Hepzibah had little hardihood for her own proper pain, and far less for

what she must inflict on Clifford. Of so slight a nature, and so

shattered by his previous calamities, it could not well be short of

utter ruin to bring him face to face with the hard, relentless man who

had been his evil destiny through life. Even had there been no bitter

recollections, nor any hostile interest now at stake between them, the

mere natural repugnance of the more sensitive system to the massive,

weighty, and unimpressible one, must, in itself, have been disastrous

to the former. It would be like flinging a porcelain vase, with

already a crack in it, against a granite column. Never before had

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Hepzibah so adequately estimated the powerful character of her cousin

Jaffrey,--powerful by intellect, energy of will, the long habit of

acting among men, and, as she believed, by his unscrupulous pursuit of

selfish ends through evil means. It did but increase the difficulty

that Judge Pyncheon was under a delusion as to the secret which he

supposed Clifford to possess. Men of his strength of purpose and

customary sagacity, if they chance to adopt a mistaken opinion in

practical matters, so wedge it and fasten it among things known to be

true, that to wrench it out of their minds is hardly less difficult

than pulling up an oak. Thus, as the Judge required an impossibility

of Clifford, the latter, as he could not perform it, must needs perish.

For what, in the grasp of a man like this, was to become of Clifford's

soft poetic nature, that never should have had a task more stubborn

than to set a life of beautiful enjoyment to the flow and rhythm of

musical cadences! Indeed, what had become of it already? Broken!

Blighted! All but annihilated! Soon to be wholly so!

For a moment, the thought crossed Hepzibah's mind, whether Clifford

might not really have such knowledge of their deceased uncle's vanished

estate as the Judge imputed to him. She remembered some vague

intimations, on her brother's part, which--if the supposition were not

essentially preposterous--might have been so interpreted. There had

been schemes of travel and residence abroad, day-dreams of brilliant

life at home, and splendid castles in the air, which it would have

required boundless wealth to build and realize. Had this wealth been

in her power, how gladly would Hepzibah have bestowed it all upon her

iron-hearted kinsman, to buy for Clifford the freedom and seclusion of

the desolate old house! But she believed that her brother's schemes

were as destitute of actual substance and purpose as a child's pictures

of its future life, while sitting in a little chair by its mother's

knee. Clifford had none but shadowy gold at his command; and it was

not the stuff to satisfy Judge Pyncheon!