Before the conclusion of the Italian's performance, a couple of men

happened to be passing, On their way to dinner. "I say, you young

French fellow!" called out one of them,--"come away from that doorstep,

and go somewhere else with your nonsense! The Pyncheon family live

there; and they are in great trouble, just about this time. They don't

feel musical to-day. It is reported all over town that Judge Pyncheon,

who owns the house, has been murdered; and the city marshal is going to

look into the matter. So be off with you, at once!"

As the Italian shouldered his hurdy-gurdy, he saw on the doorstep a

card, which had been covered, all the morning, by the newspaper that

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the carrier had flung upon it, but was now shuffled into sight. He

picked it up, and perceiving something written in pencil, gave it to

the man to read. In fact, it was an engraved card of Judge Pyncheon's

with certain pencilled memoranda on the back, referring to various

businesses which it had been his purpose to transact during the

preceding day. It formed a prospective epitome of the day's history;

only that affairs had not turned out altogether in accordance with the

programme. The card must have been lost from the Judge's vest-pocket

in his preliminary attempt to gain access by the main entrance of the

house. Though well soaked with rain, it was still partially legible.

"Look here; Dixey!" cried the man. "This has something to do with

Judge Pyncheon. See!--here's his name printed on it; and here, I

suppose, is some of his handwriting."

"Let's go to the city marshal with it!" said Dixey. "It may give him

just the clew he wants. After all," whispered he in his companion's

ear, "it would be no wonder if the Judge has gone into that door and

never come out again! A certain cousin of his may have been at his old

tricks. And Old Maid Pyncheon having got herself in debt by the

cent-shop,--and the Judge's pocket-book being well filled,--and bad

blood amongst them already! Put all these things together and see what

they make!"

"Hush, hush!" whispered the other. "It seems like a sin to be the

first to speak of such a thing. But I think, with you, that we had

better go to the city marshal."

"Yes, yes!" said Dixey. "Well!--I always said there was something

devilish in that woman's scowl!"

The men wheeled about, accordingly, and retraced their steps up the

street. The Italian, also, made the best of his way off, with a

parting glance up at the arched window. As for the children, they took

to their heels, with one accord, and scampered as if some giant or ogre

were in pursuit, until, at a good distance from the house, they stopped

as suddenly and simultaneously as they had set out. Their susceptible

nerves took an indefinite alarm from what they had overheard. Looking

back at the grotesque peaks and shadowy angles of the old mansion, they

fancied a gloom diffused about it which no brightness of the sunshine

could dispel. An imaginary Hepzibah scowled and shook her finger at

them, from several windows at the same moment. An imaginary

Clifford--for (and it would have deeply wounded him to know it) he had

always been a horror to these small people--stood behind the unreal

Hepzibah, making awful gestures, in a faded dressing-gown. Children

are even more apt, if possible, than grown people, to catch the

contagion of a panic terror. For the rest of the day, the more timid

went whole streets about, for the sake of avoiding the Seven Gables;

while the bolder signalized their hardihood by challenging their

comrades to race past the mansion at full speed.