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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XIII - ALICE PYNCHEON
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The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XIII - ALICE PYNCHEON Post by :teamworking Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :2590

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The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XIII - ALICE PYNCHEON

THERE was a message brought, one day, from the worshipful Gervayse
Pyncheon to young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, desiring his immediate
presence at the House of the Seven Gables.

"And what does your master want with me?" said the carpenter to
Mr. Pyncheon's black servant. "Does the house need any repair?
Well it may, by this time; and no blame to my father who built
it, neither! I was reading the old Colonel's tombstone, no longer
ago than last Sabbath; and, reckoning from that date, the house
has stood seven-and-thirty years. No wonder if there should be
a job to do on the roof."

"Don't know what massa wants," answered Scipio. "The house is
a berry good house, and old Colonel Pyncheon think so too, I
reckon;--else why the old man haunt it so, and frighten a poor
nigga, As he does?"

"Well, well, friend Scipio; let your master know that I'm coming,"
said the carpenter with a laugh. "For a fair, workmanlike job,
he'll find me his man. And so the house is haunted, is it? It will
take a tighter workman than I am to keep the spirits out of the
Seven Gables. Even if the Colonel would be quiet," he added,
muttering to himself, "my old grandfather, the wizard, will be pretty
sure to stick to the Pyncheons as long as their walls hold together."

"What's that you mutter to yourself, Matthew Maule?" asked
Scipio. "And what for do you look so black at me?"

"No matter, darky." said the carpenter. "Do you think nobody
is to look black but yourself? Go tell your master I'm coming;
and if you happen to see Mistress Alice, his daughter, give Matthew
Maule's humble respects to her. She has brought a fair face from
Italy,--fair, and gentle, and proud,--has that same Alice Pyncheon!"

"He talk of Mistress Alice!" cried Scipio, as he returned from his
errand. "The low carpenter-man! He no business so much as to look
at her a great way off!"

This young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, it must be observed,
was a person little understood, and not very generally liked,
in the town where he resided; not that anything could be alleged
against his integrity, or his skill and diligence in the handicraft
which he exercised. The aversion (as it might justly be called)
with which many persons regarded him was partly the result of
his own character and deportment, and partly an inheritance.

He was the grandson of a former Matthew Maule, one of the early
settlers of the town, and who had been a famous and terrible
wizard in his day. This old reprobate was one of the sufferers
when Cotton Mather, and his brother ministers, and the learned
judges, and other wise men, and Sir William Phipps, the sagacious
governor, made such laudable efforts to weaken the great enemy
of souls, by sending a multitude of his adherents up the rocky
pathway of Gallows Hill. Since those days, no doubt, it had
grown to be suspected that, in consequence of an unfortunate
overdoing of a work praiseworthy in itself, the proceedings
against the witches had proved far less acceptable to the
Beneficent Father than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were
intended to distress and utterly overwhelm. It is not the less
certain, however, that awe and terror brooded over the memories
of those who died for this horrible crime of witchcraft. Their
graves, in the crevices of the rocks, were supposed to be incapable
of retaining the occupants who had been so hastily thrust into them.
Old Matthew Maule, especially, was known to have as little hesitation
or difficulty in rising out of his grave as an ordinary man in
getting out of bed, and was as often seen at midnight as living
people at noonday. This pestilent wizard (in whom his just punishment
seemed to have wrought no manner of amendment) had an inveterate
habit of haunting a certain mansion, styled the House of the
Seven Gables, against the owner of which he pretended to hold
an unsettled claim for ground-rent. The ghost, it appears,--with
the pertinacity which was one of his distinguishing characteristics
while alive,--insisted that he was the rightful proprietor of the
site upon which the house stood. His terms were, that either the
aforesaid ground-rent, from the day when the cellar began to be dug,
should be paid down, or the mansion itself given up; else he, the
ghostly creditor, would have his finger in all the affairs of the
Pyncheons, and make everything go wrong with them, though it should
be a thousand years after his death. It was a wild story, perhaps,
but seemed not altogether so incredible to those who could remember
what an inflexibly obstinate old fellow this wizard Maule had been.

Now, the wizard's grandson, the young Matthew Maule of our story,
was popularly supposed to have inherited some of his ancestor's
questionable traits. It is wonderful how many absurdities were
promulgated in reference to the young man. He was fabled, for example,
to have a strange power of getting into people's dreams, and regulating
matters there according to his own fancy, pretty much like the
stage-manager of a theatre. There was a great deal of talk among
the neighbors, particularly the petticoated ones, about what they
called the witchcraft of Maule's eye. Some said that he could look
into people's minds; others, that, by the marvellous power of this
eye, he could draw people into his own mind, or send them, if he
pleased, to do errands to his grandfather, in the spiritual world;
others, again, that it was what is termed an Evil Eye, and possessed
the valuable faculty of blighting corn, and drying children into
mummies with the heartburn. But, after all, what worked most to the
young carpenter's disadvantage was, first, the reserve and sternness
of his natural disposition, and next, the fact of his not being a
church-communicant, and the suspicion of his holding heretical tenets
in matters of religion and polity.

After receiving Mr. Pyncheon's message, the carpenter merely
tarried to finish a small job, which he happened to have in hand,
and then took his way towards the House of the Seven Gables.
This noted edifice, though its style might be getting a little out
of fashion, was still as respectable a family residence as that
of any gentleman in town. The present owner, Gervayse Pyncheon,
was said to have contracted a dislike to the house, in consequence
of a shock to his sensibility, in early childhood, from the sudden
death of his grandfather. In the very act of running to climb
Colonel Pyncheon's knee, the boy had discovered the old Puritan
to be a corpse. On arriving at manhood, Mr. Pyncheon had visited
England, where he married a lady of fortune, and had subsequently
spent many years, partly in the mother country, and partly in various
cities on the continent of Europe. During this period, the family
mansion had been consigned to the charge of a kinsman, who was
allowed to make it his home for the time being, in consideration
of keeping the premises in thorough repair. So faithfully had this
contract been fulfilled, that now, as the carpenter approached the
house, his practised eye could detect nothing to criticise in its
condition. The peaks of the seven gables rose up sharply; the shingled
roof looked thoroughly water-tight; and the glittering plaster-work
entirely covered the exterior walls, and sparkled in the October sun,
as if it had been new only a week ago.

The house had that pleasant aspect of life which is like the
cheery expression of comfortable activity in the human countenance.
You could see, at once, that there was the stir of a large family
within it. A huge load of oak-wood was passing through the gateway,
towards the outbuildings in the rear; the fat cook--or probably it
might be the housekeeper--stood at the side door, bargaining for
some turkeys and poultry which a countryman had brought for sale.
Now and then a maid-servant, neatly dressed, and now the shining
sable face of a slave, might be seen bustling across the windows,
in the lower part of the house. At an open window of a room in the
second story, hanging over some pots of beautiful and delicate
flowers,--exotics, but which had never known a more genial sunshine
than that of the New England autumn, --was the figure of a young
lady, an exotic, like the flowers, and beautiful and delicate as
they. Her presence imparted an indescribable grace and faint witchery
to the whole edifice. In other respects, it was a substantial,
jolly-looking mansion, and seemed fit to be the residence of a
patriarch, who might establish his own headquarters in the front
gable and assign one of the remainder to each of his six children,
while the great chimney in the centre should symbolize the old
fellow's hospitable heart, which kept them all warm, and made a
great whole of the seven smaller ones.

There was a vertical sundial on the front gable; and as the
carpenter passed beneath it, he looked up and noted the hour.

"Three o'clock!" said he to himself. "My father told me that dial
was put up only an hour before the old Colonel's death. How
truly it has kept time these seven-and-thirty years past! The
shadow creeps and creeps, and is always looking over the
shoulder of the sunshine!"

It might have befitted a craftsman, like Matthew Maule, on being
sent for to a gentleman's house, to go to the back door, where
servants and work-people were usually admitted; or at least to
the side entrance, where the better class of tradesmen made
application. But the carpenter had a great deal of pride and
stiffness in his nature; and, at this moment, moreover, his heart
was bitter with the sense of hereditary wrong, because he
considered the great Pyncheon House to be standing on soil
which should have been his own. On this very site, beside
a spring of delicious water, his grandfather had felled the
pine-trees and built a cottage, in which children had been born
to him; and it was only from a dead man's stiffened fingers that
Colonel Pyncheon had wrested away the title-deeds. So young
Maule went straight to the principal entrance, beneath a portal
of carved oak, and gave such a peal of the iron knocker that you
would have imagined the stern old wizard himself to be standing
at the threshold.

Black Scipio answered the summons in a prodigious, hurry; but showed
the whites of his eyes in amazement on beholding only the carpenter.

"Lord-a-mercy! what a great man he be, this carpenter fellow."
mumbled Scipio, down in his throat. "Anybody think he beat on
the door with his biggest hammer!"

"Here I am!" said Maule sternly. "Show me the way to your
master's parlor."

As he stept into the house, a note of sweet and melancholy music
thrilled and vibrated along the passage-way, proceeding from one
of the rooms above stairs. It was the harpsichord which Alice Pyncheon
had brought with her from beyond the sea. The fair Alice bestowed most
of her maiden leisure between flowers and music, although the former
were apt to droop, and the melodies were often sad. She was of
foreign education, and could not take kindly to the New England modes
of life, in which nothing beautiful had ever been developed.

As Mr. Pyncheon had been impatiently awaiting Maule's arrival,
black Scipio, of course, lost no time in ushering the carpenter
into his master's presence. The room in which this gentleman sat
was a parlor of moderate size, looking out upon the garden of
the house, and having its windows partly shadowed by the foliage
of fruit-trees. It was Mr. Pyncheon's peculiar apartment,
and was provided with furniture, in an elegant and costly style,
principally from Paris; the floor (which was unusual at that day)
being covered with a carpet, so skilfully and richly wrought that
it seemed to glow as with living flowers. In one corner stood a
marble woman, to whom her own beauty was the sole and
sufficient garment. Some pictures--that looked old, and had a
mellow tinge diffused through all their artful splendor--hung on
the walls. Near the fireplace was a large and very beautiful
cabinet of ebony, inlaid with ivory; a piece of antique furniture,
which Mr. Pyncheon had bought in Venice, and which he used
as the treasure-place for medals, ancient coins, and whatever
small and valuable curiosities he had picked up on his travels.
Through all this variety of decoration, however, the room showed
its original characteristics; its low stud, its cross-beam, its
chimney-piece, with the old-fashioned Dutch tiles; so that it was
the emblem of a mind industriously stored with foreign ideas,
and elaborated into artificial refinement, but neither larger,
nor, in its proper self, more elegant than before.

There were two objects that appeared rather out of place in this
very handsomely furnished room. One was a large map, or
surveyor's plan, of a tract of land, which looked as if it had
been drawn a good many years ago, and was now dingy with smoke,
and soiled, here and there, with the touch of fingers. The other
was a portrait of a stern old man, in a Puritan garb, painted
roughly, but with a bold effect, and a remarkably strong
expression of character.

At a small table, before a fire of English sea-coal, sat Mr.
Pyncheon, sipping coffee, which had grown to be a very favorite
beverage with him in France. He was a middle-aged and really
handsome man, with a wig flowing down upon his shoulders; his coat
was of blue velvet, with lace on the borders and at the button-holes;
and the firelight glistened on the spacious breadth of his waistcoat,
which was flowered all over with gold. On the entrance of Scipio,
ushering in the carpenter, Mr. Pyncheon turned partly round, but
resumed his former position, and proceeded deliberately to finish
his cup of coffee, without immediate notice of the guest whom he
had summoned to his presence. It was not that he intended any
rudeness or improper neglect,--which, indeed, he would have
blushed to be guilty of,--but it never occurred to him that a
person in Maule's station had a claim on his courtesy, or would
trouble himself about it one way or the other.

The carpenter, however, stepped at once to the hearth, and turned
himself about, so as to look Mr. Pyncheon in the face.

"You sent for me," said he. "Be pleased to explain your business,
that I may go back to my own affairs."

"Ah! excuse me," said Mr. Pyncheon quietly. "I did not mean to
tax your time without a recompense. Your name, I think, is Maule,
--Thomas or Matthew Maule,--a son or grandson of the builder
of this house?"

"Matthew Maule," replied the carpenter,--"son of him who built
the house,--grandson of the rightful proprietor of the soil."

"I know the dispute to which you allude," observed Mr. Pyncheon
with undisturbed equanimity. "I am well aware that my grandfather
was compelled to resort to a suit at law, in order to establish
his claim to the foundation-site of this edifice. We will not,
if you please, renew the discussion. The matter was settled at the
time, and by the competent authorities,--equitably, it is to be
presumed,--and, at all events, irrevocably. Yet, singularly enough,
there is an incidental reference to this very subject in what I am
now about to say to you. And this same inveterate grudge,--excuse
me, I mean no offence,--this irritability, which you have just shown,
is not entirely aside from the matter."

"If you can find anything for your purpose, Mr. Pyncheon," said
the carpenter, "in a man's natural resentment for the wrongs done
to his blood, you are welcome to it."

"I take you at your word, Goodman Maule," said the owner of
the Seven Gables, with a smile, "and will proceed to suggest a
mode in which your hereditary resentments--justifiable or
otherwise--may have had a bearing on my affairs. You have
heard, I suppose, that the Pyncheon family, ever since my
grandfather's days, have been prosecuting a still unsettled
claim to a very large extent of territory at the Eastward?"

"Often," replied Maule,--and it is said that a smile came over his
face,--"very often,--from my father!"

"This claim," continued Mr. Pyncheon, after pausing a moment,
as if to consider what the carpenter's smile might mean,
"appeared to be on the very verge of a settlement and full
allowance, at the period of my grandfather's decease. It was well
known, to those in his confidence, that he anticipated neither
difficulty nor delay. Now, Colonel Pyncheon, I need hardly say,
was a practical man, well acquainted with public and private
business, and not at all the person to cherish ill-founded hopes,
or to attempt the following out of an impracticable scheme. It is
obvious to conclude, therefore, that he had grounds, not apparent
to his heirs, for his confident anticipation of success in the
matter of this Eastern claim. In a word, I believe,--and my legal
advisers coincide in the belief, which, moreover, is authorized,
to a certain extent, by the family traditions,--that my grandfather
was in possession of some deed, or other document, essential to
this claim, but which has since disappeared."

"Very likely," said Matthew Maule,--and again, it is said, there
was a dark smile on his face,--"but what can a poor carpenter
have to do with the grand affairs of the Pyncheon family?"

"Perhaps nothing," returned Mr. Pyncheon, "possibly much!"

Here ensued a great many words between Matthew Maule and
the proprietor of the Seven Gables, on the subject which the
latter had thus broached. It seems (although Mr. Pyncheon had
some hesitation in referring to stories so exceedingly absurd in
their aspect) that the popular belief pointed to some mysterious
connection and dependence, existing between the family of the
Maules and these vast unrealized possessions of the Pyncheons.
It was an ordinary saying that the old wizard, hanged though he
was, had obtained the best end of the bargain in his contest with
Colonel Pyncheon; inasmuch as he had got possession of the great
Eastern claim, in exchange for an acre or two of garden-ground.
A very aged woman, recently dead, had often used the metaphorical
expression, in her fireside talk, that miles and miles of the
Pyncheon lands had been shovelled into Maule's grave; which, by
the bye, was but a very shallow nook, between two rocks, near
the summit of Gallows Hill. Again, when the lawyers were making
inquiry for the missing document, it was a by-word that it would
never be found, unless in the wizard's skeleton hand. So much
weight had the shrewd lawyers assigned to these fables, that (but
Mr. Pyncheon did not see fit to inform the carpenter of the fact)
they had secretly caused the wizard's grave to be searched. Nothing
was discovered, however, except that, unaccountably, the right hand
of the skeleton was gone.

Now, what was unquestionably important, a portion of these
popular rumors could be traced, though rather doubtfully and
indistinctly, to chance words and obscure hints of the executed
wizard's son, and the father of this present Matthew Maule. And
here Mr. Pyncheon could bring an item of his own personal
evidence into play. Though but a child at the time, he either
remembered or fancied that Matthew's father had had some job
to perform on the day before, or possibly the very morning of
the Colonel's decease, in the private room where he and the
carpenter were at this moment talking. Certain papers belonging
to Colonel Pyncheon, as his grandson distinctly recollected, had
been spread out on the table.

Matthew Maule understood the insinuated suspicion.

"My father," he said,--but still there was that dark smile, making
a riddle of his countenance,--"my father was an honester man
than the bloody old Colonel! Not to get his rights back again
would he have carried off one of those papers!"

"I shall not bandy words with you," observed the foreign-bred
Mr. Pyncheon, with haughty composure. "Nor will it become me
to resent any rudeness towards either my grandfather or myself.
A gentleman, before seeking intercourse with a person of your
station and habits, will first consider whether the urgency of
the end may compensate for the disagreeableness of the means.
It does so in the present instance."

He then renewed the conversation, and made great pecuniary
offers to the carpenter, in case the latter should give information
leading to the discovery of the lost document, and the consequent
success of the Eastern claim. For a long time Matthew Maule is
said to have turned a cold ear to these propositions. At last,
however, with a strange kind of laugh, he inquired whether Mr.
Pyncheon would make over to him the old wizard's
homestead-ground, together with the House of the Seven Gables,
now standing on it, in requital of the documentary evidence so
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 aside.

"Give up this house!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, in amazement at
the proposal. "Were I to do so, my grandfather would not rest
quiet in his grave!"

"He never has, if all stories are true," remarked the carpenter
composedly. "But that matter concerns his grandson more than it
does Matthew Maule. I have no other terms to propose."

Impossible as he at first thought it to comply with Maule's
conditions, still, on a second glance, Mr. Pyncheon was of
opinion that they might at least be made matter of discussion.
He himself had no personal attachment for the house, nor any
pleasant associations connected with his childish residence in it.
On the contrary, after seven-and-thirty years, the presence of his
dead grandfather seemed still to pervade it, as on that morning
when the affrighted boy had beheld him, with so ghastly an
aspect, stiffening in his chair. His long abode in foreign parts,
moreover, and familiarity with many of the castles and ancestral
halls of England, and the marble palaces of Italy, had caused him
to look contemptuously at the House of the Seven Gables,
whether in point of splendor or convenience. It was a mansion
exceedingly inadequate to the style of living which it would be
incumbent on Mr. Pyncheon to support, after realizing his
territorial rights. His steward might deign to occupy it, but never,
certainly, the great landed proprietor himself. In the event of
success, indeed, it was his purpose to return to England; nor, to
say the truth, would he recently have quitted that more congenial
home, had not his own fortune, as well as his deceased wife's,
begun to give symptoms of exhaustion. The Eastern claim
once fairly settled, and put upon the firm basis of actual
possession, Mr. Pyncheon's property--to be measured by miles,
not acres--would be worth an earldom, and would reasonably
entitle him to solicit, or enable him to purchase, that elevated
dignity from the British monarch. Lord Pyncheon!--or the Earl of
Waldo!--how could such a magnate be expected to contract his
grandeur within the pitiful compass of seven shingled gables?

In short, on an enlarged view of the business, the carpenter's
terms appeared so ridiculously easy that Mr. Pyncheon could
scarcely forbear laughing in his face. He was quite ashamed,
after the foregoing reflections, to propose any diminution of
so moderate a recompense for the immense service to be rendered.

"I consent to your proposition, Maule," cried he." Put me in
possession of the document essential to establish my rights,
and the House of the Seven Gables is your own!"

According to some versions of the story, a regular contract to
the above effect was drawn up by a lawyer, and signed and sealed
in the presence of witnesses. Others say that Matthew Maule was
contented with a private written agreement, in which Mr. Pyncheon
pledged his honor and integrity to the fulfillment of the terms
concluded upon. The gentleman then ordered wine, which he and
the carpenter drank together, in confirmation of their bargain.
During the whole preceding discussion and subsequent formalities,
the old Puritan's portrait seems to have persisted in its shadowy
gestures of disapproval; but without effect, except that, as Mr.
Pyncheon set down the emptied glass, he thought be beheld his
grandfather frown.

"This sherry is too potent a wine for me; it has affected my brain
already," he observed, after a somewhat startled look at the picture.
"On returning to Europe, I shall confine myself to the more delicate
vintages of Italy and France, the best of which will not bear

"My Lord Pyncheon may drink what wine he will, and wherever he
pleases," replied the carpenter, as if he had been privy to Mr.
Pyncheon's ambitious projects. "But first, sir, if you desire tidings
of this lost document, I must crave the favor of a little talk with
your fair daughter Alice."

"You are mad, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon haughtily; and now,
at last, there was anger mixed up with his pride. "What can my
daughter have to do with a business like this?"

Indeed, at this new demand on the carpenter's part, the proprietor
of the Seven Gables was even more thunder-struck than at the cool
proposition to surrender his house. There was, at least, an
assignable motive for the first stipulation; there appeared to be
none whatever for the last. Nevertheless, Matthew Maule sturdily
insisted on the young lady being summoned, and even gave her
father to understand, in a mysterious kind of explanation,--which
made the matter considerably darker than it looked before,--that
the only chance of acquiring the requisite knowledge was through
the clear, crystal medium of a pure and virgin intelligence, like
that of the fair Alice. Not to encumber our story with Mr. Pyncheon's
scruples, whether of conscience, pride, or fatherly affection,
he at length ordered his daughter to be called. He well knew that
she was in her chamber, and engaged in no occupation that could not
readily be laid aside; for, as it happened, ever since Alice's name
had been spoken, both her father and the carpenter had heard the sad
and sweet music of her harpsichord, and the airier melancholy of her
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 green woollen jacket,
a pair of loose breeches, open at the knees, and with a long
pocket for his rule, the end of which protruded; it was as proper
a mark of the artisan's calling as Mr. Pyncheon's full-dress
sword of that gentleman's aristocratic pretensions. A glow of
artistic approval brightened over Alice Pyncheon's face; she was
struck with admiration--which she made no attempt to conceal--of
the remarkable comeliness, strength, and energy of Maule's figure.
But that admiring glance (which most other men, perhaps, would
have cherished as a sweet recollection all through life) the
carpenter never forgave. It must have been the devil himself
that made Maule so subtile in his preception.

"Does the girl look at me as if I were a brute beast?" thought he,
setting his teeth. "She shall know whether I have a human spirit;
and the worse for her, if it prove stronger than her own!"

"My father, you sent for me," said Alice, in her sweet and harp-like
voice. "But, if you have business with this young man, pray let me
go again. You know I do not love this room, in spite of that Claude,
with which you try to bring back sunny recollections."

"Stay a moment, young lady, if you please!" said Matthew Maule.
"My business with your father is over. With yourself, it is now to begin!"

Alice looked towards her father, in surprise and inquiry.

"Yes, Alice," said Mr. Pyncheon, with some disturbance and
confusion. "This young man--his name is Matthew Maule--professes,
so far as I can understand him, to be able to discover, through
your means, a certain paper or parchment, which was missing long
before your birth. The importance of the document in question
renders it advisable to neglect no possible, even if improbable,
method of regaining it. You will therefore oblige me, my dear Alice,
by answering this person's inquiries, and complying with his lawful
and reasonable requests, so far as they may appear to have the
aforesaid object in view. As I shall remain in the room, you need
apprehend no rude nor unbecoming deportment, on the young man's
part; and, at your slightest wish, of course, the investigation,
or whatever we may call it, shall immediately be broken off."

"Mistress Alice Pyncheon," remarked Matthew Maule, with the
utmost deference, but yet a half-hidden sarcasm in his look
and tone, "will no doubt feel herself quite safe in her father's
presence, and under his all-sufficient protection."

"I certainly shall entertain no manner of apprehension, with my
father at hand," said Alice with maidenly dignity. "Neither do I
conceive that a lady, while true to herself, can have aught to
fear from whomsoever, or in any circumstances!"

Poor Alice! By what unhappy impulse did she thus put herself at once
on terms of defiance against a strength which she could not estimate?

"Then, Mistress Alice," said Matthew Maule, handing a chair,
--gracefully enough, for a craftsman, "will it please you only
to sit down, and do me the favor (though altogether beyond a
poor carpenter's deserts) to fix your eyes on mine!"

Alice complied, She was very proud. Setting aside all advantages
of rank, this fair girl deemed herself conscious of a power
--combined of beauty, high, unsullied purity, and the preservative
force of womanhood--that could make her sphere impenetrable,
unless betrayed by treachery within. She instinctively knew,
it may be, that some sinister or evil potency was now striving
to pass her barriers; nor would she decline the contest. So Alice
put woman's might against man's might; a match not often equal
on the part of woman.

Her father meanwhile had turned away, and seemed absorbed in
the contemplation of a landscape by Claude, where a shadowy
and sun-streaked vista penetrated so remotely into an ancient
wood, that it would have been no wonder if his fancy had lost
itself in the picture's bewildering depths. But, in truth,
the picture was no more to him at that moment than the blank
wall against which it hung. His mind was haunted with the many
and strange tales which he had heard, attributing mysterious if
not supernatural endowments to these Maules, as well the grandson
here present as his two immediate ancestors. Mr. Pyncheon's long
residence abroad, and intercourse with men of wit and fashion,
--courtiers, worldings, and free-thinkers,--had done much towards
obliterating the grim Puritan superstitions, which no man of New
England birth at that early period could entirely escape. But,
on the other hand, had not a whole Community believed Maule's
grandfather to be a wizard? Had not the crime been proved? Had
not the wizard died for it? Had he not bequeathed a legacy of
hatred against the Pyncheons to this only grandson, who, as it
appeared, was now about to exercise a subtle influence over the
daughter of his enemy's house? Might not this influence be the
same that was called witchcraft?

Turning half around, he caught a glimpse of Maule's figure in
the looking-glass. At some paces from Alice, with his arms
uplifted in the air, the carpenter made a gesture as if directing
downward a slow, ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden.

"Stay, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, stepping forward. "I forbid
your proceeding further!"

"Pray, my dear father, do not interrupt the young man," said Alice,
without changing her position. "His efforts, I assure you, will
prove very harmless."

Again Mr. Pyncheon turned his eyes towards the Claude. It was then
his daughter's will, in opposition to his own, that the experiment
should be fully tried. Henceforth, therefore, he did but consent,
not urge it. And was it not for her sake far more than for his own
that he desired its success? That lost parchment once restored,
the beautiful Alice Pyncheon, with the rich dowry which he could
then bestow, might wed an English duke or a German reigning-prince,
instead of some New England clergyman or lawyer! At the thought,
the ambitious father almost consented, in his heart, that, if the
devil's power were needed to the accomplishment of this great object,
Maule might evoke him. Alice's own purity would be her safeguard.

With his mind full of imaginary magnificence, Mr. Pyncheon heard
a half-uttered exclamation from his daughter. It was very faint
and low; so indistinct that there seemed but half a will to shape
out the words, and too undefined a purport to be intelligible.
Yet it was a call for help!--his conscience never doubted it;--and,
little more than a whisper to his ear, it was a dismal shriek,
and long reechoed so, in the region round his heart! But this time
the father did not turn.

After a further interval, Maule spoke.

"Behold your daughter." said he.

Mr. Pyncheon came hastily forward. The carpenter was standing
erect in front of Alice's chair, and pointing his finger towards
the maiden with an expression of triumphant power, the limits of
which could not be defined, as, indeed, its scope stretched
vaguely towards the unseen and the infinite. Alice sat in an
attitude of profound repose, with the long brown lashes drooping
over her eyes.

"There she is!" said the carpenter. "Speak to her!"

"Alice! My daughter!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon. "My own Alice!"

She did not stir.

"Louder!" said Maule, smiling.

"Alice! Awake!" cried her father. "It troubles me to see you thus! Awake!"

He spoke loudly, with terror in his voice, and close to that
delicate ear which had always been so sensitive to every discord.
But the sound evidently reached her not. It is indescribable what
a sense of remote, dim, unattainable distance betwixt himself and
Alice was impressed on the father by this impossibility of
reaching her with his voice.

"Best touch her" said Matthew Maule "Shake the girl, and roughly,
too! My hands are hardened with too much use of axe, saw, and plane,
--else I might help you!"

Mr. Pyncheon took her hand, and pressed it with the earnestness
of startled emotion. He kissed her, with so great a heart-throb in
the kiss, that he thought she must needs feel it. Then, in a gust of
anger at her insensibility, he shook her maiden form with a violence
which, the next moment, it affrighted him to remember. He withdrew
his encircling arms, and Alice--whose figure, though flexible, had
been wholly impassive--relapsed into the same attitude as before these
attempts to arouse her. Maule having shifted his position, her face
was turned towards him slightly, but with what seemed to be a reference
of her very slumber to his guidance.

Then it was a strange sight to behold how the man of conventionalities
shook the powder out of his periwig; how the reserved and stately
gentleman forgot his dignity; how the gold-embroidered waistcoat
flickered and glistened in the firelight with the convulsion of rage,
terror, and sorrow in the human heart that was beating under it.

"Villain!" cried Mr. Pyncheon, shaking his clenched fist at Maule.
"You and the fiend together have robbed me of my daughter. Give her
back, spawn of the old wizard, or you shall climb Gallows Hill in
your grandfather's footsteps!"

"Softly, Mr. Pyncheon!" said the carpenter with scornful
composure. "Softly, an it please your worship, else you will spoil
those rich lace ruffles at your wrists! Is it my crime if you have
sold your daughter for the mere hope of getting a sheet of yellow
parchment into your clutch? There sits Mistress Alice quietly
asleep. Now let Matthew Maule try whether she be as proud as
the carpenter found her awhile since."

He spoke, and Alice responded, with a soft, subdued, inward
acquiescence, and a bending of her form towards him, like the
flame of a torch when it indicates a gentle draught of air.
He beckoned with his hand, and, rising from her chair,--blindly,
but undoubtingly, as tending to her sure and inevitable centre,
--the proud Alice approached him. He waved her back, and,
retreating, Alice sank again into her seat.

"She is mine!" said Matthew Maule. "Mine, by the right of the
strongest spirit!"

In the further progress of the legend, there is a long, grotesque,
and occasionally awe-striking account of the carpenter's incantations
(if so they are to be called), with a view of discovering the lost
document. It appears to have been his object to convert the mind
of Alice into a kind of telescopic medium, through which Mr. Pyncheon
and himself might obtain a glimpse into the spiritual world.
He succeeded, accordingly, in holding an imperfect sort of intercourse,
at one remove, with the departed personages in whose custody the so
much valued secret had been carried beyond the precincts of earth.
During her trance, Alice described three figures as being present
to her spiritualized perception. One was an aged, dignified,
stern-looking gentleman, clad as for a solemn festival in grave
and costly attire, but with a great bloodstain on his richly
wrought band; the second, an aged man, meanly dressed, with a
dark and malign countenance, and a broken halter about his neck;
the third, a person not so advanced in life as the former two,
but beyond the middle age, wearing a coarse woollen tunic and
leather breeches, and with a carpenter's rule sticking out of
his side pocket. These three visionary characters possessed a
mutual knowledge of the missing document. One of them, in truth,
--it was he with the blood-stain on his band,--seemed, unless his
gestures were misunderstood, to hold the parchment in his immediate
keeping, but was prevented by his two partners in the mystery from
disburdening himself of the trust. Finally, when he showed a
purpose of shouting forth the secret loudly enough to be heard
from his own sphere into that of mortals, his companions struggled
with him, and pressed their hands over his mouth; and forthwith
--whether that he were choked by it, or that the secret itself was
of a crimson hue --there was a fresh flow of blood upon his band.
Upon this, the two meanly dressed figures mocked and jeered at the
much-abashed old dignitary, and pointed their fingers at the stain.

At this juncture, Maule turned to Mr. Pyncheon.

"It will never be allowed," said he. "The custody of this secret,
that would so enrich his heirs, makes part of your grandfather's
retribution. He must choke with it until it is no longer of any
value. And keep you the House of the Seven Gables! It is too
dear bought an inheritance, and too heavy with the curse upon it,
to be shifted yet awhile from the Colonel's posterity."

Mr. Pyncheon tried to speak, but--what with fear and passion--could
make only a gurgling murmur in his throat. The carpenter smiled.

"Aha, worshipful sir!--so you have old Maule's blood to drink!"
said he jeeringly.

"Fiend in man's shape! why dost thou keep dominion over my child?"
cried Mr. Pyncheon, when his choked utterance could make way. "Give
me back my daughter. Then go thy ways; and may we never meet again!"

"Your daughter!" said Matthew Maule. "Why, she is fairly mine!
Nevertheless, not to be too hard with fair Mistress Alice, I will
leave her in your keeping; but I do not warrant you that she shall
never have occasion to remember Maule, the carpenter."

He waved his hands with an upward motion; and, after a few
repetitions of similar gestures, the beautiful Alice Pyncheon
awoke from her strange trance. She awoke without the slightest
recollection of her visionary experience; but as one losing herself
in a momentary reverie, and returning to the consciousness of
actual life, in almost as brief an interval as the down-sinking
flame of the hearth should quiver again up the chimney. On
recognizing Matthew Maule, she assumed an air of somewhat cold
but gentle dignity, the rather, as there was a certain peculiar
smile on the carpenter's visage that stirred the native pride of
the fair Alice. So ended, for that time, the quest for the lost
title-deed of the Pyncheon territory at the Eastward; nor, though
often subsequently renewed, has it ever yet befallen a Pyncheon
to set his eye upon that parchment.

But, alas for the beautiful, the gentle, yet too haughty Alice!
A power that she little dreamed of had laid its grasp upon her
maiden soul. A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do
its grotesque and fantastic bidding. Her father as it proved, had
martyred his poor child to an inordinate desire for measuring his
land by miles instead of acres. And, therefore, while Alice
Pyncheon lived, she was Maule's slave, in a bondage more humiliating,
a thousand-fold, than that which binds its chain around the body.
Seated by his humble fireside, Maule had but to wave his hand; and,
wherever the proud lady chanced to be,--whether in her chamber, or
entertaining her father's stately guests, or worshipping at church,
--whatever her place or occupation, her spirit passed from beneath
her own control, and bowed itself to Maule. "Alice, laugh!"--the
carpenter, beside his hearth, would say; or perhaps intensely will
it, without a spoken word. And, even were it prayer-time, or at a
funeral, Alice must break into wild laughter. "Alice, be sad!"--and,
at the instant, down would come her tears, quenching all the mirth
of those around her like sudden rain upon a bonfire. "Alice, dance."
--and dance she would, not in such court-like measures as she had
learned abroad, but Some high-paced jig, or hop-skip rigadoon,
befitting the brisk lasses at a rustic merry-making. It seemed to
be Maule's impulse, not to ruin Alice, nor to visit her with any
black or gigantic mischief, which would have crowned her sorrows
with the grace of tragedy, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn upon
her. Thus all the dignity of life was lost. She felt herself too
much abased, and longed to change natures with some worm!

One evening, at a bridal party (but not her own; for, so lost from
self-control, she would have deemed it sin to marry), poor Alice
was beckoned forth by her unseen despot, and constrained, in her
gossamer white dress and satin slippers, to hasten along the street
to the mean dwelling of a laboring-man. There was laughter and
good cheer within; for Matthew Maule, that night, was to wed
the laborer's daughter, and had summoned proud Alice Pyncheon
to wait upon his bride. And so she did; and when the twain were
one, Alice awoke out of her enchanted sleep. Yet, no longer
proud,--humbly, and with a smile all steeped in sadness,--she
kissed Maule's wife, and went her way. It was an inclement
night; the southeast wind drove the mingled snow and rain into
her thinly sheltered bosom; her satin slippers were wet through
and through, as she trod the muddy sidewalks. The next day a
cold; soon, a settled cough; anon, a hectic cheek, a wasted form,
that sat beside the harpsichord, and filled the house with music!
Music in which a strain of the heavenly choristers was echoed! Oh;
joy For Alice had borne her last humiliation! Oh, greater joy! For
Alice was penitent of her one earthly sin, and proud no more!

The Pyncheons made a great funeral for Alice. The kith and kin
were there, and the whole respectability of the town besides.
But, last in the procession, came Matthew Maule, gnashing his
teeth, as if he would have bitten his own heart in twain,--the
darkest and wofullest man that ever walked behind a corpse! He
meant to humble Alice, not to kill her; but he had taken a woman's
delicate soul into his rude gripe, to play with--and she was dead!

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The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XIV - PHOEBE'S GOOD-BY The House Of Seven Gables - Chapter XIV - PHOEBE'S GOOD-BY

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