"We must renew our stock, Cousin Hepzibah!" cried the little
saleswoman. "The gingerbread figures are all gone, and so are those
Dutch wooden milkmaids, and most of our other playthings. There has
been constant inquiry for cheap raisins, and a great cry for whistles,
and trumpets, and jew's-harps; and at least a dozen little boys have
asked for molasses-candy. And we must contrive to get a peck of russet
apples, late in the season as it is. But, dear cousin, what an
enormous heap of copper! Positively a copper mountain!"
"Well done! well done! well done!" quoth Uncle Venner, who had taken
occasion to shuffle in and out of the shop several times in the course
of the day. "Here's a girl that will never end her days at my farm!
Bless my eyes, what a brisk little soul!"
"Yes, Phoebe is a nice girl!" said Hepzibah, with a scowl of austere
approbation. "But, Uncle Venner, you have known the family a great
many years. Can you tell me whether there ever was a Pyncheon whom she
"I don't believe there ever was," answered the venerable man. "At any
rate, it never was my luck to see her like among them, nor, for that
matter, anywhere else. I've seen a great deal of the world, not only
in people's kitchens and back-yards but at the street-corners, and on
the wharves, and in other places where my business calls me; and I'm
free to say, Miss Hepzibah, that I never knew a human creature do her
work so much like one of God's angels as this child Phoebe does!"
Uncle Venner's eulogium, if it appear rather too high-strained for the
person and occasion, had, nevertheless, a sense in which it was both
subtile and true. There was a spiritual quality in Phoebe's activity.
The life of the long and busy day--spent in occupations that might so
easily have taken a squalid and ugly aspect--had been made pleasant,
and even lovely, by the spontaneous grace with which these homely
duties seemed to bloom out of her character; so that labor, while she
dealt with it, had the easy and flexible charm of play. Angels do not
toil, but let their good works grow out of them; and so did Phoebe.
The two relatives--the young maid and the old one--found time before
nightfall, in the intervals of trade, to make rapid advances towards
affection and confidence. A recluse, like Hepzibah, usually displays
remarkable frankness, and at least temporary affability, on being
absolutely cornered, and brought to the point of personal intercourse;
like the angel whom Jacob wrestled with, she is ready to bless you when
The old gentlewoman took a dreary and proud satisfaction in leading
Phoebe from room to room of the house, and recounting the traditions
with which, as we may say, the walls were lugubriously frescoed. She
showed the indentations made by the lieutenant-governor's sword-hilt in
the door-panels of the apartment where old Colonel Pyncheon, a dead
host, had received his affrighted visitors with an awful frown. The
dusky terror of that frown, Hepzibah observed, was thought to be
lingering ever since in the passageway. She bade Phoebe step into one
of the tall chairs, and inspect the ancient map of the Pyncheon
territory at the eastward. In a tract of land on which she laid her
finger, there existed a silver mine, the locality of which was
precisely pointed out in some memoranda of Colonel Pyncheon himself,
but only to be made known when the family claim should be recognized by
government. Thus it was for the interest of all New England that the
Pyncheons should have justice done them. She told, too, how that there
was undoubtedly an immense treasure of English guineas hidden somewhere
about the house, or in the cellar, or possibly in the garden.