The Great Collapse
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A New Addendum Chapter, XXII, for The House of the Seven Gables, Written in the Style of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many years have elapsed since the great Pyncheon house on Pyncheon Street, or Maule’s Lane, if you prefer, has been inhabited. It stands aloof and foreboding under the decaying arms of the Pyncheon elm, which is a symbol of no mean portent in this coastal town. Ah! But is there still a town which shelters this monument to Pilgrim steadfastness and Puritan sternness? Or is it at last somewhat larger than a town?

Towering above the roof — the moss appears to have lost some of its verdure in its perennial battle to push its shallow roots through the ever-widening chinks of the slate shingles — towering above the roof we perceive a modern edifice. It is, we are told, a “skyscraper.” With a nouveau-riche air, it squints haughtily down upon the hoary mansion as though the old house existed only by public sufferance, as indeed it does. The windows of the skyscrapers are aglint with the noonday sun. They shine like the shields of an invincible army of knights lined up in battle array, and behind them one knows, even without experiencing the scenes first-hand, that humanity is rampant.

  
 
The skyscraper can be compared with nothing other than a hive of bees. If we were to walk around the Pyncheon house and into the garden, tip-toeing softly in order that we make no sound which might awaken echoes and memories within the house that are better left dead, we would see over the garden fence the hive’s entrance. At first glance, the scene is confused, jumbled; but in a few moments we begin to understand the confusion and chaos. Great iron vehicles pass noisily up and down the narrow, dirty street. This public way was never made for such traffic. It was originally constructed to serve the feet and the contrivances of a much simpler civilization.

As we gaze at the mass of humanity that wanders aimlessly or bustles in a businesslike manner up and down, to and fro, hither and thither among fume-spouting machines and vehicles; as we look upon the crowds that seem to bask in the clash and noise of these same engines, we cannot help superimposing upon this background the site that would have met our eyes had we but the power to return in time three hundred years….

Here, in front of a shop window, two aged gentlewomen stop for a moment to chat. The fish peddler’s horn sounds from down the hazy dirt road, and just as he comes into view, he is accosted by a hail from one of the cottages along the way. In a moment the fish peddler’s voice will be brought to us, faintly, on the currents of a breeze as he raises it in bargaining with the good wife who called to him. The sky is blue…but wait! It is not, however, a friendly summer haze. It is a sooty haze, a mist that obscures the designs and countenances of the men and women who are reincarnations of old Judge Pyncheon — scores of Jeffreys, all designing and plotting for selfish ends; a hundred Holgraves, ever jumping, flitting from one thing to another, trying something new, inventing, perspiring…, and for what? Few of them, I believe, have the faintest inkling.

Times change. Instead of the skyscraper straining to the sky, we would far rather have seen verdant meadows, but this cannot be, for it is the same wherever we look:

“…where once stood trees,
Now stands a wall;
Where grass once grew,
A building rears its head;
Where forest lanes wandered,
Now twist long, dirty streets;
Where once was solitude,
A city screams!”

At last we dismiss our revery and return to the front of the Pyncheon mansion. The age-haunted house stares at us out of seven blank eyes and raises seven lowering eyebrows at us. As we stand in contemplation, several raucous voices assail our ears. How different the words are from those we are so used to!

“Okay, Mike! Set that box of junk over here and tell Louie to bring the ‘dozer up front.” The man who has spoken thus approaches the Pyncheon mansion and stares at it appraisingly. He wears overalls, and a square and rule are stuck into his overlarge pockets. Haven’t we seen this man before? Is it, can it be…Matthew Maule! But no, such ideas are foolish. It is some vague resemblance, or perhaps all carpenters look somewhat alike in their working clothes. Or, perhaps, this man is a descendant from the line of Maule. What irony if he were! A Maule was killed for this land, another had built the house for the man who was, for all practical purposes, that first Maule’s murderer, and now the house is to end under the hands of still another Maule, for these men gathered here are to tear down the old Pyncheon home!

“Hey, Matt! What about the tree here?” A worker points at the hereditary, now blighted old Pyncheon elm.

“Haul ‘er down!” is the terse order. Mechanical saws buzz and a sharp cracking sound fills the air. With a roar the giant is down. It lies, trembling fitfully for a moment, upon the loamy soil of the yard. A single, stark, protecting branch lies across the porch stairs. The house has lost its best friend and only guardian.

Does the house shudder? Perhaps it realizes that its days are over. But can a thing made of wood ponder? It must, for the spirits of those who have lived and died in a structure for generations, especially a house in which so many tragedies have been enacted, many strange happenings taken place, imbued with gloom and sorrow and occasional glimpses of heavenly light, these spirits must have become a part of the very walls. The are entities, for they live in the house itself — not in its rooms or halls, but in the very materials, and they breathe the odor of dry rot and dust and die only when the house dies.

But see! The house does shudder! It crumples in the center and each of the seven gables simultaneously collapses! The house is too proud to die at the hands of workmen! It was weak. The concussion of the falling elm loosened a beam and cause the house to fail. But is it so? At ay rate, the workmen begin to clear away the debris. Soon a grand new skyscraper will rear its head where once the old mansion stood.

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