The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

8. The Pyncheon of To-day
PHOEBE, on entering the shop, beheld there the already familiar face of the little
devourer--if we can reckon his mighty deeds aright--of Jim Crow, the elephant, the
camel, the dromedaries, and the locomotive. Having expended his private fortune, on the
two preceding days, in the purchase of the above unheard-of luxuries, the young
gentleman's present errand was on the part of his mother, in quest of three eggs and half a
pound of raisins. These articles Phoebe accordingly supplied, and, as a mark of gratitude
for his previous patronage, and a slight super-added morsel after breakfast, put likewise
into his hand a whale! The great fish, reversing his experience with the prophet of
Nineveh, immediately began his progress down the same red pathway of fate whither so
varied a caravan had preceded him. This remarkable urchin, in truth, was the very
emblem of old Father Time, both in respect of his all-devouring appetite for men and
things, and because he, as well as Time, after ingulfing thus much of creation, looked
almost as youthful as if he had been just that moment made.
After partly closing the door, the child turned back, and mumbled something to Phoebe,
which, as the whale was but half disposed of, she could not perfectly understand.
"What did you say, my little fellow?" asked she.
"Mother wants to know" repeated Ned Higgins more distinctly, "how Old Maid
Pyncheon's brother does? Folks say he has got home."
"My cousin Hepzibah's brother?" exclaimed Phoebe, surprised at this sudden explanation
of the relationship between Hepzibah and her guest." Her brother! And where can he
have been?"
The little boy only put his thumb to his broad snub-nose, with that look of shrewdness
which a child, spending much of his time in the street. so soon learns to throw over his
features, however unintelligent in themselves. Then as Phoebe continued to gaze at him,
without answering his mother's message, he took his departure.
As the child went down the steps, a gentleman ascended them, and made his entrance into
the shop. It was the portly, and, had it possessed the advantage of a little more height,
would have been the stately figure of a man considerably in the decline of life, dressed in
a black suit of some thin stuff, resembling broadcloth as closely as possible. A gold-
headed cane, of rare Oriental wood, added materially to the high respectability of his
aspect, as did also a neckcloth of the utmost snowy purity, and the conscientious polish of
his boots. His dark, square countenance, with its almost shaggy depth of eyebrows, was
naturally impressive, and would, perhaps, have been rather stern, had not the gentleman
considerately taken upon himself to mitigate the harsh effect by a look of exceeding
good-humor and benevolence. Owing, however, to a somewhat massive accumulation of