Hepzibah fancied that there was something peculiar in her venerable

friend's look and tone; insomuch, that she gazed into his face with

considerable earnestness, endeavoring to discover what secret meaning,

if any, might be lurking there. Individuals whose affairs have reached

an utterly desperate crisis almost invariably keep themselves alive

with hopes, so much the more airily magnificent as they have the less

of solid matter within their grasp whereof to mould any judicious and

moderate expectation of good. Thus, all the while Hepzibah was

perfecting the scheme of her little shop, she had cherished an

unacknowledged idea that some harlequin trick of fortune would


intervene in her favor. For example, an uncle--who had sailed for

India fifty years before, and never been heard of since--might yet

return, and adopt her to be the comfort of his very extreme and

decrepit age, and adorn her with pearls, diamonds, and Oriental shawls

and turbans, and make her the ultimate heiress of his unreckonable

riches. Or the member of Parliament, now at the head of the English

branch of the family,--with which the elder stock, on this side of the

Atlantic, had held little or no intercourse for the last two

centuries,--this eminent gentleman might invite Hepzibah to quit the

ruinous House of the Seven Gables, and come over to dwell with her

kindred at Pyncheon Hall. But, for reasons the most imperative, she

could not yield to his request. It was more probable, therefore, that

the descendants of a Pyncheon who had emigrated to Virginia, in some

past generation, and became a great planter there,--hearing of

Hepzibah's destitution, and impelled by the splendid generosity of

character with which their Virginian mixture must have enriched the New

England blood,--would send her a remittance of a thousand dollars, with

a hint of repeating the favor annually. Or,--and, surely, anything so

undeniably just could not be beyond the limits of reasonable

anticipation,--the great claim to the heritage of Waldo County might

finally be decided in favor of the Pyncheons; so that, instead of

keeping a cent-shop, Hepzibah would build a palace, and look down from

its highest tower on hill, dale, forest, field, and town, as her own

share of the ancestral territory.

These were some of the fantasies which she had long dreamed about; and,

aided by these, Uncle Venner's casual attempt at encouragement kindled

a strange festal glory in the poor, bare, melancholy chambers of her

brain, as if that inner world were suddenly lighted up with gas. But

either he knew nothing of her castles in the air,--as how should

he?--or else her earnest scowl disturbed his recollection, as it might

a more courageous man's. Instead of pursuing any weightier topic,

Uncle Venner was pleased to favor Hepzibah with some sage counsel in

her shop-keeping capacity.

"Give no credit!"--these were some of his golden maxims,--"Never take

paper-money. Look well to your change! Ring the silver on the

four-pound weight! Shove back all English half-pence and base copper

tokens, such as are very plenty about town! At your leisure hours, knit

children's woollen socks and mittens! Brew your own yeast, and make

your own ginger-beer!"