Very soon after their change of fortune, Clifford, Hepzibah, and little
Phoebe, with the approval of the artist, concluded to remove from the
dismal old House of the Seven Gables, and take up their abode, for the
present, at the elegant country-seat of the late Judge Pyncheon.
Chanticleer and his family had already been transported thither, where
the two hens had forthwith begun an indefatigable process of
egg-laying, with an evident design, as a matter of duty and conscience,
to continue their illustrious breed under better auspices than for a
century past. On the day set for their departure, the principal
personages of our story, including good Uncle Venner, were assembled in
"The country-house is certainly a very fine one, so far as the plan
goes," observed Holgrave, as the party were discussing their future
arrangements. "But I wonder that the late Judge--being so opulent, and
with a reasonable prospect of transmitting his wealth to descendants of
his own--should not have felt the propriety of embodying so excellent a
piece of domestic architecture in stone, rather than in wood. Then,
every generation of the family might have altered the interior, to suit
its own taste and convenience; while the exterior, through the lapse of
years, might have been adding venerableness to its original beauty, and
thus giving that impression of permanence which I consider essential to
the happiness of any one moment."
"Why," cried Phoebe, gazing into the artist's face with infinite
amazement, "how wonderfully your ideas are changed! A house of stone,
indeed! It is but two or three weeks ago that you seemed to wish people
to live in something as fragile and temporary as a bird's-nest!"
"Ah, Phoebe, I told you how it would be!" said the artist, with a
half-melancholy laugh. "You find me a conservative already! Little
did I think ever to become one. It is especially unpardonable in this
dwelling of so much hereditary misfortune, and under the eye of yonder
portrait of a model conservative, who, in that very character, rendered
himself so long the evil destiny of his race."
"That picture!" said Clifford, seeming to shrink from its stern glance.
"Whenever I look at it, there is an old dreamy recollection haunting
me, but keeping just beyond the grasp of my mind. Wealth, it seems to
say!--boundless wealth!--unimaginable wealth! I could fancy that, when
I was a child, or a youth, that portrait had spoken, and told me a rich
secret, or had held forth its hand, with the written record of hidden
opulence. But those old matters are so dim with me, nowadays! What
could this dream have been?"
"Perhaps I can recall it," answered Holgrave. "See! There are a
hundred chances to one that no person, unacquainted with the secret,
would ever touch this spring."
"A secret spring!" cried Clifford. "Ah, I remember now! I did discover
it, one summer afternoon, when I was idling and dreaming about the
house, long, long ago. But the mystery escapes me."