"Clifford!--Clifford know of any hidden wealth? Clifford have it in his
power to make you rich?" cried the old gentlewoman, affected with a
sense of something like ridicule at the idea. "Impossible! You
deceive yourself! It is really a thing to laugh at!"
"It is as certain as that I stand here!" said Judge Pyncheon, striking
his gold-headed cane on the floor, and at the same time stamping his
foot, as if to express his conviction the more forcibly by the whole
emphasis of his substantial person. "Clifford told me so himself!"
"No, no!" exclaimed Hepzibah incredulously. "You are dreaming, Cousin
"I do not belong to the dreaming class of men," said the Judge quietly.
"Some months before my uncle's death, Clifford boasted to me of the
possession of the secret of incalculable wealth. His purpose was to
taunt me, and excite my curiosity. I know it well. But, from a pretty
distinct recollection of the particulars of our conversation, I am
thoroughly convinced that there was truth in what he said. Clifford,
at this moment, if he chooses,--and choose he must!--can inform me
where to find the schedule, the documents, the evidences, in whatever
shape they exist, of the vast amount of Uncle Jaffrey's missing
property. He has the secret. His boast was no idle word. It had a
directness, an emphasis, a particularity, that showed a backbone of
solid meaning within the mystery of his expression."
"But what could have been Clifford's object," asked Hepzibah, "in
concealing it so long?"
"It was one of the bad impulses of our fallen nature," replied the
Judge, turning up his eyes. "He looked upon me as his enemy. He
considered me as the cause of his overwhelming disgrace, his imminent
peril of death, his irretrievable ruin. There was no great
probability, therefore, of his volunteering information, out of his
dungeon, that should elevate me still higher on the ladder of
prosperity. But the moment has now come when he must give up his
"And what if he should refuse?" inquired Hepzibah. "Or,--as I
steadfastly believe,--what if he has no knowledge of this wealth?"
"My dear cousin," said Judge Pyncheon, with a quietude which he had the
power of making more formidable than any violence, "since your
brother's return, I have taken the precaution (a highly proper one in
the near kinsman and natural guardian of an individual so situated) to
have his deportment and habits constantly and carefully overlooked.
Your neighbors have been eye-witnesses to whatever has passed in the
garden. The butcher, the baker, the fish-monger, some of the customers
of your shop, and many a prying old woman, have told me several of the
secrets of your interior. A still larger circle--I myself, among the
rest--can testify to his extravagances at the arched window. Thousands
beheld him, a week or two ago, on the point of flinging himself thence
into the street. From all this testimony, I am led to
apprehend--reluctantly, and with deep grief--that Clifford's
misfortunes have so affected his intellect, never very strong, that he
cannot safely remain at large. The alternative, you must be
aware,--and its adoption will depend entirely on the decision which I
am now about to make,--the alternative is his confinement, probably for
the remainder of his life, in a public asylum for persons in his
unfortunate state of mind."