"My dearest cousin, cannot you tell me what has happened?" asked
Phoebe, with a sunny and tearful sympathy. "What is it that moves you
"Hush! hush! He is coming!" whispered Hepzibah, hastily wiping her
eyes. "Let him see you first, Phoebe; for you are young and rosy, and
cannot help letting a smile break out whether or no. He always liked
bright faces! And mine is old now, and the tears are hardly dry on it.
He never could abide tears. There; draw the curtain a little, so that
the shadow may fall across his side of the table! But let there be a
good deal of sunshine, too; for he never was fond of gloom, as some
people are. He has had but little sunshine in his life,--poor
Clifford,--and, oh, what a black shadow. Poor, poor Clifford!"
Thus murmuring in an undertone, as if speaking rather to her own heart
than to Phoebe, the old gentlewoman stepped on tiptoe about the room,
making such arrangements as suggested themselves at the crisis.
Meanwhile there was a step in the passage-way, above stairs. Phoebe
recognized it as the same which had passed upward, as through her
dream, in the night-time. The approaching guest, whoever it might be,
appeared to pause at the head of the staircase; he paused twice or
thrice in the descent; he paused again at the foot. Each time, the
delay seemed to be without purpose, but rather from a forgetfulness of
the purpose which had set him in motion, or as if the person's feet
came involuntarily to a stand-still because the motive-power was too
feeble to sustain his progress. Finally, he made a long pause at the
threshold of the parlor. He took hold of the knob of the door; then
loosened his grasp without opening it. Hepzibah, her hands
convulsively clasped, stood gazing at the entrance.
"Dear Cousin Hepzibah, pray don't look so!" said Phoebe, trembling; for
her cousin's emotion, and this mysteriously reluctant step, made her
feel as if a ghost were coming into the room. "You really frighten me!
Is something awful going to happen?"
"Hush!" whispered Hepzibah. "Be cheerful! whatever may happen, be
nothing but cheerful!"
The final pause at the threshold proved so long, that Hepzibah, unable
to endure the suspense, rushed forward, threw open the door, and led in
the stranger by the hand. At the first glance, Phoebe saw an elderly
personage, in an old-fashioned dressing-gown of faded damask, and
wearing his gray or almost white hair of an unusual length. It quite
overshadowed his forehead, except when he thrust it back, and stared
vaguely about the room. After a very brief inspection of his face, it
was easy to conceive that his footstep must necessarily be such an one
as that which, slowly and with as indefinite an aim as a child's first
journey across a floor, had just brought him hitherward. Yet there
were no tokens that his physical strength might not have sufficed for a
free and determined gait. It was the spirit of the man that could not
walk. The expression of his countenance--while, notwithstanding it had
the light of reason in it--seemed to waver, and glimmer, and nearly to
die away, and feebly to recover itself again. It was like a flame
which we see twinkling among half-extinguished embers; we gaze at it
more intently than if it were a positive blaze, gushing vividly
upward,--more intently, but with a certain impatience, as if it ought
either to kindle itself into satisfactory splendor, or be at once