"What is it now, child?" asked the maiden lady rather impatiently; "did
you come back to shut the door?"
"No," answered the urchin, pointing to the figure that had just been
put up; "I want that other Jim Crow."
"Well, here it is for you," said Hepzibah, reaching it down; but
recognizing that this pertinacious customer would not quit her on any
other terms, so long as she had a gingerbread figure in her shop, she
partly drew back her extended hand, "Where is the cent?"
The little boy had the cent ready, but, like a true-born Yankee, would
have preferred the better bargain to the worse. Looking somewhat
chagrined, he put the coin into Hepzibah's hand, and departed, sending
the second Jim Crow in quest of the former one. The new shop-keeper
dropped the first solid result of her commercial enterprise into the
till. It was done! The sordid stain of that copper coin could never be
washed away from her palm. The little schoolboy, aided by the impish
figure of the negro dancer, had wrought an irreparable ruin. The
structure of ancient aristocracy had been demolished by him, even as if
his childish gripe had torn down the seven-gabled mansion. Now let
Hepzibah turn the old Pyncheon portraits with their faces to the wall,
and take the map of her Eastern territory to kindle the kitchen fire,
and blow up the flame with the empty breath of her ancestral
traditions! What had she to do with ancestry? Nothing; no more than
with posterity! No lady, now, but simply Hepzibah Pyncheon, a forlorn
old maid, and keeper of a cent-shop!
Nevertheless, even while she paraded these ideas somewhat
ostentatiously through her mind, it is altogether surprising what a
calmness had come over her. The anxiety and misgivings which had
tormented her, whether asleep or in melancholy day-dreams, ever since
her project began to take an aspect of solidity, had now vanished quite
away. She felt the novelty of her position, indeed, but no longer with
disturbance or affright. Now and then, there came a thrill of almost
youthful enjoyment. It was the invigorating breath of a fresh outward
atmosphere, after the long torpor and monotonous seclusion of her life.
So wholesome is effort! So miraculous the strength that we do not know
of! The healthiest glow that Hepzibah had known for years had come now
in the dreaded crisis, when, for the first time, she had put forth her
hand to help herself. The little circlet of the schoolboy's copper
coin--dim and lustreless though it was, with the small services which
it had been doing here and there about the world--had proved a
talisman, fragrant with good, and deserving to be set in gold and worn
next her heart. It was as potent, and perhaps endowed with the same
kind of efficacy, as a galvanic ring! Hepzibah, at all events, was
indebted to its subtile operation both in body and spirit; so much the
more, as it inspired her with energy to get some breakfast, at which,
still the better to keep up her courage, she allowed herself an extra
spoonful in her infusion of black tea.