A little boy--the Colonel's grandchild, and the only human being that

ever dared to be familiar with him--now made his way among the guests,

and ran towards the seated figure; then pausing halfway, he began to

shriek with terror. The company, tremulous as the leaves of a tree,

when all are shaking together, drew nearer, and perceived that there

was an unnatural distortion in the fixedness of Colonel Pyncheon's

stare; that there was blood on his ruff, and that his hoary beard was

saturated with it. It was too late to give assistance. The

iron-hearted Puritan, the relentless persecutor, the grasping and

strong-willed man was dead! Dead, in his new house! There is a

Advertisement..

tradition, only worth alluding to as lending a tinge of superstitious

awe to a scene perhaps gloomy enough without it, 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 only guest who is certain, at one

time or another, to find his way into every human dwelling,--thus early

had Death stepped across the threshold of the House of the Seven Gables!

Colonel Pyncheon's sudden and mysterious end made a vast deal of noise

in its day. There were many rumors, some of which have vaguely 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 beard was

dishevelled, as if it had been fiercely clutched and pulled. It was

averred, likewise, that the lattice window, near the Colonel's chair,

was open; and that, only a few minutes before the fatal 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 on stories of

this kind, which are sure to spring up around such an event as that now

related, and which, as in the present case, sometimes prolong

themselves for ages afterwards, like the toadstools that indicate where

the fallen and buried trunk of a tree has long since mouldered into the

earth. For our own part, we allow them just as little 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 a great consultation and dispute of doctors over the dead body.

One,--John Swinnerton by name,--who appears to have been a man of

eminence, upheld it, if we have rightly understood his terms of art, to

be a case of apoplexy. His professional brethren, each for himself,

adopted various hypotheses, more or less plausible, but all dressed out

in a perplexing mystery of phrase, which, if it do not show a

bewilderment of mind in these erudite physicians, certainly causes it

in the unlearned peruser of their opinions. The coroner's jury sat

upon the corpse, and, like sensible men, returned an unassailable

verdict of "Sudden Death!"