Hepzibah troubled her auditor, moreover, by innumerable

sins of emphasis, which he seemed to detect, without any reference to

the meaning; nor, in fact, did he appear to take much note of the sense

of what she read, but evidently felt the tedium of the lecture, without

harvesting its profit. His sister's voice, too, naturally harsh, had,

in the course of her sorrowful lifetime, contracted a kind of croak,

which, when it once gets into the human throat, is as ineradicable as

sin. In both sexes, occasionally, this lifelong croak, accompanying

each word of joy or sorrow, is one of the symptoms of a settled

melancholy; and wherever it occurs, the whole history of misfortune is

Advertisement..

conveyed in its slightest accent. The effect is as if the voice had

been dyed black; or,--if we must use a more moderate simile,--this

miserable croak, running through all the variations of the voice, is

like a black silken thread, on which the crystal beads of speech are

strung, and whence they take their hue. Such voices have put on

mourning for dead hopes; and they ought to die and be buried along with

them!

Discerning that Clifford was not gladdened by her efforts, Hepzibah

searched about the house for the means of more exhilarating pastime.

At one time, her eyes chanced to rest on Alice Pyncheon's harpsichord.

It was a moment of great peril; for,--despite the traditionary awe that

had gathered over this instrument of music, and the dirges which

spiritual fingers were said to play on it,--the devoted sister had

solemn thoughts of thrumming on its chords for Clifford's benefit, and

accompanying the performance with her voice. Poor Clifford! Poor

Hepzibah! Poor harpsichord! All three would have been miserable

together. By some good agency,--possibly, by the unrecognized

interposition of the long-buried Alice herself,--the threatening

calamity was averted.

But the worst of all--the hardest stroke of fate for Hepzibah to

endure, and perhaps for Clifford, too was his invincible distaste for

her appearance. Her features, never the most agreeable, and now harsh

with age and grief, and resentment against the world for his sake; her

dress, and especially her turban; the queer and quaint manners, which

had unconsciously grown upon her in solitude,--such being the poor

gentlewoman's outward characteristics, it is no great marvel, although

the mournfullest of pities, that the instinctive lover of the Beautiful

was fain to turn away his eyes. There was no help for it. It would be

the latest impulse to die within him. In his last extremity, the

expiring breath stealing faintly through Clifford's lips, he would

doubtless press Hepzibah's hand, in fervent recognition of all her

lavished love, and close his eyes,--but not so much to die, as to be

constrained to look no longer on her face! Poor Hepzibah! She took

counsel with herself what might be done, and thought of putting ribbons

on her turban; but, by the instant rush of several guardian angels, was

withheld from an experiment that could hardly have proved less than

fatal to the beloved object of her anxiety.