The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

9. Clifford and Phoebe
TRULY was there something high, generous, and noble in the native composition of our
poor old Hepzibah! Or else,--and it was quite as probably the case,--she had been
enriched by poverty, developed by sorrow, elevated by the strong and solitary affection
of her life, and thus endowed with heroism, which never could have characterized her in
what are called happier circumstances. Through dreary years Hepzibah had looked
forward--for the most part despairingly, never with any confidence of hope, but always
with the feeling that it was her brightest possibility--to the very position in which she
now found herself. In her own behalf, she had asked nothing of Providence but the
opportunity of devoting herself to this brother, whom she had so loved,--so admired for
what he was, or might have been, --and to whom she had kept her faith, alone of all the
world, wholly, unfalteringly, at every instant, and throughout life. And here, in his late
decline, the lost one had come back out of his long and strange misfortune, and was
thrown on her sympathy, as it seemed, not merely for the bread of his physical existence,
but for everything that should keep him morally alive. She had responded to the call. She
had come forward,--our poor, gaunt Hepzibah, in her rusty silks, with her rigid joints, and
the sad perversity of her scowl,-- ready to do her utmost; and with affection enough, if
that were all, to do a hundred times as much! There could be few more tearful sights,--
and Heaven forgive us if a smile insist on mingling with our conception of it!--few sights
with truer pathos in them, than Hepzibah presented on that first afternoon.
How patiently did she endeavor to wrap Clifford up in her great, warm love, and make it
all the world to him, so that he should retain no torturing sense of the coldness and
dreariness without! Her little efforts to amuse him! How pitiful, yet magnanimous, they
Remembering his early love of poetry and fiction, she unlocked a bookcase, and took
down several books that had been excellent reading in their day. There was a volume of
Pope, with the Rape of the Lock in it, and another of the Tatler, and an odd one of
Dryden's Miscellanies, all with tarnished gilding on their covers, and thoughts of
tarnished brilliancy inside. They had no success with Clifford. These, and all such writers
of society, whose new works glow like the rich texture of a just-woven carpet, must be
content to relinquish their charm, for every reader, after an age or two, and could hardly
be supposed to retain any portion of it for a mind that had utterly lost its estimate of
modes and manners. Hepzibah then took up Rasselas, and began to read of the Happy
Valley, with a vague idea that some secret of a contented life had there been elaborated,
which might at least serve Clifford and herself for this one day. But the Happy Valley
had a cloud over it. Hepzibah troubled her auditor, moreover, by innumerable sins of
emphasis, which he seemed to detect, without any reference to the meaning; nor, in fact,
did he appear to take much note of the sense of what she read, but evidently felt the
tedium of the lecture, without harvesting its profit. His sister's voice, too, naturally harsh,
had, in the course of her sorrowful lifetime, contracted a kind of croak, which, when it
once gets into the human throat, is as ineradicable as sin. In both sexes, occasionally, this