Returning to the arched window, she lifted her eyes,--scowling, poor,

dim-sighted Hepzibah, in the face of Heaven!--and strove hard to send

up a prayer through the dense gray pavement of clouds. Those mists had

gathered, as if to symbolize a great, brooding mass of human trouble,

doubt, confusion, and chill indifference, between earth and the better

regions. Her faith was too weak; the prayer too heavy to be thus

uplifted. It fell back, a lump of lead, upon her heart. It smote her

with the wretched conviction that Providence intermeddled not in these

petty wrongs of one individual to his fellow, nor had any balm for

these little agonies of a solitary soul; but shed its justice, and its

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mercy, in a broad, sunlike sweep, over half the universe at once. Its

vastness made it nothing. But Hepzibah did not see that, just as there

comes a warm sunbeam into every cottage window, so comes a lovebeam of

God's care and pity for every separate need.

At last, finding no other pretext for deferring the torture that she

was to inflict on Clifford,--her reluctance to which was the true cause

of her loitering at the window, her search for the artist, and even her

abortive prayer,--dreading, also, to hear the stern voice of Judge

Pyncheon from below stairs, chiding her delay,--she crept slowly, a

pale, grief-stricken figure, a dismal shape of woman, with almost

torpid limbs, slowly to her brother's door, and knocked!

There was no reply.

And how should there have been? Her hand, tremulous with the shrinking

purpose which directed it, had smitten so feebly against the door that

the sound could hardly have gone inward. She knocked again. Still no

response! Nor was it to be wondered at. She had struck with the entire

force of her heart's vibration, communicating, by some subtile

magnetism, her own terror to the summons. Clifford would turn his face

to the pillow, and cover his head beneath the bedclothes, like a

startled child at midnight. She knocked a third time, three regular

strokes, gentle, but perfectly distinct, and with meaning in them; for,

modulate it with what cautious art we will, the hand cannot help

playing some tune of what we feel upon the senseless wood.

Clifford returned no answer.

"Clifford! Dear brother!" said Hepzibah. "Shall I come in?"

A silence.

Two or three times, and more, Hepzibah repeated his name, without

result; till, thinking her brother's sleep unwontedly profound, she

undid the door, and entering, found the chamber vacant. How could he

have come forth, and when, without her knowledge? Was it possible

that, in spite of the stormy day, and worn out with the irksomeness

within doors he had betaken himself to his customary haunt in the

garden, and was now shivering under the cheerless shelter of the

summer-house? She hastily threw up a window, thrust forth her turbaned

head and the half of her gaunt figure, and searched the whole garden

through, as completely as her dim vision would allow. She could see

the interior of the summer-house, and its circular seat, kept moist by

the droppings of the roof. It had no occupant. Clifford was not

thereabouts; unless, indeed, he had crept for concealment (as, for a

moment, Hepzibah fancied might be the case) into a great, wet mass of

tangled and broad-leaved shadow, where the squash-vines were clambering

tumultuously upon an old wooden framework, set casually aslant against

the fence. This could not be, however; he was not there; for, while

Hepzibah was looking, a strange grimalkin stole forth from the very

spot, and picked his way across the garden. Twice he paused to snuff

the air, and then anew directed his course towards the parlor window.

Whether it was only on account of the stealthy, prying manner common to

the race, or that this cat seemed to have more than ordinary mischief

in his thoughts, the old gentlewoman, in spite of her much perplexity,

felt an impulse to drive the animal away, and accordingly flung down a

window stick. The cat stared up at her, like a detected thief or

murderer, and, the next instant, took to flight. No other living

creature was visible in the garden. Chanticleer and his family had

either not left their roost, disheartened by the interminable rain, or

had done the next wisest thing, by seasonably returning to it.

Hepzibah closed the window.