Excerpts from Chapter 15, "The Scowl and the Smile,"
Excerpts from Chapter 15, "The Scowl and the Smile," of The House of the
Seven Gables which focus on Hepzibah.
As for Hepzibah, she seemed not merely possessed with the east wind, but
to be, in her very person, only another phase of this gray and sullen spell
of weather; the east wind itself, grim and disconsolate, in a rusty black
silk gown, and with a turban of cloud-wreaths on its head. The custom of
the shop fell off, because a story got abroad that she soured her small
beer and other damageable commodities, by scowling on them. It is, perhaps,
true that the public had something reasonably to complain of in her deportment;
but towards Clifford she was neither ill-tempered nor unkind, nor felt
less warmth of heart than always, had it been possible to make it reach
him. The inutility of her best efforts, however, palsied the poor old gentlewoman.
She could do little else than sit silently in a corner of the room, when
the wet pear-tree branches, sweeping across the small windows, created
a noon-day dusk, which Hepzibah unconsciously darkened with her woe-begone
aspect. It was no fault of Hepzibah's. Everything--even the old chairs
and tables, that had known what weather was for three or four such lifetimes
as her own--looked as damp and chill as if the present were their worst
experience. The picture of the Puritan colonel shivered on the wall. The
house itself shivered from every attic of its seven gables, down to the
great kitchen fireplace, which served all the better as an emblem of the
mansion's heart, because, though built for warmth, it was now so comfortless
Hepzibah attempted to enliven matters by a fire in the parlor. But the
storm-demon kept watch above, and, whenever a flame was kindled, drove
the smoke back again, choking the chimney's sooty throat with its own breath.
Nevertheless, during four days of this miserable storm, Clifford wrapt
himself in an old cloak, and occupied his customary chair. On the morning
of the fifth, when summoned to breakfast, he responded only by a broken-hearted
murmur, expressive of a determination not to leave his bed. His sister
made no attempt to change his purpose. In fact, entirely as she loved him,
Hepzibah could hardly have borne any longer the wretched duty--so impracticable
by her few and rigid faculties--of seeking pastime for a still sensitive,
but ruined mind, critical and fastidious, without force or volition. It
was, at least, something short of positive despair, that, to-day, she might
sit shivering alone, and not suffer continually a new grief, and unreasonable
pang of remorse, at every fitful sigh of her fellow-sufferer.
"In the name of Heaven," cried Hepzibah, provoked only to intenser indignation
by this out-gush of the inestimable tenderness of a stern nature,--"in
God's name, whom you insult, and whose power I could almost question, since
he hears you utter so many false words, without palsying your tongue,--give
over, I beseech you, this loathsome pretence of affection for your victim!
You hate him! Say so, like a man! You cherish, at this moment, some black
purpose against him, in your heart! Speak it out, at once!--or, if you
hope so to promote it better, hide it till you can triumph in its success!
But never speak again of your love for my poor brother! I cannot bear it!
It will drive me beyond a woman's decency! It will drive me mad! Forbear!
Not another word! It will make me spurn you!"
For once, Hepzibah's wrath had given her courage. She had spoken. But,
after all, was this unconquerable distrust of Judge Pyncheon's integrity,
and this utter denial, apparently, of his claim to stand in the ring of
human sympathies,--were they founded in any just perception of his character,
or merely the offspring of a woman's unreasonable prejudice, deduced from