Hepzibah bade her young guest sit down, and, herself taking a chair

near by, looked as earnestly at Phoebe's trim little figure as if she

expected to see right into its springs and motive secrets.

"Cousin Phoebe," said she, at last, "I really can't see my way clear to

keep you with me."

These words, however, had not the inhospitable bluntness with which

they may strike the reader; for the two relatives, in a talk before

bedtime, had arrived at a certain degree of mutual understanding.

Hepzibah knew enough to enable her to appreciate the circumstances

(resulting from the second marriage of the girl's mother) which made it

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desirable for Phoebe to establish herself in another home. Nor did she

misinterpret Phoebe's character, and the genial activity pervading

it,--one of the most valuable traits of the true New England

woman,--which had impelled her forth, as might be said, to seek her

fortune, but with a self-respecting purpose to confer as much benefit

as she could anywise receive. As one of her nearest kindred, she had

naturally betaken herself to Hepzibah, with no idea of forcing herself

on her cousin's protection, but only for a visit of a week or two,

which might be indefinitely extended, should it prove for the happiness

of both.

To Hepzibah's blunt observation, therefore, Phoebe replied as frankly,

and more cheerfully.

"Dear cousin, I cannot tell how it will be," said she. "But I really

think we may suit one another much better than you suppose."

"You are a nice girl,--I see it plainly," continued Hepzibah; "and it

is not any question as to that point which makes me hesitate. But,

Phoebe, this house of mine is but a melancholy place for a young person

to be in. It lets in the wind and rain, and the snow, too, in the

garret and upper chambers, in winter-time, but it never lets in the

sunshine. And as for myself, you see what I am,--a dismal and lonesome

old woman (for I begin to call myself old, Phoebe), whose temper, I am

afraid, is none of the best, and whose spirits are as bad as can be! I

cannot make your life pleasant, Cousin Phoebe, neither can I so much as

give you bread to eat."

"You will find me a cheerful little body" answered Phoebe, smiling, and

yet with a kind of gentle dignity, "and I mean to earn my bread. You

know I have not been brought up a Pyncheon. A girl learns many things

in a New England village."

"Ah! Phoebe," said Hepzibah, sighing, "your knowledge would do but

little for you here! And then it is a wretched thought that you should

fling away your young days in a place like this. Those cheeks would

not be so rosy after a month or two. Look at my face!" and, indeed,

the contrast was very striking,--"you see how pale I am! It is my idea

that the dust and continual decay of these old houses are unwholesome

for the lungs."