In his younger days--for, after all, there was a dim tradition that he

had been, not young, but younger--Uncle Venner was commonly regarded as

rather deficient, than otherwise, in his wits. In truth he had

virtually pleaded guilty to the charge, by scarcely aiming at such

success as other men seek, and by taking only that humble and modest

part in the intercourse of life which belongs to the alleged

deficiency. But now, in his extreme old age,--whether it were that his

long and hard experience had actually brightened him, or that his

decaying judgment rendered him less capable of fairly measuring

himself,--the venerable man made pretensions to no little wisdom, and

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really enjoyed the credit of it. There was likewise, at times, a vein

of something like poetry in him; it was the moss or wall-flower of his

mind in its small dilapidation, and gave a charm to what might have

been vulgar and commonplace in his earlier and middle life. Hepzibah

had a regard for him, because his name was ancient in the town and had

formerly been respectable. It was a still better reason for awarding

him a species of familiar reverence that Uncle Venner was himself the

most ancient existence, whether of man or thing, in Pyncheon Street,

except the House of the Seven Gables, and perhaps the elm that

overshadowed it.

This patriarch now presented himself before Hepzibah, clad in an old

blue coat, which had a fashionable air, and must have accrued to him

from the cast-off wardrobe of some dashing clerk. As for his trousers,

they were of tow-cloth, very short in the legs, and bagging down

strangely in the rear, but yet having a suitableness to his figure

which his other garment entirely lacked. His hat had relation to no

other part of his dress, and but very little to the head that wore it.

Thus Uncle Venner was a miscellaneous old gentleman, partly himself,

but, in good measure, somebody else; patched together, too, of

different epochs; an epitome of times and fashions.

"So, you have really begun trade," said he,--"really begun trade!

Well, I'm glad to see it. Young people should never live idle in the

world, nor old ones neither, unless when the rheumatize gets hold of

them. It has given me warning already; and in two or three years

longer, I shall think of putting aside business and retiring to my

farm. That's yonder,--the great brick house, you know,--the workhouse,

most folks call it; but I mean to do my work first, and go there to be

idle and enjoy myself. And I'm glad to see you beginning to do your

work, Miss Hepzibah!"

"Thank you, Uncle Venner" said Hepzibah, smiling; for she always felt

kindly towards the simple and talkative old man. Had he been an old

woman, she might probably have repelled the freedom, which she now took

in good part. "It is time for me to begin work, indeed! Or, to speak

the truth, I have just begun when I ought to be giving it up."