It could not have been more than half an hour after the disappearance
of the Italian boy, with his unseasonable melodies, when a cab drove
down the street. It stopped beneath the Pyncheon Elm; the cabman took
a trunk, a canvas bag, and a bandbox, from the top of his vehicle, and
deposited them on the doorstep of the old house; a straw bonnet, and
then the pretty figure of a young girl, came into view from the
interior of the cab. It was Phoebe! Though not altogether so blooming
as when she first tripped into our story,--for, in the few intervening
weeks, her experiences had made her graver, more womanly, and
deeper-eyed, in token of a heart that had begun to suspect its
depths,--still there was the quiet glow of natural sunshine over her.
Neither had she forfeited her proper gift of making things look real,
rather than fantastic, within her sphere. Yet we feel it to be a
questionable venture, even for Phoebe, at this juncture, to cross the
threshold of the Seven Gables. Is her healthful presence potent enough
to chase away the crowd of pale, hideous, and sinful phantoms, that
have gained admittance there since her departure? Or will she,
likewise, fade, sicken, sadden, and grow into deformity, and be only
another pallid phantom, to glide noiselessly up and down the stairs,
and affright children as she pauses at the window?
At least, we would gladly forewarn the unsuspecting girl that there is
nothing in human shape or substance to receive her, unless it be the
figure of Judge Pyncheon, who--wretched spectacle that he is, and
frightful in our remembrance, since our night-long vigil with
him!--still keeps his place in the oaken chair.
Phoebe first tried the shop-door. It did not yield to her hand; and
the white curtain, drawn across the window which formed the upper
section of the door, struck her quick perceptive faculty as something
unusual. Without making another effort to enter here, she betook
herself to the great portal, under the arched window. Finding it
fastened, she knocked. A reverberation came from the emptiness within.
She knocked again, and a third time; and, listening intently, fancied
that the floor creaked, as if Hepzibah were coming, with her ordinary
tiptoe movement, to admit her. But so dead a silence ensued upon this
imaginary sound, that she began to question whether she might not have
mistaken the house, familiar as she thought herself with its exterior.
Her notice was now attracted by a child's voice, at some distance. It
appeared to call her name. Looking in the direction whence it
proceeded, Phoebe saw little Ned Higgins, a good way down the street,
stamping, shaking his head violently, making deprecatory gestures with
both hands, and shouting to her at mouth-wide screech.
"No, no, Phoebe!" he screamed. "Don't you go in! There's something
wicked there! Don't--don't--don't go in!"