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!"

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"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

before me!"