Of course, it was exceedingly ridiculous in Phoebe to be discomposed by
such a trifle, and still more unpardonable to show her discomposure to
the individual most concerned in it. But the incident chimed in so
oddly with her previous fancies about the Colonel and the Judge, that,
for the moment, it seemed quite to mingle their identity.
"What is the matter with you, young woman?" said Judge Pyncheon, giving
her one of his harsh looks. "Are you afraid of anything?"
"Oh, nothing, sir--nothing in the world!" answered Phoebe, with a
little laugh of vexation at herself. "But perhaps you wish to speak
with my cousin Hepzibah. Shall I call her?"
"Stay a moment, if you please," said the Judge, again beaming sunshine
out of his face. "You seem to be a little nervous this morning. The
town air, Cousin Phoebe, does not agree with your good, wholesome
country habits. Or has anything happened to disturb you?--anything
remarkable in Cousin Hepzibah's family?-- An arrival, eh? I thought
so! No wonder you are out of sorts, my little cousin. To be an inmate
with such a guest may well startle an innocent young girl!"
"You quite puzzle me, sir," replied Phoebe, gazing inquiringly at the
Judge. "There is no frightful guest in the house, but only a poor,
gentle, childlike man, whom I believe to be Cousin Hepzibah's brother.
I am afraid (but you, sir, will know better than I) that he is not
quite in his sound senses; but so mild and quiet he seems to be, that a
mother might trust her baby with him; and I think he would play with
the baby as if he were only a few years older than itself. He startle
me!--Oh, no indeed!"
"I rejoice to hear so favorable and so ingenuous an account of my
cousin Clifford," said the benevolent Judge. "Many years ago, when we
were boys and young men together, I had a great affection for him, and
still feel a tender interest in all his concerns. You say, Cousin
Phoebe, he appears to be weak minded. Heaven grant him at least enough
of intellect to repent of his past sins!"
"Nobody, I fancy," observed Phoebe, "can have fewer to repent of."
"And is it possible, my dear," rejoined the Judge, with a commiserating
look, "that you have never heard of Clifford Pyncheon?--that you know
nothing of his history? Well, it is all right; and your mother has
shown a very proper regard for the good name of the family with which
she connected herself. Believe the best you can of this unfortunate
person, and hope the best! It is a rule which Christians should always
follow, in their judgments of one another; and especially is it right
and wise among near relatives, whose characters have necessarily a
degree of mutual dependence. But is Clifford in the parlor? I will
just step in and see."