As the stranger entered the little shop, where the projection of the

second story and the thick foliage of the elm-tree, as well as the

commodities at the window, created a sort of gray medium, his smile

grew as intense as if he had set his heart on counteracting the whole

gloom of the atmosphere (besides any moral gloom pertaining to Hepzibah

and her inmates) by the unassisted light of his countenance. On

perceiving a young rose-bud of a girl, instead of the gaunt presence of

the old maid, a look of surprise was manifest. He at first knit his

brows; then smiled with more unctuous benignity than ever.

"Ah, I see how it is!" said he in a deep voice,--a voice which, had it

Advertisement..

come from the throat of an uncultivated man, would have been gruff,

but, by dint of careful training, was now sufficiently agreeable,--"I

was not aware that Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon had commenced business under

such favorable auspices. You are her assistant, I suppose?"

"I certainly am," answered Phoebe, and added, with a little air of

lady-like assumption (for, civil as the gentleman was, he evidently

took her to be a young person serving for wages), "I am a cousin of

Miss Hepzibah, on a visit to her."

"Her cousin?--and from the country? Pray pardon me, then," said the

gentleman, bowing and smiling, as Phoebe never had been bowed to nor

smiled on before; "in that case, we must be better acquainted; for,

unless I am sadly mistaken, you are my own little kinswoman likewise!

Let me see,--Mary?--Dolly?--Phoebe?--yes, Phoebe is the name! Is it

possible that you are Phoebe Pyncheon, only child of my dear cousin and

classmate, Arthur? Ah, I see your father now, about your mouth! Yes,

yes! we must be better acquainted! I am your kinsman, my dear. Surely

you must have heard of Judge Pyncheon?"

As Phoebe curtsied in reply, the Judge bent forward, with the

pardonable and even praiseworthy purpose--considering the nearness of

blood and the difference of age--of bestowing on his young relative a

kiss of acknowledged kindred and natural affection. Unfortunately

(without design, or only with such instinctive design as gives no

account of itself to the intellect) Phoebe, just at the critical

moment, drew back; so that her highly respectable kinsman, with his

body bent over the counter and his lips protruded, was betrayed into

the rather absurd predicament of kissing the empty air. It was a

modern parallel to the case of Ixion embracing a cloud, and was so much

the more ridiculous as the Judge prided himself on eschewing all airy

matter, and never mistaking a shadow for a substance. The truth

was,--and it is Phoebe's only excuse,--that, although Judge Pyncheon's

glowing benignity might not be absolutely unpleasant to the feminine

beholder, with the width of a street, or even an ordinary-sized room,

interposed between, yet it became quite too intense, when this dark,

full-fed physiognomy (so roughly bearded, too, that no razor could ever

make it smooth) sought to bring itself into actual contact with the

object of its regards. The man, the sex, somehow or other, was

entirely too prominent in the Judge's demonstrations of that sort.

Phoebe's eyes sank, and, without knowing why, she felt herself blushing

deeply under his look. Yet she had been kissed before, and without

any particular squeamishness, by perhaps half a dozen different

cousins, younger as well as older than this dark-browned,

grisly-bearded, white-neck-clothed, and unctuously-benevolent Judge!

Then, why not by him?