In her grief, Hepzibah is startled by the tinkling of the shop bell: her first customer has arrived. When she rushes into the shop, however, she finds a young gentleman of 21 or 22, well-dressed and looking both grave and vigorous. It’s Holgrave, the daguerreotypist, who has come to offer well-wishes. At this expression of sympathy, Hepzibah bursts into fresh tears and says she cannot go through with the shop opening. Holgrave comforts her, saying that even frightening things, once confronted, lose their terror.
Holgrave represents rationality in the story, helping Hepzibah look at her situation reasonably and pointing out that terror—whether relatively mundane things like opening a store, or the more characteristically “Gothic” terrors that will emerge later in the story—is less horrible when directly confronted.
Holgrave also encourages her to think of this as a new stage in her life—one more active and purposeful. After all, nowadays, gentility is associated more with restriction than with privilege; he thinks Hepzibah is acting heroically by giving it up. Hepzibah says she will never understand these “new notions,” but that she appreciates his support. He offers to be Hepzibah’s first customer by purchasing some biscuits, but she gives them to Holgrave free of charge.
Holgrave is also the character who is most concerned with societal progress, which is why he sees Hepzibah as representing a bygone era that is deservedly being laid to rest. Hepzibah’s business efforts on her household’s behalf are a repudiation of leisured gentility.
Hepzibah feels ashamed when strangers peek at the goods displayed in her shop window. She also hears two laborers chatting outside. One of them, Dixey, criticizes Hepzibah’s scowl, and his companion adds that his own wife tried running a shop but failed. Dixey predicts that it will be a “poor business.” Just as Hepzibah is sure that no customer will ever cross her threshold, the bell tinkles again. A red-cheeked, frizzy-haired schoolboy, Ned Higgins, enters and asks for the gingerbread cookie displayed in the window. She gives it to him for free. Two minutes later, he returns for another, and this time, Hepzibah demands the one-cent payment.
Hepzibah, for her part, has not fully reconciled herself to the reality of being a shopkeeper, especially the intrusion on her privacy (hence her dignity) that this new venture represents. However, with Ned Higgins, she begins to gain some shrewdness about her newfound trade.
By this time, Hepzibah is finally calm. Invigorated by novelty and effort, she even permits herself an extra spoonful of sugar in her tea. As the morning progresses, however, several more customers straggle in, and Hepzibah endures several rebukes for failing to have root beer or yeast in stock. She is most dismayed by certain customers’ superior airs, imagining that her genteel roots are evident and should still be respected. Even worse is other customers’ sympathetic tones. Eventually, a genuine scowl crosses her face as she begins to resent the “idle aristocracy” to which she had so recently belonged.
Hepzibah is painfully aware of her ambiguous status—she is between different classes, neither genteel nor of the merchant class. Even though her roots are as socially respected as those of some of her customers, she no longer belongs to their world—and both their derision and their pity rankle her already sensitive spirit.