So long as any of the race were to be found, they had been marked out

from other men--not strikingly, nor as with a sharp line, but with an

effect that was felt rather than spoken of--by an hereditary character

of reserve. Their companions, or those who endeavored to become such,

grew conscious of a circle round about the Maules, within the sanctity

or the spell of which, in spite of an exterior of sufficient frankness

and good-fellowship, it was impossible for any man to step. It was

this indefinable peculiarity, perhaps, that, by insulating them from

human aid, kept them always so unfortunate in life. It certainly

operated to prolong in their case, and to confirm to them as their only

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inheritance, those feelings of repugnance and superstitious terror with

which the people of the town, even after awakening from their frenzy,

continued to regard the memory of the reputed witches. The mantle, or

rather the ragged cloak, of old Matthew Maule had fallen upon his

children. They were half believed to inherit mysterious attributes;

the family eye was said to possess strange power. Among other

good-for-nothing properties and privileges, one was especially assigned

them,--that of exercising an influence over people's dreams. The

Pyncheons, if all stories were true, haughtily as they bore themselves

in the noonday streets of their native town, were no better than

bond-servants to these plebeian Maules, on entering the topsy-turvy

commonwealth of sleep. Modern psychology, it may be, will endeavor to

reduce these alleged necromancies within a system, instead of rejecting

them as altogether fabulous.

A descriptive paragraph or two, treating of the seven-gabled mansion in

its more recent aspect, will bring this preliminary chapter to a close.

The street in which it upreared its venerable peaks has long ceased to

be a fashionable quarter of the town; so that, though the old edifice

was surrounded by habitations of modern date, they were mostly small,

built entirely of wood, and typical of the most plodding uniformity of

common life. Doubtless, however, the whole story of human existence

may be latent in each of them, but with no picturesqueness, externally,

that can attract the imagination or sympathy to seek it there. But as

for the old structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its

boards, shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered

chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and meanest

part of its reality. So much of mankind's varied experience had passed

there,--so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed,--that

the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart. It was

itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of

rich and sombre reminiscences.