Excerpts from Chapter 2, "The Little Shop Window,"
Excerpts from Chapter 2, "The Little Shop Window," of The House of the
Seven Gables which focus on Hepzibah.
IT STILL lacked half an hour of sunrise, when Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon--we
will not say awoke; it being doubtful whether the poor lady had so much
as closed her eyes, during the brief night of midsummer--but, at all events,
arose from her solitary pillow, and began what it would be mockery to term
the adornment of her person. Far from us be the indecorum of assisting,
even in imagination, at a maiden lady's toilet! Inaudible, consequently,
were poor Miss Hepzibah's gusty sighs. . . . Inaudible, the creaking
joints of her stiffened knees, as she knelt down by the bedside. And inaudible,
too, by mortal ear, but heard with all-comprehending love and pity in the
furthest heaven, that almost agony of prayer--now whispered, now a groan,
now a struggling silence--wherewith she besought the Divine assistance
through the day! Evidently, this is to be a day of more than ordinary trial
to Miss Hepzibah, who, for above a quarter of a century gone by, has dwelt
in strict seclusion, taking no part in the business of life, and just as
little in its intercourse and pleasures. Not with such fervor prays the
torpid recluse, looking forward to the cold, sunless, stagnant calm of
a day that is to be like innumerable yesterdays!
The maiden lady's devotions
are concluded. Will she now issue forth over the threshold of our story? Not
yet, by many moments. First, every drawer in the tall, old-fashioned bureau
is to be opened, with difficulty, and with a succession of spasmodic jerks;
then, all must close again, with the same fidgety reluctance. There is a rustling
of stiff silks; a tread of backward and forward footsteps, to and fro, across
the chamber. We suspect Miss Hepzibah, moreover, of taking a step upward into
a chair, in order to give heedful regard to her appearance, on all sides, and
at full length, in the oval, dingy-framed toilet-glass, that hangs above her
table. Truly! well, indeed! who would have thought it! Is all this precious
time to be lavished on the matutinal repair and beautifying of an elderly person,
who never goes abroad, whom nobody ever visits, and from whom, when she shall
have done her utmost, it were the best charity to turn one's eyes another way?
Now she is almost ready. Let us pardon her one
other pause; for it is given to the sole sentiment, or, we might better say--heightened
and rendered intense, as it has been, by sorrow and seclusion--to the strong
passion, of her life. We heard the turning of a key in a small lock; she had
opened a secret drawer of an escritoire, and is probably looking at a certain
miniature, done in Malbone's most perfect style, and representing a face worthy
of no less delicate a pencil. It was once our good fortune to see this picture.
It is a likeness of a young man, in a silken dressing-gown of an old fashion,
the soft richness of which is well adapted to the countenance of reverie, with
its full, tender lips, and beautiful eyes that seem to indicate not so much
capacity of thought, as gentle and voluptuous emotion. Of the possessor of such
features we shall have a right to ask nothing, except that he would take the
rude world easily, and make himself happy in it. Can it have been an early lover
of Miss Hepzibah? No; she never had a lover--poor thing, how could she?--nor
ever knew, by her own experience, what love technically means. And yet, her
undying faith and trust, her fresh remembrance, and continual devotedness towards
the original of that miniature, have been the only substance for her heart to
She seems to have put aside the miniature, and
is standing again before the toilet-glass. There are tears to be wiped off.
A few more footsteps to and fro; and here, at last--with another pitiful sigh,
like a gust of chill, damp wind out of a long-closed vault, the door of which
has accidentally been set ajar--here comes Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon! Forth she
steps into the dusky, time-darkened passage; a tall figure, clad in black silk,
with a long and shrunken waist, feeling her way towards the stairs like a near-sighted
person, as in truth she is.
[. . .]
We must linger a moment on this unfortunate expression
of poor Hepzibah's brow. Her scowl--as the world, or such part of it as sometimes
caught a transitory glimpse of her at the window, wickedly persisted in calling
it--her scowl had done Miss Hepzibah a very ill office, in establishing her
character as an ill-tempered old maid; nor does it appear improbable, that,
by often gazing at herself in a dim looking-glass, and perpetually encountering
her own frown within its ghostly sphere, she had been led to interpret the expression
almost as unjustly as the world did. "How miserably cross I look!" she must
often have whispered to herself;--and ultimately have fancied herself so, by
a sense of inevitable doom. But her heart never frowned. It was naturally tender,
sensitive, and full of little tremors and palpitations; all of which weaknesses
it retained, while her visage was growing so perversely stern, and even fierce….
[ . . .]
. . .Another heavy sigh from Miss Hepzibah!
After a moment's pause on the threshold, peering towards the window with her
near-sighted scowl, as if frowning down some bitter enemy, she suddenly projected
herself into the shop….
. . .It was the final throe of what called
itself old gentility. A lady--who had fed herself from childhood with the shadowy
food of aristocratic reminiscences, and whose religion it was that a lady's
hand soils itself irremediably by doing aught for bread--this born lady, after
sixty years of narrowing means, is fain to step down from her pedestal of imaginary
rank. Poverty, treading closely at her heels for a life-time, has come up with
her at last. She must earn her own food, or starve! And we have stolen upon
Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon, too irreverently, at the instant of time when the patrician
lady is to be transformed into the plebeian woman.
. . .Hepzibah, the immemorial lady,--
. . . reduced now, in that very house, to be the hucksteress of a cent-shop!
. . .--not a young and lovely woman, nor
even the stately remains of beauty, storm-shattered by affliction--but a gaunt,
sallow, rusty-jointed maiden, in a long-waisted silk gown, and with the strange
horror of a turban on her head! [Link to Record # 147] Her visage is not even
ugly. It is redeemed from insignificance only by the contraction of her eyebrows
into a near-sighted scowl. And, finally, her great life-trial seems to be, that,
after sixty years of idleness, she finds it convenient to earn comfortable bread
by setting up a shop in a small way. (Chapter