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The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne


THE STORY, continued

XV. THE SCOWL AND THE SMILE

Phoebe's absence coincides with an easterly storm, and for days the house is filled with gloom.

Without the sun or Phoebe, Clifford is cut off from all enjoyment. Looking like the east wind herself, Hepzibah seems only another phase of the weather in her black dress and cloud of a turban. Business falls off in the shop, for none of the customers can face dealing with Hepzibah. Of course, she is never ill- tempered with Clifford, although her efforts to please him invariably fail. Sometimes she just sits, darkening the room with her presence. At other times she tries to kindle a fire, but the wind drives the smoke back into the room. Clifford sits wrapped in his cloak for the first four days of the storm. On the fifth, he announces feebly that he does not plan to get out of bed, but that afternoon Hepzibah hears music coming from Alice's harpsichord and assumes that he has gotten up to amuse himself. Legend has it that this music always foretells a death in the Pyncheon family, but at the strumming of the chords Hepzibah decides that a human is definitely playing the harpsichord.

No sooner does the sound of the harpsichord stop when the shop bell rings and a shoe is heard scraping the threshold. At the sound of a deep cough or choke, Hepzibah rushes forward in alarm and anger. It is as she suspected. Judge Pyncheon smiles and asks how the weather is affecting her and Clifford, saying he has come once more to ask if there is anything he can do for them. Hepzibah rejects his offer, saying that she devotes herself to Clifford. The Judge argues that Clifford is too secluded, that he needs family and old friends. He asks if he may see Clifford. Hepzibah refuses, claiming that Clifford is ill. The Judge starts in alarm. Fearing that Clifford may be near death, he insists that he be allowed to see him. When Hepzibah indicates that Clifford has not death but only Judge Pyncheon to fear, the Judge gushes in defense of himself. Hepzibah is infuriated and her anger gives her courage. She tells the Judge that she knows how he hates Clifford, that she believes he is plotting against her brother even now, and that he will be sorry if he ever pretends to care for Clifford again.

Except for Holgrave, Hepzibah is alone in her impression of Judge Pyncheon. Everyone else considers him a model citizen. Even the Judge believes he is an honorable man. Like those to whom appearances are everything, the Judge has come to believe in his own facade.

As an image for man's character, Hawthorne describes a grand palace with a closet in its cellar. The door is bolted and the key has been thrown away. In this closet is a decaying corpse, which fills the palace with its odor. The inhabitant no longer smells it, though, for he has been breathing the same air for so long. The inhabitant who no longer smells the death scent is a man whose soul is paralyzed.

NOTE: In this metaphor, the character of Jaffrey is closely identified with the character of his ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon. Both men built their fortunes and their homes over the graves of others- the Colonel literally over the grave of Wizard Maule, the Judge figuratively over the ruin of his cousin Clifford. Both men illustrate the theme that the sins of the past are visited upon the present.

At Hepzibah's outburst, the Judge grows as stern as his Puritan ancestor to whom he bears an amazing resemblance. The two argue fiercely about whether or not the Judge should be allowed to see Clifford. All the while the Judge claims to be Clifford's only friend and the man who set him free. He says that thirty years ago, when their uncle's estate was tallied, only a small portion of what he was thought to own had come to light. As the entire estate (except for the right to occupy the house) was left to Judge Jaffrey, he is here now to ask Clifford what may have happened to the rest. Hepzibah thinks the Judge is crazy and says so. But the Judge replies that before their uncle's death Clifford had boasted of knowing the secret of untold wealth. The Judge, who has thought about it all these years, is certain that Clifford knows where the remainder of their uncle's estate is hidden, but that Clifford refuses to tell him out of a sense of revenge.

Judge Pyncheon tells Hepzibah that he has had people watching the house and reporting on Clifford's behavior. He has the power to send Clifford back to prison if he should decide that Clifford is unfit to remain at large, and he will decide so if Clifford does not cooperate in revealing the hidden estate.

Mournfully, Hepzibah tells her cousin that it is he, not Clifford, who has the diseased mind. She accuses him of repeating the mistake of the Colonel and of passing on the curse. Jaffrey is not moved to change his position, however. He urges that Clifford decide immediately whether to share the secret or to suffer the consequences.

Begging him to be merciful with her brother, Hepzibah admits Jaffrey to the house, where he flings himself into the elbow chair in the parlor, like so many Pyncheons before him have done. Perhaps none of them had ever been more tired than Jaffrey is now. Taking his watch from his pocket and holding it in his hand, he begins counting the minutes to Clifford's arrival.

XVI. CLIFFORD'S CHAMBER

On her way to get Clifford, Hepzibah is rattled by the scene she has just endured with Jaffrey. Stories of good and evil Pyncheons flood her mind; taken together, they repeat the same disaster, generation after generation. She thinks that she, the Judge, and Clifford are about to add another chapter to the story. For a moment, while it is still in the present, their story seems more tragic to her than the preceding ones.

Hepzibah is unable to shake the feeling that something- the likes of which has never happened before- is about to occur. She cannot bear to think of hurting Clifford, of bringing him face to face with his evil destiny, the Judge. It would be like "flinging a porcelain vase, already with a crack in it, against a granite column." Since Jaffrey wants something that Clifford almost certainly does not have, Clifford is doomed to fall and perish. For a moment she wonders if Clifford does know something of the uncle's vanished estate. She thinks that if she had it, she would gladly trade it all for Clifford's freedom. But she believes he does not know.

NOTE: The metaphor of a porcelain vase is one of the most memorable in the book. The image of a porcelain vase suggests extreme frailty. The fact that the vase has a crack in it suggests a fundamental weakness as well. The vase (Clifford) hasn't got a chance against the granite column (Jaffrey).

It seems impossible that, even surrounded by a city, there is no help for them. If Hepzibah were to call for help, however, anyone answering would most certainly aid the Judge.

Wondering who might help them, she thinks first of Phoebe and then of Holgrave as a possible champion of their cause. She unbolts the door that leads to Holgrave's gable, but he is not home. From among a number of daguerreotypes on his desk, the face of Judge Pyncheon stares up at her. For the first time in all her years of seclusion, she feels isolated. She is being punished, she thinks, for having cut herself off from her friends.

Back at the arched window, Hepzibah tries to pray to heaven through the dense clouds, but her prayer, too heavy, falls back to earth and to her heart. She thinks Providence cares little for the individual.

Finding no other way of stalling, and fearing the voice of the Judge, she knocks at the door of her brother's room. There is no answer, for she has knocked so softly that Clifford could never have heard her. She knocks again- still no answer. Once again she knocks, slowly and insistently. Clifford still does not answer. When she calls to him several times with no response, she opens the door and finds the room empty. She looks out the window, but he is not in the garden. Hepzibah is horrified at the thought of Clifford, in his old-fashioned clothing, being ridiculed by young boys passing by in the street. If Clifford has strayed from the house, he will not get far, she thinks, for the town is almost completely surrounded by the sea. And at the thought of Clifford drowning, she hurries to Jaffrey for help.

Crying that Clifford is gone and that harm may come to him, Hepzibah opens the parlor door. In the dim light she can hardly make out the Judge's figure, sitting in the elbow chair in the middle of the room. He is looking out the window, and in spite of his interest in finding Clifford, does not stir from his position. Hepzibah is still screaming at him to help her when, from within the parlor, Clifford appears at the threshold.

Clifford is deadly white and his face wears a wild expression. From the threshold, he points back into the parlor and shakes his finger slowly. His look is one of joy or excitement. Hepzibah thinks he must be insane. When she urges Clifford to be quiet, he says she should let the Judge be quiet, and that they should dance and sing. "The weight is gone," he says. As he begins to dance, Hepzibah is seized with horror. She pushes past Clifford into the parlor, but reappears immediately, swallowing a scream.

Clifford orders her to hurry, saying they will leave the house to their cousin. Hepzibah notices that Clifford is wearing his cloak and seems to be suggesting that they leave the house. She needs guidance now, and Clifford's will have to do. Afraid of what she has seen, and of how it has happened, she obeys without thinking, like a person in a dream.

She keeps wondering why she doesn't awaken. None of this has ever happened, she thinks. But she does not awaken, not even when Clifford steps to the parlor door and gestures at their cousin, saying how ridiculous he looks. Hepzibah and Clifford leave the house, and the Judge's body remains.

NOTE: JAFFREY'S DEATH
What a difference in the reactions of Clifford and Hepzibah! Hepzibah is terrified. She isn't sure how Jaffrey died, and a part of her is afraid that Clifford may have had something to do with it. Clifford is her life, and her fear for him paralyzes her.

Clifford, too, is afraid. But he is afraid of injustice- of being punished again for a death he did not cause. Greater than his fear, though, is his sense of freedom. He says, significantly, "The weight is gone," and you are reminded of how the "past weighs on the present." The man who ruined Clifford's life is dead, and Clifford now comes to life.

The sudden tension, the suspense, and the beautiful imagery create an intense and effective climax to the story.

XVII. THE FLIGHT OF TWO OWLS

Clifford and Hepzibah set off, out of the house and into the east wind. In their inexperience, they look like children. Although it is summer, the wind and the chill Hepzibah feels from what she has just seen make her colder than she has ever been. She is struck by the excitement that possesses her brother, an effect similar to that which some people feel from wine or from listening to fanciful music. In Clifford's case, it is excitement caused by music played on a cracked instrument.

Before long, they find themselves in a large, smoky railroad station, where a bell is ringing and an engine is puffing, ready to leave. Still the decisive one, Clifford helps Hepzibah into one of the cars. It begins to move almost immediately, drawing the long-isolated pair into the current of human life. When Hepzibah, still haunted, asks Clifford if this is a dream, he answers that he has never been more awake.

Outside the railroad car, the world rushes past. Inside, Clifford and Hepzibah are faced with almost fifty people- quite a novelty after their long seclusion. The passengers read, play, sleep, study. Familiar faces step off and new ones board as the train stops and starts. Clifford is dazzled by the colorful scene; Hepzibah feels more isolated from humanity than ever. Clifford reproaches her for thinking about the house and their cousin sitting in it alone. He urges her to be happy with him now that they find themselves in the midst of life. Hepzibah thinks he is mad and that perhaps she is, too. And well she may be, clinging to one thought, one scene, especially now when faced with so many distractions. To Hepzibah, though, the house of the seven gables seems to appear everywhere she looks. Unlike Clifford, her mind is unable to absorb new sights at this moment. She finds that their relationship has changed, that Clifford- startled into manhood and intelligence has become her guardian.

When the conductor asks for their tickets, Clifford hands him money and asks to go as far as it will take them. A fellow passenger, commenting that they have chosen an unusual day for a pleasure ride, asserts that the best place to be is at home by the fire. Clifford disagrees, and the two men converse briefly about the merits of locomotion versus stale ideas of home. Clifford suggests that although we think of ourselves as going forward in a straight line, all human progress is circular- in an ascending spiral curve. We always return to something we tried once and abandoned, but now have refined and perfected. The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and future.

Because the railroad has made movement and change so easy, Clifford wonders why anyone would create a prison (in other words, a house) of wood, bricks, or stone rather than just live "anywhere and nowhere." As he theorizes, he is transformed into a youthful character. The young girls on the train are distracted from their game by his face. They stand looking at him, thinking how beautiful he must once have been.

When Clifford's new acquaintance says he would not call living "anywhere and nowhere" an improvement, Clifford repeats his idea that our obstacles to happiness are the houses we build. The human soul needs air, he says, not the influence of a stagnant household. Whenever he thinks of a certain seven-gabled house that he knows well, he imagines an elderly man inside, sitting dead in his chair with his eyes open, poisoning the whole house with the scent of death. Clifford affirms that the farther away he gets from the house, the more alive and youthful he feels. He knows that he can never be happy there.

Hepzibah tries to stifle Clifford's chatter, but he will not be silenced now that he has finally articulated his thoughts. He turns again to the embarrassed gentleman and continues his train of thought, saying that "real estate- the solid ground to build a house on- is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of the world rests.... A man will commit almost any wrong... only to build a great, gloomy, dark- chambered mansion for himself to die in, and for his posterity to be miserable in...." Clifford predicts that a better age is coming, and sees "messengers of the spiritual world, knocking at the door of substance."

Electricity, too, appears to be a sign of change, making the world "one great nerve." The telegraph seems an "almost spiritual medium." It should be used to serve the causes of love and joy in carrying messages, not as an instrument to spread news of fugitive bank robbers and murderers, as his fellow passenger suggests. As an illustration of the disadvantaged position of the fugitive, Clifford describes his own circumstances as if he were talking about someone else. The passenger calls Clifford strange and says he cannot see through him, to which Clifford answers that he thinks himself as transparent as the water in Maule's Well.

At this point, the train reaches a station where Clifford and Hepzibah get off. The train vanishes, as if it were the world fleeing from them. From the platform they see a decaying wooden church and an apparently uninhabited farmhouse. Clifford shivers in the rain and wind, and tells his sister that she must take charge now. His mood has changed completely. Hepzibah kneels on the platform and prays to God to have mercy on them.

NOTE: The railroad- the "Iron Horse"- was a controversial subject in Hawthorne's time. Thoreau, the Transcendentalist writer, saw it not as a sign of progress, but as the ruin of the natural landscape and a symbol of the evils of the Industrial Revolution. For Clifford and Hepzibah it is a world unto itself, a traveling microcosm (little world) in which they suddenly find themselves with their fellow men. For them, it is also an instrument of the future, as well as an escape from their past.

You should notice two other points in this chapter. The first is how, once Clifford leaves the isolation of the house, he is "startled into manhood and intelligence." The second is how closely his ideas resemble those of Holgrave when he spoke with Phoebe in the garden.

XVIII. GOVERNOR PYNCHEON

Judge Pyncheon still sits in the parlor of the house of the seven gables. He has not stirred all this time- not even his eyes have moved. Although he still holds his watch in his hand, you cannot see the time. He appears to be meditating or sleeping. You would have to hold your own breath to be completely sure that he is breathing at all. Over the ticking of his watch his breathing can't be heard.

How unusual it is for a man as busy as Judge Pyncheon to linger so long in an empty house that he has never liked. Although the elbow chair is comfortable enough, the wealthy widower is more than welcome in many houses with better chairs.

Just this morning he was making plans not only for today, but for the next twenty-five years. Today promised to be hectic, beginning with the interview with Clifford, which should have taken no longer than half an hour, but which has taken two hours already. Then he had a meeting with a broker about an investment possibility.

It's now ten minutes before dinner time, however, and the Judge has a very important dinner engagement this evening- a gathering of his distinguished friends from around the state, who plan to ask the Judge to be their candidate for governor of Massachusetts. Why, after half a lifetime spent pursuing this goal, does he hesitate now?

As the cloudy evening mingles with the gloom of the house, the parlor darkens and you can no longer make out the Judge. You hear only the murmuring wind and the ticking of his watch. The wind changes direction and the house creaks. A door slams upstairs. First starlight and then moonbeams become visible in the clearing sky.

Midnight strikes on a city clock. The Judge does not believe the legend that at midnight all the dead Pyncheons gather in this parlor to see if the Puritan's portrait still hangs on the wall. The dancing of the moonbeams and shadows in the old mirror makes it easy to imagine a parade of Pyncheons entering from another world. The Puritan (Colonel Pyncheon) comes first, looks up at his portrait, and checks the frame. All is well, but the Colonel looks troubled. Shaking his head, he turns away and is followed by all the other dead Pyncheons. Six generations push each other along as they try to reach the frame: Old men, women, ministers, officers, the shopkeeper, Alice, Gervayse, a mother and her baby. One among them is dressed in modern clothes. It seems to be young Jaffrey, Judge Pyncheon's son, who has been traveling in Europe. If he is dead, then the Pyncheon fortune will one day belong to Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe. Another figure joins the procession- the ghost of the Judge himself. While his body still sits in the chair, his ghost goes to the portrait and tries the frame, then turns away frowning.

A mouse sits up near Judge Pyncheon's shoe, startled by a large cat at the parlor window. For the first time in five years, the Judge's watch stops ticking. The shadows fade, and it is morning. Will the Judge get up? If he does, will his seclusion have made him a better man? Again the voice calls out to him; again he does not answer. A housefly lands on the Judge's forehead, then travels across the bridge of his nose toward his open eyes. The shop bell rings, a reminder of the living world.

NOTE: Will the Judge, a man of the world and the opposite of Clifford, benefit from a little isolation?

XIX. ALICE'S POSIES

When Uncle Venner ventures out shortly after sunrise the next morning, he finds that, after five days, the storm has finally passed. Everything in Pyncheon-street looks clean and bright. The Pyncheon elm has survived the wind. Its leaves are a perfect green except for one branch- always the first to announce the coming of autumn- which has turned a bright gold.

NOTE: The gold branch is a reference to the golden bough that allows Aeneas to enter the world of the dead in Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid. There Aeneas meets the great men who will be his descendants in the future.

Even the house of the seven gables looks inviting and as if its history must have been a happy one. Of all its interesting aspects, one stands out: The large clump of red-spotted flowers called Alice's Posies that blooms in a crevice between two gables. They have grown from seeds brought from Italy by Alice Pyncheon. Last week they looked like a clump of weeds, but now- in full bloom- they seem to symbolize the consummation of something in the house.

With his wheelbarrow, Uncle Venner heads for the back door of the house, where Hepzibah always leaves a large pan of scraps for his pig. He is disappointed when he finds nothing there, but decides against knocking at such an early hour. The creaking of the gate on his way out attracts the attention of Holgrave, who calls to him from his window and asks if there is no one around.

The two men talk about the storm that has just passed, and Holgrave comments that the wind was so fierce the night before that it had sounded as if all the dead Pyncheons were gathered in Hepzibah's rooms. Uncle Venner guesses that either Hepzibah has overslept or she and Clifford went to the country with the Judge after his visit to the shop yesterday.

A fat woman hurries to the shop door, which will not open no matter how hard she bangs on it. As she struggles and the bell rings furiously, a neighbor calls that it is no use, that Hepzibah and Clifford left yesterday for the Judge's country estate. Ned Higgins, wanting a gingerbread elephant on his way to school, tries the shop door unsuccessfully. Through a part in the curtains, he sees that the inner door leading to the parlor is closed. When he picks up a stone to throw through the window, his arm is caught by one of two men passing by- the same men whose conversation Hepzibah overheard on her first day of business. After sending Ned on his way, they speculate about the disappearance of all the Pyncheons, saying that the stablekeeper took the Judge's horse in yesterday and hasn't seen him since. The two men declare that the Judge will turn up, and dismissing Hepzibah's absence as a flight from creditors, they walk away. Deliverymen try the shop door all day, with no luck.

After a while, the sounds of music and a crowd of children fill Pyncheon-street. The Italian organ- grinder and his monkey are back. The organ grinder stops under the arched window and plays, but the kind faces he remembers seeing there do not appear. His lighthearted popular tunes contrast sharply with the dark secret of the house.

Hawthorne points out that many a troubled soul is forced, nevertheless, to hear the music of the world's gaiety. This mingling of tragedy and mirth is an irony of our existence from which there is no escape.

A passerby calls to the organ grinder to go somewhere else with his music, for the Pyncheon family has troubles- Judge Pyncheon has been murdered. As the young musician packs up his instruments on the doorstep, he spots a card that has been covered by the newspaper engraved card belonging to the Judge. The back lists the appointments he was to have had yesterday. The same two men who stopped Ned from breaking the window wonder if Clifford has been up to his old tricks or if Hepzibah has murdered the Judge to get money for her shop. They go off with the card to the City Marshall's office. The organ grinder leaves and the children scatter, terrified by what they have just overheard.

A half hour later, a cab stops in the street and Phoebe steps out with a bag and a hat box. She tries the shop door first, but it doesn't open. Finding the front door locked, she knocks. The silence makes her think for a moment that she might have the wrong house. From down the street, Ned Higgins warns her not to go in. Expecting to find her cousins in the garden, Phoebe goes there next. Except for the hens and a cat prowling under the parlor window, the garden is empty. Her absence and the storm have taken their toll on the garden, which now looks as if no human has set foot in it for days. The garden door, too, is locked, but as she knocks, it opens enough to admit her. Assuming Hepzibah has opened it, Phoebe steps across the threshold, and the door closes behind her.

NOTE: The suspense builds. Notice the extreme difference between appearance and reality- the house has been described as looking as though its history has been a happy one, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Phoebe assumes Hepzibah has opened the door. Again, note the difference between appearance and reality.

XX. THE FLOWER OF EDEN

The darkness of the house blinds Phoebe. When a hand squeezes her arm in welcome, she knows instantly that it is Holgrave who has let her in. He leads her to a bright and empty apartment in an unoccupied gable. She senses that he has something important to tell her.

Holgrave looks pale and thoughtful, but he smiles warmly at Phoebe, as if he is seeing his closest friend after a long absence. When he says that he should not feel so happy that she is there, Phoebe knows something is wrong. She asks where Hepzibah and Clifford are, and can't believe it when Holgrave says they are gone. When she tries to enter the parlor, Holgrave restrains her. He admits that something has happened, but not to Hepzibah and Clifford.

Holgrave tells Phoebe that he is depending on her remarkable strength and wisdom, for he is confused and needs her advice. Although he cringes at the thought of exposing Phoebe to the ugly truth, he has no choice. Asking her if she remembers, Holgrave hands her the daguerreotype he first showed her in the garden. When she asks how Judge Pyncheon is involved with the disappearance of Clifford and Hepzibah, he shows her another, more recent picture. Phoebe turns white at the portrait of the dead Judge.

Holgrave recounts the unearthly quiet of the house that morning and the rumors of Judge Pyncheon's disappearance. A sense of catastrophe made him check this part of the house, where he discovered Judge Pyncheon dead in the parlor, and Hepzibah and Clifford vanished. He claims to have taken the picture of the dead man for Clifford's purposes as well as for his own, and adds that he has family connections to the event.

Holgrave's calmness stuns Phoebe. He seems to have absorbed the fact of the Judge's death as if it had been inevitable. When she asks why he has not called in witnesses, he begs her to consider what is best for Clifford and Hepzibah. They have incriminated themselves in their flight from the house when, in fact, the death of the Judge could actually help Clifford. The Judge has died as his uncle did thirty years ago. Such sudden deaths clearly run in the Pyncheon family. Yet another incidence of this can only emphasize Clifford's innocence in his uncle's death. Holgrave suspects that it was an "arrangement of circumstances" that led to Clifford's conviction for murder. Holgrave suspects this "arrangement" was the work of the Judge.

Phoebe insists that they bring Judge Pyncheon's death to light immediately. Holgrave agrees, but he does not share her horror at this gruesome event. Instead he feels a kind of wild enjoyment in being connected to Phoebe by their secret. It seems to encircle them and set them apart from the world. When Phoebe says they must not delay, Holgrave tells her that there will never be another moment like this one, and that he feels joy as well as terror. At this unlikely moment, Holgrave admits that he is in love with Phoebe.

Phoebe wonders how this can be true, and says she could not possibly make him happy. He argues that she is his only hope of happiness. But she fears he might lead her away from her own path in life. Claiming that such impulses belong only to dissatisfied men, he vows that with her he would no longer be dissatisfied. Instead, he imagines himself building a house and planting trees. Phoebe admits that she is in love with him. For a moment, they feel that there is no Death.

A sound at the street door brings the couple back to the grim reality facing them. Before they reach the door, they hear footsteps in the passageway- the feeble steps of weary people. When they hear the murmur of familiar voices, Phoebe and Holgrave know that Hepzibah and Clifford have returned. When Phoebe runs to meet them, Hepzibah bursts into tears. Clifford, saying that he thought of them when he saw Alice's Posies in bloom, smiles and seems to know instinctively what has happened between Phoebe and Holgrave.

NOTE: Phoebe's own path is the way of the heart, while Holgrave's is the way of the head. She recognizes him as an intellectual and is afraid that he might try to change her. Holgrave claims that he needs Phoebe and her ways in order to be happy. Thus, true happiness results only when the heart and the head are brought together.

XXI. THE DEPARTURE

"Death is so genuine a fact that it excludes falsehood," Hawthorne observes at the beginning of this chapter. Judge Pyncheon's death- so similar to his uncle's death thirty years ago- reopens discussion about the uncle's alleged murder. At the time a medical investigation had shown that he had died of natural causes, but the fact that he had been robbed and that his room was in disarray had suggested a more violent death. When the authorities looked further, they had found a chain of evidence that led to Clifford. Out of the talk that follows Judge Pyncheon's death, however, a new theory arises.

As a young man, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon was wild, self-indulgent, and a reckless spendthrift. His rich uncle grew to dislike him intensely. One night, young Jaffrey decided to search his uncle's room, and was caught by his uncle (also named Jaffrey). The shock of finding his nephew going through his things brought on one of the attacks to which the Pyncheons were so susceptible. Old Jaffrey fell, striking his head against the corner of a table, and died instantly. Continuing to search among his uncle's papers, young Jaffrey found two wills: a recent one leaving everything to Clifford and an older one leaving everything to him. He destroyed the will naming Clifford as heir and arranged the evidence so that the murder would point clearly to his cousin. His crime of misleading the authorities brought with it the kind of guilt that a respectable man often finds easy to forget. Young Jaffrey had done nothing to Clifford; he hadn't even lied during Clifford's trial.

A week after Judge Pyncheon's death, word comes from Europe that the Judge's son has died of cholera. Thus, his estate goes to Clifford, Hepzibah, Phoebe, and- through her- to Holgrave (the avowed enemy of wealth).

Clifford's murder trial is never reopened. In his old age he needs the love of a few people more than an unsullied reputation. Besides, as Hawthorne notes in yet another statement of the theme of the sins of one generation being visited on the next: "After such wrong as he had suffered, there is no reparation.... It is a truth (and it would be a very sad one, but for the higher hope which it suggests) that no great mistake, whether acted or endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right." Clifford never regains his faculties completely, but free of the weight of Judge Pyncheon, he is invigorated.

Hepzibah, Phoebe, Clifford, and Holgrave leave the house of the seven gables to live at the Judge's country estate. On the day they plan to move, they gather with Uncle Venner in the parlor. Holgrave wonders why the Judge did not build his country house of stone to give it more permanence. Phoebe is amazed by the complete change in Holgrave's thinking. Is this the same man who said that not even the public buildings should be made of any permanent material? When he first confessed his love for Phoebe, Holgrave had predicted that he would become more conservative in his views. So he has, although it seems particularly unlikely to him that he should say this in a house of inherited misfortune and under the gaze of the Puritan himself.

Looking at the Colonel's portrait, Clifford says the picture holds a secret that he has forgotten. Holgrave steps up to the picture and puts his finger on a secret spring somewhere on its frame. At one time this spring must have made the portrait move forward; at Holgrave's motion the picture crashes to the floor. The exposed wall shows a small recess, a hiding place. It contains a parchment- the ancient and now worthless deed granting the eastward territory to the Pyncheon family. Yes, says Clifford, this is what he was trying to remember all along. As a boy he had discovered the spring and had bragged to his cousin Jaffrey of finding hidden wealth. Jaffrey remembered this, and it had made him think Clifford knew of their uncle's hidden estate.

When Phoebe asks Holgrave how he knows the secret of the portrait, Holgrave asks her how she will like having Maule as a last name. Holgrave, it turns out, is a descendant of Matthew Maule. The secret of the portrait is his only inheritance. Thomas Maule constructed the hiding place and hid the deed when he built the house. The rumors he had started were true- the Pyncheons had traded their eastern territory for Maule's garden plot.

When Uncle Venner supposes that the claim is worth less than a share in his farm (the work-house) Phoebe forbids him to ever speak of his farm again. Their new garden includes a cottage, which will be furnished just for him. Clifford joins her in urging the old man to come and live with them, calling Uncle Venner the only philosopher he knows whose wisdom has not a drop of bitter essence at the bottom." Uncle Venner agrees to join them in a few days.

They pull away in a beautiful barouche, a four-wheeled carriage for four. A crowd of children gathers around the carriage and horses. Phoebe, spotting Ned Higgins among them, gives him enough silver to keep him in gingerbread for a very long time. The same two men who have walked down Pyncheon-street so often pass by as the barouche drives off. One remarks to the other that his wife had her cent-shop for three months and lost five dollars, but Hepzibah, who had one for the same length of time, now has several hundred thousand dollars.

Anyone watching the water spouting from Maule's Well would have been able to foretell these events in its images. Anyone listening would have heard it whispered in the prophecies of the Pyncheon elm. As old Uncle Venner walks away, he thinks he hears Alice Pyncheon touch her harpsichord one last time before she floats up to heaven from the house of the seven gables.

NOTE: The ending of The House of the Seven Gables has created an enormous controversy among readers.

Some readers see it as the end of the curse. The two families and the two classes have reconciled. The love of a Maule and a Pyncheon will break the cycle of repeated sin.

Other readers maintain that having Phoebe and Holgrave leave to start their life together in the house that Jaffrey built with ill-gotten wealth condemns the couple to a life weighed down by the past. Hepzibah, freed from isolation and aristocratic family pride by working in the cent-shop, gets what she has always hoped for, but it is the last thing she needs: Enormous wealth (which is ill-gotten). Clifford, "startled into intelligence" by his escape from the house of the seven gables and the weight of Jaffrey, goes off to live in isolation in another Pyncheon house. These readers see the ending as a denial of all the book's themes. They suspect that Hawthorne ended the book this way simply to satisfy the demand of his time for happy endings.

Readers from both camps agree that Phoebe and Holgrave fall in love too quickly, that their relationship is underdeveloped, and that their marriage is too sudden. What do you think? What evidence can you point to in support of your opinions?

A STEP BEYOND

THE STORY, continued


ECC [The House of the Seven Gables Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

[Transcript of The House of the Seven Gables]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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