"How prettily you express this sentiment!" said the artist. "I can
understand the feeling, without possessing it. Had I your
opportunities, no scruples would prevent me from fathoming Clifford to
the full depth of my plummet-line!"
"How strange that you should wish it!" remarked Phoebe involuntarily.
"What is Cousin Clifford to you?"
"Oh, nothing,--of course, nothing!" answered Holgrave with a smile.
"Only this is such an odd and incomprehensible world! The more I look
at it, the more it puzzles me, and I begin to suspect that a man's
bewilderment is the measure of his wisdom. Men and women, and
children, too, are such strange creatures, that one never can be
certain that he really knows them; nor ever guess what they have been
from what he sees them to be now. Judge Pyncheon! Clifford! What a
complex riddle--a complexity of complexities--do they present! It
requires intuitive sympathy, like a young girl's, to solve it. A mere
observer, like myself (who never have any intuitions, and am, at best,
only subtile and acute), is pretty certain to go astray."
The artist now turned the conversation to themes less dark than that
which they had touched upon. Phoebe and he were young together; nor
had Holgrave, in his premature experience of life, wasted entirely that
beautiful spirit of youth, which, gushing forth from one small heart
and fancy, may diffuse itself over the universe, making it all as
bright as on the first day of creation. Man's own youth is the world's
youth; at least, he feels as if it were, and imagines that the earth's
granite substance is something not yet hardened, and which he can mould
into whatever shape he likes. So it was with Holgrave. He could talk
sagely about the world's old age, but never actually believed what he
said; he was a young man still, and therefore looked upon the
world--that gray-bearded and wrinkled profligate, decrepit, without
being venerable--as a tender stripling, capable of being improved into
all that it ought to be, but scarcely yet had shown the remotest
promise of becoming. He had that sense, or inward prophecy,--which a
young man had better never have been born than not to have, and a
mature man had better die at once than utterly to relinquish,--that we
are not doomed to creep on forever in the old bad way, but that, this
very now, there are the harbingers abroad of a golden era, to be
accomplished in his own lifetime. It seemed to Holgrave,--as doubtless
it has seemed to the hopeful of every century since the epoch of Adam's
grandchildren,--that in this age, more than ever before, the moss-grown
and rotten Past is to be torn down, and lifeless institutions to be
thrust out of the way, and their dead corpses buried, and everything to