The Pyncheons, in brief, lived along, for the better part of two

centuries, with perhaps less of outward vicissitude than has attended

most other New England families during the same period of time.

Possessing very distinctive traits of their own, they nevertheless took

the general characteristics of the little community in which they

dwelt; a town noted for its frugal, discreet, well-ordered, and

home-loving inhabitants, as well as for the somewhat confined scope of

its sympathies; but in which, be it said, there are odder individuals,

and, now and then, stranger occurrences, than one meets with almost

anywhere else. During the Revolution, the Pyncheon of that epoch,

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adopting the royal side, became a refugee; but repented, and made his

reappearance, just at the point of time to preserve the House of the

Seven Gables from confiscation. For the last seventy years the most

noted event in the Pyncheon annals had been likewise the heaviest

calamity that ever befell the race; no less than the violent death--for

so it was adjudged--of one member of the family by the criminal act of

another. Certain circumstances attending this fatal occurrence had

brought the deed irresistibly home to a nephew of the deceased

Pyncheon. The young man was tried and convicted of the crime; but

either the circumstantial nature of the evidence, and possibly some

lurking doubts in the breast of the executive, or, lastly--an argument

of greater weight in a republic than it could have been under a

monarchy,--the high respectability and political influence of the

criminal's connections, had availed to mitigate his doom from death to

perpetual imprisonment. This sad affair had chanced about thirty years

before the action of our story commences. Latterly, there were rumors

(which few believed, and only one or two felt greatly interested in)

that this long-buried man was likely, for some reason or other, to be

summoned forth from his living tomb.

It is essential to say a few words respecting the victim of this now

almost forgotten murder. He was an old bachelor, and possessed of

great wealth, in addition to the house and real estate which

constituted what remained of the ancient Pyncheon property. Being of

an eccentric and melancholy turn of mind, and greatly given to

rummaging old records and hearkening to old traditions, he had brought

himself, it is averred, to the conclusion that Matthew Maule, the

wizard, had been foully wronged out of his homestead, if not out of his

life. Such being the case, and he, the old bachelor, in possession of

the ill-gotten spoil,--with the black stain of blood sunken deep into

it, and still to be scented by conscientious nostrils,--the question

occurred, whether it were not imperative upon him, even at this late

hour, to make restitution to Maule's posterity. To a man living so

much in the past, and so little in the present, as the secluded and

antiquarian old bachelor, a century and a half seemed not so vast a

period as to obviate the propriety of substituting right for wrong. It

was the belief of those who knew him best, that he would positively

have taken the very singular step of giving up the House of the Seven

Gables to the representative of Matthew Maule, but for the unspeakable

tumult which a suspicion of the old gentleman's project awakened among

his Pyncheon relatives. Their exertions had the effect of suspending

his purpose; but it was feared that he would perform, after death, by

the operation of his last will, what he had so hardly been prevented

from doing in his proper lifetime. But there is no one thing which men

so rarely do, whatever the provocation or inducement, as to bequeath

patrimonial property away from their own blood. They may love other

individuals far better than their relatives,--they may even cherish

dislike, or positive hatred, to the latter; but yet, in view of death,

the strong prejudice of propinquity revives, and impels the testator to

send down his estate in the line marked out by custom so immemorial

that it looks like nature. In all the Pyncheons, this feeling had the

energy of disease. It was too powerful for the conscientious scruples

of the old bachelor; at whose death, accordingly, the mansion-house,

together with most of his other riches, passed into the possession of

his next legal representative.