The House of the Seven Gables is a colonial house built in the English style of half-timber and half-plaster. It stands on Pyncheon Street in quiet Salem. The house was built by Colonel Pyncheon, who wrested the desirable site from Matthew Maule, a poor man executed as a wizard. Colonel Pyncheon was responsible for the execution, and he takes the doomed man’s land, so Maule, at the moment of his execution, declares that God will give the Pyncheons blood to drink. Despite this grim prophecy, the colonel has his house, and its builder is Thomas Maule, son of the old wizard.
Colonel Pyncheon, dying in his great oak chair just after the house is completed, chokes with blood so that his shirtfront is stained scarlet. Although doctors explain the cause of his death as apoplexy, the townsfolk had not forgotten old Maule’s prophecy. The time of the colonel’s death is auspicious. It is said that he just completed a treaty by which he bought huge tracts of land from the Indians, but this deed was not confirmed by the general court and was never discovered by any of his heirs. Rumor also has it that a man was seen leaving the house about the time Colonel Pyncheon died.
More recently, another startling event occurred at the House of the Seven Gables. Jaffrey Pyncheon, a bachelor, was found dead in the colonel’s great oaken armchair, and his nephew, Clifford Pyncheon, was sentenced to imprisonment after being found guilty of the murder of his uncle.
These events were in the unhappy past, however, and in 1850, the House of the Seven Gables is the home of Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon, an elderly, single woman who rents one wing of the old house to a young man of radical tendencies, a maker of daguerreotypes, whose name is Mr. Holgrave.
Miss Hepzibah is about to open a shop in one of the rooms of her house. Her brother Clifford is coming home from the state prison after thirty years, and she has to earn money in some way to support him. On the first day of her venture as a storekeeper, Miss Hepzibah proves to be a failure. The situation is saved, however, by the arrival of young Phoebe Pyncheon from the country. Soon sheias operating the shop at a profit.
Clifford arrives from the prison a broken man of childish, querulous ways. Once he tries to throw himself from a big arched window which affords him almost his only contact with the outside world. He is fond of Phoebe, but Miss Hepzibah irritates him with her sullen scowling. For acquaintances, Clifford has Uncle Venner, a handyman who does odd jobs for the neighborhood, and the tenant of the house, Mr. Holgrave, the daguerreotypist.
The only other relative living in town is the highly respected Judge Pyncheon, another nephew of old Jaffrey, for whose murder Clifford spent thirty years in prison. He is, in fact, the heir of the murdered man, and he was somehow involved with Clifford’s arrest and imprisonment. For these reasons, Clifford refuses to see him when the judge offers to give Clifford and Hepzibah a home at his country seat.
Meanwhile, Phoebe has become friendly with Mr. Holgrave. In turn, he thinks that she brings light and hope into the gloomy old house, and he misses her greatly when she returns to her home in the country. Her visit is to be a brief one, however, for she went only to make some preparations before coming to live permanently with Miss Hepzibah and Clifford.
Before Phoebe returns from the country, Judge Pyncheon visits the House of the Seven Gables and, over Miss Hepzibah’s protest, insists on seeing Clifford, who, he says, knows a family secret that means great wealth for the judge. When at last she goes out of the room to summon her brother, Judge Pyncheon sits down in the old chair by the fireplace, over which hangs the portrait of the Pyncheon who built the house. As the judge sits in the old chair, his ticking watch in his hand, an unusually strong family likeness can be noted between the stern judge and his Puritan ancestor in the portrait. Unable to find...
(The entire section is 1,169 words.)