"Poor business!" responded Dixey, in a tone as if he were shaking his

head,--"poor business."

For some reason or other, not very easy to analyze, there had hardly

been so bitter a pang in all her previous misery about the matter as

what thrilled Hepzibah's heart on overhearing the above conversation.

The testimony in regard to her scowl was frightfully important; it

seemed to hold up her image wholly relieved from the false light of her

self-partialities, and so hideous that she dared not look at it. She

was absurdly hurt, moreover, by the slight and idle effect that her

setting up shop--an event of such breathless interest to

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herself--appeared to have upon the public, of which these two men were

the nearest representatives. A glance; a passing word or two; a coarse

laugh; and she was doubtless forgotten before they turned the corner.

They cared nothing for her dignity, and just as little for her

degradation. Then, also, the augury of ill-success, uttered from the

sure wisdom of experience, fell upon her half-dead hope like a clod

into a grave. The man's wife had already tried the same experiment,

and failed! How could the born lady--the recluse of half a lifetime,

utterly unpractised in the world, at sixty years of age,--how could she

ever dream of succeeding, when the hard, vulgar, keen, busy, hackneyed

New England woman had lost five dollars on her little outlay! Success

presented itself as an impossibility, and the hope of it as a wild

hallucination.

Some malevolent spirit, doing his utmost to drive Hepzibah mad,

unrolled before her imagination a kind of panorama, representing the

great thoroughfare of a city all astir with customers. So many and so

magnificent shops as there were! Groceries, toy-shops, drygoods stores,

with their immense panes of plate-glass, their gorgeous fixtures, their

vast and complete assortments of merchandise, in which fortunes had

been invested; and those noble mirrors at the farther end of each

establishment, doubling all this wealth by a brightly burnished vista

of unrealities! On one side of the street this splendid bazaar, with a

multitude of perfumed and glossy salesmen, smirking, smiling, bowing,

and measuring out the goods. On the other, the dusky old House of the

Seven Gables, with the antiquated shop-window under its projecting

story, and Hepzibah herself, in a gown of rusty black silk, behind the

counter, scowling at the world as it went by! This mighty contrast

thrust itself forward as a fair expression of the odds against which

she was to begin her struggle for a subsistence. Success?

Preposterous! She would never think of it again! The house might just

as well be buried in an eternal fog while all other houses had the

sunshine on them; for not a foot would ever cross the threshold, nor a

hand so much as try the door!