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The House of the Seven Gables

16. 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