Hepzibah had now poured out a cup of deliciously fragrant coffee, and
presented it to her guest. As his eyes met hers, he seemed bewildered
"Is this you, Hepzibah?" he murmured sadly; then, more apart, and
perhaps unconscious that he was overheard, "How changed! how changed!
And is she angry with me? Why does she bend her brow so?"
Poor Hepzibah! It was that wretched scowl which time and her
near-sightedness, and the fret of inward discomfort, had rendered so
habitual that any vehemence of mood invariably evoked it. But at the
indistinct murmur of his words her whole face grew tender, and even
lovely, with sorrowful affection; the harshness of her features
disappeared, as it were, behind the warm and misty glow.
"Angry!" she repeated; "angry with you, Clifford!"
Her tone, as she uttered the exclamation, had a plaintive and really
exquisite melody thrilling through it, yet without subduing a certain
something which an obtuse auditor might still have mistaken for
asperity. It was as if some transcendent musician should draw a
soul-thrilling sweetness out of a cracked instrument, which makes its
physical imperfection heard in the midst of ethereal harmony,--so deep
was the sensibility that found an organ in Hepzibah's voice!
"There is nothing but love here, Clifford," she added,--"nothing but
love! You are at home!"
The guest responded to her tone by a smile, which did not half light up
his face. Feeble as it was, however, and gone in a moment, it had a
charm of wonderful beauty. It was followed by a coarser expression; or
one that had the effect of coarseness on the fine mould and outline of
his countenance, because there was nothing intellectual to temper it.
It was a look of appetite. He ate food with what might almost be
termed voracity; and seemed to forget himself, Hepzibah, the young
girl, and everything else around him, in the sensual enjoyment which
the bountifully spread table afforded. In his natural system, though
high-wrought and delicately refined, a sensibility to the delights of
the palate was probably inherent. It would have been kept in check,
however, and even converted into an accomplishment, and one of the
thousand modes of intellectual culture, had his more ethereal
characteristics retained their vigor. But as it existed now, the
effect was painful and made Phoebe droop her eyes.
In a little while the guest became sensible of the fragrance of the yet
untasted coffee. He quaffed it eagerly. The subtle essence acted on
him like a charmed draught, and caused the opaque substance of his
animal being to grow transparent, or, at least, translucent; so that a
spiritual gleam was transmitted through it, with a clearer lustre than
"More, more!" he cried, with nervous haste in his utterance, as if
anxious to retain his grasp of what sought to escape him. "This is
what I need! Give me more!"