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The House of the Seven Gables

20. The Flower of Eden
PHOEBE, coming so suddenly from the sunny daylight, was altogether bedimmed in
such density of shadow as lurked in most of the passages of the old house. She was not at
first aware by whom she had been admitted. Before her eyes had adapted themselves to
the obscurity, a hand grasped her own with a firm but gentle and warm pressure, thus
imparting a welcome which caused her heart to leap and thrill with an indefinable shiver
of enjoyment. She felt herself drawn along, not towards the parlor, but into a large and
unoccupied apartment, which had formerly been the grand reception-room of the Seven
Gables. The sunshine came freely into all the uncurtained windows of this room, and fell
upon the dusty floor; so that Phoebe now clearly saw--what, indeed, had been no secret,
after the encounter of a warm hand with hers--that it was not Hepzibah nor Clifford, but
Holgrave, to whom she owed her reception. The subtile, intuitive communication, or,
rather, the vague and formless impression of something to be told, had made her yield
unresistingly to his impulse. Without taking away her hand, she looked eagerly in his
face, not quick to forebode evil, but unavoidably conscious that the state of the family
had changed since her departure, and therefore anxious for an explanation.
The artist looked paler than ordinary; there was a thoughtful and severe contraction of his
forehead, tracing a deep, vertical line between the eyebrows. His smile, however, was full
of genuine warmth, and had in it a joy, by far the most vivid expression that Phoebe had
ever witnessed, shining out of the New England reserve with which Holgrave habitually
masked whatever lay near his heart. It was the look wherewith a man, brooding alone
over some fearful object, in a dreary forest or illimitable desert, would recognize the
familiar aspect of his dearest friend, bringing up all the peaceful ideas that belong to
home, and the gentle current of every-day affairs. And yet, as he felt the necessity of
responding to her look of inquiry, the smile disappeared.
"I ought not to rejoice that you have come, Phoebe," said he. "We meet at a strange
moment!"
"What has happened!" she exclaimed. "Why is the house so deserted? Where are
Hepzibah and Clifford?"
"Gone! I cannot imagine where they are!" answered Holgrave. "We are alone in the
house!"
"Hepzibah and Clifford gone?" cried Phoebe. "It is not possible! And why have you
brought me into this room, instead of the parlor? Ah, something terrible has happened! I
must run and see!"
"No, no, Phoebe!" said Holgrave holding her back. "It is as I have told you. They are
gone, and I know not whither. A terrible event has, indeed happened, but not to them,
 
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