THERE WAS a message brought, one day, from the worshipful Gervayse
Pyncheon to your Matthew Maule, the carpenter, desiring his
immediate presence at the House of the Seven Gables.
"And what does your master want with me?" said the carpenter to
Mr. Pyncheon's black servant. "Does the house need any repair?
Well it may, by this time; and no blame to my father who built it,
neither! I was reading the old colonel's tombstone, no longer ago
than last Sabbath; and reckoning from that date, the house has
stood seven-and-thirty years. No wonder if there should be a job
to do on the roof."
"Don't know what massa wants," answered Scipio. "The house is a
berry good house, and old Colonel Pyncheon think so too, I
reckon;--else why the old man haunt it so, and frighten a poor
nigga, as he does?"
"Well, well, friend Scipio; let your master know that I'm coming,"
said the carpenter, with a laugh. "For a fair, workman-like job,
he'll find me his man. And so the house is haunted, is it? It will
take a tighter workman than I am to keep the spirits out of the
seven gables. Even if the colonel would be quit," he added,
muttering to himself, "my old grandfather, the wizard, will be
pretty sure to stick to the Pyncheons, as long as their walls hold
"What's that you mutter to yourself, Matthew Maule?" asked Scipio.
"And what for do you look so black at me?"
"No matter, darkey!" said the carpenter. "Do you think nobody is
to look black but yourself? Go tell your master I'm coming; and if
you happen to see Mistress Alice, his daughter, give Matthew
Maule's humble respects to her. She has brought a fair face from
Italy,--fair, and gentle, and proud,--has that same Alice
"He talk of Mistress Alice!" cried Scipio, as he returned from his
errand. "The low carpenter-man! He no business so much as to look
at her a great way off!"
This young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, it must be observed, was
a person little understood, and not very generally liked, in the
town where he resided; not that anything could be alleged against
his integrity, or his skill and diligence in the handicraft which
he exercised. The aversion (as it might justly be called) with
which many persons regarded him was partly the result of his own
character and deportment, and partly an inheritance.
He was the grandson of a former Matthew Maule, one of the early
settlers of the town, and who had been a famous and terrible
wizard, in his day. This old reprobate was one of the sufferers
when Cotton Mather, and his brother ministers, and the learned
judges, and other wise men, and Sir William Phipps, the sagacious
governor, made such laudable efforts to weaken the great enemy of
souls, by sending a multitude of his adherents up the rocky
pathway of Gallows Hill. Since those days, no doubt, it had grown
to be suspected, that, in consequence of an unfortunate overdoing
of a work praiseworthy in itself, the proceedings against the
witches had proved far less acceptable to the Beneficent Father
than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were intended to distress
and utterly overwhelm. It is not the less certain, however, that
awe and terror brooded over the memories of those who died for
this horrible crime of witchcraft. Their graves, in the crevices
of the rocks, were supposed to be incapable of retaining the
occupants who had been so hastily thrust into them. Old Matthew
Maule, especially, was known to have as little hesitation or
difficulty in rising out of his grave as an ordinary man in
getting out of bed, and was as often seen at midnight as living
people at noonday. This pestilent wizard (in whom his just
punishment seemed to have wrought no manner of amends) had an
inveterate habit of haunting a certain mansion, styled the House
of the Seven Gables, against the owner of which he pretended to
hold an unsettled claim for ground-rent. The ghost, it appears,
with the pertinacity which was one of his distinguishing
characteristics while alive, insisted that he was the rightful
proprietor of the site upon which the house stood. His terms were,
that either the aforesaid ground-rent, from the day when the
cellar began to be dug, should be paid down, or the mansion itself
given up; else he, the ghostly creditor, would have his finger in
all the affairs of the Pyncheons, and make everything go wrong
with them, though it should be a thousand years after his death.
It was a wild story, perhaps, but seemed not altogether so
incredible, to those who could remember what an inflexibly
obstinate old fellow this wizard Maule had been.
Now, the wizard's grandson, the young Matthew Maule of our story,
was popularly supposed to have inherited some of his ancestor's
questionable traits. It is wonderful how many absurdities were
promulgated in reference to the young man. He was fabled, for
example, to have a strange power of getting into people's dreams,
and regulating matters there according to his own fancy, pretty
much like the stage-manager of a theatre. There was a great deal
of talk among the neighbors, particularly the petticoated ones,
about what they called the witchcraft of Maule's eye. Some said
that he could look into people's minds; others, that by the
marvellous power of this eye, he could draw people into his own
mind, or send them, if he pleased, to do errands to his
grandfather, in the spiritual world; others, again, that it was
what is termed an Evil Eye, and possessed the valuable faculty of
blighting corn, and drying children into mummies with the
heart-burn. But, after all, what worked most to the young
carpenter's disadvantage was, first, the reserve and sternness of
his natural disposition, and next, the fact of his not being a
church-communicant, and the suspicion of his holding heretical
tenets in matters of religion and polity.
After receiving Mr. Pyncheon's message, the carpenter merely
tarried to finish a small job, which he happened to have in hand,
and then took his way towards the House of the Seven Gables. This
noted edifice, though its style might be getting a little out of
fashion, was still as respectable a family residence as that of
any gentleman in town. The present owner, Gervayse Pyncheon, was
said to have contracted a dislike to the house, in consequence of
a shock to his sensibility, in early childhood, from the sudden
death of his grandfather. In the very act of running to climb
Colonel Pyncheon's knee, the boy had discovered the old Puritan to
be a corpse! On arriving at manhood, Mr. Pyncheon had visited
England, where he married a lady of fortune, and had subsequently
spent many years, partly in the mother country, and partly in
various cities on the continent of Europe. During this period, the
family mansion had been consigned to the charge of a kinsman, who
was allowed to make it his home, for the time being, in
consideration of keeping the premises in thorough repair. So
faithfully had this contract been fulfilled, that now, as the
carpenter approached the house, his practised eye could detect
nothing to criticise in its condition. The peaks of the seven
gables rose up sharply; the shingled roof looked thoroughly
water-tight; and the glittering plaster-work entirely covered the
exterior walls, and sparkled in the October sun, as if it had been
new only a week ago.
The house had that pleasant aspect of life which is like the
cheery expression of comfortable activity in the human
countenance. You could see, at once, that there was the stir of a
large, family within it. A huge load of oak-wood was passing
through the gateway, towards the out-buildings in the rear; the
fat cook--or probably it might be the housekeeper--stood at the
side-door, bargaining for some turkeys and poultry, which a
countryman had brought for sale. Now and then, a maid-servant,
neatly dressed, and now the shining sable face of a slave, might
be seen bustling across the windows, in the lower part of the
house. At an open window of a room in the second story, hanging
over some pots of beautiful and delicate flowers,--exotics, but
which had never known a more genial sunshine than that of the New
England autumn,--was the figure of a young lady, an exotic, like
the flowers, and beautiful and delicate as they. Her presence
imparted an indescribable grace and faint witchery to the whole
edifice. In other respects, it was a substantial, jolly-looking
mansion, and seemed fit to be the residence of a patriarch, who
might establish his own head-quarters in the front gable, and
assign one of the remainder to each of his six children; while the
great chimney in the centre should symbolize the old fellow's
hospitable heart, which kept them all warm, and made a great whole
of the seven smaller ones.
There was a vertical sun-dial on the front gable; and as the
carpenter passed beneath it, he looked up and noted the hour.
"Three o'clock!" said he to himself. "My father told me that dial
was put up only an hour before the old colonel's death. How truly
it has kept time these seven-and-thirty years past! The shadow
creeps and creeps, and is always looking over the shoulder of the
It might have befitted a craftsman, like Matthew Maule, on being
sent for to a gentleman's house, to go to the back-door, where
servants and work-people were usually admitted; or at least to the
side-entrance, where the better class of tradesmen made
application. But the carpenter had a great deal of pride and
stiffness in his nature; and, at this moment, moreover, his heart
was bitter with the sense of hereditary wrong, because he
considered the great Pyncheon-house to be standing on soil which
should have been his own. On this very site, beside a spring of
delicious water, his grandfather had felled the pine-trees and
built a cottage, in which children had been born to him, and it
was only from a dead man's stiffened fingers that Colonel Pyncheon
had wrested away the title-deeds. So young Maule went straight to
the principal entrance, beneath a portal of carved oak, and gave
such a peal of the iron knocker that you would have imagined the
stem old wizard himself to be standing at the threshold.
Black Scipio answered the summons, in a prodigious hurry; but
showed the whites of his eyes, in amazement, on beholding only the
"Lord-a-mercy! what a great man he be, this carpenter fellow!"
mumbled Scipio, down in his throat. "Anybody think he beat on the
door with his biggest hammer!"
"Here I am!" said Maule, sternly. "Show me the way to your
As he stept into the house, a note of sweet and melancholy music
thrilled and vibrated along the passage-way, proceeding from one
of the rooms above stairs. It was the harpsichord which Alice
Pyncheon had brought with her from beyond the sea. The fair Alice
bestowed most of her maiden leisure between flowers and music,
although the former were apt to droop, and the melodies were often
sad. She was of foreign education, and could not take kindly to
the New England modes of life, in which nothing beautiful had ever
As Mr. Pyncheon had been impatiently awaiting Maule's arrival,
black Scipio, of course, lost no time in ushering the carpenter
into his master's presence. The room in which this gentleman sat
was a parlor of moderate size, looking out upon the garden of the
house, and having its windows partly shadowed by the foliage of
fruit-trees. It was Mr. Pyncheon's peculiar apartment, and was
provided with furniture, in an elegant and costly style,
principally from Paris; the floor (which was unusual, at that day)
being covered with a carpet, so skilfully and richly wrought, that
it seemed to glow as with living flowers. In one corner stood a
marble woman, to whom her own beauty was the sole and sufficient
garment. Some pictures--that looked old, and had a mellow tinge
diffused through all their artful splendor--hung on the walls.
Near the fireplace was a large and very beautiful cabinet of
ebony, inlaid with ivory; a piece of antique furniture, which Mr.
Pyncheon had bought in Venice, and which he used as the
treasure-place for medals, ancient coins, and whatever small and
valuable curiosities he had picked up, on his travels. Through all
this variety of decoration, however, the room showed its original
characteristics; its low stud, its cross-beam, its chimney-piece,
with the old-fashioned Dutch tiles; so that it was the emblem of a
mind industriously stored with foreign ideas and elaborated into
artificial refinement, but neither larger, nor, in its proper
self, more elegant, than before.
There were two objects that appeared rather out of place in this
very handsomely furnished room. One was a large map, or surveyor's
plan, of a tract of land, which looked as if it had been drawn a
good many years ago, and was now dingy with smoke, and soiled,
here and there, with the touch of fingers. The other was a
portrait of a stern old man, in a Puritan garb, painted roughly,
but with a bold effect, and a remarkably strong expression of
At a small table, before a fire of English sea-coal, sat Mr.
Pyncheon, sipping coffee, which had grown to be a very favorite
beverage with him in France. He was a middle-aged and really
handsome man, with a wig flowing down upon his shoulders; his coat
was of blue velvet, with lace on the borders and at the
button-holes; and the fire-light glistened on the spacious breadth
of his waistcoat, which was flowered all over with gold. On the
entrance of Scipio, ushering in the carpenter, Mr. Pyncheon turned
partly round, but resumed his former position, and proceeded
deliberately to finish his cup of coffee, without immediate notice
of the guest whom he had summoned to his presence. It was not that
he intended any rudeness, or improper neglect,--which, indeed, he
would have blushed to be guilty of,--but it never occurred to him
that a person in Maule's station had a claim on his courtesy, or
would trouble himself about it, one way or the other.
The carpenter, however, stepped at once to the hearth, and turned
himself about, so as to look Mr. Pyncheon in the face.
"You sent for me," said he. "Be pleased to explain your business,
that I may go back to my own affairs."
"Ah! excuse me," said Mr. Pyncheon, quietly. "I did not mean to
tax your time without a recompense. Your name, I think, is
Maule,--Thomas or Matthew Maule,--a son or grandson of the builder
of this house?"
"Matthew Maule," replied the carpenter,--"son of him who built the
house,--grandson of the rightful proprietor of the soil."
"I know the dispute to which you allude," observed Mr. Pyncheon,
with undisturbed equanimity. "I am well aware that my grandfather
was compelled to resort to a suit at law, in order to establish
his claim to the foundation-site of this edifice. We will not, if
you please, renew the discussion. The matter was settled at the
time, and by the competent authorities,--equitably, it is to be
presumed,--and, at all events, irrevocably. Yet, singularly
enough, there is an incidental reference to this very subject in
what I am now about to say to you. And this same inveterate
grudge,--excuse me, I mean no offence,--this irritability, which
you have just shown, is not entirely aside from the matter."
"If you can find anything for your purpose, Mr. Pyncheon," said
the carpenter, "in a man's natural resentment for the wrongs done
to his blood, you are welcome to it!"
"I take you at your word, Goodman Maule," said the owner of the
seven gables, with a smile, "and will proceed to suggest a mode in
which your hereditary resentments--justifiable, or otherwise--may
have had a bearing on my affairs. You have heard, I suppose, that
the Pyncheon family, ever since my grandfather's days, have been
prosecuting a still unsettled claim to a very large extent of
territory at the eastward?"
"Often," replied Maule,--and it is said that a smile came over his
face,--"very often,--from my father!"
"This claim," continued Mr. Pyncheon, after pausing a moment, as
if to consider what the carpenter's smile might mean, "appeared to
be on the very verge of a settlement and full allowance, at the
period of my grandfather's decease. It was well known, to those in
his confidence, that he anticipated neither difficulty nor delay.
Now, Colonel Pyncheon, I need hardly say, was a practical man,
well acquainted with public and private business, and not at all
the person to cherish ill-founded hopes, or to attempt the
following out of an impracticable scheme. It is obvious to
conclude, therefore, that he had grounds, not apparent to his
heirs, for his confident anticipation of success in the matter of
this eastern claim. In a word, I believe,--and my legal advisers
coincide in the belief, which, moreover, is authorized, to a
certain extent, by the family traditions,--that my grandfather was
in possession of some deed, or other document, essential to this
claim, but which has since disappeared."
"Very likely," said Matthew Maule,--and again, it is said, there
was a dark smile on his face,--"but what can a poor carpenter have
to do with the grand affairs of the Pyncheon family?"
"Perhaps nothing," returned Mr. Pyncheon,--"possibly, much!"
Here ensued a great many words between Matthew Maule and the
proprietor of the seven gables, on the subject which the latter
had thus broached. It seems (although Mr. Pyncheon had some
hesitation in referring to stories so exceedingly absurd in their
aspect) that the popular belief pointed to some mysterious
connection and dependence, existing between the family of the
Maules and these vast, unrealized possessions of the Pyncheons. It
was an ordinary saying, that the old wizard, hanged though he was,
had obtained the best end of the bargain, in his contest with
Colonel Pyncheon; inasmuch as he had got possession of the great
eastern claim, in exchange for an acre or two of garden-ground. A
very aged woman, recently dead, had often used the metaphorical
expression, in her fireside talk, that miles and miles of the
Pyncheon lands had been shovelled into Maule's grave; which,
by-the-by, was but a very shallow nook, between two rocks, near
the summit of Gallows Hill. Again, when the lawyers were making
inquiry for the missing document, it was a by-word, that it would
never be found, unless in the wizard's skeleton-hand. So much
weight had the shrewd lawyers assigned to the fables, that--(but
Mr. Pyncheon did not see fit to inform the carpenter of the
fact)--they had secretly caused the wizard's grave to be searched.
Nothing was discovered, however, except that, unaccountably, the
right hand of the skeleton was gone.
Now, what was unquestionably important, a portion of these popular
rumors could be traced, though rather doubtfully and indistinctly,
to chance words and obscure hints of the executed wizard's son,
and the father of this present Matthew Maule. And here Mr.
Pyncheon could bring an item of his own personal evidence into
play. Though but a child at the time, he either remembered or
fancied that Matthew's father had had some job to perform, on the
day before, or possibly the very morning of the colonel's decease,
in the private room where he and the carpenter were at this moment
talking. Certain papers belonging to Colonel Pyncheon, as his
grandson distinctly recollected, had been spread out on the table.
Matthew Maule understood the insinuated suspicion.
"My father," he said,--but still there was that dark smile, making
a riddle of his countenance,--"my father was an honester man than
the bloody old colonel! Not to get his rights back again would he
have carried off one of those papers!"
"I shall not bandy words with you," observed the foreign-bred Mr.
Pyncheon, with haughty composure. "Nor will it become me to resent
any rudeness towards either my grandfather or myself. A gentleman,
before seeking intercourse with a person of your station and
habits, will first consider whether the urgency of the end may
compensate for the disagreeableness of the means. It does so, in
the present instance."
He then renewed the conversation, and made great pecuniary offers
to the carpenter, in case the latter should give information
leading to the discovery of the lost document, and the consequent
success of the eastern claim. For a long time Matthew Maule is
said to have turned a cold ear to these propositions. At last,
however, with a strange kind of laugh, he inquired whether Mr.
Pyncheon would make over to him the old wizard's homestead-ground,
together with the House of the Seven Gables, now standing on it,
in requital of the documentary evidence so urgently required.
The wild, chimney-corner legend (which, without copying all its
extravagances, my narrative essentially follows) here gives an
account of some very strange behavior on the part of Colonel
Pyncheon's portrait. This picture, it must be understood, was
supposed to be so intimately connected with the fate of the house,
and so magically built into its walls, that, if once it should be
removed, that very instant the whole edifice would come thundering
down in a heap of dusty ruin. All through the foregoing
conversation between Mr. Pyncheon and the carpenter, the portrait
had been frowning, clenching its fist, and giving many such proofs
of excessive discomposure, but without attracting the notice of
either of the two colloquists. And finally, at Matthew Maule's
audacious suggestion of a transfer of the seven-gabled structure,
the ghostly portrait is averred to have lost all patience, and to
have shown itself on the point of descending bodily from its
frame. But such incredible incidents are merely to be mentioned
"Give up this house!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, in amazement at the
proposal. "Were I to do so, my grandfather would not rest quiet in
"He never has, if all stories are true," remarked the carpenter,
composedly. "But that matter concerns his grandson more than it
does Matthew Maule. I have no other terms to propose."
Impossible as he at first thought it to comply with Maule's
conditions. still, on a second glance, Mr. Pyncheon was of opinion
that they might at least be made matter of discussion. He himself
had no personal attachment for the house, nor any pleasant
associations connected with his childish residence in it. On the
contrary, after seven-and-thirty years, the presence of his dead
grandfather seemed still to pervade it, as on that morning when
the affrighted boy had beheld him, with so ghastly an aspect,
stiffening in his chair. His long abode in foreign parts,
moreover, and familiarity with many of the castles and ancestral
halls of England, and the marble palaces of Italy, had caused him
to look contemptuously at the House of the Seven Gables, whether
in point of splendor or convenience. It was a mansion exceedingly
inadequate to the style of living which it would be incumbent on
Mr. Pyncheon to support after realizing his territorial rights.
His steward might deign to occupy it, but never, certainly, the
great landed proprietor himself. In the event of success, indeed,
it was his purpose to return to England; nor, to say the truth,
would he recently have quitted that more congenial home, had not
his own fortune, as well as his deceased wife's, begun to give
symptoms of exhaustion. The eastern claim once fairly settled, and
put upon the firm basis of actual possession, Mr. Pyncheon's
property--to be measured by miles, not acres--would be worth an
earldom, and would reasonably entitle him to solicit or enable him
to purchase, that elevated dignity from the British monarch. Lord
Pyncheon!--or the Earl of Waldo!--how could such a magnate be
expected to contract his grandeur within the pitiful compass of
seven shingled gables?
In short, on an enlarged view of the business, the carpenter's
terms appeared so ridiculously easy, that Mr. Pyncheon could
scarcely forbear laughing in his face. He was quite ashamed, after
the foregoing reflections, to propose any diminution of so
moderate a recompense for the immense service to be rendered.
"I consent to your proposition, Maule," cried he. "Put me in
possession of the document essential to establish my rights, and
the House of the Seven Gables is your own!"
According to some versions of the story, a regular contract to the
above effect was drawn up by a lawyer, and signed and sealed in
the presence of witnesses. Others say that Matthew Maule was
contented with a private written agreement, in which Mr. Pyncheon
pledged his honor and integrity to the fulfilment of the terms
concluded upon. The gentleman then ordered wine, which he and the
carpenter drank together, in confirmation of their bargain. During
the whole preceding discussion and subsequent formalities, the old
Puritan's portrait seems to have persisted in its shadowy gestures
of disapproval; but without effect, except that, as Mr. Pyncheon
set down the emptied glass, he thought he beheld his grandfather
"This sherry is too potent a wine for me; it has affected my brain
already," he observed, after a somewhat startled look at the
picture. "On returning to Europe, I shall confine myself to the
more delicate vintages of Italy and France, the best of which will
not bear transportation."
"My Lord Pyncheon may drink what wine he will, and where-ever he
pleases," replied the carpenter, as if he had been privy to Mr.
Pyncheon's ambitious projects. "But first, sir, if you desire
tidings of this lost document, I must crave the favor of a little
talk with your fair daughter Alice."
"You are mad, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, haughtily; and now,
at last, there was anger mixed up with his pride. "What can my
daughter have to do with a business like this?"
Indeed, at this new demand on the carpenter's part, the proprietor
of the seven gables was even more thunder-struck than at the cool
proposition to surrender his house. There was, at least, an
assignable motive for the first stipulation; there appeared to be
none whatever, for the last. Nevertheless, Matthew Maule sturdily
insisted on the young lady being summoned, and even gave her
father to understand, in a mysterious kind of explanation,--which
made the matter considerably darker than it looked before,--that
the only chance of acquiring the requisite knowledge was through
the clear, crystal medium of a pure and virgin intelligence, like
that of the fair Alice. Not to encumber our story with Mr.
Pyncheon's scruples, whether of conscience, pride, or fatherly
affection, he at length ordered his daughter to be called. He well
knew that she was in her chamber, and engaged in no occupation
that could not readily be laid aside; for, as it happened, ever
since Alice's name had been spoken, both her father and the
carpenter had heard the sad and sweet music of her harpsichord,
and the airier melancholy of her accompanying voice.
So Alice Pyncheon was summoned, and appeared. A portrait of this
young lady, painted by a Venetian artist, and left by her father
in England, is said to have fallen into the hands of the present
Duke of Devonshire, and to be now preserved at Chatsworth; not on
account of any associations with the original, but for its value
as a picture, and the high character of beauty in the countenance.
If ever there was a lady born, and set apart from the world's
vulgar mass by a certain gentle and cold stateliness, it was this
very Alice Pyncheon. Yet there was the womanly mixture in her; the
tenderness, or, at least, the tender capabilities. For the sake of
that redeeming quality, a man of generous nature would have
forgiven all her pride, and have been content, almost, to lie down
in her path, and let Alice set her slender foot upon his heart.
All that he would have required, was simply the acknowledgment
that he was indeed a man, and a fellow-being, moulded of the same
elements as she.
As Alice came into the room, her eyes fell upon the carpenter, who
was standing near its centre, clad in a green woollen jacket, a
pair of loose breeches, open at the knees, and with a long pocket
for his rule, the end of which protruded; it was as proper a mark
of the artisan's calling, as Mr. Pyncheon's full-dress sword of
that gentleman's aristocratic pretensions. A glow of artistic
approval brightened over Alice Pyncheon's face; she was struck
with admiration--which she made no attempt to conceal--of the
remarkable comeliness, strength, and energy of Maule's figure. But
that admiring glance (which most other men, perhaps, would have
cherished as a sweet recollection, all through life) the carpenter
never forgave. It must have been the devil himself that made Maule
so subtile in his perception.
"Does the girl look at me as if I were a brute beast?" thought he,
setting his teeth. "She shall know whether I have a human spirit;
and the worse for her, if it prove stronger than her own!"
"My father, you sent for me," said Alice, in her sweet and
harp-like voice. "But, if you have business with this young man,
pray let me go again. You know I do not love this room, in spite
of that Claude, with which you try to bring back sunny
"Stay a moment, young lady, if you please," said Matthew Maule:
"My business with your father is over. With yourself, it is now to
Alice looked towards her father, in surprise and inquiry.
"Yes, Alice," said Mr. Pyncheon, with some disturbance and
confusion. "This young man--his name is Matthew Maule--professes,
so far as I can understand him, to be able to discover, through
your means, a certain paper or parchment, which was missing long
before your birth. The importance of the document in question
renders it advisable to neglect no possible, even if improbable,
method of regaining it. You will therefore oblige me, my dear
Alice, by answering this person's inquiries, and complying with
his lawful and reasonable requests, so far as they may appear to
have the aforesaid object in view. As I shall remain in the room,
you need apprehend no rude nor unbecoming deportment, on the young
man's part; and, at your slightest wish, of course, the
investigation, or whatever we may call it, shall immediately be
"Mistress Alice Pyncheon," remarked Matthew Maule, with the utmost
deference, but yet a half-hidden sarcasm in his look and tone,
"Will no doubt feel herself quite safe in her father's presence,
and under his all-sufficient protection."
"I certainly shall entertain no manner of apprehension, with my
father at hand," said Alice, with maidenly dignity. "Neither do I
conceive that a lady, while true to herself, can have aught to
fear, from whomsoever, or in any circumstances!"
Poor Alice! By what unhappy impulse did she thus put herself at
once on terms of defiance against a strength which she could not
"Then, Mistress Alice," said Matthew Maule, handing a
chair,--gracefully enough, for a craftsman,--"will it please you
only to sit down, and do me the favor (though altogether beyond a
poor carpenter's deserts) to fix your eyes on mine!"
Alice complied. She was very proud. Setting aside all advantages
of rank, this fair girl deemed herself conscious of a
power,--combined of beauty, high, unsullied purity, and the
preservative force of womanhood,--that could make her sphere
impenetrable, unless betrayed by treachery within. She
instinctively knew, it may be, that some sinister or evil potency
was now striving to pass her barriers; nor would she decline the
contest. So Alice put the woman's might against man's might; a
match not often equal on the part of woman.
Her father, meanwhile, had turned away, and seemed absorbed in the
contemplation of a landscape by Claude, where a shadowy and
sun-streaked vista penetrated so remotely into an ancient wood,
that it would have been no wonder if his fancy had lost itself in
the picture's bewildering depths. But, in truth, the picture was
no more to him, at that moment, than the blank wall against which
it hung. His mind was haunted with the many and strange tales
which he had heard, attributing mysterious if not supernatural
endowments to these Maules, as well the grandson, here present, as
his two immediate ancestors. Mr. Pyncheon's long residence abroad,
and intercourse with men of wit and fashion,--courtiers,
worldlings, and free-thinkers,--had done much towards obliterating
the grim Puritan superstitions, which no man of New England birth,
at that early period, could entirely escape. But, on the other
hand, had not a whole community believed Maule's grandfather to be
a wizard? Had not the crime been proved? Had not the wizard died
for it? Had he not bequeathed a legacy of hatred against the
Pyncheons to this only grandson, who, as it appeared, was now
about to exercise a subtle influence over the daughter of his
enemy's house? Might not this influence be the same that was
Turning half around, he caught a glimpse of Maule's figure in the
looking-glass. At some paces from Alice, with his arms uplifted in
the air, the carpenter made a gesture, as if directing downward a
slow, ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden.
"Stay, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, stepping forward. "I forbid
your proceeding further!"
"Pray, my dear father, do not interrupt the young man," said
Alice, without changing her position. "His efforts, I assure you,
will prove very harmless."
Again Mr. Pyncheon turned his eyes towards the Claude. It was then
his daughter's will, in opposition to his own, that the experiment
should be fully tried. Henceforth, therefore, he did but consent,
not urge it. And was it not for her sake, far more than his own,
that he desired its success? That lost parchment once restored,
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon, with the rich dowry which he could
then bestow, might wed an English duke, or a German
reigning-prince, instead of some New England clergyman or lawyer!
At the thought, the ambitious father almost consented, in his
heart, that, if the devil's power were needed to the
accomplishment of this great object, Maule might evoke him.
Alice's own purity would be her safe-guard.
With his mind full of imaginary magnificence, Mr. Pyncheon heard a
half-uttered exclamation from his daughter. It was very faint and
low; so indistinct that there seemed but half a will to shape out
the words, and too undefined a purport to be intelligible. Yet it
was a call for help!--his conscience never doubted it;--and,
little more than a whisper to his ear, it was a dismal shriek, and
long re-echoed so, in the region round his heart! But, this time,
the father did not turn.
After a further interval, Maule spoke.
"Behold your daughter!" said he.
Mr. Pyncheon came hastily forward. The carpenter was standing
erect in front of Alice's chair, and pointing his finger towards
the maiden with an expression of triumphant power, the limits of
which could not be defined, as, indeed, its scope stretched
vaguely towards the unseen and the infinite. Alice sat in an
attitude of profound repose, with the long brown lashes drooping
over her eyes.
"There she is!" said the carpenter. "Speak to her."
"Alice! My daughter!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon. "My own Alice!"
She did not stir.
"Louder!" said Maule, smiling.
"Alice! Awake!" cried her father. "It troubles me to see you thus!
He spoke loudly, with terror in his voice, and close to that
delicate ear, which had always been so sensitive to every discord.
But the sound evidently reached her not. It is indescribable what
a sense of remote, dim, unattainable distance, betwixt himself and
Alice, was impressed on the father by this impossibility of
reaching her with his voice.
"Best touch her!" said Matthew Maule. "Shake the girl, and roughly
too! My hands are hardened with too much use of axe, saw, and
plane,--else I might help you!"
Mr. Pyncheon took her hand, and pressed it with the earnestness of
startled emotion. He kissed her, with so great a heart-throb in
the kiss, that he thought she must needs feel it. Then, in a gust
of anger at her insensibility, he shook her maiden form with a
violence which, the next moment, it affrighted him to remember. He
withdrew his encircling arms, and Alice--whose figure, though
flexible, had been wholly impassive--relapsed into the same
attitude as before these attempts to arouse her. Maule having
shifted his position, her face was turned towards him, slightly,
but with what seemed to be a reference of her very slumber to his
Then it was a strange sight to behold how the man of
conventionalities shook the powder out of his periwig; how the
reserved and stately gentleman forgot his dignity; how the
gold-embroidered waistcoat flickered and glistened in the
fire-light, with the convulsion of rage, terror, and sorrow in the
human heart that was beating under it.
"Villain!" cried Mr. Pyncheon, shaking his clenched fist at Maule.
"You and the fiend together have robbed me of my daughter! Give
her back, spawn of the old wizard, or you shall climb Gallows Hill
in your grandfather's footsteps!"
"Softly, Mr. Pyncheon!" said the carpenter, with scornful
composure. "Softly, an' it please your worship, else you will
spoil those rich lace ruffles at your wrists! Is it my crime if
you have sold your daughter for the mere hope of getting a sheet
of yellow parchment into your clutch? There sits Mistress Alice,
quietly asleep! Now let Matthew Maule try whether she be as proud
as the carpenter found her a while since."
He spoke, and Alice responded, with a soft, subdued, inward
acquiescence, and a bending of her form towards him, like the
flame of a torch when it indicates a gentle draft of air. He
beckoned with his hand, and, rising from her chair,--blindly, but
undoubtingly, as tending to her sure and inevitable centre,--the
proud Alice approached him. He waved her back, and, retreating,
Alice sank again into her seat.
"She is mine!" said Matthew Maule. "Mine, by the right of the
In the further progress of the legend, there is a long, grotesque,
and occasionally awe-striking account of the carpenter's
incantations (if so they are to be called), with a view of
discovering the lost document. It appears to have been his object
to convert the mind of Alice into a kind of telescopic medium,
through which Mr. Pyncheon and himself might obtain a glimpse into
the spiritual world. He succeeded, accordingly, in holding an
imperfect sort of intercourse, at one remove, with the departed
personages, in whose custody the so much valued secret had been
carried beyond the precincts of earth. During her trance, Alice
described three figures as being present to her spiritualized
perception. One was an aged, dignified, stern-looking gentleman,
clad, as for a solemn festival, in grave and costly attire, but
with a great blood-stain on his richly-wrought band; the second,
an aged man, meanly dressed, with a dark and malign countenance,
and a broken halter about his neck; the third, a person not so
advanced in life as the former two, but beyond the middle age,
wearing a coarse woollen tunic and leather breeches, and with a
carpenter's rule sticking out of his side-pocket. These three
visionary characters possessed a mutual knowledge of the missing
document. One of them, in truth,--it was he with the blood-stain
on his band,--seemed, unless his gestures were misunderstood, to
hold the parchment in his immediate keeping, but was prevented, by
his two partners in the mystery, from disburthening himself of the
trust. Finally, when he showed a purpose of shouting forth the
secret, loudly enough to be heard from his own sphere into that of
mortals, his companions struggled with him, and pressed their
hands over his mouth; and forthwith--whether that he were choked
by it, or that the secret itself was of a crimson hue--there was a
fresh flow of blood upon his band. Upon this, the two
meanly-dressed figures mocked and jeered at the much abashed old
dignitary, and pointed their fingers at the stain.
At this juncture, Maule turned to Mr. Pyncheon.
"It will never be allowed," said he. "The custody of this secret,
that would so enrich his heirs, makes part of your grandfather's
retribution. He must choke with it until it is no longer of any
value. And keep you the House of the Seven Gables! It is too
dear-bought an inheritance, and too heavy with the curse upon it,
to be shifted yet a while from the colonel's posterity!"
Mr. Pyncheon tried to speak, but--what with fear and
passion--could make only a gurgling murmur in his throat. The
"Aha, worshipful sir!--so, you have old Maule's blood to drink!"
said he jeeringly.
"Fiend in man's shape! why dost thou keep dominion over my child?"
cried Mr. Pyncheon, when his choked utterance could make way.
"Give me back my daughter! Then go thy ways; and may we never meet
"Your daughter!" said Matthew Maule. "Why, she is fairly mine!
Nevertheless, not to be too hard with fair Mistress Alice, I will
leave her in your keeping; but I do not warrant you that she shall
never have occasion to remember Maule, the carpenter."
He waved his hands with an upward motion; and, after a few
repetitions of similar gestures, the beautiful Alice Pyncheon
awoke from her strange trance. She awoke, without the slightest
recollection of her visionary experience; but as one losing
herself in a momentary reverie, and returning to the consciousness
of actual life, in almost as brief an interval as the down-sinking
flame of the heart should quiver again up the chimney. On
recognizing Matthew Maule, she assumed an air of somewhat cold but
gentle dignity, the rather as there was a certain peculiar smile
on the carpenter's visage, that stirred the native pride of the
fair Alice. So ended, for that time, the quest for the lost
title-deed of the Pyncheon territory at the eastward; nor, though
often subsequently renewed, has it ever yet befallen a Pyncheon to
set his eyes upon that parchment.
But, alas for the beautiful, the gentle, yet too haughty Alice! A
power, that she little dreamed of, had laid its grasp upon her
maiden soul. A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do
its grotesque and fantastic bidding. Her father, as it proved, had
martyred his poor child to an inordinate desire for measuring his
land by miles, instead of acres. And, therefore, while Alice
Pyncheon lived, she was Maule's slave, in a bondage more
humiliating, a thousand-fold, than that which binds its chain
around the body. Seated by his humble fireside, Maule had but to
wave his hand; and, wherever the proud lady chanced to
be,--whether in her chamber, or entertaining her father's stately
guests, or worshiping at church,--whatever her place or
occupation, her spirit passed from beneath her own control, and
bowed itself to Maule. "Alice, laugh!"--the carpenter, beside his
hearth, would say; or perhaps intensely will it, without a spoken
word. And, even were it prayer-time, or at a funeral, Alice must
break into wild laughter. "Alice, be sad!"--and, at the instant,
down would come her tears, quenching all the mirth of those around
her, like sudden rain upon a bonfire. "Alice, dance!"--and dance
she would, not in such court-like measures as she had learned
abroad, but some high-paced jig, or hop-skip rigadoon, befitting
the brisk lasses at a rustic merry-making. It seemed to be Maule's
impulse not to ruin Alice, nor to visit her with any black or
gigantic mischief, which would have crowned her sorrows with the
grace of tragedy, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn upon her.
Thus all the dignity of life was lost. She felt herself too much
abased, and longed to change natures with some worm!
One evening, at a bridal-party--(but not her own; for, so lost
from self-control, she would have deemed it sin to marry)--poor
Alice was beckoned forth by her unseen despot, and constrained, in
her gossamer white dress and satin slippers, to hasten along the
street to the mean dwelling of a laboring-man. There was laughter
and good cheer within; for Matthew Maule, that night, was to wed
the laborer's daughter, and had summoned proud Alice Pyncheon to
wait upon his bride. And so she did; and when the twain were one,
Alice awoke out of her enchanted sleep. Yet, no longer
proud,--humbly, and with a smile all steeped in sadness,--she
kissed Maule's wife, and went her way. It was an inclement night;
the south-east wind drove the mingled snow and rain into her
thinly-sheltered bosom; her satin slippers were wet through and
through, as she trod the muddy sidewalks. The next day, a cold;
soon, a settled cough; anon, a hectic cheek, a wasted form, that
sat beside the harpsichord, and filled the house with music!
Music, in which a strain of the heavenly choristers was echoed!
Oh, joy! For Alice had borne her last humiliation! Oh, greater
joy! For Alice was penitent of her one earthly sin, and proud no
The Pyncheons made a great funeral for Alice. The kith and kin
were there, and the whole respectability of the town besides. But,
last in the procession, came Matthew Maule, gnashing his teeth, as
if he would have bitten his own heart in twain--the darkest and
wofullest man that ever walked behind a corpse! He meant to humble
Alice--not to kill her;--but he had taken a woman's delicate soul
into his rude gripe, to play with,--and she was dead!