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
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
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."