"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
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."