Clifford's countenance glowed, as he divulged this theory; a youthful
character shone out from within, converting the wrinkles and pallid
duskiness of age into an almost transparent mask. The merry girls let
their ball drop upon the floor, and gazed at him. They said to
themselves, perhaps, that, before his hair was gray and the crow's-feet
tracked his temples, this now decaying man must have stamped the
impress of his features on many a woman's heart. But, alas! no woman's
eye had seen his face while it was beautiful.
"I should scarcely call it an improved state of things," observed
Clifford's new acquaintance, "to live everywhere and nowhere!"
"Would you not?" exclaimed Clifford, with singular energy. "It is as
clear to me as sunshine,--were there any in the sky,--that the greatest
possible stumbling-blocks in the path of human happiness and
improvement are these heaps of bricks and stones, consolidated with
mortar, or hewn timber, fastened together with spike-nails, which men
painfully contrive for their own torment, and call them house and home!
The soul needs air; a wide sweep and frequent change of it. Morbid
influences, in a thousand-fold variety, gather about hearths, and
pollute the life of households. There is no such unwholesome
atmosphere as that of an old home, rendered poisonous by one's defunct
forefathers and relatives. I speak of what I know. There is a certain
house within my familiar recollection,--one of those peaked-gable
(there are seven of them), projecting-storied edifices, such as you
occasionally see in our older towns,--a rusty, crazy, creaky,
dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and miserable old dungeon, with an arched
window over the porch, and a little shop-door on one side, and a great,
melancholy elm before it! Now, sir, whenever my thoughts recur to this
seven-gabled mansion (the fact is so very curious that I must needs
mention it), immediately I have a vision or image of an elderly man, of
remarkably stern countenance, sitting in an oaken elbow-chair, dead,
stone-dead, with an ugly flow of blood upon his shirt-bosom! Dead, but
with open eyes! He taints the whole house, as I remember it. I could
never flourish there, nor be happy, nor do nor enjoy what God meant me
to do and enjoy."
His face darkened, and seemed to contract, and shrivel itself up, and
wither into age.
"Never, sir!" he repeated. "I could never draw cheerful breath there!"
"I should think not," said the old gentleman, eyeing Clifford
earnestly, and rather apprehensively. "I should conceive not, sir,
with that notion in your head!"
"Surely not," continued Clifford; "and it were a relief to me if that
house could be torn down, or burnt up, and so the earth be rid of it,
and grass be sown abundantly over its foundation. Not that I should
ever visit its site again! for, sir, the farther I get away from it,
the more does the joy, the lightsome freshness, the heart-leap, the
intellectual dance, the youth, in short,--yes, my youth, my youth!--the
more does it come back to me. No longer ago than this morning, I was
old. I remember looking in the glass, and wondering at my own gray
hair, and the wrinkles, many and deep, right across my brow, and the
furrows down my cheeks, and the prodigious trampling of crow's-feet
about my temples! It was too soon! I could not bear it! Age had no
right to come! I had not lived! But now do I look old? If so, my
aspect belies me strangely; for--a great weight being off my mind--I
feel in the very heyday of my youth, with the world and my best days