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
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?