Hepzibah brought out some old silver spoons with the family crest upon
them, and a china tea-set painted over with grotesque figures of man,
bird, and beast, in as grotesque a landscape. These pictured people
were odd humorists, in a world of their own,--a world of vivid
brilliancy, so far as color went, and still unfaded, although the
teapot and small cups were as ancient as the custom itself of
"Your great-great-great-great-grandmother had these cups, when she was
married," said Hepzibah to Phoebe. "She was a Davenport, of a good
family. They were almost the first teacups ever seen in the colony;
and if one of them were to be broken, my heart would break with it.
But it is nonsense to speak so about a brittle teacup, when I remember
what my heart has gone through without breaking."
The cups--not having been used, perhaps, since Hepzibah's youth--had
contracted no small burden of dust, which Phoebe washed away with so
much care and delicacy as to satisfy even the proprietor of this
"What a nice little housewife you are!" exclaimed the latter, smiling,
and at the same time frowning so prodigiously that the smile was
sunshine under a thunder-cloud. "Do you do other things as well? Are
you as good at your book as you are at washing teacups?"
"Not quite, I am afraid," said Phoebe, laughing at the form of
Hepzibah's question. "But I was schoolmistress for the little children
in our district last summer, and might have been so still."
"Ah! 'tis all very well!" observed the maiden lady, drawing herself up.
"But these things must have come to you with your mother's blood. I
never knew a Pyncheon that had any turn for them."
It is very queer, but not the less true, that people are generally
quite as vain, or even more so, of their deficiencies than of their
available gifts; as was Hepzibah of this native inapplicability, so to
speak, of the Pyncheons to any useful purpose. She regarded it as an
hereditary trait; and so, perhaps, it was, but unfortunately a morbid
one, such as is often generated in families that remain long above the
surface of society.
Before they left the breakfast-table, the shop-bell rang sharply, and
Hepzibah set down the remnant of her final cup of tea, with a look of
sallow despair that was truly piteous to behold. In cases of
distasteful occupation, the second day is generally worse than the
first. We return to the rack with all the soreness of the preceding
torture in our limbs. At all events, Hepzibah had fully satisfied
herself of the impossibility of ever becoming wonted to this peevishly
obstreperous little bell. Ring as often as it might, the sound always
smote upon her nervous system rudely and suddenly. And especially now,
while, with her crested teaspoons and antique china, she was flattering
herself with ideas of gentility, she felt an unspeakable disinclination
to confront a customer.