"I tell you, Jaffrey," cried Hepzibah impatiently, as she turned from
the parlor-door to search other rooms, "my brother is not in his
chamber! You must help me seek him!"
But Judge Pyncheon was not the man to let himself be startled from an
easy-chair with haste ill-befitting either the dignity of his character
or his broad personal basis, by the alarm of an hysteric woman. Yet,
considering his own interest in the matter, he might have bestirred
himself with a little more alacrity.
"Do you hear me, Jaffrey Pyncheon?" screamed Hepzibah, as she again
approached the parlor-door, after an ineffectual search elsewhere.
"Clifford is gone."
At this instant, on the threshold of the parlor, emerging from within,
appeared Clifford himself! His face was preternaturally pale; so deadly
white, indeed, that, through all the glimmering indistinctness of the
passageway, Hepzibah could discern his features, as if a light fell on
them alone. Their vivid and wild expression seemed likewise sufficient
to illuminate them; it was an expression of scorn and mockery,
coinciding with the emotions indicated by his gesture. As Clifford
stood on the threshold, partly turning back, he pointed his finger
within the parlor, and shook it slowly as though he would have
summoned, not Hepzibah alone, but the whole world, to gaze at some
object inconceivably ridiculous. This action, so ill-timed and
extravagant,--accompanied, too, with a look that showed more like joy
than any other kind of excitement,--compelled Hepzibah to dread that
her stern kinsman's ominous visit had driven her poor brother to
absolute insanity. Nor could she otherwise account for the Judge's
quiescent mood than by supposing him craftily on the watch, while
Clifford developed these symptoms of a distracted mind.
"Be quiet, Clifford!" whispered his sister, raising her hand to impress
caution. "Oh, for Heaven's sake, be quiet!"
"Let him be quiet! What can he do better?" answered Clifford, with a
still wilder gesture, pointing into the room which he had just quitted.
"As for us, Hepzibah, we can dance now!--we can sing, laugh, play, do
what we will! The weight is gone, Hepzibah! It is gone off this weary
old world, and we may be as light-hearted as little Phoebe herself."
And, in accordance with his words, he began to laugh, still pointing
his finger at the object, invisible to Hepzibah, within the parlor.
She was seized with a sudden intuition of some horrible thing. She
thrust herself past Clifford, and disappeared into the room; but almost
immediately returned, with a cry choking in her throat. Gazing at her
brother with an affrighted glance of inquiry, she beheld him all in a
tremor and a quake, from head to foot, while, amid these commoted
elements of passion or alarm, still flickered his gusty mirth.
"My God! what is to become of us?" gasped Hepzibah.