The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

15. The Scowl and Smile
SEVERAL days passed over the Seven Gables, heavily and drearily enough. In fact (not
to attribute the whole gloom of sky and earth to the one inauspicious circumstance of
Phoebe's departure), an easterly storm had set in, and indefatigably apply itself to the task
of making the black roof and walls of the old house look more cheerless than ever before.
Yet was the outside not half so cheerless as the interior. Poor Clifford was cut off, at
once, from all his scanty resources of enjoyment. Phoebe was not there; nor did the
sunshine fall upon the floor. The garden, with its muddy walks, and the chill, dripping
foliage of its summer-house, was an image to be shuddered at. Nothing flourished in the
cold, moist, pitiless atmosphere, drifting with the brackish scud of sea-breezes, except the
moss along the joints of the shingle-roof, and the great bunch of weeds, that had lately
been suffering from drought, in the angle between the two front gables.
As for Hepzibah, she seemed not merely possessed with the east wind, but to be, in her
very person, only another phase of this gray and sullen spell of weather; the east wind
itself, grim and disconsolate, in a rusty black silk gown, and with a turban of cloud-
wreaths on its head. The custom of the shop fell off, because a story got abroad that she
soured her small beer and other damageable commodities, by scowling on them. It is,
perhaps, true that the public had something reasonably to complain of in her deportment;
but towards Clifford she was neither ill-tempered nor unkind, nor felt less warmth of
heart than always, had it been possible to make it reach him. The inutility of her best
efforts, however, palsied the poor old gentlewoman. She could do little else than sit
silently in a corner of the room, when the wet pear-tree branches, sweeping across the
small windows, created a noon-day dusk, which Hepzibah unconsciously darkened with
her woe-begone aspect. It was no fault of Hepzibah's. Everything--even the old chairs and
tables, that had known what weather was for three or four such lifetimes as her own--
looked as damp and chill as if the present were their worst experience. The picture of the
Puritan Colonel shivered on the wall. The house itself shivered, from every attic of its
seven gables down to the great kitchen fireplace, which served all the better as an
emblem of the mansion's heart, because, though built for warmth, it was now so
comfortless and empty.
Hepzibah attempted to enliven matters by a fire in the parlor. But the storm demon kept
watch above, and, whenever a flame was kindled, drove the smoke back again, choking
the chimney's sooty throat with its own breath. Nevertheless, during four days of this
miserable storm, Clifford wrapt himself in an old cloak, and occupied his customary
chair. On the morning of the fifth, when summoned to breakfast, he responded only by a
broken-hearted murmur, expressive of a determination not to leave his bed. His sister
made no attempt to change his purpose. In fact, entirely as she loved him, Hepzibah could
hardly have borne any longer the wretched duty--so impracticable by her few and rigid
faculties --of seeking pastime for a still sensitive, but ruined mind, critical and fastidious,
without force or volition. It was at least something short of positive despair, that to-day