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´╗┐Title: House of the Seven Gables
Author: Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864
Language: English
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THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES


by

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE



Table of Contents

         INTRODUCTORY NOTE
         AUTHOR'S PREFACE
     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-BYE
    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



                         INTRODUCTORY NOTE.

THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES.


IN September of the year during the February of which Hawthorne had
completed "The Scarlet Letter," he began "The House of the Seven
Gables." Meanwhile, he had removed from Salem to Lenox, in Berkshire
County, Massachusetts, where he occupied with his family a small red
wooden house, still standing at the date of this edition, near the
Stockbridge Bowl.

"I sha'n't have the new story ready by November,"  he explained to his
publisher, on the 1st of October, "for I am never good for anything in
the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has
somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does on the foliage
here about me-multiplying and brightening its hues." But by vigorous
application he was able to complete the new work about the middle of
the January following.

Since research has disclosed the manner in which the romance is
interwoven with incidents from the history of the Hawthorne family,
"The House of the Seven Gables" has acquired an interest apart from
that by which it first appealed to the public. John Hathorne (as the
name was then spelled), the great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
was a magistrate at Salem in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and officiated at the famous trials for witchcraft held there.
It is of record that he used peculiar severity towards a certain woman
who was among the accused; and the husband of this woman prophesied
that God would take revenge upon his wife's persecutors.  This
circumstance doubtless furnished a hint for that piece of tradition in
the book which represents a Pyncheon of a former generation as having
persecuted one Maule, who declared that God would give his enemy "blood
to drink." It became a conviction with the Hawthorne family that a
curse had been pronounced upon its members, which continued in force in
the time of the romancer; a conviction perhaps derived from the
recorded prophecy of the injured woman's husband, just mentioned; and,
here again, we have a correspondence with Maule's malediction in the
story. Furthermore, there occurs in the "American Note-Books" (August
27, 1837), a reminiscence of the author's family, to the following
effect. Philip English, a character well-known in early Salem annals,
was among those who suffered from John Hathorne's magisterial
harshness, and he maintained in consequence a lasting feud with the old
Puritan official. But at his death English left daughters, one of whom
is said to have married the son of Justice John Hathorne, whom English
had declared he would never forgive. It is scarcely necessary to point
out how clearly this foreshadows the final union of those hereditary
foes, the Pyncheons and Maules, through the marriage of Phoebe and
Holgrave. The romance, however, describes the Maules as possessing some
of the traits known to have been characteristic of the Hawthornes: for
example, "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 characteristic of reserve." Thus, while the general
suggestion of the Hawthorne line and its fortunes was followed in the
romance, the Pyncheons taking the place of the author's family, certain
distinguishing marks of the Hawthornes were assigned to the imaginary
Maule posterity.

There are one or two other points which indicate Hawthorne's method of
basing his compositions, the result in the main of pure invention, on
the solid ground of particular facts.  Allusion is made, in the first
chapter of the "Seven Gables," to a grant of lands in Waldo County,
Maine, owned by the Pyncheon family.  In the "American Note-Books"
there is an entry, dated August 12, 1837, which speaks of the
Revolutionary general, Knox, and his land-grant in Waldo County, by
virtue of which the owner had hoped to establish an estate on the
English plan, with a tenantry to make it profitable for him.  An
incident of much greater importance in the story is the supposed murder
of one of the Pyncheons by his nephew, to whom we are introduced as
Clifford Pyncheon.  In all probability Hawthorne connected with this,
in his mind, the murder of Mr. White, a wealthy gentleman of Salem,
killed by a man whom his nephew had hired.  This took place a few years
after Hawthorne's graduation from college, and was one of the
celebrated cases of the day, Daniel Webster taking part prominently in
the trial.  But it should be observed here that such resemblances as
these between sundry elements in the work of Hawthorne's fancy and
details of reality are only fragmentary, and are rearranged to suit the
author's purposes.

In the same way he has made his description of Hepzibah Pyncheon's
seven-gabled mansion conform so nearly to several old dwellings
formerly or still extant in Salem, that strenuous efforts have been
made to fix upon some one of them as the veritable edifice of the
romance.  A paragraph in the opening chapter has perhaps assisted this
delusion that there must have been a single original House of the Seven
Gables, framed by flesh-and-blood carpenters; for it runs thus:--

"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 long-past epoch, and as the scene
of events more full of 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."

Hundreds of pilgrims annually visit a house in Salem, belonging to one
branch of the Ingersoll family of that place, which is stoutly
maintained to have been the model for Hawthorne's visionary dwelling.
Others have supposed that the now vanished house of the identical
Philip English, whose blood, as we have already noticed, became mingled
with that of the Hawthornes, supplied the pattern; and still a third
building, known as the Curwen mansion, has been declared the only
genuine establishment. Notwithstanding persistent popular belief, the
authenticity of all these must positively be denied; although it is
possible that isolated reminiscences of all three may have blended with
the ideal image in the mind of Hawthorne. He, it will be seen, remarks
in the Preface, alluding to himself in the third person, that he trusts
not to be condemned for "laying out a street that infringes upon
nobody's private rights... and building a house of materials long in
use for constructing castles in the air." More than this, he stated to
persons still living that the house of the romance was not copied from
any actual edifice, but was simply a general reproduction of a style of
architecture belonging to colonial days, examples of which survived
into the period of his youth, but have since been radically modified or
destroyed. Here, as elsewhere, he exercised the liberty of a creative
mind to heighten the probability of his pictures without confining
himself to a literal description of something he had seen.

While Hawthorne remained at Lenox, and during the composition of this
romance, various other literary personages settled or stayed for a time
in the vicinity; among them, Herman Melville, whose intercourse
Hawthorne greatly enjoyed, Henry James, Sr., Doctor Holmes, J.  T.
Headley, James Russell Lowell, Edwin P.  Whipple, Frederika Bremer, and
J.  T.  Fields; so that there was no lack of intellectual society in
the midst of the beautiful and inspiring mountain scenery of the place.
"In the afternoons, nowadays," he records, shortly before beginning the
work, "this valley in which I dwell seems like a vast basin filled with
golden Sunshine as with wine;" and, happy in the companionship of his
wife and their three children, he led a simple, refined, idyllic life,
despite the restrictions of a scanty and uncertain income.  A letter
written by Mrs. Hawthorne, at this time, to a member of her family,
gives incidentally a glimpse of the scene, which may properly find a
place here.  She says:  "I delight to think that you also can look
forth, as I do now, upon a broad valley and a fine amphitheater of
hills, and are about to watch the stately ceremony of the sunset from
your piazza.  But you have not this lovely lake, nor, I suppose, the
delicate purple mist which folds these slumbering mountains in airy
veils.  Mr. Hawthorne has been lying down in the sun shine, slightly
fleckered with the shadows of a tree, and Una and Julian have been
making him look like the mighty Pan, by covering his chin and breast
with long grass-blades, that looked like a verdant and venerable
beard." The pleasantness and peace of his surroundings and of his
modest home, in Lenox, may be taken into account as harmonizing with
the mellow serenity of the romance then produced.  Of the work, when it
appeared in the early spring of 1851, he wrote to Horatio Bridge these
words, now published for the first time:--

"'The House of the Seven Gables' in my opinion, is better than 'The
Scarlet Letter:' but I should not wonder if I had refined upon the
principal character a little too much for popular appreciation, nor if
the romance of the book should be somewhat at odds with the humble and
familiar scenery in which I invest it.  But I feel that portions of it
are as good as anything I can hope to write, and the publisher speaks
encouragingly of its success."

From England, especially, came many warm expressions of praise,--a fact
which Mrs. Hawthorne, in a private letter, commented on as the
fulfillment of a possibility which Hawthorne, writing in boyhood to his
mother, had looked forward to.  He had asked her if she would not like
him to become an author and have his books read in England.

G. P. L.



                              PREFACE.


WHEN a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that
he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and
material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had
he professed to be writing a Novel.  The latter form of composition is
presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible,
but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience.  The
former--while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to
laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from
the truth of the human heart--has fairly a right to present that truth
under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or
creation.  If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical
medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the
shadows of the picture.  He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very
moderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle
the Marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than
as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the
public.  He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime
even if he disregard this caution.

In the present work, the author has proposed to himself--but with what
success, fortunately, it is not for him to judge--to keep undeviatingly
within his immunities.  The point of view in which this tale comes
under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone
time with the very present that is flitting away from us.  It is a
legend prolonging itself, from an epoch now gray in the distance, down
into our own broad daylight, and bringing along with it some of its
legendary mist, which the reader, according to his pleasure, may either
disregard, or allow it to float almost imperceptibly about the
characters and events for the sake of a picturesque effect.  The
narrative, it may be, is woven of so humble a texture as to require
this advantage, and, at the same time, to render it the more difficult
of attainment.

Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral purpose, at
which they profess to aim their works.  Not to be deficient in this
particular, the author has provided himself with a moral,--the truth,
namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the
successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage,
becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel it a
singular gratification if this romance might effectually convince
mankind--or, indeed, any one man--of the folly of tumbling down an
avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an
unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the
accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms.  In
good faith, however, he is not sufficiently imaginative to flatter
himself with the slightest hope of this kind.  When romances do really
teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually
through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one.  The author
has considered it hardly worth his while, therefore, relentlessly to
impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod,--or, rather, as by
sticking a pin through a butterfly,--thus at once depriving it of life,
and causing it to stiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude.  A
high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out,
brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work
of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and
seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first.

The reader may perhaps choose to assign an actual locality to the
imaginary events of this narrative.  If permitted by the historical
connection,--which, though slight, was essential to his plan,--the
author would very willingly have avoided anything of this nature.  Not
to speak of other objections, it exposes the romance to an inflexible
and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism, by bringing his
fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of the
moment.  It has been no part of his object, however, to describe local
manners, nor in any way to meddle with the characteristics of a
community for whom he cherishes a proper respect and a natural regard.
He trusts not to be considered as unpardonably offending by laying out
a street that infringes upon nobody's private rights, and appropriating
a lot of land which had no visible owner, and building a house of
materials long in use for constructing castles in the air.  The
personages of the tale--though they give themselves out to be of
ancient stability and considerable prominence--are really of the
author's own making, or at all events, of his own mixing; their virtues
can shed no lustre, nor their defects redound, in the remotest degree,
to the discredit of the venerable town of which they profess to be
inhabitants.  He would be glad, therefore, if-especially in the quarter
to which he alludes-the book may be read strictly as a Romance, having
a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion
of the actual soil of the County of Essex.

LENOX, January 27, 1851.



THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES


by

Nathaniel Hawthorne



                       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 four-score 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
ever-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 fresh remembrance, 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 shop-keeper 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 ABC 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 even ugly.  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 golden maxims,--"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.  No 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 to-day."

"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 rose-bud 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 rosebush 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 exceedingly 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 of
which 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 milk-maid 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
rosebuds.

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 intuitive 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 he 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 blood-stain 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-Bye


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
noonday 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 flinging 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
into 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 arm-chair, 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
approach.  "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 fugitive 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 reminiscences, 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 animal, 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 newspaper 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 be 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 signalized 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 sidelong 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!





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