It was overpoweringly ridiculous,--we must honestly confess it,--the

deportment of the maiden lady while setting her shop in order for the

public eye. She stole on tiptoe to the window, as cautiously as if she

conceived some bloody-minded villain to be watching behind the

elm-tree, with intent to take her life. Stretching out her long, lank

arm, she put a paper of pearl-buttons, a jew's-harp, or whatever the

small article might be, in its destined place, and straightway vanished

back into the dusk, as if the world need never hope for another glimpse

of her. It might have been fancied, indeed, that she expected to

minister to the wants of the community unseen, like a disembodied

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divinity or enchantress, holding forth her bargains to the reverential

and awe-stricken purchaser in an invisible hand. But Hepzibah had no

such flattering dream. She was well aware that she must ultimately come

forward, and stand revealed in her proper individuality; but, like

other sensitive persons, she could not bear to be observed in the

gradual process, and chose rather to flash forth on the world's

astonished gaze at once.

The inevitable moment was not much longer to be delayed. The sunshine

might now be seen stealing down the front of the opposite house, from

the windows of which came a reflected gleam, struggling through the

boughs of the elm-tree, and enlightening the interior of the shop more

distinctly than heretofore. The town appeared to be waking up. A

baker's cart had already rattled through the street, chasing away the

latest vestige of night's sanctity with the jingle-jangle of its

dissonant bells. A milkman was distributing the contents of his cans

from door to door; and the harsh peal of a fisherman's conch shell was

heard far off, around the corner. None of these tokens escaped

Hepzibah's notice. The moment had arrived. To delay longer would be

only to lengthen out her misery. Nothing remained, except to take down

the bar from the shop-door, leaving the entrance free--more than

free--welcome, as if all were household friends--to every passer-by,

whose eyes might be attracted by the commodities at the window. This

last act Hepzibah now performed, letting the bar fall with what smote

upon her excited nerves as a most astounding clatter. Then--as if the

only barrier betwixt herself and the world had been thrown down, and a

flood of evil consequences would come tumbling through the gap--she

fled into the inner parlor, threw herself into the ancestral

elbow-chair, and wept.

Our miserable old Hepzibah! It is a heavy annoyance to a writer, who

endeavors to represent nature, its various attitudes and circumstances,

in a reasonably correct outline and true coloring, that so much of the

mean and ludicrous should be hopelessly mixed up with the purest pathos

which life anywhere supplies to him. What tragic dignity, for example,

can be wrought into a scene like this! How can we elevate our history

of retribution for the sin of long ago, when, as one of our most

prominent figures, we are compelled to introduce--not a young and

lovely woman, nor even the stately remains of beauty, storm-shattered

by affliction--but a gaunt, sallow, rusty-jointed maiden, in a

long-waisted silk gown, and with the strange horror of a turban on her

head! Her visage is not even ugly. It is redeemed from insignificance

only by the contraction of her eyebrows into a near-sighted scowl.

And, finally, her great life-trial seems to be, that, after sixty years

of idleness, she finds it convenient to earn comfortable bread by

setting up a shop in a small way. Nevertheless, if we look through all

the heroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this same entanglement of

something mean and trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or sorrow.

Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all the deeper trust

in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might hence be led to suspect

the insult of a sneer, as well as an immitigable frown, on the iron

countenance of fate. What is called poetic insight is the gift of

discerning, in this sphere of strangely mingled elements, the beauty

and the majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.