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Full text of "The scarlet letter"



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THE SCARLET LETTER. 



THE 



SCARLET LETTER 



/ 



NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. 



JKUusttatcd. 





BOSTON: 
JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY, 

Late Ticknor & Fields, and Fields, Osgood, & Co. 
1878. 



^ 






Copyright, 1850 and 1877. 
By NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE and JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO. 



All rights reserved. 

October 22, 1874. 





PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION. 




!|UCH to the author's surprise, and (if 
he may say so without additional 
offence) considerably to his amusement, 
he finds that his sketch of official 
life, introductory to The Scarlet 
Letter, has created an unprecedented excitement in 
the respectable community immediately around him. 
It could hardly have been more violent, indeed, had 
he burned down the Custom-House, and quenched its 
last smoking ember in the blood of a certain venerable 
personage, against whom he is supposed to cherish a 
peculiar malevolence. As the public disapprobation 
would weigh very heavily on him, were he conscious 
of deserving it, the author begs leave to say, that he 
has carefully read over the introductory pages, with a 



iv PREFACE. 

purpose to alter or expunge whatever might be found 
amiss, and to make the best reparation in his power 
for the atrocities of which he has been adjudged guilty. 
But it appears to him, that the only remarkable fea- 
tures of the sketch are its frank and genuine good- 
humor, and .the general accuracy with which he has 
conveyed his sincere impressions of the characters 
therein described. As to enmity, or ill-feeling of any 
kind, personal or political, he utterly disclaims such 
motives. The sketch might, perhaps, have been wholly 
omitted, without loss to the public, or detriment to 
the book ; but, having undertaken to write it, he con- 
ceives that it could not have been done in a better or 
a kindlier spirit, nor, so far as his abilities availed, with 
a livelier effect of truth. 

The author is constrained, therefore, to republish his 
introductory sketch without the change of a word. 

Salem, March 30, 1850. 




CONTENTS. 



Page 

The Custom-House. — Introductory . . . . . 1 

THE SCARLET LETTER. 

I. The Prison-Door 51 

IL The Market-Place 54 

in. The Recognition 68 

IV. The Interview 80 

V. Hester at her Needle 90 

VL Pearl 104 

VII. The Governor's Hall 118 

VIII. The Elf-Child and the Minister . . . 129 

IX. The Leech . " .142 

X. The Leech and his Patient . . . . 155 

XL The Interior of a Heart 168 

XIL The Minister's Vigil 177 

XIII. Another View of Hester ..... 193 

XIV. Hester and the Physician ..... 204 



vi CONTENTS. 

XV. Hester and Peakl 212 

XVI. A Forest Walk 223 

XVII. The Pastor and his Parishioner . . . 231 

XVIII. A Flood of Sunshine 245 

XIX. The Child at the Brook-side .... 253 

XX. The Minister in a Maze 264 

XXI. The New England Holiday 277 

XXII. The Procession 288 

XXIII. The Eevelation of the Scarlet Letter . . 302 

XXIV. Conclusion 315 








LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



Brawn hy Mary Hallock Foote and Engraved by A. V. S. Anthony. 
ornamental head-pieces are bij L. S. Ipsen. 



The 



Pare 

The Custom-House 1 

The Prison Door 49 

Vignette, — Wild Rose 51 

The Gossips 57 

" Standing on the Miserable Eminence " 65 

"She was led back to Prison" 78 

"The Eyes of the wrinkled Scholar glowed" .... 87 

The Lonesome Dwelling 93 

Lonely Pootsteps 99 

Vignette 104 

A touch of Pearl's baby-hand 113 

Vignette 118 

The Governor's Breastplate 125 

" Look thou to it ! I will not lose the child ! " . . . 135 

The Minister and Leech 148 

The Leech and his Patient 165 



viii LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 

The ViiiGiNS of the Chukch 172 

"They stood in the noox or that strange splendor" . . 185 

Hester in the House of Mourning 195 

Mandrake 211 

"He gathered herbs here and there" 213 

Pearl on the Sea-Shore 217 

" Wilt thou yet forgive me ? " 237 

A Gleam of Sunshine 249 

The Child at the Brook-Side 257 

Chillingworth, — " Smile with a sinister meaning " . . . 287 

New England Worthies 289 

" Shall we not meet again ? " 311 

Hester's Return 320 




THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 




THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 

INTRODUCTORY TO "THE SCARLET LETTER." 

T is a little remarkable, that — though disin- 
V clined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs 
tl^ at the fireside, and to my personal friends — an 
^ autobiographical impulse should twice in my life 
have taken possession of me, in addressing the 
public. Tlie first time was three or four years 
since, when I favored the reader — inexcusably, and for no 
earthly reason, that either the indulgent reader or the intrusive 
author could imagine — with a description of my way of life in 
the deep quietude of an Old Manse. And now — because, be- 
yond my deserts, I was happy enough to find a listener or two 
on the former occasion — I again seize the public by the button, 
and talk of my three years' experience in a Custom-House. The 




2 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

example of the famous "P. P., Clerk of this Parish/-' was never 
more faithfully followed. The truth seems to be, however, that, 
when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author ad- 
dresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never 
take it up, but the few who will understand him, better than 
most of his schoolmates or liiVmates. Some authors, indeed, do 
far more than this, and indulge themselves in such confidential 
depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and 
exclusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympathy; as 
if the printed book, thrown at large on the Avide world, were 
certain to find out the divided segment of the writer's own 
nature, and complete his circle of existence by bringing him 
into conmiunion with it. It is scarcely decorous, however, to 
speak all, even where we speak impersonally. But, as thoughts 
are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker stand in 
some true relation Avith his audience, it may be pardonable to 
imagine that a friend, a kind and ajiprehensive, though not the 
closest friend, is listening to our talk; and then, a native re- 
serve being thawed by this genial consciousness, we may prate 
of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of ourself, 
but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this extent, 
and within these limits, an author, mcthinks, may be autobio- 
graphical, without violating either the reader's rights or his 
own. 

It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom-House sketch has 
a certain propriety, of a kind always recognized in literature, as 
explaining how a large portion of the following pages came into 
my possession, and as ofi'ering proofs of the authenticity of a 
narrative therein contained. This, in fact, — a desire to put 
myself in my true position as editor, or very little more, of the 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. • 3 

most prolix among the tales that make up my volume, — this, 
and no other, is my true reason for assuming a personal relation 
with the public. In accoraplishhig the main purpose, it has 
appeared allowable, by a few extra touches, to give a faint rep- 
resentation of a mode of life not heretofore described, together 
witli some of the characters that move in it, among whom the 
author happened to make one. 

In my native town of Salem, at the head of wluit, half a cen- 
tury ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustluig wharf, — 
but which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, 
and exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life ; except, 
perhaps, a bark or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, 
discharging hides ; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, 
pitching out her cargo of firewood, — at the head, I say, of this 
dilapidated wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along 
which, at the base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the 
track of many languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty 
grass, — here, with a view from its front windows adown this 
not very enlivening prospect, and thence across the harbor, stands 
a spacious edifice of brick. From the loftiest point of its roof, 
during precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats 
or droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but 
with the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally, 
and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military post of Uncle 
Sam's government is here established. Its front is ornamented 
with a portico of half a dozen wooden pillars, supporting a bal- 
cony, beneath which a flight of wide granite steps descends 
towards the street. Over the entrance hovers an enormous spe- 
cimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield 



4 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of inter- 
mingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With 
the customary infirmity of temjier that characterizes this unhappy 
fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the 
general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the 
inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens, care- 
ful of their safety, against intruding on the premises which she 
overshadows with her wings. Nevertheless, vixenly as she looks, 
many jjeople are seeking, at this very moment, to shelter them- 
selves under the wing of the federal eagle ; imagining, I ]3re- 
sume, that her bosom has all the softness and snugness of an 
eider-down pillow. But she has no great tenderness, even in 
her best of moods, and, sooner or later, — oftener soon than 
late, — is apt to flhig off her nestlings, with a scratch of her 
claw, a dab of her beak, or a rankling wound from her barbed 
arrows. 

The pavement round about the above-described edifice — which 
we may as well name at once as the Custom-House of the port — 
has grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, 
of late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business. 
In some months of the year, however, there often chances a fore- 
noon when affairs move onward with a livelier tread. Such occa- 
sions might remind the elderly citizen of that period before the 
last war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not 
scorned, as she is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners, 
who permit her Avharves to crumble to ruin, while their ventures 
go to swell, needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of 
commerce at New York or Boston. On some such morning, 
when three or four vessels happen to have arrived at once, — 
usually from Africa or South America, — or to be on the verge 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 5 

of their departure thitherward, there is a sound of frequent feet, 
passing briskly up and down the granite steps. Here, before his 
own wife has greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed ship- 
master, just in port, witli his vessels papers under his arm, in 
a tarnished tin box. Here, too, comes his owner, cheerful or 
sombre, gracious or in the sulks, accordingly as his scheme of 
the now accomplished voyage has been realized in merchandise 
that will readily be turned to gold, or has buried him under a 
bulk of incommodities, such as nobody will care to rid him of. 
Here, likewise, — the genn of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded, 
care-worn merchant, — we have the smart young clerk, who gets 
the taste of traffic as a wolf-cub does of blood, and already sends 
adventures in his master^s ships, when he had better be sailing 
mimic-boats upon a mill-pond. Another figure in the scene is 
the outward-bound sailor in quest of a protection; or the re- 
cently arrived one, pale and feeble, seeking a passport to the 
hospital. Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little 
schooners that bring firewood from the British provinces; a 
rough-looking set of tarpaulins, without the alertness of the 
Yankee aspect, but contributing an item of no slight importance 
to our decaying trade. 

Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were, 
with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for 
the time being, it made the Custom-House a stirring scene. More 
frequently, however, on ascending the steps, you would disfcern — 
in the entry, if it were summer time, or in their appropriate rooms, 
if wintry or inclement weather — a row of venerable figures, sit- 
ting in old-fashioned chairs, which were tipped on their hind 
legs back against the wall. Oftentimes they were asleep, but 
occasionally might be heard talking together, in voices between 



G THE SCARLET LETTER. 

speech and a snore, and with that lack of energy that distin- 
guishes the occupants of ahnshouses, and all other human beings 
wlio depend for subsistence on charity, on monopolized labor, 
or anything else, but their own independent exertions. These 
old gentlemen — seated, like Matthew, at the receipt of customs, 
but not very liable to be summoned thence, like him, for apos- 
tolic errands — were Custom-House officers. 

Furthermore, on the left hand as you enter the front door, is 
a certain room or office, about fifteen feet square, and of a lofty 
height; with two of its arched windows commanding a view of 
the aforesaid dilapidated wharf, and the third looking across a 
narrow lane, and along a portion of Derby Street. All three 
give glimpses of the shops of grocers, block-makers, slop-sellers, 
and ship-chandlers; around the doors of Avhich are generally to 
be seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of old salts, and such 
other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping of a seaport. The room 
itself is cobwebbed, and dingy with old paint; its floor is strewn 
with gray sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen into long 
disuse ; and it is easy to conclude, from the general slovenliness 
of the place, that this is a sanctuary into which womankind, 
with her tools of magic, the broom and mop, has very infre- 
quent access. In the way of furniture, there is a stove with 
a voluminous funnel; an old pine desk, with a three-legged 
stool beside it; two or three wooden-bottom chairs, exceedingly 
decrepit and inlirm ; and — not to forget the library — on some 
shelves, a score or two of volumes of the Acts of Congress, and 
a bulky Digest of the Revenue LaMS. A tin pipe ascends through 
the ceiling, and forms a medium of vocal communication with 
other parts of the edifice. And here, some six months ago, — 
pacing from corner to corner, or lounging on the long-legged 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 7 

stool, with his elbow on the desk, and his eyes wandering up 
and down the columns of the morning newspaper, — you might 
have recognized, honored reader, the same individual who wel- 
comed you into his cheery little study, where the sunshine glim- 
mered so pleasantly through the willow branches, on the western 
side of the Old Manse. But now, should you go tliither to seek 
him, you would inquire in vain for the Locofoco Surveyor. The 
besom of reform has swept him out of office; and a worthier 
successor wears his dignity, and pockets his emoluments. 

This old town of Salem — my native place, though I have 
dwelt much away from it, both in boyhood and maturer years 
— possesses, or did possess, a hold on my affections, the force 
of which I have never realized during my seasons of actual resi- 
dence here. Indeed, so far as its physical aspect is concerned, 
with its flat, unvaried surface, covered chiefly with wooden houses, 
few or none of which pretend to architectural beauty, — its 
irregularity, which is neither picturesque nor quaint, but only 
tame, — its long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through 
the whole extent of the peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New 
Guinea at one end, and a view of the almshouse at the other, — 
such being the features of my native town, it would be quite 
as reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a disarranged 
checker-board. And yet, though invariably happiest elsewhere, 
there is within me a feeling for old Salem, which, in lack of a 
better phrase, I must be content to call affection. The senti- 
ment is probably assignable to the deep and aged roots which 
my family has struck into the soil. It is now nearly two cen- 
turies and a quarter since the original Briton, the earliest emi- 
grant of my name, made his appearance in the wild and forest- 
bordered settlement, which has since become a city. And here 



8 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

his descendants have been born and died, and have mingled their 
earthy substance with the soil; until no small portion of it must 
necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a little 
while, I walk the streets. In part, therefore, the attachment 
which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust for 
dust. Few of my countrymen can know what it is; nor, as 
frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stock, need 
they consider it desirable to know. 

But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The figure 
of that first ancestor, invested by family tradition with a dim 
and dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish imagination, as 
far back as I can remember. It still haunts me, and induces 
a sort of home-feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in 
reference to the present phase of the town. I seem to liave a 
stronger claim to a residence here on account of this grave, 
bearded, sable-cloaked and steeple-crowned progenitor, — Avho 
came so early, with his Bible and his sword, and trode the 
unworn street with such a stately port, and made so large a 
figure, as a man of war and peace, — a stronger claim than for 
myself, Avhose name is seldom heard and my face hardly known. 
He was a soldier, legislator, judge ; he was a ruler in the Church; 
he had all the Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was 
likewise a bitter persecutor, as -wdtness the Quakers, who have 
remembered him in their histories, and relate an incident of his 
hard severity towards a woman of their sect, which will last 
longer, it is to be feared, than any record of his better deeds, 
although these were many. His son, too, inherited the perse- 
cuting spirit, and made himself so conspicuous in the martyr- 
dom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have 
left a stam upon him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his old 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 9 

dry bones, in the Charter Street burial-ground, must still retain 
it, if they have not crumbled utterly to dust ! I know not 
whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent, 
and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties; or whether they 
are now groaning under the heavy consequences of them, in 
another state of being. At all events, I, the present writer, 
as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their 
sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them — as I have 
heard, and as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the 
race, for many a long year back, would argue to exist — may 
be now and henceforth removed. 

Doubtless, however, either of these stern and black-browed 
Puritans Avould have tliought it quite a sufficient retribution for 
his sins, that, after so long a lapse of years, the old trunk of 
the family tree, with so much venerable moss upon it, should 
have borne, as its topmost bough, an idler like myself. No 
aim, that I have ever cherished, would they recognize as laud- 
able; no success of mine — if my life, beyond its domestic 
scope, had ever been brightened by success — would they deem 
otherwise than worthless, if not positively disgraceful. "What 
is he?" murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to the 
other. " A writer of story-books ! What kind of a business 
in hfe — what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to 
mankind in his day and generation — may that be? Wliy, the 
degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!" Such 
are the compliments bandied between my great-grandsires and 
myself, across the gulf of time ! And yet, let tliem scorn me 
as they will, strong traits of their nature have intertwined them- 
selves with mine. 

Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and childhood. 



10 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

bj these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since 
subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as 
I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member; but 
seldom or never, on the other hand, after the first two genera- 
tions, performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting 
forward a claim to public notice. Gradually, they have sunk 
ahnost out of sight; as old houses, here and there about the 
streets, get covered half-way to the eaves by the accumulation 
of new soil. From father to son, for above a hundred years, 
they followed the sea; a gray-headed shipmaster, in each gen- 
eration, retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead, while 
a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the mast, 
confronting the salt spray and the gale, which had blustered 
against his sire and grandsire. The boy, also, in due time, 
passed from the forecastle to the cabin, spent a tempestuous 
manhood, and returned from his world-wanderings, to grow old, 
and die, and mingle his dust with the natal earth. This long 
connection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and 
burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the 
locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral 
circumstances that surround him. It is not love, but instinct. 
The new inhabitant — who came himself from a foreign land, 
or whose father or grandfather came — has little claim to be 
called a Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster-like tena- 
city with which an old settler, over whom his third century is 
creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations have 
been imbedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless for 
him; that he is weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and 
dust, the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, 
and the chillest of social atmospheres ; — all these, and what- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. H 

ever faults besides he may see or imagine, are nothing to the 
j)urpose. The spell survives, and just as powerfully as if the 
natal spot were an earthly paradise. So has it been hi my case. 
I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home; so that 
the mould of features and cast of character which had all along 
been familiar here, — ever, as one representative of the race lay 
down in his grave, another assuming, as it were, his sentry- 
march along the main street, — might still in my little day be 
seen and recognized in the old town. Nevertheless, this very 
sentiment is an evidence that the connection, which has become 
an unhealthy one, should at last be severed. Human nature 
M'ill not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and 
replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn- 
out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far 
as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their 
roots into unaccustomed earth. 

On emerging from the Old Manse, it was chiefly this strange, 
indolent, unjoyous attachment for my native town, that brought 
me to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edifice, when I might 
as well, or better, have gone somewhere else. My doom was 
on me. It M^as not the first time, nor the second, that I had 
gone away, — as it seemed, permanently, — but yet returned, 
like the bad half-penny ; or as if Salem were for me the inevi- 
table centre of the universe. So, one fine morning, I ascended 
the flight of granite steps, with the President's commission in 
my pocket, and was introduced to the corps of gentlemen who 
were to aid me in my weighty responsibility, as chief executive 
officer of the Custom-House. 

I doubt greatly — or, rather, I do not doubt at all — whether 
any public functionary of the United States, either in the civil 



12 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

or military line, has ever had such a patriarchal body of vet- 
erans under his orders as myself. The vs'hereabouts of the 
Oldest Inhabitant was at once settled, when I looked at them. 
For upwards of twenty years before this epoch, the independent 
j)osition of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House 
out of the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which makes the 
tenure of office generally so fragile. A soldier, — New England's 
most distinguished soldier, — he stood firmly on the pedestal of 
his gallant services; and, himself secure in the wise liberality 
of the successive administrations through which he had held 
office, he had been the safety of his subordinates in many an 
hour of danger and heart-quake. General Miller was radically 
conservative; a man over whose kindly nature habit had no 
slight influence; attaching himself strongly to familiar faces, and 
with difficulty moved to change, even when change might have 
brought unquestionable improvement. Thus, on taking charge 
of my department, I found few but aged men. They were an- 
cient sea-captains, for the most part, who, after being tost on 
every sea, and standing up sturdily against life's tempestuous 
blasts, had finally drifted into this quiet nook; where, Avith 
little to disturb them, except the periodical terrors of a Presi- 
dential election, they one and all acquired a new lease of exist- 
ence. Though by no means less liable than their fellow-men 
to age and infirmity, they had evidently some talisman or other 
that kept death at bay. Two or three of their number, as I 
was assured, being gouty and rheumatic, or perhaps bedridden, 
never dreamed of making their appearance at the Custom-House, 
during a large part of the year ; but, after a torpid winter, 
would creep out into the warm sunshine of May or June, go 
lazily about what they termed duty, and, at their own leisure 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 13 

and convenience, betake themselves to bed again. I must plead 
guilty to the charge of abbreviating the official breath of more 
than one of these venerable servants of the republic. They were 
allowed, on my representation, to rest from their arduous labors, 
and soon afterwards — as if their sole principle of life had been 
zeal for their country's service, as I verily believe it was — 
withdrew to a better world. It is a pious consolation to me, 
that, through my interference, a sufficient space was allowed 
them for repentance of the evil and corrupt practices into which, 
as a matter of course, every Custom-House officer must be sup- 
posed to fall. Neither the front nor the back entrance of the 
Custom-House opens on the road to Paradise. 

The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It was Avell for 
their venerable brotherhood that the new Surveyor was not a 
politician, and though a faithful Democrat in principle, neither 
received nor held his office with any reference to political services. 
Had it been otherwise, — had an active politician been put into 
this influential post, to assume the easy task of making head 
against a Whig Collector, whose infirmities withheld him from 
the personal administration of his office, — hardly a man of the 
old corps would have drawn the breath of official life, within a 
month after the exterminating angel had come up the Custom- 
House steps. According to the received code in such matters, 
it would have been nothing short of duty, in a politician, to 
bring every one of those white heads under the axe of the guil- 
lotine. It was plain enough to discern, that the old felloAvs 
dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands. It pained, and at 
the same time amused me, to behold the terrors that attended 
my advent; to see a furrowed cheek, weather-beaten by half a 
century of storm, turn ashy pale at the glance of so harmless an 



U THE SCARLET LETTER. 

individual as myself; to detect, as one or another addressed me, 
the tremor of a voice, which, in long-past days, had been wont 
to bellow through a speaking-trumpet, hoarsely enough to frighten 
Boreas himself to silence. They knew, these excellent old persons, 
that, by all established rule, — and, as regarded some of them, 
weighed by their own lack of efficiency for business, — they ought 
to have given j)lace to younger men, more orthodox in politics, 
and altogether fitter than themselves to serve our common Uncle. 
I knew it too, but could never quite find in my heart to act 
upon the knowledge. Much and deservedly to my own discredit, 
therefore, and considerably to the detriment of my official con- 
science, they continued, during my incumbency, to creep about 
the wharves, and loiter up and down the Custom-House steps. 
They spent a good deal of time, also, asleep in their accustomed 
corners, with their chairs tilted back against the waU; awaking, 
however, once or twice in a forenoon, to bore one another -with 
the several thousandth repetition of old sea-stories, and mouldy 
jokes, that had grown to be passwords and countersigns among 
them. 

The discovery was soon made, I imagine, that the new Sur- 
veyor had no great harm in him. So, with lightsome hearts, 
and the happy consciousness of being usefully employed, — in 
their own behalf, at least, if not for our beloved country, — these 
good old gentlemen went through the various formalities of 
office. Sagaciously, under their spectacles, did they peep into 
the holds of vessels ! Mighty was their fuss about little matters, 
and marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater 
ones to slip between their fingers ! Whenever such a miscliance 
occurred, — when a wagon-load of valuable merchandise had 
been smuggled ashore, at noonday, perhaps, and directly beneath 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 15 

their unsuspicious noses, — nothing could exceed the vigilance 
and alacrity with which they proceeded to lock, and double-lock, 
and secure with tape and sealing-wax, all the avenues of the 
delinquent vessel. Instead of a reprimand for their previous 
negligence, the case seemed rather to require an eulogium on 
their praiseworthy caution, after the mischief had happened; a 
grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal, the moment 
that there was no longer any remedy. 

Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, it is my 
foolish habit to contract a kindness for them. The better part 
of my companion's character, if it have a better part, is that 
wliich usually comes uppermost in my regard, and forms the 
type whereby I recognize the man. As most of these old Cus- 
tom-House officers had good traits, and as my position in refer- 
ence to them, being paternal and protective, was favorable to 
the growth of friendly sentiments, I soon grew to like them 
all. It Avas pleasant, in the summer forenoons, — when the fer- 
vent heat, that almost liquefied the rest of the human family, 
merely communicated a genial warmth to their half-torpid sys- 
tems, — it was pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry, 
a row of them all tipped against the wall, as usual; while the 
frozen witticisms of past generations were thawed out, and came 
bubbling with laughter from their lips. Externally, the jolHty 
of aged men has much in common with the mirth of children; 
the intellect, any more than a deep sense of humor, has little 
to do with the matter ; it is, with both, a gleam that plays upon 
the surface, and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect alike to the 
green branch, and gray, mouldering trunk. In one case, how- 
ever, it is real sunshine; in the other, it more resembles the 
phosphorescent glow of decaying wood. 



16 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

It would be sad injustice^ the reader must understand^ to rep- 
resent all my excellent old friends as in their dotage. In the 
first place, my coadjutors were not invariably old; there were 
men among them in their strength and prime, of marked ability 
and energy, and altogether superior to the sluggish and depend- 
ent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them. Then, 
moreover, the white locks of age were sometimes found to be 
the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair. But, as 
respects the majority of my corps of veterans, there will be no 
wrong done, if I characterize them generally as a set of weari- 
some old souls, who had gathered nothing worth preservation 
from their varied experience of life. They seemed to have flung 
away all the golden grain of practical wisdom, which they had 
enjoyed so many opportunities of harvesting, and most carefully 
to have stored their memories with the husks. They spoke with 
far more interest and unction of their morning^s breakfast, or 
yesterday^s, to-day^s, or to-morrow^s dinner, than of the ship- 
wreck of forty or fifty years ago, and all the workVs wonders 
which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes. 

The father of the Custom-House — the patriarcli, not only of 
this little squad of officials, but, I am bold to say, of the re- 
spectable body of tide-waiters all over the United States — was a 
certain permanent Inspector. He might truly be termed a legiti- 
mate son of the revenue system, dyed in the wool, or, rather, 
born in the purple; since his sire, a Revolutionary colonel, and 
formerly collector of tlie port, had created an ofiice for him, and 
appointed him to fill it, at a period of the early ages which few 
living men can now remember. This Inspector, when I first 
knew him, was a man of fourscore years, or thereabouts, and 
certainly one of the most wonderful specimens of winter-green 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 17 

that you would be likely to discover in a lifetime's search. With 
his florid cheek, his compact figure, smartly arrayed in a bright- 
buttoned blue coat, his brisk and vigorous step, and his hale 
and hearty aspect, altogether he seemed — not young, indeed — 
but a kind of new contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape 
of man, whom age and infirmity had no business to touch. His 
voice and laugh, which perpetually re-echoed through the Cus- 
tom- House, had nothing of the tremulous quaver and cackle of 
an old man's utterance; they came strutting out of his lungs, 
like the crow of a cock, or the blast of a clarion. Looking at 
him merely as an animal, — and there was very little else to 
look at, — he was a most satisfactory object, from the thorough 
healthfulness and wholesomeness of his system, and his capacity, 
at that extreme age, to enjoy all, or nearly all, the dehghts which 
he had ever aimed at, or conceived of. The careless security of 
his life in the Custom-House, on a regular income, and with but 
slight and infrequent apprehensions of removal, had no doubt 
contributed to make time pass lightly over him. The original 
and more potent causes, however, lay in the rare perfection of 
his animal nature, the moderate proportion of intellect, and the 
very trifling admixture of moral and spiritual ingredients; these 
latter qualities, indeed, being in barely enough measure to keep 
the old gentleman from walking on all-fours. He possessed no 
power of thought, no depth of feeling, no troublesome sensibil- 
ities ; nothing, in short, but a few commonplace instincts, which, 
aided by the cheerful temper that grew inevitably out of his 
physical well-being, did duty very respectably, and to general 
acceptance, in lieu of a heart. He had been tlie husband of 
three wives, all long since dead; the father of twenty children, 
most of whom, at every age of childhood or maturity, had like- 



18 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

wise returned to dust. Here, one would suppose, might have 
been sorrow enough to imbue the sunniest disposition, through 
and through, with a sable tinge. Not so with our old Inspector ! 
One brief sigh sufficed to carry off the entire burden of these 
dismal reminiscences. The next moment, he was as ready for 
sport as any unbreeched infant; far readier than the Collector's 
junior clerk, who, at nineteen years, was much the elder and 
graver man of the two. 

I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage with, I 
think, livelier curiosity, than any other form of humanity there 
presented to my notice. He was, in truth, a rare phenomenon; 
so perfect, in one point of view; so shallow, so delusive, so im- 
palpable, such an absolute nonentity, in every other. My conclu- 
sion was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing, as I 
have already said, but instincts : and yet, withal, so cunningly 
had the few materials of his character been put together, that 
there was no painful perception of deficiency, but, on my part, 
an entire contentment with what I found in him. It might 
be difficult — and it was so — to conceive how he should exist 
hereafter, so earthly and sensuous did he seem; but surely his 
existence here, admitting that it was to terminate with his last 
breath, had been not unkindly given; with no higlier moral 
responsibilities than the beasts of the field, but with a larger 
scope of enjoyment than theirs, and with all their blessed im- 
munity from the dreariness and duskiness of age. 

One point, in which he had vastly the advantage over his 
four-footed brethren, was his ability to recollect the good din- 
ners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his 
life to eat. His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait; and 
to hear him talk of roast-meat was as appetizing as a pickle or 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 19 

an oyster. As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither 
sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all 
his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit 
of his maw_, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him 
expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher^s meat, and the most 
eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His reminis- 
cences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the actual ban- 
quet, seemed to bring the savor of pig or turkey luider one^s 
very nostrils. There were flavors on his palate that had lingered 
there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still appar- 
ently as fresh as that of the mutton-chop which he had just 
devoured for his breakfast. I have heard him smack his lips 
over dinners, every guest at which, except himself, had long been 
food for worms. It was marvellous to observe how the ghosts 
of bygone meals Avere continually rising up before him; not in 
anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former apprecia- 
tion and seeking to resuscitate an endless series of enjoyment, at 
once shadowy and sensual. A tender-loin of beef, a hind-quarter 
of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remark- 
ably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board 
in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while 
all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that 
brightened or darkened his individual career, had gone over him 
with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief 
tragic event of the old man^s life, so far as I could judge, was 
his mishap with a certain goose which lived and died some 
twenty or forty years ago; a goose of most promising figure, 
but which, at table, proved so inveterately tough that the carv- 
ing-knife would make no impression on its carcass, and it could 
only be divided with an axe and handsaw. 



20 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

But it is time to quit this sketch; on Avhich, however^ I 
should be glad to dwell at considerably more length because^ of 
all men whom I have ever known, this individual was fittest to 
be a Custom- Ho use officer. Most persons, owing to causes which 
I may not have space to hint at, suffer moral detriment from 
this peculiar mode of life. The old Inspector was incapable of 
it, and, were he to continue in office to the end of time, would 
be just as good as he was then, and sit down to dinner with just 
as good an aijpetite. 

There is one likeness, without which my gallery of Custom- 
House portraits would be strangely incomplete; but which my 
comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to 
sketch only in the merest outline. It is that of the Collector, 
our gallant old General, who, after his brilliant military service, 
subsequently to which he had ruled over a wild Western terri- 
tory, had come hither, twenty years before, to spend the decline 
of his varied and honorable life. The brave soldier had already 
numbered, nearly or quite, his threescore years and ten, and was 
pursuing the remainder of his earthly march, burdened Avith in- 
firmities which even the martial music of his own spirit-stirring 
recollections could do little towards lightening. The step Avas 
palsied now that had been foremost in the charge. It was only 
with the assistance of a servant, and by leaning his hand heavily 
on the iron balustrade, that he could slowly and painfully ascend 
the Custom-House steps, and, with a toilsome progress across 
the floor, attain his customary chair beside the fireplace. There 
he used to sit, gazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect 
at the figures that came and went; amid the rustle of pajjers, 
the administering of oaths, the discussion of business, and the 
casual talk of the office ; all which sounds and circumstances 



- THE CUSTOM HOUSE. 21 

seemed but indistinctly to impress his senses, and hardly to make 
their way into his iimer sphere of contemplation. His counte- 
nance, in this repose, was mild and kindly. If his notice was 
sought, an expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon 
his features; proving that there was light within him, and that 
it was only the outward medium of the intellectual lamp that 
obstructed the rays in their passage. The closer you penetrated 
to the substance of his mind, the sounder it appeared. When 
no longer called upon to speak, or listen, either of which opera- 
tions cost him an evident effort, his face would briefly subside 
into its former not uncheerful quietude. It was not painful to 
behold this look; for, though dim, it had not the imbecihty of 
decaying age. The framework of his nature, originally strong 
and massive, was not yet crumbled into ruin. 

To observe and define his character, however, under such dis- 
advantages, was as difficult a task as to trace out and build up 
anew, in imagination, an old fortress, like Ticonderoga, from 
a view of its gray and broken ruins. Here and there, per- 
chance, the walls may remain almost complete, but elsewhere 
may be only a shapeless mound, cumbrous with its very strength, 
and overgrown, through long years of peace and neglect, with 
grass and alien weeds. 

Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with afPection, — for, 
slight as was the communication between us, my feeling towards 
him, like that of all bipeds and quadrupeds who knew him; 
might not improperly be termed so, — I could discern the main 
points of his portrait. It was marked with the noble and he- 
roic qualities which showed it to be not by a mere accident, 
but of good right, that he had won a distinguished name. His 
spirit could never, I conceive, have been characterized by an 



22 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

uneasy activity ; it must, at any period of his life, have required 
an impulse to set him in motion; but, once stirred up, with 
obstacles to overcome, and an adequate object to be attained, 
it was not in the man to give out or fail. The heat that had 
formerly pervaded his nature, and which was not yet extinct, 
was never of the kind that flashes and flickers in a blaze ; but, 
rather, a deep, red glow, as of iron in a furnace. Weight, 
solidity, firmness; this was the expression of his repose, even 
in such decay as had crept untimely over him, at the jjeriod 
of which I speak. But I could imagine, even then, that, under 
some excitement which should go deeply into his consciousness, 

— roused by a trumpet- j)eal, loud enough to awaken all his 
energies that were not dead, but only slumbering, — he was 
yet capable of flinging off his infirmities like a sick man^s gown, 
dropping the staff of age to seize a battle-sword, and starting 
up once more a warrior. And, in so intense a moment, his 
demeanor would have still been calm. Such an exhibition, how- 
ever, was but to be pictured in fancy; not to be anticipated, 
nor desired. What I saw in him — as evidently as the inde- 
structible ramparts of Old Ticonderoga already cited as the most 
appropriate simile — were the features of stubborn and ponder- 
ous endurance, which might well have amounted to obstinacy 
in his earlier days; of integrity, that, like most of his other 
endowments, lay in a somewhat heavy mass, and was just as 
unmalleable and unmanageable as a ton of iron ore; and of 
benevolence, which, fiercely as he led the bayonets on at Chip- 
pewa or Fort Erie, I take to be of quite as genuine a stamp 
as what actuates any or all the polemical philanthropists of the 
age. He had slain men with his own hand, for aught I know, 

— certainly, they had fallen, like blades of grass at the sweep 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 23 

of the scythe, before the charge to which his spirit imparted its 
triumphant energy ; — but, be that as it might, there was never 
in his heart so much cruelty as would have brushed the down 
off a butterfly^s wing. I have not known the man to whose 
innate kindliness I would more confidently make an appeal. 

Many characteristics — and those, too, which contribute not 
the least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch — must have 
vanished, or been obscured, before I met the General. All 
merely graceful attributes are usually the most evanescent; nor 
does Nature adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty, 
that have their roots and proper nutriment only in the chinks 
and crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers over the ruined 
fortress of Ticonderoga. Still, even in respect of grace and 
beauty, there were points well worth noting, A ray of humor, 
now and then, would make its way through the veil of dim 
obstruction, and glimmer pleasantly upon our faces. A trait of 
native elegance, seldom seen in the masculine character after 
childhood or early youth, was shown in the General's fondness 
for the sight and fragrance of flowers. An old soldier might 
be supposed to prize gnly the bloody laurel on his brow; but 
here was one who seemed to have a young girl's appreciation 
of the floral tribe. 

There, beside the fireplace, the brave old General used to sit; 
while the Surveyor — though seldom, when it could be avoided, 
taking upon himself the difficult task of engaging him in con- 
versation — was fond of standing at a distance, and watching 
his quiet and almost slumberous countenance. He seemed away 
from us, although we saw him but a few yards off; remote, 
though we passed close beside his chair; unattainable, though 
we might have stretched forth our hands and touched his own. 



24 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

It might be that he lived a more real life within his thoughts, 
than amid the unappropriate environment of the Collector's office. 
The evolutions of the parade ; the tumult of the battle ; the flour- 
ish of old, heroic music, heard thirty years before ; — such scenes 
and sounds, perhaps, wer6 all alive before his intellectual sense. 
Meanwhile, the merchants and shipmasters, the spruce clerks 
and uncouth sailors, entered and departed; the bustle of this 
commercial and custom-house life kept up its little murmur 
round about him; and neither with the men nor their affairs 
did the General appear to sustain the most distant relation. He 
was as much out of place as an old sword — now rusty, but 
which had flashed once in the battle's front, and showed still 
a bright gleam along its blade — would have been, among the 
inkstands, paper- folders, and mahogany rulers, on the Deputy 
Collector's desk. 

There was one thing that much aided me in renewing and 
re-creating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier, — the 
man of true and simple energy. It was the recollection of those 
memorable Avords of his, — "I '11 try. Sir ! " — spoken on the 
very verge of a desperate and heroic enterprise, and breathing 
the soul and spirit of New England hardihood, comprehending 
all perils, and encountering all. If, in our country, valor were 
rewarded by heraldic honor, this phrase — which it seems so 
easy to speak, but which only he, with such a task of danger 
and glory before him, has ever spoken — would be the best and 
fittest of all mottoes for the General's shield of arms. 

It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual 
health, to be brought into habits of companionship with indi- 
viduals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and Avhose 
sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 25 

The accidents of my life have often afforded me this advantage, 
but never with more fuhiess and variety than during my con- 
tinuance in office. There was one man, especially, the observa- 
tion of whose character gave me a new idea of talent. His 
gifts were emphatically those of a man of business; prompt, 
acute, clear-minded; with an eye that saw through all perplex- 
ities, and a faculty of arrangement that made them vanish, as 
by the waving of an enchanter's wand. Bred up from boyhood 
in the Custom-House, it was his proper field of activity; and 
the many intricacies of business, so harassing to the interloper, 
presented themselves before him with the regularity of a per- 
fectly comjsrehended system. In my contemplation, he stood 
as the ideal of his class. He was, indeed, the Custom-House 
in himself ; or, at all events, the main-spring that kept its vari- 
ously revolving wheels in motion; for, in an institution like 
this, where its officers are appointed to subserve their own profit 
and convenience, and seldom with a leadhig reference to their 
fitness for the duty to be performed, they must perforce seek 
elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them. Thus, by an 
inevitable necessity, as a magnet attracts steel-filings, so did our 
man of business draw to himself the difficulties which everybody 
met with. With an easy condescension, and kind forbearance 
towards our stupidity, — which, to his order of mind, must have 
seemed little short of crime, — Avould he forthwith, by the merest 
touch of his finger, make the incomprehensible as clear as day- 
light. The merchants valued him not less than we, his esoteric 
friends. His integrity was perfect : it was a law of nature with 
him, rather than a choice or a principle; nor can it be other- 
wise than the main condition of an intellect so remarkably 
clear and accurate as his, to be honest and regular in the ad- 



26 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

mmistration of affairs. A stain on his conscience^ as to an}'^- 
thing that came within the range of his vocation, would trouble 
such a man very much in the same way, though to a far 
greater degree, that an error in the balance of an account or 
an ink-blot on the fair page of a book of record. Here, in a 
word, — and it is a rare instance in my life, — I had met with 
a person thoroughly adapted to the situation which he held. 

Such were some of the people with whom I now found myself 
connected. I took it in good part, at the hands of Providence, 
that I was thrown into a position so little akin to my past 
habits, and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever profit 
was to be had. After my fellowship of toil and impracticable 
schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm; after living 
for three years within the subtile influence of an intellect like 
Emerson^s; after those wild, free days on the Assabeth, indulg- 
ing fantastic speculations, beside our fire of fallen boughs, with 
Ellery Channing ; after talking with Thoreau about pine-trees 
and Indian relics, in his hermitage at Walden; after growing 
fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement of Hillard's 
culture; after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment at Long- 
fellow's hearthstone; — it was time, at length, that I should 
exercise other faculties of my nature, and nourish myself with 
food for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the old 
Inspector Avas desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who had 
known Alcott. I look upon it as an evidence, in some measure, 
of a system naturally well balanced, and lacking no essential part of 
a thorough organization, that, with such associates to remember, 
I could mingle at once with men of altogether difl'erent qualities, 
and never murmur at the change. 

Literature, its exertions and objects, were now of little mo- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 27 

ment in my regard. I cared not, at this period, for books ; 
they were apart from me. Nature, — except it were human 
nature, — the nature that is developed in earth and sky, M'as, in 
one sense, hidden from me; and all the imaginative delight, 
wherewith it had been spiritualized, passed away out of my 
mind. A gift, a faculty if it had not departed, was suspended 
and inanimate within me. There would have been something 
sad, unutterably dreary, in all this, had I not been conscious 
that it lay at my own option to recall whatever was valuable in 
the past. It might be true, indeed, that this was a life which 
could not with impunity be lived too long; else, it might have 
made me permanently other than I had been without transform- 
ing me into any shape which it would be worth my while to 
take. But I never considered it as other than a transitory life. 
There was always a prophetic instinct, a low whisjDer in my ear, 
that, within no long period, and Avhenever a new change of cus- 
tom should be essential to my good, a change would come. 

Meanwhile, there I was, a Surveyor of the Eevenue, and, so 
far as I have been able to understand, as good a Surveyor as 
need be. A man of thought, fancy, and sensibility (had he ten 
times the Surveyor's proportion of those qualities) may, at any 
time, be a man of affairs, if he will only choose to give himself 
the trouble. My fellow-officers, and the merchants and sea-cap- 
tains with whom my official duties brought me into any manner 
of connection, viewed me in no other light, and probably knew 
me in no other character. None of them, I presume, had ever 
read a page of my inditing, or would have cared a fig the more 
for me, if they had read them all; nor would it have mended 
the matter, in the least, had those same unprofitable pages been 
written with a pen like that of Burns or of Chaucer, each of 



28 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

whom was a custom-house officer in his day, as well as I. It 
is a good lesson — though it may often be a hard one — for a 
man wlio has dreamed of literary fame, and of making for him- 
self a rank among the world's dignitaries by such means, to 
step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are rec- 
ognized, and to find how utterly devoid of significance, beyond 
that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he aims at. I know 
not that I especially needed the lesson, either in the way of 
warning or rebuke ; but, at any rate, I learned it thoroughly : 
nor, it gives me pleasure to reflect, did the truth, as it came 
home to my perception, ever cost me a pang, or require to be 
thrown ott' in a sigh. In the way of literary talk, it is true, 
the Naval Officer — an excellent follow, who came into office 
with me and went out only a little later — would often engage 
me in a discussion about one or the other of his favorite topics. 
Napoleon or Shakespeare. The Collector's junior clerk, too — a 
young gentleman who, it was whispered, occasionally covered 
a sheet of Uncle Sam's letter-paper with what (at the distance 
of a fcAV yards) looked very much like poetry — used now and 
then to speak to me of books, as matters with which I might 
possibly be conversant. This was my all of lettered intercourse; 
and it was quite sufficient for my necessities. 

No longer seeking nor caring that my name should be bla- 
zoned abroad on title-pages, I smiled to think that it had now 
another kind of vogue. The Custom-House marker imprinted it, 
with a stencil and black paint, on pepper-bags, and baskets of 
anatto, and cig;ir-boxes, and bales of all kinds of dutiable mer- 
chandise, in testimony that these commodities had paid the im- 
post, and gone regularly through the office. Borne on such 
queer vehicle of fame, a knowledge of ray existence, so far as a 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 29 

name conveys it, was carried where it had never been before, 
and, I hope, will never go again. 

But the past was not dead. Once in a great while the 
thoughts that had seemed so vital and so active, yet had been 
put to rest so quietly, revived again. One of the most remark- 
able occasions, when the habit of bygone days awoke in me, 
was that which brings it within the law of literary propriety to 
oft'er the public the sketch which I am now writing. 

In the second story of the Custom-House there is a large 
room, in which the brick-work and naked rafters have never 
been covered with panelling and plaster. The edifice — origi- 
nally projected on a scale adapted to the old commercial enter- 
prise of the port, and with an idea of subsequent prosperity des- 
tined never to be realized — contains far more space than its 
occupants know what to do with. This airy hall, therefore, over 
the Collector's apartments, remains unfinished to this day, and, 
in spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon its dusky beams, ap- 
pears still to await the labor of the carpenter and mason. At 
one end of the room, in a recess, were a number of barrels, piled 
one upon another, containing bundles of official documents. Large 
quantities of similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor. It was 
sorrowful to think how many days and weeks and months and 
years of toil had been wasted on these musty papers, which were 
now only an encumbrance on earth, and were hidden away in 
this forgotten corner, never more to be glanced at by human eyes. 
But, then, Avhat reams of other manuscripts — filled not with the 
dulness of official formalities, but with the thought of inventive 
brains and the rich effusion of deep hearts — had gone equally to 
oblivion ; and that, moreover, without serving a purpose in their 
day, as these heaped-up papers had, and — saddest of all — with- 



30 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

out purchasing for their writers the comfortable livelihood which 
the clerks of the Custom-House had gained by these worthless 
scratchings of the j)en ! Yet not altogether worthless, jDcrhaps, 
as materials of local history. Here, no doubt, statistics of the 
former commerce of Salem might be discovered, and memorials 
of her princely merchants, — old King Derby, old Billy Gray, 
old Simon Forrester, and many another magnate in his day; 
whose powdered head, however, was scarcely in the tomb, before 
his mountain pile of wealth began to dwindle. The founders of 
the greater part of the families which now compose the aristoc- 
racy of Salem might here be traced, from the petty and obscure 
beginnings of their traffic, at periods generally much posterior to 
the Revolution, upward to what their children look upon as long- 
established rank. 

Prior to the Eevolution there is a dearth of records; the 
earlier documents and archives of the Custom-House having, 
probably, been carried off to Halifax, when all the King's officials 
accompanied the British army in its flight from Boston. It has 
often been a matter of regret with me ; for, going back, perhaps, 
to the days of the Protectorate, those papers must have con- 
tained many references to forgotten or remembered men, and to 
anticpie customs, which would have affected me with the same 
pleasure as when I used to pick up Indian arrow-heads in the 
field near the Old Manse. 

But, one idle and rainy day, it was my fortune to make a dis- 
covery of some little interest. Poking and burrowing into the 
heaped-up rubbish in the corner ; unfolding one and another 
document, and reading the names of vessels that had long ago 
foundered at sea or rotted at the wharves, and those of mer- 
chants, never heard of now on ^Change, nor very readily decipher- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 31 

able on their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matters with 
the saddened^ weary, half-reluctant interest which we bestow on 
the corpse of dead activity, — and exerting my fancy, sluggish 
with little use, to raise up from these dry bones an image of 
the old town's brighter aspect, when India was a new region, 
and only Salem knew the way thither, — I chanced to lay my 
hand on a small package, carefully done up in a piece of an- 
cient yellow parchment. This envelope had the air of an official 
record of some period long past, when clerks engrossed their 
stiff and formal chirography on more substantial materials than 
at present. There was something about it that quickened an 
instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded red tape, that 
tied up the package, with the sense that a treasure would here 
be brought to light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parch- 
ment cover, I found it to be a commission, under the hand and seal 
of Governor Shirley, in favor of one Jonathan Pue, as Surveyor 
of his Majesty's Customs for the port of Salem, in the Province 
of Massachusetts Bay. I remember to have read (probably in 
Felt's Annals) a notice of the decease of Mr. Surveyor Pue, 
about fourscore years ago; and likewise, in a newspaper of recent 
times, an account of the digging up of his remains in the little 
graveyard of St. Peter's Cliurch, during the renewal of that 
edifice. Nothing, if I rightly call to mind, Avas left of my 
respected predecessor, save an imperfect skeleton, and some frag- 
ments of apparel, and a wig of majestic frizzle; which, unlike 
the head that it once adorned, Avas in very satisfactory preserva- 
tion. But, on examining the papers which the parchment com- 
mission served to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Pue's 
mental part, and the internal operations of his head, than the 
frizzled Avig had contained of the venerable skull itself. 



33 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Tliey were documents, in short, not official, but of a private 
nature, or at least written in his private capacity, and appar- 
ently with his own hand. I could account for their being in- 
cluded in the heap of Custom-IIouse lumber only by the fact 
that Mr. Pue's death had ha])pened suddenly; and that these 
papers, which he probably kept in his official desk, had never 
come to the knowledge of his heirs, or were supposed to relate 
to the business of the revenue. On the transfer of the archives 
to Halifax, this package, proving to be of no jniblic concern, 
was left behind, and had remained ever since unopened. 

The ancient Surveyor — being Httlc molested, I suppose, at 
that early day, with business pertaining to his office — seems 
to have devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches 
as a local antiquarian, and other inquisitions of a similar nature. 
These supplied material for petty activity to a mind that would 
otherwise have been eaten up with rust. A portion of his facts, 
by the by, did me good service in the preparation of the article 
entitled " Main Street," included in the present volume. The 
remainder may perhaps be api)lied to purposes equally valu- 
able, hereafter; or not impossibly may be worked uj), so far as 
they go, into a regular history of Salem, should my veneration 
for the natal soil ever impel me to so pious a task. IMeanwhile, 
they shall be at the command of any gentleman, inclined, and 
competent, to take the unprofitable labor off' my hands. As a 
final disposition, I contemplate depositing them with the Essex 
Historical Society. 

But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysterious 
package, was a certain affiiir of fine red cloth, much worn and 
faded. There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, 
however, was greatly frayed and defaced; so that none, or very 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE, 33 

littlcj of the glitter was left. It had been wrought, as was easy 
to perceive, with wonderful skill of needlework; and the stitch 
(as I am assured by ladies conversant with such mysteries) gives 
evidence of a now forgotten art, not to be recovered even by 
the process of picking out the threads. This rag of scarlet 
cloth, — for time and wear and a sacrilegious moth had reduced 
it to little other than a rag, — on careful examination, assumed 
the sliape of a letter. It was the capital letter A. By an accu- 
rate measurement, each limb jjroved to be precisely three inches 
and a quarter in length. It liad been intended, there could be 
no doubt, as an ornamental article of dress; but how it was to 
be worn, or what rank, honor, and dignity, in by-past times, 
were signified by it, was a riddle which (so evanescent are the 
fashions of the world in these particulars) I saw little hope of 
solving. And yet it strangely interested me. My eyes fastened 
themselves upon the old scarlet letter, and M'ould not be turned 
aside. Certaiidy, there was some deep meaning in it, most worthy 
of interpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from 
the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my sensibili- 
ties, but evading the analysis of my mhid. 

While thus perplexed, — and cogitating, among other hypoth- 
eses, whether the letter might not have been one of those deco- 
rations which the white men used to contrive, in order to take 
the eyes of Indians, — I happened to place it on my breast. 
It seemed to me, — the reader may smile, but must not doubt 
my word, — it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensa- 
tion not altogether physical, yet almost so, of burning heat ; 
and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I 
shuddered, and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor. 

In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, I had 



34 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper, around 
which it had been twisted. This I now opened, and had the 
satisfaction to find, recorded by the old Surveyor's pen, a rea- 
sonably comi)lete explanation of the whole afPair. Tliere were 
several foolscap sheets containing many particulars respecting the 
life and conversation of one Hester Prynne, who appeared to have 
been rather a noteworthy personage in the view of our ances- 
tors. She had flourished during the period between the early 
days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century. 
Aged persons, alive in the time of Mr. Surveyor Pue, and from 
whose oral testimony he had made up his narrative, remembered 
her, in their youth, as a very old, but not decrepit woman, of 
a stately and solemn aspect. It had been her habit, from an 
almost immemorial date, to go about the country as a kind of 
voluntary nurse, and doing whatever miscellaneous good she 
might; taking upon herself, likewise, to give advice in all mat- 
ters, especially those of the heart; by which means, as a person 
of such propensities inevitably must, she gained from many peo- 
ple the reverence due to an angel, but, I should imagine, was 
looked upon by others as an intruder and a nuisance. Prying 
further into the manuscript, I found the record of other doings 
and sufferings of this singular woman, for most of which the 
reader is referred to the story entitled ''The Scarlet Letter ''; 
and it should be borne carefully in mind, that the main facts 
of that story are authorized and authenticated by the document 
of Mr. Surveyor Pue. The original papers, together with the 
scarlet letter itself, — a most curious relic, — are still in my pos- 
session, and shall be freely exhibited to whomsoever, induced 
by the great interest of the narrative, may desire a sight of 
them. I must not be understood as affirming, that, in the dress- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 35 

ing up of the tale, and imagining the motives and modes of 
passion that influenced the characters who figure in it, I have 
invariably confined myself within the limits of the old Surveyor's 
half a dozen sheets of foolscap. On the contrary, I have allowed 
myself, as to such points, nearly or altogether as much license 
as if the facts had been entirely of my own invention. What 
I contend for is the authenticity of the outline. 

This incident recalled my mind, in some degree, to its old 
track. There seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale. It 
impressed me as if the ancient Surveyor, in his garb of a hun- 
dred years gone by, and wearing his immortal wig, — Avhich 
was buried with him, but did not perish in the grave, — had 
met me in the deserted chamber of the Custom-House. In his 
port was the dignity of one Avho had borne his Majesty's com- 
mission, and Avho was therefore illuminated by a ray of the s])len- 
dor that shone so dazzlingly about the throne. How unlike, 
alas ! the hang-dog look of a republican official, who, as the 
servant of the people, feels himself less than the least, and below 
the lowest, of his masters. With his own ghostly hand, the 
obscurely seen but majestic figure had imparted to me the scar- 
let symbol, and the little roll of explanatory manuscript. With 
his own ghostly voice, he had exhorted me, on the sacred con- 
sideration of my filial duty and reverence towards him, — who 
might reasonably regard himself as my official ancestor, — to 
bring his mouldy and moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. 
"Do this," said the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, emphatically 
nodding the head that looked so imposing within its memor- 
able wig, — " do this, and the profit shall be all your own ! 
You M'ill shortly need it; for it is not in your days as it was 
in muie, when a man's office was a life-lease, and oftentimes 



36 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

an heirloom. But^ I charge you, in this matter of old Mistress 
Prynne, give to your predecessor's memory the credit which will 
be rightfully due ! " And I said to the ghost of Mr. Surveyor 
Pue, "I will!'^ 

On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestoAved much thought. 
It was the subject of my meditations for many an hour, while 
pacing to and fro across my room, or traversing, with a hun- 
dred-fold repetition, the long extent from the front-door of the 
Custom- House to the side-entrance, and back again. Great were 
the weariness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the "Weigh- 
ers and Gangers, whose slumbers M^ere disturbed by the unmer- 
cifully lengthened tramp of my passing and returning footsteps. 
Remembering their own former habits, they used to say that 
the Surveyor was walking the quarter-deck. They probably 
fancied that my sole object — and, indeed, the sole object for 
which a sane man could ever put himself into voluntary mo- 
tion — was, to get an appetite for dinner. And to say the 
truth, an appetite, sharpened by the east wind that generally 
blew along the passage, was the only valuable result of so much 
indefatigable exercise. So little adapted is the atmosphere of 
a custom-house to the dehcate harvest of fancy and sensibil- 
ity, that, had I remained there through ten Presidencies yet to 
come, I doubt whether the tale of "The Scarlet Letter" would 
ever have been brought before the public eye. My imagination 
was a tarnished mirror. It would not reflect, or only with mis- 
erable dimness, the figures with which I did my best to people 
it. The characters of the narrative would not be warmed and 
rendered malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intel- 
lectual forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor 
the tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 37 

corpses^ and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin 
of contemptuous defiance. " What have you to do with us ? ^' 
that expression seemed to say. "The little power you might 
once have possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone ! You 
have bartered it for a pittance of the public gold. Go, then, 
and earn your v/ages ! " In short, the almost torpid creatures 
of my own fancy twitted me with imbecility, and not without 
fair occasion. 

It was not merely during the three hours and a half which 
Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily life, that this 
wretched numbness held possession of me. It went with me 
on my sea-shore walks, and rambles into the country, when- 
ever — which was seldom and reluctantly — I bestirred myself 
to seek that invigorating charm of Nature, which used to give 
me such freshness and activity of thought the moment that I 
stepped across the threshold of the Old Manse. The same tor- 
por, as regarded the capacity for intellectual effort, accompanied 
me home, and weighed upon me in the chamber which I most 
absurdly termed my study. Nor did it quit me, when, late 
at night, I sat in the deserted parlor, lighted only by the 
glimmering coal-fire and the moon, striving to picture forth 
imaginary scenes, which, the next day, might flow out on the 
brightening page in many-hued description. 

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour, it 
might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlight, in a familiar 
room, falling so Avhite upon the carpet, and showing all its figures 
so distinctly, — making every object so minutely visible, yet so 
unlike a morning or noontide visibility, — is a medium the most 
suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his illusive 
guests. There is the little domestic scenery of the well-known 



38 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

apartment ; the chairs^ with each its separate individuality ; the 
centre-table, sustainhig a work-basket, a volume or two, and an 
exthiguishcd lamp; the sofa; the bookcase; the picture on the 
wall ; — all these details, so completely seen, are so spiritualized 
by the uimsual light, that they seem to lose their actual sub- 
stance, and become things of intellect. Nothing is too small or 
too trilling to undergo this change, and acquire dignity thereby. 
A child's shoe; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage; 
the hobby-horse ; — whatever, in a word, has been used or played 
with, during the day, is now invested with a quality of strange- 
ness and remoteness, though still almost as vividly present as 
by daylight. Thus, therefore, the floor of our familiar room has 
become a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world 
and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginaiy may meet, 
and each imbue itself with the nature of the other. Ghosts might 
enter here, without afi'righting us. It would be too much in 
keeping with the scene to excite surprise, were we to look about 
us and discover a form beloved, but gone hence, now sitting 
quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine, with an aspect that 
wouUl make us doubt whether it had returned from afar, or had 
never once stirred from our fireside. 

The somewhat dim coal-fire has an essential influence in pro- 
ducing the effect which I would describe. It throws its unob- 
trusive tinge throughout the room, Avith a faint ruddiness upon 
the walls and coiling, and a reflected gleam from the polish of the 
furniture. This warmer light mingles itself with the cold spirit- 
uality of the moonbeams, and communicates, as it were, a heart 
and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms M'hich fancy 
summons up. It converts them from snow-images into men and 
women. Glancing at the looking-glass, we behold — deep within 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 39 

its liaunted verge — the smouldering glow of tlie half-extinguished 
anthracite, the white moonbeams on the floor, and a repetition 
of all the gleam and shadow of the picture, with one remove 
further from the actual, and nearer to the imaginative. Then, 
at sucli an hour, and with this scene before him, if a man, sitting 
all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like 
truth, he need never try to write romances. 

But, for myself, during the whole of my Custom-House expe- 
rience, moonlight and sunsliine, and the glow of firelight, were 
just alike in my regard; and neither of them was of one whit 
more avail than the twinkle of a tallow-candle. An entire class 
of susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them, — of no great 
richness or value, but the best I had, — was gone from me. 

It is my belief, however, that, had I attempted a different order 
of composition, my faculties would not have been found so point- 
less and inefficacious. I might, for instance, have contented my- 
self M'ith writing out the narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one 
of the Inspectors, whom I should be most ungrateful not to men- 
tion, since scarcely a day passed that he did not stir me to laugli- 
ter and admiration by his marvellous gifts as a story-teller. 
Could I have preserved the picturesque force of his style, and 
the humorous coloring which nature taught liim liow to throw 
over his descriptions, the result, I honestly believe, would have 
been something new in literature. Or I might readily have found 
a more serious task. It was a folly, with the materiality of this 
daily life pressing so intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling 
myself back into another age; or to insist on creating the sem- 
blance of a world out of airy matter, Avhen, at every moment, 
the impalpable beauty of my soap-bubble was broken by the 
rude contact of some actual circumstance. The wiser effort would 



40 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

have been, to diffuse thought and imagination through the opaque 
substance of to-day, and thus to make it a bright transparency; 
to spiritualize the burden that began to weigh so heavily; to 
seek, resolutely, the true and indestructible value that lay hidden 
in the petty and wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters, 
with which I was now conversant. The fault was mine. Tlie 
page of life that was spread out before me seemed dull and com- 
monplace, only because I had not fathomed its deeper import. 
A better book than I shall ever write was there; leaf after leaf 
presenting itself to me, just as it was written out by the reality 
of the flitthig liour, and vanishing as fast as written, only because 
my brain wanted the insight and my hand the cunning to tran- 
scribe it. At some future day, it may be, I shall remember a 
few scattered fragments and broken paragraphs, and write them 
down, and find the letters turn to gold upon the page. 

These perceptions have come too late. At the instant, I was 
only conscious that what would have been a pleasure once was 
now a hopeless toil. There was no occasion to make much moan 
about this state of affairs. I had ceased to be a writer of toler- 
ably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good 
Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it 
is anything but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that 
one's intellect is dwindling away ; or exhaling, without your con- 
sciousness, like ether out of a phial ; so that, at every glance, you 
find a smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact there 
could be no doubt; and, examining myself and others, I was 
led to conclusions, in reference to the effect of public office on 
the character, not very favorable to the mode of life in question. 
In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these 
effects. Suffice it here to say, that a Custom-House officer, of 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 41 

long continuance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respect- 
able personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by 
which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his 
business, which — though, I trust, an honest one — is of such a 
sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind. 

An effect — which I believe to be observable, more or less, in 
every individual who has occupied the position — is, that, while 
he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper 
strength departs from him. He loses, in an extent proportioned 
to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability of 
self-support. If he possess an unusual share of native energy, 
or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long upon 
him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer 
— fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, 
to struggle amid a struggling world — may return to himself, 
and become all that he has ever been. But this seldom happens. 
He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruin, 
and is then thrust out, with sinews all unstrung, to totter along 
the difficult footpath of life as he best may. Conscious of his 
own infirmity, — that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost, — 
he forever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of sup- 
port external to himself. His pervading and continual hope — 
a hallucination which, in the face of all discouragement, and 
making light of impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, 
I fancy, like the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments him 
for a brief space after death — is, that finally, and in no long 
time, by some happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be 
restored to office. This faith, more than anything else, steals 
the pith and availability out of whatever enterprise lie may dream 
of undertaking. "Why should he toil and moil, and be at so 



42 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a 
little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and 
support him ? Why should he work for his living here, or go 
to dig gold in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, 
at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of 
his Uncle^s pocket? It is sadly curious to observe how slight 
a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with this singular 
disease. Uncle Sam's gold — meaning no disrespect to the wor- 
thy old gentleman — has, in this respect, a quality of enchant- 
ment like that of the Devil's wages. Whoever touches it should 
look well to himself, or he may find the bargain to go hard 
against him, involving, if not his soul, yet many of its better 
attributes; its sturdy force, its courage and constancy, its truth, 
its self-reliance, and all that gives the emphasis to manly char- 
acter. 

Here was a fine prospect in the distance ! Not that the Sur- 
veyor brought the lesson home to himself, or admitted that he 
could be so utterly undone, either by continuance in office, or 
ejectment. Yet my reflections were not the most comfortable. 
I began to grow melancholy and restless; continually prying 
into my mind, to discover which of its poor properties were 
gone, and what degree of detriment had already accrued to the 
remainder. I endeavored to calculate how much longer I could 
stay in the Custom-House, and yet go forth a man. To confess 
the truth, it was my greatest apprehension, — as it would never 
be a measure of policy to turn out so quiet an individual as 
myself, and it being hardly in the nature of a public officer to 
resign, — it Avas my chief trouble, therefore, that I was likely 
to grow gray and decrepit in the Surveyorship, and become 
much such another animal as the old Inspector. Might it not, 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 43 

in the tedious lapss of official life that lay before me, finally be 
with me as it was with this venerable friend, — to make the 
dinner-hour the nucleus of the day, and to spend the rest of 
it, as an old dog spends it, asleep in the sunshine or in the 
shade? A dreary look-forward this, for a man who felt it to 
be the best definition of happiness to live throughout the whole 
range of his faculties and sensibilities ! But, all this while, I 
was giving myself very unnecessary alarm. Providence had 
meditated better things for me than I could possibly imagine 
for myself. 

A remarkable event of the third year of my Surveyorship — 
to adopt the tone of " P. P." — was the election of General 
Taylor to the Presidency. It is essential, in order to a complete 
estimate of the advantages of official life, to view the incumbent 
at the incoming of a hostile administration. His position is then 
one of the most singularly irksome, and, in every contingency, 
disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can possibly occupy; with 
seldom an alternative of good, on either hand, although what 
presents itself to him as the worst event may very probably be 
the best. But it is a strange experience, to a man of pride 
and sensibility, to know that his interests are within the control 
of individuals who neither love nor understand him, and by 
whom, since one or the other must needs happen, he would 
rather be injured than obliged. Strange, too, for one who has 
kept his calmness throughout the contest, to observe the blood- 
thirstiness that is developed in the hour of triumph, and to be 
conscious that he is himself among its objects ! There are few 
uglier traits of human nature than this tendency — which I now 
witnessed in men no worse than their neighbors — to grow cruel, 
merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm. If 



44 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the guillotine^ as applied to office-holders^ were a literal fact 
instead of one of the most apt of metaphors^ it is my sincere 
belief that the active members of the victorious party were suf- 
ficiently excited to have chopped off all our lieads^ and have 
thanked Heaven for the opportunity ! It appears to me — who 
have been a calm and curious observer^ as well in victory as 
defeat — that this fierce and bitter spirit of malice and revenge 
has never distinguished the many triumphs of my own party as 
it now did that of the Whigs. The Democrats take the offices, 
as a general rule, because they need them, and because the prac- 
tice of many years has made it the law of political warfare, 
which, unless a different system be proclaimed, it were weakness 
and cowardice to murmur at. But the long habit of victory 
has made them generous. They know how to spare, when they 
see occasion ; and when they strike, the axe may be sharp, indeed, 
but its edge is seldom poisoned with ill-will; nor is it their 
custom ignominiously to kick the head which they have just 
struck off. 

In short, unpleasant as Avas my predicament, at best, I saw 
much reason to congratulate myself that I was on the losing 
side, rather than the triumphant one. If, heretofore, I had been 
none of the warmest of partisans, I began now, at this season 
of peril and adversity, to be pretty acutely sensible with which 
party my predilections lay; nor was it without something like 
regret and shame, that, according to a reasonable calculation of 
chances, I saw my own prospect of retaining office to be better 
than those of my Democratic brethren. But who can see an 
inch into futurity, beyond his nose? My own head was the 
first that fell! 

The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom or never. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 45 

I am inclined to think, precisely the most agreeable of his life. 
Nevertheless, like the greater part of our misfortunes, even so 
serious a contingency brings its remedy and consolation with it, 
if the sufferer will but make the best, rather than the worst, 
of the accident which has befallen him. In my particular case, 
the consolatory topics were close at hand, and, indeed, had sug- 
gested themselves to my meditations a considerable time before 
it was requisite to use them. In view of my previous weariness 
of office, and vague thoughts of resignation, my fortune some- 
what resembled that of a person who should entertain an idea 
of committing suicide, and, although beyond his hopes, meet 
with the good hap to be murdered. In the Custom-House, as 
before in the Old Manse, I had spent three years; a term long 
enough to rest a weary brain; long enough to break off old 
intellectual habits, and make room for new ones ; long enough, 
and too long, to have lived in an unnatural state, doing what 
was really of no advantage nor delight to any human being, and 
withholding myself from toil that would, at least, have stilled 
an unquiet impulse in me. Then, moreover, as regarded his 
unceremonious ejectment, the late Surveyor was not altogether 
ill-pleased to be recognized by the Whigs as an enemy; since 
his inactivity in political affairs — his tendency to roam, at will, 
in that broad and quiet field where all mankind may meet, rather 
than confine himself to those narrow paths where brethren of the 
same household must diverge from one another — had sometimes 
made it questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was 
a friend. Now, after he had won the crown of martyrdom (though 
with no longer a head to wear it on), the point might be looked 
upon as settled. Finally, little heroic as he was, it seemed more 
decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of the party with 



46 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

which he had been content to stand, than to remain a forlorn 
survivor, when so many worthier men were faUing; and, at last, 
after subsisting for four years on the mercy of a hostile admin- 
istration, to be compelled then to define his position anew, and 
claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a friendly one. 

Meanwhile the press had taken up my affair, and kept me, 
for a week or two, careering through the public prints, in my 
decapitated state, like Irving^s Headless Horseman; ghastly and 
grim, and longing to be buried, as a politically dead man ought. 
So much for my figurative self. The real human being, all this 
time, with his head safely on his shoulders, had brought himself 
to the comfortable conclusion that everything was for the best; 
and, making an investment in ink, paper, and steel-pens, had 
opened his long-disused writing-desk, and was again a literary 
man. 

Now it was that the lucubrations of my ancient predecessor, 
Mr, Surveyor Pue, came into play. Eusty through long idle- 
ness, some little space was requisite before my intellectual ma- 
chinery could be brought to work upon the tale, with an effect 
in any degree satisfactory. Even yet, though my thoughts Avere 
ultimately much absorbed in the task, it wears, to my eye, a 
stern and sombre aspect; too much ungladdened by genial sun- 
shine ; too little relieved by the tender and familiar influences 
which soften almost every scene of nature and real life, and, 
undoubtedly, should soften every picture of them. This uncap- 
tivating eff"ect is perhaps due to the period of hardly accomplished 
revolution, and still seething turmoil, in Avhich the story shaped 
itself. It is no indication, however, of a lack of cheerfulness 
in the writer^s mind ; for he was happier, while straying through 
the gloom of these sunless fantasies, than at any time since he 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 47 

had quitted the Old Manse. Some of the briefer articles, which 
contribute to make up the volume, have likewise been written 
since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and honors of 
public life, and the remainder are gleaned from annuals and mag- 
azines of such antique date that they have gone round the circle, 
and come back to novelty again.* Keeping up the metaphor of 
the political guillotine, the whole may be considered as the Post- 
humous Papers of a Decapitated Surveyor; and the sketcli 
which I am now bringing to a close, if too autobiographical for 
a modest person to publish in his lifetime, M'ill readily be ex- 
cused in a gentleman who writes from beyond the grave. Peace 
be with all the world ! My blessing on my friends ! My for- 
giveness to my enemies ! For I am in the realm of quiet ! 

The life of the Custom-House lies like a dream behind me. 
The old Inspector, — who, by the by, I regret to say, was over- 
thrown and killed by a horse, some time ago; else he w^ould 
certainly have lived forever, — he, and all those other venerable 
personages who sat with him at the receipt of custom, are but 
shadows in my view; white-headed and wrinkled images, which 
my fancy used to sport with, and has now flung aside forever. 
The merchants, — Pingree, Phillips, Shepard, Upton, Kimball, 
Bertram, Hunt, — these, and many other names, which had such 
a classic fnmilinrity for my ear six months ago, — these men of 
traffic, who seemed to occupy so important a position in the 
world, — how little time has it required to disconnect me from 
them all, not merely in act, but recollection ! It is with an effort 
that I recall the figures and appellations of these few. Soon, 

* At the time of writing this article the author intended to publish, along with 
" The Scarlet Letter," several shorter talcs and sketches. These it has been thought 
advisable to defer. 



48 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



likewise, my old native town will loom upon me through the 
haze of memory, a mist brooding over and around it; as if it 
were no portion of the real earth, but an overgrown village in 
cloud-land, with only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden 
houses, and walk its homely lanes, and the unpicturesque prolixity 
of its main street. Henceforth it ceases to be a reality of my 
life. I am a citizen of somewhere else. My good towns-people 
will not much regret me; for — though it has been as dear an 
object as any, in my literary efforts, to be of some importance 
in their eyes, and to win myself a pleasant memory in this abode 
and burial-place of so many of my forefathers — there has never 
been, for me, the genial atmosphere which a literary man requires, 
in order to ripen the best harvest of his mind. I shall do better 
amongst other faces; and these familiar ones, it need hardly be 
said, will do just as well without me. 

It may be, however, — 0, transporting and triumphant thought \ 
— that the great-grandchildren of the present race may sometimes 
think kindly of the scribbler of bygone days, when the antiquary 
of days to come, among the sites memorable in the town's his- 
tory, shall point out the locality of The Town Pump! 





The Scarlet Letter 



I. 



THE PRISON-DOOR. 

A THRONG of hcin-dvd nuMi, 
ill sad-colored garments, and 
gray, steeple-crowned hats, in- 
termixed with women, some 
wearing hoods and others 
bareheaded, was assembled in 
front of a wooden edifice, the 
door of whicli was heavily 
timbered with oak, and stud- 
ded with iron spikes. 

The founders of a new col- 
ony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might 
originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earli- 
est practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a 
cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accord- 
ance with this rule, it may safely be assumed that the forefathers 




52 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 romid about his grave/ which 
subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepul- 
chres 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 over- 
grown with burdock, pigweed, apple-peru, and such unsightly 
vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil, 
that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a 
prison. But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the 
threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, 
•nath 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. 

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in his- 
tory; 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, — or whether, 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 di- 
rectly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to 



THE PRISON-DOOR. 



53 



issue from that inauspicious portal^ we could hardly do other- 
wise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. 
It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blos- 
som, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darken- 
ing close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow. 





II. 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 




HE 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 Eng- 
land, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies 
of these good people would have augured some aAvful business 
in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the antici- 
pated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence 
of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public senti- 
me^nt. But, 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 Anti- 
nomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist was to be 
scourged out of the toMii, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 55 

the white man^s fire-water had made riotous about the streets, 
was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It 
might be, too, 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 solem- 
nity of demeanor on the part of the spectators; as befitted a 
people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, 
and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that 
the mildest and the severest acts of jjublic discipline were alike 
made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold was the 
sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, 
at the scaff'old. On the other hand, a penalty, Avhich, in our 
days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might 
then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punish- 
ment 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 impro- 
priety 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. Morally, 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 ; for, through- 
out that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has trans- 
mitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer 
beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less 



56 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

force and solidity^ than her own. The Avomen who were now 
standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a 
century of the 2)eriod when the man-like Elizabeth had been 
the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. Thev 
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, therefore, 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. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of 
speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, 
that would startle us at tlie present day, whether in respect to 
its jiurport or its volume of tone. 

" Goodwives,'"" said a hard-featured dame of fifty, " I '11 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. AYhat think ye, gossips ? If the hussy 
stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a 
knot together, w^ould she come off with such a sentence as the 
worshipful magistrates have awarded ? Marry, I trow not ! " 

" People say,''' said another, " that the Eeverend Master Dimmes- 
dale, 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. Madam Hester would have 
winced at that, I warrant me. But she, — the naughty baggage. 



THE MAllKET-PLACE, 



57 



— little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her 
gown ! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or 
such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave 
as ever ! " 

"Ah, but,-*^ interposed, more softly, 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 Scrip- 
ture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who liave 
made it of no eff'ect, thank themselves if their own wives and 
daughters go astray ! " 

"Mercy on us, goodwife,"" exclaimed a man in the crowd, 
" is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a whole- 



r>,s 'I'll I*; so A iM;K'r lkttkh,. 

sotiic. i'f.w of IJk; giillovvs? Tli;it, is t.lit; liiirdnsl, word jct, ! 
Ilusli, now, jfossips ! for tlir lock is tuniinu; in tlic prison- 
door, :ind linn; comes Mistress Prvnnc licrscll'." 

'The door of l.lic. y,\\\ hcinu; lliint^' open from williin, (here 
iip[)(;urcd, in llic lirsl, phicc, like ii hhick sliudow cincM'giiij^ into 
sunshine, l.lu; grim iind grimly presence of llie town-hciidlc, willi 
ii sword l)y his si(](!, and his stud' of office in liis liund. This 
persoiiiige preligured iiiid re|)r(;sent,ed in iiis iispccf I lie whole 
dismid s(!verily of l.lie I'ln'iliuiic cod)- of l;iw, whi(^h i(. was his 
business to ;idminislcr in its fniid iind closest ;ippli('iil ion in the 
olIen(h;r. Stretching forth iJie odiciid sliilf in liis left hiind, Ik; 
laid ids right n|)on tlu; shoidder of ;i young womjiri, wlioni lie 
thus drew forward; until, on (he thrcisliold of tin; ])rison-(loor, 
she re|)elled him, hy an action ni;irked wilh nalnral dignity and 
force of character, and st,e])ped into the o|)en air, as if hy her 
own fre(! will. SIk; hore in her arms a. child, a baby of soiiu; 
three montJis old, who wirdud and tiiriutd aside its little face 
from the loo vivid light, of day; because its existence, hereto- 
fore, had bronght it. at^qnainted only with tin; gray twilight of 
a dungeon, or other darksouK! apartment of the prison. 

When the young woman — the nu)ther of this r:hil(l — stood 
fidly r(!vealed before tlu; crowd, it seciined <o be her first im- 
pidse to clasp the infant closely lo lusr bosom; not so much by 
an im|)ulse of motherly aHeclion, as that she might thereby con- 
ceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her 
dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that on(t 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 glanct; that would not b(! abashed, looked around 
at her towns-peo|)le and neighbors. On IIk; breast of her gown. 



THE MARKET-lMiACK. 51) 

ill lino red doth, surroiuKhHl with an cliibonili' (•inbr()i(hTy iiiid 
i'iuitiistic nourishes of ujold-ihroad, appeared (he lelter A. It was 
so arlislieally (h)Me, and wilh so nnich IVrlility and _ii;ori^'eous 
Inxnriance, of fancy, (hat it had all the elleet of a, last and littinff 
decoration to the apparel wliieh she wore; and which was of 
a sj)lend()r in a(;eordan(H! with the taste of the ai^e, bnt greatly 
beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the 
colony. 

The young woman was tall, with a (igure of |)erfect elegance 
on a. large scale. She had dark and abundant, hair, so glossy 
that it threw oil* the sunshine with a gleam, and a fac-e vvhi(!h, 
besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness 
of comj)lexi()n, had tlu^ impressiveness belonging to a marked 
brow and deep black vyvs. Slu^ was lady-like, too, after the 
maniUT of the feminine genlilily of those days; characleri/ed by 
a certain state and dignity, rather than by tlw^ delicate, evanes- 
cent, and indeseribabh^ grace, whic^h is now reeogni/ed as its 
indication. Aiul never had Hester I'rynm^ appeared nu)r(! lady- 
like, in tJie an(i(|ne interpretation of the term, than as she issued 
from the jjrison. Those who had before known her, and had 
expected to behold her dinuned and obsc-nred by a disastrons 
cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her 
beauty shone out, aiul made a halo of the misfortuiu; and igno- 
miny in which she was (uiveloped. It may be true, that, to a 
sensitive! observer, there was something e\(piisilcly jjainful in it. 
Her attire, which, indeed, 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 despc^rate recklessness of 
her nu)od, by its wild and ])icturesque ])e(adia,rity. I Jut tin; ])oint 
which drew all eyes, aiul, as it were, traiisligured (Ik^ wearer, — 



60 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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, talcing her out of the ordinary relations with human- 
ity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself. 

" She hath good skill at her needle, that 's certain,^^ remarked 
one of her female spectators ; " but did ever a woman, before 
this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it ! Why, 
gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magis- 
trates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, 
meant for a punishment?'^ 

"It were well,'' muttered the most iron-visaged of the old 
dames, *'if we stripped Madam 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 ! " 

" 0, peace, neighbors, peace ! " whispered their youngest com- 
panion; "do not let her hear yon! Not a stitch in that 
embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart." 

The grim beadle now made a gesture ■ndth his staff. 

" Make way, ggod people, make way, in the King's name ! " 
cried he. " Open a passage ; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne 
shall be set where man, woman, 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 ! Come along, Madam 
Hester, 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 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 61 

of stern-browcd men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne 
set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A 
crowd of eager and curious school-boys, 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 igno- 
minious 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, however, it might be reckoned a jour- 
ney of some length ; for, haughty as her demeanor was, slie 
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, 
however, 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, therefore, 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. 

In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine, 
which now, for tAVo 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 citizen- 
ship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France. 
It Avas, in short, 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 em- 



62 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

bodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. 
There can be no outrage^ methinks^ 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, however, 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, indeed, but only by con- 
trast, of tliat sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant 
was to redeem the world. Here, 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-crea- 
ture, 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. 



THE MAEKET-PLACE. 63 

without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the heart- 
lessness of another social state, which would find oidy 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, 
a judge, a general, 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 inflic- 
tion of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual 
meaning. Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and grave. The 
unliappy 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 intol- 
erable 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 mul- 
titude, — each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, 
contributing their individual parts, — Hester Prynne might have 
repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But, under 
the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, 
at moments, 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. 



64 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she 
was the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her 
ejes, or, at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a 
mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mind, 
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. Reminiscences the most trifling and im- 
material, passages of infancy and school-days, sjiorts, childish 
quarrels, and the little domestic traits of her maiden years, came 
swarming back upon her, intermingled with recollections of what- 
ever 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. Possibly, 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. Stand- 
ing on that miserable eminence, she saw again her native village, 
in Old England, and her paternal home; a decayed house of 
gray stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half- 
obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique 
gentility. Slie saw her father's face, with its bald brow, and 
reverend white beard, that flowed over the old-fashioned Eliza- 
bethan ruff; her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and 
anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance, and which, 
even since her death, had so often laid the impediment of a gen- 
tle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her own 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 67 

face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior 
of the dusky mirror in which she had been Avont to gaze at it. 
There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken 
in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and 
bleared by the lamplight that had served them to pore over 
many ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a 
strange, penetrating power, 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 thorouglifares, the tall, gray houses, 
the huge cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and 
quaint in architecture, of a Continental city ; where a new life 
had awaited lier, still in connection with the misshapen scholar; 
a new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft 
of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these 
shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan 
settlement, with all the towns-people 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 let- 
ter A, in scarlet, 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 Avith her finger, to assure 
herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes ! — these 
were her realities, — all else had vanished ! 




III. 



THE RECOGNITION. 




^^g^^^^^ROM this intense consciousness of being the 
object of severe and universal observation, 
the wearer of the scarlet letter was at length 
relieved; by discerning, on the outskirts of the 
crowd, a figure which irresistibly took posses- 
sion 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. Although, by a seem- 
ingly careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb, he had 



THE RECOGNITION. 69 

endeavored 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. Again, 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. 
Very soon, however, 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, which, nevertheless, he so instan- 
taneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, 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 next 
to him, he addressed him, in a formal and courteous manner. 

" I pray you, good Sir,'^ said he, " who is this woman ? — 
and wherefore is she here set up to public shame ? " 

" You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," an- 



70 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

swered 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 cap- 
tivity. "Will it please you, therefore, 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?-" 

" Truly, friend ; 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. Yonder woman. Sir, you must know, 
was the wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who 
had long dwelt in Amsterdam, whence, some good time agone, 
he was minded to cross over and cast in his lot \nth us of the 
Massachusetts. To this purpose, he sent his wife before him, 
remaining himself to look after some necessary affairs. Marry, 
good Sir, in some two years, or less, that the woman has been 
a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come of this learned 
gentleman, Master Prynne; and his young wife, look you, being 
left to her own misguidance — " 

"Ah! — aha! — 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. And who, by your favor. Sir, may be the 



THE RECOGNITION. 71 

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, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the 
Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting," answered the towns- 
man. "Madam 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 behooves him well, if he be still in life,'' responded the 
townsman. "Now, good Sir, our Massachusetts magistracy, 
bethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fair, and 
doubtless was strongly tempted to her fall, — and that, moreover, 
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 Avise sentence ! " remarked the stranger, gravely bowing his 
head. "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the 
ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, 
nevertheless, 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. 



72 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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, perhaps, would have been more terrible than 
even to meet him as she now did, with the hot, midday 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, Avith 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 with- 
drawn 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, Hester Prynne!" 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 pub- 
lic observances in those days. Here, to witness the scene which 
we are describing, sat Governor Bellingham himself, Avith four 
sergeants about his chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of honor. 
He wore a dark feather in his hat, a border of embroidery on 



THE RECOGNITION. 73 

his cloak, and a black velvet tunic beneath; a gentleman ad- 
vanced in years, with a hard experience written in his wrinkles. 
He was not ill fitted to be the head and representative of a com- 
munity, 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. They M^ere, 
doubtless, good men, just and sage. But, 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 disen- 
tangling its mesh of good and evil, than the sages of rigid aspect 
towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her face. She seemed 
conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she might expect lay 
in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude; for, as she 
lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew 
pale and trembled. 

The voice which had called her attention was that of the 
reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Bos- 
ton, a great scholar, like most of his contemporaries in the pro- 
fession, and withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This last 
attribute, however, had been less carefully developed than his 
intellectual gifts, and was, in truth, 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 gray eyes, 
accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were \vinking, like 



74 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

those of Hester^s infant^ in the unadulterated sunshine. He looked 
like the darkly engraved portraits whicfi 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, passion, and anguish. 

"■ Hester Prynne,^' 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, I say, 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 liide the name of him who tempted you to this griev- 
ous fall. But he opposes to me (with a young man's over-soft- 
ness, 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. 
Truly, as I sought to convince him, the shame lay in tlie com- 
mission of the sin, and not in the showing of it forth. What 
say you to it, once again. Brother Dimmesdale? Must it be 
thou, or I, that shall deal with this poor sinner's soul?" 

There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occu- 
pants of the balcony ; and Governor Bellingham gave expression 
to its purport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tem- 
pered M-ith respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he 
addressed. 



THE RECOGNITION. 


75 


"Good Master Dimmesdale/ 


' said he, 


"the responsibility of 


this woman^s soul lies greatly w 


ith you. 


It behooves 


you, there- 


fore, 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 Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale; a 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 elo- 
quence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of 
high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very strik- 
ing aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large brown, 
melancholy eyes, 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 Avas an 
air about this young minister, — an apprehensive, a startled, 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. Therefore, 
so far as his duties would permit, he trod in the shadowy by- 
paths, and thus kept himself simple and childlike ; coming forth, 
when occasion Avas, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy 
purity of thought, which, as many people said, affected them 
like the speech of an angel. 

Such was the young man whom the Eeverend '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. 



76 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Speak to the woman, my brother/^ said Mr. Wilson. " It 
is of moment to her soul, and therefore, as the worshipful Gov- 
ernor 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. 

" Hester Prynne,^' said he, leaning over the balcony and look- 
ing down steadfastly into her eyes, "thou hearest what this good 
man says, and seest the accountability under which I labor. If 
thou feelest it to be for thy souFs 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; for, believe me, Hester, 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, compel him, 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, 
perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself — the 
bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips ! •'■' 

The young pastor^s voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, 
and broken. 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 sym- 
pathy. 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 



THE RECOGNITION. 77 

half-pleased, half-jDlaiutive murmur. 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 to the scaffold. 

Hester shook her head. 

"Woman, 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 sec- 
ond and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out 
the name ! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the 
scarlet letter off thy breast." 

" Never ! " replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wil- 
son, but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergy- 
man. "It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And 
would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine ! " 

" Speak, woman ! " said another voice, coldly and sternly, 
proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold. "Speak; and 
give your child a father ! " 

" I will not speak ! " answered Hester, turning pale as death, 
but responding to this voice, which she too surely recognized. 
"And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never 
know an earthly one ! " 

" She will not speak ! " murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, 
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 wo- 
man's heart ! She will not speak ! " 

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind. 



78 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



the elder clergyman^ who had carefully prepared himseK for the 
occasion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on siu, 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 imagi- 
nation, and 
seemed to de- 
rive its scar- 
let hue from 
the flames of 
the infernal pit. Hes- 
ter Prynne, meanwhile, 
kept her place upon the 
pedestal of shame, with 
glazed eyes, and an air 
of weary indifl'erence. 
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, but unavailingly, 
upon her ears. The infant, during the latter portion of her 



THE RECOGNITION, 



79 



ordeal^ pierced the air with its wailings and screams; she strove 
to hush itj mechanically^ but seemed scarcely to sympathize with 
its trouble. With the same hard demeanor, 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. 





IV. 



THE INTERVIEW. 




!FTER her return to the prison, Hester Prynne 
Avas found to be in a state of nervous excite- 
ment 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 im- 
possible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats of pun- 
ishment. Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to introduce a 
physician. He described him as a man of skill in all Christian 
modes of physical science, and like'W'ise 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 suste- 
nance 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. 



THE INTERVIEW. 81 

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment appeared 
that individual^ of singular asjject^ 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 
Eoger Chillingworth. The jailer, 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. 

"Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient," said the 
practitioner. "Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have 
peace in your house ; and, I 'promise you, Mistress Prynne shall 
hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have 
found her heretofore." 

"Nay, if your worshiji can accomplish that," answered Master 
Brackett, " I shall own you for a man of skill indeed ! Verily, 
the woman hath been like a j)ossessed one ; and there lacks little, 
that I should take in hand to drive Satan out of her Avith stripes." 

The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic 
quietude of the profession to which he announced himself as 
belonging. Nor did his demeanor 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 re- 
lation between himself and her. His first care was given to the 
child ; whose cries, indeed, 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 



82 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical prepa- 
rations^ one of which he mingled with a cup of water. 

"My old studies in alchemy/^ observed he, "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. Here, woman ! The child 
is yours, — she is none of mine, — neither will she recognize my 
voice or aspect as a father^s. Administer this draught, therefore, 
with thine own hand." 

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing 
w^th strongly marked apprehension into his face. 

"Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the mnoceut babe?" whis- 
pered she. 

" Eoolish woman ! " responded the physician, half coldly, half 
soothingly. "What should ail me, to harm this misbegotten 
and miserable babe ? The medicine is potent for good ; and were 
it my child, — yea, mine OAvn, as well as thine ! — I could do no 
better for it." 

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, 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. The physician, as he had a fair 
right to be termed, next bestowed his attention on the mother. 
With calm and intent scrutiny lie 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, finally, satisfied 
with his investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught. 



THE INTERVIEW. 83 

"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe/' remarked he; "but I 
have learned many new secrets in the wiklerness, 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. Drink 
it ! 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. Yet if death be in this cup, I bid 
thee think again, ere thou beholdest me quaff it. See I It is 
even now at my lips." 

" Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold composure. 
^'Dost thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are my pur- 
poses 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 forefinger 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 smiled. *^Live, therefore, 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! And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught." 

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained 



84 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the cup, and, 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 or principle, or, 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. 

" Hester," said he, " I ask not wherefore, nor how, thou hast 
fallen into the pit, or say, rather, 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 bookworm 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 girFs 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, Hester 
Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before the people. 
Nay, 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 ! " 

"Thou knowest," 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." 



THE INTERVIEW. 85 

" True/^ replied he. " It was ray folly ! I have said it. But, 
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. And so, Hester, 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,^^ murmured Hester. 

"We have wronged each other," answered he. "Mine was 
the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false 
and unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who 
has not thought and philosophized in vain, I seek no vengeance, 
plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me the scale hangs 
fairly balanced. But, Hester, 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 ! " 

"Never, sayest thou?" rejoined he, with a smile of dark and 
self-relying intelligence. " Never know him ! Believe me, Hes- 
ter, there are few things, — whether in the outward world, or, to 
a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought, — few things 
hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unre- 
servedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou raayest cover up 
thy secret from the prying multitude. Thon mayest conceal it, 
too, 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. But, as for nfe, I come to 



86 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall seek 
this man, as 1 have sought truth in books; as I have sought 
gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me con- 
scious 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 hands 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," 
resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one 
with him. " He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his gar- 
ment, 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, or, to my own loss, betray him to the 
gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall con- ' 
trive aught against his life; no, nor against his fame, if, as I 
judge, he be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let him 
hide himself in outward honor, if he may! Not the less he 
shall be mine ! " 

"Thy acts are like mercy,'' said Hester, bewildered and appalled. 
"But thy words interpret thee as a terror!" 

"One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon 
thee," continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy 
paramour. Keep, likewise, mine ! There are none in this land 
that know me. Breathe not, to any human soul, that thou didst 
ever caU me husband ! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, 
I shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated 
from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child, 
amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No 



THE INTERVIEW. 89 

matter whether of love or hate; no matter whether of right or 
wrong ! Thou and thine, Hester Prymie, belong to me. My 
home is where thou art, and where he is. But betray me 
not ! " 

"Wherefore dost thou desire it?^' inquired Hester, shrinking, 
she hardly knew why, from this secret bond. " Why not an- 
nounce thyself openly, and cast me off at once?" 

"It may be," he replied, "because I will not encounter the 
dishonor that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It 
may be for other reasons. Enough, it is my purjDose to live 
and die unknown. Let, therefore, thy husband be to the world 
as one already dead, and of whom no tidings shall ever come. 
Eecognize me not, by word, by sign, by look ! Breathe not the 
secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou 
fail me in this, beware ! His fame, his position, his life, will be 
in my hands. Beware ! " 

"I will keep thy secret, as I have his," said Hester. 

"Swear it!" rejoined he. 

And she took the oath. 

"And now. Mistress Prynne," said old Eoger Chillingworth, 
as he was hereafter to be named, "I leave thee alone; alone 
with thy infant, and the scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? 
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?" inquired Hester, 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," he answered, with another smile. "No, not 
thine ! " 




Y. 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 




?^&5^^14^^STER PRYNNE'S term of confinement was 
now at an end. Her prison-door was thrown 
open, and she came forth into the sunshine, 
which, falling on all alike, seemed, 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 Avas made the common infamy, at which all mankind 
was summoned to point its finger. Then, 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. It was, moreover, a separate and 
insulated event, to occur but once in her lifetime, and to meet 
which, therefore, reckless of economy, she might call up the vital 
strength that would have suificed for many quiet years. The 
very law that condemned her — a giant of stern features, but 
with vigor to support, as well as to annihilate, in his iron arm — 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 91 

had held her up, through the terrible ordeal of her ignominy. 
But now, 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. To-morrow 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 honorable 
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 body, 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 birthplace, 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 



92 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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, where, and where only^ she 
must needs be the type of shame. But there is a fatality, a feel- 
ing so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, 
which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around 
and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked 
event has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more 
irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her 
ignominy, Avere 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, Avhere happy infancy and stainless maidenhood 
seemed yet to be in her mother^s keeping, like garments put 
off long ago — were foreign to her, in comparison. 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. There dwelt, there trode the feet of one with 
whom she deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecog- 
nized 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 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 93 

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, finally, she reasoned 
upon, as her motive for continuing a resident of New Eng- 
land — was half a truth, and half a self-delusion. Here, she 
said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should 
be the scene of her earthly punishment ; and so, perchance, 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. 

Hester Prynne, therefore, 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, and abandoned because the 
soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while its compara- 
tive 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 



94 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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, concealed. In 
this little, lonesome dwelling, with some slender means that she 
possessed, and by the license of the magistrates, who still kept 
an inquisitorial watch over her, Hester established herself, with 
her infant child. A m3^stic shadow of suspicion immediately 
attached itself to the spot. Children, too young to compre- 
hend 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 laboring in her little garden, or coming forth along 
the pathway that led townward; and, discerning the scarlet 
letter on lier breast, would scamper off with a strange, conta- 
gious fear. 

Lonely as was Hester's situation, and without a friend on 
earth who dared to show himself, she, however, 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 — then, as 
now, 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. Here, indeed, in the sable 
simplicity that generally characterized 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 what- 
ever was elaborate in compositions of this kind, did not fail to 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 95 

extend its influence over our stern progenitors, who had cast 
behind them so many fashions which it might seem harder to 
dispense with. Public ceremonies, such as ordinations, the instal- 
lation of magistrates, and all that could give majesty to the forms 
in which a new government manifested itself to the people, were, 
as a matter of policy, marked by a stately and well-conducted 
ceremonial, and a sombre, but yet a studied magnificence. Deep 
rufFs, 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 laM^s 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 fre- 
quent and characteristic demand for such labor as Hester Prynne 
could supply. Baby-linen — for babies then wore robes of state 
— aff'orded still another possibility of toil and emolument. 

By degrees, nor 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 curi- 
osity that gives a fictitious value even to common or worthless 
things; or by whatever other intangible circumstance was then, 
as now, 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. Yanity, 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 



96 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

needlework 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 aid to embroider 
the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride. 
The exception indicated the ever- relentless rigor with which society 
frowned upon her sin. 

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence, 
of the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, 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, or, we might rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which 
served, indeed, 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 eiforts 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, 
voluptuous. Oriental characteristic, — a taste for the gorgeously 
beautiful, which, save in the exquisite productions of her needle, 
found nothing else, in all the possibilities of her life, to exer- 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 97 

cise 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 imma- 
terial matter betokened, it is to be feared, no genuine and stead- 
fast 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, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she 
belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence 
of those with whom she came in contact, implied, 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 moral 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; or, should it succeed in mani- 
festing its forbidden sympathy, awakening only terror and horri- 
ble repugnance. These emotions, in fact, 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 posi- 
tion, 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 tcnderest spot. 



98 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

The poor, as we have already said, whom she sought out to be 
the objects of her bounty, often revik^d the hand that was stretched 
forth to succor them. Dames of elevated rank, likewise, 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; and sometimes, also, 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; 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 forbore to pray 
for her enemies ; lest, in spite of her forgiving aspirations, the 
words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into 
a curse. 

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the 
innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly con- 
trived for her by the undying, tlie ever-active sentence of the 
Puritan tribunal. Clergymen paused in the street to address 
words of exhortation, that brought a crowd, with its mingled 
grin and frown, around the poor, sinful woman. 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 tliey 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. Therefore, first allow- 
ing her to pass, they pursued her at a distance with shrill cries, 
and the utterance of a word that had no distinct purport to 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 101 

their own minds^ but was none tlie less terrible to her, as pro- 
ceeding 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 
into Hester's soul; so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, 
yet always did refrain, from covering the symbol with her hand. 
But then, again, an accustomed eye had likewise its own anguish 
to inflict. Its cool stare of familiarity was intolerable. Trom 
first to last, m short, Hester Prynne had always this dreadful 
agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never 
grew callous ; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive 
with daily torture. 

But sometimes, 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; for, in that brief interval, 
she had sinned anew. Had Hester sinned alone? 

Her imagination w^as somewhat affected, and, had she been 
of a softer moral and intellectual fibre, would have been stiU 
more so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walk- 
ing 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, then, that the scarlet letter 



102 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to beheve, 
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, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, 
a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester 
Prynne's ? Or, 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. It 
perplexed, as well as shocked her, by the irreverent inopportune- 
ness of the occasions that brought it into vivid action. Some- 
times 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, who, according to the 
rumor of all tongues, had kept cold suoav 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? Or, once more, the electric thrill would give her 
warning, — " Behold, Hester, here is a companion ! " — and, look- 
ing up, she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing 
at the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted with 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 103 

a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks; as if her purity were some- 
what sullied by that momentary glance. O Fiend, whose talisman 
was that fatal symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in 
youth or age, for this poor simier 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. 

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always con- 
tributing a grotesque horror to what interested their imaginations, 
had a story about the scarlet letter which we might readily work 
up uito a terrific legend. They averred, that the symbol was 
not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly dye-pot, but Avas 
red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all alight, 
whenever Hester Prynne Avalked 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 rumor than our modem 
incredulity may be inclined to admit. 





VI. 



PEARL, 



WE have as yet hardly spoken 
of the infant ; that little crea- 
ture, whose innocent life had 
sprung, by the inscrutable de- 
cree 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 intelli- 
gence that threw its quivering 
sunshine over the tiny features 
of this child ! Her Pearl ! — 
Por so had Hester called her; 
not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing of 
the cahn, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated 
by the comparison. But she named the infant " Pearly'' as being 




PEARL. 105 

of great price^ — purchased with all she had^ — her mother^s only 
treasure ! How strange, mdeed ! 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. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which 
man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place 
was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent forever 
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, therefore, 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, 
its vigor, 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 coexist with faultless 
beauty; its attire, however simple, 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. Her mother, 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 deco- 
ration of the dresses which the child Avore, before the public eye. 
So magnificent was the small figure, when thus arrayed, and such 
was the splendor of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining through 



106 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler love- 
liness,, tliat 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. PearPs aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite 
variety; in this one child there were many children^ compre- 
hending the full scope between the wild-flower prettiness of a 
peasant-baby, and the pomp, in little, of an infant princess. 
Throughout all, however, 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 her- 
self, — it would have been no longer Pearl ! 

This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly 
express, the various properties of lier inner life. Her nature 
appeared to possess depth, too, 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 briUiant, but all in disorder; or with 
an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety 
and arrangement was difiicult 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 her- 
self 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; and, however white and clear 
originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, 



PEARL. 107 

the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the imtempered light of 
the intervening substance. Above all, the Avarfare of Hester^s 
spirit, at that epoch, M^as perpetuated in Pearl. She could recog- 
nize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, 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 disposi- 
tion, but 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 frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent 
application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were 
used, not merely in tlie way of punishment for actual offences, 
but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all 
childish virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the lonely mother 
of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side of undue 
severity. Mindful, however, 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 calcu- 
lable inlluence, Hester was ultimately compelled to stand aside, 
and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses. Phys- 
ical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, 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. 
Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted with 
a certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labor 
thrown away to insist, persuade, or plead. It was a look so 



108 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

intelligent, yet inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so malicious, 
but generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that Hester 
could not help questioning, at such moments, Avhether Pearl were 
a human child. She seemed rather an airy sprite, which, 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, bright, 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. Beholding it, Hester was constrained to rush towards 
the child, — to pursue the little elf in the flight which she inva- 
riably 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 PearVs 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. Then, perhaps, — for there was no 
foreseeing how it might aff'ect her, — Pearl w^ould frown, and 
clench her little fist, and harden her small features into a stern, 
unsympathizing look of discontent. Not seldom, she would laugh 
anew, and louder than before, like a thing incapable and unin- 
telligent of human sorrow. Or — but this more rarely hap- 
pened — she would be convulsed with a 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; 



PEARL. 109 

it passed, as suddenly as it came. Brooding over all these 
matters, the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, 
by some irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to 
win the master-word that should control this new and incompre- 
hensible 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, sad, delicious happiness; until — perhaps 
with that perverse expression glimmering from beneath her open- 
ing 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 bom 
outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and 
product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Noth- 
ing 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 pecu- 
liarity, in short, 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 Avalks about the town. Pearl, too, 
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 settle- 
ment, on the grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic 



110 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

thresholds^ disporting themselves in such grim fashion as the 
Puritanic nurture would permit; playing at going to church, 
perchance ; or at scourging Quakers ; or taking scalps in a 
sham-fight with the Indians; or scaring one another with freaks 
of imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, 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 iling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, 
that made her mother tremble, because they had so much the 
sound of a witches anathemas in some unknown tongue. 

The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most intol- 
erant brood that ever lived, had got a vague idea of something 
outlandish, unearthly, 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 her 
mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness 
in the mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted 
her in the chikFs manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless, 
to discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the evil that had 
existed in herself. All this enmity and passion had Pearl inher- 
ited, 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. 



PEAKL. Ill 

At home, 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 PearFs witchcraft, and, 
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. The pine-trees, aged, 
black and solemn, 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 unmerci- 
fully. It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into which 
she threw her intellect, with no continuity, indeed, 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 mucli as the phantasmagoric play 
of the northern lights. In the mere exercise of the fancy, how-^ 
ever, and the sportiveness of a growing mind, there might be 
little more than was observable in other children of bright facul- 
ties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was 
thrown more upon the visionary throng Avhich she created. The 
singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the child regarded 
all these off'spring 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 



112 THE SCARLET LETTER, 

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, — "0 Pather in Heaven, — if Thou art still my 
Father, — what is this being which I have brought into the 
world ! " And Pearl, 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 was 
— what ? — not the mother's smile, responding to it, as other 
babies do, by that faint, embryo smile of the little mouth, remem- 
bered 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 ! One day, 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, smiling, not 
doubtfully, but with a decided gleam, that gave her face the 
look of a much older child. Then, gasping for breath, did 
Hester Prynne 'clutch the fatal token, instinctively endeavoring 
to tear it away; so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intel- 
ligent touch of Pearl's baby -hand. Again, as if her mother's ago- 
nized gesture were meant only to make sport for her, did little 



PEARL. 115 

Pearl look into her eyes, and smile ! Prom that epoch, except 
when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's 
safety; not a moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is 
true, would sometimes elapse, during which PearFs gaze might 
never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, 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, fiend-like, 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, when- 
ever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been 
to cover her bosom vnth. her clasped hands. But, Avhether 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 



116 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

for which she could find no bahn in this worlds nor knew how 
to seek it in another. At last, her shot being all expended, the 
child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little, laughing 
image of a fiend peeping out — or, Avhether it peeped or no, 
her mother so imagined it — from the unsearchable abyss of her 
black eyes. 

" Child, what art thou ? " cried the mother. 

" O, I am your little Pearl ! " answered the child. 

But, while she said it. Pearl laughed, and began to dance 
up and down, with the humorsome gesticulation of a little imp, 
whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney. 

'^ Art thou my child, in very truth ? " asked Hester. 

Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for the 
moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was 
PearPs 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. 

" Yes ; 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. " Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee 
hither." 

" Tell me, mother ! " said the child, seriously, 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 acute- 
ness of the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary freak- 



PEARL. 117 

ishness^ or because an evil spirit prompted iier, she put up her 
small forefinger^ and touched the scarlet letter. 

" He did not send me ! " cried she^ positively. " I have no 
Heavenly Father!'' 

" Hush, Pearl, hush ! Thou must not talk so ! " answered 
the mother, suppressing a groan. " He sent us all into this 
world. He sent even me, thy mother. Then, much more, thee ! 
Or, if not, thou strange and elfish child, whence didst thou 
come ? " 

" Tell me ! Tell me ! " repeated Pearl, 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 dis- 
mal labyrinth of doubt. She remembered — betwixt a smile and 
a shudder — the talk of the neighboring towns-people ; who, seek- 
ing 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. 
Luther, 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. 





VII. 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 



HESTER PRYNNE 
went, one day, to the 
mansion of Governor 
Bellingliam, with a 
pair of gloves, which 
she liad fringed and 
embroidered to his or- 
cUn-, and Avhich were 
to be Avorn on some 
great occasion of 
state ; for, though the 
chances of a popular 
election had caused 
this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest 
rank, hi' still held an honorable and intlnential place among the 
colonial magistracy. 

Another and far more important reason than the delivery of 
a pair of embroidered gloves impelled Hester, at this time, to 
seek an interview Avith a personage of so much power and activity 




THE GOVEllNOR'S HALL. 119 

in the affairs of the settlement. It had reached her earsj 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 ele- 
ments of ultimate salvation, then, surely, 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 Bcllingham was said to be 
one of the most busy. It may appear singular, and indeed, 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 selectmen of the town, should then have been a ques- 
tion publicly discussed, and on which statesmen of emhience took 
sides. At that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, 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 oidy 
caused a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the 
colony, but resulted in an important modification of the frame- 
work 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 



120 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of nature, on the other, — Hester Prynne set forth from her soli- 
tary cottage. Little Pearl, of course, was her companion. She 
was now of an age to run lightly along by her mother^s side, 
and, constantly in motion, from morn till sunset, could have 
accomplished a much longer journey than that before her. Often, 
nevertheless, more from caprice than necessity, she demanded to 
be taken up in arms ; but was soon as imperious to be set down 
again, and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway, 
with many a harmless trip and tumble. We have spoken of 
PearFs 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, glossy brown, 
and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black. There 
was fire in her and throughout her; she seemed the unpremedi- 
tated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her mother, 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 with fantasies 
and flourishes of gold-thread. So much strength of coloring, 
which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a 
fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to PearFs 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, and, indeed, 
of the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevi- 
tably 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 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 121 

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. But^ in 
truth, Pearl was the one, as well as the other; and only in con- 
sequence 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 
spake gravely one to another : — 

"Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, 
of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter 
running along by her side ! Come, therefore, and let us fling 
mud at them ! " 

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamp- 
ing her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threat- 
ening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies, 
and put them all to flight. She resembled, 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, 
too, with a terrific volume of sound, which, doubtless, caused 
the hearts of the fugitives to quake within them. The victory 
accomplished. Pearl returned quietly to her mother, and looked 
up, smiling, into her face. 

Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Gov- 
ernor 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 occur- 



122 THE SCAELET LETTEE. 

rences, remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and passed 
away, within their dusky chambers. Then, however, there was 
the freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the cheer- 
fulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human 
habitation, into which death had never entered. It had, indeed, 
a very cheery aspect; the walls being overspread with a kind 
of stucco, in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully 
intermixed; so that, 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 brill- 
iancy might have befitted Aladdin^s palace, rather than the man- 
sion 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 dura- 
ble, for the admiration of after times. 

Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house, began to caper 
and dance, and imperatively required that the wliole breadth 
of sunshine should be stripped off its front, and given her to 
play with. 

" No, 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, with 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-servants; 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 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 123 

commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, or a joint-stool. The 
serf wore the blue coat, which was the customary garb of serving- 
men of that period, and long before, in the old hereditary halls 
of England. 

" Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within ? " inquired 
Hester. 

"Yea, forsooth,^^ replied the bond-servant, staring with wide- 
open eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being a new-comer in 
the country, he had never before seen. "Yea, his honorable 
worship is within. But he hath a godly minister or two with 
him, and likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now.^^ 

" Nevertheless, 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 Avere 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. 
Here, then, 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. 
Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chronicles 



124 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of England^ or other such substantial literature; even as^ in our 
own daysj we scatter gilded volumes on the centre-table, to be 
turned o.ver by the casual guest. The furniture of the hall con- 
sisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elabo- 
rately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers ; and likewise a table 
in the same taste; the whole being of the Elizabethan age, or 
perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the Gov- 
ernor's paternal home. On the table — in token that the senti- 
ment 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 fore- 
fathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with armor on their 
breasts, and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All 
were characterized by the sternness and severity which old por- 
traits 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, not, like the pictures, an ancestral 
relic, but of the most modern date; for it had been manufac- 
tured by a skilful armorer in London, the same year in which 
Governor Bellingham came over to New England. There was a 
steel head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of 
gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all, 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 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 127 

idle show, but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn 
muster and training field, and had glittered, moreover, at the 
head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For, though bred a 
lawyer, and accustomed to speak of Bacon, Coke, Noye, and 
Finch as his professional associates, the exigencies of this new 
country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as 
well as a statesman and ruler. 

Little Pearl — who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming 
armor as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the 
house — spent some time looking into the polished mirror of 
the breastplate. 

" Mother,^^ cried she, " I see you here. Look ! Look ! " 

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw 
that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the 
scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic pro- 
portions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her 
appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. 
Pearl pointed upward, 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 efPect, 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 PearPs 
shape. 

"Come along, Pearl,'' said she, 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 farther end 
of the hall, and looked along the vista of a garden-walk, carpeted 



128 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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, however, and a 
number of apple-trees, probably the descendants of those planted 
by the Eeverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the penin- 
sula; that half-mythological personage, who rides through our 
early annals, seated on the back of a bull. 

Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose, 
and would not be pacified. 

" Hush, child, hush ! " said her mother, earnestly. " Do not 
cry, dear little Pearl ! I hear voices in the garden. The Gov- 
ernor is coming, and gentlemen along with him ! " 

In fact, adown the vista of the garden avenue a number of 
persons were seen approaching towards the house. Pearl, in utter 
scorn of her mother^s attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritdi 
scream, and then became silent; not from any notion of obedi- 
ence, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her dispo- 
sition was excited by the appearance of these new personages. 




VIII. 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 




OVERNOR BELLINGHAM, in a loose gown 
and easy cap, — such as elderly gentlemen 
loved to endue themselves with, in their 
domestic privacy, — walked foremost, and ap- 
peared to be ' showing off his estate, and 
expatiating on his projected improvements. 
The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his gray 
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 grave forefathers — though accus- 
tomed to speak and think of human existence as a state merely 
of trial and warfare, and thougli unfeignedly prepared to sacri- 
fice 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 w^as never taught. 



130 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

for instance, by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard, 
white as a snow-drift, was seen over Governor Bellingham's 
shoulder; while its wearer suggested that pears and peaches 
might yet be naturalized 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, still the genial 
benevolence of his private life had won him warmer affection 
than Avas 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; and, in close companion- 
ship with him, old Koger 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 labors and duties of the pastoral relation. 

The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two 
steps, and, 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 pro- 
fess, I have never seen the like, smce my days of vanity, in old 
King Jameses time, when I was wont to esteem it a high favor 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 131 

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?" 

"Ay, indeed!" 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. Prithee, young 
one, 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 ! " 

" Pearl ? — Buby, rather ! — or Coral ! — or Bed Bose, 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 ? Ah ! I see," 
he added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, 
"This is the selfsame child of whom we have held speech to- 
gether; and behold here the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, 
her mother ! " 

" Sayest thou so ? " cried the Governor. " Nay, 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. 



132 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Hester Prynnc," said lie, fixing his naturally stern regard 
on the wearer of tlie scarlet letter, "there hath been much ques- 
tion concerning thee, of late. 'V\\v point hath been weightily 
discussed, whether Ave, that are of authority and intluenee, 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. Speak 
thou, the chihFs own mother! Were it not, thinkest thou, 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. 

" Woman, it is thy badge of shame 1 " re})lied the stern magis- 
trate. " It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, 
that we would transfer thy child to other hands." 

"Nevertheless," said the mother, calmly, tlu)ngli 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 my- 
self." 

"We will judge Avarily," said Bellingham, "and look Avell 
what we are about to do. Good Master Wilson, 1 ])ray 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 eil'ort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unac- 
customed to the touch or familiarity of any but her mother, 
escaped through the open window, and stood on the upper step, 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 133 

looking like a wild tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take 
flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished 
at this outbreak, — for he was a grandfatherly sort of person- 
age, and usually a vast favorite with children, — essayed, how- 
ever, to proceed with the examination. 

"Pearl,'' said he, with great solemnity, "thou must take heed 
to instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in tliy 
bosom tlie pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child, 
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 
Mith 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. Pearl, 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 unac- 
quainted 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, now, 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 fantasy 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. 



134 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

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 com- 
plexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more mis- 
shapen, — 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 ! Without question, she is equally in the dark as to 
her soul, its present depravity, and future destiny ! Methinks, 
gentlemen, we need uiquire 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 ! " cried she. " 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 I Pearl punishes me too ! See ye not, she is 
the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed 
■with a million-fold 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 it ! " 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 137 

"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, Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom, up to this moment, she 
had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her eyes, — " Speak 
thou for me ! " cried she. " 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, pale, 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, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall 
re-echoed, and the hollow armor rang with it, — "truth in what 
Hester says, and in the feeling which inspires her! God gave 
her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its 
nature and requirements, — both seemingly so peculiar, — which 
no other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there not 



138 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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. ^^For, if we 
deem it otherwise, do we not thereby say that the Heavenly 
Father, the Creator of all flesh, hath lightly recognized 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 hath 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 Avas meant 
for a blessing ; for the one blessing of her life ! It was meant, 
doubtless, as the mother herself hath told us, for a retribution 
too; a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment; a 
pang, a sting, 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 ! " 

"O, not so! — not so!" continued Mr. Dimmesdale. "She 
recognizes, believe me, the solemn miracle which God hath 
wrought, in the existence of that child. And may she feel, 
too, — what, methinks, 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, sinful woman that she hath an infant immortality, a 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 139 

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 it were 
by the Creator's sacred pledge, that, if she bring the child to 
lieaven, the child also ^rill bring its parent thither! Herein is 
the sinful mother happier than the sinful father. For Hester 
Pryime's sake, then, and no less for the poor child's sake, let 
us leave them as Providence hath seen fit to place them ! " 

"You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness," said old 
Eoger Chillingworth, smiling at him. 

"And there is a weighty import in what my young brother 
hath spoken," added the Eeverend 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; so long, at least, 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. Moreover, 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 con- 
cealed in the heavy folds of the window-curtain ; while the shadow 
of his figure, which the sunlight cast upon the floor, was trem- 
ulous with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and 
flighty little elf, stole softly toM'ards 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 look- 



140 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ing 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; she laughed, 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, I profess," said 
he to Mr. Dimmesdale. " She needs no old woman's broomstick 
to fly withal!" 

" A strange child ! " remarked old Eoger Chillingworth. " It 
is easy to see the mother's part in her. Would it be beyond 
a philosopher's research, think ye, gentlemen, to analyze that 
child's nature, and, from its make and mould, to give a slirewd 
guess at the father ? " 

" Nay ; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the 
clew of profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. "Better to fast 
and pray upon it; and still better, it may be, to leave the mys- 
tery as we find it, unless Providence reveal it of its own accord. 
Thereby, every good Christian man hath a title to show a father's 
kindness towards the poor, deserted babe." 

The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester Prynne, 
with Pearl, departed from the house. As they descended the 
steps, it is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window was 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 141 

thrown open, and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face 
of Mistress Hibbins, Governor Belhngham^s bitter- tempered sis- 
ter, and the same who, a few years later, was executed as a 
witch. 

" Hist, hist ! " said she, 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 com- 
pany in the forest; and I wellnigh promised the Black Man 
that comely Hester Prynne should make one." 

" Make my excuse to him, so please you ! " answered Hester, 
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, frown- 
ing, as she drew back her head. 

But here — if we sujjpose this interview betwixt Mistress Hib- 
bins 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. 





IX. 



THE LEECH. 




'^NDER 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, how, in the crowd that witnessed 
Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure, stood 
a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, 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 dishonor; 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 connection with the fallen woman had been the most 
intimate and sacred of them all, come forward to vindicate his 



THE LEECH. 143 

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, 
and, as regarded his former ties and interests, to vanish out of 
life as completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean, 
whither rumor had long ago consigned him. This purpose once 
effected, new interests would immediately spring up, and like- 
wise a new purpose; dark, 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 ujJ his residence in the 
Puritan town, as Roger Chilling worth, 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 him- 
self, and as such was cordially received. Skilful men, of the 
medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in the 
colony. They seldom, 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 subtile faculties of such men were materialized, 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 favor than any that he could have produced 
in the shape of a diploma. The only surgeon was one who 



144 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 mani- 
fested 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 com- 
pounded as if the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. 
In his Indian captivity, moreover, he had gained much knowl- 
edge 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 liis arrival, 
had chosen for his spiritual guide the Eeverend 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 heaven-ordained apostle, destined, should he live and labor 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, how- 
ever, 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 devo- 
tion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty, and, 
more than all, by the fasts and vigils of which he made a fre- 
quent practice, in order to keep the grossness of this earthly 
state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some 
declared, that, if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it 



THE LEECH. 145 

was cause enough^ that the world was not worthy to be any 
longer trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, 
with characteristic humility, avowed his belief, that, if Provi- 
dence 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 ; 
his voice, 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, all 
untimely, when Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town. 
His first entry on the scene, few people could tell whence, drop- 
ping 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 attain- 
ments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural, — as having 
been his correspondents or associates. Why, with such rank in 
the learned Avorld, had he come hither? What could he, whose 
sphere was in great cities, be seeking in the wilderness? In 
answer to this query, a rumor gained ground, — and, however 
absurd, Avas entertained by some very sensible people, — that 
Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by transporting an 



146 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

eminent Doctor of Physic, from a German university, bodily 
through the air, and setting him down at the door of Mr. Dimmes- 
dale's study ! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, 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 Eoger 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, and, if early undertaken, seemed 
not despondent of a favorable result. The elders, the deacons, 
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,^' said he. 

But how could the young minister say so, when, 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 labors? Did he wish to 
die ? These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr. Dimmes- 
dale by the elder ministers of Boston and the deacons of his 
church, who, 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. 



THE LEECH. I47 

'^Were it God's will/' said tlie Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, 
when, in fulfilment of this pledge, he requested old Roger Chil- 
lingworth's professional advice, " I could be well content, that 
my labors, 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.'' 

" Ah," replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quietness which, 
whether imposed or natural, marked all his deportment, "it is 
thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthful men, 
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." 

"Nay," 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 physican, but he was strongly moved 
to look into the character and qualities of the patient, these two 
men, so difl'erent 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 
talk with the plash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn 
wind-anthem among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was the 



148 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



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 wdiom he recognized an intellectual cultivation 
of no moderate depth or scope; together with a range and free- 
dom of ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the 
members of his own profession. In truth, 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 senti- 
ment largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself 
powerfully along the track of a creed, and wore its passage con- 
tnually 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, supporting, AAliile it confined him within its iron 



THE LEECH. 149 

framework. Not the less, however, 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 wliich 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, 
amid lamplight, 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 Eoger Chillingworth scrutinized his jDatient carefully, both 
as he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping an accustomed path- 
way 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 escajje an investigator, who has 
opportunity and license 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 



150 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

sagacity, and a nameless something more, — let us call it intui- 
tion ; if he show no intrusive egotism, nor disagreeably 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 recognized character as a physician ; — then, at some inevi- 
table 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. 

Eoger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the attributes 
above enumerated. Nevertheless, time went on; a kind of inti- 
macy, 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, indeed, 
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 Eoger 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 



THE LEECH. 151 

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; unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorized 
to do so, he had selected some one of the many blooming dam- 
sels, spiritually devoted to him, to become his devoted wife. 
This latter step, however, 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, there- 
fore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his unsavory 
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, experienced, benevo- 
lent 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 John- 
son'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 noon- 
tide shadow, when desirable. The walls were hung round . with 
tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, 
representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathslieba, and 
Nathan the Prophet, in colors still unfaded, but which made the 



153 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 Eoger Chillingworth arranged his study and labora- 
tory; 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 prac- 
tised alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose. With such 
commodiousness of situation, these two learned persons sat them- 
selves 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. But — 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 myste- 
rious old physician. When an uninstructed multitude attempts 
to see with its eyes, it is exceedingly apt to be deceived. When, 
however, it forms its judgment, as it usually does, on the intui- 
tions of its great and warm heart, the conclusions thus attained 
are often so profound and so unerring, as to possess the char- 
acter of truths supernaturally revealed. The people, in the case 
of which we speak, could justify its prejudice against Roger Chil- 
lingworth by no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. 



THE LEECH. 153 

There was an aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a 
citizen of London at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's mur- 
der, now some thirty years agone; he testified to having seen 
the pliysician, under some other name, which the narrator of 
the story had now forgotten, in company with Doctor Forman, the 
famous old conjurer, who was implicated in the affair of Over- 
bury. 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 per- 
forming 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 Eoger Chil- 
lingworth^s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he 
had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. 
Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, 
scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his 
face, Avhich 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; and so, as might be expected, his visage was get- 
ting sooty with the smoke. 

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion, 
that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other person- 
ages of especial sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was 
haunted either by Satan himself, or Satan's emissary, in the 
guise of old Roger ChilHngworth. This diabolical agent had the 
Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman's 



154 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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. Meanwhile, nevertheless, it was 
sad to think of the perchance mortal agony through which he 
must struggle towards his triumph. 

Alas ! to judge from the gloom and terror in the depths of 
the poor minister's eyes, the battle was a sore one and the victory 
anything but secure. 





X. 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 




'LD Roger Chillingworth, throughout life, had 
been calm in temperament, kindly, though 
not of warm affections, but ever, and in all 
his relations with the world, a pure and 
upright man. He had begun an investiga- 
tion, 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. But, as he proceeded, a terrible fascination, 
a kind of fierce, though still calm, necessity, 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; or, rather, 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 mor- 
tality and corruption. Alas for his own soul, if these were 
what he sought ! 



156 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

Sometimes, a light glimmered out of the physician^s eyes, 
burning blue and ominous, like the reflection of a furnace, or, 
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 Avliere this dark miner was working 
had perchance shown indications that encouraged him. 

" This man,^^ said he, at one such moment, to himself, " 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 shaj)e of high aspi- 
rations for the welfare of his race, warm love of souls, pure sen- 
timents, natural piety, 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, discouraged, 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 pur- 
pose 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 thro^vn 
across his victim. In other words, Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sen- 
sibility of nerve often produced the eflfect of spiritual intuition, 
would become vaguely aware that something inimical to his 
peace had thrust itself into relation with him. But old Eoger 
Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were almost intuitive ; 
and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards him, there 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 157 

the physician sat; his kind, watchful, sympathizing, 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 man- 
kind. 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, and, for rec- 
reation's sake, watching the processes by which weeds were con- 
verted into drugs of potency. 

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on 
the sill of the open Avindow, that looked towards the graveyard, 
he talked with Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was 
examining a bundle of unsightly plants. 

"Where," asked he, with a look askance at them, — for it 
was the clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, nowadays, looked 
straightforth at any object, whether human or inanimate, — 
"where, my kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, Avith such 
a dark, flabby leaf?" 

"Even in the graveyard here at hand," answered the physi- 
cian, continuing his employment. " They are new to me. I 
found them growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, nor 
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, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret 
that was buried with him, and which he had done better to 
confess during his lifetime.'* 

"Perchance," said Mr. Dimmesdale, "he earnestly desired it, 
but could not." 



158 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" And wherefore ? ^' rejoined the physician. " "Wlierefore not ; 
since all the powers of nature call so earnestly for the confes- 
sion of sin, that these black Aveeds have sprung up out of a 
buried heart, to make manifest an unspoken crime ? " 

" That, good Sir, is but a fantasy of yours," replied the min- 
ister. " There can be, if I forebode aright, no power, short of 
the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by 
type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried with a human 
heart. The 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. That, 
surely, were a shallow view of it. No ; these revelations, unless 
I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satis- 
faction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting, on that 
day, to see the dark problem of this life made jjlain. A knowl- 
edge of men^s hearts will be needful to the completest solution 
of that problem. And 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 unutter- 
able." 

" Then why not reveal them here ? " asked Eoger Chilling- 
worth, glancing quietly aside at the miiTister. "Why should 
not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this uimtterable 
solace ? " 

" They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping hard at his 
breast as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. " Many, 
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. 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 159 

And ever, after such an outpouring, O, what a relief have I 
witnessed in those sinful brethren ! even as in one who at last 
draws free air, after long stilling 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. 

"True; 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, retaining, 
nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, they 
shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view 
of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by 
them ; no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, 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 Eoger 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. But, if they seek to glorify God, let them 
not lift heavenward their unclean hands ! If they would serve 



IGO THE SCARLET LETTER. 

their fellow-men, let tliem do it by making manifest the power 
and reality of conscience, in constraining them to penitential 
self-abasement ! Wonldst 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's welfare — than God's own truth ? 
Trust me, such men deceive themselves ! ^' 

"It may be so," said the young clergyman, indifferently, as 
waiving a discussion that lie considered irrelevant or unseason- 
able. He had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from any 
topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous temperament, 
— " But, noAV, I would ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, 
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 adja- 
cent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open win-, 
dow, — 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 skijDped irreverently 
from one grave to another; until, coming to the broad, flat, 
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 Avhich 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 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 161 

their nature was^ tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pkick 
them off. 

Eoger ChiUingworth 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,^^ remarked he, 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. What, in Heaven^s name, is she? Is the imp alto- 
gether evil ? Hath she affections ? Hath she any discoverable 
principle of being ?^^ 

"None, 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; for, looking up 
to the window, with a bright, but naughty smile of mirth and 
intelligence, she threw one of the prickly burrs at the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman shrunk, with ner- 
vous dread, from the light missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl 
clapped her little hands, in the most extravagant ecstasy. Hester 
Prynne, likewise, 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, mother ! 
Come away, or yonder old Black Man will catch you ! He hath 
got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother, or he 
will catch you ! But he cannot catch little Pearl ! " 

So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing, and frisking 
fantastically, among the hillocks of the dead people, like a crea- 



162 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

lure tliiit liad nothing in common with a bygone and buried 
generation, nor ow)ied herself akin to it. It was as if she had 
b(^(!n made afresh, out of new eh'inents, and must perforce be 
})ermitted to live; her own hfe, and be a law unto herself, with- 
out lier eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime. 

" There goes a woman,'' r(!sumed lloger Chillingworth, after 
a pause, " who, l)e lier d(;merits what they may, hath none of 
thai myslcry of hidden sinlnhuiss whic^li you deem so grievous 
to h(^ borne. Is Hestcir Prynne the less miserable, think you, 
for that scarlet leltcu" on her bnsast?" 

" I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. " Never- 
theless, I cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in 
her face, wliicli I would gladly have been s])ared the sight of. 
Ihit si ill, metliinks, it nnist needs be beiier for the sulferer to 
bi! free to show liis pain, as this poor woman Hester is, tlian 
to cover it all up in his heart." 

There was anotlier pause; and the ])hysieian began anew to 
examine and arrange ilie plaiils which he had gathered. 

"You in(|uircd of me, a little; tinu; agone," said he, at length, 
" my judgment as touching your health." 

"I did," answered the clergyman, "and w^ould gladly learn 
it. Speak frankly, I ])ray you, be it for life or death." 

"Freely, then, and plaiidy," said the ])liysiciaii, still busy 
with his plants, but kee])ing a Avary eye on Mr. Dimmesdale, 
"the disorder is a strange one; not so nnu;h in itself, nor as 
outwardly manifested, — in so far, at least, as the symptoms 
have been laid o])en to my observation. Looking daily at you, 
my good Sir, ami watching the t(dvens of your aspect, now for 
months gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may be, 
y(!t not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician 



THE LEECH AND HiS i'ATlENT. 163 

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 ri(hlles, ii>anied Sir," said the pale mhiister, 
glancing aside; out of the window. 

"Then, to speak inon^ ])laiuly," continued tlu> ])liysiciaM, "and 
I crave pardon, Sir, — should it seem to rt>(]uir(> pardon, — for 
this needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask, — as your 
friend, — as one having charge, under Providence, of your life 
and physical well-heiug, — hath all the operation of (his disorder 
been fairly laid open and recounted to me?" 

"How can you (juestiou it?" asked th(> minister. "Surely, 
it were child's play, to call in a ))hysicia-u, and I hen hide the 
sore ! " 

"You would (ell nu'., then, that 1 know all?" said Roger Chil- 
lingworth, deliberately, and tixing an eye, bright- wi(h iu((>use 
and concentrated intelligence, on (he minister's Wuv. "Be it so! 
But, again I He to whom only the ou(ward and physical evil 
is laid open, knoweth, oftentimes, but half (he evil wliic-h he is 
called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we look u])()u as 
whole and entire widiiu itscdf, may, after all, be but a sym])t()m 
of some ailment in the spiritual part. Your pardon, oiu;e again, 
good Sir, if my speech give the shadow of offence. You, Sir, 
of all men whom T have kiunvn, are he whose body is the closest 
conjoined, and ind)ued, and identilied, so to speak, with the spirit 
whereof it is the instrument." 

"Then I need ask lU) further," said the clergyman, somewhat 
hastily rising from his chair. " You di^al not, I take it, in m(>di- 
cine for the soul ! " 

"Thus, a sickn(>ss," continued Roger (liilliugworth, going on, 
in an unaltered tone, without heeding the interruption, — but 



164 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

standing up, and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked 
minister, with his low, dark, and misshapen figure, — "a sick- 
ness, a sore place, if we may so call it, in your spirit, hath imme- 
diately its appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame. Would 
you, therefore, 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 ? " 

" No ! — not to thee ! — not to an earthly physician ! " cried 
Mr. Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning his eyes, full and 
bright, and with a kind of fierceness, on old Eoger Chilling- 
worth. " Not to thee ! But if it be the soul's disease, then 
do I commit myself to the one Physician of the soul ! He, 
if it stand with his good pleasure, can cure ; 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 mat- 
ter? — 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 Chilling- 
worth to himself, looking after the minister with a grave smile. 
" There is nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But 
see, now, 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 erenow, this pious Master Dimmes- 
dale, in the hot passion of his heart ! " 

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two 
companions, on the same footmg 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 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 



165 



nothing in the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He 
marvelled, indeed, at the violence Avith which he had thrust 
back the kind old man, when merely proffering the advice 
which it Avas his duty to bestow, and which the minister him- 
self had expressly sought. With these remorseful feelings, he 
lost no time in making the amplest ajaologies, and besought his 
friend still to continue the care, which, if not successfid in 




restoring him to health, had, in all probability, been the means 
of prolonging his feeble existence to that hour. Roger Chilling- 
worth readily assented, and Avent on with his medical super- 
vision of the minister ; doing his best for him, in all good 
faith, but always quitting the patient's apartment, at the close 
of a professional interview, with a mysterious and puzzled smile 
upon his lips. This expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmes- 



166 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

dale^'s presence, but grew strongly evident as the physician 
crossed the threshold. 

" A rare case ! " he muttered. " 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, at noonday, and entirely 
unawares, fell into a deep, deep slumber, 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, however, had his spirit now with- 
drawn into itself, that he stirred not in his chair, when old 
Eoger Chillingworth, without any extraordinary precaution, came 
mto 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. 

Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred. 

After a brief pause, the physician turned away. 

But, with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror ! 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 ! 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT 



167 



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 hi it ! 





XI. 



THE INTERIOR OP A HEART. 




;^ETER the incident last described, the inter- 
course between the clergyman and the phy- 
sician_, though externally the same, was really 
of another character than it had previously 
been. The intellect of Eoger Chillingworth 
had now a sufficiently plain path before it. 
It was not, indeed, precisely that which lie had laid out for him- 
self to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there 
was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but 
active now, in this unfortunate old man, Avhich 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 remorse, the agony, the inef- 
fectual repentance, the backward rush of sinful thoughts, expelled 
in vain ! All that guilty sorrow, hidden from the Avorld, whose 
great heart would have pitied and forgiven, to be revealed to him, 
the Pitiless, to him, the Unforgiving ! All that dark treasure 
to be lavished on the very man, to whom nothing else could so 
adequately pay the debt of vengeance ! 



THE INTERIOE OF A HEART. 169 

The clergyman^s shy and sensitive reserve had balked this 
scheme. Eoger Chillingworth, hoAvever, 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 pur- 
poses, and, perchance, pardoning where it seemed most to punish 
— had substituted for his black devices. A revelation, 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. He became, 
thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor, in the poor 
minister's interior Avorld. He could i)lay upon him as he chose. 
Would he arouse him with a throb of agony? The victim was 
forever on the rack; it needed only to know the spring that con- 
trolled the engine ; — and the physician knew it well ! Would 
he startle him with sudden fear? As at the waving of a magi- 
cian's wand, uprose a grisly phantom, — uprose a thousand phan- 
toms, — in many shapes, of death, 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. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully, — 
even, at times, with horror and the bitterness of hatred, — at 
the deformed figure of the old physician. His gestures, his gait, 
his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the 
very fashion of his garments, were odious in the clergyman's 



170 THE SCARLET LETTER.. 

sight; a token iniiilicitlj to be relied on, of a deeper antipathy 
in the breast of the latter than he was willing to acknowledge 
to himself. For, 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, he nevertheless, 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 Avon it, indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His 
intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experi- 
encing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of 
preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily 
life. His fame, though still on its upward slope, already over- 
shadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen, eminent 
as several of them were. There were 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, therefore, be more profoundly versed in such solid 
and valuable attainments than their youthful brother. There 
were men, too, of a sturdier texture of mind than his, and 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 17I 

endowed with a far greater share of shrewd, hard, iron, or gran- 
ite understanding; which, duly mingled with a fair proportion 
of doctrinal ingredient, constitutes a highly respectable, effica- 
cious, and unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were 
others, again, true saintly fathers, whose faculties had been elabo- 
rated by weary toil among their books, and by patient thought, 
and etherealized, moreover, by spiritual communications with the 
better world, into which their purity of life had almost intro- 
duced 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 ; symbolizing, it would seem, not the power of speech 
in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing the 
whole human brotherhood hi the hearths native language. These 
fathers, otherwise so apostolic, lacked Hcaven^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 vocies came down, afar and 
indistinctly, from the upper heights where they habitually dwelt. 
Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr. 
Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged. 
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 low- 
est; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels 
might else have listened to and answered ! But this very bur- 
den it was, that gave him sympathies so intimate with the sinful 
brotherhood of mankind; so that his heart vibrated in unison 



172 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



with theirs, and received their pain into itself, and sent its own 
throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in gushes of 
sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persuasive, 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 mouthpiece of Heaven^s messages of wis^ 
dom, and rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground on 

which he trod Avas sanc- 
^-:^^ titled. 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 I'cligion, 

and brought 

it openly, in 

their white 

bosoms, as 

their most 

|i' acceptable 

111 j- 

sacrifice be- 
fore the altar. 
The aged 
members of 
his flock, be- 
holding Mr. Dimmesdal(!^s frame so feeble, Mdiile they were them- 
selves so rugged in their infirmity, believed that he would go 
heavenward before tliem, and enjoined it upon their children, 
tliat their old bones should be buried close to their young pas- 




THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 173 

tor's holy grave. And, all this time, perchance, when poor Mr. 
Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave, he questioned with him- 
self 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 venera- 
tion 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 ? — a substance ? — 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. "I, 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 commun- 
ion, in your behalf, with the Most High Omniscience, — I, in 
whose daily life you discern the sanctity of Enoch, — I, whose 
footsteps, 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 part- 
ing prayer over your dying friends, to whom the Amen sounded 
faintly from a world which they had quitted, — I, your pastor, 
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, deep, and tremulous 
breath, Avhich, when sent forth again, would come burdened 
with the black secret of his soul. More than once — nay, more 



174. THE SCARLET LETTER. 

than a hundred times — he had actually spoken ! Spoken ! 
But how? He had told his hearers that he was altogether vile, 
a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abom- 
ination, 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 liim 
down out of the pulpit which he defiled ? Not so, indeed ! 
They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more. They 
little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemn- 
ing words. " The godly youth ! " said they among themselves. 
" The saint on earth ! Alas, 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 confes- 
sion 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, with- 
out the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken 
the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. 
And yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, 
and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all 
things else, he loathed his miserable self ! 

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accord- 
ance 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. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine 
had plied it on his own shoulders; laughing bitterly at himself 



THE INTERIOR OP A HEART. 175 

the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of 
that bitter laugh. It Avas his custom, too, as it has been that 
of many other pious Puritans, to fast, — not, however, like 
them, 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, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness ; 
sometimes Avith a glimmering lamp ; and sometimes, 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, him- 
self. 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 OAvn, 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, as sorrow-laden, 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 ! And now, 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 



176 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

misty lack of substance^ and convince himself that they were not 
solid in their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, 
square, leathern-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity. 
But, for all that, they were, 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, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that con- 
tinued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth, 
was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expres- 
sion of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to smile, 
and wear a face of gayety, 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. 





XII. 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 




^V2£,^5.H^ ^^I^^I^Gr in the shadow of a dream, as it 
■W'Cre, and perhaps actually under the influ- 
ence 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, and foot-worn, too, 
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 of 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 
gray of the midnight. But the town was all asleep. There 
was no peril of discovery. The minister might stand there, if 



178 THE SCAKLET LETTER. 

it so pleased liim, 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. Wliy, then, 
had he come hither ? Was it but the mockery of penitence ? 
A mockery, indeed, 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. Poor, miserable man ! 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, or, 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 sensi- 
tive of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing 
or another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the 
agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance. 

And thus, 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, there was, and there had long been, the gnawing and 
poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any eff'ort of his will, 
or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 179 

went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one 
house to another, and reverberated from the hills in the back- 
ground ; 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 ; or, if it did, the drowsy 
slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a 
dream, or for the noise of witches ; whose voices, at that period, 
were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages, 
as they rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman, there- 
fore, 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 Gov- 
ernor'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 clamor 



180 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well known to 
make excursions into the forest. 

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham^s lamp, the old 
lady quickly extinguished her own, and vanished. Possibly, she 
went up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further 
of her motions. The magistrate, after a wary observation of the 
darkness, — into which, nevertheless, he could see but little further 
than he might into a mill-stone, — retired from the window. 

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, however, 
were soon greeted by a little, glimmering light, which, 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 doorstep. The 
Eeverend 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, he beheld, within its illuminated circle, his brother clergy- 
man, — or, to speak more accurately, his professional father, as 
well as highly valued friend, — the Eeverend Mr. Wilson ; who, 
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 personages 
of olden times, with a radiant halo, that glorified him amid 
this gloomy night of sin, — as if the departed Governor had 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 181 

left him an inheritance of his glory, or as if he had caught 
upon himself the distant shine of the celestial city, while look- 
ing thitherward to see the triumphant pilgrim pass within its 
gates, — now, in short, good Father Wilson was moving home- 
ward, aiding his footsteps with a lighted lantern ! The glimmer 
of this luminary suggested the above conceits to Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, who smiled, — nay, almost laughed at them, — and then 
wondered if he were going mad. 

As the Eeverend 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 evemng to you, venerable Father Wilson ! Come 
up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me ! " 

Good heavens ! 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 glim- 
mering 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. 

Shortly afterwards, 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 neighborhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest 



183 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 fiap 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 liis King 
Jameses 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, thus early, 
out of his dreams about the glorified saints. Hither, likewise, 
would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's cliurch, 
and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had 
made a shrine for him in their white bosoms ; Avhich now, by 
the by, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have 
given themselves time to cover with tlieir kerchiefs. All people, 
in a word, would come stumbling over their thresholds, and 
turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the 
scaffold. ^Yliom would they discern there, with the red eastern 
light upon his brow ? "Whom, but the Ecverend Arthur Dimmes- 
dale, half frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and stand- 
ing where Hester Prynne had stood ! 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 183 

Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture^ the min- 
ister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great 
peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a light, 
airy, childish laugh, in which, with a thrill of the heart, — but 
he knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute, — he 
recognized the tones of little Pearl. 

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! " cried he after a moment^s pause ; 
then, suppressing his voice, — " Hester ! Hester Prymie ! Are 
you there ? " 

" Yes ; it is Hester Prynne ! " she replied, in a tone of sur- 
prise; and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from 
the sidewalk, along which she had been passing. " It is I, and 
my little Pearl.'' 

" Whence come you, Hester ? " 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, Hester, thou and little Pearl," said the 
Ueverend 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 sys- 
tem. The three formed an electric chain. 



184< THE SCARLET LETTEE. 

" Minister ! " whispered little Pearl. 

"What wouldst thou say, child?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale. 

" Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noon- 
tide?''^ inquired Pearl. 

"Nay; not so, my little Pearl," answered the muiister; for, 
with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public expos- 
ure, 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, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy 
mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow." 

Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But 
the minister held it fast. 

" A moment longer, my child ! " said he. 

" But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, " to take my hand, 
and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide?" 

" Not then. Pearl," said the minister, " but another time." 

"And what other time?" persisted the child. 

"At the great judgment day," whispered the minister, — and, 
strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher 
of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and 
there, before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, 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, Avliich the night-watcher may so often 
observe burning out to Avaste, in the vacant regions of the atmos- 
phere. So powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly illu- 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 187 

minated 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 stories and quaint gable-peaks; the 
doorsteps and thresholds, with the early grass springing up 
about them ; the garden-plots, black with freshly turned earth ; 
the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the market-place, mar- 
gined with green on either side ; — all were visible, but with 
a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral inter- 
pretation 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 glim- 
mering 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 splendor, 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. 

Nothhig 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. Thus, 
a blazing spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows. 



188 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 Revolu- 
tionary times, of which the inhabitants had not been previously 
warned by some spectacle of this nature. Not seldom, it had 
been seen by multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested 
on the faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld the wonder 
through the colored, magnifying, and distorting medium of his 
imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought. 
It was, indeed, 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 expansive 
for Providence to write a people^s doom upon. The belief was 
a favorite one with our forefathers, as betokening that their 
infant commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of pecul- 
iar 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, intense, 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, therefore, 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 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 189 

imagination gave it ; or, at least, with so little definiteness, that 
another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it. 

There was a singular circumstance that characterized Mr. 
Dimmesdale's psychological state, at this moment. All the time 
that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless, per- 
fectly aware that little Pearl was pointing her finger towards 
old Eoger 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 features, as 
to all other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expres- 
sion ; 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. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up 
tlie sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that admon- 
ished 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 tlie 
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, Hester ? " gasped Mr. Dimmesdale, over- 
come with terror. " I shiver at him ! Dost thou know the 
man ? I liate him, Hester ! " 

She remembered her oath, and was silent. 

" I tell thee, my sonl 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 ! " 

" Minister,'' said little Pearl, " I can tell thee who he is ! '■' 

" Quickly, then, child ! " said the minister, bending his ear 



190 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

close to her lijjs. '' Quickly ! — and as low as thou canst 
whisper/^ 

Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, indeed, 
like human language, but was oidy sucli 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 Eoger Chillingworth, it w^as 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 jiromise to take my hand, and 
mother^s hand, to-morrow noontide ! " 

" Worthy Sir," answered the physician, who had now advanced 
to the foot of the platform. " Pious Master Dimmesdale, can 
this be you ? Well, well, indeed ! 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- 
Come, good Sir, and my dear friend, I pray you, let me lead 
you home ! " 

" How knewest thou that I was here ? " asked the minister, 
fearfully. 

" Verily, and in good faith," answered Eoger 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. He going 
home to a better world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, 
when this strange light shone out. Come with me, I beseech 
you, Eeverend Sir ; else you will be poorly able to do Sabbath 
duty to-morrow. Aha ! see now, how they trouble the brain, 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 191 

— these books ! — these books ! You should study less^ good 
Sir, and take a little pastime ; or these night-whimseys will 
grow upon yon." 

" I will go home with you/^ said Mr. Dimmesdale. 

With a chill despondency^ like one awaking, all nerveless, 
from an ugly dream, he yielded himself to the physician, and 
was led away. 

The next day, however, being the Sabbath, lie preached a 
discourse Avhich was held to be the richest and most powerful, 
and the most replete with heavenly influences, that had ever 
proceeded from his lips. Souls, 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 gray-bearded sexton met him, 
holding up a black glove, which the minister recognized 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. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he 
ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it ! " 

" Thank you, my good friend," said the minister, gravely, 
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. " Yes, it seems to be my glove, 
indeed ! " 

" And since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must 
needs handle him without gloves, henceforward," remarked the 
old sexton, grimly smiling. " But did your reverence hear 



192 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



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. 
For^ as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this 
past night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some 
notice thereof ! " 

" No/' answered the minister, " I had not heard of it." 





XIII. 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 



'^'.nJ'^^'SCZ'^ lier late singular interview with Mr. Diinmes- 
JjCV dale, Hester Prynne was shocked at the con- 
IjwCoi ditioii 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. Know- 
ing 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 instinc- 
tively discovered enemy. She decided, moreover, that he had a 
right to her utmost aid. Little accustomed, in her long seclusion 



194 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 owed to no other, nor to the whole Avorld 
besides. The links that united her to the rest of human kind 
— links of flowers, or silk, or gold, 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 posi- 
tion in which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her 
ignominy. Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven 
years old. Her mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, 
glittering in its fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar 
object to the towns-people. As is apt to be the case when a 
person stands out in any prominence before the community, and, - 
at the same time, interferes neither Avith public nor individual 
interests and convenience, a species of general regard had ulti- 
mately grown up in reference to Hester Pryrme. It is to the 
credit of human nature, that, except where its selfishness is 
brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, 
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. Then, 
also, the blameless purity of her life during all these years in 
which she had been set apart to infamy, was reckoned largely 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 



195 



in lier favor. With nothing now to lose, in the sight of man- 
kind, and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining any- 
thing, it could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had 
brought back the poor wanderer to its paths. 

It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward 
even the humblest title to share in the workFs privileges, — 
further than to breathe the common air, and earn daily bread 




for little Pearl and herself by the faithful labor 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 pov- 
erty; 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 em- 



196 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

broidered a monarches robe. None so self-devoted as Hester, 
when pestilence stalked through the town. In all seasons of 
calamity, indeed, whether general or of individuals, the outcast 
of society at once found her place. She came, 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-creatures. 
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 suf- 
ferer^s hard 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. Her breast, with its 
badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that 
needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, 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 w^as the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was 
found in her, — so much power to do, and power to sympa- 
thize, — that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by 
its original signification. They said that it meant Able ; 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. 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 197 

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 influ- 
ence 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 fre- 
quently it awards more than justice, when the appeal is made, 
as despots love to have it made, entirely to its generosity. Inter- 
preting 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 favored with, or, perchance, 
than she deserved. 

The rulers, 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 Avhich they shared in 
common with the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron 
framework of reasoning, that made it a far tougher labor to 
expel them. Day by day, nevertheless, 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 posi- 
tion imposed the guardianship of the public morals. Individuals 
in private life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for 
her frailty; nay, more, 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, Avho is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so 



198 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

comfortable to the afflicted ! " Tlien, it is true, the propensity 
of human nature to tell the very worst of itself, when embodied 
in the i)erson of another, would constrain them to Avhisjier the 
black scandal of bygone years. It was none the less a fact, 
however, 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 Avalk 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, but fell hannless 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 pos- 
sessed 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 i\\e studied austerity of her dress, and 
partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. It was 
a sad transformation, too, 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 sun- 
shine. It was due in part to all these causes, but still more 
to something (^Ise, 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 Afl'ection. Some attribute 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 199 

1i;k1 departed from her, llic permanence of which had been essen- 
tial to keep her a woman. Such is frequently the late, and 
such the stern development, of the feminine character and pt>r- 
son, 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 woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment 
become a woman again if there were only the magic touch to 
elfect the transfiguration. 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. Stand- 
ing 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 fragments of a broken 
chain. The world's law Avas no law for her mind. It was an 
age in which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken 
a more active and a wider range than for many centuries before. 
Men of the sword had overthroAvn 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 Avas 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 



200 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

tliey known it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than 
that stigmatized by the scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottage, 
by the sea-shore, thoughts visited her, such as dared to enter no 
other dwelling in 'New England; shadowy guests, 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. Yet, 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. She might, in one of her phases, have been a prophetess. 
She liiiglit, and not improbably would, have suffered death 
from the stern tribunals of the period, for attempting to under- 
mine the foundations of the Puritan establishment. But, in the 
education of her child, the mother's enthusiasm of thought had 
something to wreak itself upon. Providence, in the person of 
this little girl, had assigned to Hester's charge the germ and 
blossom of A?omanhood, to be cherished and developed amid a 
host of difficulties. Everything Avas against her. The w^orld 
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 tliat the poor little creature had been born at all. 

Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind, 
with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence 



ANOTHER VIEW OP HESTER. 201 

worth accepting, even to the hapjiiest among them? As con- 
cerned 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 woman quiet, as it does 
man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, such a hope- 
less 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 posi- 
tion. Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot 
take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she herself 
shall have undergone a still mightier change ; in M'hich, perhaps, 
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 upper- 
most, they vanish. Thus, Hester Prynne, whose heart had lost 
its regular and healthy throb, wandered Avithout a clew 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 com- 
fort 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. 

Now, however, her interview with the Eeverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, 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 wit- 



:20:i TiiK sr.\Ki.KT lkttki;. 

iu'ss(>il tilt" inlcns(> iiiis(>rv licncalli wliii'h the niiiiisliM' stniijLjlcd, 
or. to s|>(-:ik more Mccunilrlv, li;ul crnsiHl lo slruu-gio. She s;nv 
lh;it III' siood on thr \ cri^c o\' Iummcv. it' hi' h;til uo\ iilri'iuly 
j^toppi'il iUTos.s it. It M;if< inipoj<j<il)li' (o iloiibl. tli;it. wliMtrvcr 
|);unl"ul rtVii-ai'V llu'ro miuhl l)i> in the srcrrt stinij ot' ri'inorso, a 
ili'MilliiM' viMioni liiiil lu'iMi inl'nsoil into il In thi- li;inil lli;il prof- 
t'l'Vi'il rolii"!'. A soiTrl iMUMnv h;ul hcvn i'ontinn;illv hv his siili', 
nuilrr till' srnihlanrr ot' ;i t'riruil ami hrlpiM", anil hail availi'il 
Innisrlt' o\' {\\c opportunilios thns atVoriK-il tor laniprring with the 
ilclii-ato s[>rinu-8 of Mr. Diinnn'silalo's natnro. llostor coulil not 
hnt ask luM'si'll*. whotlior thiMT hail not oriii'inallv luvn a ilrtVrt 
ot' trnlh. i'onrai;i\ anil lovaltv. on hor own part, in allowing tho 
niinisirr to ho thrown into a position whiMV so n\ni'h r\ il was 
to ho roii'hoiloil. anil notiiin-Ji: anspioions to ho hopril. llor only 
just itii'at ion lay in thr I'aot. that sho hail boon ahio to ilisoorn 
no ntothoil o( ivsonins;' him ('nun a blaokor rnin than hail ovoi*- 
whohnoil hoi'si'ir, oxivpt by aoquiosoini; in llouvr C'hilliniiworth's 
sohiMHo o( ilisi:;niso. rmlor that inipulso. shr hail mmlo hor 
I'hoioo. anil hail ohoson. as it now appoafoil, tho mofo wix-tohoil 
altornativo of tho Iwo. 8ho ilotonninoil to iviKvin hor cvvor, so 
t'ar MS it might }ot bo possiblo. Strongthonoil by yoars of hanl 
anil soliMun trial, sho iVlt horsolf no longor so inailoqnato to 
copo with Kogor (.liillingworth as on that night, abasoil by sin. 
ami halt' n\aihliMioil by tho ignominy that was still now. uhon 
ihoy hail lalkoil togothor in tho prisoii-ohambor. Sho hail olimbod 
hor way. sinoo (hon. to a highor point. Tho old man. on tho 
othor hand, had bronght himsolt' noaivr to hor lovol. or jHM-haps 
bolow it, by tho rovongo whioh ho had stoopod for. 

In tii\o. llostor Pryimo rosolvod to moot hor formor husband, 
and do what might bo in hor powor for tho rosouo o( tho victim 



ANOTIIKH, VIKW OK IIKS'I'KK 



'MVA 



oil wliom lie liad so cvidciilly scl liis ^'ripc. Tlu' occasion was 
liol lout;" lo sccL ( )iic al'lcniooii, ualkiiii;' willi I'cnii in a. 
retired |)arl of llic |)(iiiiisnla, she hclicid (lie old plMsician, \\i||| 
a haskel on one arm, and a, slall' in llie oilier hand, sloopinu,' 
;donti; Ihe n'l'dund, in (|iicsl ol rodls and herhs (o concoel his 
inedieines wilhal. 





XIV. 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 




SESTER 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, and, 
making bare her small white feet, went pat- 
tering 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. Eorth 
peeped at her, out of tlie pool, with dark, 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 Mith her. But the visionary little 
maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say, — " This is 
a better place ! Come thou hito the pool ! " And Pearl, step- 
ping in, mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; 
while, out of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of 
fragmentary smile, floating to and fro in the agitated water. 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 205 

Meanwhile, her mother had accosted the physician. 

" 1 would speak a word with you/^ said she, — "a word that 
concerns us much.^^ 

'' Aha ! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old 
Eoger Chillingworth ? '' answered he, raising himself from his 
stooping posture. " With all my heart ! Why, Mistress, I hear 
good tidings of you on all hands ! No longer ago than yester- 
eve, a magistrate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of 
your affairs. Mistress Hester, and wliisj)ered me that there had 
been question concerning you in the council. It was debated 
whether or no, with safety to the common weal, yonder scarlet 
letter might be taken off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I 
made my entreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it might 
be done forthwith ! " 

" It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off 
this badge," calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be 
quit of it, it would fall away of its o'wn nature, or be trans- 
formed into something that should speak a different purport."" 

"Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better,^^ rejoined he. "A 
woman must needs follow her own fancy, touching the adorn- 
ment of her person. The letter is gayly 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 okler; for 
though the traces of advancing life were visible, he bore his age 
well, and seemed to retain a Aviry vigor and alertness. But 
the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, calm and 
quiet, which was what she best remembered in hira, had alto- 



206 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

gether vanished, and been succeeded by an eager, searching, 
almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look. It seemed to be his 
wish and purpose to mask this exj)ression with a smile ; but 
the latter played him false, and flickered over his visage so deri- 
sively, that the spectator could see his blackness all the better 
for it. Ever and anon, too, 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 Eogcr 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 deviFs 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 analyzed 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,'' answered she. " But let it pass ! 
It is of yonder miserable man that I would speak." 

" And what of him ? " cried Eoger Chillingworth, eagerly, 
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 con- 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 207 

fidant. "Not to hide the truth, Mistress Hester, my thoughts 
happen just now to be busy with the gentleman. So speak 
freely ; and I will make answer.^^ 

" When we last spake together," said Hester, " 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 accordaiice 
with your behest. Yet it was not without heavy misgivings 
that I thus bound myself; for, having cast off all duty towards 
other human behigs, 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 Chilling worth. "My 
finger, pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his 
pulpit into a dungeon, — thence, peradventure, to the gallows ! " 

" It had been better so ! " said Hester Prynne. 

" What evil have I done the man ? " asked Roger Chilling- 
worth again. " I tell thee, Hester Prynne, 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. 



208 THE SCAHLET LETTER. 

For, Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne 
up, as thine has, beneath a burden hke thy scarlet letter. O, 
I could reveal a goodly secret ! But enough ! 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. 

" Yea, woman, thou say est truly ! " cried old Roger ChiUing- 
worth, 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. And all, all, 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. He knew, 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 heart-strings, and that an eye was looking curi- 
ously into him, which sought only evil, and found it. But he 
knew not that the eye and hand were mine I With the super- 
stition 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 propin- 
quity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged ! — and 
who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the 
direst revenge ! Yea, indeed ! — 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 recognize, usurping the 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. £09 

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 mane'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 ? " said Hester, noticing 
the old mane's look. " Has he not paid thee all ? " 

" No ! — no ! — 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, Hester, 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, studious, thoughtful, quiet 
years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of mine own knowl- 
edge, and faithfully, too, 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 him- 
self, — kind, true, just, and of constant, if not warm affections? 
Was I not all this?'' 

" All this, and more,'' said Hester. 

" And what am I now ? " demanded he, 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 ! " cried Hester, shuddering. " It was I, not 
less than he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me ? " 

" I have left tliee to the scarlet letter," replied Roger Chilling- 
worth. " If that have not avenged me, I can do no more ! " 



210 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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," answered Hester, firmly. " 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 hun, 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 
thy 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 ! " 

" Woman, I could wellnigh j)ity thee ! " said Roger Chilling- 
worth, 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. Peradventure, 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 ! Forgive, and leave 
his further retribution to the Power that claims it ! I said, but 
now, that there could be no good event for him, or thee, or 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 



211 



me, who are liere wandering together in this gloomy maze of 
evil, and stumbling, at every steji, 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 deej)ly wronged, and 
hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only 
privilege ? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit ? " 

" Peace, Hester, peace ! " 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, long forgotten, 
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 ! Now go thy ways, and deal as thou 
wilt with yonder man.^^ 

He waved his hand, and betook himself again to his employ- 
ment of gathering herbs. 





XV. 



HESTER AND PEARL. 




O Roger Cliilliiigwortli - 



-a deformed old figure^ 
Avitli a face tliat haunted men^s memories 
longer than they liked — took leave of Hester 
Prjnne, and Avent stooping away along the 
earth. He gathered here and there an herb, 
or grubbed up a root, and put it into the 
basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the ground, 
as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little while, look- 
ing with a half-fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass 
of early spring would not be bhghted beneath him, and show 
the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its 
cheerful verdure. She wondered what sfort of herbs they were, 
which the old man Avas so sedulous to gather. Would not the 
earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, 
greet him with poisonous shrubs, of species hitherto unknown, 
that Avould start up under his fingers ? Or might it suffice 
him, that every wholesome growth should be converted into 
something deleterious and malignant at his touch ? Did the 



I inr ] |( i|« imiiiiiiniu;! ';T''iri'ipi"»iimtiiiiiiiiimii!Mii[i|] 
Pit. I, I It ■-'•■'- '■■ '•• 




HESTER AND PEARL. 215 

sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon 
him ? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous 
shadow moving along with his deformity, whichever way he 
turned himself? And whither was he now going? Would he 
not suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted 
spot, where, in due course of time, would be seen deadly night- 
shade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wick- 
edness the climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous 
luxuriance ? Or would he spread bat's wings and flee away, 
looking so much the uglier, the higher he rose towards heaven ? 

"Be' it sin or no,'' said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as she still 
gazed after him, " I hate the man ! " 

She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not over- 
come or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she thought of those 
long-past days, in a distant land, when he used to emerge at 
eventide from the seclusion of his study, and sit down in the 
firelight of their home, and in the light of her nuptial smile. 
He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order that 
the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be 
taken off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared 
not otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through the dis- 
mal medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among 
her ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could 
have been ! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought 
upon to marry him ! She deemed it her crime most to be 
repented of, that she had ever endured, and reciprocated, the 
lukewarm grasp of his hand, and had suffered the smile of her 
lips and eyes to mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed 
a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth, than any 
which had since been done him, that, in the time when her 



216 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

heart knew no better^ he had persuaded her to fancy herself 
happy by his side. 

" Yes, I hate him ! " repeated Hester, more bitterly than 
before. " He betrayed me ! He has done me worse wrong 
than I did him!'' 

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win 
along with it the utmost passion of her heart ! Else it may be 
their miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth's, when 
some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her 
sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the 
marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon 
her as the Avarm reality. But Hester ought long ago to have 
done with this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven 
long years, nnder the torture of the scarlet letter, inflicted so 
much of misery, and wrought out no repentance? 

The emotions of that brief space, while she stood gazing after, 
the crooked figure of old Eoger Chillingworth, threw a dark 
light on Hester's state of mind, revealing much that she might 
not otherA\dse have acknowledged to herself. 

He being gone, she summoned back her child. 

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! Where are you ? " 

Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no 
loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer 
of herbs. At first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully 
with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom 
forth, and — as it declined to venture — seeking a passage for 
herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky. 
Soon finding, however, that either she or the image was unreal, 
she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little boats 
out of birch-bark, and freighted them with snail-shells, and sent 



HESTER AND PEAllL. 



217 



out more ventures on the mighty deep than any merchant in 
New England; but the larger part of them foundered near the 
shore. She seized a live horseshoe by the tail, and made prize 
of several five-fingers, and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the 
warm sun. Then she took up the white foam, that streaked 
the line of the advancing tide, and threw it upon the breeze, 
scampering after it, with winged footsteps, to catch the great 





snow-flakes ere they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach-birds, 
that fed and fluttered along the shore, the naughty child picked 
up her apron full of pebbles, and, creeping from rock to rock 
after these small sea-fowl, displayed remarkable dexterity in pelt- 
ing them. One little gray bird, with a white breast. Pearl was 
almost sure, had been hit by a pebble, and fluttered away with 
a broken wing. But then the elf-child sighed, and gave up her 



218 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

sport; because it grieved her to have done harm to a little being 
that was as wild as the sea-breeze, or as wild as Pearl herself. 

Her final employment was to gather sea- weed, of various 
kinds, and make herself a scarf, or mantle, and a head-dress, 
and thus assume the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited 
her mother's gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last 
touch to her mermaid's garb. Pearl took some eel-grass, and 
imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration 
with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A letter, — 
the letter A, — but freshly green, instead of scarlet ! The child 
bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with 
strange interest ; even as if the one only thing for which she 
had been sent into the world was to make out its liidden import. 

" I wonder if mother will ask me what it means ? " thought 
Pearl. 

Just then, she heard her mother's voice, and flitting along as. 
lightly as one of the little sea-birds, appeared before Hester 
Prynne, dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the orna- 
ment upon her bosom. 

"My little Pearl," said Hester, after a moment's silence, "the 
green letter, and on thy childish bosom, has no purport. But 
dost thou know, my child, what this letter means which thy 
mother is doomed to wear ? " 

" Yes, mother," said the child. " It is the great letter A. 
Tiiou hast taught me in the horn-book." 

Hester looked steadily into her httle face; but, though there 
was that singular expression which she had so often remarked 
in her black eyes, she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl 
really attached any meaning to the symbol. She felt a morbid 
desire to ascertain the point. 



HESTER AND PEARL. 219 

''Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears this 
letter ? " 

" Truly do I ! " answered Pearl, looking brightly into her 
mother's face. " It is for the same reason that the minister 
keeps his hand over his heart ! " 

" And what reason is that ? " asked Hester, half smiling at 
the absurd incongruity of the child's observation; but, on second 
thoughts, turning pale. " What has the letter to do with any 
heart, save mine ? " 

"Nay, mother, I have told all I know," said Pearl, more 
seriously than she was wont to speak. " Ask yonder old man 
whom thou hast been talking with ! It may be he can tell. 
But in good earnest now, mother dear, what does this scarlet 
letter mean ? — and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom ? — 
and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart ? " 

She took her mother's hand in both her own, and gazed into 
her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild 
and capricious character. The thought occurred to Hester, that 
the child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike 
confidence, and doing what she could, and as intelligently as she 
knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy. It showed 
Pearl in an unwonted aspect. Heretofore, the mother, while 
loving her child with the intensity of a sole affection, had schooled 
herself to hope for little other return than the waywardness of 
an April breeze; which spends its time in airy sport, and has 
its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of 
moods, and chills oftener than caresses you, when you take it 
to your bosom ; in requital of which misdemeanors, it will some- 
times, of its own vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of 
doubtful tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and then 



220 THE SCARLET LETTER, 

be gone about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure 
at your heart. And this, moreover, was a mother^s estimate of 
the chikrs disposition. Any other observer might have seen 
few but unamiable traits, and have given them a far darker 
coloring. But now the idea came strongly into Hester^s mind, 
that Pearl, with her remarkable precocity and acuteness, might 
already have approached the age when she could be made a 
friend, and intrusted with as much of her mother^s sorrows as 
could be imparted, without irreverence either to the parent or 
the child. In the little chaos of Pearls character there might 
be seen emerging — and could have been, from the very first — 
the steadfast principles of an unflinching courage, — an uncon- 
trollable will, — a sturdy pride, which might be disciplined into 
self-respect, — and a bitter scorn of many things, which, when 
examined, might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them. 
She possessed affections, too, though hitherto acrid and disagree- 
able, as are the richest flavors of unripe fruit. With all these 
sterling attributes, thought Hester, the evil which she inherited 
from her mother must be great indeed, if a noble woman do 
not grow out of this elfish child. 

Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enigma of the 
scarlet letter seemed an innate quality of her being. Prom the 
earliest epoch of her conscious life, she had entered upon this 
as her appointed mission. Hester had often fancied that Provi- 
dence had a design of justice and retribution, in endowing the 
child with this marked propensity ; but never, until now, had 
she bethought herself to ask, whether, linked with that design, 
there might not likewise be a purj)ose of mercy and beneficence. 
If little Pearl were entertained with faith and trust, as a spirit 
messenger no less than an earthly child, might it not be her 



HESTER AND PEARL. 221 

errand to soothe away the sorrow that lay cold in her mother's 
heart, and converted it into a tomb ? — and to help her to over- 
come the passion, once so wild, and even yet neither dead nor 
asleep, but only imprisoned within the same tomb-like heart? 

Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in Hester's 
mind, with as much vivacity of impression as if they had actually 
been whispered into her ear. And there was little Pearl, all 
this while, holding her mother's hand in both her own, and 
turning her face upward, while she put these searching ques- 
tions, once, and again, and still a third time. 

"What does the letter mean, mother? — and why dost thou 
wear it ? — and why does the minister keep his hand over his 
heart?" 

"What shall I say?'' thought Hester to herself. "No! If 
this be the j)rice of the child's sympathy, I cannot pay it." 

Then she spoke aloud. 

" Silly Pearl," said she, " what questions are these ? There 
are many things in this world that a child must not ask about. 
What knoAv I of the minister's heart? And as for the scarlet 
letter, I wear it for the sake of its gold-thread." 

In all the seven bygone years, Hester Prynne had never 
before been false to the symbol on her bosom. It may be that 
it was the talisman of a stern and severe, but yet a guardian 
spirit, who now forsook her; as recognizing that, in spite of 
his strict watch over her heart, some new evil had crept into 
it, or some old one had never been expelled. As for little 
Pearl, the earnestness soon passed out of her face. 

But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. Tw'o 
or three times, as her mother and she went homeward, and as 
often at supper-time, and while Hester was putting her to bed, 



222 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



and once after she seemed to be fairly asleep, Pearl looked up, 
with mischief gleaming in her black eyes. 

" Mother/'' said she, " what does the scarlet letter mean ? " 

And the next morning, the first indication the child gave of 
being awake was by popping up her head from the pillow, and 
making that other inquiry, which she had so unaccountably 
connected with her investigations about the scarlet letter : — 

" Mother ! — Mother ! — Why does the minister keep his hand 
over his heart ? " 

" Hold thy tongue, naughty child ! " answered her mother, 
with an asperity that she had never permitted to herseK be- 
fore. " Do not tease me ; else I shall shut thee into the dark 
closet ! " 





XYI. 



A FOREST WALK. 




lESTER PRYNNE remained constant in her 
resolve to make known to Mr, Dimmesclale, 
at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior 
consequences, the true character of the man 
who had crept into his intimacy. For several 
days, however, she vainly sought an oppor- 
tunity of addressing him in some of the meditative Avalks which 
she knew him to be in the habit of taking, along the shores of 
the peninsula, or on the wooded hills of the neighboring coun- 
try. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to 
the holy whiteness of the clergyman^s good fame, had she 
visited him in his o\^^l study ; where many a penitent, ere now, 
had confessed sins of perhajDS as deep a dye as the one be- 
tokened by the scarlet letter. But, partly that she dreaded the 
secret or undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth, 
and partly that her conscious heart imputed suspicion where 
none could have been felt, and partly that both the minister 
and she would need the whole wide w^orld to breathe in, while 



224 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

they talked together, — for all these reasons, Hester never thought 
of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open 
sky. 

At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither the Eever- 
end Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she 
learnt that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle 
Eliot, among his Indian converts. He w^ould probably return, 
by a certain hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, 
therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl, — who was 
necessarily the companion of all her mother^s expeditions, how- 
ever inconvenient her presence, — and set forth. 

The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the penin- 
sula to the mainland, was no other than a footpath. It straggled 
onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed 
it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, 
and disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, 
to Hester^s mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in 
which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and 
sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, 
however, by a breeze ; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine 
might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path. 
This flitting cheerfulness was always at the farther extremity of 
some long vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight — 
feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the 
day and scene — withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the 
spots where it had danced the drearier, because they liad hoped 
to find them bright. 

" Mother," said little Pearl, " the sunshine does not love you. 
It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something 
on your bosom. Now, see ! There it is, playing, a good way 



A FOREST WALK. 225 

off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but 
a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my 
bosom yet ! " 

" Nor ever will, my child, I hope," said Hester. 

" And why not, mother ? " asked Pearl, stopping short, just 
at the beginning of her race. "Will not it come of its own 
accord, when I am a woman grown ? " 

" Run away, child," answered her mother, " and catch the 
sunshine ! It will soon be gone." 

Pearl set forth, at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled to per- 
ceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the 
midst of it, all brightened by its splendor, and scintillating with 
the vivacity excited by rapid motion. The light lingered about 
the lonely cliikl, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother 
had drawn almost nigh enough to step into the magic circle too. 

" It will go now," said Pearl, shaking her head. 

'^ See ! " answered Hester, smiling. " Now I can stretch out 
my hand, and grasp some of it." 

As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to 
judge from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's 
features, her mother could have fancied that the child had 
absorbed it into herself, and would give it forth again, with a 
gleam about her path, as they should plunge into some gloomier 
shade. There was no other attribute that so much impressed 
her with a sense of new and untransmitted vigor in Pearl's 
nature, as this never-failing vivacity of spirits ; she had not the 
disease of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, 
inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. 
Perhaps this too was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild 
energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows, before 



226 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Pearl^s birth. It was certainly a doubtful cliarm, imparting a 
hard, metallic lustre to the chikVs character. She wanted — 
what some people want throughout life — a grief tliat should 
deeply touch her, and thus humanize and make her capable of 
sympathy. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl. 

" Come, my child ! " said Hester, looking about her from the 
spot where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine. "We will sit 
down a little way within the wood, and rest ourselves.^' 

" I am not aweary, mother," replied the little girl. " But 
you may sit down, if you will tell me a story meanwhile.'''* 

"A story, child!" said Hester. "And about what?''-' 

"0, a story about the Black Man,'" answered Pearl, taking 
hold of her mother^s ^o\\t\, and looking up, half earnestly, half 
mischievously, into her face. "How he haunts this forest, and 
carries a book "with him, — a big, heavy book, wvi\\ iron clasps ; 
and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an iron pen. 
to everybody that meets him here among the trees ; and they 
are to write their names with their own blood. And then he 
sets his mark on their bosoms ! Didst thou ever meet the 
Black Man, mother?" 

"And who told you this story, Pearl?" asked her mother, 
recognizing a common superstition of the period. 

"It Avas the old dame in the chimney-corner, at the house 
where you watched last night," said the child. " But she fancied 
me asleep while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand 
and a thousand people had met him here, and had written in 
his book, and have his mark on them. And that ugly-tempered 
lady, old Mistress Hibbins, was one. And, mother, the old 
dame said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on 
thee, and that it glows like a red flame when thou meetest him 



A FOREST WALK. 227 

at midnight, here in the dark wood. Is it true, mother? And 
dost thou go to meet him in the night-time?'^ 

" Didst thou ever awake, and find thy mother gone ? " asked 
Hester. 

"Not that I remember/' said the child. "If thou fearest to 
leave me in our cottage, thou mightest take me along with thee. 
I would very gladly go ! But, mother, tell me now ! Is there 
such a Black Man ? And didst thou ever meet him ? And is 
this his mark ? " 

" Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee ? " asked 
her mother. 

" Yes, if thou tellest me all," answered Pearl. 

" Once in my life I met the Black Man I " said her mother. 
" This scarlet letter is his mark ! " 

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood 
to secure themselves from the observation of any casual pas- 
senger along the forest track. Here they sat down on a lux- 
uriant heap of moss ; which, at some epoch of the preceding 
century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in 
the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. 
It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a 
leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flow- 
ing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. 
The trees impending over it had flung down great branches, 
from time to time, which choked up the current and compelled 
it to form eddies and black depths at some points ; while, in its 
swifter and livelier passages, there appeared a chamiel-way of 
pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow 
along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected 
light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, 



228 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree- 
trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock covered 
over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and bowlders of 
granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this 
small brook ; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loqua- 
city, it should wdiisper tales out of the heart of the old forest 
whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface 
of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet 
kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like 
the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy wdth- 
out playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad 
acquaintance and events of sombre hue. 

*' brook ! foolish and tiresome little brook ! " cried 
Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk. "Why art thou so 
sad? Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing 
and murmuring ! " 

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the 
forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it 
could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing 
else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the cur- 
rent of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and 
had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. 
But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prat- 
tled airily along her course. 

" What does this sad little brook say, mother ? " inquired she. 

" If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee 
of it,^' answered her mother, " even as it is telling me of mine ! 
But now. Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise of 
one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself 
to play, and leave me to speak with him that comes yonder." 



A rOREST WALK. 229 

"Is it the Black Man?" asked Pearl. 

" Wilt thou go and play, child ? " repeated her mother. 
" But do not stray far into the M^ood. And take heed that 
thou come at my first call." 

" Yes, mother/'' answered Pearl. " But if it be the Black 
Man, wilt thou not let me stay a moment, atid look at him, 
with his big book under his arm ? " 

" Go, silly child ! " said her mother, impatiently. " It is no 
Black Man ! Thou canst see him now, through the trees. It 
is the minister ! " 

" And so it is ! " said the child. " And, mother, he has his 
hand over his heart ! Is it because, when the minister wrote 
his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place ? 
But why does he not wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, 
mother ? " 

" Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt another 
time," cried Hester Prynne. "But do not stray far. Keep 
where thou canst hear the babble of the brook." 

The child went singing away, following up the current of the 
brook, and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with 
its melancholy voice. But the little stream would not be com- 
forted, and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some 
very mournful mystery that had happened — or making a pro- 
phetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen — 
within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who had enough 
of shadow in her own little life, chose to break off all acquaint- 
ance with this repining brook. She set herself, therefore, to 
gathering violets and wood-anemones, and some scarlet colum- 
bines that she found growing in the crevices of a high rock. 

When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made a step 



230 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

or two towards the track that led through the forest, but still 
remained under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the 
minister advancing along the path, entirely alone, and leaning 
on a staff which he had cut by the Avayside. He looked haggard 
and feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air, 
which had never so remarkably characterized him in his walks 
about the settlement, nor in any other situation where he deemed 
himself liable to notice. Here it Avas wofully visible, in this 
intense seclusion of the forest, which of itself would have been 
a heavy trial to the spirits. There Avas a listlessness in his 
gait; as if he saAv no reason for taking one step farther, nor 
felt any desire to do so, but A^'ould have been glad, could he 
be glad of anything, to fling himself doAvn at the root of the 
nearest tree, and lie there passive, forevermore. The leaves might 
bestrew him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little 
hillock over his frame, no matter whether there Avere life in 
it or no. Death Avas too definite an object to be Avishcd for, 
or avoided. 

To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no 
symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, except that, as little 
Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his heart. 





XYII. 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 




'LOWLY as the minister walked, he had almost 
gone hj, before Hester Prynne could gather 
voice enough to attract his observation. At 
length, she succeeded. 

" Arthur Dimmesdale ! " she said, faintly 
at first; then louder, but hoarsely. "Ar- 
thur Dimmesdale ! " 

" Who speaks ? " answered the minister. 

Gathering himself quickly up, he stood more erect, like a man 
taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have 
witnesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the 
voice, he indistinctly beheld a form under the trees, clad in 
garments so sombre, and so little relieved from the gray twilight 
into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened 
the noontide, that he knew not whether it were a woman or a 
shadow. It may be, that his pathway through life was haunted 
thus, by a spectre that had stolen out from among his thoughts. 
He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet lettei?. 



233 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

"Hester! Hester Prynne ! ^' said he, " Is it thou ? Art thou 
in life?^^ 

" Even so ! " she answered. " In such life as has been mine 
these seven years past ! And thou^ Arthur Dimmesdale, dost 
thou yet live ? " 

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's 
actual and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So 
strangely did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the 
first encounter, in the world beyond the grave, of two spirits 
who had been intimately connected in their former life, but now 
stood coldly shuddering, in mutual dread; as not yet familiar 
with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied 
beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken at the other ghost ! 
'They were awe-stricken likewise at themselves; because the crisis 
flung back to them their consciousness, and revealed to each 
heart its history and experience, as life never does, except at 
such breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the 
mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and tremu- 
lously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that 
Arthur Dimmesdale put fortli his hand, chill as deatli, and 
touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as 
it was, took away what was dreariest in the interview. They 
now felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere. 

Without a word more spoken, — neither he nor she assuming 
the guidance, but witli an unexpressed consent, — they glided 
back into the shadow of the woods, whence Hester had emerged, 
and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had 
before been sitting. When they foimd voice to speak, it was, 
at first, only to utter remarks and iucpiiries such as any two 
acquaintance might have made, about the gloomy sky, the threat- 



THE PASTOE AND HIS PARISHIONER. 233 

ening storm, and, next, the health of each. Thus they went 
onward, not boldly, but step by step, into the themes that were 
brooding deepest in their hearts. So long estranged by fate and 
circumstances, they needed something slight and casual to run 
before, and throw open the doors of intercourse, so that their 
real thoughts might be led across the threshold. 

After a while, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne^s. 

" Hester,^^ said he, " hast thou found peace ? " 

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. 

" Hast thou ? " she asked. 

" None ! — nothing but despair ! " he answered. " What else 
could I look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as 
mine ? Were I an atheist, — a man devoid of conscience, — 
a wretch with coarse and brutal instincts, — I might have found 
peace, long ere now. Nay, I never should have lost it ! But, 
as matters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity there 
originally was in me, all of God^s gifts that were the choicest 
have become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am 
most miserable ! " 

" The people reverence thee,'' said Hester. " And surely thou 
workest good among them ! Doth this bring thee no comfort ? " 

" More misery, Hester ! — only the more misery I " answered 
the clergyman, with a bitter smile. " As concerns the good which I 
may appear to do, I have no faith in it. It must needs be a 
delusion. What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the 
redemption of other souls ? — or a polluted soul towards their 
purification ? And as for the people's reverence, would that 
it were turned to scorn and hatred ! Canst thou deem it, 
Hester, a consolation, that I must stand up in my pulpit, and 
meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if the light 



234 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

of heaven were beaming from it ! — must see my flock hungry 
for the truth, and listening to my words as if a tongue of 
Pentecost were speaking ! — and then look inward, and discern 
the black reality of Avhat they idolize? I have laughed, in bit- 
terness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem 
and Avliat I am ! And Satan laughs at it ! " 

''You wrong yourself in this," said Hester, gently. "You 
have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you, 
in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy, in 
very truth, than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no reality 
in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works ? And 
wherefore should it not bring you peace?" 

"No, Hester, no!" replied the clergyman. "There is no 
substance in it ! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for 
me ! Of penance, I have had enough ! Of penitence, there has 
been none ! Else, I should long ago have thrown olF these 
garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind 
as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, 
Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom ! 
]\Iine burns in secret ! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, 
after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye 
that recognizes me for Avhat I am ! Had I one friend, — or 
were it my Avorst enemy ! — to whom, when sickened with the 
praises of all other men, I could daily betake myself, and be 
known as the vilest of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep 
itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me ! 
But, now, it is all falsehood ! — all emptiness ! — all death ! " 

Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to speak. 
Yet, uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he 
did, his words here offered her the very point of circumstances 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 235 

in which to interpose what she came to say. She conquered 
her fears, and spoke. 

" Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for/' said she, 
" with whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner 
of it ! " — Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with 
an effort. — " Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest 
with him, under tlie same roof ! " 

The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and clutch- 
ing at his heart, as if he would have torn it out of his bosom. 

" Ha ! What sayest thou ! " cried he. " An enemy ! And 
under mine own roof! What mean you?'' 

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for 
which she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting 
him to lie for so many years, or, indeed, for a single moment, 
at the mercy of one whose purposes could not be other than 
malevolent. The very contiguity of his enemy, beneath what- 
ever mask the latter might conceal himself, was enough to dis- 
turb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as Arthur 
Dimmesdale. There had been a period when Hester was less 
alive to this consideration; or, perhaps, in the misanthropy of 
her own trouble, she left the minister to bear what she might 
picture to herself as a more tolerable doom. But of late, since 
the night of his vigil, all her sympathies towards him had been 
both softened and invigorated. She now read his heart more 
accurately. She doubted not, that the continual presence of Roger 
Chillingworth, — the secret poison of his malignity, infecting all 
the air about him, — and liis authorized interference, as a physi- 
cian, with tlie minister's physical and spiritual infirmities, — 
tliat these bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel pur- 
pose. By means of them, the sufferer's conscience had been 



236 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

kept ill ail irritated state, the tendency of wliicli was, not to 
cure by wholesome pain, but to disorganize and corrupt his 
spiritual being. Its result, on earth, could hardly fail to be 
insanity, and hereafter, that eternal alienation from the Good 
and True, of which madness is perhaps the earthly tvpe. 

Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man, once, — 
nay, why should we not speak it ? — still so passionately loved ! 
Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's good name, and 
death itself, as she had already told Roger Chillingworth, 
would have been infinitely ])referable to the alternative which 
she had taken upon herself to choose. And now, rather than have 
had this grievous wrong to confess, she would gladly have lain 
down on the forest-leaves, and died there, at Arthur Dimmes- 
dale's feet. 

" Arthur," cried she, " forgive me ! In all things else, 
I have striven to be true ! Truth was the one virtue which I 
might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; 
save when thy good, — thy life, — thy fame, — were put in ques- 
tion ! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never 
good, even though death threaten on the other side ! Dost thou 
not see M-hat I would say ? That old man ! — tlie physician ! — 
he whom they call Roger Chillingworth! — he was my hus- 
band ! " 

The minister looked at her, for an instant, with all that vio- 
lence of passion, which — intermixed, in more shapes than one, 
with his higher, purer, softer qualities — was, in fact, the portion 
of him Avhich the Devil claimed, and through which he soiiglit 
to Avin the rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown 
than Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it lasted, 
it was a dark transfiguration. But his character had been so 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 239 

much enfeebled by suffering, that even its lower energies were 
incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down 
on the ground, and buried his face in his hands. 

" I might have known it," murmured he. " I did know it ! 
Was not the secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart, 
at the first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him since? 
Why did I not understand? O Hester Prynne, thou little, 
little knowest all the horror of this thing ! And the shame ! — 
the indelicacy ! — the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick 
and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it ! 
Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this ! I cannot for- 
give thee ! " 

" Thou shalt forgive me ! " cried Plester, flinging herself on 
the fallen leaves beside him. " Let God punish ! Thou shalt 
forgive ! " 

With sudden and desperate tenderness, she threw her arms 
around him, and pressed his head against her bosom; little 
caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would 
have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would 
not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face. 
All the world had frowned on her, — for seven long years had 
it frowned upon this lonely woman, — and still she bore it all, 
nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, 
had frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown 
of tliis pale, weak, sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what 
Hester could not bear and live ! 

"Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeated, over and over 
again. "Wilt thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?" 

"I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister, at length, 
with a deep utterance, out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. 



240 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

"I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both! We 
are uot, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one 
worse than even the polluted priest ! That old man's revenge has 
been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the 
sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so ! " 

" Never, never ! " whispered she. " What Ave did had a 
consecration of its own. We felt it so ! We said so to each 
other ! Hast thou forgotten it ? " 

" Hush, Hester ! " said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising from the 
ground. " No ; I have not forgotten ! " 

They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand, 
on the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought 
them a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway 
had so long been tending, and darkening ever, as it stole along ; 
— and yet it enclosed a charm that made them linger upon it, 
and claim another, and another, and, after all, another moment. 
The forest was obscure around them, and creaked witli a blast 
that was passing through it. The boughs were tossing heavily 
above their heads ; while one solemn old tree groaned dolefully 
to another, as if telling the sad story of the pair that sat 
beneath, or constrained to forebode evil to come. 

And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest-track 
that led backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must 
take up again the burden of her ignominy, and the minister the 
hollow mockery of his good name ! So they lingered an instant 
longer. No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom 
of this dark forest. Here, seen only by his eyes, the scarlet 
letter need not burn uito the bosom of the fallen woman ! 
Here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God 
and man, might be, for one moment, true ! 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 241 

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him. 

" Hester," cried he, " here is a new horror ! Eoger Chilling- 
worth knows your purpose to reveal his true character. Will 
he continue, then, to keep our secret ? What will now be the 
course of his revenge?" 

"There is a strange secrecy in his nature," replied Hester, 
thoughtfully ; " and it has grown upon him by the hidden prac- 
tices of his revenge. I deem it not likely that he will betray 
the secret. He will doubtless seek other means of satiating his 
dark passion." 

" And I ! — how am I to live longer, breathing the same 
air with this deadly enemy?" exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale, 
shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand nervously against 
his heart, — a gesture that had grown involuntary with him. 

" Think for me, Hester ! Thou art strong. Eesolve for me ! " 

" Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said Hester, 
slowly and firmly. " Thy heart must be no longer under his 
evil eye ! " 

" It were far worse than death ! " replied the minister. " But 
how to avoid it ? What choice remains to me ? Shall I lie 
down again on these withered leaves, where I cast myself when 
thou didst tell me what he was ? Must I sink down there, and 
die at once ? " 

" Alas, what a ruin has befallen thee ! " said Hester, with the 
tears gushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very weak- 
ness ? There is no other cause ! " 

"The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience- 
stricken priest. " It is too mighty for me to struggle with ! " 

" Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, " hadst thou 
but the strength to take advantage of it." 



242 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Be thou strong for ine ! " answered he. " Advise me Avhat 
to do/^ 

" Is tlie world, then, so narrow ? " exclaimed Hester Prynne, 
fixing her deep eyes on the minister's, and instinctively exer- 
cising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued 
that it could hardly hold itself erect. " Doth the universe lie 
within the compass of yonder town, vA'hich only a little time 
ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us ? 
Whither leads yonder forest-track ? Backward to the settlement, 
thou sayest ! Yes ; but onward, too. Deeper it goes, and 
deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step; 
until, some few miles hence, the yelloAv leaves will show no 
vestige of the white man's tread. There thou art free ! So 
brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast 
been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy ! 
Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide 
thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingwortli ? " 

" Yes, Hester ; but only under the fallen leaves ! " replied the 
minister, Avith a sad smile. 

'' Then there is the broad pathway of the sea ! " continued 
Hester. " It brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will 
bear thee back again. In our native land, Avhether in some 
remote rural village or in vast London, — or, surely, in Germany, 
in France, in pleasant Italy, — thou wouldst be beyond his power 
and knowledge ! And what hast thou to do with all these iron 
men, and their opinions ? They have kept thy better part in 
bondage too long already ! " 

" It cannot be ! " answered the minister, listening as if he 
were called upon to realize a dream. " I am powerless to go ! 
Wretched and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 243 

than to drag on my earthly existence in the sphere where Provi- 
dence hath placed me. Lost as my own soul is^ I would still 
do what I may for other human souls ! I dare not quit my 
post, though an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death 
and dishonor, when his dreary watch shall come to an end ! " 

" Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery," 
replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own 
energy. " But thou shalt leave it all behind thee ! It shall not 
cumber thy steps, as thou treadest along the forest-path ; neither 
shalt thou freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the 
sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. 
Meddle no more with it ! Begin all anew ! Hast thou exhausted 
possibility in the failure of this one trial ? Not so ! The future 
is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed ! 
There is good to be done ! Exchange this false life of thine for 
a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, 
the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or, — as is more tliy 
nature, — be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the 
most renowned of the cultivated world. Preach ! Write ! Act ! 
Do anything, save to lie down and die ! Give up this name of 
Arthur Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high one, 
such as thou canst wear without fear or shame. AYhy shouldst 
thou tarry so much as one other day in the torments that have 
so gnawed into thy life ! — that have made thee feeble to will 
and to do ! — that Avill leave thee powerless even to repent ! 
Up, and away ! " 

" O Hester ! " cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fit- 
ful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, 
"thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tot- 
tering beneath him ! I must die here ! There is not the 



244 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



strcngtli or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, 
difficult world, alone ! " 

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken 
spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed 
within his reach. 

He I'epcatcd the word. 

"Alone, Hester!" 

" Thou shalt not go alone ! " answered she, in a deep whisper. 

Then, all was spoken ! 





XVIII. 



A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 




IRTHUR DIMMESDALE gazed into Hester's 
fiice with a look in which hope and joy 
shone out, indeed, but with fear betwixt 
them, and a kind of horror at her boldness, 
Avho had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, 
but dared not speak. 
But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, 
and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, 
from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation 
as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, 
without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as in- 
tricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of 
which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide 
their fate. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, 
in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian 
in his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged 
point of view at human histitutions, and whatever priests or legis- 
lators had established ; criticising all with hardly more reverence 



216 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

tliim the Indian wonld fe?l for the clerical band, the judicial 
robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the churcli. Tlie 
tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The 
scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women 
dared not tread. Shame, Desjjair, Solitude ! These had been 
lier teachers, — stern and wild ones, — and they liad made her 
strong, but taught her much amiss. 

The minister, on the other hand, had never gone through an 
experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally 
received laws; although, in a single instance, he had so fear- 
fully transgressed one of the most sacred of them. But this 
had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose. 
Since that wretched e})och, he had watched, with morbid zeal 
and minuteness, not his acts, — for those it was easy to arrange, 
— but each breath of emotion, and his every thought. At the 
head of the social system, as the clergymen of that day stood, 
he was only the more trammelled by its regulations, its prin- 
ciples, and even its prejudices. As a priest, the framework of 
his order inevitably hemmed him in. As a man Avho had once 
sinned, but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensi- 
tive by the fretting of an unhealed wound, he might have been 
supposed safer within the line of virtue than if he had never 
sinned at all. 

Thus, we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the 
whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other 
than a preparation for this very hour. But Arthur Dimmes- 
dale ! Were such a man once more to fall, what plea could 
be urged in extenuation of his crime? None; unless it avail 
him somewhat, that he was broken down by long and exquisite 
sulfering ; that his mind was darkened and confused by the very 



A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 24-7 

remorse whicli liarrowed it ; tliat, between fleeing as an avowed 
criminal, and remaining as a hypocrite, conscience might find 
it liard to strike the balance; that it was human to avoid the 
peril of death and infamy, and the inscrutable machinations of 
an enemy; that, finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his dreary and 
desert path, faint, sick, miserable, there appeared a glimpse of 
human affection and sympathy, a new life, and a true one, in 
exchange for the heavy (U)om which he was now expiating. And 
be the stern and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt 
has once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal 
state, repaired. It may be watched and guarded ; so that the 
enemy shall not force his way again into the citadel, and might 
even, in his subsequent assaults, select some otlier avenue, in 
preference to that where he had formerly succeeded, But there 
is still the ruined wall, and, near it, the stealthy tread of the 
foe that wou-ld win over again his unforgotten triumph. 

The struggle, if there Avere one, need not be described. Let 
it suffice, tliat the clergyman resolved to flee, and not alone. 

" If, in all these past seven years,^^ thought he, " I could 
recall one instant of peace or hope, I would yet endure, for the 
sake of tiiat earnest of Heaven's mercy. But now, — since I 
am irrevocably doomed, — Avherefore should I not snatch the 
solace allowed to the condemned culprit before his execution? 
Or, if this be the path to a better life, as Hester would per- 
suade me, I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it ! 
Neither can I any longer live Avithout her companionship; so 
powerful is she to sustain, — so tender to soothe ! O Thou to 
whom I dare not lift mine eyes, wilt Thou yet pardon me ! " 

"Thou wilt go!'' said Hester, calmly, as he met her glance. 

The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoyment threw 



us THE SCARLET LETTEll. 

its ilickoring brightness over tlic trouble of his breast. It was 
the exhilarating effect — upon a prisoner just escaped from the 
dungeon of his own heart — of breathing the Avild, free atmos- 
phere of an unredeemed, unchristianized, lawless region. His 
spirit rose, as it were, "with a bound, and attained a nearer pros- 
pect of the slcy, than throughout all the misery which had kept 
him grovelling on the earth. Of a deeply religious tempera- 
ment, there was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in his 
mood. 

"Do I feel joy again?" cried he, wondering at himself. 
" Methought the germ of it was dead in me ! O Hester, thou 
art my better angel! I seem to have flung myself — sick, sin- 
stained, and sorrow -blackened — down upon these forest-leaves, 
and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to 
glorify Him that hath been merciful ! This is already the better 
life ! AVhy did we not find it sooner ? " 

"Let us not look back," answered Hester Prynne. "The 
past is gone ! ^Therefore should we linger upon it now ? See ! 
With this symbol, I undo it all, and make it as it had never 
been!" 

So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, 
and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the 
withered leaves. The mvstic token alighted on the hither venre 
of the stream. "With a hand^s breadth farther flight it would 
have fallen into the water, and have given the little brook 
another woe to carry onward, besides the unintelligible tale which 
it still kept murmuring about. But there lay the embroidered 
letter, glittering like a lost jewel, which some ill-fiited wanderer 
might pick up, and thenceforth be haunted by strange phantoms 
of guilt, sinkings of the heart, and unaccountable misfortune. 



A FLOOD OY SUNSHINE. 



249 



The stigma gone, Hester lieavcd a long, deep sigh, in which 
the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit, O 
exquisite relief! She had not known the weight, until she felt 
the freedom ! J3y another impulse, she took off the formal cap 




that confined her hair; and down it fell upon her shoulders, 
dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, 
and imparting the charm of softness to her features. There 
played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant 
and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of 



250 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

womanhood. A criinsou Hush uas glowing on her check, that 
had been k)ng so pah\ Her sex, her youth, and the whok rich- 
ness of her beauty, came back from wluit men call the irrevocable 
past, and clustered themselves, with her maiden hope, and a 
happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour. 
x'Vnd, as if the gloom of the earth and sky had been but the 
effluence of these two mortal hearts, it vanished Avith their sorrow. 
All at once, as with a sudden smiU^ of lu>aven, forth burst the 
sunshine, pouring a very Wood into the obscure forest, gladdening 
(\K'h green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and 
gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objects 
that had made a shadow hitherto, embodied the brightness now. 
The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry gleam 
afar into the wood's heart of mystery, which had become a mys- 
tery of joy. 

Such was the sympathy of Nature — that wild, heathen Nature 
of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by 
higher truth — with the bliss of these two spirits ! Love, whether 
newlv born, or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always 
create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it 
overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still kept 
its gloom, it would have been bright in Hester's eyes, and 
bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's ! 

Hester looked at him with the thrill of another j(W- 

"Thou must know Pearl!" said she. "Our little Pearl! 
Thou hast seen her, — yes, I know it! — but thou wilt see her 
now with other eyes. She is a strange child ! I hardly comi)r(>- 
hend her I But thou wilt love her dearly, as I do, and wilt 
advise me how to deal with her." 

"Dost thou think the child will be ^lad to know me?" 



A FLOOD OF SUNSJI.INE. 251 

asked the minister, somewliat uneasily. " 1 have long shrunk 
from children, because they often show a distrust, — a back- 
wardness to be familiar with me. I have even been afraid of 
little Pearl!'' 

" Ah, that was sad ! '' answered the mother. " But she will 
love thee dearly, and thou her. She is not far off. I will call 
her ! Pearl ! Pearl ! " 

" I see the child,'' observed the minister. " Yonder she is, 
standing in a streak of sunshine, a good way off, on tlie other 
side of the brook. So thou thinkest the cliild will love me ? " 

Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who was visible, at 
some distance, as the minister had described her, like a bright- 
apparelled vision, in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her 
through an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, mak- 
ing her figure dim or distinct, — now like a real cliild, now like 
a child's spirit, — as the splendor went and came again. She 
heard her mother's voice, and approached slowly through the 
forest. 

Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely, while her 
mother sat talking with the clergyman. The great black forest 
— stern as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and 
troubles of the world into its bosom — became the playmate of 
the lonely infant, as well as it knew how. Sombre as it was, 
it put on the kindest of its moods to welcome her. It offered 
her the partridge-berries, the growth of the preceding autumn, 
but ripening only in the spring, and now red as drops of blood 
upon the withered leaves. These Pearl gathered, and was pleased 
with their wild flavor. The small denizens of the wilderness 
hardly took pains to move out of her path. A partridge, indeed, 
with a brood of ten behind her, ran forward threateningly, but 



252 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

ooou repented of her fierceness, and clucked to her young ones 
Uot to be afraid. A pigeon, alone on a low branch, allowed 
Pearl to come beneath, and uttered a sound as much of greeting 
as alarm. A squirrel, from the lofty depths of his domestic 
tree, chattered either in anger or merriment, — for a squirrel is 
such a choleric and humorous little personage, that it is hard to 
distinguish between his moods, — so he chattered at the child, and 
flung down a nut upon her head. It was a last year's nnt, 
and already gnawed by his sharp tooth. A fox, startled from 
his sleep by her light footstep on the leaves, looked inquisitively 
at Pearl, as doubting whether it were better to steal ofl', or 
renew his nap on the same spot. A wolf, it is said, — but here 
the tale has surely lapsed into the improbable, — came uj), and 
smelt of PearFs robe, and ofiered his savage head to be patted 
by her hand. The truth seems to be, however, that the mother- 
forest, and these wild things which it nourished, all recognized 
a kindred wildness in the human child. 

And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets 
of the settlement, or in her mother's cottage. The flowers 
appeared to know it ; and one and another whispered as she 
passed, '^ Adorn thyself mth me, thou beautiful child, adorn 
thyself Avith me ! '^ — and, to please them, Pearl gathered the 
violets, and anemones, and columbines, and some twigs of the 
freshest green, Avliich the old trees held down before her eyes. 
With these she decorated her hair, and her young waist, and 
became a nymph-child, or an infant dryad, or whatever else was 
in closest sympathy with the antique wood. In such guise had 
Pearl adorned herself, when she heard her mother's voice, and 
came slowly back. 

Slowly; for she saw the clergyman. 




XIX. 



THE CHILD AT THE BBOOK-SIDB. 




4^^^^g^\gH0U wilt love her dearly/' repeated Hester 
Prjnne, as she and the minister sat watch- 
ing little Pearl. '' Dost thou not think her 
beautiful? And see with Avhat natural 
skill she has made those simple flowers 
adorn her ! Had she gathered pearls^ and 
diamonds, and rubies, in the wood, they could not have become 
her better. She is a splendid child ! But I know whose brow 
she has ! " 

'^ Dost thou know, Hester,^' said Arthur Dimmesdale, with 
an unquiet smile, "that this dear child, tripping about always 
at thy side, hath caused me many an alarm? Methought — O 
Hester, what a thought is that, and how terrible to dread it ! — 
that my OAvn features were partly repeated in her face, and so 
strikingly that the world might see them ! But she is mostly 
thine ! " 

" No, no ! Not mostly ! " answered the mother, with a ten- 
der smile. "A little longer, and thou needest not to be afraid 
to trace whose child she is. But how strangely beautiful she 



254 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

loots, with those wild-tlowers in her hair ! It is as if one of 
the fairies, whom we left in our dear old England, had decked 
her out to meet us." 

It was with a feeling which neither of them had ever before 
experienced, that they sat and watched PearPs slow advance. 
In her was visible the tie that united them. She had been 
offered to the world, these seven years past, as the living hiero- 
glyphic, in Avhicli was revealed the secret they so darkly sought 
to hide, — all written in this symbol, — all plainly manifest, — 
had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the char- 
acter of flame ! And Pearl was the oneness of their being. Be 
the foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt that 
their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined, when 
they beheld at once the material union, and the spiritual idea, 
in whom they met, and were to dwell immortally together? 
Thoughts like these — and perhaps other thoughts, which they 
did not acknowledge or define — threw an awe about the child, 
as she came onward. 

" Let her see nothing strange — no passion nor eagerness — 
in thy way of accosting her,^^ whispered Hester. "Our Pearl 
is a fitful and fantastic little elf, sometimes. Especially, she is 
seldom tolerant of emotion, when she does not fully comprehend 
the why and wherefore. But the child hath strong aff'ections ! 
She loves me, and Avill love thee ! " 

"Thou canst not think,'^ said the minister, glancing aside 
at Hester Prynne, "how my heart dreads this interview, and 
yearns for it ! But, in truth, as I already told thee, children 
are not readily won to be familiar with me. They will not 
climb my knee, nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to my smile ; 
but stand apart, and eye me strangely. Even little babes, when 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 255 

I take tliein in my arms^ weep bitterly. Yet Pearl, twice in 
her little lifetime, hath been kind to me ! The first time, — 
thou knowest it well ! The last was when thou ledst her Avith 
thee to the house of yonder stern old Governor.^^ 

" And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and mine ! " 
answered the mother. "I remember it; and so shall little 
Pearl. Pear nothing ! She may be strange and shy at first, 
but will soon learn to love thee ! " 

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the brook, and 
stood on the farther side, gazing silently at Hester and the 
clergyman, who still sat together on the mossy tree-trunk, wait- 
ing to receive her. Just where she had paused, the brook 
chanced to form a pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected 
a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant pictu- 
resqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed 
foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. This 
image, so nearly identical with the living Pearl, seemed to com- 
municate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality 
to the child herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl 
stood, looking so steadfastly at them tlirough the dim medium 
of the forest-gloom ; herself, meanwhile, all glorified with a ray 
of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward as by a certain sym- 
pathy. In the brook beneath stood another child, — another 
and the same, — Avith likewise its ray of golden light. Hester 
felt herself, in some indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged 
from Pearl; as if the child, in her lonely ramble through the 
forest, had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her 
mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to return 
to it. 

There was both truth and error in the impression; the child 



256 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and mollior were estranged, but llirongh ITcster's fault, not 
Peail's, Since the latter rambled from her side, another inmate 
had been admitted within tlie circle of the mother's feelings, 
and so moditied the aspect of them all, that Pearl, the returning 
wanderer, could not find her wonted place, and hardly knew 
"where she was. 

" I have a strange fancy," observed the sensitive minister, 
" that this brook is the boundary between two worlds, and that 
thou canst never meet thy Pearl again. Or is she an elHsh 
spirit, who, as the legends of our childhood taught us, is for- 
bidden to cross a running stream ? Pray hasten her ; for this 
delay has already imparted a tremor to my nerves.'' 

"Come, dearest child ! " said Hester, encouragingly, and stretch- 
ing out both her arms. " How slow thou art ! AYhen hast 
thou been so sluggish before now ? Here is a frieiul of mine, 
who must be thy friend also. Thou wilt have twice as much 
love, henceforward, as thy mother alone could give thee ! Leap 
across the brook, and come to us. Thou canst leap like a 
young deer ! " 

Pearl, witliout responding in any manner to these honey-sweet 
expressions, remained on the other side of the brook. Now she 
fixed her bright, Mild eyes on lier mother, now on the minister, 
and now included tliem both in tlie same glance; as if to detect 
and explain to herself the relation which they bore to one 
another. For some unaccountable reason, as Artliur Dimmes- 
dale felt the child's eyes upon himself, his hand — witli that 
gesture so habitual as to have become involuntary — stole over 
his heart. At length, assuming a singular air of autliority. 
Pearl stretched out her hand, Avith the small forefinger extended, 
and pointing evidently towards her mother's breast. And 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 259 

beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the flower- 
girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing her small fore- 
finger too. 

" Thou strange child, why dost thou not come to me ? " ex- 
claimed Hester. 

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger; and a frown gathered 
on her brow ; the more impressive from the childish, the almost 
baby-like aspect of the features that conveyed it. As her mother 
still kept beckoning to her, and arraying her face in a holiday 
suit of unaccustomed smiles, the child stamped her foot with a 
yet more imperious look and gesture. In the brook, again, was 
the fantastic beauty of the image, with its reflected frown, its 
pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving emphasis to the 
aspect of little Pearl. 

" Hasten, Pearl ; or I shall be angry with thee ! " cried 
Hester Prynne, who, however inured to such behavior on 
the elf-child's part at other seasons, was naturally anxious 
for a more seemly deportment now. " Leap across the 
brook, naughty child, and run hither ! Else I must come to 
thee ! " 

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats, any 
more than mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into 
a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small 
figure into the most extravagant contortions. She accompanied 
this wild outbreak with piercing shrieks, which the woods rever- 
berated on all sides; so that, alone as she was in her childish 
and unreasonable wrath, it seemed as if a hidden multitude were 
lending her their sympathy and encouragement. Seen in the 
brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath of Pearl's image, 
crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, wildly 



2G0 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

gesticulating, and, in the midst of all, still pointing its small 
forefinger at Hester^s bosom ! 

"I see what ails the child," whispered Hester to the clergy- 
man, and turning pale in spite of a strong effort to conceal her 
trouble and annoyance. " Children will not abide any, the 
slightest, change in the accustomed aspect of things that are 
daily before their eyes. Pearl misses something which she has 
always seen me wear ! '' 

"I pray you," answered the minister, "if thou hast any 
means of pacifying the child, do it fortliwith ! Save it were the 
cankered wrath of an old witch, like Mistress Hibbins," added 
he, attempting to smile, " I know ' nothing that I would not 
sooner encounter than this passion in a child. In PearFs young 
beauty, as in the wrinkled Avitch, it has a preternatural effect. 
Pacify her, if thou lovest me ! " 

Hester turned again towards Pearl, with a crimson blusli upon 
her cheek, a conscious glance aside at the clergyman, and then a 
heavy sigh ; Avhile, even before she had time to speak, the blush 
yielded to a deadly pallor. 

" Pearl," said she, sadly, " look down at thy feet ! There ! — 
before thee ! — on the hither side of the brook ! " 

The child turned her eyes to the point indicated ; and there 
lay the scarlet letter, so close upon the margin of the stream, 
that the gold embroidery was reflected in it. 

" Bring it hither ! " said Hester. 

" Come thou and take it up ! " answered Pearl. 

" Was ever such a child ! " observed Hester, aside to the 
minister. " 0, I have much to tell thee about her ! But, in 
very truth, she is right as regards this hateful token. I must 
bear its torture yet a litde longer, — only a few days longer, — 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 261 

until we shall have left this region, and look back hither as 
to a land which we have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide 
it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it 
up forever ! " 

With these words, she advanced to the margin of the brook, 
took up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again into her bosom. 
Hopefully, but a moment ago, as Hester had spoken of drown- 
ing it in the deep sea, there was a sense of inevitable doom 
upon her, as she thus received back this deadly symbol from 
the hand of fate. She had flung it into infinite space ! — she 
had drawn an hour's free breath ! — and here again was the 
scarlet misery, glittering on the old spot ! So it ever is, whether 
thus typified or no, that an evil deed invests itself with the 
character of doom. Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses 
of her hair, and confined them beneath her cap. As if there 
were a withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth 
and richness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine; 
and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her. 

When the dreary change was wrought, she extended her hand 
to Pearl. 

"Dost thou know thy mother now, child?'' asked she, re- 
proachfully, but with a subdued tone. " Wilt thou come across 
the brook, and own thy mother, now that she has her shame 
upon her, — now that she is sad?" 

" Yes ; now I will ! " answered the child, bounding across 
the brook, and clasping Hester in her arms. " Now thou art 
my mother indeed ! And I am thy little Pearl ! " 

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her, she 
drew down her mother's head, and kissed her brow and both 
her cheeks. But then — by a kind of necessity that always im- 



262 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

pelled this child to alloy whatever comfort she might chance to 
give with a throb of anguish — Pearl put up her mouth, and 
kissed the scarlet letter too ! " 

" That was not kind ! " said Hester. " When tliou hast shown 
me a little love, thou mockest me ! " 

"Why doth the minister sit yonder?" asked Pearl. 

"He waits to welcome thee/' replied her mother. "Come 
thou, and entreat his blessing ! He loves thee, my little Pearl, 
and loves thy mother too. Wilt thou not love him ? Come ! 
he longs to greet thee ! " 

" Doth he love us ? •'•' said Pearl, looking up, with acute 
intelligence, into her mother's face. "Will he go back with 
us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?'' 

"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to 
come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a 
home and fireside of our own ; and thou shalt sit upon his 
knee ; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. 
Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?" 

" And will he always keep his hand over his heart ? " in- 
quired Pearl. 

" Foolish child, what a question is that ! " exclaimed her 
mother, " Come and ask his blessing ! " 

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive 
with every petted child towards a dangerous rival, or from what- 
ever caprice of her freakish nature. Pearl would show no favor 
to the clergyman. It was only by an exertion of force that 
her mother brought her up to him, hanging back, and manifest- 
ing her reluctance by odd grimaces ; of which, ever since her 
babyhood, she had possessed a singular variety, and could trans- 
form her mobile physiognomy into a series of different aspects. 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 263 

with a new mischief in them, each and all. The minister — 
painfully embarrassed, but hoping that a kiss might prove a 
talisman to admit him into the child^s kindlier regards — bent 
forward, and impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl 
broke away from her mother, and, running to the brook, stooped 
over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was 
quite washed off, and diffused through a long lapse of the glid- 
ing water. She then remained aj)art, silently watching Hester 
and the clergyman ; while they talked together, and made such 
arrangements as were suggested by their new position, and the 
purposes soon to be fulfilled. 

And now this fateful interview had come to a close. The 
dell was to be left a solitude among its dark, old trees, which, 
with their multitudinous tongues, would whisper long of what 
had passed there, and no mortal be the wiser. And the melan- 
choly brook would add this other tale to the mystery with 
which its little heart was already overburdened, and whereof it 
still kept up a murmuring babble, with not a whit more cheer- 
fulness of tone than for ages heretofore. 





XX. 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 



ftJ^M^^^^^ the minister departed, in advance of Hester 



;t7^^. 



Pryime and little Pearl, he threw a back- 
M^ ward glance; half expecting that he should 
'^W-i discover only some faintly traced features or 
i^; outline of the mother and the child, slowly 
fading into the twilight of the woods. So 
great a vicissitude in his life could not at once be received as 
real. But there was Hester, clad in her gray robe, still standing 
beside the tree-trunk, whicli some blast had overthrown a long 
antiquity ago, and which time had ever since been covering 
with moss, so that these two fated ones, with earth's heaviest 
burden on them, might there sit down together, and find a single 
hour's rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, lightly dancing 
from the margin of the brook, — now that the intrusive third 
person was gone, — and taking her old place by her mother's 
side. So the minister had not fallen asleep and dreamed ! 

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity 
of impression, which vexed it with a strange disquietude, 'he 
recalled and more thoroughly defined tlie plans which Hester 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 265 

and himself had sketched for their departure. It had been deter- 
mined between them^ that the Old Worlds with its crowds and 
cities, offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment than 
the wilds of New England, or all America, with its alternatives 
of an Indian wigwam, or the few settlements of Europeans, 
scattered thinly along the seaboard. Not to speak of the clergy- 
man's health, so inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest 
life, his native gifts, his culture, and his entire development, 
would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and 
refinement; the higher the state, the more delicately adapted 
to it the man. In furtherance of this choice, it so happened 
that a ship lay in the harbor; one of those questionable cruis- 
ers, frequent at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws 
of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irre- 
sponsibility of character. This vessel had recently arrived from 
the Spanish Main, and, within three days' time, would sail for 
Bristol. Hester Prynne — whose vocation, as a self-enlisted 
Sister of Charity, had brought her acquainted with the captain 
and crew — could take upon herself to secure the passage of 
two individuals and a child, with all the secrecy which circum- 
stances rendered more than desirable. 

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little interest, 
the precise time at which the vessel might be expected to 
depart. It would probably be on the fourth day from the pres- 
ent. " That is most fortunate ! " he had then said to himself. 
Now, Avhy the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very 
fortunate, M'e hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless, — to hold noth- 
ing back from the render, — it was because, on the third dny 
from the present, he was to preach the Election Sermon ; and, 
as such an occasion formed an honorable epoch in the life of 



2G6 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

a New England clergyman^ lie could not have chanced upon a 
more suitable mode and time of terminating liis professional 
career. " At least, they shall say of me/'' thought this exem- 
plary man, "that I leave no public duty miperformed, nor ill 
jierformed ! " Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound 
and acute as this poor mhiister's should be so miserably deceived ! 
We have had, and may still have, worse things to tell of him; 
but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak; no evidence, at once 
so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle disease, that had long 
since begun to eat into the real substance of his character. No 
man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, 
and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered 
as to which may be the true. 

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale^s feelings, as he returned 
from his interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical 
energy, and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. Tlie path- 
way among the woods seemed wilder, more uncouth with its 
rude natural obstacles, and less trodden by the foot of man, 
than he remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped 
across the plashy places, thrust himself through the clinging 
underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into the hollow, and 
overcame, in short, all the difficulties of the track, with an 
unweai-iable activity that astonished him. He could not but 
recall how feebW, and with Avhat frequent pauses for breath, he 
had toiled over the same ground, only two days before. As he 
drew near the town, he took an impression of change from the 
series of familiar objects that presented themselves. It seemed 
not yesterday, not one, nor two, but many days, or even years 
ago, since he had cpiitted them. There, indeed, was each former 
trace of the street, as he remembered it, and all the peculiarities 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 267 

of the houses, wath the due multitude of gable-peaks, and a 
weathercock at every point Avhere his memory suggested one. 
Not the less, however, came this importunately obtrusive sense 
of change. The same was true as regarded the acquaintances 
■w4iom he met, and all the well-known shapes of human life, 
about the little town. They looked neither older nor younger 
now ; the beards of the aged were no whiter, nor could the 
creeping babe of yesterday walk on his feet to-day ; it was 
impossible to describe in what respect they differed from the 
individuals on whom he had so recently bestowed a parting 
glance ; and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to inform 
him of their mutability, A similar impression struck him most 
remarkably, as he jmssed under the walls of his own church. 
The edifice had so very strange, and yet so familiar, an aspect, 
that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between two ideas ; either 
that he had seen it only in a dream hitherto, or that he was 
merely dreaming about it now. 

This phenomenon, in the various shapes which it assumed, 
indicated no external change, but so sudden and important a 
change in the spectator of the familiar scene, that the interven- 
ing space of a single day had operated on his consciousness like 
the lapse of years. The minister's own will, and Hester's will, 
and the fate that grew between them, had wrought this . trans- 
formation. It ■ was the same town as heretofore ; but the same 
minister returned not from the forest. He might have said to 
the friends who greeted him, — "I am not the man for whom 
you take me ! I left him yonder in the forest, -snthdrawn into 
a secret dell, by a mossy tree-trunk, and near a melancholy 
brook ! Go, seek your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, 
his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be not 



268 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

flung clown there, like a cast-ofF garment ! " His friends, no 
doubt, would still have insisted with him, — " Thou art thyself 
the man!" — but the error would have been their own, not his. 
Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave 
him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought 
and feeling. In truth, nothing short of a total change of 
dynasty and moral code, in that interior kingdom, was adequate 
to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortu- 
nate and startled minister. At every step he was incited to do 
some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it 
would be at once involuntary and intentional ; in spite of him- 
self, yet growing out of a profounder self than that which 
opposed the impulse. For instance, he met one of his own 
deacons. The good old man addressed him with the paternal 
affection and patriarchal privilege, which his venerable age, his 
upright and holy character, and his station in the Church, 
entitled him to use ; and, conjoined with this, the deep, almost 
worshipping respect, which the minister's professional and private 
claims alike demanded. Never was there a more beautiful 
example of how the majesty of age and wisdom may comport 
with the obeisance and respect enjoined upon it, as from a 
lower social rank, and inferior order of endowment, towards 
a higher. Now, during a conversation of some two or three 
moments between the Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this excel- 
lent and hoary-bearded deacon, it was only by the most careful 
self-control that the former could refrain from uttering certain 
blasphemous suggestions that rose into his mind, respecting the 
communion supper. Pie absolutely trembled and turned pale as 
ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself, in utterance of these 
horrible matters, and plead his own consent for so doing, with- 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 269 

out his having fairlv given it. And^ even with this terror in 
his heart, he could hardly avoid laughing, to imagine how the 
sanctified old patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by 
his minister's impiety ! 

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hurrying along 
the street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest 
female member of his church ; a most pious and exemplary old 
dame ; poor, widowed, lonely, and with a heart as full of 
reminiscences about her dead husband and children, and her 
dead friends of long ago, as a burial-ground is full of storied 
gravestones. Yet all this, which would else have been such 
heavy sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her devout old 
soul, by religious consolations and the truths of Scripture, 
wherewith she had fed herself continually for more than thirty 
years. And, since Mr. Dimmesdale had taken her in charge, 
the good grandam's chief earthly comfort — which, unless it had 
been likewise a heavenly comfort, could have been none at all 
— was to meet her pastor, whether casually, or of set purpose, 
and be refreshed with a word of warm, fragrant, heaven-breath- 
ing Gospel truth, from his beloved lips, into her dulled, but 
rapturously attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the 
moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear, Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, as the great enemy of souls would have it, could recall no 
text of Scripture, nor aught else, except a brief, pithy, and, as 
it then appeared to him, unanswerable argument against the 
immortality of the human soul. The instilment thereof into her 
mind would probably have caused this aged sister to drop doAvn 
dead, at once, as by the eff'ect of an intensely poisonous infusion. 
What he really did whisper, the minister could never afterwards 
recollect. There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder in his utter- 



270 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ance, which failed to impart any distinct idea to the good 
widow^s comprehension, or wliich Providence interpreted after a 
method of its own. Assuredly, as the minister looked back, he 
beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed 
like the shine of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and 
ashy pale. 

Again, a third instance. After parting from the old church- 
member, he met the youngest sister of them all. It was a 
maiden newly Avon — and won by the Keverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale's own sermon, on the Sabbath after his vigil — to barter 
the transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hope, that 
was to assume brighter substance as life grew dark around her, 
and which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She 
was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The 
minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within the 
stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its snowy curtains, 
about his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and 
to love a religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely led 
the poor young girl away from her mother's side, and thrown 
her into the patliway of this sorely tempted, or — shall we not 
rather say ? — this lost and desperate man. As she drew nigh, 
the arch-fiend whispered him to condense into small compass 
and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would be 
sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black fruit betimes. Such 
was his sense of power over this virgin soul, trusting him as 
she did, that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of 
innocence with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite 
with but a word. So — with a mightier struggle than he had 
yet sustained — he held his Geneva cloak before his face, and 
hurried onward, making no sign of recognition, and leaving the 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 271 

young sister to digest his rudeness as she might. She ransacked 
her conscience^ — which was full of harmless little matters, like 
her pocket or her work-bag, — and took herself to task, poor 
thing ! for a thousand imaginary faults ; and went about her 
household duties with swollen eyelids the next morning. 

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this 
last temptation, he was conscious of another impulse, more ludi- 
crous, and almost as horrible. It was, — we blush to tell it, — 
it was to stop short in the road, and teach some very wicked 
words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing 
there, and had but just begun to talk. Denying himself this 
freak, as unworthy of his cloth, he met a drunken seaman, one 
of the ship's crew from the Spanish Main. And, here, since 
he had so valiantly forborne all other wickedness, poor Mr. 
Dimmesdale longed, at least, to shake hands with the tarry 
blackguard, and recreate himself with a few improper jests, such 
as dissolute sailors so abound with, and a volley of good, round, 
solid, satisfactory, and heaven-defying oaths ! It was not so 
much a better principle as partly his natural good taste, and 
still more his buckramed habit of clerical decorum, that carried 
him safely through the latter crisis. 

" What is it that haunts and tempts me thus ? " cried the 
minister to himself, at length, pausing in the street, and strik- 
ing his hand against his forehead. "Am I mad? or am I given 
over utterly to the fiend? Did I make a contract with him 
in the forest, and sign it with my blood? And does he now 
summon me to its fulfilment, by suggesting the performance 
of every wickedness which his most foul imagination can con- 
ceive ? " ■ 

At the moment when the Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus 



272 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

communed with himself, and struck his forehead with his hand, 
old Mistress Hibbins, the reputed witch-lady, is said to have 
been passing by. She made a very grand appearance ; having 
on a high head-dress, a rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up 
with the famous yellow starch, of which Ann Turner, her espe- 
cial friend, had taught her the secret, before this last good lady 
had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder. Whether 
the witch had read the minister's thoughts, or no, she came to 
a full stop, ^looked shrewdly into his face, smiled craftily, and — 
though little given to converse with clergymen — began a con- 
versation. 

" So, reverend Sir, you have made a visit into the forest," 
observed the witch-lady, nodding her high head-dress at him. 
" The next time, I pray you to allow me only a fair warning, 
and I shall be proud to bear you company. Without taking 
overmuch upon myself, my good word will go far towards gain- 
ing any strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder potentate 
you wot of ! " 

" I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with a grave 
obeisance, such as the lady's rank demanded, and his own good- 
breeding made imperative, — "I profess, on my conscience and 
character, that I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport 
of your words ! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate ; 
neither do I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a 
view to gaining the favor of such a personage. My one suffi- 
cient object was to greet that pious friend of mine, the A])ostle 
Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he 
hath won from heathendom ! " 

" Ha, ha, ha ! " cackled the old witch-lady, still nodding her 
high head-dress at the minister. "Well, well, we must needs 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 273 

talk thus in the daytime ! You carry it off like an old hand ! 
But at midnight, and in the forest, we shall have other talk 
together ! " 

She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often turning 
back her head and smihng at him, like one willing to recognize 
a secret intimacy of connection. 

" Have I then sold myself," thought the minister, " to the 
fiend whom, if men say true, this yelloAv-starched and velveted 
old hag has chosen for her prince and master ! " 

The wretched minister ! He had made a bargain very like 
it ! Tempted by a dream of happiness, he had yielded himself, 
with deliberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he 
knew was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin 
had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It 
had stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid life 
the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitterness, unj)ro- 
voked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, ridicule of whatever 
was good and holy, all awoke, to tempt, even while they fright- 
ened him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it 
were a real incident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship 
with wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits. 

He had, by this time, reached his dwelling, on the edge of 
the burial-ground, and, hastening up the stairs, took refuge in 
his study. The minister was glad to have reached this shelter, 
without first betraying himself to the world by any of those 
strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been con- 
tinually impelled Avhile passing through the streets. He entered 
the accustomed room, and looked around him on its books, its 
wandows, its fireplace, and the tapestried comfort of the walls, 
with the same perception of strangeness that had haunted him 



27-i THE SCARLET LETTER. 

throughout his walk from the forest-dell into the town, and 
thitherward. Here he had studied and written; here, gone 
througli fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here, striven 
to pray ; here, borne a hundred thousand agonies ! There was 
the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and the Prophets 
speaking to him, and God's voice through all ! There, on the 
table, with the inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon, 
with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had 
ceased to gush out upon the page, two days before. He knew 
that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who 
had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into 
the Election Sermon ! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye 
this former self with scornful, pitying, but half-envious curiosity. 
That self was gone. Another man had returned out of the forest ; 
a Aviser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the 
simplicity of the former never could have reached. A bitter 
kind of knowledge that ! 

"While occupied with these reflections, a knock came at the 
door of the study, and the minister said, " Come in ! " — not 
wholly devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. 
And so he did ! It was old Eoger Chillingworth that entered. 
The minister stood, Avhite and speechless, with one hand on the 
Hebrew Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast. 

" Welcome home, reverend Sir,'' said the physician. " And how 
found you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, 
dear Sir, you look pale ; as if the travel through the wilderness had 
been too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put 
you in heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon ? " 

"Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Eeverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale. "My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder. 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 275 

and the free air which I have breathed, have done me good, 
after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no 
more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, 
and administered by a friendly hand/' 

All this time, Eoger Chillingworth was looking at the min- 
ister with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards 
his patient. But, in spite of this outward show, the latter was 
almost convinced of the old man's knowledge, or, at least, his 
confident suspicion, with respect to his own interview with Hester 
Prynne. The physician knew then, that, in the minister's regard, 
he was no longer a trusted friend, but his bitterest enemy. So 
much being known, it would appear natural that a part of it 
should be expressed. It is singular, however, how long a time 
often passes before words embody things; and with what security 
two persons, who choose to avoid a certain subject, may approach 
its very verge, and retire without disturbing it. Thus, the 
minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth would 
touch, in express words, upon the real position which they sus- 
tained towards one another. Yet did the physician, in his dark 
way, creep frightfully near the secret. 

"Were it not better," said he, '^that you use my poor skill 
to-night? Verily, dear Sir, we must take pains to make you 
strong and vigorous for this occasion of the Election discourse. 
The people look for great things from you; apprehending that 
another year may come about, and find their pastor gone." 

"Yea, to another Avorld," replied the minister, with pious 
resignation. " Heaven grant it be a better one ; for, in good 
sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flitting 
seasons of another year ! But, touching your medicine, kind 
Sir, in my present frame of body, I need it not." 



276 THE SCAULET LETTER. 

"I joy to hear it/^ answered the physician. "It may be 
that my remedies^ so long administered in vain, begin now to 
take due etfect. Happy man were I, and well deserving of New 
England's gratitude, could I achieve this cure ! " 

" I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend/' said the 
Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale, with a solemn smile. " I thank you, 
and can but requite your good deeds with my prayers." 

*' A good man's prayers are golden recompense ! " rejoined 
old Eoger Chillingworth, as he took his leave. "Yea, they are 
the current gold coin of the New Jerusalem, with the King's 
own mint-mark on them ! " 

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the house, 
and requested food, which, being set before him, he ate with 
ravenous ajipetite. Then, flinging the already Avritten pages of 
the Election Sermon into the fire, he forthwith began another, 
which he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought and 
emotion, that he fancied himself inspired; and only wondered 
that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn 
music of its oracles through so foul an organ-pipe as he. How- 
ever, leaving that mystery to solve itself, or go unsolved forever, 
he drove his task onward, with earnest haste and ecstasy. Thus 
the night fled away, as if it were a winged steed, and he career- 
ing on it; morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the 
curtains ; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the 
study and laid it right across the minister's bedazzled eyes. 
There he was, with the pen still between his fingers, and a vast, 
immeasurable tract of written space behind him ! 




XXI. 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 




*ETIMES in the morning of the day on which 
the new Governor was to receive his office at 
the hands of the people^ Hester Pryune and 
little Pearl came into the market-place. It 
was already thronged with the craftsmen and 
other plebeian inhabitants of the town, in 
considerable numbers ; among whom, likewise, were many rough 
figures, whose attire of deer-skins marked them as belonging to 
some of the forest settlements, which surrounded the little metrop- 
olis of the colony. 

On this pablic holiday, as on all other occasions, for seven 
years past, Hester was clad in a garment of coarse gray cloth. 
Not more by its hue than by some indescribable peculiarity in 
its fashion, it had the effect of making her fade personally out 
of sight and outline ; while, again, the scarlet letter brought 
her back from this twilight indistinctness, and revealed her 
under the moral aspect of its own illumination. Her face, so 
long familiar to the towns-people, showed the marble quietude 
which they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a 



278 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

mask ; or, rather, like the frozen calmness of a dead woman's 
features ; owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester 
was actually dead, in respect to any claim of sympathy, and 
had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to 
mingle. 

It might be, on this one day, that there was an expression 
unseen before, nor, indeed, vivid enough to be detected now ; 
uidess some preternaturally gifted observer should have first read 
the heart, and have afterwards sought a corresponding develop- 
ment in the countenance and mien. Such a spiritual seer might 
have conceived, that, after sustaining the gaze of the multitude 
through seven miserable years as a necessity, a penance, and 
something which it was a stern religion to endure, she now, for 
one last time more, encountered it freely and voluntarily, in 
order to convert what had so long been agony into a kind of 
triumph. "Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!'" 
— the people's victim and life-long bond-slave, as they fancied 
her, might say to them. " Yet a little while, and she will be 
beyond your reach ! A few hours longer, and the deep, mys- 
terious ocean will quench and hide forever the symbol which ye 
have caused to burn upon her bo?om ! " Nor were it an incon- 
sistency too improbable to be assigned to human nature, should 
we suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mind, at the moment 
when she was about to win her freedom from the pain which 
had been thus deeply incorporated with her being. Might there 
not be an irresistible desire to quaff a last, long, breathless 
draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes, with which nearly 
all her years of womanhood had been perpetually flavored? The 
wine of life, henceforth to be presented to her lips, must be 
indeed rich, delicious, and exhilarating, in its chased and golden 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 279 

beaker ; or else leave an inevitable and weary languor, after the 
lees of bitterness wherewith she had been drugged, as with a 
cordial of intensest potency. 

Pearl was decked out with airy gayety. It would have been 
impossible to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed 
its existence to the shape of gloomy gray; or that a fancy, at 
once so gorgeous and so delicate as must have been requisite to 
contrive the child^s apparel, was the same that had achieved a 
task perhaps more difficult, in imparting so distinct a peculiarity 
to Hester^s simple robe. The dress, so proper was it to little 
Pearl, seemed an effluence, or inevitable development and out- 
ward manifestation of her character, no more to be separated 
from her than the many-hued brilliancy from a butterfly's wing, 
or the painted glory from the leaf of a bright flower. As with 
these, so with the child; her garb was all of one idea with her 
nature. On this eventful day, moreover, there was a certain 
singular inquietude and excitement in her mood, resembling 
nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond, that sparkles 
and flashes with the varied throbbings of the breast on which 
it is displayed. Children have always a sympathy in the agita- 
tions of tlio?e connected with them ; always, especially, a sense 
of any trouble or impending revolution, of whatever kind, in 
domestic circumstances ; and therefore Pearl, who was the gem 
on her mother's unquiet bosom, betrayed, by the very dance of 
her spirits, the emotions which none could detect in the marble 
passiveness of Hester's brow. 

This efl^ervescence made her flit with a birdlike movement, 
rather than walk by her mother's side. She brbke continually 
into shouts of a wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. 
When they reached the market-place, she became still more rest- 



280 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

lessj on perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot; 
for it was usually more like the broad and lonesome green 
before a village meeting-house^ than the centre of a town's 
business. 

"Whjj what is this, mother?''^ cried she. "Wherefore have 
all the people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the 
whole world ? See, there is the blacksmith ! He has washed 
his sooty face, and put on his Sabbath-day clothes, and looks 
as if he would gladly be merry, if any kind body would only 
teach him how! And there is Master Brackett, the old jailer, 
nodding and smiling at me. Why does he do so, mother ? " 

" He remembers thee a little babe, my child,"'' answered 
Hester, 

" He should not nod and smile at me, for all that, — the 
black, grim, ugly-eyed old man ! " said Pearl. " He may nod 
at thee, if he will; for thou art clad in gray, and wearest the 
scarlet letter. But see, mother, how many faces of strange 
people, and Indians among them, and sailors ! What have they 
all come to do, here in the market-place?" 

"They wait to see the procession pass," said Hester. "For 
the Governor and the magistrates are to go by, and the minis- 
ters, and all the great people and good people, with the music 
and the soldiers marching before them." 

" And will the minister be there ? " asked Pearl. " And 
will he hold out both his hands to me, as when thou ledst me 
to him from the brook-side ? " 

" He will be there, child," answered her mother. " But he 
will not greet thee to-day; nor must thou greet him." 

" What a strange, sad man is he ! " said the child, as if speak- 
ing partly to herself. "In the dark night-time he calls us to 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 281 

liim, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him 
on the scaffold yonder. And in the deep forest, where only the 
old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with 
thee, sitting on a heap of moss ! And he kisses my forehead, 
too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off ! But 
here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows 
us not ; nor must we know him ! A strange, sad man is he, 
with his hand always over his heart ! " 

" Be quiet. Pearl ! Thou understandest not these things," 
said her mother. "Think not now of the minister, but look 
about thee, and see how cheery is everybody's face to-day. The 
children have come from their schools, and the grown people 
from their workshops and their fields, on purpose to be happy. 
For, to-day, a new man is beginning to rule over them; and 
so — as has been the custom of mankind ever shice a nation 
was first gathered — they make merry and rejoice; as if a good 
and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old 
world ! " 

It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jollity that 
brightened the faces of the people. Into this festal season of 
the year — as it already was, and continued to be during the 
greater part of two centuries — the Puritans compressed what- 
ever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human 
infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, 
for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more 
grave than most other commmiities at a period of general 
affliction. 

But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, which 
undoubtedly characterized the mood and manners of the age. 
The persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been 



282 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

born to an inheritance of Puritanic gloom. They were native 
Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the 
Elizabethan epoch ; a time when the Hie of England, viewed as 
one great mass, would appear to have been as stately, magniii- 
cent, and joyous, as the world has ever Avitnessed. Had they 
followed their hereditary taste, the New England settlers would 
have illustrated all events of public importance by bonfires, ban- 
quets, pageantries, and processions. Nor would it have been 
impracticable, in the observance of majestic ceremonies, to com- 
bine mirthful recreation with solemnity, and give, as it were, 
a grotesque and brilliant embroidery to the great robe of 
state, Avhich a nation, at such festivals, puts on. There Avas 
some shadow of an attempt of this kind in the mode of cele- 
brating the day on which the political year of the colony 
commenced. The dim reflection of a remembered splendor, a 
colorless and manifold diluted repetition of what they had beheld 
in proud old London, — we will not say at a royal coronation, 
but at a Lord Mayor's show, — might be traced in the cus- 
toms which our forefathers instituted, with reference to the 
annual installation of magistrates. The fathers and founders 
of the commonwealth — the statesman, the priest, and the sol- 
dier — deemed it a duty then to assume the outward state and 
majesty, which, in accordance with antique style, Avas looked 
upon as the proper garb of public or social eminence. All came 
forth, to move in procession before the people's eye, and thus 
impart a needed dignity to the simple framework of a govern- 
ment so newly constructed. 

Then, too, the people were countenanced, if not encouraged, 
in relaxing tlie severe and close application to their various 
modes of rugged industry, Avhich, at all other times, seemed of 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 283 

the same piece and material with their religion. Here, it is 
true, were none of the applicances which popular merriment 
M'ould so readily have found in the England of Elizabeth's 
time, or that of James ; — no rude shows of a theatrical kind ; 
no minstrel, with his harp and legendary ballad, nor gleeman, 
with an ape dancing to his music ; no juggler, mth his tricks 
of mimic witchcraft; no Merry Andrew, to stir up the multi- 
tude with jests, perhaps hundreds of years old, but still effective, 
by their appeals to the very broadest sources of mirthful sym- 
pathy. All such professors of the several branches of jocularity 
would have been sternly repressed, not only by the rigid disci- 
pline of law, but by the general sentiment which gives law its 
vitality. Not the less, however, the great, honest face of the 
people smiled, grimly, perhaps, but widely too. Nor were sports 
wanting, such as the colonists had witnessed, and shared in, long 
ago, at the country fairs and on the village-greens of England ; 
and which it was thought well to keep alive on this new soil, 
for the sake of the courage and manliness that were essential 
in them. Wrestling-matches, in the different fashions of Cornwall 
and Devonshire, were seen here and there about the market- 
place; in one corner, there was a friendly bout at quarterstaff; 
and — what attracted most interest of all — on the platform of 
the pillory, already so noted in our pages, two masters of defence 
were commencing an exhibition with the buckler and broadsword. 
But, much to the disappointment of the crowd, this latter busi- 
ness was broken off by the interposition of the town beadle, 
who had no idea of permitting the majesty of the law to be 
violated by such an abuse of one of its consecrated places. 

It may not be too much to affirm, on the whole, (the people 
being then in the first stages of joyless deportment, and the 



284 THE SCAULET LETTER. 

offspring of sires who had known how to be merry, in their 
clay,) that they would compare favorably, in point of holiday 
keeping, with their descendants, even at so long an interval as 
ourselves. Their immediate posterity, the generation next to the 
early emigrants, wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, and so 
darkened the national visage with it, that all the subsequent 
years have not sufficed to clear it up. We have yet to learn 
again the forgotten art of gayety. 

The picture of human life in the market-place, though its 
general tint was the sad gray, brown, or black of the English 
emigrants, was yet enlivened by some diversity of hue. A party 
of Indians — in their savage finery of curiously embroidered 
deer-skin robes, wampum-belts, red and yellow ochre, and 
feathers, and armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed 
spear — stood apart, with countenances of inflexible gravity, 
beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain. Nor, wild 
as were these painted barbarians, were they the wildest feature 
of the scene. This distinction could more justly be claimed by 
some mariners, — a part of the crew of the vessel from the 
Spanish Main, — who had come ashore to see the humors of 
Election Day. They were rough-looking desperadoes, with sun- 
blackened faces, and an immensity of beard ; their wide, short 
trousers AA'ere confined about the waist by belts, often clasped 
Avith a rough plate of gold, and sustaining always a long knife, 
and, in some instances, a sword. From beneath their broad- 
brimmed hats of palm-leaf gleamed eyes which, even in good- 
nature and merriment, had a kind of animal ferocity. Tliey 
transgressed, without fear or scruple, the rules of behavior that 
were binding on all others ; smoking tobacco under the headless 
very nose, although each whiff would have cost a townsman a 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 285 

shilling; and quaffing, at tlieir pleasure_, draughts of wine or 
aqua-vitae from pocket-flasks, which they freelj tendered to the 
gaping crowd around them. It remarkably characterized the 
incomplete morality of the age, rigid as we call it, that a license 
was allowed the seafaring class, not merely for their freaks on 
shore, but for far more desperate deeds on their proper element. 
The sailor of that day would go near to be arraigned as a 
pirate in our own. There could be little doubt, for instance, 
that this very ship's crew, though no unfavorable specimens of 
the nautical brotherhood, had been guilty, as we should phrase 
it, of depredations on the Spanish commerce, such as would 
have perilled all their necks in a modem court of justice. 

But the sea, in those old times, heaved, swelled, and foamed, 
very much at its own will, or subject only to the tempestuous 
wind, with hardly any attempts at regulation by human law. 
The buccaneer on the wave might relinquish his calling, and 
become at once, if he chose, a man of probity and piety on 
land ; nor, even in the full career of his reckless life, was he 
regarded as a personage with whom it was disreputable to traffic, 
or casually associate. Thus, the Puritan elders, in their black 
cloaks, starched bands, and steeple-crowned hats, smiled not 
unbenignantly at the clamor and rude deportment of these jolly 
seafaring men ; and it excited neither surprise nor animadversion, 
when so reputable a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth, the 
physician, was seen to enter the market-place, in close and 
familiar talk with the commander of the questionable vessel. 

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure, so 
far as apparel went, anywhere to be seen among the multitude. 
He wore a profusion of ribbons on his garment, and gold-lace 
on his hat, v/hich was also encircled by a gold chain, and sur- 



286 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

mounted witli a feather. There "svas a sword at liis side, and a 
sword-cut on his forehead, which, by the arrangement of his 
hair, he seemed anxious rather to display than hide. A lands- 
man could hardly have worn this garb and shown this face, and 
worn and shown them both with such a galliard air, without 
undergoing stern question before a magistrate, and probably 
incurring fine or imprisonment, or perhaps an exhibition in the 
stocks. As regarded the shipmaster, however, all was looked 
upon as pertaining to the character, as to a fish his glistening 
scales. 

After parting from the physician, the commander of tlie Bristol 
ship strolled idly througli the market-place; until, happening to 
approach the spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared 
to recognize, and did not hesitate to address her. As was usually 
tlie case wherever Hester stood, a small vacant area — a sort of 
magic circle — had formed itself about her, into which, though 
the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none 
ventured, or felt disposed to intrude. It was a forcible type of 
the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated 
wearer; partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinc- 
tive, though no longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her fellow- 
creatures. Now, if never before, it answered a good purpose, 
by enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together without 
risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne's 
repute before the public, that the matron in town most eminent 
for rigid morality could not have held such intercourse with less 
result of scandal than herself. 

"So, mistress,*' said the mariner, "I must bid the steward 
make ready one more berth than you bargained for ! No fear 
of scurvy or ship-fever, this voyage ! What with the ship's 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 



287 



surgeon and this other doctor, our only danger will be from 
drug or pill; more by token, as there is a lot of apothecary's 
stuff aboard, which I traded for with a Spanish vessel." 

" What mean you ? " inquired Hester, startled more tlian she 
permitted to appear. '' Have you another passenger ? " 

" Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, '' that this j)]iy- 
sician here — Chillingworth, he calls himself — is minded to try 
my cabin-fare with you ? 
Ay, ay, you must have 
kno^vn it; for he tells 
me he is of your party, 
and a close friend to the 
gentleman you spoke of, 
— he that is in peril 
from these sour old Pu- 
ritan rulers ! " 

" They know each 
other well, indeed," re- 
plied Hester, with a 
mien of calmness, though 
in the utmost conster- 
nation. "They have long dwelt together." 

Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. 
But, at that instant, she beheld old Eoger Chillingworth himself, 
standing in the remotest corner of the market-place, and smiling 
on her; a smile which — across the wide and bustling square, 
and through all the talk and laughter, and various thoughts, 
moods, and interests of the crowd — conveyed secret and fearful 
meaning. 





XXII. 



THE PROCESSION. 




^u^jfps^EEOEE Hester Prvnne could call together her 
thoughts, aud consider what was practicable 
to be done in this new and startling aspect 
of afFairS; the sound of military music was 
heard approaching along a contiguous street. 
It denoted the advance of the procession of 
magistrates and citizens^, on its way towards the meeting-house ; 
where, in compliance with a custom thus early established, and 
ever since observed, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver 
an Election Sermon. 

Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with a slow 
and stately march, turning a corner, and making its way across 
the market-place. First came the music. It comprised a variety 
of intruments, perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and 
played with no great skill ; but yet attaining the great object 
for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to 
the multitude, — that of imparting a higher and more heroic air 
to the scene of life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at 
first clapped her hands, but then lost, for an instant, the rest- 



THE PROCESSION. 



289 



less agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence 
throughout the morning; she gazed silently, and seemed to be 
borne upward, like a floating sea-bird, on the long heaves and 
swells of sound. But she was brought back to her former 
mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright 
armor of the military company, which followed after the music, 
and formed the honorary escort of the procession. This body 
of soldiery — which still sustains a corporate existence, and 
marches down from past ages with an ancient and honorable 
fame — was composed of no mercenary materials. Its ranks 




were filled with 
gentlemen, who 
felt the stirrings 
of martial im- 
pulse, and sought 
to establish a 
kind of College of Arms, where, as in an association of Knights 
Templars, they might learn the science, and, so far as peaceful 
exercise Avould teach them, the practices of war. The high 
estimation then placed upon the military character might be 



290 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company. 
Some of them^ indeed, by their services in the Low Countries 
and on other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their 
title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership. The entire 
array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, and with plumage nod- 
ding over their bright morions, had a brilliancy of eflject which 
no modern display can aspire to equal. 

And yet the men of civil eminence, Avho came immediately 
behind the military escort, were better worth a thoughtful 
observer's eye. Even in outward demeanor, they showed a stamp 
of majesty that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgar, 
if not absurd. It was an age when what we call talent had 
far less consideration tlian now, but the massive materials which 
produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more. 
The people possessed, by hereditary right, the quality of rever- 
ence; which, in their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in 
smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force, in the 
selection and estimate of public men. The change may be for 
good or ill, and is partly, perhaps, for both. In that old day, 
the English settler on these rude shores — having left king, 
nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while still the 
faculty and necessity of reverence were strong in him — bestowed 
it on the white hair and venerable brow of age ; on long-tried 
integrity ; on solid wisdom and sad-colored experience ; on 
endowments of that grave and weighty order which gives the 
idea of permanence, and comes under the general definition of 
respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore, — Bradstreet, 
Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their compeers, — who were 
elevated to power by the early choice of the people, seem to 
have been not often briUiant, but distinguished by a ponderous 



THE PROCESSION. 291 

sobriety, rather than activity of intellect. They had fortitude 
and self-reliance, and, in time of difficulty or peril, stood up 
for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a tem- 
pestuous tide. The traits of character here indicated were well 
represented in the square cast of countenance and large physical 
development of the new colonial magistrates. So far as a 
demeanor of natural authority was concerned, the mother country 
need not have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an 
actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers, or made 
the Privy Council of the sovereign. 

Next in order to the magistrates came the young and emi- 
nently distinguished divine, from whose lips the rehgious dis- 
course of the anniversary was expected. His was the profession, 
at that era, in which intellectual ability displayed itself far more 
than in political life; for — leaving a higher motive out of the 
question — it offered inducements powerful enough, in the almost 
worshipping respect of the community, to win the most aspiring 
ambition into its service. Even political power — as in the case 
of Increase Mather — was within the grasp of a successful priest. 

It was the observation of those who beheld him now, that 
never, since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New 
England shore, had he exhibited such energy as was seen in the 
gait and air with which he kept his pace in the procession. 
There was no feebleness of step, as at other times ; his frame 
was not bent; nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. 
Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed 
not of the body. It might be spiritual, and imjjarted to him 
by angelic ministrations. It might be the exhilaration of that 
potent cordial, which is distilled only in the furnace-glow of 
earnest and long-continued thought. Or, perchance, his sensitive 



292 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

temperament was invigorated by the loud and piercing music, 
that swelled heavenward, and uplifted him on its ascending wave. 
Nevertheless^ so abstracted was his look, it might be questioned 
whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard the music. There was his 
body^ moving onward^ and with an unaccustomed force. But 
where was his mind ? Far and deep in its own region, busying 
itself, with preternatural activity, to marshal a procession of 
stately thoughts that were soon to issue thence ; and so he saw 
nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing, of what was around him; 
but the spiritual element took up the feeble frame, and carried 
it along, unconscious of the burden, and converting it to spirit 
like itself. Men of uncommon intellect, who have grown morbid, 
possess this occasional power of mighty effort, into which they 
throw the life of many days, and then are lifeless for as many 
more. 

Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a 
dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she 
knew not ; unless that he seemed so remote from her own 
sphere, and utterly beyond her reach. One glance of recogni- 
tion, she had imagined, must needs pass between them. She 
thought of the dim forest, with its little dell of solitude, and 
love, and anguish, and the mossy tree-trunk, where, sitting hand 
in hand, they had mingled their sad and passionate talk with 
the melancholy murmur of the brook. How deeply had they 
known each other then ! And was this the man ? She hardly 
knew him now ! He, moving proudly past, enveloped, as it 
were, in the rich music, with the procession of majestic and 
venerable fathers ; he, so unattainable in his worldly position, 
and still more so in that far vista of his unsympathizing 
thoughts, through which she now beheld him ! Her spirit sank 



THE PROCESSION. 293 

with the idea that all must have been a delusion, and that, 
vividly as she had dreamed it, there could be no real bond 
betwixt the clergyman and herself. And thus much of woman 
was there in Hester, that she could scarcely forgive him^ — 
least of all now, wdien the heavy footstep of their approaching 
Fate might be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer ! — for behig able 
so completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world; 
while she groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands, 
and found him not. 

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelings, or 
herself felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen 
around the minister. While the procession passed, the child 
was uneasy, fluttering up and down, like a bird on the point 
of taking flight. When the whole had gone by, she looked up 
into Hester's face. 

" Mother," said she, *' was that the same minister that kissed 
me by the brook ? " 

" Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl ! " Avhispered her mother. 
" We must not always talk in the market-place of what hap- 
pens to us in the forest." 

'^I could not be sure that it was he; so strange he looked," 
continued the child. "Else I would have run to him, and bid 
him kiss me now, before all the jjeople ; even as he did yonder 
among the dark old trees. What would the minister have said, 
mother? Would he have clapped his hand over his heart, and 
scowled on me, and bid me be gone ? " 

" What should he say, Pearl," answered Hester, " save that 
it was no time to kiss, and that kisses are not to be given in 
the market-place? Well for thee, foolish child, that thou didst 
not speak to him ! " 



294 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference to Mr. 
Dimmesdale, was expressed by a person whose eccentricities — 
or insanity, as we should term it — led her to do what few of 
the towns-people would have ventured on; to begin a conversa- 
tion with the wearer of the scarlet letter, in public. It was 
Mistress Hibbins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a 
triple ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich velvet, and 
a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see the procession. As 
this ancient lady had the renown (which subsequently cost her 
no less a price than her life) of being a principal actor in all 
the works of necromancy that were continually going forward, 
the crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the touch 
of her garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous 
folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne, — kindly as so 
many now felt towards the latter, — the dread inspired by Mis- 
tress Hibbins was doubled, and caused a general movement 
from that part of the market-place in which the two women 
stood. 

" Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it ! " whis- 
pered the old lady, confidentially, to Hester. " Yonder divine 
man! That saint on earth, as the people uphold him to be, 
and as — I must needs say — he really looks ! Who, now, that 
saw him pass in the procession, would think how little while it 
is since he went forth out of his study, — chewing a Hebrew 
text of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant, — to take an airing 
in the forest ! Aha ! we know what that means, Hester Prynne ! 
But, truly, forsooth, I find it hard to believe him the same 
man. Many a church-member saw I, walking behind the music, 
that has danced in the same measure with me, when Somebody 
was fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland 



THE PROCESSION. 295 

wizard changing hands with us! That is but a trifle, when a 
woman knows the world. But this minister! Couldst thou 
surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man that encoun- 
tered thee on the forest-path?''^ 

"Madam, I know not of what you speak,'' answered Hester 
Prynne, feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind; yet- 
strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which 
she affirmed a personal connection between so many persons (her- 
self among them) and the Evil One. "It is not for me to 
talk lightly of a learned and pious minister of the Word, like 
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale ! " 

" Fie, woman, fie ! " cried the old lady, shaking her finger at 
Hester. " Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many 
times, and have yet no skill to judge who else has been there ? 
Yea; though no leaf of the wild garlands, which they wore 
while they danced, be left in their hair! I know thee, Hester; 
for I behold the token. We may all see it in the sunshine; 
and it glows like a red flame in the dark. Thou wearest it 
openly; so there need be no question about that. But this 
minister ! Let me tell thee, in thine ear ! When the Black 
Man sees one of his own servants, signed and sealed, so shy 
of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he 
hath a way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be dis- 
closed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world! What is 
it that the minister seeks to hide, with his hand always over 
his heart ? Ha, Hester Prynne ! " 

"What is it, good Mistress Hibbins?-" eagerly asked little 
Pearl. " Hast thou seen it ? " 

" No matter, darling ! " responded Mistress Hibbins, making 
Pearl a profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it, one time 



296 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

or another. Tliey say, child, thou art of the lineage of the 
Prince of the Air ! Wilt thou ride with me, some fine night, 
to see thy father? Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister 
keeps his hand over his heart ! " 

Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear her, 
the weird old gentlewoman took her departure. 

By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the 
meeting-house, and the accents of the Reverend Mr. Dirames- 
dale were heard commencing his discourse. An irresistible feel- 
ing kept Hester near the spot. As the sacred edifice was too 
much thronged to admit another auditor, she took up her posi- 
tion close beside the scaffold of the pillory. It was in sufficient 
proximity to bring the whole sermon to her ears, in the shape 
of an indistinct, but varied, murmur and flow of the minister's 
very peculiar voice. 

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment; insomuch 
that a listener, comprehending nothing of the language in which 
the preacher spoke, might still have been swayed to and fro by 
the mere tone and cadence. Like all other music, it breathed 
passion and pathos, and emotions high or tender, in a tongue 
native to the human heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the 
sound was by its passage through the church-walls, Hester 
Prynne listened Avith such intentness, and sympathized so inti- 
mately, that the sermon had throughout a meaning for her, 
entirely apart from its indistinguishable words. These, perhaps, 
if more distinctly heard, might have been only a grosser medium, 
and have clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the low 
undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose itself; then 
ascended with it, as it rose through progressive gradations of 
sweetness and power, until its volume seemed to envelop her 



THE PROCESSION. 297 

with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur. And yet, 
majestic as the voice sometimes became, there was forever in it 
an essential character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expres- 
sion of anguish, — the whisper, or the shriek, as it might be 
conceived, of suffering humanity, that touched a sensibility in 
every bosom ! At times this deep strain of pathos was all that 
could be heard, and scarcely heard, sighing amid a desolate 
silence. But even when the minister's voice grew high and 
commanding, — when it gushed irrepressibly upward, — when it 
assumed its utmost breadth and power, so overfilling the church 
as to burst its way through the sohd walls, and diffuse itself in 
the open air, — still, if tlie auditor listened intently, and for the 
purpose, he could detect the same cry of pain. What was it? 
The complaint of a human heart, sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, 
telling its secret, whether of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart 
of mankind ; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness, — at every 
moment, — in each accent, — and never in vain ! It was this 
profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman his 
most appropriate power. 

During all this time, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot of 
the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept her there, 
there would nevertheless have been an inevitable magnetism in 
that spot, whence she dated the first hour of her life of ignominy. 
There was a sense within her, — too ill-defined to be made a 
thought, but weigliing heavily on her mind, — that her whole 
orb of life, both before and after, was connected with this spot, 
as with the one point that gave it unity. 

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother's side, and 
was playing at her own will about the market-place. She made 
the sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray; 



298 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

even as a bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of 
dusky foliage, by darting to and fro, half seen and half con- 
cealed amid the twilight of the clustering leaves. She had an 
undulating, but, oftentimes, a sharp and irregular movement. It 
indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit, which to-day was 
doubly indefatigable in its tiptoe dance, because it was played 
upon and vibrated Avith her mother^s disquietude. Whenever 
Pearl saw anything to excite her ever-active and wandering 
curiosity, she flew thitherward and, as we might say, seized 
upon tliat man or thing as her own property, so far as she 
desired it ; but without yielding the minutest degree of control 
over her motions in requital. The Puritans looked on, and, if 
they smiled, were none the less inclined to pronounce the child 
a demon offspring, from the indescribable charm of beauty and 
eccentricity that slione through her little figure, and sparkled 
with its activity. She ran and looked the wild Indian in the 
face; and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than his own. 
Thence, with native audacity, but still with a reserve as charac- 
teristic, she flew into the midst of a group of mariners, the 
swarthy-cheeked wild men of the ocean, as the Indians were of 
the land ; and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl, 
as if a flake of the sea-foam had taken the shape of a little 
maid, and were gifted with a soul of the sea-fire, that flashes 
beneath the prow in the night-time. 

One of these seafaring men — the shipmaster, indeed, who had 
spoken to Hester Prynne — was so smitten with Pearl's aspect, 
that he attempted to lay hands upon her, with purpose to snatch 
a kiss. Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a 
humming-bird in the air, he took from his hat the gold chain 
that was twisted about it, and threw it to the child. Pearl 



THE PROCESSION. 299 

immediately twined it around her neck and waist, with such 
happy skill, that, once seen there, it became a part of her, and 
it was difficult to "imagine her without it. 

" Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter,'^ said 
the seaman. " Wilt thou carry her a message from me ? " 

" If the message pleases me, I will," answered Pearl. 

" Then tell her," rejoined he, " that I spake again with the 
black-a-visaged, hump-shouldered old doctor, and he engages to 
bring his friend, the gentleman she wots of, aboard with him. 
So let thy mother take no thought, save for herself and thee. 
Wilt thou tell her this, thou witch-baby ? " 

" Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air ! " 
cried Pearl, with a naughty smile. " If thou callest me that 
ill name, I shall tell him of thee ; and he will chase thy ship 
with a tempest ! " i 

Pursuing a zigzag course across the market-place, the child 
returned to her mother, and communicated what the mariner 
had said. Hester's strong, calm, steadfastly enduring spirit 
almost sank, at last, on beholding this dark and grim counte- 
nance of an inevitable doom, which — at the moment Avhen a 
passage seemed to open for the minister and herself out of 
their labyrinth of misery — shoAved itself, Avitli an unrelenting 
smile, right in the midst of their path. 

With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which 
the shipmaster's intelligence involved her, she was also subjected 
to another trial. There were many people present, from the 
country round about, who had often heard of the scarlet letter, 
and to whom it had been made terrific by a hundred false or 
exaggerated rumors, but who had never beheld it with their 
own bodily eyes. These, after exhausting other modes of amuse- 



300 THE SCAELET LETTER. 

merit, now thronged about Hester Prynne with rude and boorish 
intrusiveuess. Unscrupulous as it Avas, however, it could not 
bring them nearer than a circuit of several yards. At that dis- 
tance they accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force 
of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. The whole 
gang of sailors, likewise, observing the press of spectators, and 
learning the purport of the scarlet letter, came and thrust their 
sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the 
Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white 
man^s curiosity, and, gliding through the crowd, fastened their 
snake-like black eyes on Hester^s bosom; conceiving, perhaps, 
that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must needs 
be a personage of high dignity among her people. Lastly 
the inhabitants of the town (their own interest in this worn- 
out subject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy -with what 
they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter, 
and tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than all the rest, 
with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. 
Hester saw and recognized the selfsame faces of that group 
of matrons, who had awaited her forthcoming from the prison- 
door, seven years ago ; all save one, the youngest and only 
compassionate among them, whose burial-robe she had since 
made. At the final hour, when she was so soon to fling aside 
the burning letter, it liad strangely become the centre of more 
remark and excitement, and was thus made to sear her breast 
more painfully, than at any time since the first day she put 
it on. 

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, where 
the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her 
forever, the admirable preacher was looking down from the 



THE PROCESSION. 



301 



sacred pulpit upon an audience whose very inmost spirits had 
yielded to his control. The sainted minister in the church ! 
The woman of the scarlet letter in the market-place ! What 
imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that 
the same scorching stigma was on them both ! 





XXIII. 



THE REVELATION OP THE SCARLET LETTER. 




jiHE eloquent voice, on wliicli the souls of 
the listening audience had been borne aloft 
as on the swelling waves of the sea, at 
length came to a pause. There was a 
momentary silence, profound as what should 
follow the utterance of oracles. Then en- 
sued a murmur and half-hushed tumult; as if the auditors, 
released from the high spell that had transported them into the 
region of another's mind, were returning into themselves, with 
all their awe and wonder still heavy on them. In a moment 
more, the crowd began to gush forth from the doors of the 
church. Now that there was an end, they needed other breath, 
more fit to support the gross and earthly life into which they 
relapsed, than that atmosphere which the preacher had con- 
verted into words of flame, and had burdened with the rich 
fragrance of his thought. 

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street 
and the market-place absolutely babbled, from side to side, with 



THE REVELATION OE THE SCARLET LETTER. 303 

applauses of the minister. His hearers could not rest until they 
had told one another of what each knew better than he could 
tell or hear. According to their united testimony^ never had 
man spoken in so wise^ so high, and so holy a spirit, as he 
that spake this day; nor had inspiration ever breathed through 
mortal lips more evidently than it did through his. Its influ- 
ence could be seen, as it were, descending upon him, and 
possessing him, and continually lifting him out of the written 
discourse that lay before him, and filling him with ideas that 
must have been as marvellous to himself as to his audience. 
His subject, it appeared, had been the relation between the Deity 
and the communities of mankind, with a special reference to the 
New England which they M^ere here planting in the wilderness. 
And, as he drew towards the close, a spirit as of prophecy 
had come upon him, constraining him to its purpose as mightily 
as the old prophets of Israel were constrained; only with this 
difference, that, whereas the Jewish seers had denounced judg- 
ments and ruin on their country, it was his mission to foretell 
a high and glorious destiny for the newly gathered people of 
the liord. But, throughout it all, and through the whole dis- 
course, there had been a certain deep, sad undertone of pathos, 
which could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural 
regret of one soon to pass away. Yes ; their minister whom 
they so loved — and who so loved them all, that he could not 
depart heavenward without a sigh — had the foreboding of 
untimely death upon him, and would soon leave them in their 
tears ! This idea of his transitory stay on earth gave the last 
emphasis to the efl'ect which the preacher had produced; it was 
as if an angel, in his passage to the skies, had shaken his 
bright wings over the people for an instant, — at once a shadow 



304 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and a splendor, — and had shed down a shower of golden truths 
upon them. 

Thus, there had come to the Eeverend Mr. Dimraesdale — 
as to most men, in their various spheres, though seldom recog- 
nized until they see it far behind them — an epoch of life more 
brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one, or than 
any which could hereafter be. He stood, at this moment, on 
the very proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts 
of intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of 
whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergyman in New England^s ear- 
liest days, when the professional character was of itself a lofty 
pedestal. Such was the position which the minister occupied, 
as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the pulpit, at 
the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester Prynne 
was standing beside the scaffold of the pillory, with the scarlet 
letter still burning on her breast ! 

Now was heard again the clangor of the music, and the 
measured tramp of the military escort, issuing from the church- 
door. The procession was to be marshalled thence to the town- 
hall, where a solemn banquet would complete the ceremonies of 
the day. 

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and majestic 
fathers was seen moving through a broad pathway of the peo- 
ple, who drew back reverently, on either side, as the Governor 
and magistrates, the old and wise men, the holy ministers, and 
all that were eminent and renowned, advanced into the midst 
of them. "When they were fairly in the market-place, their 
presence was greeted by a shout. This — though doubtless it 
might acquire additional force and volume from the childlike 
loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers — was felt to be an 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCAELET LETTER. 305 

irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by 
that high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating in their 
ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and, in the same breath, 
caught it from his neighbor. Within the church, it had hardly 
been kept down; beneath the sky, it pealed upward to the 
zenith. There were human beings enough, and enough of 
highly wrought and symphonious feeling, to produce that more 
impressive sound than the organ tones of the blast, or the 
thunder, or the roar of the sea; even that mighty swell of 
many voices, blended into one great voice by the universal 
impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many. 
Never, from the soil of New England, had gone up such a 
shout ! Never, on New England soil, had stood the man so 
honored by his mortal brethren as the preacher! 

How fared it with him then ? Were there not the brilliant 
particles of a halo in the air about his head ? So etherealized by 
spirit as he was, and so apotheosized by worshipping admirers, 
did his footsteps, in the procession, really tread upon the dust 
of earth ? 

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, 
all eyes were turned towards the point where the minister was 
seen to approach among them. The shout died into a murmur, 
as one portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse 
of him. How feeble and pale he looked, amid all his triumph! 
The energy — or say, rather, the inspiration which had held 
him up, until he should have delivered the sacred message that 
brought its own strength along with it from heaven — was 
withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully performed its office. 
The glow, which they had just before beheld burning on his 
cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that sinks down hope- 



306 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

lessly among the late-decaying embers. It seemed hardly the 
face of a man alive^ with such a deathlike hue ; it was hardly 
a man with life in him^ that tottered on his path so nervelessly, 
yet tottered, and did not fall ! 

One of his clerical brethren, — it was the venerable John 
Wilson, ^ observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was 
left by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibility, stepped 
forward hastily to offer his support. The minister tremulously, 
but decidedly, rej^elled the old man^s arm. He still walked 
onward, if that movement could be so described, which rather 
resembled the wavering effort of an infant, with its mother's 
arms in view, outstretched to tempt him forward. And now, 
almost imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress, 
he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather-darkened 
scaffold, where, long since, with all that dreary lapse of time 
between, Hester Prynne had encountered the world's ignominious 
stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand ! 
And there was the scarlet letter on her breast ! The minister 
here made a pause; although the music still played the stately 
and rejoicing march to which the procession moved. It sum- 
moned him onward, — onward to the festival ! — but here he 
made a pause. 

Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an anxious 
eye upon him. He now left his own place in the procession, 
and advanced to give assistance ; judging, from Mr. Dimmes- 
dale's aspect, that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But there 
was something in the latter's expression that warned back the 
magistrate, although a man not readily obeying the vague inti- 
mations that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd, mean- 
while, looked on with awe and wonder. This earthly faintness 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 307 

was, in their view, only another phase of the minister's celestial 
strength; nor would it have seemed a miracle too high to be 
wrought for one so holy, had he ascended before their eyes, 
waxing dimmer and brighter, and fading at last into the light 
of heaven. 

He turned towards the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms. 

" Hester,'' said he, " come hither ! Come, my little Pearl ! " 

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them ; but 
there was something at once tender and strangely triumphant in 
it. The child, with the bird-like motion which was one of her 
characteristics, flew to him, and clasped her arms about his 
knees. Hester Prynne — slowly, as if impelled by inevitable 
fate, and against her strongest will — likewise drew near, but 
paused before she reached him. At this instant, old Roger 
Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd, — or, perhaps, 
so dark, disturbed, and evil, was his look, he rose up out of 
some nether region, — to snatch back his victim from what he 
sought to do ! Be that as it might, the old man rushed for- 
ward, and caught the minister by the arm. 

" Madman, hold ! what is your purpose ? " whispered he. 
" Wave back that woman ! Cast off this child ! All shall be 
well ! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonor ! I 
can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred 
profession ? ^' 

" Ha, tempter ! Methinks thou art too late ! '* answered the 
minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. " Thy 
power is not what it was ! With God's help, I shall escape 
thee now ! " 

He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter. 

" Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnestness, " in 



308 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me 
grace, at this last moment, to do what — for my own heavy 
sin and miserable agony — I withheld myself from doing seven 
years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me ! 
Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which 
God hath granted me ! This wretched and wronged old man is 
opposing it with all his might ! — with all his own might, and the 
fiend^s ! Come, Hester, come ! Support me up yonder scaffold ! " 

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignity, 
who stood more immediately around the clergyman, were so 
taken by surprise, and so perplexed as to the purport of what 
they saw, — unable to receive the explanation which most readily 
presented itself, or to imagine any other, — that they remained 
silent and inactive spectators of the judgment which Providence 
seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, leaning on 
Hester^s shoulder, and supported by her arm around him, 
approach the scaflbld, and ascend its steps ; while still the little 
hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Eoger 
Chillingworth followed, as one intimately connected with the 
drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors, 
and well entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing scene. 

"Hadst thou sought the whole earth over," said he, looking 
darkly at the clergyman, " there was no one place so secret, — 
no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped 
me, — save on this very scaffold ! " 

" Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither ! " answered the 
minister. 

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester with an expression of 
doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, 
that there was a feeble smile upon his lips. 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 309 

"Is not this better/^ murmured he, "than what we dreamed 
of in the forest '^" 

" I know not ! I know not ! " she hurriedly replied. " Bet- 
ter ? Yea ; so we may both die, and little Pearl die with us ! " 

"Por thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order/' said the 
minister ; " and God is merciful ! Let me now do the will 
which he hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a 
dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me ! " 

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of 
little PearFs, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dig- 
nified and venerable rulers ; to the holy ministers, who were his 
brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly 
appalled, yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that 
some deep life-matter — which, if full of sin, was full of anguish 
and repentance likewise — was now to be laid open to them. 
The sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergy- 
man, and gave a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from 
all the earth, to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal 
Justice. 

" People of New England ! " cried he, with a voice that rose 
over them, high, solemn, and majestic, — yet had always a tremor 
through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a 
fathomless depth of remorse and woe, — " ye, that have loved 
me! — ye, that have deemed me holy! — behold me here, the 
one sinner of the world ! At last ! — at last ! — I stand upon the 
spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with 
this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength where- 
with I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful 
moment, from grovelling down upon my face I Lo, the scarlet 
letter which Hester wears ! Ye have all shuddered at it ! Wher- 



310 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ever her walk hath been, — wherever, so miserably burdened, she 
may have hoped to find repose, — it hath cast a lurid gleam of 
awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood 
one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye 
have not shuddered ! " 

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the 
remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the 
bodily weakness, — and, still more, the faintness of heart, — that 
was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all assist- 
ance, and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman 
and the child. 

" It was on him ! " he continued, with a kind of fierceness ; 
so determined was he to speak out the whole. "God's eye 
beheld it ! The angels were forever pointing at it ! The Devil 
knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his 
burning finger! But he hid it cmmingly from men, and walked 
among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure 
in a sinful world ! — and sad, because he missed his heavenly 
kindred ! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you ! 
He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter ! He tells 
you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow 
of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own 
red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his 
inmost heart ! Stand any here that question God's judgment on 
a sinner ? Behold ! Behold a dreadful witness of it ! " 

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band 
from before his breast. It was revealed ! But it were irrev- 
erent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of 
the horror-stricken multitude was concentred on the ghastly mir- 
acle; while the minister stood, "with a flush of triumph in his 



THE REVELATION OP THE SCARLET LETTER. 313 

face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. 
Then, down he sank upon the scaffold ! Hester partly raised 
him, and supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger 
Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull counte- 
nance, out of which the life seemed to have dejjarted. 

" Thou hast escaped me ! " he repeated more than once. 
" Thou hast escaped me ! " 

" May God forgive thee ! " said the minister. " Thou, too, 
hast deeply sinned ! " 

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed 
them on the woman and the child. 

" My little VqqxX," said he, feebly, — and there was a sweet 
and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep 
repose ; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed 
almost as if he would be sportive with the child, — "dear little 
Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in 
the forest ! But now thou wilt ? " 

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene 
of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all 
her sympathies ; and as her tears fell upon her father^s cheek, 
they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human 
joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be 
a womrn in it. Towards her mother, too, PearFs errand as a 
messenger of anguish was all fulfilled. 

" Hester," said the clergyman, " farewell ! " 

" Shall we not meet again ? " whispered she, bending her face 
down close to his. " Shall we not spend our immortal life 
together? Surely, surelj^, we have ransomed one another, with 
all this woe ! Thou lookest far into eternity, with those bright 
dying eyes ! Then tell me what thou seest ? " 



314 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



" Hush, Hester, hush ! " said he, with tremulous solemnity. 
" The law we broke ! — the sin here so awfully revealed ! — let 
these alone be in thy thoughts ! I fear ! I fear ! It may be, 
that, when we forgot our God, — when we violated our rever- 
ence each for the other's soul, — it was thenceforth vain to 
hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure 
reunion. God knows ; and He is merciful ! He hath proved 
his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this 
burning torture to bear upon my breast ! By sending yonder 
dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red- 
heat ! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant 
ignominy before the people ! Had either of these agonies been 
wanting, I had been lost forever ! Praised be his name ! His 
will be done ! Farewell ! " 

That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath. 
The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice 
of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save 
in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit. 





XXIV. 



CONCLUSION. 




[FTER many days, when time sufficed for the 
people to arrange their thoughts in refer- 
ence to the foregoing scene, there was more 
than one account of what had been wit- 
nessed on the scaffold. 

Most of the spectators testified to having 
seen, on the breast of the unhappy minister, a scarlet letter 
— the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne — imprinted 
in the flesh. As regarded its origin, there were various expla- 
nations, all of which must necessarily have been conjectural. 
Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, on the very 
day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, 
had begun a course of penance, — which he afterwards, in 
so many futile methods, followed oat, — by inflicting a hideous 
torture on himself. Others contended that the stigma had 
not been produced until a long time subsequent, when old 
Roger Chillingworth, being a potent necromancer, had caused it 
to appear, through the agency of magic and poisonous drugs. 



316 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Others, again, — and those best able to appreciate the minister's 
peculiar sensibility, and the M'onderful operation of his spirit 
upon the body, — whispered their belief, that the awful symbol 
was the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse, gnawing from 
the inmost heart outwardly, and at last manifesting Heaven's 
dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter. The 
reader may choose among these theories. We have thrown all 
the light we could acquire upon the portent, and would gladly, 
now that it has done its office, erase its deep print out of our 
own brain; where long meditation has fixed it in very undesir- 
able distinctness. 

It is singular, nevertheless, that certain persons, who were 
spectators of the whole scene, and professed never once to have 
removed their eyes from the Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied 
that there was any mark whatever on his breast, more than on 
a new-born infant's. Neither, by their report, had his dying 
words acknowledged, nor even remotely implied, any, the slight- 
est connection, on his part, with the guilt for which Hester 
Prynne had so long worn the scarlet letter. According to these 
highly respectable witnesses, the minister, conscious that he was 
dying, — conscious, also, that the reverence of the multitude 
placed him already among saints and angels, — had desired, 
by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman, to 
express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of 
man's own righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts 
for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his 
death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty 
and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we 
are sinners all alike. It was to teach them, that the holiest 
among us has but attained so far above his feUows as to dis- 



CONCLUSION. 317 

cern more clearly the Mercy which looks down, and repudiate 
more utterly the phantom of human merit, which would look 
aspiringly upward. Without disputing a truth so momentous, 
we must be allowed to consider this version of Mr. Dimmes- 
dale^s story as only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with 
which a man^s friends — and especially a clergyman^s — will some- 
times uphold his character, when proofs, clear as the mid-day 
sunshine on the scarlet letter, establish him a false and sin- 
stained creature of the dust. 

The authority which we have chiefly followed, — a manuscript 
of old date, drawn up from the verbal testimony of individuals, 
some of whom had known Hester Prynne, while others had 
heard the tale from contemporary witnesses, — fully confirms the 
view taken in the foregoing pages. Among many morals which 
press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we 
put only this into a sentence : — " Be true ! Be true ! Be true ! 
Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait 
whereby the worst may be inferred ! " 

Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took 
place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's death, in the 
appearance and demeanor of the old man known as Roger Chil- 
lingworth. All his strength and energy — all his vital and 
intellectual force — seemed at once to desert him ; insomuch 
that he positively withered up, shrivelled away, and almost 
vanished from mortal siglit, like an uprooted weed that lies 
wilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made the very 
principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic 
exercise of revenge ; and when, by its completest triumph and 
consummation, that evil principle was left with no further material 
to support it, when, in short, there was no more DeviFs work 



318 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

on earth for him to do^ it only remained for the unhumanized 
mortal to betake himself whither his Master would find him 
tasks enough^ and pay him his wages duly. But^ to all these 
shadowy bemgs, so long our near acquaintances, — as well Roger 
Chillingworth as his companions, — we would fain be merci- 
ful. It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether 
hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in 
its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy 
and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent 
for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; 
each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate 
hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject. 
Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem 
essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a 
celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow. 
In the spiritual world, the old physician and the minister — 
mutual victims as they have been — may, unawares, have found 
their earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden 
love. 

Leaving this discussion apart, we have a matter of business 
to communicate to the reader. At old Roger Chillingworth^s 
decease, (which took place within the year,) and by his last 
wiU and testament, of which Governor Bellingham and the 
Reverend Mr. Wilson were executors, he bequeathed a very 
considerable amount of property, both here and in England, 
to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. 

So Pearl — the elf-child, — the demon offspring, as some 
people, up to that epoch, persisted in considering her, — became 
the richest heiress of her day, in the New World, Not improb- 
ably, this circumstance Avrought a very material change in the 



CONCLUSION. 319 

public estimation ; and, had the mother and child remained 
here, little Pearl, at a marriageable period of life, might have 
mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan 
among them all. But, in no long time after the physician's 
death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl 
along with her. For many years, though a vague report would 
now and then find its way across the sea, — hke a shapeless 
piece of drift-wood tost ashore, with the initials of a name upon 
it, — yet no tidings of them unquestionably authentic were 
received. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend. 
Its spell, however, was still potent, and kept the scaffold awful 
Avhere the poor mmister had died, and likewise the cottage by 
the sea-shore, where Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter 
spot, one afternoon, some children were at play, when they 
beheld a tall woman, in a gray robe, approach the cottage- 
door. In all those years it had never once been opened ; but 
either she unlocked it, or the decaying wood and iron yielded 
to her hand, or she glided shadow-like through these impedi- 
ments, — and, at all events, went in. 

On the threshold she paused, — tnrned partly round, ■ — for, 
perchance, the idea of entering all alone, and all so changed, 
the home of so intense a former life, was more dreary and deso- 
late than even she could bear. But her hesitation was only for 
an instant, though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her 
breast. 

And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long- 
forsaken shame ! But where was little Pearl ? If still alive, she 
must now have been in the flush and bloom of early woman- 
hood. None knew — nor ever learned, with the fulness of per- 
fect certainty — whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely to 



320 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



a maiden grave ; or whether her wild, rich nature had been 
softened and subdued, and made capable of a woman^s gentle 
happiness. But, through the remainder of Hester^s life, there 
were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was the 



.iJii|Jyr:!J;:i'iliii:ii!;5|i;l!lll!!l'i!;Si 




object of love and interest with some inhabitant of another land. 
Letters came, with armorial seals upon them, though of bearings 
unknown to English heraldry. In the cottage there were articles 
of comfort and luxury such as Hester never cared to use, but 
which only wealth could have purchased, and affection have 



CONCLUSION. 321 

imagined for her. There were trifles, too, little ornaments, 
beautiful tokens of a continual remembrance, that must have 
been wrought by delicate fingers, at the impulse of a fond heart. 
And, once, Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment, with 
such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have raised a 
public tumult, had any infant, thus apparelled, been shown to 
our sober-hued community. 

In fine, the gossips of that day believed, — and Mr. Sur- 
veyor Pue, who made investigations a century later, believed, 
— and one of his recent successors in office, moreover, faith- 
fully believes, — that Pearl was not only alive, but married, and 
happy, and mindful of her mother, and that she would most 
joyfully have entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fire- 
side. 

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in 
New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had 
found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and 
here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, 
and resumed, — of her own free will, for not the sternest magis- 
trate of that iron period would have imposed it, — resumed the 
symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never after- 
wards did it quit her bosom. But, in the lapse of the toilsome, 
thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester^s life, 
the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the 
world^s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something 
to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with rever- 
ence too. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived 
in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought 
all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as 
one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble. Women, 



322 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

more especially, — in the continually recurring trials of wounded, 
wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion, — or 
with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued 
and unsought, — came to Hester^s cottage, demanding why they 
were so wretched, and what the remedy ! Hester comforted and 
counselled them as best she might. She assured them, too, of 
her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world 
should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new 
truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation 
between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happi- 
ness. Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she 
herself might be the destined prophetess, but had long since 
recognized the impossibility that any mission of divine and 
mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with 
sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a life- 
long sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming reve- 
lation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beau- 
tiful; and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the 
ethereal medium of joy ; and showing how sacred love should 
make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such 
an end ! 

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes downward 
at the scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new 
grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial- 
ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It 
was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, 
as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet 
one tombstone served for both. All around, there were monu- 
ments carved Avith armorial bearings; and on this simple slab 
of slate — as the curious investigator may still discern, and 



CONCLUSION 



323 



perplex himself with the purport — there appeared the semblance 
of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald^s word- 
ing of which might serve for a motto and brief description of 
our now concluded legend; so sombre is it, and relieved only 
by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow : — 

" On a field,, sable, the letter A, gules." 




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