"Yes, but only for a little while," answered Phoebe; "for I look upon

this as my present home. I go to make a few arrangements, and to take

a more deliberate leave of my mother and friends. It is pleasant to

live where one is much desired and very useful; and I think I may have

the satisfaction of feeling myself so here."

"You surely may, and more than you imagine," said the artist.

"Whatever health, comfort, and natural life exists in the house is

embodied in your person. These blessings came along with you, and will

vanish when you leave the threshold. Miss Hepzibah, by secluding

herself from society, has lost all true relation with it, and is, in

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fact, dead; although she galvanizes herself into a semblance of life,

and stands behind her counter, afflicting the world with a

greatly-to-be-deprecated scowl. Your poor cousin Clifford is another

dead and long-buried person, on whom the governor and council have

wrought a necromantic miracle. I should not wonder if he were to

crumble away, some morning, after you are gone, and nothing be seen of

him more, except a heap of dust. Miss Hepzibah, at any rate, will lose

what little flexibility she has. They both exist by you."

"I should be very sorry to think so," answered Phoebe gravely. "But it

is true that my small abilities were precisely what they needed; and I

have a real interest in their welfare,--an odd kind of motherly

sentiment,--which I wish you would not laugh at! And let me tell you

frankly, Mr. Holgrave, I am sometimes puzzled to know whether you wish

them well or ill."

"Undoubtedly," said the daguerreotypist, "I do feel an interest in this

antiquated, poverty-stricken old maiden lady, and this degraded and

shattered gentleman,--this abortive lover of the beautiful. A kindly

interest, too, helpless old children that they are! But you have no

conception what a different kind of heart mine is from your own. It is

not my impulse, as regards these two individuals, either to help or

hinder; but to look on, to analyze, to explain matters to myself, and

to comprehend the drama which, for almost two hundred years, has been

dragging its slow length over the ground where you and I now tread. If

permitted to witness the close, I doubt not to derive a moral

satisfaction from it, go matters how they may. There is a conviction

within me that the end draws nigh. But, though Providence sent you

hither to help, and sends me only as a privileged and meet spectator, I

pledge myself to lend these unfortunate beings whatever aid I can!"

"I wish you would speak more plainly," cried Phoebe, perplexed and

displeased; "and, above all, that you would feel more like a Christian

and a human being! How is it possible to see people in distress without

desiring, more than anything else, to help and comfort them? You talk

as if this old house were a theatre; and you seem to look at Hepzibah's

and Clifford's misfortunes, and those of generations before them, as a

tragedy, such as I have seen acted in the hall of a country hotel, only

the present one appears to be played exclusively for your amusement. I

do not like this. The play costs the performers too much, and the

audience is too cold-hearted."