And how did Phoebe regard Clifford? The girl's was not one of those

natures which are most attracted by what is strange and exceptional in

human character. The path which would best have suited her was the

well-worn track of ordinary life; the companions in whom she would most

have delighted were such as one encounters at every turn. The mystery

which enveloped Clifford, so far as it affected her at all, was an

annoyance, rather than the piquant charm which many women might have

found in it. Still, her native kindliness was brought strongly into

play, not by what was darkly picturesque in his situation, nor so much,

even, by the finer graces of his character, as by the simple appeal of

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a heart so forlorn as his to one so full of genuine sympathy as hers.

She gave him an affectionate regard, because he needed so much love,

and seemed to have received so little. With a ready tact, the result

of ever-active and wholesome sensibility, she discerned what was good

for him, and did it. Whatever was morbid in his mind and experience

she ignored; and thereby kept their intercourse healthy, by the

incautious, but, as it were, heaven-directed freedom of her whole

conduct. The sick in mind, and, perhaps, in body, are rendered more

darkly and hopelessly so by the manifold reflection of their disease,

mirrored back from all quarters in the deportment of those about them;

they are compelled to inhale the poison of their own breath, in

infinite repetition. But Phoebe afforded her poor patient a supply of

purer air. She impregnated it, too, not with a wild-flower scent,--for

wildness was no trait of hers,--but with the perfume of garden-roses,

pinks, and other blossoms of much sweetness, which nature and man have

consented together in making grow from summer to summer, and from

century to century. Such a flower was Phoebe in her relation with

Clifford, and such the delight that he inhaled from her.

Yet, it must be said, her petals sometimes drooped a little, in

consequence of the heavy atmosphere about her. She grew more

thoughtful than heretofore. Looking aside at Clifford's face, and

seeing the dim, unsatisfactory elegance and the intellect almost

quenched, she would try to inquire what had been his life. Was he

always thus? Had this veil been over him from his birth?--this veil,

under which far more of his spirit was hidden than revealed, and

through which he so imperfectly discerned the actual world,--or was its

gray texture woven of some dark calamity? Phoebe loved no riddles, and

would have been glad to escape the perplexity of this one.

Nevertheless, there was so far a good result of her meditations on

Clifford's character, that, when her involuntary conjectures, together

with the tendency of every strange circumstance to tell its own story,

had gradually taught her the fact, it had no terrible effect upon her.

Let the world have done him what vast wrong it might, she knew Cousin

Clifford too well--or fancied so--ever to shudder at the touch of his

thin, delicate fingers.