For years, Hepzibah has looked forward to her present situation—of being able to care for her beloved brother Clifford, to whom she has remained unfalteringly faithful. She does everything she can think of to try to make him feel comfortable. She finds some volumes of fiction and poetry, but these don’t appeal to Clifford, and Hepzibah’s croaking efforts to read aloud don’t help. In fact, Hepzibah’s aged appearance and awkward manners inevitably distress the tasteful Clifford, and he averts his eyes from her.
In spite of her deep love for Clifford, Hepzibah struggles to connect with her brother after such a lengthy estrangement, showing that the effects of time are difficult to surmount—and that there are many sorrowful consequences of an imprisonment besides the jailtime itself.
Hepzibah turns to Phoebe, who quickly establishes herself as indispensable to both Clifford and Hepzibah. The house itself becomes brighter and more cheerful with her presence there, and her youthful wholesomeness softens Hepzibah’s anxieties and Clifford’s mournfulness. Phoebe’s presence becomes especially important to Clifford, who becomes restless in her absence but is content when she sits by him, or even when he hears her singing throughout the house.
Clifford grows youthful as he spends more time with Phoebe—Phoebe’s beauty and solidity draw him back into the world, creating a home around her and assuring Clifford that reality isn’t a delusion. She is a symbol of all the things Clifford has missed out on in his life. Phoebe, for her part, simply perceives that Clifford needs care and affection, and she freely gives these things. The House’s atmosphere nevertheless takes a toll on Phoebe, making her more pensive as she wonders about Clifford’s past. She and Hepzibah continue to take turns watching over Clifford and minding the shop.
Phoebe’s company doesn’t just comfort Clifford—he actually seems to grow younger because of her presence. This is not simply because Phoebe is young, but because her innocence helps anchor Clifford in concrete reality. However, the House cannot restore what Phoebe gives away—she doesn’t know the full story about Clifford, and the mood of the House casts a shadow over her, too.