At this juncture, Maule turned to Mr. Pyncheon.
"It will never be allowed," said he. "The custody of this secret, that
would so enrich his heirs, makes part of your grandfather's
retribution. He must choke with it until it is no longer of any value.
And keep you the House of the Seven Gables! It is too dear bought an
inheritance, and too heavy with the curse upon it, to be shifted yet
awhile from the Colonel's posterity."
Mr. Pyncheon tried to speak, but--what with fear and passion--could
make only a gurgling murmur in his throat. The carpenter smiled.
"Aha, worshipful sir!--so you have old Maule's blood to drink!" said he
"Fiend in man's shape! why dost thou keep dominion over my child?"
cried Mr. Pyncheon, when his choked utterance could make way. "Give me
back my daughter. Then go thy ways; and may we never meet again!"
"Your daughter!" said Matthew Maule. "Why, she is fairly mine!
Nevertheless, not to be too hard with fair Mistress Alice, I will leave
her in your keeping; but I do not warrant you that she shall never have
occasion to remember Maule, the carpenter."
He waved his hands with an upward motion; and, after a few repetitions
of similar gestures, the beautiful Alice Pyncheon awoke from her
strange trance. She awoke without the slightest recollection of her
visionary experience; but as one losing herself in a momentary reverie,
and returning to the consciousness of actual life, in almost as brief
an interval as the down-sinking flame of the hearth should quiver again
up the chimney. On recognizing Matthew Maule, she assumed an air of
somewhat cold but gentle dignity, the rather, as there was a certain
peculiar smile on the carpenter's visage that stirred the native pride
of the fair Alice. So ended, for that time, the quest for the lost
title-deed of the Pyncheon territory at the Eastward; nor, though often
subsequently renewed, has it ever yet befallen a Pyncheon to set his
eye upon that parchment.
But, alas for the beautiful, the gentle, yet too haughty Alice! A
power that she little dreamed of had laid its grasp upon her maiden
soul. A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do its grotesque
and fantastic bidding. Her father as it proved, had martyred his poor
child to an inordinate desire for measuring his land by miles instead
of acres. And, therefore, while Alice Pyncheon lived, she was Maule's
slave, in a bondage more humiliating, a thousand-fold, than that which
binds its chain around the body. Seated by his humble fireside, Maule
had but to wave his hand; and, wherever the proud lady chanced to
be,--whether in her chamber, or entertaining her father's stately
guests, or worshipping at church,--whatever her place or occupation,
her spirit passed from beneath her own control, and bowed itself to
Maule. "Alice, laugh!"--the carpenter, beside his hearth, would say;
or perhaps intensely will it, without a spoken word. And, even were it
prayer-time, or at a funeral, Alice must break into wild laughter.
"Alice, be sad!"--and, at the instant, down would come her tears,
quenching all the mirth of those around her like sudden rain upon a
bonfire. "Alice, dance."--and dance she would, not in such court-like
measures as she had learned abroad, but some high-paced jig, or
hop-skip rigadoon, befitting the brisk lasses at a rustic merry-making.
It seemed to be Maule's impulse, not to ruin Alice, nor to visit her
with any black or gigantic mischief, which would have crowned her
sorrows with the grace of tragedy, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn
upon her. Thus all the dignity of life was lost. She felt herself too
much abased, and longed to change natures with some worm!