The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

11.The Arched Window
FROM the inertness, or what we may term the vegetative character, of his ordinary
mood, Clifford would perhaps have been content to spend one day after another,
interminably,--or, at least, throughout the summer-time,--in just the kind of life described
in the preceding pages. Fancying, however, that it might be for his benefit occasionally to
diversify the scene, Phoebe sometimes suggested that he should look out upon the life of
the street. For this purpose, they used to mount the staircase together, to the second story
of the house, where, at the termination of a wide entry, there was an arched window, of
uncommonly large dimensions, shaded by a pair of curtains. It opened above the porch,
where there had formerly been a balcony, the balustrade of which had long since gone to
decay, and been removed. At this arched window, throwing it open, but keeping himself
in comparative obscurity by means of the curtain, Clifford had an opportunity of
witnessing such a portion of the great world's movement as might be supposed to roll
through one of the retired streets of a not very populous city. But he and Phoebe made a
sight as well worth seeing as any that the city could exhibit. The pale, gray, childish,
aged, melancholy, yet often simply cheerful, and sometimes delicately intelligent aspect
of Clifford, peering from behind the faded crimson of the curtain, --watching the
monotony of every-day occurrences with a kind of inconsequential interest and
earnestness, and, at every petty throb of his sensibility, turning for sympathy to the eyes
of the bright young girl!
If once he were fairly seated at the window, even Pyncheon Street would hardly be so
dull and lonely but that, somewhere or other along its extent, Clifford might discover
matter to occupy his eye, and titillate, if not engross, his observation. Things familiar to
the youngest child that had begun its outlook at existence seemed strange to him. A cab;
an omnibus, with its populous interior, dropping here and there a passenger, and picking
up another, and thus typifying that vast rolling vehicle, the world, the end of whose
journey is everywhere and nowhere; these objects he followed eagerly with his eyes, but
forgot them before the dust raised by the horses and wheels had settled along their track.
As regarded novelties (among which cabs and omnibuses were to be reckoned), his mind
appeared to have lost its proper gripe and retentiveness. Twice or thrice, for example,
during the sunny hours of the day, a water-cart went along by the Pyncheon House,
leaving a broad wake of moistened earth, instead of the white dust that had risen at a
lady's lightest footfall; it was like a summer shower, which the city authorities had caught
and tamed, and compelled it into the commonest routine of their convenience. With the
water-cart Clifford could never grow familiar; it always affected him with just the same
surprise as at first. His mind took an apparently sharp impression from it, but lost the
recollection of this perambulatory shower, before its next reappearance, as completely as
did the street itself, along which the heat so quickly strewed white dust again. It was the
same with the railroad. Clifford could hear the obstreperous howl of the steam-devil, and,
by leaning a little way from the arched window, could catch a glimpse of the trains of