THE SCARLET LETTER
I. THE PRISON DOOR
A throng of bearded men,
in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats,
inter-mixed with women,
some wearing hoods,
and others bareheaded,
was assembled in front of a wooden edifice,
the door of which was heavily timbered with oak,
and studded with iron spikes.
The founders of a new colony,
whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project,
have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery,
and another portion as the site of a prison.
In accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill,
almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground,
on Isaac Johnson's lot,
and round about his grave,
which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel.
Certain it is that,
some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town,
the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age,
which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front.
The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World.
Like all that pertains to crime,
it seemed never to have known a youthful era.
Before this ugly edifice,
and between it and the wheel-track of the street,
was a grass-plot,
much overgrown with burdock,
and such unsightly vegetation,
which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilised society,
But on one side of the portal,
and rooted almost at the threshold,
was a wild rose-bush,
in this month of June,
with its delicate gems,
which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in,
and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom,
in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.
by a strange chance,
has been kept alive in history;
but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness,
so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it,
as there is fair authority for believing,
it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-door,
we shall not take upon us to determine.
Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative,
which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal,
we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers,
and present it to the reader.
It may serve,
let us hope,
to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track,
or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
The grass-plot before the jail,
in Prison Lane,
on a certain summer morning,
not less than two centuries ago,
was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston,
all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.
Amongst any other population,
or at a later period in the history of New England,
the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand.
It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit,
on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment.
in that early severity of the Puritan character,
an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn.
It might be that a sluggish bond-servant,
or an undutiful child,
whom his parents had given over to the civil authority,
was to be corrected at the whipping-post.
It might be that an Antinomian,
or other heterodox religionist,
was to be scourged out of the town,
or an idle or vagrant Indian,
whom the white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets,
was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest.
It might be,
that a witch,
like old Mistress Hibbins,
the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate,
was to die upon the gallows.
In either case,
there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators,
as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical,
and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused,
that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful.
was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for,
from such bystanders,
at the scaffold.
On the other hand,
a penalty which,
in our days,
would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule,
might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.
It was a circumstance to be noted on the summer morning when our story begins its course,
that the women,
of whom there were several in the crowd,
appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue.
The age had not so much refinement,
that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways,
and wedging their not unsubstantial persons,
if occasion were,
into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution.
as well as materially,
there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding than in their fair descendants,
separated from them by a series of six or seven generations;
throughout that chain of ancestry,
every successive mother had transmitted to her child a fainter bloom,
a more delicate and briefer beauty,
and a slighter physical frame,
if not character of less force and solidity than her own.
The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex.
They were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land,
with a moral diet not a whit more refined,
entered largely into their composition.
The bright morning sun,
shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts,
and on round and ruddy cheeks,
that had ripened in the far-off island,
and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England.
a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons,
as most of them seemed to be,
that would startle us at the present day,
whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.
said a hard-featured dame of fifty,
"I'll tell ye a piece of my mind.
It would be greatly for the public behoof if we women,
being of mature age and church-members in good repute,
should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne.
What think ye,
If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five,
that are now here in a knot together,
would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded?
I trow not."
"that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale,
her godly pastor,
takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."
"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen,
but merciful overmuch --that is a truth,"
added a third autumnal matron.
"At the very least,
they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead.
Madame Hester would have winced at that,
I warrant me.
But she --the naughty baggage --little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown!
she may cover it with a brooch,
or such like heathenish adornment,
and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"
a young wife,
holding a child by the hand,
"let her cover the mark as she will,
the pang of it will be always in her heart."
"What do we talk of marks and brands,
whether on the bodice of her gown or the flesh of her forehead?"
cried another female,
the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges.
"This woman has brought shame upon us all,
and ought to die;
is there not law for it?
Truly there is,
both in the Scripture and the statute-book.
Then let the magistrates,
who have made it of no effect,
thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray."
"Mercy on us,
exclaimed a man in the crowd,
"is there no virtue in woman,
save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows?
That is the hardest word yet!
gossips for the lock is turning in the prison-door,
and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."
The door of the jail being flung open from within there appeared,
in the first place,
like a black shadow emerging into sunshine,
the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle,
with a sword by his side,
and his staff of office in his hand.
This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law,
which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender.
Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand,
he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman,
whom he thus drew forward,
on the threshold of the prison-door,
she repelled him,
by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character,
and stepped into the open air as if by her own free will.
She bore in her arms a child,
a baby of some three months old,
who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day;
because its existence,
had brought it acquaintance only with the grey twilight of a dungeon,
or other darksome apartment of the prison.
When the young woman --the mother of this child --stood fully revealed before the crowd,
it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom;
not so much by an impulse of motherly affection,
as that she might thereby conceal a certain token,
which was wrought or fastened into her dress.
In a moment,
wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another,
she took the baby on her arm,
and with a burning blush,
and yet a haughty smile,
and a glance that would not be abashed,
looked around at her townspeople and neighbours.
On the breast of her gown,
in fine red cloth,
surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread,
appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done,
and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy,
that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore,
and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age,
but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
The young woman was tall,
with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale.
She had dark and abundant hair,
so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam;
and a face which,
besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion,
had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes.
She was ladylike,
after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days;
characterised by a certain state and dignity,
rather than by the delicate,
and indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication.
And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike,
in the antique interpretation of the term,
than as she issued from the prison.
Those who had before known her,
and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud,
and even startled,
to perceive how her beauty shone out,
and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.
It may be true that,
to a sensitive observer,
there was some thing exquisitely painful in it.
she had wrought for the occasion in prison,
and had modelled much after her own fancy,
seemed to express the attitude of her spirit,
the desperate recklessness of her mood,
by its wild and picturesque peculiarity.
But the point which drew all eyes,
as it were,
transfigured the wearer --so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time --was that SCARLET LETTER,
so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.
It had the effect of a spell,
taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity,
and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needle,
remarked one of her female spectators;
"but did ever a woman,
before this brazen hussy,
contrive such a way of showing it?
what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates,
and make a pride out of what they,
meant for a punishment?"
"It were well,"
muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames,
"if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders;
and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously,
I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!"
whispered their youngest companion;
"do not let her hear you!
Not a stitch in that embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart."
The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.
good people --make way,
in the King's name!"
"Open a passage;
and I promise ye,
Mistress Prynne shall be set where man,
and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel from this time till an hour past meridian.
A blessing on the righteous colony of the Massachusetts,
where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine!
and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!"
A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators.
Preceded by the beadle,
and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women,
Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment.
A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys,
understanding little of the matter in hand,
except that it gave them a half-holiday,
ran before her progress,
turning their heads continually to stare into her face and at the winking baby in her arms,
and at the ignominious letter on her breast.
It was no great distance,
in those days,
from the prison door to the market-place.
Measured by the prisoner's experience,
it might be reckoned a journey of some length;
for haughty as her demeanour was,
she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her,
as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon.
In our nature,
there is a provision,
alike marvellous and merciful,
that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture,
but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it.
With almost a serene deportment,
Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal,
and came to a sort of scaffold,
at the western extremity of the market-place.
It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church,
and appeared to be a fixture there.
this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine,
for two or three generations past,
has been merely historical and traditionary among us,
but was held,
in the old time,
to be as effectual an agent,
in the promotion of good citizenship,
as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France.
the platform of the pillory;
and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline,
so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp,
and thus hold it up to the public gaze.
The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron.
There can be no outrage,
against our common nature --whatever be the delinquencies of the individual --no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame;
as it was the essence of this punishment to do.
In Hester Prynne's instance,
as not unfrequently in other cases,
her sentence bore that she should stand a certain time upon the platform,
but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head,
the proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine.
Knowing well her part,
she ascended a flight of wooden steps,
and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude,
at about the height of a man's shoulders above the street.
Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans,
he might have seen in this beautiful woman,
so picturesque in her attire and mien,
and with the infant at her bosom,
an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity,
which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent;
something which should remind him,
but only by contrast,
of that sacred image of sinless motherhood,
whose infant was to redeem the world.
there was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human life,
working such effect,
that the world was only the darker for this woman's beauty,
and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.
The scene was not without a mixture of awe,
such as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature,
before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile,
instead of shuddering at it.
The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity.
They were stern enough to look upon her death,
had that been the sentence,
without a murmur at its severity,
but had none of the heartlessness of another social state,
which would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the present.
Even had there been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule,
it must have been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of men no less dignified than the governor,
and several of his counsellors,
and the ministers of the town,
all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-house,
looking down upon the platform.
When such personages could constitute a part of the spectacle,
without risking the majesty,
or reverence of rank and office,
it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning.
the crowd was sombre and grave.
The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might,
under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes,
all fastened upon her,
and concentrated at her bosom.
It was almost intolerable to be borne.
Of an impulsive and passionate nature,
she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely,
wreaking itself in every variety of insult;
but there was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn mood of the popular mind,
that she longed rather to behold all those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merriment,
and herself the object.
Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude --each man,
each little shrill-voiced child,
contributing their individual parts --Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile.
under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure,
as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs,
and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground,
or else go mad at once.
Yet there were intervals when the whole scene,
in which she was the most conspicuous object,
seemed to vanish from her eyes,
glimmered indistinctly before them,
like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images.
and especially her memory,
was preternaturally active,
and kept bringing up other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town,
on the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were lowering upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats.
the most trifling and immaterial,
passages of infancy and school-days,
and the little domestic traits of her maiden years,
came swarming back upon her,
intermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest in her subsequent life;
one picture precisely as vivid as another;
as if all were of similar importance,
or all alike a play.
it was an instinctive device of her spirit to relieve itself by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms,
from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality.
Be that as it might,
the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she had been treading,
since her happy infancy.
Standing on that miserable eminence,
she saw again her native village,
in Old England,
and her paternal home: a decayed house of grey stone,
with a poverty-stricken aspect,
but retaining a half obliterated shield of arms over the portal,
in token of antique gentility.
She saw her father's face,
with its bold brow,
and reverend white beard that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff;
with the look of heedful and anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance,
even since her death,
had so often laid the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway.
She saw her own face,
glowing with girlish beauty,
and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
There she beheld another countenance,
of a man well stricken in years,
with eyes dim and bleared by the lamp-light that had served them to pore over many ponderous books.
Yet those same bleared optics had a strange,
when it was their owner's purpose to read the human soul.
This figure of the study and the cloister,
as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall,
was slightly deformed,
with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right.
Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallery,
the intricate and narrow thoroughfares,
the huge cathedrals,
and the public edifices,
ancient in date and quaint in architecture,
of a continental city;
where new life had awaited her,
still in connexion with the misshapen scholar: a new life,
but feeding itself on time-worn materials,
like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall.
in lieu of these shifting scenes,
came back the rude market-place of the Puritan,
with all the townspeople assembled,
and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne --yes,
at herself --who stood on the scaffold of the pillory,
an infant on her arm,
and the letter A,
fantastically embroidered with gold thread,
upon her bosom.
Could it be true?
She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast that it sent forth a cry;
she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter,
and even touched it with her finger,
to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real.
Yes these were her realities --all else had vanished!
From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and universal observation,
the wearer of the scarlet letter was at length relieved,
on the outskirts of the crowd,
a figure which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts.
An Indian in his native garb was standing there;
but the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice from Hester Prynne at such a time;
much less would he have excluded all other objects and ideas from her mind.
By the Indian's side,
and evidently sustaining a companionship with him,
stood a white man,
clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.
He was small in stature,
with a furrowed visage,
which as yet could hardly be termed aged.
There was a remarkable intelligence in his features,
as of a person who had so cultivated his mental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and become manifest by unmistakable tokens.
by a seemingly careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb,
he had endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity,
it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's shoulders rose higher than the other.
at the first instant of perceiving that thin visage,
and the slight deformity of the figure,
she pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain.
But the mother did not seem to hear it.
At his arrival in the market-place,
and some time before she saw him,
the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne.
It was carelessly at first,
like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward,
and to whom external matters are of little value and import,
unless they bear relation to something within his mind.
his look became keen and penetrative.
A writhing horror twisted itself across his features,
like a snake gliding swiftly over them,
and making one little pause,
with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.
His face darkened with some powerful emotion,
he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will,
save at a single moment,
its expression might have passed for calmness.
After a brief space,
the convulsion grew almost imperceptible,
and finally subsided into the depths of his nature.
When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own,
and saw that she appeared to recognize him,
he slowly and calmly raised his finger,
made a gesture with it in the air,
and laid it on his lips.
Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him,
he addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:
"I pray you,
"who is this woman?
--and wherefore is she here set up to public shame?"
"You must needs be a stranger in this region,
answered the townsman,
looking curiously at the questioner and his savage companion,
"else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne and her evil doings.
She hath raised a great scandal,
I promise you,
in godly Master Dimmesdale's church."
"You say truly,"
replied the other;
"I am a stranger,
and have been a wanderer,
sorely against my will.
I have met with grievous mishaps by sea and land,
and have been long held in bonds among the heathen-folk to the southward;
and am now brought hither by this Indian to be redeemed out of my captivity.
Will it please you,
to tell me of Hester Prynne's --have I her name rightly?
--of this woman's offences,
and what has brought her to yonder scaffold?"
and methinks it must gladden your heart,
after your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness,"
said the townsman,
"to find yourself at length in a land where iniquity is searched out and punished in the sight of rulers and people,
as here in our godly New England.
you must know,
was the wife of a certain learned man,
English by birth,
but who had long ago dwelt in Amsterdam,
whence some good time agone he was minded to cross over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts.
To this purpose he sent his wife before him,
remaining himself to look after some necessary affairs.
in some two years,
that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston,
no tidings have come of this learned gentleman,
and his young wife,
being left to her own misguidance --"
--I conceive you,"
said the stranger with a bitter smile.
"So learned a man as you speak of should have learned this too in his books.
by your favour,
may be the father of yonder babe --it is some three or four months old,
I should judge --which Mistress Prynne is holding in her arms?"
"Of a truth,
that matter remaineth a riddle;
and the Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting,"
answered the townsman.
"Madame Hester absolutely refuseth to speak,
and the magistrates have laid their heads together in vain.
Peradventure the guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacle,
unknown of man,
and forgetting that God sees him."
"The learned man,"
observed the stranger with another smile,
"should come himself to look into the mystery."
"It behoves him well if he be still in life,"
responded the townsman.
our Massachusetts magistracy,
bethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fair,
and doubtless was strongly tempted to her fall,
as is most likely,
her husband may be at the bottom of the sea,
they have not been bold to put in force the extremity of our righteous law against her.
The penalty thereof is death.
But in their great mercy and tenderness of heart they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory,
and then and thereafter,
for the remainder of her natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom."
"A wise sentence,"
remarked the stranger,
bowing his head.
"Thus she will be a living sermon against sin,
until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone.
It irks me,
that the partner of her iniquity should not at least,
stand on the scaffold by her side.
But he will be known --he will be known!
--he will be known!"
He bowed courteously to the communicative townsman,
and whispering a few words to his Indian attendant,
they both made their way through the crowd.
While this passed,
Hester Prynne had been standing on her pedestal,
still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger --so fixed a gaze that,
at moments of intense absorption,
all other objects in the visible world seemed to vanish,
leaving only him and her.
Such an interview,
would have been more terrible than even to meet him as she now did,
with the hot mid-day sun burning down upon her face,
and lighting up its shame;
with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast;
with the sin-born infant in her arms;
with a whole people,
drawn forth as to a festival,
staring at the features that should have been seen only in the quiet gleam of the fireside,
in the happy shadow of a home,
or beneath a matronly veil at church.
Dreadful as it was,
she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand witnesses.
It was better to stand thus,
with so many betwixt him and her,
than to greet him face to face --they two alone.
She fled for refuge,
as it were,
to the public exposure,
and dreaded the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her.
Involved in these thoughts,
she scarcely heard a voice behind her until it had repeated her name more than once,
in a loud and solemn tone,
audible to the whole multitude.
"Hearken unto me,
said the voice.
It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony,
or open gallery,
appended to the meeting-house.
It was the place whence proclamations were wont to be made,
amidst an assemblage of the magistracy,
with all the ceremonial that attended such public observances in those days.
to witness the scene which we are describing,
sat Governor Bellingham himself with four sergeants about his chair,
as a guard of honour.
He wore a dark feather in his hat,
a border of embroidery on his cloak,
and a black velvet tunic beneath --a gentleman advanced in years,
with a hard experience written in his wrinkles.
He was not ill-fitted to be the head and representative of a community which owed its origin and progress,
and its present state of development,
not to the impulses of youth,
but to the stern and tempered energies of manhood and the sombre sagacity of age;
accomplishing so much,
precisely because it imagined and hoped so little.
The other eminent characters by whom the chief ruler was surrounded were distinguished by a dignity of mien,
belonging to a period when the forms of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of Divine institutions.
just and sage.
out of the whole human family,
it would not have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons,
who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman's heart,
and disentangling its mesh of good and evil,
than the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her face.
She seemed conscious,
that whatever sympathy she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude;
as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony,
the unhappy woman grew pale,
The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend and famous John Wilson,
the eldest clergyman of Boston,
a great scholar,
like most of his contemporaries in the profession,
and withal a man of kind and genial spirit.
This last attribute,
had been less carefully developed than his intellectual gifts,
rather a matter of shame than self-congratulation with him.
There he stood,
with a border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap,
while his grey eyes,
accustomed to the shaded light of his study,
like those of Hester's infant,
in the unadulterated sunshine.
He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes of sermons,
and had no more right than one of those portraits would have to step forth,
as he now did,
and meddle with a question of human guilt,
said the clergyman,
"I have striven with my young brother here,
under whose preaching of the Word you have been privileged to sit" --here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder of a pale young man beside him --"I have sought,
to persuade this godly youth,
that he should deal with you,
here in the face of Heaven,
and before these wise and upright rulers,
and in hearing of all the people,
as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin.
Knowing your natural temper better than I,
he could the better judge what arguments to use,
whether of tenderness or terror,
such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy,
insomuch that you should no longer hide the name of him who tempted you to this grievous fall.
But he opposes to me --with a young man's over-softness,
albeit wise beyond his years --that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart's secrets in such broad daylight,
and in presence of so great a multitude.
as I sought to convince him,
the shame lay in the commission of the sin,
and not in the showing of it forth.
What say you to it,
Must it be thou,
that shall deal with this poor sinner's soul?"
There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of the balcony;
and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its purport,
speaking in an authoritative voice,
although tempered with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed:
"Good Master Dimmesdale,"
"the responsibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you.
It behoves you;
to exhort her to repentance and to confession,
as a proof and consequence thereof."
The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale --young clergyman,
who had come from one of the great English universities,
bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forest land.
His eloquence and religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession.
He was a person of very striking aspect,
with a white,
and impending brow;
and a mouth which,
unless when he forcibly compressed it,
was apt to be tremulous,
expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self restraint.
Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like attainments,
there was an air about this young minister --an apprehensive,
a half-frightened look --as of a being who felt himself quite astray,
and at a loss in the pathway of human existence,
and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own.
so far as his duties would permit,
he trod in the shadowy by-paths,
and thus kept himself simple and childlike,
when occasion was,
with a freshness,
and dewy purity of thought,
as many people said,
affected them like the speech of an angel.
Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the Governor had introduced so openly to the public notice,
bidding him speak,
in the hearing of all men,
to that mystery of a woman's soul,
so sacred even in its pollution.
The trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheek,
and made his lips tremulous.
"Speak to the woman,
said Mr. Wilson.
"It is of moment to her soul,
as the worshipful Governor says,
momentous to thine own,
in whose charge hers is.
Exhort her to confess the truth!"
The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head,
in silent prayer,
as it seemed,
and then came forward.
leaning over the balcony and looking down steadfastly into her eyes,
"thou hearest what this good man says,
and seest the accountability under which I labour.
If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace,
and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation,
I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!
Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him;
though he were to step down from a high place,
and stand there beside thee,
on thy pedestal of shame,
yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life.
What can thy silence do for him,
except it tempt him --yea,
as it were --to add hypocrisy to sin?
Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy,
that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee and the sorrow without.
Take heed how thou deniest to him --who,
hath not the courage to grasp it for himself --the bitter,
cup that is now presented to thy lips!"
The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet,
The feeling that it so evidently manifested,
rather than the direct purport of the words,
caused it to vibrate within all hearts,
and brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy.
Even the poor baby at Hester's bosom was affected by the same influence,
for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale,
and held up its little arms with a half-pleased,
So powerful seemed the minister's appeal that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name,
or else that the guilty one himself in whatever high or lowly place he stood,
would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity,
and compelled to ascend the scaffold.
Hester shook her head.
transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!"
cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson,
more harshly than before.
"That little babe hath been gifted with a voice,
to second and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard.
Speak out the name!
and thy repentance,
may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast."
replied Hester Prynne,
not at Mr. Wilson,
but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman.
"It is too deeply branded.
Ye cannot take it off.
And would that I might endure his agony as well as mine!"
said another voice,
coldly and sternly,
proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold,
and give your child a father!"
"I will not speak!"
turning pale as death,
but responding to this voice,
which she too surely recognised.
"And my child must seek a heavenly father;
she shall never know an earthly one!"
"She will not speak!"
murmured Mr. Dimmesdale,
leaning over the balcony,
with his hand upon his heart,
had awaited the result of his appeal.
He now drew back with a long respiration.
"Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart!
She will not speak!"
Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind,
the elder clergyman,
who had carefully prepared himself for the occasion,
addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin,
in all its branches,
but with continual reference to the ignominious letter.
So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol,
for the hour or more during which his periods were rolling over the people's heads,
that it assumed new terrors in their imagination,
and seemed to derive its scarlet hue from the flames of the infernal pit.
kept her place upon the pedestal of shame,
with glazed eyes,
and an air of weary indifference.
She had borne that morning all that nature could endure;
and as her temperament was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by a swoon,
her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of insensibility,
while the faculties of animal life remained entire.
In this state,
the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly,
upon her ears.
during the latter portion of her ordeal,
pierced the air with its wailings and screams;
she strove to hush it mechanically,
but seemed scarcely to sympathise with its trouble.
With the same hard demeanour,
she was led back to prison,
and vanished from the public gaze within its iron-clamped portal.
It was whispered by those who peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior.
After her return to the prison,
Hester Prynne was found to be in a state of nervous excitement,
that demanded constant watchfulness,
lest she should perpetrate violence on herself,
or do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe.
As night approached,
it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats of punishment,
thought fit to introduce a physician.
He described him as a man of skill in all Christian modes of physical science,
and likewise familiar with whatever the savage people could teach in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest.
To say the truth,
there was much need of professional assistance,
not merely for Hester herself,
but still more urgently for the child --who,
drawing its sustenance from the maternal bosom,
seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil,
the anguish and despair,
which pervaded the mother's system.
It now writhed in convulsions of pain,
and was a forcible type,
in its little frame,
of the moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.
Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment,
appeared that individual,
of singular aspect whose presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter.
He was lodged in the prison,
not as suspected of any offence,
but as the most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of him,
until the magistrates should have conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom.
His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth.
after ushering him into the room,
remained a moment,
marvelling at the comparative quiet that followed his entrance;
for Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death,
although the child continued to moan.
leave me alone with my patient,"
said the practitioner.
you shall briefly have peace in your house;
I promise you,
Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have found her heretofore."
if your worship can accomplish that,"
answered Master Brackett,
"I shall own you for a man of skill,
the woman hath been like a possessed one;
and there lacks little that I should take in hand,
to drive Satan out of her with stripes."
The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the profession to which he announced himself as belonging.
Nor did his demeanour change when the withdrawal of the prison keeper left him face to face with the woman,
whose absorbed notice of him,
in the crowd,
had intimated so close a relation between himself and her.
His first care was given to the child,
as she lay writhing on the trundle-bed,
made it of peremptory necessity to postpone all other business to the task of soothing her.
He examined the infant carefully,
and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case,
which he took from beneath his dress.
It appeared to contain medical preparations,
one of which he mingled with a cup of water.
"My old studies in alchemy,"
"and my sojourn,
for above a year past,
among a people well versed in the kindly properties of simples,
have made a better physician of me than many that claim the medical degree.
The child is yours --she is none of mine --neither will she recognise my voice or aspect as a father's.
Administer this draught,
with thine own hand."
Hester repelled the offered medicine,
at the same time gazing with strongly marked apprehension into his face.
"Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?"
responded the physician,
"What should ail me to harm this misbegotten and miserable babe?
The medicine is potent for good,
and were it my child --yea,
as well as thine!
I could do no better for it."
As she still hesitated,
in no reasonable state of mind,
he took the infant in his arms,
and himself administered the draught.
It soon proved its efficacy,
and redeemed the leech's pledge.
The moans of the little patient subsided;
its convulsive tossings gradually ceased;
and in a few moments,
as is the custom of young children after relief from pain,
it sank into a profound and dewy slumber.
as he had a fair right to be termed,
next bestowed his attention on the mother.
With calm and intent scrutiny,
he felt her pulse,
looked into her eyes --a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder,
because so familiar,
and yet so strange and cold --and,
satisfied with his investigation,
proceeded to mingle another draught.
"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe,"
"but I have learned many new secrets in the wilderness,
and here is one of them --a recipe that an Indian taught me,
in requital of some lessons of my own,
that were as old as Paracelsus.
It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience.
That I cannot give thee.
But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy passion,
like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea."
He presented the cup to Hester,
who received it with a slow,
earnest look into his face;
not precisely a look of fear,
yet full of doubt and questioning as to what his purposes might be.
She looked also at her slumbering child.
"I have thought of death,"
said she --"have wished for it --would even have prayed for it,
were it fit that such as I should pray for anything.
if death be in this cup,
I bid thee think again,
ere thou beholdest me quaff it.
it is even now at my lips."
still with the same cold composure.
"Dost thou know me so little,
Are my purposes wont to be so shallow?
Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance,
what could I do better for my object than to let thee live --than to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life --so that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy bosom?"
As he spoke,
he laid his long fore-finger on the scarlet letter,
which forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester's breast,
as if it had been red hot.
He noticed her involuntary gesture,
and bear about thy doom with thee,
in the eyes of men and women --in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy husband --in the eyes of yonder child!
that thou mayest live,
take off this draught."
Without further expostulation or delay,
Hester Prynne drained the cup,
at the motion of the man of skill,
seated herself on the bed,
where the child was sleeping;
while he drew the only chair which the room afforded,
and took his own seat beside her.
She could not but tremble at these preparations;
for she felt that --having now done all that humanity,
if so it were,
a refined cruelty,
impelled him to do for the relief of physical suffering --he was next to treat with her as the man whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.
"I ask not wherefore,
nor how thou hast fallen into the pit,
thou hast ascended to the pedestal of infamy on which I found thee.
The reason is not far to seek.
It was my folly,
and thy weakness.
I --a man of thought --the book-worm of great libraries --a man already in decay,
having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge --what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine own?
Misshapen from my birth-hour,
how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical deformity in a young girl's fantasy?
Men call me wise.
If sages were ever wise in their own behoof,
I might have foreseen all this.
I might have known that,
as I came out of the vast and dismal forest,
and entered this settlement of Christian men,
the very first object to meet my eyes would be thyself,
a statue of ignominy,
before the people.
from the moment when we came down the old church-steps together,
a married pair,
I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!"
said Hester --for,
depressed as she was,
she could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame --"thou knowest that I was frank with thee.
I felt no love,
nor feigned any."
"It was my folly!
I have said it.
up to that epoch of my life,
I had lived in vain.
The world had been so cheerless!
My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests,
but lonely and chill,
and without a household fire.
I longed to kindle one!
It seemed not so wild a dream --old as I was,
and sombre as I was,
and misshapen as I was --that the simple bliss,
which is scattered far and wide,
for all mankind to gather up,
might yet be mine.
I drew thee into my heart,
into its innermost chamber,
and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made there!"
"I have greatly wronged thee,"
"We have wronged each other,"
"Mine was the first wrong,
when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay.
as a man who has not thought and philosophised in vain,
I seek no vengeance,
plot no evil against thee.
Between thee and me,
the scale hangs fairly balanced.
the man lives who has wronged us both!
Who is he?"
"Ask me not!"
replied Hester Prynne,
looking firmly into his face.
"That thou shalt never know!"
with a smile of dark and self-relying intelligence.
"Never know him!
there are few things whether in the outward world,
to a certain depth,
in the invisible sphere of thought --few things hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery.
Thou mayest cover up thy secret from the prying multitude.
Thou mayest conceal it,
from the ministers and magistrates,
even as thou didst this day,
when they sought to wrench the name out of thy heart,
and give thee a partner on thy pedestal.
as for me,
I come to the inquest with other senses than they possess.
I shall seek this man,
as I have sought truth in books: as I have sought gold in alchemy.
There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him.
I shall see him tremble.
I shall feel myself shudder,
suddenly and unawares.
Sooner or later,
he must needs be mine."
The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her,
that Hester Prynne clasped her hand over her heart,
dreading lest he should read the secret there at once.
"Thou wilt not reveal his name?
Not the less he is mine,"
with a look of confidence,
as if destiny were at one with him.
"He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment,
as thou dost,
but I shall read it on his heart.
Yet fear not for him!
Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own method of retribution,
to my own loss,
betray him to the gripe of human law.
Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive aught against his life;
nor against his fame,
if as I judge,
he be a man of fair repute.
Let him live!
Let him hide himself in outward honour,
if he may!
Not the less he shall be mine!"
"Thy acts are like mercy,"
bewildered and appalled;
"but thy words interpret thee as a terror!"
thou that wast my wife,
I would enjoin upon thee,"
continued the scholar.
"Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour.
There are none in this land that know me.
Breathe not to any human soul that thou didst ever call me husband!
on this wild outskirt of the earth,
I shall pitch my tent;
elsewhere a wanderer,
and isolated from human interests,
I find here a woman,
amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments.
No matter whether of love or hate: no matter whether of right or wrong!
Thou and thine,
belong to me.
My home is where thou art and where he is.
But betray me not!"
"Wherefore dost thou desire it?"
she hardly knew why,
from this secret bond.
"Why not announce thyself openly,
and cast me off at once?"
"It may be,"
"because I will not encounter the dishonour that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman.
It may be for other reasons.
it is my purpose to live and die unknown.
thy husband be to the world as one already dead,
and of whom no tidings shall ever come.
Recognise me not,
Breathe not the secret,
to the man thou wottest of.
Shouldst thou fail me in this,
his life will be in my hands.
"I will keep thy secret,
as I have his,"
And she took the oath.
said old Roger Chillingworth,
as he was hereafter to be named,
"I leave thee alone: alone with thy infant and the scarlet letter!
How is it,
Doth thy sentence bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep?
Art thou not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?"
"Why dost thou smile so at me?"
troubled at the expression of his eyes.
"Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us?
Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?"
"Not thy soul,"
with another smile.
V. HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end.
Her prison-door was thrown open,
and she came forth into the sunshine,
falling on all alike,
to her sick and morbid heart,
as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast.
Perhaps there was a more real torture in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of the prison than even in the procession and spectacle that have been described,
where she was made the common infamy,
at which all mankind was summoned to point its finger.
she was supported by an unnatural tension of the nerves,
and by all the combative energy of her character,
which enabled her to convert the scene into a kind of lurid triumph.
a separate and insulated event,
to occur but once in her lifetime,
and to meet which,
reckless of economy,
she might call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many quiet years.
The very law that condemned her --a giant of stern features but with vigour to support,
as well as to annihilate,
in his iron arm --had held her up through the terrible ordeal of her ignominy.
with this unattended walk from her prison door,
began the daily custom;
and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature,
or sink beneath it.
She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present grief.
Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it;
so would the next day,
and so would the next: each its own trial,
and yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne.
The days of the far-off future would toil onward,
still with the same burden for her to take up,
and bear along with her,
but never to fling down;
for the accumulating days and added years would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame.
Throughout them all,
giving up her individuality,
she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point,
and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion.
Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her,
with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast --at her,
the child of honourable parents --at her,
the mother of a babe that would hereafter be a woman --at her,
who had once been innocent --as the figure,
the reality of sin.
And over her grave,
the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.
It may seem marvellous that,
with the world before her --kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement,
so remote and so obscure --free to return to her birth-place,
or to any other European land,
and there hide her character and identity under a new exterior,
as completely as if emerging into another state of being --and having also the passes of the dark,
inscrutable forest open to her,
where the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned her --it may seem marvellous that this woman should still call that place her home,
and where only,
she must needs be the type of shame.
But there is a fatality,
a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom,
which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt,
the spot where some great and marked event has given the colour to their lifetime;
still the more irresistibly,
the darker the tinge that saddens it.
were the roots which she had struck into the soil.
It was as if a new birth,
with stronger assimilations than the first,
had converted the forest-land,
still so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and wanderer,
into Hester Prynne's wild and dreary,
but life-long home.
All other scenes of earth --even that village of rural England,
where happy infancy and stainless maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping,
like garments put off long ago --were foreign to her,
The chain that bound her here was of iron links,
and galling to her inmost soul,
but could never be broken.
It might be,
too --doubtless it was so,
although she hid the secret from herself,
and grew pale whenever it struggled out of her heart,
like a serpent from its hole --it might be that another feeling kept her within the scene and pathway that had been so fatal.
the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union that,
unrecognised on earth,
would bring them together before the bar of final judgment,
and make that their marriage-altar,
for a joint futurity of endless retribution.
Over and over again,
the tempter of souls had thrust this idea upon Hester's contemplation,
and laughed at the passionate and desperate joy with which she seized,
and then strove to cast it from her.
She barely looked the idea in the face,
and hastened to bar it in its dungeon.
What she compelled herself to believe --what,
she reasoned upon as her motive for continuing a resident of New England --was half a truth,
and half a self-delusion.
she said to herself had been the scene of her guilt,
and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment;
the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul,
and work out another purity than that which she had lost: more saint-like,
because the result of martyrdom.
did not flee.
On the outskirts of the town,
within the verge of the peninsula,
but not in close vicinity to any other habitation,
there was a small thatched cottage.
It had been built by an earlier settler,
because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation,
while its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants.
It stood on the shore,
looking across a basin of the sea at the forest-covered hills,
towards the west.
A clump of scrubby trees,
such as alone grew on the peninsula,
did not so much conceal the cottage from view,
as seem to denote that here was some object which would fain have been,
or at least ought to be,
In this little lonesome dwelling,
with some slender means that she possessed,
and by the licence of the magistrates,
who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her,
Hester established herself,
with her infant child.
A mystic shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot.
too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be shut out from the sphere of human charities,
would creep nigh enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-window,
or standing in the doorway,
or labouring in her little garden,
or coming forth along the pathway that led townward,
discerning the scarlet letter on her breast,
would scamper off with a strange contagious fear.
Lonely as was Hester's situation,
and without a friend on earth who dared to show himself,
incurred no risk of want.
She possessed an art that sufficed,
even in a land that afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise,
to supply food for her thriving infant and herself.
It was the art,
almost the only one within a woman's grasp --of needle-work.
She bore on her breast,
in the curiously embroidered letter,
a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill,
of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed themselves,
to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold.
in the sable simplicity that generally characterised the Puritanic modes of dress,
there might be an infrequent call for the finer productions of her handiwork.
Yet the taste of the age,
demanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this kind,
did not fail to extend its influence over our stern progenitors,
who had cast behind them so many fashions which it might seem harder to dispense with.
such as ordinations,
the installation of magistrates,
and all that could give majesty to the forms in which a new government manifested itself to the people,
as a matter of policy,
marked by a stately and well-conducted ceremonial,
and a sombre,
but yet a studied magnificence.
painfully wrought bands,
and gorgeously embroidered gloves,
were all deemed necessary to the official state of men assuming the reins of power,
and were readily allowed to individuals dignified by rank or wealth,
even while sumptuary laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the plebeian order.
In the array of funerals,
too --whether for the apparel of the dead body,
or to typify,
by manifold emblematic devices of sable cloth and snowy lawn,
the sorrow of the survivors --there was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour as Hester Prynne could supply.
Baby-linen --for babies then wore robes of state --afforded still another possibility of toil and emolument.
not very slowly,
her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion.
Whether from commiseration for a woman of so miserable a destiny;
or from the morbid curiosity that gives a fictitious value even to common or worthless things;
or by whatever other intangible circumstance was then,
sufficient to bestow,
on some persons,
what others might seek in vain;
or because Hester really filled a gap which must otherwise have remained vacant;
it is certain that she had ready and fairly requited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy with her needle.
it may be,
chose to mortify itself,
by putting on,
for ceremonials of pomp and state,
the garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands.
Her needle-work was seen on the ruff of the Governor;
military men wore it on their scarfs,
and the minister on his band;
it decked the baby's little cap;
it was shut up,
to be mildewed and moulder away,
in the coffins of the dead.
But it is not recorded that,
in a single instance,
her skill was called in to embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride.
The exception indicated the ever relentless vigour with which society frowned upon her sin.
Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence,
of the plainest and most ascetic description,
and a simple abundance for her child.
Her own dress was of the coarsest materials and the most sombre hue,
with only that one ornament --the scarlet letter --which it was her doom to wear.
The child's attire,
on the other hand,
was distinguished by a fanciful,
we may rather say,
a fantastic ingenuity,
to heighten the airy charm that early began to develop itself in the little girl,
but which appeared to have also a deeper meaning.
We may speak further of it hereafter.
Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her infant,
Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity,
on wretches less miserable than herself,
and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them.
Much of the time,
which she might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art,
she employed in making coarse garments for the poor.
It is probable that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation,
and that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting so many hours to such rude handiwork.
She had in her nature a rich,
Oriental characteristic --a taste for the gorgeously beautiful,
save in the exquisite productions of her needle,
found nothing else,
in all the possibilities of her life,
to exercise itself upon.
Women derive a pleasure,
incomprehensible to the other sex,
from the delicate toil of the needle.
To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing,
and therefore soothing,
the passion of her life.
Like all other joys,
she rejected it as sin.
This morbid meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened,
it is to be feared,
no genuine and steadfast penitence,
but something doubtful,
something that might be deeply wrong beneath.
In this manner,
Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in the world.
With her native energy of character and rare capacity,
it could not entirely cast her off,
although it had set a mark upon her,
more intolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded the brow of Cain.
In all her intercourse with society,
there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it.
and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact,
and often expressed,
that she was banished,
and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere,
or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind.
She stood apart from mortal interests,
yet close beside them,
like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside,
and can no longer make itself seen or felt;
no more smile with the household joy,
nor mourn with the kindred sorrow;
should it succeed in manifesting its forbidden sympathy,
awakening only terror and horrible repugnance.
and its bitterest scorn besides,
seemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the universal heart.
It was not an age of delicacy;
and her position,
although she understood it well,
and was in little danger of forgetting it,
was often brought before her vivid self-perception,
like a new anguish,
by the rudest touch upon the tenderest spot.
as we have already said,
whom she sought out to be the objects of her bounty,
often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succour them.
Dames of elevated rank,
whose doors she entered in the way of her occupation,
were accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into her heart;
sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice,
by which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles;
by a coarser expression,
that fell upon the sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound.
Hester had schooled herself long and well;
and she never responded to these attacks,
save by a flush of crimson that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek,
and again subsided into the depths of her bosom.
She was patient --a martyr,
indeed but she forebore to pray for enemies,
in spite of her forgiving aspirations,
the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into a curse.
and in a thousand other ways,
did she feel the innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly contrived for her by the undying,
the ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal.
Clergymen paused in the streets,
to address words of exhortation,
that brought a crowd,
with its mingled grin and frown,
around the poor,
If she entered a church,
trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father,
it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the discourse.
She grew to have a dread of children;
for they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary woman gliding silently through the town,
with never any companion but one only child.
first allowing her to pass,
they pursued her at a distance with shrill cries,
and the utterances of a word that had no distinct purport to their own minds,
but was none the less terrible to her,
as proceeding from lips that babbled it unconsciously.
It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her shame,
that all nature knew of it;
it could have caused her no deeper pang had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story among themselves --had the summer breeze murmured about it --had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud!
Another peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new eye.
When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so --they branded it afresh in Hester's soul;
she could scarcely refrain,
yet always did refrain,
from covering the symbol with her hand.
an accustomed eye had likewise its own anguish to inflict.
Its cool stare of familiarity was intolerable.
From first to last,
Hester Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token;
the spot never grew callous;
on the contrary,
to grow more sensitive with daily torture.
once in many days,
or perchance in many months,
she felt an eye --a human eye --upon the ignominious brand,
that seemed to give a momentary relief,
as if half of her agony were shared.
The next instant,
back it all rushed again,
with still a deeper throb of pain;
in that brief interval,
she had sinned anew.
(Had Hester sinned alone?)
Her imagination was somewhat affected,
had she been of a softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more so,
by the strange and solitary anguish of her life.
Walking to and fro,
with those lonely footsteps,
in the little world with which she was outwardly connected,
it now and then appeared to Hester --if altogether fancy,
it was nevertheless too potent to be resisted --she felt or fancied,
that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense.
She shuddered to believe,
yet could not help believing,
that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts.
She was terror-stricken by the revelations that were thus made.
What were they?
Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad angel,
who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman,
as yet only half his victim,
that the outward guise of purity was but a lie,
if truth were everywhere to be shown,
a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's?
must she receive those intimations --so obscure,
yet so distinct --as truth?
In all her miserable experience,
there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense.
as well as shocked her,
by the irreverent inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid action.
Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb,
as she passed near a venerable minister or magistrate,
the model of piety and justice,
to whom that age of antique reverence looked up,
as to a mortal man in fellowship with angels.
"What evil thing is at hand?"
would Hester say to herself.
Lifting her reluctant eyes,
there would be nothing human within the scope of view,
save the form of this earthly saint!
Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert itself,
as she met the sanctified frown of some matron,
according to the rumour of all tongues,
had kept cold snow within her bosom throughout life.
That unsunned snow in the matron's bosom,
and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's --what had the two in common?
the electric thrill would give her warning --"Behold Hester,
here is a companion!"
she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at the scarlet letter,
shyly and aside,
and quickly averted,
with a faint,
chill crimson in her cheeks as if her purity were somewhat sullied by that momentary glance.
whose talisman was that fatal symbol,
wouldst thou leave nothing,
whether in youth or age,
for this poor sinner to revere?
--such loss of faith is ever one of the saddest results of sin.
Be it accepted as a proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim of her own frailty,
and man's hard law,
that Hester Prynne yet struggled to believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.
in those dreary old times,
were always contributing a grotesque horror to what interested their imaginations,
had a story about the scarlet letter which we might readily work up into a terrific legend.
They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth,
tinged in an earthly dye-pot,
but was red-hot with infernal fire,
and could be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the night-time.
And we must needs say it seared Hester's bosom so deeply,
that perhaps there was more truth in the rumour than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.
We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant;
that little creature,
whose innocent life had sprung,
by the inscrutable decree of Providence,
a lovely and immortal flower,
out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion.
How strange it seemed to the sad woman,
as she watched the growth,
and the beauty that became every day more brilliant,
and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child!
Her Pearl --for so had Hester called her;
not as a name expressive of her aspect,
which had nothing of the calm,
unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison.
But she named the infant "Pearl,"
as being of great price --purchased with all she had --her mother's only treasure!
Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet letter,
which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her,
save it were sinful like herself.
as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished,
had given her a lovely child,
whose place was on that same dishonoured bosom,
to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals,
and to be finally a blessed soul in heaven!
Yet these thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope than apprehension.
She knew that her deed had been evil;
she could have no faith,
that its result would be good.
Day after day she looked fearfully into the child's expanding nature,
ever dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being.
Certainly there was no physical defect.
By its perfect shape,
and its natural dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs,
the infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of the angels after the world's first parents were driven out.
The child had a native grace which does not invariably co-exist with faultless beauty;
always impressed the beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became it best.
But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds.
with a morbid purpose that may be better understood hereafter,
had bought the richest tissues that could be procured,
and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore before the public eye.
So magnificent was the small figure when thus arrayed,
and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper beauty,
shining through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness,
that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor.
And yet a russet gown,
torn and soiled with the child's rude play,
made a picture of her just as perfect.
Pearl's aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite variety;
in this one child there were many children,
comprehending the full scope between the wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby,
and the pomp,
of an infant princess.
there was a trait of passion,
a certain depth of hue,
which she never lost;
and if in any of her changes,
she had grown fainter or paler,
she would have ceased to be herself --it would have been no longer Pearl!
This outward mutability indicated,
and did not more than fairly express,
the various properties of her inner life.
Her nature appeared to possess depth,
as well as variety;
but --or else Hester's fears deceived her --it lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born.
The child could not be made amenable to rules.
In giving her existence a great law had been broken;
and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant,
but all in disorder,
or with an order peculiar to themselves,
amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered.
Hester could only account for the child's character --and even then most vaguely and imperfectly --by recalling what she herself had been during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world,
and her bodily frame from its material of earth.
The mother's impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life;
however white and clear originally,
they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold,
the fiery lustre,
the black shadow,
and the untempered light of the intervening substance.
the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch was perpetuated in Pearl.
She could recognize her wild,
the flightiness of her temper,
and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart.
They were now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's disposition,
later in the day of earthly existence,
might be prolific of the storm and whirlwind.
The discipline of the family in those days was of a far more rigid kind than now.
the harsh rebuke,
the frequent application of the rod,
enjoined by Scriptural authority,
not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences,
but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all childish virtues.
the loving mother of this one child,
ran little risk of erring on the side of undue severity.
of her own errors and misfortunes,
she early sought to impose a tender but strict control over the infant immortality that was committed to her charge.
But the task was beyond her skill.
After testing both smiles and frowns,
and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any calculable influence,
Hester was ultimately compelled to stand aside and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses.
Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual,
while it lasted.
As to any other kind of discipline,
whether addressed to her mind or heart,
little Pearl might or might not be within its reach,
in accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment.
while Pearl was yet an infant,
grew acquainted with a certain peculiar look,
that warned her when it would be labour thrown away to insist,
persuade or plead.
It was a look so intelligent,
sometimes so malicious,
but generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits,
that Hester could not help questioning at such moments whether Pearl was a human child.
She seemed rather an airy sprite,
after playing its fantastic sports for a little while upon the cottage floor,
would flit away with a mocking smile.
Whenever that look appeared in her wild,
deeply black eyes,
it invested her with a strange remoteness and intangibility: it was as if she were hovering in the air,
and might vanish,
like a glimmering light that comes we know not whence and goes we know not whither.
Hester was constrained to rush towards the child --to pursue the little elf in the flight which she invariably began --to snatch her to her bosom with a close pressure and earnest kisses --not so much from overflowing love as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh and blood,
and not utterly delusive.
But Pearl's laugh,
when she was caught,
though full of merriment and music,
made her mother more doubtful than before.
Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell,
that so often came between herself and her sole treasure,
whom she had bought so dear,
and who was all her world,
Hester sometimes burst into passionate tears.
perhaps --for there was no foreseeing how it might affect her --Pearl would frown,
and clench her little fist,
and harden her small features into a stern,
unsympathising look of discontent.
Not seldom she would laugh anew,
and louder than before,
like a thing incapable and unintelligent of human sorrow.
Or --but this more rarely happened --she would be convulsed with rage of grief and sob out her love for her mother in broken words,
and seem intent on proving that she had a heart by breaking it.
Yet Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty tenderness: it passed as suddenly as it came.
Brooding over all these matters,
the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit,
by some irregularity in the process of conjuration,
has failed to win the master-word that should control this new and incomprehensible intelligence.
Her only real comfort was when the child lay in the placidity of sleep.
Then she was sure of her,
and tasted hours of quiet,
until --perhaps with that perverse expression glimmering from beneath her opening lids --little Pearl awoke!
How soon --with what strange rapidity,
indeed did Pearl arrive at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words!
And then what a happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her clear,
bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish voices,
and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's tones,
amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive children.
But this could never be.
Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world.
An imp of evil,
emblem and product of sin,
she had no right among christened infants.
Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct,
as it seemed,
with which the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity,
of her position in respect to other children.
Never since her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without her.
In all her walks about the town,
was there: first as the babe in arms,
and afterwards as the little girl,
small companion of her mother,
holding a forefinger with her whole grasp,
and tripping along at the rate of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's.
She saw the children of the settlement on the grassy margin of the street,
or at the domestic thresholds,
disporting themselves in such grim fashions as the Puritanic nurture would permit;
playing at going to church,
or at scourging Quakers;
or taking scalps in a sham fight with the Indians,
or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft.
and gazed intently,
but never sought to make acquaintance.
If spoken to,
she would not speak again.
If the children gathered about her,
as they sometimes did,
Pearl would grow positively terrible in her puny wrath,
snatching up stones to fling at them,
that made her mother tremble,
because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue.
The truth was,
that the little Puritans,
being of the most intolerant brood that ever lived,
had got a vague idea of something outlandish,
or at variance with ordinary fashions,
in the mother and child,
and therefore scorned them in their hearts,
and not unfrequently reviled them with their tongues.
Pearl felt the sentiment,
and requited it with the bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom.
These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value,
and even comfort for the mother;
because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood,
instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the child's manifestations.
It appalled her,
to discern here,
a shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in herself.
All this enmity and passion had Pearl inherited,
by inalienable right,
out of Hester's heart.
Mother and daughter stood together in the same circle of seclusion from human society;
and in the nature of the child seemed to be perpetuated those unquiet elements that had distracted Hester Prynne before Pearl's birth,
but had since begun to be soothed away by the softening influences of maternity.
within and around her mother's cottage,
Pearl wanted not a wide and various circle of acquaintance.
The spell of life went forth from her ever-creative spirit,
and communicated itself to a thousand objects,
as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may be applied.
The unlikeliest materials --a stick,
a bunch of rags,
a flower --were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft,
without undergoing any outward change,
became spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied the stage of her inner world.
Her one baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages,
old and young,
to talk withal.
and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze,
needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders;
the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children,
whom Pearl smote down and uprooted most unmercifully.
It was wonderful,
the vast variety of forms into which she threw her intellect,
with no continuity,
but darting up and dancing,
always in a state of preternatural activity --soon sinking down,
as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life --and succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild energy.
It was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights.
In the mere exercise of the fancy,
and the sportiveness of a growing mind,
there might be a little more than was observable in other children of bright faculties;
except as Pearl,
in the dearth of human playmates,
was thrown more upon the visionary throng which she created.
The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart and mind.
She never created a friend,
but seemed always to be sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth,
whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies,
against whom she rushed to battle.
It was inexpressibly sad --then what depth of sorrow to a mother,
who felt in her own heart the cause --to observe,
in one so young,
this constant recognition of an adverse world,
and so fierce a training of the energies that were to make good her cause in the contest that must ensue.
Gazing at Pearl,
Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon her knees,
and cried out with an agony which she would fain have hidden,
but which made utterance for itself betwixt speech and a groan --"O Father in Heaven --if Thou art still my Father --what is this being which I have brought into the world?"
overhearing the ejaculation,
or aware through some more subtile channel,
of those throbs of anguish,
would turn her vivid and beautiful little face upon her mother,
smile with sprite-like intelligence,
and resume her play.
One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told.
The very first thing which she had noticed in her life,
--not the mother's smile,
responding to it,
as other babies do,
by that faint,
embryo smile of the little mouth,
remembered so doubtfully afterwards,
and with such fond discussion whether it were indeed a smile.
By no means!
But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was --shall we say it?
--the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom!
as her mother stooped over the cradle,
the infant's eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the letter;
and putting up her little hand she grasped at it,
but with a decided gleam,
that gave her face the look of a much older child.
gasping for breath,
did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal token,
instinctively endeavouring to tear it away,
so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand.
as if her mother's agonised gesture were meant only to make sport for her,
did little Pearl look into her eyes,
From that epoch,
except when the child was asleep,
Hester had never felt a moment's safety: not a moment's calm enjoyment of her.
it is true,
would sometimes elapse,
during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter;
it would come at unawares,
like the stroke of sudden death,
and always with that peculiar smile and odd expression of the eyes.
Once this freakish,
elvish cast came into the child's eyes while Hester was looking at her own image in them,
as mothers are fond of doing;
and suddenly for women in solitude,
and with troubled hearts,
are pestered with unaccountable delusions she fancied that she beheld,
not her own miniature portrait,
but another face in the small black mirror of Pearl's eye.
It was a face,
full of smiling malice,
yet bearing the semblance of features that she had known full well,
though seldom with a smile,
and never with malice in them.
It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child,
and had just then peeped forth in mockery.
Many a time afterwards had Hester been tortured,
though less vividly,
by the same illusion.
In the afternoon of a certain summer's day,
after Pearl grew big enough to run about,
she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild flowers,
and flinging them,
one by one,
at her mother's bosom;
dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit the scarlet letter.
Hester's first motion had been to cover her bosom with her clasped hands.
But whether from pride or resignation,
or a feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain,
she resisted the impulse,
and sat erect,
pale as death,
looking sadly into little Pearl's wild eyes.
Still came the battery of flowers,
almost invariably hitting the mark,
and covering the mother's breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in this world,
nor knew how to seek it in another.
her shot being all expended,
the child stood still and gazed at Hester,
with that little laughing image of a fiend peeping out --or,
whether it peeped or no,
her mother so imagined it --from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes.
what art thou?"
cried the mother.
I am your little Pearl!"
answered the child.
But while she said it,
and began to dance up and down with the humoursome gesticulation of a little imp,
whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney.
"Art thou my child,
in very truth?"
Nor did she put the question altogether idly,
for the moment,
with a portion of genuine earnestness;
such was Pearl's wonderful intelligence,
that her mother half doubted whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her existence,
and might not now reveal herself.
I am little Pearl!"
repeated the child,
continuing her antics.
"Thou art not my child!
Thou art no Pearl of mine!"
said the mother half playfully;
for it was often the case that a sportive impulse came over her in the midst of her deepest suffering.
what thou art,
and who sent thee hither?"
said the child,
coming up to Hester,
and pressing herself close to her knees.
"Do thou tell me!"
"Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!"
answered Hester Prynne.
But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness of the child.
Whether moved only by her ordinary freakishness,
or because an evil spirit prompted her,
she put up her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter.
"He did not send me!"
"I have no Heavenly Father!"
Thou must not talk so!"
answered the mother,
suppressing a groan.
"He sent us all into the world.
He sent even me,
much more thee!
thou strange and elfish child,
whence didst thou come?"
no longer seriously,
but laughing and capering about the floor.
"It is thou that must tell me!"
But Hester could not resolve the query,
being herself in a dismal labyrinth of doubt.
She remembered --betwixt a smile and a shudder --the talk of the neighbouring townspeople,
seeking vainly elsewhere for the child's paternity,
and observing some of her odd attributes,
had given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring: such as,
ever since old Catholic times,
had occasionally been seen on earth,
through the agency of their mother's sin,
and to promote some foul and wicked purpose.
according to the scandal of his monkish enemies,
was a brat of that hellish breed;
nor was Pearl the only child to whom this inauspicious origin was assigned among the New England Puritans.
THE GOVERNOR'S HALL
Hester Prynne went one day to the mansion of Governor Bellingham,
with a pair of gloves which she had fringed and embroidered to his order,
and which were to be worn on some great occasion of state;
though the chances of a popular election had caused this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank,
he still held an honourable and influential place among the colonial magistracy.
Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair of embroidered gloves,
at this time,
to seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the affairs of the settlement.
It had reached her ears that there was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants,
cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and government,
to deprive her of her child.
On the supposition that Pearl,
as already hinted,
was of demon origin,
these good people not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in the mother's soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her path.
If the child,
on the other hand,
were really capable of moral and religious growth,
and possessed the elements of ultimate salvation,
it would enjoy all the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred to wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prynne's.
Among those who promoted the design,
Governor Bellingham was said to be one of the most busy.
It may appear singular,
not a little ludicrous,
that an affair of this kind,
which in later days would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the select men of the town,
should then have been a question publicly discussed,
and on which statesmen of eminence took sides.
At that epoch of pristine simplicity,
matters of even slighter public interest,
and of far less intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child,
were strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state.
The period was hardly,
if at all,
earlier than that of our story,
when a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig not only caused a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the colony,
but resulted in an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.
Full of concern,
therefore --but so conscious of her own right that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on the one side,
and a lonely woman,
backed by the sympathies of nature,
on the other --Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage.
was her companion.
She was now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's side,
constantly in motion from morn till sunset,
could have accomplished a much longer journey than that before her.
more from caprice than necessity,
she demanded to be taken up in arms;
but was soon as imperious to be let down again,
and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway,
with many a harmless trip and tumble.
We have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty --a beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints,
a bright complexion,
eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow,
and hair already of a deep,
in after years,
would be nearly akin to black.
There was fire in her and throughout her: she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment.
in contriving the child's garb,
had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play,
arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut,
abundantly embroidered in fantasies and flourishes of gold thread.
So much strength of colouring,
which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloom,
was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty,
and made her the very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.
But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb,
of the child's whole appearance,
that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom.
It was the scarlet letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life!
The mother herself --as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain that all her conceptions assumed its form --had carefully wrought out the similitude,
lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture.
Pearl was the one as well as the other;
and only in consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.
As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the town,
the children of the Puritans looked up from their play,
--or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins --and spoke gravely one to another.
there is the woman of the scarlet letter: and of a truth,
there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side!
and let us fling mud at them!"
who was a dauntless child,
stamping her foot,
and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening gestures,
suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies,
and put them all to flight.
in her fierce pursuit of them,
an infant pestilence --the scarlet fever,
or some such half-fledged angel of judgment --whose mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation.
She screamed and shouted,
with a terrific volume of sound,
caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake within them.
The victory accomplished,
Pearl returned quietly to her mother,
and looked up,
into her face.
Without further adventure,
they reached the dwelling of Governor Bellingham.
This was a large wooden house,
built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our older towns now moss-grown,
crumbling to decay,
and melancholy at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences,
remembered or forgotten,
that have happened and passed away within their dusky chambers.
there was the freshness of the passing year on its exterior,
and the cheerfulness,
gleaming forth from the sunny windows,
of a human habitation,
into which death had never entered.
a very cheery aspect,
the walls being overspread with a kind of stucco,
in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully intermixed;
when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice,
it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double handful.
The brilliancy might have be fitted Aladdin's palace rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler.
It was further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures and diagrams,
suitable to the quaint taste of the age which had been drawn in the stucco,
when newly laid on,
and had now grown hard and durable,
for the admiration of after times.
looking at this bright wonder of a house began to caper and dance,
and imperatively required that the whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its front,
and given her to play with.
my little Pearl!"
said her mother;
"thou must gather thine own sunshine.
I have none to give thee!"
They approached the door,
which was of an arched form,
and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the edifice,
in both of which were lattice-windows,
the wooden shutters to close over them at need.
Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portal,
Hester Prynne gave a summons,
which was answered by one of the Governor's bond servant --a free-born Englishman,
but now a seven years' slave.
During that term he was to be the property of his master,
and as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox,
or a joint-stool.
The serf wore the customary garb of serving-men at that period,
and long before,
in the old hereditary halls of England.
"Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?"
replied the bond-servant,
staring with wide-open eyes at the scarlet letter,
being a new-comer in the country,
he had never before seen.
his honourable worship is within.
But he hath a godly minister or two with him,
and likewise a leech.
Ye may not see his worship now."
I will enter,"
answered Hester Prynne;
and the bond-servant,
perhaps judging from the decision of her air,
and the glittering symbol in her bosom,
that she was a great lady in the land,
offered no opposition.
So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of entrance.
With many variations,
suggested by the nature of his building materials,
diversity of climate,
and a different mode of social life,
Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land.
was a wide and reasonably lofty hall,
extending through the whole depth of the house,
and forming a medium of general communication,
more or less directly,
with all the other apartments.
At one extremity,
this spacious room was lighted by the windows of the two towers,
which formed a small recess on either side of the portal.
At the other end,
though partly muffled by a curtain,
it was more powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall windows which we read of in old books,
and which was provided with a deep and cushioned seat.
on the cushion,
lay a folio tome,
probably of the Chronicles of England,
or other such substantial literature;
in our own days,
we scatter gilded volumes on the centre table,
to be turned over by the casual guest.
The furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous chairs,
the backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers;
and likewise a table in the same taste,
the whole being of the Elizabethan age,
or perhaps earlier,
transferred hither from the Governor's paternal home.
On the table --in token that the sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind --stood a large pewter tankard,
at the bottom of which,
had Hester or Pearl peeped into it,
they might have seen the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale.
On the wall hung a row of portraits,
representing the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage,
some with armour on their breasts,
and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace.
All were characterised by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on,
as if they were the ghosts,
rather than the pictures,
of departed worthies,
and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men.
At about the centre of the oaken panels that lined the hall was suspended a suit of mail,
like the pictures,
an ancestral relic,
but of the most modern date;
for it had been manufactured by a skilful armourer in London,
the same year in which Governor Bellingham came over to New England.
There was a steel head-piece,
a gorget and greaves,
with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath;
and especially the helmet and breastplate,
so highly burnished as to glow with white radiance,
and scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the floor.
This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show,
but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and training field,
and had glittered,
at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war.
though bred a lawyer,
and accustomed to speak of Bacon,
as his professional associates,
the exigencies of this new country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier,
as well as a statesman and ruler.
who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house,
spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.
"I see you here.
Hester looked by way of humouring the child;
and she saw that,
owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror,
the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions,
so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance.
she seemed absolutely hidden behind it.
Pearl pointed upwards also,
at a similar picture in the head-piece;
smiling at her mother,
with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy.
That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror,
with so much breadth and intensity of effect,
that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child,
but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.
drawing her away,
"Come and look into this fair garden.
It may be we shall see flowers there;
more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-window,
at the further end of the hall,
and looked along the vista of a garden walk,
carpeted with closely-shaven grass,
and bordered with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery.
But the proprietor appeared already to have relinquished as hopeless,
the effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic,
in a hard soil,
and amid the close struggle for subsistence,
the native English taste for ornamental gardening.
Cabbages grew in plain sight;
and a pumpkin-vine,
rooted at some distance,
had run across the intervening space,
and deposited one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall window,
as if to warn the Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer him.
There were a few rose-bushes,
and a number of apple-trees,
probably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone,
the first settler of the peninsula;
that half mythological personage who rides through our early annals,
seated on the back of a bull.
seeing the rose-bushes,
began to cry for a red rose,
and would not be pacified.
said her mother,
"Do not cry,
dear little Pearl!
I hear voices in the garden.
The Governor is coming,
and gentlemen along with him."
adown the vista of the garden avenue,
a number of persons were seen approaching towards the house.
in utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her,
gave an eldritch scream,
and then became silent,
not from any notion of obedience,
but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance of those new personages.
THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER
in a loose gown and easy cap --such as elderly gentlemen loved to endue themselves with,
in their domestic privacy --walked foremost,
and appeared to be showing off his estate,
and expatiating on his projected improvements.
The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff,
beneath his grey beard,
in the antiquated fashion of King James's reign,
caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a charger.
The impression made by his aspect,
so rigid and severe,
and frost-bitten with more than autumnal age,
was hardly in keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had evidently done his utmost to surround himself.
But it is an error to suppose that our great forefathers --though accustomed to speak and think of human existence as a state merely of trial and warfare,
and though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and life at the behest of duty --made it a matter of conscience to reject such means of comfort,
or even luxury,
as lay fairly within their grasp.
This creed was never taught,
by the venerable pastor,
white as a snow-drift,
was seen over Governor Bellingham's shoulders,
while its wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalised in the New England climate,
and that purple grapes might possibly be compelled to flourish against the sunny garden-wall.
The old clergyman,
nurtured at the rich bosom of the English Church,
had a long established and legitimate taste for all good and comfortable things,
and however stern he might show himself in the pulpit,
or in his public reproof of such transgressions as that of Hester Prynne,
the genial benevolence of his private life had won him warmer affection than was accorded to any of his professional contemporaries.
Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests --one,
the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale,
whom the reader may remember as having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester Prynne's disgrace;
in close companionship with him,
old Roger Chillingworth,
a person of great skill in physic,
who for two or three years past had been settled in the town.
It was understood that this learned man was the physician as well as friend of the young minister,
whose health had severely suffered of late by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labours and duties of the pastoral relation.
in advance of his visitors,
ascended one or two steps,
throwing open the leaves of the great hall window,
found himself close to little Pearl.
The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne,
and partially concealed her.
"What have we here?"
said Governor Bellingham,
looking with surprise at the scarlet little figure before him.
I have never seen the like since my days of vanity,
in old King James's time,
when I was wont to esteem it a high favour to be admitted to a court mask!
There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions in holiday time,
and we called them children of the Lord of Misrule.
But how gat such a guest into my hall?"
cried good old Mr. Wilson.
"What little bird of scarlet plumage may this be?
Methinks I have seen just such figures when the sun has been shining through a richly painted window,
and tracing out the golden and crimson images across the floor.
But that was in the old land.
who art thou,
and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion?
Art thou a Christian child --ha?
Dost know thy catechism?
Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies whom we thought to have left behind us,
with other relics of Papistry,
in merry old England?"
"I am mother's child,"
answered the scarlet vision,
"and my name is Pearl!"
rather --or Coral!
--or Red Rose,
at the very least,
judging from thy hue!"
responded the old minister,
putting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek.
"But where is this mother of thine?
turning to Governor Bellingham,
"This is the selfsame child of whom we have held speech together;
and behold here the unhappy woman,
"Sayest thou so?"
cried the Governor.
we might have judged that such a child's mother must needs be a scarlet woman,
and a worthy type of her of Babylon!
But she comes at a good time,
and we will look into this matter forthwith."
Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hall,
followed by his three guests.
fixing his naturally stern regard on the wearer of the scarlet letter,
"there hath been much question concerning thee of late.
The point hath been weightily discussed,
that are of authority and influence,
do well discharge our consciences by trusting an immortal soul,
such as there is in yonder child,
to the guidance of one who hath stumbled and fallen amid the pitfalls of this world.
the child's own mother!
Were it not,
for thy little one's temporal and eternal welfare that she be taken out of thy charge,
and clad soberly,
and disciplined strictly,
and instructed in the truths of heaven and earth?
What canst thou do for the child in this kind?"
"I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!"
answered Hester Prynne,
laying her finger on the red token.
it is thy badge of shame!"
replied the stern magistrate.
"It is because of the stain which that letter indicates that we would transfer thy child to other hands."
said the mother,
though growing more pale,
"this badge hath taught me --it daily teaches me --it is teaching me at this moment --lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better,
albeit they can profit nothing to myself."
"We will judge warily,"
"and look well what we are about to do.
Good Master Wilson,
I pray you,
examine this Pearl --since that is her name --and see whether she hath had such Christian nurture as befits a child of her age."
The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair and made an effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees.
But the child,
unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but her mother,
escaped through the open window,
and stood on the upper step,
looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumage,
ready to take flight into the upper air.
not a little astonished at this outbreak --for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage,
and usually a vast favourite with children --essayed,
to proceed with the examination.
with great solemnity,
"thou must take heed to instruction,
in due season,
thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price.
Canst thou tell me,
who made thee?"
Now Pearl knew well enough who made her,
for Hester Prynne,
the daughter of a pious home,
very soon after her talk with the child about her Heavenly Father,
had begun to inform her of those truths which the human spirit,
at whatever stage of immaturity,
imbibes with such eager interest.
therefore --so large were the attainments of her three years' lifetime --could have borne a fair examination in the New England Primer,
or the first column of the Westminster Catechisms,
although unacquainted with the outward form of either of those celebrated works.
But that perversity,
which all children have more or less of,
and of which little Pearl had a tenfold portion,
at the most inopportune moment,
took thorough possession of her,
and closed her lips,
or impelled her to speak words amiss.
After putting her finger in her mouth,
with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's question,
the child finally announced that she had not been made at all,
but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door.
This phantasy was probably suggested by the near proximity of the Governor's red roses,
as Pearl stood outside of the window,
together with her recollection of the prison rose-bush,
which she had passed in coming hither.
Old Roger Chillingworth,
with a smile on his face,
whispered something in the young clergyman's ear.
Hester Prynne looked at the man of skill,
and even then,
with her fate hanging in the balance,
was startled to perceive what a change had come over his features --how much uglier they were,
how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier,
and his figure more misshapen --since the days when she had familiarly known him.
She met his eyes for an instant,
but was immediately constrained to give all her attention to the scene now going forward.
"This is awful!"
cried the Governor,
slowly recovering from the astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him.
"Here is a child of three years old,
and she cannot tell who made her!
she is equally in the dark as to her soul,
its present depravity,
and future destiny!
we need inquire no further."
Hester caught hold of Pearl,
and drew her forcibly into her arms,
confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce expression.
Alone in the world,
cast off by it,
and with this sole treasure to keep her heart alive,
she felt that she possessed indefeasible rights against the world,
and was ready to defend them to the death.
"God gave me the child!"
"He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me.
She is my happiness --she is my torture,
none the less!
Pearl keeps me here in life!
Pearl punishes me,
See ye not,
she is the scarlet letter,
only capable of being loved,
and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin?
Ye shall not take her!
I will die first!"
"My poor woman,"
said the not unkind old minister,
"the child shall be well cared for --far better than thou canst do for it."
"God gave her into my keeping!"
repeated Hester Prynne,
raising her voice almost to a shriek.
"I will not give her up!"
And here by a sudden impulse,
she turned to the young clergyman,
up to this moment,
she had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her eyes.
"Speak thou for me!"
"Thou wast my pastor,
and hadst charge of my soul,
and knowest me better than these men can.
I will not lose the child!
Speak for me!
Thou knowest --for thou hast sympathies which these men lack --thou knowest what is in my heart,
and what are a mother's rights,
and how much the stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter!
Look thou to it!
I will not lose the child!
Look to it!"
At this wild and singular appeal,
which indicated that Hester Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less than madness,
the young minister at once came forward,
and holding his hand over his heart,
as was his custom whenever his peculiarly nervous temperament was thrown into agitation.
He looked now more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene of Hester's public ignominy;
and whether it were his failing health,
or whatever the cause might be,
his large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.
"There is truth in what she says,"
began the minister,
with a voice sweet,
insomuch that the hall re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it --"truth in what Hester says,
and in the feeling which inspires her!
God gave her the child,
and gave her,
an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements --both seemingly so peculiar --which no other mortal being can possess.
is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and this child?"
"Ay --how is that,
good Master Dimmesdale?"
interrupted the Governor.
"Make that plain,
I pray you!"
"It must be even so,"
resumed the minister.
if we deem it otherwise,
do we not thereby say that the Heavenly Father,
the creator of all flesh,
hath lightly recognised a deed of sin,
and made of no account the distinction between unhallowed lust and holy love?
This child of its father's guilt and its mother's shame has come from the hand of God,
to work in many ways upon her heart,
who pleads so earnestly and with such bitterness of spirit the right to keep her.
It was meant for a blessing --for the one blessing of her life!
It was meant,
the mother herself hath told us,
for a retribution,
a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment;
an ever-recurring agony,
in the midst of a troubled joy!
Hath she not expressed this thought in the garb of the poor child,
so forcibly reminding us of that red symbol which sears her bosom?"
"Well said again!"
cried good Mr. Wilson.
"I feared the woman had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"
continued Mr. Dimmesdale.
the solemn miracle which God hath wrought in the existence of that child.
And may she feel,
is the very truth --that this boon was meant,
above all things else,
to keep the mother's soul alive,
and to preserve her from blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have sought to plunge her!
Therefore it is good for this poor,
that she hath an infant immortality,
a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow,
confided to her care --to be trained up by her to righteousness,
to remind her,
at every moment,
of her fall,
but yet to teach her,
as if it were by the Creator's sacred pledge,
if she bring the child to heaven,
the child also will bring its parents thither!
Herein is the sinful mother happier than the sinful father.
For Hester Prynne's sake,
and no less for the poor child's sake,
let us leave them as Providence hath seen fit to place them!"
with a strange earnestness,"
said old Roger Chillingworth,
smiling at him.
"And there is a weighty import in what my young brother hath spoken,"
added the Rev. Mr. Wilson.
"What say you,
worshipful Master Bellingham?
Hath he not pleaded well for the poor woman?"
"Indeed hath he,"
answered the magistrate;
"and hath adduced such arguments,
that we will even leave the matter as it now stands;
as there shall be no further scandal in the woman.
Care must be had nevertheless,
to put the child to due and stated examination in the catechism,
at thy hands or Master Dimmesdale's.
at a proper season,
the tithing-men must take heed that she go both to school and to meeting."
The young minister,
on ceasing to speak had withdrawn a few steps from the group,
and stood with his face partially concealed in the heavy folds of the window-curtain;
while the shadow of his figure,
which the sunlight cast upon the floor,
was tremulous with the vehemence of his appeal.
that wild and flighty little elf stole softly towards him,
and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own,
laid her cheek against it;
a caress so tender,
and withal so unobtrusive,
that her mother,
who was looking on,
asked herself --"Is that my Pearl?"
Yet she knew that there was love in the child's heart,
although it mostly revealed itself in passion,
and hardly twice in her lifetime had been softened by such gentleness as now.
The minister --for,
save the long-sought regards of woman,
nothing is sweeter than these marks of childish preference,
accorded spontaneously by a spiritual instinct,
and therefore seeming to imply in us something truly worthy to be loved --the minister looked round,
laid his hand on the child's head,
hesitated an instant,
and then kissed her brow.
Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment lasted no longer;
and went capering down the hall so airily,
that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched the floor.
"The little baggage hath witchcraft in her,
said he to Mr. Dimmesdale.
"She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly withal!"
"A strange child!"
remarked old Roger Chillingworth.
"It is easy to see the mother's part in her.
Would it be beyond a philosopher's research,
to analyse that child's nature,
from it make a mould,
to give a shrewd guess at the father?"
it would be sinful,
in such a question,
to follow the clue of profane philosophy,"
said Mr. Wilson.
"Better to fast and pray upon it;
and still better,
it may be,
to leave the mystery as we find it,
unless Providence reveal it of its own accord.
every good Christian man hath a title to show a father's kindness towards the poor,
The affair being so satisfactorily concluded,
departed from the house.
As they descended the steps,
it is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window was thrown open,
and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins,
Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister,
and the same who,
a few years later,
was executed as a witch.
while her ill-omened physiognomy seemed to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house.
"Wilt thou go with us to-night?
There will be a merry company in the forest;
and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one."
"Make my excuse to him,
so please you!"
with a triumphant smile.
"I must tarry at home,
and keep watch over my little Pearl.
Had they taken her from me,
I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest,
and signed my name in the Black Man's book too,
and that with mine own blood!"
"We shall have thee there anon!"
said the witch-lady,
as she drew back her head.
But here --if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic,
and not a parable --was already an illustration of the young minister's argument against sundering the relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of her frailty.
Even thus early had the child saved her from Satan's snare.
Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth,
the reader will remember,
was hidden another name,
which its former wearer had resolved should never more be spoken.
It has been related,
in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure,
stood a man,
just emerging from the perilous wilderness,
beheld the woman,
in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home,
set up as a type of sin before the people.
Her matronly fame was trodden under all men's feet.
Infamy was babbling around her in the public market-place.
For her kindred,
should the tidings ever reach them,
and for the companions of her unspotted life,
there remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonour;
which would not fail to be distributed in strict accordance and proportion with the intimacy and sacredness of their previous relationship.
Then why --since the choice was with himself --should the individual,
whose connexion with the fallen woman had been the most intimate and sacred of them all,
come forward to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so little desirable?
He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame.
Unknown to all but Hester Prynne,
and possessing the lock and key of her silence,
he chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind,
as regarded his former ties and interest,
to vanish out of life as completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean,
whither rumour had long ago consigned him.
This purpose once effected,
new interests would immediately spring up,
and likewise a new purpose;
it is true,
if not guilty,
but of force enough to engage the full strength of his faculties.
In pursuance of this resolve,
he took up his residence in the Puritan town as Roger Chillingworth,
without other introduction than the learning and intelligence of which he possessed more than a common measure.
As his studies,
at a previous period of his life,
had made him extensively acquainted with the medical science of the day,
it was as a physician that he presented himself and as such was cordially received.
of the medical and chirurgical profession,
were of rare occurrence in the colony.
it would appear,
partook of the religious zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic.
In their researches into the human frame,
it may be that the higher and more subtle faculties of such men were materialised,
and that they lost the spiritual view of existence amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechanism,
which seemed to involve art enough to comprise all of life within itself.
At all events,
the health of the good town of Boston,
so far as medicine had aught to do with it,
had hitherto lain in the guardianship of an aged deacon and apothecary,
whose piety and godly deportment were stronger testimonials in his favour than any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma.
The only surgeon was one who combined the occasional exercise of that noble art with the daily and habitual flourish of a razor.
To such a professional body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition.
He soon manifested his familiarity with the ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic;
in which every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and heterogeneous ingredients,
as elaborately compounded as if the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life.
In his Indian captivity,
he had gained much knowledge of the properties of native herbs and roots;
nor did he conceal from his patients that these simple medicines,
Nature's boon to the untutored savage,
had quite as large a share of his own confidence as the European Pharmacopoeia,
which so many learned doctors had spent centuries in elaborating.
This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the outward forms of a religious life;
and early after his arrival,
had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
The young divine,
whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford,
was considered by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heavenly ordained apostle,
should he live and labour for the ordinary term of life,
to do as great deeds,
for the now feeble New England Church,
as the early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith.
About this period,
the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail.
By those best acquainted with his habits,
the paleness of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to study,
his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty,
and more than all,
to the fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practice,
in order to keep the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp.
that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die,
it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any longer trodden by his feet.
on the other hand,
with characteristic humility,
avowed his belief that if Providence should see fit to remove him,
it would be because of his own unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth.
With all this difference of opinion as to the cause of his decline,
there could be no question of the fact.
His form grew emaciated;
though still rich and sweet,
had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it;
he was often observed,
on any slight alarm or other sudden accident,
to put his hand over his heart with first a flush and then a paleness,
indicative of pain.
Such was the young clergyman's condition,
and so imminent the prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished,
when Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town.
His first entry on the scene,
few people could tell whence,
dropping down as it were out of the sky or starting from the nether earth,
had an aspect of mystery,
which was easily heightened to the miraculous.
He was now known to be a man of skill;
it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of wild-flowers,
and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless to common eyes.
He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby and other famous men --whose scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural --as having been his correspondents or associates.
with such rank in the learned world,
had he come hither?
whose sphere was in great cities,
be seeking in the wilderness?
In answer to this query,
a rumour gained ground --and however absurd,
was entertained by some very sensible people --that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle,
by transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German university bodily through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale's study!
Individuals of wiser faith,
who knew that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the stage-effect of what is called miraculous interposition,
were inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so opportune arrival.
This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the physician ever manifested in the young clergyman;
he attached himself to him as a parishioner,
and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence from his naturally reserved sensibility.
He expressed great alarm at his pastor's state of health,
but was anxious to attempt the cure,
if early undertaken,
seemed not despondent of a favourable result.
the motherly dames,
and the young and fair maidens of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock,
were alike importunate that he should make trial of the physician's frankly offered skill.
Mr. Dimmesdale gently repelled their entreaties.
"I need no medicine,"
But how could the young minister say so,
with every successive Sabbath,
his cheek was paler and thinner,
and his voice more tremulous than before --when it had now become a constant habit,
rather than a casual gesture,
to press his hand over his heart?
Was he weary of his labours?
Did he wish to die?
These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston,
and the deacons of his church,
to use their own phrase,
"dealt with him,"
on the sin of rejecting the aid which Providence so manifestly held out.
He listened in silence,
and finally promised to confer with the physician.
"Were it God's will,"
said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
in fulfilment of this pledge,
he requested old Roger Chillingworth's professional advice,
"I could be well content that my labours,
and my sorrows,
and my sins,
and my pains,
should shortly end with me,
and what is earthly of them be buried in my grave,
and the spiritual go with me to my eternal state,
rather than that you should put your skill to the proof in my behalf."
replied Roger Chillingworth,
with that quietness,
whether imposed or natural,
marked all his deportment,
"it is thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak.
not having taken a deep root,
give up their hold of life so easily!
And saintly men,
who walk with God on earth,
would fain be away,
to walk with him on the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem."
rejoined the young minister,
putting his hand to his heart,
with a flush of pain flitting over his brow,
"were I worthier to walk there,
I could be better content to toil here."
"Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly,"
said the physician.
In this manner,
the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
As not only the disease interested the physician,
but he was strongly moved to look into the character and qualities of the patient,
these two men,
so different in age,
came gradually to spend much time together.
For the sake of the minister's health,
and to enable the leech to gather plants with healing balm in them,
they took long walks on the sea-shore,
or in the forest;
mingling various walks with the splash and murmur of the waves,
and the solemn wind-anthem among the tree-tops.
one was the guest of the other in his place of study and retirement.
There was a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of science,
in whom he recognised an intellectual cultivation of no moderate depth or scope;
together with a range and freedom of ideas,
that he would have vainly looked for among the members of his own profession.
he was startled,
if not shocked,
to find this attribute in the physician.
Mr. Dimmesdale was a true priest,
a true religionist,
with the reverential sentiment largely developed,
and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the track of a creed,
and wore its passage continually deeper with the lapse of time.
In no state of society would he have been what is called a man of liberal views;
it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of a faith about him,
while it confined him within its iron framework.
Not the less,
though with a tremulous enjoyment,
did he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe through the medium of another kind of intellect than those with which he habitually held converse.
It was as if a window were thrown open,
admitting a freer atmosphere into the close and stifled study,
where his life was wasting itself away,
or obstructed day-beams,
and the musty fragrance,
be it sensual or moral,
that exhales from books.
But the air was too fresh and chill to be long breathed with comfort.
So the minister,
and the physician with him,
withdrew again within the limits of what their Church defined as orthodox.
Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefully,
both as he saw him in his ordinary life,
keeping an accustomed pathway in the range of thoughts familiar to him,
and as he appeared when thrown amidst other moral scenery,
the novelty of which might call out something new to the surface of his character.
He deemed it essential,
it would seem,
to know the man,
before attempting to do him good.
Wherever there is a heart and an intellect,
the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these.
In Arthur Dimmesdale,
thought and imagination were so active,
and sensibility so intense,
that the bodily infirmity would be likely to have its groundwork there.
So Roger Chillingworth --the man of skill,
the kind and friendly physician --strove to go deep into his patient's bosom,
delving among his principles,
prying into his recollections,
and probing everything with a cautious touch,
like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern.
Few secrets can escape an investigator,
who has opportunity and licence to undertake such a quest,
and skill to follow it up.
A man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician.
If the latter possess native sagacity,
and a nameless something more,
--let us call it intuition;
if he show no intrusive egotism,
nor disagreeable prominent characteristics of his own;
if he have the power,
which must be born with him,
to bring his mind into such affinity with his patient's,
that this last shall unawares have spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought;
if such revelations be received without tumult,
and acknowledged not so often by an uttered sympathy as by silence,
an inarticulate breath,
and here and there a word to indicate that all is understood;
if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined the advantages afforded by his recognised character as a physician;
at some inevitable moment,
will the soul of the sufferer be dissolved,
and flow forth in a dark but transparent stream,
bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.
Roger Chillingworth possessed all,
of the attributes above enumerated.
time went on;
a kind of intimacy,
as we have said,
grew up between these two cultivated minds,
which had as wide a field as the whole sphere of human thought and study to meet upon;
they discussed every topic of ethics and religion,
of public affairs,
and private character;
they talked much,
on both sides,
of matters that seemed personal to themselves;
and yet no secret,
such as the physician fancied must exist there,
ever stole out of the minister's consciousness into his companion's ear.
The latter had his suspicions,
that even the nature of Mr. Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly been revealed to him.
It was a strange reserve!
After a time,
at a hint from Roger Chillingworth,
the friends of Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were lodged in the same house;
so that every ebb and flow of the minister's life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physician.
There was much joy throughout the town when this greatly desirable object was attained.
It was held to be the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare;
as often urged by such as felt authorised to do so,
he had selected some one of the many blooming damsels,
spiritually devoted to him,
to become his devoted wife.
This latter step,
there was no present prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take;
he rejected all suggestions of the kind,
as if priestly celibacy were one of his articles of Church discipline.
Doomed by his own choice,
as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was,
to eat his unsavoury morsel always at another's board,
and endure the life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another's fireside,
it truly seemed that this sagacious,
benevolent old physician,
with his concord of paternal and reverential love for the young pastor,
was the very man,
of all mankind,
to be constantly within reach of his voice.
The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widow,
of good social rank,
who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the site on which the venerable structure of King's Chapel has since been built.
It had the graveyard,
originally Isaac Johnson's home-field,
on one side,
and so was well adapted to call up serious reflections,
suited to their respective employments,
in both minister and man of physic.
The motherly care of the good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment,
with a sunny exposure,
and heavy window-curtains,
to create a noontide shadow when desirable.
The walls were hung round with tapestry,
said to be from the Gobelin looms,
at all events,
representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba,
and Nathan the Prophet,
in colours still unfaded,
but which made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.
Here the pale clergyman piled up his library,
rich with parchment-bound folios of the Fathers,
and the lore of Rabbis,
and monkish erudition,
of which the Protestant divines,
even while they vilified and decried that class of writers,
were yet constrained often to avail themselves.
On the other side of the house,
old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory: not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably complete,
but provided with a distilling apparatus and the means of compounding drugs and chemicals,
which the practised alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose.
With such commodiousness of situation,
these two learned persons sat themselves down,
each in his own domain,
yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the other,
and bestowing a mutual and not incurious inspection into one another's business.
And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friends,
as we have intimated,
very reasonably imagined that the hand of Providence had done all this for the purpose --besought in so many public and domestic and secret prayers --of restoring the young minister to health.
it must now be said,
another portion of the community had latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician.
When an uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes,
it is exceedingly apt to be deceived.
it forms its judgment,
as it usually does,
on the intuitions of its great and warm heart,
the conclusions thus attained are often so profound and so unerring as to possess the character of truth supernaturally revealed.
in the case of which we speak,
could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation.
There was an aged handicraftsman,
it is true,
who had been a citizen of London at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murder,
now some thirty years agone;
he testified to having seen the physician,
under some other name,
which the narrator of the story had now forgotten,
in company with Dr. Forman,
the famous old conjurer,
who was implicated in the affair of Overbury.
Two or three individuals hinted that the man of skill,
during his Indian captivity,
had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the incantations of the savage priests,
who were universally acknowledged to be powerful enchanters,
often performing seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art.
A large number --and many of these were persons of such sober sense and practical observation that their opinions would have been valuable in other matters --affirmed that Roger Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town,
and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale.
his expression had been calm,
Now there was something ugly and evil in his face,
which they had not previously noticed,
and which grew still the more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him.
According to the vulgar idea,
the fire in his laboratory had been brought from the lower regions,
and was fed with infernal fuel;
as might be expected,
his visage was getting sooty with the smoke.
To sum up the matter,
it grew to be a widely diffused opinion that the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale,
like many other personages of special sanctity,
in all ages of the Christian world,
was haunted either by Satan himself or Satan's emissary,
in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth.
This diabolical agent had the Divine permission,
for a season,
to burrow into the clergyman's intimacy,
and plot against his soul.
No sensible man,
it was confessed,
could doubt on which side the victory would turn.
The people looked,
with an unshaken hope,
to see the minister come forth out of the conflict transfigured with the glory which he would unquestionably win.
it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony through which he must struggle towards his triumph.
to judge from the gloom and terror in the depth of the poor minister's eyes,
the battle was a sore one,
and the victory anything but secure.
X. THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT
Old Roger Chillingworth,
had been calm in temperament,
though not of warm affections,
and in all his relations with the world,
a pure and upright man.
He had begun an investigation,
as he imagined,
with the severe and equal integrity of a judge,
desirous only of truth,
even as if the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines and figures of a geometrical problem,
instead of human passions,
and wrongs inflicted on himself.
as he proceeded,
a terrible fascination,
a kind of fierce,
though still calm,
seized the old man within its gripe,
and never set him free again until he had done all its bidding.
He now dug into the poor clergyman's heart,
like a miner searching for gold;
like a sexton delving into a grave,
possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's bosom,
but likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption.
for his own soul,
if these were what he sought!
Sometimes a light glimmered out of the physician's eyes,
burning blue and ominous,
like the reflection of a furnace,
let us say,
like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan's awful doorway in the hillside,
and quivered on the pilgrim's face.
The soil where this dark miner was working had perchance shown indications that encouraged him.
at one such moment,
"pure as they deem him --all spiritual as he seems --hath inherited a strong animal nature from his father or his mother.
Let us dig a little further in the direction of this vein!"
Then after long search into the minister's dim interior,
and turning over many precious materials,
in the shape of high aspirations for the welfare of his race,
warm love of souls,
strengthened by thought and study,
and illuminated by revelation --all of which invaluable gold was perhaps no better than rubbish to the seeker --he would turn back,
and begin his quest towards another point.
He groped along as stealthily,
with as cautious a tread,
and as wary an outlook,
as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only half asleep --or,
it may be,
broad awake --with purpose to steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye.
In spite of his premeditated carefulness,
the floor would now and then creak;
his garments would rustle;
the shadow of his presence,
in a forbidden proximity,
would be thrown across his victim.
In other words,
whose sensibility of nerve often produced the effect of spiritual intuition,
would become vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace had thrust itself into relation with him.
But Old Roger Chillingworth,
had perceptions that were almost intuitive;
and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards him,
there the physician sat;
but never intrusive friend.
Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual's character more perfectly,
if a certain morbidness,
to which sick hearts are liable,
had not rendered him suspicious of all mankind.
Trusting no man as his friend,
he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared.
He therefore still kept up a familiar intercourse with him,
daily receiving the old physician in his study,
or visiting the laboratory,
for recreation's sake,
watching the processes by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency.
leaning his forehead on his hand,
and his elbow on the sill of the open window,
that looked towards the grave-yard,
he talked with Roger Chillingworth,
while the old man was examining a bundle of unsightly plants.
with a look askance at them --for it was the clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom,
looked straight forth at any object,
whether human or inanimate,
my kind doctor,
did you gather those herbs,
with such a dark,
"Even in the graveyard here at hand,"
answered the physician,
continuing his employment.
"They are new to me.
I found them growing on a grave,
which bore no tombstone,
no other memorial of the dead man,
save these ugly weeds,
that have taken upon themselves to keep him in remembrance.
They grew out of his heart,
it may be,
some hideous secret that was buried with him,
and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime."
said Mr. Dimmesdale,
"he earnestly desired it,
but could not."
rejoined the physician.
since all the powers of nature call so earnestly for the confession of sin,
that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart,
to make manifest,
an outspoken crime?"
is but a phantasy of yours,"
replied the minister.
"There can be,
if I forbode aright,
short of the Divine mercy,
whether by uttered words,
or by type or emblem,
the secrets that may be buried in the human heart.
making itself guilty of such secrets,
must perforce hold them,
until the day when all hidden things shall be revealed.
Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ,
as to understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds,
then to be made,
is intended as a part of the retribution.
were a shallow view of it.
unless I greatly err,
are meant merely to promote the intellectual satisfaction of all intelligent beings,
who will stand waiting,
on that day,
to see the dark problem of this life made plain.
A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the completest solution of that problem.
I conceive moreover,
that the hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of,
will yield them up,
at that last day,
not with reluctance,
but with a joy unutterable."
"Then why not reveal it here?"
asked Roger Chillingworth,
glancing quietly aside at the minister.
"Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"
"They mostly do,"
said the clergyman,
griping hard at his breast,
as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain.
many a poor soul hath given its confidence to me,
not only on the death-bed,
but while strong in life,
and fair in reputation.
after such an outpouring,
what a relief have I witnessed in those sinful brethren!
even as in one who at last draws free air,
after a long stifling with his own polluted breath.
How can it be otherwise?
Why should a wretched man --guilty,
we will say,
of murder --prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart,
rather than fling it forth at once,
and let the universe take care of it!"
"Yet some men bury their secrets thus,"
observed the calm physician.
there are such men,"
answered Mr. Dimmesdale.
"But not to suggest more obvious reasons,
it may be that they are kept silent by the very constitution of their nature.
Or --can we not suppose it?
--guilty as they may be,
a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare,
they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men;
no good can be achieved by them;
no evil of the past be redeemed by better service.
to their own unutterable torment,
they go about among their fellow-creatures,
looking pure as new-fallen snow,
while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves."
"These men deceive themselves,"
said Roger Chillingworth,
with somewhat more emphasis than usual,
and making a slight gesture with his forefinger.
"They fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to them.
Their love for man,
their zeal for God's service --these holy impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has unbarred the door,
and which must needs propagate a hellish breed within them.
if they seek to glorify God,
let them not lift heavenward their unclean hands!
If they would serve their fellowmen,
let them do it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience,
in constraining them to penitential self-abasement!
Would thou have me to believe,
O wise and pious friend,
that a false show can be better --can be more for God's glory,
or man' welfare --than God's own truth?
such men deceive themselves!"
"It may be so,"
said the young clergyman,
as waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or unseasonable.
He had a ready faculty,
of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous temperament.
I would ask of my well-skilled physician,
in good sooth,
he deems me to have profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?"
Before Roger Chillingworth could answer,
they heard the clear,
wild laughter of a young child's voice,
proceeding from the adjacent burial-ground.
Looking instinctively from the open window --for it was summer-time --the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the enclosure.
Pearl looked as beautiful as the day,
but was in one of those moods of perverse merriment which,
whenever they occurred,
seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact.
She now skipped irreverently from one grave to another;
until coming to the broad,
armorial tombstone of a departed worthy --perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself --she began to dance upon it.
In reply to her mother's command and entreaty that she would behave more decorously,
little Pearl paused to gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock which grew beside the tomb.
Taking a handful of these,
she arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the maternal bosom,
to which the burrs,
as their nature was,
Hester did not pluck them off.
Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window and smiled grimly down.
"There is no law,
nor reverence for authority,
no regard for human ordinances or opinions,
right or wrong,
mixed up with that child's composition,"
as much to himself as to his companion.
"I saw her,
the other day,
bespatter the Governor himself with water at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane.
in heaven's name,
Is the imp altogether evil?
Hath she affections?
Hath she any discoverable principle of being?"
save the freedom of a broken law,"
answered Mr. Dimmesdale,
in a quiet way,
as if he had been discussing the point within himself,
"Whether capable of good,
I know not."
The child probably overheard their voices,
looking up to the window with a bright,
but naughty smile of mirth and intelligence,
she threw one of the prickly burrs at the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale.
The sensitive clergyman shrank,
with nervous dread,
from the light missile.
Detecting his emotion,
Pearl clapped her little hands in the most extravagant ecstacy.
had involuntarily looked up,
and all these four persons,
old and young,
regarded one another in silence,
till the child laughed aloud,
and shouted --"Come away,
or yonder old black man will catch you!
He hath got hold of the minister already.
mother or he will catch you!
But he cannot catch little Pearl!"
So she drew her mother away,
and frisking fantastically among the hillocks of the dead people,
like a creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buried generation,
nor owned herself akin to it.
It was as if she had been made afresh out of new elements,
and must perforce be permitted to live her own life,
and be a law unto herself without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.
"There goes a woman,"
resumed Roger Chillingworth,
after a pause,
be her demerits what they may,
hath none of that mystery of hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne.
Is Hester Prynne the less miserable,
for that scarlet letter on her breast?"
"I do verily believe it,"
answered the clergyman.
I cannot answer for her.
There was a look of pain in her face which I would gladly have been spared the sight of.
it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain,
as this poor woman Hester is,
than to cover it up in his heart."
There was another pause,
and the physician began anew to examine and arrange the plants which he had gathered.
"You inquired of me,
a little time agone,"
"my judgment as touching your health."
answered the clergyman,
"and would gladly learn it.
I pray you,
be it for life or death."
said the physician,
still busy with his plants,
but keeping a wary eye on Mr. Dimmesdale,
"the disorder is a strange one;
not so much in itself nor as outwardly manifested,
--in so far,
at least as the symptoms have been laid open to my observation.
Looking daily at you,
my good sir,
and watching the tokens of your aspect now for months gone by,
I should deem you a man sore sick,
it may be,
yet not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician might well hope to cure you.
But I know not what to say,
the disease is what I seem to know,
yet know it not."
"You speak in riddles,
said the pale minister,
glancing aside out of the window.
to speak more plainly,"
continued the physician,
"and I crave pardon,
should it seem to require pardon,
for this needful plainness of my speech.
Let me ask as your friend,
as one having charge,
of your life and physical well being,
hath all the operations of this disorder been fairly laid open and recounted to me?"
"How can you question it?"
asked the minister.
"Surely it were child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"
"You would tell me,
that I know all?"
said Roger Chillingworth,
and fixing an eye,
bright with intense and concentrated intelligence,
on the minister's face.
"Be it so!
He to whom only the outward and physical evil is laid open,
but half the evil which he is called upon to cure.
A bodily disease,
which we look upon as whole and entire within itself,
be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.
Your pardon once again,
if my speech give the shadow of offence.
of all men whom I have known,
are he whose body is the closest conjoined,
so to speak,
with the spirit whereof it is the instrument."
"Then I need ask no further,"
said the clergyman,
somewhat hastily rising from his chair.
"You deal not,
I take it,
in medicine for the soul!"
continued Roger Chillingworth,
in an unaltered tone,
without heeding the interruption,
but standing up and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked minister,
with his low,
and misshapen figure,
a sore place,
if we may so call it,
in your spirit hath immediately its appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame.
that your physician heal the bodily evil?
How may this be unless you first lay open to him the wound or trouble in your soul?"
not to thee!
not to an earthly physician!"
cried Mr. Dimmesdale,
and turning his eyes,
full and bright,
and with a kind of fierceness,
on old Roger Chillingworth.
"Not to thee!
if it be the soul's disease,
then do I commit myself to the one Physician of the soul!
if it stand with His good pleasure,
or he can kill.
Let Him do with me as,
in His justice and wisdom,
He shall see good.
But who art thou,
that meddlest in this matter?
that dares thrust himself between the sufferer and his God?"
With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.
"It is as well to have made this step,"
said Roger Chillingworth to himself,
looking after the minister,
with a grave smile.
"There is nothing lost.
We shall be friends again anon.
how passion takes hold upon this man,
and hurrieth him out of himself!
As with one passion so with another.
He hath done a wild thing ere now,
this pious Master Dimmesdale,
in the hot passion of his heart."
It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two companions,
on the same footing and in the same degree as heretofore.
The young clergyman,
after a few hours of privacy,
was sensible that the disorder of his nerves had hurried him into an unseemly outbreak of temper,
which there had been nothing in the physician's words to excuse or palliate.
at the violence with which he had thrust back the kind old man,
when merely proffering the advice which it was his duty to bestow,
and which the minister himself had expressly sought.
With these remorseful feelings,
he lost no time in making the amplest apologies,
and besought his friend still to continue the care which,
if not successful in restoring him to health,
in all probability,
been the means of prolonging his feeble existence to that hour.
Roger Chillingworth readily assented,
and went on with his medical supervision of the minister;
doing his best for him,
in all good faith,
but always quitting the patient's apartment,
at the close of the professional interview,
with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips.
This expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence,
but grew strongly evident as the physician crossed the threshold.
"A rare case,"
"I must needs look deeper into it.
A strange sympathy betwixt soul and body!
Were it only for the art's sake,
I must search this matter to the bottom."
It came to pass,
not long after the scene above recorded,
that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
and entirely unawares,
fell into a deep,
sitting in his chair,
with a large black-letter volume open before him on the table.
It must have been a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of literature.
The profound depth of the minister's repose was the more remarkable,
inasmuch as he was one of those persons whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful,
and as easily scared away,
as a small bird hopping on a twig.
To such an unwonted remoteness,
had his spirit now withdrawn into itself that he stirred not in his chair when old Roger Chillingworth,
without any extraordinary precaution,
came into the room.
The physician advanced directly in front of his patient,
laid his hand upon his bosom,
and thrust aside the vestment,
that hitherto had always covered it even from the professional eye.
Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered,
and slightly stirred.
After a brief pause,
the physician turned away.
But with what a wild look of wonder,
With what a ghastly rapture,
as it were,
too mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features,
and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugliness of his figure,
and making itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up his arms towards the ceiling,
and stamped his foot upon the floor!
Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth,
at that moment of his ecstasy,
he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven,
and won into his kingdom.
But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was the trait of wonder in it!
THE INTERIOR OF A HEART
After the incident last described,
the intercourse between the clergyman and the physician,
though externally the same,
was really of another character than it had previously been.
The intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain path before it.
It was not,
precisely that which he had laid out for himself to tread.
as he appeared,
there was yet,
a quiet depth of malice,
but active now,
in this unfortunate old man,
which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy.
To make himself the one trusted friend,
to whom should be confided all the fear,
the ineffectual repentance,
the backward rush of sinful thoughts,
expelled in vain!
All that guilty sorrow,
hidden from the world,
whose great heart would have pitied and forgiven,
to be revealed to him,
the Pitiless --to him,
All that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man,
to whom nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance!
The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme.
was inclined to be hardly,
if at all,
less satisfied with the aspect of affairs,
which Providence --using the avenger and his victim for its own purposes,
where it seemed most to punish --had substituted for his black devices.
he could almost say,
had been granted to him.
It mattered little for his object,
whether celestial or from what other region.
By its aid,
in all the subsequent relations betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale,
not merely the external presence,
but the very inmost soul of the latter,
seemed to be brought out before his eyes,
so that he could see and comprehend its every movement.
not a spectator only,
but a chief actor in the poor minister's interior world.
He could play upon him as he chose.
Would he arouse him with a throb of agony?
The victim was for ever on the rack;
it needed only to know the spring that controlled the engine: and the physician knew it well.
Would he startle him with sudden fear?
As at the waving of a magician's wand,
up rose a grisly phantom --up rose a thousand phantoms --in many shapes,
or more awful shame,
all flocking round about the clergyman,
and pointing with their fingers at his breast!
All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect,
that the minister,
though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil influence watching over him,
could never gain a knowledge of its actual nature.
he looked doubtfully,
with horror and the bitterness of hatred --at the deformed figure of the old physician.
his grizzled beard,
his slightest and most indifferent acts,
the very fashion of his garments,
were odious in the clergyman's sight;
a token implicitly to be relied on of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was willing to acknowledge to himself.
as it was impossible to assign a reason for such distrust and abhorrence,
so Mr. Dimmesdale,
conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was infecting his heart's entire substance,
attributed all his presentiments to no other cause.
He took himself to task for his bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworth,
disregarded the lesson that he should have drawn from them,
and did his best to root them out.
Unable to accomplish this,
as a matter of principle,
continued his habits of social familiarity with the old man,
and thus gave him constant opportunities for perfecting the purpose to which --poor forlorn creature that he was,
and more wretched than his victim --the avenger had devoted himself.
While thus suffering under bodily disease,
and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul,
and given over to the machinations of his deadliest enemy,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office.
He won it indeed,
in great part,
by his sorrows.
His intellectual gifts,
his moral perceptions,
his power of experiencing and communicating emotion,
were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life.
though still on its upward slope,
already overshadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen,
eminent as several of them were.
There are scholars among them,
who had spent more years in acquiring abstruse lore,
connected with the divine profession,
than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived;
and who might well,
be more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable attainments than their youthful brother.
There were men,
of a sturdier texture of mind than his,
and endowed with a far greater share of shrewd,
or granite understanding;
duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal ingredient,
constitutes a highly respectable,
and unamiable variety of the clerical species.
There were others again,
true saintly fathers,
whose faculties had been elaborated by weary toil among their books,
and by patient thought,
by spiritual communications with the better world,
into which their purity of life had almost introduced these holy personages,
with their garments of mortality still clinging to them.
All that they lacked was,
the gift that descended upon the chosen disciples at Pentecost,
in tongues of flame;
it would seem,
not the power of speech in foreign and unknown languages,
but that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language.
otherwise so apostolic,
lacked Heaven's last and rarest attestation of their office,
the Tongue of Flame.
They would have vainly sought --had they ever dreamed of seeking --to express the highest truths through the humblest medium of familiar words and images.
Their voices came down,
afar and indistinctly,
from the upper heights where they habitually dwelt.
it was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdale,
by many of his traits of character,
To the high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed,
had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden,
whatever it might be,
of crime or anguish,
beneath which it was his doom to totter.
It kept him down on a level with the lowest;
the man of ethereal attributes,
whose voice the angels might else have listened to and answered!
But this very burden it was that gave him sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind;
so that his heart vibrated in unison with theirs,
and received their pain into itself and sent its own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts,
in gushes of sad,
but sometimes terrible!
The people knew not the power that moved them thus.
They deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness.
They fancied him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdom,
In their eyes,
the very ground on which he trod was sanctified.
The virgins of his church grew pale around him,
victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment,
that they imagined it to be all religion,
and brought it openly,
in their white bosoms,
as their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar.
The aged members of his flock,
beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so feeble,
while they were themselves so rugged in their infirmity,
believed that he would go heavenward before them,
and enjoined it upon their children that their old bones should be buried close to their young pastor's holy grave.
And all this time,
when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave,
he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it,
because an accursed thing must there be buried!
It is inconceivable,
the agony with which this public veneration tortured him.
It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth,
and to reckon all things shadow-like,
and utterly devoid of weight or value,
that had not its divine essence as the life within their life.
Then what was he?
--or the dimmest of all shadows?
He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the full height of his voice,
and tell the people what he was.
whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood --I,
who ascend the sacred desk,
and turn my pale face heavenward,
taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most High Omniscience --I,
in whose daily life you discern the sanctity of Enoch --I,
as you suppose,
leave a gleam along my earthly track,
whereby the Pilgrims that shall come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest --I,
who have laid the hand of baptism upon your children --I,
who have breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends,
to whom the Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted --I,
whom you so reverence and trust,
am utterly a pollution and a lie!"
More than once,
Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit,
with a purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken words like the above.
More than once he had cleared his throat,
and drawn in the long,
and tremulous breath,
when sent forth again,
would come burdened with the black secret of his soul.
More than once --nay,
more than a hundred times --he had actually spoken!
He had told his hearers that he was altogether vile,
a viler companion of the vilest,
the worst of sinners,
a thing of unimaginable iniquity,
and that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the Almighty!
Could there be plainer speech than this?
Would not the people start up in their seats,
by a simultaneous impulse,
and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled?
They heard it all,
and did but reverence him the more.
They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words.
"The godly youth!"
said they among themselves.
"The saint on earth!
if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul,
what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!"
The minister well knew --subtle,
but remorseful hypocrite that he was!
--the light in which his vague confession would be viewed.
He had striven to put a cheat upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience,
but had gained only one other sin,
and a self-acknowledged shame,
without the momentary relief of being self-deceived.
He had spoken the very truth,
and transformed it into the veriest falsehood.
by the constitution of his nature,
he loved the truth,
and loathed the lie,
as few men ever did.
above all things else,
he loathed his miserable self!
His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the old,
corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred.
In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret closet,
under lock and key,
there was a bloody scourge.
this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders,
laughing bitterly at himself the while,
and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh.
It was his custom,
as it has been that of many other pious Puritans,
to fast --not however,
in order to purify the body,
and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination --but rigorously,
and until his knees trembled beneath him,
as an act of penance.
He kept vigils,
night after night,
sometimes in utter darkness,
sometimes with a glimmering lamp,
viewing his own face in a looking-glass,
by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it.
He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured,
but could not purify himself.
In these lengthened vigils,
his brain often reeled,
and visions seemed to flit before him;
perhaps seen doubtfully,
and by a faint light of their own,
in the remote dimness of the chamber,
or more vividly and close beside him,
within the looking-glass.
Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes,
that grinned and mocked at the pale minister,
and beckoned him away with them;
now a group of shining angels,
who flew upward heavily,
but grew more ethereal as they rose.
Now came the dead friends of his youth,
and his white-bearded father,
with a saint-like frown,
and his mother turning her face away as she passed by.
Ghost of a mother --thinnest fantasy of a mother --methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance towards her son!
through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly,
glided Hester Prynne leading along little Pearl,
in her scarlet garb,
and pointing her forefinger,
first at the scarlet letter on her bosom,
and then at the clergyman's own breast.
None of these visions ever quite deluded him.
At any moment,
by an effort of his will,
he could discern substances through their misty lack of substance,
and convince himself that they were not solid in their nature,
like yonder table of carved oak,
or that big,
leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity.
for all that,
in one sense,
the truest and most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with.
It is the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his,
that it steals the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around us,
and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and nutriment.
To the untrue man,
the whole universe is false --it is impalpable --it shrinks to nothing within his grasp.
And he himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light,
becomes a shadow,
ceases to exist.
The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul,
and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect.
Had he once found power to smile,
and wear a face of gaiety,
there would have been no such man!
On one of those ugly nights,
which we have faintly hinted at,
but forborne to picture forth,
the minister started from his chair.
A new thought had struck him.
There might be a moment's peace in it.
Attiring himself with as much care as if it had been for public worship,
and precisely in the same manner,
he stole softly down the staircase,
undid the door,
and issued forth.
THE MINISTER'S VIGIL
Walking in the shadow of a dream,
as it were,
and perhaps actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism,
Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot where,
now so long since,
Hester Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy.
The same platform or scaffold,
black and weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven long years,
with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it,
remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house.
The minister went up the steps.
It was an obscure night in early May.
An unvaried pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon.
If the same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned forth,
they would have discerned no face above the platform nor hardly the outline of a human shape,
in the dark grey of the midnight.
But the town was all asleep.
There was no peril of discovery.
The minister might stand there,
if it so pleased him,
until morning should redden in the east,
without other risk than that the dank and chill night air would creep into his frame,
and stiffen his joints with rheumatism,
and clog his throat with catarrh and cough;
thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's prayer and sermon.
No eye could see him,
save that ever-wakeful one which had seen him in his closet,
wielding the bloody scourge.
had he come hither?
Was it but the mockery of penitence?
but in which his soul trifled with itself!
A mockery at which angels blushed and wept,
while fiends rejoiced with jeering laughter!
He had been driven hither by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere,
and whose own sister and closely linked companion was that Cowardice which invariably drew him back,
with her tremulous gripe,
just when the other impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure.
what right had infirmity like his to burden itself with crime?
Crime is for the iron-nerved,
who have their choice either to endure it,
if it press too hard,
to exert their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose,
and fling it off at once!
This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do neither,
yet continually did one thing or another,
in the same inextricable knot,
the agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance.
while standing on the scaffold,
in this vain show of expiation,
Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind,
as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast,
right over his heart.
On that spot,
in very truth,
and there had long been,
the gnawing and poisonous tooth of bodily pain.
Without any effort of his will,
or power to restrain himself,
he shrieked aloud: an outcry that went pealing through the night,
and was beaten back from one house to another,
and reverberated from the hills in the background;
as if a company of devils,
detecting so much misery and terror in it,
had made a plaything of the sound,
and were bandying it to and fro.
"It is done!"
muttered the minister,
covering his face with his hands.
"The whole town will awake and hurry forth,
and find me here!"
But it was not so.
The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far greater power,
to his own startled ears,
than it actually possessed.
The town did not awake;
if it did,
the drowsy slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a dream,
or for the noise of witches,
at that period,
were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages,
as they rode with Satan through the air.
hearing no symptoms of disturbance,
uncovered his eyes and looked about him.
At one of the chamber-windows of Governor Bellingham's mansion,
which stood at some distance,
on the line of another street,
he beheld the appearance of the old magistrate himself with a lamp in his hand a white night-cap on his head,
and a long white gown enveloping his figure.
He looked like a ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave.
The cry had evidently startled him.
At another window of the same house,
moreover appeared old Mistress Hibbins,
the Governor's sister,
also with a lamp,
which even thus far off revealed the expression of her sour and discontented face.
She thrust forth her head from the lattice,
and looked anxiously upward.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt,
this venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry,
and interpreted it,
with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations,
as the clamour of the fiends and night-hags,
with whom she was well known to make excursions in the forest.
Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lamp,
the old lady quickly extinguished her own,
she went up among the clouds.
The minister saw nothing further of her motions.
after a wary observation of the darkness --into which,
he could see but little further than he might into a mill-stone --retired from the window.
The minister grew comparatively calm.
were soon greeted by a little glimmering light,
at first a long way off was approaching up the street.
It threw a gleam of recognition,
on here a post,
and there a garden fence,
and here a latticed window-pane,
and there a pump,
with its full trough of water,
and here again an arched door of oak,
with an iron knocker,
and a rough log for the door-step.
The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale noted all these minute particulars,
even while firmly convinced that the doom of his existence was stealing onward,
in the footsteps which he now heard;
and that the gleam of the lantern would fall upon him in a few moments more,
and reveal his long-hidden secret.
As the light drew nearer,
within its illuminated circle,
his brother clergyman --or,
to speak more accurately,
his professional father,
as well as highly valued friend --the Reverend Mr. Wilson,
as Mr. Dimmesdale now conjectured,
had been praying at the bedside of some dying man.
And so he had.
The good old minister came freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthrop,
who had passed from earth to heaven within that very hour.
And now surrounded,
like the saint-like personage of olden times,
with a radiant halo,
that glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin --as if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his glory,
or as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of the celestial city,
while looking thitherward to see the triumphant pilgrim pass within its gates --now,
good Father Wilson was moving homeward,
aiding his footsteps with a lighted lantern!
The glimmer of this luminary suggested the above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdale,
who smiled --nay,
almost laughed at them --and then wondered if he was going mad.
As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffold,
closely muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one arm,
and holding the lantern before his breast with the other,
the minister could hardly restrain himself from speaking --
"A good evening to you,
venerable Father Wilson.
Come up hither,
I pray you,
and pass a pleasant hour with me!"
Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken?
For one instant he believed that these words had passed his lips.
But they were uttered only within his imagination.
The venerable Father Wilson continued to step slowly onward,
looking carefully at the muddy pathway before his feet,
and never once turning his head towards the guilty platform.
When the light of the glimmering lantern had faded quite away,
the minister discovered,
by the faintness which came over him,
that the last few moments had been a crisis of terrible anxiety,
although his mind had made an involuntary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid playfulness.
the like grisly sense of the humorous again stole in among the solemn phantoms of his thought.
He felt his limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the night,
and doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps of the scaffold.
Morning would break and find him there.
The neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself.
The earliest riser,
coming forth in the dim twilight,
would perceive a vaguely-defined figure aloft on the place of shame;
and half-crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity,
would go knocking from door to door,
summoning all the people to behold the ghost --as he needs must think it --of some defunct transgressor.
A dusky tumult would flap its wings from one house to another.
Then --the morning light still waxing stronger --old patriarchs would rise up in great haste,
each in his flannel gown,
and matronly dames,
without pausing to put off their night-gear.
The whole tribe of decorous personages,
who had never heretofore been seen with a single hair of their heads awry,
would start into public view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects.
Old Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth,
with his King James' ruff fastened askew,
and Mistress Hibbins,
with some twigs of the forest clinging to her skirts,
and looking sourer than ever,
as having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride;
and good Father Wilson too,
after spending half the night at a death-bed,
and liking ill to be disturbed,
out of his dreams about the glorified saints.
would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church,
and the young virgins who so idolized their minister,
and had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms,
in their hurry and confusion,
they would scantly have given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs.
in a word,
would come stumbling over their thresholds,
and turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the scaffold.
Whom would they discern there,
with the red eastern light upon his brow?
but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale,
half-frozen to death,
overwhelmed with shame,
and standing where Hester Prynne had stood!
Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture,
and to his own infinite alarm,
burst into a great peal of laughter.
It was immediately responded to by a light,
with a thrill of the heart --but he knew not whether of exquisite pain,
or pleasure as acute --he recognised the tones of little Pearl.
after a moment's pause;
suppressing his voice --"Hester!
Are you there?"
it is Hester Prynne!"
in a tone of surprise;
and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the side-walk,
along which she had been passing.
"It is I,
and my little Pearl."
"Whence come you,
asked the minister.
"What sent you hither?"
"I have been watching at a death-bed,"
answered Hester Prynne "at Governor Winthrop's death-bed,
and have taken his measure for a robe,
and am now going homeward to my dwelling."
"Come up hither,
thou and little Pearl,"
said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
"Ye have both been here before,
but I was not with you.
Come up hither once again,
and we will stand all three together."
She silently ascended the steps,
and stood on the platform,
holding little Pearl by the hand.
The minister felt for the child's other hand,
and took it.
The moment that he did so,
there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life,
other life than his own pouring like a torrent into his heart,
and hurrying through all his veins,
as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system.
The three formed an electric chain.
whispered little Pearl.
"What wouldst thou say,
asked Mr. Dimmesdale.
"Wilt thou stand here with mother and me,
my little Pearl,"
answered the minister;
with the new energy of the moment,
all the dread of public exposure,
that had so long been the anguish of his life,
had returned upon him;
and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which --with a strange joy,
nevertheless --he now found himself --"not so,
stand with thy mother and thee one other day,
but not to-morrow."
and attempted to pull away her hand.
But the minister held it fast.
"A moment longer,
"But wilt thou promise,"
"to take my hand,
and mother's hand,
said the minister;
"but another time."
"And what other time?"
persisted the child.
"At the great judgment day,"
whispered the minister;
the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so.
before the judgment-seat,
and I must stand together.
But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!"
Pearl laughed again.
But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking,
a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky.
It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors,
which the night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste,
in the vacant regions of the atmosphere.
So powerful was its radiance,
that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth.
The great vault brightened,
like the dome of an immense lamp.
It showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of mid-day,
but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light.
The wooden houses,
with their jutting storeys and quaint gable-peaks;
the doorsteps and thresholds with the early grass springing up about them;
black with freshly-turned earth;
and even in the market-place margined with green on either side --all were visible,
but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of this world than they had ever borne before.
And there stood the minister,
with his hand over his heart;
and Hester Prynne,
with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom;
and little Pearl,
herself a symbol,
and the connecting link between those two.
They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendour,
as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets,
and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.
There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes;
and her face,
as she glanced upward at the minister,
wore that naughty smile which made its expression frequently so elvish.
She withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmesdale's,
and pointed across the street.
But he clasped both his hands over his breast,
and cast his eyes towards the zenith.
Nothing was more common,
in those days,
than to interpret all meteoric appearances,
and other natural phenomena that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon,
as so many revelations from a supernatural source.
a blazing spear,
a sword of flame,
or a sheaf of arrows seen in the midnight sky,
prefigured Indian warfare.
Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light.
We doubt whether any marked event,
for good or evil,
ever befell New England,
from its settlement down to revolutionary times,
of which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some spectacle of its nature.
it had been seen by multitudes.
its credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eye-witness,
who beheld the wonder through the coloured,
and distorted medium of his imagination,
and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.
a majestic idea that the destiny of nations should be revealed,
in these awful hieroglyphics,
on the cope of heaven.
A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence to write a people's doom upon.
The belief was a favourite one with our forefathers,
as betokening that their infant commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness.
But what shall we say,
when an individual discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone,
on the same vast sheet of record.
In such a case,
it could only be the symptom of a highly disordered mental state,
when a man,
rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long,
and secret pain,
had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature,
until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul's history and fate.
We impute it,
solely to the disease in his own eye and heart that the minister,
looking upward to the zenith,
beheld there the appearance of an immense letter --the letter A --marked out in lines of dull red light.
Not but the meteor may have shown itself at that point,
burning duskily through a veil of cloud,
but with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave it,
with so little definiteness,
that another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it.
There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr. Dimmesdale's psychological state at this moment.
All the time that he gazed upward to the zenith,
perfectly aware that little Pearl was pointing her finger towards old Roger Chillingworth,
who stood at no great distance from the scaffold.
The minister appeared to see him,
with the same glance that discerned the miraculous letter.
To his feature as to all other objects,
the meteoric light imparted a new expression;
or it might well be that the physician was not careful then,
as at all other times,
to hide the malevolence with which he looked upon his victim.
if the meteor kindled up the sky,
and disclosed the earth,
with an awfulness that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment,
then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiend,
standing there with a smile and scowl,
to claim his own.
So vivid was the expression,
or so intense the minister's perception of it,
that it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness after the meteor had vanished,
with an effect as if the street and all things else were at once annihilated.
"Who is that man,
gasped Mr. Dimmesdale,
overcome with terror.
"I shiver at him!
Dost thou know the man?
I hate him,
She remembered her oath,
and was silent.
"I tell thee,
my soul shivers at him!"
muttered the minister again.
"Who is he?
Who is he?
Canst thou do nothing for me?
I have a nameless horror of the man!"
said little Pearl,
"I can tell thee who he is!"
said the minister,
bending his ear close to her lips.
and as low as thou canst whisper."
Pearl mumbled something into his ear that sounded,
like human language,
but was only such gibberish as children may be heard amusing themselves with by the hour together.
At all events,
if it involved any secret information in regard to old Roger Chillingworth,
it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite clergyman,
and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind.
The elvish child then laughed aloud.
"Dost thou mock me now?"
said the minister.
"Thou wast not bold!
--thou wast not true!"
answered the child.
"Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand,
and mother's hand,
answered the physician,
who had now advanced to the foot of the platform --"pious Master Dimmesdale!
can this be you?
We men of study,
whose heads are in our books,
have need to be straitly looked after!
We dream in our waking moments,
and walk in our sleep.
and my dear friend,
I pray you let me lead you home!"
"How knewest thou that I was here?"
asked the minister,
and in good faith,"
answered Roger Chillingworth,
"I knew nothing of the matter.
I had spent the better part of the night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop,
doing what my poor skill might to give him ease.
going home to a better world,
was on my way homeward,
when this light shone out.
Come with me,
I beseech you,
else you will be poorly able to do Sabbath duty to-morrow.
see now how they trouble the brain --these books!
You should study less,
and take a little pastime,
or these night whimsies will grow upon you."
"I will go home with you,"
said Mr. Dimmesdale.
With a chill despondency,
like one awakening,
from an ugly dream,
he yielded himself to the physician,
and was led away.
The next day,
being the Sabbath,
he preached a discourse which was held to be the richest and most powerful,
and the most replete with heavenly influences,
that had ever proceeded from his lips.
it is said,
more souls than one,
were brought to the truth by the efficacy of that sermon,
and vowed within themselves to cherish a holy gratitude towards Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter.
But as he came down the pulpit steps,
the grey-bearded sexton met him,
holding up a black glove,
which the minister recognised as his own.
"It was found,"
said the Sexton,
"this morning on the scaffold where evil-doers are set up to public shame.
Satan dropped it there,
I take it,
intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence.
he was blind and foolish,
as he ever and always is.
A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!"
my good friend,"
said the minister,
but startled at heart;
for so confused was his remembrance,
that he had almost brought himself to look at the events of the past night as visionary.
it seems to be my glove,
since Satan saw fit to steal it,
your reverence must needs handle him without gloves henceforward,"
remarked the old sexton,
"But did your reverence hear of the portent that was seen last night?
a great red letter in the sky --the letter A,
which we interpret to stand for Angel.
as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night,
it was doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof!"
answered the minister;
"I had not heard of it."
ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER
In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale,
Hester Prynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the clergyman reduced.
His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed.
His moral force was abased into more than childish weakness.
It grovelled helpless on the ground,
even while his intellectual faculties retained their pristine strength,
or had perhaps acquired a morbid energy,
which disease only could have given them.
With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from all others,
she could readily infer that,
besides the legitimate action of his own conscience,
a terrible machinery had been brought to bear,
and was still operating,
on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being and repose.
Knowing what this poor fallen man had once been,
her whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with which he had appealed to her --the outcast woman --for support against his instinctively discovered enemy.
that he had a right to her utmost aid.
in her long seclusion from society,
to measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself,
Hester saw --or seemed to see --that there lay a responsibility upon her in reference to the clergyman,
which she owned to no other,
nor to the whole world besides.
The links that united her to the rest of humankind --links of flowers,
or whatever the material --had all been broken.
Here was the iron link of mutual crime,
which neither he nor she could break.
Like all other ties,
it brought along with it its obligations.
Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy.
Years had come and gone.
Pearl was now seven years old.
with the scarlet letter on her breast,
glittering in its fantastic embroidery,
had long been a familiar object to the townspeople.
As is apt to be the case when a person stands out in any prominence before the community,
at the same time,
interferes neither with public nor individual interests and convenience,
a species of general regard had ultimately grown up in reference to Hester Prynne.
It is to the credit of human nature that,
except where its selfishness is brought into play,
it loves more readily than it hates.
by a gradual and quiet process,
will even be transformed to love,
unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility.
In this matter of Hester Prynne there was neither irritation nor irksomeness.
She never battled with the public,
but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage;
she made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered;
she did not weigh upon its sympathies.
the blameless purity of her life during all these years in which she had been set apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favour.
With nothing now to lose,
in the sight of mankind,
and with no hope,
and seemingly no wish,
of gaining anything,
it could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.
It was perceived,
that while Hester never put forward even the humblest title to share in the world's privileges --further than to breathe the common air and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands --she was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man whenever benefits were to be conferred.
None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty,
even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door,
or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's robe.
None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked through the town.
In all seasons of calamity,
whether general or of individuals,
the outcast of society at once found her place.
not as a guest,
but as a rightful inmate,
into the household that was darkened by trouble,
as if its gloomy twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold intercourse with her fellow-creature.
There glimmered the embroidered letter,
with comfort in its unearthly ray.
Elsewhere the token of sin,
it was the taper of the sick chamber.
It had even thrown its gleam,
in the sufferer's bard extremity,
across the verge of time.
It had shown him where to set his foot,
while the light of earth was fast becoming dim,
and ere the light of futurity could reach him.
In such emergencies Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich --a well-spring of human tenderness,
unfailing to every real demand,
and inexhaustible by the largest.
with its badge of shame,
was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one.
She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy,
we may rather say,
the world's heavy hand had so ordained her,
when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result.
The letter was the symbol of her calling.
Such helpfulness was found in her --so much power to do,
and power to sympathise --that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification.
They said that it meant Abel,
so strong was Hester Prynne,
with a woman's strength.
It was only the darkened house that could contain her.
When sunshine came again,
she was not there.
Her shadow had faded across the threshold.
The helpful inmate had departed,
without one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude,
if any were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously.
Meeting them in the street,
she never raised her head to receive their greeting.
If they were resolute to accost her,
she laid her finger on the scarlet letter,
and passed on.
This might be pride,
but was so like humility,
that it produced all the softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind.
The public is despotic in its temper;
it is capable of denying common justice when too strenuously demanded as a right;
but quite as frequently it awards more than justice,
when the appeal is made,
as despots love to have it made,
entirely to its generosity.
Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal of this nature,
society was inclined to show its former victim a more benign countenance than she cared to be favoured with,
than she deserved.
and the wise and learned men of the community,
were longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities than the people.
The prejudices which they shared in common with the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of reasoning,
that made it a far tougher labour to expel them.
Day by day,
their sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing into something which,
in the due course of years,
might grow to be an expression of almost benevolence.
Thus it was with the men of rank,
on whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship of the public morals.
Individuals in private life,
had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty;
they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token,
not of that one sin for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance,
but of her many good deeds since.
"Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?"
they would say to strangers.
"It is our Hester --the town's own Hester --who is so kind to the poor,
so helpful to the sick,
so comfortable to the afflicted!"
it is true,
the propensity of human nature to tell the very worst of itself,
when embodied in the person of another,
would constrain them to whisper the black scandal of bygone years.
It was none the less a fact,
that in the eyes of the very men who spoke thus,
the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom.
It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness,
which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril.
Had she fallen among thieves,
it would have kept her safe.
It was reported,
and believed by many,
that an Indian had drawn his arrow against the badge,
and that the missile struck it,
and fell harmless to the ground.
The effect of the symbol --or rather,
of the position in respect to society that was indicated by it --on the mind of Hester Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar.
All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand,
and had long ago fallen away,
leaving a bare and harsh outline,
which might have been repulsive had she possessed friends or companions to be repelled by it.
Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change.
It might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dress,
and partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners.
It was a sad transformation,
that her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut off,
or was so completely hidden by a cap,
that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine.
It was due in part to all these causes,
but still more to something else,
that there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester's face for Love to dwell upon;
nothing in Hester's form,
though majestic and statue like,
that Passion would ever dream of clasping in its embrace;
nothing in Hester's bosom to make it ever again the pillow of Affection.
Some attribute had departed from her,
the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman.
Such is frequently the fate,
and such the stern development,
of the feminine character and person,
when the woman has encountered,
and lived through,
an experience of peculiar severity.
If she be all tenderness,
she will die.
If she survive,
the tenderness will either be crushed out of her,
or --and the outward semblance is the same --crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more.
The latter is perhaps the truest theory.
She who has once been a woman,
and ceased to be so,
might at any moment become a woman again,
if there were only the magic touch to effect the transformation.
We shall see whether Hester Prynne were ever afterwards so touched and so transfigured.
Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be attributed to the circumstance that her life had turned,
in a great measure,
from passion and feeling to thought.
Standing alone in the world --alone,
as to any dependence on society,
and with little Pearl to be guided and protected --alone,
and hopeless of retrieving her position,
even had she not scorned to consider it desirable --she cast away the fragment of a broken chain.
The world's law was no law for her mind.
It was an age in which the human intellect,
had taken a more active and a wider range than for many centuries before.
Men of the sword had overthrown nobles and kings.
Men bolder than these had overthrown and rearranged --not actually,
but within the sphere of theory,
which was their most real abode --the whole system of ancient prejudice,
wherewith was linked much of ancient principle.
Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit.
She assumed a freedom of speculation,
then common enough on the other side of the Atlantic,
but which our forefathers,
had they known it,
would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the scarlet letter.
In her lonesome cottage,
by the seashore,
thoughts visited her such as dared to enter no other dwelling in New England;
that would have been as perilous as demons to their entertainer,
could they have been seen so much as knocking at her door.
It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society.
The thought suffices them,
without investing itself in the flesh and blood of action.
So it seemed to be with Hester.
had little Pearl never come to her from the spiritual world,
it might have been far otherwise.
Then she might have come down to us in history,
hand in hand with Ann Hutchinson,
as the foundress of a religious sect.
in one of her phases,
have been a prophetess.
and not improbably would,
have suffered death from the stern tribunals of the period,
for attempting to undermine the foundations of the Puritan establishment.
in the education of her child,
the mother's enthusiasm of thought had something to wreak itself upon.
in the person of this little girl,
had assigned to Hester's charge,
the germ and blossom of womanhood,
to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties.
Everything was against her.
The world was hostile.
The child's own nature had something wrong in it which continually betokened that she had been born amiss --the effluence of her mother's lawless passion --and often impelled Hester to ask,
in bitterness of heart,
whether it were for ill or good that the poor little creature had been born at all.
the same dark question often rose into her mind with reference to the whole race of womanhood.
Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them?
As concerned her own individual existence,
she had long ago decided in the negative,
and dismissed the point as settled.
A tendency to speculation,
though it may keep women quiet,
as it does man,
yet makes her sad.
it may be,
such a hopeless task before her.
As a first step,
the whole system of society is to be torn down and built up anew.
Then the very nature of the opposite sex,
or its long hereditary habit,
which has become like nature,
is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position.
all other difficulties being obviated,
woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change,
the ethereal essence,
wherein she has her truest life,
will be found to have evaporated.
A woman never overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought.
They are not to be solved,
or only in one way.
If her heart chance to come uppermost,
Thus Hester Prynne,
whose heart had lost its regular and healthy throb,
wandered without a clue in the dark labyrinth of mind;
now turned aside by an insurmountable precipice;
now starting back from a deep chasm.
There was wild and ghastly scenery all around her,
and a home and comfort nowhere.
At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul,
whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven,
and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.
The scarlet letter had not done its office.
her interview with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
on the night of his vigil,
had given her a new theme of reflection,
and held up to her an object that appeared worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for its attainment.
She had witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister struggled,
to speak more accurately,
had ceased to struggle.
She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacy,
if he had not already stepped across it.
It was impossible to doubt that,
whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of remorse,
a deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand that proffered relief.
A secret enemy had been continually by his side,
under the semblance of a friend and helper,
and had availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature.
Hester could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a defect of truth,
and loyalty on her own part,
in allowing the minister to be thrown into a position where so much evil was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped.
Her only justification lay in the fact that she had been able to discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had overwhelmed herself except by acquiescing in Roger Chillingworth's scheme of disguise.
Under that impulse she had made her choice,
and had chosen,
as it now appeared,
the more wretched alternative of the two.
She determined to redeem her error so far as it might yet be possible.
Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial,
she felt herself no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night,
abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy that was still new,
when they had talked together in the prison-chamber.
She had climbed her way since then to a higher point.
The old man,
on the other hand,
had brought himself nearer to her level,
by the revenge which he had stooped for.
Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former husband,
and do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on whom he had so evidently set his gripe.
The occasion was not long to seek.
walking with Pearl in a retired part of the peninsula,
she beheld the old physician with a basket on one arm and a staff in the other hand,
stooping along the ground in quest of roots and herbs to concoct his medicine withal.
HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN
Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the water,
and play with the shells and tangled sea-weed,
until she should have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs.
So the child flew away like a bird,
making bare her small white feet went pattering along the moist margin of the sea.
Here and there she came to a full stop,
and peeped curiously into a pool,
left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in.
Forth peeped at her,
out of the pool,
glistening curls around her head,
and an elf-smile in her eyes,
the image of a little maid whom Pearl,
having no other playmate,
invited to take her hand and run a race with her.
But the visionary little maid on her part,
as if to say --"This is a better place;
come thou into the pool."
stepping in mid-leg deep,
beheld her own white feet at the bottom;
out of a still lower depth,
came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary smile,
floating to and fro in the agitated water.
Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician.
"I would speak a word with you,"
said she --"a word that concerns us much."
and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old Roger Chillingworth?"
raising himself from his stooping posture.
"With all my heart!
I hear good tidings of you on all hands!
No longer ago than yester-eve,
a wise and godly man,
was discoursing of your affairs,
and whispered me that there had been question concerning you in the council.
It was debated whether or no,
with safety to the commonweal,
yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom.
On my life,
I made my intreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith."
"It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off the badge,"
calmly replied Hester.
"Were I worthy to be quit of it,
it would fall away of its own nature,
or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport."
if it suit you better,"
"A woman must needs follow her own fancy touching the adornment of her person.
The letter is gaily embroidered,
and shows right bravely on your bosom!"
All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old man,
and was shocked,
as well as wonder-smitten,
to discern what a change had been wrought upon him within the past seven years.
It was not so much that he had grown older;
for though the traces of advancing life were visible he bore his age well,
and seemed to retain a wiry vigour and alertness.
But the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man,
calm and quiet,
which was what she best remembered in him,
had altogether vanished,
and been succeeded by an eager,
yet carefully guarded look.
It seemed to be his wish and purpose to mask this expression with a smile,
but the latter played him false,
and flickered over his visage so derisively that the spectator could see his blackness all the better for it.
Ever and anon,
there came a glare of red light out of his eyes,
as if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast,
until by some casual puff of passion it was blown into a momentary flame.
This he repressed as speedily as possible,
and strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened.
In a word,
old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil,
if he will only,
for a reasonable space of time,
undertake a devil's office.
This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by devoting himself for seven years to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture,
and deriving his enjoyment thence,
and adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analysed and gloated over.
The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom.
Here was another ruin,
the responsibility of which came partly home to her.
"What see you in my face,"
asked the physician,
"that you look at it so earnestly?"
"Something that would make me weep,
if there were any tears bitter enough for it,"
"But let it pass!
It is of yonder miserable man that I would speak."
"And what of him?"
cried Roger Chillingworth,
as if he loved the topic,
and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it with the only person of whom he could make a confidant.
"Not to hide the truth,
my thoughts happen just now to be busy with the gentleman.
So speak freely and I will make answer."
"When we last spake together,"
"now seven years ago,
it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy as touching the former relation betwixt yourself and me.
As the life and good fame of yonder man were in your hands there seemed no choice to me,
save to be silent in accordance with your behest.
Yet it was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself,
having cast off all duty towards other human beings,
there remained a duty towards him,
and something whispered me that I was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel.
Since that day no man is so near to him as you.
You tread behind his every footstep.
You are beside him,
sleeping and waking.
You search his thoughts.
You burrow and rankle in his heart!
Your clutch is on his life,
and you cause him to die daily a living death,
and still he knows you not.
In permitting this I have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was left me to be true!"
"What choice had you?"
asked Roger Chillingworth.
pointed at this man,
would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon,
to the gallows!"
"It had been better so!"
said Hester Prynne.
"What evil have I done the man?"
asked Roger Chillingworth again.
"I tell thee,
the richest fee that ever physician earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have wasted on this miserable priest!
But for my aid his life would have burned away in torments within the first two years after the perpetration of his crime and thine.
his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up,
as thine has,
beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter.
I could reveal a goodly secret!
What art can do,
I have exhausted on him.
That he now breathes and creeps about on earth is owing all to me!"
"Better he had died at once!"
said Hester Prynne.
thou sayest truly!"
cried old Roger Chillingworth,
letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes.
"Better had he died at once!
Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered.
in the sight of his worst enemy!
He has been conscious of me.
He has felt an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse.
by some spiritual sense --for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this --he knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings,
and that an eye was looking curiously into him,
which sought only evil,
and found it.
But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine!
With the superstition common to his brotherhood,
he fancied himself given over to a fiend,
to be tortured with frightful dreams and desperate thoughts,
the sting of remorse and despair of pardon,
as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave.
But it was the constant shadow of my presence,
the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged,
and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge!
he did not err,
there was a fiend at his elbow!
A mortal man,
with once a human heart,
has become a fiend for his especial torment."
The unfortunate physician,
while uttering these words,
lifted his hands with a look of horror,
as if he had beheld some frightful shape,
which he could not recognise,
usurping the place of his own image in a glass.
It was one of those moments --which sometimes occur only at the interval of years --when a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye.
Not improbably he had never before viewed himself as he did now.
"Hast thou not tortured him enough?"
noticing the old man's look.
"Has he not paid thee all?"
He has but increased the debt!"
answered the physician,
and as he proceeded,
his manner lost its fiercer characteristics,
and subsided into gloom.
"Dost thou remember me,
as I was nine years agone?
Even then I was in the autumn of my days,
nor was it the early autumn.
But all my life had been made up of earnest,
bestowed faithfully for the increase of mine own knowledge,
though this latter object was but casual to the other --faithfully for the advancement of human welfare.
No life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine;
few lives so rich with benefits conferred.
Dost thou remember me?
Was I not,
though you might deem me cold,
nevertheless a man thoughtful for others,
craving little for himself --kind,
just and of constant,
if not warm affections?
Was I not all this?"
"And what am I now?"
looking into her face,
and permitting the whole evil within him to be written on his features.
"I have already told thee what I am --a fiend!
Who made me so?"
"It was myself,"
"It was I,
not less than he.
Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"
"I have left thee to the scarlet letter,"
replied Roger Chillingworth.
"If that has not avenged me,
I can do no more!"
He laid his finger on it with a smile.
"It has avenged thee,"
answered Hester Prynne.
"I judged no less,"
said the physician.
"And now what wouldst thou with me touching this man?"
"I must reveal the secret,"
"He must discern thee in thy true character.
What may be the result I know not.
But this long debt of confidence,
due from me to him,
whose bane and ruin I have been,
shall at length be paid.
So far as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and his earthly state,
and perchance his life,
he is in my hands.
Nor do I --whom the scarlet letter has disciplined to truth,
though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into the soul --nor do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life of ghastly emptiness,
that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy.
Do with him as thou wilt!
There is no good for him,
no good for me,
no good for thee.
There is no good for little Pearl.
There is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."
I could well-nigh pity thee,"
said Roger Chillingworth,
unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too,
for there was a quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed.
"Thou hadst great elements.
hadst thou met earlier with a better love than mine,
this evil had not been.
I pity thee,
for the good that has been wasted in thy nature."
"And I thee,"
answered Hester Prynne,
"for the hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a fiend!
Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee,
and be once more human?
If not for his sake,
then doubly for thine own!
and leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it!
that there could be no good event for him,
who are here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil,
and stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn our path.
It is not so!
There might be good for thee,
and thee alone,
since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy will to pardon.
Wilt thou give up that only privilege?
Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?"
replied the old man,
with gloomy sternness --"it is not granted me to pardon.
I have no such power as thou tellest me of.
My old faith,
comes back to me,
and explains all that we do,
and all we suffer.
By thy first step awry,
thou didst plant the germ of evil;
but since that moment it has all been a dark necessity.
Ye that have wronged me are not sinful,
save in a kind of typical illusion;
neither am I fiend-like,
who have snatched a fiend's office from his hands.
It is our fate.
Let the black flower blossom as it may!
go thy ways,
and deal as thou wilt with yonder man."
He waved his hand,
and betook himself again to his employment of gathering herbs.