Hepzibah, whenever she happened to witness one of these fits of

miniature enthusiasm, would shake her head, with a strange mingling of

the mother and sister, and of pleasure and sadness, in her aspect. She

said that it had always been thus with Clifford when the humming-birds

came,--always, from his babyhood,--and that his delight in them had

been one of the earliest tokens by which he showed his love for

beautiful things. And it was a wonderful coincidence, the good lady

thought, that the artist should have planted these scarlet-flowering

beans--which the humming-birds sought far and wide, and which had not

grown in the Pyncheon garden before for forty years--on the very summer

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of Clifford's return.

Then would the tears stand in poor Hepzibah's eyes, or overflow them

with a too abundant gush, so that she was fain to betake herself into

some corner, lest Clifford should espy her agitation. Indeed, all the

enjoyments of this period were provocative of tears. Coming so late as

it did, it was a kind of Indian summer, with a mist in its balmiest

sunshine, and decay and death in its gaudiest delight. The more

Clifford seemed to taste the happiness of a child, the sadder was the

difference to be recognized. With a mysterious and terrible Past,

which had annihilated his memory, and a blank Future before him, he had

only this visionary and impalpable Now, which, if you once look closely

at it, is nothing. He himself, as was perceptible by many symptoms,

lay darkly behind his pleasure, and knew it to be a baby-play, which he

was to toy and trifle with, instead of thoroughly believing. Clifford

saw, it may be, in the mirror of his deeper consciousness, that he was

an example and representative of that great class of people whom an

inexplicable Providence is continually putting at cross-purposes with

the world: breaking what seems its own promise in their nature;

withholding their proper food, and setting poison before them for a

banquet; and thus--when it might so easily, as one would think, have

been adjusted otherwise--making their existence a strangeness, a

solitude, and torment. All his life long, he had been learning how to

be wretched, as one learns a foreign tongue; and now, with the lesson

thoroughly by heart, he could with difficulty comprehend his little

airy happiness. Frequently there was a dim shadow of doubt in his

eyes. "Take my hand, Phoebe," he would say, "and pinch it hard with

your little fingers! Give me a rose, that I may press its thorns, and

prove myself awake by the sharp touch of pain!" Evidently, he desired

this prick of a trifling anguish, in order to assure himself, by that

quality which he best knew to be real, that the garden, and the seven

weather-beaten gables, and Hepzibah's scowl, and Phoebe's smile, were

real likewise. Without this signet in his flesh, he could have

attributed no more substance to them than to the empty confusion of

imaginary scenes with which he had fed his spirit, until even that poor

sustenance was exhausted.