"My dearest cousin, cannot you tell me what has happened?" asked

Phoebe, with a sunny and tearful sympathy. "What is it that moves you

so?"

"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

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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

extinguished.