Part 4 out of 6
world-wide distance. During the early part of their acquaintance,
Phoebe had held back rather more than was customary with her frank
and simple manners from Holgrave's not very marked advances.
Nor was she yet satisfied that she knew him well, although they
almost daily met and talked together, in a kind, friendly, and what
seemed to be a familiar way.
The artist, in a desultory manner, had imparted to Phoebe
something of his history. Young as he was, and had his career
terminated at the point already attained, there had been enough
of incident to fill, very creditably, an autobiographic volume.
A romance on the plan of Gil Blas, adapted to American society
and manners, would cease to be a romance. The experience of
many individuals among us, who think it hardly worth the telling,
would equal the vicissitudes of the Spaniard's earlier life; while
their ultimate success, or the point whither they tend, may be
incomparably higher than any that a novelist would imagine for
his hero. Holgrave, as he told Phoebe somewhat proudly, could
not boast of his origin, unless as being exceedingly humble, nor
of his education, except that it had been the scantiest possible,
and obtained by a few winter-months' attendance at a district
school. Left early to his own guidance, he had begun to be
self-dependent while yet a boy; and it was a condition aptly
suited to his natural force of will. Though now but twenty-two
years old (lacking some months, which are years in such a life),
he had already been, first, a country schoolmaster; next,
a salesman in a country store; and, either at the same time or
afterwards, the political editor of a country newspaper. He had
subsequently travelled New England and the Middle States, as a
peddler, in the employment of a Connecticut manufactory of
cologne-water and other essences. In an episodical way he had
studied and practised dentistry, and with very flattering success,
especially in many of the factory-towns along our inland streams.
As a supernumerary official, of some kind or other, aboard a
packet-ship, he had visited Europe, and found means, before his
return, to see Italy, and part of France and Germany. At a later
period he had spent some months in a community of Fourierists.
Still more recently he had been a public lecturer on Mesmerism,
for which science (as he assured Phoebe, and, indeed, satisfactorily
proved, by putting Chanticleer, who happened to be scratching near
by, to sleep) he had very remarkable endowments.
His present phase, as a daguerreotypist, was of no more importance
in his own view, nor likely to be more permanent, than any of the
preceding ones. It had been taken up with the careless alacrity of
an adventurer, who had his bread to earn. It would be thrown aside
as carelessly, whenever he should choose to earn his bread by some
other equally digressive means. But what was most remarkable, and,
perhaps, showed a more than common poise in the young man, was the
fact that, amid all these personal vicissitudes, he had never lost
his identity. Homeless as he had been,--continually changing his
whereabout, and, therefore, responsible neither to public opinion
nor to individuals,--putting off one exterior, and snatching up
another, to be soon shifted for a third,--he had never violated
the innermost man, but had carried his conscience along with him.
It was impossible to know Holgrave without recognizing this to be
the fact. Hepzibah had seen it. Phoebe soon saw it likewise,
and gave him the sort of confidence which such a certainty inspires.
She was startled. however, and sometimes repelled,--not by any doubt
of his integrity to whatever law he acknowledged, but by a sense that
his law differed from her own. He made her uneasy, and seemed to
unsettle everything around her, by his lack of reverence for what
was fixed, unless, at a moment's warning, it could establish its
right to hold its ground.
Then, moreover, she scarcely thought him affectionate in his nature.
He was too calm and cool an observer. Phoebe felt his eye, often;
his heart, seldom or never. He took a certain kind of interest in
Hepzibah and her brother, and Phoebe herself. He studied them
attentively, and allowed no slightest circumstance of their
individualities to escape him. He was ready to do them whatever
good he might; but, after all, he never exactly made common cause
with them, nor gave any reliable evidence that he loved them better
in proportion as he knew them more. In his relations with them,
he seemed to be in quest of mental food, not heart-sustenance.
Phoebe could not conceive what interested him so much in her friends
and herself, intellectually, since he cared nothing for them, or,
comparatively, so little, as objects of human affection.
Always, in his interviews with Phoebe, the artist made especial
inquiry as to the welfare of Clifford, whom, except at the Sunday
festival, he seldom saw.
"Does he still seem happy?" he asked one day.
"As happy as a child," answered Phoebe; "but--like a child, too
--very easily disturbed."
"How disturbed?" inquired Holgrave. "By things without, or by
"I cannot see his thoughts! How should I?" replied Phoebe with
simple piquancy. "Very often his humor changes without any
reason that can be guessed at, just as a cloud comes over the
sun. Latterly, since I have begun to know him better, I feel it
to be not quite right to look closely into his moods. He has had
such a great sorrow, that his heart is made all solemn and sacred
by it. When he is cheerful,--when the sun shines into his mind,
--then I venture to peep in, just as far as the light reaches,
but no further. It is holy ground where the shadow falls!"
"How prettily you express this sentiment!" said the artist. "I can
understand the feeling, without possessing it. Had I your opportunities,
no scruples would prevent me from fathoming Clifford to the full depth
of my plummet-line!"
"How strange that you should wish it!" remarked Phoebe
involuntarily. "What is Cousin Clifford to you?"
"Oh, nothing,--of course, nothing!" answered Holgrave with a smile.
"Only this is such an odd and incomprehensible world! The more I look
at it, the more it puzzles me, and I begin to suspect that a man's
bewilderment is the measure of his wisdom. Men and women, and children,
too, are such strange creatures, that one never can be certain that he
really knows them; nor ever guess what they have been from what he
sees them to be now. Judge Pyncheon! Clifford! What a complex riddle
--a complexity of complexities--do they present! It requires intuitiv
e sympathy, like a young girl's, to solve it. A mere observer, like
myself (who never have any intuitions, and am, at best, only subtile
and acute), is pretty certain to go astray."
The artist now turned the conversation to themes less dark than
that which they had touched upon. Phoebe and he were young
together; nor had Holgrave, in his premature experience of life,
wasted entirely that beautiful spirit of youth, which, gushing
forth from one small heart and fancy, may diffuse itself over the
universe, making it all as bright as on the first day of creation.
Man's own youth is the world's youth; at least, he feels as if it
were, and imagines that the earth's granite substance is something
not yet hardened, and which he can mould into whatever shape he
likes. So it was with Holgrave. He could talk sagely about the
world's old age, but never actually believed what he said; he was
a young man still, and therefore looked upon the world--that
gray-bearded and wrinkled profligate, decrepit, without being
venerable--as a tender stripling, capable of being improved into
all that it ought to be, but scarcely yet had shown the remotest
promise of becoming. He had that sense, or inward prophecy,
--which a young man had better never have been born than not
to have, and a mature man had better die at once than utterly
to relinquish,--that we are not doomed to creep on forever in
the old bad way, but that, this very now, there are the harbingers
abroad of a golden era, to be accomplished in his own lifetime.
It seemed to Holgrave,--as doubtless it has seemed to the hopeful
of every century since the epoch of Adam's grandchildren,--that
in this age, more than ever before, the moss-grown and rotten Past
is to be torn down, and lifeless institutions to be thrust out of
the way, and their dead corpses buried, and everything to begin anew.
As to the main point,--may we never live to doubt it!--as to the
better centuries that are coming, the artist was surely right.
His error lay in supposing that this age, more than any past or
future one, is destined to see the tattered garments of Antiquity
exchanged for a new suit, instead of gradually renewing themselves
by patchwork; in applying his own little life-span as the measure
of an interminable achievement; and, more than all, in fancying
that it mattered anything to the great end in view whether he
himself should contend for it or against it. Yet it was well for
him to think so. This enthusiasm, infusing itself through the
calmness of his character, and thus taking an aspect of settled
thought and wisdom, would serve to keep his youth pure, and
make his aspirations high. And when, with the years settling
down more weightily upon him, his early faith should be modified
by inevitable experience, it would be with no harsh and sudden
revolution of his sentiments. He would still have faith in man's
brightening destiny, and perhaps love him all the better, as he
should recognize his helplessness in his own behalf; and the
haughty faith, with which he began life, would be well bartered
for a far humbler one at its close, in discerning that man's best
directed effort accomplishes a kind of dream, while God is the
sole worker of realities.
Holgrave had read very little, and that little in passing through
the thoroughfare of life, where the mystic language of his books
was necessarily mixed up with the babble of the multitude, so
that both one and the other were apt to lose any sense that might
have been properly their own. He considered himself a thinker,
and was certainly of a thoughtful turn, but, with his own path
to discover, had perhaps hardly yet reached the point where an
educated man begins to think. The true value of his character
lay in that deep consciousness of inward strength, which made
all his past vicissitudes seem merely like a change of garments;
in that enthusiasm, so quiet that he scarcely knew of its existence,
but which gave a warmth to everything that he laid his hand on;
in that personal ambition, hidden--from his own as well as other
eyes--among his more generous impulses, but in which lurked a
certain efficacy, that might solidify him from a theorist into
the champion of some practicable cause. Altogether in his culture
and want of culture,--in his crude, wild, and misty philosophy,
and the practical experience that counteracted some of its
tendencies; in his magnanimous zeal for man's welfare, and his
recklessness of whatever the ages had established in man's behalf;
in his faith, and in his infidelity. in what he had, and in what
he lacked,--the artist might fitly enough stand forth as the
representative of many compeers in his native land.
His career it would be difficult to prefigure. There appeared to
be qualities in Holgrave, such as, in a country where everything
is free to the hand that can grasp it, could hardly fail to put
some of the world's prizes within his reach. But these matters
are delightfully uncertain. At almost every step in life, we meet
with young men of just about Holgrave's age, for whom we anticipate
wonderful things, but of whom, even after much and careful inquiry,
we never happen to hear another word. The effervescence of youth
and passion, and the fresh gloss of the intellect and imagination,
endow them with a false brilliancy, which makes fools of themselves
and other people. Like certain chintzes, calicoes, and ginghams,
they show finely in their first newness, but cannot stand the sun
and rain, and assume a very sober aspect after washing-day.
But our business is with Holgrave as we find him on this particular
afternoon, and in the arbor of the Pyncheon garden. In that point
of view, it was a pleasant sight to behold this young man, with so
much faith in himself, and so fair an appearance of admirable
powers,--so little harmed, too, by the many tests that had tried
his metal,--it was pleasant to see him in his kindly intercourse
with Phoebe. Her thought had scarcely done him justice when it
pronounced him cold; or, if so, he had grown warmer now. Without
such purpose on her part, and unconsciously on his, she made the
House of the Seven Gables like a home to him, and the garden a
familiar precinct. With the insight on which he prided himself,
he fancied that he could look through Phoebe, and all around her,
and could read her off like a page of a child's story-book. But
these transparent natures are often deceptive in their depth; those
pebbles at the bottom of the fountain are farther from us than we
think. Thus the artist, whatever he might judge of Phoebe's capacity,
was beguiled, by some silent charm of hers, to talk freely of what
he dreamed of doing in the world. He poured himself out as to
another self. Very possibly, he forgot Phoebe while he talked to
her, and was moved only by the inevitable tendency of thought, when
rendered sympathetic by enthusiasm and emotion, to flow into the
first safe reservoir which it finds. But, had you peeped at them
through the chinks of the garden-fence, the young man's earnestness
and heightened color might have led you to suppose that he was making
love to the young girl!
At length, something was said by Holgrave that made it apposite
for Phoebe to inquire what had first brought him acquainted with
her cousin Hepzibah, and why he now chose to lodge in the desolate
old Pyncheon House. Without directly answering her, he turned
from the Future, which had heretofore been the theme of his
discourse, and began to speak of the influences of the Past.
One subject, indeed, is but the reverberation of the other.
"Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?" cried he, keeping up
the earnest tone of his preceding conversation. "It lies upon the
Present like a giant's dead body In fact, the case is just as if a
young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying
about the corpse of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a
long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried. Just think
a moment, and it will startle you to see what slaves we are to
bygone times,--to Death, if we give the matter the right word!"
"But I do not see it," observed Phoebe.
"For example, then," continued Holgrave: "a dead man, if he
happens to have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own;
or, if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the
notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all
our judgment-seats; and living judges do but search out and repeat
his decisions. We read in dead men's books! We laugh at dead men's
jokes, and cry at dead men's pathos! We are sick of dead men's
diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with
which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living
Deity according to dead men's forms and creeds. Whatever we seek
to do, of our own free motion, a dead man's icy hand obstructs us!
Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man's white, immitigable
face encounters them, and freezes our very heart! And we must be
dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence
on our own world, which will then be no longer our world, but the
world of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of
a right to interfere. I ought to have said, too, that we live in
dead men's houses; as, for instance, in this of the Seven Gables!"
"And why not," said Phoebe, "so long as we can be comfortable in them?"
"But we shall live to see the day, I trust," went on the artist,
"when no man shall build his house for posterity. Why should
he? He might just as reasonably order a durable suit of clothes,
--leather, or guttapercha, or whatever else lasts longest,
--so that his great-grandchildren should have the benefit of them,
and cut precisely the same figure in the world that he himself does.
If each generation were allowed and expected to build its own houses,
that single change, comparatively unimportant in itself, would imply
almost every reform which society is now suffering for. I doubt
whether even our public edifices--our capitols, state-houses,
court-houses, city-hall, and churches,--ought to be built of such
permanent materials as stone or brick. It were better that they
should crumble to ruin once in twenty years, or thereabouts, as a
hint to the people to examine into and reform the institutions which
"How you hate everything old!" said Phoebe in dismay. "It makes
me dizzy to think of such a shifting world!"
"I certainly love nothing mouldy," answered Holgrave. "Now, this
old Pyncheon House! Is it a wholesome place to live in, with its
black shingles, and the green moss that shows how damp they are?
--its dark, low-studded rooms--its grime and sordidness, which are
the crystallization on its walls of the human breath, that has been
drawn and exhaled here in discontent and anguish? The house ought
to be purified with fire,--purified till only its ashes remain!"
"Then why do you live in it?" asked Phoebe, a little piqued.
"Oh, I am pursuing my studies here; not in books, however,"
replied Holgrave. "The house, in my view, is expressive of that
odious and abominable Past, with all its bad influences, against
which I have just been declaiming. I dwell in it for a while,
that I may know the better how to hate it. By the bye, did you
ever hear the story of Maule, the wizard, and what happened
between him and your immeasurably great-grandfather?"
"Yes, indeed!" said Phoebe; "I heard it long ago, from my father,
and two or three times from my cousin Hepzibah, in the month
that I have been here. She seems to think that all the calamities
of the Pyncheons began from that quarrel with the wizard, as you
call him. And you, Mr. Holgrave look as if you thought so too!
How singular that you should believe what is so very absurd, when
you reject many things that are a great deal worthier of credit!"
"I do believe it," said the artist seriously; "not as a superstition,
however, but as proved by unquestionable facts, and as exemplifying
a theory. Now, see: under those seven gables, at which we now look
up, --and which old Colonel Pyncheon meant to be the house of his
descendants, in prosperity and happiness, down to an epoch far beyond
the present,--under that roof, through a portion of three centuries,
there has been perpetual remorse of conscience, a constantly defeated
hope, strife amongst kindred, various misery, a strange form of death,
dark suspicion, unspeakable disgrace, --all, or most of which calamity
I have the means of tracing to the old Puritan's inordinate desire to
plant and endow a family. To plant a family! This idea is at the
bottom of most of the wrong and mischief which men do. The truth is,
that, once in every half-century, at longest, a family should be
merged into the great, obscure mass of humanity, and forget all about
its ancestors. Human blood, in order to keep its freshness, should
run in hidden streams, as the water of an aqueduct is conveyed in
subterranean pipes. In the family existence of these Pyncheons,
for instance,--forgive me, Phoebe. but I, cannot think of you as
one of them,--in their brief New England pedigree, there has been
time enough to infect them all with one kind of lunacy or another."
"You speak very unceremoniously of my kindred," said Phoebe,
debating with herself whether she ought to take offence.
"I speak true thoughts to a true mind!" answered Holgrave, with a
vehemence which Phoebe had not before witnessed in him. "The truth
is as I say! Furthermore, the original perpetrator and father of
this mischief appears to have perpetuated himself, and still walks
the street,--at least, his very image, in mind and body,--with the
fairest prospect of transmitting to posterity as rich and as wretched
an inheritance as he has received! Do you remember the daguerreotype,
and its resemblance to the old portrait?"
"How strangely in earnest you are!" exclaimed Phoebe, looking at
him with surprise and perplexity; half alarmed and partly inclined
to laugh. "You talk of the lunacy of the Pyncheons; is it contagious?"
"I understand you!" said the artist, coloring and laughing.
"I believe I am a little mad. This subject has taken hold of
my mind with the strangest tenacity of clutch since I have lodged
in yonder old gable. As one method of throwing it off, I have
put an incident of the Pyncheon family history, with which I
happen to be acquainted, into the form of a legend, and mean
to publish it in a magazine."
"Do you write for the magazines?" inquired Phoebe.
"Is it possible you did not know it?" cried Holgrave. "Well, such
is literary fame! Yes. Miss Phoebe Pyncheon, among the multitude
of my marvellous gifts I have that of writing stories; and my name
has figured, I can assure you, on the covers of Graham and Godey,
making as respectable an appearance, for aught I could see, as any
of the canonized bead-roll with which it was associated. In the
humorous line, I am thought to have a very pretty way with me;
and as for pathos, I am as provocative of tears as an onion.
But shall I read you my story?"
"Yes, if it is not very long," said Phoebe,--and added laughingly,
--"nor very dull."
As this latter point was one which the daguerreotypist could not
decide for himself, he forthwith produced his roll of manuscript,
and, while the late sunbeams gilded the seven gables, began to read.
XIII Alice Pyncheon
THERE was a message brought, one day, from the worshipful Gervayse
Pyncheon to young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, desiring his immediate
presence at the House of the Seven Gables.
"And what does your master want with me?" said the carpenter to
Mr. Pyncheon's black servant. "Does the house need any repair?
Well it may, by this time; and no blame to my father who built
it, neither! I was reading the old Colonel's tombstone, no longer
ago than last Sabbath; and, reckoning from that date, the house
has stood seven-and-thirty years. No wonder if there should be
a job to do on the roof."
"Don't know what massa wants," answered Scipio. "The house is
a berry good house, and old Colonel Pyncheon think so too, I
reckon;--else why the old man haunt it so, and frighten a poor
nigga, As he does?"
"Well, well, friend Scipio; let your master know that I'm coming,"
said the carpenter with a laugh. "For a fair, workmanlike job,
he'll find me his man. And so the house is haunted, is it? It will
take a tighter workman than I am to keep the spirits out of the
Seven Gables. Even if the Colonel would be quiet," he added,
muttering to himself, "my old grandfather, the wizard, will be pretty
sure to stick to the Pyncheons as long as their walls hold together."
"What's that you mutter to yourself, Matthew Maule?" asked
Scipio. "And what for do you look so black at me?"
"No matter, darky." said the carpenter. "Do you think nobody
is to look black but yourself? Go tell your master I'm coming;
and if you happen to see Mistress Alice, his daughter, give Matthew
Maule's humble respects to her. She has brought a fair face from
Italy,--fair, and gentle, and proud,--has that same Alice Pyncheon!"
"He talk of Mistress Alice!" cried Scipio, as he returned from his
errand. "The low carpenter-man! He no business so much as to look
at her a great way off!"
This young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, it must be observed,
was a person little understood, and not very generally liked,
in the town where he resided; not that anything could be alleged
against his integrity, or his skill and diligence in the handicraft
which he exercised. The aversion (as it might justly be called)
with which many persons regarded him was partly the result of
his own character and deportment, and partly an inheritance.
He was the grandson of a former Matthew Maule, one of the early
settlers of the town, and who had been a famous and terrible
wizard in his day. This old reprobate was one of the sufferers
when Cotton Mather, and his brother ministers, and the learned
judges, and other wise men, and Sir William Phipps, the sagacious
governor, made such laudable efforts to weaken the great enemy
of souls, by sending a multitude of his adherents up the rocky
pathway of Gallows Hill. Since those days, no doubt, it had
grown to be suspected that, in consequence of an unfortunate
overdoing of a work praiseworthy in itself, the proceedings
against the witches had proved far less acceptable to the
Beneficent Father than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were
intended to distress and utterly overwhelm. It is not the less
certain, however, that awe and terror brooded over the memories
of those who died for this horrible crime of witchcraft. Their
graves, in the crevices of the rocks, were supposed to be incapable
of retaining the occupants who had been so hastily thrust into them.
Old Matthew Maule, especially, was known to have as little hesitation
or difficulty in rising out of his grave as an ordinary man in
getting out of bed, and was as often seen at midnight as living
people at noonday. This pestilent wizard (in whom his just punishment
seemed to have wrought no manner of amendment) had an inveterate
habit of haunting a certain mansion, styled the House of the
Seven Gables, against the owner of which he pretended to hold
an unsettled claim for ground-rent. The ghost, it appears,--with
the pertinacity which was one of his distinguishing characteristics
while alive,--insisted that he was the rightful proprietor of the
site upon which the house stood. His terms were, that either the
aforesaid ground-rent, from the day when the cellar began to be dug,
should be paid down, or the mansion itself given up; else he, the
ghostly creditor, would have his finger in all the affairs of the
Pyncheons, and make everything go wrong with them, though it should
be a thousand years after his death. It was a wild story, perhaps,
but seemed not altogether so incredible to those who could remember
what an inflexibly obstinate old fellow this wizard Maule had been.
Now, the wizard's grandson, the young Matthew Maule of our story,
was popularly supposed to have inherited some of his ancestor's
questionable traits. It is wonderful how many absurdities were
promulgated in reference to the young man. He was fabled, for example,
to have a strange power of getting into people's dreams, and regulating
matters there according to his own fancy, pretty much like the
stage-manager of a theatre. There was a great deal of talk among
the neighbors, particularly the petticoated ones, about what they
called the witchcraft of Maule's eye. Some said that he could look
into people's minds; others, that, by the marvellous power of this
eye, he could draw people into his own mind, or send them, if he
pleased, to do errands to his grandfather, in the spiritual world;
others, again, that it was what is termed an Evil Eye, and possessed
the valuable faculty of blighting corn, and drying children into
mummies with the heartburn. But, after all, what worked most to the
young carpenter's disadvantage was, first, the reserve and sternness
of his natural disposition, and next, the fact of his not being a
church-communicant, and the suspicion of his holding heretical tenets
in matters of religion and polity.
After receiving Mr. Pyncheon's message, the carpenter merely
tarried to finish a small job, which he happened to have in hand,
and then took his way towards the House of the Seven Gables.
This noted edifice, though its style might be getting a little out
of fashion, was still as respectable a family residence as that
of any gentleman in town. The present owner, Gervayse Pyncheon,
was said to have contracted a dislike to the house, in consequence
of a shock to his sensibility, in early childhood, from the sudden
death of his grandfather. In the very act of running to climb
Colonel Pyncheon's knee, the boy had discovered the old Puritan
to be a corpse. On arriving at manhood, Mr. Pyncheon had visited
England, where he married a lady of fortune, and had subsequently
spent many years, partly in the mother country, and partly in various
cities on the continent of Europe. During this period, the family
mansion had been consigned to the charge of a kinsman, who was
allowed to make it his home for the time being, in consideration
of keeping the premises in thorough repair. So faithfully had this
contract been fulfilled, that now, as the carpenter approached the
house, his practised eye could detect nothing to criticise in its
condition. The peaks of the seven gables rose up sharply; the shingled
roof looked thoroughly water-tight; and the glittering plaster-work
entirely covered the exterior walls, and sparkled in the October sun,
as if it had been new only a week ago.
The house had that pleasant aspect of life which is like the
cheery expression of comfortable activity in the human countenance.
You could see, at once, that there was the stir of a large family
within it. A huge load of oak-wood was passing through the gateway,
towards the outbuildings in the rear; the fat cook--or probably it
might be the housekeeper--stood at the side door, bargaining for
some turkeys and poultry which a countryman had brought for sale.
Now and then a maid-servant, neatly dressed, and now the shining
sable face of a slave, might be seen bustling across the windows,
in the lower part of the house. At an open window of a room in the
second story, hanging over some pots of beautiful and delicate
flowers,--exotics, but which had never known a more genial sunshine
than that of the New England autumn, --was the figure of a young
lady, an exotic, like the flowers, and beautiful and delicate as
they. Her presence imparted an indescribable grace and faint witchery
to the whole edifice. In other respects, it was a substantial,
jolly-looking mansion, and seemed fit to be the residence of a
patriarch, who might establish his own headquarters in the front
gable and assign one of the remainder to each of his six children,
while the great chimney in the centre should symbolize the old
fellow's hospitable heart, which kept them all warm, and made a
great whole of the seven smaller ones.
There was a vertical sundial on the front gable; and as the
carpenter passed beneath it, he looked up and noted the hour.
"Three o'clock!" said he to himself. "My father told me that dial
was put up only an hour before the old Colonel's death. How
truly it has kept time these seven-and-thirty years past! The
shadow creeps and creeps, and is always looking over the
shoulder of the sunshine!"
It might have befitted a craftsman, like Matthew Maule, on being
sent for to a gentleman's house, to go to the back door, where
servants and work-people were usually admitted; or at least to
the side entrance, where the better class of tradesmen made
application. But the carpenter had a great deal of pride and
stiffness in his nature; and, at this moment, moreover, his heart
was bitter with the sense of hereditary wrong, because he
considered the great Pyncheon House to be standing on soil
which should have been his own. On this very site, beside
a spring of delicious water, his grandfather had felled the
pine-trees and built a cottage, in which children had been born
to him; and it was only from a dead man's stiffened fingers that
Colonel Pyncheon had wrested away the title-deeds. So young
Maule went straight to the principal entrance, beneath a portal
of carved oak, and gave such a peal of the iron knocker that you
would have imagined the stern old wizard himself to be standing
at the threshold.
Black Scipio answered the summons in a prodigious, hurry; but showed
the whites of his eyes in amazement on beholding only the carpenter.
"Lord-a-mercy! what a great man he be, this carpenter fellow."
mumbled Scipio, down in his throat. "Anybody think he beat on
the door with his biggest hammer!"
"Here I am!" said Maule sternly. "Show me the way to your
As he stept into the house, a note of sweet and melancholy music
thrilled and vibrated along the passage-way, proceeding from one
of the rooms above stairs. It was the harpsichord which Alice Pyncheon
had brought with her from beyond the sea. The fair Alice bestowed most
of her maiden leisure between flowers and music, although the former
were apt to droop, and the melodies were often sad. She was of
foreign education, and could not take kindly to the New England modes
of life, in which nothing beautiful had ever been developed.
As Mr. Pyncheon had been impatiently awaiting Maule's arrival,
black Scipio, of course, lost no time in ushering the carpenter
into his master's presence. The room in which this gentleman sat
was a parlor of moderate size, looking out upon the garden of
the house, and having its windows partly shadowed by the foliage
of fruit-trees. It was Mr. Pyncheon's peculiar apartment,
and was provided with furniture, in an elegant and costly style,
principally from Paris; the floor (which was unusual at that day)
being covered with a carpet, so skilfully and richly wrought that
it seemed to glow as with living flowers. In one corner stood a
marble woman, to whom her own beauty was the sole and
sufficient garment. Some pictures--that looked old, and had a
mellow tinge diffused through all their artful splendor--hung on
the walls. Near the fireplace was a large and very beautiful
cabinet of ebony, inlaid with ivory; a piece of antique furniture,
which Mr. Pyncheon had bought in Venice, and which he used
as the treasure-place for medals, ancient coins, and whatever
small and valuable curiosities he had picked up on his travels.
Through all this variety of decoration, however, the room showed
its original characteristics; its low stud, its cross-beam, its
chimney-piece, with the old-fashioned Dutch tiles; so that it was
the emblem of a mind industriously stored with foreign ideas,
and elaborated into artificial refinement, but neither larger,
nor, in its proper self, more elegant than before.
There were two objects that appeared rather out of place in this
very handsomely furnished room. One was a large map, or
surveyor's plan, of a tract of land, which looked as if it had
been drawn a good many years ago, and was now dingy with smoke,
and soiled, here and there, with the touch of fingers. The other
was a portrait of a stern old man, in a Puritan garb, painted
roughly, but with a bold effect, and a remarkably strong
expression of character.
At a small table, before a fire of English sea-coal, sat Mr.
Pyncheon, sipping coffee, which had grown to be a very favorite
beverage with him in France. He was a middle-aged and really
handsome man, with a wig flowing down upon his shoulders; his coat
was of blue velvet, with lace on the borders and at the button-holes;
and the firelight glistened on the spacious breadth of his waistcoat,
which was flowered all over with gold. On the entrance of Scipio,
ushering in the carpenter, Mr. Pyncheon turned partly round, but
resumed his former position, and proceeded deliberately to finish
his cup of coffee, without immediate notice of the guest whom he
had summoned to his presence. It was not that he intended any
rudeness or improper neglect,--which, indeed, he would have
blushed to be guilty of,--but it never occurred to him that a
person in Maule's station had a claim on his courtesy, or would
trouble himself about it one way or the other.
The carpenter, however, stepped at once to the hearth, and turned
himself about, so as to look Mr. Pyncheon in the face.
"You sent for me," said he. "Be pleased to explain your business,
that I may go back to my own affairs."
"Ah! excuse me," said Mr. Pyncheon quietly. "I did not mean to
tax your time without a recompense. Your name, I think, is Maule,
--Thomas or Matthew Maule,--a son or grandson of the builder
of this house?"
"Matthew Maule," replied the carpenter,--"son of him who built
the house,--grandson of the rightful proprietor of the soil."
"I know the dispute to which you allude," observed Mr. Pyncheon
with undisturbed equanimity. "I am well aware that my grandfather
was compelled to resort to a suit at law, in order to establish
his claim to the foundation-site of this edifice. We will not,
if you please, renew the discussion. The matter was settled at the
time, and by the competent authorities,--equitably, it is to be
presumed,--and, at all events, irrevocably. Yet, singularly enough,
there is an incidental reference to this very subject in what I am
now about to say to you. And this same inveterate grudge,--excuse
me, I mean no offence,--this irritability, which you have just shown,
is not entirely aside from the matter."
"If you can find anything for your purpose, Mr. Pyncheon," said
the carpenter, "in a man's natural resentment for the wrongs done
to his blood, you are welcome to it."
"I take you at your word, Goodman Maule," said the owner of
the Seven Gables, with a smile, "and will proceed to suggest a
mode in which your hereditary resentments--justifiable or
otherwise--may have had a bearing on my affairs. You have
heard, I suppose, that the Pyncheon family, ever since my
grandfather's days, have been prosecuting a still unsettled
claim to a very large extent of territory at the Eastward?"
"Often," replied Maule,--and it is said that a smile came over his
face,--"very often,--from my father!"
"This claim," continued Mr. Pyncheon, after pausing a moment,
as if to consider what the carpenter's smile might mean,
"appeared to be on the very verge of a settlement and full
allowance, at the period of my grandfather's decease. It was well
known, to those in his confidence, that he anticipated neither
difficulty nor delay. Now, Colonel Pyncheon, I need hardly say,
was a practical man, well acquainted with public and private
business, and not at all the person to cherish ill-founded hopes,
or to attempt the following out of an impracticable scheme. It is
obvious to conclude, therefore, that he had grounds, not apparent
to his heirs, for his confident anticipation of success in the
matter of this Eastern claim. In a word, I believe,--and my legal
advisers coincide in the belief, which, moreover, is authorized,
to a certain extent, by the family traditions,--that my grandfather
was in possession of some deed, or other document, essential to
this claim, but which has since disappeared."
"Very likely," said Matthew Maule,--and again, it is said, there
was a dark smile on his face,--"but what can a poor carpenter
have to do with the grand affairs of the Pyncheon family?"
"Perhaps nothing," returned Mr. Pyncheon, "possibly much!"
Here ensued a great many words between Matthew Maule and
the proprietor of the Seven Gables, on the subject which the
latter had thus broached. It seems (although Mr. Pyncheon had
some hesitation in referring to stories so exceedingly absurd in
their aspect) that the popular belief pointed to some mysterious
connection and dependence, existing between the family of the
Maules and these vast unrealized possessions of the Pyncheons.
It was an ordinary saying that the old wizard, hanged though he
was, had obtained the best end of the bargain in his contest with
Colonel Pyncheon; inasmuch as he had got possession of the great
Eastern claim, in exchange for an acre or two of garden-ground.
A very aged woman, recently dead, had often used the metaphorical
expression, in her fireside talk, that miles and miles of the
Pyncheon lands had been shovelled into Maule's grave; which, by
the bye, was but a very shallow nook, between two rocks, near
the summit of Gallows Hill. Again, when the lawyers were making
inquiry for the missing document, it was a by-word that it would
never be found, unless in the wizard's skeleton hand. So much
weight had the shrewd lawyers assigned to these fables, that (but
Mr. Pyncheon did not see fit to inform the carpenter of the fact)
they had secretly caused the wizard's grave to be searched. Nothing
was discovered, however, except that, unaccountably, the right hand
of the skeleton was gone.
Now, what was unquestionably important, a portion of these
popular rumors could be traced, though rather doubtfully and
indistinctly, to chance words and obscure hints of the executed
wizard's son, and the father of this present Matthew Maule. And
here Mr. Pyncheon could bring an item of his own personal
evidence into play. Though but a child at the time, he either
remembered or fancied that Matthew's father had had some job
to perform on the day before, or possibly the very morning of
the Colonel's decease, in the private room where he and the
carpenter were at this moment talking. Certain papers belonging
to Colonel Pyncheon, as his grandson distinctly recollected, had
been spread out on the table.
Matthew Maule understood the insinuated suspicion.
"My father," he said,--but still there was that dark smile, making
a riddle of his countenance,--"my father was an honester man
than the bloody old Colonel! Not to get his rights back again
would he have carried off one of those papers!"
"I shall not bandy words with you," observed the foreign-bred
Mr. Pyncheon, with haughty composure. "Nor will it become me
to resent any rudeness towards either my grandfather or myself.
A gentleman, before seeking intercourse with a person of your
station and habits, will first consider whether the urgency of
the end may compensate for the disagreeableness of the means.
It does so in the present instance."
He then renewed the conversation, and made great pecuniary
offers to the carpenter, in case the latter should give information
leading to the discovery of the lost document, and the consequent
success of the Eastern claim. For a long time Matthew Maule is
said to have turned a cold ear to these propositions. At last,
however, with a strange kind of laugh, he inquired whether Mr.
Pyncheon would make over to him the old wizard's
homestead-ground, together with the House of the Seven Gables,
now standing on it, in requital of the documentary evidence so
The wild, chimney-corner legend (which, without copying all its
extravagances, my narrative essentially follows) here gives an
account of some very strange behavior on the part of Colonel
Pyncheon's portrait. This picture, it must be understood, was
supposed to be so intimately connected with the fate of the
house, and so magically built into its walls, that, if once it
should be removed, that very instant the whole edifice would
come thundering down in a heap of dusty ruin. All through the
foregoing conversation between Mr. Pyncheon and the carpenter,
the portrait had been frowning, clenching its fist, and giving
many such proofs of excessive discomposure, but without
attracting the notice of either of the two colloquists. And
finally, at Matthew Maule's audacious suggestion of a transfer
of the seven-gabled structure, the ghostly portrait is averred to
have lost all patience, and to have shown itself on the point of
descending bodily from its frame. But such incredible incidents
are merely to be mentioned aside.
"Give up this house!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, in amazement at
the proposal. "Were I to do so, my grandfather would not rest
quiet in his grave!"
"He never has, if all stories are true," remarked the carpenter
composedly. "But that matter concerns his grandson more than it
does Matthew Maule. I have no other terms to propose."
Impossible as he at first thought it to comply with Maule's
conditions, still, on a second glance, Mr. Pyncheon was of
opinion that they might at least be made matter of discussion.
He himself had no personal attachment for the house, nor any
pleasant associations connected with his childish residence in it.
On the contrary, after seven-and-thirty years, the presence of his
dead grandfather seemed still to pervade it, as on that morning
when the affrighted boy had beheld him, with so ghastly an
aspect, stiffening in his chair. His long abode in foreign parts,
moreover, and familiarity with many of the castles and ancestral
halls of England, and the marble palaces of Italy, had caused him
to look contemptuously at the House of the Seven Gables,
whether in point of splendor or convenience. It was a mansion
exceedingly inadequate to the style of living which it would be
incumbent on Mr. Pyncheon to support, after realizing his
territorial rights. His steward might deign to occupy it, but never,
certainly, the great landed proprietor himself. In the event of
success, indeed, it was his purpose to return to England; nor, to
say the truth, would he recently have quitted that more congenial
home, had not his own fortune, as well as his deceased wife's,
begun to give symptoms of exhaustion. The Eastern claim
once fairly settled, and put upon the firm basis of actual
possession, Mr. Pyncheon's property--to be measured by miles,
not acres--would be worth an earldom, and would reasonably
entitle him to solicit, or enable him to purchase, that elevated
dignity from the British monarch. Lord Pyncheon!--or the Earl of
Waldo!--how could such a magnate be expected to contract his
grandeur within the pitiful compass of seven shingled gables?
In short, on an enlarged view of the business, the carpenter's
terms appeared so ridiculously easy that Mr. Pyncheon could
scarcely forbear laughing in his face. He was quite ashamed,
after the foregoing reflections, to propose any diminution of
so moderate a recompense for the immense service to be rendered.
"I consent to your proposition, Maule," cried he." Put me in
possession of the document essential to establish my rights,
and the House of the Seven Gables is your own!"
According to some versions of the story, a regular contract to
the above effect was drawn up by a lawyer, and signed and sealed
in the presence of witnesses. Others say that Matthew Maule was
contented with a private written agreement, in which Mr. Pyncheon
pledged his honor and integrity to the fulfillment of the terms
concluded upon. The gentleman then ordered wine, which he and
the carpenter drank together, in confirmation of their bargain.
During the whole preceding discussion and subsequent formalities,
the old Puritan's portrait seems to have persisted in its shadowy
gestures of disapproval; but without effect, except that, as Mr.
Pyncheon set down the emptied glass, he thought be beheld his
"This sherry is too potent a wine for me; it has affected my brain
already," he observed, after a somewhat startled look at the picture.
"On returning to Europe, I shall confine myself to the more delicate
vintages of Italy and France, the best of which will not bear
"My Lord Pyncheon may drink what wine he will, and wherever he
pleases," replied the carpenter, as if he had been privy to Mr.
Pyncheon's ambitious projects. "But first, sir, if you desire tidings
of this lost document, I must crave the favor of a little talk with
your fair daughter Alice."
"You are mad, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon haughtily; and now,
at last, there was anger mixed up with his pride. "What can my
daughter have to do with a business like this?"
Indeed, at this new demand on the carpenter's part, the proprietor
of the Seven Gables was even more thunder-struck than at the cool
proposition to surrender his house. There was, at least, an
assignable motive for the first stipulation; there appeared to be
none whatever for the last. Nevertheless, Matthew Maule sturdily
insisted on the young lady being summoned, and even gave her
father to understand, in a mysterious kind of explanation,--which
made the matter considerably darker than it looked before,--that
the only chance of acquiring the requisite knowledge was through
the clear, crystal medium of a pure and virgin intelligence, like
that of the fair Alice. Not to encumber our story with Mr. Pyncheon's
scruples, whether of conscience, pride, or fatherly affection,
he at length ordered his daughter to be called. He well knew that
she was in her chamber, and engaged in no occupation that could not
readily be laid aside; for, as it happened, ever since Alice's name
had been spoken, both her father and the carpenter had heard the sad
and sweet music of her harpsichord, and the airier melancholy of her
So Alice Pyncheon was summoned, and appeared. A portrait of this
young lady, painted by a Venetian artist, and left by her father
in England, is said to have fallen into the hands of the present
Duke of Devonshire, and to be now preserved at Chatsworth; not on
account of any associations with the original, but for its value
as a picture, and the high character of beauty in the countenance.
If ever there was a lady born, and set apart from the world's vulgar
mass by a certain gentle and cold stateliness, it was this very Alice
Pyncheon. Yet there was the womanly mixture in her; the tenderness,
or, at least, the tender capabilities. For the sake of that redeeming
quality, a man of generous nature would have forgiven all her pride,
and have been content, almost, to lie down in her path, and let Alice
set her slender foot upon his heart. All that he would have required
was simply the acknowledgment that he was indeed a man, and a
fellow-being, moulded of the same elements as she.
As Alice came into the room, her eyes fell upon the carpenter,
who was standing near its centre, clad in green woollen jacket,
a pair of loose breeches, open at the knees, and with a long
pocket for his rule, the end of which protruded; it was as proper
a mark of the artisan's calling as Mr. Pyncheon's full-dress
sword of that gentleman's aristocratic pretensions. A glow of
artistic approval brightened over Alice Pyncheon's face; she was
struck with admiration--which she made no attempt to conceal--of
the remarkable comeliness, strength, and energy of Maule's figure.
But that admiring glance (which most other men, perhaps, would
have cherished as a sweet recollection all through life) the
carpenter never forgave. It must have been the devil himself
that made Maule so subtile in his preception.
"Does the girl look at me as if I were a brute beast?" thought he,
setting his teeth. "She shall know whether I have a human spirit;
and the worse for her, if it prove stronger than her own!"
"My father, you sent for me," said Alice, in her sweet and harp-like
voice. "But, if you have business with this young man, pray let me
go again. You know I do not love this room, in spite of that Claude,
with which you try to bring back sunny recollections."
"Stay a moment, young lady, if you please!" said Matthew Maule.
"My business with your father is over. With yourself, it is now to begin!"
Alice looked towards her father, in surprise and inquiry.
"Yes, Alice," said Mr. Pyncheon, with some disturbance and
confusion. "This young man--his name is Matthew Maule--professes,
so far as I can understand him, to be able to discover, through
your means, a certain paper or parchment, which was missing long
before your birth. The importance of the document in question
renders it advisable to neglect no possible, even if improbable,
method of regaining it. You will therefore oblige me, my dear Alice,
by answering this person's inquiries, and complying with his lawful
and reasonable requests, so far as they may appear to have the
aforesaid object in view. As I shall remain in the room, you need
apprehend no rude nor unbecoming deportment, on the young man's
part; and, at your slightest wish, of course, the investigation,
or whatever we may call it, shall immediately be broken off."
"Mistress Alice Pyncheon," remarked Matthew Maule, with the
utmost deference, but yet a half-hidden sarcasm in his look
and tone, "will no doubt feel herself quite safe in her father's
presence, and under his all-sufficient protection."
"I certainly shall entertain no manner of apprehension, with my
father at hand," said Alice with maidenly dignity. "Neither do I
conceive that a lady, while true to herself, can have aught to
fear from whomsoever, or in any circumstances!"
Poor Alice! By what unhappy impulse did she thus put herself at once
on terms of defiance against a strength which she could not estimate?
"Then, Mistress Alice," said Matthew Maule, handing a chair,
--gracefully enough, for a craftsman, "will it please you only
to sit down, and do me the favor (though altogether beyond a
poor carpenter's deserts) to fix your eyes on mine!"
Alice complied, She was very proud. Setting aside all advantages
of rank, this fair girl deemed herself conscious of a power
--combined of beauty, high, unsullied purity, and the preservative
force of womanhood--that could make her sphere impenetrable,
unless betrayed by treachery within. She instinctively knew,
it may be, that some sinister or evil potency was now striving
to pass her barriers; nor would she decline the contest. So Alice
put woman's might against man's might; a match not often equal
on the part of woman.
Her father meanwhile had turned away, and seemed absorbed in
the contemplation of a landscape by Claude, where a shadowy
and sun-streaked vista penetrated so remotely into an ancient
wood, that it would have been no wonder if his fancy had lost
itself in the picture's bewildering depths. But, in truth,
the picture was no more to him at that moment than the blank
wall against which it hung. His mind was haunted with the many
and strange tales which he had heard, attributing mysterious if
not supernatural endowments to these Maules, as well the grandson
here present as his two immediate ancestors. Mr. Pyncheon's long
residence abroad, and intercourse with men of wit and fashion,
--courtiers, worldings, and free-thinkers,--had done much towards
obliterating the grim Puritan superstitions, which no man of New
England birth at that early period could entirely escape. But,
on the other hand, had not a whole Community believed Maule's
grandfather to be a wizard? Had not the crime been proved? Had
not the wizard died for it? Had he not bequeathed a legacy of
hatred against the Pyncheons to this only grandson, who, as it
appeared, was now about to exercise a subtle influence over the
daughter of his enemy's house? Might not this influence be the
same that was called witchcraft?
Turning half around, he caught a glimpse of Maule's figure in
the looking-glass. At some paces from Alice, with his arms
uplifted in the air, the carpenter made a gesture as if directing
downward a slow, ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden.
"Stay, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, stepping forward. "I forbid
your proceeding further!"
"Pray, my dear father, do not interrupt the young man," said Alice,
without changing her position. "His efforts, I assure you, will
prove very harmless."
Again Mr. Pyncheon turned his eyes towards the Claude. It was then
his daughter's will, in opposition to his own, that the experiment
should be fully tried. Henceforth, therefore, he did but consent,
not urge it. And was it not for her sake far more than for his own
that he desired its success? That lost parchment once restored,
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon, with the rich dowry which he could
then bestow, might wed an English duke or a German reigning-prince,
instead of some New England clergyman or lawyer! At the thought,
the ambitious father almost consented, in his heart, that, if the
devil's power were needed to the accomplishment of this great object,
Maule might evoke him. Alice's own purity would be her safeguard.
With his mind full of imaginary magnificence, Mr. Pyncheon heard
a half-uttered exclamation from his daughter. It was very faint
and low; so indistinct that there seemed but half a will to shape
out the words, and too undefined a purport to be intelligible.
Yet it was a call for help!--his conscience never doubted it;--and,
little more than a whisper to his ear, it was a dismal shriek,
and long reechoed so, in the region round his heart! But this time
the father did not turn.
After a further interval, Maule spoke.
"Behold your daughter." said he.
Mr. Pyncheon came hastily forward. The carpenter was standing
erect in front of Alice's chair, and pointing his finger towards
the maiden with an expression of triumphant power, the limits of
which could not be defined, as, indeed, its scope stretched
vaguely towards the unseen and the infinite. Alice sat in an
attitude of profound repose, with the long brown lashes drooping
over her eyes.
"There she is!" said the carpenter. "Speak to her!"
"Alice! My daughter!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon. "My own Alice!"
She did not stir.
"Louder!" said Maule, smiling.
"Alice! Awake!" cried her father. "It troubles me to see you thus! Awake!"
He spoke loudly, with terror in his voice, and close to that
delicate ear which had always been so sensitive to every discord.
But the sound evidently reached her not. It is indescribable what
a sense of remote, dim, unattainable distance betwixt himself and
Alice was impressed on the father by this impossibility of
reaching her with his voice.
"Best touch her" said Matthew Maule "Shake the girl, and roughly,
too! My hands are hardened with too much use of axe, saw, and plane,
--else I might help you!"
Mr. Pyncheon took her hand, and pressed it with the earnestness
of startled emotion. He kissed her, with so great a heart-throb in
the kiss, that he thought she must needs feel it. Then, in a gust of
anger at her insensibility, he shook her maiden form with a violence
which, the next moment, it affrighted him to remember. He withdrew
his encircling arms, and Alice--whose figure, though flexible, had
been wholly impassive--relapsed into the same attitude as before these
attempts to arouse her. Maule having shifted his position, her face
was turned towards him slightly, but with what seemed to be a reference
of her very slumber to his guidance.
Then it was a strange sight to behold how the man of conventionalities
shook the powder out of his periwig; how the reserved and stately
gentleman forgot his dignity; how the gold-embroidered waistcoat
flickered and glistened in the firelight with the convulsion of rage,
terror, and sorrow in the human heart that was beating under it.
"Villain!" cried Mr. Pyncheon, shaking his clenched fist at Maule.
"You and the fiend together have robbed me of my daughter. Give her
back, spawn of the old wizard, or you shall climb Gallows Hill in
your grandfather's footsteps!"
"Softly, Mr. Pyncheon!" said the carpenter with scornful
composure. "Softly, an it please your worship, else you will spoil
those rich lace ruffles at your wrists! Is it my crime if you have
sold your daughter for the mere hope of getting a sheet of yellow
parchment into your clutch? There sits Mistress Alice quietly
asleep. Now let Matthew Maule try whether she be as proud as
the carpenter found her awhile since."
He spoke, and Alice responded, with a soft, subdued, inward
acquiescence, and a bending of her form towards him, like the
flame of a torch when it indicates a gentle draught of air.
He beckoned with his hand, and, rising from her chair,--blindly,
but undoubtingly, as tending to her sure and inevitable centre,
--the proud Alice approached him. He waved her back, and,
retreating, Alice sank again into her seat.
"She is mine!" said Matthew Maule. "Mine, by the right of the
In the further progress of the legend, there is a long, grotesque,
and occasionally awe-striking account of the carpenter's incantations
(if so they are to be called), with a view of discovering the lost
document. It appears to have been his object to convert the mind
of Alice into a kind of telescopic medium, through which Mr. Pyncheon
and himself might obtain a glimpse into the spiritual world.
He succeeded, accordingly, in holding an imperfect sort of intercourse,
at one remove, with the departed personages in whose custody the so
much valued secret had been carried beyond the precincts of earth.
During her trance, Alice described three figures as being present
to her spiritualized perception. One was an aged, dignified,
stern-looking gentleman, clad as for a solemn festival in grave
and costly attire, but with a great bloodstain on his richly
wrought band; the second, an aged man, meanly dressed, with a
dark and malign countenance, and a broken halter about his neck;
the third, a person not so advanced in life as the former two,
but beyond the middle age, wearing a coarse woollen tunic and
leather breeches, and with a carpenter's rule sticking out of
his side pocket. These three visionary characters possessed a
mutual knowledge of the missing document. One of them, in truth,
--it was he with the blood-stain on his band,--seemed, unless his
gestures were misunderstood, to hold the parchment in his immediate
keeping, but was prevented by his two partners in the mystery from
disburdening himself of the trust. Finally, when he showed a
purpose of shouting forth the secret loudly enough to be heard
from his own sphere into that of mortals, his companions struggled
with him, and pressed their hands over his mouth; and forthwith
--whether that he were choked by it, or that the secret itself was
of a crimson hue --there was a fresh flow of blood upon his band.
Upon this, the two meanly dressed figures mocked and jeered at the
much-abashed old dignitary, and pointed their fingers at the stain.
At this juncture, Maule turned to Mr. Pyncheon.
"It will never be allowed," said he. "The custody of this secret,
that would so enrich his heirs, makes part of your grandfather's
retribution. He must choke with it until it is no longer of any
value. And keep you the House of the Seven Gables! It is too
dear bought an inheritance, and too heavy with the curse upon it,
to be shifted yet awhile from the Colonel's posterity."
Mr. Pyncheon tried to speak, but--what with fear and passion--could
make only a gurgling murmur in his throat. The carpenter smiled.
"Aha, worshipful sir!--so you have old Maule's blood to drink!"
said he jeeringly.
"Fiend in man's shape! why dost thou keep dominion over my child?"
cried Mr. Pyncheon, when his choked utterance could make way. "Give
me back my daughter. Then go thy ways; and may we never meet again!"
"Your daughter!" said Matthew Maule. "Why, she is fairly mine!
Nevertheless, not to be too hard with fair Mistress Alice, I will
leave her in your keeping; but I do not warrant you that she shall
never have occasion to remember Maule, the carpenter."
He waved his hands with an upward motion; and, after a few
repetitions of similar gestures, the beautiful Alice Pyncheon
awoke from her strange trance. She awoke without the slightest
recollection of her visionary experience; but as one losing herself
in a momentary reverie, and returning to the consciousness of
actual life, in almost as brief an interval as the down-sinking
flame of the hearth should quiver again up the chimney. On
recognizing Matthew Maule, she assumed an air of somewhat cold
but gentle dignity, the rather, as there was a certain peculiar
smile on the carpenter's visage that stirred the native pride of
the fair Alice. So ended, for that time, the quest for the lost
title-deed of the Pyncheon territory at the Eastward; nor, though
often subsequently renewed, has it ever yet befallen a Pyncheon
to set his eye upon that parchment.
But, alas for the beautiful, the gentle, yet too haughty Alice!
A power that she little dreamed of had laid its grasp upon her
maiden soul. A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do
its grotesque and fantastic bidding. Her father as it proved, had
martyred his poor child to an inordinate desire for measuring his
land by miles instead of acres. And, therefore, while Alice
Pyncheon lived, she was Maule's slave, in a bondage more humiliating,
a thousand-fold, than that which binds its chain around the body.
Seated by his humble fireside, Maule had but to wave his hand; and,
wherever the proud lady chanced to be,--whether in her chamber, or
entertaining her father's stately guests, or worshipping at church,
--whatever her place or occupation, her spirit passed from beneath
her own control, and bowed itself to Maule. "Alice, laugh!"--the
carpenter, beside his hearth, would say; or perhaps intensely will
it, without a spoken word. And, even were it prayer-time, or at a
funeral, Alice must break into wild laughter. "Alice, be sad!"--and,
at the instant, down would come her tears, quenching all the mirth
of those around her like sudden rain upon a bonfire. "Alice, dance."
--and dance she would, not in such court-like measures as she had
learned abroad, but Some high-paced jig, or hop-skip rigadoon,
befitting the brisk lasses at a rustic merry-making. It seemed to
be Maule's impulse, not to ruin Alice, nor to visit her with any
black or gigantic mischief, which would have crowned her sorrows
with the grace of tragedy, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn upon
her. Thus all the dignity of life was lost. She felt herself too
much abased, and longed to change natures with some worm!
One evening, at a bridal party (but not her own; for, so lost from
self-control, she would have deemed it sin to marry), poor Alice
was beckoned forth by her unseen despot, and constrained, in her
gossamer white dress and satin slippers, to hasten along the street
to the mean dwelling of a laboring-man. There was laughter and
good cheer within; for Matthew Maule, that night, was to wed
the laborer's daughter, and had summoned proud Alice Pyncheon
to wait upon his bride. And so she did; and when the twain were
one, Alice awoke out of her enchanted sleep. Yet, no longer
proud,--humbly, and with a smile all steeped in sadness,--she
kissed Maule's wife, and went her way. It was an inclement
night; the southeast wind drove the mingled snow and rain into
her thinly sheltered bosom; her satin slippers were wet through
and through, as she trod the muddy sidewalks. The next day a
cold; soon, a settled cough; anon, a hectic cheek, a wasted form,
that sat beside the harpsichord, and filled the house with music!
Music in which a strain of the heavenly choristers was echoed! Oh;
joy For Alice had borne her last humiliation! Oh, greater joy! For
Alice was penitent of her one earthly sin, and proud no more!
The Pyncheons made a great funeral for Alice. The kith and kin
were there, and the whole respectability of the town besides.
But, last in the procession, came Matthew Maule, gnashing his
teeth, as if he would have bitten his own heart in twain,--the
darkest and wofullest man that ever walked behind a corpse! He
meant to humble Alice, not to kill her; but he had taken a woman's
delicate soul into his rude gripe, to play with--and she was dead!
XIV Phoebe's Good-By
HOLGRAVE, plunging into his tale with the energy and absorption
natural to a young author, had given a good deal of action to
the parts capable of being developed and exemplified in that
manner. He now observed that a certain remarkable drowsiness
(wholly unlike that with which the reader possibly feels himself
affected) had been flung over the senses of his auditress.
It was the effect, unquestionably, of the mystic gesticulations
by which he had sought to bring bodily before Phoebe's perception
the figure of the mesmerizing carpenter. With the lids drooping
over her eyes,--now lifted for an instant, and drawn down again
as with leaden weights,--she leaned slightly towards him, and
seemed almost to regulate her breath by his. Holgrave gazed at
her, as he rolled up his manuscript, and recognized an incipient
stage of that curious psychological condition which, as he had
himself told Phoebe, he possessed more than an ordinary faculty
of producing. A veil was beginning to be muffled about her,
in which she could behold only him, and live only in his thoughts
and emotions. His glance, as he fastened it on the young girl,
grew involuntarily more concentrated; in his attitude there was
the consciousness of power, investing his hardly mature figure
with a dignity that did not belong to its physical manifestation.
It was evident, that, with but one wave of his hand and a
corresponding effort of his will, he could complete his mastery
over Phoebe's yet free and virgin spirit: he could establish an
influence over this good, pure, and simple child, as dangerous,
and perhaps as disastrous, as that which the carpenter of his
legend had acquired and exercised over the ill-fated Alice.
To a disposition like Holgrave's, at once speculative and active,
there is no temptation so great as the opportunity of acquiring
empire over the human spirit; nor any idea more seductive to a young
man than to become the arbiter of a young girl's destiny. Let us,
therefore, --whatever his defects of nature and education, and in
spite of his scorn for creeds and institutions,--concede to the
daguerreotypist the rare and high quality of reverence for another's
individuality. Let us allow him integrity, also, forever after to
be confided in; since he forbade himself to twine that one link more
which might have rendered his spell over Phoebe indissoluble.
He made a slight gesture upward with his hand.
"You really mortify me, my dear Miss Phoebe!" he exclaimed,
smiling half-sarcastically at her. "My poor story, it is but
too evident, will never do for Godey or Graham! Only think of
your falling asleep at what I hoped the newspaper critics would
pronounce a most brilliant, powerful, imaginative, pathetic, and
original winding up! Well, the manuscript must serve to light
lamps with;--if, indeed, being so imbued with my gentle dulness,
it is any longer capable of flame!"
"Me asleep! How can you say so?" answered Phoebe, as unconscious
of the crisis through which she had passed as an infant of the
precipice to the verge of which it has rolled. "No, no! I consider
myself as having been very attentive; and, though I don't remember
the incidents quite distinctly, yet I have an impression of a vast
deal of trouble and calamity,--so, no doubt, the story will prove
By this time the sun had gone down, and was tinting the clouds
towards the zenith with those bright hues which are not seen
there until some time after sunset, and when the horizon has
quite lost its richer brilliancy. The moon, too, which had long
been climbing overhead, and unobtrusively melting its disk into
the azure,--like an ambitious demagogue, who hides his aspiring
purpose by assuming the prevalent hue of popular sentiment,--now
began to shine out, broad and oval, in its middle pathway. These
silvery beams were already powerful enough to change the character
of the lingering daylight. They softened and embellished the aspect
of the old house; although the shadows fell deeper into the angles
of its many gables, and lay brooding under the projecting story,
and within the half-open door. With the lapse of every moment,
the garden grew more picturesque; the fruit-trees, shrubbery, and
flower-bushes had a dark obscurity among them. The commonplace
characteristics--which, at noontide, it seemed to have taken a
century of sordid life to accumulate--were now transfigured by
a charm of romance. A hundred mysterious years were whispering
among the leaves, whenever the slight sea-breeze found its way
thither and stirred them. Through the foliage that roofed the
little summer-house the moonlight flickered to and fro, and fell
silvery white on the dark floor, the table, and the circular bench,
with a continual shift and play, according as the chinks and wayward
crevices among the twigs admitted or shut out the glimmer.
So sweetly cool was the atmosphere, after all the feverish day,
that the summer eve might be fancied as sprinkling dews and
liquid moonlight, with a dash of icy temper in them, out of a
silver vase. Here and there, a few drops of this freshness
were scattered on a human heart, and gave it youth again, and
sympathy with the eternal youth of nature. The artist chanced
to be one on whom the reviving influence fell. It made him
feel--what he sometimes almost forgot, thrust so early as he
had been into the rude struggle of man with man--how youthful
he still was.
"It seems to me," he observed, "that I never watched the coming
of so beautiful an eve, and never felt anything so very much
like happiness as at this moment. After all, what a good world
we live in! How good, and beautiful! How young it is, too, with
nothing really rotten or age-worn in it! This old house, for
example, which sometimes has positively oppressed my breath
with its smell of decaying timber! And this garden, where the
black mould always clings to my spade, as if I were a sexton
delving in a graveyard! Could I keep the feeling that now
possesses me, the garden would every day be virgin soil, with the
earth's first freshness in the flavor of its beans and squashes;
and the house!--it would be like a bower in Eden, blossoming with
the earliest roses that God ever made. Moonlight, and the
sentiment in man's heart responsive to it, are the greatest of
renovators and reformers. And all other reform and renovation,
I suppose, will prove to be no better than moonshine!"
"I have been happier than I am now; at least, much gayer," said
Phoebe thoughtfully. "Yet I am sensible of a great charm in this
brightening moonlight; and I love to watch how the day, tired as
it is, lags away reluctantly, and hates to be called yesterday
so soon. I never cared much about moonlight before. What is there,
I wonder, so beautiful in it, to-night?"
"And you have never felt it before?" inquired the artist, looking
earnestly at the girl through the twilight.
"Never," answered Phoebe; "and life does not look the same, now
that I have felt it so. It seems as if I had looked at everything,
hitherto, in broad daylight, or else in the ruddy light of a
cheerful fire, glimmering and dancing through a room. Ah, poor
me!" she added, with a half-melancholy laugh. "I shall never be
so merry as before I knew Cousin Hepzibah and poor Cousin
Clifford. I have grown a great deal older, in this little time.
Older, and, I hope, wiser, and,--not exactly sadder,--but, certainly,
with not half so much lightness in my spirits! I have given them
my sunshine, and have been glad to give it; but, of course, I
cannot both give and keep it. They are welcome, notwithstanding!"
"You have lost nothing, Phoebe, worth keeping, nor which it was
possible to keep," said Holgrave after a pause. "Our first youth
is of no value; for we are never conscious of it until after it is
gone. But sometimes--always, I suspect, unless one is exceedingly
unfortunate--there comes a sense of second youth, gushing out of
the heart's joy at being in love; or, possibly, it may come to
crown some other grand festival in life, if any other such there
be. This bemoaning of one's self (as you do now) over the first,
careless, shallow gayety of youth departed, and this profound
happiness at youth regained,--so much deeper and richer than that
we lost,--are essential to the soul's development. In some cases,
the two states come almost simultaneously, and mingle the sadness
and the rapture in one mysterious emotion."
"I hardly think I understand you," said Phoebe.
"No wonder," replied Holgrave, smiling; "for I have told you a
secret which I hardly began to know before I found myself giving
it utterance. remember it, however; and when the truth becomes
clear to you, then think of this moonlight scene!"
"It is entirely moonlight now, except only a little flush of
faint crimson, upward from the west, between those buildings,"
remarked Phoebe. "I must go in. Cousin Hepzibah is not quick
at figures, and will give herself a headache over the day's
accounts, unless I help her."
But Holgrave detained her a little longer.
"Miss Hepzibah tells me," observed he, "that you return to the
country in a few days."
"Yes, but only for a little while," answered Phoebe; "for I look
upon this as my present home. I go to make a few arrangements,
and to take a more deliberate leave of my mother and friends.
It is pleasant to live where one is much desired and very useful;
and I think I may have the satisfaction of feeling myself so here."
"You surely may, and more than you imagine," said the artist.
"Whatever health, comfort, and natural life exists in the house
is embodied in your person. These blessings came along with you,
and will vanish when you leave the threshold. Miss Hepzibah, by
secluding herself from society, has lost all true relation with
it, and is, in fact, dead; although she galvanizes herself into
a semblance of life, and stands behind her counter, afflicting
the world with a greatly-to-be-deprecated scowl. Your poor
cousin Clifford is another dead and long-buried person, on whom
the governor and council have wrought a necromantic miracle.
I should not wonder if he were to crumble away, some morning,
after you are gone, and nothing be seen of him more, except a
heap of dust. Miss Hepzibah, at any rate, will lose what little
flexibility she has. They both exist by you."
"I should be very sorry to think so," answered Phoebe gravely.
"But it is true that my small abilities were precisely what they
needed; and I have a real interest in their welfare,--an odd
kind of motherly sentiment,--which I wish you would not laugh at!
And let me tell you frankly, Mr. Holgrave, I am sometimes
puzzled to know whether you wish them well or ill."
"Undoubtedly," said the daguerreotypist, "I do feel an interest
in this antiquated, poverty-stricken old maiden lady, and this
degraded and shattered gentleman,--this abortive lover of the
beautiful. A kindly interest, too, helpless old children that
they are! But you have no conception what a different kind of
heart mine is from your own. It is not my impulse, as regards
these two individuals, either to help or hinder; but to look on,
to analyze, to explain matters to myself, and to comprehend the
drama which, for almost two hundred years, has been dragging
its slow length over the ground where you and I now tread. If
permitted to witness the close, I doubt not to derive a moral
satisfaction from it, go matters how they may. There is a
conviction within me that the end draws nigh. But, though
Providence sent you hither to help, and sends me only as a
privileged and meet spectator, I pledge myself to lend these
unfortunate beings whatever aid I can!"
"I wish you would speak more plainly," cried Phoebe, perplexed
and displeased; "and, above all, that you would feel more like
a Christian and a human being! How is it possible to see people
in distress without desiring, more than anything else, to help
and comfort them? You talk as if this old house were a theatre;
and you seem to look at Hepzibah's and Clifford's misfortunes,
and those of generations before them, as a tragedy, such as I
have seen acted in the hall of a country hotel, only the present
one appears to be played exclusively for your amusement. I do
not like this. The play costs the performers too much, and the
audience is too cold-hearted."
"You are severe," said Holgrave, compelled to recognize a degree
of truth in the piquant sketch of his own mood.
"And then," continued Phoebe, "what can you mean by your
conviction, which you tell me of, that the end is drawing near?
Do you know of any new trouble hanging over my poor
relatives? If so, tell me at once, and I will not leave them!"
"Forgive me, Phoebe!" said the daguerreotypist, holding out his
hand, to which the girl was constrained to yield her own." I am
somewhat of a mystic, it must be confessed. The tendency is in my
blood, together with the faculty of mesmerism, which might have
brought me to Gallows Hill, in the good old times of witchcraft.
Believe me, if I were really aware of any secret, the disclosure
of which would benefit your friends,--who are my own friends,
likewise,--you should learn it before we part. But I have no
"You hold something back!" said Phoebe.
"Nothing,--no secrets but my own," answered Holgrave. "I can
perceive, indeed, that Judge Pyncheon still keeps his eye on
Clifford, in whose ruin he had so large a share. His motives
and intentions, however are a mystery to me. He is a determined
and relentless man, with the genuine character of an inquisitor;
and had he any object to gain by putting Clifford to the rack,
I verily believe that he would wrench his joints from their sockets,
in order to accomplish it. But, so wealthy and eminent as he is,
--so powerful in his own strength, and in the support of society
on all sides,--what can Judge Pyncheon have to hope or fear from
the imbecile, branded, half-torpid Clifford?"
"Yet," urged Phoebe, "you did speak as if misfortune were impending!"
"Oh, that was because I am morbid!" replied the artist. "My mind
has a twist aside, like almost everybody's mind, except your own.
Moreover, it is so strange to find myself an inmate of this old
Pyncheon House, and sitting in this old garden--(hark, how Maule's
well is murmuring!)--that, were it only for this one circumstance,
I cannot help fancying that Destiny is arranging its fifth act
for a catastrophe."
"There." cried Phoebe with renewed vexation; for she was by
nature as hostile to mystery as the sunshine to a dark corner.
"You puzzle me more than ever!"
"Then let us part friends!" said Holgrave, pressing her hand. "Or,
if not friends, let us part before you entirely hate me. You, who
love everybody else in the world!"
"Good-by, then," said Phoebe frankly. "I do not mean to be angry
a great while, and should be sorry to have you think so. There
has Cousin Hepzibah been standing in the shadow of the doorway,
this quarter of an hour past! She thinks I stay too long in the
damp garden. So, good-night, and good-by."
On the second morning thereafter, Phoebe might have been seen, in
her straw bonnet, with a shawl on one arm and a little carpet-bag
on the other, bidding adieu to Hepzibah and Cousin Clifford. She
was to take a seat in the next train of cars, which would transport
her to within half a dozen miles of her country village.
The tears were in Phoebe's eyes; a smile, dewy with affectionate
regret, was glimmering around her pleasant mouth. She wondered
how it came to pass, that her life of a few weeks, here in this
heavy-hearted old mansion, had taken such hold of her, and so
melted into her associations, as now to seem a more important
centre-point of remembrance than all which had gone before.
How had Hepzibah--grim, silent, and irresponsive to her overflow
of cordial sentiment--contrived to win so much love? And Clifford,
--in his abortive decay, with the mystery of fearful crime upon
him, and the close prison-atmosphere yet lurking in his breath,
--how had he transformed himself into the simplest child, whom
Phoebe felt bound to watch over, and be, as it were, the providence
of his unconsidered hours! Everything, at that instant of farewell,
stood out prominently to her view. Look where she would, lay her
hand on what she might, the object responded to her consciousness,
as if a moist human heart were in it.
She peeped from the window into the garden, and felt herself
more regretful at leaving this spot of black earth, vitiated with
such an age-long growth of weeds, than joyful at the idea of again
scenting her pine forests and fresh clover-fields. She called
Chanticleer, his two wives, and the venerable chicken, and threw
them some crumbs of bread from the breakfast-table. These being
hastily gobbled up, the chicken spread its wings, and alighted
close by Phoebe on the window-sill, where it looked gravely into
her face and vented its emotions in a croak. Phoebe bade it be
a good old chicken during her absence, and promised to bring it
a little bag of buckwheat.
"Ah, Phoebe!" remarked Hepzibah, "you do not smile so naturally
as when you came to us! Then, the smile chose to shine out; now,
you choose it should. It is well that you are going back, for
a little while, into your native air. There has been too much
weight on your spirits. The house is too gloomy and lonesome;
the shop is full of vexations; and as for me, I have no faculty
of making things look brighter than they are. Dear Clifford has
been your only comfort!"
"Come hither, Phoebe," suddenly cried her cousin Clifford, who
had said very little all the morning. "Close!--closer!--and look
me in the face!"
Phoebe put one of her small hands on each elbow of his chair, and
leaned her face towards him, so that he might peruse it as carefully
as he would. It is probable that the latent emotions of this parting
hour had revived, in some degree, his bedimmed and enfeebled faculties.
At any rate, Phoebe soon felt that, if not the profound insight of a
seer, yet a more than feminine delicacy of appreciation, was making
her heart the subject of its regard. A moment before, she had known
nothing which she would have sought to hide. Now, as if some secret
were hinted to her own consciousness through the medium of another's
perception, she was fain to let her eyelids droop beneath Clifford's
gaze. A blush, too,--the redder, because she strove hard to keep it
down,--ascended bigger and higher, in a tide of fitful progress,
until even her brow was all suffused with it.
"It is enough, Phoebe," said Clifford, with a melancholy smile.
"When I first saw you, you were the prettiest little maiden in the
world; and now you have deepened into beauty. Girlhood has passed into
womanhood; the bud is a bloom! Go, now--I feel lonelier than I did."
Phoebe took leave of the desolate couple, and passed through the
shop, twinkling her eyelids to shake off a dew-drop; for--considering
how brief her absence was to be, and therefore the folly of being
cast down about it--she would not so far acknowledge her tears as
to dry them with her handkerchief. On the doorstep, she met the
little urchin whose marvellous feats of gastronomy have been
recorded in the earlier pages of our narrative. She took from the
window some specimen or other of natural history,--her eyes being
too dim with moisture to inform her accurately whether it was a
rabbit or a hippopotamus,--put it into the child's hand as a
parting gift, and went her way. Old Uncle Venner was just coming
out of his door, with a wood-horse and saw on his shoulder; and,
trudging along the street, he scrupled not to keep company with
Phoebe, so far as their paths lay together; nor, in spite of his
patched coat and rusty beaver, and the curious fashion of his
tow-cloth trousers, could she find it in her heart to outwalk him.
"We shall miss you, next Sabbath afternoon," observed the street
philosopher." It is unaccountable how little while it takes some
folks to grow just as natural to a man as his own breath; and,
begging your pardon, Miss Phoebe (though there can be no offence
in an old man's saying it), that's just what you've grown to me!
My years have been a great many, and your life is but just
beginning; and yet, you are somehow as familiar to me as if I
had found you at my mother's door, and you had blossomed,
like a running vine, all along my pathway since. Come back
soon, or I shall be gone to my farm; for I begin to find these
wood-sawing jobs a little too tough for my back-ache."
"Very soon, Uncle Venner," replied Phoebe.
"And let it be all the sooner, Phoebe, for the sake of those
poor souls yonder," continued her companion. "They can never
do without you, now,--never, Phoebe; never--no more than if one
of God's angels had been living with them, and making their dismal
house pleasant and comfortable! Don't it seem to you they'd be in
a sad case, if, some pleasant summer morning like this, the angel
should spread his wings, and fly to the place he came from? Well,
just so they feel, now that you're going home by the railroad!
They can't bear it, Miss Phoebe; so be sure to come back!"
"I am no angel, Uncle Venner," said Phoebe, smiling, as she offered
him her hand at the street-corner. "But, I suppose, people never
feel so much like angels as when they are doing what little good
they may. So I shall certainly come back!"
Thus parted the old man and the rosy girl; and Phoebe took the
wings of the morning, and was soon flitting almost as rapidly
away as if endowed with the aerial locomotion of the angels to
whom Uncle Venner had so graciously compared her.
XV The Scowl and Smile
SEVERAL days passed over the Seven Gables, heavily and drearily
enough. In fact (not to attribute the whole gloom of sky and
earth to the one inauspicious circumstance of Phoebe's departure),
an easterly storm had set in, and indefatigably apply itself to
the task of making the black roof and walls of the old house look
more cheerless than ever before. Yet was the outside not half so
cheerless as the interior. Poor Clifford was cut off, at once,
from all his scanty resources of enjoyment. Phoebe was not there;
nor did the sunshine fall upon the floor. The garden, with its
muddy walks, and the chill, dripping foliage of its summer-house,
was an image to be shuddered at. Nothing flourished in the cold,
moist, pitiless atmosphere, drifting with the brackish scud of
sea-breezes, except the moss along the joints of the shingle-roof,
and the great bunch of weeds, that had lately been suffering from
drought, in the angle between the two front gables.
As for Hepzibah, she seemed not merely possessed with the east
wind, but to be, in her very person, only another phase of this
gray and sullen spell of weather; the east wind itself, grim and
disconsolate, in a rusty black silk gown, and with a turban of
cloud-wreaths on its head. The custom of the shop fell off,
because a story got abroad that she soured her small beer and
other damageable commodities, by scowling on them. It is, perhaps,
true that the public had something reasonably to complain of in
her deportment; but towards Clifford she was neither ill-tempered
nor unkind, nor felt less warmth of heart than always, had it
been possible to make it reach him. The inutility of her best
efforts, however, palsied the poor old gentlewoman. She could
do little else than sit silently in a corner of the room,
when the wet pear-tree branches, sweeping across the small
windows, created a noon-day dusk, which Hepzibah unconsciously
darkened with her woe-begone aspect. It was no fault of
Hepzibah's. Everything--even the old chairs and tables, that had
known what weather was for three or four such lifetimes as her
own--looked as damp and chill as if the present were their worst
experience. The picture of the Puritan Colonel shivered on the
wall. The house itself shivered, from every attic of its seven
gables down to the great kitchen fireplace, which served all the
better as an emblem of the mansion's heart, because, though built
for warmth, it was now so comfortless and empty.
Hepzibah attempted to enliven matters by a fire in the parlor.
But the storm demon kept watch above, and, whenever a flame was
kindled, drove the smoke back again, choking the chimney's
sooty throat with its own breath. Nevertheless, during four days
of this miserable storm, Clifford wrapt himself in an old cloak,
and occupied his customary chair. On the morning of the fifth,
when summoned to breakfast, he responded only by a broken-hearted
murmur, expressive of a determination not to leave his bed. His
sister made no attempt to change his purpose. In fact, entirely
as she loved him, Hepzibah could hardly have borne any longer
the wretched duty--so impracticable by her few and rigid faculties
--of seeking pastime for a still sensitive, but ruined mind,
critical and fastidious, without force or volition. It was at
least something short of positive despair, that to-day she might
sit shivering alone, and not suffer continually a new grief,
and unreasonable pang of remorse, at every fitful sigh of her
But Clifford, it seemed, though he did not make his appearance
below stairs, had, after all, bestirred himself in quest of
amusement. In the course of the forenoon, Hepzibah heard a note
of music, which (there being no other tuneful contrivance in the
House of the Seven Gables) she knew must proceed from Alice
Pyncheon's harpsichord. She was aware that Clifford, in his
youth, had possessed a cultivated taste for music, and a
considerable degree of skill in its practice. It was difficult,
however, to conceive of his retaining an accomplishment to
which daily exercise is so essential, in the measure indicated by
the sweet, airy, and delicate, though most melancholy strain,
that now stole upon her ear. Nor was it less marvellous that the
long-silent instrument should be capable of so much melody.
Hepzibah involuntarily thought of the ghostly harmonies, prelusive
of death in the family, which were attributed to the legendary
Alice. But it was, perhaps, proof of the agency of other than
spiritual fingers, that, after a few touches, the chords seemed
to snap asunder with their own vibrations, and the music ceased.
But a harsher sound succeeded to the mysterious notes; nor was
the easterly day fated to pass without an event sufficient in
itself to poison, for Hepzibah and Clifford, the balmiest air
that ever brought the humming-birds along with it. The final
echoes of Alice Pyncheon's performance (or Clifford's, if his
we must consider it) were driven away by no less vulgar a
dissonance than the ringing of the shop-bell. A foot was heard
scraping itself on the threshold, and thence somewhat ponderously
stepping on the floor. Hepzibah delayed a moment, while muffling
herself in a faded shawl, which had been her defensive armor in
a forty years' warfare against the east wind. A characteristic
sound, however,--neither a cough nor a hem, but a kind of rumbling
and reverberating spasm in somebody's capacious depth of chest;
--impelled her to hurry forward, with that aspect of fierce
faint-heartedness so common to women in cases of perilous
emergency. Few of her sex, on such occasions, have ever looked
so terrible as our poor scowling Hepzibah. But the visitor
quietly closed the shop-door behind him, stood up his umbrella
against the counter, and turned a visage of composed benignity,
to meet the alarm and anger which his appearance had excited.
Hepzibah's presentiment had not deceived her. It was no other
than Judge Pyncheon, who, after in vain trying the front door,
had now effected his entrance into the shop.
"How do you do, Cousin Hepzibah?--and how does this most inclement
weather affect our poor Clifford?" began the Judge; and wonderful
it seemed, indeed, that the easterly storm was not put to shame, or,
at any rate, a little mollified, by the genial benevolence of his
smile. "I could not rest without calling to ask, once more,
whether I can in any manner promote his comfort, or your own."
"You can do nothing," said Hepzibah, controlling her agitation as
well as she could." I devote myself to Clifford. He has every
comfort which his situation admits of."
"But allow me to suggest, dear cousin," rejoined the Judge," you
err,--in all affection and kindness, no doubt, and with the very
best intentions,--but you do err, nevertheless, in keeping your
brother so secluded. Why insulate him thus from all sympathy
and kindness? Clifford, alas! has had too much of solitude. Now
let him try society,--the society, that is to say, of kindred and
old friends. Let me, for instance, but see Clifford, and I will
answer for the good effect of the interview."
"You cannot see him," answered Hepzibah. "Clifford has kept his
bed since yesterday."
"What! How! Is he ill?" exclaimed Judge Pyncheon, starting with
what seemed to be angry alarm; for the very frown of the old
Puritan darkened through the room as he spoke. "Nay, then, I
must and will see him! What if he should die?"
"He is in no danger of death," said Hepzibah,--and added, with
bitterness that she could repress no longer, "none; unless he shall
be persecuted to death, now, by the same man who long ago
"Cousin Hepzibah," said the Judge, with an impressive earnestness
of manner, which grew even to tearful pathos as he proceeded,
"is it possible that you do not perceive how unjust, how unkind,
how unchristian, is this constant, this long-continued bitterness
against me, for a part which I was constrained by duty and conscience,
by the force of law, and at my own peril, to act? What did I do,
in detriment to Clifford, which it was possible to leave undone?
How could you, his sister,--if, for your never-ending sorrow, as it
has been for mine, you had known what I did,--have, shown greater
tenderness? And do you think, cousin, that it has cost me no pang?
--that it has left no anguish in my bosom, from that day to this,
amidst all the prosperity with which Heaven has blessed me?--or that
I do not now rejoice, when it is deemed consistent with the dues of
public justice and the welfare of society that this dear kinsman,
this early friend, this nature so delicately and beautifully
constituted,--so unfortunate, let us pronounce him, and forbear
to say, so guilty,--that our own Clifford, in fine, should be given
back to life, and its possibilities of enjoyment? Ah, you little
know me, Cousin Hepzibah! You little know this heart! It now throbs
at the thought of meeting him! There lives not the human being
(except yourself,--and you not more than I) who has shed so many
tears for Clifford's calamity. You behold some of them now.
There is none who would so delight to promote his happiness!
Try me, Hepzibah! --try me, cousin! --try the man whom you have
treated as your enemy and Clifford's! --try Jaffrey Pyncheon,
and you shall find him true, to the heart's core!"
"In the name of Heaven," cried Hepzibah, provoked only to
intenser indignation by this outgush of the inestimable tenderness
of a stern nature,--"in God's name, whom you insult, and whose
power I could almost question, since he hears you utter so many
false words without palsying your tongue,--give over, I beseech
you, this loathsome pretence of affection for your victim! You hate
him! Say so, like a man! You cherish, at this moment, some black
purpose against him in your heart! Speak it out, at once!--or,
if you hope so to promote it better, hide it till you can triumph
in its success! But never speak again of your love for my poor
brother. I cannot bear it! It will drive me beyond a woman's
decency! It will drive me mad! Forbear. Not another word!
It will make me spurn you!"
For once, Hepzibah's wrath had given her courage. She had spoken.
But, after all, was this unconquerable distrust of Judge Pyncheon's
integrity, and this utter denial, apparently, of his claim to stand
in the ring of human sympathies,--were they founded in any just
perception of his character, or merely the offspring of a woman's
unreasonable prejudice, deduced from nothing?
The Judge, beyond all question, was a man of eminent respectability.
The church acknowledged it; the state acknowledged it. It was denied
by nobody. In all the very extensive sphere of those who knew him,
whether in his public or private capacities, there was not an
individual--except Hepzibah, and some lawless mystic, like the
daguerreotypist, and, possibly, a few political opponents--who would
have dreamed of seriously disputing his claim to a high and honorable
place in the world's regard. Nor (we must do him the further justice
to say) did Judge Pyncheon himself, probably, entertain many or very
frequent doubts, that his enviable reputation accorded with his
deserts. His conscience, therefore, usually considered the surest
witness to a man's integrity,--his conscience, unless it might be
for the little space of five minutes in the twenty-four hours, or,
now and then, some black day in the whole year's circle,--his
conscience bore an accordant testimony with the world's laudatory
voice. And yet, strong as this evidence may seem to be, we should
hesitate to peril our own conscience on the assertion, that the
Judge and the consenting world were right, and that poor Hepzibah
with her solitary prejudice was wrong. Hidden from mankind,
--forgotten by himself, or buried so deeply under a sculptured
and ornamented pile of ostentatious deeds that his daily life
could take no note of it,--there may have lurked some evil and
unsightly thing. Nay, we could almost venture to say, further,
that a daily guilt might have been acted by him, continually
renewed, and reddening forth afresh, like the miraculous
blood-stain of a murder, without his necessarily and at every
moment being aware of it.
Men of strong minds, great force of character, and a hard texture
of the sensibilities, are very capable of falling into mistakes of
this kind. They are ordinarily men to whom forms are of paramount
importance. Their field of action lies among the external phenomena
of life. They possess vast ability in grasping, and arranging, and
appropriating to themselves, the big, heavy, solid unrealities, such
as gold, landed estate, offices of trust and emolument, and public
honors. With these materials, and with deeds of goodly aspect, done
in the public eye, an individual of this class builds up, as it were,
a tall and stately edifice, which, in the view of other people,
and ultimately in his own view, is no other than the man's character,
or the man himself. Behold, therefore, a palace! Its splendid halls
and suites of spacious apartments are floored with a mosaic-work
of costly marbles; its windows, the whole height of each room, admit
the sunshine through the most transparent of plate-glass; its high
cornices are gilded, and its ceilings gorgeously painted; and a
lofty dome--through which, from the central pavement, you may gaze
up to the sky, as with no obstructing medium between--surmounts the
whole. With what fairer and nobler emblem could any man desire to
shadow forth his character? Ah! but in some low and obscure nook,
--some narrow closet on the ground-floor, shut, locked and bolted,
and the key flung away,--or beneath the marble pavement, in a
stagnant water-puddle, with the richest pattern of mosaic-work
above,--may lie a corpse, half decayed, and still decaying, and
diffusing its death-scent all through the palace! The inhabitant
will not be conscious of it, for it has long been his daily breath!
Neither will the visitors, for they smell only the rich odors which
the master sedulously scatters through the palace, and the incense
which they bring, and delight to burn before him! Now and then,
perchance, comes in a seer, before whose sadly gifted eye the
whole structure melts into thin air, leaving only the hidden nook,
the bolted closet, with the cobwebs festooned over its forgotten
door, or the deadly hole under the pavement, and the decaying
corpse within. Here, then, we are to seek the true emblem of the
man's character, and of the deed that gives whatever reality it
possesses to his life. And, beneath the show of a marble palace,
that pool of stagnant water, foul with many impurities, and,
perhaps, tinged with blood,--that secret abomination, above which,
possibly, he may say his prayers, without remembering it,--is this
man's miserable soul!
To apply this train of remark somewhat more closely to Judge
Pyncheon. We might say (without in the least imputing crime to
a personage of his eminent respectability) that there was enough
of splendid rubbish in his life to cover up and paralyze a more
active and subtile conscience than the Judge was ever troubled
with. The purity of his judicial character, while on the bench;
the faithfulness of his public service in subsequent capacities;
his devotedness to his party, and the rigid consistency with which
he had adhered to its principles, or, at all events, kept pace with
its organized movements; his remarkable zeal as president of a
Bible society; his unimpeachable integrity as treasurer of a widow's
and orphan's fund; his benefits to horticulture, by producing two
much esteemed varieties of the pear and to agriculture, through
the agency of the famous Pyncheon bull; the cleanliness of his
moral deportment, for a great many years past; the severity with
which he had frowned upon, and finally cast off, an expensive
and dissipated son, delaying forgiveness until within the final
quarter of an hour of the young man's life; his prayers at
morning and eventide, and graces at meal-time; his efforts in
furtherance of the temperance cause; his confining himself, since
the last attack of the gout, to five diurnal glasses of old sherry
wine; the snowy whiteness of his linen, the polish of his boots,
the handsomeness of his gold-headed cane, the square and roomy
fashion of his coat, and the fineness of its material, and, in
general, the studied propriety of his dress and equipment; the
scrupulousness with which he paid public notice, in the street,
by a bow, a lifting of the hat, a nod, or a motion of the hand,
to all and sundry of his acquaintances, rich or poor; the smile
of broad benevolence wherewith he made it a point to gladden the
whole world,--what room could possibly be found for darker traits
in a portrait made up of lineaments like these? This proper face
was what he beheld in the looking-glass. This admirably arranged
life was what he was conscious of in the progress of every day.
Then might not he claim to be its result and sum, and say to
himself and the community, "Behold Judge Pyncheon there"?
And allowing that, many, many years ago, in his early and
reckless youth, he had committed some one wrong act,--or that,
even now, the inevitable force of circumstances should
occasionally make him do one questionable deed among a
thousand praiseworthy, or, at least, blameless ones,--would you
characterize the Judge by that one necessary deed, and that
half-forgotten act, and let it overshadow the fair aspect of a
lifetime? What is there so ponderous in evil, that a thumb's
bigness of it should outweigh the mass of things not evil which
were heaped into the other scale! This scale and balance system
is a favorite one with people of Judge Pyncheon's brotherhood.
A hard, cold man, thus unfortunately situated, seldom or never
looking inward, and resolutely taking his idea of himself from
what purports to be his image as reflected in the mirror of
public opinion, can scarcely arrive at true self-knowledge,
except through loss of property and reputation. Sickness will
not always help him do it; not always the death-hour!
But our affair now is with Judge Pyncheon as he stood confronting
the fierce outbreak of Hepzibah's wrath. Without premeditation,
to her own surprise, and indeed terror, she had given vent, for
once, to the inveteracy of her resentment, cherished against this
kinsman for thirty years.
Thus far the Judge's countenance had expressed mild forbearance,
--grave and almost gentle deprecation of his cousin's unbecoming
violence,--free and Christian-like forgiveness of the wrong inflicted
by her words. But when those words were irrevocably spoken, his look
assumed sternness, the sense of power, and immitigable resolve; and
this with so natural and imperceptible a change, that it seemed as
if the iron man had stood there from the first, and the meek man not
at all. The effect was as when the light, vapory clouds, with their
soft coloring, suddenly vanish from the stony brow of a precipitous
mountain, and leave there the frown which you at once feel to be
eternal. Hepzibah almost adopted the insane belief that it was her
old Puritan ancestor, and not the modern Judge, on whom she had just
been wreaking the bitterness of her heart. Never did a man show
stronger proof of the lineage attributed to him than Judge Pyncheon,
at this crisis, by his unmistakable resemblance to the picture in
the inner room.
"Cousin Hepzibah," said he very calmly, "it is time to have done
"With all my heart!" answered she. "Then, why do you persecute
us any longer? Leave poor Clifford and me in peace. Neither of
us desires anything better!"
"It is my purpose to see Clifford before I leave this house,"
continued the Judge. "Do not act like a madwoman, Hepzibah! I am
his only friend, and an all-powerful one. Has it never occurred
to you,--are you so blind as not to have seen,--that, without not
merely my consent, but my efforts, my representations, the exertion
of my whole influence, political, official, personal, Clifford
would never have been what you call free? Did you think his release
a triumph over me? Not so, my good cousin; not so, by any means!
The furthest possible from that! No; but it was the accomplishment
of a purpose long entertained on my part. I set him free!"
"You!" answered Hepzibah. "I never will believe it! He owed his
dungeon to you; his freedom to God's providence!"
"I set him free!" reaffirmed Judge Pyncheon, with the calmest
composure. "And I came hither now to decide whether he shall
retain his freedom. It will depend upon himself. For this purpose,
I must see him."
"Never!--it would drive him mad!" exclaimed Hepzibah, but with an
irresoluteness sufficiently perceptible to the keen eye of the Judge;
for, without the slightest faith in his good intentions, she knew not
whether there was most to dread in yielding or resistance. "And why
should you wish to see this wretched, broken man, who retains hardly
a fraction of his intellect, and will hide even that from an eye
which has no love in it?"
"He shall see love enough in mine, if that be all!" said the Judge,
with well-grounded confidence in the benignity of his aspect.
"But, Cousin Hepzibah, you confess a great deal, and very much to
the purpose. Now, listen, and I will frankly explain my reasons
for insisting on this interview. At the death, thirty years since,
of our uncle Jaffrey, it was found,--I know not whether the
circumstance ever attracted much of your attention, among the
sadder interests that clustered round that event,--but it was
found that his visible estate, of every kind, fell far short of
any estimate ever made of it. He was supposed to be immensely rich.
Nobody doubted that he stood among the weightiest men of his day.
It was one of his eccentricities, however,--and not altogether a