Excerpts from Chapter 3, "The First Customer," of The House of the Seven
Gables which focus on Hepzibah.
MISS HEPZIBAH PYNCHEON sat in the oaken elbow-chair, with her hands over her face,
giving way to that heavy down-sinking of the heart which most persons have experienced,
when the image of hope itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on the eve of
an enterprise at once doubtful and momentous. She was suddenly startled by the
tinkling alarum--high, sharp, and irregular--of a little
bell. The maiden lady arose upon her feet, as pale as a ghost at cock-crow;
for she was an enslaved spirit, and this the talisman to which she owed obedience.
This little bell--to speak in plainer terms--being fastened over the shop-door,
was so contrived as to vibrate by means of a steel spring, and thus convey notice
to the inner regions of the house, when any customer should cross the threshold.
Its ugly and spiteful little din (heard now for the first time, perhaps, since
Hepzibah's periwigged predecessor had retired from trade) at once set every nerve
of her body in responsive and tumultuous vibration. The crisis was upon her! Her
first customer was at the door!
Without giving herself time for a second thought, she rushed into the
shop, pale, wild, desperate in gesture and expression, scowling portentously,
and looking far better qualified to do fierce battle with a house-breaker
than to stand smiling behind the counter, bartering small wares for a copper
recompense. Any ordinary customer, indeed, would have turned his back and
fled. And yet there was nothing fierce in Hepzibah's poor old heart; nor
had she, at the moment, a single bitter thought against the world at large,
or one individual man or woman. She wished them all well, but wished, too,
that she herself were done with them, and in her quiet grave.
[ . . .]
"But I am a woman!" said Hepzibah, piteously. "I was going to say, a
lady,--but I consider that as past."
Hepzibah, [drew] up her gaunt figure, with slightly offended dignity.
"You are a man, a young man, and brought up, I suppose, as almost everybody
is now-a-days, with a view to seeking your fortune. But I was born a lady,
and have always lived one; no matter in what narrowness of means, always
. . ."Let me be a lady a moment longer," replied Hepzibah, with
a manner of antique stateliness, to which a melancholy smile lent a kind
of grace. She put the biscuits into his hand, but rejected the compensation….
. . .The structure of ancient aristocracy had been demolished
by him, even as if his childish gripe had torn down the seven-gabled mansion.
Now let Hepzibah turn the old Pyncheon portraits with their faces to the
wall, and take the map of her eastern territory to kindle the kitchen fire,
and blow up the flame with the empty breath of her ancestral traditions!
What had she to do with ancestry? Nothing; no more than with posterity!
No lady, now, but simply Hepzibah Pyncheon, a forlorn old maid, and keeper
of a cent-shop! (Chapter