But, at this instant, the shop-bell, right over her head, tinkled as if
it were bewitched. The old gentlewoman's heart seemed to be attached
to the same steel spring, for it went through a series of sharp jerks,
in unison with the sound. The door was thrust open, although no human
form was perceptible on the other side of the half-window. Hepzibah,
nevertheless, stood at a gaze, with her hands clasped, looking very
much as if she had summoned up an evil spirit, and were afraid, yet
resolved, to hazard the encounter.
"Heaven help me!" she groaned mentally. "Now is my hour of need!"
The door, which moved with difficulty on its creaking and rusty hinges,
being forced quite open, a square and sturdy little urchin became
apparent, with cheeks as red as an apple. He was clad rather shabbily
(but, as it seemed, more owing to his mother's carelessness than his
father's poverty), in a blue apron, very wide and short trousers, shoes
somewhat out at the toes, and a chip hat, with the frizzles of his
curly hair sticking through its crevices. A book and a small slate,
under his arm, indicated that he was on his way to school. He stared
at Hepzibah a moment, as an elder customer than himself would have been
likely enough to do, not knowing what to make of the tragic attitude
and queer scowl wherewith she regarded him.
"Well, child," said she, taking heart at sight of a personage so little
formidable,--"well, my child, what did you wish for?"
"That Jim Crow there in the window," answered the urchin, holding out a
cent, and pointing to the gingerbread figure that had attracted his
notice, as he loitered along to school; "the one that has not a broken
So Hepzibah put forth her lank arm, and, taking the effigy from the
shop-window, delivered it to her first customer.
"No matter for the money," said she, giving him a little push towards
the door; for her old gentility was contumaciously squeamish at sight
of the copper coin, and, besides, it seemed such pitiful meanness to
take the child's pocket-money in exchange for a bit of stale
gingerbread. "No matter for the cent. You are welcome to Jim Crow."
The child, staring with round eyes at this instance of liberality,
wholly unprecedented in his large experience of cent-shops, took the
man of gingerbread, and quitted the premises. No sooner had he reached
the sidewalk (little cannibal that he was!) than Jim Crow's head was in
his mouth. As he had not been careful to shut the door, Hepzibah was
at the pains of closing it after him, with a pettish ejaculation or two
about the troublesomeness of young people, and particularly of small
boys. She had just placed another representative of the renowned Jim
Crow at the window, when again the shop-bell tinkled clamorously, and
again the door being thrust open, with its characteristic jerk and jar,
disclosed the same sturdy little urchin who, precisely two minutes ago,
had made his exit. The crumbs and discoloration of the cannibal feast,
as yet hardly consummated, were exceedingly visible about his mouth.