A remarkable train ride...You
can read the entire chapter below to see the quotation in
lines are spoken by the elderly character Clifford who lives
with his sister Hepzibah in the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts.
Clifford has been released from prison for a murder he did
not commit. His cousin, the judge responsible for his imprisonment,
has died mysteriously within the house.
Clifford and Hepzibah
panic and board an outbound train.
of Two Owls
as it was, the east wind set poor Hepzibah's few remaining
teeth chattering in her head, as she and Clifford faced
it, on their way up Pyncheon Street, and towards the centre
of the town. Not merely was it the shiver which this pitiless
blast brought to her frame (although her feet and hands,
especially, had never seemed so death-a-cold as now), but
there was a moral sensation, mingling itself with the physical
chill, and causing her to shake more in spirit than in body.
The world's broad, bleak atmosphere was all so comfortless!
Such, indeed, is the impression which it makes on every
new adventurer, even if he plunge into it while the warmest
tide of life is bubbling through his veins. What, then,
must it have been to Hepzibah and Clifford,--so time-stricken
as they were, yet so like children in their inexperience,--as
they left the doorstep, and passed from beneath the wide
shelter of the Pyncheon Elm! They were wandering all abroad,
on precisely such a pilgrimage as a child often meditates,
to the world's end, with perhaps a sixpence and a biscuit
in his pocket.
In Hepzibah's mind, there was the wretched
consciousness of being adrift. She had lost the faculty
of self-guidance; but, in view of the difficulties around
her, felt it hardly worth an effort to regain it, and was,
moreover, incapable of making one.
they proceeded on their strange expedition, she now and
then cast a look sidelong at Clifford, and could not but
observe that he was possessed and swayed by a powerful excitement.
It was this, indeed, that gave him the control which he
had at once, and so irresistibly, established over his movements.
It not a little resembled the exhilaration of wine. Or,
it might more fancifully be compared to a joyous piece of
music, played with wild vivacity, but upon a disordered
instrument. As the cracked jarring note might always be
heard, and as it jarred loudest amidst the loftiest exultation
of the melody, so was there a continual quake through Clifford,
causing him most to quiver while he wore a triumphant smile,
and seemed almost under a necessity to skip in his gait.
met few people abroad, even on passing from the retired
neighborhood of the House of the Seven Gables into what
was ordinarily the more thronged and busier portion of the
town. Glistening sidewalks, with little pools of rain, here
and there, along their unequal surface; umbrellas displayed
ostentatiously in the shop-windows, as if the life of trade
had concentrated itself in that one article; wet leaves
of the, horse-chestnut or elm-trees, torn off untimely by
the blast and scattered along the public way; an unsightly,
accumulation of mud in the middle of the street, which perversely
grew the more unclean for its long and laborious washing,--these
were the more definable points of a very sombre picture.
In the way of movement and human life, there was the hasty
rattle of a cab or coach, its driver protected by a waterproof
cap over his head and shoulders; the forlorn figure of an
old man, who seemed to have crept out of some subterranean
sewer, and was stooping along the kennel, and poking the
wet rubbish with a stick, in quest of rusty nails; a merchant
or two, at the door of the post-office, together with an
editor and a miscellaneous politician, awaiting a dilatory
mail; a few visages of retired sea-captains at the window
of an insurance office, looking out vacantly at the vacant
street, blaspheming at the weather, and fretting at the
dearth as well of public news as local gossip.
What a treasure-trove
to these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the
secret which Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with
them! But their two figures attracted hardly so much notice
as that of a young girl, who passed at the same instant,
and happened to raise her skirt a trifle too high above
Had it been a sunny and cheerful day, they could
hardly have gone through the streets without making themselves
obnoxious to remark. Now, probably, they were felt to be
in keeping with the dismal and bitter weather, and therefore
did not stand out in strong relief, as if the sun were shining
on them, but melted into the gray gloom and were forgotten
as soon as gone.
Hepzibah! Could she have understood this fact, it would
have brought her some little comfort; for, to all her other
troubles, --strange to say!--there was added the womanish
and old-maiden-like misery arising from a sense of unseemliness
in her attire. Thus, she was fain to shrink deeper into
herself, as it were, as if in the hope of making people
suppose that here was only a cloak and hood, threadbare
and woefully faded, taking an airing in the midst of the
storm, without any wearer!
they went on, the feeling of indistinctness and unreality
kept dimly hovering round about her, and so diffusing itself
into her system that one of her hands was hardly palpable
to the touch of the other. Any certainty would have been
preferable to this.
She whispered to herself, again and
again, "Am I awake?--Am I awake?" and sometimes exposed
her face to the chill spatter of the wind, for the sake
of its rude assurance that she was. Whether it was Clifford's
purpose, or only chance, had led them thither, they now
found themselves passing beneath the arched entrance of
a large structure of gray stone.
there was a spacious breadth, and an airy height from floor
to roof, now partially filled with smoke and steam, which
eddied voluminously upward and formed a mimic cloud-region
over their heads. A train of cars was just ready for a start;
the locomotive was fretting and fuming, like a steed impatient
for a headlong rush; and the bell rang out its hasty peal,
so well expressing the brief summons which life vouchsafes
to us in its hurried career.
Without question or delay,--with
the irresistible decision,if not rather to be called recklessness,
which had so strangely taken possession of him, and through
him of Hepzibah,--Clifford impelled her towards the cars,
and assisted her to enter. The signal was given; the engine
puffed forth its short, quick breaths; the train began its
movement; and, along with a hundred other passengers, these
two unwonted travellers sped onward like the wind.
last, therefore, and after so long estrangement from everything
that the world acted or enjoyed, they had been drawn into
the great current of human life, and were swept away with
it, as by the suction of fate itself.
haunted with the idea that not one of the past incidents,
inclusive of Judge Pyncheon's visit, could be real, the
recluse of the Seven Gables murmured in her brother's ear,--
Clifford! Is not this a dream?"
dream, Hepzibah!" repeated he, almost laughing in her face.
"On the contrary, I have never been awake before!"
looking from the window, they could see the world racing
past them. At one moment, they were rattling through a solitude;
the next, a village had grown up around them; a few breaths
more, and it had vanished, as if swallowed by an earthquake.
The spires of meeting-houses seemed set adrift from their
foundations; the broad-based hills glided away. Everything
was unfixed from its age-long rest, and moving at whirlwind
speed in a direction opposite to their own.
the car there was the usual interior life of the railroad,
offering little to the observation of other passengers,
but full of novelty for this pair of strangely enfranchised
prisoners. It was novelty enough, indeed, that there were
fifty human beings in close relation with them, under one
long and narrow roof, and drawn onward by the same mighty
influence that had taken their two selves into its grasp.
It seemed marvellous how all these people could remain so
quietly in their seats, while so much noisy strength was
at work in their behalf. Some, with tickets in their hats
(long travellers these, before whom lay a hundred miles
of railroad), had plunged into the English scenery and adventures
of pamphlet novels, and were keeping company with dukes
and earls. Others, whose briefer span forbade their devoting
themselves to studies so abstruse, beguiled the little tedium
of the way with penny-papers.
A party of girls, and one
young man, on opposite sides of the car, found huge amusement
in a game of ball. They tossed it to and fro, with peals
of laughter that might be measured by mile-lengths; for,
faster than the nimble ball could fly, the merry players
fled unconsciously along, leaving the trail of their mirth
afar behind, and ending their game under another sky than
had witnessed its commencement.
Boys, with apples, cakes,
candy, and rolls of variously tinctured lozenges,--merchandise
that reminded Hepzibah of her deserted shop,--appeared at
each momentary stopping-place, doing up their business in
a hurry, or breaking it short off, lest the market should
ravish them away with it.
New people continually entered.
Old acquaintances--for such they soon grew to be, in this
rapid current of affairs--continually departed. Here and
there, amid the rumble and the tumult, sat one asleep. Sleep;
sport; business; graver or lighter study; and the common
and inevitable movement onward! It was life itself!
naturally poignant sympathies were all aroused. He caught
the color of what was passing about him, and threw it back
more vividly than he received it, but mixed, nevertheless,
with a lurid and portentous hue. Hepzibah, on the other
hand, felt herself more apart from human kind than even
in the seclusion which she had just quitted.
are not happy, Hepzibah!" said Clifford apart, in a tone
of aproach. "You are thinking of that dismal old house,
and of Cousin, Jaffrey"--here came the quake through him,--"and
of Cousin Jaffrey sitting there, all by himself! Take my
advice, --follow my example,--and let such things slip aside.
Here we are, in the world, Hepzibah!--in the midst of life!--in
the throng of our fellow beings! Let you and I be happy!
As happy as that youth and those pretty girls, at their
game of ball!"
thought Hepzibah, bitterly conscious, at the word, of her
dull and heavy heart, with the frozen pain in it,--"happy.
He is mad already; and, if I could once feel myself broad
awake, I should go mad too!"
a fixed idea be madness, she was perhaps not remote from
it. Fast and far as they had rattled and clattered along
the iron track, they might just as well, as regarded Hepzibah's
mental images, have been passing up and down Pyncheon Street.
With miles and miles of varied scenery between, there was
no scene for her save the seven old gable-peaks, with their
moss, and the tuft of weeds in one of the angles, and the
shop-window, and a customer shaking the door, and compelling
the little bell to jingle fiercely, but without disturbing
Judge Pyncheon! This one old house was everywhere! It transported
its great, lumbering bulk with more than railroad speed,
and set itself phlegmatically down on whatever spot she
glanced at. The quality of Hepzibah's mind was too unmalleable
to take new impressions so readily as Clifford's. He had
a winged nature; she was rather of the vegetable kind, and
could hardly be kept long alive, if drawn up by the roots.
Thus it happened that the relation heretofore existing between
her brother and herself was changed. At home, she was his
guardian; here, Clifford had become hers, and seemed to
comprehend whatever belonged to their new position with
a singular rapidity of intelligence. He had been startled
into manhood and intellectual vigor; or, at least, into
a condition that resembled them, though it might be both
diseased and transitory.
conductor now applied for their tickets; and Clifford, who
had made himself the purse-bearer, put a bank-note into
his hand, as he had observed others do.
the lady and yourself?" asked the conductor. "And how far?"
far as that will carry us," said Clifford. "It is no great
matter. We are riding for pleasure merely."
choose a strange day for it, sir!" remarked a gimlet-eyed
old gentleman on the other side of the car, looking at Clifford
and his companion, as if curious to make them out." The
best chance of pleasure, in an easterly rain, I take it,
is in a man's own house, with a nice little fire in the
cannot precisely agree with you," said Clifford, courteously
bowing to the old gentleman, and at once taking up the clew
of conversation which the latter had proffered. "It had
just occurred to me, on the contrary, that this admirable
invention of the railroad --with the vast and inevitable
improvements to be looked for, both as to speed and convenience--is
destined to do away with those stale ideas of home and fireside,
and substitute something better."
the name of common-sense," asked the old gentleman rather
testily, "what can be better for a man than his own parlor
things have not the merit which many good people attribute
to them," replied Clifford. "They may be said, in few and
pithy words, to have ill served a poor purpose. My impression
is, that our wonderfully increased and still increasing
facilities of locomotion are destined to bring us around
again to the nomadic state. You are aware, my dear sir,--you
must have observed it in your own experience,--that all
human progress is in a circle; or, to use a more accurate
and beautiful figure, in an ascending spiral curve. While
we fancy ourselves going straight forward, and attaining,
at every step, an entirely new position of affairs, we do
actually return to something long ago tried and abandoned,
but which we now find etherealized, refined, and perfected
to its ideal. The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy
of the present and the future. To apply this truth to the
topic now under discussion. In the early epochs of our race,
men dwelt in temporary huts, of bowers of branches, as easily
constructed as a bird's-nest, and which they built,--if
it should be called building, when such sweet homes of a
summer solstice rather grew than were made with hands,--which
Nature, we will say, assisted them to rear where fruit abounded,
where fish and game were plentiful, or, most especially,
where the sense of beauty was to be gratified by a lovelier
shade than elsewhere, and a more exquisite arrangement of
lake, wood, and hill. This life possessed a charm which,
ever since man quitted it, has vanished from existence.
And it typified something better than itself. It had its
drawbacks; such as hunger and thirst, inclement weather,
hot sunshine, and weary and foot-blistering marches over
barren and ugly tracts, that lay between the sites desirable
for their fertility and beauty. But in our ascending spiral,
we escape all this. These railroads--could but the whistle
be made musical, and the rumble and the jar got rid of--are
positively the greatest blessing that the ages have wrought
out for us. They give us wings; they annihilate the toil
and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize travel! Transition
being so facile, what can be any man's inducement to tarry
in one spot? Why, therefore, should he build a more cumbrous
habitation than can readily be carried off with him? Why
should he make himself a prisoner for life in brick, and
stone, and old worm-eaten timber, when he may just as easily
dwell, in one sense, nowhere,--in a better sense, wherever
the fit and beautiful shall offer him a home?"
countenance glowed, as he divulged this theory; a youthful
character shone out from within, converting the wrinkles
and pallid duskiness of age into an almost transparent mask.
The merry girls let their ball drop upon the floor, and
gazed at him. They said to themselves, perhaps, that, before
his hair was gray and the crow's-feet tracked his temples,
this now decaying man must have stamped the impress of his
features on many a woman's heart. But, alas! no woman's
eye had seen his face while it was beautiful.
should scarcely call it an improved state of things," observed
Clifford's new acquaintance, "to live everywhere and nowhere!"
you not?" exclaimed Clifford, with singular energy. "It
is as clear to me as sunshine,--were there any in the sky,--that
the greatest possible stumbling-blocks in the path of human
happiness and improvement are these heaps of bricks and
stones, consolidated with mortar, or hewn timber, fastened
together with spike-nails, which men painfully contrive
for their own torment, and call them house and home! The
soul needs air; a wide sweep and frequent change of it.
Morbid influences, in a thousand-fold variety, gather about
hearths, and pollute the life of households. There is no
such unwholesome atmosphere as that of an old home, rendered
poisonous by one's defunct forefathers and relatives. I
speak of what I know. There is a certain house within my
familiar recollection,--one of those peaked-gable (there
are seven of them), projecting-storied edifices, such as
you occasionally see in our older towns,--a rusty, crazy,
creaky, dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and miserable old dungeon,
with an arched window over the porch, and a little shop-door
on one side, and a great, melancholy elm before it! Now,
sir, whenever my thoughts recur to this seven-gabled mansion
(the fact is so very curious that I must needs mention it),
immediately I have a vision or image of an elderly man,
of remarkably stern countenance, sitting in an oaken elbow-chair,
dead, stone-dead, with an ugly flow of blood upon his shirt-bosom!
Dead, but with open eyes! He taints the whole house, as
I remember it. I could never flourish there, nor be happy,
nor do nor enjoy what God meant me to do and enjoy."
face darkened, and seemed to contract, and shrivel itself
up, and wither into age.
sir" he repeated. "I could never draw cheerful breath there!"
should think not," said the old gentleman, eyeing Clifford
earnestly, and rather apprehensively. "I should conceive
not, sir, with that notion in your head!"
not," continued Clifford; "and it were a relief to me if
that house could be torn down, or burnt up, and so the earth
be rid of it, and grass be sown abundantly over its foundation.
Not that I should ever visit its site again! for, sir, the
farther I get away from it, the more does the joy, the lightsome
freshness, the heart-leap, the intellectual dance, the youth,
in short,--yes, my youth, my youth!--the more does it come
back to me. No longer ago than this morning, I was old.
I remember looking in the glass, and wondering at my own
gray hair, and the wrinkles, many and deep, right across
my brow, and the furrows down my cheeks, and the prodigious
trampling of crow's-feet about my temples! It was too soon!
I could not bear it! Age had no right to come! I had not
lived! But now do I look old? If so, my aspect belies me
strangely; for--a great weight being off my mind--I feel
in the very heyday of my youth, with the world and my best
days before me!"
trust you may find it so," said the old gentleman, who seemed
rather embarrassed, and desirous of avoiding the observation
which Clifford's wild talk drew on them both. "You have
my best wishes for it."
Heaven's sake, dear Clifford, be quiet!" whispered his sister.
"They think you mad."
quiet yourself, Hepzibah!" returned her brother. "No matter
what they think! I am not mad. For the first time in thirty
years my thoughts gush up and find words ready for them.
I must talk, and I will!"
turned again towards the old gentleman, and renewed the
my dear sir," said he, "it is my firm belief and hope that
these terms of roof and hearth-stone, which have so long
been held to embody something sacred, are soon to pass out
of men's daily use, and be forgotten. Just imagine, for
a moment, how much of human evil will crumble away, with
this one change! What we call real estate--the solid ground
to build a house on--is the broad foundation on which nearly
all the guilt of this world rests. A man will commit almost
any wrong,--he will heap up an immense pile of wickedness,
as hard as granite, and which will weigh as heavily upon
his soul, to eternal ages,--only to build a great, gloomy,
dark-chambered mansion, for himself to die in, and for his
posterity to be miserable in. He lays his own dead corpse
beneath the underpinning, as one may say, and hangs his
frowning picture on the wall, and, after thus converting
himself into an evil destiny, expects his remotest great-grandchildren
to be happy there. I do not speak wildly. I have just such
a house in my mind's eye!"
sir," said the old gentleman, getting anxious to drop the
subject, "you are not to blame for leaving it."
"Within the lifetime of the child already born," Clifford
went on, "all this will be done
away. The world is growing too ethereal and spiritual to
bear these enormities a great while longer. To me, though,
for a considerable period of time, I have lived chiefly
in retirement, and know less of such things than most men,--even
to me, the harbingers of a better era are unmistakable.
Mesmerism, now! Will that effect nothing, think you, towards
purging away the grossness out of human life?"
"All a humbug!" growled the old gentleman."
These rapping spirits, that little Phoebe told us of, the
other day," said Clifford,--"what are these but the messengers
of the spiritual world, knocking at the door of substance?
And it shall be flung wide open!"
"A humbug, again!" cried the old gentleman, growing more
and more testy at these glimpses of Clifford's metaphysics.
"I should like to rap with a good stick on the empty pates
of the dolts who circulate such nonsense!"
"Then there is electricity,--the demon, the angel, the
mighty physical power, the all-pervading intelligence!"
exclaimed Clifford. "Is that a humbug, too? Is it a fact--or
have I dreamt it--that, by means of electricity, the world
of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands
of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round
globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence!
Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but thought,
and no longer the substance which we deemed it!"
"If you mean the telegraph," said the old gentleman, glancing
his eye toward its wire, alongside the rail-track, "it is
an excellent thing,--that is, of course, if the speculators
in cotton and politics don't get possession of it. A great
thing, indeed, sir, particularly as regards the detection
of bank-robbers and murderers."
"I don't quite like it, in that point of view," replied
Clifford. "A bank-robber, and what you call a murderer,
likewise, has his rights, which men of enlightened humanity
and conscience should regard in so much the more liberal
spirit, because the bulk of society is prone to controvert
their existence. An almost spiritual medium, like the electric
telegraph, should be consecrated to high, deep, joyful,
and holy missions. Lovers, day by, day--hour by hour, if
so often moved to do it,--might send their heart-throbs
from Maine to Florida, with some such words as these `I
love you forever!' --`My heart runs over with love!'--`I
love you more than I can!'and, again, at the next message
'I have lived an hour longer,and love you twice as much!'
Or, when a good man has departed,his distant friend should
be conscious of an electric thrill,as from the world of
happy spirits, telling him 'Your dear friend is in bliss!'
Or, to an absent husband, should come tidings thus "An
immortal being, of whom you are the father, has this moment
come from God!' and immediately its little voice would seem
to have reached so far, and to be echoing in his heart.
But for these poor rogues, the bank-robbers,--who, after
all, are about as honest as nine people in ten, except that
they disregard certain formalities, and prefer to transact
business at midnight rather than 'Change-hours, --and for
these murderers, as you phrase it, who are often excusable
in the motives of their deed, and deserve to be ranked among
public benefactors, if we consider only its result,--for
unfortunate individuals like these, I really cannot applaud
the enlistment of an immaterial and miraculous power in
the universal world-hunt at their heels!"
can't, hey?" cried the old gentleman, with a hard look.
no!" answered Clifford. "It puts them too miserably at disadvantage.
For example, sir, in a dark, low, cross-beamed, panelled
room of an old house, let us suppose a dead man, sitting
in an arm-chair, with a blood-stain on his shirt-bosom,
--and let us add to our hypothesis another man, issuing
from the house, which he feels to be over-filled with the
dead man's presence,--and let us lastly imagine him fleeing,
Heaven knows whither, at the speed of a hurricane, by railroad!
Now, sir, if the fugutive alight in some distant town, and
find all the people babbling about that self-same dead man,
whom he has fled so far to avoid the sight and thought of,
will you not allow that his natural rights have been infringed?
He has been deprived of his city of refuge, and, in my humble
opinion, has suffered infinite wrong!"
are a strange man; sir" said the old gentleman, bringing
his gimlet-eye to a point on Clifford, as if determined
to bore right into him. "I can't see through you!"
I'll be bound you can't!" cried Clifford, laughing. "And
yet, my dear sir, I am as transparent as the water of Maule's
well! But come, Hepzibah! We have flown far enough for once.
Let us alight, as the birds do, and perch ourselves on the
nearest twig, and consult wither we shall fly next!"
then, as it happened, the train reached a solitary way-station.
Taking advantage of the brief pause, Clifford left the car,
and drew Hepzibah along with him. A moment afterwards, the
train--with all the life of its interior, amid which Clifford
had made himself so conspicuous an object--was gliding away
in the distance, and rapidly lessening to a point which,
in another moment, vanished. The world had fled away from
these two wanderers. They gazed drearily about them. At
a little distance stood a wooden church, black with age,
and in a dismal state of ruin and decay, with broken windows,
a great rift through the main body of the edifice, and a
rafter dangling from the top of the square tower. Farther
off was a farm-house, in the old style, as venerably black
as the church, with a roof sloping downward from the three-story
peak, to within a man's height of the ground. It seemed
uninhabited. There were the relics of a wood-pile, indeed,
near the door, but with grass sprouting up among the chips
and scattered logs. The small rain-drops came down aslant;
the wind was not turbulent, but sullen, and full of chilly
shivered from head to foot. The wild effervescence of his
mood--which had so readily supplied thoughts, fantasies,
and a strange aptitude of words, and impelled him to talk
from the mere necessity of giving vent to this bubbling-up
gush of ideas had entirely subsided. A powerful excitement
had given him energy and vivacity. Its operation over, he
forthwith began to sink.
must take the lead now, Hepzibah!" murmured he, with a torpid
and reluctant utterance. "Do with me as you will!" She knelt
down upon the platform where they were standing and lifted
her clasped hands to the sky. The dull, gray weight of clouds
made it invisible; but it was no hour for disbelief,--no
juncture this to question that there was a sky above, and
an Almighty Father looking from it!
God!"--ejaculated poor, gaunt Hepzibah,--then paused a moment,
to consider what her prayer should be,--"O God,--our Father,
--are we not thy children? Have mercy on us!"