"But do hear reason, Mrs. Gubbins!" responded the lady opposite. "She,
and her brother too, have both gone to their cousin's, Judge Pyncheon's
at his country-seat. There's not a soul in the house, but that young
daguerreotype-man that sleeps in the north gable. I saw old Hepzibah
and Clifford go away yesterday; and a queer couple of ducks they were,
paddling through the mud-puddles! They're gone, I'll assure you."
"And how do you know they're gone to the Judge's?" asked Mrs. Gubbins.
"He's a rich man; and there's been a quarrel between him and Hepzibah
this many a day, because he won't give her a living. That's the main
reason of her setting up a cent-shop."
"I know that well enough," said the neighbor. "But they're
gone,--that's one thing certain. And who but a blood relation, that
couldn't help himself, I ask you, would take in that awful-tempered old
maid, and that dreadful Clifford? That's it, you may be sure."
Mrs. Gubbins took her departure, still brimming over with hot wrath
against the absent Hepzibah. For another half-hour, or, perhaps,
considerably more, there was almost as much quiet on the outside of the
house as within. The elm, however, made a pleasant, cheerful, sunny
sigh, responsive to the breeze that was elsewhere imperceptible; a
swarm of insects buzzed merrily under its drooping shadow, and became
specks of light whenever they darted into the sunshine; a locust sang,
once or twice, in some inscrutable seclusion of the tree; and a
solitary little bird, with plumage of pale gold, came and hovered about
At last our small acquaintance, Ned Higgins, trudged up the street, on
his way to school; and happening, for the first time in a fortnight, to
be the possessor of a cent, he could by no means get past the shop-door
of the Seven Gables. But it would not open. Again and again, however,
and half a dozen other agains, with the inexorable pertinacity of a
child intent upon some object important to itself, did he renew his
efforts for admittance. He had, doubtless, set his heart upon an
elephant; or, possibly, with Hamlet, he meant to eat a crocodile. In
response to his more violent attacks, the bell gave, now and then, a
moderate tinkle, but could not be stirred into clamor by any exertion
of the little fellow's childish and tiptoe strength. Holding by the
door-handle, he peeped through a crevice of the curtain, and saw that
the inner door, communicating with the passage towards the parlor, was
"Miss Pyncheon!" screamed the child, rapping on the window-pane, "I
want an elephant!"
There being no answer to several repetitions of the summons, Ned began
to grow impatient; and his little pot of passion quickly boiling over,
he picked up a stone, with a naughty purpose to fling it through the
window; at the same time blubbering and sputtering with wrath. A
man--one of two who happened to be passing by--caught the urchin's arm.