"If you can find anything for your purpose, Mr. Pyncheon," said the
carpenter, "in a man's natural resentment for the wrongs done to his
blood, you are welcome to it."
"I take you at your word, Goodman Maule," said the owner of the Seven
Gables, with a smile, "and will proceed to suggest a mode in which your
hereditary resentments--justifiable or otherwise--may have had a
bearing on my affairs. You have heard, I suppose, that the Pyncheon
family, ever since my grandfather's days, have been prosecuting a still
unsettled claim to a very large extent of territory at the Eastward?"
"Often," replied Maule,--and it is said that a smile came over his
face,--"very often,--from my father!"
"This claim," continued Mr. Pyncheon, after pausing a moment, as if to
consider what the carpenter's smile might mean, "appeared to be on the
very verge of a settlement and full allowance, at the period of my
grandfather's decease. It was well known, to those in his confidence,
that he anticipated neither difficulty nor delay. Now, Colonel
Pyncheon, I need hardly say, was a practical man, well acquainted with
public and private business, and not at all the person to cherish
ill-founded hopes, or to attempt the following out of an impracticable
scheme. It is obvious to conclude, therefore, that he had grounds, not
apparent to his heirs, for his confident anticipation of success in the
matter of this Eastern claim. In a word, I believe,--and my legal
advisers coincide in the belief, which, moreover, is authorized, to a
certain extent, by the family traditions,--that my grandfather was in
possession of some deed, or other document, essential to this claim,
but which has since disappeared."
"Very likely," said Matthew Maule,--and again, it is said, there was a
dark smile on his face,--"but what can a poor carpenter have to do with
the grand affairs of the Pyncheon family?"
"Perhaps nothing," returned Mr. Pyncheon, "possibly much!"
Here ensued a great many words between Matthew Maule and the proprietor
of the Seven Gables, on the subject which the latter had thus broached.
It seems (although Mr. Pyncheon had some hesitation in referring to
stories so exceedingly absurd in their aspect) that the popular belief
pointed to some mysterious connection and dependence, existing between
the family of the Maules and these vast unrealized possessions of the
Pyncheons. It was an ordinary saying that the old wizard, hanged
though he was, had obtained the best end of the bargain in his contest
with Colonel Pyncheon; inasmuch as he had got possession of the great
Eastern claim, in exchange for an acre or two of garden-ground. A very
aged woman, recently dead, had often used the metaphorical expression,
in her fireside talk, that miles and miles of the Pyncheon lands had
been shovelled into Maule's grave; which, by the bye, was but a very
shallow nook, between two rocks, near the summit of Gallows Hill.
Again, when the lawyers were making inquiry for the missing document,
it was a by-word that it would never be found, unless in the wizard's
skeleton hand. So much weight had the shrewd lawyers assigned to these
fables, that (but Mr. Pyncheon did not see fit to inform the carpenter
of the fact) they had secretly caused the wizard's grave to be
searched. Nothing was discovered, however, except that, unaccountably,
the right hand of the skeleton was gone.