One object, above all others, would take root in the imaginative

observer's memory. It was the great tuft of flowers,--weeds, you would

have called them, only a week ago,--the tuft of crimson-spotted

flowers, in the angle between the two front gables. The old people used

to give them the name of Alice's Posies, in remembrance of fair Alice

Pyncheon, who was believed to have brought their seeds from Italy.

They were flaunting in rich beauty and full bloom to-day, and seemed,

as it were, a mystic expression that something within the house was

consummated.

It was but little after sunrise, when Uncle Venner made his appearance,

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as aforesaid, impelling a wheelbarrow along the street. He was going

his matutinal rounds to collect cabbage-leaves, turnip-tops,

potato-skins, and the miscellaneous refuse of the dinner-pot, which the

thrifty housewives of the neighborhood were accustomed to put aside, as

fit only to feed a pig. Uncle Venner's pig was fed entirely, and kept

in prime order, on these eleemosynary contributions; insomuch that the

patched philosopher used to promise that, before retiring to his farm,

he would make a feast of the portly grunter, and invite all his

neighbors to partake of the joints and spare-ribs which they had helped

to fatten. Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon's housekeeping had so greatly

improved, since Clifford became a member of the family, that her share

of the banquet would have been no lean one; and Uncle Venner,

accordingly, was a good deal disappointed not to find the large earthen

pan, full of fragmentary eatables, that ordinarily awaited his coming

at the back doorstep of the Seven Gables.

"I never knew Miss Hepzibah so forgetful before," said the patriarch to

himself. "She must have had a dinner yesterday,--no question of that!

She always has one, nowadays. So where's the pot-liquor and

potato-skins, I ask? Shall I knock, and see if she's stirring yet? No,

no,--'t won't do! If little Phoebe was about the house, I should not

mind knocking; but Miss Hepzibah, likely as not, would scowl down at me

out of the window, and look cross, even if she felt pleasantly. So,

I'll come back at noon."

With these reflections, the old man was shutting the gate of the little

back-yard. Creaking on its hinges, however, like every other gate and

door about the premises, the sound reached the ears of the occupant of

the northern gable, one of the windows of which had a side-view towards

the gate.

"Good-morning, Uncle Venner!" said the daguerreotypist, leaning out of

the window. "Do you hear nobody stirring?"

"Not a soul," said the man of patches. "But that's no wonder. 'Tis

barely half an hour past sunrise, yet. But I'm really glad to see you,

Mr. Holgrave! There's a strange, lonesome look about this side of the

house; so that my heart misgave me, somehow or other, and I felt as if

there was nobody alive in it. The front of the house looks a good deal

cheerier; and Alice's Posies are blooming there beautifully; and if I

were a young man, Mr. Holgrave, my sweetheart should have one of those

flowers in her bosom, though I risked my neck climbing for it! Well,

and did the wind keep you awake last night?"