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The House of the Seven Gables (Chapter 3)
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 housebreaker 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.