The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not the

first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same spot of

ground. Pyncheon Street formerly bore the humbler appellation of

Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil,

before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path. A natural spring of soft

and pleasant water--a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula where the

Puritan settlement was made--had early induced Matthew Maule to build a

hut, shaggy with thatch, at this point, although somewhat too remote

from what was then the centre of the village. In the growth of the

town, however, after some thirty or forty years, the site covered by

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this rude hovel had become exceedingly desirable in the eyes of a

prominent and powerful personage, who asserted plausible claims to the

proprietorship of this and a large adjacent tract of land, on the

strength of a grant from the legislature. Colonel Pyncheon, the

claimant, as we gather from whatever traits of him are preserved, was

characterized by an iron energy of purpose. Matthew Maule, on the

other hand, though an obscure man, was stubborn in the defence of what

he considered his right; and, for several years, he succeeded in

protecting the acre or two of earth which, with his own toil, he had

hewn out of the primeval forest, to be his garden ground and homestead.

No written record of this dispute is known to be in existence. Our

acquaintance with the whole subject is derived chiefly from tradition.

It would be bold, therefore, and possibly unjust, to venture a decisive

opinion as to its merits; although it appears to have been at least a

matter of doubt, whether Colonel Pyncheon's claim were not unduly

stretched, in order to make it cover the small metes and bounds of

Matthew Maule. What greatly strengthens such a suspicion is the fact

that this controversy between two ill-matched antagonists--at a period,

moreover, laud it as we may, when personal influence had far more

weight than now--remained for years undecided, and came to a close only

with the death of the party occupying the disputed soil. The mode of

his death, too, affects the mind differently, in our day, from what it

did a century and a half ago. It was a death that blasted with strange

horror the humble name of the dweller in the cottage, and made it seem

almost a religious act to drive the plough over the little area of his

habitation, and obliterate his place and memory from among men.

Old Matthew Maule, in a word, was executed for the crime of witchcraft.

He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion, which should teach

us, among its other morals, that the influential classes, and those who

take upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to

all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob.

Clergymen, judges, statesmen,--the wisest, calmest, holiest persons of

their day stood in the inner circle round about the gallows, loudest to

applaud the work of blood, latest to confess themselves miserably

deceived. If any one part of their proceedings can be said to deserve

less blame than another, it was the singular indiscrimination with

which they persecuted, not merely the poor and aged, as in former

judicial massacres, but people of all ranks; their own equals,

brethren, and wives. Amid the disorder of such various ruin, it is not

strange that a man of inconsiderable note, like Maule, should have

trodden the martyr's path to the hill of execution almost unremarked in

the throng of his fellow sufferers. But, in after days, when the

frenzy of that hideous epoch had subsided, it was remembered how loudly

Colonel Pyncheon had joined in the general cry, to purge the land from

witchcraft; nor did it fail to be whispered, that there was an

invidious acrimony in the zeal with which he had sought the

condemnation of Matthew Maule. It was well known that the victim had

recognized the bitterness of personal enmity in his persecutor's

conduct towards him, and that he declared himself hunted to death for

his spoil. At the moment of execution--with the halter about his neck,

and while Colonel Pyncheon sat on horseback, grimly gazing at the scene

Maule had addressed him from the scaffold, and uttered a prophecy, of

which history, as well as fireside tradition, has preserved the very

words. "God," said the dying man, pointing his finger, with a ghastly

look, at the undismayed countenance of his enemy,--"God will give him

blood to drink!" After the reputed wizard's death, his humble

homestead had fallen an easy spoil into Colonel Pyncheon's grasp. When

it was understood, however, that the Colonel intended to erect a family

mansion-spacious, ponderously framed of oaken timber, and calculated to

endure for many generations of his posterity over the spot first

covered by the log-built hut of Matthew Maule, there was much shaking

of the head among the village gossips. Without absolutely expressing a

doubt whether the stalwart Puritan had acted as a man of conscience and

integrity throughout the proceedings which have been sketched, they,

nevertheless, hinted that he was about to build his house over an

unquiet grave. His home would include the home of the dead and buried

wizard, and would thus afford the ghost of the latter a kind of

privilege to haunt its new apartments, and the chambers into which

future bridegrooms were to lead their brides, and where children of the

Pyncheon blood were to be born. The terror and ugliness of Maule's

crime, and the wretchedness of his punishment, would darken the freshly

plastered walls, and infect them early with the scent of an old and

melancholy house. Why, then,--while so much of the soil around him was

bestrewn with the virgin forest leaves,--why should Colonel Pyncheon

prefer a site that had already been accurst?