inducement
to tarry in one spot? Why, therefore, should he build a more cumbrous
habitation than can readily be carried off with him? Why should he
make himself a prisoner for life in brick, and stone, and old
worm-eaten timber, when he may just as easily dwell, in one sense,
nowhere,--in a better sense, wherever the fit and beautiful shall
offer him a home?"

Clifford's countenance glowed, as he divulged this theory; a youthful
character shone out from within, converting the wrinkles and pallid
duskiness of age into an almost transparent mask. The merry girls let
their ball drop upon the floor, and gazed at him. They said to themselves,
perhaps, that, before his hair was gray and the crow's-feet tracked his
temples, this now decaying man must have stamped the impress of his
features on many a woman's heart. But, alas! no woman's eye had seen
his face while it was beautiful.

"I should scarcely call it an improved state of things," observed
Clifford's new acquaintance, "to live everywhere and nowhere!"

"Would you not?" exclaimed Clifford, with singular energy. "It
is as clear to me as sunshine,--were there any in the sky,--that
the greatest possible stumbling-blocks in the path of human
happiness and improvement are these heaps of bricks and stones,
consolidated with mortar, or hewn timber, fastened together with
spike-nails, which men painfully contrive for their own torment,
and call them house and home! The soul needs air; a wide sweep
and frequent change of it. Morbid influences, in a thousand-fold
variety, gather about hearths, and pollute the life of households.
There is no such unwholesome atmosphere as that of an old home,
rendered poisonous by one's defunct forefathers and relatives. I
speak of what I know. There is a certain house within my familiar
recollection,--one of those peaked-gable (there are seven of them),
projecting-storied edifices, such as you occasionally see in our
older towns,--a rusty, crazy, creaky, dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and
miserable old dungeon, with an arched window over the porch, and a
little shop-door on one side, and a great, melancholy elm before it!
Now, sir, whenever my thoughts recur to this seven-gabled mansion
(the fact is so very curious that I must needs mention it),
immediately I have a vision or image of an elderly man, of remarkably
stern countenance, sitting in an oaken elbow-chair, dead, stone-dead,
with an ugly flow of blood upon his shirt-bosom! Dead, but with
open eyes! He taints the whole house, as I remember it. I could
never flourish there, nor be happy, nor do nor enjoy what God
meant me to do and enjoy."

His face darkened, and seemed to contract, and shrivel itself up,
and wither into age.

"Never, sir" he repeated. "I could never draw cheerful breath there!"

"I should think not," said the old gentleman, eyeing Clifford
earnestly, and rather apprehensively. "I should conceive not, sir,
with that notion in your head!"

"Surely not," continued Clifford; "and it were a relief to me if
that house could be torn down, or burnt up, and so the earth be
rid of it, and grass be sown abundantly over its foundation. Not
that I should ever visit its site again! for, sir, the farther I
get away from it, the more does the joy, the lightsome freshness,
the heart-leap, the intellectual dance, the youth, in short,--yes,
my youth, my youth!--the more does it come back to me. No longer
ago than this morning, I was old. I remember looking in the glass,
and wondering at my own gray hair, and the wrinkles, many and deep,
right across my brow, and the furrows down my cheeks, and the
prodigious trampling of crow's-feet about my temples! It was too
soon! I could not bear it! Age had no right to come! I had not lived!
But now do I look old? If so, my aspect belies me strangely; for--a
great weight being off my mind--I feel in the very heyday of my
youth, with the world and my best days before me!"

"I trust you may find it so," said the old gentleman, who seemed
rather embarrassed, and desirous of avoiding the observation
which Clifford's wild talk drew on them both. "You have my
best wishes for it."

"For Heaven's sake, dear Clifford, be quiet!" whispered his sister.
"They think you mad."

"Be quiet yourself, Hepzibah!" returned her brother. "No matter
what they think! I am not mad. For the first time in thirty years
my thoughts gush up and find words ready for them. I must talk,
and I will!"

He turned again towards the old gentleman, and renewed the conversation.

"Yes, my dear sir," said he, "it is my firm belief and hope that
these terms of roof and hearth-stone, which have so long been
held to embody something sacred, are soon to pass out of men's
daily use, and be forgotten. Just imagine, for a moment, how
much of human evil will crumble away, with this one change! What
we call real estate--the solid ground to build a house on--is the
broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.
A man will commit almost any wrong,--he will heap up an immense
pile of wickedness, as hard as granite, and which will weigh as
heavily upon his soul, to eternal ages,--only to build a great,
gloomy, dark-chambered mansion, for himself to die in, and for
his posterity to be miserable in. He lays his own dead corpse
beneath the underpinning, as one may say, and hangs his frowning
picture on the wall, and, after thus converting himself into an
evil destiny, expects his remotest great-grandchildren to be happy
there. I do not speak wildly. I have just such a house in my
mind's eye!"

"Then, sir," said the old gentleman, getting anxious to drop the
subject, "you are not to blame for leaving it."

"Within the lifetime of the child already born," Clifford went on,
"all this will be done away. The world is growing too ethereal and
spiritual to bear these enormities a great while longer. To me,
though, for a considerable period of time, I have lived chiefly
in retirement, and know less of such things than most men,--even
to me, the harbingers of a better era are unmistakable. Mesmerism,
now! Will that effect nothing, think you, towards purging away the
grossness out of human life?"

"All a humbug!" growled the old gentleman."

These rapping spirits, that little Phoebe told us of, the other day,"
said Clifford,--"what are these but the messengers of the spiritual world,
knocking at the door of substance? And it shall be flung wide open!"

"A humbug, again!" cried the old gentleman, growing more and more
testy at these glimpses of Clifford's metaphysics. "I should
like to rap with a good stick on the empty pates of the dolts
who circulate such nonsense!"

"Then there is electricity,--the demon, the angel, the mighty
physical power, the all-pervading intelligence!" exclaimed Clifford.
"Is that a humbug, too? Is it a fact--or have I dreamt it--that,
by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve,
vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather,
the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!
Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but thought, and no
longer the substance which we deemed it!"

"If you mean the telegraph," said the old gentleman, glancing his
eye toward its wire, alongside the rail-track, "it is an excellent
thing,--that is, of course, if the speculators in cotton and politics
don't get possession of it. A great thing, indeed, sir, particularly
as regards the detection of bank-robbers and murderers."

"I don't quite like it, in that point of view," replied Clifford.
"A bank-robber, and what you call a murderer, likewise, has his
rights, which men of enlightened humanity and conscience should
regard in so much the more liberal spirit, because the bulk of
society is prone to controvert their existence. An almost spiritual
medium, like the electric telegraph, should be consecrated to high,
deep, joyful, and holy missions. Lovers, day by, day--hour by hour,
if so often moved to do it,--might send their heart-throbs from
Maine to Florida, with some such words as these `I love you forever!'
--`My heart runs over with love!'--`I love you more than I can!'
and, again, at the next message 'I have lived an hour longer,
and love you twice as much!' Or, when a good man has departed,
his distant friend should be conscious of an electric thrill,
as from the world of happy spirits, telling him 'Your dear friend
is in bliss!' Or, to an absent husband, should come tidings thus
`An immortal being, of whom you are the father, has this moment
come from God!' and immediately its little voice would seem to have
reached so far, and to be echoing in his heart. But for these poor
rogues, the bank-robbers,--who, after all, are about as honest as
nine people in ten, except that they disregard certain formalities,
and prefer to transact business at midnight rather than 'Change-hours,
--and for these murderers, as you phrase it, who are often excusable
in the motives of their deed, and deserve to be ranked among public
benefactors, if we consider only its result,--for unfortunate
individuals like these, I really cannot applaud the enlistment of
an immaterial and miraculous power in the universal world-hunt
at their heels!"

"You can't, hey?" cried the old gentleman, with a hard look.

"Positively, no!" answered Clifford. "It puts them too miserably
at disadvantage. For example, sir, in a dark, low, cross-beamed,
panelled room of an old house, let us suppose a dead man,
sitting in an arm-chair, with a blood-stain on his shirt-bosom,
--and let us add to our hypothesis another man, issuing from the
house, which he feels to be over-filled with the dead man's
presence,--and let us lastly imagine him fleeing, Heaven knows
whither, at the speed of a hurricane, by railroad! Now, sir, if
the fugutive alight in some distant town, and find all the people
babbling about that self-same dead man, whom he has fled so far
to avoid the sight and thought of, will you not allow that his
natural rights have been infringed? He has been deprived of his
city of refuge, and, in my humble opinion, has suffered infinite
wrong!"

"You are a strange man; sir" said the old gentleman, bringing his
gimlet-eye to a point on Clifford, as if determined to bore right
into him. "I can't see through you!"

"No, I'll be bound you can't!" cried Clifford, laughing. "And yet,
my dear sir, I am as transparent as the water of Maule's well!
But come, Hepzibah! We have flown far enough for once. Let us
alight, as the birds do, and perch ourselves on the nearest twig,
and consult wither we shall fly next!"

Just then, as it happened, the train reached a solitary way-station.
Taking advantage of the brief pause, Clifford left the car, and
drew Hepzibah along with him. A moment afterwards, the train--with
all the life of its interior, amid which Clifford had made himself
so conspicuous an object--was gliding away in the distance, and
rapidly lessening to a point which, in another moment, vanished.
The world had fled away from these two wanderers. They gazed
drearily about them. At a little distance stood a wooden church,
black with age, and in a dismal state of ruin and decay, with broken
windows, a great rift through the main body of the edifice, and a
rafter dangling from the top of the square tower. Farther off was
a farm-house, in the old style, as venerably black as the church,
with a roof sloping downward from the three-story peak, to within
a man's height of the ground. It seemed uninhabited. There were
the relics of a wood-pile, indeed, near the door, but with grass
sprouting up among the chips and scattered logs. The small rain-drops
came down aslant; the wind was not turbulent, but sullen, and full
of chilly moisture.

Clifford shivered from head to foot. The wild effervescence of
his mood--which had so readily supplied thoughts, fantasies,
and a strange aptitude of words, and impelled him to talk from
the mere necessity of giving vent to this bubbling-up gush of ideas
had entirely subsided. A powerful excitement had given him energy
and vivacity. Its operation over, he forthwith began to sink.

"You must take the lead now, Hepzibah!" murmured he, with a
torpid and reluctant utterance. "Do with me as you will!"
She knelt down upon the platform where they were standing and
lifted her clasped hands to the sky. The dull, gray weight of
clouds made it invisible; but it was no hour for disbelief,--no
juncture this to question that there was a sky above, and an
Almighty Father looking from it!

"O God!"--ejaculated poor, gaunt Hepzibah,--then paused a moment,
to consider what her prayer should be,--"O God,--our Father,
--are we not thy children? Have mercy on us!"

 

 

XVIII Governor Pyncheon

 

 

JUDGE PYNCHEON, while his two relatives have fled away with such
ill-considered haste, still sits in the old parlor, keeping house,
as the familiar phrase is, in the absence of its ordinary occupants.
To him, and to the venerable House of the Seven Gables, does our
story now betake itself, like an owl, bewildered in the daylight,
and hastening back to his hollow tree.

The Judge has not shifted his position for a long while now.
He has not stirred hand or foot, nor withdrawn his eyes so much as
a hair's-breadth from their fixed gaze towards the corner of the
room, since the footsteps of Hepzibah and Clifford creaked along
the passage, and the outer door was closed cautiously behind
their exit. He holds his watch in his left hand, but clutched in
such a manner that you cannot see the dial-plate. How profound
a fit of meditation! Or, supposing him asleep, how infantile a
quietude of conscience, and what wholesome order in the gastric
region, are betokened by slumber so entirely undisturbed with
starts, cramp, twitches, muttered dreamtalk, trumpet-blasts
through the nasal organ, or any slightest irregularity of breath!
You must hold your own breath, to satisfy yourself whether he breathes
at all. It is quite inaudible. You hear the ticking of his watch;
his breath you do not hear. A most refreshing slumber, doubtless!
And yet, the Judge cannot be asleep. His eyes are open! A veteran
politician, such as he, would never fall asleep with wide-open
eyes, lest some enemy or mischief-maker, taking him thus at
unawares, should peep through these windows into his consciousness,
and make strange discoveries among the remniniscences, projects,
hopes, apprehensions, weaknesses, and strong points, which he has
heretofore shared with nobody. A cautious man is proverbially said
to sleep with one eye open. That may be wisdom. But not with both;
for this were heedlessness! No, no! Judge Pyncheon cannot be asleep.

It is odd, however, that a gentleman so burdened with engagements,
--and noted, too, for punctuality,--should linger thus in an old
lonely mansion, which he has never seemed very fond of visiting.
The oaken chair, to be sure, may tempt him with its roominess.
It is, indeed, a spacious, and, allowing for the rude age that
fashioned it, a moderately easy seat, with capacity enough, at
all events, and offering no restraint to the Judge's breadth
of beam. A bigger man might find ample accommodation in it.
His ancestor, now pictured upon the wall, with all his English
beef about him, used hardly to present a front extending from
elbow to elbow of this chair, or a base that would cover its
whole cushion. But there are better chairs than this,--mahogany,
black walnut, rosewood, spring-seated and damask-cushioned,
with varied slopes, and innumerable artifices to make them easy,
and obviate the irksomeness of too tame an ease,--a score of
such might be at Judge Pyncheon's service. Yes! in a score of
drawing-rooms he would be more than welcome. Mamma would advance
to meet him, with outstretched hand; the virgin daughter, elderly
as he has now got to be,--an old widower, as he smilingly describes
himself,--would shake up the cushion for the Judge, and do her
pretty utmost to make him comfortable. For the Judge is a
prosperous man. He cherishes his schemes, moreover, like other
people, and reasonably brighter than most others; or did so, at
least, as he lay abed this morning, in an agreeable half-drowse,
planning the business of the day, and speculating on the
probabilities of the next fifteen years. With his firm health,
and the little inroad that age has made upon him, fifteen years
or twenty--yes, or perhaps five-and-twenty!--are no more than he
may fairly call his own. Five-and-twenty years for the enjoyment
of his real estate in town and country, his railroad, bank, and
insurance shares, his United States stock,--his wealth, in short,
however invested, now in possession, or soon to be acquired;
together with the public honors that have fallen upon him, and
the weightier ones that are yet to fall! It is good! It is
excellent! It is enough!

Still lingering in the old chair! If the Judge has a little
time to throw away, why does not he visit the insurance office,
as is his frequent custom, and sit awhile in one of their
leathern-cushioned arm-chairs, listening to the gossip of the
day, and dropping some deeply designed chance-word, which will
be certain to become the gossip of to-morrow. And have not the
bank directors a meeting at which it was the Judge's purpose to
be present, and his office to preside? Indeed they have; and the
hour is noted on a card, which is, or ought to be, in Judge
Pyncheon's right vest-pocket. Let him go thither, and loll at ease
upon his moneybags! He has lounged long enough in the old chair!

This was to have been such a busy day. In the first place, the
interview with Clifford. Half an hour, by the Judge's reckoning,
was to suffice for that; it would probably be less, but--taking
into consideration that Hepzibah was first to be dealt with, and
that these women are apt to make many words where a few would do
much better--it might be safest to allow half an hour. Half an
hour? Why, Judge, it is already two hours, by your own undeviatingly
accurate chronometer. Glance your eye down at it and see! Ah! he
will not give himself the trouble either to bend his head, or elevate
his hand, so as to bring the faithful time-keeper within his range
of vision! Time, all at once, appears to have become a matter of no
moment with the Judge!

And has he forgotten all the other items of his memoranda?
Clifford's affair arranged, he was to meet a State Street broker,
who has undertaken to procure a heavy percentage, and the best
of paper, for a few loose thousands which the Judge happens to
have by him, uninvested. The wrinkled note-shaver will have
taken his railroad trip in vain. Half an hour later, in the street
next to this, there was to be an auction of real estate, including
a portion of the old Pyncheon property, originally belonging to
Maule's garden ground. It has been alienated from the Pyncheons
these four-score years; but the Judge had kept it in his eye, and
had set his heart on reannexing it to the small demesne still left
around the Seven Gables; and now, during this odd fit of oblivion,
the fatal hammer must have fallen, and transferred our ancient
patrimony to some alien possessor. Possibly, indeed, the sale
may have been postponed till fairer weather. If so, will the
Judge make it convenient to be present, and favor the auctioneer
with his bid, On the proximate occasion?

The next affair was to buy a horse for his own driving. The one
heretofore his favorite stumbled, this very morning, on the road
to town, and must be at once discarded. Judge Pyncheon's neck
is too precious to be risked on such a contingency as a stumbling
steed. Should all the above business be seasonably got through
with, he might attend the meeting of a charitable society; the
very name of which, however, in the multiplicity of his
benevolence, is quite forgotten; so that this engagement may pass
unfulfilled, and no great harm done. And if he have time, amid
the press of more urgent matters, he must take measures for the
renewal of Mrs. Pyncheon's tombstone, which, the sexton tells
him, has fallen on its marble face, and is cracked quite in twain.
She was a praiseworthy woman enough, thinks the Judge, in spite
of her nervousness, and the tears that she was so oozy with, and
her foolish behavior about the coffee; and as she took her
departure so seasonably, he will not grudge the second tombstone.
It is better, at least, than if she had never needed any! The next
item on his list was to give orders for some fruit-trees, of a rare
variety, to be deliverable at his country-seat in the ensuing
autumn. Yes, buy them, by all means; and may the peaches be
luscious in your mouth, Judge Pyncheon! After this comes something
more important. A committee of his political party has besought
him for a hundred or two of dollars, in addition to his previous
disbursements, towards carrying on the fall campaign. The Judge
is a patriot; the fate of the country is staked on the November
election; and besides, as will be shadowed forth in another
paragraph, he has no trifling stake of his own in the same great
game. He will do what the committee asks; nay, he will be liberal
beyond their expectations; they shall have a check for five hundred
dollars, and more anon, if it be needed. What next? A decayed widow,
whose husband was Judge Pyncheon's early friend, has laid her case of
destitution before him, in a very moving letter. She and her fair
daughter have scarcely bread to eat. He partly intends to call on
her to-day,--perhaps so--perhaps not,--accordingly as he may happen
to have leisure, and a small bank-note.

Another business, which, however, he puts no great weight on (it
is well, you know, to be heedful, but not over-anxious, as respects
one's personal health),--another business, then, was to consult his
family physician. About what, for Heaven's sake? Why, it is rather
difficult to describe the symptoms. A mere dimness of sight and
dizziness of brain, was it?--or disagreeable choking, or stifling,
or gurgling, or bubbling, in the region of the thorax, as the
anatomists say?--or was it a pretty severe throbbing and kicking of
the heart, rather creditable to him than otherwise, as showing that
the organ had not been left out of the Judge's physical contrivance?
No matter what it was. The doctor probably would smile at the
statement of such trifles to his professional ear; the Judge would
smile in his turn; and meeting one another's eyes, they would enjoy
a hearty laugh together! But a fig for medical advice. The Judge
will never need it.

Pray, pray, Judge Pyncheon, look at your watch, Now! What--not
a glance! It is within ten minutes of the dinner hour! It surely
cannot have slipped your memory that the dinner of to-day is to
be the most important, in its consequences, of all the dinners
you ever ate. Yes, precisely the most important; although,
in the course of your somewhat eminent career, you have been
placed high towards the head of the table, at splendid banquets,
and have poured out your festive eloquence to ears yet echoing
with Webster's mighty organ-tones. No public dinner this,
however. It is merely a gathering of some dozen or so of friends
from several districts of the State; men of distinguished character
and influence, assembling, almost casually, at the house of a
common friend, likewise distinguished, who will make them
welcome to a little better than his ordinary fare. Nothing in
the way of French cookery, but an excellent dinner, nevertheless.
Real turtle, we understand, and salmon, tautog, canvas-backs, pig,
English mutton, good roast beef, or dainties of that serious kind,
fit for substantial country gentlemen, as these honorable persons
mostly are. The delicacies of the season, in short, and flavored
by a brand of old Madeira which has been the pride of many seasons.
It is the Juno brand; a glorious wine, fragrant, and full of gentle
might; a bottled-up happiness, put by for use; a golden liquid,
worth more than liquid gold; so rare and admirable, that veteran
wine-bibbers count it among their epochs to have tasted it!
It drives away the heart-ache, and substitutes no head-ache!
Could the Judge but quaff a glass, it might enable him to shake
off the unaccountable lethargy which (for the ten intervening
minutes, and five to boot, are already past) has made him such
a laggard at this momentous dinner. It would all but revive a
dead man! Would you like to sip it now, Judge Pyncheon?

Alas, this dinner. Have you really forgotten its true object?
Then let us whisper it, that you may start at once out of the
oaken chair, which really seems to be enchanted, like the one
in Comus, or that in which Moll Pitcher imprisoned your own
grandfather. But ambition is a talisman more powerful than
witchcraft. Start up, then, and, hurrying through the streets,
burst in upon the company, that they may begin before the fish
is spoiled! They wait for you; and it is little for your interest
that they should wait. These gentlemen--need you be told it?
--have assembled, not without purpose, from every quarter of
the State. They are practised politicians, every man of them,
and skilled to adjust those preliminary measures which steal
from the people, without its knowledge, the power of choosing
its own rulers. The popular voice, at the next gubernatorial
election, though loud as thunder, will be really but an echo of
what these gentlemen shall speak, under their breath, at your
friend's festive board. They meet to decide upon their candidate.
This little knot of subtle schemers will control the convention,
and, through it, dictate to the party. And what worthier candidate,
--more wise and learned, more noted for philanthropic liberality,
truer to safe principles, tried oftener by public trusts, more
spotless in private character, with a larger stake in the common
welfare, and deeper grounded, by hereditary descent, in the faith
and practice of the Puritans,--what man can be presented for the
suffrage of the people, so eminently combining all these claims
to the chief-rulership as Judge Pyncheon here before us?

Make haste, then! Do your part! The meed for which you have
toiled, and fought, and climbed, and crept, is ready for your
grasp! Be present at this dinner!--drink a glass or two of that
noble wine!--make your pledges in as low a whisper as you will!
--and you rise up from table virtually governor of the glorious
old State! Governor Pyncheon of Massachusetts!

And is there no potent and exhilarating cordial in a certainty like
this? It has been the grand purpose of half your lifetime to obtain
it. Now, when there needs little more than to signify your acceptance,
why do you sit so lumpishly in your great-great-grandfather's oaken
chair, as if preferring it to the gubernatorial one? We have all heard
of King Log; but, in these jostling times, one of that royal kindred
will hardly win the race for an elective chief-magistracy.

Well! it is absolutely too late for dinner! Turtle, salmon, tautog,
woodcock, boiled turkey, South-Down mutton, pig, roast-beef,
have vanished, or exist only in fragments, with lukewarm potatoes,
and gravies crusted over with cold fat. The Judge, had he done
nothing else, would have achieved wonders with his knife and fork.
It was he, you know, of whom it used to be said, in reference to
his ogre-like appetite, that his Creator made him a great aninmal,
but that the dinner-hour made him a great beast. Persons of his
large sensual endowments must claim indulgence, at their feeding-time.
But, for once, the Judge is entirely too late for dinner! Too late,
we fear, even to join the party at their wine! The guests are warm
and merry; they have given up the Judge; and, concluding that the
Free-Soilers have him, they will fix upon another candidate. Were our
friend now to stalk in among them, with that wide-open stare, at once
wild and stolid, his ungenial presence would be apt to change their
cheer. Neither would it be seemly in Judge Pyncheon, generally so
scrupulous in his attire, to show himself at a dinner-table with
that crimson stain upon his shirt-bosom. By the bye, how came it
there? It is an ugly sight, at any rate; and the wisest way for the
Judge is to button his coat closely over his breast, and, taking his
horse and chaise from the livery stable, to make all speed to his
own house. There, after a glass of brandy and water, and a mutton-chop,
a beefsteak, a broiled fowl, or some such hasty little dinner and
supper all in one, he had better spend the evening by the fireside.
He must toast his slippers a long while, in order to get rid of
the chilliness which the air of this vile old house has sent curdling
through his veins.

Up, therefore, Judge Pyncheon, up! You have lost a day. But
to-morrow will be here anon. Will you rise, betimes, and make
the most of it? To-morrow. To-morrow! To-morrow. We, that are
alive, may rise betimes to-morrow. As for him that has died
to-day, his morrow will be the resurrection morn.

Meanwhile the twilight is glooming upward out of the corners of
the room. The shadows of the tall furniture grow deeper, and at
first become more definite; then, spreading wider, they lose their
distinctness of outline in the dark gray tide of oblivion, as it
were, that creeps slowly over the various objects, and the one
human figure sitting in the midst of them. The gloom has not
entered from without; it has brooded here all day, and now,
taking its own inevitable time, will possess itself of everything.
The Judge's face, indeed, rigid and singularly white, refuses to
melt into this universal solvent. Fainter and fainter grows the
light. It is as if another double-handful of darkness had been
scattered through the air. Now it is no longer gray, but sable.
There is still a faint appearance at the window. neither a glow,
nor a gleam, Nor a glimmer,--any phrase of light would express
something far brighter than this doubtful perception, or sense,
rather, that there is a window there. Has it yet vanished? No!
--yes!--not quite! And there is still the swarthy whiteness,--we
shall venture to marry these ill-agreeing words,--the swarthy
whiteness of Judge Pyncheon's face. The features are all gone:
there is only the paleness of them left. And how looks it now?
There is no window! There is no face! An infinite, inscrutable
blackness has annihilated sight! Where is our universe? All
crumbled away from us; and we, adrift in chaos, may hearken to
the gusts of homeless wind, that go sighing and murmuring about
in quest of what was once a world!

Is there no other sound? One other, and a fearful one. It is the
ticking of the Judge's watch, which, ever since Hepzibah left the
room in search of Clifford, he has been holding in his hand. Be
the cause what it may, this little, quiet, never-ceasing throb of
Time's pulse, repeating its small strokes with such busy regularity,
in Judge Pyncheon's motionless hand, has an effect of terror, which
we do not find in any other accompaniment of the scene.

But, listen! That puff of the breeze was louder. it, had a tone
unlike the dreary and sullen one which has bemoaned itself, and
afflicted all mankind with miserable sympathy, for five days past.
The wind has veered about! It now comes boisterously from the
northwest, and, taking hold of the aged framework of the Seven
Gables, gives it a shake, like a wrestler that would try strength
with his antagonist. Another and another sturdy tussle with the
blast! The old house creaks again, and makes a vociferous but
somewhat unintelligible bellowing in its sooty throat (the big
flue, we mean, of its wide chimney), partly in complaint at the
rude wind, but rather, as befits their century and a half of
hostile intimacy, in tough defiance. A rumbling kind of a bluster
roars behind the fire-board. A door has slammed above stairs.
A window, perhaps, has been left open, or else is driven in by
an unruly gust. It is not to be conceived, before-hand, what
wonderful wind-instruments are these old timber mansions, and
how haunted with the strangest noises, which immediately begin
to sing, and sigh, and sob, and shriek,--and to smite with
sledge-hammers, airy but ponderous, in some distant chamber,
--and to tread along the entries as with stately footsteps,
and rustle up and down the staircase, as with silks miraculously
stiff,--whenever the gale catches the house with a window open,
and gets fairly into it. Would that we were not an attendant
spirit here! It is too awful! This clamor of the wind through
the lonely house; the Judge's quietude, as he sits invisible;
and that pertinacious ticking of his watch!

As regards Judge Pyncheon's invisibility, however, that matter
will soon be remedied. The northwest wind has swept the sky
clear. The window is distinctly seen. Through its panes,
moreover, we dimly catch the sweep of the dark, clustering
foliage outside, fluttering with a constant irregularity of
movement, and letting in a peep of starlight, now here, now
there. Oftener than any other object, these glimpses illuminate
the Judge's face. But here comes more effectual light. Observe
that silvery dance upon the upper branches of the pear-tree,
and now a little lower, and now on the whole mass of boughs,
while, through their shifting intricacies, the moonbeams fall
aslant into the room. They play over the Judge's figure and
show that he has not stirred throughout the hours of darkness.
They follow the shadows, in changeful sport, across his unchanging
features. They gleam upon his watch. His grasp conceals the
dial-plate,--but we know that the faithful hands have met;
for one of the city clocks tells midnight.

A man of sturdy understanding, like Judge Pyncheon, cares no
more for twelve o'clock at night than for the corresponding hour
of noon. However just the parallel drawn, in some of the preceding
pages, between his Puritan ancestor and himself, it fails in this
point. The Pyncheon of two centuries ago, in common with most of
his contemporaries, professed his full belief in spiritual
ministrations, although reckoning them chiefly of a malignant
character. The Pyncheon of to-night, who sits in yonder arm-chair,
believes in no such nonsense. Such, at least, was his creed,
some few hours since. His hair will not bristle, therefore,
at the stories which--in times when chimney-corners had benches
in them, where old people sat poking into the ashes of the past,
and raking out traditions like live coals--used to be told about
this very room of his ancestral house. In fact, these tales are
too absurd to bristle even childhood's hair. What sense, meaning,
or moral, for example, such as even ghost-stories should be
susceptible of, can be traced in the ridiculous legend, that,
at midnight, all the dead Pyncheons are bound to assemble in this
parlor? And, pray, for what? Why, to see whether the portrait of
their ancestor still keeps its place upon the wall, in compliance
with his testamentary directions! Is it worth while to come out
of their graves for that?

We are tempted to make a little sport with the idea. Ghost-stories
are hardly to be treated seriously any longer. The family-party of
the defunct Pyncheons, we presume, goes off in this wise.

First comes the ancestor himself, in his black cloak, steeple-hat,
and trunk-breeches, girt about the waist with a leathern belt,
in which hangs his steel-hilted sword; he has a long staff in his
hand, such as gentlemen in advanced life used to carry, as much
for the dignity of the thing as for the support to be derived from
it. He looks up at the portrait; a thing of no substance, gazing
at its own painted image! All is safe. The picture is still there.
The purpose of his brain has been kept sacred thus long after the
man himself has sprouted up in graveyard grass. See! he lifts his
ineffectual hand, and tries the frame. All safe! But is that a
smile?--is it not, rather a frown of deadly import, that darkens
over the shadow of his features? The stout Colonel is dissatisfied!
So decided is his look of discontent as to impart additional
distinctness to his features; through which, nevertheless, the
moonlight passes, and flickers on the wall beyond. Something has
strangely vexed the ancestor! With a grim shake of the head, he
turns away. Here come other Pyncheons, the whole tribe, in their
half a dozen generations, jostling and elbowing one another, to
reach the picture. We behold aged men and grandames, a clergyman
with the Puritanic stiffness still in his garb and mien, and a
red-coated officer of the old French war; and there comes the
shop-keeping Pyncheon of a century ago, with the ruffles turned
back from his wrists; and there the periwigged and brocaded
gentleman of the artist's legend, with the beautiful and pensive
Alice, who brings no pride out of her virgin grave. All try the
picture-frame. What do these ghostly people seek? A mother lifts
her child, that his little hands may touch it! There is evidently
a mystery about the picture, that perplexes these poor Pyncheons
when they ought to be at rest. In a corner, meanwhile, stands the
figure of an elderly man, in a leathern jerkin and breeches, with
a carpenter's rule sticking out of his side pocket; he points his
finger at the bearded Colonel and his descendants, nodding,
jeering, mocking, and finally bursting into obstreperous, though
inaudible laughter.

Indulging our fancy in this freak, we have partly lost the power
of restraint and guidance. We distinguish an unlooked-for figure
in our visionary scene. Among those ancestral people there is a
young man, dressed in the very fashion of to-day: he wears a
dark frock-coat, almost destitute of skirts, gray pantaloons,
gaiter boots of patent leather, and has a finely wrought gold
chain across his breast, and a little silver-headed whalebone
stick in his hand. Were we to meet this figure at noonday, we
should greet him as young Jaffrey Pyncheon, the Judge's only
surviving child, who has been spending the last two years in
foreign travel. If still in life, how comes his shadow hither?
If dead, what a misfortune! The old Pyncheon property, together
with the great estate acquired by the young man's father, would
devolve on whom? On poor, foolish Clifford, gaunt Hepzibah, and
rustic little Phoebe! But another and a greater marvel greets us!
Can we believe our eyes? A stout, elderly gentleman has made his
appearance; he has an aspect of eminent respectability, wears a
black coat and pantaloons, of roomy width, and might be pronounced
scrupulously neat in his attire, but for a broad crimson stain
across his snowy neckcloth and down his shirt-bosom. Is it the
Judge, or no? How can it be Judge Pyncheon? We discern his figure,
as plainly as the flickering moonbeams can show us anything, still
seated in the oaken chair! Be the apparition whose it may, it
advances to the picture, seems to seize the frame, tries to
peep behind it, and turns away, with a frown as black as the
ancestral one.

The fantastic scene just hinted at must by no means be considered
as forming an actual portion of our story. We were betrayed into
this brief extravagance by the quiver of the moonbeams; they dance
hand-in-hand with shadows, and are reflected in the looking-glass,
which, you are aware, is always a kind of window or doorway into
the spiritual world. We needed relief, moreover, from our too
long and exclusive contemplation of that figure in the chair.
This wild wind, too, has tossed our thoughts into strange confusion,
but without tearing them away from their one determined centre.
Yonder leaden Judge sits immovably upon our soul. Will he never
stir again? We shall go mad unless he stirs! You may the better
estimate his quietude by the fearlessness of a little mouse,
which sits on its hind legs, in a streak of moonlight, close by
Judge Pyncheon's foot, and seems to meditate a journey of
exploration over this great black bulk. Ha! what has startled
the nimble little mouse? It is the visage of grimalkin, outside
of the window, where he appears to have posted himself for a
deliberate watch. This grimalkin has a very ugly look. Is it
a cat watching for a mouse, or the devil for a human soul? Would
we could scare him from the window!

Thank Heaven, the night is well-nigh past! The moonbeams have
no longer so silvery a gleam, nor contrast so strongly with the
blackness of the shadows among which they fall. They are paler
now; the shadows look gray, not black. The boisterous wind is
hushed. What is the hour? Ah! the watch has at last ceased to
tick; for the Judge's forgetful fingers neglected to wind it up,
as usual, at ten o'clock, being half an hour or so before his
ordinary bedtime,--and it has run down, for the first time in five
years. But the great world-clock of Time still keeps its beat.
The dreary night--for, oh, how dreary seems its haunted waste,
behind us!--gives place to a fresh, transparent, cloudless morn.
Blessed, blessed radiance! The daybeam--even what little of it finds
its way into this always dusky parlor--seems part of the universal
benediction, annulling evil, and rendering all goodness possible,
and happiness attainable. Will Judge Pyncheon now rise up from
his chair? Will he go forth, and receive the early sunbeams on
his brow? Will he begin this new day,--which God has smiled upon,
and blessed, and given to mankind,--will he begin it with better
purposes than the many that have been spent amiss? Or are all the
deep-laid schemes of yesterday as stubborn in his heart, and as
busy in his brain, as ever?

In this latter case, there is much to do. Will the Judge still
insist with Hepzibah on the interview with Clifford? Will he buy
a safe, elderly gentleman's horse? Will he persuade the purchaser
of the old Pyncheon property to relinquish the bargain in his
favor? Will he see his family physician, and obtain a medicine
that shall preserve him, to be an honor and blessing to his race,
until the utmost term of patriarchal longevity? Will Judge
Pyncheon, above all, make due apologies to that company of
honorable friends, and satisfy them that his absence from the
festive board was unavoidable, and so fully retrieve himself in
their good opinion that he shall yet be Governor of Massachusetts?
And all these great purposes accomplished, will he walk the streets
again, with that dog-day smile of elaborate benevolence, sultry
enough to tempt flies to come and buzz in it? Or will he, after the
tomb-like seclusion of the past day and night, go forth a humbled
and repentant man, sorrowful, gentle, seeking no profit, shrinking
from worldly honor, hardly daring to love God, but bold to love
his fellow man, and to do him what good he may? Will he bear
about with him,--no odious grin of feigned benignity, insolent
in its pretence, and loathsome in its falsehood,--but the tender
sadness of a contrite heart, broken, at last, beneath its own
weight of sin? For it is our belief, whatever show of honor he
may have piled upon it, that there was heavy sin at the base of
this man's being.

Rise up, Judge Pyncheon! The morning sunshine glimmers through the
foliage, and, beautiful and holy as it is, shuns not to kindle up
your face. Rise up, thou subtle, worldly, selfish, iron-hearted
hypocrite, and make thy choice whether still to be subtle, worldly,
selfish, iron-hearted, and hypocritical, or to tear these sins out
of thy nature, though they bring the lifeblood with them! The Avenger
is upon thee! Rise up, before it be too late!

What! Thou art not stirred by this last appeal? No, not a jot!
And there we see a fly,--one of your common house-flies, such as
are always buzzing on the window-pane,--which has smelt out Governor
Pyncheon, and alights, now on his forehead, now on his chin, and now,
Heaven help us! is creeping over the bridge of his nose, towards the
would-be chief-magistrate's wide-open eyes! Canst thou not brush the
fly away? Art thou too sluggish? Thou man, that hadst so many busy
projects yesterday! Art thou too weak, that wast so powerful?
Not brush away a fly? Nay, then, we give thee up!

And hark! the shop-bell rings. After hours like these latter
ones, through which we have borne our heavy tale, it is good
to be made sensible that there is a living world, and that even
this old, lonely mansion retains some manner of connection with
it. We breathe more freely, emerging from Judge Pyncheon's
presence into the street before the Seven Gables.

 

 

XIX Alice's Posies

 

 

UNCLE VENNER, trundling a wheelbarrow, was the earliest person
stirring in the neighborhood the day after the storm.

Pyncheon Street, in front of the House of the Seven Gables, was
a far pleasanter scene than a by-lane, confined by shabby fences,
and bordered with wooden dwellings of the meaner class, could
reasonably be expected to present. Nature made sweet amends,
that morning, for the five unkindly days which had preceded it.
It would have been enough to live for, merely to look up at the
wide benediction of the sky, or as much of it as was visible
between the houses, genial once more with sunshine. Every object
was agreeable, whether to be gazed at in the breadth, or examined
more minutely. Such, for example, were the well-washed pebbles
and gravel of the sidewalk; even the sky-reflecting pools in the
centre of the street; and the grass, now freshly verdant,
that crept along the base of the fences, on the other side of
which, if one peeped over, was seen the multifarious growth of
gardens. Vegetable productions, of whatever kind, seemed more
than negatively happy, in the juicy warmth and abundance of
their life. The Pyncheon Elm, throughout its great circumference,
was all alive, and full of the morning sun and a sweet-tempered
little breeze, which lingered within this verdant sphere, and
set a thousand leafy tongues a-whispering all at once. This aged
tree appeared to have suffered nothing from the gale. It had
kept its boughs unshattered, and its full complement of leaves;
and the whole in perfect verdure, except a single branch, that,
by the earlier change with which the elm-tree sometimes prophesies
the autumn, had been transmuted to bright gold. It was like the
golden branch that gained AEneas and the Sibyl admittance into Hades.

This one mystic branch hung down before the main entrance of the
Seven Gables, so nigh the ground that any passer-by might have
stood on tiptoe and plucked it off. Presented at the door, it
would have been a symbol of his right to enter, and be made
acquainted with all the secrets of the house. So little faith is
due to external appearance, that there was really an inviting
aspect over the venerable edifice, conveying an idea that its
history must be a decorous and happy one, and such as would be
delightful for a fireside tale. Its windows gleamed cheerfully
in the slanting sunlight. The lines and tufts of green moss,
here and there, seemed pledges of familiarity and sisterhood
with Nature; as if this human dwelling-place, being of such old
date, had established its prescriptive title among primeval oaks
and whatever other objects, by virtue of their long continuance,
have acquired a gracious right to be. A person of imaginative
temperament, while passing by the house, would turn, once and
again, and peruse it well: its many peaks, consenting together in
the clustered chimney; the deep projection over its basement-story;
the arched window, imparting a look, if not of grandeur, yet of
antique gentility, to the broken portal over which it opened; the
luxuriance of gigantic burdocks, near the threshold; he would
note all these characteristics, and be conscious of something
deeper than he saw. He would conceive the mansion to have
been the residence of the stubborn old Puritan, Integrity, who,
dying in some forgotten generation, had left a blessing in all
its rooms and chambers, the efficacy of which was to be seen in
the religion, honesty, moderate competence, or upright poverty
and solid happiness, of his descendants, to this day.

One object, above all others, would take root in the imaginative
observer's memory. It was the great tuft of flowers,--weeds, you
would have called them, only a week ago,--the tuft of crimson-spotted
flowers, in the angle between the two front gables. The old people
used to give them the name of Alice's Posies, in remembrance of fair
Alice Pyncheon, who was believed to have brought their seeds from
Italy. They were flaunting in rich beauty and full bloom to-day,
and seemed, as it were, a mystic expression that something within
the house was consummated.

It was but little after sunrise, when Uncle Venner made his
appearance, as aforesaid, impelling a wheelbarrow along the
street. He was going his matutinal rounds to collect
cabbage-leaves, turnip-tops, potato-skins, and the miscellaneous
refuse of the dinner-pot, which the thrifty housewives of the
neighborhood were accustomed to put aside, as fit only to feed
a pig. Uncle Venner's pig was fed entirely, and kept in prime
order, on these eleemosynary contributions; insomuch that the
patched philosopher used to promise that, before retiring to his
farm, he would make a feast of the portly grunter, and invite all
his neighbors to partake of the joints and spare-ribs which they
had helped to fatten. Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon's housekeeping
had so greatly improved, since Clifford became a member of the
family, that her share of the banquet would have been no lean
one; and Uncle Venner, accordingly, was a good deal disappointed
not to find the large earthen pan, full of fragmentary eatables,
that ordinarily awaited his coming at the back doorstep of the
Seven Gables.

"I never knew Miss Hepzibah so forgetful before," said the
patriarch to himself. "She must have had a dinner yesterday,
--no question of that! She always has one, nowadays. So where's
the pot-liquor and potato-skins, I ask? Shall I knock, and see if
she's stirring yet? No, no,--'t won't do! If little Phoebe was
about the house, I should not mind knocking; but Miss Hepzibah,
likely as not, would scowl down at me out of the window, and look
cross, even if she felt pleasantly. So, I'll come back at noon."

With these reflections, the old man was shutting the gate of the
little back-yard. Creaking on its hinges, however, like every other
gate and door about the premises, the sound reached the ears of
the occupant of the northern gable, one of the windows of which
had a side-view towards the gate.

"Good-morning, Uncle Venner!" said the daguerreotypist, leaning
out of the window. "Do you hear nobody stirring?"

"Not a soul," said the man of patches. "But that's no wonder.
'Tis barely half an hour past sunrise, yet. But I'm really glad
to see you, Mr. Holgrave! There's a strange, lonesome look about
this side of the house; so that my heart misgave me, somehow or
other, and I felt as if there was nobody alive in it. The front
of the house looks a good deal cheerier; and Alice's Posies are
blooming there beautifully; and if I were a young man, Mr. Holgrave,
my sweetheart should have one of those flowers in her bosom, though
I risked my neck climbing for it! Well, and did the wind keep you
awake last night?"

"It did, indeed!" answered the artist, smiling. "If I were a
believer in ghosts,--and I don't quite know whether I am or
not,--I should have concluded that all the old Pyncheons were
running riot in the lower rooms, especially in Miss Hepzibah's
part of the house. But it is very quiet now."

"Yes, Miss Hepzibah will be apt to over-sleep herself, after being
disturbed, all night, with the racket," said Uncle Venner. "But it
would be odd, now, wouldn't it, if the Judge had taken both his
cousins into the country along with him? I saw him go into the
shop yesterday."

"At what hour?" inquired Holgrave.

"Oh, along in the forenoon," said the old man. "Well, well! I
must go my rounds, and so must my wheelbarrow. But I'll be back
here at dinner-time; for my pig likes a dinner as well as a breakfast.
No meal-time, and no sort of victuals, ever seems to come amiss to
my pig. Good morning to you! And, Mr. Holgrave, if I were a
young man, like you, I'd get one of Alice's Posies, and keep it in
water till Phoebe comes back."

"I have heard," said the daguerreotypist, as he drew in his head,
"that the water of Maule's well suits those flowers best."

Here the conversation ceased, and Uncle Venner went on his way.
For half an hour longer, nothing disturbed the repose of the
Seven Gables; nor was there any visitor, except a carrier-boy,
who, as he passed the front doorstep, threw down one of his
newspapers; for Hepzibah, of late, had regularly taken it in.
After a while, there came a fat woman, making prodigious speed,
and stumbling as she ran up the steps of the shop-door. Her face
glowed with fire-heat, and, it being a pretty warm morning, she
bubbled and hissed, as it were, as if all a-fry with chimney-warmth,
and summer-warmth, and the warmth of her own corpulent velocity.
She tried the shop-door; it was fast. She tried it again, with so
angry a jar that the bell tinkled angrily back at her.

"The deuce take Old Maid Pyncheon!" muttered the irascible housewife.
"Think of her pretending to set up a cent-shop, and then lying abed
till noon! These are what she calls gentlefolk's airs, I suppose!
But I'll either start her ladyship, or break the door down!"

She shook it accordingly, and the bell, having a spiteful little
temper of its own, rang obstreperously, making its remonstrances
heard,--not, indeed, by the ears for which they were intended,
--but by a good lady on the opposite side of the street. She
opened the window, and addressed the impatient applicant.

"You'll find nobody there, Mrs. Gubbins."

"But I must and will find somebody here!" cried Mrs. Gubbins,
inflicting another outrage on the bell. "I want a half-pound
of pork, to fry some first-rate flounders for Mr. Gubbins's
breakfast; and, lady or not, Old Maid Pyncheon shall get up and
serve me with it!"

"But do hear reason, Mrs. Gubbins!" responded the lady opposite.
"She, and her brother too, have both gone to their cousin's, Judge
Pyncheon's at his country-seat. There's not a soul in the house,
but that young daguerreotype-man that sleeps in the north gable.
I saw old Hepzibah and Clifford go away yesterday; and a queer
couple of ducks they were, paddling through the mud-puddles!
They're gone, I'll assure you."

"And how do you know they're gone to the Judge's?" asked Mrs.
Gubbins. "He's a rich man; and there's been a quarrel between
him and Hepzibah this many a day, because he won't give her
a living. That's the main reason of her setting up a cent-shop."

"I know that well enough," said the neighbor. "But they're gone,
--that's one thing certain. And who but a blood relation, that
couldn't help himself, I ask you, would take in that awful-tempered
old maid, and that dreadful Clifford? That's it, you may be sure."

Mrs. Gubbins took her departure, still brimming over with hot
wrath against the absent Hepzibah. For another half-hour, or,
perhaps, considerably more, there was almost as much quiet on the
outside of the house as within. The elm, however, made a pleasant,
cheerful, sunny sigh, responsive to the breeze that was elsewhere
imperceptible; a swarm of insects buzzed merrily under its drooping
shadow, and became specks of light whenever they darted into the
sunshine; a locust sang, once or twice, in some inscrutable seclusion
of the tree; and a solitary little bird, with plumage of pale gold,
came and hovered about Alice's Posies.

At last our small acquaintance, Ned Higgins, trudged up the street,
on his way to school; and happening, for the first time in a
fortnight, to be the possessor of a cent, he could by no means
get past the shop-door of the Seven Gables. But it would not
open. Again and again, however, and half a dozen other agains,
with the inexorable pertinacity of a child intent upon some object
important to itself, did he renew his efforts for admittance.
He had, doubtless, set his heart upon an elephant; or, possibly,
with Hamlet, he meant to eat a crocodile. In response to his
more violent attacks, the bell gave, now and then, a moderate
tinkle, but could not be stirred into clamor by any exertion
of the little fellow's childish and tiptoe strength. Holding
by the door-handle, he peeped through a crevice of the curtain,
and saw that the inner door, communicating with the passage
towards the parlor, was closed.

"Miss Pyncheon!" screamed the child, rapping on the window-pane,
"I want an elephant!"

There being no answer to several repetitions of the summons,
Ned began to grow impatient; and his little pot of passion
quickly boiling over, he picked up a stone, with a naughty
purpose to fling it through the window; at the same time
blubbering and sputtering with wrath. A man--one of two who
happened to be passing by--caught the urchin's arm.

"What's the trouble, old gentleman?" he asked.

"I want old Hepzibah, or Phoebe, or any of them!" answered Ned,
sobbing. "They won't open the door; and I can't get my elephant!"

"Go to school, you little scamp!" said the man. "There's another
cent-shop round the corner. 'T is very strange, Dixey," added he
to his companion, "what's become of all these Pyncheon's! Smith,
the livery-stable keeper, tells me Judge Pyncheon put his horse
up yesterday, to stand till after dinner, and has not taken
him away yet. And one of the Judge's hired men has been in,
this morning, to make inquiry about him. He's a kind of person,
they say, that seldom breaks his habits, or stays out o' nights."

"Oh, he'll turn up safe enough!" said Dixey. "And as for Old
Maid Pyncheon, take my word for it, she has run in debt, and gone
off from her creditors. I foretold, you remember, the first morning
she set up shop, that her devilish scowl would frighten away customers.
They couldn't stand it!"

"I never thought she'd make it go," remarked his friend. "This
business of cent-shops is overdone among the women-folks. My wife
tried it, and lost five dollars on her outlay!"

"Poor business!" said Dixey, shaking his head. "Poor business!"

In the course of the morning, there were various other attempts
to open a communication with the supposed inhabitants of this
silent and impenetrable mansion. The man of root-beer came,
in his neatly painted wagon, with a couple of dozen full bottles,
to be exchanged for empty ones; the baker, with a lot of crackers
which Hepzibah had ordered for her retail custom; the butcher,
with a nice titbit which he fancied she would be eager to secure
for Clifford. Had any observer of these proceedings been aware
of the fearful secret hidden within the house, it would have
affected him with a singular shape and modification of horror,
to see the current of human life making this small eddy hereabouts,
--whirling sticks, straws and all such trifles, round and round,
right over the black depth where a dead corpse lay unseen!

The butcher was so much in earnest with his sweetbread of lamb,
or whatever the dainty might be, that he tried every accessible
door of the Seven Gables, and at length came round again to the
shop, where he ordinarily found admittance.

"It's a nice article, and I know the old lady would jump at it,"
said he to himself. "She can't be gone away! In fifteen years
that I have driven my cart through Pyncheon Street, I've never
known her to be away from home; though often enough, to be sure,
a man might knock all day without bringing her to the door.
But that was when she'd only herself to provide for"

Peeping through the same crevice of the curtain where, only a
little while before, the urchin of elephantine appetite had peeped,
the butcher beheld the inner door, not closed, as the child had
seen it, but ajar, and almost wide open. However it might have
happened, it was the fact. Through the passage-way there was a
dark vista into the lighter but still obscure interior of the parlor.
It appeared to the butcher that he could pretty clearly discern
what seemed to be the stalwart legs, clad in black pantaloons,
of a man sitting in a large oaken chair, the back of which concealed
all the remainder of his figure. This contemptuous tranquillity on
the part of an occupant of the house, in response to the butcher's
indefatigable efforts to attract notice, so piqued the man of flesh
that he determined to withdraw.

"So," thought he, "there sits Old Maid Pyncheon's bloody brother,
while I've been giving myself all this trouble! Why, if a hog
hadn't more manners, I'd stick him! I call it demeaning a man's
business to trade with such people; and from this time forth,
if they want a sausage or an ounce of liver, they shall run after
the cart for it!"

He tossed the titbit angrily into his cart, and drove off in a pet.

Not a great while afterwards there was a sound of music turning
the corner and approaching down the street, with several intervals
of silence, and then a renewed and nearer outbreak of brisk
melody. A mob of children was seen moving onward, or stopping,
in unison with the sound, which appeared to proceed from the
centre of the throng; so that they were loosely bound together
by slender strains of harmony, and drawn along captive; with ever
and anon an accession of some little fellow in an apron and
straw-hat, capering forth from door or gateway. Arriving under
the shadow of the Pyncheon Elm, it proved to be the Italian boy,
who, with his monkey and show of puppets, had once before played
his hurdy-gurdy beneath the arched window. The pleasant face of
Phoebe--and doubtless, too, the liberal recompense which she had
flung him--still dwelt in his remembrance. His expressive features
kindled up, as he recognized the spot where this trifling incident
of his erratic life had chanced. He entered the neglected yard
(now wilder than ever, with its growth of hog-weed and burdock),
stationed himself on the doorstep of the main entrance, and,
opening his show-box, began to play. Each individual of the
automatic community forthwith set to work, according to his or
her proper vocation: the monkey, taking off his Highland bonnet,
bowed and scraped to the by-standers most obsequiously, with
ever an observant eye to pick up a stray cent; and the young
foreigner himself, as he turned the crank of his machine, glanced
upward to the arched window, expectant of a presence that would
make his music the livelier and sweeter. The throng of children
stood near; some on the sidewalk; some within the yard; two or
three establishing themselves on the very door-step; and one
squatting on the threshold. Meanwhile, the locust kept singing
in the great old Pyncheon Elm.

"I don't hear anybody in the house," said one of the children to
another. "The monkey won't pick up anything here."

" There is somebody at home," affirmed the urchin on the threshold.
"I heard a step!"

Still the young Italian's eye turned sidelong upward; and it
really seemed as if the touch of genuine, though slight and almost
playful, emotion communicated a juicier sweetness to the dry,
mechanical process of his minstrelsy. These wanderers are readily
responsive to any natural kindness--be it no more than a smile,
or a word itself not understood, but only a warmth in it--which
befalls them on the roadside of life. They remember these things,
because they are the little enchantments which, for the instant,
--for the space that reflects a landscape in a soap-bubble,--build
up a home about them. Therefore, the Italian boy would not be
discouraged by the heavy silence with which the old house seemed
resolute to clog the vivacity of his instrument. He persisted in
his melodious appeals; he still looked upward, trusting that his
dark, alien countenance would soon be brightened by Phoebe's sunny
aspect. Neither could he be willing to depart without again
beholding Clifford, whose sensibility, like Phoebe's smile, had
talked a kind of heart's language to the foreigner. He repeated
all his music over and over again, until his auditors were getting
weary. So were the little wooden people in his show-box, and the
monkey most of all. There was no response, save the singing of
the locust.

"No children live in this house," said a schoolboy, at last.
"Nobody lives here but an old maid and an old man. You'll get
nothing here! Why don't you go along?"

"You fool, you, why do you tell him?" whispered a shrewd little
Yankee, caring nothing for the music, but a good deal for the
cheap rate at which it was had.
"Let him play as he likes! If there's nobody to pay him, that's
his own lookout!"

Once more, however, the Italian ran over his round of melodies.
To the common observer--who could understand nothing of the case,
except the music and the sunshine on the hither side of the door
--it might have been amusing to watch the pertinacity of the
street-performer. Will he succeed at last? Will that stubborn
door be suddenly flung open? Will a group of joyous children,
the young ones of the house, come dancing, shouting, laughing,
into the open air, and cluster round the show-box, looking with
eager merriment at the puppets, and tossing each a copper for
long-tailed Mammon, the monkey, to pick up?

But to us, who know the inner heart of the Seven Gables as well
as its exterior face, there is a ghastly effect in this repetition
of light popular tunes at its door-step. It would be an ugly
business, indeed, if Judge Pyncheon (who would not have cared a
fig for Paganini's fiddle in his most harmonious mood) should
make his appearance at the door, with a bloody shirt-bosom, and
a grim frown on his swarthily white visage, and motion the foreign
vagabond away! Was ever before such a grinding out of jigs and
waltzes, where nobody was in the cue to dance? Yes, very often.
This contrast, or intermingling of tragedy with mirth, happens
daily, hourly, momently. The gloomy and desolate old house,
deserted of life, and with awful Death sitting sternly in its
solitude, was the emblem of many a human heart, which,
nevertheless, is compelled to hear the thrill and echo of the
world's gayety around it.

Before the conclusion of the Italian's performance, a couple of men
happened to be passing, On their way to dinner. "I say, you young
French fellow!" called out one of them,--"come away from that doorstep,
and go somewhere else with your nonsense! The Pyncheon family live
there; and they are in great trouble, just about this time. They don't
feel musical to-day. It is reported all over town that Judge Pyncheon,
who owns the house, has been murdered; and the city marshal is going
to look into the matter. So be off with you, at once!"

As the Italian shouldered his hurdy-gurdy, he saw on the doorstep
a card, which had been covered, all the morning, by the newpaper
that the carrier had flung upon it, but was now shuffled into
sight. He picked it up, and perceiving something written in pencil,
gave it to the man to read. In fact, it was an engraved card of
Judge Pyncheon's with certain pencilled memoranda on the back,
referring to various businesses which it had been his purpose
to transact during the preceding day. It formed a prospective
epitome of the day's history; only that affairs had not turned
out altogether in accordance with the programme. The card must
have been lost from the Judge's vest-pocket in his preliminary
attempt to gain access by the main entrance of the house.
Though well soaked with rain, it was still partially legible.

"Look here; Dixey!" cried the man. "This has something to do
with Judge Pyncheon. See!--here's his name printed on it; and
here, I suppose, is some of his handwriting."

"Let's go to the city marshal with it!" said Dixey. "It may give
him just the clew he wants. After all," whispered he in his
companion's ear," it would be no wonder if the Judge has gone
into that door and never come out again! A certain cousin of his
may have been at his old tricks. And Old Maid Pyncheon having got
herself in debt by the cent-shop,--and the Judge's pocket-book
being well filled,--and bad blood amongst them already! Put all
these things together and see what they make!"

"Hush, hush!" whispered the other. "It seems like a sin to he the
first to speak of such a thing. But I think, with you, that we had
better go to the city marshal."

"Yes, yes!" said Dixey. "Well!--I always said there was something
devilish in that woman's scowl!"

The men wheeled about, accordingly, and retraced their steps up the
street. The Italian, also, made the best of his way off, with a
parting glance up at the arched window. As for the children,
they took to their heels, with one accord, and scampered as if
some giant or ogre were in pursuit, until, at a good distance
from the house, they stopped as suddenly and simultaneously as
they had set out. Their susceptible nerves took an indefinite
alarm from what they had overheard. Looking back at the grotesque
peaks and shadowy angles of the old mansion, they fancied a gloom
diffused about it which no brightness of the sunshine could dispel.
An imaginary Hepzibah scowled and shook her finger at them, from
several windows at the same moment. An imaginary Clifford--for
(and it would have deeply wounded him to know it) he had always
been a horror to these small people --stood behind the unreal
Hepzibah, making awful gestures, in a faded dressing-gown.
Children are even more apt, if possible, than grown people,
to catch the contagion of a panic terror. For the rest of the day,
the more timid went whole streets about, for the sake of avoiding
the Seven Gables; while the bolder sig nalized their hardihood
by challenging their comrades to race past the mansion at full speed.

It could not have been more than half an hour after the
disappearance of the Italian boy, with his unseasonable melodies,
when a cab drove down the street. It stopped beneath the Pyncheon
Elm; the cabman took a trunk, a canvas bag, and a bandbox, from the
top of his vehicle, and deposited them on the doorstep of the old
house; a straw bonnet, and then the pretty figure of a young girl,
came into view from the interior of the cab. It was Phoebe! Though
not altogether so blooming as when she first tripped into our story,
--for, in the few intervening weeks, her experiences had made her
graver, more womanly, and deeper-eyed, in token of a heart that
had begun to suspect its depths,--still there was the quiet glow
of natural sunshine over her. Neither had she forfeited her proper
gift of making things look real, rather than fantastic, within her
sphere. Yet we feel it to be a questionable venture, even for Phoebe,
at this juncture, to cross the threshold of the Seven Gables. Is her
healthful presence potent enough to chase away the crowd of pale,
hideous, and sinful phantoms, that have gained admittance there
since her departure? Or will she, likewise, fade, sicken, sadden,
and grow into deformity, and be only another pallid phantom, to glide
noiselessly up and down the stairs, and affright children as she
pauses at the window?

At least, we would gladly forewarn the unsuspecting girl that
there is nothing in human shape or substance to receive her,
unless it be the figure of Judge Pyncheon, who--wretched spectacle
that he is, and frightful in our remembrance, since our night-long
vigil with him!--still keeps his place in the oaken chair.

Phoebe first tried the shop-door. It did not yield to her hand;
and the white curtain, drawn across the window which formed the
upper section of the door, struck her quick perceptive faculty as
something unusual. Without making another effort to enter here,
she betook herself to the great portal, under the arched window.
Finding it fastened, she knocked. A reverberation came from the
emptiness within. She knocked again, and a third time; and,
listening intently, fancied that the floor creaked, as if Hepzibah
were coming, with her ordinary tiptoe movement, to admit her.
But so dead a silence ensued upon this imaginary sound, that she
began to question whether she might not have mistaken the
house, familiar as she thought herself with its exterior.

Her notice was now attracted by a child's voice, at some
distance. It appeared to call her name. Looking in the direction
whence it proceeded, Phoebe saw little Ned Higgins, a good way
down the street, stamping, shaking his head violently, making
deprecatory gestures with both hands, and shouting to her at
mouth-wide screech.

"No, no, Phoebe!" he screamed. "Don't you go in! There's
something wicked there! Don't--don't--don't go in!"

But, as the little personage could not be induced to approach
near enough to explain himself, Phoebe concluded that he had been
frightened, on some of his visits to the shop, by her cousin
Hepzibah; for the good lady's manifestations, in truth, ran about
an equal chance of scaring children out of their wits, or compelling
them to unseemly laughter. Still, she felt the more, for this
incident, how unaccountably silent and impenetrable the house had
become. As her next resort, Phoebe made her way into the garden,
where on so warm and bright a day as the present, she had little
doubt of finding Clifford, and perhaps Hepzibah also, idling away
the noontide in the shadow of the arbor. Immediately on her entering
the garden gate, the family of hens half ran, half flew to meet her;
while a strange grimalkin, which was prowling under the parlor window,
took to his heels, clambered hastily over the fence, and vanished.
The arbor was vacant, and its floor, table, and circular bench
were still damp, and bestrewn with twigs and the disarray of the
past storm. The growth of the garden seemed to have got quite
out of bounds; the weeds had taken advantage of Phoebe's absence,
and the long-continued rain, to run rampant over the flowers and
kitchen-vegetables. Maule's well had overflowed its stone border,
and made a pool of formidable breadth in that corner of the garden.

The impression of the whole scene was that of a spot where no
human foot had left its print for many preceding days,--probably
not since Phoebe's departure,--for she saw a side-comb of her
own under the table of the arbor, where it must have fallen on
the last afternoon when she and Clifford sat there.

The girl knew that her two relatives were capable of far greater
oddities than that of shutting themselves up in their old house,
as they appeared now to have done. Nevertheless, with indistinct
misgivings of something amiss, and apprehensions to which she
could not give shape, she approached the door that formed the
customary communication between the house and garden. It was
secured within, like the two which she had already tried. She
knocked, however; and immediately, as if the application had
been expected, the door was drawn open, by a considerable exertion
of some unseen person's strength, not wide, but far enough to
afford her a side-long entrance. As Hepzibah, in order not to
expose herself to inspection from without, invariably opened a
door in this manner, Phoebe necessarily concluded that it was her
cousin who now admitted her.

Without hesitation, therefore, she stepped across the threshold,
and had no sooner entered than the door closed behind her.

 

 

XX The Flower of Eden

 

 

PHOEBE, coming so suddenly from the sunny daylight, was altogether
bedimmed in such density of shadow as lurked in most of the
passages of the old house. She was not at first aware by whom
she had been admitted. Before her eyes had adapted themselves
to the obscurity, a hand grasped her own with a firm but gentle
and warm pressure, thus imparting a welcome which caused her heart
to leap and thrill with an indefinable shiver of enjoyment.
She felt herself drawn along, not towards the parlor, but into
a large and unoccupied apartment, which had formerly been the
grand reception-room of the Seven Gables. The sunshine came
freely into all the uncurtained windows of this room, and fell
upon the dusty floor; so that Phoebe now clearly saw--what,
indeed, had been no secret, after the encounter of a warm hand
with hers--that it was not Hepzibah nor Clifford, but Holgrave,
to whom she owed her reception. The subtile, intuitive
communication, or, rather, the vague and formless impression
of something to be told, had made her yield unresistingly to his
impulse. Without taking away her hand, she looked eagerly in his
face, not quick to forebode evil, but unavoidably conscious that
the state of the family had changed since her departure, and
therefore anxious for an explanation.

The artist looked paler than ordinary; there was a thoughtful and
severe contraction of his forehead, tracing a deep, vertical line
between the eyebrows. His smile, however, was full of genuine warmth,
and had in it a joy, by far the most vivid expression that Phoebe had
ever witnessed, shining out of the New England reserve with which
Holgrave habitually masked whatever lay near his heart. It was
the look wherewith a man, brooding alone over some fearful object,
in a dreary forest or illimitable desert, would recognize the
familiar aspect of his dearest friend, bringing up all the peaceful
ideas that belong to home, and the gentle current of every-day affairs.
And yet, as he felt the necessity of responding to her look of inquiry,
the smile disappeared.

"I ought not to rejoice that you have come, Phoebe," said he.
"We meet at a strange moment!"

"What has happened!" she exclaimed. "Why is the house so
deserted? Where are Hepzibah and Clifford?"

"Gone! I cannot imagine where they are!" answered Holgrave.
"We are alone in the house!"

"Hepzibah and Clifford gone?" cried Phoebe. "It is not possible!
And why have you brought me into this room, instead of the parlor?
Ah, something terrible has happened! I must run and see!"

"No, no, Phoebe!" said Holgrave holding her back. "It is as I
have told you. They are gone, and I know not whither. A terrible
event has, indeed happened, but not to them, nor, as I undoubtingly
believe, through any agency of theirs. If I read your character
rightly, Phoebe," he continued, fixing his eyes on hers with
stern anxiety, intermixed with tenderness, "gentle as you are,
and seeming to have your sphere among common things, you yet
possess remarkable strength. You have wonderful poise, and a
faculty which, when tested, will prove itself capable of dealing
with matters that fall far out of the ordinary rule."

"Oh, no, I am very weak!" replied Phoebe, trembling. "But tell
me what has happened!"

"You are strong!" persisted Holgrave. "You must be both strong
and wise; for I am all astray, and need your counsel. It may be
you can suggest the one right thing to do!"

"Tell me!--tell me!" said Phoebe, all in a tremble. "It oppresses,
--it terrifies me,--this mystery! Anything else I can bear!"

The artist hesitated. Notwithstanding what he had just said, and
most sincerely, in regard to the self-balancing power with which
Phoebe impressed him, it still seemed almost wicked to bring the
awful secret of yesterday to her knowledge. It was like dragging
a hideous shape of death into the cleanly and cheerful space
before a household fire, where it would present all the uglier
aspect, amid the decorousness of everything about it. Yet it
could not be concealed from her; she must needs know it.

"Phoebe," said he, "do you remember this?" He put into her hand
a daguerreotype; the same that he had shown her at their first
interview in the garden, and which so strikingly brought out the
hard and relentless traits of the original.

"What has this to do with Hepzibah and Clifford?" asked Phoebe, with
impatient surprise that Holgrave should so trifle with her at such a
moment." It is Judge Pyncheon! You have shown it to me before!"

"But here is the same face, taken within this half-hour" said the
artist, presenting her with another miniature. "I had just finished
it when I heard you at the door."

"This is death!" shuddered Phoebe, turning very pale. "Judge
Pyncheon dead!"

"Such as there represented," said Holgrave, "he sits in the next
room. The Judge is dead, and Clifford and Hepzibah have vanished!
I know no more. All beyond is conjecture. On returning to my solitary
chamber, last evening, I noticed no light, either in the parlor, or
Hepzibah's room, or Clifford's; no stir nor footstep about the house.
This morning, there was the same death-like quiet. From my window, I
overheard the testimony of a neighbor, that your relatives were seen
leaving the house in the midst of yesterday's storm. A rumor reached
me, too, of Judge Pyncheon being missed. A feeling which I cannot
describe--an indefinite sense of some catastrophe, or consummation
--impelled me to make my way into this part of the house, where I
discovered what you see. As a point of evidence that may be useful
to Clifford, and also as a memorial valuable to myself,--for, Phoebe,
there are hereditary reasons that connect me strangely with that
man's fate,--I used the means at my disposal to preserve this
pictorial record of Judge Pyncheon's death."

Even in her agitation, Phoebe could not help remarking the
calmness of Holgrave's demeanor. He appeared, it is true, to feel
the whole awfulness of the Judge's death, yet had received the
fact into his mind without any mixture of surprise, but as an
event preordained, happening inevitably, and so fitting itself
into past occurrences that it could almost have been prophesied.

"Why have you not thrown open the doors, and called in witnesses?"
inquired she with a painful shudder. "It is terrible to be here alone!"

"But Clifford!" suggested the artist. "Clifford and Hepzibah! We
must consider what is best to be done in their behalf. It is a
wretched fatality that they should have disappeared! Their flight
will throw the worst coloring over this event of which it is
susceptible. Yet how easy is the explanation, to those who know
them! Bewildered and terror-stricken by the similarity of this
death to a former one, which was attended with such disastrous
consequences to Clifford, they have had no idea but of removing
themselves from the scene. How miserably unfortunate! Had
Hepzibah but shrieked aloud,--had Clifford flung wide the door,
and proclaimed Judge Pyncheon's death,--it would have been,
however awful in itself, an event fruitful of good consequences
to them. As I view it, it would have gone far towards obliterating
the black stain on Clifford's character."

"And how" asked Phoebe, "could any good come from what is so very dreadful?"

"Because," said the artist, "if the matter can be fairly considered
and candidly interpreted, it must be evident that Judge Pyncheon
could not have come unfairly to his end. This mode of death had
been an idiosyncrasy with his family, for generations past; not often
occurring, indeed, but, when it does occur, usually attacking
individuals about the Judge's time of life, and generally in the
tension of some mental crisis, or, perhaps, in an access of wrath.
Old Maule's prophecy was probably founded on a knowledge of this
physical predisposition in the Pyncheon race. Now, there is a
minute and almost exact similarity in the appearances connected
with the death that occurred yesterday and those recorded of the
death of Clifford's uncle thirty years ago. It is true, there was
a certain arrangement of circumstances, unnecessary to be recounted,
which made it possible nay, as men look at these things, probable,
or even certain--that old Jaffrey Pyncheon came to a violent death,
and by Clifford's hands."

"Whence came those circumstances?" exclaimed Phoebe. "He being
innocent, as we know him to be!"

"They were arranged," said Holgrave,--"at least such has long
been my conviction,--they were arranged after the uncle's death,
and before it was made public, by the man who sits in yonder
parlor. His own death, so like that former one, yet attended by
none of those suspicious circumstances, seems the stroke of God
upon him, at once a punishment for his wickedness, and making
plain the innocence of Clifford, But this flight,--it distorts
everything! He may be in concealment, near at hand. Could we
but bring him back before the discovery of the Judge's death,
the evil might be rectified,"

"We must not hide this thing a moment longer!" said Phoebe.
"It is dreadful to keep it so closely in our hearts. Clifford is
innocent. God will make it manifest! Let us throw open the doors,
and call all the neighborhood to see the truth!"

"You are right, Phoebe," rejoined Holgrave. "Doubtless you are right."

Yet the artist did not feel the horror, which was proper to Phoebe's
sweet and order-loving character, at thus finding herself at issue
with society, and brought in contact with an event that transcended
ordinary rules. Neither was he in haste, like her, to betake himself
within the precincts of common life. On the contrary, he gathered
a wild enjoyment,--as it were, a flower of strange beauty, growing
in a desolate spot, and blossoming in the wind, --such a flower
of momentary happiness he gathered from his present position.
It separated Phoebe and himself from the world, and bound them
to each other, by their exclusive knowledge of Judge Pyncheon's
mysterious death, and the counsel which they were forced to hold
respecting it. The secret, so long as it should continue such,
kept them within the circle of a spell, a solitude in the midst
of men, a remoteness as entire as that of an island in mid-ocean;
once divulged, the ocean would flow betwixt them, standing on its
widely sundered shores. Meanwhile, all the circumstances of their
situation seemed to draw them together; they were like two children
who go hand in hand, pressing closely to one another's side, through
a shadow-haunted passage. The image of awful Death, which filled
the house, held them united by his stiffened grasp.

These influences hastened the development of emotions that
might not otherwise have flowered so. Possibly, indeed, it had
been Holgrave's purpose to let them die in their undeveloped
germs. "Why do we delay so?" asked Phoebe. "This secret takes
away my breath! Let us throw open the doors!"

"In all our lives there can never come another moment like this!"
said Holgrave. "Phoebe, is it all terror?--nothing but terror?
Are you conscious of no joy, as I am, that has made this the only
point of life worth living for?"

"It seems a sin," replied Phoebe, trembling,"to think of joy at
such a time!"

"Could you but know, Phoebe, how it was with me the hour before
you came!" exclaimed the artist. "A dark, cold, miserable hour!
The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over
everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could
reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than
the guilt. The sense of it took away my youth. I never hoped
to feel young again! The world looked strange, wild, evil,
hostile; my past life, so lonesome and dreary; my future,
a shapeless gloom, which I must mould into gloomy shapes!
But, Phoebe, you crossed the threshold; and hope, warmth,
and joy came in with you! The black moment became at once
a blissful one. It must not pass without the spoken word.
I love you!"

"How can you love a simple girl like me?" asked Phoebe,
compelled by his earnestness to speak. "You have many, many
thoughts, with which I should try in vain to sympathize. And I,
--I, too,--I have tendencies with which you would sympathize as
little. That is less matter. But I have not scope enough to
make you happy."

"You are my only possibility of happiness!" answered Holgrave.
"I have no faith in it, except as you bestow it on me!"

"And then--I am afraid!" continued Phoebe, shrinking towards
Holgrave, even while she told him so frankly the doubts with
which he affected her. "You will lead me out of my own quiet
path. You will make me strive to follow you where it is pathless.
I cannot do so. It is not my nature. I shall sink down and perish!"

"Ah, Phoebe!" exclaimed Holgrave, with almost a sigh, and a smile
that was burdened with thought.

"It will be far otherwise than as you forebode. The world owes
all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man
inevitably confines himself within ancient limits. I have a
presentiment that, hereafter, it will be my lot to set out trees,
to make fences,--perhaps, even, in due time, to build a house for
another generation,--in a word, to conform myself to laws and the
peaceful practice of society. Your poise will be more powerful
than any oscillating tendency of mine."

"I would not have it so!" said Phoebe earnestly.

"Do you love me?" asked Holgrave. "If we love one another,
the moment has room for nothing more. Let us pause upon it,
and be satisfied. Do you love me, Phoebe?"

"You look into my heart," said she, letting her eyes drop.
"You know I love you!"

And it was in this hour, so full of doubt and awe, that the one
miracle was wrought, without which every human existence is a
blank. The bliss which makes all things true, beautiful, and holy
shone around this youth and maiden. They were conscious of nothing
sad nor old. They transfigured the earth, and made it Eden again,
and themselves the two first dwellers in it. The dead man, so close
beside them, was forgotten. At such a crisis, there is no death;
for immortality is revealed anew, and embraces everything in its
hallowed atmosphere.

But how soon the heavy earth-dream settled down again!

"Hark!" whispered Phoebe. "Somebody is at the street door!"

"Now let us meet the world!" said Holgrave. "No doubt, the rumor
of Judge Pyncheon's visit to this house, and the flight of Hepzibah
and Clifford, is about to lead to the investigation of the premises.
We have no way but to meet it. Let us open the door at once."

But, to their surprise, before they could reach the street
door,--even before they quitted the room in which the foregoing
interview had passed,--they heard footsteps in the farther passage.
The door, therefore, which they supposed to be securely locked,
--which Holgrave, indeed, had seen to be so, and at which Phoebe
had vainly tried to enter,--must have been opened from without.
The sound of footsteps was not harsh, bold, decided, and intrusive,
as the gait of strangers would naturally be, making authoritative
entrance into a dwelling where they knew themselves unwelcome.
It was feeble, as of persons either weak or weary; there was the
mingled murmur of two voices, familiar to both the listeners.

"Can it be?" whispered Holgrave.

"It is they!" answered Phoebe. "Thank God!--thank God!"

And then, as if in sympathy with Phoebe's whispered ejaculation,
they heard Hepzibah's voice more distinctly.

"Thank God, my brother, we are at home!"

"Well!--Yes!--thank God!" responded Clifford. "A dreary home,
Hepzibah! But you have done well to bring me hither! Stay! That
parlor door is open. I cannot pass by it! Let me go and rest me
in the arbor, where I used,--oh, very long ago, it seems to me,
after what has befallen us,--where I used to be so happy with
little Phoebe!"

But the house was not altogether so dreary as Clifford imagined
it. They had not made many steps,--in truth, they were lingering
in the entry, with the listlessness of an accomplished purpose,
uncertain what to do next,--when Phoebe ran to meet them. On beholding
her, Hepzibah burst into tears. With all her might, she had staggered
onward beneath the burden of grief and responsibility, until now
that it was safe to fling it down. Indeed, she had not energy to
fling it down, but had ceased to uphold it, and suffered it to
press her to the earth. Clifford appeared the stronger of the two.

"It is our own little Phoebe!--Ah! and Holgrave with, her"
exclaimed he, with a glance of keen and delicate insight, and a
smile, beautiful, kind, but melancholy. "I thought of you both,
as we came down the street, and beheld Alice's Posies in full bloom.
And so the flower of Eden has bloomed, likewise, in this old,
darksome house to-day."

 

 

XXI The Departure

 

 

THE sudden death of so prominent a member of the social world
as the Honorable Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon created a sensation
(at least, in the circles more immediately connected with the
deceased) which had hardly quite subsided in a fortnight.

It may be remarked, however, that, of all the events which
constitute a person's biography, there is scarcely one--none,
certainly, of anything like a similar importance--to which the
world so easily reconciles itself as to his death. In most other
cases and contingencies, the individual is present among us,
mixed up with the daily revolution of affairs, and affording a
definite point for observation. At his decease, there is only
a vacancy, and a momentary eddy,--very small, as compared with
the apparent magnitude of the ingurgitated object,--and a bubble
or two, ascending out of the black depth and bursting at the
surface. As regarded Judge Pyncheon, it seemed probable, at first
blush, that the mode of his final departure might give him a
larger and longer posthumous vogue than ordinarily attends the
memory of a distinguished man. But when it came to be understood,
on the highest professional authority, that the event was a natural,
and--except for some unimportant particulars, denoting a slight
idiosyncrasy--by no means an unusual form of death, the public,
with its customary alacrity, proceeded to forget that he had ever
lived. In short, the honorable Judge was beginning to be a stale
subject before half the country newspapers had found time to put
their columns in mourning, and publish his exceedingly eulogistic
obituary.

Nevertheless, creeping darkly through the places which this
excellent person had haunted in his lifetime, there was a hidden
stream of private talk, such as it would have shocked all decency
to speak loudly at the street-corners. It is very singular,
how the fact of a man's death often seems to give people a truer
idea of his character, whether for good or evil, than they have
ever possessed while he was living and acting among them. Death
is so genuine a fact that it excludes falsehood, or betrays its
emptiness; it is a touchstone that proves the gold, and dishonors
the baser metal. Could the departed, whoever he may be, return
in a week after his decease, he would almost invariably find
himself at a higher or lower point than he had formerly occupied,
on the scale of public appreciation. But the talk, or scandal, to
which we now allude, had reference to matters of no less old a date
than the supposed murder, thirty or forty years ago, of the late
Judge Pyncheon's uncle. The medical opinion with regard to his own
recent and regretted decease had almost entirely obviated the idea
that a murder was committed in the former case. Yet, as the record
showed, there were circumstances irrefragably indicating that some
person had gained access to old Jaffrey Pyncheon's private apartments,
at or near the moment of his death. His desk and private drawers,
in a room contiguous to his bedchamber, had been ransacked; money and
valuable articles were missing; there was a bloody hand-print on the
old man's linen; and, by a powerfully welded chain of deductive evidence,
the guilt of the robbery and apparent murder had been fixed on Clifford,
then residing with his uncle in the House of the Seven Gables.

Whencesoever originating, there now arose a theory that undertook
so to account for these circumstances as to exclude the idea of
Clifford's agency. Many persons affirmed that the history and
elucidation of the facts, long so mysterious, had been obtained
by the daguerreotypist from one of those mesmerical seers who,
nowadays, so strangely perplex the aspect of human affairs, and
put everybody's natural vision to the blush, by the marvels which
they see with their eyes shut.

According to this version of the story, Judge Pyncheon, exemplary
as we have portrayed him in our narrative, was, in his youth,
an apparently irreclaimable scapegrace. The brutish, the animal
instincts, as is often the case, had been developed earlier
than the intellectual qualities, and the force of character, for
which he was afterwards remarkable. He had shown himself wild,
dissipated, addicted to low pleasures, little short of ruffianly
in his propensities, and recklessly expensive, with no other
resources than the bounty of his uncle. This course of conduct had
alienated the old bachelor's affection, once strongly fixed upon
him. Now it is averred,--but whether on authority available in
a court of justice, we do not pretend to have investigated,--that
the young man was tempted by the devil, one night, to search his
uncle's private drawers, to which he had unsuspected means of
access. While thus criminally occupied, he was startled by the
opening of the chamber-door. There stood old Jaffrey Pyncheon,
in his nightclothes! The surprise of such a discovery, his agitation,
alarm, and horror, brought on the crisis of a disorder to which
the old bachelor had an hereditary liability; he seemed to choke
with blood, and fell upon the floor, striking his temple a heavy
blow against the corner of a table. What was to be done? The
old man was surely dead! Assistance would come too late! What a
misfortune, indeed, should it come too soon, since his reviving
consciousness would bring the recollection of the ignominious
offence which he had beheld his nephew in the very act of committing!

But he never did revive. With the cool hardihood that always
pertained to him, the young man continued his search of the
drawers, and found a will, of recent date, in favor of Clifford,
--which he destroyed,--and an older one, in his own favor, which
he suffered to remain. But before retiring, Jaffrey bethought
himself of the evidence, in these ransacked drawers, that some
one had visited the chamber with sinister purposes. Suspicion,
unless averted, might fix upon the real offender. In the very
presence of the dead man, therefore, he laid a scheme that should
free himself at the expense of Clifford, his rival, for whose
character he had at once a contempt and a repugnance. It is not
probable, be it said, that he acted with any set purpose of
involving Clifford in a charge of murder. Knowing that his uncle
did not die by violence, it may not have occurred to him, in the
hurry of the crisis, that such an inference might be drawn. But,
when the affair took this darker aspect, Jaffrey's previous steps
had already pledged him to those which remained. So craftily had
he arranged the circumstances, that, at Clifford's trial, his cousin
hardly found it necessary to swear to anything false, but only to
withhold the one decisive explanation, by refraining to state what
he had himself done and witnessed.

Thus Jaffrey Pyncheon's inward criminality, as regarded Clifford,
was, indeed, black and damnable; while its mere outward show
and positive commission was the smallest that could possibly
consist with so great a sin. This is just the sort of guilt that
a man of eminent respectability finds it easiest to dispose of.
It was suffered to fade out of sight or be reckoned a venial matter,
in the Honorable Judge Pyncheon's long subsequent survey of his
own life. He shuffled it aside, among the forgotten and forgiven
frailties of his youth, and seldom thought of it again.

We leave the Judge to his repose. He could not be styled
fortunate at the hour of death. Unknowingly, he was a childless man,
while striving to add more wealth to his only child's inheritance.
Hardly a week after his decease, one of the Cunard steamers brought
intelligence of the death, by cholera, of Judge Pyncheon's son,
just at the point of embarkation for his native land. By this
misfortune Clifford became rich; so did Hepzibah; so did our little
village maiden, and, through her, that sworn foe of wealth and all
manner of conservatism, --the wild reformer,--Holgrave!

It was now far too late in Clifford's life for the good opinion
of society to be worth the trouble and anguish of a formal
vindication. What he needed was the love of a very few; not the
admiration, or even the respect, of the unknown many. The latter
might probably have been won for him, had those on whom the
guardianship of his welfare had fallen deemed it advisable to
expose Clifford to a miserable resuscitation of past ideas,
when the condition of whatever comfort he might expect lay in
the calm of forgetfulness. After such wrong as he had suffered,
there is no reparation. The pitiable mockery of it, which the
world might have been ready enough to offer, coming so long after
the agony had done its utmost work, would have been fit only to
provoke bitterer laughter than poor Clifford was ever capable of.
It is a truth (and it would be a very sad one but for the higher
hopes which it suggests) that no great mistake, whether acted or
endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right. Time,
the continual vicissitude of circumstances, and the invariable
inopportunity of death, render it impossible. If, after long
lapse of years, the right seems to be in our power, we find no niche
to set it in. The better remedy is for the sufferer to pass on,
and leave what he once thought his irreparable ruin far behind him.

The shock of Judge Pyncheon's death had a permanently invigorating
and ultimately beneficial effect on Clifford. That strong and
ponderous man had been Clifford's nightmare. There was no free
breath to be drawn, within the sphere of so malevolent an influence.
The first effect of freedom, as we have witnessed in Clifford's aimless
flight, was a tremulous exhilaration. Subsiding from it, he did not
sink into his former intellectual apathy. He never, it is true,
attained to nearly the full measure of what might have been his
faculties. But he recovered enough of them partially to light up
his character, to display some outline of the marvellous grace that
was abortive in it, and to make him the object of No less deep,
although less melancholy interest than heretofore. He was evidently
happy. Could we pause to give another picture of his daily life,
with all the appliances now at command to gratify his instinct for
the Beautiful, the garden scenes, that seemed so sweet to him,
would look mean and trivial in comparison.

Very soon after their change of fortune, Clifford, Hepzibah, and
little Phoebe, with the approval of the artist, concluded to remove
from the dismal old House of the Seven Gables, and take up their
abode, for the present, at the elegant country-seat of the late
Judge Pyncheon. Chanticleer and his family had already been
transported thither, where the two hens had forthwith begun an
indefatigable process of egg-laying, with an evident design, as a
matter of duty and conscience, to continue their illustrious breed
under better auspices than for a century past. On the day set for
their departure, the principal personages of our story, including
good Uncle Venner, were assembled in the parlor.

"The country-house is certainly a very fine one, so far as the
plan goes," observed Holgrave, as the party were discussing their
future arrangements. "But I wonder that the late Judge--being so
opulent, and with a reasonable prospect of transmitting his wealth
to descendants of his own--should not have felt the propriety of
embodying so excellent a piece of domestic architecture in stone,
rather than in wood. Then, every generation of the family might
have altered the interior, to suit its own taste and convenience;
while the exterior, through the lapse of years, might have been
adding venerableness to its original beauty, and thus giving that
impression of permanence which I consider essential to the
happiness of any one moment."

"Why," cried Phoebe, gazing into the artist's face with infinite
amazement, "how wonderfully your ideas are changed! A house of
stone, indeed! It is but two or three weeks ago that you seemed
to wish people to live in something as fragile and temporary as
a bird's-nest!"

"Ah, Phoebe, I told you how it would be!" said the artist, with
a half-melancholy laugh."You find me a conservative already!
Little did I think ever to become one. It is especially
unpardonable in this dwelling of so much hereditary misfortune,
and under the eye of yonder portrait of a model conservative,
who, in that very character, rendered himself so long the evil
destiny of his race."

"That picture!" said Clifford, seeming to shrink from its stern
glance. "Whenever I look at it, there is an old dreamy recollection
haunting me, but keeping just beyond the grasp of my mind. Wealth,
it seems to say! --boundless wealth!--unimaginable wealth! I could
fancy that, when I was a child, or a youth, that portrait had spoken,
and told me a rich secret, or had held forth its hand, with the
written record of hidden opulence. But those old matters are so dim
with me, nowadays! What could this dream have been?"

"Perhaps I can recall it," answered Holgrave. "See! There are a
hundred chances to one that no person, unacquainted with the
secret, would ever touch this spring."

"A secret spring!" cried Clifford. "Ah, I remember Now! I did
discover it, one summer afternoon, when I was idling and
dreaming about the house, long, long ago. But the mystery
escapes me."

The artist put his finger on the contrivance to which he had
referred. In former days, the effect would probably have been to
cause the picture to start forward. But, in so long a period of
concealment, the machinery had been eaten through with rust; so that
at Holgrave's pressure, the portrait, frame and all, tumbled suddenly
from its position, and lay face downward on the floor. A recess in
the wall was thus brought to light, in which lay an object so covered
with a century's dust that it could not immediately be recognized as
a folded sheet of parchment. Holgrave opened it, and displayed an
ancient deed, signed with the hieroglyphics of several Indian
sagamores, and conveying to Colonel Pyncheon and his heirs, forever,
a vast extent of territory at the Eastward.

"This is the very parchment, the attempt to recover which cost
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon her happiness and life," said the
artist, alluding to his legend. "It is what the Pyncheons sought
in vain, while it was valuable; and now that they find the
treasure, it has long been worthless."

"Poor Cousin Jaffrey! This is what deceived him," exclaimed
Hepzibah. "When they were young together, Clifford probably
made a kind of fairy-tale of this discovery. He was always
dreaming hither and thither about the house, and lighting up its
dark corners with beautiful stories. And poor Jaffrey, who took
hold of everything as if it were real, thought my brother had
found out his uncle's wealth. He died with this delusion in his
mind!"

"But," said Phoebe, apart to Holgrave, "how came you to know
the secret?"

"My dearest Phoebe," said Holgrave, "how will it please you to
assume the name of Maule? As for the secret, it is the only
inheritance that has come down to me from my ancestors. You
should have known sooner (only that I was afraid of frightening
you away) that, in this long drama of wrong and retribution,
I represent the old wizard, and am probably as much a wizard
as ever he was. The son of the executed Matthew Maule, while
building this house, took the opportunity to construct that recess,
and hide away the Indian deed, on which depended the immense
land-claim of the Pyncheons. Thus they bartered their eastern
territory for Maule's garden-ground."

"And now" said Uncle Venner "I suppose their whole claim is not
worth one man's share in my farm yonder!"

"Uncle Venner," cried Phoebe, taking the patched philosopher's
hand, "you must never talk any more about your farm! You shall
never go there, as long as you live! There is a cottage in our
new garden,--the prettiest little yellowish-brown cottage you
ever saw; and the sweetest-looking place, for it looks just as
if it were made of gingerbread,--and we are going to fit it up
and furnish it, on purpose for you. And you shall do nothing
but what you choose, and shall be as happy as the day is long,
and shall keep Cousin Clifford in spirits with the wisdom and
pleasantness which is always dropping from your lips!"

"Ah! my dear child," quoth good Uncle Venner, quite overcome,
"if you were to speak to a young man as you do to an old one,
his chance of keeping his heart another minute would not be
worth one of the buttons on my waistcoat! And--soul alive!--that
great sigh, which you made me heave, has burst off the very last
of them! But, never mind! It was the happiest sigh I ever did
heave; and it seems as if I must have drawn in a gulp of heavenly
breath, to make it with. Well, well, Miss Phoebe! They'll miss
me in the gardens hereabouts, and round by the back doors;
and Pyncheon Street, I'm afraid, will hardly look the same
without old Uncle Venner, who remembers it with a mowing
field on one side, and the garden of the Seven Gables on the
other. But either I must go to your country-seat, or you must
come to my farm,--that's one of two things certain; and I leave
you to choose which!"

"Oh, come with us, by all means, Uncle Venner!" said Clifford,
who had a remarkable enjoyment of the old man's mellow, quiet,
and simple spirit. "I want you always to be within five minutes,
saunter of my chair. You are the only philosopher I ever knew
of whose wisdom has not a drop of bitter essence at the bottom!"

"Dear me!" cried Uncle Venner, beginning partly to realize what
manner of man he was. "And yet folks used to set me down
among the simple ones, in my younger days! But I suppose I am
like a Roxbury russet,--a great deal the better, the longer I can
be kept. Yes; and my words of wisdom, that you and Phoebe tell
me of, are like the golden dandelions, which never grow in the
hot months, but may be seen glistening among the withered
grass, and under the dry leaves, sometimes as late as December.
And you are welcome, friends, to my mess of dandelions, if there
were twice as many!"

A plain, but handsome, dark-green barouche had now drawn up in
front of the ruinous portal of the old mansion-house. The party
came forth, and (with the exception of good Uncle Venner, who was
to follow in a few days) proceeded to take their places. They
were chatting and laughing very pleasantly together; and--as proves
to be often the case, at moments when we ought to palpitate with
sensibility--Clifford and Hepzibah bade a final farewell to the
abode of their forefathers, with hardly more emotion than if they
had made it their arrangement to return thither at tea-time.
Several children were drawn to the spot by so unusual a spectacle
as the barouche and pair of gray horses. Recognizing little
Ned Higgins among them, Hepzibah put her hand into her pocket,
and presented the urchin, her earliest and staunchest customer,
with silver enough to people the Domdaniel cavern of his interior
with as various a procession of quadrupeds as passed into the ark.

Two men were passing, just as the barouche drove off.

"Well, Dixey," said one of them, "what do you think of this? My
wife kept a cent-shop three months, and lost five dollars on her
outlay. Old Maid Pyncheon has been in trade just about as long,
and rides off in her carriage with a couple of hundred thousand,
--reckoning her share, and Clifford's, and Phoebe's,--and some
say twice as much! If you choose to call it luck, it is all very
well; but if we are to take it as the will of Providence, why,
I can't exactly fathom it!"

"Pretty good business!" quoth the sagacious Dixey,--"pretty good business!"

Maule's well, all this time, though left in solitude, was throwing
up a succession of kaleidoscopic pictures, in which a gifted eye
might have seen foreshadowed the coming fortunes of Hepzibah and
Clifford, and the descendant of the legendary wizard, and the
village maiden, over whom he had thrown Love's web of sorcery.
The Pyncheon Elm, moreover, with what foliage the September gale
had spared to it, whispered unintelligible prophecies. And wise
Uncle Venner, passing slowly from the ruinous porch, seemed to
hear a strain of music, and fancied that sweet Alice Pyncheon--after
witnessing these deeds, this bygone woe and this present happiness,
of her kindred mortals--had given one farewell touch of a spirit's
joy upon her harpsichord, as she floated heavenward from the HOUSE
OF THE SEVEN GABLES!

 

End of The House of the Seven Gables.

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