And while Hepzibah was doing her utmost to digest the hard little
pellets of his already uttered wisdom, he gave vent to his final, and
what he declared to be his all-important advice, as follows:-"Put on a bright face for your customers, and smile pleasantly as you
hand them what they ask for! A stale article, if you dip it in a good,
warm, sunny smile, will go off better than a fresh one that you've
To this last apothegm poor Hepzibah responded with a sigh so deep and
heavy that it almost rustled Uncle Venner quite away, like a withered
leaf,--as he was,--before an autumnal gale. Recovering himself,
however, he bent forward, and, with a good deal of feeling in his
ancient visage, beckoned her nearer to him.
"When do you expect him home?" whispered he.
"Whom do you mean?" asked Hepzibah, turning pale.
"Ah!--You don't love to talk about it," said Uncle Venner. "Well,
well! we'll say no more, though there's word of it all over town. I
remember him, Miss Hepzibah, before he could run alone!"
During the remainder of the day, poor Hepzibah acquitted herself even
less creditably, as a shop-keeper, than in her earlier efforts. She
appeared to be walking in a dream; or, more truly, the vivid life and
reality assumed by her emotions made all outward occurrences
unsubstantial, like the teasing phantasms of a half-conscious slumber.
She still responded, mechanically, to the frequent summons of the
shop-bell, and, at the demand of her customers, went prying with vague
eyes about the shop, proffering them one article after another, and
thrusting aside--perversely, as most of them supposed--the identical
thing they asked for. There is sad confusion, indeed, when the spirit
thus flits away into the past, or into the more awful future, or, in
any manner, steps across the spaceless boundary betwixt its own region
and the actual world; where the body remains to guide itself as best it
may, with little more than the mechanism of animal life. It is like
death, without death's quiet privilege,--its freedom from mortal care.
Worst of all, when the actual duties are comprised in such petty
details as now vexed the brooding soul of the old gentlewoman. As the
animosity of fate would have it, there was a great influx of custom in
the course of the afternoon. Hepzibah blundered to and fro about her
small place of business, committing the most unheard-of errors: now
stringing up twelve, and now seven, tallow-candles, instead of ten to
the pound; selling ginger for Scotch snuff, pins for needles, and
needles for pins; misreckoning her change, sometimes to the public
detriment, and much oftener to her own; and thus she went on, doing her
utmost to bring chaos back again, until, at the close of the day's
labor, to her inexplicable astonishment, she found the money-drawer
almost destitute of coin. After all her painful traffic, the whole
proceeds were perhaps half a dozen coppers, and a questionable
ninepence which ultimately proved to be copper likewise.