This was a nephew, the cousin of the miserable young man who had been

convicted of the uncle's murder. The new heir, up to the period of his

accession, was reckoned rather a dissipated youth, but had at once

reformed, and made himself an exceedingly respectable member of

society. In fact, he showed more of the Pyncheon quality, and had won

higher eminence in the world, than any of his race since the time of

the original Puritan. Applying himself in earlier manhood to the study

of the law, and having a natural tendency towards office, he had

attained, many years ago, to a judicial situation in some inferior

court, which gave him for life the very desirable and imposing title of

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judge. Later, he had engaged in politics, and served a part of two

terms in Congress, besides making a considerable figure in both

branches of the State legislature. Judge Pyncheon was unquestionably

an honor to his race. He had built himself a country-seat within a few

miles of his native town, and there spent such portions of his time as

could be spared from public service in the display of every grace and

virtue--as a newspaper phrased it, on the eve of an election--befitting

the Christian, the good citizen, the horticulturist, and the gentleman.

There were few of the Pyncheons left to sun themselves in the glow of

the Judge's prosperity. In respect to natural increase, the breed had

not thriven; it appeared rather to be dying out. The only members of

the family known to be extant were, first, the Judge himself, and a

single surviving son, who was now travelling in Europe; next, the

thirty years' prisoner, already alluded to, and a sister of the latter,

who occupied, in an extremely retired manner, the House of the Seven

Gables, in which she had a life-estate by the will of the old bachelor.

She was understood to be wretchedly poor, and seemed to make it her

choice to remain so; inasmuch as her affluent cousin, the Judge, had

repeatedly offered her all the comforts of life, either in the old

mansion or his own modern residence. The last and youngest Pyncheon

was a little country-girl of seventeen, the daughter of another of the

Judge's cousins, who had married a young woman of no family or

property, and died early and in poor circumstances. His widow had

recently taken another husband.

As for Matthew Maule's posterity, it was supposed now to be extinct.

For a very long period after the witchcraft delusion, however, the

Maules had continued to inhabit the town where their progenitor had

suffered so unjust a death. To all appearance, they were a quiet,

honest, well-meaning race of people, cherishing no malice against

individuals or the public for the wrong which had been done them; or

if, at their own fireside, they transmitted from father to child any

hostile recollection of the wizard's fate and their lost patrimony, it

was never acted upon, nor openly expressed. Nor would it have been

singular had they ceased to remember that the House of the Seven Gables

was resting its heavy framework on a foundation that was rightfully

their own. There is something so massive, stable, and almost

irresistibly imposing in the exterior presentment of established rank

and great possessions, that their very existence seems to give them a

right to exist; at least, so excellent a counterfeit of right, that few

poor and humble men have moral force enough to question it, even in

their secret minds. Such is the case now, after so many ancient

prejudices have been overthrown; and it was far more so in

ante-Revolutionary days, when the aristocracy could venture to be

proud, and the low were content to be abased. Thus the Maules, at all

events, kept their resentments within their own breasts. They were

generally poverty-stricken; always plebeian and obscure; working with

unsuccessful diligence at handicrafts; laboring on the wharves, or

following the sea, as sailors before the mast; living here and there

about the town, in hired tenements, and coming finally to the almshouse

as the natural home of their old age. At last, after creeping, as it

were, for such a length of time along the utmost verge of the opaque

puddle of obscurity, they had taken that downright plunge which, sooner

or later, is the destiny of all families, whether princely or plebeian.

For thirty years past, neither town-record, nor gravestone, nor the

directory, nor the knowledge or memory of man, bore any trace of

Matthew Maule's descendants. His blood might possibly exist elsewhere;

here, where its lowly current could be traced so far back, it had

ceased to keep an onward course.