Clifford, as the company partook of their little banquet, grew to be
the gayest of them all. Either it was one of those up-quivering
flashes of the spirit, to which minds in an abnormal state are liable,
or else the artist had subtly touched some chord that made musical
vibration. Indeed, what with the pleasant summer evening, and the
sympathy of this little circle of not unkindly souls, it was perhaps
natural that a character so susceptible as Clifford's should become
animated, and show itself readily responsive to what was said around
him. But he gave out his own thoughts, likewise, with an airy and
fanciful glow; so that they glistened, as it were, through the arbor,
and made their escape among the interstices of the foliage. He had
been as cheerful, no doubt, while alone with Phoebe, but never with
such tokens of acute, although partial intelligence.
But, as the sunlight left the peaks of the Seven Gables, so did the
excitement fade out of Clifford's eyes. He gazed vaguely and
mournfully about him, as if he missed something precious, and missed it
the more drearily for not knowing precisely what it was.
"I want my happiness!" at last he murmured hoarsely and indistinctly,
hardly shaping out the words. "Many, many years have I waited for it!
It is late! It is late! I want my happiness!"
Alas, poor Clifford! You are old, and worn with troubles that ought
never to have befallen you. You are partly crazy and partly imbecile;
a ruin, a failure, as almost everybody is,--though some in less degree,
or less perceptibly, than their fellows. Fate has no happiness in
store for you; unless your quiet home in the old family residence with
the faithful Hepzibah, and your long summer afternoons with Phoebe, and
these Sabbath festivals with Uncle Venner and the daguerreotypist,
deserve to be called happiness! Why not? If not the thing itself, it
is marvellously like it, and the more so for that ethereal and
intangible quality which causes it all to vanish at too close an
introspection. Take it, therefore, while you may. Murmur
not,--question not,--but make the most of it!