One day, 37 years after Colonel Pyncheon’s death, Gervayse Pyncheon’s black slave, Scipio, brings a message to the carpenter, Matthew Maule, grandson of the executed Maule. Gervayse Pyncheon has summoned Maule to the House of the Seven Gables. Scipio mentions that Colonel Pyncheon haunts the house and frightens him. Maule mutters that, no matter what the Colonel’s ghost does, his grandfather “will be pretty sure to stick it to the Pyncheons” as long as the House remains. He agrees to come to the House and passes along his greetings to young Alice Pyncheon, recently returned from Italy.
This chapter includes a flashback in the form of Holgrave’s magazine article. Holgrave’s authorship of the story gives some distance from the Gothic horror elements about to be portrayed, allowing the reader to decide whether they are historically accurate or not. This story-within-a-story is set a couple of generations after Colonel Pyncheon and Matthew Maule, with their respective grandsons, Gervayse and Matthew the carpenter.
Matthew Maule the carpenter is not well liked. His grandfather is believed to haunt the House of the Seven Gables, insisting he’s the property’s rightful tenant, and that he will torment the Pyncheons indefinitely unless the situation is rectified. Now, his grandson, too, is surrounded by rumors. He allegedly has the ability to haunt people’s dreams and read minds, and he’s said to have the Evil Eye. He’s also generally unpleasant, and he isn’t a church member.
The witchcraft allegations associated with the original Matthew Maule continue to swirl around the family, with rumors of other supernatural abilities attributed to the younger Matthew. Matthew’s lack of church membership would have been seen as both religiously and socially suspect.
Gervayse Pyncheon is the grandson of Colonel Pyncheon—he’s the little boy who’d discovered the man’s dead body. Though Gervayse has never loved the House since that time and even spent some years in Europe, the House is now bustling with his large family. When Matthew Maule the carpenter arrives there, he pridefully and bitterly approaches the front door instead of the back or side entrance.
The events of his boyhood were traumatic for Gervayse and have forever colored his attitude toward the House he inherited, but he is unable to escape its pull. Matthew, too, retains his grandfather’s pride, shown in his disregard for class protocol.
When the carpenter is admitted, he hears a sad melody: Alice Pyncheon is playing the harpsichord. Scipio ushers Maule into Gervayse Pyncheon’s parlor. The room is richly furnished in European fashions. Two things stand out: the map of the old Pyncheon territory in Maine and Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait. Mr. Pyncheon drinks coffee in front of the fire and only vaguely acknowledges Maule’s entrance.
Though the furnishings have changed, in other ways the parlor is unchanged from the Colonel’s day. The presence of the old family territory, its promised fortune, and of course the inescapable memory of the Colonel himself loom over the family’s life.
Matthew Maule the carpenter, however, boldly steps to the fire and looks Gervayse Pyncheon in the face, demanding to know Pyncheon’s business with him. He identifies himself as Matthew Maule’s grandson. Pyncheon sets this “grudge” aside. However, he has a question for Maule about the Pyncheons’ territorial claim. He believes that Colonel Pyncheon possessed a deed to this land which has since disappeared.
Gervayse assumes that the bad blood between the Pyncheons and the Maules can be simply laid aside—a reminder that, as the more powerful family, they have the luxury of disregarding such things. The Maules don’t have the luxury of forgetting the rumors and loss of status that surround them.
There have long been rumors that the disappeared deed has some connection to the Maule family. A superstitious legend even led to the searching of Matthew Maule’s grave—where, mysteriously, the skeleton’s right hand was found to be missing. Gervayse himself remembers being a small boy and seeing papers spread out on Colonel Pyncheon’s table the day before he died. That same day, the present carpenter’s father, Thomas, had been performing some task in the room. He offers to pay Matthew if the latter has any information on the deed’s whereabouts. Maule refuses him at first, but then he asks whether his grandfather’s land, and indeed the House of the Seven Gables, might be made over to him if he can provide the evidence being sought.
One of the rumors associated with Colonel Pyncheon’s death was that someone claimed to have seen a skeleton hand at his throat when he died. The absence of the deceased Matthew Maule’s hand, then, suggests that he was perhaps supernaturally involved in the Colonel’s death. Gervayse accuses Matthew the carpenter’s father of stealing the family deed on the basis of his childhood memories, and Matthew senses an opportunity.
Legend relates that, at this point, Colonel Pyncheon’s portrait began to behave strangely. During this conversation between the carpenter and Gervayse Pyncheon, the figure in the portrait has been frowning and shaking its fist, while the two men remain oblivious. When Maule suggested the transfer of the property, the portrait figure looked as if it was about to climb out of its frame.
The legend of the Colonel’s portrait coming to life is one of the major Gothic elements in the book. Again, its position within Holgrave’s magazine article allows room for doubt—is Holgrave taking liberty with the facts, or did this really happen? Either way, it conveys the point that a transfer of the Pyncheon property would enrage the Colonel.
Gervayse Pyncheon is surprisingly open to the carpenter’s terms. He’s not attached to the House and would prefer to return to Europe—something the recovered Eastern territory would make easier. So he tells Maule that if Maule can produce the requisite document, then the House of the Seven Gables will be his. Legend has it that the men then drew up an agreement and drank wine together. Thinking he notices a frown on the portrait’s face, Gervayse concludes that the wine is too potent for him.
Ironically, Gervayse’s desire to rid himself of the House is about to tie him more deeply to the family curse, because doing so is dependent upon acquiring the elusive Eastern lands. Gervayse notices something odd about the Colonel’s portrait, but he brushes it off as the effect of his drink, adding additional uncertainty and suspense to the story.
Maule the carpenter then explains that if Gervayse wishes to recover the lost document, he must allow Maule to talk with Alice. Gervayse is appalled and baffled at Maule’s motives, but somehow, Maule persuades him to summon his daughter. Alice Pyncheon is stately and reserved, yet possesses a certain innocent tenderness. When she enters the parlor, she looks approvingly at Maule’s strong figure, but Maule interprets this as a prideful glance and never forgives her.
Alice is a classic maiden figure, a staple of Gothic horror, innocently brought into the middle of a situation of horror. Gervayse’s willingness to bring Alice into it suggests that his desire for wealth runs deep enough for him to risk his own daughter. Maule is only able to look at the Pyncheons through a lens of pride, showing that the ancestral curse has a corrupting effect on him, too.
With confusion, Gervayse Pyncheon explains that Maule the carpenter has some business with Alice, because Alice’s help is supposedly required in recovering the important document. He promises he will stay nearby and that Alice can call off Maule’s inquiries at any time. Maule has Alice sit in a chair and instructs her to look in his eyes. She complies. When Pyncheon next looks at them, he sees Maule making a slow, downward gesture toward Alice. He commands Maule to stop, but Alice wants to continue. Pyncheon turns away again, reasoning that it’s partly for Alice’s sake that he’s letting this go forward—with a rich dowry, after all, she can marry well. And besides, Alice’s purity will safeguard her against any questionable doings on Maule’s part.
Maule appears to be hypnotizing Alice (note that Holgrave himself has a personal interest in the 19th-century mesmerism craze). Gervayse justifies these proceedings to himself, suggesting that he has a guilty conscience about the way he’s chosen to involve his innocent daughter in his pursuit of wealth. This supports Hawthorne’s argument that the unchecked pursuit of wealth has a corrupting effect on people.
Moments later, Gervayse hears an indistinct murmur from his daughter, but he doesn’t turn. Finally, the carpenter says, “Behold your daughter!” Pyncheon sees Maule pointing triumphantly at Alice, who sits as if asleep. When Pyncheon calls her name in terror, even kisses and roughly shakes her, he only perceives a vast distance between himself and his unconscious daughter. He shakes his fist at Maule. Maule says that it’s Pyncheon’s fault for selling his daughter for the sake of a piece of parchment.
Gervayse refrains from interfering even though he senses that Alice needs help. When he sees that Alice is thoroughly under Maule’s spell, he is horrified, beginning to perceive the depth of the wrong he’s committed. Maule states what Gervayse suspected: that he sacrificed his daughter for the sake of his own greed.
Maule the carpenter then beckons to Alice, and she rises and moves toward him. Maule triumphantly declares that she is now his. Legend has it that Maule then used Alice as a kind of medium to speak to her Pyncheon ancestors. Alice is said to have described seeing Colonel Pyncheon, Matthew Maule, and Maule’s son Thomas, all of whom had knowledge of the missing deed. The ghostly Pyncheon looked as if he meant to reveal the location of the deed, and then he was forcibly restrained by the ghostly Maules. After learning this, the present-day Maule turns to Gervayse and says that the secret of the deed “makes part of your grandfather’s retribution” which the family cannot get rid of.
Alice is completely under Maule’s sway. Using a hypnotized person as a medium to speak to the dead was one form that mesmerism was believed to take. Alice revisits one of the significant moments in the history of both families. Holgrave’s interpretation of this supernatural event is that the deed for the Maine territory has been hidden for a reason, as if the Pyncheons’ insatiable desire for more wealth is meant to haunt them indefinitely, forcing them to face the corrupting effects of their greed in one generation after another.
At this, Gervayse Pyncheon gurgles with rage, and Maule the carpenter jeers about the old curse. He leaves, but he promises that Alice, upon waking, will have reason to remember him. Indeed, it turns out that Alice has been “martyred” by her father’s “inordinate desire for measuring his land by miles instead of acres.” She is Maule’s slave from this time forward. From afar, Maule can make her laugh, cry, or dance a jig, no matter whether she is in church, entertaining guests, or at a funeral.
Gervayse’s gurgle recalls the original Maule’s curse that God would give the Pyncheons blood to drink. But in this case, it doesn’t mean that Gervayse will die prematurely—instead, he has to watch his daughter be humiliatingly subject to the carpenter’s will, her innocence corrupted. With the remark about “miles instead of inches,” Maule shows how petty the desire for wealth can be.
Some time later, Alice goes to a bridal party—the daughter of a laborer, whom Maule the carpenter is about to marry. Humbly, Alice waits upon and kisses Maule’s bride. After she walks home in a mix of snow and rain, she soon falls deathly ill. But before she dies, she plays joyful music on the harpsichord, knowing she’s about to be set free from her humiliation. Matthew Maule attends her funeral in anguish—he’d only meant to toy with Alice, not to kill her.
Tellingly, Alice seems not only to retain her innocence after Maule’s intrusion into her mind, but her own will seems to become purer than ever. This suggests that true innocence really does overpower horror and evil in the end, even if only in death. Maule, meanwhile, actually gets no joy from his actions, suggesting that pride is the Maules’ besetting fault as greed is for the Pyncheons.