Her introductory day of shop-keeping did not run on, however, without

many and serious interruptions of this mood of cheerful vigor. As a

general rule, Providence seldom vouchsafes to mortals any more than

just that degree of encouragement which suffices to keep them at a

reasonably full exertion of their powers. In the case of our old

gentlewoman, after the excitement of new effort had subsided, the

despondency of her whole life threatened, ever and anon, to return. It

was like the heavy mass of clouds which we may often see obscuring the

sky, and making a gray twilight everywhere, until, towards nightfall,

it yields temporarily to a glimpse of sunshine. But, always, the


envious cloud strives to gather again across the streak of celestial


Customers came in, as the forenoon advanced, but rather slowly; in some

cases, too, it must be owned, with little satisfaction either to

themselves or Miss Hepzibah; nor, on the whole, with an aggregate of

very rich emolument to the till. A little girl, sent by her mother to

match a skein of cotton thread, of a peculiar hue, took one that the

near-sighted old lady pronounced extremely like, but soon came running

back, with a blunt and cross message, that it would not do, and,

besides, was very rotten! Then, there was a pale, care-wrinkled woman,

not old but haggard, and already with streaks of gray among her hair,

like silver ribbons; one of those women, naturally delicate, whom you

at once recognize as worn to death by a brute--probably a drunken

brute--of a husband, and at least nine children. She wanted a few

pounds of flour, and offered the money, which the decayed gentlewoman

silently rejected, and gave the poor soul better measure than if she

had taken it. Shortly afterwards, a man in a blue cotton frock, much

soiled, came in and bought a pipe, filling the whole shop, meanwhile,

with the hot odor of strong drink, not only exhaled in the torrid

atmosphere of his breath, but oozing out of his entire system, like an

inflammable gas. It was impressed on Hepzibah's mind that this was the

husband of the care-wrinkled woman. He asked for a paper of tobacco;

and as she had neglected to provide herself with the article, her

brutal customer dashed down his newly-bought pipe and left the shop,

muttering some unintelligible words, which had the tone and bitterness

of a curse. Hereupon Hepzibah threw up her eyes, unintentionally

scowling in the face of Providence!

No less than five persons, during the forenoon, inquired for

ginger-beer, or root-beer, or any drink of a similar brewage, and,

obtaining nothing of the kind, went off in an exceedingly bad humor.

Three of them left the door open, and the other two pulled it so

spitefully in going out that the little bell played the very deuce with

Hepzibah's nerves. A round, bustling, fire-ruddy housewife of the

neighborhood burst breathless into the shop, fiercely demanding yeast;

and when the poor gentlewoman, with her cold shyness of manner, gave

her hot customer to understand that she did not keep the article, this

very capable housewife took upon herself to administer a regular rebuke.