The House of the Seven Gables HTML version

21. The Departure
THE sudden death of so prominent a member of the social world as the Honorable Judge
Jaffrey Pyncheon created a sensation (at least, in the circles more immediately connected
with the deceased) which had hardly quite subsided in a fortnight.
It may be remarked, however, that, of all the events which constitute a person's
biography, there is scarcely one--none, certainly, of anything like a similar importance--
to which the world so easily reconciles itself as to his death. In most other cases and
contingencies, the individual is present among us, mixed up with the daily revolution of
affairs, and affording a definite point for observation. At his decease, there is only a
vacancy, and a momentary eddy,--very small, as compared with the apparent magnitude
of the ingurgitated object,--and a bubble or two, ascending out of the black depth and
bursting at the surface. As regarded Judge Pyncheon, it seemed probable, at first blush,
that the mode of his final departure might give him a larger and longer posthumous vogue
than ordinarily attends the memory of a distinguished man. But when it came to be
understood, on the highest professional authority, that the event was a natural, and--
except for some unimportant particulars, denoting a slight idiosyncrasy--by no means an
unusual form of death, the public, with its customary alacrity, proceeded to forget that he
had ever lived. In short, the honorable Judge was beginning to be a stale subject before
half the country newspapers had found time to put their columns in mourning, and
publish his exceedingly eulogistic obituary.
Nevertheless, creeping darkly through the places which this excellent person had haunted
in his lifetime, there was a hidden stream of private talk, such as it would have shocked
all decency to speak loudly at the street-corners. It is very singular, how the fact of a
man's death often seems to give people a truer idea of his character, whether for good or
evil, than they have ever possessed while he was living and acting among them. Death is
so genuine a fact that it excludes falsehood, or betrays its emptiness; it is a touchstone
that proves the gold, and dishonors the baser metal. Could the departed, whoever he may
be, return in a week after his decease, he would almost invariably find himself at a higher
or lower point than he had formerly occupied, on the scale of public appreciation. But the
talk, or scandal, to which we now allude, had reference to matters of no less old a date
than the supposed murder, thirty or forty years ago, of the late Judge Pyncheon's uncle.
The medical opinion with regard to his own recent and regretted decease had almost
entirely obviated the idea that a murder was committed in the former case. Yet, as the
record showed, there were circumstances irrefragably indicating that some person had
gained access to old Jaffrey Pyncheon's private apartments, at or near the moment of his
death. His desk and private drawers, in a room contiguous to his bedchamber, had been
ransacked; money and valuable articles were missing; there was a bloody hand-print on
the old man's linen; and, by a powerfully welded chain of deductive evidence, the guilt of
the robbery and apparent murder had been fixed on Clifford, then residing with his uncle
in the House of the Seven Gables.