But where was Clifford? Could it be that, aware of the presence of his
Evil Destiny, he had crept silently down the staircase, while the Judge
and Hepzibah stood talking in the shop, and had softly undone the
fastenings of the outer door, and made his escape into the street?
With that thought, she seemed to behold his gray, wrinkled, yet
childlike aspect, in the old-fashioned garments which he wore about the
house; a figure such as one sometimes imagines himself to be, with the
world's eye upon him, in a troubled dream. This figure of her wretched
brother would go wandering through the city, attracting all eyes, and
everybody's wonder and repugnance, like a ghost, the more to be
shuddered at because visible at noontide. To incur the ridicule of the
younger crowd, that knew him not,--the harsher scorn and indignation of
a few old men, who might recall his once familiar features! To be the
sport of boys, who, when old enough to run about the streets, have no
more reverence for what is beautiful and holy, nor pity for what is
sad,--no more sense of sacred misery, sanctifying the human shape in
which it embodies itself,--than if Satan were the father of them all!
Goaded by their taunts, their loud, shrill cries, and cruel
laughter,--insulted by the filth of the public ways, which they would
fling upon him,--or, as it might well be, distracted by the mere
strangeness of his situation, though nobody should afflict him with so
much as a thoughtless word,--what wonder if Clifford were to break into
some wild extravagance which was certain to be interpreted as lunacy?
Thus Judge Pyncheon's fiendish scheme would be ready accomplished to
Then Hepzibah reflected that the town was almost completely
water-girdled. The wharves stretched out towards the centre of the
harbor, and, in this inclement weather, were deserted by the ordinary
throng of merchants, laborers, and sea-faring men; each wharf a
solitude, with the vessels moored stem and stern, along its misty
length. Should her brother's aimless footsteps stray thitherward, and
he but bend, one moment, over the deep, black tide, would he not
bethink himself that here was the sure refuge within his reach, and
that, with a single step, or the slightest overbalance of his body, he
might be forever beyond his kinsman's gripe? Oh, the temptation! To
make of his ponderous sorrow a security! To sink, with its leaden
weight upon him, and never rise again!
The horror of this last conception was too much for Hepzibah. Even
Jaffrey Pyncheon must help her now She hastened down the staircase,
shrieking as she went.
"Clifford is gone!" she cried. "I cannot find my brother. Help,
Jaffrey Pyncheon! Some harm will happen to him!"
She threw open the parlor-door. But, what with the shade of branches
across the windows, and the smoke-blackened ceiling, and the dark
oak-panelling of the walls, there was hardly so much daylight in the
room that Hepzibah's imperfect sight could accurately distinguish the
Judge's figure. She was certain, however, that she saw him sitting in
the ancestral arm-chair, near the centre of the floor, with his face
somewhat averted, and looking towards a window. So firm and quiet is
the nervous system of such men as Judge Pyncheon, that he had perhaps
stirred not more than once since her departure, but, in the hard
composure of his temperament, retained the position into which accident
had thrown him.