"If you should happen to find it, Phoebe," said Hepzibah, glancing
aside at her with a grim yet kindly smile, "we will tie up the
shop-bell for good and all!"
"Yes, dear cousin," answered Phoebe; "but, in the mean time, I hear
somebody ringing it!"
When the customer was gone, Hepzibah talked rather vaguely, and at
great length, about a certain Alice Pyncheon, who had been exceedingly
beautiful and accomplished in her lifetime, a hundred years ago. The
fragrance of her rich and delightful character still lingered about the
place where she had lived, as a dried rose-bud scents the drawer where
it has withered and perished. This lovely Alice had met with some
great and mysterious calamity, and had grown thin and white, and
gradually faded out of the world. But, even now, she was supposed to
haunt the House of the Seven Gables, and, a great many times,--especially
when one of the Pyncheons was to die,--she had been heard playing sadly
and beautifully on the harpsichord. One of these tunes, just as it had
sounded from her spiritual touch, had been written down by an amateur of
music; it was so exquisitely mournful that nobody, to this day, could
bear to hear it played, unless when a great sorrow had made them know
the still profounder sweetness of it.
"Was it the same harpsichord that you showed me?" inquired Phoebe.
"The very same," said Hepzibah. "It was Alice Pyncheon's harpsichord.
When I was learning music, my father would never let me open it. So,
as I could only play on my teacher's instrument, I have forgotten all
my music long ago."
Leaving these antique themes, the old lady began to talk about the
daguerreotypist, whom, as he seemed to be a well-meaning and orderly
young man, and in narrow circumstances, she had permitted to take up
his residence in one of the seven gables. But, on seeing more of Mr.
Holgrave, she hardly knew what to make of him. He had the strangest
companions imaginable; men with long beards, and dressed in linen
blouses, and other such new-fangled and ill-fitting garments;
reformers, temperance lecturers, and all manner of cross-looking
philanthropists; community-men, and come-outers, as Hepzibah believed,
who acknowledged no law, and ate no solid food, but lived on the scent
of other people's cookery, and turned up their noses at the fare. As
for the daguerreotypist, she had read a paragraph in a penny paper, the
other day, accusing him of making a speech full of wild and
disorganizing matter, at a meeting of his banditti-like associates.
For her own part, she had reason to believe that he practised animal
magnetism, and, if such things were in fashion nowadays, should be apt
to suspect him of studying the Black Art up there in his lonesome