So this oddly composed little social party used to assemble under the
ruinous arbor. Hepzibah--stately as ever at heart, and yielding not an
inch of her old gentility, but resting upon it so much the more, as
justifying a princess-like condescension--exhibited a not ungraceful
hospitality. She talked kindly to the vagrant artist, and took sage
counsel--lady as she was--with the wood-sawyer, the messenger of
everybody's petty errands, the patched philosopher. And Uncle Venner,
who had studied the world at street-corners, and other posts equally
well adapted for just observation, was as ready to give out his wisdom
as a town-pump to give water.
"Miss Hepzibah, ma'am," said he once, after they had all been cheerful
together, "I really enjoy these quiet little meetings of a Sabbath
afternoon. They are very much like what I expect to have after I
retire to my farm!"
"Uncle Venner" observed Clifford in a drowsy, inward tone, "is always
talking about his farm. But I have a better scheme for him, by and by.
We shall see!"
"Ah, Mr. Clifford Pyncheon!" said the man of patches, "you may scheme
for me as much as you please; but I'm not going to give up this one
scheme of my own, even if I never bring it really to pass. It does
seem to me that men make a wonderful mistake in trying to heap up
property upon property. If I had done so, I should feel as if
Providence was not bound to take care of me; and, at all events, the
city wouldn't be! I'm one of those people who think that infinity is
big enough for us all--and eternity long enough."
"Why, so they are, Uncle Venner," remarked Phoebe after a pause; for
she had been trying to fathom the profundity and appositeness of this
concluding apothegm. "But for this short life of ours, one would like
a house and a moderate garden-spot of one's own."
"It appears to me," said the daguerreotypist, smiling, "that Uncle
Venner has the principles of Fourier at the bottom of his wisdom; only
they have not quite so much distinctness in his mind as in that of the
"Come, Phoebe," said Hepzibah, "it is time to bring the currants."
And then, while the yellow richness of the declining sunshine still
fell into the open space of the garden, Phoebe brought out a loaf of
bread and a china bowl of currants, freshly gathered from the bushes,
and crushed with sugar. These, with water,--but not from the fountain
of ill omen, close at hand,--constituted all the entertainment.
Meanwhile, Holgrave took some pains to establish an intercourse with
Clifford, actuated, it might seem, entirely by an impulse of
kindliness, in order that the present hour might be cheerfuller than
most which the poor recluse had spent, or was destined yet to spend.
Nevertheless, in the artist's deep, thoughtful, all-observant eyes,
there was, now and then, an expression, not sinister, but questionable;
as if he had some other interest in the scene than a stranger, a
youthful and unconnected adventurer, might be supposed to have. With
great mobility of outward mood, however, he applied himself to the task
of enlivening the party; and with so much success, that even dark-hued
Hepzibah threw off one tint of melancholy, and made what shift she
could with the remaining portion. Phoebe said to herself,--"How
pleasant he can be!" As for Uncle Venner, as a mark of friendship and
approbation, he readily consented to afford the young man his
countenance in the way of his profession,--not metaphorically, be it
understood, but literally, by allowing a daguerreotype of his face, so
familiar to the town, to be exhibited at the entrance of Holgrave's