Part 6 out of 6
three establishing themselves on the very door-step; and one
squatting on the threshold. Meanwhile, the locust kept singing
in the great old Pyncheon Elm.
"I don't hear anybody in the house," said one of the children to
another. "The monkey won't pick up anything here."
" There is somebody at home," affirmed the urchin on the threshold.
"I heard a step!"
Still the young Italian's eye turned sidelong upward; and it
really seemed as if the touch of genuine, though slight and almost
playful, emotion communicated a juicier sweetness to the dry,
mechanical process of his minstrelsy. These wanderers are readily
responsive to any natural kindness--be it no more than a smile,
or a word itself not understood, but only a warmth in it--which
befalls them on the roadside of life. They remember these things,
because they are the little enchantments which, for the instant,
--for the space that reflects a landscape in a soap-bubble,--build
up a home about them. Therefore, the Italian boy would not be
discouraged by the heavy silence with which the old house seemed
resolute to clog the vivacity of his instrument. He persisted in
his melodious appeals; he still looked upward, trusting that his
dark, alien countenance would soon be brightened by Phoebe's sunny
aspect. Neither could he be willing to depart without again
beholding Clifford, whose sensibility, like Phoebe's smile, had
talked a kind of heart's language to the foreigner. He repeated
all his music over and over again, until his auditors were getting
weary. So were the little wooden people in his show-box, and the
monkey most of all. There was no response, save the singing of
"No children live in this house," said a schoolboy, at last.
"Nobody lives here but an old maid and an old man. You'll get
nothing here! Why don't you go along?"
"You fool, you, why do you tell him?" whispered a shrewd little
Yankee, caring nothing for the music, but a good deal for the
cheap rate at which it was had.
"Let him play as he likes! If there's nobody to pay him, that's
his own lookout!"
Once more, however, the Italian ran over his round of melodies.
To the common observer--who could understand nothing of the case,
except the music and the sunshine on the hither side of the door
--it might have been amusing to watch the pertinacity of the
street-performer. Will he succeed at last? Will that stubborn
door be suddenly flung open? Will a group of joyous children,
the young ones of the house, come dancing, shouting, laughing,
into the open air, and cluster round the show-box, looking with
eager merriment at the puppets, and tossing each a copper for
long-tailed Mammon, the monkey, to pick up?
But to us, who know the inner heart of the Seven Gables as well
as its exterior face, there is a ghastly effect in this repetition
of light popular tunes at its door-step. It would be an ugly
business, indeed, if Judge Pyncheon (who would not have cared a
fig for Paganini's fiddle in his most harmonious mood) should
make his appearance at the door, with a bloody shirt-bosom, and
a grim frown on his swarthily white visage, and motion the foreign
vagabond away! Was ever before such a grinding out of jigs and
waltzes, where nobody was in the cue to dance? Yes, very often.
This contrast, or intermingling of tragedy with mirth, happens
daily, hourly, momently. The gloomy and desolate old house,
deserted of life, and with awful Death sitting sternly in its
solitude, was the emblem of many a human heart, which,
nevertheless, is compelled to hear the thrill and echo of the
world's gayety around it.
Before the conclusion of the Italian's performance, a couple of men
happened to be passing, On their way to dinner. "I say, you young
French fellow!" called out one of them,--"come away from that doorstep,
and go somewhere else with your nonsense! The Pyncheon family live
there; and they are in great trouble, just about this time. They don't
feel musical to-day. It is reported all over town that Judge Pyncheon,
who owns the house, has been murdered; and the city marshal is going
to look into the matter. So be off with you, at once!"
As the Italian shouldered his hurdy-gurdy, he saw on the doorstep
a card, which had been covered, all the morning, by the newpaper
that the carrier had flung upon it, but was now shuffled into
sight. He picked it up, and perceiving something written in pencil,
gave it to the man to read. In fact, it was an engraved card of
Judge Pyncheon's with certain pencilled memoranda on the back,
referring to various businesses which it had been his purpose
to transact during the preceding day. It formed a prospective
epitome of the day's history; only that affairs had not turned
out altogether in accordance with the programme. The card must
have been lost from the Judge's vest-pocket in his preliminary
attempt to gain access by the main entrance of the house.
Though well soaked with rain, it was still partially legible.
"Look here; Dixey!" cried the man. "This has something to do
with Judge Pyncheon. See!--here's his name printed on it; and
here, I suppose, is some of his handwriting."
"Let's go to the city marshal with it!" said Dixey. "It may give
him just the clew he wants. After all," whispered he in his
companion's ear," it would be no wonder if the Judge has gone
into that door and never come out again! A certain cousin of his
may have been at his old tricks. And Old Maid Pyncheon having got
herself in debt by the cent-shop,--and the Judge's pocket-book
being well filled,--and bad blood amongst them already! Put all
these things together and see what they make!"
"Hush, hush!" whispered the other. "It seems like a sin to he the
first to speak of such a thing. But I think, with you, that we had
better go to the city marshal."
"Yes, yes!" said Dixey. "Well!--I always said there was something
devilish in that woman's scowl!"
The men wheeled about, accordingly, and retraced their steps up the
street. The Italian, also, made the best of his way off, with a
parting glance up at the arched window. As for the children,
they took to their heels, with one accord, and scampered as if
some giant or ogre were in pursuit, until, at a good distance
from the house, they stopped as suddenly and simultaneously as
they had set out. Their susceptible nerves took an indefinite
alarm from what they had overheard. Looking back at the grotesque
peaks and shadowy angles of the old mansion, they fancied a gloom
diffused about it which no brightness of the sunshine could dispel.
An imaginary Hepzibah scowled and shook her finger at them, from
several windows at the same moment. An imaginary Clifford--for
(and it would have deeply wounded him to know it) he had always
been a horror to these small people --stood behind the unreal
Hepzibah, making awful gestures, in a faded dressing-gown.
Children are even more apt, if possible, than grown people,
to catch the contagion of a panic terror. For the rest of the day,
the more timid went whole streets about, for the sake of avoiding
the Seven Gables; while the bolder sig nalized their hardihood
by challenging their comrades to race past the mansion at full speed.
It could not have been more than half an hour after the
disappearance of the Italian boy, with his unseasonable melodies,
when a cab drove down the street. It stopped beneath the Pyncheon
Elm; the cabman took a trunk, a canvas bag, and a bandbox, from the
top of his vehicle, and deposited them on the doorstep of the old
house; a straw bonnet, and then the pretty figure of a young girl,
came into view from the interior of the cab. It was Phoebe! Though
not altogether so blooming as when she first tripped into our story,
--for, in the few intervening weeks, her experiences had made her
graver, more womanly, and deeper-eyed, in token of a heart that
had begun to suspect its depths,--still there was the quiet glow
of natural sunshine over her. Neither had she forfeited her proper
gift of making things look real, rather than fantastic, within her
sphere. Yet we feel it to be a questionable venture, even for Phoebe,
at this juncture, to cross the threshold of the Seven Gables. Is her
healthful presence potent enough to chase away the crowd of pale,
hideous, and sinful phantoms, that have gained admittance there
since her departure? Or will she, likewise, fade, sicken, sadden,
and grow into deformity, and be only another pallid phantom, to glide
noiselessly up and down the stairs, and affright children as she
pauses at the window?
At least, we would gladly forewarn the unsuspecting girl that
there is nothing in human shape or substance to receive her,
unless it be the figure of Judge Pyncheon, who--wretched spectacle
that he is, and frightful in our remembrance, since our night-long
vigil with him!--still keeps his place in the oaken chair.
Phoebe first tried the shop-door. It did not yield to her hand;
and the white curtain, drawn across the window which formed the
upper section of the door, struck her quick perceptive faculty as
something unusual. Without making another effort to enter here,
she betook herself to the great portal, under the arched window.
Finding it fastened, she knocked. A reverberation came from the
emptiness within. She knocked again, and a third time; and,
listening intently, fancied that the floor creaked, as if Hepzibah
were coming, with her ordinary tiptoe movement, to admit her.
But so dead a silence ensued upon this imaginary sound, that she
began to question whether she might not have mistaken the
house, familiar as she thought herself with its exterior.
Her notice was now attracted by a child's voice, at some
distance. It appeared to call her name. Looking in the direction
whence it proceeded, Phoebe saw little Ned Higgins, a good way
down the street, stamping, shaking his head violently, making
deprecatory gestures with both hands, and shouting to her at
"No, no, Phoebe!" he screamed. "Don't you go in! There's
something wicked there! Don't--don't--don't go in!"
But, as the little personage could not be induced to approach
near enough to explain himself, Phoebe concluded that he had been
frightened, on some of his visits to the shop, by her cousin
Hepzibah; for the good lady's manifestations, in truth, ran about
an equal chance of scaring children out of their wits, or compelling
them to unseemly laughter. Still, she felt the more, for this
incident, how unaccountably silent and impenetrable the house had
become. As her next resort, Phoebe made her way into the garden,
where on so warm and bright a day as the present, she had little
doubt of finding Clifford, and perhaps Hepzibah also, idling away
the noontide in the shadow of the arbor. Immediately on her entering
the garden gate, the family of hens half ran, half flew to meet her;
while a strange grimalkin, which was prowling under the parlor window,
took to his heels, clambered hastily over the fence, and vanished.
The arbor was vacant, and its floor, table, and circular bench
were still damp, and bestrewn with twigs and the disarray of the
past storm. The growth of the garden seemed to have got quite
out of bounds; the weeds had taken advantage of Phoebe's absence,
and the long-continued rain, to run rampant over the flowers and
kitchen-vegetables. Maule's well had overflowed its stone border,
and made a pool of formidable breadth in that corner of the garden.
The impression of the whole scene was that of a spot where no
human foot had left its print for many preceding days,--probably
not since Phoebe's departure,--for she saw a side-comb of her
own under the table of the arbor, where it must have fallen on
the last afternoon when she and Clifford sat there.
The girl knew that her two relatives were capable of far greater
oddities than that of shutting themselves up in their old house,
as they appeared now to have done. Nevertheless, with indistinct
misgivings of something amiss, and apprehensions to which she
could not give shape, she approached the door that formed the
customary communication between the house and garden. It was
secured within, like the two which she had already tried. She
knocked, however; and immediately, as if the application had
been expected, the door was drawn open, by a considerable exertion
of some unseen person's strength, not wide, but far enough to
afford her a side-long entrance. As Hepzibah, in order not to
expose herself to inspection from without, invariably opened a
door in this manner, Phoebe necessarily concluded that it was her
cousin who now admitted her.
Without hesitation, therefore, she stepped across the threshold,
and had no sooner entered than the door closed behind her.
XX The Flower of Eden
PHOEBE, coming so suddenly from the sunny daylight, was altogether
bedimmed in such density of shadow as lurked in most of the
passages of the old house. She was not at first aware by whom
she had been admitted. Before her eyes had adapted themselves
to the obscurity, a hand grasped her own with a firm but gentle
and warm pressure, thus imparting a welcome which caused her heart
to leap and thrill with an indefinable shiver of enjoyment.
She felt herself drawn along, not towards the parlor, but into
a large and unoccupied apartment, which had formerly been the
grand reception-room of the Seven Gables. The sunshine came
freely into all the uncurtained windows of this room, and fell
upon the dusty floor; so that Phoebe now clearly saw--what,
indeed, had been no secret, after the encounter of a warm hand
with hers--that it was not Hepzibah nor Clifford, but Holgrave,
to whom she owed her reception. The subtile, intuitive
communication, or, rather, the vague and formless impression
of something to be told, had made her yield unresistingly to his
impulse. Without taking away her hand, she looked eagerly in his
face, not quick to forebode evil, but unavoidably conscious that
the state of the family had changed since her departure, and
therefore anxious for an explanation.
The artist looked paler than ordinary; there was a thoughtful and
severe contraction of his forehead, tracing a deep, vertical line
between the eyebrows. His smile, however, was full of genuine warmth,
and had in it a joy, by far the most vivid expression that Phoebe had
ever witnessed, shining out of the New England reserve with which
Holgrave habitually masked whatever lay near his heart. It was
the look wherewith a man, brooding alone over some fearful object,
in a dreary forest or illimitable desert, would recognize the
familiar aspect of his dearest friend, bringing up all the peaceful
ideas that belong to home, and the gentle current of every-day affairs.
And yet, as he felt the necessity of responding to her look of inquiry,
the smile disappeared.
"I ought not to rejoice that you have come, Phoebe," said he.
"We meet at a strange moment!"
"What has happened!" she exclaimed. "Why is the house so
deserted? Where are Hepzibah and Clifford?"
"Gone! I cannot imagine where they are!" answered Holgrave.
"We are alone in the house!"
"Hepzibah and Clifford gone?" cried Phoebe. "It is not possible!
And why have you brought me into this room, instead of the parlor?
Ah, something terrible has happened! I must run and see!"
"No, no, Phoebe!" said Holgrave holding her back. "It is as I
have told you. They are gone, and I know not whither. A terrible
event has, indeed happened, but not to them, nor, as I undoubtingly
believe, through any agency of theirs. If I read your character
rightly, Phoebe," he continued, fixing his eyes on hers with
stern anxiety, intermixed with tenderness, "gentle as you are,
and seeming to have your sphere among common things, you yet
possess remarkable strength. You have wonderful poise, and a
faculty which, when tested, will prove itself capable of dealing
with matters that fall far out of the ordinary rule."
"Oh, no, I am very weak!" replied Phoebe, trembling. "But tell
me what has happened!"
"You are strong!" persisted Holgrave. "You must be both strong
and wise; for I am all astray, and need your counsel. It may be
you can suggest the one right thing to do!"
"Tell me!--tell me!" said Phoebe, all in a tremble. "It oppresses,
--it terrifies me,--this mystery! Anything else I can bear!"
The artist hesitated. Notwithstanding what he had just said, and
most sincerely, in regard to the self-balancing power with which
Phoebe impressed him, it still seemed almost wicked to bring the
awful secret of yesterday to her knowledge. It was like dragging
a hideous shape of death into the cleanly and cheerful space
before a household fire, where it would present all the uglier
aspect, amid the decorousness of everything about it. Yet it
could not be concealed from her; she must needs know it.
"Phoebe," said he, "do you remember this?" He put into her hand
a daguerreotype; the same that he had shown her at their first
interview in the garden, and which so strikingly brought out the
hard and relentless traits of the original.
"What has this to do with Hepzibah and Clifford?" asked Phoebe, with
impatient surprise that Holgrave should so trifle with her at such a
moment." It is Judge Pyncheon! You have shown it to me before!"
"But here is the same face, taken within this half-hour" said the
artist, presenting her with another miniature. "I had just finished
it when I heard you at the door."
"This is death!" shuddered Phoebe, turning very pale. "Judge
"Such as there represented," said Holgrave, "he sits in the next
room. The Judge is dead, and Clifford and Hepzibah have vanished!
I know no more. All beyond is conjecture. On returning to my solitary
chamber, last evening, I noticed no light, either in the parlor, or
Hepzibah's room, or Clifford's; no stir nor footstep about the house.
This morning, there was the same death-like quiet. From my window, I
overheard the testimony of a neighbor, that your relatives were seen
leaving the house in the midst of yesterday's storm. A rumor reached
me, too, of Judge Pyncheon being missed. A feeling which I cannot
describe--an indefinite sense of some catastrophe, or consummation
--impelled me to make my way into this part of the house, where I
discovered what you see. As a point of evidence that may be useful
to Clifford, and also as a memorial valuable to myself,--for, Phoebe,
there are hereditary reasons that connect me strangely with that
man's fate,--I used the means at my disposal to preserve this
pictorial record of Judge Pyncheon's death."
Even in her agitation, Phoebe could not help remarking the
calmness of Holgrave's demeanor. He appeared, it is true, to feel
the whole awfulness of the Judge's death, yet had received the
fact into his mind without any mixture of surprise, but as an
event preordained, happening inevitably, and so fitting itself
into past occurrences that it could almost have been prophesied.
"Why have you not thrown open the doors, and called in witnesses?"
inquired she with a painful shudder. "It is terrible to be here alone!"
"But Clifford!" suggested the artist. "Clifford and Hepzibah! We
must consider what is best to be done in their behalf. It is a
wretched fatality that they should have disappeared! Their flight
will throw the worst coloring over this event of which it is
susceptible. Yet how easy is the explanation, to those who know
them! Bewildered and terror-stricken by the similarity of this
death to a former one, which was attended with such disastrous
consequences to Clifford, they have had no idea but of removing
themselves from the scene. How miserably unfortunate! Had
Hepzibah but shrieked aloud,--had Clifford flung wide the door,
and proclaimed Judge Pyncheon's death,--it would have been,
however awful in itself, an event fruitful of good consequences
to them. As I view it, it would have gone far towards obliterating
the black stain on Clifford's character."
"And how" asked Phoebe, "could any good come from what is so very dreadful?"
"Because," said the artist, "if the matter can be fairly considered
and candidly interpreted, it must be evident that Judge Pyncheon
could not have come unfairly to his end. This mode of death had
been an idiosyncrasy with his family, for generations past; not often
occurring, indeed, but, when it does occur, usually attacking
individuals about the Judge's time of life, and generally in the
tension of some mental crisis, or, perhaps, in an access of wrath.
Old Maule's prophecy was probably founded on a knowledge of this
physical predisposition in the Pyncheon race. Now, there is a
minute and almost exact similarity in the appearances connected
with the death that occurred yesterday and those recorded of the
death of Clifford's uncle thirty years ago. It is true, there was
a certain arrangement of circumstances, unnecessary to be recounted,
which made it possible nay, as men look at these things, probable,
or even certain--that old Jaffrey Pyncheon came to a violent death,
and by Clifford's hands."
"Whence came those circumstances?" exclaimed Phoebe. "He being
innocent, as we know him to be!"
"They were arranged," said Holgrave,--"at least such has long
been my conviction,--they were arranged after the uncle's death,
and before it was made public, by the man who sits in yonder
parlor. His own death, so like that former one, yet attended by
none of those suspicious circumstances, seems the stroke of God
upon him, at once a punishment for his wickedness, and making
plain the innocence of Clifford, But this flight,--it distorts
everything! He may be in concealment, near at hand. Could we
but bring him back before the discovery of the Judge's death,
the evil might be rectified,"
"We must not hide this thing a moment longer!" said Phoebe.
"It is dreadful to keep it so closely in our hearts. Clifford is
innocent. God will make it manifest! Let us throw open the doors,
and call all the neighborhood to see the truth!"
"You are right, Phoebe," rejoined Holgrave. "Doubtless you are right."
Yet the artist did not feel the horror, which was proper to Phoebe's
sweet and order-loving character, at thus finding herself at issue
with society, and brought in contact with an event that transcended
ordinary rules. Neither was he in haste, like her, to betake himself
within the precincts of common life. On the contrary, he gathered
a wild enjoyment,--as it were, a flower of strange beauty, growing
in a desolate spot, and blossoming in the wind, --such a flower
of momentary happiness he gathered from his present position.
It separated Phoebe and himself from the world, and bound them
to each other, by their exclusive knowledge of Judge Pyncheon's
mysterious death, and the counsel which they were forced to hold
respecting it. The secret, so long as it should continue such,
kept them within the circle of a spell, a solitude in the midst
of men, a remoteness as entire as that of an island in mid-ocean;
once divulged, the ocean would flow betwixt them, standing on its
widely sundered shores. Meanwhile, all the circumstances of their
situation seemed to draw them together; they were like two children
who go hand in hand, pressing closely to one another's side, through
a shadow-haunted passage. The image of awful Death, which filled
the house, held them united by his stiffened grasp.
These influences hastened the development of emotions that
might not otherwise have flowered so. Possibly, indeed, it had
been Holgrave's purpose to let them die in their undeveloped
germs. "Why do we delay so?" asked Phoebe. "This secret takes
away my breath! Let us throw open the doors!"
"In all our lives there can never come another moment like this!"
said Holgrave. "Phoebe, is it all terror?--nothing but terror?
Are you conscious of no joy, as I am, that has made this the only
point of life worth living for?"
"It seems a sin," replied Phoebe, trembling,"to think of joy at
such a time!"
"Could you but know, Phoebe, how it was with me the hour before
you came!" exclaimed the artist. "A dark, cold, miserable hour!
The presence of yonder dead man threw a great black shadow over
everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could
reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than
the guilt. The sense of it took away my youth. I never hoped
to feel young again! The world looked strange, wild, evil,
hostile; my past life, so lonesome and dreary; my future,
a shapeless gloom, which I must mould into gloomy shapes!
But, Phoebe, you crossed the threshold; and hope, warmth,
and joy came in with you! The black moment became at once
a blissful one. It must not pass without the spoken word.
I love you!"
"How can you love a simple girl like me?" asked Phoebe,
compelled by his earnestness to speak. "You have many, many
thoughts, with which I should try in vain to sympathize. And I,
--I, too,--I have tendencies with which you would sympathize as
little. That is less matter. But I have not scope enough to
make you happy."
"You are my only possibility of happiness!" answered Holgrave.
"I have no faith in it, except as you bestow it on me!"
"And then--I am afraid!" continued Phoebe, shrinking towards
Holgrave, even while she told him so frankly the doubts with
which he affected her. "You will lead me out of my own quiet
path. You will make me strive to follow you where it is pathless.
I cannot do so. It is not my nature. I shall sink down and perish!"
"Ah, Phoebe!" exclaimed Holgrave, with almost a sigh, and a smile
that was burdened with thought.
"It will be far otherwise than as you forebode. The world owes
all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man
inevitably confines himself within ancient limits. I have a
presentiment that, hereafter, it will be my lot to set out trees,
to make fences,--perhaps, even, in due time, to build a house for
another generation,--in a word, to conform myself to laws and the
peaceful practice of society. Your poise will be more powerful
than any oscillating tendency of mine."
"I would not have it so!" said Phoebe earnestly.
"Do you love me?" asked Holgrave. "If we love one another,
the moment has room for nothing more. Let us pause upon it,
and be satisfied. Do you love me, Phoebe?"
"You look into my heart," said she, letting her eyes drop.
"You know I love you!"
And it was in this hour, so full of doubt and awe, that the one
miracle was wrought, without which every human existence is a
blank. The bliss which makes all things true, beautiful, and holy
shone around this youth and maiden. They were conscious of nothing
sad nor old. They transfigured the earth, and made it Eden again,
and themselves the two first dwellers in it. The dead man, so close
beside them, was forgotten. At such a crisis, there is no death;
for immortality is revealed anew, and embraces everything in its
But how soon the heavy earth-dream settled down again!
"Hark!" whispered Phoebe. "Somebody is at the street door!"
"Now let us meet the world!" said Holgrave. "No doubt, the rumor
of Judge Pyncheon's visit to this house, and the flight of Hepzibah
and Clifford, is about to lead to the investigation of the premises.
We have no way but to meet it. Let us open the door at once."
But, to their surprise, before they could reach the street
door,--even before they quitted the room in which the foregoing
interview had passed,--they heard footsteps in the farther passage.
The door, therefore, which they supposed to be securely locked,
--which Holgrave, indeed, had seen to be so, and at which Phoebe
had vainly tried to enter,--must have been opened from without.
The sound of footsteps was not harsh, bold, decided, and intrusive,
as the gait of strangers would naturally be, making authoritative
entrance into a dwelling where they knew themselves unwelcome.
It was feeble, as of persons either weak or weary; there was the
mingled murmur of two voices, familiar to both the listeners.
"Can it be?" whispered Holgrave.
"It is they!" answered Phoebe. "Thank God!--thank God!"
And then, as if in sympathy with Phoebe's whispered ejaculation,
they heard Hepzibah's voice more distinctly.
"Thank God, my brother, we are at home!"
"Well!--Yes!--thank God!" responded Clifford. "A dreary home,
Hepzibah! But you have done well to bring me hither! Stay! That
parlor door is open. I cannot pass by it! Let me go and rest me
in the arbor, where I used,--oh, very long ago, it seems to me,
after what has befallen us,--where I used to be so happy with
But the house was not altogether so dreary as Clifford imagined
it. They had not made many steps,--in truth, they were lingering
in the entry, with the listlessness of an accomplished purpose,
uncertain what to do next,--when Phoebe ran to meet them. On beholding
her, Hepzibah burst into tears. With all her might, she had staggered
onward beneath the burden of grief and responsibility, until now
that it was safe to fling it down. Indeed, she had not energy to
fling it down, but had ceased to uphold it, and suffered it to
press her to the earth. Clifford appeared the stronger of the two.
"It is our own little Phoebe!--Ah! and Holgrave with, her"
exclaimed he, with a glance of keen and delicate insight, and a
smile, beautiful, kind, but melancholy. "I thought of you both,
as we came down the street, and beheld Alice's Posies in full bloom.
And so the flower of Eden has bloomed, likewise, in this old,
darksome house to-day."
XXI The Departure
THE sudden death of so prominent a member of the social world
as the Honorable Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon created a sensation
(at least, in the circles more immediately connected with the
deceased) which had hardly quite subsided in a fortnight.
It may be remarked, however, that, of all the events which
constitute a person's biography, there is scarcely one--none,
certainly, of anything like a similar importance--to which the
world so easily reconciles itself as to his death. In most other
cases and contingencies, the individual is present among us,
mixed up with the daily revolution of affairs, and affording a
definite point for observation. At his decease, there is only
a vacancy, and a momentary eddy,--very small, as compared with
the apparent magnitude of the ingurgitated object,--and a bubble
or two, ascending out of the black depth and bursting at the
surface. As regarded Judge Pyncheon, it seemed probable, at first
blush, that the mode of his final departure might give him a
larger and longer posthumous vogue than ordinarily attends the
memory of a distinguished man. But when it came to be understood,
on the highest professional authority, that the event was a natural,
and--except for some unimportant particulars, denoting a slight
idiosyncrasy--by no means an unusual form of death, the public,
with its customary alacrity, proceeded to forget that he had ever
lived. In short, the honorable Judge was beginning to be a stale
subject before half the country newspapers had found time to put
their columns in mourning, and publish his exceedingly eulogistic
Nevertheless, creeping darkly through the places which this
excellent person had haunted in his lifetime, there was a hidden
stream of private talk, such as it would have shocked all decency
to speak loudly at the street-corners. It is very singular,
how the fact of a man's death often seems to give people a truer
idea of his character, whether for good or evil, than they have
ever possessed while he was living and acting among them. Death
is so genuine a fact that it excludes falsehood, or betrays its
emptiness; it is a touchstone that proves the gold, and dishonors
the baser metal. Could the departed, whoever he may be, return
in a week after his decease, he would almost invariably find
himself at a higher or lower point than he had formerly occupied,
on the scale of public appreciation. But the talk, or scandal, to
which we now allude, had reference to matters of no less old a date
than the supposed murder, thirty or forty years ago, of the late
Judge Pyncheon's uncle. The medical opinion with regard to his own
recent and regretted decease had almost entirely obviated the idea
that a murder was committed in the former case. Yet, as the record
showed, there were circumstances irrefragably indicating that some
person had gained access to old Jaffrey Pyncheon's private apartments,
at or near the moment of his death. His desk and private drawers,
in a room contiguous to his bedchamber, had been ransacked; money and
valuable articles were missing; there was a bloody hand-print on the
old man's linen; and, by a powerfully welded chain of deductive evidence,
the guilt of the robbery and apparent murder had been fixed on Clifford,
then residing with his uncle in the House of the Seven Gables.
Whencesoever originating, there now arose a theory that undertook
so to account for these circumstances as to exclude the idea of
Clifford's agency. Many persons affirmed that the history and
elucidation of the facts, long so mysterious, had been obtained
by the daguerreotypist from one of those mesmerical seers who,
nowadays, so strangely perplex the aspect of human affairs, and
put everybody's natural vision to the blush, by the marvels which
they see with their eyes shut.
According to this version of the story, Judge Pyncheon, exemplary
as we have portrayed him in our narrative, was, in his youth,
an apparently irreclaimable scapegrace. The brutish, the animal
instincts, as is often the case, had been developed earlier
than the intellectual qualities, and the force of character, for
which he was afterwards remarkable. He had shown himself wild,
dissipated, addicted to low pleasures, little short of ruffianly
in his propensities, and recklessly expensive, with no other
resources than the bounty of his uncle. This course of conduct had
alienated the old bachelor's affection, once strongly fixed upon
him. Now it is averred,--but whether on authority available in
a court of justice, we do not pretend to have investigated,--that
the young man was tempted by the devil, one night, to search his
uncle's private drawers, to which he had unsuspected means of
access. While thus criminally occupied, he was startled by the
opening of the chamber-door. There stood old Jaffrey Pyncheon,
in his nightclothes! The surprise of such a discovery, his agitation,
alarm, and horror, brought on the crisis of a disorder to which
the old bachelor had an hereditary liability; he seemed to choke
with blood, and fell upon the floor, striking his temple a heavy
blow against the corner of a table. What was to be done? The
old man was surely dead! Assistance would come too late! What a
misfortune, indeed, should it come too soon, since his reviving
consciousness would bring the recollection of the ignominious
offence which he had beheld his nephew in the very act of committing!
But he never did revive. With the cool hardihood that always
pertained to him, the young man continued his search of the
drawers, and found a will, of recent date, in favor of Clifford,
--which he destroyed,--and an older one, in his own favor, which
he suffered to remain. But before retiring, Jaffrey bethought
himself of the evidence, in these ransacked drawers, that some
one had visited the chamber with sinister purposes. Suspicion,
unless averted, might fix upon the real offender. In the very
presence of the dead man, therefore, he laid a scheme that should
free himself at the expense of Clifford, his rival, for whose
character he had at once a contempt and a repugnance. It is not
probable, be it said, that he acted with any set purpose of
involving Clifford in a charge of murder. Knowing that his uncle
did not die by violence, it may not have occurred to him, in the
hurry of the crisis, that such an inference might be drawn. But,
when the affair took this darker aspect, Jaffrey's previous steps
had already pledged him to those which remained. So craftily had
he arranged the circumstances, that, at Clifford's trial, his cousin
hardly found it necessary to swear to anything false, but only to
withhold the one decisive explanation, by refraining to state what
he had himself done and witnessed.
Thus Jaffrey Pyncheon's inward criminality, as regarded Clifford,
was, indeed, black and damnable; while its mere outward show
and positive commission was the smallest that could possibly
consist with so great a sin. This is just the sort of guilt that
a man of eminent respectability finds it easiest to dispose of.
It was suffered to fade out of sight or be reckoned a venial matter,
in the Honorable Judge Pyncheon's long subsequent survey of his
own life. He shuffled it aside, among the forgotten and forgiven
frailties of his youth, and seldom thought of it again.
We leave the Judge to his repose. He could not be styled
fortunate at the hour of death. Unknowingly, he was a childless man,
while striving to add more wealth to his only child's inheritance.
Hardly a week after his decease, one of the Cunard steamers brought
intelligence of the death, by cholera, of Judge Pyncheon's son,
just at the point of embarkation for his native land. By this
misfortune Clifford became rich; so did Hepzibah; so did our little
village maiden, and, through her, that sworn foe of wealth and all
manner of conservatism, --the wild reformer,--Holgrave!
It was now far too late in Clifford's life for the good opinion
of society to be worth the trouble and anguish of a formal
vindication. What he needed was the love of a very few; not the
admiration, or even the respect, of the unknown many. The latter
might probably have been won for him, had those on whom the
guardianship of his welfare had fallen deemed it advisable to
expose Clifford to a miserable resuscitation of past ideas,
when the condition of whatever comfort he might expect lay in
the calm of forgetfulness. After such wrong as he had suffered,
there is no reparation. The pitiable mockery of it, which the
world might have been ready enough to offer, coming so long after
the agony had done its utmost work, would have been fit only to
provoke bitterer laughter than poor Clifford was ever capable of.
It is a truth (and it would be a very sad one but for the higher
hopes which it suggests) that no great mistake, whether acted or
endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right. Time,
the continual vicissitude of circumstances, and the invariable
inopportunity of death, render it impossible. If, after long
lapse of years, the right seems to be in our power, we find no niche
to set it in. The better remedy is for the sufferer to pass on,
and leave what he once thought his irreparable ruin far behind him.
The shock of Judge Pyncheon's death had a permanently invigorating
and ultimately beneficial effect on Clifford. That strong and
ponderous man had been Clifford's nightmare. There was no free
breath to be drawn, within the sphere of so malevolent an influence.
The first effect of freedom, as we have witnessed in Clifford's aimless
flight, was a tremulous exhilaration. Subsiding from it, he did not
sink into his former intellectual apathy. He never, it is true,
attained to nearly the full measure of what might have been his
faculties. But he recovered enough of them partially to light up
his character, to display some outline of the marvellous grace that
was abortive in it, and to make him the object of No less deep,
although less melancholy interest than heretofore. He was evidently
happy. Could we pause to give another picture of his daily life,
with all the appliances now at command to gratify his instinct for
the Beautiful, the garden scenes, that seemed so sweet to him,
would look mean and trivial in comparison.
Very soon after their change of fortune, Clifford, Hepzibah, and
little Phoebe, with the approval of the artist, concluded to remove
from the dismal old House of the Seven Gables, and take up their
abode, for the present, at the elegant country-seat of the late
Judge Pyncheon. Chanticleer and his family had already been
transported thither, where the two hens had forthwith begun an
indefatigable process of egg-laying, with an evident design, as a
matter of duty and conscience, to continue their illustrious breed
under better auspices than for a century past. On the day set for
their departure, the principal personages of our story, including
good Uncle Venner, were assembled in the parlor.
"The country-house is certainly a very fine one, so far as the
plan goes," observed Holgrave, as the party were discussing their
future arrangements. "But I wonder that the late Judge--being so
opulent, and with a reasonable prospect of transmitting his wealth
to descendants of his own--should not have felt the propriety of
embodying so excellent a piece of domestic architecture in stone,
rather than in wood. Then, every generation of the family might
have altered the interior, to suit its own taste and convenience;
while the exterior, through the lapse of years, might have been
adding venerableness to its original beauty, and thus giving that
impression of permanence which I consider essential to the
happiness of any one moment."
"Why," cried Phoebe, gazing into the artist's face with infinite
amazement, "how wonderfully your ideas are changed! A house of
stone, indeed! It is but two or three weeks ago that you seemed
to wish people to live in something as fragile and temporary as
"Ah, Phoebe, I told you how it would be!" said the artist, with
a half-melancholy laugh."You find me a conservative already!
Little did I think ever to become one. It is especially
unpardonable in this dwelling of so much hereditary misfortune,
and under the eye of yonder portrait of a model conservative,
who, in that very character, rendered himself so long the evil
destiny of his race."
"That picture!" said Clifford, seeming to shrink from its stern
glance. "Whenever I look at it, there is an old dreamy recollection
haunting me, but keeping just beyond the grasp of my mind. Wealth,
it seems to say! --boundless wealth!--unimaginable wealth! I could
fancy that, when I was a child, or a youth, that portrait had spoken,
and told me a rich secret, or had held forth its hand, with the
written record of hidden opulence. But those old matters are so dim
with me, nowadays! What could this dream have been?"
"Perhaps I can recall it," answered Holgrave. "See! There are a
hundred chances to one that no person, unacquainted with the
secret, would ever touch this spring."
"A secret spring!" cried Clifford. "Ah, I remember Now! I did
discover it, one summer afternoon, when I was idling and
dreaming about the house, long, long ago. But the mystery
The artist put his finger on the contrivance to which he had
referred. In former days, the effect would probably have been to
cause the picture to start forward. But, in so long a period of
concealment, the machinery had been eaten through with rust; so that
at Holgrave's pressure, the portrait, frame and all, tumbled suddenly
from its position, and lay face downward on the floor. A recess in
the wall was thus brought to light, in which lay an object so covered
with a century's dust that it could not immediately be recognized as
a folded sheet of parchment. Holgrave opened it, and displayed an
ancient deed, signed with the hieroglyphics of several Indian
sagamores, and conveying to Colonel Pyncheon and his heirs, forever,
a vast extent of territory at the Eastward.
"This is the very parchment, the attempt to recover which cost
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon her happiness and life," said the
artist, alluding to his legend. "It is what the Pyncheons sought
in vain, while it was valuable; and now that they find the
treasure, it has long been worthless."
"Poor Cousin Jaffrey! This is what deceived him," exclaimed
Hepzibah. "When they were young together, Clifford probably
made a kind of fairy-tale of this discovery. He was always
dreaming hither and thither about the house, and lighting up its
dark corners with beautiful stories. And poor Jaffrey, who took
hold of everything as if it were real, thought my brother had
found out his uncle's wealth. He died with this delusion in his
"But," said Phoebe, apart to Holgrave, "how came you to know
"My dearest Phoebe," said Holgrave, "how will it please you to
assume the name of Maule? As for the secret, it is the only
inheritance that has come down to me from my ancestors. You
should have known sooner (only that I was afraid of frightening
you away) that, in this long drama of wrong and retribution,
I represent the old wizard, and am probably as much a wizard
as ever he was. The son of the executed Matthew Maule, while
building this house, took the opportunity to construct that recess,
and hide away the Indian deed, on which depended the immense
land-claim of the Pyncheons. Thus they bartered their eastern
territory for Maule's garden-ground."
"And now" said Uncle Venner "I suppose their whole claim is not
worth one man's share in my farm yonder!"
"Uncle Venner," cried Phoebe, taking the patched philosopher's
hand, "you must never talk any more about your farm! You shall
never go there, as long as you live! There is a cottage in our
new garden,--the prettiest little yellowish-brown cottage you
ever saw; and the sweetest-looking place, for it looks just as
if it were made of gingerbread,--and we are going to fit it up
and furnish it, on purpose for you. And you shall do nothing
but what you choose, and shall be as happy as the day is long,
and shall keep Cousin Clifford in spirits with the wisdom and
pleasantness which is always dropping from your lips!"
"Ah! my dear child," quoth good Uncle Venner, quite overcome,
"if you were to speak to a young man as you do to an old one,
his chance of keeping his heart another minute would not be
worth one of the buttons on my waistcoat! And--soul alive!--that
great sigh, which you made me heave, has burst off the very last
of them! But, never mind! It was the happiest sigh I ever did
heave; and it seems as if I must have drawn in a gulp of heavenly
breath, to make it with. Well, well, Miss Phoebe! They'll miss
me in the gardens hereabouts, and round by the back doors;
and Pyncheon Street, I'm afraid, will hardly look the same
without old Uncle Venner, who remembers it with a mowing
field on one side, and the garden of the Seven Gables on the
other. But either I must go to your country-seat, or you must
come to my farm,--that's one of two things certain; and I leave
you to choose which!"
"Oh, come with us, by all means, Uncle Venner!" said Clifford,
who had a remarkable enjoyment of the old man's mellow, quiet,
and simple spirit. "I want you always to be within five minutes,
saunter of my chair. You are the only philosopher I ever knew
of whose wisdom has not a drop of bitter essence at the bottom!"
"Dear me!" cried Uncle Venner, beginning partly to realize what
manner of man he was. "And yet folks used to set me down
among the simple ones, in my younger days! But I suppose I am
like a Roxbury russet,--a great deal the better, the longer I can
be kept. Yes; and my words of wisdom, that you and Phoebe tell
me of, are like the golden dandelions, which never grow in the
hot months, but may be seen glistening among the withered
grass, and under the dry leaves, sometimes as late as December.
And you are welcome, friends, to my mess of dandelions, if there
were twice as many!"
A plain, but handsome, dark-green barouche had now drawn up in
front of the ruinous portal of the old mansion-house. The party
came forth, and (with the exception of good Uncle Venner, who was
to follow in a few days) proceeded to take their places. They
were chatting and laughing very pleasantly together; and--as proves
to be often the case, at moments when we ought to palpitate with
sensibility--Clifford and Hepzibah bade a final farewell to the
abode of their forefathers, with hardly more emotion than if they
had made it their arrangement to return thither at tea-time.
Several children were drawn to the spot by so unusual a spectacle
as the barouche and pair of gray horses. Recognizing little
Ned Higgins among them, Hepzibah put her hand into her pocket,
and presented the urchin, her earliest and staunchest customer,
with silver enough to people the Domdaniel cavern of his interior
with as various a procession of quadrupeds as passed into the ark.
Two men were passing, just as the barouche drove off.
"Well, Dixey," said one of them, "what do you think of this? My
wife kept a cent-shop three months, and lost five dollars on her
outlay. Old Maid Pyncheon has been in trade just about as long,
and rides off in her carriage with a couple of hundred thousand,
--reckoning her share, and Clifford's, and Phoebe's,--and some
say twice as much! If you choose to call it luck, it is all very
well; but if we are to take it as the will of Providence, why,
I can't exactly fathom it!"
"Pretty good business!" quoth the sagacious Dixey,--"pretty good business!"
Maule's well, all this time, though left in solitude, was throwing
up a succession of kaleidoscopic pictures, in which a gifted eye
might have seen foreshadowed the coming fortunes of Hepzibah and
Clifford, and the descendant of the legendary wizard, and the
village maiden, over whom he had thrown Love's web of sorcery.
The Pyncheon Elm, moreover, with what foliage the September gale
had spared to it, whispered unintelligible prophecies. And wise
Uncle Venner, passing slowly from the ruinous porch, seemed to
hear a strain of music, and fancied that sweet Alice Pyncheon--after
witnessing these deeds, this bygone woe and this present happiness,
of her kindred mortals--had given one farewell touch of a spirit's
joy upon her harpsichord, as she floated heavenward from the HOUSE
OF THE SEVEN GABLES!