Never had the old house appeared so dismal to poor Hepzibah as when she

departed on that wretched errand. There was a strange aspect in it.

As she trode along the foot-worn passages, and opened one crazy door

after another, and ascended the creaking staircase, she gazed wistfully

and fearfully around. It would have been no marvel, to her excited

mind, if, behind or beside her, there had been the rustle of dead

people's garments, or pale visages awaiting her on the landing-place

above. Her nerves were set all ajar by the scene of passion and terror

through which she had just struggled. Her colloquy with Judge

Pyncheon, who so perfectly represented the person and attributes of the


founder of the family, had called back the dreary past. It weighed

upon her heart. Whatever she had heard, from legendary aunts and

grandmothers, concerning the good or evil fortunes of the

Pyncheons,--stories which had heretofore been kept warm in her

remembrance by the chimney-corner glow that was associated with

them,--now recurred to her, sombre, ghastly, cold, like most passages

of family history, when brooded over in melancholy mood. The whole

seemed little else but a series of calamity, reproducing itself in

successive generations, with one general hue, and varying in little,

save the outline.

But Hepzibah now felt as if the Judge, and Clifford,

and herself,--they three together,--were on the point of adding another

incident to the annals of the house, with a bolder relief of wrong and

sorrow, which would cause it to stand out from all the rest. Thus it

is that the grief of the passing moment takes upon itself an

individuality, and a character of climax, which it is destined to lose

after a while, and to fade into the dark gray tissue common to the

grave or glad events of many years ago. It is but for a moment,

comparatively, that anything looks strange or startling,--a truth that

has the bitter and the sweet in it.

But Hepzibah could not rid herself of the sense of something

unprecedented at that instant passing and soon to be accomplished. Her

nerves were in a shake. Instinctively she paused before the arched

window, and looked out upon the street, in order to seize its permanent

objects with her mental grasp, and thus to steady herself from the reel

and vibration which affected her more immediate sphere. It brought her

up, as we may say, with a kind of shock, when she beheld everything

under the same appearance as the day before, and numberless preceding

days, except for the difference between sunshine and sullen storm.

Her eyes travelled along the street, from doorstep to doorstep, noting the

wet sidewalks, with here and there a puddle in hollows that had been

imperceptible until filled with water. She screwed her dim optics to

their acutest point, in the hope of making out, with greater

distinctness, a certain window, where she half saw, half guessed, that

a tailor's seamstress was sitting at her work. Hepzibah flung herself

upon that unknown woman's companionship, even thus far off. Then she

was attracted by a chaise rapidly passing, and watched its moist and

glistening top, and its splashing wheels, until it had turned the

corner, and refused to carry any further her idly trifling, because

appalled and overburdened, mind. When the vehicle had disappeared, she

allowed herself still another loitering moment; for the patched figure

of good Uncle Venner was now visible, coming slowly from the head of

the street downward, with a rheumatic limp, because the east wind had

got into his joints. Hepzibah wished that he would pass yet more

slowly, and befriend her shivering solitude a little longer. Anything

that would take her out of the grievous present, and interpose human

beings betwixt herself and what was nearest to her,--whatever would

defer for an instant the inevitable errand on which she was bound,--all

such impediments were welcome. Next to the lightest heart, the

heaviest is apt to be most playful.