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IN September of the year during the February of which Hawthorne had
completed "The Scarlet Letter," he began "The House of the Seven Gables."
Meanwhile, he had removed from Salem to Lenox, in Berkshire County,
Massachusetts, where he occupied with his family a small red wooden house,
still standing at the date of this edition, near the Stockbridge Bowl.

"I sha'n't have the new story ready by November," he explained
to his publisher, on the 1st of October, "for I am never good for
anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost,
which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that it does
on the foliage here about me-multiplying and brightening its hues."
But by vigorous application he was able to complete the new work
about the middle of the January following.

Since research has disclosed the manner in which the romance is
interwoven with incidents from the history of the Hawthorne family,
"The House of the Seven Gables" has acquired an interest apart
from that by which it first appealed to the public. John Hathorne
(as the name was then spelled), the great-grandfather of Nathaniel
Hawthorne, was a magistrate at Salem in the latter part of the
seventeenth century, and officiated at the famous trials for
witchcraft held there. It is of record that he used peculiar
severity towards a certain woman who was among the accused;
and the husband of this woman prophesied that God would take
revenge upon his wife's persecutors. This circumstance doubtless
furnished a hint for that piece of tradition in the book which
represents a Pyncheon of a former generation as having persecuted
one Maule, who declared that God would give his enemy "blood to drink."
It became a conviction with The Hawthorne family that a curse had been
pronounced upon its members, which continued in force in the time of
The romancer; a conviction perhaps derived from the recorded prophecy
of The injured woman's husband, just mentioned; and, here again,
we have a correspondence with Maule's malediction in The story.
Furthermore, there occurs in The "American Note-Books" (August 27,
1837), a reminiscence of The author's family, to the following effect.
Philip English, a character well-known in early Salem annals, was among
those who suffered from John Hathorne's magisterial harshness, and he
maintained in consequence a lasting feud with the old Puritan official.
But at his death English left daughters, one of whom is said to have
married the son of Justice John Hathorne, whom English had declared
he would never forgive. It is scarcely necessary to point out how
clearly this foreshadows the final union of those hereditary foes,
the Pyncheons and Maules, through the marriage of Phoebe and Holgrave.
The romance, however, describes the Maules as possessing some of the
traits known to have been characteristic of the Hawthornes: for example,
"so long as any of the race were to be found, they had been marked out
from other men--not strikingly, nor as with a sharp line, but with an
effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by an hereditary
characteristic of reserve." Thus, while the general suggestion
of the Hawthorne line and its fortunes was followed in the romance,
the Pyncheons taking the place of The author's family,
certain distinguishing marks of the Hawthornes were assigned
to the imaginary Maule posterity.

There are one or two other points which indicate Hawthorne's
method of basing his compositions, the result in the main
of pure invention, on the solid ground of particular facts.
Allusion is made, in the first chapter of the "Seven Gables,"
to a grant of lands in Waldo County, Maine, owned by the
Pyncheon family. In the "American Note-Books" there is an entry,
dated August 12, 1837, which speaks of the Revolutionary general,
Knox, and his land-grant in Waldo County, by virtue of which the
owner had hoped to establish an estate on the English plan,
with a tenantry to make it profitable for him. An incident of
much greater importance in the story is the supposed murder of
one of the Pyncheons by his nephew, to whom we are introduced as
Clifford Pyncheon. In all probability Hawthorne connected with
this, in his mind, the murder of Mr. White, a wealthy gentleman
of Salem, killed by a man whom his nephew had hired. This took
place a few years after Hawthorne's gradation from college,
and was one of the celebrated cases of the day, Daniel Webster
taking part prominently in the trial. But it should be observed
here that such resemblances as these between sundry elements in
the work of Hawthorne's fancy and details of reality are only
fragmentary, and are rearranged to suit the author's purposes.

In the same way he has made his description of Hepzibah Pyncheon's
seven-gabled mansion conform so nearly to several old dwellings
formerly or still extant in Salem, that strenuous efforts have
been made to fix upon some one of them as the veritable edifice
of the romance. A paragraph in The opening chapter has perhaps
assisted this delusion that there must have been a single original
House of the Seven Gables, framed by flesh-and-blood carpenters;
for it runs thus:-

Familiar as it stands in the writer's recollection--for it has
been an object of curiosity with him from boyhood, both as a
specimen of the best and stateliest architecture of a long-past
epoch, and as the scene of events more full of interest perhaps
than those of a gray feudal castle--familiar as it stands, in its
rusty old age, it is therefore only the more difficult to imagine
the bright novelty with which it first caught the sunshine."

Hundreds of pilgrims annually visit a house in Salem, belonging
to one branch of the Ingersoll family of that place, which is
stoutly maintained to have been The model for Hawthorne's
visionary dwelling. Others have supposed that the now vanished
house of The identical Philip English, whose blood, as we have
already noticed, became mingled with that of the Hawthornes,
supplied the pattern; and still a third building, known as the
Curwen mansion, has been declared the only genuine establishment.
Notwithstanding persistent popular belief, The authenticity of
all these must positively be denied; although it is possible that
isolated reminiscences of all three may have blended with the
ideal image in the mind of Hawthorne. He, it will be seen,
remarks in the Preface, alluding to himself in the third person,
that he trusts not to be condemned for "laying out a street that
infringes upon nobody's private rights... and building a house
of materials long in use for constructing castles in the air."
More than this, he stated to persons still living that the house of
the romance was not copied from any actual edifice, but was simply a
general reproduction of a style of architecture belonging to colonial days,
examples of which survived into the period of his youth, but have since
been radically modified or destroyed. Here, as elsewhere, he exercised
the liberty of a creative mind to heighten the probability of his pictures
without confining himself to a literal description of something he had seen.

While Hawthorne remained at Lenox, and during the composition
of this romance, various other literary personages settled or
stayed for a time in the vicinity; among them, Herman Melville,
whose intercourse Hawthorne greatly enjoyed, Henry James, Sr.,
Doctor Holmes, J. T. Headley, James Russell Lowell, Edwin P.
Whipple, Frederika Bremer, and J. T. Fields; so that there was
no lack of intellectual society in the midst of the beautiful
and inspiring mountain scenery of the place. "In the afternoons,
nowadays," he records, shortly before beginning the work, "this
valley in which I dwell seems like a vast basin filled with golden
Sunshine as with wine;" and, happy in the companionship of his
wife and their three children, he led a simple, refined, idyllic
life, despite the restrictions of a scanty and uncertain income.
A letter written by Mrs. Hawthorne, at this time, to a member of
her family, gives incidentally a glimpse of the scene, which may
properly find a place here. She says: "I delight to think that
you also can look forth, as I do now, upon a broad valley and a
fine amphitheater of hills, and are about to watch the stately
ceremony of the sunset from your piazza. But you have not this
lovely lake, nor, I suppose, the delicate purple mist which folds
these slumbering mountains in airy veils. Mr. Hawthorne has
been lying down in the sun shine, slightly fleckered with the
shadows of a tree, and Una and Julian have been making him look
like the mighty Pan, by covering his chin and breast with long
grass-blades, that looked like a verdant and venerable beard."
The pleasantness and peace of his surroundings and of his modest
home, in Lenox, may be taken into account as harmonizing with the
mellow serenity of the romance then produced. Of the work, when
it appeared in the early spring of 1851, he wrote to Horatio Bridge
these words, now published for the first time:-

"`The House of the Seven Gables' in my opinion, is better than
`The Scarlet Letter:' but I should not wonder if I had refined
upon the principal character a little too much for popular
appreciation, nor if the romance of the book should be somewhat
at odds with the humble and familiar scenery in which I invest it.
But I feel that portions of it are as good as anything I can hope
to write, and the publisher speaks encouragingly of its success."

From England, especially, came many warm expressions of praise,
--a fact which Mrs. Hawthorne, in a private letter, commented on as
the fulfillment of a possibility which Hawthorne, writing in boyhood
to his mother, had looked forward to. He had asked her if she would
not like him to become an author and have his books read in England.

G. P. L.


WHEN a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed
that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion
and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to
assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form
of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity,
not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course
of man's experience. The former--while, as a work of art, it must
rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so
far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart--has
fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a
great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he think
fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring
out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the
picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of
the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the Marvelous
rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any
portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public.
He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime even if
he disregard this caution.

In the present work, the author has proposed to himself--but with
what success, fortunately, it is not for him to judge--to keep
undeviatingly within his immunities. The point of view in which
this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt
to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting
away from us. It is a legend prolonging itself, from an epoch now
gray in the distance, down into our own broad daylight, and bringing
along with it some of its legendary mist, which the reader, according
to his pleasure, may either disregard, or allow it to float almost
imperceptibly about the characters and events for the sake of a
picturesque effect. The narrative, it may be, is woven of so
humble a texture as to require this advantage, and, at the same
time, to render it the more difficult of attainment.

Many writers lay very great stress upon some definite moral
purpose, at which they profess to aim their works. Not to be
deficient in this particular, the author has provided himself
with a moral,--the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one
generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself
of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable
mischief; and he would feel it a singular gratification if this
romance might effectually convince mankind--or, indeed, any one
man--of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold,
or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby
to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be
scattered abroad in its original atoms. In good faith, however,
he is not sufficiently imaginative to flatter himself with the
slightest hope of this kind. When romances do really teach
anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually
through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one.
The author has considered it hardly worth his while, therefore,
relentlessly to impale the story with its moral as with an iron
rod,--or, rather, as by sticking a pin through a butterfly,
--thus at once depriving it of life, and causing it to stiffen
in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. A high truth, indeed,
fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out, brightening at every
step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction,
may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom
any more evident, at the last page than at the first.

The reader may perhaps choose to assign an actual locality to the
imaginary events of this narrative. If permitted by the historical
connection,--which, though slight, was essential to his plan,--the
author would very willingly have avoided anything of this nature.
Not to speak of other objections, it exposes the romance to an
inflexible and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism, by
bringing his fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with
the realities of the moment. It has been no part of his object,
however, to describe local manners, nor in any way to meddle
with the characteristics of a community for whom he cherishes
a proper respect and a natural regard. He trusts not to be
considered as unpardonably offending by laying out a street that
infringes upon nobody's private rights, and appropriating a lot of
land which had no visible owner, and building a house of materials
long in use for constructing castles in the air. The personages
of the tale--though they give themselves out to be of ancient
stability and considerable prominence--are really of the author's
own making, or at all events, of his own mixing; their virtues can
shed no lustre, nor their defects redound, in the remotest degree,
to the discredit of the venerable town of which they profess to be
inhabitants. He would be glad, therefore, if-especially in the
quarter to which he alludes-the book may be read strictly as a
Romance, having a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead
than with any portion of the actual soil of the County of Essex.

LENOX, January 27, 1851.

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I. The Old Pyncheon Family

HALFWAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands
a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing
towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered
chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house
is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference,
rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by
the title of the Pyncheon Elm. On my occasional visits to the
town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon Street,
for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities,
--the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice.

The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like
a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward
storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of
mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed
within. Were these to be worthily recounted, they would form a
narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing,
moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem
the result of artistic arrangement. But the story would include
a chain of events extending over the better part of two centuries,
and, written out with reasonable amplitude, would fill a bigger
folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could prudently
be appropriated to the annals of all New England during a similar
period. It consequently becomes imperative to make short work
with most of the traditionary lore of which the old Pyncheon House,
otherwise known as the House of the Seven Gables, has been the
theme. With a brief sketch, therefore, of the circumstances
amid which the foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid
glimpse at its quaint exterior, as it grew black in the prevalent
east wind,--pointing, too, here and there, at some spot of more
verdant mossiness on its roof and walls,--we shall commence the
real action of our tale at an epoch not very remote from the
present day. Still, there will be a connection with the long
past--a reference to forgotten events and personages, and to
manners, feelings, and opinions, almost or wholly obsolete
--which, if adequately translated to the reader, would serve
to illustrate how much of old material goes to make up the
freshest novelty of human life. Hence, too, might be drawn a
weighty lesson from the little-regarded truth, that the act of
the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce
good or evil fruit in a far-distant time; that, together with
the seed of the merely temporary crop, which mortals term
expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring
growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.

The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not
the first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same
spot of ground. Pyncheon Street formerly bore the humbler appellation
of Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil,
before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of
soft and pleasant water--a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula
where the Puritan settlement was made--had early induced Matthew
Maule to build a hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although
somewhat too remote from what was then the centre of the village.
In the growth of the town, however, after some thirty or forty
years, the site covered by this rude hovel had become exceedingly
desirable in the eyes of a prominent and powerful personage, who
asserted plausible claims to the proprietorship of this and a
large adjacent tract of land, on the strength of a grant from the
legislature. Colonel Pyncheon, the claimant, as we gather from
whatever traits of him are preserved, was characterized by an
iron energy of purpose. Matthew Maule, on the other hand, though
an obscure man, was stubborn in the defence of what he considered
his right; and, for several years, he succeeded in protecting the
acre or two of earth which, with his own toil, he had hewn out
of the primeval forest, to be his garden ground and homestead.
No written record of this dispute is known to be in existence.
Our acquaintance with the whole subject is derived chiefly from
tradition. It would be bold, therefore, and possibly unjust,
to venture a decisive opinion as to its merits; although it
appears to have been at least a matter of doubt, whether Colonel
Pyncheon's claim were not unduly stretched, in order to make it
cover the small metes and bounds of Matthew Maule. What greatly
strengthens such a suspicion is the fact that this controversy
between two ill-matched antagonists --at a period, moreover,
laud it as we may, when personal influence had far more weight
than now--remained for years undecided, and came to a close only
with the death of the party occupying the disputed soil. The mode
of his death, too, affects the mind differently, in our day,
from what it did a century and a half ago. It was a death that
blasted with strange horror the humble name of the dweller in
the cottage, and made it seem almost a religious act to drive
the plough over the little area of his habitation, and obliterate
his place and memory from among men.

Old Matthew Maule, in a word, was executed for the crime of
witchcraft. He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion,
which should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential
classes, and those who take upon themselves to be leaders of the
people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever
characterized the maddest mob. Clergymen, judges, statesmen,--the
wisest, calmest, holiest persons of their day stood in the inner
circle round about the gallows, loudest to applaud the work of
blood, latest to confess themselves miserably deceived. If any
one part of their proceedings can be said to deserve less blame
than another, it was the singular indiscrimination with which
they persecuted, not merely the poor and aged, as in former
judicial massacres, but people of all ranks; their own equals,
brethren, and wives. Amid the disorder of such various ruin,
it is not strange that a man of inconsiderable note, like Maule,
should have trodden the martyr's path to the hill of execution
almost unremarked in the throng of his fellow sufferers. But,
in after days, when the frenzy of that hideous epoch had subsided,
it was remembered how loudly Colonel Pyncheon had joined in the
general cry, to purge the land from witchcraft; nor did it fail
to be whispered, that there was an invidious acrimony in the
zeal with which he had sought the condemnation of Matthew Maule.
It was well known that the victim had recognized the bitterness
of personal enmity in his persecutor's conduct towards him, and
that he declared himself hunted to death for his spoil. At the
moment of execution--with the halter about his neck, and while
Colonel Pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at the scene
Maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy,
of which history, as well as fireside tradition, has preserved
the very words. "God," said the dying man, pointing his finger,
with a ghastly look, at the undismayed countenance of his enemy,
--"God will give him blood to drink!" After the reputed wizard's
death, his humble homestead had fallen an easy spoil into Colonel
Pyncheon's grasp. When it was understood, however, that the
Colonel intended to erect a family mansion-spacious, ponderously
framed of oaken timber, and calculated to endure for many generations
of his posterity over the spot first covered by the log-built hut
of Matthew Maule, there was much shaking of the head among the
village gossips. Without absolutely expressing a doubt whether
the stalwart Puritan had acted as a man of conscience and integrity
throughout the proceedings which have been sketched, they,
nevertheless, hinted that he was about to build his house over
an unquiet grave. His home would include the home of the dead
and buried wizard, and would thus afford the ghost of the latter
a kind of privilege to haunt its new apartments, and the chambers
into which future bridegrooms were to lead their brides, and where
children of the Pyncheon blood were to be born. The terror and
ugliness of Maule's crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment,
would darken the freshly plastered walls, and infect them early
with the scent of an old and melancholy house. Why, then, --while
so much of the soil around him was bestrewn with the virgin forest
leaves,--why should Colonel Pyncheon prefer a site that had
already been accurst?

But the Puritan soldier and magistrate was not a man to be turned
aside from his well-considered scheme, either by dread of the
wizard's ghost, or by flimsy sentimentalities of any kind, however
specious. Had he been told of a bad air, it might have moved him
somewhat; but he was ready to encounter an evil spirit on his own
ground. Endowed with commonsense, as massive and hard as blocks
of granite, fastened together by stern rigidity of purpose, as with
iron clamps, he followed out his original design, probably without
so much as imagining an objection to it. On the score of delicacy,
or any scrupulousness which a finer sensibility might have taught him,
the Colonel, like most of his breed and generation, was impenetrable.
He therefore dug his cellar, and laid the deep foundations of his
mansion, on the square of earth whence Matthew Maule, forty years
before, had first swept away the fallen leaves. It was a curious,
and, as some people thought, an ominous fact, that, very soon after
the workmen began their operations, the spring of water, above
mentioned, entirely lost the deliciousness of its pristine quality.
Whether its sources were disturbed by the depth of the new cellar,
or whatever subtler cause might lurk at the bottom, it is certain
that the water of Maule's Well, as it continued to be called,
grew hard and brackish. Even such we find it now; and any old
woman of the neighborhood will certify that it is productive of
intestinal mischief to those who quench their thirst there.

The reader may deem it singular that the head carpenter of the new
edifice was no other than the son of the very man from whose dead
gripe the property of the soil had been wrested. Not improbably he
was the best workman of his time; or, perhaps, the Colonel thought
it expedient, or was impelled by some better feeling, thus openly
to cast aside all animosity against the race of his fallen antagonist.
Nor was it out of keeping with the general coarseness and matter-of-fact
character of the age, that the son should be willing to earn an honest
penny, or, rather, a weighty amount of sterling pounds, from the purse
of his father's deadly enemy. At all events, Thomas Maule became the
architect of the House of the Seven Gables, and performed his duty so
faithfully that the timber framework fastened by his hands still
holds together.

Thus the great house was built. Familiar as it stands in the writer's
recollection,--for it has been an object of curiosity with him from
boyhood, both as a specimen of the best and stateliest architecture
of a longpast epoch, and as the scene of events more full of human
interest, perhaps, than those of a gray feudal castle,--familiar as
it stands, in its rusty old age, it is therefore only the more
difficult to imagine the bright novelty with which it first caught
the sunshine. The impression of its actual state, at this distance
of a hundred and sixty years, darkens inevitably through the picture
which we would fain give of its appearance on the morning when the
Puritan magnate bade all the town to be his guests. A ceremony of
consecration, festive as well as religious, was now to be performed.
A prayer and discourse from the Rev. Mr. Higginson, and the outpouring
of a psalm from the general throat of the community, was to be made
acceptable to the grosser sense by ale, cider, wine, and brandy,
in copious effusion, and, as some authorities aver, by an ox, roasted
whole, or at least, by the weight and substance of an ox, in more
manageable joints and sirloins. The carcass of a deer, shot within
twenty miles, had supplied material for the vast circumference of a
pasty. A codfish of sixty pounds, caught in the bay, had been dissolved
into the rich liquid of a chowder. The chimney of the new house,
in short, belching forth its kitchen smoke, impregnated the whole air
with the scent of meats, fowls, and fishes, spicily concocted with
odoriferous herbs, and onions in abundance. The mere smell of such
festivity, making its way to everybody's nostrils, was at once an
invitation and an appetite.

Maule's Lane, or Pyncheon Street, as it were now more decorous to
call it, was thronged, at the appointed hour, as with a congregation
on its way to church. All, as they approached, looked upward at
the imposing edifice, which was henceforth to assume its rank among
the habitations of mankind. There it rose, a little withdrawn from
the line of the street, but in pride, not modesty. Its whole visible
exterior was ornamented with quaint figures, conceived in the
grotesqueness of a Gothic fancy, and drawn or stamped in the
glittering plaster, composed of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass,
with which the woodwork of the walls was overspread. On every side
the seven gables pointed sharply towards the sky, and presented the
aspect of a whole sisterhood of edifices, breathing through the
spiracles of one great chimney. The many lattices, with their small,
diamond-shaped panes, admitted the sunlight into hall and chamber,
while, nevertheless, the second story, projecting far over the base,
and itself retiring beneath the third, threw a shadowy and thoughtful
gloom into the lower rooms. Carved globes of wood were affixed under
the jutting stories. Little spiral rods of iron beautified each of
the seven peaks. On the triangular portion of the gable, that fronted
next the street, was a dial, put up that very morning, and on which
the sun was still marking the passage of the first bright hour in a
history that was not destined to be all so bright. All around were
scattered shavings, chips, shingles, and broken halves of bricks;
these, together with the lately turned earth, on which the grass
had not begun to grow, contributed to the impression of strangeness
and novelty proper to a house that had yet its place to make among
men's daily interests.

The principal entrance, which had almost the breadth of a
church-door, was in the angle between the two front gables, and
was covered by an open porch, with benches beneath its shelter.
Under this arched doorway, scraping their feet on the unworn
threshold, now trod the clergymen, the elders, the magistrates,
the deacons, and whatever of aristocracy there was in town or
county. Thither, too, thronged the plebeian classes as freely as
their betters, and in larger number. Just within the entrance,
however, stood two serving-men, pointing some of the guests to
the neighborhood of the kitchen and ushering others into the
statelier rooms,--hospitable alike to all, but still with a
scrutinizing regard to the high or low degree of each. Velvet
garments sombre but rich, stiffly plaited ruffs and bands,
embroidered gloves, venerable beards, the mien and countenance
of authority, made it easy to distinguish the gentleman of worship,
at that period, from the tradesman, with his plodding air, or the
laborer, in his leathern jerkin, stealing awe-stricken into the
house which he had perhaps helped to build.

One inauspicious circumstance there was, which awakened a hardly
concealed displeasure in the breasts of a few of the more punctilious
visitors. The founder of this stately mansion--a gentleman noted
for the square and ponderous courtesy of his demeanor, ought surely
to have stood in his own hall, and to have offered the first welcome
to so many eminent personages as here presented themselves in honor
of his solemn festival. He was as yet invisible; the most favored
of the guests had not beheld him. This sluggishness on Colonel
Pyncheon's part became still more unaccountable, when the second
dignitary of the province made his appearance, and found no more
ceremonious a reception. The lieutenant-governor, although his
visit was one of the anticipated glories of the day, had alighted
from his horse, and assisted his lady from her side-saddle, and
crossed the Colonel's threshold, without other greeting than that
of the principal domestic.

This person--a gray-headed man, of quiet and most respectful
deportment --found it necessary to explain that his master still
remained in his study, or private apartment; on entering which,
an hour before, he had expressed a wish on no account to be disturbed.

"Do not you see, fellow," said the high-sheriff of the county,
taking the servant aside, "that this is no less a man than the
lieutenant-governor? Summon Colonel Pyncheon at once! I know that
he received letters from England this morning; and, in the perusal
and consideration of them, an hour may have passed away without his
noticing it. But he will be ill-pleased, I judge if you suffer him
to neglect the courtesy due to one of our chief rulers, and who may
be said to represent King William, in the absence of the governor
himself. Call your master instantly."

"Nay, please your worship," answered the man, in much perplexity,
but with a backwardness that strikingly indicated the hard and
severe character of Colonel Pyncheon's domestic rule; "my master's
orders were exceeding strict; and, as your worship knows, he
permits of no discretion in the obedience of those who owe him
service. Let who list open yonder door; I dare not, though the
governor's own voice should bid me do it!"

"Pooh, pooh, master high sheriff!" cried the lieutenant-governor,
who had overheard the foregoing discussion, and felt himself high
enough in station to play a little with his dignity. "I will take
the matter into my own hands. It is time that the good Colonel came
forth to greet his friends; else we shall be apt to suspect that he
has taken a sip too much of his Canary wine, in his extreme deliberation
which cask it were best to broach in honor of the day! But since he
is so much behindhand, I will give him a remembrancer myself!"

Accordingly, with such a tramp of his ponderous riding-boots as
might of itself have been audible in the remotest of the seven
gables, he advanced to the door, which the servant pointed out,
and made its new panels reecho with a loud, free knock. Then,
looking round, with a smile, to the spectators, he awaited a
response. As none came, however, he knocked again, but with the
same unsatisfactory result as at first. And now, being a trifle
choleric in his temperament, the lieutenant-governor uplifted the
heavy hilt of his sword, wherewith he so beat and banged upon the
door, that, as some of the bystanders whispered, the racket might
have disturbed the dead. Be that as it might, it seemed to produce
no awakening effect on Colonel Pyncheon. When the sound subsided,
the silence through the house was deep, dreary, and oppressive,
notwithstanding that the tongues of many of the guests had already
been loosened by a surreptitious cup or two of wine or spirits.

"Strange, forsooth!--very strange!" cried the lieutenant-governor,
whose smile was changed to a frown. "But seeing that our host
sets us the good example of forgetting ceremony, I shall likewise
throw it aside, and make free to intrude on his privacy."

He tried the door, which yielded to his hand, and was flung wide
open by a sudden gust of wind that passed, as with a loud sigh,
from the outermost portal through all the passages and apartments
of the new house. It rustled the silken garments of the ladies,
and waved the long curls of the gentlemen's wigs, and shook the
window-hangings and the curtains of the bedchambers; causing
everywhere a singular stir, which yet was more like a hush.
A shadow of awe and half-fearful anticipation--nobody knew
wherefore, nor of what--had all at once fallen over the company.

They thronged, however, to the now open door, pressing the
lieutenant-governor, in the eagerness of their curiosity, into
the room in advance of them. At the first glimpse they beheld
nothing extraordinary: a handsomely furnished room, of moderate
size, somewhat darkened by curtains; books arranged on shelves;
a large map on the wall, and likewise a portrait of Colonel
Pyncheon, beneath which sat the original Colonel himself, in an
oaken elbow-chair, with a pen in his hand. Letters, parchments,
and blank sheets of paper were on the table before him. He
appeared to gaze at the curious crowd, in front of which stood
the lieutenant-governor; and there was a frown on his dark and
massive countenance, as if sternly resentful of the boldness that
had impelled them into his private retirement.

A little boy--the Colonel's grandchild, and the only human being
that ever dared to be familiar with him--now made his way among
the guests, and ran towards the seated figure; then pausing
halfway, he began to shriek with terror. The company, tremulous
as the leaves of a tree, when all are shaking together, drew
nearer, and perceived that there was an unnatural distortion in
the fixedness of Colonel Pyncheon's stare; that there was blood
on his ruff, and that his hoary beard was saturated with it.
It was too late to give assistance. The iron-hearted Puritan,
the relentless persecutor, the grasping and strong-willed man was
dead! Dead, in his new house! There is a tradition, only worth
alluding to as lending a tinge of superstitious awe to a scene
perhaps gloomy enough without it, that a voice spoke loudly among
the guests, the tones of which were like those of old Matthew
Maule, the executed wizard,--"God hath given him blood to drink!"

Thus early had that one guest,--the only guest who is certain,
at one time or another, to find his way into every human dwelling,
--thus early had Death stepped across the threshold of the House
of the Seven Gables!

Colonel Pyncheon's sudden and mysterious end made a vast deal
of noise in its day. There were many rumors, some of which have
vaguely drifted down to the present time, how that appearances
indicated violence; that there were the marks of fingers on his
throat, and the print of a bloody hand on his plaited ruff; and
that his peaked beard was dishevelled, as if it had been fiercely
clutched and pulled. It was averred, likewise, that the lattice
window, near the Colonel's chair, was open; and that, only a few
minutes before the fatal occurrence, the figure of a man had been
seen clambering over the garden fence, in the rear of the house.
But it were folly to lay any stress on stories of this kind, which
are sure to spring up around such an event as that now related,
and which, as in the present case, sometimes prolong themselves
for ages afterwards, like the toadstools that indicate where the
fallen and buried trunk of a tree has long since mouldered into
the earth. For our own part, we allow them just as little
credence as to that other fable of the skeleton hand which the
lieutenant- governor was said to have seen at the Colonel's throat,
but which vanished away, as he advanced farther into the room.
Certain it is, however, that there was a great consultation and
dispute of doctors over the dead body. One,--John Swinnerton
by name,--who appears to have been a man of eminence, upheld it,
if we have rightly understood his terms of art, to be a case of
apoplexy. His professional brethren, each for himself, adopted
various hypotheses, more or less plausible, but all dressed out
in a perplexing mystery of phrase, which, if it do not show a
bewilderment of mind in these erudite physicians, certainly causes
it in the unlearned peruser of their opinions. The coroner's
jury sat upon the corpse, and, like sensible men, returned an
unassailable verdict of "Sudden Death!"

It is indeed difficult to imagine that there could have been
a serious suspicion of murder, or the slightest grounds for
implicating any particular individual as the perpetrator.
The rank, wealth, and eminent character of the deceased must
have insured the strictest scrutiny into every ambiguous
circumstance. As none such is on record, it is safe to assume
that none existed Tradition,--which sometimes brings down truth
that history has let slip, but is oftener the wild babble of the
time, such as was formerly spoken at the fireside and now congeals
in newspapers,--tradition is responsible for all contrary averments.
In Colonel Pyncheon's funeral sermon, which was printed, and is
still extant, the Rev. Mr. Higginson enumerates, among the many
felicities of his distinguished parishioner's earthly career,
the happy seasonableness of his death. His duties all performed,
--the highest prosperity attained,--his race and future generations
fixed on a stable basis, and with a stately roof to shelter them
for centuries to come,--what other upward step remained for this
good man to take, save the final step from earth to the golden
gate of heaven! The pious clergyman surely would not have uttered
words like these had he in the least suspected that the Colonel
had been thrust into the other world with the clutch of violence
upon his throat.

The family of Colonel Pyncheon, at the epoch of his death, seemed
destined to as fortunate a permanence as can anywise consist with
the inherent instability of human affairs. It might fairly be
anticipated that the progress of time would rather increase and
ripen their prosperity, than wear away and destroy it. For, not only
had his son and heir come into immediate enjoyment of a rich estate,
but there was a claim through an Indian deed, confirmed by a subsequent
grant of the General Court, to a vast and as yet unexplored and
unmeasured tract of Eastern lands. These possessions--for as such
they might almost certainly be reckoned--comprised the greater part
of what is now known as Waldo County, in the state of Maine, and were
more extensive than many a dukedom, or even a reigning prince's
territory, on European soil. When the pathless forest that still
covered this wild principality should give place--as it inevitably
must, though perhaps not till ages hence--to the golden fertility
of human culture, it would be the source of incalculable wealth
to the Pyncheon blood. Had the Colonel survived only a few weeks
longer, it is probable that his great political influence, and
powerful connections at home and abroad, would have consummated
all that was necessary to render the claim available. But, in
spite of good Mr. Higginson's congratulatory eloquence, this
appeared to be the one thing which Colonel Pyncheon, provident
and sagacious as he was, had allowed to go at loose ends. So far
as the prospective territory was concerned, he unquestionably
died too soon. His son lacked not merely the father's eminent
position, but the talent and force of character to achieve it:
he could, therefore, effect nothing by dint of political interest;
and the bare justice or legality of the claim was not so apparent,
after the Colonel's decease, as it had been pronounced in his
lifetime. Some connecting link had slipped out of the evidence,
and could not anywhere be found.

Efforts, it is true, were made by the Pyncheons, not only then,
but at various periods for nearly a hundred years afterwards,
to obtain what they stubbornly persisted in deeming their right.
But, in course of time, the territory was partly regranted to more
favored individuals, and partly cleared and occupied by actual
settlers. These last, if they ever heard of the Pyncheon title,
would have laughed at the idea of any man's asserting a right--on
the strength of mouldy parchments, signed with the faded autographs
of governors and legislators long dead and forgotten--to the lands
which they or their fathers had wrested from the wild hand of
nature by their own sturdy toil. This impalpable claim, therefore,
resulted in nothing more solid than to cherish, from generation to
generation, an absurd delusion of family importance, which all along
characterized the Pyncheons. It caused the poorest member of the
race to feel as if he inherited a kind of nobility, and might yet
come into the possession of princely wealth to support it. In the
better specimens of the breed, this peculiarity threw an ideal grace
over the hard material of human life, without stealing away any truly
valuable quality. In the baser sort, its effect was to increase the
liability to sluggishness and dependence, and induce the victim of a
shadowy hope to remit all self-effort, while awaiting the realization
of his dreams. Years and years after their claim had passed out of
the public memory, the Pyncheons were accustomed to consult the
Colonel's ancient map, which had been projected while Waldo County
was still an unbroken wilderness. Where the old land surveyor had
put down woods, lakes, and rivers, they marked out the cleared spaces,
and dotted the villages and towns, and calculated the progressively
increasing value of the territory, as if there were yet a prospect of
its ultimately forming a princedom for themselves.

In almost every generation, nevertheless, there happened to be
some one descendant of the family gifted with a portion of the
hard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably
distinguished the original founder. His character, indeed, might
be traced all the way down, as distinctly as if the Colonel himself,
a little diluted, had been gifted with a sort of intermittent
immortality on earth. At two or three epochs, when the fortunes
of the family were low, this representative of hereditary qualities
had made his appearance, and caused the traditionary gossips of
the town to whisper among themselves, "Here is the old Pyncheon
come again! Now the Seven Gables will be new-shingled!" From father
to son, they clung to the ancestral house with singular tenacity of
home attachment. For various reasons, however, and from impressions
often too vaguely founded to be put on paper, the writer cherishes
the belief that many, if not most, of the successive proprietors of
this estate were troubled with doubts as to their moral right to
hold it. Of their legal tenure there could be no question; but old
Matthew Maule, it is to be feared, trode downward from his own age
to a far later one, planting a heavy footstep, all the way, on the
conscience of a Pyncheon. If so, we are left to dispose of the
awful query, whether each inheritor of the property-conscious of
wrong, and failing to rectify it--did not commit anew the great
guilt of his ancestor, and incur all its original responsibilities.
And supposing such to be the case, would it not be a far truer
mode of expression to say of the Pyncheon family, that they
inherited a great misfortune, than the reverse?

We have already hinted that it is not our purpose to trace down
the history of the Pyncheon family, in its unbroken connection
with the House of the Seven Gables; nor to show, as in a magic
picture, how the rustiness and infirmity of age gathered over the
venerable house itself. As regards its interior life, a large,
dim looking-glass used to hang in one of the rooms, and was fabled
to contain within its depths all the shapes that had ever been
reflected there,--the old Colonel himself, and his many descendants,
some in the garb of antique babyhood, and others in the bloom of
feminine beauty or manly prime, or saddened with the wrinkles of
frosty age. Had we the secret of that mirror, we would gladly sit
down before it, and transfer its revelations to our page. But there
was a story, for which it is difficult to conceive any foundation,
that the posterity of Matthew Maule had some connection with the
mystery of the looking-glass, and that, by what appears to have
been a sort of mesmeric process, they could make its inner region
all alive with the departed Pyncheons; not as they had shown themselves
to the world, nor in their better and happier hours, but as doing
over again some deed of sin, or in the crisis of life's bitterest
sorrow. The popular imagination, indeed, long kept itself busy
with the affair of the old Puritan Pyncheon and the wizard Maule;
the curse which the latter flung from his scaffold was remembered,
with the very important addition, that it had become a part of the
Pyncheon inheritance. If one of the family did but gurgle in his
throat, a bystander would be likely enough to whisper, between jest
and earnest,"He has Maule's blood to drink!" The sudden death of a
Pyncheon, about a hundred years ago, with circumstances very similar
to what have been related of the Colonel's exit, was held as giving
additional probability to the received opinion on this topic. It was
considered, moreover, an ugly and ominous circumstance, that Colonel
Pyncheon's picture--in obedience, it was said, to a provision of his
will--remained affixed to the wall of the room in which he died.
Those stern, immitigable features seemed to symbolize an evil influence,
and so darkly to mingle the shadow of their presence with the sunshine
of the passing hour, that no good thoughts or purposes could ever
spring up and blossom there. To the thoughtful mind there will be no
tinge of superstition in what we figuratively express, by affirming
that the ghost of a dead progenitor--perhaps as a portion of his own
punishment--is often doomed to become the Evil Genius of his family.

The Pyncheons, in brief, lived along, for the better part of two
centuries, with perhaps less of outward vicissitude than has
attended most other New England families during the same period
of time. Possessing very distinctive traits of their own, they
nevertheless took the general characteristics of the little
community in which they dwelt; a town noted for its frugal,
discreet, well-ordered, and home-loving inhabitants, as well as
for the somewhat confined scope of its sympathies; but in which,
be it said, there are odder individuals, and, now and then,
stranger occurrences, than one meets with almost anywhere else.
During the Revolution, the Pyncheon of that epoch, adopting the
royal side, became a refugee; but repented, and made his reappearance,
just at the point of time to preserve the House of the Seven Gables
from confiscation. For the last seventy years the most noted
event in the Pyncheon annals had been likewise the heaviest
calamity that ever befell the race; no less than the violent
death--for so it was adjudged--of one member of the family by
the criminal act of another. Certain circumstances attending
this fatal occurrence had brought the deed irresistibly home to
a nephew of the deceased Pyncheon. The young man was tried and
convicted of the crime; but either the circumstantial nature of
the evidence, and possibly some lurking doubts in the breast of
the executive, or" lastly--an argument of greater weight in a
republic than it could have been under a monarchy,--the high
respectability and political influence of the criminal's connections,
had availed to mitigate his doom from death to perpetual imprisonment.
This sad affair had chanced about thirty years before the action
of our story commences. Latterly, there were rumors (which few
believed, and only one or two felt greatly interested in) that
this long-buried man was likely, for some reason or other, to be
summoned forth from his living tomb.

It is essential to say a few words respecting the victim of this
now almost forgotten murder. He was an old bachelor, and possessed
of great wealth, in addition to the house and real estate which
constituted what remained of the ancient Pyncheon property.
Being of an eccentric and melancholy turn of mind, and greatly given
to rummaging old records and hearkening to old traditions, he had
brought himself, it is averred, to the conclusion that Matthew Maule,
the wizard, had been foully wronged out of his homestead, if not out
of his life. Such being the case, and he, the old bachelor, in
possession of the ill-gotten spoil,--with the black stain of blood
sunken deep into it, and still to be scented by conscientious nostrils,
--the question occurred, whether it were not imperative upon him,
even at this late hour, to make restitution to Maule's posterity.
To a man living so much in the past, and so little in the present,
as the secluded and antiquarian old bachelor, a century and a
half seemed not so vast a period as to obviate the propriety of
substituting right for wrong. It was the belief of those who knew
him best, that he would positively have taken the very singular
step of giving up the House of the Seven Gables to the representative
of Matthew Maule, but for the unspeakable tumult which a suspicion
of the old gentleman's project awakened among his Pyncheon relatives.
Their exertions had the effect of suspending his purpose; but it
was feared that he would perform, after death, by the operation of
his last will, what he had so hardly been prevented from doing in
his proper lifetime. But there is no one thing which men so
rarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath
patrimonial property away from their own blood. They may love other
individuals far better than their relatives,--they may even cherish
dislike, or positive hatred, to the latter; but yet, in view of death,
the strong prejudice of propinquity revives, and impels the testator
to send down his estate in the line marked out by custom so immemorial
that it looks like nature. In all the Pyncheons, this feeling had the
energy of disease. It was too powerful for the conscientious scruples
of the old bachelor; at whose death, accordingly, the mansion-house,
together with most of his other riches, passed into the possession of
his next legal representative.

This was a nephew, the cousin of the miserable young man who
had been convicted of the uncle's murder. The new heir, up to
the period of his accession, was reckoned rather a dissipated youth,
but had at once reformed, and made himself an exceedingly respectable
member of society. In fact, he showed more of the Pyncheon quality,
and had won higher eminence in the world, than any of his race since
the time of the original Puritan. Applying himself in earlier manhood
to the study of the law, and having a natural tendency towards office,
he had attained, many years ago, to a judicial situation in some
inferior court, which gave him for life the very desirable and
imposing title of judge. Later, he had engaged in politics, and
served a part of two terms in Congress, besides making a considerable
figure in both branches of the State legislature. Judge Pyncheon
was unquestionably an honor to his race. He had built himself a
country-seat within a few miles of his native town, and there spent
such portions of his time as could be spared from public service in
the display of every grace and virtue--as a newspaper phrased it,
on the eve of an election--befitting the Christian, the good citizen,
the horticulturist, and the gentleman.

There were few of the Pyncheons left to sun themselves in the
glow of the Judge's prosperity. In respect to natural increase,
the breed had not thriven; it appeared rather to be dying out.
The only members of the family known to be extant were, first,
the Judge himself, and a single surviving son, who was now travelling
in Europe; next, the thirty years' prisoner, already alluded to,
and a sister of the latter, who occupied, in an extremely retired
manner, the House of the Seven Gables, in which she had a life-estate
by the will of the old bachelor. She was understood to be wretchedly
poor, and seemed to make it her choice to remain so; inasmuch as
her affluent cousin, the Judge, had repeatedly offered her all the
comforts of life, either in the old mansion or his own modern
residence. The last and youngest Pyncheon was a little country-girl
of seventeen, the daughter of another of the Judge's cousins,
who had married a young woman of no family or property, and died
early and in poor circumstances. His widow had recently taken
another husband.

As for Matthew Maule's posterity, it was supposed now to be extinct.
For a very long period after the witchcraft delusion, however,
the Maules had continued to inhabit the town where their progenitor
had suffered so unjust a death. To all appearance, they were a quiet,
honest, well-meaning race of people, cherishing no malice against
individuals or the public for the wrong which had been done them;
or if, at their own fireside, they transmitted from father to child
any hostile recollection of the wizard's fate and their lost patrimony,
it was never acted upon, nor openly expressed. Nor would it have
been singular had they ceased to remember that the House of the
Seven Gables was resting its heavy framework on a foundation that
was rightfully their own. There is something so massive, stable,
and almost irresistibly imposing in the exterior presentment of
established rank and great possessions, that their very existence
seems to give them a right to exist; at least, so excellent a
counterfeit of right, that few poor and humble men have moral
force enough to question it, even in their secret minds. Such is
the case now, after so many ancient prejudices have been overthrown;
and it was far more so in ante-Revolutionary days, when the aristocracy
could venture to be proud, and the low were content to be abased.
Thus the Maules, at all events, kept their resentments within their
own breasts. They were generally poverty-stricken; always plebeian
and obscure; working with unsuccessful diligence at handicrafts;
laboring on the wharves, or following the sea, as sailors before
the mast; living here and there about the town, in hired tenements,
and coming finally to the almshouse as the natural home of their old
age. At last, after creeping, as it were, for such a length of time
along the utmost verge of the opaque puddle of obscurity, they had
taken that downright plunge which, sooner or later, is the destiny
of all families, whether princely or plebeian. For thirty years
past, neither town-record, nor gravestone, nor the directory,
nor the knowledge or memory of man, bore any trace of Matthew
Maule's descendants. His blood might possibly exist elsewhere;
here, where its lowly current could be traced so far back, it had
ceased to keep an onward course.

So long as any of the race were to be found, they had been
marked out from other men--not strikingly, nor as with a sharp
line, but with an effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by
an hereditary character of reserve. Their companions, or those
who endeavored to become such, grew conscious of a circle round
about the Maules, within the sanctity or the spell of which, in
spite of an exterior of sufficient frankness and good-fellowship,
it was impossible for any man to step. It was this indefinable
peculiarity, perhaps, that, by insulating them from human aid,
kept them always so unfortunate in life. It certainly operated
to prolong in their case, and to confirm to them as their only
inheritance, those feelings of repugnance and superstitious terror
with which the people of the town, even after awakening from their
frenzy, continued to regard the memory of the reputed witches.
The mantle, or rather the ragged cloak, of old Matthew Maule had
fallen upon his children. They were half believed to inherit
mysterious attributes; the family eye was said to possess strange
power. Among other good-for-nothing properties and privileges,
one was especially assigned them,--that of exercising an influence
over people's dreams. The Pyncheons, if all stories were true,
haughtily as they bore themselves in the noonday streets of their
native town, were no better than bond-servants to these plebeian
Maules, on entering the topsy-turvy commonwealth of sleep.
Modern psychology, it may be, will endeavor to reduce these
alleged necromancies within a system, instead of rejecting
them as altogether fabulous.

A descriptive paragraph or two, treating of the seven-gabled
mansion in its more recent aspect, will bring this preliminary
chapter to a close. The street in which it upreared its venerable
peaks has long ceased to be a fashionable quarter of the town;
so that, though the old edifice was surrounded by habitations of
modern date, they were mostly small, built entirely of wood, and
typical of the most plodding uniformity of common life. Doubtless,
however, the whole story of human existence may be latent in each
of them, but with no picturesqueness, externally, that can attract
the imagination or sympathy to seek it there. But as for the old
structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its boards,
shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered
chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and
meanest part of its reality. So much of mankind's varied experience
had passed there,--so much had been suffered, and something, too,
enjoyed,--that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture
of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life
of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.

The deep projection of the second story gave the house such a
meditative look, that you could not pass it without the idea that
it had secrets to keep, and an eventful history to moralize upon.
In front, just on the edge of the unpaved sidewalk, grew the
Pyncheon Elm, which, in reference to such trees as one usually
meets with, might well be termed gigantic. It had been planted
by a great-grandson of the first Pyncheon, and, though now
fourscore years of age, or perhaps nearer a hundred, was still in
its strong and broad maturity, throwing its shadow from side to
side of the street, overtopping the seven gables, and sweeping the
whole black roof with its pendant foliage. It gave beauty to the
old edifice, and seemed to make it a part of nature. The street
having been widened about forty years ago, the front gable was
now precisely on a line with it. On either side extended a ruinous
wooden fence of open lattice-work, through which could be seen
a grassy yard, and, especially in the angles of the building,
an enormous fertility of burdocks, with leaves, it is hardly an
exaggeration to say, two or three feet long. Behind the house
there appeared to be a garden, which undoubtedly had once been
extensive, but was now infringed upon by other enclosures, or shut
in by habitations and outbuildings that stood on another street.
It would be an omission, trifling, indeed, but unpardonable,
were we to forget the green moss that had long since gathered
over the projections of the windows, and on the slopes of the
roof nor must we fail to direct the reader's eye to a crop, not
of weeds, but flower-shrubs, which were growing aloft in the air,
not a great way from the chimney, in the nook between two of the
gables. They were called Alice's Posies. The tradition was, that
a certain Alice Pyncheon had flung up the seeds, in sport, and that
the dust of the street and the decay of the roof gradually formed
a kind of soil for them, out of which they grew, when Alice had
long been in her grave. However the flowers might have come there,
it was both sad and sweet to observe how Nature adopted to herself
this desolate, decaying, gusty, rusty old house of the Pyncheon
family; and how the even-returning summer did her best to gladden
it with tender beauty, and grew melancholy in the effort.

There is one other feature, very essential to be noticed, but
which, we greatly fear, may damage any picturesque and romantic
impression which we have been willing to throw over our sketch of
this respectable edifice. In the front gable, under the impending
brow of the second story, and contiguous to the street, was a
shop-door, divided horizontally in the midst, and with a window
for its upper segment, such as is often seen in dwellings of a
somewhat ancient date. This same shop-door had been a subject
of No slight mortification to the present occupant of the august
Pyncheon House, as well as to some of her predecessors. The matter
is disagreeably delicate to handle; but, since the reader must
needs be let into the secret, he will please to understand, that,
about a century ago, the head of the Pyncheons found himself
involved in serious financial difficulties. The fellow (gentleman,
as he styled himself) can hardly have been other than a spurious
interloper; for, instead of seeking office from the king or the
royal governor, or urging his hereditary claim to Eastern lands,
he bethought himself of no better avenue to wealth than by cutting
a shop-door through the side of his ancestral residence. It was
the custom of the time, indeed, for merchants to store their goods
and transact business in their own dwellings. But there was
something pitifully small in this old Pyncheon's mode of setting
about his commercial operations; it was whispered, that, with his
own hands, all beruffled as they were, he used to give change for
a shilling, and would turn a half-penny twice over, to make sure
that it was a good one. Beyond all question, he had the blood of
a petty huckster in his veins, through whatever channel it may have
found its way there.

Immediately on his death, the shop-door had been locked, bolted,
and barred, and, down to the period of our story, had probably
never once been opened. The old counter, shelves, and other
fixtures of the little shop remained just as he had left them.
It used to be affirmed, that the dead shop-keeper, in a white
wig, a faded velvet coat, an apron at his waist, and his ruffles
carefully turned back from his wrists, might be seen through the
chinks of the shutters, any night of the year, ransacking his till,
or poring over the dingy pages of his day-book. From the look
of unutterable woe upon his face, it appeared to be his doom to
spend eternity in a vain effort to make his accounts balance.

And now--in a very humble way, as will be seen--we proceed to
open our narrative.

II The Little Shop-Window

IT still lacked half an hour of sunrise, when Miss Hepzibah
Pyncheon--we will not say awoke, it being doubtful whether the
poor lady had so much as closed her eyes during the brief night
of midsummer--but, at all events, arose from her solitary pillow,
and began what it would be mockery to term the adornment of her
person. Far from us be the indecorum of assisting, even in
imagination, at a maiden lady's toilet! Our story must therefore
await Miss Hepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming,
meanwhile, to note some of the heavy sighs that labored from her
bosom, with little restraint as to their lugubrious depth and
volume of sound, inasmuch as they could be audible to nobody save
a disembodied listener like ourself. The Old Maid was alone in
the old house. Alone, except for a certain respectable and orderly
young man, an artist in the daguerreotype line, who, for about
three months back, had been a lodger in a remote gable,--quite a
house by itself, indeed,--with locks, bolts, and oaken bars on
all the intervening doors. Inaudible, consequently, were poor
Miss Hepzibah's gusty sighs. Inaudible the creaking joints of
her stiffened knees, as she knelt down by the bedside. And
inaudible, too, by mortal ear, but heard with all-comprehending
love and pity in the farthest heaven, that almost agony of prayer
--now whispered, now a groan, now a struggling silence--wherewith
she besought the Divine assistance through the day Evidently, this
is to be a day of more than ordinary trial to Miss Hepzibah, who,
for above a quarter of a century gone by, has dwelt in strict
seclusion, taking no part in the business of life, and just as
little in its intercourse and pleasures. Not with such fervor
prays the torpid recluse, looking forward to the cold, sunless,
stagnant calm of a day that is to be like innumerable yesterdays.

The maiden lady's devotions are concluded. Will she now issue
forth over the threshold of our story? Not yet, by many moments.
First, every drawer in the tall, old-fashioned bureau is to be
opened, with difficulty, and with a succession of spasmodic jerks
then, all must close again, with the same fidgety reluctance.
There is a rustling of stiff silks; a tread of backward and
forward footsteps to and fro across the chamber. We suspect Miss
Hepzibah, moreover, of taking a step upward into a chair, in order
to give heedful regard to her appearance on all sides, and at full
length, in the oval, dingy-framed toilet-glass, that hangs above
her table. Truly! well, indeed! who would have thought it! Is all
this precious time to be lavished on the matutinal repair and
beautifying of an elderly person, who never goes abroad, whom
nobody ever visits, and from whom, when she shall have done her
utmost, it were the best charity to turn one's eyes another way?

Now she is almost ready. Let us pardon her one other pause; for it
is given to the sole sentiment, or, we might better say, --heightened
and rendered intense, as it has been, by sorrow and seclusion,--to the
strong passion of her life. We heard the turning of a key in a small
lock; she has opened a secret drawer of an escritoire, and is probably
looking at a certain miniature, done in Malbone's most perfect style,
and representing a face worthy of no less delicate a pencil. It was
once our good fortune to see this picture. It is a likeness of a
young man, in a silken dressing-gown of an old fashion, the soft
richness of which is well adapted to the countenance of reverie,
with its full, tender lips, and beautiful eyes, that seem to
indicate not so much capacity of thought, as gentle and voluptuous
emotion. Of the possessor of such features we shall have a right
to ask nothing, except that he would take the rude world easily,
and make himself happy in it. Can it have been an early lover of
Miss Hepzibah? No; she never had a lover--poor thing, how could she?
--nor ever knew, by her own experience, what love technically means.
And yet, her undying faith and trust, her freshremembrance,
and continual devotedness towards the original of that miniature,
have been the only substance for her heart to feed upon.

She seems to have put aside the miniature, and is standing again
before the toilet-glass. There are tears to be wiped off. A few
more footsteps to and fro; and here, at last,--with another pitiful
sigh, like a gust of chill, damp wind out of a long-closed vault,
the door of which has accidentally been set, ajar--here comes Miss
Hepzibah Pyncheon! Forth she steps into the dusky, time-darkened
passage; a tall figure, clad in black silk, with a long and shrunken
waist, feeling her way towards the stairs like a near-sighted person,
as in truth she is.

The sun, meanwhile, if not already above the horizon, was
ascending nearer and nearer to its verge. A few clouds, floating
high upward, caught some of the earliest light, and threw down its
golden gleam on the windows of all the houses in the street, not
forgetting the House of the Seven Gables, which--many such sunrises
as it had witnessed--looked cheerfully at the present one. The
reflected radiance served to show, pretty distinctly, the aspect
and arrangement of the room which Hepzibah entered, after
descending the stairs. It was a low-studded room, with a beam
across the ceiling, panelled with dark wood, and having a large
chimney-piece, set round with pictured tiles, but now closed by
an iron fire-board, through which ran the funnel of a modern stove.
There was a carpet on the floor, originally of rich texture,
but so worn and faded in these latter years that its once brilliant
figure had quite vanished into one indistinguishable hue. In the
way of furniture, there were two tables: one, constructed with
perplexing intricacy and exhibiting as many feet as a centipede;
the other, most delicately wrought, with four long and slender
legs, so apparently frail that it was almost incredible what a
length of time the ancient tea-table had stood upon them. Half a
dozen chairs stood about the room, straight and stiff, and so
ingeniously contrived for the discomfort of the human person
that they were irksome even to sight, and conveyed the ugliest
possible idea of the state of society to which they could have
been adapted. One exception there was, however, in a very
antique elbow-chair, with a high back, carved elaborately in oak,
and a roomy depth within its arms, that made up, by its spacious
comprehensiveness, for the lack of any of those artistic curves
which abound in a modern chair.

As for ornamental articles of furniture, we recollect but two, if
such they may be called. One was a map of the Pyncheon territory
at the eastward, not engraved, but the handiwork of some skilful
old draughtsman, and grotesquely illuminated with pictures of Indians
and wild beasts, among which was seen a lion; the natural history
of the region being as little known as its geography, which was
put down most fantastically awry. The other adornment was the
portrait of old Colonel Pyncheon, at two thirds length, representing
the stern features of a Puritanic-looking personage, in a skull-cap,
with a laced band and a grizzly beard; holding a Bible with one hand,
and in the other uplifting an iron sword-hilt. The latter object,
being more successfully depicted by the artist, stood out in far
greater prominence than the sacred volume. Face to face with this
picture, on entering the apartment, Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon came
to a pause; regarding it with a singular scowl, a strange
contortion of the brow, which, by people who did not know her,
would probably have been interpreted as an expression of bitter
anger and ill-will. But it was no such thing. She, in fact, felt
a reverence for the pictured visage, of which only a far-descended
and time-stricken virgin could be susceptible; and this forbidding
scowl was the innocent result of her near-sightedness, and an
effort so to concentrate her powers of vision as to substitute a
firm outline of the object instead of a vague one.

We must linger a moment on this unfortunate expression of poor
Hepzibah's brow. Her scowl,--as the world, or such part of it as
sometimes caught a transitory glimpse of her at the window, wickedly
persisted in calling it,--her scowl had done Miss Hepzibah a very
ill office, in establishing her character as an ill-tempered old maid;
nor does it appear improbable that, by often gazing at herself in a
dim looking-glass, and perpetually encountering her own frown with
its ghostly sphere, she had been led to interpret the expression
almost as unjustly as the world did. "How miserably cross I look!"
she must often have whispered to herself; and ultimately have fancied
herself so, by a sense of inevitable doom. But her heart never frowned.
It was naturally tender, sensitive, and full of little tremors and
palpitations; all of which weaknesses it retained, while her visage
was growing so perversely stern, and even fierce. Nor had Hepzibah
ever any hardihood, except what came from the very warmest nook in
her affections.

All this time, however, we are loitering faintheartedly on the
threshold of our story. In very truth, we have an invincible
reluctance to disclose what Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon was about to do.

It has already been observed, that, in the basement story of the
gable fronting on the street, an unworthy ancestor, nearly a
century ago, had fitted up a shop. Ever since the old gentleman
retired from trade, and fell asleep under his coffin-lid, not only
the shop-door, but the inner arrangements, had been suffered to
remain unchanged; while the dust of ages gathered inch-deep over
the shelves and counter, and partly filled an old pair of scales,
as if it were of value enough to be weighed. It treasured itself
up, too, in the half-open till, where there still lingered a base
sixpence, worth neither more nor less than the hereditary pride
which had here been put to shame. Such had been the state and
condition of the little shop in old Hepzibah's childhood, when
she and her brother used to play at hide-and-seek in its forsaken
precincts. So it had remained, until within a few days past.

But Now, though the shop-window was still closely
curtained from the public gaze, a remarkable change had taken
place in its interior. The rich and heavy festoons of cobweb,
which it had cost a long ancestral succession of spiders their
life's labor to spin and weave, had been carefully brushed away
from the ceiling. The counter, shelves, and floor had all been
scoured, and the latter was overstrewn with fresh blue sand. The
brown scales, too, had evidently undergone rigid discipline, in an
unavailing effort to rub off the rust, which, alas! had eaten
through and through their substance. Neither was the little old
shop any longer empty of merchantable goods. A curious eye,
privileged to take an account of stock and investigate behind the
counter, would have discovered a barrel, yea, two or three barrels
and half ditto,--one containing flour, another apples, and a third,
perhaps, Indian meal. There was likewise a square box of
pine-wood, full of soap in bars; also, another of the same size,
in which were tallow candles, ten to the pound. A small stock of
brown sugar, some white beans and split peas, and a few other
commodities of low price, and such as are constantly in demand,
made up the bulkier portion of the merchandise. It might have
been taken for a ghostly or phantasmagoric reflection of the old
shopkeeper Pyncheon's shabbily provided shelves, save that some
of the articles were of a description and outward form which
could hardly have been known in his day. For instance, there was
a glass pickle-jar, filled with fragments of Gibraltar rock; not,
indeed, splinters of the veritable stone foundation of the famous
fortress, but bits of delectable candy, neatly done up in white
paper. Jim Crow, moreover, was seen executing his world-renowned
dance, in gingerbread. A party of leaden dragoons were galloping
along one of the shelves, in equipments and uniform of modern cut;
and there were some sugar figures, with no strong resemblance to
the humanity of any epoch, but less unsatisfactorily representing
our own fashions than those of a hundred years ago. Another
phenomenon, still more strikingly modern, was a package of lucifer
matches, which, in old times, would have been thought actually to
borrow their instantaneous flame from the nether fires of Tophet.

In short, to bring the matter at once to a point, it was
incontrovertibly evident that somebody had taken the shop and
fixtures of the long-retired and forgotten Mr. Pyncheon, and
was about to renew the enterprise of that departed worthy, with
a different set of customers. Who could this bold adventurer be?
And, of all places in the world, why had he chosen the House of
the Seven Gables as the scene of his commercial speculations?

We return to the elderly maiden. She at length withdrew her eyes
from the dark countenance of the Colonel's portrait, heaved a sigh,
--indeed, her breast was a very cave of Aolus that morning, --and
stept across the room on tiptoe, as is the customary gait of elderly
women. Passing through an intervening passage, she opened a door
that communicated with the shop, just now so elaborately described.
Owing to the projection of the upper story--and still more to the
thick shadow of the Pyncheon Elm, which stood almost directly in
front of the gable--the twilight, here, was still as much akin to
night as morning. Another heavy sigh from Miss Hepzibah! After a
moment's pause on the threshold, peering towards the window with
her near-sighted scowl, as if frowning down some bitter enemy, she
suddenly projected herself into the shop. The haste, and, as it were,
the galvanic impulse of the movement, were really quite startling.

Nervously--in a sort of frenzy, we might almost say--she began to
busy herself in arranging some children's playthings, and other
little wares, on the shelves and at the shop-window. In the aspect
of this dark-arrayed, pale-faced, ladylike old figure there was a
deeply tragic character that contrasted irreconcilably with the
ludicrous pettiness of her employment. It seemed a queer anomaly,
that so gaunt and dismal a personage should take a toy in hand;
a miracle, that the toy did not vanish in her grasp; a miserably
absurd idea, that she should go on perplexing her stiff and sombre
intellect with the question how to tempt little boys into her premises!
Yet such is undoubtedly her object. Now she places a gingerbread
elephant against the window, but with so tremulous a touch that it
tumbles upon the floor, with the dismemberment of three legs and its
trunk; it has ceased to be an elephant, and has become a few bits of
musty gingerbread. There, again, she has upset a tumbler of marbles,
all of which roll different ways, and each individual marble,
devil-directed, into the most difficult obscurity that it can find.
Heaven help our poor old Hepzibah, and forgive us for taking a ludicrous
view of her position! As her rigid and rusty frame goes down upon its
hands and knees, in quest of the absconding marbles, we positively
feel so much the more inclined to shed tears of sympathy, from the
very fact that we must needs turn aside and laugh at her. For
here,--and if we fail to impress it suitably upon the reader, it
is our own fault, not that of the theme, here is one of the truest
points of melancholy interest that occur in ordinary life. It was
the final throe of what called itself old gentility. A, lady--who
had fed herself from childhood with the shadowy food of aristocratic
reminiscences, and whose religion it was that a lady's hand soils
itself irremediably by doing aught for bread,--this born lady,
after sixty years of narrowing means, is fain to step down from
her pedestal of imaginary rank. Poverty, treading closely at her
heels for a lifetime, has come up with her at last. She must earn
her own food, or starve! And we have stolen upon Miss Hepzibah
Pyncheon, too irreverently, at the instant of time when the
patrician lady is to be transformed into the plebeian woman.

In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social
life, somebody is always at the drowning-point. The tragedy is enacted
with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday,
and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary
noble sinks below his order. More deeply; since, with us, rank is the
grosser substance of wealth and a splendid establishment, and has no
spiritual existence after the death of these, but dies hopelessly along
with them. And, therefore, since we have been unfortunate enough to
introduce our heroine at so inauspicious a juncture, we would entreat
for a mood of due solemnity in the spectators of her fate. Let us behold,
in poor Hepzibah, the immemorial, lady--two hundred years old, on this
side of the water, and thrice as many on the other, --with her antique
portraits, pedigrees, coats of arms, records and traditions, and her
claim, as joint heiress, to that princely territory at the eastward,
no longer a wilderness, but a populous fertility,--born, too, in
Pyncheon Street, under the Pyncheon Elm, and in the Pyncheon House,
where she has spent all her days, --reduced. Now, in that very house,
to be the hucksteress of a cent-shop.

This business of setting up a petty shop is almost the only
resource of women, in circumstances at all similar to those of
our unfortunate recluse. With her near-sightedness, and those
tremulous fingers of hers, at once inflexible and delicate, she
could not be a seamstress; although her sampler, of fifty years
gone by, exhibited some of the most recondite specimens of
ornamental needlework. A school for little children had been
often in her thoughts; and, at one time, she had begun a review
of her early studies in the New England Primer, with a view to
prepare herself for the office of instructress. But the love of
children had never been quickened in Hepzibah's heart, and was
now torpid, if not extinct; she watched the little people of the
neighborhood from her chamber-window, and doubted whether she
could tolerate a more intimate acquaintance with them. Besides,
in our day, the very A B C has become a science greatly too abstruse
to be any longer taught by pointing a pin from letter to letter.
A modern child could teach old Hepzibah more than old Hepzibah
could teach the child. So--with many a cold, deep heart-quake
at the idea of at last coming into sordid contact with the world,
from which she had so long kept aloof, while every added day of
seclusion had rolled another stone against the cavern door of her
hermitage--the poor thing bethought herself of the ancient shop-window,
the rusty scales, and dusty till. She might have held back a little
longer; but another circumstance, not yet hinted at, had somewhat
hastened her decision. Her humble preparations, therefore, were
duly made, and the enterprise was now to be commenced. Nor was
she entitled to complain of any remarkable singularity in her fate;
for, in the town of her nativity, we might point to several little
shops of a similar description, some of them in houses as ancient
as that of the Seven Gables; and one or two, it may be, where a
decayed gentlewoman stands behind the counter, as grim an image
of family pride as Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon herself.

It was overpoweringly ridiculous,--we must honestly confess it,
--the deportment of the maiden lady while setting her shop in
order for the public eye. She stole on tiptoe to the window,
as cautiously as if she conceived some bloody-minded villain to
be watching behind the elm-tree, with intent to take her life.
Stretching out her long, lank arm, she put a paper of pearl
buttons, a jew's-harp, or whatever the small article might be,
in its destined place, and straightway vanished back into the dusk,
as if the world need never hope for another glimpse of her. It
might have been fancied, indeed, that she expected to minister to
the wants of the community unseen, like a disembodied divinity
or enchantress, holding forth her bargains to the reverential and
awe-stricken purchaser in an invisible hand. But Hepzibah had no
such flattering dream. She was well aware that she must ultimately
come forward, and stand revealed in her proper individuality; but,
like other sensitive persons, she could not bear to be observed
in the gradual process, and chose rather to flash forth on the
world's astonished gaze at once.

The inevitable moment was not much longer to be delayed. The
sunshine might now be seen stealing down the front of the opposite
house, from the windows of which came a reflected gleam, struggling
through the boughs of the elm-tree, and enlightening the interior
of the shop more distinctly than heretofore. The town appeared
to be waking up. A baker's cart had already rattled through the
street, chasing away the latest vestige of night's sanctity with the
jingle-jangle of its dissonant bells. A milkman was distributing
the contents of his cans from door to door; and the harsh peal of a
fisherman's conch shell was heard far off, around the corner. None
of these tokens escaped Hepzibah's notice. The moment had arrived.
To delay longer would be only to lengthen out her misery. Nothing
remained, except to take down the bar from the shop-door, leaving
the entrance free--more than free--welcome, as if all were household
friends--to every passer-by, whose eyes might be attracted by the
commodities at the window. This last act Hepzibah now performed,
letting the bar fall with what smote upon her excited nerves as a
most astounding clatter. Then--as if the only barrier betwixt herself
and the world had been thrown down, and a flood of evil consequences
would come tumbling through the gap--she fled into the inner parlor,
threw herself into the ancestral elbow-chair, and wept.

Our miserable old Hepzibah! It is a heavy annoyance to a writer,
who endeavors to represent nature, its various attitudes and
circumstances, in a reasonably correct outline and true coloring,
that so much of the mean and ludicrous should be hopelessly mixed
up with the purest pathos which life anywhere supplies to him.
What tragic dignity, for example, can be wrought into a scene
like this! How can we elevate our history of retribution for the
sin of long ago, when, as one of our most prominent figures, we
are compelled to introduce--not a young and lovely woman, nor even
the stately remains of beauty, storm-shattered by affliction--but
a gaunt, sallow, rusty-jointed maiden, in a long-waisted silk gown,
and with the strange horror of a turban on her head! Her visage is
not evenugly. It is redeemed from insignificance only by the
contraction of her eyebrows into a near-sighted scowl. And, finally,
her great life-trial seems to be, that, after sixty years of idleness,
she finds it convenient to earn comfortable bread by setting up a
shop in a small way. Nevertheless, if we look through all the
heroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this same entanglement
of something mean and trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or
sorrow. Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all
the deeper trust in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might
hence be led to suspect the insult of a sneer, as well as an
immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. What is
called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in this sphere
of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which
are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.

III The First Customer

MISS HEPZIBAH PYNCHEON sat in the oaken elbow-chair, with her
hands over her face, giving way to that heavy down-sinking of the
heart which most persons have experienced, when the image of hope
itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on the eve of an enterprise
at once doubtful and momentous. She was suddenly startled by the
tinkling alarum--high, sharp, and irregular--of a little bell.
The maiden lady arose upon her feet, as pale as a ghost at cock-crow;
for she was an enslaved spirit, and this the talisman to which she
owed obedience. This little bell,--to speak in plainer terms,
--being fastened over the shop-door, was so contrived as to vibrate
by means of a steel spring, and thus convey notice to the inner regions
of the house when any customer should cross the threshold. Its ugly
and spiteful little din (heard now for the first time, perhaps, since
Hepzibah's periwigged predecessor had retired from trade) at once set
every nerve of her body in responsive and tumultuous vibration. The
crisis was upon her! Her first customer was at the door!

Without giving herself time for a second thought, she rushed into
the shop, pale, wild, desperate in gesture and expression, scowling
portentously, and looking far better qualified to do fierce battle
with a housebreaker than to stand smiling behind the counter, bartering
small wares for a copper recompense. Any ordinary customer, indeed,
would have turned his back and fled. And yet there was nothing fierce
in Hepzibah's poor old heart; nor had she, at the moment, a single
bitter thought against the world at large, or one individual man or
woman. She wished them all well, but wished, too, that she herself
were done with them, and in her quiet grave.

The applicant, by this time, stood within the doorway. Coming
freshly, as he did, out of the morning light, he appeared to have
brought some of its cheery influences into the shop along with him.
It was a slender young man, not more than one or two and twenty
years old, with rather a grave and thoughtful expression for his
years, but likewise a springy alacrity and vigor. These qualities
were not only perceptible, physically, in his make and motions,
but made themselves felt almost immediately in his character.
A brown beard, not too silken in its texture, fringed his chin,
but as yet without completely hiding it; he wore a short mustache,
too, and his dark, high-featured countenance looked all the better
for these natural ornaments. As for his dress, it was of the
simplest kind; a summer sack of cheap and ordinary material,
thin checkered pantaloons, and a straw hat, by no means of the
finest braid. Oak Hall might have supplied his entire equipment.
He was chiefly marked as a gentleman--if such, indeed, he made
any claim to be--by the rather remarkable whiteness and nicety
of his clean linen.

He met the scowl of old Hepzibah without apparent alarm,
as having heretofore encountered it and found it harmless.

"So, my dear Miss Pyncheon," said the daguerreotypist, --for it
was that sole other occupant of the seven-gabled mansion,-- "I am
glad to see that you have not shrunk from your good purpose.
I merely look in to offer my best wishes, and to ask if I can
assist you any further in your preparations."

People in difficulty and distress, or in any manner at odds with the
world, can endure a vast amount of harsh treatment, and perhaps be
only the stronger for it; whereas they give way at once before the
simplest expression of what they perceive to be genuine sympathy.
So it proved with poor Hepzibah; for, when she saw the young man's
smile,--looking so much the brighter on a thoughtful face,--and heard
his kindly tone, she broke first into a hysteric giggle and then
began to sob.

"Ah, Mr. Holgrave," cried she, as soon as she could speak, "I
never can go through with it Never, never, never I wish I were
dead, and in the old family tomb, with all my forefathers! With
my father, and my mother, and my sister. Yes, and with my brother,
who had far better find me there than here! The world is too chill
and hard,--and I am too old, and too feeble, and too hopeless!"

"Oh, believe me, Miss Hepzibah," said the young man quietly,
"these feelings will not trouble you any longer, after you are
once fairly in the midst of your enterprise. They are unavoidable
at this moment, standing, as you do, on the outer verge of your
long seclusion, and peopling the world with ugly shapes, which
you will soon find to be as unreal as the giants and ogres of a
child's story-book. I find nothing so singular in life, as that
everything appears to lose its substance the instant one actually
grapples with it. So it will be with what you think so terrible."

"But I am a woman!" said Hepzibah piteously. "I was going to say,
a lady,--but I consider that as past."

"Well; no matter if it be past!" answered the artist, a strange
gleam of half-hidden sarcasm flashing through the kindliness of
his manner. "Let it go You are the better without it. I speak
frankly, my dear Miss Pyncheon! for are we not friends? I look
upon this as one of the fortunate days of your life. It ends an
epoch and begins one. Hitherto, the life-blood has been gradually
chilling in your veins as you sat aloof, within your circle of
gentility, while the rest of the world was fighting out its battle
with one kind of necessity or another. Henceforth, you will at
least have the sense of healthy and natural effort for a purpose,
and of lending your strength be it great or small--to the united
struggle of mankind. This is success,--all the success that
anybody meets with!"

"It is natural enough, Mr. Holgrave, that you should have ideas
like these," rejoined Hepzibah, drawing up her gaunt figure with
slightly offended dignity. "You are a man, a young man, and brought
up, I suppose, as almost everybody is nowadays, with a view to seeking
your fortune. But I was born a lady. and have always lived one;
no matter in what narrowness of means, always a lady."

"But I was not born a gentleman; neither have I lived like one,"
said Holgrave, slightly smiling; "so, my dear madam, you will
hardly expect me to sympathize with sensibilities of this kind;
though, unless I deceive myself, I have some imperfect
comprehension of them. These names of gentleman and lady had
a meaning, in the past history of the world, and conferred
privileges, desirable or otherwise, on those entitled to bear
them. In the present--and still more in the future condition
of society-they imply, not privilege, but restriction!"

"These are new notions," said the old gentlewoman, shaking her
head. "I shall never understand them; neither do I wish it."

"We will cease to speak of them, then," replied the artist, with
a friendlier smile than his last one, "and I will leave you to
feel whether it is not better to be a true woman than a lady.
Do you really think, Miss Hepzibah, that any lady of your family
has ever done a more heroic thing, since this house was built,
than you are performing in it to-day? Never; and if the Pyncheons
had always acted so nobly, I doubt whether an old wizard Maule's
anathema, of which you told me once, would have had much weight
with Providence against them."

"Ah!--no, no!" said Hepzibah, not displeased at this allusion to
the sombre dignity of an inherited curse. "If old Maule's ghost,
or a descendant of his, could see me behind the counter to-day.
he would call it the fulfillment of his worst wishes. But I thank
you for your kindness, Mr. Holgrave, and will do my utmost to be
a good shop-keeper."

"Pray do" said Holgrave, "and let me have the pleasure of being
your first customer. I am about taking a walk to the seashore,
before going to my rooms, where I misuse Heaven's blessed sunshine
by tracing out human features through its agency. A few of those
biscuits, dipt in sea-water, will be just what I need for breakfast.
What is the price of half a dozen?"

"Let me be a lady a moment longer," replied Hepzibah, with a manner
of antique stateliness to which a melancholy smile lent a kind of grace.
She put the biscuits into his hand, but rejected the compensation.
"A Pyncheon must not, at all events under her forefathers' roof,
receive money for a morsel of bread from her only friend!"

Holgrave took his departure, leaving her, for the moment, with
spirits not quite so much depressed. Soon, however, they had
subsided nearly to their former dead level. With a beating heart,
she listened to the footsteps of early passengers, which now
began to be frequent along the street. Once or twice they seemed
to linger; these strangers, or neighbors, as the case might be,
were looking at the display of toys and petty commodities in
Hepzibah's shop-window. She was doubly tortured; in part, with
a sense of overwhelming shame that strange and unloving eyes
should have the privilege of gazing, and partly because the idea
occurred to her, with ridiculous importunity, that the window was
not arranged so skilfully, nor nearly to so much advantage, as it
might have been. It seemed as if the whole fortune or failure of
her shop might depend on the display of a different set of articles,
or substituting a fairer apple for one which appeared to be specked.
So she made the change, and straightway fancied that everything was
spoiled by it; not recognizing that it was the nervousness of the
juncture, and her own native squeamishness as an old maid, that
wrought all the seeming mischief.

Anon, there was an encounter, just at the door-step, betwixt two
laboring men, as their rough voices denoted them to be. After
some slight talk about their own affairs, one of them chanced to
notice the shop-window, and directed the other's attention to it.

"See here!" cried he; "what do you think of this? Trade seems to
be looking up in Pyncheon Street!"

"Well, well, this is a sight, to be sure!" exclaimed the other.
"In the old Pyncheon House, and underneath the Pyncheon Elm! Who
would have thought it? Old Maid Pyncheon is setting up a cent-shop!"

"Will she make it go, think you, Dixey;" said his friend. "I don't
call it a very good stand. There's another shop just round the

"Make it go!" cried Dixey, with a most contemptuous expression,
as if the very idea were impossible to be conceived. "Not a bit
of it! Why, her face--I've seen it, for I dug her garden for her
one year--her face is enough to frighten the Old Nick himself, if
he had ever so great a mind to trade with her. People can't stand
it, I tell you! She scowls dreadfully, reason or none, out of pure
ugliness of temper."

"Well, that's not so much matter," remarked the other man.
"These sour-tempered folks are mostly handy at business, and
know pretty well what they are about. But, as you say, I don't
think she'll do much. This business of keeping cent-shops is
overdone, like all other kinds of trade, handicraft, and bodily
labor. I know it, to my cost! My wife kept a cent-shop three
months, and lost five dollars on her outlay."

"Poor business!" responded Dixey, in a tone as if he were shaking
his head,--"poor business."

For some reason or other, not very easy to analyze, there had
hardly been so bitter a pang in all her previous misery about the
matter as what thrilled Hepzibah's heart on overhearing the above
conversation. The testimony in regard to her scowl was frightfully
important; it seemed to hold up her image wholly relieved from the
false light of her self-partialities, and so hideous that she dared
not look at it. She was absurdly hurt, moreover, by the slight and
idle effect that her setting up shop--an event of such breathless
interest to herself--appeared to have upon the public, of which
these two men were the nearest representatives. A glance; a passing
word or two; a coarse laugh; and she was doubtless forgotten before
they turned the corner. They cared nothing for her dignity, and just
as little for her degradation. Then, also, the augury of ill-success,
uttered from the sure wisdom of experience, fell upon her half-dead
hope like a clod into a grave. The man's wife had already tried the
same experiment, and failed! How could the born, lady the recluse of
half a lifetime, utterly unpractised in the world, at sixty years of
age,--how could she ever dream of succeeding, when the hard, vulgar,
keen, busy, hackneyed New England woman had lost five dollars on her
little outlay! Success presented itself as an impossibility, and the
hope of it as a wild hallucination.

Some malevolent spirit, doing his utmost to drive Hepzibah mad,
unrolled before her imagination a kind of panorama, representing
the great thoroughfare of a city all astir with customers. So many
and so magnificent shops as there were! Groceries, toy-shops,
drygoods stores, with their immense panes of plate-glass, their
gorgeous fixtures, their vast and complete assortments of
merchandise, in which fortunes had been invested; and those
noble mirrors at the farther end of each establishment, doubling
all this wealth by a brightly burnished vista of unrealities! On
one side of the street this splendid bazaar, with a multitude of
perfumed and glossy salesmen, smirking, smiling, bowing,
and measuring out the goods. On the other, the dusky old House
of the Seven Gables, with the antiquated shop-window under its
projecting story, and Hepzibah herself, in a gown of rusty black
silk, behind the counter, scowling at the world as it went by!
This mighty contrast thrust itself forward as a fair expression
of the odds against which she was to begin her struggle for a
subsistence. Success? Preposterous! She would never think of it
again! The house might just as well be buried in an eternal fog
while all other houses had the sunshine on them; for not a foot
would ever cross the threshold, nor a hand so much as try the door!

But, at this instant, the shop-bell, right over her head, tinkled
as if it were bewitched. The old gentlewoman's heart seemed to be
attached to the same steel spring, for it went through a series of
sharp jerks, in unison with the sound. The door was thrust open,
although no human form was perceptible on the other side of the
half-window. Hepzibah, nevertheless, stood at a gaze, with her
hands clasped, looking very much as if she had summoned up an evil
spirit, and were afraid, yet resolved, to hazard the encounter.

"Heaven help me!" she groaned mentally. "Now is my hour of need!"

The door, which moved with difficulty on its creaking and rusty
hinges, being forced quite open, a square and sturdy little urchin
became apparent, with cheeks as red as an apple. He was clad
rather shabbily (but, as it seemed, more owing to his mother's
carelessness than his father's poverty), in a blue apron, very
wide and short trousers, shoes somewhat out at the toes, and a
chip hat, with the frizzles of his curly hair sticking through
its crevices. A book and a small slate, under his arm, indicated
that he was on his way to school. He stared at Hepzibah a moment,
as an elder customer than himself would have been likely enough
to do, not knowing what to make of the tragic attitude and queer
scowl wherewith she regarded him.

"Well, child," said she, taking heart at sight of a personage so
little formidable,--"well, my child, what did you wish for?"

"That Jim Crow there in the window," answered the urchin, holding
out a cent, and pointing to the gingerbread figure that had attracted
his notice, as he loitered along to school; "the one that has not a
broken foot."

So Hepzibah put forth her lank arm, and, taking the effigy from
the shop-window, delivered it to her first customer.

"No matter for the money," said she, giving him a little push
towards the door; for her old gentility was contumaciously
squeamish at sight of the copper coin, and, besides, it seemed
such pitiful meanness to take the child's pocket-money in exchange
for a bit of stale gingerbread. "No matter for the cent. You are
welcome to Jim Crow."

The child, staring with round eyes at this instance of liberality,
wholly unprecedented in his large experience of cent-shops, took
the man of gingerbread, and quitted the premises. No sooner had
he reached the sidewalk (little cannibal that he was!) than Jim
Crow's head was in his mouth. As he had not been careful to
shut the door, Hepzibah was at the pains of closing it after him,
with a pettish ejaculation or two about the troublesomeness of
young people, and particularly of small boys. She had just placed
another representative of the renowned Jim Crow at the window,
when again the shop-bell tinkled clamorously, and again the door
being thrust open, with its characteristic jerk and jar, disclosed
the same sturdy little urchin who, precisely two minutes ago, had
made his exit. The crumbs and discoloration of the cannibal feast,
as yet hardly consummated, were exceedingly visible about his mouth.

"What is it now, child?" asked the maiden lady rather impatiently;
"did you Come back to shut the door?"

"No," answered the urchin, pointing to the figure that had just
been put up; "I want that other Jim. Crow"

"Well, here it is for you," said Hepzibah, reaching it down; but
recognizing that this pertinacious customer would not quit her On
any other terms, so long as she had a gingerbread figure in her
shop, she partly drew back her extended hand, "Where is the cent?"

The little boy had the cent ready, but, like a true-born Yankee,
would have preferred the better bargain to the worse. Looking
somewhat chagrined, he put the coin into Hepzibah's hand, and
departed, sending the second Jim Crow in quest of the former one.
The new shop-keeper dropped the first solid result of her commercial
enterprise into the till. It was done! The sordid stain of that
copper coin could never be washed away from her palm. The little
schoolboy, aided by the impish figure of the negro dancer, had wrought
an irreparable ruin. The structure of ancient aristocracy had been
demolished by him, even as if his childish gripe had torn down the
seven-gabled mansion. Now let Hepzibah turn the old Pyncheon
portraits with their faces to the wall, and take the map of her
Eastern territory to kindle the kitchen fire, and blow up the flame
with the empty breath of her ancestral traditions! What had she to
do with ancestry? Nothing; no more than with posterity! No lady,
now, but simply Hepzibah Pyncheon, a forlorn old maid, and keeper
of a cent-shop!

Nevertheless, even while she paraded these ideas somewhat
ostentatiously through her mind, it is altogether surprising what
a calmness had come over her. The anxiety and misgivings which
had tormented her, whether asleep or in melancholy day-dreams,
ever since her project began to take an aspect of solidity, had
now vanished quite away. She felt the novelty of her position,
indeed, but no longer with disturbance or affright. Now and then,
there came a thrill of almost youthful enjoyment. It was the
invigorating breath of a fresh outward atmosphere, after the
long torpor and monotonous seclusion of her life. So wholesome
is effort! So miraculous the strength that we do not know of!
The healthiest glow that Hepzibah had known for years had come
now in the dreaded crisis, when, for the first time, she had
put forth her hand to help herself. The little circlet of the
schoolboy's copper coin--dim and lustreless though it was, with
the small services which it had been doing here and there about
the world --had proved a talisman, fragrant with good, and
deserving to be set in gold and worn next her heart. It was
as potent, and perhaps endowed with the same kind of efficacy,
as a galvanic ring! Hepzibah, at all events, was indebted to its
subtile operation both in body and spirit; so much the more,
as it inspired her with energy to get some breakfast, at which,
still the better to keep up her courage, she allowed herself an
extra spoonful in her infusion of black tea.

Her introductory day of shop-keeping did not run on, however,
without many and serious interruptions of this mood of cheerful
vigor. As a general rule, Providence seldom vouchsafes to
mortals any more than just that degree of encouragement which
suffices to keep them at a reasonably full exertion of their
powers. In the case of our old gentlewoman, after the excitement
of new effort had subsided, the despondency of her whole life
threatened, ever and anon, to return. It was like the heavy mass
of clouds which we may often see obscuring the sky, and making
a gray twilight everywhere, until, towards nightfall, it yields
temporarily to a glimpse of sunshine. But, always, the envious
cloud strives to gather again across the streak of celestial azure.

Customers came in, as the forenoon advanced, but rather slowly;
in some cases, too, it must be owned, with little satisfaction
either to themselves or Miss Hepzibah; nor, on the whole, with
an aggregate of very rich emolument to the till. A little girl,
sent by her mother to match a skein of cotton thread, of a peculiar
hue, took one that the near-sighted old lady pronounced extremely
like, but soon came running back, with a blunt and cross message,
that it would not do, and, besides, was very rotten! Then, there
was a pale, care-wrinkled woman, not old but haggard, and already
with streaks of gray among her hair, like silver ribbons; one of
those women, naturally delicate, whom you at once recognize as worn
to death by a brute--probably a drunken brute--of a husband, and
at least nine children. She wanted a few pounds of flour, and
offered the money, which the decayed gentlewoman silently rejected,
and gave the poor soul better measure than if she had taken it.
Shortly afterwards, a man in a blue cotton frock, much soiled, came
in and bought a pipe, filling the whole shop, meanwhile, with the
hot odor of strong drink, not only exhaled in the torrid atmosphere
of his breath, but oozing out of his entire system, like an
inflammable gas. It was impressed on Hepzibah's mind that this
was the husband of the care-wrinkled woman. He asked for a paper
of tobacco; and as she had neglected to provide herself with the
article, her brutal customer dashed down his newly-bought pipe and
left the shop, muttering some unintelligible words, which had the
tone and bitterness of a curse. Hereupon Hepzibah threw up her
eyes, unintentionally scowling in the face of Providence!

No less than five persons, during the forenoon, inquired for
ginger-beer, or root-beer, or any drink of a similar brewage,
and, obtaining nothing of the kind, went off in an exceedingly
bad humor. Three of them left the door open, and the other two
pulled it so spitefully in going out that the little bell played
the very deuce with Hepzibah's nerves. A round, bustling,
fire-ruddy housewife of the neighborhood burst breathless into
the shop, fiercely demanding yeast; and when the poor gentlewoman,
with her cold shyness of manner, gave her hot customer to understand
that she did not keep the article, this very capable housewife took
upon herself to administer a regular rebuke.

"A cent-shop, and No yeast!" quoth she; "that will never do!
Who ever heard of such a thing? Your loaf will never rise, no
more than mine will to-day. You had better shut up shop at once."

"Well," said Hepzibah, heaving a deep sigh, "perhaps I had!"

Several times, moreover, besides the above instance, her lady-like
sensibilities were seriously infringed upon by the familiar,
if not rude, tone with which people addressed her. They evidently
considered themselves not merely her equals, but her patrons and
superiors. Now, Hepzibah had unconsciously flattered herself with
the idea that there would be a gleam or halo, of some kind or
other, about her person, which would insure an obeisance to her
sterling gentility, or, at least, a tacit recognition of it.
On the other hand, nothing tortured her more intolerably than when
this recognition was too prominently expressed. To one or two rather
officious offers of sympathy, her responses were little short of
acrimonious; and, we regret to say, Hepzibah was thrown into a
positively unchristian state of mind by the suspicion that one of
her customers was drawn to the shop, not by any real need of
the article which she pretended to seek, but by a wicked wish to
stare at her. The vulgar creature was determined to see for
herself what sort of a figure a mildewed piece of aristocracy,
after wasting all the bloom and much of the decline of her life
apart from the world, would cut behind a counter. In this
particular case, however mechanical and innocuous it might be at
other times, Hepzibah's contortion of brow served her in good stead.

"I never was so frightened in my life!" said the curious customer,
in describing the incident to one of her acquaintances. "She's a
real old vixen, take my word of it! She says little, to be sure;
but if you could only see the mischief in her eye!"

On the whole, therefore, her new experience led our decayed
gentlewoman to very disagreeable conclusions as to the temper
and manners of what she termed the lower classes, whom heretofore
she had looked down upon with a gentle and pitying complaisance,
as herself occupying a sphere of unquestionable superiority.
But, unfortunately, she had likewise to struggle against a bitter
emotion of a directly opposite kind: a sentiment of virulence,
we mean, towards the idle aristocracy to which it had so recently
been her pride to belong. When a lady, in a delicate and costly
summer garb, with a floating veil and gracefully swaying gown,
and, altogether, an ethereal lightness that made you look at her
beautifully slippered feet, to see whether she trod on the dust
or floated in the air,--when such a vision happened to pass through
this retired street, leaving it tenderly and delusively fragrant
with her passage, as if a bouquet of tea-roses had been borne along,
--then again, it is to be feared, old Hepzibah's scowl could no
longer vindicate itself entirely on the plea of near-sightedness.

"For what end," thought she, giving vent to that feeling of
hostility which is the only real abasement of the poor in presence
of the rich,--"for what good end, in the wisdom of Providence,
does that woman live? Must the whole world toil, that the palms
of her hands may be kept white and delicate?"

Then, ashamed and penitent, she hid her face.

"May God forgive me!" said she.

Doubtless, God did forgive her. But, taking the inward and
outward history of the first half-day into consideration, Hepzibah
began to fear that the shop would prove her ruin in a moral and
religious point of view, without contributing very essentially

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