Phoebe, coming so suddenly from the sunny daylight, was altogether
bedimmed in such density of shadow as lurked in most of the passages of
the old house. She was not at first aware by whom she had been
admitted. Before her eyes had adapted themselves to the obscurity, a
hand grasped her own with a firm but gentle and warm pressure, thus
imparting a welcome which caused her heart to leap and thrill with an
indefinable shiver of enjoyment. She felt herself drawn along, not
towards the parlor, but into a large and unoccupied apartment, which
had formerly been the grand reception-room of the Seven Gables. The
sunshine came freely into all the uncurtained windows of this room, and
fell upon the dusty floor; so that Phoebe now clearly saw--what,
indeed, had been no secret, after the encounter of a warm hand with
hers--that it was not Hepzibah nor Clifford, but Holgrave, to whom she
owed her reception. The subtile, intuitive communication, or, rather,
the vague and formless impression of something to be told, had made her
yield unresistingly to his impulse. Without taking away her hand, she
looked eagerly in his face, not quick to forebode evil, but unavoidably
conscious that the state of the family had changed since her departure,
and therefore anxious for an explanation.
The artist looked paler than ordinary; there was a thoughtful and
severe contraction of his forehead, tracing a deep, vertical line
between the eyebrows. His smile, however, was full of genuine warmth,
and had in it a joy, by far the most vivid expression that Phoebe had
ever witnessed, shining out of the New England reserve with which
Holgrave habitually masked whatever lay near his heart. It was the
look wherewith a man, brooding alone over some fearful object, in a
dreary forest or illimitable desert, would recognize the familiar
aspect of his dearest friend, bringing up all the peaceful ideas that
belong to home, and the gentle current of every-day affairs. And yet,
as he felt the necessity of responding to her look of inquiry, the
"I ought not to rejoice that you have come, Phoebe," said he. "We meet
at a strange moment!"
"What has happened!" she exclaimed. "Why is the house so deserted?
Where are Hepzibah and Clifford?"
"Gone! I cannot imagine where they are!" answered Holgrave. "We are
alone in the house!"
"Hepzibah and Clifford gone?" cried Phoebe. "It is not possible! And
why have you brought me into this room, instead of the parlor? Ah,
something terrible has happened! I must run and see!"
"No, no, Phoebe!" said Holgrave holding her back. "It is as I have
told you. They are gone, and I know not whither. A terrible event
has, indeed happened, but not to them, nor, as I undoubtingly believe,
through any agency of theirs. If I read your character rightly,
Phoebe," he continued, fixing his eyes on hers with stern anxiety,
intermixed with tenderness, "gentle as you are, and seeming to have
your sphere among common things, you yet possess remarkable strength.
You have wonderful poise, and a faculty which, when tested, will prove
itself capable of dealing with matters that fall far out of the