The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

10.The Pyncheon Garden
CLIFFORD, except for Phoebe's More active instigation would ordinarily have yielded to
the torpor which had crept through all his modes of being, and which sluggishly
counselled him to sit in his morning chair till eventide. But the girl seldom failed to
propose a removal to the garden, where Uncle Venner and the daguerreotypist had made
such repairs on the roof of the ruinous arbor, or summer-house, that it was now a
sufficient shelter from sunshine and casual showers. The hop-vine, too, had begun to
grow luxuriantly over the sides of the little edifice, and made an interior of verdant
seclusion, with innumerable peeps and glimpses into the wider solitude of the garden.
Here, sometimes, in this green play-place of flickering light, Phoebe read to Clifford. Her
acquaintance, the artist, who appeared to have a literary turn, had supplied her with works
of fiction, in pamphlet form,--and a few volumes of poetry, in altogether a different style
and taste from those which Hepzibah selected for his amusement. Small thanks were due
to the books, however, if the girl's readings were in any degree more successful than her
elderly cousin's. Phoebe's voice had always a pretty music in it, and could either enliven
Clifford by its sparkle and gayety of tone, or soothe him by a continued flow of pebbly
and brook-like cadences. But the fictions--in which the country-girl, unused to works of
that nature, often became deeply absorbed--interested her strange auditor very little, or
not at all. Pictures of life, scenes of passion or sentiment, wit, humor, and pathos, were all
thrown away, or worse than thrown away, on Clifford; either because he lacked an
experience by which to test their truth, or because his own griefs were a touch-stone of
reality that few feigned emotions could withstand. When Phoebe broke into a peal of
merry laughter at what she read, he would now and then laugh for sympathy, but oftener
respond with a troubled, questioning look. If a tear--a maiden's sunshiny tear over
imaginary woe--dropped upon some melancholy page, Clifford either took it as a token of
actual calamity, or else grew peevish, and angrily motioned her to close the volume. And
wisely too! Is not the world sad enough, in genuine earnest, without making a pastime of
mock sorrows?
With poetry it was rather better. He delighted in the swell and subsidence of the rhythm,
and the happily recurring rhyme. Nor was Clifford incapable of feeling the sentiment of
poetry,--not, perhaps, where it was highest or deepest, but where it was most flitting and
ethereal. It was impossible to foretell in what exquisite verse the awakening spell might
lurk; but, on raising her eyes from the page to Clifford's face, Phoebe would be made
aware, by the light breaking through it, that a more delicate intelligence than her own had
caught a lambent flame from what she read. One glow of this kind, however, was often
the precursor of gloom for many hours afterward; because, when the glow left him, he
seemed conscious of a missing sense and power, and groped about for them, as if a blind
man should go seeking his lost eyesight.