"Do not trouble yourself, dear cousin!" cried Phoebe, starting lightly
up. "I am shop-keeper to-day."
"You, child!" exclaimed Hepzibah. "What can a little country girl know
of such matters?"
"Oh, I have done all the shopping for the family at our village store,"
said Phoebe. "And I have had a table at a fancy fair, and made better
sales than anybody. These things are not to be learnt; they depend
upon a knack that comes, I suppose," added she, smiling, "with one's
mother's blood. You shall see that I am as nice a little saleswoman as
I am a housewife!"
The old gentlewoman stole behind Phoebe, and peeped from the passageway
into the shop, to note how she would manage her undertaking. It was a
case of some intricacy. A very ancient woman, in a white short gown
and a green petticoat, with a string of gold beads about her neck, and
what looked like a nightcap on her head, had brought a quantity of yarn
to barter for the commodities of the shop. She was probably the very
last person in town who still kept the time-honored spinning-wheel in
constant revolution. It was worth while to hear the croaking and
hollow tones of the old lady, and the pleasant voice of Phoebe,
mingling in one twisted thread of talk; and still better to contrast
their figures,--so light and bloomy,--so decrepit and dusky,--with only
the counter betwixt them, in one sense, but more than threescore years,
in another. As for the bargain, it was wrinkled slyness and craft
pitted against native truth and sagacity.
"Was not that well done?" asked Phoebe, laughing, when the customer was
"Nicely done, indeed, child!" answered Hepzibah. "I could not have
gone through with it nearly so well. As you say, it must be a knack
that belongs to you on the mother's side."
It is a very genuine admiration, that with which persons too shy or too
awkward to take a due part in the bustling world regard the real actors
in life's stirring scenes; so genuine, in fact, that the former are
usually fain to make it palatable to their self-love, by assuming that
these active and forcible qualities are incompatible with others, which
they choose to deem higher and more important. Thus, Hepzibah was well
content to acknowledge Phoebe's vastly superior gifts as a
shop-keeper'--she listened, with compliant ear, to her suggestion of
various methods whereby the influx of trade might be increased, and
rendered profitable, without a hazardous outlay of capital. She
consented that the village maiden should manufacture yeast, both liquid
and in cakes; and should brew a certain kind of beer, nectareous to the
palate, and of rare stomachic virtues; and, moreover, should bake and
exhibit for sale some little spice-cakes, which whosoever tasted would
longingly desire to taste again. All such proofs of a ready mind and
skilful handiwork were highly acceptable to the aristocratic
hucksteress, so long as she could murmur to herself with a grim smile,
and a half-natural sigh, and a sentiment of mixed wonder, pity, and
growing affection:-"What a nice little body she is! If she only could be a lady; too--but
that's impossible! Phoebe is no Pyncheon. She takes everything from