There was a message brought, one day, from the worshipful Gervayse
Pyncheon to young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, desiring his immediate
presence at the House of the Seven Gables.
"And what does your master want with me?" said the carpenter to Mr.
Pyncheon's black servant. "Does the house need any repair? Well it
may, by this time; and no blame to my father who built it, neither! I
was reading the old Colonel's tombstone, no longer ago than last
Sabbath; and, reckoning from that date, the house has stood
seven-and-thirty years. No wonder if there should be a job to do on
"Don't know what massa wants," answered Scipio. "The house is a berry
good house, and old Colonel Pyncheon think so too, I reckon;--else why
the old man haunt it so, and frighten a poor nigga, As he does?"
"Well, well, friend Scipio; let your master know that I'm coming," said
the carpenter with a laugh. "For a fair, workmanlike job, he'll find
me his man. And so the house is haunted, is it? It will take a tighter
workman than I am to keep the spirits out of the Seven Gables. Even if
the Colonel would be quiet," he added, muttering to himself, "my old
grandfather, the wizard, will be pretty sure to stick to the Pyncheons
as long as their walls hold together."
"What's that you mutter to yourself, Matthew Maule?" asked Scipio.
"And what for do you look so black at me?"
"No matter, darky," said the carpenter. "Do you think nobody is to
look black but yourself? Go tell your master I'm coming; and if you
happen to see Mistress Alice, his daughter, give Matthew Maule's humble
respects to her. She has brought a fair face from Italy,--fair, and
gentle, and proud,--has that same Alice Pyncheon!"
"He talk of Mistress Alice!" cried Scipio, as he returned from his
errand. "The low carpenter-man! He no business so much as to look at
her a great way off!"
This young Matthew Maule, the carpenter, it must be observed, was a
person little understood, and not very generally liked, in the town
where he resided; not that anything could be alleged against his
integrity, or his skill and diligence in the handicraft which he
exercised. The aversion (as it might justly be called) with which many
persons regarded him was partly the result of his own character and
deportment, and partly an inheritance.
He was the grandson of a former Matthew Maule, one of the early
settlers of the town, and who had been a famous and terrible wizard in
his day. This old reprobate was one of the sufferers when Cotton
Mather, and his brother ministers, and the learned judges, and other
wise men, and Sir William Phipps, the sagacious governor, made such
laudable efforts to weaken the great enemy of souls, by sending a
multitude of his adherents up the rocky pathway of Gallows Hill. Since
those days, no doubt, it had grown to be suspected that, in consequence
of an unfortunate overdoing of a work praiseworthy in itself, the
proceedings against the witches had proved far less acceptable to the
Beneficent Father than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were intended
to distress and utterly overwhelm. It is not the less certain,
however, that awe and terror brooded over the memories of those who
died for this horrible crime of witchcraft. Their graves, in the
crevices of the rocks, were supposed to be incapable of retaining the
occupants who had been so hastily thrust into them. Old Matthew Maule,
especially, was known to have as little hesitation or difficulty in
rising out of his grave as an ordinary man in getting out of bed, and
was as often seen at midnight as living people at noonday. This
pestilent wizard (in whom his just punishment seemed to have wrought no
manner of amendment) had an inveterate habit of haunting a certain
mansion, styled the House of the Seven Gables, against the owner of
which he pretended to hold an unsettled claim for ground-rent. The
ghost, it appears,--with the pertinacity which was one of his
distinguishing characteristics while alive,--insisted that he was the
rightful proprietor of the site upon which the house stood. His terms
were, that either the aforesaid ground-rent, from the day when the
cellar began to be dug, should be paid down, or the mansion itself
given up; else he, the ghostly creditor, would have his finger in all
the affairs of the Pyncheons, and make everything go wrong with them,
though it should be a thousand years after his death. It was a wild
story, perhaps, but seemed not altogether so incredible to those who
could remember what an inflexibly obstinate old fellow this wizard
Maule had been.