Phoebe, on entering the shop, beheld there the already familiar face of
the little devourer--if we can reckon his mighty deeds aright--of Jim
Crow, the elephant, the camel, the dromedaries, and the locomotive.
Having expended his private fortune, on the two preceding days, in the
purchase of the above unheard-of luxuries, the young gentleman's
present errand was on the part of his mother, in quest of three eggs
and half a pound of raisins. These articles Phoebe accordingly
supplied, and, as a mark of gratitude for his previous patronage, and a
slight super-added morsel after breakfast, put likewise into his hand a
whale! The great fish, reversing his experience with the prophet of
Nineveh, immediately began his progress down the same red pathway of
fate whither so varied a caravan had preceded him. This remarkable
urchin, in truth, was the very emblem of old Father Time, both in
respect of his all-devouring appetite for men and things, and because
he, as well as Time, after ingulfing thus much of creation, looked
almost as youthful as if he had been just that moment made.
After partly closing the door, the child turned back, and mumbled
something to Phoebe, which, as the whale was but half disposed of, she
could not perfectly understand.
"What did you say, my little fellow?" asked she.
"Mother wants to know" repeated Ned Higgins more distinctly, "how Old
Maid Pyncheon's brother does? Folks say he has got home."
"My cousin Hepzibah's brother?" exclaimed Phoebe, surprised at this
sudden explanation of the relationship between Hepzibah and her guest.
"Her brother! And where can he have been?"
The little boy only put his thumb to his broad snub-nose, with that
look of shrewdness which a child, spending much of his time in the
street, so soon learns to throw over his features, however
unintelligent in themselves. Then as Phoebe continued to gaze at him,
without answering his mother's message, he took his departure.
As the child went down the steps, a gentleman ascended them, and made
his entrance into the shop. It was the portly, and, had it possessed
the advantage of a little more height, would have been the stately
figure of a man considerably in the decline of life, dressed in a black
suit of some thin stuff, resembling broadcloth as closely as possible.
A gold-headed cane, of rare Oriental wood, added materially to the high
respectability of his aspect, as did also a neckcloth of the utmost
snowy purity, and the conscientious polish of his boots. His dark,
square countenance, with its almost shaggy depth of eyebrows, was
naturally impressive, and would, perhaps, have been rather stern, had
not the gentleman considerately taken upon himself to mitigate the
harsh effect by a look of exceeding good-humor and benevolence. Owing,
however, to a somewhat massive accumulation of animal substance about
the lower region of his face, the look was, perhaps, unctuous rather
than spiritual, and had, so to speak, a kind of fleshly effulgence, not
altogether so satisfactory as he doubtless intended it to be. A
susceptible observer, at any rate, might have regarded it as affording
very little evidence of the general benignity of soul whereof it
purported to be the outward reflection. And if the observer chanced to
be ill-natured, as well as acute and susceptible, he would probably
suspect that the smile on the gentleman's face was a good deal akin to
the shine on his boots, and that each must have cost him and his
boot-black, respectively, a good deal of hard labor to bring out and