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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XX - THE FLOWER OF EDEN
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The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XX - THE FLOWER OF EDEN Post by :Nevidia Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :2370

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The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XX - THE FLOWER OF EDEN

PHOEBE, coming so suddenly from the sunny daylight, was altogether
bedimmed in such density of shadow as lurked in most of the
passages of the old house. She was not at first aware by whom
she had been admitted. Before her eyes had adapted themselves
to the obscurity, a hand grasped her own with a firm but gentle
and warm pressure, thus imparting a welcome which caused her heart
to leap and thrill with an indefinable shiver of enjoyment.
She felt herself drawn along, not towards the parlor, but into
a large and unoccupied apartment, which had formerly been the
grand reception-room of the Seven Gables. The sunshine came
freely into all the uncurtained windows of this room, and fell
upon the dusty floor; so that Phoebe now clearly saw--what,
indeed, had been no secret, after the encounter of a warm hand
with hers--that it was not Hepzibah nor Clifford, but Holgrave,
to whom she owed her reception. The subtile, intuitive
communication, or, rather, the vague and formless impression
of something to be told, had made her yield unresistingly to his
impulse. Without taking away her hand, she looked eagerly in his
face, not quick to forebode evil, but unavoidably conscious that
the state of the family had changed since her departure, and
therefore anxious for an explanation.

The artist looked paler than ordinary; there was a thoughtful and
severe contraction of his forehead, tracing a deep, vertical line
between the eyebrows. His smile, however, was full of genuine warmth,
and had in it a joy, by far the most vivid expression that Phoebe had
ever witnessed, shining out of the New England reserve with which
Holgrave habitually masked whatever lay near his heart. It was
the look wherewith a man, brooding alone over some fearful object,
in a dreary forest or illimitable desert, would recognize the
familiar aspect of his dearest friend, bringing up all the peaceful
ideas that belong to home, and the gentle current of every-day affairs.
And yet, as he felt the necessity of responding to her look of inquiry,
the smile disappeared.

"I ought not to rejoice that you have come, Phoebe," said he.
"We meet at a strange moment!"

"What has happened!" she exclaimed. "Why is the house so
deserted? Where are Hepzibah and Clifford?"

"Gone! I cannot imagine where they are!" answered Holgrave.
"We are alone in the house!"

"Hepzibah and Clifford gone?" cried Phoebe. "It is not possible!
And why have you brought me into this room, instead of the parlor?
Ah, something terrible has happened! I must run and see!"

"No, no, Phoebe!" said Holgrave holding her back. "It is as I
have told you. They are gone, and I know not whither. A terrible
event has, indeed happened, but not to them, nor, as I undoubtingly
believe, through any agency of theirs. If I read your character
rightly, Phoebe," he continued, fixing his eyes on hers with
stern anxiety, intermixed with tenderness, "gentle as you are,
and seeming to have your sphere among common things, you yet
possess remarkable strength. You have wonderful poise, and a
faculty which, when tested, will prove itself capable of dealing
with matters that fall far out of the ordinary rule."

"Oh, no, I am very weak!" replied Phoebe, trembling. "But tell
me what has happened!"

"You are strong!" persisted Holgrave. "You must be both strong
and wise; for I am all astray, and need your counsel. It may be
you can suggest the one right thing to do!"

"Tell me!--tell me!" said Phoebe, all in a tremble. "It oppresses,
--it terrifies me,--this mystery! Anything else I can bear!"

The artist hesitated. Notwithstanding what he had just said, and
most sincerely, in regard to the self-balancing power with which
Phoebe impressed him, it still seemed almost wicked to bring the
awful secret of yesterday to her knowledge. It was like dragging
a hideous shape of death into the cleanly and cheerful space
before a household fire, where it would present all the uglier
aspect, amid the decorousness of everything about it. Yet it
could not be concealed from her; she must needs know it.

"Phoebe," said he, "do you remember this?" He put into her hand
a daguerreotype; the same that he had shown her at their first
interview in the garden, and which so strikingly brought out the
hard and relentless traits of the original.

"What has this to do with Hepzibah and Clifford?" asked Phoebe, with
impatient surprise that Holgrave should so trifle with her at such a
moment." It is Judge Pyncheon! You have shown it to me before!"

"But here is the same face, taken within this half-hour" said the
artist, presenting her with another miniature. "I had just finished
it when I heard you at the door."

"This is death!" shuddered Phoebe, turning very pale. "Judge
Pyncheon dead!"

"Such as there represented," said Holgrave, "he sits in the next
room. The Judge is dead, and Clifford and Hepzibah have vanished!
I know no more. All beyond is conjecture. On returning to my solitary
chamber, last evening, I noticed no light, either in the parlor, or
Hepzibah's room, or Clifford's; no stir nor footstep about the house.
This morning, there was the same death-like quiet. From my window, I
overheard the testimony of a neighbor, that your relatives were seen
leaving the house in the midst of yesterday's storm. A rumor reached
me, too, of Judge Pyncheon being missed. A feeling which I cannot
describe--an indefinite sense of some catastrophe, or consummation
--impelled me to make my way into this part of the house, where I
discovered what you see. As a point of evidence that may be useful
to Clifford, and also as a memorial valuable to myself,--for, Phoebe,
there are hereditary reasons that connect me strangely with that
man's fate,--I used the means at my disposal to preserve this
pictorial record of Judge Pyncheon's death."

Even in her agitation, Phoebe could not help remarking the
calmness of Holgrave's demeanor. He appeared, it is true, to feel
the whole awfulness of the Judge's death, yet had received the
fact into his mind without any mixture of surprise, but as an
event preordained, happening inevitably, and so fitting itself
into past occurrences that it could almost have been prophesied.

"Why have you not thrown open the doors, and called in witnesses?"
inquired she with a painful shudder. "It is terrible to be here alone!"

"But Clifford!" suggested the artist. "Clifford and Hepzibah! We
must consider what is best to be done in their behalf. It is a
wretched fatality that they should have disappeared! Their flight
will throw the worst coloring over this event of which it is
susceptible. Yet how easy is the explanation, to those who know
them! Bewildered and terror-stricken by the similarity of this
death to a former one, which was attended with such disastrous
consequences to Clifford, they have had no idea but of removing
themselves from the scene. How miserably unfortunate! Had
Hepzibah but shrieked aloud,--had Clifford flung wide the door,
and proclaimed Judge Pyncheon's death,--it would have been,
however awful in itself, an event fruitful of good consequences
to them. As I view it, it would have gone far towards obliterating
the black stain on Clifford's character."

"And how" asked Phoebe, "could any good come from what is so very dreadful?"

"Because," said the artist, "if the matter can be fairly considered
and candidly interpreted, it must be evident that Judge Pyncheon
could not have come unfairly to his end. This mode of death had
been an idiosyncrasy with his family, for generations past; not often
occurring, indeed, but, when it does occur, usually attacking
individuals about the Judge's time of life, and generally in the
tension of some mental crisis, or, perhaps, in an access of wrath.
Old Maule's prophecy was probably founded on a knowledge of this
physical predisposition in the Pyncheon race. Now, there is a
minute and almost exact similarity in the appearances connected
with the death that occurred yesterday and those recorded of the
death of Clifford's uncle thirty years ago. It is true, there was
a certain arrangement of circumstances, unnecessary to be recounted,
which made it possible nay, as men look at these things, probable,
or even certain--that old Jaffrey Pyncheon came to a violent death,
and by Clifford's hands."

"Whence came those circumstances?" exclaimed Phoebe. "He being
innocent, as we know him to be!"

"They were arranged," said Holgrave,--"at least such has long
been my conviction,--they were arranged after the uncle's death,
and before it was made public, by the man who sits in yonder
parlor. His own death, so like that former one, yet attended by
none of those suspicious circumstances, seems the stroke of God
upon him, at once a punishment for his wickedness, and making
plain the innocence of Clifford, But this flight,--it distorts
everything! He may be in concealment, near at hand. Could we
but bring him back before the discovery of the Judge's death,
the evil might be rectified,"

"We must not hide this thing a moment longer!" said Phoebe.
"It is dreadful to keep it so closely in our hearts. Clifford is
innocent. God will make it manifest! Let us throw open the doors,
and call all the neighborhood to see the truth!"

"You are right, Phoebe," rejoined Holgrave. "Doubtless you are right."

Yet the artist did not feel the horror, which was proper to Phoebe's
sweet and order-loving character, at thus finding herself at issue
with society, and brought in contact with an event that transcended
ordinary rules. Neither was he in haste, like her, to betake himself
within the precincts of common life. On the contrary, he gathered
a wild enjoyment,--as it were, a flower of strange beauty, growing
in a desolate spot, and blossoming in the wind, --such a flower
of momentary happiness he gathered from his present position.
It separated Phoebe and himself from the world, and bound them
to each other, by their exclusive knowledge of Judge Pyncheon's
mysterious death, and the counsel which they were forced to hold
respecting it. The secret, so long as it should continue such,
kept them within the circle of a spell, a solitude in the midst
of men, a remoteness as entire as that of an island in mid-ocean;
once divulged, the ocean would flow betwixt them, standing on its
widely sundered shores. Meanwhile, all the circumstances of their
situation seemed to draw them together; they were like two children
who go hand in hand, pressing closely to one another's side, through
a shadow-haunted passage. The image of awful Death, which filled
the house, held them united by his stiffened grasp.

These influences hastened the development of emotions that
might not otherwise have flowered so. Possibly, indeed, it had
been Holgrave's purpose to let them die in their undeveloped
germs. "Why do we delay so?" asked Phoebe. "This secret takes
away my breath! Let us throw open the doors!"

"In all our lives there can never come another moment like this!"
said Holgrave. "Phoebe, is it all terror?--nothing but terror?
Are you conscious of no joy, as I am, that has made this the only
point of life worth living for?"

"It seems a sin," replied Phoebe, trembling,"to think of joy at
such a time!"

"Could you but know, Phoebe, how it was with me the hour before
you came!" exclaimed the artist. "A dark, cold, miserable hour!
The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over
everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could
reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than
the guilt. The sense of it took away my youth. I never hoped
to feel young again! The world looked strange, wild, evil,
hostile; my past life, so lonesome and dreary; my future,
a shapeless gloom, which I must mould into gloomy shapes!
But, Phoebe, you crossed the threshold; and hope, warmth,
and joy came in with you! The black moment became at once
a blissful one. It must not pass without the spoken word.
I love you!"

"How can you love a simple girl like me?" asked Phoebe,
compelled by his earnestness to speak. "You have many, many
thoughts, with which I should try in vain to sympathize. And I,
--I, too,--I have tendencies with which you would sympathize as
little. That is less matter. But I have not scope enough to
make you happy."

"You are my only possibility of happiness!" answered Holgrave.
"I have no faith in it, except as you bestow it on me!"

"And then--I am afraid!" continued Phoebe, shrinking towards
Holgrave, even while she told him so frankly the doubts with
which he affected her. "You will lead me out of my own quiet
path. You will make me strive to follow you where it is pathless.
I cannot do so. It is not my nature. I shall sink down and perish!"

"Ah, Phoebe!" exclaimed Holgrave, with almost a sigh, and a smile
that was burdened with thought.

"It will be far otherwise than as you forebode. The world owes
all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man
inevitably confines himself within ancient limits. I have a
presentiment that, hereafter, it will be my lot to set out trees,
to make fences,--perhaps, even, in due time, to build a house for
another generation,--in a word, to conform myself to laws and the
peaceful practice of society. Your poise will be more powerful
than any oscillating tendency of mine."

"I would not have it so!" said Phoebe earnestly.

"Do you love me?" asked Holgrave. "If we love one another,
the moment has room for nothing more. Let us pause upon it,
and be satisfied. Do you love me, Phoebe?"

"You look into my heart," said she, letting her eyes drop.
"You know I love you!"

And it was in this hour, so full of doubt and awe, that the one
miracle was wrought, without which every human existence is a
blank. The bliss which makes all things true, beautiful, and holy
shone around this youth and maiden. They were conscious of nothing
sad nor old. They transfigured the earth, and made it Eden again,
and themselves the two first dwellers in it. The dead man, so close
beside them, was forgotten. At such a crisis, there is no death;
for immortality is revealed anew, and embraces everything in its
hallowed atmosphere.

But how soon the heavy earth-dream settled down again!

"Hark!" whispered Phoebe. "Somebody is at the street door!"

"Now let us meet the world!" said Holgrave. "No doubt, the rumor
of Judge Pyncheon's visit to this house, and the flight of Hepzibah
and Clifford, is about to lead to the investigation of the premises.
We have no way but to meet it. Let us open the door at once."

But, to their surprise, before they could reach the street
door,--even before they quitted the room in which the foregoing
interview had passed,--they heard footsteps in the farther passage.
The door, therefore, which they supposed to be securely locked,
--which Holgrave, indeed, had seen to be so, and at which Phoebe
had vainly tried to enter,--must have been opened from without.
The sound of footsteps was not harsh, bold, decided, and intrusive,
as the gait of strangers would naturally be, making authoritative
entrance into a dwelling where they knew themselves unwelcome.
It was feeble, as of persons either weak or weary; there was the
mingled murmur of two voices, familiar to both the listeners.

"Can it be?" whispered Holgrave.

"It is they!" answered Phoebe. "Thank God!--thank God!"

And then, as if in sympathy with Phoebe's whispered ejaculation,
they heard Hepzibah's voice more distinctly.

"Thank God, my brother, we are at home!"

"Well!--Yes!--thank God!" responded Clifford. "A dreary home,
Hepzibah! But you have done well to bring me hither! Stay! That
parlor door is open. I cannot pass by it! Let me go and rest me
in the arbor, where I used,--oh, very long ago, it seems to me,
after what has befallen us,--where I used to be so happy with
little Phoebe!"

But the house was not altogether so dreary as Clifford imagined
it. They had not made many steps,--in truth, they were lingering
in the entry, with the listlessness of an accomplished purpose,
uncertain what to do next,--when Phoebe ran to meet them. On beholding
her, Hepzibah burst into tears. With all her might, she had staggered
onward beneath the burden of grief and responsibility, until now
that it was safe to fling it down. Indeed, she had not energy to
fling it down, but had ceased to uphold it, and suffered it to
press her to the earth. Clifford appeared the stronger of the two.

"It is our own little Phoebe!--Ah! and Holgrave with, her"
exclaimed he, with a glance of keen and delicate insight, and a
smile, beautiful, kind, but melancholy. "I thought of you both,
as we came down the street, and beheld Alice's Posies in full bloom.
And so the flower of Eden has bloomed, likewise, in this old,
darksome house to-day."

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