She set the lighted lamp in the passage, and again entered the parlor.
Hepzibah's form, though its sable outline mingled with the dusk, was
now less imperfectly visible. In the remoter parts of the room,
however, its walls being so ill adapted to reflect light, there was
nearly the same obscurity as before.
"Cousin," said Phoebe, "did you speak to me just now?"
"No, child!" replied Hepzibah.
Fewer words than before, but with the same mysterious music in them!
Mellow, melancholy, yet not mournful, the tone seemed to gush up out of
the deep well of Hepzibah's heart, all steeped in its profoundest
emotion. There was a tremor in it, too, that--as all strong feeling is
electric--partly communicated itself to Phoebe. The girl sat silently
for a moment. But soon, her senses being very acute, she became
conscious of an irregular respiration in an obscure corner of the room.
Her physical organization, moreover, being at once delicate and
healthy, gave her a perception, operating with almost the effect of a
spiritual medium, that somebody was near at hand.
"My dear cousin," asked she, overcoming an indefinable reluctance, "is
there not some one in the room with us?"
"Phoebe, my dear little girl," said Hepzibah, after a moment's pause,
"you were up betimes, and have been busy all day. Pray go to bed; for
I am sure you must need rest. I will sit in the parlor awhile, and
collect my thoughts. It has been my custom for more years, child, than
you have lived!" While thus dismissing her, the maiden lady stept
forward, kissed Phoebe, and pressed her to her heart, which beat
against the girl's bosom with a strong, high, and tumultuous swell.
How came there to be so much love in this desolate old heart, that it
could afford to well over thus abundantly?
"Goodnight, cousin," said Phoebe, strangely affected by Hepzibah's
manner. "If you begin to love me, I am glad!"
She retired to her chamber, but did not soon fall asleep, nor then very
profoundly. At some uncertain period in the depths of night, and, as
it were, through the thin veil of a dream, she was conscious of a
footstep mounting the stairs heavily, but not with force and decision.
The voice of Hepzibah, with a hush through it, was going up along with
the footsteps; and, again, responsive to her cousin's voice, Phoebe
heard that strange, vague murmur, which might be likened to an
indistinct shadow of human utterance.