Nothing gives a sadder sense of decay than this loss or suspension of

the power to deal with unaccustomed things, and to keep up with the

swiftness of the passing moment. It can merely be a suspended

animation; for, were the power actually to perish, there would be

little use of immortality. We are less than ghosts, for the time

being, whenever this calamity befalls us.

Clifford was indeed the most inveterate of conservatives. All the

antique fashions of the street were dear to him; even such as were

characterized by a rudeness that would naturally have annoyed his

fastidious senses. He loved the old rumbling and jolting carts, the

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former track of which he still found in his long-buried remembrance, as

the observer of to-day finds the wheel-tracks of ancient vehicles in

Herculaneum. The butcher's cart, with its snowy canopy, was an

acceptable object; so was the fish-cart, heralded by its horn; so,

likewise, was the countryman's cart of vegetables, plodding from door

to door, with long pauses of the patient horse, while his owner drove a

trade in turnips, carrots, summer-squashes, string-beans, green peas,

and new potatoes, with half the housewives of the neighborhood. The

baker's cart, with the harsh music of its bells, had a pleasant effect

on Clifford, because, as few things else did, it jingled the very

dissonance of yore. One afternoon a scissor-grinder chanced to set his

wheel a-going under the Pyncheon Elm, and just in front of the arched

window. Children came running with their mothers' scissors, or the

carving-knife, or the paternal razor, or anything else that lacked an

edge (except, indeed, poor Clifford's wits), that the grinder might

apply the article to his magic wheel, and give it back as good as new.

Round went the busily revolving machinery, kept in motion by the

scissor-grinder's foot, and wore away the hard steel against the hard

stone, whence issued an intense and spiteful prolongation of a hiss as

fierce as those emitted by Satan and his compeers in Pandemonium,

though squeezed into smaller compass. It was an ugly, little, venomous

serpent of a noise, as ever did petty violence to human ears. But

Clifford listened with rapturous delight. The sound, however

disagreeable, had very brisk life in it, and, together with the circle

of curious children watching the revolutions of the wheel, appeared to

give him a more vivid sense of active, bustling, and sunshiny existence

than he had attained in almost any other way. Nevertheless, its charm

lay chiefly in the past; for the scissor-grinder's wheel had hissed in

his childish ears.

He sometimes made doleful complaint that there were no stage-coaches

nowadays. And he asked in an injured tone what had become of all those

old square-topped chaises, with wings sticking out on either side, that

used to be drawn by a plough-horse, and driven by a farmer's wife and

daughter, peddling whortle-berries and blackberries about the town.

Their disappearance made him doubt, he said, whether the berries had

not left off growing in the broad pastures and along the shady country

lanes.