Part 5 - The House of the Seven Gables Audiobook by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Chs 15-18)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER 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.
>
CHAPTER 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!
>
CHAPTER 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!"
>
CHAPTER 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.
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