introductory note. in september of the year during thefebruary of which hawthorne had completed "the scarlet letter," he began "the houseof the seven gables." meanwhile, he had removed from salem tolenox, in berkshire county, massachusetts, where he occupied with his family a smallred wooden house, still standing at the date of this edition, near the stockbridgebowl. "i sha'n't have the new story ready bynovember," he explained to his publisher, on the 1st of october, "for i am never goodfor anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has
somewhat such an effect on my imaginationthat it does on the foliage here about me- multiplying and brightening its hues." but by vigorous application he was able tocomplete the new work about the middle of the january following. since research has disclosed the manner inwhich the romance is interwoven with incidents from the history of the hawthornefamily, "the house of the seven gables" has acquired an interest apart from that bywhich it first appealed to the public. john hathorne (as the name was thenspelled), the great-grandfather of nathaniel hawthorne, was a magistrate atsalem in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and officiated at the famoustrials for witchcraft held there. it is of record that he used peculiarseverity towards a certain woman who was among the accused; and the husband of thiswoman prophesied that god would take revenge upon his wife's persecutors. this circumstance doubtless furnished ahint for that piece of tradition in the book which represents a pyncheon of aformer generation as having persecuted one maule, who declared that god would give hisenemy "blood to drink." it became a conviction with the hawthornefamily that a curse had been pronounced upon its members, which continued in forcein the time of the romancer; a conviction
perhaps derived from the recorded prophecy of the injured woman's husband, justmentioned; and, here again, we have a correspondence with maule's malediction inthe story. furthermore, there occurs in the "americannote-books" (august 27, 1837), a reminiscence of the author's family, to thefollowing effect. philip english, a character well-known inearly salem annals, was among those who suffered from john hathorne's magisterialharshness, and he maintained in consequence a lasting feud with the old puritanofficial. but at his death english left daughters,one of whom is said to have married the son
of justice john hathorne, whom english haddeclared he would never forgive. it is scarcely necessary to point out howclearly this foreshadows the final union of those hereditary foes, the pyncheons andmaules, through the marriage of phoebe and holgrave. the romance, however, describes the maulesas 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 witha sharp line, but with an effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by anhereditary characteristic of reserve."
thus, while the general suggestion of thehawthorne line and its fortunes was followed in the romance, the pyncheonstaking the place of the author's family, certain distinguishing marks of the hawthornes were assigned to the imaginarymaule posterity. there are one or two other points whichindicate hawthorne's method of basing his compositions, the result in the main ofpure invention, on the solid ground of particular facts. allusion is made, in the first chapter ofthe "seven gables," to a grant of lands in waldo county, maine, owned by the pyncheonfamily.
in the "american note-books" there is anentry, dated august 12, 1837, which speaks of the revolutionary general, knox, and hisland-grant in waldo county, by virtue of which the owner had hoped to establish an estate on the english plan, with a tenantryto make it profitable for him. an incident of much greater importance inthe story is the supposed murder of one of the pyncheons by his nephew, to whom we areintroduced as clifford pyncheon. in all probability hawthorne connected withthis, in his mind, the murder of mr. white, a wealthy gentleman of salem, killed by aman whom his nephew had hired. this took place a few years afterhawthorne's graduation 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 suchresemblances as these between sundry elements in the work of hawthorne's fancyand details of reality are only fragmentary, and are rearranged to suit theauthor's purposes. in the same way he has made his descriptionof hepzibah pyncheon's seven-gabled mansion conform so nearly to several old dwellingsformerly or still extant in salem, that strenuous efforts have been made to fix upon some one of them as the veritableedifice of the romance.
a paragraph in the opening chapter hasperhaps assisted this delusion that there must have been a single original house ofthe seven gables, framed by flesh-and-blood carpenters; for it runs thus:-- "familiar as it stands in the writer'srecollection--for it has been an object of curiosity with him from boyhood, both as aspecimen of the best and stateliest architecture of a long-past epoch, and as the scene of events more full of interestperhaps than those of a gray feudal castle- -familiar as it stands, in its rusty oldage, it is therefore only the more difficult to imagine the bright noveltywith which it first caught the sunshine."
hundreds of pilgrims annually visit a housein salem, belonging to one branch of the ingersoll family of that place, which isstoutly maintained to have been the model for hawthorne's visionary dwelling. others have supposed that the now vanishedhouse 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, hasbeen declared the only genuine establishment. notwithstanding persistent popular belief,the authenticity of all these must
positively be denied; although it ispossible that isolated reminiscences of all three may have blended with the ideal imagein the mind of hawthorne. he, it will be seen, remarks in thepreface, alluding to himself in the third person, that he trusts not to be condemnedfor "laying out a street that infringes upon nobody's private rights... and building a house of materials long in usefor constructing castles in the air." more than this, he stated to persons stillliving that the house of the romance was not copied from any actual edifice, but wassimply a general reproduction of a style of architecture belonging to colonial days,
examples of which survived into the periodof his youth, but have since been radically modified or destroyed. here, as elsewhere, he exercised theliberty of a creative mind to heighten the probability of his pictures withoutconfining himself to a literal description of something he had seen. while hawthorne remained at lenox, andduring the composition of this romance, various other literary personages settledor 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, frederikabremer, and j. t. fields; so that there was no lack of intellectual society in the midst of the beautiful and inspiringmountain scenery of the place. "in the afternoons, nowadays," he records,shortly before beginning the work, "this valley in which i dwell seems like a vastbasin filled with golden sunshine as with wine;" and, happy in the companionship of his wife and their three children, he led asimple, refined, idyllic life, despite the restrictions of a scanty and uncertainincome. a letter written by mrs. hawthorne, at thistime, to a member of her family, gives
incidentally a glimpse of the scene, whichmay properly find a place here. she says: "i delight to think that youalso can look forth, as i do now, upon a broad valley and a fine amphitheater ofhills, and are about to watch the stately ceremony of the sunset from your piazza. but you have not this lovely lake, nor, isuppose, the delicate purple mist which folds these slumbering mountains in airyveils. mr. hawthorne has been lying down in thesun shine, slightly fleckered with the shadows of a tree, and una and julian havebeen making him look like the mighty pan, by covering his chin and breast with long
grass-blades, that looked like a verdantand venerable beard." the pleasantness and peace of hissurroundings and of his modest home, in lenox, may be taken into account asharmonizing with the mellow serenity of the romance then produced. of the work, when it appeared in the earlyspring of 1851, he wrote to horatio bridge these words, now published for the firsttime:-- "'the house of the seven gables' in myopinion, is better than 'the scarlet letter:' but i should not wonder if i hadrefined upon the principal character a little too much for popular appreciation,
nor if the romance of the book should besomewhat at odds with the humble and familiar scenery in which i invest it. but i feel that portions of it are as goodas anything i can hope to write, and the publisher speaks encouragingly of itssuccess." from england, especially, came many warmexpressions of praise,--a fact which mrs. hawthorne, in a private letter, commentedon as the fulfillment of a possibility which hawthorne, writing in boyhood to hismother, had looked forward to. he had asked her if she would not like himto become an author and have his books read in england.
g. p. l.preface. when a writer calls his work a romance, itneed hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to itsfashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had heprofessed to be writing a novel. the latter form of composition is presumedto aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probableand ordinary course of man's experience. the former--while, as a work of art, itmust rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it mayswerve aside from the truth of the human heart--has fairly a right to present that
truth under circumstances, to a greatextent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. if he think fit, also, he may so manage hisatmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich theshadows of the picture. he will be wise, no doubt, to make a verymoderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the marvelousrather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered tothe public. he can hardly be said, however, to commit aliterary crime even if he disregard this
caution. in the present work, the author hasproposed to himself--but with what success, fortunately, it is not for him to judge--tokeep undeviatingly within his immunities. the point of view in which this tale comesunder the romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with thevery present that is flitting away from us. it is a legend prolonging itself, from anepoch now gray in the distance, down into our own broad daylight, and bringing alongwith it some of its legendary mist, which the reader, according to his pleasure, may either disregard, or allow it to floatalmost imperceptibly about the characters
and events for the sake of a picturesqueeffect. the narrative, it may be, is woven of sohumble a texture as to require this advantage, and, at the same time, to renderit the more difficult of attainment. many writers lay very great stress uponsome definite moral purpose, at which they profess to aim their works. not to be deficient in this particular, theauthor has provided himself with a moral,-- the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing ofone generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure anduncontrollable mischief; and he would feel
it a singular gratification if this romancemight effectually convince mankind--or, indeed, any one man--of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gottengold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim andcrush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its originalatoms. in good faith, however, he is notsufficiently imaginative to flatter himself with the slightest hope of this kind. when romances do really teach anything, orproduce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more subtile processthan the ostensible one.
the author has considered it hardly worthhis while, therefore, relentlessly to impale the story with its moral as with aniron rod,--or, rather, as by sticking a pin through a butterfly,--thus at once depriving it of life, and causing it tostiffen in an ungainly and unnatural attitude. a high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, andskilfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development ofa work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than atthe first.
the reader may perhaps choose to assign anactual 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 haveavoided anything of this nature. not to speak of other objections, itexposes the romance to an inflexible and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism,by bringing his fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of themoment. it has been no part of his object, however,to describe local manners, nor in any way to meddle with the characteristics of acommunity for whom he cherishes a proper
respect and a natural regard. he trusts not to be considered asunpardonably offending by laying out a street that infringes upon nobody's privaterights, and appropriating a lot of land which had no visible owner, and building a house of materials long in use forconstructing castles in the air. the personages of the tale--though theygive themselves out to be of ancient stability and considerable prominence--arereally of the author's own making, or at all events, of his own mixing; their virtues can shed no lustre, nor theirdefects redound, in the remotest degree, to
the discredit of the venerable town ofwhich they profess to be inhabitants. he would be glad, therefore, if-especiallyin the quarter to which he alludes-the book may be read strictly as a romance, having agreat deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion of theactual soil of the county of essex. lenox, january 27, 1851. > chapter ithe old pyncheon family halfway down a by-street of one of our newengland towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facingtowards various points of the compass, and
a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. the street is pyncheon street; the house isthe 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 townaforesaid, i seldom failed to turn down pyncheon street, for the sake of passingthrough the shadow of these two antiquities,--the great elm-tree and theweather-beaten edifice. the aspect of the venerable mansion hasalways affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merelyof outward storm and sunshine, but
expressive also, of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudesthat have passed within. were these to be worthily recounted, theywould form a narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing, moreover,a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem the result of artisticarrangement. but the story would include a chain ofevents extending over the better part of two centuries, and, written out withreasonable amplitude, would fill a bigger folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could prudently beappropriated to the annals of all new
england during a similar period. it consequently becomes imperative to makeshort 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 thecircumstances amid which the foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid glimpse atits quaint exterior, as it grew black in the prevalent east wind,--pointing, too, here and there, at some spot of moreverdant mossiness on its roof and walls,-- we shall commence the real action of ourtale at an epoch not very remote from the
present day. still, there will be a connection with thelong 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 muchof old material goes to make up the freshest novelty of human life. hence, too, might be drawn a weighty lessonfrom the little-regarded truth, that the act of the passing generation is the germwhich 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 moreenduring growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity. the house of the seven gables, antique asit now looks, was not the first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely thesame spot of ground. pyncheon street formerly bore the humblerappellation 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 pleasantwater--a rare treasure on the sea-girt
peninsula where the puritan settlement wasmade--had early induced matthew maule to build a hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although somewhat too remote fromwhat was then the centre of the village. in the growth of the town, however, aftersome thirty or forty years, the site covered by this rude hovel had becomeexceedingly desirable in the eyes of a prominent and powerful personage, who asserted plausible claims to theproprietorship of this and a large adjacent tract of land, on the strength of a grantfrom the legislature. colonel pyncheon, the claimant, as wegather from whatever traits of him are
preserved, was characterized by an ironenergy of purpose. matthew maule, on the other hand, though anobscure man, was stubborn in the defence of what he considered his right; and, forseveral years, he succeeded in protecting the acre or two of earth which, with his own toil, he had hewn out of the primevalforest, 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 isderived chiefly from tradition. it would be bold, therefore, and possiblyunjust, to venture a decisive opinion as to
its merits; although it appears to havebeen at least a matter of doubt, whether colonel pyncheon's claim were not unduly stretched, in order to make it cover thesmall metes and bounds of matthew maule. what greatly strengthens such a suspicionis 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 aclose only with the death of the party occupying the disputed soil. the mode of his death, too, affects themind differently, in our day, from what it
did a century and a half ago. it was a death that blasted with strangehorror the humble name of the dweller in the cottage, and made it seem almost areligious act to drive the plough over the little area of his habitation, and obliterate his place and memory from amongmen. old matthew maule, in a word, was executedfor the crime of witchcraft. he was one of the martyrs to that terribledelusion, 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 evercharacterized the maddest mob. clergymen, judges, statesmen,--the wisest,calmest, holiest persons of their day stood in the inner circle round about thegallows, loudest to applaud the work of blood, latest to confess themselvesmiserably deceived. if any one part of their proceedings can besaid to deserve less blame than another, it was the singular indiscrimination withwhich 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, itis not strange that a man of inconsiderable
note, like maule, should have trodden themartyr's path to the hill of execution almost unremarked in the throng of hisfellow sufferers. but, in after days, when the frenzy of thathideous epoch had subsided, it was remembered how loudly colonel pyncheon hadjoined in the general cry, to purge the land from witchcraft; nor did it fail to be whispered, that there was an invidiousacrimony in the zeal with which he had sought the condemnation of matthew maule. it was well known that the victim hadrecognized the bitterness of personal enmity in his persecutor's conduct towardshim, and that he declared himself hunted to
death for his spoil. at the moment of execution--with the halterabout his neck, and while colonel pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at thescene maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy, of which history, as well as fireside tradition, haspreserved the very words. "god," said the dying man, pointing hisfinger, with a ghastly look, at the undismayed countenance of his enemy,--"godwill give him blood to drink!" after the reputed wizard's death, hishumble homestead had fallen an easy spoil into colonel pyncheon's grasp.
when it was understood, however, that thecolonel intended to erect a family mansion- spacious, ponderously framed of oakentimber, and calculated to endure for many generations of his posterity over the spot first covered by the log-built hut ofmatthew maule, there was much shaking of the head among the village gossips. without absolutely expressing a doubtwhether the stalwart puritan had acted as a man of conscience and integrity throughoutthe proceedings which have been sketched, they, nevertheless, hinted that he was about to build his house over an unquietgrave.
his home would include the home of the deadand buried wizard, and would thus afford the ghost of the latter a kind of privilegeto haunt its new apartments, and the chambers into which future bridegrooms were to lead their brides, and where children ofthe 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 soilaround him was bestrewn with the virgin forest leaves,--why should colonel pyncheonprefer a site that had already been
accurst? but the puritan soldier and magistrate wasnot a man to be turned aside from his well- considered scheme, either by dread of thewizard's ghost, or by flimsy sentimentalities of any kind, howeverspecious. had he been told of a bad air, it mighthave moved him somewhat; but he was ready to encounter an evil spirit on his ownground. endowed with commonsense, as massive andhard as blocks of granite, fastened together by stern rigidity of purpose, aswith iron clamps, he followed out his original design, probably without so muchas imagining an objection to it.
on the score of delicacy, or anyscrupulousness which a finer sensibility might have taught him, the colonel, likemost of his breed and generation, was impenetrable. he therefore dug his cellar, and laid thedeep foundations of his mansion, on the square of earth whence matthew maule, fortyyears before, had first swept away the fallen leaves. it was a curious, and, as some peoplethought, an ominous fact, that, very soon after the workmen began their operations,the spring of water, above mentioned, entirely lost the deliciousness of itspristine quality.
whether its sources were disturbed by thedepth of the new cellar, or whatever subtler cause might lurk at the bottom, itis certain that the water of maule's well, as it continued to be called, grew hard andbrackish. even such we find it now; and any old womanof the neighborhood will certify that it is productive of intestinal mischief to thosewho quench their thirst there. the reader may deem it singular that thehead carpenter of the new edifice was no other than the son of the very man fromwhose dead gripe the property of the soil had been wrested. not improbably he was the best workman ofhis time; or, perhaps, the colonel thought
it expedient, or was impelled by somebetter feeling, thus openly to cast aside all animosity against the race of hisfallen antagonist. nor was it out of keeping with the generalcoarseness and matter-of-fact character of the age, that the son should be willing toearn an honest penny, or, rather, a weighty amount of sterling pounds, from the purseof his father's deadly enemy. at all events, thomas maule became thearchitect of the house of the seven gables, and performed his duty so faithfully thatthe timber framework fastened by his hands still holds together. thus the great house was built.
familiar as it stands in the writer'srecollection,--for it has been an object of architecture of a longpast epoch, and as the scene of events more full of humaninterest, perhaps, than those of a gray feudal castle,--familiar as it stands, inits rusty old age, it is therefore only the more difficult to imagine the bright novelty with which it first caught thesunshine. the impression of its actual state, at thisdistance of a hundred and sixty years, darkens inevitably through the picturewhich we would fain give of its appearance on the morning when the puritan magnatebade all the town to be his guests.
a ceremony of consecration, festive as wellas 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 authoritiesaver, by an ox, roasted whole, or at least, by the weight and substance of an ox, inmore manageable joints and sirloins. the carcass of a deer, shot within twentymiles, had supplied material for the vast circumference of a pasty. a codfish of sixty pounds, caught in thebay, 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 ofmeats, fowls, and fishes, spicily concocted with odoriferous herbs, and onions inabundance. the mere smell of such festivity, makingits way to everybody's nostrils, was at once an invitation and an appetite. maule's lane, or pyncheon street, as itwere now more decorous to call it, was thronged, at the appointed hour, as with acongregation on its way to church. all, as they approached, looked upward atthe imposing edifice, which was henceforth
to assume its rank among the habitations ofmankind. there it rose, a little withdrawn from theline of the street, but in pride, not modesty. its whole visible exterior was ornamentedwith quaint figures, conceived in the grotesqueness of a gothic fancy, and drawnor stamped in the glittering plaster, composed of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass, with which the woodwork of the wallswas overspread. on every side the seven gables pointedsharply 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 gloominto the lower rooms. carved globes of wood were affixed underthe jutting stories. little spiral rods of iron beautified eachof 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 thesun was still marking the passage of the
first bright hour in a history that was notdestined to be all so bright. all around were scattered shavings, chips,shingles, and broken halves of bricks; these, together with the lately turnedearth, on which the grass had not begun to grow, contributed to the impression of strangeness and novelty proper to a housethat had yet its place to make among men's daily interests. the principal entrance, which had almostthe breadth of a church-door, was in the angle between the two front gables, and wascovered by an open porch, with benches beneath its shelter.
under this arched doorway, scraping theirfeet on the unworn threshold, now trod the clergymen, the elders, the magistrates, thedeacons, and whatever of aristocracy there was in town or county. thither, too, thronged the plebeian classesas freely as their betters, and in larger number. just within the entrance, however, stoodtwo serving-men, pointing some of the guests to the neighborhood of the kitchenand ushering others into the statelier rooms,--hospitable alike to all, but still with a scrutinizing regard to the high orlow degree of each.
velvet garments sombre but rich, stifflyplaited ruffs and bands, embroidered gloves, venerable beards, the mien andcountenance of authority, made it easy to distinguish the gentleman of worship, at that period, from the tradesman, with hisplodding air, or the laborer, in his leathern jerkin, stealing awe-stricken intothe 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 themore punctilious visitors. the founder of this stately mansion--agentleman noted for the square and
ponderous courtesy of his demeanor, oughtsurely to have stood in his own hall, and to have offered the first welcome to so many eminent personages as here presentedthemselves in honor of his solemn festival. he was as yet invisible; the most favoredof the guests had not beheld him. this sluggishness on colonel pyncheon'spart became still more unaccountable, when the second dignitary of the province madehis appearance, and found no more ceremonious a reception. the lieutenant-governor, although his visitwas one of the anticipated glories of the day, had alighted from his horse, andassisted his lady from her side-saddle, and
crossed the colonel's threshold, without other greeting than that of the principaldomestic. this person--a gray-headed man, of quietand most respectful deportment--found it necessary to explain that his master stillremained in his study, or private apartment; on entering which, an hour before, he had expressed a wish on noaccount 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 thelieutenant-governor? summon colonel pyncheon at once!
i know that he received letters fromengland this morning; and, in the perusal and consideration of them, an hour may havepassed away without his noticing it. but he will be ill-pleased, i judge, if yousuffer him to neglect the courtesy due to one of our chief rulers, and who may besaid to represent king william, in the absence of the governor himself. call your master instantly." "nay, please your worship," answered theman, in much perplexity, but with a backwardness that strikingly indicated thehard and severe character of colonel pyncheon's domestic rule; "my master's
orders were exceeding strict; and, as yourworship knows, he permits of no discretion in the obedience of those who owe himservice. 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!" criedthe lieutenant-governor, who had overheard the foregoing discussion, and felt himselfhigh 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 forthto greet his friends; else we shall be apt
to suspect that he has taken a sip too muchof his canary wine, in his extreme deliberation which cask it were best tobroach in honor of the day! but since he is so much behindhand, i willgive him a remembrancer myself!" accordingly, with such a tramp of hisponderous riding-boots as might of itself have been audible in the remotest of theseven gables, he advanced to the door, which the servant pointed out, and made itsnew panels reecho with a loud, free knock. then, looking round, with a smile, to thespectators, 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 histemperament, 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 disturbedthe dead. be that as it might, it seemed to produceno awakening effect on colonel pyncheon. when the sound subsided, the silencethrough the house was deep, dreary, and oppressive, notwithstanding that thetongues of many of the guests had already been loosened by a surreptitious cup or twoof wine or spirits. "strange, forsooth!--very strange!" criedthe lieutenant-governor, whose smile was
changed to a frown. "but seeing that our host sets us the goodexample of forgetting ceremony, i shall likewise throw it aside, and make free tointrude on his privacy." he tried the door, which yielded to hishand, and was flung wide open by a sudden gust of wind that passed, as with a loudsigh, from the outermost portal through all the passages and apartments of the newhouse. it rustled the silken garments of theladies, and waved the long curls of the gentlemen's wigs, and shook the window-hangings and the curtains of the bedchambers; causing everywhere a singularstir, which yet was more like a hush.
a shadow of awe and half-fearfulanticipation--nobody knew wherefore, nor of what--had all at once fallen over thecompany. they thronged, however, to the now opendoor, pressing the lieutenant-governor, in the eagerness of their curiosity, into theroom in advance of them. at the first glimpse they beheld nothingextraordinary: a handsomely furnished room, of moderate size, somewhat darkenedby curtains; books arranged on shelves; a large map on the wall, and likewise a portrait of colonel pyncheon, beneath whichsat 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 darkand massive countenance, as if sternly resentful of the boldness that had impelledthem into his private retirement. a little boy--the colonel's grandchild, andthe only human being that ever dared to be familiar with him--now made his way amongthe guests, and ran towards the seated figure; then pausing halfway, he began toshriek with terror. the company, tremulous as the leaves of atree, when all are shaking together, drew nearer, and perceived that there was anunnatural distortion in the fixedness of
colonel pyncheon's stare; that there was blood on his ruff, and that his hoary beardwas saturated with it. it was too late to give assistance. the iron-hearted puritan, the relentlesspersecutor, the grasping and strong-willed man was dead!dead, in his new house! there is a tradition, only worth alludingto as lending a tinge of superstitious awe to a scene perhaps gloomy enough withoutit, 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 onlyguest who is certain, at one time or another, to find his way into every humandwelling,--thus early had death stepped across the threshold of the house of theseven gables! colonel pyncheon's sudden and mysteriousend made a vast deal of noise in its day. there were many rumors, some of which havevaguely 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 beardwas dishevelled, as if it had been fiercely clutched and pulled.
it was averred, likewise, that the latticewindow, near the colonel's chair, was open; and that, only a few minutes before thefatal 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 onstories of this kind, which are sure to spring up around such an event as that nowrelated, and which, as in the present case, sometimes prolong themselves for ages afterwards, like the toadstools thatindicate where the fallen and buried trunk of a tree has long since mouldered into theearth. for our own part, we allow them just aslittle 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 agreat consultation and dispute of doctors over the dead body. one,--john swinnerton by name,--who appearsto have been a man of eminence, upheld it, if we have rightly understood his terms ofart, to be a case of apoplexy. his professional brethren, each forhimself, adopted various hypotheses, more or less plausible, but all dressed out in aperplexing mystery of phrase, which, if it do not show a bewilderment of mind in these
erudite physicians, certainly causes it inthe 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 thatthere could have been a serious suspicion of murder, or the slightest grounds forimplicating any particular individual as the perpetrator. the rank, wealth, and eminent character ofthe deceased must have insured the strictest scrutiny into every ambiguouscircumstance. as none such is on record, it is safe toassume that none existed.
tradition,--which sometimes brings downtruth that history has let slip, but is oftener the wild babble of the time, suchas was formerly spoken at the fireside and now congeals in newspapers,--tradition isresponsible for all contrary averments. in colonel pyncheon's funeral sermon, whichwas printed, and is still extant, the rev. mr. higginson enumerates, among the manyfelicities of his distinguished parishioner's earthly career, the happyseasonableness of his death. his duties all performed,--the highestprosperity attained,--his race and future generations fixed on a stable basis, andwith a stately roof to shelter them for centuries to come,--what other upward step
remained for this good man to take, savethe final step from earth to the golden gate of heaven! the pious clergyman surely would not haveuttered words like these had he in the least suspected that the colonel had beenthrust into the other world with the clutch of violence upon his throat. the family of colonel pyncheon, at theepoch of his death, seemed destined to as fortunate a permanence as can anywiseconsist with the inherent instability of human affairs. it might fairly be anticipated that theprogress of time would rather increase and
ripen their prosperity, than wear away anddestroy it. for, not only had his son and heir comeinto immediate enjoyment of a rich estate, but there was a claim through an indiandeed, confirmed by a subsequent grant of the general court, to a vast and as yet unexplored and unmeasured tract of easternlands. these possessions--for as such they mightalmost certainly be reckoned--comprised the greater part of what is now known as waldocounty, in the state of maine, and were more extensive than many a dukedom, or even a reigning prince's territory, on europeansoil.
when the pathless forest that still coveredthis wild principality should give place-- as it inevitably must, though perhaps nottill 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 weekslonger, it is probable that his great political influence, and powerfulconnections at home and abroad, would have consummated all that was necessary torender the claim available. but, in spite of good mr. higginson'scongratulatory 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 wasconcerned, he unquestionably died too soon. his son lacked not merely the father'seminent 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 thepyncheons, not only then, but at various
periods for nearly a hundred yearsafterwards, to obtain what they stubbornly persisted in deeming their right. but, in course of time, the territory waspartly regranted to more favored individuals, and partly cleared andoccupied by actual settlers. these last, if they ever heard of thepyncheon title, would have laughed at the idea of any man's asserting a right--on thestrength of mouldy parchments, signed with the faded autographs of governors and legislators long dead and forgotten--to thelands which they or their fathers had wrested from the wild hand of nature bytheir own sturdy toil.
this impalpable claim, therefore, resultedin nothing more solid than to cherish, from generation to generation, an absurddelusion of family importance, which all along characterized the pyncheons. it caused the poorest member of the race tofeel as if he inherited a kind of nobility, and might yet come into the possession ofprincely wealth to support it. in the better specimens of the breed, thispeculiarity threw an ideal grace over the hard material of human life, withoutstealing away any truly valuable quality. in the baser sort, its effect was toincrease the liability to sluggishness and dependence, and induce the victim of ashadowy hope to remit all self-effort,
while awaiting the realization of hisdreams. years and years after their claim hadpassed out of the public memory, the pyncheons were accustomed to consult thecolonel's ancient map, which had been projected while waldo county was still anunbroken wilderness. where the old land surveyor had put downwoods, lakes, and rivers, they marked out the cleared spaces, and dotted the villagesand towns, and calculated the progressively increasing value of the territory, as if there were yet a prospect of its ultimatelyforming a princedom for themselves. in almost every generation, nevertheless,there happened to be some one descendant of
the family gifted with a portion of thehard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably distinguished theoriginal founder. his character, indeed, might be traced allthe way down, as distinctly as if the colonel himself, a little diluted, had beengifted with a sort of intermittent immortality on earth. at two or three epochs, when the fortunesof the family were low, this representative of hereditary qualities had made hisappearance, and caused the traditionary gossips of the town to whisper among themselves, "here is the old pyncheon comeagain!
now the seven gables will be new-shingled!" from father to son, they clung to theancestral house with singular tenacity of home attachment. for various reasons, however, and fromimpressions often too vaguely founded to be put on paper, the writer cherishes thebelief that many, if not most, of the successive proprietors of this estate were troubled with doubts as to their moralright to hold it. of their legal tenure there could be noquestion; but old matthew maule, it is to be feared, trode downward from his own ageto a far later one, planting a heavy
footstep, all the way, on the conscience ofa pyncheon. if so, we are left to dispose of the awfulquery, whether each inheritor of the property--conscious of wrong, and failingto rectify it--did not commit anew the great guilt of his ancestor, and incur allits original responsibilities. and supposing such to be the case, would itnot be a far truer mode of expression to say of the pyncheon family, that theyinherited a great misfortune, than the reverse? we have already hinted that it is not ourpurpose to trace down the history of the pyncheon family, in its unbroken connectionwith the house of the seven gables; nor to
show, as in a magic picture, how the rustiness and infirmity of age gatheredover the venerable house itself. as regards its interior life, a large, dimlooking-glass used to hang in one of the rooms, and was fabled to contain within itsdepths all the shapes that had ever been reflected there,--the old colonel himself, and his many descendants, some in the garbof antique babyhood, and others in the bloom of feminine beauty or manly prime, orsaddened with the wrinkles of frosty age. had we the secret of that mirror, we wouldgladly sit down before it, and transfer its revelations to our page.
but there was a story, for which it isdifficult to conceive any foundation, that the posterity of matthew maule had someconnection with the mystery of the looking- glass, and that, by what appears to have been a sort of mesmeric process, they couldmake its inner region all alive with the departed pyncheons; not as they had shownthemselves to the world, nor in their better and happier hours, but as doing over again some deed of sin, or in the crisis oflife's bitterest sorrow. the popular imagination, indeed, long keptitself busy with the affair of the old puritan pyncheon and the wizard maule; thecurse which the latter flung from his
scaffold was remembered, with the very important addition, that it had become apart of the pyncheon inheritance. if one of the family did but gurgle in histhroat, a bystander would be likely enough to whisper, between jest and earnest, "hehas maule's blood to drink!" the sudden death of a pyncheon, about ahundred years ago, with circumstances very similar to what have been related of thecolonel's exit, was held as giving additional probability to the receivedopinion on this topic. it was considered, moreover, an ugly andominous circumstance, that colonel pyncheon's picture--in obedience, it wassaid, to a provision of his will--remained
affixed to the wall of the room in which hedied. those stern, immitigable features seemed tosymbolize an evil influence, and so darkly to mingle the shadow of their presence withthe sunshine of the passing hour, that no good thoughts or purposes could ever springup and blossom there. to the thoughtful mind there will be notinge of superstition in what we figuratively express, by affirming that theghost of a dead progenitor--perhaps as a portion of his own punishment--is often doomed to become the evil genius of hisfamily. the pyncheons, in brief, lived along, forthe better part of two centuries, with
perhaps less of outward vicissitude thanhas attended most other new england families during the same period of time. possessing very distinctive traits of theirown, they nevertheless took the general characteristics of the little community inwhich they dwelt; a town noted for its frugal, discreet, well-ordered, and home- loving inhabitants, as well as for thesomewhat confined scope of its sympathies; but in which, be it said, there are odderindividuals, and, now and then, stranger occurrences, than one meets with almostanywhere else. during the revolution, the pyncheon of thatepoch, adopting the royal side, became a
refugee; but repented, and made hisreappearance, just at the point of time to preserve the house of the seven gables fromconfiscation. for the last seventy years the most notedevent in the pyncheon annals had been likewise the heaviest calamity that everbefell the race; no less than the violent death--for so it was adjudged--of one member of the family by the criminal act ofanother. certain circumstances attending this fataloccurrence had brought the deed irresistibly home to a nephew of thedeceased pyncheon. the young man was tried and convicted ofthe crime; but either the circumstantial
nature of the evidence, and possibly somelurking doubts in the breast of the executive, or, lastly--an argument of greater weight in a republic than it couldhave been under a monarchy,--the high respectability and political influence ofthe criminal's connections, had availed to mitigate his doom from death to perpetualimprisonment. this sad affair had chanced about thirtyyears before the action of our story commences. latterly, there were rumors (which fewbelieved, and only one or two felt greatly interested in) that this long-buried manwas likely, for some reason or other, to be
summoned forth from his living tomb. it is essential to say a few wordsrespecting the victim of this now almost forgotten murder. he was an old bachelor, and possessed ofgreat wealth, in addition to the house and real estate which constituted what remainedof the ancient pyncheon property. being of an eccentric and melancholy turnof 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 hishomestead, if not out of his life.
such being the case, and he, the oldbachelor, in possession of the ill-gotten spoil,--with the black stain of bloodsunken deep into it, and still to be scented by conscientious nostrils,--the question occurred, whether it were notimperative upon him, even at this late hour, to make restitution to maule'sposterity. to a man living so much in the past, and solittle in the present, as the secluded and antiquarian old bachelor, a century and ahalf seemed not so vast a period as to obviate the propriety of substituting rightfor wrong. it was the belief of those who knew himbest, that he would positively have taken
the very singular step of giving up thehouse of the seven gables to the representative of matthew maule, but for the unspeakable tumult which a suspicion ofthe old gentleman's project awakened among his pyncheon relatives. their exertions had the effect ofsuspending his purpose; but it was feared that he would perform, after death, by theoperation of his last will, what he had so hardly been prevented from doing in hisproper lifetime. but there is no one thing which men sorarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath patrimonialproperty away from their own blood.
they may love other individuals far betterthan their relatives,--they may even cherish dislike, or positive hatred, to thelatter; but yet, in view of death, the strong prejudice of propinquity revives, and impels the testator to send down hisestate 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 conscientiousscruples of the old bachelor; at whose death, accordingly, the mansion-house,together with most of his other riches, passed into the possession of his nextlegal representative.
this was a nephew, the cousin of themiserable young man who had been convicted of the uncle's murder. the new heir, up to the period of hisaccession, was reckoned rather a dissipated youth, but had at once reformed, and madehimself an exceedingly respectable member of society. in fact, he showed more of the pyncheonquality, and had won higher eminence in the world, than any of his race since the timeof the original puritan. applying himself in earlier manhood to thestudy 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 titleof judge. later, he had engaged in politics, andserved a part of two terms in congress, besides making a considerable figure inboth branches of the state legislature. judge pyncheon was unquestionably an honorto his race. he had built himself a country-seat withina few miles of his native town, and there spent such portions of his time as could bespared 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 sunthemselves in the glow of the judge's prosperity. in respect to natural increase, the breedhad not thriven; it appeared rather to be dying out. the only members of the family known to beextant were, first, the judge himself, and a single surviving son, who was nowtravelling in europe; next, the thirty years' prisoner, already alluded to, and a sister of the latter, who occupied, in anextremely 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, thejudge, had repeatedly offered her all the comforts of life, either in the old mansionor his own modern residence. the last and youngest pyncheon was a littlecountry-girl of seventeen, the daughter of another of the judge's cousins, who hadmarried a young woman of no family or property, and died early and in poorcircumstances. his widow had recently taken anotherhusband. as for matthew maule's posterity, it wassupposed now to be extinct.
for a very long period after the witchcraftdelusion, however, the maules had continued to inhabit the town where their progenitorhad suffered so unjust a death. to all appearance, they were a quiet,honest, well-meaning race of people, cherishing no malice against individuals orthe public for the wrong which had been done them; or if, at their own fireside, they transmitted from father to child anyhostile recollection of the wizard's fate and their lost patrimony, it was neveracted upon, nor openly expressed. nor would it have been singular had theyceased to remember that the house of the seven gables was resting its heavyframework on a foundation that was
rightfully their own. there is something so massive, stable, andalmost irresistibly imposing in the exterior presentment of established rankand great possessions, that their very existence seems to give them a right to exist; at least, so excellent a counterfeitof right, that few poor and humble men have moral force enough to question it, even intheir secret minds. such is the case now, after so many ancientprejudices 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 beabased.
thus the maules, at all events, kept theirresentments 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 hiredtenements, and coming finally to the almshouse as the natural home of their oldage. at last, after creeping, as it were, forsuch 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 allfamilies, 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 traceof 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 keepan onward course. so long as any of the race were to befound, they had been marked out from other men--not strikingly, nor as with a sharpline, but with an effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by an hereditarycharacter of reserve. their companions, or those who endeavoredto become such, grew conscious of a circle round about the maules, within the sanctityor the spell of which, in spite of an
exterior of sufficient frankness and good- fellowship, it was impossible for any manto step. it was this indefinable peculiarity,perhaps, that, by insulating them from human aid, kept them always so unfortunatein life. it certainly operated to prolong in theircase, and to confirm to them as their only inheritance, those feelings of repugnanceand superstitious terror with which the people of the town, even after awakening from their frenzy, continued to regard thememory of the reputed witches. the mantle, or rather the ragged cloak, ofold matthew maule had fallen upon his
children. they were half believed to inheritmysterious attributes; the family eye was said to possess strange power. among other good-for-nothing properties andprivileges, one was especially assigned them,--that of exercising an influence overpeople's dreams. the pyncheons, if all stories were true,haughtily as they bore themselves in the noonday streets of their native town, wereno better than bond-servants to these plebeian maules, on entering the topsy-turvy commonwealth of sleep. modern psychology, it may be, will endeavorto reduce these alleged necromancies within
a system, instead of rejecting them asaltogether fabulous. a descriptive paragraph or two, treating ofthe seven-gabled mansion in its more recent aspect, will bring this preliminary chapterto a close. the street in which it upreared itsvenerable 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, andtypical of the most plodding uniformity of common life. doubtless, however, the whole story ofhuman 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 eventhe huge, clustered chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least andmeanest part of its reality. so much of mankind's varied experience hadpassed there,--so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed,--that the verytimbers 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 storygave the house such a meditative look, that you could not pass it without the idea thatit had secrets to keep, and an eventful history to moralize upon. in front, just on the edge of the unpavedsidewalk, grew the pyncheon elm, which, in reference to such trees as one usuallymeets with, might well be termed gigantic. it had been planted by a great-grandson ofthe first pyncheon, and, though now four- score years of age, or perhaps nearer ahundred, was still in its strong and broad maturity, throwing its shadow from side to
side of the street, overtopping the sevengables, 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 fortyyears ago, the front gable was now precisely on a line with it. on either side extended a ruinous woodenfence 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 tosay, two or three feet long.
behind the house there appeared to be agarden, which undoubtedly had once been extensive, but was now infringed upon byother enclosures, or shut in by habitations and outbuildings that stood on anotherstreet. it would be an omission, trifling, indeed,but unpardonable, were we to forget the green moss that had long since gatheredover 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 ofweeds, but flower-shrubs, which were growing aloft in the air, not a great wayfrom the chimney, in the nook between two of the gables.
they were called alice's posies. the tradition was, that a certain alicepyncheon had flung up the seeds, in sport, and that the dust of the street and thedecay 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 ever-returning summer did her best to gladden it withtender beauty, and grew melancholy in the effort.
there is one other feature, very essentialto be noticed, but which, we greatly fear, may damage any picturesque and romanticimpression which we have been willing to throw over our sketch of this respectableedifice. in the front gable, under the impendingbrow of the second story, and contiguous to the street, was a shop-door, dividedhorizontally in the midst, and with a window for its upper segment, such as is often seen in dwellings of a somewhatancient date. this same shop-door had been a subject ofno slight mortification to the present occupant of the august pyncheon house, aswell as to some of her predecessors.
the matter is disagreeably delicate tohandle; but, since the reader must needs be let into the secret, he will please tounderstand, that, about a century ago, the head of the pyncheons found himselfinvolved in serious financial difficulties. the fellow (gentleman, as he styledhimself) can hardly have been other than a spurious interloper; for, instead ofseeking office from the king or the royal governor, or urging his hereditary claim to eastern lands, he bethought himself of nobetter avenue to wealth than by cutting a shop-door through the side of his ancestralresidence. it was the custom of the time, indeed, formerchants to store their goods and transact
business in their own dwellings. but there was something pitifully small inthis old pyncheon's mode of setting about his commercial operations; it waswhispered, that, with his own hands, all beruffled as they were, he used to give change for a shilling, and would turn ahalf-penny twice over, to make sure that it was a good one. beyond all question, he had the blood of apetty huckster in his veins, through whatever channel it may have found its waythere. immediately on his death, the shop-door hadbeen locked, bolted, and barred, and, down
to the period of our story, had probablynever once been opened. the old counter, shelves, and otherfixtures 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 hisruffles 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 hisface, it appeared to be his doom to spend
eternity in a vain effort to make hisaccounts balance. and now--in a very humble way, as will beseen--we proceed to open our narrative. chapter iithe little shop-window it still lacked half an hour of sunrise,when miss hepzibah pyncheon--we will not say awoke, it being doubtful whether thepoor lady had so much as closed her eyes during the brief night of midsummer--but, at all events, arose from her solitarypillow, 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 misshepzibah at the threshold of her chamber; only presuming, meanwhile, to note some ofthe 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 andorderly young man, an artist in the daguerreotype line, who, for about threemonths back, had been a lodger in a remote gable,--quite a house by itself, indeed,--
with locks, bolts, and oaken bars on allthe intervening doors. inaudible, consequently, were poor misshepzibah's gusty sighs. inaudible the creaking joints of herstiffened knees, as she knelt down by the bedside. and inaudible, too, by mortal ear, butheard with all-comprehending love and pity in the farthest heaven, that almost agonyof prayer--now whispered, now a groan, now a struggling silence--wherewith she besought the divine assistance through theday! evidently, this is to be a day of more thanordinary trial to miss hepzibah, who, for
above a quarter of a century gone by, hasdwelt in strict seclusion, taking no part in the business of life, and just as littlein its intercourse and pleasures. not with such fervor prays the torpidrecluse, looking forward to the cold, sunless, stagnant calm of a day that is tobe like innumerable yesterdays. the maiden lady's devotions are concluded. will she now issue forth over the thresholdof 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 ofspasmodic jerks then, all must close again,
with the same fidgety reluctance. there is a rustling of stiff silks; a treadof backward and forward footsteps to and fro across the chamber. we suspect miss hepzibah, moreover, oftaking a step upward into a chair, in order to give heedful regard to her appearance onall sides, and at full length, in the oval, dingy-framed toilet-glass, that hangs aboveher table. truly! well, indeed! who would have thoughtit! is all this precious time to be lavished onthe matutinal repair and beautifying of an elderly person, who never goes abroad, whomnobody ever visits, and from whom, when she
shall have done her utmost, it were the best charity to turn one's eyes anotherway? now she is almost ready. let us pardon her one other pause; for itis given to the sole sentiment, or, we might better say,--heightened and renderedintense, as it has been, by sorrow and seclusion,--to the strong passion of herlife. we heard the turning of a key in a smalllock; she has opened a secret drawer of an escritoire, and is probably looking at acertain miniature, done in malbone's most perfect style, and representing a faceworthy of no less delicate a pencil.
it was once our good fortune to see thispicture. it is a likeness of a young man, in asilken dressing-gown of an old fashion, the soft richness of which is well adapted tothe countenance of reverie, with its full, tender lips, and beautiful eyes, that seem to indicate not so much capacity ofthought, as gentle and voluptuous emotion. of the possessor of such features we shallhave a right to ask nothing, except that he would take the rude world easily, and makehimself happy in it. can it have been an early lover of misshepzibah? no; she never had a lover--poor thing, howcould she?--nor ever knew, by her own
experience, what love technically means. and yet, her undying faith and trust, herfresh remembrance, and continual devotedness towards the original of thatminiature, 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 comesmiss 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 abovethe horizon, was ascending nearer and nearer to its verge. a few clouds, floating high upward, caughtsome of the earliest light, and threw down its golden gleam on the windows of all thehouses in the street, not forgetting the house of the seven gables, which--many such sunrises as it had witnessed--lookedcheerfully at the present one.
the reflected radiance served to show,pretty distinctly, the aspect and arrangement of the room which hepzibahentered, after descending the stairs. it was a low-studded room, with a beamacross the ceiling, panelled with dark wood, and having a large chimney-piece, setround with pictured tiles, but now closed by an iron fire-board, through which ranthe funnel of a modern stove. there was a carpet on the floor, originallyof rich texture, but so worn and faded in these latter years that its once brilliantfigure had quite vanished into one indistinguishable hue. in the way of furniture, there were twotables: one, constructed with perplexing
intricacy and exhibiting as many feet as acentipede; the other, most delicately wrought, with four long and slender legs, so apparently frail that it was almostincredible 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 humanperson that they were irksome even to sight, and conveyed the ugliest possible idea of the state of society to which theycould have been adapted. one exception there was, however, in a veryantique elbow-chair, with a high back,
carved elaborately in oak, and a roomydepth within its arms, that made up, by its spacious comprehensiveness, for the lack of any of those artistic curves which aboundin a modern chair. as for ornamental articles of furniture, werecollect but two, if such they may be called. one was a map of the pyncheon territory atthe 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 theregion being as little known as its
geography, which was put down mostfantastically awry. the other adornment was the portrait of oldcolonel pyncheon, at two thirds length, representing the stern features of apuritanic-looking personage, in a skull- cap, with a laced band and a grizzly beard; holding a bible with one hand, and in theother uplifting an iron sword-hilt. the latter object, being more successfullydepicted by the artist, stood out in far greater prominence than the sacred volume. face to face with this picture, on enteringthe apartment, miss hepzibah pyncheon came to a pause; regarding it with a singularscowl, a strange contortion of the brow,
which, by people who did not know her, would probably have been interpreted as anexpression of bitter anger and ill-will. but it was no such thing. she, in fact, felt a reverence for thepictured visage, of which only a far- descended and time-stricken virgin could besusceptible; and this forbidding scowl was the innocent result of her near- sightedness, and an effort so toconcentrate her powers of vision as to substitute a firm outline of the objectinstead of a vague one. we must linger a moment on this unfortunateexpression of poor hepzibah's brow.
her scowl,--as the world, or such part ofit as sometimes caught a transitory glimpse of her at the window, wickedly persisted incalling 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 asunjustly as the world did. "how miserably cross i look!" she mustoften have whispered to herself; and ultimately have fancied herself so, by asense of inevitable doom.
but her heart never frowned. it was naturally tender, sensitive, andfull of little tremors and palpitations; all of which weaknesses it retained, whileher visage was growing so perversely stern, and even fierce. nor had hepzibah ever any hardihood, exceptwhat came from the very warmest nook in her affections. all this time, however, we are loiteringfaintheartedly on the threshold of our story. in very truth, we have an invinciblereluctance to disclose what miss hepzibah
pyncheon was about to do. it has already been observed, that, in thebasement story of the gable fronting on the street, an unworthy ancestor, nearly acentury ago, had fitted up a shop. ever since the old gentleman retired fromtrade, and fell asleep under his coffin- lid, not only the shop-door, but the innerarrangements, had been suffered to remain unchanged; while the dust of ages gathered inch-deep over the shelves and counter, andpartly 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 lessthan the hereditary pride which had here been put to shame. such had been the state and condition ofthe little shop in old hepzibah's childhood, when she and her brother used toplay at hide-and-seek in its forsaken precincts. so it had remained, until within a few dayspast. but now, though the shop-window was stillclosely curtained from the public gaze, a remarkable change had taken place in itsinterior. the rich and heavy festoons of cobweb,which it had cost a long ancestral
succession of spiders their life's labor tospin and weave, had been carefully brushed away from the ceiling. the counter, shelves, and floor had allbeen scoured, and the latter was overstrewn with fresh blue sand. the brown scales, too, had evidentlyundergone 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 longerempty of merchantable goods. a curious eye, privileged to take anaccount 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 athird, 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 tallowcandles, ten to the pound. a small stock of brown sugar, some whitebeans and split peas, and a few other commodities of low price, and such as areconstantly in demand, made up the bulkier portion of the merchandise. it might have been taken for a ghostly orphantasmagoric reflection of the old shop- keeper pyncheon's shabbily providedshelves, save that some of the articles
were of a description and outward form which could hardly have been known in hisday. for instance, there was a glass pickle-jar,filled with fragments of gibraltar rock; not, indeed, splinters of the veritablestone foundation of the famous fortress, but bits of delectable candy, neatly doneup in white paper. jim crow, moreover, was seen executing hisworld-renowned dance, in gingerbread. a party of leaden dragoons were gallopingalong one of the shelves, in equipments and uniform of modern cut; and there were somesugar figures, with no strong resemblance to the humanity of any epoch, but less
unsatisfactorily representing our ownfashions than those of a hundred years ago. another phenomenon, still more strikinglymodern, was a package of lucifer matches, which, in old times, would have beenthought actually to borrow their instantaneous flame from the nether firesof tophet. in short, to bring the matter at once to apoint, it was incontrovertibly evident that somebody had taken the shop and fixtures ofthe long-retired and forgotten mr. pyncheon, and was about to renew the enterprise of that departed worthy, with adifferent set of customers. who could this bold adventurer be?
and, of all places in the world, why had hechosen 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 thedark countenance of the colonel's portrait, heaved a sigh,--indeed, her breast was avery cave of aolus that morning,--and stept across the room on tiptoe, as is thecustomary gait of elderly women. passing through an intervening passage, sheopened 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 directlyin 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 somebitter enemy, she suddenly projected herself into the shop. the haste, and, as it were, the galvanicimpulse of the movement, were really quite startling. nervously--in a sort of frenzy, we mightalmost say--she began to busy herself in arranging some children's playthings, andother 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 contrastedirreconcilably with the ludicrous pettiness of her employment. it seemed a queer anomaly, that so gauntand dismal a personage should take a toy in hand; a miracle, that the toy did notvanish in her grasp; a miserably absurd idea, that she should go on perplexing her stiff and sombre intellect with thequestion how to tempt little boys into her premises!yet such is undoubtedly her object.
now she places a gingerbread elephantagainst the window, but with so tremulous a touch that it tumbles upon the floor, withthe dismemberment of three legs and its trunk; it has ceased to be an elephant, andhas become a few bits of musty gingerbread. there, again, she has upset a tumbler ofmarbles, 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, andforgive us for taking a ludicrous view of her position! as her rigid and rusty frame goes down uponits hands and knees, in quest of the
absconding marbles, we positively feel somuch the more inclined to shed tears of sympathy, from the very fact that we mustneeds turn aside and laugh at her. for here,--and if we fail to impress itsuitably upon the reader, it is our own fault, not that of the theme, here is oneof the truest points of melancholy interest that occur in ordinary life. it was the final throe of what calleditself old gentility. a lady--who had fed herself from childhoodwith the shadowy food of aristocratic reminiscences, and whose religion it wasthat a lady's hand soils itself irremediably by doing aught for bread,--
this born lady, after sixty years ofnarrowing 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 instantof time when the patrician lady is to be transformed into the plebeian woman. in this republican country, amid thefluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point. the tragedy is enacted with as continual arepetition as that of a popular drama on a
holiday, and, nevertheless, is felt asdeeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary noble sinks below his order. more deeply; since, with us, rank is thegrosser substance of wealth and a splendid establishment, and has no spiritualexistence after the death of these, but dies hopelessly along with them. and, therefore, since we have beenunfortunate enough to introduce our heroine at so inauspicious a juncture, we wouldentreat for a mood of due solemnity in the spectators of her fate. let us behold, in poor hepzibah, theimmemorial, lady--two hundred years old, on
this side of the water, and thrice as manyon the other,--with her antique portraits, pedigrees, coats of arms, records and traditions, and her claim, as jointheiress, to that princely territory at the eastward, no longer a wilderness, but apopulous fertility,--born, too, in pyncheon street, under the pyncheon elm, and in the pyncheon house, where she has spent all herdays,--reduced. now, in that very house, to be thehucksteress of a cent-shop. this business of setting up a petty shop isalmost the only resource of women, in circumstances at all similar to those ofour unfortunate recluse.
with her near-sightedness, and thosetremulous fingers of hers, at once inflexible and delicate, she could not be aseamstress; although her sampler, of fifty years gone by, exhibited some of the most recondite specimens of ornamentalneedlework. a school for little children had been oftenin her thoughts; and, at one time, she had begun a review of her early studies in thenew england primer, with a view to prepare herself for the office of instructress. but the love of children had never beenquickened in hepzibah's heart, and was now torpid, if not extinct; she watched thelittle people of the neighborhood from her
chamber-window, and doubted whether she could tolerate a more intimate acquaintancewith them. besides, in our day, the very abc hasbecome a science greatly too abstruse to be any longer taught by pointing a pin fromletter to letter. a modern child could teach old hepzibahmore than old hepzibah could teach the child. so--with many a cold, deep heart-quake atthe idea of at last coming into sordid contact with the world, from which she hadso 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, anddusty 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, wereduly made, and the enterprise was now to be commenced. nor was she entitled to complain of anyremarkable singularity in her fate; for, in the town of her nativity, we might point toseveral little shops of a similar description, some of them in houses as
ancient as that of the seven gables; andone or two, it may be, where a decayed gentlewoman stands behind the counter, asgrim an image of family pride as miss hepzibah pyncheon herself. it was overpoweringly ridiculous,--we musthonestly confess it,--the deportment of the maiden lady while setting her shop in orderfor the public eye. she stole on tiptoe to the window, ascautiously as if she conceived some bloody- minded villain to be watching behind theelm-tree, with intent to take her life. stretching out her long, lank arm, she puta paper of pearl-buttons, a jew's-harp, or whatever the small article might be, in itsdestined place, and straightway vanished
back into the dusk, as if the world neednever hope for another glimpse of her. it might have been fancied, indeed, thatshe expected to minister to the wants of the community unseen, like a disembodieddivinity 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 ultimatelycome forward, and stand revealed in her proper individuality; but, like othersensitive persons, she could not bear to be observed in the gradual process, and chose rather to flash forth on the world'sastonished gaze at once.
the inevitable moment was not much longerto be delayed. the sunshine might now be seen stealingdown the front of the opposite house, from the windows of which came a reflectedgleam, struggling through the boughs of the elm-tree, and enlightening the interior ofthe shop more distinctly than heretofore. the town appeared to be waking up. a baker's cart had already rattled throughthe street, chasing away the latest vestige of night's sanctity with the jingle-jangleof its dissonant bells. a milkman was distributing the contents ofhis cans from door to door; and the harsh peal of a fisherman's conch shell was heardfar off, around the corner.
none of these tokens escaped hepzibah'snotice. the moment had arrived.to delay longer would be only to lengthen out her misery. nothing remained, except to take down thebar from the shop-door, leaving the entrance free--more than free--welcome, asif all were household friends--to every passer-by, whose eyes might be attracted bythe commodities at the window. this last act hepzibah now performed,letting the bar fall with what smote upon her excited nerves as a most astoundingclatter. then--as if the only barrier betwixtherself and the world had been thrown down,
and a flood of evil consequences would cometumbling through the gap--she fled into the inner parlor, threw herself into theancestral elbow-chair, and wept. our miserable old hepzibah! it is a heavy annoyance to a writer, whoendeavors to represent nature, its various attitudes and circumstances, in areasonably correct outline and true coloring, that so much of the mean and ludicrous should be hopelessly mixed upwith 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 ofretribution for the sin of long ago, when, as one of our most prominent figures, weare 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 thestrange horror of a turban on her head! her visage is not even ugly. it is redeemed from insignificance only bythe contraction of her eyebrows into a near-sighted scowl. and, finally, her great life-trial seems tobe, that, after sixty years of idleness,
she finds it convenient to earn comfortablebread by setting up a shop in a small way. nevertheless, if we look through all theheroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this same entanglement of something meanand trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or sorrow. life is made up of marble and mud. and, without all the deeper trust in acomprehensive sympathy above us, we might hence be led to suspect the insult of asneer, as well as an immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. what is called poetic insight is the giftof discerning, in this sphere of strangely
mingled elements, the beauty and themajesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid. chapter iiithe first customer miss hepzibah pyncheon sat in the oakenelbow-chair, with her hands over her face, giving way to that heavy down-sinking ofthe heart which most persons have experienced, when the image of hope itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on theeve of an enterprise at once doubtful and momentous. she was suddenly startled by the tinklingalarum--high, sharp, and irregular--of a
little bell. the maiden lady arose upon her feet, aspale as a ghost at cock-crow; for she was an enslaved spirit, and this the talismanto which she owed obedience. this little bell,--to speak in plainerterms,--being fastened over the shop-door, was so contrived as to vibrate by means ofa steel spring, and thus convey notice to the inner regions of the house when anycustomer should cross the threshold. its ugly and spiteful little din (heard nowfor the first time, perhaps, since hepzibah's periwigged predecessor hadretired from trade) at once set every nerve of her body in responsive and tumultuousvibration.
the crisis was upon her!her first customer was at the door! without giving herself time for a secondthought, 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 behindthe 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 inhepzibah's poor old heart; nor had she, at the moment, a single bitter thought againstthe 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 themorning light, he appeared to have brought some of its cheery influences into the shopalong with him. it was a slender young man, not more thanone or two and twenty years old, with rather a grave and thoughtful expressionfor 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 inhis character. a brown beard, not too silken in itstexture, fringed his chin, but as yet without completely hiding it; he wore ashort mustache, too, and his dark, high- featured countenance looked all the betterfor these natural ornaments. as for his dress, it was of the simplestkind; a summer sack of cheap and ordinary material, thin checkered pantaloons, and astraw hat, by no means of the finest braid. oak hall might have supplied his entireequipment. he was chiefly marked as a gentleman--ifsuch, indeed, he made any claim to be--by
the rather remarkable whiteness and nicetyof his clean linen. he met the scowl of old hepzibah withoutapparent alarm, as having heretofore encountered it and found it harmless. "so, my dear miss pyncheon," said thedaguerreotypist,--for it was that sole other occupant of the seven-gabledmansion,--"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 inany 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 perceiveto be genuine sympathy. so it proved with poor hepzibah; for, whenshe 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 tosob. "ah, mr. holgrave," cried she, as soon asshe 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 farbetter find me there than here! the world is too chill and hard,--and i amtoo old, and too feeble, and too hopeless!" "oh, believe me, miss hepzibah," said theyoung man quietly, "these feelings will not trouble you any longer, after you are oncefairly 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 worldwith ugly shapes, which you will soon find to be as unreal as the giants and ogres ofa child's story-book.
i find nothing so singular in life, as thateverything appears to lose its substance the instant one actually grapples with it. so it will be with what you think soterrible." "but i am a woman!" said hepzibahpiteously. "i was going to say, a lady,--but iconsider that as past." "well; no matter if it be past!" answeredthe artist, a strange gleam of half-hidden sarcasm flashing through the kindliness ofhis 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 graduallychilling in your veins as you sat aloof, within your circle of gentility, while therest of the world was fighting out its battle with one kind of necessity oranother. henceforth, you will at least have thesense of healthy and natural effort for a purpose, and of lending your strength be itgreat or small--to the united struggle of mankind.
this is success,--all the success thatanybody meets with!" "it is natural enough, mr. holgrave, thatyou should have ideas like these," rejoined hepzibah, drawing up her gaunt figure withslightly offended dignity. "you are a man, a young man, and broughtup, i suppose, as almost everybody is nowadays, with a view to seeking yourfortune. but i was born a lady, and have alwayslived one; no matter in what narrowness of means, always a lady." "but i was not born a gentleman; neitherhave i lived like one," said holgrave, slightly smiling; "so, my dear madam, youwill hardly expect me to sympathize with
sensibilities of this kind; though, unless i deceive myself, i have some imperfectcomprehension of them. these names of gentleman and lady had ameaning, in the past history of the world, and conferred privileges, desirable orotherwise, on those entitled to bear them. in the present--and still more in thefuture 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 doi 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 tofeel whether it is not better to be a true woman than a lady. do you really think, miss hepzibah, thatany lady of your family has ever done a more heroic thing, since this house wasbuilt, than you are performing in it to- day? never; and if the pyncheons had alwaysacted so nobly, i doubt whether an old wizard maule's anathema, of which you toldme once, would have had much weight with providence against them." "ah!--no, no!" said hepzibah, notdispleased at this allusion to the sombre
dignity of an inherited curse. "if old maule's ghost, or a descendant ofhis, could see me behind the counter to- day, he would call it the fulfillment ofhis 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 outhuman 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," repliedhepzibah, with a manner of antique stateliness to which a melancholy smilelent a kind of grace. she put the biscuits into his hand, butrejected the compensation. "a pyncheon must not, at all events underher 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 thefootsteps of early passengers, which now began to be frequent along the street. once or twice they seemed to linger; thesestrangers, or neighbors, as the case might be, were looking at the display of toys andpetty commodities in hepzibah's shop- window. she was doubly tortured; in part, with asense of overwhelming shame that strange and unloving eyes should have the privilegeof gazing, and partly because the idea occurred to her, with ridiculous importunity, that the window was notarranged so skilfully, nor nearly to so
much advantage, as it might have been. it seemed as if the whole fortune orfailure of her shop might depend on the display of a different set of articles, orsubstituting a fairer apple for one which appeared to be specked. so she made the change, and straightwayfancied that everything was spoiled by it; not recognizing that it was the nervousnessof the juncture, and her own native squeamishness as an old maid, that wroughtall the seeming mischief. anon, there was an encounter, just at thedoor-step, betwixt two laboring men, as their rough voices denoted them to be.
after some slight talk about their ownaffairs, one of them chanced to notice the shop-window, and directed the other'sattention to it. "see here!" cried he; "what do you think ofthis? trade seems to be looking up in pyncheonstreet!" "well, well, this is a sight, to be sure!"exclaimed the other. "in the old pyncheon house, and underneaththe 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 thecorner." "make it go!" cried dixey, with a mostcontemptuous 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 enoughto 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 handyat 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 isoverdone, like all other kinds of trade, handicraft, and bodily labor.i know it, to my cost! my wife kept a cent-shop three months, andlost five dollars on her outlay." "poor business!" responded dixey, in a toneas if he were shaking his head,--"poor business."
for some reason or other, not very easy toanalyze, there had hardly been so bitter a pang in all her previous misery about thematter as what thrilled hepzibah's heart on overhearing the above conversation. the testimony in regard to her scowl wasfrightfully important; it seemed to hold up her image wholly relieved from the falselight of her self-partialities, and so hideous that she dared not look at it. she was absurdly hurt, moreover, by theslight and idle effect that her setting up shop--an event of such breathless interestto herself--appeared to have upon the public, of which these two men were thenearest representatives.
a glance; a passing word or two; a coarselaugh; and she was doubtless forgotten before they turned the corner. they cared nothing for her dignity, andjust 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 clodinto a grave. the man's wife had already tried the sameexperiment, and failed! how could the born lady--the recluse ofhalf a lifetime, utterly unpractised in the world, at sixty years of age,--how couldshe ever dream of succeeding, when the hard, vulgar, keen, busy, hackneyed new
england woman had lost five dollars on herlittle outlay! success presented itself as animpossibility, and the hope of it as a wild hallucination. some malevolent spirit, doing his utmost todrive 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 therewere! groceries, toy-shops, drygoods stores, withtheir immense panes of plate-glass, their gorgeous fixtures, their vast and completeassortments of merchandise, in which
fortunes had been invested; and those noble mirrors at the farther end of eachestablishment, doubling all this wealth by a brightly burnished vista of unrealities! on one side of the street this splendidbazaar, with a multitude of perfumed and glossy salesmen, smirking, smiling, bowing,and measuring out the goods. on the other, the dusky old house of theseven gables, with the antiquated shop- window under its projecting story, andhepzibah herself, in a gown of rusty black silk, behind the counter, scowling at theworld as it went by! this mighty contrast thrust itself forwardas a fair expression of the odds against
which she was to begin her struggle for asubsistence. success? preposterous!she would never think of it again! the house might just as well be buried inan eternal fog while all other houses had the sunshine on them; for not a foot wouldever cross the threshold, nor a hand so much as try the door! but, at this instant, the shop-bell, rightover her head, tinkled as if it were bewitched. the old gentlewoman's heart seemed to beattached to the same steel spring, for it
went through a series of sharp jerks, inunison with the sound. the door was thrust open, although no humanform 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 onits creaking and rusty hinges, being forced quite open, a square and sturdy littleurchin became apparent, with cheeks as red
as an apple. he was clad rather shabbily (but, as itseemed, more owing to his mother's carelessness than his father's poverty), ina blue apron, very wide and short trousers, shoes somewhat out at the toes, and a chip hat, with the frizzles of his curly hairsticking 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 eldercustomer than himself would have been likely enough to do, not knowing what tomake of the tragic attitude and queer scowl wherewith she regarded him.
"well, child," said she, taking heart atsight 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 thathad attracted his notice, as he loitered along to school; "the one that has not abroken 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, givinghim a little push towards the door; for her old gentility was contumaciously squeamishat sight of the copper coin, and, besides,
it seemed such pitiful meanness to take the child's pocket-money in exchange for a bitof stale gingerbread. "no matter for the cent.you are welcome to jim crow." the child, staring with round eyes at thisinstance of liberality, wholly unprecedented in his large experience ofcent-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 thedoor, hepzibah was at the pains of closing
it after him, with a pettish ejaculation ortwo about the troublesomeness of young people, and particularly of small boys. she had just placed another representativeof the renowned jim crow at the window, when again the shop-bell tinkledclamorously, and again the door being thrust open, with its characteristic jerk and jar, disclosed the same sturdy littleurchin who, precisely two minutes ago, had made his exit. the crumbs and discoloration of thecannibal feast, as yet hardly consummated, were exceedingly visible about his mouth.
"what is it now, child?" asked the maidenlady rather impatiently; "did you come back to shut the door?" "no," answered the urchin, pointing to thefigure 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 onany other terms, so long as she had a gingerbread figure in her shop, she partly drew back her extended hand, "where is thecent?" 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 coininto hepzibah's hand, and departed, sending the second jim crow in quest of the formerone. the new shop-keeper dropped the first solidresult of her commercial enterprise into the till.it was done! the sordid stain of that copper coin couldnever be washed away from her palm. the little schoolboy, aided by the impishfigure of the negro dancer, had wrought an irreparable ruin. the structure of ancient aristocracy hadbeen demolished by him, even as if his
childish gripe had torn down the seven-gabled mansion. now let hepzibah turn the old pyncheonportraits with their faces to the wall, and take the map of her eastern territory tokindle the kitchen fire, and blow up the flame with the empty breath of herancestral 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 theseideas somewhat ostentatiously through her mind, it is altogether surprising what acalmness had come over her.
the anxiety and misgivings which hadtormented her, whether asleep or in melancholy day-dreams, ever since herproject 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 freshoutward atmosphere, after the long torpor and monotonous seclusion of her life.so wholesome is effort! so miraculous the strength that we do notknow of!
the healthiest glow that hepzibah had knownfor years had come now in the dreaded crisis, when, for the first time, she hadput forth her hand to help herself. the little circlet of the schoolboy'scopper coin--dim and lustreless though it was, with the small services which it hadbeen doing here and there about the world-- had proved a talisman, fragrant with good, and deserving to be set in gold and wornnext her heart. it was as potent, and perhaps endowed withthe same kind of efficacy, as a galvanic ring! hepzibah, at all events, was indebted toits subtile operation both in body and
spirit; so much the more, as it inspiredher with energy to get some breakfast, at which, still the better to keep up her courage, she allowed herself an extraspoonful in her infusion of black tea. her introductory day of shop-keeping didnot run on, however, without many and serious interruptions of this mood ofcheerful vigor. as a general rule, providence seldomvouchsafes to mortals any more than just that degree of encouragement which sufficesto keep them at a reasonably full exertion of their powers. in the case of our old gentlewoman, afterthe excitement of new effort had subsided,
the despondency of her whole lifethreatened, ever and anon, to return. it was like the heavy mass of clouds whichwe 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 togather again across the streak of celestial azure. customers came in, as the forenoonadvanced, but rather slowly; in some cases, too, it must be owned, with littlesatisfaction either to themselves or miss hepzibah; nor, on the whole, with an
aggregate of very rich emolument to thetill. a little girl, sent by her mother to matcha skein of cotton thread, of a peculiar hue, took one that the near-sighted oldlady 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-wrinkledwoman, not old but haggard, and already with streaks of gray among her hair, likesilver 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, andoffered the money, which the decayed gentlewoman silently rejected, and gave thepoor soul better measure than if she had taken it. shortly afterwards, a man in a blue cottonfrock, 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 entiresystem, like an inflammable gas. it was impressed on hepzibah's mind thatthis was the husband of the care-wrinkled
woman. he asked for a paper of tobacco; and as shehad neglected to provide herself with the article, her brutal customer dashed downhis newly-bought pipe and left the shop, muttering some unintelligible words, whichhad 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 theforenoon, inquired for ginger-beer, or root-beer, or any drink of a similarbrewage, and, obtaining nothing of the kind, went off in an exceedingly bad humor.
three of them left the door open, and theother two pulled it so spitefully in going out that the little bell played the verydeuce with hepzibah's nerves. a round, bustling, fire-ruddy housewife ofthe neighborhood burst breathless into the shop, fiercely demanding yeast; and whenthe poor gentlewoman, with her cold shyness of manner, gave her hot customer to understand that she did not keep thearticle, this very capable housewife took upon herself to administer a regularrebuke. "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 aboveinstance, her lady-like sensibilities were seriously infringed upon by the familiar,if not rude, tone with which people addressed her. they evidently considered themselves notmerely her equals, but her patrons and superiors. now, hepzibah had unconsciously flatteredherself with the idea that there would be a
gleam or halo, of some kind or other, abouther person, which would insure an obeisance to her sterling gentility, or, at least, atacit recognition of it. on the other hand, nothing tortured hermore intolerably than when this recognition was too prominently expressed. to one or two rather officious offers ofsympathy, 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 theshop, not by any real need of the article which she pretended to seek, but by awicked wish to stare at her.
the vulgar creature was determined to seefor herself what sort of a figure a mildewed piece of aristocracy, afterwasting 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 mechanicaland innocuous it might be at other times, hepzibah's contortion of brow served her ingood 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 youcould only see the mischief in her eye!"
on the whole, therefore, her new experienceled our decayed gentlewoman to very disagreeable conclusions as to the temperand manners of what she termed the lower classes, whom heretofore she had looked down upon with a gentle and pityingcomplaisance, as herself occupying a sphere of unquestionable superiority. but, unfortunately, she had likewise tostruggle against a bitter emotion of a directly opposite kind: a sentiment ofvirulence, we mean, towards the idle aristocracy to which it had so recentlybeen her pride to belong. when a lady, in a delicate and costlysummer 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 inthe air,--when such a vision happened to pass through this retired street, leavingit tenderly and delusively fragrant with her passage, as if a bouquet of tea-roses had been borne along,--then again, it is tobe feared, old hepzibah's scowl could no longer vindicate itself entirely on theplea of near-sightedness. "for what end," thought she, giving vent tothat feeling of hostility which is the only real abasement of the poor in presence ofthe rich,--"for what good end, in the
wisdom of providence, does that woman live? must the whole world toil, that the palmsof 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 historyof the first half-day into consideration, hepzibah began to fear that the shop wouldprove her ruin in a moral and religious point of view, without contributing very essentially towards even her temporalwelfare.