He met the scowl of old Hepzibah without apparent alarm, as having
heretofore encountered it and found it harmless.
"So, my dear Miss Pyncheon," said the daguerreotypist,--for it was that
sole other occupant of the seven-gabled mansion,--"I am glad to see
that you have not shrunk from your good purpose. I merely look in to
offer my best wishes, and to ask if I can assist you any further in
People in difficulty and distress, or in any manner at odds with the
world, can endure a vast amount of harsh treatment, and perhaps be only
the stronger for it; whereas they give way at once before the simplest
expression of what they perceive to be genuine sympathy. So it proved
with poor Hepzibah; for, when she saw the young man's smile,--looking
so much the brighter on a thoughtful face,--and heard his kindly tone,
she broke first into a hysteric giggle and then began to sob.
"Ah, Mr. Holgrave," cried she, as soon as she could speak, "I never can
go through with it! Never, never, never! I wish I were dead, and in the
old family tomb, with all my forefathers! With my father, and my
mother, and my sister! Yes, and with my brother, who had far better
find me there than here! The world is too chill and hard,--and I am too
old, and too feeble, and too hopeless!"
"Oh, believe me, Miss Hepzibah," said the young man quietly, "these
feelings will not trouble you any longer, after you are once fairly in
the midst of your enterprise. They are unavoidable at this moment,
standing, as you do, on the outer verge of your long seclusion, and
peopling the world with ugly shapes, which you will soon find to be as
unreal as the giants and ogres of a child's story-book. I find nothing
so singular in life, as that everything appears to lose its substance
the instant one actually grapples with it. So it will be with what you
think so terrible."
"But I am a woman!" said Hepzibah piteously. "I was going to say, a
lady,--but I consider that as past."
"Well; no matter if it be past!" answered the artist, a strange gleam
of half-hidden sarcasm flashing through the kindliness of his manner.
"Let it go! You are the better without it. I speak frankly, my dear
Miss Pyncheon!--for are we not friends? I look upon this as one of the
fortunate days of your life. It ends an epoch and begins one.
Hitherto, the life-blood has been gradually chilling in your veins as
you sat aloof, within your circle of gentility, while the rest of the
world was fighting out its battle with one kind of necessity or
another. Henceforth, you will at least have the sense of healthy and
natural effort for a purpose, and of lending your strength be it great
or small--to the united struggle of mankind. This is success,--all the
success that anybody meets with!"