The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

4. A Day Behind the Counter
TOWARDS noon, Hepzibah saw an elderly gentleman, large and portly, and of
remarkably dignified demeanor, passing slowly along on the opposite side of the white
and dusty street. On coming within the shadow of the Pyncheon Elm, he stopt, and
(taking off his hat, meanwhile, to wipe the perspiration from his brow) seemed to
scrutinize, with especial interest, the dilapidated and rusty-visaged House of the Seven
Gables. He himself, in a very different style, was as well worth looking at as the house.
No better model need be sought, nor could have been found, of a very high order of
respectability, which, by some indescribable magic, not merely expressed itself in his
looks and gestures, but even governed the fashion of his garments, and rendered them all
proper and essential to the man. Without appearing to differ, in any tangible way, from
other people's clothes, there was yet a wide and rich gravity about them that must have
been a characteristic of the wearer, since it could not be defined as pertaining either to the
cut or material. His gold-headed cane, too,--a serviceable staff, of dark polished wood,--
had similar traits, and, had it chosen to take a walk by itself, would have been recognized
anywhere as a tolerably adequate representative of its master. This character --which
showed itself so strikingly in everything about him, and the effect of which we seek to
convey to the reader--went no deeper than his station, habits of life, and external
circumstances. One perceived him to be a personage of marked influence and authority;
and, especially, you could feel just as certain that he was opulent as if he had exhibited
his bank account, or as if you had seen him touching the twigs of the Pyncheon Elm, and,
Midas-like, transmuting them to gold.
In his youth, he had probably been considered a handsome man; at his present age, his
brow was too heavy, his temples too bare, his remaining hair too gray, his eye too cold,
his lips too closely compressed, to bear any relation to mere personal beauty. He would
have made a good and massive portrait; better now, perhaps, than at any previous period
of his life, although his look might grow positively harsh in the process of being fixed
upon the canvas. The artist would have found it desirable to study his face, and prove its
capacity for varied expression; to darken it with a frown, --to kindle it up with a smile.
While the elderly gentleman stood looking at the Pyncheon House, both the frown and
the smile passed successively over his countenance. His eye rested on the shop-window,
and putting up a pair of gold-bowed spectacles, which he held in his hand, he minutely
surveyed Hepzibah's little arrangement of toys and commodities. At first it seemed not to
please him,--nay, to cause him exceeding displeasure,--and yet, the very next moment, he
smiled. While the latter expression was yet on his lips, he caught a glimpse of Hepzibah,
who had involuntarily bent forward to the window; and then the smile changed from
acrid and disagreeable to the sunniest complacency and benevolence. He bowed, with a
happy mixture of dignity and courteous kindliness, and pursued his way.