"It is natural enough, Mr. Holgrave, that you should have ideas like
these," rejoined Hepzibah, drawing up her gaunt figure with slightly
offended dignity. "You are a man, a young man, and brought up, I
suppose, as almost everybody is nowadays, with a view to seeking your
fortune. But I was born a lady, and have always lived one; no matter
in what narrowness of means, always a lady."
"But I was not born a gentleman; neither have I lived like one," said
Holgrave, slightly smiling; "so, my dear madam, you will hardly expect
me to sympathize with sensibilities of this kind; though, unless I
deceive myself, I have some imperfect comprehension of them. These
names of gentleman and lady had a meaning, in the past history of the
world, and conferred privileges, desirable or otherwise, on those
entitled to bear them. In the present--and still more in the future
condition of society-they imply, not privilege, but restriction!"
"These are new notions," said the old gentlewoman, shaking her head.
"I shall never understand them; neither do I wish it."
"We will cease to speak of them, then," replied the artist, with a
friendlier smile than his last one, "and I will leave you to feel
whether it is not better to be a true woman than a lady. Do you really
think, Miss Hepzibah, that any lady of your family has ever done a more
heroic thing, since this house was built, than you are performing in it
to-day? Never; and if the Pyncheons had always acted so nobly, I doubt
whether an old wizard Maule's anathema, of which you told me once,
would have had much weight with Providence against them."
"Ah!--no, no!" said Hepzibah, not displeased at this allusion to the
sombre dignity of an inherited curse. "If old Maule's ghost, or a
descendant of his, could see me behind the counter to-day, he would
call it the fulfillment of his worst wishes. But I thank you for your
kindness, Mr. Holgrave, and will do my utmost to be a good shop-keeper."
"Pray do" said Holgrave, "and let me have the pleasure of being your
first customer. I am about taking a walk to the seashore, before going
to my rooms, where I misuse Heaven's blessed sunshine by tracing out
human features through its agency. A few of those biscuits, dipt in
sea-water, will be just what I need for breakfast. What is the price
of half a dozen?"
"Let me be a lady a moment longer," replied Hepzibah, with a manner of
antique stateliness to which a melancholy smile lent a kind of grace.
She put the biscuits into his hand, but rejected the compensation. "A
Pyncheon must not, at all events under her forefathers' roof, receive
money for a morsel of bread from her only friend!"