It being her first day of complete estrangement from rural objects,

Phoebe found an unexpected charm in this little nook of grass, and

foliage, and aristocratic flowers, and plebeian vegetables. The eye of

Heaven seemed to look down into it pleasantly, and with a peculiar

smile, as if glad to perceive that nature, elsewhere overwhelmed, and

driven out of the dusty town, had here been able to retain a

breathing-place. The spot acquired a somewhat wilder grace, and yet a

very gentle one, from the fact that a pair of robins had built their

nest in the pear-tree, and were making themselves exceedingly busy and

happy in the dark intricacy of its boughs. Bees, too,--strange to

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say,--had thought it worth their while to come hither, possibly from

the range of hives beside some farm-house miles away. How many aerial

voyages might they have made, in quest of honey, or honey-laden,

betwixt dawn and sunset! Yet, late as it now was, there still arose a

pleasant hum out of one or two of the squash-blossoms, in the depths of

which these bees were plying their golden labor. There was one other

object in the garden which Nature might fairly claim as her inalienable

property, in spite of whatever man could do to render it his own. This

was a fountain, set round with a rim of old mossy stones, and paved, in

its bed, with what appeared to be a sort of mosaic-work of variously

colored pebbles. The play and slight agitation of the water, in its

upward gush, wrought magically with these variegated pebbles, and made

a continually shifting apparition of quaint figures, vanishing too

suddenly to be definable. Thence, swelling over the rim of moss-grown

stones, the water stole away under the fence, through what we regret to

call a gutter, rather than a channel. Nor must we forget to mention a

hen-coop of very reverend antiquity that stood in the farther corner of

the garden, not a great way from the fountain. It now contained only

Chanticleer, his two wives, and a solitary chicken. All of them were

pure specimens of a breed which had been transmitted down as an

heirloom in the Pyncheon family, and were said, while in their prime,

to have attained almost the size of turkeys, and, on the score of

delicate flesh, to be fit for a prince's table. In proof of the

authenticity of this legendary renown, Hepzibah could have exhibited

the shell of a great egg, which an ostrich need hardly have been

ashamed of. Be that as it might, the hens were now scarcely larger

than pigeons, and had a queer, rusty, withered aspect, and a gouty kind

of movement, and a sleepy and melancholy tone throughout all the

variations of their clucking and cackling. It was evident that the

race had degenerated, like many a noble race besides, in consequence of

too strict a watchfulness to keep it pure. These feathered people had

existed too long in their distinct variety; a fact of which the present

representatives, judging by their lugubrious deportment, seemed to be

aware. They kept themselves alive, unquestionably, and laid now and

then an egg, and hatched a chicken; not for any pleasure of their own,

but that the world might not absolutely lose what had once been so

admirable a breed of fowls. The distinguishing mark of the hens was a

crest of lamentably scanty growth, in these latter days, but so oddly

and wickedly analogous to Hepzibah's turban, that Phoebe--to the

poignant distress of her conscience, but inevitably--was led to fancy a

general resemblance betwixt these forlorn bipeds and her respectable

relative.