Thus, lingering always so near his childhood, he had sympathies with

children, and kept his heart the fresher thereby, like a reservoir into

which rivulets were pouring not far from the fountain-head. Though

prevented, by a subtile sense of propriety, from desiring to associate

with them, he loved few things better than to look out of the arched

window and see a little girl driving her hoop along the sidewalk, or

schoolboys at a game of ball. Their voices, also, were very pleasant

to him, heard at a distance, all swarming and intermingling together as

flies do in a sunny room.

Clifford would, doubtless, have been glad to share their sports. One

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afternoon he was seized with an irresistible desire to blow

soap-bubbles; an amusement, as Hepzibah told Phoebe apart, that had

been a favorite one with her brother when they were both children.

Behold him, therefore, at the arched window, with an earthen pipe in

his mouth! Behold him, with his gray hair, and a wan, unreal smile over

his countenance, where still hovered a beautiful grace, which his worst

enemy must have acknowledged to be spiritual and immortal, since it had

survived so long! Behold him, scattering airy spheres abroad from the

window into the street! Little impalpable worlds were those

soap-bubbles, with the big world depicted, in hues bright as

imagination, on the nothing of their surface. It was curious to see

how the passers-by regarded these brilliant fantasies, as they came

floating down, and made the dull atmosphere imaginative about them.

Some stopped to gaze, and perhaps, carried a pleasant recollection of

the bubbles onward as far as the street-corner; some looked angrily

upward, as if poor Clifford wronged them by setting an image of beauty

afloat so near their dusty pathway. A great many put out their fingers

or their walking-sticks to touch, withal; and were perversely

gratified, no doubt, when the bubble, with all its pictured earth and

sky scene, vanished as if it had never been.

At length, just as an elderly gentleman of very dignified presence

happened to be passing, a large bubble sailed majestically down, and

burst right against his nose! He looked up,--at first with a stern,

keen glance, which penetrated at once into the obscurity behind the

arched window,--then with a smile which might be conceived as diffusing

a dog-day sultriness for the space of several yards about him.

"Aha, Cousin Clifford!" cried Judge Pyncheon. "What! Still blowing

soap-bubbles!"

The tone seemed as if meant to be kind and soothing, but yet had a

bitterness of sarcasm in it. As for Clifford, an absolute palsy of

fear came over him. Apart from any definite cause of dread which his

past experience might have given him, he felt that native and original

horror of the excellent Judge which is proper to a weak, delicate, and

apprehensive character in the presence of massive strength. Strength

is incomprehensible by weakness, and, therefore, the more terrible.

There is no greater bugbear than a strong-willed relative in the circle

of his own connections.