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
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
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.