The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

2. The Little Shop-Window
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! Our story must
therefore await Miss Hepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming,
meanwhile, to note some of the heavy sighs that labored from her bosom, with little
restraint as to their lugubrious depth and volume of sound, inasmuch as they could be
audible to nobody save a disembodied listener like ourself. The Old Maid was alone in
the old house. Alone, except for a certain respectable and orderly young man, an artist in
the daguerreotype line, who, for about three months back, had been a lodger in a remote
gable,--quite a house by itself, indeed,--with locks, bolts, and oaken bars on all the
intervening doors. 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
farthest 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 has 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