In short, to bring the matter at once to a point, it was

incontrovertibly evident that somebody had taken the shop and fixtures

of the long-retired and forgotten Mr. Pyncheon, and was about to renew

the enterprise of that departed worthy, with a different set of

customers. Who could this bold adventurer be? And, of all places in

the world, why had he chosen the House of the Seven Gables as the scene

of his commercial speculations?

We return to the elderly maiden. She at length withdrew her eyes from

the dark countenance of the Colonel's portrait, heaved a sigh,--indeed,

her breast was a very cave of Aolus that morning,--and stept across the

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room on tiptoe, as is the customary gait of elderly women. Passing

through an intervening passage, she opened a door that communicated

with the shop, just now so elaborately described. Owing to the

projection of the upper story--and still more to the thick shadow of

the Pyncheon Elm, which stood almost directly in front of the

gable--the twilight, here, was still as much akin to night as morning.

Another heavy sigh from Miss Hepzibah! After a moment's pause on the

threshold, peering towards the window with her near-sighted scowl, as

if frowning down some bitter enemy, she suddenly projected herself into

the shop. The haste, and, as it were, the galvanic impulse of the

movement, were really quite startling.

Nervously--in a sort of frenzy, we might almost say--she began to busy

herself in arranging some children's playthings, and other little

wares, on the shelves and at the shop-window. In the aspect of this

dark-arrayed, pale-faced, ladylike old figure there was a deeply tragic

character that contrasted irreconcilably with the ludicrous pettiness

of her employment. It seemed a queer anomaly, that so gaunt and dismal

a personage should take a toy in hand; a miracle, that the toy did not

vanish in her grasp; a miserably absurd idea, that she should go on

perplexing her stiff and sombre intellect with the question how to

tempt little boys into her premises! Yet such is undoubtedly her

object. Now she places a gingerbread elephant against the window, but

with so tremulous a touch that it tumbles upon the floor, with the

dismemberment of three legs and its trunk; it has ceased to be an

elephant, and has become a few bits of musty gingerbread. There,

again, she has upset a tumbler of marbles, all of which roll different

ways, and each individual marble, devil-directed, into the most

difficult obscurity that it can find. Heaven help our poor old

Hepzibah, and forgive us for taking a ludicrous view of her position!

As her rigid and rusty frame goes down upon its hands and knees, in

quest of the absconding marbles, we positively feel so much the more

inclined to shed tears of sympathy, from the very fact that we must

needs turn aside and laugh at her. For here,--and if we fail to

impress it suitably upon the reader, it is our own fault, not that of

the theme, here is one of the truest points of melancholy interest that

occur in ordinary life. It was the final throe of what called itself

old gentility. A lady--who had fed herself from childhood with the

shadowy food of aristocratic reminiscences, and whose religion it was

that a lady's hand soils itself irremediably by doing aught for

bread,--this born lady, after sixty years of narrowing means, is fain

to step down from her pedestal of imaginary rank. Poverty, treading

closely at her heels for a lifetime, has come up with her at last. She

must earn her own food, or starve! And we have stolen upon Miss

Hepzibah Pyncheon, too irreverently, at the instant of time when the

patrician lady is to be transformed into the plebeian woman.