"What's the trouble, old gentleman?" he asked.
"I want old Hepzibah, or Phoebe, or any of them!" answered Ned,
sobbing. "They won't open the door; and I can't get my elephant!"
"Go to school, you little scamp!" said the man. "There's another
cent-shop round the corner. 'T is very strange, Dixey," added he to
his companion, "what's become of all these Pyncheon's! Smith, the
livery-stable keeper, tells me Judge Pyncheon put his horse up
yesterday, to stand till after dinner, and has not taken him away yet.
And one of the Judge's hired men has been in, this morning, to make
inquiry about him. He's a kind of person, they say, that seldom breaks
his habits, or stays out o' nights."
"Oh, he'll turn up safe enough!" said Dixey. "And as for Old Maid
Pyncheon, take my word for it, she has run in debt, and gone off from
her creditors. I foretold, you remember, the first morning she set up
shop, that her devilish scowl would frighten away customers. They
couldn't stand it!"
"I never thought she'd make it go," remarked his friend. "This
business of cent-shops is overdone among the women-folks. My wife
tried it, and lost five dollars on her outlay!"
"Poor business!" said Dixey, shaking his head. "Poor business!"
In the course of the morning, there were various other attempts to open
a communication with the supposed inhabitants of this silent and
impenetrable mansion. The man of root-beer came, in his neatly painted
wagon, with a couple of dozen full bottles, to be exchanged for empty
ones; the baker, with a lot of crackers which Hepzibah had ordered for
her retail custom; the butcher, with a nice titbit which he fancied she
would be eager to secure for Clifford. Had any observer of these
proceedings been aware of the fearful secret hidden within the house,
it would have affected him with a singular shape and modification of
horror, to see the current of human life making this small eddy
hereabouts,--whirling sticks, straws and all such trifles, round and
round, right over the black depth where a dead corpse lay unseen!
The butcher was so much in earnest with his sweetbread of lamb, or
whatever the dainty might be, that he tried every accessible door of
the Seven Gables, and at length came round again to the shop, where he
ordinarily found admittance.
"It's a nice article, and I know the old lady would jump at it," said
he to himself. "She can't be gone away! In fifteen years that I have
driven my cart through Pyncheon Street, I've never known her to be away
from home; though often enough, to be sure, a man might knock all day
without bringing her to the door. But that was when she'd only herself
to provide for."