In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social

life, somebody is always at the drowning-point. The tragedy is enacted

with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday,

and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary

noble sinks below his order. More deeply; since, with us, rank is the

grosser substance of wealth and a splendid establishment, and has no

spiritual existence after the death of these, but dies hopelessly along

with them. And, therefore, since we have been unfortunate enough to

introduce our heroine at so inauspicious a juncture, we would entreat

for a mood of due solemnity in the spectators of her fate. Let us


behold, in poor Hepzibah, the immemorial, lady--two hundred years old,

on this side of the water, and thrice as many on the other,--with her

antique portraits, pedigrees, coats of arms, records and traditions,

and her claim, as joint heiress, to that princely territory at the

eastward, no longer a wilderness, but a populous fertility,--born, too,

in Pyncheon Street, under the Pyncheon Elm, and in the Pyncheon House,

where she has spent all her days,--reduced. Now, in that very house,

to be the hucksteress of a cent-shop.

This business of setting up a petty shop is almost the only resource of

women, in circumstances at all similar to those of our unfortunate

recluse. With her near-sightedness, and those tremulous fingers of

hers, at once inflexible and delicate, she could not be a seamstress;

although her sampler, of fifty years gone by, exhibited some of the

most recondite specimens of ornamental needlework. A school for little

children had been often in her thoughts; and, at one time, she had

begun a review of her early studies in the New England Primer, with a

view to prepare herself for the office of instructress. But the love

of children had never been quickened in Hepzibah's heart, and was now

torpid, if not extinct; she watched the little people of the

neighborhood from her chamber-window, and doubted whether she could

tolerate a more intimate acquaintance with them. Besides, in our day,

the very ABC has become a science greatly too abstruse to be any longer

taught by pointing a pin from letter to letter. A modern child could

teach old Hepzibah more than old Hepzibah could teach the child.

So--with many a cold, deep heart-quake at the idea of at last coming

into sordid contact with the world, from which she had so long kept

aloof, while every added day of seclusion had rolled another stone

against the cavern door of her hermitage--the poor thing bethought

herself of the ancient shop-window, the rusty scales, and dusty till.

She might have held back a little longer; but another circumstance, not

yet hinted at, had somewhat hastened her decision. Her humble

preparations, therefore, were duly made, and the enterprise was now to

be commenced. Nor was she entitled to complain of any remarkable

singularity in her fate; for, in the town of her nativity, we might

point to several little shops of a similar description, some of them in

houses as ancient as that of the Seven Gables; and one or two, it may

be, where a decayed gentlewoman stands behind the counter, as grim an

image of family pride as Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon herself.