Excerpts from Chapter 20, "The Flowers of Eden," of The House of the Seven
Gables, which focus on Phoebe
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 subtle, 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.
"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 burthened with thought. "It will be far otherwise than as you forbode.
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. (Chapter