"Then, Mistress Alice," said Matthew Maule, handing a
chair,--gracefully enough, for a craftsman, "will it please you only to
sit down, and do me the favor (though altogether beyond a poor
carpenter's deserts) to fix your eyes on mine!"
Alice complied, She was very proud. Setting aside all advantages of
rank, this fair girl deemed herself conscious of a power--combined of
beauty, high, unsullied purity, and the preservative force of
womanhood--that could make her sphere impenetrable, unless betrayed by
treachery within. She instinctively knew, it may be, that some
sinister or evil potency was now striving to pass her barriers; nor
would she decline the contest. So Alice put woman's might against
man's might; a match not often equal on the part of woman.
Her father meanwhile had turned away, and seemed absorbed in the
contemplation of a landscape by Claude, where a shadowy and
sun-streaked vista penetrated so remotely into an ancient wood, that it
would have been no wonder if his fancy had lost itself in the picture's
bewildering depths. But, in truth, the picture was no more to him at
that moment than the blank wall against which it hung. His mind was
haunted with the many and strange tales which he had heard, attributing
mysterious if not supernatural endowments to these Maules, as well the
grandson here present as his two immediate ancestors. Mr. Pyncheon's
long residence abroad, and intercourse with men of wit and
fashion,--courtiers, worldings, and free-thinkers,--had done much
towards obliterating the grim Puritan superstitions, which no man of
New England birth at that early period could entirely escape. But, on
the other hand, had not a whole community believed Maule's grandfather
to be a wizard? Had not the crime been proved? Had not the wizard died
for it? Had he not bequeathed a legacy of hatred against the Pyncheons
to this only grandson, who, as it appeared, was now about to exercise a
subtle influence over the daughter of his enemy's house? Might not
this influence be the same that was called witchcraft?
Turning half around, he caught a glimpse of Maule's figure in the
looking-glass. At some paces from Alice, with his arms uplifted in the
air, the carpenter made a gesture as if directing downward a slow,
ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden.
"Stay, Maule!" exclaimed Mr. Pyncheon, stepping forward. "I forbid
your proceeding further!"
"Pray, my dear father, do not interrupt the young man," said Alice,
without changing her position. "His efforts, I assure you, will prove
Again Mr. Pyncheon turned his eyes towards the Claude. It was then his
daughter's will, in opposition to his own, that the experiment should
be fully tried. Henceforth, therefore, he did but consent, not urge
it. And was it not for her sake far more than for his own that he
desired its success? That lost parchment once restored, the beautiful
Alice Pyncheon, with the rich dowry which he could then bestow, might
wed an English duke or a German reigning-prince, instead of some New
England clergyman or lawyer! At the thought, the ambitious father
almost consented, in his heart, that, if the devil's power were needed
to the accomplishment of this great object, Maule might evoke him.
Alice's own purity would be her safeguard.