Miss Hepzibah had gone back to the living room. It was still early morning though some people were already in the street. She sat with her hands over her face. She cried, giving way to the sad feeling in her heart. An old woman, with no experience in doing business or in meeting with the public, she felt that there was little hope for her. Suddenly, there was the sound of the shop bell. The bell was so placed over the shop door that it sounded when anyone entered. It was probably the first time it had sounded in this way since old Pyncheon had his shop here. Hepzibah rose from her chair. She was very pale. Her first customer had arrived.
Without giving herself time for a second thought, she ran to the shop. Most shopkeepers smile when they meet their first customer of the day. Miss Hepzibah did not smile. She was
scowling as usual. She looked angry enough to fight with anyone who came in. Yet she did not have one bad thought against anyone in the world at this moment. She wished everyone well. But she wished at the same time that she did not have to meet with anyone or to do business with anyone. She wished she were dead.
The person who came into the shop was a young man. His manner was pleasant. He seemed to bring into the dark shop a little of the cheerful spirits of the outside world. He was not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years old. The expression of his face, for one so young, was rather serious. He wore a light beard. His clothes were of the simplest kind. They were not expensive clothes, but they were clean and well cared for.
He met Miss Hepzibah’s scowl calmly. He seemed to have met this scowl before. Therefore, he was not at all afraid of her.
“So, my dear Miss Hepzibah,” said the photographer—for it was the young man who had a room in one of the far gables of the house. “I am happy to see that you are going ahead with your plans. I only looked in to give you my best wishes. I also want to ask whether there is anything I can do to help you.”
Miss Hepzibah, when she saw the young man’s smile and heard his kindly voice, was touched. She began to cry again.
“Ah, Mr. Holgrave,” she said, as soon as she could speak. “I can never go through with this. I wish I were dead—at the side of my father, my mother, and my sister. Yes, and as for my brother—it is better that he find me dead than here. The world is too cold and hard. I am too old. I am not strong enough.”
“Oh, believe me, Miss Hepzibah,” said the young man, “you will not feel this way once you begin. After living alone for so many years, it is naturally difficult for you to face the world. The world, however, is not such an ugly and difficult place as you have always thought.”
“But I am a woman!” said Miss Hepzibah. “I was going to say, a lady—but I consider that as past.”
“Well, let it be past,” said the photographer. “You are better off without it. I speak the truth, my dear Miss Pyncheon. For are we not friends? I look upon this as one of the important days of your life. It ends one period and begins a new one. Before,
you sat alone in your home like an aristocrat. Your blood and your whole character were becoming cold. At the same time the world outside was fighting with its many problems. Tn the future you can take part in this fight.”
“It is natural enough, Mr. Holgrave, that you should have ideas like this,” said Miss Hepzibah. “You are a man, a young man. You were brought up like everyone today, with the idea of making your own living. But I was born a lady. I have always lived like one, even though I have been very poor.”
“But I was not born a gentleman. And I have not lived like one;” answered Mr. Holgrave, smiling. “So, my dear Miss Hepzibah, I naturally do not understand ideas of this kind. Perhaps the words gentleman and lady were very important in the past, but they are not important today. They have gone out of style. Do you really think, Miss Hepzibah, that any lady of your family has ever done a better thing than you are doing today? Never— not since this house was first built.'If the Pyncheons had only done as you are doing now, I doubt whether the old witch Maule, of whom you have spoken to me, would have had so much influence over their lives.”
“Ah, no, no!” said Hepzibah. “If old Maule or one of his descendants could see me in this shop today, they would think that all their wishes had been answered. But I thank you, Mr. Holgrave, for being so kind. I will try very hard to be a good shopkeeper.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. Why was Miss Hepzibah crying?
2. Why did she feel that there was little hope for her?
3. What did she hear?
4. Where was the bell placed?
5. Why did she scowl instead of smile when she went to meet her first customer?
6. Describe Miss Hepzibah’s first customer.
7. Why was he not afraid of her?
8. Who was her first customer? What was his name?
9. Did the young man come to buy something or to give her his best wishes?
10. Why did she begin lo cry again?
11.Why does Mr. Holgrave say that Miss Hepzibah will be better off as a shopkeeper?
12.Why does Miss Hepzibah think it is a disgrace to open a shop?
13.What words does Mr. Holgrave think have gone out of style?
14.What does Mr. Holgrave say about Mathew Maule?
15.What does Miss Hepzibah answer to this?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your
do business with well cared for going ahead with
looked in go through with out of style
When Holgrave went out, he left Miss Hepzibah feeling a little happier. Soon, however, her spirits fell again. She listened to the people passing in the street. Once or twice someone stopped to look into the window. It bothered Miss Hepzibah greatly to think that strange eyes now had the right to look into the House of the Seven Gables. Soon she heard two voices in the street. Two men stood talking outside.
“Look here,” one of the men said to the other. “What do you think of this? Business seems to be getting better in Pyncheon Street.”
“Well, well! This is really something to see,” said the second man. “In the old Pyncheon house and under the Pyncheon tree. Who would have thought it? Old maid Pyncheon is opening a shop.”
“Will she make it go, do you think?” asked the first man.
“Make it go?” said the other, as though the idea seemed impossible to him. “Not at all. I worked for her in her garden one •• year. Her face is enough to make the devil himself afraid if he ever entered her shop. People won’t stand it, I tell you. She scowls as though she were angry at the whole world.”
“But people like that are sometimes good at business,” said the first man.
“It’s a poor business,” answered the other. “A very poor bus-
iness. There are too many of these small shops now. I know it only too well. My wife had such a shop for three months and lost five dollars on it.”
This conversation naturally did not help Miss Hepzibah’s state of mind any. How lightly too, she thought, these people took this matter of her opening a shop. They laughed about it, passing down the street. They forgot about it at once. One man’s wife had lost money in such a shop. How, then, could Miss Hepzibah, a born lady, hope for'success? At this moment the shop bell sounded again. Miss Hepzibah’s heart began to beat wildly. She was very nervous. The door opened. But she could not see anyone through the upper part of the door.
“God help me!” she cried to herself. “Now is my hour of need.”
Then the lower part of the door opened slowly. A small boy stood there. He had his books under his arm. He was on his way to school. He looked at Miss Hepzibah for a moment. It seemed that he did not know what to make of this strange woman and her angry scowl.
“Well, child,” said Miss Hepzibah, taking heart upon seeing that her customer was only a child. “Well, my boy, what do you wish?”
“That cake there in the window,” answered the boy. He held out a penny in his hand. He pointed to the cake which he had seen from the street.
Hepzibah put out her long arm and took the cake from the window. She handed it to the boy. “Never mind the money,” she said, giving him a gentle push toward the door. The idea of taking money from the public still seemed unpleasant to her aristocratic mind. Also, it was the child’s only penny. “You are welcome to the cake.”
The boy looked at her with great surprise. This was also a new experience for him. He took the cake, put it into his mouth. He then ran out the door, leaving it partly open behind him. Hepzibah went to the door and closed it. She said something to herself about the bad manners of young children of today. She placed another cake in the window where the first had been. In a moment the bell sounded again. The same boy was back. He pointed to the other cake in the window.
“I want that other cake,” he said.
“Well, here it is for you,” said Hepzibah, reaching for it. She was about to give it to the boy. Then she drew back her hand. She began to see that this young customer would continue to come back as long as she had any cakes left. “Where is your penny?” she said.
The little boy had the penny ready. But like a true New Englander, he would have preferred to get the cake for nothing. Slowly he put the penny into Hepzibah’s hand. Then he turned around and left. The cake was already in his mouth. Miss Hepzibah put the penny in her money drawer. It was the first money she had made in her business. For the moment she felt a little better.
Her first day as a shopkeeper was not so bad as she had expected. Yet it was not easy. Her spirits changed often. At one moment she felt happy. At the next moment she was sad again. Customers came, but rather slowly. In some cases, they proved to be a little difficult. Sometimes they did not like what Miss Hepzibah offered them. Very often Miss Hepzibah did not have what they wanted. One or two customers, Hepzibah felt, came because they were curious to see what she was really like. At these customers Hepzibah scowled even more strongly than usual.
“I was never so afraid in my life,” said one of them later. She was telling a friend about it. “She’s a real old maid. You can take my word for it. She doesn’t talk much—but you can see the devil in her eye.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. How did Holgrave leave Miss Hepzibah feeling?
2. What soon began to bother Miss Hepzibah?
3. What did she hear two men saying outside the shop?
4. Why didn’t this conversation help Miss Hepzibah’s state of mind?
5. How did the sound of the shop bell make her feci?
6. Who was the person who came into the shop?
7. What did the child want to buy?
8.Why didn’t Miss Hepzibah take his penny from him?
9.Why did the boy come back?
10.Why did she take his penny for the second cake?
11. Describe Miss Hepzibah’s first day as a shopkeeper.
12. What did one of her customers say about her?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
not at all never mind
on his way you are welcome to
taking heart turned around