But Clifford, it seemed, though he did not make his appearance below

stairs, had, after all, bestirred himself in quest of amusement. In

the course of the forenoon, Hepzibah heard a note of music, which

(there being no other tuneful contrivance in the House of the Seven

Gables) she knew must proceed from Alice Pyncheon's harpsichord. She

was aware that Clifford, in his youth, had possessed a cultivated taste

for music, and a considerable degree of skill in its practice. It was

difficult, however, to conceive of his retaining an accomplishment to

which daily exercise is so essential, in the measure indicated by the

sweet, airy, and delicate, though most melancholy strain, that now

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stole upon her ear. Nor was it less marvellous that the long-silent

instrument should be capable of so much melody. Hepzibah involuntarily

thought of the ghostly harmonies, prelusive of death in the family,

which were attributed to the legendary Alice. But it was, perhaps,

proof of the agency of other than spiritual fingers, that, after a few

touches, the chords seemed to snap asunder with their own vibrations,

and the music ceased.

But a harsher sound succeeded to the mysterious notes; nor was the

easterly day fated to pass without an event sufficient in itself to

poison, for Hepzibah and Clifford, the balmiest air that ever brought

the humming-birds along with it. The final echoes of Alice Pyncheon's

performance (or Clifford's, if his we must consider it) were driven

away by no less vulgar a dissonance than the ringing of the shop-bell.

A foot was heard scraping itself on the threshold, and thence somewhat

ponderously stepping on the floor. Hepzibah delayed a moment, while

muffling herself in a faded shawl, which had been her defensive armor

in a forty years' warfare against the east wind. A characteristic

sound, however,--neither a cough nor a hem, but a kind of rumbling and

reverberating spasm in somebody's capacious depth of chest;--impelled

her to hurry forward, with that aspect of fierce faint-heartedness so

common to women in cases of perilous emergency. Few of her sex, on

such occasions, have ever looked so terrible as our poor scowling

Hepzibah. But the visitor quietly closed the shop-door behind him,

stood up his umbrella against the counter, and turned a visage of

composed benignity, to meet the alarm and anger which his appearance

had excited.

Hepzibah's presentiment had not deceived her. It was no other than

Judge Pyncheon, who, after in vain trying the front door, had now

effected his entrance into the shop.

"How do you do, Cousin Hepzibah?--and how does this most inclement

weather affect our poor Clifford?" began the Judge; and wonderful it

seemed, indeed, that the easterly storm was not put to shame, or, at

any rate, a little mollified, by the genial benevolence of his smile.

"I could not rest without calling to ask, once more, whether I can in

any manner promote his comfort, or your own."