The Scarlet Letter
a cura di
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Boston: Ticknor and Fields1850
To the Second Edition
Much to the author's surpriseand (if he may say so without additionaloffence) considerably to his amusement
he finds that his sketch of official lifeintroductory to The Scarlet Letterhas created an unprecedented excitement in
the respectable community immediately around him. It could hardly have beenmore violentindeedhad he burned
down the Custom-Houseand quenched its last smoking ember in the blood of acertain venerable personageagainst
whom he is supposed to cherish a peculiar malevolence. As the publicdisapprobation would weigh very heavily on
himwere he conscious of deserving itthe author begs leave to saythat hehas carefully read over the introductory
pageswith a purpose to alter or expunge whatever might be found amissandto make the best reparation in his power
for the atrocities of which he has been adjudged guilty. But it appears tohimthat the only remarkable features of the
sketch are its frank and genuine good-humorand the general accuracy withwhich he has conveyed his sincere
impressions of the characters therein described. As to enmityor ill-feelingof any kindpersonal or politicalhe utterly
disclaims such motives. The sketch mightperhapshave been wholly omittedwithout loss to the publicor detriment
to the book; buthaving undertaken to write ithe conceives that it couldnot have been done in a better or a kindlier
spiritnorso far as his abilities availedwith a livelier effect of truth.
The author is constrainedthereforeto republish his introductory sketchwithout the change of a word.
It is a little remarkablethat--though disinclined to talk overmuch ofmyself and my affairs at the firesideand to
my personal friends--an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life havetaken possession of mein addressing
the public. The first time was three or four years sincewhen I favored thereader--inexcusablyand for no earthly
reasonthat either the indulgent reader or the intrusive author couldimagine--with a description of my way of life in the
deep quietude of an Old Manse. And now--becausebeyond my desertsI washappy enough to find a listener or two on
the former occasion--I again seize the public by the buttonand talk of mythree years' experience in a Custom-House.
The example of the famous "P. P.Clerk of this Parish" was nevermore faithfully followed. The truth seems to be
howeverthatwhen he casts his leaves forth upon the windthe authoraddressesnot the many who will fling aside his
volumeor never take it upbut the few who will understand himbetter thanmost of his schoolmates or lifemates.
Some authorsindeeddo far more than thisand indulge themselves in suchconfidential depths of revelation as could
fittingly be addressedonly and exclusivelyto the one heart and mind ofperfect sympathy; as if the printed book
thrown at large on the wide worldwere certain to find out the dividedsegment of the writer's own natureand complete
his circle of existence by bringing him into communion with it. It isscarcely decoroushoweverto speak alleven
where we speak impersonally. But--as thoughts are frozen and utterancebenumbedunless the speaker stand in some
true relation with his audience--it may be pardonable to imagine that afrienda kind and apprehensivethough not the
closest friendis listening to our talk; and thena native reserve beingthawed by this genial consciousnesswe may
prate of the circumstances that lie around usand even of ourselfbut stillkeep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this
extent and within these limitsan authormethinksmay be autobiographicalwithout violating either the reader's rights
or his own.
It will be seenlikewisethat this Custom-House sketch has a certainproprietyof a kind always recognized in
literatureas explaining how a large portion of the following pages cameinto my possessionand as offering proofs of
the authenticity of a narrative therein contained. Thisin fact--a desireto put myself in my true position as editoror
very little moreof the most prolix among the tales that make up my volume--thisand no otheris my true reason for
assuming a personal relation with the public. In accomplishing the mainpurposeit has appeared allowableby a few
extra touchesto give a faint representation of a mode of life notheretofore describedtogether with some of the
characters that move in itamong whom the author happened to make one.
In my native town of Salemat the head of whathalf a century agoin thedays of old King Derbywas a
bustling wharf--but which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehousesand exhibits few or no symptoms of
commercial life; exceptperhapsa bark or brighalf-way down itsmelancholy lengthdischarging hides; ornearer at
handa Nova Scotia schoonerpitching out her cargo of firewood--at theheadI sayof this dilapidated wharfwhich
the tide often overflowsand along whichat the base and in the rear of therow of buildingsthe track of many languid
years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass--herewith a view from itsfront windows adown this not very enlivening.3
prospectand thence across the harbourstands a spacious edifice of brick.From the loftiest point of its roofduring
precisely three and a half hours of each forenoonfloats or droopsinbreeze or calmthe banner of the republic; but
with the thirteen stripes turned verticallyinstead of horizontallyandthus indicating that a civiland not a military post
of Uncle Sam's governmentis here established. Its front is ornamented witha portico of half a dozen wooden pillars
supporting a balconybeneath which a flight of wide granite steps descendstowards the street. Over the entrance hovers
an enormous specimen of the American eaglewith outspread wingsa shieldbefore her breastandif I recollect aright
a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With thecustomary infirmity of temper that
characterizes this unhappy fowlshe appearsby the fierceness of her beakand eye and the general truculency of her
attitudeto threaten mischief to the inoffensive community; and especiallyto warn all citizenscareful of their safety
against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings.Neverthelessvixenly as she looksmany
people are seekingat this very momentto shelter themselves under the wingof the federal eagle; imaginingI
presumethat her bosom has all the softness and snugness of an eider-downpillow. But she has no great tenderness
even in her best of moodsandsooner or later--oftener soon than late--isapt to fling off her nestlings with a scratch of
her clawa dab of her beakor a rankling wound from her barbed arrows.
The pavement round about the above-described edifice--which we may as wellname at once as the Custom-House
of the port--has grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has notof late daysbeen worn by any
multitudinous resort of business. In some months of the yearhoweverthereoften chances a forenoon when affairs
move onward with a livelier tread. Such occasions might remind the elderlycitizen of that periodbefore the last war
with Englandwhen Salem was a port by itself; not scornedas she is nowbyher own merchants and ship-ownerswho
permit her wharves to crumble to ruinwhile their ventures go to swellneedlessly and imperceptiblythe mighty flood
of commerce at New York or Boston. On some such morningwhen three or fourvessels happen to have arrived at
once--usually from Africa or South America--or to be on the verge of theirdeparture thitherwardthere is a sound of
frequent feetpassing briskly up and down the granite steps. Herebeforehis own wife has greeted himyou may greet
the sea-flushed ship-masterjust in portwith his vessel's papers under hisarm in a tarnished tin box. Heretoocomes
his ownercheerful or sombregracious or in the sulksaccordingly as hisscheme of the now accomplished voyage has
been realized in merchandise that will readily be turned to goldor hasburied him under a bulk of incommoditiessuch
as nobody will care to rid him of. Herelikewise--the germ of thewrinkle-browedgrizzly-beardedcareworn
merchant--we have the smart young clerkwho gets the taste of traffic as awolf-cub does of bloodand already sends
adventures in his master's shipswhen he had better be sailing mimic boatsupon a mill-pond. Another figure in the
scene is the outward-bound sailorin quest of a protection; or the recentlyarrived onepale and feebleseeking a
passport to the hospital. Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty littleschooners that bring firewood from the
British provinces; a rough-looking set of tarpaulinswithout the alertnessof the Yankee aspectbut contributing an item
of no slight importance to our decaying trade.
Cluster all these individuals togetheras they sometimes werewith othermiscellaneous ones to diversify the
groupandfor the time beingit made the Custom-House a stirring scene.More frequentlyhoweveron ascending the
stepsyou would discern--in the entryif it were summer timeor in theirappropriate roomsif wintry or inclement
weather--a row of venerable figuressitting in old-fashioned chairswhichwere tipped on their hind legs back against
the wall. Oftentimes they were asleepbut occasionally might be heardtalking togetherin voices between speech and a
snoreand with that lack of energy that distinguishes the occupants of alms-housesand all other human beings who
depend for subsistence on charityon monopolized laboror any thing elsebut their own independent exertions. These
old gentlemen--seatedlike Matthewat the receipt of custombut not veryliable to be summoned thencelike himfor
apostolic errands--were Custom-House officers.
Furthermoreon the left hand as you enter the front dooris a certain roomor officeabout fifteen feet square
and of a lofty height; with two of its arched windows commanding a view ofthe aforesaid dilapidated wharfand the
third looking across a narrow laneand along a portion of Derby Street. Allthree give glimpses of the shops of grocers
block-makersslop-sellersand ship-chandlers; around the doors of which aregenerally to be seenlaughing and
gossipingclusters of old saltsand such other wharf-rats as haunt theWapping of a seaport. The room itself is
cobwebbedand dingy with old paint; its floor is strewn with gray sandin afashion that has elsewhere fallen into long
disuse; and it is easy to concludefrom the general slovenliness of theplacethat this is a sanctuary into which
womankindwith her tools of magicthe broom and mophas very infrequentaccess. In the way of furniturethere is a
stove with a voluminous funnel; an old pine deskwith a three-legged stoolbeside it; two or three wooden-bottom
chairsexceedingly decrepit and infirm; and--not to forget the library--onsome shelvesa score or two of volumes of
the Acts of Congressand a bulky Digest of the Revenue Laws. A tin pipeascends through the ceilingand forms a
medium of vocal communication with other parts of the edifice. And heresomesix months ago--pacing from corner to
corneror lounging on the long-legged stoolwith his elbow on the deskandhis eyes wandering up and down the
columns of the morning newspaper--you might have recognizedhonored readerthe same individual who welcomed
you into his cheery little studywhere the sunshine glimmered so pleasantlythrough the willow brancheson the
western side of the Old Manse. But nowshould you go thither to seek himyou would inquire in vain for the Locofoco
Surveyor. The besom of reform hath swept him out of office; and a worthiersuccessor wears his dignity and pockets his
This old town of Salem--my native placethough I have dwelt much away fromitboth in boyhood and maturer
years--possessesor did possessa hold on my affectionsthe force of whichI have never realized during my seasons of.4
actual residence here. Indeedso far as its physical aspect is concernedwith its flatunvaried surfacecovered chiefly
with wooden housesfew or none of which pretend to architectural beauty--itsirregularitywhich is neither picturesque
nor quaintbut only tame--its long and lazy streetlounging wearisomelythrough the whole extent of the peninsula
with Gallows Hill and New Guinea at one endand a view of the alms -house atthe other--such being the features of my
native townit would be quite as reasonable to form a sentimental attachmentto a disarranged checkerboard. And yet
though invariably happiest elsewherethere is within me a feeling for oldSalemwhichin lack of a better phraseI
must be content to call affection. The sentiment is probably assignable tothe deep and aged roots which my family has
struck into the soil. It is now nearly two centuries and a quarter since theoriginal Britonthe earliest emigrant of my
namemade his appearance in the wild and forest-bordered settlementwhichhas since become a city. And here his
descendants have been born and diedand have mingled their earthly substancewith the soil; until no small portion of it
must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewithfor a little whileIwalk the streets. In partthereforethe
attachment which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust for dust.Few of my countrymen can know what it
is; noras frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stockneedthey consider it desirable to know.
But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The figure of that firstancestorinvested by family tradition
with a dim and dusky grandeurwas present to my boyish imaginationas farback as I can remember. It still haunts me
and induces a sort of home-feeling with the pastwhich I scarcely claim inreference to the present phase of the town. I
seem to have a stronger claim to a residence here on account of this gravebeardedsable-cloakedand steeple-crowned
progenitor--who came so earlywith his Bible and his swordand trode theunworn street with such a stately portand
made so large a figureas a man of war and peace--a stronger claim than formyselfwhose name is seldom heard and
my face hardly known. He was a soldierlegislatorjudge; he was a ruler inthe Church; he had all the Puritanic traits
both good and evil. He was likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness theQuakerswho have remembered him in their
historiesand relate an incident of his hard severity towards a woman oftheir sectwhich will last longerit is to be
fearedthan any record of his better deedsalthough these were many. Hissontooinherited the persecuting spiritand
made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witchesthat their bloodmay fairly be said to have left a stain
upon him. So deep a stainindeedthat his old dry bonesin the CharterStreet burial-groundmust still retain itif they
have not crumbled utterly to dust! I know not whether these ancestors of minebethought themselves to repentand ask
pardon of Heaven for their cruelties; or whether they are now groaning underthe heavy consequences of themin
another state of being. At all eventsIthe present writeras theirrepresentativehereby take shame upon myself for
their sakesand pray that any curse incurred by them--as I have heardandas the dreary and unprosperous condition of
the racefor many a long year backwould argue to exist--may be now andhenceforth removed.
Doubtlesshowevereither of these stern and black-browed Puritans wouldhave thought it quite a sufficient
retribution for his sinsthatafter so long a lapse of yearsthe old trunkof the family treewith so much venerable moss
upon itshould have borneas its topmost boughan idler like myself. Noaimthat I have ever cherishedwould they
recognize as laudable; no success of mine--if my lifebeyond its domesticscopehad ever been brightened by success--
would they deem otherwise than worthlessif not positively disgraceful."What is he?" murmurs one gray shadow of my
forefathers to the other. "A writer of story-books! What kind of abusiness in life--what mode of glorifying Godor
being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation--may that be? Whythe degenerate fellow might as well have
been a fiddler!" Such are the compliments bandied between mygreat-grandsires and myselfacross the gulf of time!
And yetlet them scorn me as they willstrong traits of their nature haveintertwined themselves with mine.
Planted deepin the town's earliest infancy and childhoodby these twoearnest and energetic menthe race has
ever since subsisted here; alwaystooin respectability; neverso far as Ihave knowndisgraced by a single unworthy
member; but seldom or neveron the other handafter the first twogenerationsperforming any memorable deedor so
much as putting forward a claim to public notice. Graduallythey have sunkalmost out of sight; as old houseshere and
there about the streetsget covered half-way to the eaves by theaccumulation of new soil. From father to sonfor above
a hundred yearsthey followed the sea; a gray-headed shipmasterin eachgenerationretiring from the quarter-deck to
the homesteadwhile a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before themastconfronting the salt spray and the gale
which had blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boyalsoin duetimepassed from the forecastle to the cabin
spent a tempestuous manhoodand returned from his world-wanderingsto growoldand dieand mingle his dust with
the natal earth. This long connection of a family with one spotas its placeof birth and burialcreates a kindred between
the human being and the localityquite independent of any charm in thescenery or moral circumstances that surround
him. It is not lovebut instinct. The new inhabitant--who came himself froma foreign landor whose father or
grandfather came--has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has noconception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an
old settlerover whom his third century is creepingclings to the spotwhere his successive generations have been
imbedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless for him; that he is wearyof the old wooden housesthe mud and dust
the dead level of site and sentimentthe chill east windand the chillestof social atmospheres;--all theseand whatever
faults besides he may see or imagineare nothing to the purpose. The spellsurvivesand just as powerfully as if the
natal spot were an earthly paradise. So has it been in my case. I felt italmost as a destiny to make Salem my home; so
that the mould of features and cast of character which had all along beenfamiliar here--everas one representative of
the race lay down in his graveanother assumingas it werehissentry-march along the Main Street--might still in my
little day be seen and recognized in the old town. Neverthelessthis verysentiment is an evidence that the connection
which has become an unhealthy oneshould at last be severed. Human naturewill not flourishany more than a potato.5
if it be planted and replantedfor too long a series of generationsin thesame worn-out soil. My children have had other
birthplacesandso far as their fortunes may be within my controlshallstrike their roots into unaccustomed earth.
On emerging from the Old Manseit was chiefly this strangeindolentunjoyous attachment for my native town
that brought me to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edificewhen I might aswellor betterhave gone somewhere else.
My doom was on me. It was not the first timenor the secondthat I had goneaway--as it seemedpermanently--but
yet returnedlike the bad half-penny; or as if Salem were for me theinevitable centre of the universe. Soone fine
morningI ascended the flight of granite stepswith the President'scommission in my pocketand was introduced to the
corps of gentlemen who were to aid me in my weighty responsibilityas chiefexecutive officer of the Custom-House.
I doubt greatly--or ratherI do not doubt at all--whether any publicfunctionary of the United Stateseither in the
civil or military linehas ever had such a patriarchal body of veteransunder his orders as myself. The whereabouts of
the Oldest Inhabitant was at once settledwhen I looked at them. For upwardsof twenty years before this epochthe
independent position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House out ofthe whirlpool of political vicissitude
which makes the tenure of office generally so fragile. A soldier--NewEngland's most distinguished soldier--he stood
firmly on the pedestal of his gallant services; andhimself secure in thewise liberality of the successive administrations
through which he had held officehe had been the safety of his subordinatesin many an hour of danger and heart-quake.
General Miller was radically conservative; a man over whose kindly naturehabit had no slight influence; attaching
himself strongly to familiar facesand with difficulty moved to changeevenwhen change might have brought
unquestionable improvement. Thuson taking charge of my departmentI foundfew but aged men. They were ancient
sea-captainsfor the most partwhoafter being tost on every seaandstanding up sturdily against life's tempestuous
blasthad finally drifted into this quiet nook; wherewith little todisturb themexcept the periodical terrors of a
Presidential electionthey one and all acquired a new lease of existence.Though by no means less liable than their
fellow-men to age and infirmitythey had evidently some talisman or otherthat kept death at bay. Two or three of their
numberas I was assuredbeing gouty and rheumaticor perhaps bed-riddennever dreamed of making their appearance
at the Custom-Houseduring a large part of the year; butafter a torpidwinterwould creep out into the warm sunshine
of May or Junego lazily about what they termed dutyandat their ownleisure and conveniencebetake themselves to
bed again. I must plead guilty to the charge of abbreviating the officialbreath of more than one of these venerable
servants of the republic. They were allowedon my representationto restfrom their arduous laborsand soon
afterwards--as if their sole principle of life had been zeal for theircountry's service; as I verily believe it was--withdrew
to a better world. It is a pious consolation to methatthrough myinterferencea sufficient space was allowed them for
repentance of the evil and corrupt practicesinto whichas a matter ofcourseevery Custom-House officer must be
supposed to fall. Neither the front nor the back entrance of the Custom-Houseopens on the road to Paradise.
The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It was well for their venerablebrotherhoodthat the new Surveyor
was not a politicianandthough a faithful Democrat in principleneitherreceived nor held his office with any reference
to political services. Had it been otherwise--had an active politician beenput into this influential postto assume the
easy task of making head against a Whig Collectorwhose infirmities withheldhim from the personal administration of
his office--hardly a man of the old corps would have drawn the breath ofofficial lifewithin a month after the
exterminating angel had come up the Custom-House steps. According to thereceived code in such mattersit would
have been nothing short of dutyin a politicianto bring every one of thosewhite heads under the axe of the guillotine.
It was plain enough to discernthat the old fellows dreaded some suchdiscourtesy at my hands. It painedand at the
same time amused meto behold the terrors that attended my advent; to see afurrowed cheekweather-beaten by half a
century of stormturn ashy pale at the glance of so harmless an individualas myself; to detectas one or another
addressed methe tremor of a voicewhichin long-past dayshad been wontto bellow through a speaking-trumpet
hoarsely enough to frighten Boreas himself to silence. They knewtheseexcellent old personsthatby all established
rule--andas regarded some of themweighed by their own lack of efficiencyfor business--they ought to have given
place to younger menmore orthodox in politicsand altogether fitter thanthemselves to serve our common Uncle. I
knew it toobut could never quite find in my heart to act upon the knowledge.Much and deservedly to my own
discreditthereforeand considerably to the detriment of my officialconsciencethey continuedduring my
incumbencyto creep about the wharvesand loiter up and down theCustom-House steps. They spent a good deal of
timealsoasleep in their accustomed cornerswith their chairs tilted backagainst the wall; awakinghoweveronce or
twice in a forenoonto bore one another with the several thousandthrepetition of old sea-storiesand mouldy jokesthat
had grown to be pass-words and countersigns among them.
The discovery was soon madeI imaginethat the new Surveyor had no greatharm in him. Sowith lightsome
heartsand the happy consciousness of being usefully employed--in their ownbehalfat leastif not for our beloved
country--these good old gentlemen went through the various formalities ofoffice. Sagaciouslyunder their spectacles
did they peep into the holds of vessels! Mighty was their fuss about littlemattersand marvelloussometimesthe
obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers! Wheneversuch a mischance occurred--when a
wagon-load of valuable merchandise had been smuggled ashoreat noondayperhapsand directly beneath their
unsuspicious noses--nothing could exceed the vigilance and alacrity withwhich they proceeded to lockand double-lock
and secure with tape and sealing-waxall the avenues of the delinquentvessel. Instead of a reprimand for their
previous negligencethe case seemed rather to require an eulogium on theirpraiseworthy cautionafter the mischief had
happened; a grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zealthe momentthat there was no longer any remedy!.6
Unless people are more than commonly disagreeableit is my foolish habit tocontract a kindness for them. The
better part of my companion's characterif it have a better partis thatwhich usually comes uppermost in my regard
and forms the type whereby I recognize the man. As most of these oldCustom-House officers had good traitsand as
my position in reference to thembeing paternal and protectivewasfavorable to the growth of friendly sentimentsI
soon grew to like them all. It was pleasantin the summer forenoons--whenthe fervent heatthat almost liquefied the
rest of the human familymerely communicated a genial warmth to theirhalf-torpid systems--it was pleasant to hear
them chatting in the back entrya row of them all tipped against the wallas usual; while the frozen witticisms of past
generations were thawed outand came bubbling with laughter from their lips.Externallythe jollity of aged men has
much in common with the mirth of children; the intellectany more than adeep sense of humorhas little to do with the
matter; it iswith botha gleam that plays upon the surfaceand imparts asunny and cheery aspect alike to the green
branchand graymouldering trunk. In one casehoweverit is real sunshine;in the otherit more resembles the
phosphorescent glow of decaying wood.
It would be sad injusticethe reader must understandto represent all myexcellent old friends as in their dotage.
In the first placemy coadjutors were not invariably old; there were menamong them in their strength and primeof
marked ability and energyand altogether superior to the sluggish anddependent mode of life on which their evil stars
had cast them. Thenmoreoverthe white locks of age were sometimes found tobe the thatch of an intellectual
tenement in good repair. Butas respects the majority of my corps ofveteransthere will be no wrong doneif I
characterize them generally as a set of wearisome old soulswho had gatherednothing worth preservation from their
varied experience of life. They seemed to have flung away all the goldengrain of practical wisdomwhich they had
enjoyed so many opportunities of harvestingand most carefully to havestored their memories with the husks. They
spoke with far more interest and unction of their morning's breakfastoryesterday'sto-day'sor to-morrow's dinner
than of the shipwreck of forty or fifty years agoand all the world'swonders which they had witnessed with their
The father of the Custom-House--the patriarchnot only of this little squadof officialsbutI am bold to sayof
the respectable body of tide-waiters all over the United States--was acertain permanent Inspector. He might truly be
termed a legitimate son of the revenue systemdyed in the woolor ratherborn in the purple; since his sirea
Revolutionary coloneland formerly collector of the porthad created anoffice for himand appointed him to fill itat a
period of the early ages which few living men can now remember. ThisInspectorwhen I first knew himwas a man of
fourscore yearsor thereaboutsand certainly one of the most wonderfulspecimens of winter-green that you would be
likely to discover in a lifetime's search. With his florid cheekhis compactfiguresmartly arrayed in a bright-buttoned
blue coathis brisk and vigorous stepand his hale and hearty aspectaltogetherhe seemed--not youngindeed--but a
kind of new contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape of manwhom age andinfirmity had no business to touch. His
voice and laughwhich perpetually re-echoed through the Custom-Househadnothing of the tremulous quaver and
cackle of an old man's utterance; they came strutting out of his lungslikethe crow of a cockor the blast of a clarion.
Looking at him merely as an animal--and there was very little else to lookat--he was a most satisfactory objectfrom
the thorough healthfulness and wholesomeness of his systemand his capacityat that extreme ageto enjoy allor
nearly allthe delights which he had ever aimed ator conceived of. Thecareless security of his life in the Custom-House
on a regular incomeand with but slight and infrequent apprehensions ofremovalhad no doubt contributed to
make time pass lightly over him. The original and more potent causeshoweverlay in the rare perfection of his animal
naturethe moderate proportion of intellectand the very trifling admixtureof moral and spiritual ingredients; these
latter qualitiesindeedbeing in barely enough measure to keep the oldgentleman from walking on all-fours. He
possessed no power of thoughtno depth of feelingno troublesomesensibilities; nothingin shortbut a few common-place
instinctswhichaided by the cheerful temper that grew inevitably out ofhis physical well-beingdid duty very
respectablyand to general acceptancein lieu of a heart. He had been thehusband of three wivesall long since dead;
the father of twenty childrenmost of whomat every age of childhood ormaturityhad likewise returned to dust. Here
one would supposemight have been sorrow enough to imbue the sunniestdispositionthrough and throughwith a
sable tinge. Not so with our old Inspector! One brief sigh sufficed to carryoff the entire burden of these dismal
reminiscences. The next momenthe was as ready for sport as any unbreechedinfant; far readier than the Collector's
junior clerkwhoat nineteen years was much the elder and graver man of thetwo.
I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage withI thinkliveliercuriosity than any other form of
humanity there presented to my notice. He wasin trutha rare phenomenon;so perfect in one point of view; so shallow
so delusiveso impalpablesuch an absolute nonentityin every other. Myconclusion was that he had no soulno heart
no mind; nothingas I have already saidbut instincts; and yetwithalsocunningly had the few materials of his
character been put togetherthat there was no painful perception ofdeficiencybuton my partan entire contentment
with what I found in him. It might be difficult--and it was so--to conceivehow he should exist hereafterso earthly and
sensuous did he seem; but surely his existence hereadmitting that it was toterminate with his last breathhad been not
unkindly given; with no higher moral responsibilities than the beasts of thefieldbut with a larger scope of enjoyment
than theirsand with all their blessed immunity from the dreariness andduskiness of age.
One pointin which he had vastly the advantage over his four-footedbrethrenwas his ability to recollect the
good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his lifeto eat. His gourmandism was a highly
agreeable trait; and to hear him talk of roast-meat was as appetizing as apickle or an oyster. As he possessed no higher
attributeand neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment bydevoting all his energies and ingenuities to.7
subserve the delight and profit of his mawit always pleased and satisfiedme to hear him expatiate on fishpoultryand
butcher's meatand the most eligible methods of preparing them for thetable. His reminiscences of good cheer
however ancient the date of the actual banquetseemed to bring the savor ofpig or turkey under one's very nostrils.
There were flavors on his palatethat had lingered there not less than sixtyor seventy yearsand were still apparently as
fresh as that of the mutton-chop which he had just devoured for hisbreakfast. I have heard him smack his lips over
dinnersevery guest at whichexcept himselfhad long been food for worms.It was marvellous to observe how the
ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him; not in anger orretributionbut as if grateful for his
former appreciationand seeking to reduplicate an endless series ofenjoymentat once shadowy and sensual. A
tenderloin of beefa hind-quarter of veala spare-rib of porka particularchickenor a remarkably praiseworthy turkey
which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adamswould beremembered; while all the subsequent
experience of our raceand all the events that brightened or darkened hisindividual careerhad gone over him with as
little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief tragic event of theold man's lifeso far as I could judgewas his
mishap with a certain goosewhich lived and died some twenty or forty yearsago; a goose of most promising figure
but whichat tableproved so inveterately tough that the carving-knifewould make no impression on its carcass; and it
could only be divided with an axe and handsaw.
But it is time to quit this sketch; on whichhoweverI should be glad todwell at considerably more length
becauseof all men whom I have ever knownthis individual was fittest to bea Custom-House officer. Most persons
owing to causes which I may not have space to hint atsuffer mo raldetriment from this peculiar mode of life. The old
Inspector was incapable of itandwere he to continue in office to the endof timewould be just as good as he was
thenand sit down to dinner with just as good an appetite.
There is one likenesswithout which my gallery of Custom-House portraitswould be strangely incomplete; but
which my comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to sketchonly in the merest outline. It is that of
the Collectorour gallant old Generalwhoafter his brilliant militaryservicesubsequently to which he had ruled over a
wild Western territoryhad come hithertwenty years beforeto spend thedecline of his varied and honorable life. The
brave soldier had already numberednearly or quitehis threescore years andtenand was pursuing the remainder of his
earthly marchburdened with infirmities which even the martial music of hisown spirit-stirring recollections could do
little towards lightening. The step was palsied nowthat had been foremostin the charge. It was only with the assistance
of a servantand by leaning his hand heavily on the iron balustradethat hecould slowly and painfully ascend the
Custom-House stepsandwith a toilsome progress across the floorattainhis customary chair beside the fireplace.
There he used to sitgazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at thefigures that came and went; amid the rustle of
papersthe administering of oathsthe discussion of businessand thecasual talk of the office; all which sounds and
circumstances seemed but indistinctly to impress his sensesand hardly tomake their way into his inner sphere of
contemplation. His countenancein this reposewas mild and kindly. If hisnotice was soughtan expression of courtesy
and interest gleamed out upon his features; proving that there was lightwithin himand 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 mindthe sounder it appeared. When no longer called upon to speakorlisteneither of which operations cost him
an evident efforthis face would briefly subside into its former notuncheerful quietude. It was not painful to behold this
look; forthough dimit had not the imbecility of decaying age. Theframework of his natureoriginally strong and
massivewas not yet crumbled into ruin.
To observe and define his characterhoweverunder such disadvantageswasas difficult a task as to trace out
and build up anewin imaginationan old fortresslike Ticonderogafrom aview of its gray and broken ruins. Here and
thereperchancethe walls may remain almost complete; but elsewhere may beonly a shapeless moundcumbrous with
its very strengthand overgrownthrough long years of peace and neglectwith grass and alien weeds.
Neverthelesslooking at the old warrior with affection--forslight as wasthe communication between usmy
feeling towards himlike that of all bipeds and quadrupeds who knew himmight not improperly be termed so--I could
discern the main points of his portrait. It was marked with the noble andheroic qualities which showed it to be not a
mere accidentbut of good rightthat he had won a distinguished name. Hisspirit could neverI conceivehave been
characterized by an uneasy activity; it mustat any period of his lifehaverequired an impulse to set him in motion; but
once stirred upwith obstacles to overcomeand an adequate object to beattainedit was not in the man to give out or
fail. The heat that had formerly pervaded his natureand which was not yetextinctwas never of the kind that flashes
and flickers in a blazebutrathera deepred glowas of iron in afurnace. Weightsolidityfirmness; this was the
expression of his reposeeven in such decay as had crept untimely over himat the period of which I speak. But I could
imagineeven thenthatunder some excitement which should go deeply intohis consciousness--roused by a trumpet-peal
loud enough to awaken all of his energies that were not deadbut onlyslumbering--he was yet capable of flinging
off his infirmities like a sick man's gowndropping the staff of age toseize a battle-swordand starting up once more a
warrior. Andin so intense a momenthis demeanour would have still beencalm. Such an exhibitionhoweverwas but
to be pictured in fancy; not to be anticipatednor desired. What I saw inhim--as evidently as the indestructible ramparts
of Old Ticonderogaalready cited as the most appropriate simile--were thefeatures of stubborn and ponderous
endurancewhich might well have amounted to obstinacy in his earlier days;of integritythatlike most of his other
endowmentslay in a somewhat heavy massand was just as unmalleable orunmanageable as a ton of iron ore; and of
benevolencewhichfiercely as he led the bayonets on at Chippewa or FortErieI take to be of quite as genuine a stamp
as what actuates any or all the polemical philanthropists of the age. He hadslain men with his own handfor aught I.8
know;--certainlythey had fallenlike blades of grass at the sweep of thescythebefore the charge to which his spirit
imparted its triumphant energy;--butbe that as it mightthere was never inhis heart so much cruelty as would have
brushed the down off a butterfly's wing. I have not known the manto whoseinnate kindliness I would more confidently
make an appeal.
Many characteristics--and thosetoowhich contribute not the least forciblyto impart resemblance in a sketch--
must have vanishedor been obscuredbefore I met the General. All merelygraceful attributes are usually the most
evanescent; nor does Nature adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beautythat have their roots and proper
nutriment only in the chinks and crevices of decayas she sows wall-flowersover the ruined fortress of Ticonderoga.
Stilleven in respect of grace and beautythere were points well worthnoting. A ray of humornow and thenwould
make its way through the veil of dim obstructionand glimmer pleasantly uponour faces. A trait of native elegance
seldom seen in the masculine character after childhood or early youthwasshown in the General's fondness for the sight
and fragrance of flowers. An old soldier might be supposed to prize only thebloody laurel on his brow; but here was
onewho seemed to have a young girl's appreciation of the floral tribe.
Therebeside the fireplacethe brave old General used to sit; while theSurveyor--though seldomwhen it could
be avoidedtaking upon himself the difficult task of engaging him inconversation--was fond of standing at a distance
and watching his quiet and almost slumberous countenance. He seemed away fromusalthough we saw him but a few
yards off; remotethough we passed close beside his chair; unattainablethough we might have stretched forth our
hands and touched his own. It might bethat he lived a more real life withinhis thoughtsthan amid the unappropriate
environment of the Collector's office. The evolutions of the parade; the tumult of the battle; the flourish of oldheroic
musicheard thirty years before;--such scenes and soundsperhapswere allalive before his intellectual sense.
Meanwhilethe merchants and ship-mastersthe spruce clerksand uncouthsailorsentered and departed; the bustle of
this commercial and Custom-House life kept up its little murmur round abouthim; and neither with the men nor their
affairs did the General appear to sustain the most distant relation. He wasas much out of place as an old sword--now
rustybut which had flashed once in the battle's frontand showed still abright gleam along its blade--would have been
among the inkstandspaper-foldersand mahogany rulerson the DeputyCollector's desk.
There was one thing that much aided me in renewing and re-creating thestalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier--
the man of true and simple energy. It was the recollection of those memorablewords of his--"I'll trySir!"--spoken on
the very verge of a desperate and heroic enterpriseand breathing the souland spirit of New England hardihood
comprehending all perilsand encountering all. Ifin our countryvalorwere rewarded by heraldic honorthis phrase--
which it seems so easy to speakbut which only hewith such a task ofdanger and glory before himhas ever spoken--
would be the best and fittest of all mottoes for the General's shield ofarms.
It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual healthto bebrought into habits of companionship
with individuals unlike himselfwho care little for his pursuitsand whosesphere and abilities he must go out of himself
to appreciate. The accidents of my life have often afforded me thisadvantagebut never with more fulness and variety
than during my continuance in office. There was one manespeciallytheobservation of whose character gave me a
new idea of talent. His gifts were emphatically those of a man of business;promptacuteclear-minded; with an eye that
saw through all perplexitiesand a faculty of arrangement that made themvanishas by the waving of an enchanter's
wand. Bred up from boyhood in the Custom-Houseit was his proper field ofactivity; and the many intricacies of
businessso harassing to the interloperpresented themselves before himwith the regularity of a perfectly
comprehended system. In my contemplationhe stood as the ideal of his class.He wasindeedthe Custom-House in
himself; orat all eventsthe main-spring that kept its variously revolvingwheels in motion; forin an institution like
thiswhere its officers are appointed to subserve their own profit andconvenienceand seldom with a leading reference
to their fitness for the duty to be performedthey must perforce seekelsewhere the dexterity which is not in them. Thus
by an inevitable necessityas a magnet attracts steel-filingsso did ourman of business draw to himself the difficulties
which everybody met with. With an easy condescensionand kind forbearancetowards our stupidity--whichto his
order of mindmust have seemed little short of crime--would he forthwithby the merest touch of his fingermake the
incomprehensible as clear as daylight. The merchants valued him not less thanwehis esoteric friends. His integrity was
perfect; it was a law of nature with himrather than a choice or aprinciple; nor can it be otherwise than the main
condition of an intellect so remarkably clear and accurate as histo behonest and regular in the administration of
affairs. A stain on his conscienceas to any thing that came within therange of his vocationwould trouble such a man
very much in the same waythough to a far greater degreethan an error inthe balance of an accountor an ink-blot on
the fair page of a book of record. Herein a word--and it is a rareinstance 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 tookit in good part at the hands of
Providencethat I was thrown into a position so little akin to my pasthabits; and set myself seriously to gather from it
whatever profit was to be had. After my fellowship of toil and impracticableschemeswith the dreamy brethren of
Brook Farm; after living for three years within the subtile influence of anintellect like Emerson's; after those wildfree
days on the Assabethindulging fantastic speculations beside our fire offallen boughswith Ellery Channing; after
talking with Thoreau about pine-trees and Indian relicsin his hermitage atWalden; after growing fastidious by
sympathy with the classic refinement of Hillard's culture; after becomingimbued with poetic sentiment at Longfellow's
hearth-stone;--it was timeat lengththat I should exercise other facultiesof my natureand nourish myself with food
for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the old Inspector wasdesirableas a change of dietto a man who had.9
known Alcott. I looked upon it as an evidencein some measureof a systemnaturally well balancedand lacking no
essential part of a thorough organizationthatwith such associates torememberI could mingle at once with men of
altogether different qualitiesand never murmur at the change.
Literatureits exertions and objectswere now of little moment in myregard. I cared notat this periodfor
books; they were apart from me. Nature--except it were human nature--thenature that is developed in earth and sky
wasin one sensehidden from me; and all the imaginative delightwherewithit had been spiritualizedpassed away out
of my mind. A gifta facultyif it had not been departedwas suspended andinanimate within me. There would have
been something sadunutterably drearyin all thishad I not been consciousthat it lay at my own option to recall
whatever was valuable in the past. It might be trueindeedthat this was alife which could notwith impunitybe lived
too long; elseit might make me permanently other than I had beenwithouttransforming me into any shape which it
would be worth my while to take. But I never considered it as other than atransitory life. There was always a prophetic
instincta low whisper in my earthat within no long periodand whenever anew change of custom should be essential
to my gooda change would come.
Meanwhilethere I wasa Surveyor of the Revenueandso far as I have beenable to understandas good a
Surveyor as need be. A man of thoughtfancyand sensibility(had he tentimes the Surveyor's proportion of those
qualities) mayat any timebe a man of affairsif he will only choose togive himself the trouble. My fellow-officers
and the merchants and sea-captains with whom my official duties brought meinto any manner of connectionviewed
me in no other lightand probably knew me in no other character. None ofthemI presumehad ever read a page of my
inditingor would have cared a fig the more for me if they had read themall; nor would it have mended the matterin
the leasthad those same unprofitable pages been written with a pen likethat of Burns or of Chaucereach of whom was
a Custom-House officer in his dayas well as I. It is a good lesson--thoughit may often be a hard one--for a man who
has dreamed of literary fameand of making for himself a rank among theworld's dignitaries by such meansto step
aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognizedand tofind how utterly devoid of significancebeyond
that circleis all that he achievesand all he aims at. I know not that Iespecially needed the lessoneither in the way of
warning or rebuke; butat any rateI learned it thoroughly; norit givesme pleasure to reflectdid the truthas it came
home to my perceptionever cost me a pangor require to be thrown off in asigh. In the way of literary talkit is true
the Naval Officer--an excellent fellowwho came into office with meandwent out only a little later--would often
engage me in a discussion about one or the other of his favorite topicsNapoleon or Shakespeare. The Collector's junior
clerktoo--a young gentleman whoit was whisperedoccasionally covered asheet of Uncle Sam's letter-paper with
what (at the distance of a few yards) looked very much like poetry--usednow and then to speak to me of booksas
matters with which I might possibly be conversant. This was my all oflettered intercourse; and it was quite sufficient
for my necessities.
No longer seeking nor caring that my name should be blazoned abroad ontitle-pagesI smiled to think that it had
now another kind of vogue. The Custom-House marker imprinted itwith astencil and black painton pepper-bagsand
baskets of anattoand cigar-boxesand bales of all kinds of dutiablemerchandisein testimony that these commodities
had paid the impostand gone regularly through the office. Borne on suchqueer vehicle of famea knowledge of my
existenceso far as a name conveys itwas carried where it had never beenbeforeandI hopewill never go again.
But the past was not dead. Once in a great whilethe thoughtsthat hadseemed so vital and so activeyet had
been put to rest so quietlyrevived again. One of the most remarkableoccasionswhen the habit of bygone days awoke
in mewas that which brings it within the law of literary propriety to offerthe public the sketch which I am now
In the second story of the Custom-Housethere is a large roomin which thebrick-work and naked rafters have
never been covered with panelling and plaster. The edifice--originallyprojected on a scale adapted to the old
commercial enterprise of the portand with an idea of subsequent prosperitydestined never to be realized--contains far
more space than its occupants know what to do with. This airy hallthereforeover the Collector's apartmentsremains
unfinished to this dayandin spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon itsdusky beamsappears still to await the labor of
the carpenter and mason. At one end of the roomin a recesswere a numberof barrelspiled one upon another
containing bundles of official documents. Large quantities of similar rubbishlay lumbering the floor. It was sorrowful
to think how many daysand weeksand monthsand years of toilhad beenwasted on these musty paperswhich were
now only an encumbrance on earthand were hidden away in this forgottencornernever more to be glanced at by
human eyes. Butthenwhat reams of other manuscripts--fillednot with thedulness of official formalitiesbut with the
thought of inventive brains and the rich effusion of deep hearts--had goneequally to oblivion; and thatmoreover
without serving a purpose in their dayas these heaped-up papers hadand--saddest of all--without purchasing for their
writers the comfortable livelihood which the clerks of the Custom-House hadgained by these worthless scratchings of
the pen! Yet not altogether worthlessperhapsas materials of localhistory. Hereno doubtstatistics of the former
commerce of Salem might be discoveredand memorials of her princelymerchants--old King Derby--old Billy Gray--
old Simon Forrester--and many another magnate in his day; whose powderedheadhoweverwas scarcely in the tomb
before his mountain-pile of wealth began to dwindle. The founders of thegreater part of the families which now
compose the aristocracy of Salem might here be tracedfrom the petty andobscure beginnings of their trafficat periods
generally much posterior to the Revolutionupward to what their childrenlook upon as long-established rank.
Prior to the Revolutionthere is a dearth of records; the earlier documentsand archives of the Custom-House
havingprobablybeen carried off to Halifaxwhen all the King's officialsaccompanied the British army in its flight.10
from Boston. It has often been a matter of regret with me; forgoing backperhapsto the days of the Protectoratethose
papers must have contained many references to forgotten or remembered menand to antique customswhich would
have affected me with the same pleasure as when I used to pick up Indianarrow-heads in the field near the Old Manse.
Butone idle and rainy dayit was my fortune to make a discovery of somelittle interest. Poking and burrowing
into the heaped-up rubbish in the corner; unfolding one and another documentand reading the names of vessels that
had long ago foundered at sea or rotted at the wharvesand those ofmerchantsnever heard of now on 'Changenor
very readily decipherable on their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matterswith the saddenedwearyhalf-reluctant
interest which we bestow on the corpse of dead activity--and exerting myfancysluggish with little useto raise up
from these dry bones an image of the old town's brighter aspectwhen Indiawas a new regionand only Salem knew the
way thither--I chanced to lay my hand on a small packagecarefully done upin a piece of ancient yellow parchment.
This envelope had the air of an official record of some period long pastwhen clerks engrossed their stiff and formal
chirography on more substantial materials than at present. There wassomething about it that quickened an instinctive
curiosityand made me undo the faded red tapethat tied up the packagewith the sense that a treasure would here be
brought to light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment coverI foundit to be a commissionunder the hand and
seal of Governor Shirleyin favor of one Jonathan Pueas Surveyor of hisMajesty's Customs for the port of Salemin
the Province of Massachusetts Bay. I remembered to have read (probably inFelt's Annals) a notice of the decease of
Mr. Surveyor Pueabout fourscore years ago; and likewisein a newspaper ofrecent timesan account of the digging up
of his remains in the little grave-yard of St. Peter's Churchduring therenewal of that edifice. Nothingif I rightly call
to mindwas left of my respected predecessorsave an imperfect skeletonand some fragments of appareland a wig of
majestic frizzle; whichunlike the head that it once adornedwas in verysatisfactory preservation. Buton examining
the papers which the parchment commission served to envelopI found moretraces of Mr. Pue's mental partand the
internal operations of his headthan the frizzled wig had contained of thevenerable skull itself.
They were documentsin shortnot officialbut of a private natureoratleastwritten in his private capacity
and apparently with his own hand. I could account for their being included inthe heap of Custom-House lumber only by
the factthat Mr. Pue's death had happened suddenly; and that these paperswhich he probably kept in his official desk
had never come to the knowledge of his heirsor were supposed to relate tothe business of the revenue. On the transfer
of the archives to Halifaxthis packageproving to be of no public concernwas left behindand had remained ever
The ancient Surveyor--being little molestedI supposeat that early daywith business pertaining to his office--
seems to have devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches as a localantiquarianand other inquisitions of a
similar nature. These supplied material for petty activity to a mind thatwould otherwise have been eaten up with rust.
A portion of his factsby the bydid me good service in the preparation ofthe article entitled "MAIN STREET"
included in the present volume. The remainder may perhaps be applied topurposes equally valuablehereafteror not
impossibly may be worked upso far as they gointo a regular history ofSalemshould my veneration for the natal soil
ever impel me to so pious a task. Meanwhilethey shall be at the command ofany gentlemaninclinedand competent
to take the unprofitable labor off my hands. As a final dispositionIcontemplate depositing them with the Essex
But the object that most drew my attentionin the mysterious packagewas acertain affair of fine red cloth
much worn and faded. There were traces about it of gold embroiderywhichhoweverwas greatly frayed and defaced;
so that noneor very littleof the glitter was left. It had been wroughtas was easy to perceivewith wonderful skill of
needlework; and the stitch (as I am assured by ladies conversant with suchmysteries) gives evidence of a now forgotten
artnot to be recovered even by the process of picking out the threads. Thisrag of scarlet cloth--for timeand wearand
a sacrilegious mothhad reduced it to little other than a rag--on carefulexaminationassumed the shape of a letter. It
was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurementeach limb proved to beprecisely three inches and a quarter in
length. It had been intendedthere could be no doubtas an ornamentalarticle of dress; but how it was to be wornor
what rankhonorand dignityin by-past timeswere signified by itwas ariddle which (so evanescent are the fashions
of the world in these particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet itstrangely interested me. My eyes fastened
themselves upon the old scarlet letterand would not be turned aside.Certainlythere was some deep meaning in it
most worthy of interpretationand whichas it werestreamed forth from themystic symbolsubtly communicating
itself to my sensibilitiesbut evading the analysis of my mind.
While thus perplexed--and cogitatingamong other hypotheseswhether theletter might not have been one of
those decorations which the white men used to contrive in order to take theeyes of Indians--I happened to place it on
my breast. It seemed to me--the reader may smilebut must not doubt myword--it seemed to methenthat I
experienced a sensation not altogether physicalyet almost soas of burningheat; and as if the letter were not of red
clothbut red-hot iron. I shudderedand involuntarily let it fall upon thefloor.
In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letterI had hithertoneglected to examine a small roll of dingy
paperaround which it had been twisted. This I now openedand had thesatisfaction to findrecorded by the old
Surveyor's pena reasonably complete explanation of the whole affair. Therewere several foolscap sheetscontaining
many particulars respecting the life and conversation of one Hester Prynnewho appeared to have been rather a
noteworthy personage in the view of our ancestors. She had flourished duringa period between the early days of
Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century. Aged personsalivein the time of Mr. Surveyor Pueand from
whose oral testimony he had made up his narrativeremembered herin theiryouthas a very oldbut not decrepit.11
womanof a stately and solemn aspect. It had been her habitfrom an almostimmemorial dateto go about the country
as a kind of voluntary nurseand doing whatever miscellaneous good shemight; taking upon herselflikewiseto give
advice in all mattersespecially those of the heart; by which meansas aperson of such propensities inevitably must
she gained from many people the reverence due to an angelbutI shouldimaginewas looked upon by others as an
intruder and a nuisance. Prying farther into the manuscriptI found therecord of other doings and sufferings of this
singular womanfor most of which the reader is referred to the storyentitled "THE SCARLET LETTER"; and it should
be borne carefully in mindthat the main facts of that story are authorizedand authenticated by the document of Mr.
Surveyor Pue. The original paperstogether with the scarlet letteritself--a most curious relic--are still in my
possessionand shall be freely exhibited to whomsoeverinduced by the greatinterest of the narrativemay desire a
sight of them. I must not be understood as affirmingthatin the dressingup of the taleand imagining the motives and
modes of passion that influenced the characters who figure in itI haveinvariably confined myself within the limits of
the old Surveyor's half a dozen sheets of foolscap. On the contraryI haveallowed myselfas to such pointsnearly or
altogether as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my owninvention. What I contend for is the authenticity
of the outline.
This incident recalled my mindin some degreeto its old track. Thereseemed to be here the groundwork of a
tale. It impressed me as if the ancient Surveyorin his garb of a hundredyears gone byand wearing his immortal wig--
which was buried with himbut did not perish in the grave--had met me inthe deserted chamber of the Custom-House.
In his port was the dignity of one who had borne his Majesty's commissionand who was therefore illuminated by a ray
of the splendor that shone so dazzlingly about the throne. How unlikealas!the hang-dog look of a republican official
whoas the servant of the peoplefeels himself less than the leastandbelow the lowestof his masters. With his own
ghostly handthe obscurely seenbut majesticfigure had imparted to me thescarlet symboland the little roll of
explanatory manuscript. With his own ghostly voicehe had exhorted meonthe sacred consideration of my filial duty
and reverence towards him--who might reasonably regard himself as myofficial ancestor--to bring his mouldy and
moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. "Do this" said theghost of Mr. Surveyor Pueemphatically nodding the
head that looked so imposing within its memorable wig"do thisand theprofit shall be all your own! You will shortly
need it; for it is not in your days as it was in minewhen a man's officewas a life-leaseand oftentimes an heirloom.
ButI charge youin this matter of old Mistress Prynnegive to yourpredecessor's memory the credit which will be
rightfully its due!" And I said to the ghost of Mr. SurveyorPue--"I will!"
On Hester Prynne's storythereforeI bestowed much thought. It was thesubject of my meditations for many an
hourwhile pacing to and fro across my roomor traversingwith ahundredfold repetitionthe long extent from the
front-door of the Custom-House to the side-entranceand back again. Greatwere the weariness and annoyance of the
old Inspector and the Weighers and Gaugerswhose slumbers were disturbed bythe unmercifully lengthened tramp of
my passing and returning footsteps. Remembering their own former habitstheyused to say that the Surveyor was
walking the quarter-deck. They probably fancied that my sole object--andindeedthe sole object for which a sane man
could ever put himself into voluntary motion--wasto get an appetite fordinner. And to say the truthan appetite
sharpened by the east-wind that generally blew along the passagewas theonly valuable result of so much indefatigable
exercise. So little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom-House to thedelicate harvest of fancy and sensibilitythathad
I remained there through ten Presidencies yet to comeI doubt whether thetale of "The Scarlet Letter" would ever have
been brought before the public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. Itwould not reflector only with miserable
dimnessthe figures with which I did my best to people it. The characters ofthe narrative would not be warmed and
rendered malleableby any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual forge.They would take neither the glow of passion
nor the tenderness of sentimentbut retained all the rigidity of deadcorpsesand stared me in the face with a fixed and
ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance. "What have you to do withus?" that expression seemed to say. "The little power
you might have once possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone! You havebartered it for a pittance of the public
gold. Gothenand earn your wages!" In shortthe almost torpidcreatures 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 claimedas his share of my daily lifethat
this wretched numbness held possession of me. It went with me on my sea-shorewalks and rambles into the country
whenever--which was seldom and reluctantly--I bestirred myself to seek thatinvigorating charm of Naturewhich used
to give me such freshness and activity of thoughtthe moment that I steppedacross the threshold of the Old Manse. The
same torporas regarded the capacity for intellectual effortaccompanied mehomeand weighed upon me in the
chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor did it quit me whenlateat nightI sat in the deserted parlour
lighted only by the glimmering coal-fire and the moonstriving to pictureforth imaginary sceneswhichthe next day
might flow out on the brightening page in many-hued description.
If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hourit might well bedeemed a hopeless case. Moonlightin a
familiar roomfalling so white upon the carpetand showing all its figuresso distinctly--making every object so
minutely visibleyet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility--is amedium the most suitable for a romance-writer to
get acquainted with his illusive guests. There is the little domestic sceneryof the well-known apartment; the chairswith
each its separate individuality; the centre-tablesustaining a work-basketa volume or twoand an extinguished lamp;
the sofa; the book-case; the picture on the wall;--all these detailssocompletely seenare so spiritualized by the unusual
lightthat they seem to lose their actual substanceand become things ofintellect. Nothing is too small or too trifling to
undergo this changeand acquire dignity thereby. A child's shoe; the dollseated in her little wicker carriage; the hobby-.12
horse;--whateverin a wordhas been used or played withduring the dayisnow invested with a quality of strangeness
and remotenessthough still almost as vividly present as by daylight. Thusthereforethe floor of our familiar room has
become a neutral territorysomewhere between the real world and fairy-landwhere the Actual and the Imaginary may
meetand each imbue itself with the nature of the other. Ghosts might enterherewithout affrighting us. It would be too
much in keeping with the scene to excite surprisewere we to look about usand discover a formbelovedbut gone
hencenow sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshinewith anaspect that would make us doubt whether it had
returned from afaror had never once stirred from our fireside.
The somewhat dim coal-fire has an essential influence in producing the effectwhich I would describe. It throws
its unobtrusive tinge throughout the roomwith a faint ruddiness upon thewalls and ceilingand a reflected gleam from
the polish of the furniture. This warmer light mingles itself with the coldspirituality of the moonbeamsand
communicatesas it werea heart and sensibilities of human tenderness tothe forms which fancy summons up. It
converts them from snow-images into men and women. Glancing at thelooking-glasswe behold--deep within its
haunted verge--the smouldering glow of the half-extinguished anthracitethewhite moonbeams on the floorand a
repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picturewith one removefarther from the actualand nearer to the
imaginative. Thenat such an hourand with this scene before himif a mansitting all alonecannot dream strange
thingsand make them look like truthhe need never try to write romances.
Butfor myselfduring the whole of my Custom-House experiencemoonlightand sunshineand the glow of
fire-lightwere just alike in my regard; and neither of them was of one whitmore avail than the twinkle of a tallow-candle.
An entire class of susceptibilitiesand a gift connected with them--of nogreat richness or valuebut the best I
had--was gone from me.
It is my beliefhoweverthathad I attempted a different order ofcompositionmy faculties would not have been
found so pointless and inefficacious. I mightfor instancehave contentedmyself with writing out the narratives of a
veteran shipmasterone of the Inspectorswhom I should be most ungratefulnot to mention; since scarcely a day passed
that he did not stir me to laughter and admiration by his marvellous gifts asa story-teller. Could I have preserved the
picturesque force of his styleand the humorous coloring which nature taughthim how to throw over his descriptions
the resultI honestly believewould have been something new in literature.Or I might readily have found a more
serious task. It was a follywith the materiality of this daily lifepressing so intrusively upon meto attempt to fling
myself back into another age; or to insist on creating the semblance of aworld out of airy matterwhenat every
momentthe impalpable beauty of my soap-bubble was broken by the rudecontact of some actual circumstance. The
wiser effort would have beento diffuse thought and imagination through theopaque substance of to-dayand thus to
make it a bright transparency; to spiritualize the burden that began to weighso heavily; to seekresolutelythe true and
indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and wearisome incidentsand ordinary characterswith which I was now
conversant. The fault was mine. The page of life that was spread out beforeme seemed dull and commonplaceonly
because I had not fathomed its deeper import. A better book than I shall everwrite was there; leaf after leaf presenting
itself to mejust as it was written out by the reality of the flitting hourand vanishing as fast as writtenonly because my
brain wanted the insight and my hand the cunning to transcribe it. At somefuture dayit may beI shall remember a few
scattered fragments and broken paragraphsand write them downand find theletters turn to gold upon the page.
These perceptions have come too late. At the instantI was only consciousthat what would have been a pleasure
once was now a hopeless toil. There was no occasion to make much moan aboutthis state of affairs. I had ceased to be a
writer of tolerably poor tales and essaysand had become a tolerably goodSurveyor of the Customs. That was all. But
neverthelessit is any thing but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion thatone's intellect is dwindling away; or
exhalingwithout your consciousnesslike ether out of a phial; so thatatevery glanceyou find a smaller and less
volatile residuum. Of the factthere could be no doubt; andexaminingmyself and othersI was led to conclusions in
reference to the effect of public office on the characternot very favorableto the mode of life in question. In some other
formperhapsI may hereafter develop these effects. Suffice it here to saythat a Custom-House officerof long
continuancecan hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personageformany reasons; one of themthe tenure by
which he holds his situationand anotherthe very nature of his businesswhich--thoughI trustan 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 observablemore or lessin everyindividual who has occupied the position--is
thatwhile he leans on the mighty arm of the Republichis own properstrength departs from him. He losesin an extent
proportioned to the weakness or force of his original naturethe capabilityof self-support. If he possesses an unusual
share of native energyor the enervating magic of place do not operate toolong upon himhis forfeited powers may be
redeemable. The ejected officer--fortunate in the unkindly shove that sendshim forth betimesto struggle amid a
struggling world--may return to himselfand become all that he has everbeen. But this seldom happens. He usually
keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruinand is then thrust outwith sinews all unstrungto totter along the
difficult footpath of life as he best may. Conscious of his owninfirmity--that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost--
he for ever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support externalto himself. His pervading and continual
hope--a hallucinationwhichin the face of all discouragementand makinglight of impossibilitieshaunts him while he
livesandI fancylike the convulsive throes of the choleratorments himfor a brief space after death--isthatfinally
and in no long timeby some happy coincidence of circumstanceshe shall berestored to office. This faithmore than
any thing elsesteals the pith and availability out of whatever enterprisehe may dream of undertaking. Why should he
toil and moiland be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mudwhenin a little while hencethe strong arm.13
of his Uncle will raise and support him? Why should he work for his livinghereor go to dig gold in Californiawhen
he is so soon to be made happyat monthly intervalswith a little pile ofglittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket? It is
sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect apoor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle
Sam's gold--meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman--hasin thisrespecta quality of enchantment like that
of the Devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himselfor hemay find the bargain to go hard against him
involvingif not his soulyet many of its better attributes; its sturdyforceits courage and constancyits truthits self-reliance
and all that gives the emphasis to manly character.
Here was a fine prospect in the distance! Not that the Surveyor brought thelesson home to himselfor admitted
that he could be so utterly undoneeither by continuance in officeorejectment. Yet my reflections were not the most
comfortable. I began to grow melancholy and restless; continually prying intomy mindto discover which of its poor
properties were goneand what degree of detriment had already accrued to theremainder. I endeavoured to calculate
how much longer I could stay in the Custom-Houseand yet go forth a man. Toconfess the truthit was my greatest
apprehension--as it would never be a measure of policy to turn out so quietan individual as myselfand it being hardly
in the nature of a public officer to resign--it was my chief troublethereforethat I was likely to grow gray and decrepit
in the Surveyorshipand become much such another animal as the oldInspector. Might it notin the tedious lapse of
official life that lay before mefinally be with me as it was with thisvenerable friend--to make the dinner-hour the
nucleus of the dayand to spend the rest of itas an old dog spends itasleep in the sunshine or the shade? A dreary
look-forward thisfor a man who felt it to be the best definition ofhappiness to live throughout the whole range of his
faculties and sensibilities! Butall this whileI was giving myself veryunnecessary alarm. Providence had meditated
better things for me than I could possibly imagine for my self.
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 essentialin order to form acomplete estimate of the advantages of official life
to view the incumbent at the in-coming of a hostile administration. Hisposition is then one of the most singularly
irksomeandin every contingencydisagreeablethat a wretched mortal canpossibly occupy; with seldom an
alternative of goodon either handalthough what presents itself to him asthe worst event may very probably be the
best. But it is a strange experienceto a man of pride and sensibilitytoknow that his interests are within the control of
individuals who neither love nor understand himand by whomsince one orthe other must needs happenhe would
rather be injured than obliged. Strangetoofor one who has kept hiscalmness throughout the contestto observe the
bloodthirstiness that is developed in the hour of triumphand to beconscious that he is himself among its objects! There
are few uglier traits of human nature than this tendency--which I nowwitnessed in men no worse than their neighbours--
to grow cruelmerely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm. Ifthe guillotineas applied to office-holders
were a literal factinstead of one of the most apt of metaphorsit is mysincere beliefthat the active members
of the victorious party were sufficiently excited to have chopped off all ourheadsand have thanked Heaven for the
opportunity! It appears to me--who have been a calm and curious observeraswell in victory as defeat--that this fierce
and bitter spirit of malice and revenge has never distinguished the manytriumphs of my own party as it now did that of
the Whigs. The Democrats take the officesas a general rulebecause theyneed themand because the practice of many
years has made it the law of political warfarewhichunless a differentsystem be proclaimedit was weakness and
cowardice to murmur at. But the long habit of victory has made them generous.They know how to sparewhen they see
occasion; and when they strikethe axe may be sharpindeedbut its edge isseldom poisoned with ill-will; nor is it their
custom ignominiously to kick the head which they have just struck off.
In shortunpleasant as was my predicamentat bestI saw much reason tocongratulate myself that I was on the
losing siderather than the triumphant one. IfheretoforeI had been noneof the warmest of partisansI began nowat
this season of peril and adversityto be pretty acutely sensible with whichparty my predilections lay; nor was it without
something like regret and shamethataccording to a reasonable calculationof chancesI saw my own prospect of
retaining office to be better than those of my Democratic brethren. But whocan see an inch into futuritybeyond his
nose? My own head was the first that fell!
The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom or neverI am inclined tothinkprecisely the most agreeable
of his life. Neverthelesslike the greater part of our misfortuneseven soserious a contingency brings its remedy and
consolation with itif the sufferer will but make the bestrather than theworstof the accident which has befallen him.
In my particular casethe consolatory topics were close at handandindeedhad suggested themselves to my
meditations a considerable time before it was requisite to use them. In viewof my previous weariness of officeand
vague thoughts of resignationmy fortune somewhat resembled that of a personwho should entertain an idea of
committing suicideandaltogether beyond his hopesmeet with the good hapto be murdered. In the Custom-Houseas
before in the Old ManseI had spent three years; a term long enough to resta weary brain; long enough to break off old
intellectual habitsand make room for new ones; long enoughand too longto have lived in an unnatural statedoing
what was really of no advantage nor delight to any human beingandwithholding myself from toil that wouldat least
have stilled an unquiet impulse in me. Thenmoreoveras regarded hisunceremonious ejectmentthe late Surveyor was
not altogether ill-pleased to be recognized by the Whigs as an enemy; sincehis inactivity in political affairs--his
tendency to roamat willin that broad and quiet field where all mankindmay meetrather than confine himself to those
narrow paths where brethren of the same household must diverge from oneanother--had sometimes made it
questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was a friend. Nowafterhe had won the crown of martyrdom
(though with no longer a head to wear it on) the point might be looked uponas settled. Finallylittle heroic as he wasit.14
seemed more decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of the party with whichhe had been content to standthan to
remain a forlorn survivorwhen so many worthier men were falling; andatlastafter subsisting for four years on the
mercy of a hostile administrationto be compelled then to define hisposition anewand claim the yet more humiliating
mercy of a friendly one.
Meanwhilethe press had taken up my affairand kept mefor a week or twocareering through the public prints
in my decapitated statelike Irving's Headless Horseman; ghastly and grimand longing to be buriedas a political dead
man ought. So much for my figurative self. The real human beingall thistimewith his head safely on his shoulders
had brought himself to the comfortable conclusionthat every thing was forthe best; andmaking an investment in ink
paperand steel-penshad opened his long-disused writing-deskand wasagain a literary man.
Now it wasthat the lucubrations of my ancient predecessorMr. SurveyorPuecame into play. Rusty through
long idlenesssome little space was requisite before my intellectualmachinery could be brought to work upon the tale
with an effect in any degree satisfactory. Even yetthough my thoughts wereultimately much absorbed in the taskit
wearsto my eyea stern and sombre aspect; too much ungladdened by genialsunshine; too little relieved by the tender
and familiar influences which soften almost every scene of nature and reallifeandundoubtedlyshould soften every
picture of them. This uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period ofhardly accomplished revolutionand still
seething turmoilin which the story shaped itself. It is no indicationhoweverof a lack of cheerfulness in the writer's
mind; for he was happierwhile straying through the gloom of these sunlessfantasiesthan at any time since he had
quitted the Old Manse. Some of the briefer articleswhich contribute to makeup the volumehave likewise been written
since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and honors of public lifeandthe remainder are gleaned from annuals
and magazinesof such antique date that they have gone round the circleandcome back to novelty again. * Keeping up
the metaphor of the political guillotinethe whole may be considered as the"POSTHUMOUS PAPERS OF A
DECAPITATED SURVEYOR"; and the sketch which I am now bringing to acloseif too autobiographical for a
modest person to publish in his lifetimewill readily be excused in agentleman who writes from beyond the grave.
Peace be with all the world! My blessing on my friends! My forgiveness to myenemies! For I am in the realm of quiet!
*"At the time of writing this articlethe author intended to publishalong with The Scarlet Letterseveral shorter
tales and sketches. These it has been thought advisable to defer."[Author's note]
The life of the Custom-House lies like a dream behind me. The oldInspector--whoby the byI regret to say
was overthrown and killed by a horsesome time ago; else he would certainlyhave lived for ever--heand all those
other venerable personages who sat with him at the receipt of customare butshadows in my view; white-headed and
wrinkled imageswhich my fancy used to sport withand has now flung asidefor ever. The merchants--Pingree
PhillipsShepardUptonKimballBertramHunt--theseand many othernameswhich had such a classic familiarity
for my ear six months ago--these men of trafficwho seemed to occupy soimportant a position in the world--how little
time has it required to disconnect me from them allnot merely in actbutrecollection! It is with an effort that I recall
the figures and appellations of these few. Soonlikewisemy old native townwill loom upon me through the haze of
memorya mist brooding over and around it; as if it were no portion of thereal earthbut an overgrown village in cloud-land
with only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden housesand walk itshomely lanesand the unpicturesque
prolixity of its main street. Henceforthit ceases to be a reality of mylife. I am a citizen of somewhere else. My good
townspeople will not much regret me; for--though it has been as dear anobject as anyin my literary effortsto be of
some importance in their eyesand to win myself a pleasant memory in thisabode and burial-place of so many of my
forefathers--there has never beenfor methe genial atmosphere which aliterary man requiresin order to ripen the best
harvest of his mind. I shall do better amongst other faces; and thesefamiliar onesit need hardly be saidwill do just as
well without me.
It may behowever--Otransporting and triumphant thought!--that thegreat-grandchildren of the present race
may sometimes think kindly of the scribbler of bygone dayswhen theantiquary of days to comeamong the sites
memorable in the town's historyshall point out the locality of THETOWN-PUMP!
A throng of bearded menin sad-colored garments and graysteeple-crownedhatsintermixed with women
some wearing hoodsand others bareheadedwas assembled in front of a woodenedificethe door of which was heavily
timbered with oakand studded with iron spikes.
The founders of a new colonywhatever Utopia of human virtue and happinessthey might originally project
have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities toallot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery
and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this ruleitmay safely be assumed that the forefathers of
Boston had built the first prison-housesomewhere in the vicinity ofCornhillalmost as seasonably as they marked out
the first burial-groundon Isaac Johnson's lotand round about his gravewhich subsequently became the nucleus of all
the congregated sepulchres in the old church-yard of King's Chapel. Certainit isthatsome fifteen or twenty years after
the settlement of the townthe wooden jail was already marked withweather-stains and other indications of agewhich
gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust onthe ponderous iron-work of its oaken door
looked more antique than any thing else in the new world. Like all thatpertains to crimeit seemed never to have
known a youthful era. Before this ugly edificeand between it and thewheel-track of the streetwas a grass-plotmuch
overgrown with burdockpig-weedapple-peruand such unsightly vegetationwhich evidently found something
congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilizedsocietya prison. Buton one side of the portal.15
and rooted almost at the thresholdwas a wild rose-bushcoveredin thismonth of Junewith its delicate gemswhich
might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoneras he went inand to the condemned
criminal as he came forth to his doomin token that the deep heart of Naturecould pity and be kind to him.
This rose-bushby a strange chancehas been kept alive in history; butwhether it had merely survived out of the
stern old wildernessso long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaksthat originally overshadowed it--or whetheras
there is fair authority for believingit had sprung up under the footstepsof the sainted Ann Hutchinsonas she entered
the prison-door--we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it sodirectly on the threshold of our narrativewhich
is now about to issue from that inauspicious portalwe could hardly dootherwise than pluck one of its flowers and
present it to the reader. It may servelet us hopeto symb olize some sweetmoral blossomthat may be found along the
trackor relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
The grass-plot before the jailin Prison Laneon a certain summer morningnot less than two centuries agowas
occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston; all withtheir eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped
oaken door. Amongst any other populationor at a later period in the historyof New Englandthe grim rigidity that
petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have auguredsome awful business in hand. It could
have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some notedculpriton whom the sentence of a legal
tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. Butin thatearly severity of the Puritan characteran
inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that asluggish bond-servantor an undutiful child
whom his parents had given over to the civil authoritywas to be correctedat the whipping-post. It might be that an
Antinomiana Quakeror other heterodox religionistwas to be scourged outof the townor an idle or vagrant Indian
whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streetswas to bedriven with stripes into the shadow of the
forest. It might betoothat a witchlike old Mistress Hibbinsthebitter-tempered widow of the magistratewas to die
upon the gallows. In either casethere was very much the same solemnity ofdemeanour on the part of the spectators; as
befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identicaland inwhose character both were so
thoroughly interfusedthat the mildest and severest acts of publicdiscipline were alike made venerable and awful.
Meagreindeedand coldwas the sympathy that a transgressor might lookforfrom such bystanders at the scaffold. On
the other handa penalty whichin our dayswould infer a degree of mockinginfamy and ridiculemight then be
invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.
It was a circumstance to be notedon the summer morning when our storybegins its coursethat the womenof
whom there were several in the crowdappeared to take a peculiar interest inwhatever penal infliction might be
expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinementthat any sense ofimpropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat
and farthingale from stepping forth into the public waysand wedging theirnot unsubstantial personsif occasion were
into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morallyas well asmateriallythere was a coarser fibre in those
wives and maidens of old English birth and breedingthan in their fairdescendantsseparated from them by a series of
six or seven generations; forthroughout that chain of ancestryeverysuccessive mother has transmitted to her child a
fainter blooma more delicate and briefer beautyand a slighter physicalframeif not a character of less force and
soliditythan her own. The womenwho were now standing about theprison-doorstood within less than half a century
of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogetherunsuitable representative of the sex. They were
her countrywomen; and the beef and ale of their native landwith a moraldiet not a whit more refinedentered largely
into their composition. The bright morning sunthereforeshone on broadshoulders and well-developed bustsand on
round and ruddy cheeksthat had ripened in the far-off islandand hadhardly yet grown paler or thinner in the
atmosphere of New England. There wasmoreovera boldness and rotundity ofspeech among these matronsas most of
them seemed to bethat would startle us at the present daywhether inrespect to its purport or its volume of tone.
"Goodwives" said a hard-featured dame of fifty"I'll tell yea piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the
public behoofif we womenbeing of mature age and church-members in goodreputeshould have the handling of such
malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think yegossips? If the hussystood up for judgment before us fivethat are
now here in a knot togetherwould she come off with such a sentence as theworshipful magistrates have awarded?
MarryI trow not!"
"People say" said another"that the Reverend MasterDimmesdaleher godly pastortakes it very grievously to
heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."
"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemenbut merciful overmuch--thatis a truth" added a third autumnal
matron. "At the very leastthey should have put the brand of a hot ironon Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester
would have winced at thatI warrant me. But she--the naughtybaggage--little will she care what they put upon the
bodice of her gown! Whylook youshe may cover it with a broochor suchlike heathenish adornmentand so walk the
streets as brave as ever!"
"Ahbut" interposedmore softlya young wifeholding a childby 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 brandswhether on the bodice of her gownor the flesh of her forehead?" cried
another femalethe ugliest as well as the most pitiless of theseself-constituted judges. "This woman has brought shame
upon us alland ought to die. Is there no law for it? Truly there isbothin the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let
the magistrateswho have made it of no effectthank themselves if their ownwives and daughters go astray!".16
"Mercy on usgoodwife" exclaimed a man in the crowd"isthere no virtue in womansave what springs from a
wholesome fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hushnowgossips; for the lock is turning in the prison-door
and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."
The door of the jail being flung open from withinthere appearedin thefirst placelike a black shadow
emerging into sunshinethe grim and grisly presence of the town-beadlewitha sword by his side and his staff of office
in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect thewhole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of
lawwhich it was his business to administer in its final and closestapplication to the offender. Stretching forth the
official staff in his left handhe laid his right upon the shoulder of ayoung womanwhom he thus drew forward until
on the threshold of the prison-doorshe repelled himby an action markedwith natural dignity and force of character
and stepped into the open airas if by her own free-will. She bore in herarms a childa baby of some three months old
who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day;because its existenceheretoforehad brought
it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeonor other darksomeapartment of the prison.
When the young woman--the mother of this child--stood fully revealed beforethe crowdit seemed to be her first
impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulseof motherly affectionas that she might
thereby conceal a certain tokenwhich was wrought or fastened into herdress. In a momenthoweverwisely judging
that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide anothershe tookthe baby on her armandwith a burning
blushand yet a haughty smileand a glance that would not be abashedlooked around at her townspeople and
neighbours. On the breast of her gownin fine red clothsurrounded with anelaborate embroidery and fantastic
flourishes of gold threadappeared the letter A. It was so artisticallydoneand with so much fertility and gorgeous
luxuriance of fancythat it had all the effect of a last and fittingdecoration to the apparel which she wore; and which
was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the agebut greatly beyondwhat was allowed by the sumptuary
regulations of the colony.
The young woman was tallwith a figure of perfect eleganceon a largescale. She had dark and abundant hair
so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleamand a face whichbesides being beautiful from regularity of
feature and richness of complexionhad the impressiveness belonging to amarked brow and deep black eyes. She was
lady-liketooafter the manner of the feminine gentility of those days;characterized by a certain state and dignity
rather than by the delicateevanescentand indescribable gracewhich isnow recognized as its indication. And never
had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-likein the antique interpretation ofthe termthan as she issued from the prison.
Those who had before known herand had expected to behold her dimmed andobscured by a disastrous cloudwere
astonishedand even startledto perceive how her beauty shone outand madea halo of the misfortune and ignominy in
which she was enveloped. It may be truethatto a sensitive observertherewas something exquisitely painful in it. Her
attirewhichindeedshe had wrought for the occasionin prisonand hadmodelled much after her own fancyseemed
to express the attitude of her spiritthe desperate recklessness of hermoodby its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But
the point which drew all eyesandas it weretransfigured the wearer--sothat both men and womenwho had been
familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynnewere now impressed as if theybeheld her for the first time--was that
SCARLET LETTERso fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.It had the effect of a spelltaking
her out of the ordinary relations with humanityand inclosing her in asphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needlethat's certain" remarked oneof the female spectators; "but did ever a woman
before this brazen hussycontrive such a way of showing it! Whygossipswhat is it but to laugh in the faces of our
godly magistratesand make a pride out of what theyworthy gentlemenmeantfor 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 letterwhich she hath stitched socuriouslyI'll bestow a rag of mine own
rheumatic flannelto make a fitter one!"
"Opeaceneighbourspeace!" whispered their youngest companion."Do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that
embroidered letterbut she has felt it in her heart."
The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.
"Make waygood peoplemake wayin the King's name" cried he."Open a passage; andI promise yeMistress
Prynne shall be set where manwomanand child may have a fair sight of herbrave apparelfrom this time till an hour
past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusettswhereiniquity is dragged out into the
sunshine! Come alongMadam Hesterand show your scarlet letter in themarket-place!"
A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by thebeadleand attended by an
irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly-visaged womenHesterPrynne set forth towards the place
appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboysunderstanding little of the matter in hand
except that it gave them a half-holidayran before her progressturningtheir heads continually to stare into her face
and at the winking baby in her armsand at the ignominious letter on herbreast. It was no great distancein those days
from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner'sexperiencehoweverit might be reckoned a
journey of some length; forhaughty as her demeanour wasshe perchanceunderwent an agony from every footstep of
those that thronged to see heras if her heart had been flung into thestreet for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our
naturehoweverthere is a provisionalike marvellous and mercifulthatthe sufferer should never know the intensity of
what he endures by its present torturebut chiefly by the pang that ranklesafter it. With almost a serene deportment
thereforeHester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordealand cameto a sort of scaffoldat the western.17
extremity of the market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston'searliest churchand appeared to be a fixture
In factthis scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machinewhich nowfor two or three generations pasthas
been merely historical and traditionary among usbut was heldin the oldtimeto be as effectual an agent in the
promotion of good citizenshipas ever was the guillotine among theterrorists of France. It wasin shortthe platform of
the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument ofdisciplineso fashioned as to confine the human head
in its tight graspand thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal ofignominy was embodied and made manifest in
this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outragemethinksagainstour common nature--whatever be the
delinquencies of the individual--no outrage more flagrant than to forbid theculprit to hide his face for shame; as it was
the essence of this punis hment to do. In Hester Prynne's instancehoweveras not unfrequently in other casesher
sentence borethat she should stand a certain time upon the platformbutwithout undergoing that gripe about the neck
and confinement of the headthe proneness to which was the most devilishcharacteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing
well her partshe ascended a flight of wooden stepsand was thus displayedto the surrounding multitudeat about the
height of a man's shoulders above the street.
Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritanshe might have seen inthis beautiful womanso picturesque
in her attire and mienand with the infant at her bosoman object to remindhim of the image of Divine Maternity
which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent;something which should remind him
indeedbut only by contrastof that sacred image of sinless motherhoodwhose infant was to redeem the world. Here
there was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human lifeworking such effectthat the world was only
the darker for this woman's beautyand the more lost for the infant that shehad borne.
The scene was not without a mixture of awesuch as must always invest thespectacle of guilt and shame in a
fellow-creaturebefore society shall have grown corrupt enough to smileinstead of shudderingat it. The witnesses of
Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. Theywere stern enough to look upon her death
had that been the sentencewithout a murmur at its severitybut had none ofthe heartlessness of another social state
which would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the present.Even had there been a disposition to turn the
matter into ridiculeit must have been repressed and overpowered by thesolemn presence of men no less dignified than
the Governorand several of his counsellorsa judgea generaland theministers of the town; all of whom sat or stood
in a balcony of the meeting-houselooking down upon the platform. When suchpersonages could constitute a part of
the spectaclewithout risking the majesty or reverence of rank and officeit was safely to be inferred that the infliction
of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning. Accordinglythe crowd was sombre and grave. The
unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman mightunder the heavyweight of a thousand unrelenting eyesall
fastened upon herand concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerableto be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate
natureshe had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabsof public contumelywreaking itself in
every variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in thesolemn mood of the popular mindthat she
longed rather to behold all those rigid countenances contorted with scornfulmerrimentand herself the object. Had a
roar of laughter burst from the multitude--each maneach womaneach littleshrill-voiced childcontributing their
individual parts--Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter anddisdainful smile. Butunder the leaden
infliction which it was her doom to endureshe feltat momentsas if shemust needs shriek out with the full power of
her lungsand cast herself from the scaffold down upon the groundor elsego mad at once.
Yet there were intervals when the whole scenein which she was the mostconspicuous objectseemed to vanish
from her eyesorat leastglimmered indistinctly before themlike a massof imperfectly shaped and spectral images.
Her mindand especially her memorywas preternaturally activeand keptbringing up other scenes than this roughly
hewn street of a little townon the edge of the Western wilderness; otherfaces than were lowering upon her from
beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Reminiscencesthe mosttrifling and immaterialpassages of infancy
and school-dayssportschildish quarrelsand the little domestic traits ofher maiden yearscame swarming back upon
herintermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest in hersubsequent life; one picture precisely as vivid as
another; as if all were of similar importanceor all alike a play. Possiblyit was an instinctive device of her spirit to
relieve itselfby the exhibition of these phantasmagoric formsfrom thecruel weight and hardness of the reality.
Be that as it mightthe scaffold of the pillory was a point of view thatrevealed to Hester Prynne the entire track
along which she had been treadingsince her happy infancy. Standing on thatmiserable eminenceshe saw again her
native villagein Old Englandand her paternal home; a decayed house ofgray stonewith a poverty-stricken aspect
but retaining a half-obliterated shield of arms over the portalin token ofantique gentility. She saw her father's face
with its bold browand reverend white beardthat flowed over theold-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her mother'stoo
with the look of heedful and anxious love which it always wore in herremembranceand whicheven since her death
had so often laid the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter'spathway. She saw her own faceglowing
with girlish beautyand illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror inwhich she had been wont to gaze at it. There
she beheld another countenanceof a man well stricken in yearsa palethinscholar-like visagewith eyes dim and
bleared by the lamp -light that had served them to pore over many ponderousbooks. Yet those same bleared optics had a
strangepenetrating powerwhen it was their owner's purpose to read thehuman soul. This figure of the study and the
cloisteras Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recallwas slightlydeformedwith the left shoulder a trifle
higher than the right. Next rose before herin memory's picture-gallerytheintricate and narrow thoroughfaresthe tall
gray housesthe huge cathedralsand the public edificesancient in dateand quaint in architectureof a Continental.18
city; where a new life had awaited herstill in connection with themisshapen scholar; a new lifebut feeding itself on
time-worn materialslike a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastlyin lieu of these shifting scenescame back
the rude market-place of the Puritan settlementwith all the townspeopleassembled and levelling their stern regards at
Hester Prynne--yesat herself--who stood on the scaffold of the pilloryan infant on her armand the letter Ain
scarletfantastically embroidered with gold threadupon her bosom!
Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breastthat itsent forth a cry; she turned her eyes
downward at the scarlet letterand even touched it with her fingertoassure herself that the infant and the shame were
real. Yes!--these were her realities--all else had vanished!
From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and universalobservationthe wearer of the scarlet
letter was at length relieved by discerningon the outskirts of the crowdafigure which irresistibly took possession of
her thoughts. An Indianin his native garbwas standing there; but the redmen were not so infrequent visitors of the
English settlementsthat one of them would have attracted any notice fromHester Prynneat such a time; much less
would he have excluded all other objects and ideas from her mind. By theIndian's sideand evidently sustaining a
companionship with himstood a white manclad in a strange disarray ofcivilized and savage costume.
He was small in staturewith a furrowed visagewhichas yetcould hardlybe termed aged. There was a
remarkable intelligence in his featuresas of a person who had so cultivatedhis mental part that it could not fail to
mould the physical to itselfand become manifest by unmistakable tokens.Althoughby a seemingly careless
arrangement of his heterogeneous garbhe had endeavoured to conceal or abatethe peculiarityit was sufficiently
evident to Hester Prynnethat one of this man's shoulders rose higher thanthe other. Againat the first instant of
perceiving that thin visageand the slight deformity of the figureshepressed her infant to her bosomwith so
convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain. But themother did not seem to hear it.
At his arrival in the market-placeand some time before she saw himthestranger had bent his eyes on Hester
Prynne. It was carelesslyat firstlike a man chiefly accustomed to lookinwardand to whom external matters are of
little value and importunless they bear relation to something within hismind. Very soonhoweverhis look became
keen and penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself across his featureslike a snake gliding swiftly over themand
making one little pausewith all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.His face darkened with some powerful
emotionwhichneverthelesshe so instantaneously controlled by an effortof his willthatsave at a single momentits
expression might have passed for calmness. After a brief spacetheconvulsion grew almost imperceptibleand finally
subsided into the depths of his nature. When he found the eyes of HesterPrynne fastened on his ownand saw that she
appeared to recognize himhe slowly and calmly raised his fingermade agesture with it in the airand laid it on his
Thentouching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to himhe addressedhim in a formal and courteous
"I pray yougood Sir" said he"who is this woman?--andwherefore is she here set up to public shame?"
"You must needs be a stranger in this regionfriend" answered thetownsmanlooking curiously at the
questioner and his savage companion; "else you would surely have heardof Mistress Hester Prynneand her evil
doings. She hath raised a great scandalI promise youin godly MasterDimmesdale's church."
"You say truly" replied the other. "I am a strangerand havebeen a wanderersorely against my will. I have met
with grievous mishaps by sea and landand have been long held in bonds amongthe heathen-folkto the southward;
and am now brought hither by this Indianto be redeemed out of my captivity.Will it please youthereforeto tell me of
Hester Prynne's--have I her name rightly?--of this woman's offencesandwhat has brought her to yonder scaffold?"
"Trulyfriendand methinks it must gladden your heartafter yourtroubles and sojourn in the wilderness" said
the townsman"to find yourselfat lengthin a land where iniquity issearched outand punished in the sight of rulers
and peopleas here in our godly New England. Yonder womanSiryou mustknowwas the wife of a certain learned
manEnglish by birthbut who had long dwelt in Amsterdamwhencesome goodtime agonehe was minded to cross
over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts. To this purposehesent his wife before himremaining himself to
look after some necessary affairs. Marrygood Sirin some two yearsorlessthat the woman has been a dweller here
in Bostonno tidings have come of this learned gentlemanMaster Prynne; andhis young wifelook youbeing 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 whoby your favorSirmay be the fatherof yonder babe--it is some three or four
months oldI should judge--which Mistress Prynne is holding in herarms?"
"Of a truthfriendthat matter remaineth a riddle; and the Daniel whoshall expound it is yet a-wanting"
answered the townsman. "Madam Hester absolutely refuseth to speakandthe magistrates have laid their heads together
in vain. Peradventure the guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacleunknown of manand forgetting that God
"The learned man" observed the strangerwith another smile"should come himself to look into the mystery."
"It behooves him wellif he be still in life" responded thetownsman. "Nowgood Sirour Massachusetts
magistracybethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fairanddoubtless was strongly tempted to her fall;--
and thatmoreoveras is most likelyher husband may be at the bottom ofthe sea;--they have not been bold to put in.19
force the extremity of our righteous law against her. The penalty thereof isdeath. Butin their great mercy and
tenderness of heartthey have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a spaceof three hours on the platform of the
pilloryand then and thereafterfor the remainder of her natural lifetowear a mark of shame upon her bosom."
"A wise sentence!" remarked the strangergravely bowing his head."Thus she will be a living sermon against
sinuntil the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks meneverthelessthat the partner of her iniquity
should notat leaststand on the scaffold by her side. But he will beknown!--he will be known!--he will be known!"
He bowed courteously to the communicative townsmanandwhispering a fewwords to his Indian attendant
they both made their way through the crowd.
While this passedHester Prynne had been standing on her pedestalstillwith a fixed gaze towards the stranger;
so fixed a gazethatat moments of intense absorptionall other objects inthe visible world seemed to vanishleaving
only him and her. Such an interviewperhapswould have been more terriblethan even to meet him as she now did
with the hotmidday sun burning down upon her faceand lighting up itsshame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her
breast; with the sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole peopledrawnforth as to a festivalstaring at the features that
should have been seen only in the quiet gleam of the firesidein the happyshadow of a homeor beneath a matronly
veilat church. Dreadful as it wasshe was conscious of a shelter in thepresence of these thousand witnesses. It was
better to stand thuswith so many betwixt him and herthan to greet himface to facethey two alone. She fled for
refugeas it wereto the public exposureand dreaded the moment when itsprotection should be withdrawn from her.
Involved in these thoughtsshe scarcely heard a voice behind her until ithad repeated her name more than oncein a
loud and solemn toneaudible to the whole multitude.
"Hearken unto meHester Prynne!" said the voice.
It has already been noticedthat directly over the platform on which HesterPrynne stood was a kind of balcony
or open galleryappended to the meeting-house. It was the place whenceproclamations were wont to be madeamidst
an assemblage of the magistracywith all the ceremonial that attended suchpublic observances in those days. Hereto
witness the scene which we are describingsat Governor Bellingham himselfwith four sergeants about his chair
bearing halberdsas a guard of honor. He wore a dark feather in his hataborder of embroidery on his cloakand a
black velvet tunic beneath; a gentleman advanced in yearsand with a hardexperience written in his wrinkles. He was
not ill fitted to be the head and representative of a communitywhich owedits origin and progressand its present state
of developmentnot to the impulses of youthbut to the stern and temperedenergies of manhoodand the sombre
sagacity of age; accomplishing so muchprecisely because it imagined andhoped so little. The other eminent
charactersby whom the chief ruler was surroundedwere distinguished by adignity of mienbelonging to a period
when the forms of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of divineinstitutions. They weredoubtlessgood men
justand sage. Butout of the whole human familyit would not have beeneasy to select the same number of wise and
virtuous personswho should he less capable of sitting in judgment on anerring woman's heartand disentangling its
mesh of good and evilthan the sages of rigid aspect towards whom HesterPrynne now turned her face. She seemed
consciousindeedthat whatever sympathy she might expect lay in the largerand warmer heart of the multitude; foras
she lifted her eyes towards the balconythe unhappy woman grew pale andtrembled.
The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend and famousJohn Wilsonthe eldest clergyman
of Bostona great scholarlike most of his contemporaries in theprofessionand withal a man of kind and genial spirit.
This last attributehoweverhad been less carefully developed than hisintellectual giftsand wasin truthrather a
matter of shame than self-congratulation with him. There he stoodwith aborder of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap;
while his gray eyesaccustomed to the shaded light of his studywerewinkinglike those of Hester's infantin the
unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which wesee prefixed to old volumes of sermons;
and had no more right than one of those portraits would haveto step forthas he now didand meddle with a question
of human guiltpassionand anguish.
"Hester Prynne" said the clergyman"I have striven with myyoung brother hereunder whose preaching of the
word you have been privileged to sit"--here Mr. Wilson laid his hand onthe shoulder of a pale young man beside him--"
I have soughtI sayto persuade this godly youththat he should deal withyouhere in the face of Heavenand before
these wise and upright rulersand in hearing of all the peopleas touchingthe vileness and blackness of your sin.
Knowing your natural temper better than Ihe could the better judge whatarguments to usewhether of tenderness or
terrorsuch as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy; insomuch thatyou should no longer hide the name of
him who tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me(with ayoung man's over-softnessalbeit wise beyond
his years) that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her tolay open her heart's secrets in such broad
daylightand in presence of so great a multitude. Trulyas I sought toconvince himthe shame lay in the commission of
the sinand not in the showing of it forth. What say you to itonce againbrother 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 occupants of the balcony;and Governor Bellingham gave
expression to its purportspeaking in an authoritative voicealthoughtempered with respect towards the youthful
clergyman whom he addressed.
"Good Master Dimmesdale" said he"the responsibility of thiswoman's soul lies greatly with you. It behooves
youthereforeto exhort her to repentanceand to confessionas a proofand consequence thereof."
The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd upon theReverend Mr. Dimmesdale; a young
clergymanwho had come from one of the great English universitiesbringingall the learning of the age into our wild.20
forest-land. His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnestof high eminence in his profession. He was
a person of very striking aspectwith a whiteloftyand impending browlargebrownmelancholy eyesand a mouth
whichunless when he forcibly compressed itwas apt to be tremulousexpressing both nervous sensibility and a vast
power of self-restraint. Notwithstanding his high native gifts andscholar-like attainmentsthere was an air about this
young minister--an apprehensivea startleda half-frightened look--as ofa being who felt himself quite astray and at a
loss in the pathway of human existenceand could only be at ease in someseclusion of his own. Thereforeso far as his
duties would permithe trode in the shadowy by-pathsand thus kept himselfsimple and childlike; coming forthwhen
occasion waswith a freshnessand fragranceand dewy purity of thoughtwhichas many people saidaffected them
like the speech of an angel.
Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the Governor hadintroduced so openly to the
public noticebidding him speakin the hearing of all mento that mysteryof a woman's soulso sacred even in its
pollution. The trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheekand made his lips tremulous.
"Speak to the womanmy brother" said Mr. Wilson. "It is ofmoment to her souland thereforeas the
worshipful Governor saysmomentous to thine ownin whose charge hers is.Exhort her to confess the truth!"
The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his headin silent prayeras it seemedand then came forward.
"Hester Prynne" said heleaning over the balconyand lookingdown steadfastly into her eyes"thou hearest
what this good man saysand seest the accountability under which I labor. Ifthou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace
and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual tosalvationI charge thee to speak out the name of
thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pityand tenderness for him; forbelieve me
Hesterthough he were to step down from a high placeand stand there besidetheeon thy pedestal of shameyet better
were it sothan to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence dofor himexcept it tempt him--yeacompel
himas it were--to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an openignominythat thereby thou mayest work
out an open triumph over the evil within theeand the sorrow without. Takeheed how thou deniest to him--who
perchancehath not the courage to grasp it for himself--the bitterbutwholesomecup that is now presented to thy lips!"
The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweetrichdeepand broken. Thefeeling that it so evidently
manifestedrather than the direct purport of the wordscaused it to vibratewithin all heartsand brought the listeners
into one accord of sympathy. Even the poor babyat Hester's bosomwasaffected by the same influence; for it directed
its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdaleand held up its little armswith a half pleasedhalf plaintive murmur.
So powerful seemed the minister's appealthat the people could not believebut that Hester Prynne would speak out the
guilty name; or else that the guilty one himselfin whatever high or lowlyplace he stoodwould be drawn forth by an
inward and inevitable necessityand compelled to ascend the scaffold.
Hester shook her head.
"Womantransgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!" criedthe Reverend Mr. Wilsonmore harshly
than before. "That little babe hath been gifted with a voiceto secondand confirm the counsel which thou hast heard.
Speak out the name! Thatand thy repentancemay avail to take the scarletletter off thy breast."
"Never!" replied Hester Prynnelookingnot at Mr. Wilsonbutinto the deep and troubled eyes of the younger
clergyman. "It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And wouldthat I might endure his agonyas well as mine!"
"Speakwoman!" said another voicecoldly and sternlyproceedingfrom the crowd about the scaffold. "Speak;
and give your child a father!"
"I will not speak!" answered Hesterturning pale as deathbutresponding to this voicewhich she too surely
recognized. "And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall neverknow an earthly one!"
"She will not speak!" murmured Mr. Dimmesdalewholeaning overthe balconywith his hand upon his heart
had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew backwith a longrespiration. "Wondrous strength and generosity of a
woman's heart! She will not speak!"
Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mindthe elderclergymanwho had carefully prepared
himself for the occasionaddressed to the multitude a discourse on sininall its branchesbut with continual reference
to the ignominious letter. So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbolfor thehour or more during which his periods were
rolling over the people's headsthat it assumed new terrors in theirimaginationand seemed to derive its scarlet hue
from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynnemeanwhilekept her placeupon the pedestal of shamewith glazed
eyesand an air of weary indifference. She had bornethat morningall thatnature could endure; and as her
temperament was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by aswoonher spirit could only shelter itself
beneath a stony crust of insensibilitywhile the faculties of animal liferemained entire. In this statethe voice of the
preacher thundered remorselesslybut unavailinglyupon her ears. Theinfantduring the latter portion of her ordeal
pierced the air with its wailings and screams; she strove to hush itmechanicallybut seemed scarcely to sympathize
with its trouble. With the same hard demeanourshe was led back to prisonand vanished from the public gaze within
its iron-clamped portal. It was whisperedby those who peered after herthat the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along
the dark passage-way of the interior.
After her return to the prisonHester Prynne was found to be in a state ofnervous excitement that demanded
constant watchfulnesslest she should perpetrate violence on herselfor dosome half-frenzied mischief to the poor
babe. As night approachedit proving impossible to quell her insubordinationby rebuke or threats of punishment.21
Master Brackettthe jailerthought fit to introduce a physician. Hedescribed him as a man of skill in all Christian
modes of physical scienceand likewise familiar with whatever the savagepeople could teachin respect to medicinal
herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say the truththere was muchneed of professional assistancenot merely for
Hester herselfbut still more urgently for the child; whodrawing itssustenance from the maternal bosomseemed to
have drank in with it all the turmoilthe anguishand despairwhichpervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in
convulsions of painand was a forcible typein its little frameof themoral agony which Hester Prynne had borne
throughout the day.
Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartmentappeared thatindividualof singular aspectwhose
presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest to the wearer of thescarlet letter. He was lodged in the prisonnot
as suspected of any offencebut as the most convenient and suitable mode ofdisposing of himuntil the magistrates
should have conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom. Hisname was announced as Roger
Chillingworth. The jailerafter ushering him into the roomremained amomentmarvelling at the comparative quiet
that followed his entrance; for Hester Prynne had immediately become as stillas deathalthough the child continued to
"Pritheefriendleave me alone with my patient" said thepractitioner. "Trust megood jaileryou shall briefly
have peace in your house; andI promise youMistress Prynne shall hereafterbe more amenable to just authority than
you may have found her heretofore."
"Nayif your worship can accomplish that" answered MasterBrackett"I shall own you for a man of skill
indeed! Verilythe woman hath been like a possessed one; and there lackslittlethat I should take in hand to drive
Satan out of her with stripes."
The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of theprofession to which he announced
himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanour changewhen the withdrawal ofthe prison-keeper left him face to face
with the womanwhose absorbed notice of himin the crowdhad intimated soclose a relation between himself and her.
His first care was given to the child; whose criesindeedas she laywrithing on the trundle-bedmade it of peremptory
necessity to postpone all other business to the task of soothing her. Heexamined the infant carefullyand then
proceeded to unclasp a leathern casewhich he took from beneath his dress.It appeared to contain certain medical
preparationsone of which he mingled with a cup of water.
"My old studies in alchemy" observed he"and my sojournforabove a year pastamong a people well versed in
the kindly properties of simpleshave made a better physician of me thanmany that claim the medical degree. Here
woman! The child is yours--she is none of mine--neither will she recognizemy voice or aspect as a father's.
Administer this draughtthereforewith thine own hand."
Hester repelled the offered medicineat the same time gazing with stronglymarked apprehension into his face.
"Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?" whispered she.
"Foolish woman!" responded the physicianhalf coldlyhalfsoothingly. "What should ail me to harm this
misbegotten and miserable babe? The medicine is potent for good; and were itmy child--yeamine ownas well as
thine!--I could do no better for it."
As she still hesitatedbeingin factin no reasonable state of mindhetook the infant in his armsand himself
administered the draught. It soon proved its efficacyand redeemed theleech's pledge. The moans of the little patient
subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few momentsasis the custom of young children after relief
from painit sank into a profound and dewy slumber. The physicianas he hada fair right to be termednext bestowed
his attention on the mother. With calm and intent scrutinyhe felt herpulselooked into her eyes--a gaze that made her
heart shrink and shudderbecause so familiarand yet so strange andcold--andfinallysatisfied with his investigation
proceeded to mingle another draught.
"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe" remarked he; "but I havelearned many new secrets in the wildernessand here
is one of them--a recipe that an Indian taught mein requital of somelessons of my ownthat were as old as Paracelsus.
Drink it! It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannotgive thee. But it will calm the swell and
heaving of thy passionlike oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuoussea."
He presented the cup to Hesterwho received it with a slowearnest lookinto his face; not precisely a look of
fearyet full of doubt and questioningas to what his purposes might be.She looked also at her slumbering child.
"I have thought of death" said she--"have wished forit--would even have prayed for itwere it fit that such as I
should pray for any thing. Yetif death be in this cupI bid thee thinkagainere thou beholdest me quaff it. See! It is
even now at my lips."
"Drinkthen" replied hestill with the same cold composure."Dost thou know me so littleHester Prynne? Are
my purposes wont to be so shallow? Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeancewhat could I do better for my object than
to let thee live--than to give thee medicines against all harm and peril oflife--so that this burning shame may still blaze
upon thy bosom?"--As he spokehe laid his long forefinger on thescarlet letterwhich forthwith seemed to scorch into
Hester's breastas if it had been red-hot. He noticed her involuntarygestureand smiled.--"Livethereforeand bear
about thy doom with theein the eyes of men and women--in the eyes of himwhom thou didst call thy husband--in the
eyes of yonder child! Andthat thou mayest livetake off thisdraught."
Without further expostulation or delayHester Prynne drained the cupandat the motion of the man of skill
seated herself on the bed where the child was sleeping; while he drew theonly chair which the room affordedand took
his own seat beside her. She could not but tremble at these preparations; forshe felt that--having now done all that.22
humanityor principleorif so it werea refined crueltyimpelled him todofor the relief of physical suffering--he was
next to treat with her as the man whom she had most deeply and irreparablyinjured.
"Hester" said he"I ask not whereforenor howthou hastfallen into the pitor say ratherthou hast ascended to
the pedestal of infamyon which I found thee. The reason is not far to seek.It was my follyand thy weakness. I--a
man of thought--the book-worm of great libraries--a man already in decayhaving given my best years to feed the
hungry dream of knowledge--what had I to do with youth and beauty like thineown! Misshapen from my birth-hour
how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectual gifts might veilphysical deformity in a young girl's fantasy!
Men call me wise. If sages were ever wise in their own behoofI might haveforeseen all this. I might have known that
as I came out of the vast and dismal forestand entered this settlement ofChristian menthe very first object to meet my
eyes would be thyselfHester Prynnestanding upa statue of ignominybefore the people. Nayfrom the moment when
we came down the old church-steps togethera married pairI might havebeheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter
blazing at the end of our path!"
"Thou knowest" said Hester--fordepressed as she wasshe couldnot endure this last quiet stab at the token of
her shame--"thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no lovenor feigned any."
"True!" replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. Butupto that epoch of my lifeI had lived in vain. The world
had been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enough for manyguestsbut lonely and chilland without a
household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream--oldas I wasand sombre as I wasand
misshapen as I was--that the simple blisswhich is scattered far and widefor all mankind to gather upmight yet be
mine. And soHesterI drew thee into my heartinto its innermost chamberand 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 firstwrongwhen I betrayed thy budding youth into
a false and unnatural relation with my decay. Thereforeas a man who has notthought and philosophized in vainI seek
no vengeanceplot no evil against thee. Between thee and methe scale hangsfairly balanced. ButHesterthe man
lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?"
"Ask me not!" replied Hester Prynnelooking firmly into his face."That thou shalt never know!"
"Neversayest thou?" rejoined hewith a smile of dark andself-relying intelligence. "Never know him! Believe
meHesterthere are few things--whether in the outward worldorto acertain depthin the invisible sphere of
thought--few things hidden from the manwho devotes himself earnestly andunreservedly to the solution of a mystery.
Thou mayest cover up thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayestconceal ittoofrom the ministers and
magistrateseven as thou didst this daywhen they sought to wrench the nameout of thy heartand give thee a partner
on thy pedestal. Butas for meI come to the inquest with other senses thanthey possess. I shall seek this manas I have
sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathythat will make me conscious of him. I
shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shuddersuddenly and unawares.Sooner or laterhe must needs be mine!"
The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon herthat HesterPrynne clasped her hands over her
heartdreading lest he should read the secret there at once.
"Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine" resumedhewith a look of confidenceas if destiny
were at one with him. "He bears no letter of infamy wrought into hisgarmentas thou dost; but I shall read it on his
heart. Yet fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven'sown method of retributionorto my own loss
betray him to the gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shallcontrive aught against his life; nonor against
his fame; ifas I judgehe be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let himhide himself in outward honorif he may! Not
the less he shall be mine!"
"Thy acts are like mercy" said Hesterbewildered and appalled."But thy words interpret thee as a terror!"
"One thingthou that wast my wifeI would enjoin upon thee"continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret
of thy paramour. Keeplikewisemine! There are none in this land that knowme. Breathe notto any human soulthat
thou didst ever call me husband! Hereon this wild outskirt of the earthIshall pitch my tent; forelsewhere a wanderer
and isolated from human interestsI find here a womana mana childamongst whom and myself there exist the
closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate; no matter whether ofright or wrong! Thou and thineHester
Prynnebelong to me. My home is where thou artand where he is. But betrayme not!"
"Wherefore dost thou desire it?" inquired Hestershrinkingshehardly knew whyfrom this secret bond. "Why
not announce thyself openlyand cast me off at once?"
"It may be" he replied"because I will not encounter thedishonor that besmirches the husband of a faithless
woman. It may be for other reasons. Enoughit is my purpose to live and dieunknown. Letthereforethy husband be to
the world as one already deadand of whom no tidings shall ever come.Recognize me notby wordby signby look!
Breathe not the secretabove allto the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thoufail me in thisbeware! His famehis
positionhis lifewill be in my hands. Beware!"
"I will keep thy secretas I have his" said Hester.
"Swear it!" rejoined he.
And she took the oath.
"And nowMistress Prynne" said old Roger Chillingworthas he washereafter to be named"I leave thee alone;
alone with thy infantand the scarlet letter! How is itHester? Doth thysentence bind thee to wear the token in thy
sleep? Art thou not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?".23
"Why dost thou smile so at me?" inquired Hestertroubled at theexpression of his eyes. "Art thou like the Black
Man that haunts the forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a bondthat will prove the ruin of my soul?"
"Not thy soul" he answeredwith another smile. "Nonotthine!"
Hester at Her Needle
Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end. Her prison-door wasthrown openand she came forth
into the sunshinewhichfalling on all alikeseemedto her sick andmorbid heartas if meant for no other purpose than
to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more realtorture in her first unattended footsteps from the
threshold of the prisonthan even in the procession and spectacle that havebeen describedwhere she was made the
common infamyat which all mankind was summoned to point its finger. Thenshe was supported by an unnatural
tension of the nervesand by all the combative energy of her characterwhich enabled her to convert the scene into a
kind of lurid triumph. It wasmoreovera separate and insulated eventtooccur but once in her lifetimeand to meet
whichthereforereckless of economyshe might call up the vital strengththat would have sufficed for many quiet
years. The very law that condemned her--a giant of stern featuresbut withvigor to supportas well as to annihilatein
his iron arm--had held her upthrough the terrible ordeal of her ignominy.But nowwith this unattended walk from her
prison-doorbegan the daily customand she must either sustain and carry itforward by the ordinary resources of her
natureor sink beneath it. She could no longer borrow from the futuretohelp her through the present grief. To-morrow
would bring its own trial with it; so would the next dayand so would thenext; each its own trialand yet the very same
that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. The days of the far-offfuture would toil onwardstill with the same
burden for her to take upand bear along with herbut never to fling down;for the accumulating daysand added years
would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame. Throughout them allgiving up her individualityshe would become
the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might pointand inwhich they might vivify and embody their
images of woman's frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure wouldbe taught to look at herwith the scarlet
letter flaming on her breast--at herthe child of honorable parents--atherthe mother of a babethat would hereafter be
a woman--at herwho had once been innocent--as the figurethe bodythereality of sin. And over her gravethe
infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.
It may seem marvellousthatwith the world before her--kept by norestrictive clause of her condemnation
within the limits of the Puritan settlementso remote and so obscure--freeto return to her birthplaceor to any other
European landand there hide her character and identity under a newexterioras completely as if emerging into another
state of being--and having also the passes of the darkinscrutable forestopen to herwhere the wildness of her nature
might assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life were alien fromthe law that had condemned her--it may
seem marvellousthat this woman should still call that place her homewhereand where onlyshe must needs be the
type of shame. But there is a fatalitya feeling so irresistible andinevitable that it has the force of doomwhich almost
invariably compels human beings to linger around and hauntghost-likethespot where some great and marked event
has given the color to their lifetime; and still the more irresistiblythedarker the tinge that saddens it. Her sinher
ignominywere the roots which she had struck into the soil. It was as if anew birthwith stronger assimilations than the
firsthad converted the forest-landstill so uncongenial to every otherpilgrim and wandererinto Hester Prynne's wild
and drearybut life-long home. All other scenes of earth--even that villageof rural Englandwhere happy infancy and
stainless maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keepinglike garmentsput off long ago--were foreign to herin
comparison. The chain that bound her here was of iron linksand galling toher inmost soulbut never could be broken.
It might betoo--doubtless it was soalthough she hid the secret fromherselfand grew pale whenever it
struggled out of her heartlike a serpent from its hole--it might be thatanother feeling kept her within the scene and
pathway that had been so fatal. There dweltthere trode the feet of one withwhom she deemed herself connected in a
unionthatunrecognized on earthwould bring them together before the barof final judgmentand make that their
marriage-altarfor a joint futurity of endless retribution. Over and overagainthe tempter of souls had thrust this idea
upon Hester's contemplationand laughed at the passionate and desperate joywith which she seizedand then strove to
cast it from her. She barely looked the idea in the faceand hastened to barit in its dungeon. What she compelled
herself to believe--whatfinallyshe reasoned uponas her motive forcontinuing a resident of New England--was half
a truthand half a self-delusion. Hereshe said to herselfhad been thescene of her guiltand here should be the scene
of her earthly punishment; and soperchancethe torture of her daily shamewould at length purge her souland work
out another purity than that which she had lost; more saint-likebecause theresult of martyrdom.
Hester Prynnethereforedid not flee. On the outskirts of the townwithinthe verge of the peninsulabut not in
close vicinity to any other habitationthere was a small thatched cottage.It had been built by an earlier settlerand
abandonedbecause the soil about it was too sterile for cultivationwhileits comparative remoteness put it out of the
sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of theemigrants. It stood on the shorelooking across a
basin of the sea at the forest-covered hillstowards the west. A clump ofscrubby treessuch as alone grew on the
peninsuladid not so much conceal the cottage from viewas seem to denotethat here was some object which would
fain have beenor at least ought to beconcealed. In this littlelonesomedwellingwith some slender means that she
possessedand by the license of the magistrateswho still kept aninquisitorial watch over herHester established
herselfwith her infant child. A mystic shadow of suspicion immediatelyattached itself to the spot. Childrentoo young
to comprehend wherefore this woman should be shut out from the sphere ofhuman charitieswould creep nigh enough
to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-windowor standing in thedoor-wayor laboring in her little gardenor.24
coming forth along the pathway that led townward; anddiscerning the scarletletter on her breastwould scamper off
with a strangecontagious fear.
Lonely as was Hester's situationand without a friend on earth who dared toshow himselfshehowever
incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art that sufficedeven in a landthat afforded comparatively little scope for its
exerciseto supply food for her thriving infant and herself. It was theart--thenas nowalmost the only one within a
woman's grasp--of needle-work. She bore on her breastin the curiouslyembroidered lettera specimen of her delicate
and imaginative skillof which the dames of a court might gladly haveavailed themselvesto add the richer and more
spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold.Hereindeedin the sable simplicity that
generally characterized the Puritanic modes of dressthere might be aninfrequent call for the finer productions of her
handiwork. Yet the taste of the agedemanding whatever was elaborate incompositions of this kinddid not fail to
extend its influence over our stern progenitorswho had cast behind them somany fashions which it might seem harder
to dispense with. Public ceremoniessuch as ordinationsthe installation ofmagistratesand all that could give majesty
to the forms in which a new government manifested itself to the peoplewereas a matter of policymarked by a stately
and well-conducted ceremonialand a sombrebut yet a studied magnificence.Deep ruffspainfully wrought bandsand
gorgeously embroidered gloveswere all deemed necessary to the officialstate of men assuming the reins of power; and
were readily allowed to individuals dignified by rank or wealtheven whilesumptuary laws forbade these and similar
extravagances to the plebeian order. In the array of funeralstoo--whetherfor the apparel of the dead bodyor to typify
by manifold emblematic devices of sable cloth and snowy lawnthe sorrow ofthe survivors--there was a frequent and
characteristic demand for such labor as Hester Prynne could supply.Baby-linen--for babies then wore robes of state--
afforded still another possibility of toil and emolument.
By degreesnor very slowlyher handiwork became what would now be termedthe fashion. Whether from
commiseration for a woman of so miserable a destiny; or from the morbidcuriosity that gives a fictitious value even to
common or worthless things; or by whatever other intangible circumstance wasthenas nowsufficient to bestowon
some personswhat others might seek in vain; or because Hester really filleda gap which must otherwise have
remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready and fairly requitedemployment for as many hours as she saw fit to
occupy with her needle. Vanityit may bechose to mortify itselfbyputting onfor ceremonials of pomp and statethe
garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seenon the ruff of the Governor; military
men wore it on their scarfsand the minister on his band; it decked thebaby's little cap; it was shut upto be mildewed
and moulder awayin the coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded thatina single instanceher 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
vigor with which society frowned upon her sin.
Hester sought not to acquire any thing beyond a subsistenceof the plainestand most ascetic descriptionfor
herselfand a simple abundance for her child. Her own dress was of thecoarsest materials and the most sombre hue;
with only that one ornament--the scarlet letter--which it was her doom towear. The child's attireon the other hand
was distinguished by a fancifulorwe may rather saya fantasticingenuitywhich servedindeedto heighten the airy
charm that early began to develop itself in the little girlbut whichappeared to have also a deeper meaning. We may
speak further of it hereafter. Except for that small expenditure in thedecoration of her infantHester bestowed all her
superfluous means in charityon wretches less miserable than herselfandwho not unfrequently insulted the hand that
fed them. Much of the timewhich she might readily have applied to thebetter efforts of her artshe employed in
making coarse garments for the poor. It is probable that there was an idea ofpenance in this mode of occupationand
that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoymentin devoting so many hoursto such rude handiwork. She had in her
nature a richvoluptuousOriental characteristic--a taste for thegorgeously beautifulwhichsave in the exquisite
productions of her needlefound nothing elsein all the possibilities ofher lifeto exercise itself upon. Women derive a
pleasureincomprehensible to the other sexfrom the delicate toil of theneedle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a
mode of expressingand therefore soothingthe passion of her life. Like allother joysshe rejected it as sin. This
morbid meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokenedit is tobe fearedno genuine and steadfast
penitencebut something doubtfulsomething that might be deeply wrongbeneath.
In this mannerHester Prynne came to have a part to perform in the world.With her native energy of character
and rare capacityit could not entirely cast her offalthough it had set amark upon hermore intolerable to a woman's
heart than that which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse withsocietyhoweverthere was nothing that
made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gestureevery wordand eventhe silence of those with whom she came in
contactimpliedand often expressedthat she was banishedand as muchalone as if she inhabited another sphereor
communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the restof human kind. She stood apart from
mortal interestsyet close beside themlike a ghost that revisits thefamiliar firesideand can no longer make itself seen
or felt; no more smile with the household joynor mourn with the kindredsorrow; orshould it succeed in manifesting
its forbidden sympathyawakening only terror and horrible repugnance. Theseemotionsin factand its bitterest scorn
besidesseemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the universalheart. It was not an age of delicacy; and her
positionalthough she understood it welland was in little danger offorgetting itwas often brought before her vivid
self-perceptionlike a new anguishby the rudest touch upon the tenderestspot. The pooras we have already said
whom she sought out to be the objects of her bountyoften reviled the handthat was stretched forth to succor them.
Dames of elevated ranklikewisewhose doors she entered in the way of heroccupationwere accustomed to distil
drops of bitterness into her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quietmaliceby which women can concoct a.25
subtile poison from ordinary trifles; and sometimesalsoby a coarserexpressionthat fell upon the sufferer's
defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound. Hester hadschooled herself long and well; she never
responded to these attackssave by a flush of crimson that roseirrepressibly over her pale cheekand again subsided
into the depths of her bosom. She was patient--a martyrindeed--but sheforebore to pray for enemies; lestin spite of
her forgiving aspirationsthe words of the blessing should stubbornly twistthemselves into a curse.
Continuallyand in a thousand other waysdid she feel the innumerablethrobs of anguish that had been so
cunningly contrived for her by the undyingthe ever-active sentence of thePuritan tribunal. Clergymen paused in the
street to address words of exhortationthat brought a crowdwith itsmingled grin and frownaround the poorsinful
woman. If she entered a churchtrusting to share the Sabbath smile of theUniversal Fatherit was often her mishap to
find herself the text of the discourse. She grew to have a dread of children;for they had imbibed from their parents a
vague idea of something horrible in this dreary womangliding silentlythrough the townwith never any companion
but one only child. Thereforefirst allowing her to passthey pursued herat a dis tance with shrill criesand the
utterance of a word that had no distinct purport to their own mindsbut wasnone the less terrible to heras proceeding
from lips that babbled it unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide adiffusion of her shamethat all nature knew of it; it
could have caused her no deeper panghad the leaves of the trees whisperedthe 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--andnone ever failed to do so--they branded it
afresh into Hester's soul; so thatoftentimesshe could scarcely refrainyet always did refrainfrom covering the
symbol with her hand. But thenagainan accustomed eye had likewise its ownanguish to inflict. Its cool stare of
familiarity was intolerable. From first to lastin shortHester Prynne hadalways this dreadful agony in feeling a human
eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemedon the contraryto grow more sensitive with daily torture.
But sometimesonce in many daysor perchance in many monthsshe felt aneye--a human eye--upon the
ignominious brandthat seemed to give a momentary reliefas if half of heragony were shared. The next instantback it
all rushed againwith still a deeper throb of pain; forin that briefintervalshe had sinned anew. Had Hester sinned
Her imagination was somewhat affectedandhad she been of a softer mo raland intellectual fibrewould have
been still more soby the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walkingto and frowith those lonely footstepsin the
little world with which she was outwardly connectedit now and then appearedto Hester--if altogether fancyit was
nevertheless too potent to be resisted--she felt or fanciedthenthat thescarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense.
She shuddered to believeyet could not help believingthat it gave her asympathetic 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 angelwho would fain have persuaded thestruggling womanas yet only half his
victimthat the outward guise of purity was but a lieand thatif truthwere everywhere to be showna scarlet letter
would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's? Ormust shereceive those intimations--so obscureyet so
distinct--as truth? In all her miserable experiencethere was nothing elseso awful and so loathsome as this sense. It
perplexedas well as shocked herby the irreverent inopportuneness of theoccasions that brought it into vivid action.
Sometimesthe red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throbasshe passed near a venerable minister or
magistratethe model of piety and justiceto whom that age of antiquereverence looked upas to a mortal man in
fellowship with angels. "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hestersay to herself. Lifting her reluctant eyesthere would
be nothing human within the scope of viewsave the form of this earthlysaint! Againa mystic sisterhood would
contumaciously assert itselfas she met the sanctified frown of some matronwhoaccording to the rumor of all
tongueshad kept cold snow within her bosom throughout life. That unsunnedsnow in the matron's bosomand the
burning shame on Hester Prynne's--what had the two in common? Oronce morethe electric thrill would give her
warning--"BeholdHesterhere is a companion!"--andlooking upshe would detect the eyes of a young maiden
glancing at the scarlet lettershyly and asideand quickly avertedwith afaintchill crimson in her cheeks; as if her
purity were somewhat sullied by that momentary glance. O Fiendwhosetalisman was that fatal symbolwouldst thou
leave nothingwhether in youth or agefor this poor sinner to revere?--Suchloss of faith is ever one of the saddest
results of sin. Be it accepted as a proof that all was not corrupt in thispoor victim of her own frailtyand man's hard
lawthat Hester Prynne yet struggled to believe that no fellow-mortal wasguilty like herself.
The vulgarwhoin those dreary old timeswere always contributing agrotesque horror to what interested their
imaginationshad a story about the scarlet letter which we might readilywork up into a terrific legend. They averred
that the symbol was not mere scarlet clothtinged in an earthly dye-potbutwas red-hot with infernal fireand could be
seen glowing all alightwhenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in thenight-time. And we must needs sayit seared
Hester's bosom so deeplythat perhaps there was more truth in the rumor thanour modern incredulity may be inclined
We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant; that little creaturewhoseinnocent life had sprungby the
inscrutable decree of Providencea lovely and immortal flowerout of therank luxuriance of a guilty passion. How
strange it seemed to the sad womanas she watched the growthand the beautythat became every day more brilliant
and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny featuresof this child! Her Pearl!--For so had Hester
called her; not as a name expressive of her aspectwhich had nothing of thecalmwhiteunimpassioned lustre that.26
would be indicated by the comparison. But she named the infant"Pearl" as being of great price--purchased with all she
had--her mother's only treasure! How strangeindeed! Man had marked thiswoman's sin by a scarlet letterwhich had
such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach hersave it were sinful like herself. Godas a
direct consequence of the sin which man thus punishedhad given her a lovelychildwhose place was on that same
dishonored bosomto connect her parent for ever with the race and descent ofmortalsand to be finally a blessed soul
in heaven! Yet these thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope thanapprehension. She knew that her deed had
been evil; she could have no faiththereforethat its result would be forgood. Day after dayshe looked fearfully into
the child's expanding nature; ever dreading to detect some dark and wildpeculiaritythat should correspond with the
guiltiness to which she owed her being.
Certainlythere was no physical defect. By its perfect shapeits vigorandits natural dexterity in the use of all its
untried limbsthe infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden;worthy to have been left thereto be the
plaything of the angelsafter the world's first parents were driven out. Thechild had a native grace which does not
invariably coexist with faultless beauty; its attirehowever simplealwaysimpressed the beholder as if it were the very
garb that precisely became it best. But little Pearl was not clad in rusticweeds. Her motherwith a morbid purpose that
may be better understood hereafterhad bought the richest tissues that couldbe procuredand allowed her imaginative
faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses whichthe child worebefore the public eye. So
magnificent was the small figurewhen thus arrayedand such was thesplendor of Pearl's own proper beautyshining
through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler lovelinessthat there was an absolute circle of
radiance around heron the darksome cottage-floor. And yet a russet gowntorn and soiled with the child's rude play
made a picture of her just as perfect. Pearl's aspect was imbued with a spellof infinite variety; in this one child there
were many childrencomprehending the full scope between the wild-flowerprettiness of a peasant-babyand the pomp
in littleof an infant princess. Throughout allhoweverthere was a traitof passiona certain depth of huewhich she
never lost; and ifin any of her changesshe had grown fainter or palershe would have ceased to be herself;--it would
have been no longer Pearl!
This outward mutability indicatedand did not more than fairly expressthevarious properties of her inner life.
Her nature appeared to possess depthtooas well as variety; but--or elseHester's fears deceived her--it lacked reference
and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not bemade amenable to rules. In giving her
existencea great law had been broken; and the result was a beingwhoseelements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant
but all in disorder; or with an order peculiar to themselvesamidst whichthe point of variety and arrangement was
difficult or impossible to be discovered. Hester could only account for thechild's character--and even thenmost
vaguely and imperfectly--by recalling what she herself had beenduring thatmomentous period while Pearl was
imbibing her soul from the spiritual worldand her bodily frame from itsmaterial of earth. The mother's impassioned
state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infantthe rays of its moral life; andhowever
white and clear originallythey had taken the deep stains of crimson andgoldthe fiery lustrethe black shadowand the
untempered lightof the intervening substance. Above allthe warfare ofHester's spiritat that epochwas perpetuated
in Pearl. She could recognize her wilddesperatedefiant moodtheflightiness of her temperand even some of the very
cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. Theywere now illuminated by the morning
radiance of a young child's dispositionbutlater in the day of earthlyexistencemight be prolific of the storm and
The discipline of the familyin those dayswas of a far more rigid kindthan now. The frownthe harsh rebuke
the frequent application of the rodenjoined by Scriptural authoritywereusednot merely in the way of punishment for
actual offencesbut as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion ofall childish virtues. Hester Prynne
neverthelessthe lonely mother of this one childran little risk of erringon the side of undue severity. Mindful
howeverof her own errors and misfortunesshe early sought to impose atenderbut strictcontrol over the infant
immortality that was committed to her charge. But the task was beyond herskill. After testing both smiles and frowns
and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any calculableinfluenceHester was ultimately compelled to
stand asideand permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses. Physicalcompulsion or restraint was effectualof
coursewhile it lasted. As to any other kind of disciplinewhetheraddressed to her mind or heartlittle Pearl might or
might not be within its reachin accordance with the caprice that ruled themoment. Her motherwhile Pearl was yet an
infantgrew acquainted with a certain peculiar lookthat warned her when itwould be labor thrown away to insist
persuadeor plead. It was a look so intelligentyet inexplicablesoperversesometimes so maliciousbut generally
accompanied by a wild flow of spiritsthat Hester could not helpquestioningat such momentswhether Pearl was a
human child. She seemed rather an airy spritewhichafter playing itsfantastic sports for a little while upon the cottage-floor
would flit away with a mocking smile. Whenever that look appeared in herwildbrightdeeply black eyesit
invested her with a strange remoteness and intangibility; it was as if shewere hovering in the air and might vanishlike
a glimmering light that comes we know not whenceand goes we know notwhither. Beholding itHester was
constrained to rush towards the child--to pursue the little elf in theflight which she invariably began--to snatch her to
her bosomwith a close pressure and earnest kisses--not so much fromoverflowing loveas to assure herself that Pearl
was flesh and bloodand not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laughwhen shewas caughtthough full of merriment and
musicmade her mother more doubtful than before.
Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spellthat so often camebetween herself and her sole treasure
whom she had bought so dearand who was all her worldHester sometimesburst into passionate tears. Thenperhaps-.27
-for there was no foreseeing how it might affect her--Pearl would frownandclench her little fistand harden her small
features into a sternunsympathizing look of discontent. Not seldomshewould laugh anewand louder than before
like a thing incapable and unintelligent of human sorrow. Or--but this morerarely happened--she would be convulsed
with a rage of griefand sob out her love for her motherin broken wordsand seem intent on proving that she had a
heartby breaking it. Yet Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself tothat gusty tenderness; it passedas suddenly as it
came. Brooding over all these mattersthe mother felt like one who hasevoked a spiritbutby some irregularity in the
process of conjurationhas failed to win the master-word that should controlthis new and incomprehensible
intelligence. Her only real comfort was when the child lay in the placidityof sleep. Then she was sure of herand tasted
hours of quietsaddelicious happiness; until--perhaps with that perverseexpression glimmering from beneath her
opening lids--little Pearl awoke!
How soon--with what strange rapidityindeed!--did Pearl arrive at an agethat was capable of social intercourse
beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what ahappiness would it have beencould Hester
Prynne have heard her clearbird-like voice mingling with the uproar ofother childish voicesand have distinguished
and unravelled her own darling's tonesamid all the entangled outcry of agroup of sportive children! But this could
never be. Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evilemblem and product of sinshe had no right
among christened infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinctasit seemedwith which the child
comprehended her loneliness; the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circleround about her; the whole peculiarityin
shortof her position in respect to other children. Neversince her releasefrom prisonhad Hester met the public gaze
without her. In all her walks about the townPearltoowas there; first asthe babe in armsand afterwards as the little
girlsmall companion of her motherholding a forefinger with her wholegraspand tripping along at the rate of three or
four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the settlementonthe grassy margin of the streetor at the
domestic thresholdsdisporting themselves in such grim fashion as thePuritanic nurture would permit; playing at going
to churchperchance; or at scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in asham-fight with the Indians; or scaring one another
with freaks of imitative witchcraft. Pearl sawand gazed intentlybut neversought to make acquaintance. If spoken to
she would not speak again. If the children gathered about heras theysometimes didPearl would grow positively
terrible in her puny wrathsnatching up stones to fling at themwithshrillincoherent exclamations that made her
mother tremblebecause they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas insome unknown tongue.
The truth wasthat the little Puritansbeing of the most intolerant broodthat ever livedhad got a vague idea of
something outlandishunearthlyor at variance with ordinary fashionsinthe mother and child; and therefore scorned
them in their heartsand not unfrequently reviled them with their tongues.Pearl felt the sentimentand 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
valueand even comfortfor her mother; because there was at least anintelligible earnestness in the moodinstead of
the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the child's manifestations.It appalled herneverthelessto discern here
againa shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in herself. All thisenmity and passion had Pearl inheritedby
inalienable rightout of Hester's heart. Mother and daughter stood togetherin the same circle of seclusion from human
society; and in the nature of the child seemed to be perpetuated thoseunquiet elements that had distracted Hester Prynne
before Pearl's birthbut had since begun to be soothed away by the softeninginfluences of maternity.
At homewithin and around her mother's cottagePearl wanted not a wide andvarious circle of acquaintance.
The spell of life went forth from her ever creative spiritand communicateditself to a thousand objectsas a torch
kindles a flame wherever it may be applied. The unlikeliest materialsasticka bunch of ragsa flowerwere the
puppets of Pearl's witchcraftandwithout undergoing any outward changebecame spiritually adapted to whatever
drama occupied the stage of her inner world. Her one baby-voice served amultitude of imaginary personagesold and
youngto talk withal. The pine-treesagedblackand solemnand flinginggroans and other melancholy utterances on
the breezeneeded little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; theugliest weeds of the garden were their children
whom Pearl smote down and uprootedmost unmercifully. It was wonderfulthevast variety of forms into which she
threw her intellectwith no continuityindeedbut darting up and dancingalways in a state of preternatural activity--
soon sinking downas if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide oflife--and succeeded by other shapes of a similar
wild energy. It was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of thenorthern lights. In the mere exercise of the
fancyhoweverand the sportiveness of a growing mindthere might be littlemore than was observable in other
children of bright faculties; except as Pearlin the dearth of humanplaymateswas thrown more upon the visionary
throng which she created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings withwhich the child regarded all these offsprings of
her own heart and mind. She never created a friendbut seemed always to besowing broadcast the dragon's teeth
whence sprung a harvest of armed enemiesagainst whom she rushed to battle.It was inexpressibly sad--then what
depth of sorrow to a motherwho felt in her own heart the cause!--toobservein one so youngthis constant recognition
of an adverse worldand so fierce a training of the energies that were tomake good her causein the contest that must
Gazing at PearlHester Prynne often dropped her work upon her kneesandcried outwith an agony which she
would fain have hiddenbut which made utterance for itselfbetwixt speechand a groan--"O Father in Heaven--if
Thou art still my Father--what is this being which I have brought into theworld!" And Pearloverhearing the
ejaculationor awarethrough some more subtile channelof those throbs ofanguishwould turn her vivid and beautiful
little face upon her mothersmile with sprite-like intelligenceand resumeher play..28
One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told. The veryfirst thing which she had noticedin
her lifewas--what?--not the mother's smileresponding to itas otherbabies doby that faintembryo smile of the little
mouthremembered so doubtfully afterwardsand with such fond discussionwhether it were indeed a smile. By no
means! But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was--shallwe say it?--the scarlet letter on Hester's
bosom! One dayas her mother stooped over the cradlethe infant's eyes hadbeen caught by the glimmering of the gold
embroidery about the letter; andputting up her little handshe grasped atitsmilingnot doubtfullybut with a decided
gleam that gave her face the look of a much older child. Thengasping forbreathdid Hester Prynne clutch the fatal
tokeninstinctively endeavouring to tear it away; so infinite was thetorture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's
baby-hand. Againas if her mother's agonized gesture were meant only to makesport for herdid little Pearl look into
her eyesand smile! From that epochexcept when the child was asleepHester had never felt a moment's safety; not a
moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeksit is truewould sometimes elapseduring which Pearl's gaze might never
once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but thenagainit would come atunawareslike the stroke of sudden deathand
always with that peculiar smileand odd expression of the eyes.
Oncethis freakishelvish cast came into the child's eyeswhile Hester waslooking at her own image in themas
mothers are fond of doing; andsuddenly--for women in solitudeand withtroubled heartsare pestered with
unaccountable delusions--she fancied that she beheldnot her own miniatureportraitbut another face in the small
black mirror of Pearl's eye. It was a facefiend-likefull of smilingmaliceyet bearing the semblance of features that
she had known full wellthough seldom with a smileand never with malicein them. It was as if an evil spirit
possessed the childand had just then peeped forth in mockery. Many a timeafterwards had Hester been tortured
though less vividlyby the same illusion.
In the afternoon of a certain summer's dayafter Pearl grew big enough torun aboutshe amused herself with
gathering handfuls of wild-flowersand flinging themone by oneat hermother's bosom; dancing up and downlike a
little elfwhenever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester's first motion hadbeen to cover her bosom with her clasped hands.
Butwhether from pride or resignationor a feeling that her penance mightbest be wrought out by this unutterable pain
she resisted the impulseand sat erectpale as deathlooking sadly intolittle Pearl's wild eyes. Still came the battery of
flowersalmost invariably hitting the markand covering the mother's breastwith hurts for which she could find no
balm in this worldnor knew how to seek it in another. At lasther shotbeing all expendedthe child stood still and
gazed at Hesterwith that littlelaughing image of a fiend peeping out--orwhether it peeped or noher mother so
imagined it--from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes.
"Childwhat art thou?" cried the mother.
"OI am your little Pearl!" answered the child.
Butwhile she said itPearl laughed and began to dance up and downwiththe humorsome gesticulation of a
little impwhose next freak might be to fly up the chimney.
"Art thou my childin very truth?" asked Hester.
Nor did she put the question altogether idlybutfor the momentwith aportion of genuine earnestness; forsuch
was Pearl's wonderful intelligencethat her mother half doubted whether shewere not acquainted with the secret spell
of her existenceand might not now reveal herself.
"Yes; I am little Pearl!" repeated the childcontinuing herantics.
"Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!" said themotherhalf playfully; for it was often the case that
a sportive impulse came over herin the midst of her deepest suffering."Tell methenwhat thou artand who sent thee
"Tell memother!" said the childseriouslycoming up to Hesterand pressing herself close to her knees. "Do
thou tell me!"
"Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!" answered Hester Prynne.
But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness of thechild. Whether moved only by her
ordinary freakishnessor because an evil spirit prompted hershe put up hersmall forefingerand touched the scarlet
"He did not send me!" cried shepositively. "I have noHeavenly Father!"
"HushPearlhush! Thou must not talk so!" answered the mothersuppressing a groan. "He sent us all into the
world. He sent even methy mother. Thenmuch morethee! Orif notthoustrange and elfish childwhence didst thou
"Tell me! Tell me!" repeated Pearlno longer seriouslybutlaughingand capering about the floor"It is thou
that must tell me!"
But Hester could not resolve the querybeing herself in a dismal labyrinthof doubt. She remembered--betwixt a
smile and a shudder--the talk of the neighbouring townspeople; whoseekingvainly elsewhere for the child's paternity
and observing some of her odd attributeshad given out that poor littlePearl was a demon offspring; such asever since
old Catholic timeshad occasionally been seen on earththrough the agencyof their mothers' sinand to promote some
foul and wicked purpose. Lutheraccording to the scandal of his monkishenemieswas a brat of that hellish breed; nor
was Pearl the only child to whom this inauspicious origin was assignedamong the New England Puritans.
The Governor's Hall.29
Hester Prynne wentone dayto the mansion of Governor Bellinghamwith apair of gloves which she had
fringed and embroidered to his orderand which were to be worn on some greatoccasion of state; forthough the
chances of a popular election had caused this former ruler to descend a stepor two from the highest rankhe still held
an honorable and influential place among the colonial magistracy.
Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair ofembroidered gloves impelled Hesterat this
timeto seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity inthe affairs of the settlement. It had reached
her earsthat there was a design on the part of some of the leadinginhabitantscherishing the more rigid order of
principles in religion and governmentto deprive her of her child. On thesupposition that Pearlas already hintedwas
of demon originthese good people not unreasonably argued that a Christianinterest in the mother's soul required them
to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If the childon the otherhandwere really capable of moral and
religious growthand possessed the elements of ultimate salvationthensurelyit would enjoy all the fairer prospect of
these advantages by being transferred to wiser and better guardianship thanHester Prynne's. Among those who
promoted the designGovernor Bellingham was said to be one of the most busy.It may appear singularandindeed
not a little ludicrousthat an affair of this kindwhichin later dayswould have been referred to no higher jurisdiction
than that of the selectmen of the townshould then have been a questionpublicly discussedand on which statesmen of
eminence took sides. At that epoch of pristine simplicityhowevermattersof even slighter public interestand of far
less intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her childwerestrangely mixed up with the deliberations of
legislators and acts of state. The period was hardlyif at allearlier thanthat of our storywhen a dispute concerning the
right of property in a pignot only caused a fierce and bitter contest inthe legislative body of the colonybut resulted in
an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.
Full of concerntherefore--but so conscious of her own rightthat itseemed scarcely an unequal match between
the publicon the one sideand a lonely womanbacked by the sympathies ofnatureon the other--Hester Prynne set
forth from her solitary cottage. Little Pearlof coursewas her companion.She was now of an age to run lightly along
by her mother's sideandconstantly in motion from morn till sunsetcouldhave accomplished a much longer journey
than that before her. Oftenneverthelessmore from caprice than necessityshe demanded to be taken up in armsbut
was soon as imperious to be set down againand frisked onward before Hesteron the grassy pathwaywith many a
harmless trip and tumble. We have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriantbeauty; a beauty that shone with deep and vivid
tints; a bright complexioneyes possessing intensity both of depth and glowand hair already of a deepglossy brown
and whichin after yearswould be nearly akin to black. There was fire inher and throughout her; she seemed the
unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her motherin contriving thechild's garbhad allowed the gorgeous
tendencies of her imagination their full play; arraying her in a crimsonvelvet tunicof a peculiar cutabundantly
embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So much strength ofcoloringwhich must have given a wan
and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloomwas admirably adapted toPearl's beautyand made her the very brightest
little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.
But it was a remarkable attribute of this garbandindeedof the child'swhole appearancethat it irresistibly and
inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomedto wear upon her bosom. It was the
scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life! Themother herself--as if the red ignominy were so
deeply scorched into her brainthat all her conceptions assumed itsform--had carefully wrought out the similitude;
lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuityto create an analogy between theobject of her affectionand the emblem of
her guilt and torture. Butin truthPearl was the oneas well as theother; and only in consequence of that identity had
Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in herappearance.
As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the townthe children ofthe Puritans looked up from their
play--or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins--and spakegravely one to another:--
"Beholdverilythere is the woman of the scarlet letter; andof atruthmoreoverthere is the likeness of the
scarlet letter running along by her side! Comethereforeand let us flingmud at them!"
But Pearlwho was a dauntless childafter frowningstamping her footandshaking her little hand with a variety
of threatening gesturessuddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemiesandput them all to flight. She resembledin
her fierce pursuit of theman infant pestilence--the scarlet feveror somesuch half-fledged angel of judgment--whose
mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed andshoutedtoowith a terrific volume of sound
which doubtless caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake within them. Thevictory accomplishedPearl returned
quietly to her motherand looked up smiling into her face.
Without further adventurethey reached the dwelling of Governor Bellingham.This was a large wooden house
built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streetsof our elder towns; now moss-growncrumbling
to decayand melancholy at heart with the many sorrowful or joyfuloccurrences remembered or forgottenthat have
happenedand passed awaywithin their dusky chambers. Thenhowevertherewas the freshness of the passing year on
its exteriorand the cheerfulnessgleaming forth from the sunny windowsofa human habitation into which death had
never entered. It had indeed a very cheery aspect; the walls being overspreadwith a kind of stuccoin which fragments
of broken glass were plentifully intermixed; so thatwhen the sunshine fellaslant-wise over the front of the edificeit
glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the doublehandful. The brilliancy might have befitted
Aladdin's palacerather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. Itwas further decorated with strange and
seemingly cabalistic figures and diagramssuitable to the quaint taste ofthe agewhich had been drawn in the stucco
when newly laid onand had now grown hard and durablefor the admiration ofafter times..30
Pearllooking at this bright wonder of a housebegan to caper and danceand imperatively required that the
whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its frontand given her toplay with.
"Nomy little Pearl!" said her mother. "Thou must gatherthine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!"
They approached the door; which was of an arched formand flanked on eachside by a narrow tower or
projection of the edificein both of which were lattice-windowswith woodenshutters to close over them at need.
Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portalHester Prynne gave asummonswhich was answered by one of the
Governor's bond-servants; a free-born Englishmanbut now a seven years'slave. During that term he was to be the
property of his masterand as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an oxor a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue
coatwhich was the customary garb of serving-men at that periodand longbeforein the old hereditary halls of
"Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?" inquired Hester.
"Yeaforsooth" replied the bond-servantstaring with wide-openeyes at the scarlet letterwhichbeing a new-comer
in the countryhe had never before seen. "Yeahis honorable worship iswithin. But he hath a godly minister or
two with himand likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now."
"NeverthelessI will enter" answered Hester Prynne; and thebond-servantperhaps judging from the decision of
her air and the glittering symbol in her bosomthat she was a great lady inthe landoffered no opposition.
So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of entrance. Withmany variationssuggested by the
nature of his building-materialsdiversity of climateand a different modeof social lifeGovernor Bellingham had
planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estatein his native land. Herethenwas a wide and
reasonably lofty hallextending through the whole depth of the houseandforming a medium of general
communicationmore or less directlywith all the other apartments. At oneextremitythis spacious room was lighted
by the windows of the two towerswhich formed a small recess on either sideof the portal. At the other endthough
partly muffled by a curtainit was more powerfully illuminated by one ofthose embowed hall-windows which we read
of in old booksand which was provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Hereon the cushionlay a folio tome
probably of the Chronicles of Englandor other such substantial literature;even asin our own dayswe scatter gilded
volumes on the centre-tableto be turned over by the casual guest. Thefurniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous
chairsthe backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oakenflowers; and likewise a table in the same taste;
the whole being of the Elizabethan ageor perhaps earlierand heirloomstransferred hither from the Governor's
paternal home. On the table--in token that the sentiment of old Englishhospitality had not been left behind--stood a
large pewter tankardat the bottom of whichhad Hester or Pearl peeped intoitthey might have seen the frothy
remnant of a recent draught of ale.
On the wall hung a row of portraitsrepresenting the forefathers of theBellingham lineagesome with armour on
their breastsand others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All werecharacterized by the sternness and severity
which old portraits so invariably put on; as if they were the ghostsratherthan the picturesof departed worthiesand
were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits andenjoyments of living men.
At about the centre of the oaken panelsthat lined the hallwas suspended asuit of mailnotlike the picturesan
ancestral relicbut of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured bya skilful armorer in Londonthe same year
in which Governor Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steelhead-piecea cuirassa gorgetand
greaveswith a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; allandespecially the helmet and breastplateso highly
burnished as to glow with white radianceand scatter an illuminationeverywhere about upon the floor. This bright
panoply was not meant for mere idle showbut had been worn by the Governoron many a solemn muster and training
fieldand had glitteredmoreoverat the head of a regiment in the Pequodwar. Forthough bred a lawyerand
accustomed to speak of BaconCokeNoyeand Finchas his professionalassociatesthe exigencies of this new
country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldieras well as astatesman and ruler.
Little Pearl--who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she hadbeen with the glittering
frontispiece of the house--spent some time looking into the polished mirrorof the breastplate.
"Mother" cried she"I see you here. Look! Look!"
Hester lookedby way of humoring the child; and she saw thatowing to thepeculiar effect of this convex
mirrorthe scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and giganticproportionsso as to be greatly the most prominent
feature of her appearance. In truthshe seemed absolutely hidden behind it.Pearl pointed upwardalsoat a similar
picture in the head-piece; smiling at her motherwith the elfishintelligence that was so familiar an expression on her
small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected inthe mirrorwith so much breadth and
intensity of effectthat it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not bethe image of her own childbut of an imp who
was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.
"Come alongPearl!" said shedrawing her away"Come andlook into this fair garden. It may bewe shall see
flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
Pearlaccordinglyran to the bow-windowat the farther end of the halland looked along the vista of a garden-walk
carpeted with closely shaven grassand bordered with some rude and immatureattempt at shrubbery. But the
proprietor appeared already to have relinquishedas hopelessthe effort toperpetuate on this side of the Atlanticin a
hard soil and amid the close struggle for subsistencethe native Englishtaste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew
in plain sight; and a pumpkin vinerooted at some distancehad run acrossthe intervening spaceand deposited one of
its gigantic products directly beneath the hall-windowsas if to warn theGovernor that this great lump of vegetable gold.31
was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were afew rose-busheshoweverand a number
of apple-treesprobably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr.Blackstonethe first settler of the
peninsula; that half mythological personage who rides through our earlyannalsseated on the back of a bull.
Pearlseeing the rose-bushesbegan to cry for a red roseand would not bepacified.
"Hushchildhush!" said her mother earnestly. "Do not crydear little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The
Governor is comingand gentlemen along with him!"
In factadown the vista of the garden-avenuea number of persons were seenapproaching towards the house.
Pearlin utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet hergave an eldritchscreamand then became silent; not from any
notion of obediencebut because the quick and mobile curiosity of herdisposition was excited by the appearance of
those new personages.
The Elf-child and the Minister
Governor Bellinghamin a loose gown and easy cap--such as elderly gentlemenloved to indue themselves with
in their domestic privacy--walked foremostand appeared to be showing offhis estateand expatiating on his projected
improvements. The wide circumference of an elaborate ruffbeneath his graybeardin the antiquated fashion of King
James's reigncaused his head to look not a little like that of John theBaptist in a charger. The impression made by his
aspectso rigid and severeand frost-bitten with more than autumnal agewas hardly in keeping with the appliances of
worldly enjoyment wherewith he had evidently done his utmost to surroundhimself. But it is an error to suppose that
our great forefathers--though accustomed to speak and think of humanexistence as a state merely of trial and warfare
and though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and life at the behest ofduty--made it a matter of conscience to
reject such means of comfortor even luxuryas lay fairly within theirgrasp. This creed was never taughtfor instance
by the venerable pastorJohn Wilsonwhose beardwhite as a snow-driftwasseen over Governor Bellingham's
shoulders; while its wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet benaturalized in the New England climateand
that purple grapes might possibly be compelled to flourishagainst the sunnygarden-wall. The old clergymannurtured
at the rich bosom of the English Churchhad a long established andlegitimate taste for all good and comfortable things;
and however stern he might show himself in the pulpitor in his publicreproof of such transgressions as that of Hester
Prynnestillthe genial benevolence of his private life had won him warmeraffection than was accorded to any of his
Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests; onethe ReverendArthur Dimmesdalewhom the
reader may rememberas having taken a brief and reluctant part in the sceneof Hester Prynne's disgrace; andin close
companionship with himold Roger Chillingwortha person of great skill inphysicwhofor two or three years past
had been settled in the town. It was understood that this learned man was thephysician as well as friend of the young
minis terwhose health had severely sufferedof lateby his too unreservedself-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the
The Governorin advance of his visitorsascended one or two stepsandthrowing open the leaves of the great
hall-windowfound himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtainfell on Hester Prynneand partially
"What have we here?" said Governor Bellinghamlooking withsurprise at the scarlet little figure before him. "I
professI have never seen the likesince my days of vanityin old KingJames's timewhen I was wont to esteem it a
high favor to be admitted to a court mask! There used to be a swarm of thesesmall apparitionsin holiday-time; and we
called them children of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a guest into myhall?"
"Ayindeed!" cried good old Mr. Wilson. "What little bird ofscarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen
just such figureswhen the sun has been shining through a richly paintedwindowand tracing out the golden and
crimson images across the floor. But that was in the old land. Pritheeyoungonewho art thouand what has ailed thy
mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion? Art thou a Christianchild--ha? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou
one of those naughty elfs or fairieswhom we thought to have left behind uswith other relics of Papistryin merry old
"I am mother's child" answered the scarlet vision"and myname is Pearl!"
"Pearl?--Rubyrather!--or Coral!--or Red Roseat the very leastjudging from thy hue!" responded the old
ministerputting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on thecheek. "But where is this mother of thine? Ah!
I see" he added; andturning to Governor Bellinghamwhispered--"This is the selfsame child of whom we have held
speech together; and behold here the unhappy womanHester Prynnehermother!"
"Sayest thou so?" cried the Governor. "Naywe might havejudged that such a child's mother must needs be a
scarlet womanand a worthy type of her of Babylon! But she comes at a goodtime; and we will look into this matter
Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hallfollowed by histhree guests.
"Hester Prynne" said hefixing his naturally stern regard on thewearer of the scarlet letter"there hath been
much question concerning theeof late. The point hath been weightilydiscussedwhether wethat are of authority and
influencedo well discharge our consciences by trusting an immortal soulsuch as there is in yonder childto the
guidance of one who hath stumbled and fallenamid the pitfalls of thisworld. Speak thouthe child's own mother! Were
it notthinkest thoufor thy little one's temporal and eternal welfarethat she be taken out of thy chargeand clad.32
soberlyand disciplined strictlyand instructed in the truths of heaven andearth? What canst thou do for the childin
"I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!"answered Hester Prynnelaying her finger on the red
"Womanit is thy badge of shame!" replied the stern magistrate."It is because of the stain which that letter
indicatesthat we would transfer thy child to other hands."
"Nevertheless" said the mother calmlythough 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 thewiser and betteralbeit they can profit
nothing to myself."
"We will judge warily" said Bellingham"and look well whatwe are about to do. Good Master WilsonI pray
youexamine this Pearl--since that is her name--and see whether she hathhad such Christian nurture as befits a child
of her age."
The old minister seated himself in an arm-chairand made an effort to drawPearl betwixt his knees. But the
childunaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but her motherescaped through the open window and stood on
the upper steplooking like a wildtropical birdof rich plumageready totake flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilsonnot
a little astonished at this outbreak--for he was a grandfatherly sort ofpersonageand usually a vast favorite with
children--essayedhoweverto proceed with the examination.
"Pearl" said hewith great solemnity"thou must take heedto instructionthat soin due seasonthou mayest
wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell memy childwhomade thee?"
Now Pearl knew well enough who made her; for Hester Prynnethe daughter of apious homevery soon after
her talk with the child about her Heavenly Fatherhad begun to inform her ofthose truths which the human spiritat
whatever stage of immaturityimbibes with such eager interest. Pearlthereforeso large were the attainments of her
three years' lifetimecould have borne a fair examination in the New EnglandPrimeror the first column of the
Westminster Catechismalthough unacquainted with the outward form of eitherof those celebrated works. But that
perversitywhich all children have more or less ofand of which littlePearl had a tenfold portionnowat the most
inopportune momenttook thorough possession of herand closed her lipsorimpelled her to speak words amiss. After
putting her finger in her mouthwith many ungracious refusals to answer goodMr. Wils on's questionthe child finally
announced that she had not been made at allbut had been plucked by hermother off the bush of wild rosesthat grew
by the prison-door.
This fantasy was probably suggested by the near proximity of the Governor'sred rosesas Pearl stood outside of
the window; together with her recollection of the prison rose-bushwhich shehad passed in coming hither.
Old Roger Chillingworthwith a smile on his facewhispered something in theyoung clergyman's ear. Hester
Prynne looked at the man of skilland even thenwith her fate hanging inthe balancewas startled to perceive what a
change had come over his features--how much uglier they were--how his darkcomplexion seemed to have grown
duskierand his figure more misshapen--since the days when she hadfamiliarly known him. She met his eyes for an
instantbut was immediately constrained to give all her attention to thescene now going forward.
"This is awful!" cried the Governorslowly recovering from theastonishment into which Pearl's response had
thrown him. "Here is a child of three years oldand she cannot tell whomade her! Without questionshe is equally in
the dark as to her soulits present depravityand future destiny! Methinksgentlemenwe need inquire no further."
Hester caught hold of Pearland drew her forcibly into her armsconfrontingthe old Puritan magistrate with
almost a fierce expression. Alone in the worldcast off by itand with thissole treasure to keep her heart aliveshe felt
that she possessed indefeasible rights against the worldand was ready todefend them to the death.
"God gave me the child!" cried she. "He gave herin requitalof all things elsewhich ye had taken from me. She
is my happiness!--she is my torturenone the less! Pearl keeps me here inlife! Pearl punishes metoo! See ye notshe is
the scarlet letteronly capable of being lovedand so endowed with amillion-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 childshall be well cared for!--far better than thou canst
"God gave her into my keeping" repeated Hester Prynneraising hervoice almost to a shriek. "I will not give her
up!"--And here by a sudden impulseshe turned to the young clergymanMr. Dimmesdaleat whomup to this moment
she had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her eyes.--"Speak thoufor me!" cried she. "Thou wast my pastorand
hadst charge of my souland knowest me better than these men can. I will notlose the child! Speak for me! Thou
knowest--for thou hast sympathies which these men lack!--thou knowest whatis in my heartand what are a mother's
rightsand how much the stronger they arewhen that mother has but herchild and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I
will not lose the child! Look to it!"
At this wild and singular appealwhich indicated that Hester Prynne'ssituation had provoked her to little less
than madnessthe young minister at once came forwardpaleand holding hishand over his heartas was his custom
whenever his peculiarly nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. Helooked now more careworn and emaciated
than as we described him at the scene of Hester's public ignominy; andwhether it were his failing healthor whatever
the cause might behis large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubledand melancholy depth.
"There is truth in what she says" began the ministerwith a voicesweettremulousbut powerfulinsomuch that
the hall re-echoedand the hollow armor rang with it--"truth in whatHester saysand in the feeling which inspires her!.33
God gave her the childand gave hertooan instinctive knowledge of itsnature and requirements--both seemingly so
peculiar--which no other mortal being can possess. Andmoreoveris therenot a quality of awful sacredness in the
relation between this mother and this child?"
"Ay!--how is thatgood Master Dimmesdale?" interrupted theGovernor. "Make that plainI pray you!"
"It must be even so" resumed the minister. "Forif we deemit otherwisedo we not thereby say that the
Heavenly Fatherthe Creator of all fleshhath lightly recognized a deed ofsinand made of no account the distinction
between unhallowed lust and holy love? This child of its father's guilt andits mother's shame has come from the hand of
Godto work in many ways upon her heartwho pleads so earnestlyand withsuch bitterness of spiritthe right to keep
her. It was meant for a blessing; for the one blessing of her life! It wasmeantdoubtlessas the mother herself hath told
usfor a retribution too; a tortureto be felt at many an unthought ofmoment; a panga stingan ever-recurring agony
in the midst of a troubled joy! Hath she not expressed this thought in thegarb of the poor childso forcibly reminding us
of that red symbol which sears her bosom?"
"Well saidagain!" cried good Mr. Wilson. "I feared the womanhad no better thought than to make a
mountebank of her child!"
"Onot so!--not so!" continued Mr. Dimmesdale. "Sherecognizesbelieve methe solemn miracle which God
hath wroughtin the existence of that child. And may she feeltoo--whatmethinksis the very truth--that this boon
was meantabove all things elseto keep the mother's soul aliveand topreserve her from blacker depths of sin into
which Satan might else have sought to plunge her! Therefore it is good forthis poorsinful woman that she hath an
infant immortalitya being capable of eternal joy or sorrowconfided to hercare--to be trained up by her to
righteousness--to remind herat every momentof her fall--but yet toteach heras it were by the Creator's sacred
pledgethatif she bring the child to heaventhe child also will bring itsparent thither! Herein is the sinful mother
happier than the sinful father. For Hester Prynne's sakethenand no lessfor the poor child's sakelet us leave them as
Providence hath seen fit to place them!"
"You speakmy friendwith a strange earnestness" said old RogerChillingworthsmiling at him.
"And there is weighty import in what my young brother hath spoken"added the Reverend Mr. Wilson. "What
say youworshipful Master Bellingham? Hath he not pleaded well for the poorwoman?"
"Indeed hath he" answered the magistrate"and hath adducedsuch argumentsthat we will even leave the matter
as it now stands; so longat leastas there shall be no further scandal inthe woman. Care must be hadneverthelessto
put the child to due and stated examination in the catechism at thy hands orMaster Dimmesdale's. Moreoverat a
proper seasonthe tithing-men must take heed that she go both to school andto meeting."
The young ministeron ceasing to speakhad withdrawn a few steps from thegroupand stood with his face
partially concealed in the heavy folds of the window-curtain; while theshadow of his figurewhich the sunlight cast
upon the floorwas tremulous with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearlthatwild and flighty little elfstole softly
towards himandtaking his hand in the grasp of both her ownlaid hercheek against it; a caress so tenderand withal
so unobtrusivethat her motherwho was looking onasked herself--"Isthat my Pearl?" Yet she knew that there was
love in the child's heartalthough it mostly revealed itself in passionandhardly twice in her lifetime had been softened
by such gentleness as now. The minister--forsave the long-sought regardsof womannothing is sweeter than these
marks of childish preferenceaccorded spontaneously by a spiritual instinctand therefore seeming to imply in us
something truly worthy to be loved--the minister looked roundlaid his handon the child's headhesitated an instant
and then kissed her brow. Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment lasted nolonger; she laughedand went capering
down the hallso airilythat old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether evenher tiptoes touched the floor.
"The little baggage hath witchcraft in herI profess" said he toMr. Dimmesdale. "She needs no old woman's
broomstick to fly withal!"
"A strange child!" remarked old Roger Chillingworth. "It iseasy to see the mother's part in her. Would it be
beyond a philosopher's researchthink yegentlemento analyze that child'snatureandfrom its make and mouldto
give a shrewd guess at the father?"
"Nay; it would be sinfulin such a questionto follow the clew ofprofane philosophy" said Mr. Wilson. "Better
to fast and pray upon it; and still betterit may beto leave the mysteryas we find itunless Providence reveal it of its
own accord. Therebyevery good Christian man hath a title to show a father'skindness towards the poordeserted
The affair being so satisfactorily concludedHester Prynnewith Pearldeparted from the house. As they
descended the stepsit is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window wasthrown openand forth into the sunny day
was thrust the face of Mistress HibbinsGovernor Bellingham'sbitter-tempered sisterand the same whoa few years
laterwas executed as a witch.
"Histhist!" said shewhile her ill-omened physiognomy seemed tocast a shadow over the cheerful newness of
the house. "Wilt thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry companyin the forest; and I wellnigh promised the
Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one."
"Make my excuse to himso please you!" answered Hesterwith atriumphant smile. "I must tarry at homeand
keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from meI wouldwillingly have gone with thee into the forestand
signed my name in the Black Man's book tooand that with mine ownblood!"
"We shall have thee there anon!" said the witch-ladyfrowningasshe drew back her head..34
But here--if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins and HesterPrynne to be authenticand not a
parable--was already an illustration of the young minister's argument againstsundering the relation of a fallen mother to
the offspring of her frailty. Even thus early had the child saved her fromSatan's snare.
Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworththe reader will rememberwashidden another namewhich its
former wearer had resolved should never more be spoken. It has been relatedhowin the crowd that witnessed Hester
Prynne's ignominious exposurestood a manelderlytravel-wornwhojustemerging from the perilous wilderness
beheld the womanin whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth andcheerfulness of homeset up as a type of sin
before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under all men's feet. Infamywas babbling around her in the public
market-place. For her kindredshould the tidings ever reach themand forthe companions of her unspotted lifethere
remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonor; which would not fail tobe 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 individualwhose connection with the fallen woman hadbeen the most intimate and sacred of them
allcome forward to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so littledesirable? He resolved not to be pilloried beside her
on her pedestal of shame. Unknown to all but Hester Prynneand possessingthe lock and key of her silencehe chose to
withdraw his name from the roll of mankindandas regarded his former tiesand interestto vanish out of life as
completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the oceanwhither rumor hadlong ago consigned him. This purpose
once effectednew interests would immediately spring upand likewise a newpurpose; darkit is trueif not guiltybut
of force enough to engage the full strength of his faculties.
In pursuance of this resolvehe took up his residence in the Puritan townas Roger Chillingworthwithout other
introduction than the learning and intelligence of which he possessed morethan a common measure. As his studiesat a
previous period of his lifehad made him extensively acquainted with themedical science of the dayit was as a
physician that he presented hims elfand as such was cordially received.Skilful menof the medical and chirurgical
professionwere of rare occurrence in the colony. They seldomit wouldappearpartook of the religious zeal that
brought other emigrants across the Atlantic. In their researches into thehuman frameit may be that the higher and
more subtile faculties of such men were materializedand that they lost thespiritual view of existence amid the
intricacies of that wondrous mechanismwhich seemed to involve art enough tocomprise all of life within itself. At all
eventsthe health of the good town of Bostonso far as medicine had aughtto do with ithad hitherto lain in the
guardianship of an aged deacon and apothecarywhose piety and godlydeportment were stronger testimonials in his
favorthan any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma. Theonly surgeon was one who combined the
occasional exercise of that noble art with the daily and habitual flourish ofa razor. To such a professional body Roger
Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition. He soon manifested his familiaritywith the ponderous and imposing
machinery of antique physic; in which every remedy contained a multitude offar-fetched and heterogeneous
ingredientsas elaborately compounded as if the proposed result had been theElixir of Life. In his Indian captivity
moreoverhe had gained much knowledge of the properties of native herbs androots; nor did he conceal from his
patientsthat these simple medicinesNature's boon to the untutored savagehad quite as large a share of his own
confidence as the European pharmacopoeiawhich so many learned doctors hadspent centuries in elaborating.
This learned stranger was exemplaryas regarded at least the outward formsof a religious lifeandearly after his
arrivalhad chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. Theyoung divinewhose scholar-like renown
still lived in Oxfordwas considered by his more fervent admirers as littleless than a heaven-ordained apostledestined
should he live and labor for the ordinary term of lifeto do as great deedsfor the now feeble New England Churchas
the early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. Aboutthis periodhoweverthe health of Mr.
Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail. By those best acquainted with hishabitsthe paleness of the young minister's
cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to studyhis scrupulousfulfilment of parochial dutyandmore
than allby the fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practiceinorder to keep the grossness of this earthly state
from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some declaredthatif Mr.Dimmesdale were really going to dieit was
cause enoughthat the world was not worthy to be any longer trodden by hisfeet. He himselfon the other handwith
characteristic humilityavowed his belief that if Providence should see fitto remove himit would be because of his
own unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth. With all thisdifference of opinion as to the cause of
his declinethere could be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated;his voicethough still rich and sweethad a
certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observedon anyslight alarm or other sudden accidentto put
his hand over his heartwith first a flush and then a palenessindicativeof pain.
Such was the young clergyman's conditionand so imminent the prospect thathis dawning light would be
extinguishedall untimelywhen Roger Chillingworth made his advent to thetown. His first entry on the scenefew
people could tell whencedropping downas it wereout of the skyorstarting from the nether earthhad an aspect of
mysterywhich was easily heightened to the miraculous. He was now known tobe a man of skill; it was observed that
he gathered herbsand the blossoms of wild-flowersand dug up roots andplucked off twigs from the forest-treeslike
one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless to common eyes. Hewas heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby
and other famous men--whose scientific attainments were esteemed hardly lessthan supernatural--as having been his
correspondents or associates. Whywith such rank in the learned worldhadhe come hither? What could hewhose
sphere was in great citiesbe seeking in the wilderness? In answer to thisquerya rumor gained ground--andhowever.35
absurdwas entertained by some very sensible people--that Heaven hadwrought an absolute miracleby transporting
an eminent Doctor of Physicfrom a German university bodily through the airand setting him down at the door of Mr.
Dimmesdale's study! Individuals of wiser faithindeedwho knew that Heavenpromotes its purposes without aiming at
the stage-effect of what is called miraculous interpositionwere inclined tosee a providential hand in Roger
Chillingworth's so opportune arrival.
This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the physician evermanifested in the young clergyman;
he attached himself to him as a parishionerand sought to win a friendlyregard and confidence from his naturally
reserved sensibility. He expressed great alarm at his pastor's state ofhealthbut was anxious to attempt the cureandif
early undertakenseemed not despondent of a favorable result. The eldersthe deaconsthe motherly damesand the
young and fair maidensof Mr. Dimmesdale's flockwere alike importunatethat 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 sowhenwith every successive Sabbathhis cheek was paler and thinner
and his voice more tremulous than before--when it had now become a constanthabitrather than a casual gestureto
press his hand over his heart? Was he weary of his labors? Did he wish todie? These questions were solemnly
propounded to Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston and the deaconsof his churchwhoto use their own
phrase"dealt with him" on the sin of rejecting the aid whichProvidence so manifestly held out. He listened in silence
and finally promised to confer with the physician.
"Were it God's will" said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalewheninfulfilment of this pledgehe requested old
Roger Chillingworth's professional advice"I could be well contentthat my laborsand my sorrowsand my sinsand
my painsshould shortly end with meand what is earthly of them be buriedin my graveand the spiritual go with me to
my eternal staterather than that you should put your skill to the proof inmy behalf."
"Ah" replied Roger Chillingworthwith that quietness whichwhether imposed or naturalmarked all his
deportment"it is thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthfulmennot having taken a deep rootgive up their
hold of life so easily! And saintly menwho walk with God on earthwouldfain be awayto walk with him on the
golden pavements of the New Jerusalem."
"Nay" rejoined the young ministerputting his hand to his heartwith a flush of pain flitting over his brow
"were I worthier to walk thereI could be better content to toilhere."
"Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly" said thephysician.
In this mannerthe mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medicaladviser of the Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale. As not only the disease interested the physicianbut he wasstrongly moved to look into the character and
qualities of the patientthese two menso different in agecame graduallyto spend much time together. For the sake of
the minister's healthand to enable the leech to gather plants with healingbalm in themthey took long walks on the
seashoreor in the forest; mingling various talk with the plash and murmurof the wavesand the solemn wind-anthem
among the tree-tops. Oftenlikewiseone was the guest of the otherin hisplace of study and retirement. There was a
fascination for the minister in the company of the man of sciencein whom herecognized an intellectual cultivation of
no moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of ideasthathe would have vainly looked for among
the members of his own profession. In truthhe was startledif not shockedto find this attribute in the physician. Mr.
Dimmesdale was a true priesta true religionistwith the reverentialsentiment largely developedand an order of mind
that impelled itself powerfully along the track of a creedand wore itspassage continually deeper with the lapse of time.
In no state of society would he have been what is called a man of liberalviews; it would always be essential to his peace
to feel the pressure of a faith about himsupportingwhile it confined himwithin its iron framework. Not the less
howeverthough with a tremulous enjoymentdid he feel the occasional reliefof looking at the universe through the
medium of another kind of intellect than those with which he habitually heldconverse. It was as if a window were
thrown openadmitting a freer atmosphere into the close and stifled studywhere his life was wasting itself awayamid
lamp-lightor obstructed day-beamsand the musty fragrancebe it sensualor moralthat exhales from books. But the
air was too fresh and chill to be long breathedwith comfort. So theministerand the physician with himwithdrew
again within the limits of what their church defined as orthodox.
Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinized his patient carefullyboth as he sawhim in his ordinary lifekeeping an
accustomed pathway in the range of thoughts familiar to himand as heappeared when thrown amidst other moral
scenerythe novelty of which might call out something new to the surface ofhis character. He deemed it essentialit
would seemto know the manbefore attempting to do him good. Wherever thereis a heart and an intellectthe diseases
of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these. In ArthurDimmesdalethought and imagination were so
activeand sensibility so intensethat the bodily infirmity would be likelyto have its groundwork there. So Roger
Chillingworth--the man of skillthe kind and friendly physician--strove togo deep into his patient's bosomdelving
among his principlesprying into his recollectionsand probing every thingwith a cautious touchlike a treasure-seeker
in a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigatorwho has opportunityand license to undertake such a questand
skill to follow it up. A man burdened with a secret should especially avoidthe intimacy of his physician. If the latter
possess native sagacityand a nameless something more--let us call itintuition; if he show no intrusive egotismnor
disagreeably prominent characteristics of his own; if he have the powerwhich must be born with himto bring his mind
into such affinity with his patient'sthat this last shall unawares havespoken what he imagines himself only to have
thought; if such revelations be received without tumultand acknowledged notso often by an uttered sympathyas by.36
silencean inarticulate breathand here and there a wordto indicate thatall is understood; ifto these qualifications of a
confidant be joined the advantages afforded by his recognized character as aphysician;--thenat some inevitable
momentwill the soul of the sufferer be dissolvedand flow forth in a darkbut transparent streambringing all its
mysteries into the daylight.
Roger Chillingworth possessed allor mostof the attributes aboveenumerated. Neverthelesstime went on; a
kind of intimacyas we have saidgrew up between these two cultivatedmindswhich had as wide a field as the whole
sphere of human thought and studyto meet upon; they discussed every topicof ethics and religionof public affairs
and private character; they talked muchon both sidesof matters thatseemed personal to themselves; and yet no secret
such as the physician fancied must exist thereever stole out of theminister's consciousness into his companion's ear.
The latter had his suspicionsindeedthat even the nature of Mr.Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly been
revealed to him. It was a strange reserve!
After a timeat a hint from Roger Chillingworththe friends of Mr.Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by
which the two were lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow ofthe minister's life-tide might pass under the
eye of his anxious and attached physician. There was much joy throughout thetownwhen this greatly desirable object
was attained. It was held to be the best possible measure for the youngclergyman's welfare; unlessindeedas often
urged by such as felt authorized to do sohe had selected some one of themany blooming damselsspiritually devoted
to himto become his devoted wife. This latter stephoweverthere was nopresent prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale
would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all suggestions of the kindasif priestly celibacy were one of his articles of
church-discipline. Doomed by his own choicethereforeas Mr. Dimmesdale soevidently wasto eat his unsavory
morsel always at another's boardand endure the life-long chill which mustbe his lot who seeks to warm himself only at
another's firesideit truly seemed that this sagaciousexperiencedbenevolentold physicianwith his concord of
paternal and reverential love for the young pastorwas the very manof allmankindto be constantly within reach of his
The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widowof good social rankwho dwelt in a house covering
pretty nearly the site on which the venerable structure of King's Chapel hassince been built. It had the grave-yard
originally Isaac Johnson's home-fieldon one sideand so was well adaptedto call up serious reflectionssuited to their
respective employmentsin both minister and man of physic. The motherly careof the good widow assigned to Mr.
Dimmesdale a front apartmentwith a sunny exposureand heavywindow-curtains to create a noontide shadowwhen
desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestrysaid to be from theGobelin loomsandat all eventsrepresenting
the Scriptural story of David and Bathshebaand Nathan the Prophetincolors still unfadedbut which made the fair
woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.Herethe pale clergyman piled up his
libraryrich with parchment-bound folios of the Fathersand the lore ofRabbisand monkish eruditionof which the
Protestant divineseven while they vilified and decried that class ofwriterswere yet constrained often to avail
themselves. On the other side of the houseold Roger Chillingworth arrangedhis study and laboratory; not such as a
modern man of science would reckon even tolerably completebut provided witha distilling apparatusand the means
of compounding drugs and chemicalswhich the practised alchemist knew wellhow to turn to purpose. With such
commodiousness of situationthese two learned persons sat themselves downeach in his own domainyet familiarly
passing from one apartment to the otherand bestowing a mutual and notincurious inspection into one another's
And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friendsas we haveintimatedvery reasonably imagined
that the hand of Providence had done all thisfor the purpose--besought inso many publicand domesticand secret
prayers--of restoring the young minister to health. But--it must now besaid--another portion of the community had
latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdaleand the mysterious old physician. When an
uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyesit is exceedingly aptto be deceived. Whenhoweverit forms its
judgmentas it usually doeson the intuitions of its great and warm heartthe conclusions thus attained are often so
profound and so unerringas to possess the character of truthssupernaturally revealed. The peoplein the case of which
we speakcould justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no factor argument worthy of serious refutation.
There was an aged handicraftsmanit is truewho had been a citizen ofLondon at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's
murdernow some thirty years agone; he testified to having seen thephysicianunder some other namewhich the
narrator of the story had now forgottenin company with Doctor Formanthefamous old conjurerwho was implicated
in the affair of Overbury. Two or three individuals hintedthat the man ofskillduring his Indian captivityhad enlarged
his medical attainments by joining in the incantations of the savage priests;who were universally acknowledged to be
powerful enchantersoften performing seemingly miraculous cures by theirskill in the black art. A large number--and
many of these were persons of such sober sense and practical observationthat their opinions would have been valuable
in other matters--affirmed that Roger Chillingworth's aspect had undergone aremarkable change while he had dwelt in
townand especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At firsthisexpression had been calmmeditativescholar-like.
Nowthere was something ugly and evil in his facewhich they had notpreviously noticedand which grew still
the more obvious to sightthe oftener they looked upon him. According to thevulgar ideathe fire in his laboratory had
been brought from the lower regionsand was fed with infernal fuel; and soas might be expectedhis visage was
getting sooty with the smoke.
To sum up the matterit grew to be a widely diffused opinionthat theReverend Arthur Dimmesdalelike many
other personages of especial sanctityin all ages of the Christian worldwas haunted either by Satan himselfor Satan's.37
emissaryin the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent hadthe Divine permissionfor a seasonto
burrow into the clergyman's intimacyand plot against his soul. No sensiblemanit was confessedcould doubt on
which side the victory would turn. The people lookedwith an unshaken hopeto see the minister come forth out of the
conflicttransfigured with the glory which he would unquestionably win.Meanwhileneverthelessit was sad to think
of the perchance mortal agony through which he must struggle towards histriumph.
Alasto judge from the gloom and terror in the depths of the poor minister'seyesthe battle was a sore oneand
the victory any thing but secure!
The Leech and His Patient
Old Roger Chillingworththroughout lifehad been calm in temperamentkindlythough not of warm affections
but everand in all his relations with the worlda pure and upright man. Hehad begun an investigationas he imagined
with the severe and equal integrity of a judgedesirous only of truthevenas if the question involved no more than the
air-drawn lines and figures of a geometrical probleminstead of humanpassionsand wrongs inflicted on himself. But
as he proceededa terrible fascinationa kind of fiercethough still calmnecessity seized the old man within its gripe
and never set him free againuntil he had done all its bidding. He now duginto the poor clergyman's heartlike a miner
searching for gold; orratherlike a sexton delving into a gravepossiblyin quest of a jewel that had been buried on the
dead man's bosombut likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption.Alas for his own soulif these were what he
Sometimesa light glimmered out of the physician's eyesburning blue andominouslike the reflection of a
furnaceorlet us saylike one of those gleams of ghastly fire that dartedfrom Bunyan's awful door-way in the hill-side
and quivered on the pilgrim's face. The soil where this dark miner wasworking had perchance shown indications that
"This man" said heat one such momentto himself"pure asthey deem him--all spiritual as he seems--hath
inherited a strong animal nature from his father or his mother. Let us dig alittle farther in the direction of this vein!"
Thenafter long search into the minister's dim interiorand turning overmany precious materialsin the shape of
high aspirations for the welfare of his racewarm love of soulspuresentimentsnatural pietystrengthened by thought
and studyand illuminated by revelation--all of which invaluable gold wasperhaps no better than rubbish to the
seeker--he would turn backdiscouragedand begin his quest towards anotherpoint. He groped along as stealthilywith
as cautious a treadand as wary an outlookas a thief entering a chamberwhere a man lies only half asleep--orit may
bebroad awake--with purpose to steal the very treasure which this manguards as the apple of his eye. In spite of his
premeditated carefulnessthe floor would now and then creak; his garmentswould rustle; the shadow of his presencein
a forbidden proximitywould be thrown across his victim. In other wordsMr.Dimmesdalewhose sensibility of nerve
often produced the effect of spiritual intuitionwould become vaguely awarethat something inimical to his peace had
thrust itself into relation with him. But Old Roger Chillingworthtoohadperceptions that were almost intuitive; and
when the minister threw his startled eyes towards himthere the physiciansat; his kindwatchfulsympathizingbut
never intrusive friend.
Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual's character moreperfectlyif a certain morbidness
to which sick hearts are liablehad not rendered him suspicious of allmankind. Trusting no man as his friendhe could
not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared. He therefore stillkept up a familiar intercourse with him
daily receiving the old physician in his study; or visiting the laboratoryandfor recreation's sakewatching the
processes by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency.
One dayleaning his forehead on his handand his elbow on the sill of theopen windowthat looked towards the
grave-yardhe talked with Roger Chillingworthwhile the old man wasexamining a bundle of unsightly plants.
"Where" asked hewith a look askance at them--for it was theclergyman's peculiarity that he seldomnow-a-days
looked straightforth at any objectwhether human or inanimate--"wheremy kind doctordid you gather those
herbswith such a darkflabby leaf?"
"Even in the grave-yardhere at hand" answered the physiciancontinuing his employment. "They are new to
me. I found them growing on a gravewhich bore no tombstoneno othermemorial of the dead mansave these ugly
weeds that have taken upon themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grewout of his heartand typifyit may be
some hideous secret that was buried with himand which he had done better toconfess during his lifetime."
"Perchance" said Mr. Dimmesdale"he earnestly desired itbut could not."
"And wherefore?" rejoined the physician. "Wherefore not; sinceall the powers of nature call so earnestly for the
confession of sinthat these black weeds have sprung up out of a buriedheartto make manifest an outspoken crime?"
"Thatgood Siris but a fantasy of yours" replied the minister."There can beif I forbode arightno powershort
of the Divine mercyto disclosewhether by uttered wordsor by type oremblemthe secrets that may be buried with a
human heart. The heartmaking itself guilty of such secretsmust perforcehold themuntil the day when all hidden
things shall be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writas tounderstand that the disclosure of human
thoughts and deedsthen to be madeis intended as a part of theretribution. Thatsurelywere a shallow view of it. No;
these revelationsunless I greatly errare meant merely to promote theintellectual satisfaction of all intelligent beings
who will stand waitingon that dayto see the dark problem of this lifemade plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be
needful to the completest solution of that problem. And I conceivemoreoverthat the hearts holding such miserable
secrets as you speak of will yield them upat that last daynot withreluctancebut with a joy unutterable.".38
"Then why not reveal them here?" asked Roger Chillingworthglancing quietly aside at the minister. "Why
should not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterablesolace?"
"They mostly do" said the clergymangriping hard at his breastas if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain.
"Manymany a poor soul hath given its confidence to menot only on thedeath-bedbut while strong in lifeand fair in
reputation. And everafter such an outpouringOwhat a relief have Iwitnessed in those sinful brethren! even as in one
who at last draws free airafter long stifling with his own polluted breath.How can it be otherwise? Why should a
wretched manguiltywe will sayof murderprefer to keep the dead corpseburied in his own heartrather than fling it
forth at onceand let the universe take care of it!"
"Yet some men bury their secrets thus" observed the calmphysician.
"True; there are such men" answered Mr. Dimmesdale. "Butnotto suggest more obvious reasonsit may be that
they are kept silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or--can wenot suppose it?--guilty as they may be
retainingneverthelessa zeal for God's glory and man's welfaretheyshrink from displaying themselves black and
filthy in the view of men; becausethenceforwardno good can be achieved bythem; no evil of the past be redeemed by
better service. Soto their own unutterable tormentthey go about amongtheir fellow-creatureslooking pure as new-fallen
snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of whichthey cannot rid themselves."
"These men deceive themselves" said Roger Chillingworthwithsomewhat more emphasis than usualand
making a slight gesture with his forefinger. "They fear to take up theshame that rightfully belongs to them. Their love
for mantheir zeal for God's service--these holy impulses may or may notcoexist in their hearts with the evil inmates
to which their guilt has unbarred the doorand which must needs propagate ahellish breed within them. Butif they
seek to glorify Godlet them not lift heavenward their unclean hands! Ifthey would serve their fellow-menlet them do
it by making manifest the power and reality of consciencein constrainingthem to penitential self-abasement! Wouldst
thou have me to believeO wise and pious friendthat a false show can bebetter--can be more for God's gloryor man's
welfare--than God's own truth? Trust mesuch men deceive themselves!"
"It may be so" said the young clergyman indifferentlyas waivinga discussion that he considered irrelevant or
unseasonable. He had a ready facultyindeedof escaping from any topic thatagitated his too sensitive and nervous
temperament.--"ButnowI would ask of my well-skilled physicianwhetherin good soothhe deems me to have
profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?"
Before Roger Chillingworth could answerthey heard the clearwild laughterof a young child's voice
proceeding from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from theopen window--for it was summer-time--
the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpaththat traversed the inclosure. Pearl looked as
beautiful as the daybut was in one of those moods of perverse merrimentwhichwhenever they occurredseemed to
remove her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact. She nowskipped irreverently from one grave to
another; untilcoming to the broadflatarmorial tombstone of a departedworthy--perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself--
she began to dance upon it. In reply to her mother's command and entreatythat she would behave more decorously
little Pearl paused to gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdockwhichgrew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of
theseshe arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter that decoratedthe maternal bosomto which the burrsas
their nature wastenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them off.
Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the windowand smiled grimlydown.
"There is no lawnor reverence for authorityno regard for humanordinances or opinionsright or wrongmixed
up with that child's composition" remarked heas much to himself as tohis companion. "I saw herthe other day
bespatter the Governor himself with waterat the cattle-trough in SpringLane. Whatin Heaven's nameis she? Is the
imp altogether evil? Hath she affections? Hath she any discoverable principleof being?"
"None--save the freedom of a broken law" answered Mr. Dimmesdalein a quiet wayas if he had been
discussing the point within himself. "Whether capable of goodI knownot."
The child probably overheard their voices; forlooking up to the windowwith a brightbut naughty smile of
mirth and intelligenceshe threw one of the prickly burrs at the ReverendMr. Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman
shrankwith nervous dreadfrom the light missile. Detecting his emotionPearl clapped her little hands in the most
extravagant ecstasy. Hester Prynnelikewisehad involuntarily looked up;and all these four personsold and young
regarded one another in silencetill the child laughed aloudandshouted--"Come awaymother! Come awayor yonder
old Black Man will catch you! He hath got hold of the minister already. Comeawaymotheror he will catch you! But
he cannot catch little Pearl!"
So she drew her mother awayskippingdancingand frisking fantasticallyamong the hillocks of the dead
peoplelike a creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buriedgenerationnor owned herself akin to it. It
was as if she had been made afreshout of new elementsand must perforce bepermitted to live her own lifeand be a
law unto herselfwithout her eccentricities being reckoned to her for acrime.
"There goes a woman" resumed Roger Chillingworthafter a pause"whobe her demerits what they mayhath
none of that mystery of hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to beborne. Is Hester Prynne the less miserable
think youfor that scarlet letter on her breast?"
"I do verily believe it" answered the clergyman."NeverthelessI cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain
in her facewhich I would gladly have been spared the sight of. But stillmethinksit must needs be better for the
sufferer to be free to show his painas this poor woman Hester isthan tocover it all up in his heart.".39
There was another pause; and the physician began anew to examine and arrangethe plants which he had
"You inquired of mea little time agone" said heat length"my judgment as touching your health."
"I did" answered the clergyman"and would gladly learn it.Speak franklyI pray yoube it for life or death."
"Freelythenand plainly" said the physicianstill busy withhis plantsbut keeping a wary eye on Mr.
Dimmesdale"the disorder is a strange one; not so much in itselfnoras outwardly manifested--in so farat leastas the
symptoms have been laid open to my observation. Looking daily at youmy goodSirand watching the tokens of your
aspectnow for months gone byI should deem you a man sore sickit may beyet not so sick but that an instructed and
watchful physician might well hope to cure you. But--I know not what tosay--the disease is what I seem to knowyet
know it not."
"You speak in riddleslearned Sir" said the pale ministerglancing aside out of the window.
"Thento speak more plainly" continued the physician"and Icrave pardonSir--should it seem to require
pardon--for this needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask--as yourfriend--as one having chargeunder Providence
of your life and physical well-being--hath all the operations of thisdisorder been fairly laid open and recounted to me?"
"How can you question it?" asked the minister. "Surelyitwere child's play to call in a physicianand then hide
"You would tell methenthat I know all?" said RogerChillingworthdeliberatelyand fixing an eyebright with
intense and concentrated intelligenceon the minister's face. "Be itso! Butagain! He to whom only the outward and
physical evil is laid open knowethoftentimesbut half the evil which he iscalled upon to cure. A bodily diseasewhich
we look upon as whole and entire within itselfmayafter allbe but asymptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.
Your pardononce againgood Sirif my speech give the shadow of offence.YouSirof all men whom I have known
are he whose body is the closest conjoinedand imbuedand identifiedso tospeakwith the spirit whereof it is the
"Then I need ask no further" said the clergymansomewhat hastilyrising from his chair. "You deal notI take it
in medicine for the soul!"
"Thusa sickness" continued Roger Chillingworthgoing onin anunaltered tonewithout heeding the
interruption--but standing upand confronting the emaciated andwhite-cheeked minister with his lowdarkand
misshapen figure--"a sicknessa sore placeif we may so call itinyour spirithath immediately its appropriate
manifestation in your bodily frame. Would youthereforethat your physicianheal 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.Dimmesdalepassionatelyand turning his eyesfull
and brightand with a kind of fiercenesson old Roger Chillingworth."Not to thee! Butif it be the soul's diseasethen
do I commit myself to the one Physician of the soul! Heif it stand with hisgood pleasurecan cure; or he can kill! Let
him do with me asin his justice and wisdomhe shall see good. But who artthouthat meddlest in this matter?--that
dares thrust himself between the sufferer and his God?"
With a frantic gesturehe rushed out of the room.
"It is as well to have made this step" said Roger Chillingworth tohimselflooking after the minister with a grave
smile. "There is nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But seenowhow passion takes hold upon this manand
hurrieth him out of himself! As with one passionso with another! He hathdone a wild thing ere nowthis pious Master
Dimmesdalein the hot passion of his heart!"
It proved not difficult to reŽstablish the intimacy of the two companionson the same footing and in the same
degree as heretofore. The young clergymanafter a few hours of privacywassensible that the disorder of his nerves
had hurried him into an unseemly outbreak of temperwhich there had beennothing in the physician's words to excuse
or palliate. He marvelledindeedat the violence with which he had thrustback the kind old manwhen merely
proffering the advice which it was his duty to bestowand which the ministerhimself had expressly sought. With these
remorseful feelingshe lost no time in making the amplest apologiesandbesought his friend still to continue the care
whichif not successful in restoring him to healthhadin all probabilitybeen the means of prolonging his feeble
existence to that hour. Roger Chillingworth readily assentedand went onwith his medical supervision of the minister;
doing his best for himin all good faithbut always quitting the patient'sapartmentat the close of the professional
interviewwith a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This expressionwas invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's
presencebut 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 sakeI must search this matter to the bottom!"
It came to passnot long after the scene above recordedthat the ReverendMr. Dimmesdaleat noondayand
entirely unawaresfell into a deepdeep slumbersitting in his chairwitha large black-letter volume open before him
on the table. It must have been a work of vast ability in the somniferousschool of literature. The profound depth of the
minister's repose was the more remarkable; inasmuch as he was one of thosepersons whose sleepordinarilyis as light
as fitfuland as easily scared awayas a small bird hopping on a twig. Tosuch an unwonted remotenesshoweverhad
his spirit now withdrawn into itselfthat he stirred not in his chairwhenold Roger Chillingworthwithout any
extraordinary precautioncame into the room. The physician advanced directlyin front of his patientlaid his hand upon
his bosomand thrust aside the vestmentthathithertohad always coveredit even from the professional eye.
ThenindeedMr. Dimmesdale shudderedand slightly stirred..40
After a brief pausethe physician turned away.
But with what a wild look of wonderjoyand horror! With what a ghastlyraptureas it weretoo mighty to be
expressed only by the eye and featuresand therefore bursting forth throughthe whole ugliness of his figureand
making itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant gestures with whichhe threw up his arms towards the ceiling
and stamped his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworthat that moment of his ecstasyhe would
have had no need to ask how Satan comports himselfwhen a precious humansoul is lost to heavenand won into his
But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was the trait ofwonder in it!
The Interior of a Heart
After the incident last describedthe intercourse between the clergyman andthe physicianthough externally the
samewas really of another character than it had previously been. Theintellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a
sufficiently plain path before it. It was notindeedprecisely that whichhe had laid out for himself to tread. Calm
gentlepassionlessas he appearedthere was yetwe feara quiet depth ofmalicehitherto latentbut active nowin this
unfortunate old manwhich led him to imagine a more intimate revenge thanany mortal had ever wreaked upon an
enemy. To make himself the one trusted friendto whom should be confided allthe fearthe remorsethe agonythe
ineffectual repentancethe backward rush of sinful thoughtsexpelled invain! All that guilty sorrowhidden from the
worldwhose great heart would have pitied and forgivento be revealed tohimthe Pitilessto himthe Unforgiving!
All that dark treasure to be lavished on the very manto whom nothing elsecould so adequately pay the debt of
The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme. RogerChillingworthhoweverwas inclined
to be hardlyif at allless satisfied with the aspect of affairswhichProvidence--using the avenger and his victim for its
own purposesandperchancepardoningwhere it seemed most to punish--hadsubstituted for his black devices. A
revelationhe could almost sayhad been granted to him. It mattered littlefor his objectwhether celestialor from
what other region. By its aidin all the subsequent relations betwixt himand Mr. Dimmesdalenot merely the external
presencebut the very inmost soul of the latter seemed to be brought outbefore his eyesso that he could see and
comprehend its every movement. He becamethenceforthnot a spectator onlybut a chief actorin the poor minister's
interior world. He could play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him witha throb of agony? The victim was for
ever on the rack; it needed only to know the spring that controlled theengine;--and the physician knew it well! Would
he startle him with sudden fear? As at the waving of a magician's wanduprose a grisly phantom--uprose a thousand
phantoms--in many shapesof deathor more awful shameall flocking roundabout the clergymanand pointing with
their fingers at his breast!
All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfectthat the ministerthough he had constantly a dim perception
of some evil influence watching over himcould never gain a knowledge of itsactual nature. Truehe looked
doubtfullyfearfully--evenat timeswith horror and the bitterness ofhatred--at the deformed figure of the old
physician. His gestureshis gaithis grizzled beardhis slightest and mostindifferent actsthe very fashion of his
garmentswere odious in the clergyman's sight; a tokenimplicitly to berelied onof a deeper antipathy in the breast of
the latter than he was willing to acknowledge to himself. Foras it wasimpossible to assign a reason for such distrust
and abhorrenceso Mr. Dimmesdaleconscious that the poison of one morbidspot was infecting his heart's entire
substanceattributed all his presentiments to no other cause. He tookhimself to task for his bad sympathies in reference
to Roger Chillingworthdisregarded the lesson that he should have drawn fromthemand did his best to root them out.
Unable to accomplish thishe neverthelessas a matter of principlecontinued his habits of social familiarity with the
old manand thus gave him constant opportunities for perfecting the purposeto which--poorforlorn creature that he
wasand more wretched than his victim--the avenger had devoted himself.
While thus suffering under bodily diseaseand gnawed and tortured by someblack trouble of the souland given
over to the machinations of his deadliest enemythe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalehad achieved a brilliant popularity in
his sacred office. He won itindeedin great partby his sorrows. Hisintellectual giftshis moral perceptionshis power
of experiencing and communicating emotionwere kept in a state ofpreternatural activity by the prick and anguish of
his daily life. His famethough still on its upward slopealreadyovershadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen
eminent as several of them were. There are scholars among themwho had spentmore years in acquiring
abstruse loreconnected with the divine professionthan Mr. Dimmesdale hadlived; and who might wellthereforebe
more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable attainments than theiryouthful brother. There were mentooof a
sturdier texture of mind than hisand endowed with a far greater share ofshrewdhardironor granite understanding;
whichduly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal ingredientconstitutes a highly respectableefficaciousand
unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were othersagaintruesaintly fatherswhose faculties had been
elaborated by weary toil among their booksand by patient thoughtandetherealizedmoreoverby spiritual
communications with the better worldinto which their purity of life hadalmost introduced these holy personageswith
their garments of mortality still clinging to them. All that they lacked wasthe gift that descended upon the chosen
disciplesat Pentecostin tongues of flame; symbolizingit would seemnotthe power of speech in foreign and
unknown languagesbut that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in theheart's native language. These fathers
otherwise so apostoliclacked Heaven's last and rarest attestation of theirofficethe Tongue of Flame. They would have.41
vainly sought--had they ever dreamed of seeking--to express the highesttruths through the humblest medium of familiar
words and images. Their voices came downafar and indistinctlyfrom theupper heights where they habitually dwelt.
Not improbablyit was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdalebymany of his traits of character
naturally belonged. To their high mountain-peaks of faith and sanctity hewould have climbedhad not the tendency
been thwarted by the burdenwhatever it might beof crime or anguishbeneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept
him downon a level with the lowest; himthe man of ethereal attributeswhose voice the angels might else have
listened to and answered! But this very burden it wasthat gave himsympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood
of mankind; so that his heart vibrated in unison with theirsand receivedtheir pain into itselfand sent its own throb of
pain through a thousand other heartsin gushes of sadpersuasive eloquence.Oftenest persuasivebut sometimes
terrible! The people knew not the power that moved them thus. They deemed theyoung clergyman a miracle of
holiness. They fancied him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdomand rebukeand love. In their eyesthe
very ground on which he trod was sanctified. The virgins of his church grewpale around himvictims of a passion so
imbued with religious sentiment that they imagined it to be all religionandbrought it openlyin their white bosomsas
their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The aged members of hisflockbeholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so
feeblewhile they were themselves so rugged in their infirmitybelievedthat he would go heavenward before themand
enjoined it upon their childrenthat their old bones should be buried closeto their young pastor's holy grave. Andall
this timeperchancewhen poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his gravehequestioned with himself whether the
grass would ever grow on itbecause an accursed thing must there be buried!
It is inconceivablethe agony with which this public veneration torturedhim! It was his genuine impulse to adore
the truthand to reckon all things shadow-likeand utterly devoid of weightor valuethat had not its divine essence as
the life within their life. Thenwhat was he?--a substance?--or the dimmestof all shadows? He longed to speak out
from his own pulpitat the full height of his voiceand tell the peoplewhat he was. "Iwhom you behold in these black
garments of the priesthood--Iwho ascend the sacred deskand turn my paleface heavenwardtaking upon myself to
hold communionin your behalfwith the Most High Omniscience--Iin whosedaily life you discern the sanctity of
Enoch--Iwhose footstepsas you supposeleave a gleam along my earthlytrackwhereby the pilgrims that shall come
after me may be guided to the regions of the blest--Iwho have laid thehand of baptism upon your children--Iwho
have breathed the parting prayer over your dying friendsto whom the Amensounded faintly from a world which they
had quitted--Iyour pastorwhom you so reverence and trustam utterly apollution and a lie!"
More than onceMr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpitwith a purpose neverto come down its stepsuntil he
should have spoken words like the above. More than oncehe had cleared histhroatand drawn in the longdeepand
tremulous breathwhichwhen sent forth againwould come burdened with theblack secret of his soul. More than
once--naymore than a hundred times--he had actually spoken! Spoken! Buthow? He had told his hearers that he was
altogether vilea viler companion of the vilestthe worst of sinnersanabominationa thing of unimaginable iniquity;
and that the only wonder wasthat they did not see his wretched bodyshrivelled up before their eyesby the burning
wrath of the Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not thepeople start up in their seatsby a
simultaneous impulseand tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled?Not soindeed! They heard it alland did
but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked inthose self-condemning words. "The
godly youth!" said they among themselves. "The saint on earth!Alasif he discern such sinfulness in his own white
soulwhat horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!" Theminister well knew--subtlebut remorseful hypocrite
that he was!--the light in which his vague confession would be viewed. He hadstriven to put a cheat upon himself by
making the avowal of a guilty consciencebut had gained only one other sinand a self-acknowledged shamewithout
the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the very truthand transformed it into the veriest falsehood.
And yetby the constitution of his naturehe loved the truthand loathedthe lieas few men ever did. Thereforeabove
all things elsehe loathed his miserable self!
His inward trouble drove him to practicesmore in accordance with the oldcorrupted faith of Romethan with
the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr.Dimmesdale's secret closetunder lock and
keythere was a bloody scourge. Oftentimesthis Protestant and Puritandivine had plied it on his own shoulders;
laughing bitterly at himself the whileand smiting so much the morepitilesslybecause of that bitter laugh. It was his
customtooas it has been that of many other pious Puritansto fast--nothoweverlike themin order to purify the
body and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination--butrigorouslyand until his knees trembled beneath him
as an act of penance. He kept vigilslikewisenight after nightsometimesin utter darkness; sometimes with a
glimmering lamp; and sometimesviewing his own face in a looking-glassbythe most powerful light which he could
throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith hetorturedbut could not purifyhimself. In these
lengthened vigilshis brain often reeledand visions seemed to flit beforehim; perhaps seen doubtfullyand by a faint
light of their ownin the remote dimness of the chamberor more vividlyand close beside himwithin the looking-glass.
Now it was a herd of diabolic shapesthat grinned and mocked at the paleministerand beckoned him away with
them; now a group of shining angelswho flew upward heavilyassorrow-ladenbut grew more ethereal as they rose.
Now came the dead friends of his youthand his white-bearded fatherwith asaint-like frownand his motherturning
her face away as she passed by. Ghost of a mother--thinnest fantasy of amother--methinks she might yet have thrown
a pitying glance towards her son! And nowthrough the chamber which thesespectral thoughts had made so ghastly
glided Hester Prynneleading along little Pearlin her scarlet garbandpointing her forefingerfirstat the scarlet letter
on her bosomand then at the clergyman's own breast..42
None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any momentby an effort ofhis willhe could discern
substances through their misty lack of substanceand convince himself thatthey were not solid in their naturelike
yonder table of carved oakor that bigsquareleathern-bound andbrazen-clasped volume of divinity. Butfor all that
they werein one sensethe truest and most substantial things which thepoor minister now dealt with. It is the
unspeakable misery of a life so false as histhat it steals the pith andsubstance out of whatever realities there are around
usand which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and nutriment. Tothe untrue manthe whole universe is
false--it is impalpable--it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And hehimselfin so far as he shows himself in a false
lightbecomes a shadoworindeedceases to exist. The only truththatcontinued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real
existence on this earthwas the anguish in his inmost souland theundissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he
once found power to smileand wear a face of gayetythere would have beenno such man!
On one of those ugly nightswhich we have faintly hinted atbut forborne topicture forththe minister started
from his chair. A new thought had struck him. There might be a moment's peacein it. Attiring himself with as much
care as if it had been for public worshipand precisely in the same mannerhe stole softly down the staircaseundid the
doorand issued forth.
The Minister's Vigil
Walking in the shadow of a dreamas it wereand perhaps actually under theinfluence of a species of
somnambulismMr. Dimmesdale reached the spotwherenow so long sinceHester Prynne had lived through her first
hour of public ignominy. The same platform or scaffoldblack andweather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven
long yearsand foot-worntoowith the tread of many culprits who had sinceascended itremained 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 thewhole expanse of sky from zenith to
horizon. If the same multitude which had stood as eyewitnesses while HesterPrynne sustained her punishment could
now have been summoned forththey would have discerned no face above theplatformnor hardly the outline of a
human shapein the dark gray of the midnight. But the town was all asleep.There was no peril of discovery. The
minister might stand thereif it so pleased himuntil morning should reddenin the eastwithout other risk than that the
dank and chill night-air would creep into his frameand stiffen his jointswith rheumatismand clog his throat with
catarrh and cough; thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow'sprayer and sermon. No eye could see him
save that ever-wakeful one which had seen him in his closetwielding thebloody scourge. Whythenhad he come
hither? Was it but the mockery of penitence? A mockeryindeedbut in whichhis soul trifled with itself! A mockery at
which angels blushed and weptwhile fiends rejoicedwith jeering laughter!He had been driven hither by the impulse
of that Remorse which dogged him everywhereand whose own sister and closelylinked companion was that
Cowardice which invariably drew him backwith her tremulous gripejust whenthe other impulse had hurried him to
the verge of a disclosure. Poormiserable man! what right had infirmity likehis to burden itself with crime? Crime is
for the iron-nervedwho have their choice either to endure itorif itpress too hardto exert their fierce and savage
strength for a good purposeand fling it off at once! This feeble and mostsensitive of spirits could do neitheryet
continually did one thing or anotherwhich intertwinedin the sameinextricable knotthe agony of heaven-defying
guilt and vain repentance.
And thuswhile standing on the scaffoldin this vain show of expiationMr.Dimmesdale was overcome with a
great horror of mindas if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token onhis naked breastright over his heart. On that
spotin very truththere wasand there had long beenthe gnawing andpoisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any
effort of his willor power to restrain himselfhe shrieked aloud; anoutcry that went pealing through the nightand was
beaten back from one house to anotherand reverberated from the hills in thebackground; as if a company of devils
detecting so much misery and terror in ithad made a plaything of the soundand were bandying it to and fro.
"It is done!" muttered the ministercovering his face with hishands. "The whole town will awakeand hurry
forthand find me here!"
But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far greater powerto his own startled earsthan it
actually possessed. The town did not awake; orif it didthe drowsyslumberers mistook the cry either for something
frightful in a dreamor for the noise of witches; whose voicesat thatperiodwere often heard to pass over the
settlements or lonely cottagesas they rode with Satan through the air. Theclergymanthereforehearing no symptoms
of disturbanceuncovered his eyes and looked about him. At one of thechamber-windows of Governor Bellingham's
mansionwhich stood at some distanceon the line of another streethebeheld the appearance of the old magistrate
himselfwith a lamp in his handa white night-cap on his headand a longwhite gown enveloping his figure. He looked
like a ghostevoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had evidentlystartled him. At another window of the same
housemoreoverappeared old Mistress Hibbinsthe Governor's sisteralsowith a lampwhicheven thus far off
revealed the expression of her sour and discontented face. She thrust forthher head from the latticeand looked
anxiously upward. Beyond the shadow of a doubtthis venerable witch-lady hadheard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcryand
interpreted itwith its multitudinous echoes and reverberationsas theclamor of the fiends and night-hagswith whom
she was well known to make excursions into the forest.
Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lampthe old lady quicklyextinguished her ownand vanished.
Possiblyshe went up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further ofher motions. The magistrateafter a wary.43
observation of the darkness--into whichneverthelesshe could see butlittle farther than he might into a mill-stone--
retired from the window.
The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyeshoweverwere soon greeted bya littleglimmering light
whichat first a long way offwas approaching up the street. It threw agleam of recognition on here a postand there a
garden-fenceand here a latticed window-paneand there a pumpwith itsfull trough of waterand hereagainan
arched door of oakwith an iron knockerand a rough log for the door-step.The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale noted all
these minute particularseven while firmly convinced that the doom of hisexistence was stealing onwardin the
footsteps which he now heard; and that the gleam of the lantern would fallupon himin a few moments moreand
reveal his long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearerhe beheldwithinits illuminated circlehis brother clergyman--
orto speak more accuratelyhis professional fatheras well as highlyvalued friend--the Reverend Mr. Wilson; whoas
Mr. Dimmesdale now conjecturedhad been praying at the bedside of some dyingman. And so he had. The good old
minister came freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthropwho hadpassed from earth to heaven within that
very hour. And nowsurroundedlike the saint-like personages of oldentimeswith a radiant halothat glorified him
amid this gloomy night of sin--as if the departed Governor had left him aninheritance of his gloryor as if he had
caught upon himself the distant shine of the celestial citywhile lookingthitherward to see the triumphant pilgrim pass
within its gates--nowin shortgood Father Wilson was moving homewardaiding his footsteps with a lighted lantern!
The glimmer of this luminary suggested the above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdalewho smiled--nayalmost laughed at
them--and then wondered if he were going mad.
As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffoldclosely muffling hisGeneva cloak about him with one
armand holding the lantern before his breast with the otherthe ministercould hardly restrain himself from speaking.
"A good evening to youvenerable Father Wilson! Come up hitherI prayyouand pass a pleasant hour with
Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one instanthebelieved that these words had passed
his lips. But they were uttered only within his imagination. The venerableFather Wilson continued to step slowly
onwardlooking carefully at the muddy pathway before his feetand neveronce turning his head towards the guilty
platform. When the light of the glimmering lantern had faded quite awaytheminister discoveredby the faintness
which came over himthat the last few moments had been a crisis of terribleanxiety; although his mind had made an
involuntary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid playfulness.
Shortly afterwardsthe like grisly sense of the humorous again stole inamong the solemn phantoms of his
thought. He felt his limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness ofthe nightand doubted whether he should be
able to descend the steps of the scaffold. Morning would breakand find himthere. The neighbourhood would begin to
rouse itself. The earliest risercoming forth in the dim twilightwouldperceive a vaguely defined figure aloft on the
place of shame; andhalf crazed betwixt alarm and curiositywould goknocking from door to doorsummoning all the
people to behold the ghost--as he needs must think it--of some defuncttransgressor. A dusky tumult would flap its
wings from one house to another. Then--the morning light still waxingstronger--old patriarchs would rise up in great
hasteeach in his flannel gownand matronly dameswithout pausing to putoff their night-gear. The whole tribe of
decorous personageswho had never heretofore been seen with a single hair oftheir heads awrywould start into public
viewwith the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old GovernorBellingham would come grimly forthwith his
King James's ruff fastened askew; and Mistress Hibbinswith some twigs ofthe forest clinging to her skirtsand
looking sourer than everas having hardly got a wink of sleep after hernight ride; and good Father Wilsontooafter
spending half the night at a death-bedand liking ill to be disturbedthusearlyout of his dreams about the glorified
saints. Hitherlikewisewould come the elders and deacons of Mr.Dimmesdale's churchand the young virgins who so
idolized their ministerand had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms;whichnowby the byin their hurry and
confusionthey would scantly have given themselves time to cover with theirkerchiefs. All peoplein a wordwould
come stumbling over their thresholdsand turning up their amazed andhorror-stricken visages around the scaffold.
Whom would they discern therewith the red eastern light upon his brow?Whombut the Reverend Arthur
Dimmesdalehalf frozen to deathoverwhelmed with shameand standing whereHester Prynne had stood!
Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picturethe ministerunawaresand to his own infinite alarmburst
into a great peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a lightairychildish laughin whichwith a thrill of
the heart--but he knew not whether of exquisite painor pleasure asacute--he recognized the tones of little Pearl.
"Pearl! Little Pearl!" cried heafter a moment's pause; thensuppressing his voice--"Hester! Hester Prynne! Are
"Yes; it is Hester Prynne!" she repliedin a tone of surprise; andthe minister heard her footsteps approaching
from the sidewalkalong which she had been passing.--"It is Iand mylittle Pearl."
"Whence come youHester?" asked the minister. "What sent youhither?"
"I have been watching at a death-bed" answered HesterPrynne;--"at Governor Winthrop's death-bedand have
taken his measure for a robeand am now going homeward to my dwelling."
"Come up hitherHesterthou and little Pearl" said the ReverendMr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here
beforebut I was not with you. Come up hither once againand we will standall three together!"
She silently ascended the stepsand stood on the platformholding littlePearl by the hand. The minister felt for
the child's other handand took it. The moment that he did sothere camewhat seemed a tumultuous rush of new life.44
other life than his ownpouring like a torrent into his heartand hurryingthrough all his veinsas if the mother and the
child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. Thethree formed an electric chain.
"Minister!" whispered little Pearl.
"What wouldst thou saychild?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale.
"Wilt thou stand here with mother and meto-morrow noontide?"inquired Pearl.
"Nay; not somy little Pearl!" answered the minister; forwiththe new energy of the momentall the dread of
public exposurethat had so long been the anguish of his lifehad returnedupon him; and he was already trembling at
the conjunction in which--with a strange joynevertheless--he now foundhimself. "Not somy child. I shallindeed
stand with thy mother and thee one other daybut not to-morrow!"
Pearl laughedand attempted to pull away her hand. But the minister held itfast.
"A moment longermy child!" said he.
"But wilt thou promise" asked Pearl"to take my handandmother's handto-morrow noontide?"
"Not thenPearl" said the minister"but another time!"
"And what other time?" persisted the child.
"At the great judgment day!" whispered the minister--andstrangely enoughthe sense that he was a professional
teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Thenandtherebefore the judgment-seatthy motherand
thouand Imust stand together. But the daylight of this world shall notsee our meeting!"
Pearl laughed again.
Butbefore Mr. Dimmesdale had done speakinga light gleamed far and wideover all the muffled sky. It was
doubtless caused by one of those meteorswhich the night-watcher may sooften observe burning out to wastein the
vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its radiancethat itthoroughly illuminated the dense medium of
cloud betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault brightenedlike the dome ofan immense lamp. It showed the familiar
scene of the streetwith the distinctness of mid-daybut also with theawfulness that is always imparted to familiar
objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden houseswith their juttingstories and quaint gable-peaks; the doorsteps
and thresholdswith the early grass springing up about them; thegarden-plotsblack with freshly turned earth; the
wheel-tracklittle wornandeven in the market-placemargined with greenon either side;--all were visiblebut with a
singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to thethings of this world than they had ever
borne before. And there stood the ministerwith his hand over his heart; andHester Prynnewith the embroidered letter
glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearlherself a symboland theconnecting link between those two. They stood in
the noon of that strange and solemn splendoras if it were the light that isto reveal all secretsand the daybreak that
shall unite all who belong to one another.
There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes; and her faceas she glancedupward at the ministerwore that naughty
smile which made its expression frequently so elvish. She withdrew her handfrom Mr. Dimmesdale'sand pointed
across the street. But he clasped both his hands over his breastand casthis eyes towards the zenith.
Nothing was more commonin those daysthan to interpret all meteoricappearancesand other natural
phenomenathat occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of sunand moonas so many revelations from a
supernatural source. Thusa blazing speara sword of flamea bowor asheaf of arrowsseen in the midnight sky
prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by ashower of crimson light. We doubt
whether any marked eventfor good or evilever befell New Englandfrom itssettlement down to Revolutionary times
of which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some spectacle ofthis nature. Not seldomit had been seen
by multitudes. Oftenerhoweverits credibility rested on the faith of somelonely eyewitnesswho beheld the wonder
through the coloredmagnifyingand distorting medium of his imaginationand shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.
It wasindeeda majestic ideathat the destiny of nations should berevealedin these awful hieroglyphicson
the cope of heaven. A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expansive forProvidence to write a people's doom upon.
The belief was a favorite one with our forefathersas betokening that theirinfant commonwealth was under a celestial
guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness. But what shall we saywhenan individual discovers a revelation
addressed to himself aloneon the same vast sheet of record! In such a caseit could only be the symptom of a highly
disordered mental statewhen a manrendered morbidly self-contemplative bylongintenseand secret painhad
extended his egotism over the whole expanse of natureuntil the firmamentitself should appear no more than a fitting
page for his soul's history and fate.
We impute itthereforesolely to the disease in his own eye and heartthatthe ministerlooking upward to the
zenithbeheld there the appearance of an immense letter--the letterA--marked out in lines of dull red light. Not but the
meteor may have shown itself at that pointburning duskily through a veil ofcloud; but with no such shape as his guilty
imagination gave it; orat leastwith so little definitenessthatanother's guilt might have seen another symbol in it.
There was a singular circumstance that characterized Mr. Dimmesdale'spsychological stateat this moment. All
the time that he gazed upward to the zenithhe wasneverthelessperfectlyaware that little Pearl was pointing her
finger towards old Roger Chillingworthwho stood at no great distance fromthe scaffold. The minister appeared to see
himwith the same glance that discerned the miraculous letter. To hisfeaturesas to all other objectsthe meteoric light
imparted a new expression; or it might well be that the physician was notcareful thenas at all other timesto hide the
malevolence with which he looked upon his victim. Certainlyif the meteorkindled up the skyand disclosed the earth
with an awfulness that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the dayof judgmentthen might Roger
Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiendstanding therewitha smile and scowlto claim his own. So.45
vivid was the expressionor so intense the minister's perception of itthatit seemed still to remain painted on the
darknessafter the meteor had vanishedwith an effect as if the street andall things else were at once annihilated.
"Who is that manHester?" gasped Mr. Dimmesdaleovercome withterror. "I shiver at him! Dost thou know the
man? I hate himHester!"
She remembered her oathand was silent.
"I tell theemy soul shivers at him" muttered the minister again."Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing
for me? I have a nameless horror of the man."
"Minister" said little Pearl"I can tell thee who heis!"
"Quicklythenchild!" said the ministerbending his ear close toher lips. "Quickly!--and as low as thou canst
Pearl mumbled something into his earthat soundedindeedlike humanlanguagebut was only such gibberish
as children may be heard amusing themselves withby the hour together. Atall eventsif it involved any secret
information in regard to old Roger Chillingworthit was in a tongue unknownto the erudite clergymanand did but
increase the bewilderment of his mind. The elvish child then laughed aloud.
"Dost thou mock me now?" said the minister.
"Thou wast not bold!--thou wast not true!" answered the child."Thou wouldst not promise to take my handand
mother's handto-morrow noontide!"
"Worthy Sir" said the physicianwho had now advanced to the footof the platform. "Pious Master Dimmesdale!
can this be you? Wellwellindeed! We men of studywhose heads are in ourbookshave need to be straitly looked
after! We dream in our waking momentsand walk in our sleep. Comegood Sirand my dear friendI pray youlet me
lead you home!"
"How knewest thou that I was here?" asked the ministerfearfully.
"Verilyand in good faith" answered Roger Chillingworth"Iknew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better
part of the night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthropdoingwhat my poor skill might to give him ease.
He going home to a better worldIlikewisewas on my way homewardwhenthis strange light shone out. Come with
meI beseech youReverend Sir; else you will be poorly able to do Sabbathduty to-morrow. Aha! see nowhow they
trouble the brain--these books!--these books! You should study lessgoodSirand take a little pastime; or these night-whimseys
will grow upon you!"
"I will go home with you" said Mr. Dimmesdale.
With a chill despondencylike one awakingall nervelessfrom an uglydreamhe yielded himself to the
physicianand was led away.
The next dayhoweverbeing the Sabbathhe preached a discourse which washeld to be the richest and most
powerfuland the most replete with heavenly influencesthat had everproceeded from his lips. Soulsit is saidmore
souls than onewere brought to the truth by the efficacy of that sermonandvowed within themselves to cherish a holy
gratitude towards Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. Butas hecame down the pulpit-stepsthe gray-bearded
sexton met himholding up a black glovewhich the minister recognized ashis own.
"It was found" said the sexton"this morningon thescaffoldwhere evil-doers are set up to public shame. Satan
dropped it thereI take itintending a scurrilous jest against yourreverence. Butindeedhe was blind and foolishas he
ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!"
"Thank youmy good friend" said the minister gravelybutstartled at heart; forso confused was his
remembrancethat he had almost brought himself to look at the events of thepast night as visionary. "Yesit seems to
be my gloveindeed!"
"Andsince Satan saw fit to steal ityour reverence must needs handlehim without gloveshenceforward"
remarked the old sextongrimly smiling. "But did your reverence hear ofthe portent that was seen last night? a great
red letter in the sky--the letter A--which we interpret to stand for Angel.Foras our good Governor Winthrop was
made an angel this past nightit was doubtless held fit that there should besome notice thereof!"
"No" answered the minister; "I had not heard of it."
Another View of Hester
In her late singular interview with Mr. DimmesdaleHester Prynne was shockedat the condition to which she
found the clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His moralforce was abased into more than
childish weakness. It grovelled helpless on the groundeven while hisintellectual faculties retained their pristine
strengthor had perhaps acquired a morbid energywhich disease only couldhave given them. With her knowledge of a
train of circumstances hidden from all othersshe could readily inferthatbesides the legitimate action of his own
consciencea terrible machinery had been brought to bearand was stilloperatingon Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being and
repose. Knowing what this poorfallen man had once beenher whole soul wasmoved by the shuddering terror with
which he had appealed to her--the outcast woman--for support against hisinstinctively discovered enemy. She
decidedmoreoverthat he had a right to her utmost aid. Little accustomedin her long seclusion from societyto
measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herselfHester saw--or seemed to see--that there lay a
responsibility upon herin reference to the clergymanwhich she owned to noothernor to the whole world besides.
The links that united her to the rest of human kind--links of flowersorsilkor goldor whatever the material--had all.46
been broken. Here was the iron link of mutual crimewhich neither he nor shecould break. Like all other tiesit brought
along with it its obligations.
Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in which webeheld her during the earlier periods
of her ignominy. Years had comeand gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Hermotherwith the scarlet letter on her
breastglittering in its fantastic embroideryhad long been a familiarobject to the townspeople. As is apt to be the case
when a person stands out in any prominence before the communityandat thesame timeinterferes neither with public
nor individual interests and conveniencea species of general regard hadultimately grown up in reference to Hester
Prynne. It is to the credit of human naturethatexcept where itsselfishness is brought into playit loves more readily
than it hates. Hatredby a gradual and quiet processwill even betransformed to loveunless the change be impeded by
a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In thismatter of Hester Prynnethere was neither
irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the publicbut submitteduncomplainingly to its worst usage; she
made no claim upon itin requital for what she suffered; she did not weighupon its sympathies. Thenalsothe
blameless purity of her lifeduring all these years in which she had beenset apart to infamywas reckoned largely in
her favor. With nothing now to losein the sight of mankindand with nohopeand seemingly no wishof gaining any
thingit could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back thepoor wanderer to its paths.
It was perceivedtoothatwhile Hester never put forward even the humblesttitle to share in the world's
privileges--farther than to breathe the common airand earn daily bread forlittle Pearl and herself by the faithful labor
of her hands--she was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race ofmanwhenever benefits were to be
conferred. None so ready as she to give of her little substance to everydemand of poverty; even though the bitter-hearted
pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to hisdooror the garments wrought for him
by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's robe. None soself-devoted as Hesterwhen pestilence stalked
through the town. In all seasons of calamityindeedwhether general or ofindividualsthe outcast of society at once
found her place. She camenot as a guestbut as a rightful inmateinto thehousehold that was darkened by trouble; as if
its gloomy twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to holdintercourse with her fellow-creatures. There
glimmered the embroidered letterwith comfort in its unearthly ray.Elsewhere the token of sinit was the taper of the
sick-chamber. It had even thrown its gleamin the sufferer's hard extremityacross the verge of time. It had shown him
where to set his footwhile the light of earth was fast becoming dimandere the light of futurity could reach him. In
such emergenciesHester's nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-springof human tendernessunfailing to every
real demandand inexhaustible by the largest. Her breastwith its badge ofshamewas but the softer pillow for the head
that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; orwe may rathersaythe world's heavy hand had so
ordained herwhen neither the world nor she looked forward to this result.The letter was the symbol of her calling.
Such helpfulness was found in her--so much power to doand power tosympathize--that many people refused to
interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that itmeant Able; so strong was Hester Prynnewith a
It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When sunshine cameagainshe was not there. Her shadow
had faded across the threshold. The helpful inmate had departedwithout onebackward glance to gather up the meed of
gratitudeif any were in the hearts of those whom she had served sozealously. Meeting them in the streetshe never
raised her head to receive their greeting. If they were resolute to accosthershe laid her finger on the scarlet letterand
passed on. This might be pridebut was so like humilitythat it producedall the softening influence of the latter quality
on the public mind. The public is despotic in its temper; it is capable ofdenying common justicewhen too strenuously
demanded as a right; but quite as frequently it awards more than justicewhen the appeal is madeas despots love to
have it madeentirely to its generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne'sdeportment as an appeal of this naturesociety was
inclined to show its former victim a more benign countenance than she caredto be favored withorperchancethan she
The rulersand the wise and learned men of the communitywere longer inacknowledging the influence of
Hester's good qualities than the people. The prejudices which they shared incommon with the latter were fortified in
themselves by an iron framework of reasoningthat made it a far tougherlabor to expel them. Day by daynevertheless
their sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing into something whichin the duecourse of yearsmight grow to be an
expression of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men of rankon whomtheir eminent position imposed the
guardianship of the public morals. Individuals in private lifemeanwhilehad quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her
frailty; naymorethey had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as thetokennot of that one sinfor which she had
borne so long and dreary a penancebut 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'sown Hester--who is so kind to the poorso helpful to
the sickso comfortable to the afflicted!" Thenit is truethepropensity of human nature to tell the very worst of itself
when embodied in the person of anotherwould constrain them to whisper theblack scandal of bygone years. It was
none the less a facthoweverthatin the eyes of the very men who spokethusthe scarlet letter had the effect of the
cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacrednesswhichenabled her to walk securely amid all
peril. Had she fallen among thievesit would have kept her safe. It wasreportedand believed by manythat an Indian
had drawn his arrow against the badgebut that the missile struck itandfell harmless to the ground.
The effect of the symbol--or ratherof the position in respect to societythat was indicated by it--on the mind of
Hester Prynne herselfwas powerful and peculiar. All the light and gracefulfoliage of her character had been withered
up by this red-hot brandand had long ago fallen awayleaving a bare andharsh outlinewhich might have been.47
repulsivehad she possessed friends or companions to be repelled by it. Eventhe attractiveness of her person had
undergone a similar change. It might be partly owing to the studied austerityof her dressand partly to the lack of
demonstration in her manners. It was a sad transformationtoothat her richand luxuriant hair had either been cut off
or was so completely hidden by a capthat not a shining lock of it ever oncegushed into the sunshine. It was due in part
to all these causesbut still more to something elsethat there seemed tobe no longer any thing in Hester's face for Love
to dwell upon; nothing in Hester's formthough majestic and statue-likethat Passion would ever dream of clasping in
its embrace; nothing in Hester's bosomto make it ever again the pillow ofAffection. Some attribute had departed from
herthe permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such isfrequently the fateand such the stern
developmentof the feminine character and personwhen the woman hasencounteredand lived throughan experience
of peculiar severity. If she be all tendernessshe will die. If she survivethe tenderness will either be crushed out of her
or--and the outward semblance is the same--crushed so deeply into her heartthat it can never show itself more. The
latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been womanand ceasedto be somight at any moment become a
woman againif there were only the magic touch to effect the transformation.We shall see whether Hester Prynne were
ever afterwards so touchedand so transfigured.
Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be attributed tothe circumstance that her life had
turnedin a great measurefrom passion and feelingto thought. Standingalone in the world--aloneas to any
dependence on societyand with little Pearl to be guided andprotected--aloneand hopeless of retrieving her position
even had she not scorned to consider it desirable--she cast away thefragments of a broken chain. The world's law was
no law for her mind. It was an age in which the human intellectnewlyemancipatedhad taken a more active and a
wider range than for many centuries before. Men of the sword had overthrownnobles and kings. Men bolder than these
had overthrown and rearranged--not actuallybut within the sphere of theorywhich was their most real abode--the
whole system of ancient prejudicewherewith was linked much of ancientprinciple. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit.
She assumed a freedom of speculationthen common enough on the other side ofthe Atlanticbut which our
forefathershad they known of itwould have held to be a deadlier crimethan that stigmatized by the scarlet letter. In
her lonesome cottageby the sea-shorethoughts visited hersuch as daredto enter no other dwelling in New England;
shadowy gueststhat would have been as perilous as demons to theirentertainercould they have been seen so much as
knocking at her door.
It is remarkablethat persons who speculate the most boldly often conformwith the most perfect quietude to the
external regulations of society. The thought suffices themwithout investingitself in the flesh and blood of action. So it
seemed to be with Hester. Yethad little Pearl never come to her from thespiritual worldit might have been far
otherwise. Thenshe might have come down to us in historyhand in hand withAnn Hutchinsonas the foundress of a
religious sect. She mightin one of her phaseshave been a prophetess. Shemightand not improbably wouldhave
suffered death from the stern tribunals of the periodfor attempting toundermine the foundations of the Puritan
establishment. Butin the education of her childthe mother's enthusiasm ofthought had something to wreak itself
upon. Providencein the person of this little girlhad assigned to Hester'scharge the germ and blossom of womanhood
to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Every thing wasagainst her. The world was hostile. The
child's own nature had something wrong in itwhich continually betokenedthat she had been born amiss--the effluence
of her mother's lawless passion--and often impelled Hester to askinbitterness of heartwhether it were for ill or good
that the poor little creature had been born at all.
Indeedthe same dark question often rose into her mindwith reference tothe whole race of womanhood. Was
existence worth ecceptingeven to the happiest among them? As concerned herown individual existenceshe had long
ago decided in the negativeand dismissed the point as settled. A tendencyto speculationthough it may keep woman
quietas it does manyet makes her sad. She discernsit may besuch ahopeless task before her. As a first stepthe
whole system of society is to be torn downand built up anew. Thenthe verynature of the opposite sexor its long
hereditary habitwhich has become like natureis to be essentiallymodifiedbefore woman can be allowed to assume
what seems a fair and suitable position. Finallyall other difficultiesbeing obviatedwoman cannot take advantage of
these preliminary reformsuntil she herself shall have undergone a stillmightier change; in whichperhapsthe ethereal
essencewherein she has her truest lifewill be found to have evaporated. Awoman never overcomes these problems by
any exercise of thought. They are not to be solvedor only in one way. Ifher heart chance to come uppermostthey
vanish. ThusHester Prynnewhose heart had lost its regular and healthythrobwandered without a clew in the dark
labyrinth of mind; now turned aside by an insurmountable precipice; nowstarting back from a deep chasm. There was
wild and ghastly scenery all around herand a home and comfort nowhere. Attimesa fearful doubt strove to possess
her soulwhether it were not better to send Pearl at once to heavenand goherself to such futurity as Eternal Justice
The scarlet letter had not done its office.
Nowhoweverher interview with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdaleon the night ofhis vigilhad given her a new
theme of reflectionand held up to her an object that appeared worthy of anyexertion and sacrifice for its attainment.
She had witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister struggledorto speak more accuratelyhad ceased to
struggle. She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacyif he had not alreadystepped across it. It was impossible to
doubtthatwhatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting ofremorsea deadlier venom had been infused
into it by the hand that proffered relief. A secret enemy had beencontinually by his sideunder the semblance of a
friend and helperand had availed himself of the opportunities thus affordedfor tampering with the delicate springs of.48
Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hester could not but ask herselfwhether there hadnot originally been a defect of truth
courageand loyaltyon her own partin allowing the minister to be throwninto a position where so much evil was to
be forebodedand nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her only justification layin the factthat she had been able to discern
no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had overwhelmed herselfexcept by acquiescing in Roger
Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulseshe had made herchoiceand had chosenas it now appeared
the more wretched alternative of the two. She determined to redeem her errorso far as it might yet be possible.
Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trialshe felt herself no longer soinadequate to cope with Roger
Chillingworth as on that nightabased by sinand half maddened by theignominy that was still newwhen they had
talked together in the prison-chamber. She had climbed her waysince thento a higher point. The old manon the other
handhad brought himself nearer to her level or perhapsbelow itby therevenge which he had stooped for.
In fineHester Prynne resolved to meet her former husbandand do what mightbe in her power for the rescue of
the victim on whom he had so evidently set his gripe. The occasion was notlong to seek. One afternoonwalking with
Pearl in a retired part of the peninsulashe beheld the old physicianwitha basket on one armand a staff in the other
handstooping along the groundin quest of roots and herbs to concoct hismedicine withal.
Hester and the Physician
Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the waterand play withthe shells and tangled sea-weeduntil
she should have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the childflew away like a birdandmaking bare her
small white feetwent pattering along the moist margin of the sea. Here andthereshe came to a full stopand peeped
curiously into a poolleft by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to seeher face in. Forth peeped at herout of the pool
with darkglistening curls around her headand an elf-smile in her eyesthe image of a little maidwhom Pearlhaving
no other playmateinvited to take her hand and run a race with her. But thevisionary little maidon her partbeckoned
likewiseas if to say--"This is a better place! Come thou into thepool!" And Pearlstepping inmid-leg deepbeheld
her own white feet at the bottom; whileout of a still lower depthcame thegleam of a kind of fragmentary smile
floating to and fro in the agitated water.
Meanwhileher mother had accosted the physician.
"I would speak a word with you" said she--"a word thatconcerns us much."
"Aha! And is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old RogerChillingworth?" answered heraising himself from
his stooping posture. "With all my heart! WhyMistressI hear goodtidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than
yester-evea magistratea wise and godly manwas discoursing of youraffairsMistress Hesterand whispered me that
there had been question concerning you in the council. It was debated whetheror nowith safety to the commonweal
yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. On my lifeHesterImade my entreaty to the worshipful
magistrate that it might be done forthwith!"
"It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off thisbadge" calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be
quit of itit would fall away of its own natureor be transformed intosomething that should speak a different purport."
"Naythenwear itif it suit you better" rejoined he"Awoman must needs follow her own fancytouching the
adornment of her person. The letter is gayly embroideredand shows rightbravely on your bosom!"
All this whileHester had been looking steadily at the old manand wasshockedas well as wonder-smittento
discern what a change had been wrought upon him within the past seven years.It was not so much that he had grown
older; for though the traces of advancing life were visiblehe bore his agewelland seemed to retain a wiry vigor and
alertness. But the former aspect of an intellectual and studious mancalmand quietwhich was what she best
remembered in himhad altogether vanishedand been succeeded by an eagersearchingalmost fierceyet carefully
guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to mask this expressionwith a smile; but the latter played him false
and flickered over his visage so derisivelythat the spectator could see hisblackness all the better for it. Ever and anon
toothere came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man'ssoul were on fireand kept on smouldering
duskily within his breastuntilby some casual puff of passionit wasblown into a momentary flame. This he repressed
as speedily as possibleand strove to look as if nothing of the kind hadhappened.
In a wordold Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's facultyof transforming himself into a devil
if he will onlyfor a reasonable space of timeundertake a devil's office.This unhappy person had effected such a
transformation by devoting himselffor seven yearsto the constant analysisof a heart full of tortureand deriving his
enjoyment thenceand adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analyzedand gloated over.
The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. Here was another ruinthe responsibility of which came
partly home to her.
"What see you in my face" asked the physician"that you lookat it so earnestly?"
"Something that would make me weepif there were any tears bitterenough for it" answered she. "But let it
pass! It is of yonder miserable man that I would speak."
"And what of him?" cried Roger Chillingworth eagerlyas if heloved the topicand were glad of an opportunity
to discuss it with the only person of whom he could make a confidant."Not to hide the truthMistress Hestermy
thoughts happen just now to be busy with the gentleman. So speak freely; andI will make answer."
"When we last spake together" said Hester"now seven yearsagoit was your pleasure to extort a promise of
secrecyas touching the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the lifeand good fame of yonder man were in your
handsthere seemed no choice to mesave to be silentin accordance withyour behest. Yet it was not without heavy.49
misgivings that I thus bound myself; forhaving cast off all duty towardsother human beingsthere remained a duty
towards him; and something whispered me that I was betraying itin pledgingmyself to keep your counsel. Since that
dayno man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his every footstep.You are beside himsleeping and waking.
You search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your clutch ison his lifeand you cause him to die daily a
living death; and still he knows you not. In permitting thisI have surelyacted a false part by the only man to whom the
power was left me to be true!"
"What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My fingerpointed at this manwould have hurled him
from his pulpit into a dungeon--thenceperadventureto the gallows!"
"It had been better so!" said Hester Prynne.
"What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again."I tell theeHester Prynnethe richest fee
that ever physician earned from monarch could not have bought such care as Ihave wasted on this miserable priest! But
for my aidhis life would have burned away in tormentswithin the first twoyears after the perpetration of his crime
and thine. ForHesterhis spirit lacked the strength that could have borneupas thine hasbeneath a burden like thy
scarlet letter. OI could reveal a goodly secret! But enough! What art candoI have exhausted on him. That he now
breathesand creeps about on earthis owing all to me!"
"Better he had died at once!" said Hester Prynne.
"Yeawomanthou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworthletting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before
her eyes. "Better had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what thisman has suffered. And allallin the sight of his
worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwellingalways upon him like a curse. He knew
by some spiritual sense--for the Creator never made another being sosensitive as this--he knew that no friendly hand
was pulling at his heart-stringsand that an eye was looking curiously intohimwhich sought only eviland found it.
But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition commonto his brotherhoodhe fancied himself
given over to a fiendto be tortured with frightful dreamsand desperatethoughtsthe sting of remorseand despair of
pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was theconstant shadow of my presence!--the closest
propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!--and who had grown toexist only by this perpetual poison
of the direst revenge! Yeaindeed!--he did not err!--there was a fiend athis elbow! A mortal manwith once a human
hearthas become a fiend for his especial torment!"
The unfortunate physicianwhile uttering these wordslifted his hands witha look of horroras if he had beheld
some frightful shapewhich he could not recognizeusurping the place of hisown image in a glass. It was one of those
moments--which sometimes occur only at the interval of years--when a man'smoral aspect is faithfully revealed to his
mind's eye. Not improbablyhe had never before viewed himself as he did now.
"Hast thou not tortured him enough?" said Hesternoticing the oldman's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"
"No!--no!--He has but increased the debt!" answered the physician;andas he proceededhis manner lost its
fiercer characteristicsand subsided into gloom. "Dost thou remembermeHesteras I was nine years agone? Even
thenI was in the autumn of my daysnor was it the early autumn. But all mylife had been made up of earnest
studiousthoughtfulquiet yearsbestowed faithfully for the increase ofmine own knowledgeand faithfullytoo
though this latter object was but casual to the other--faithfully for theadvancement of human welfare. No life had been
more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with benefitsconferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I not
though you might deem me coldnevertheless a man thoughtful for otherscraving little for himself--kindtruejust
and of constantif not warm affections? Was I not all this?"
"All thisand more" said Hester.
"And what am I now?" demanded helooking into her faceandpermitting 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 Hestershuddering. "It was Inot lessthan he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"
"I have left thee to the scarlet letter" replied RogerChillingworth. "If that have not avenged meI can do no
He laid his finger on itwith a smile.
"It has avenged thee!" answered Hester Prynne.
"I judged no less" said the physician. "And nowwhat wouldstthou with me touching this man?"
"I must reveal the secret" answered Hesterfirmly. "He mustdiscern thee in thy true character. What may be the
resultI know not. But this long debt of confidencedue from me to himwhose bane and ruin I have beenshall at
length be paid. So far as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fairfame and his earthly stateand perchance his
lifehe is in thy hands. Nor do I--whom the scarlet letter has disciplinedto truththough it be the truth of red-hot iron
entering into the soul--nor do I perceive such advantage in his living anylonger a life of ghastly emptinessthat I shall
stoop to implore thy mercy. Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good forhim--no good for me--no good for thee!
There is no good for little Pearl! There is no path to guide us out of thisdismal maze!"
"WomanI could wellnigh pity thee!" said Roger Chillingworthunable to restrain a thrill of admiration too; for
there was a quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed."Thou hadst great elements. Peradventurehadst
thou met earlier with a better love than minethis evil had not been. I pitytheefor the good that has been wasted in thy
"And I thee" answered Hester Prynne"for the hatred that hastransformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt
thou yet purge it out of theeand be once more human? If not for his sakethen doubly for thine own! Forgiveand.50
leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it! I saidbut nowthat there could be no good event for himor
theeor mewho are here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evilandstumblingat every stepover the guilt
wherewith we have strewn our path. It is not so! There might be good fortheeand thee alonesince thou hast been
deeply wrongedand hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up thatonly privilege? Wilt thou reject that priceless
"PeaceHesterpeace!" replied the old manwith gloomy sternness."It is not granted me to pardon. I have no
such power as thou tellest me of. My old faithlong forgottencomes back tomeand explains all that we doand all we
suffer. By thy first step awrythou didst plant the germ of evil; butsincethat momentit has all been a dark necessity.
Ye that have wronged me are not sinfulsave in a kind of typical illusion;neither am I fiend-likewho have snatched a
fiend's office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossomas it may! Now go thy waysand deal as thou
wilt with yonder man."
He waved his handand betook himself again to his employment of gatheringherbs.
Hester and Pearl
So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figurewith a face that haunted men'smemories longer than they liked--
took leave of Hester Prynneand went stooping away along the earth. Hegathered here and there an herbor grubbed
up a rootand put it into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almosttouched the groundas he crept onward. Hester
gazed after him a little whilelooking with a half-fantastic curiosity tosee whether the tender grass of early spring
would not be blighted beneath himand show the wavering track of hisfootstepssere and brownacross its cheerful
verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs they werewhich the old man was sosedulous to gather. Would not the earth
quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eyegreet him withpoisonous shrubsof species hitherto unknown
that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice himthat everywholesome growth should be converted into
something deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sunwhich shone sobrightly everywhere elsereally fall
upon him? Or was thereas it rather seemeda circle of ominous shadowmoving along with his deformitywhichever
way he turned himself? And whither was he now going? Would he not suddenlysink into the earthleaving a barren
and blasted spotwherein due course of timewould be seen deadlynightshadedogwoodhenbaneand whatever else
of vegetable wickedness the climate could produceall flourishing withhideous luxuriance? Or would he spread bat's
wings and flee awaylooking so much the uglierthe higher he rose towardsheaven?
"Be it sin or no" said Hester Prynne bitterlyas she still gazedafter him"I hate the man!"
She upbraided herself for the sentimentbut could not overcome or lessen it.Attempting to do soshe thought of
those long-past daysin a distant landwhen he used to emerge at eventidefrom the seclusion of his studyand sit down
in the fire-light of their homeand in the light of her nuptial smile. Heneeded to bask himself in that smilehe saidin
order that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be takenoff the scholar's heart. Such scenes had
once appeared not otherwise than happybut nowas viewed through the dismalmedium of her subsequent lifethey
classed themselves among her ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how suchscenes could have been! She marvelled
how she could ever have been wrought upon to marry him! She deemed it hercrime most to be repented ofthat she had
ever enduredand reciprocatedthe lukewarm grasp of his handand hadsuffered the smile of her lips and eyes to
mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed byRoger Chillingworththan any which had
since been done himthatin the time when her heart knew no betterhe hadpersuaded her to fancy herself happy by his
"YesI hate him!" repeated Hestermore bitterly than before."He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong
than I did him!"
Let men tremble to win the hand of womanunless they win along with it theutmost passion of her heart! Else it
may be their miserable fortuneas it was Roger Chillingworth'swhen somemightier touch than their own may have
awakened all her sensibilitiesto be reproached even for the calm contentthe marble image of happinesswhich they
will have imposed upon her as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago tohave done with this injustice. What did it
betoken? Had seven long yearsunder the torture of the scarlet letterinflicted so much of miseryand wrought out no
The emotions of that brief spacewhile she stood gazing after the crookedfigure of old Roger Chillingworth
threw a dark light on Hester's state of mindrevealing much that she mightnot otherwise have acknowledged to herself.
He being goneshe summoned back her child.
"Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?"
Pearlwhose activity of spirit never flaggedhad been at no loss foramusement while her mother talked with the
old gatherer of herbs. At firstas already toldshe had flirted fancifullywith her own image in a pool of water
beckoning the phantom forthand--as it declined to venture--seeking apassage for herself into its sphere of impalpable
earth and unattainable sky. Soon findinghoweverthat either she or theimage was unrealshe turned elsewhere for
better pastime. She made little boats out of birch-barkand freighted themwith snail-shellsand sent out more ventures
on the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger part ofthem foundered near the shore. She seized
a live horseshoe by the tailand made prize of several five-fingersandlaid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun.
Then she took up the white foamthat streaked the line of the advancingtideand threw it upon the breezescampering
after it with winged footstepsto catch the great snow-flakes ere they fell.Perceiving a flock of beach-birdsthat fed and
fluttered along the shorethe naughty child picked up her apron full ofpebblesandcreeping from rock to rock after.51
these small sea-fowldisplayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them. Onelittle gray birdwith a white breastPearl was
almost surehad been hit by a pebbleand fluttered away with a broken wing.But then the elf-child sighedand gave up
her sport; because it grieved her to have done harm to a little being thatwas as wild as the sea-breezeor as wild as
Her final employment was to gather sea-weedof various kindsand makeherself a scarfor mantleand a head-dress
and thus assume the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited her mother'sgift for devising drapery and costume.
As the last touch to her mermaid's garbPearl took some eel-grassandimitatedas best she couldon her own bosom
the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A letter--theletter A--but freshly greeninstead of
scarlet! The child bent her chin upon her breastand contemplated thisdevice with strange interest; even as if the one
only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out itshidden import.
"I wonder if mother will ask me what it means!" thought Pearl.
Just thenshe heard her mother's voiceandflitting along as lightly asone of the little sea-birdsappeared before
Hester Prynnedancinglaughingand pointing her finger to the ornamentupon her bosom.
"My little Pearl" said Hesterafter a moment's silence"thegreen letterand on thy childish bosomhas no
purport. But dost thou knowmy childwhat this letter means which thymother is doomed to wear?"
"Yesmother" said the child. "It is the great letter A. Thouhast taught it me in the horn-book."
Hester looked steadily into her little face; butthough there was thatsingular expression which she had so often
remarked in her black eyesshe could not satisfy herself whether Pearlreally attached any meaning to the symbol. She
felt a morbid desire to ascertain the point.
"Dost thou knowchildwherefore thy mother wears this letter?"
"Truly do I!" answered Pearllooking brightly into her mother'sface. "It is for the same reason that the minister
keeps his hand over his heart!"
"And what reason is that?" asked Hesterhalf smiling at the absurdincongruity of the child's observation; buton
second thoughtsturning pale. "What has the letter to do with anyheartsave mine?"
"NaymotherI have told all I know" said Pearlmore seriouslythan she was wont to speak. "Ask yonder old
man whom thou hast been talking with! It may be he can tell. But in goodearnest nowmother dearwhat does this
scarlet letter mean?--and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom?--and why doesthe minister keep his hand over his
She took her mother's hand in both her ownand gazed into her eyes with anearnestness that was seldom seen in
her wild and capricious character. The thought occurred to Hesterthat thechild might really be seeking to approach her
with childlike confidenceand doing what she couldand as intelligently asshe knew howto establish a meeting-point
of sympathy. It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect. Heretoforethe motherwhile loving her child with the intensity of
a sole affectionhad schooled herself to hope for little other return thanthe waywardness of an April breeze; which
spends its time in airy sportand has its gusts of inexplicable passionandis petulant in its best of moodsand chills
oftener than caresses youwhen you take it to your bosom; in requital ofwhich misdemeanoursit will sometimesof its
own vague purposekiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful tendernessandplay gently with your hairand then be
gone about its other idle businessleaving a dreamy pleasure at your heart.And thismoreoverwas a mother's estimate
of the child's disposition. Any other observer might have seen few butunamiable traitsand have given them a far
darker coloring. But now the idea came strongly into Hester's mindthatPearlwith her remarkable precocity and
acutenessmight already have approached the age when she could have beenmade a friendand intrusted with as much
of her mother's sorrows as could be impartedwithout irreverence either tothe parent or the child. In the little chaos of
Pearl's characterthere might be seen emerging--and could have been from thevery first--the steadfast principles of an
unflinching courage--an uncontrollable will--a sturdy pridewhich might bedisciplined into self-respect--and a bitter
scorn of many thingswhichwhen examinedmight be found to have the taintof falsehood in them. She possessed
affectionstoothough hitherto acrid and disagreeableas are the richestflavors of unripe fruit. With all these sterling
attributesthought Hesterthe evil which she inherited from her mother mustbe great indeedif a noble woman do not
grow out of this elfish child.
Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enigma of the scarlet letterseemed an innate quality of her being.
From the earliest epoch of her conscious lifeshe had entered upon this asher appointed mission. Hester had often
fancied that Providence had a design of justice and retributionin endowingthe child with this marked propensity; but
neveruntil nowhad she bethought herself to askwhetherlinked with thatdesignthere might not likewise be a
purpose of mercy and beneficence. If little Pearl were entertained with faithand trustas a spirit-messenger no less than
an earthly childmight it not be her errand to soothe away the sorrow thatlay cold in her mother's heartand converted
it into a tomb?--and to help her to overcome the passiononce so wildandeven yet neither dead nor asleepbut only
imprisoned within the same tomb -like heart?
Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in Hester's mindwith asmuch vivacity of impression as if they
had actually been whispered into her ear. And there was little Pearlallthis whileholding her mother's hand in both her
ownand turning her face upwardwhile she put these searching questionsonceand againand still a third time.
"What does the letter meanmother?--and why dost thou wear it?--and whydoes the minister keep his hand over
"What shall I say?" thought Hester to herself.--"No! If thisbe the price of the child's sympathyI cannot pay it!"
Then she spoke aloud..52
"Silly Pearl" said she"what questions are these? There aremany things in this world that a child must not ask
about. What know I of the minister's heart? And as for the scarlet letterIwear it for the sake of its gold thread!"
In all the seven bygone yearsHester Prynne had never before been false tothe symbol on her bosom. It may be
that it was the talisman of a stern and severebut yet a guardian spiritwho now forsook her; as recognizing thatin
spite of his strict watch over her heartsome new evil had crept into itorsome old one had never been expelled. As for
little Pearlthe earnestness soon passed out of her face.
But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. Two or three timesasher mother and she went homewardand
as often at supper-timeand while Hester was putting her to bedand onceafter she seemed to be fairly asleepPearl
looked upwith mischief gleaming in her black eyes.
"Mother" said she"what does the scarlet letter mean?"
And the next morningthe first indication the child gave of being awake wasby popping up her head from the
pillowand making that other inquirywhich she had so unaccountablyconnected with her investigations about the
"Mother!--Mother!--Why does the minister keep his hand over hisheart?"
"Hold thy tonguenaughty child!" answered her motherwith anasperity that she had never permitted to herself
before. "Do not tease me; else I shall shut thee into the darkcloset!"
A Forest Walk
Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to Mr.Dimmesdaleat whatever risk of present
pain or ulterior consequencesthe true character of the man who had creptinto his intimacy. For several dayshowever
she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditativewalks which she knew him to be in the
habit of takingalong the shores of the peninsulaor on the wooded hills ofthe neighbouring country. There would have
been no scandalindeednor peril to the holy whiteness of the clergyman'sgood famehad she visited him in his own
study; where many a penitentere nowhad confessed sins of perhaps as deepa die as the one betokened by the scarlet
letter. Butpartly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interferenceof old Roger Chillingworthand partly that her
conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have been feltandpartly that both the minister and she would
need the whole wide world to breathe inwhile they talked together--for allthese reasonsHester never thought of
meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.
At lastwhile attending in a sick-chamberwhither the Reverend Mr.Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a
prayershe learnt that he had gonethe day beforeto visit the ApostleEliotamong his Indian converts. He would
probably returnby a certain hourin the afternoon of the morrow. Betimesthereforethe next dayHester took little
Pearl--who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditionshowever inconvenient her presence--and set
The roadafter the two wayfarers had crossed from the peninsula to themainlandwas no other than a footpath. It
straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it inso narrowlyand stood so black and dense
on either sideand disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky abovethatto Hester's mindit imaged not amiss the
moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chilland sombre. Overhead was a gray
expanse of cloudslightly stirredhoweverby a breeze; so that a gleam offlickering sunshine might now and then be
seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness wasalways at the farther extremity of some long vista
through the forest. The sportive sunlight--feebly sportiveat bestin thepredominant pensiveness of the day and scene--
withdrew itself as they came nighand left the spots where it had danced thedrearierbecause they had hoped to find
"Mother" said little Pearl"the sunshine does not love you.It runs away and hides itselfbecause it is afraid of
something on your bosom. Nowsee! There it isplayinga good way off.Stand you hereand let me run and catch it. I
am but a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosomyet!"
"Nor ever willmy childI hope" said Hester.
"And why notmother?" asked Pearlstopping shortjust at thebeginning of her race. "Will not it come of its
own accordwhen I am a woman grown?"
"Run awaychild" answered her mother"and catch thesunshine! It will soon be gone."
Pearl set forthat a great paceandas Hester smiled to perceivedidactually catch the sunshineand stood
laughing in the midst of itall brightened by its splendorandscintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion.
The light lingered about the lonely childas if glad of such a playmateuntil her mother had drawn almost nigh enough
to step into the magic circle too.
"It will go now!" said Pearlshaking her head.
"See!" answered Hestersmiling. "Now I can stretch out myhandand grasp some of it."
As she attempted to do sothe sunshine vanished; orto judge from thebright expression that was dancing on
Pearl's featuresher mother could have fancied that the child had absorbedit into herselfand would give it forth again
with a gleam about her pathas 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 natureas this never-failing vivacity of spirits; she
had not the disease of sadnesswhich almost all childrenin these latterdaysinheritwith the scrofulafrom the
troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this too was a diseaseand but thereflex of the wild energy with which Hester had
fought against her sorrowsbefore Pearl's birth. It was certainly a doubtfulcharmimparting a hardmetallic lustre to.53
the child's character. She wanted--what some people want throughout life--agrief that should deeply touch herand thus
humanize and make her capable of sympathy. But there was time enough yet forlittle Pearl!
"Comemy child!" said Hesterlooking about herfrom the spotwhere Pearl had stood still in the sunshine. "We
will sit down a little way within the woodand rest ourselves."
"I am not awearymother" replied the little girl. "But youmay sit downif you will tell me a story meanwhile."
"A storychild!" said Hester. "And about what?"
"Oa story about the Black Man!" answered Pearltaking hold ofher mother's gownand looking uphalf
earnestlyhalf mischievouslyinto her face. "How he haunts thisforestand carries a book with him--a bigheavy
bookwith iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and aniron pen to every body that meets him here
among the trees; and they are to write their names with their own blood. Andthen he sets his mark on their bosoms!
Didst thou ever meet the Black Manmother?"
"And who told you this storyPearl?" asked her motherrecognizinga common superstition of the period.
"It was the old dame in the chimney-cornerat the house where youwatched last night" said the child. "But she
fancied me asleep while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand and athousand people had met him hereand had
written in his bookand have his mark on them. And that ugly-tempered ladyold Mistress Hibbinswas one. And
motherthe old dame said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's markon theeand that it glows like a red flame
when thou meetest him at midnighthere in the dark wood. Is it truemother?And dost thou go to meet him in the
"Didst thou ever awakeand find thy mother gone?" asked Hester.
"Not that I remember" said the child. "If thou fearest toleave me in our cottagethou mightest take me along
with thee. I would very gladly go! Butmothertell me now! Is there such aBlack Man? And didst thou ever meet him?
And is this his mark?"
"Wilt thou let me be at peaceif I once tell thee?" asked hermother.
"Yesif thou tellest me all" answered Pearl.
"Once in my life I met the Black Man!" said her mother. "Thisscarlet letter is his mark!"
Thus conversingthey entered sufficiently deep into the wood to securethemselves from the observation of any
casual passenger along the forest-track. Here they sat down on a luxuriantheap of moss; whichat some epoch of the
preceding centuryhad been a gigantic pinewith its roots and trunk in thedarksome shadeand its head aloft in the
upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had seated themselveswitha leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either
sideand a brook flowing through the midstover a bed of fallen and drownedleaves. The trees impending over it had
flung down great branchesfrom time to timewhich choked up the currentand compelled it to form eddies and black
depths at some points; whilein its swifter and livelier passagesthereappeared a channel-way of pebblesand brown
sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow along the course of the streamtheycould catch the reflected light from its
waterat some short distance within the forestbut soon lost all traces ofit amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and
underbrushand here and there a huge rockcovered over with gray lichens.All these giant trees and boulders of granite
seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearingperhapsthatwith its never-ceasing
loquacityit should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whenceit flowedor mirror its revelations on the
smooth surface of a pool. Continuallyindeedas it stole onwardthestreamlet kept up a babblekindquietsoothing
but melancholylike the voice of a young child that was spending its infancywithout playfulnessand knew not how to
be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.
"O brook! O foolish and tiresome little brook!" cried Pearlafterlistening awhile to its talk. "Why art thou so
sad? Pluck up a spiritand do not be all the time sighing andmurmuring!"
But the brookin the course of its little lifetime among the forest-treeshad gone through so solemn an
experience that it could not help talking about itand seemed to havenothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook
inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysteriousand had flowed through scenes shadowed
as heavily with gloom. Butunlike the little streamshe danced andsparkledand prattled airily along her course.
"What does this sad little brook saymother?" inquired she.
"If thou hadst a sorrow of thine ownthe brook might tell thee ofit" answered her mother"even as it is telling
me of mine! But nowPearlI hear a footstep along the pathand the noiseof one putting aside the branches. I would
have thee betake thyself to playand leave me to speak with him that comesyonder."
"Is it the Black Man?" asked Pearl.
"Wilt thou go and playchild?" repeated her mother. "But donot stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou
come at my first call."
"Yesmother" answered Pearl"Butif it be the Black Manwilt thou not let me stay a momentand look at him
with his big book under his arm?"
"Gosilly child!" said her motherimpatiently. "It is noBlack Man! Thou canst see him now through the trees. It
is the minister!"
"And so it is!" said the child. "Andmotherhe has his handover his heart! Is it becausewhen the minister wrote
his name in the bookthe Black Man set his mark in that place? But why doeshe not wear it outside his bosomas thou
"Go nowchildand 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.".54
The child went singing awayfollowing up the current of the brookandstriving to mingle a more lightsome
cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little stream would not becomfortedand still kept telling its unintelligible
secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened--or making a propheticlamentation about something that was
yet to happen--within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearlwho hadenough of shadow in her own little lifechose to
break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set herselfthereforeto gathering violets and wood-anemones
and some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevices of a highrock.
When her elf-child had departedHester Prynne made a step or two towards thetrack that led through the forest
but still remained under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld theminister advancing along the pathentirely alone
and leaning on a staff which he had cut by the way-side. He looked haggardand feebleand betrayed a nerveless
despondency in his airwhich had never so remarkably characterized him inhis walks about the settlementnor in any
other situation where he deemed himself liable to notice. Here it was wofullyvisiblein this intense seclusion of the
forestwhich of itself would have been a heavy trial to the spirits. Therewas a listlessness in his gait; as if he saw no
reason for taking one step farthernor felt any desire to do sobut wouldhave been gladcould he be glad of any thing
to fling himself down at the root of the nearest treeand lie there passivefor evermore. The leaves might bestrew him
and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock over his frameno matter whether there were life in it or no.
Death was too definite an object to be wished foror avoided.
To Hester's eyethe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no symptom of positiveand vivacious sufferingexcept
thatas little Pearl had remarkedhe kept his hand over his heart.
The Pastor and His Parishioner
Slowly as the minister walkedhe had almost gone bybefore Hester Prynnecould gather voice enough to attract
his observation. At lengthshe succeeded.
"Arthur Dimmesdale!" she saidfaintly at first; then louderbuthoarsely. "Arthur Dimmesdale!"
"Who speaks?" answered the minister.
Gathering himself quickly uphe stood more erectlike a man taken bysurprise in a mood to which he was
reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction ofthe voicehe indistinctly beheld a form
under the treesclad in garments so sombreand so little relieved from thegray twilight into which the clouded sky and
the heavy foliage had darkened the noontidethat he knew not whether it werea woman or a shadow. It may bethat his
pathway through life was haunted thusby a spectre that had stolen out fromamong his thoughts.
He made a step nigherand discovered the scarlet letter.
"Hester! Hester Prynne!" said he. "Is it thou? Art thou inlife?"
"Even so!" she answered. "In such life as has been mine theseseven years past! And thouArthur Dimmesdale
dost thou yet live?"
It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's actual and bodilyexistenceand even doubted of their
own. So strangely did they meetin the dim woodthat it was like the firstencounterin the world beyond the graveof
two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former lifebut nowstood coldly shudderingin mutual dread; as
not yet familiar with their statenor wonted to the companionship ofdisembodied beings. Each a ghostand awe-stricken
at the other ghost! They were awe-stricken likewise at themselves; becausethe crisis flung back to them their
consciousnessand revealed to each heart its history and experienceas lifenever doesexcept at such breathless
epochs. The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. Itwas with fearand tremulouslyandas it
wereby a slowreluctant necessitythat Arthur Dimmesdale put forth hishandchill as deathand touched the chill
hand of Hester Prynne. The graspcold as it wastook away what wasdreariest in the interview. They now felt
themselvesat leastinhabitants of the same sphere.
Without a word more spoken--neither he nor she assuming the guidancebutwith an unexpressed consent--they
glided back into the shadow of the woodswhence Hester had emergedand satdown on the heap of moss where she
and Pearl had before been sitting. When they found voice to speakit wasatfirstonly to utter remarks and inquiries
such as any two acquaintance might have madeabout the gloomy skythethreatening stormandnextthe health of
each. Thus they went onwardnot boldlybut step by stepinto the themesthat were brooding deepest in their hearts. So
long estranged by fate and circumstancesthey needed something slight andcasual to run beforeand throw open the
doors of intercourseso that their real thoughts might be led across thethreshold.
After a whilethe minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.
"Hester" said he"hast thou found peace?"
She smiled drearilylooking down upon her bosom.
"Hast thou?" she asked.
"None!--nothing but despair!" he answered. "What else could Ilook forbeing what I amand leading such a life
as mine? Were I an atheist--a man devoid of conscience--a wretch withcoarse and brutal instincts--I might have found
peacelong ere now. NayI never should have lost it! Butas matters standwith my soulwhatever of good capacity
there originally was in meall of God's gifts that were the choicest havebecome the ministers of spiritual torment.
HesterI am most miserable!"
"The people reverence thee" said Hester. "And surely thouworkest good among them! Doth this bring thee no
"More miseryHester!--only the more misery!" answered theclergymanwith a bitter smile. "As concerns the
good which I may appear to doI have no faith in it. It must needs be adelusion. What can a ruined soullike mine
effect towards the redemption of other souls?--or a polluted soultowardstheir purification? And as for the people's
reverencewould that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou deem itHestera consolationthat I must stand up
in my pulpitand meet so many eyes turned upward to my faceas if the lightof heaven were beaming from it!--must
see my flock hungry for the truthand listening to my words as if a tongueof Pentecost were speaking!--and then look
inwardand discern the black reality of what they idolize? I have laughedin bitterness and agony of heartat the
contrast between what I seem and what I am! And Satan laughs at it!"
"You wrong yourself in this" said Hester gently. "You havedeeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind
youin the days long past. Your present life is not less holyin verytruththan it seems in people's eyes. Is there no
reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? Andwherefore should it not bring you peace?"
"NoHesterno!" replied the clergyman. "There is nosubstance in it! It is cold and deadand can do nothing for
me! Of penance I have had enough! Of penitence there has been none! ElseIshould long ago have thrown off these
garments of mock holinessand have shown myself to mankind as they will seeme at the judgment-seat. Happy are
youHesterthat wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burnsin secret! Thou little knowest what a relief
it isafter the torment of a seven years' cheatto look into an eye thatrecognizes me for what I am! Had I one friend--or
were it my worst enemy!--to whomwhen sickened with the praises of all othermenI could daily betake myselfand
be known as the vilest of all sinnersmethinks my soul might keep itselfalive thereby. Even thus much of truth would
save me! But nowit is all falsehood!--all emptiness!--all death!"
Hester Prynne looked into his facebut hesitated to speak. Yetuttering hislong-restrained emotions so
vehemently as he didhis words here offered her the very point ofcircumstances in which to interpose what she came to
say. She conquered her fearsand spoke.
"Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for" said she"with whom to weep over thy sinthou hast in me
the partner of it!"--Again she hesitatedbut brought out the words withan effort.--"Thou hast long had such an enemy
and dwellest with him under the same roof!"
The minister started to his feetgasping for breathand clutching at hisheart as if he would have torn it out of his
"Ha! What sayest thou?" cried he. "An enemy! And under mineown roof! What mean you?"
Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she wasresponsible to this unhappy manin
permitting him to lie for so many yearsorindeedfor a single momentatthe mercy of onewhose purposes could not
be other than malevolent. The very contiguity of his enemybeneath whatevermask the latter might conceal himself
was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as ArthurDimmesdale. There had been a period when
Hester was less alive to this consideration; orperhapsin the misanthropyof her own troubleshe left the minister to
bear what she might picture to herself as a more tolerable doom. But of latesince the night of his vigilall her
sympathies towards him had been both softened and invigorated. She now readhis heart more accurately. She doubted
notthat the continual presence of Roger Chillingworth--the secret poisonof his malignityinfecting all the air about
him--and his authorized interferenceas a physicianwith the minister'sphysical and spiritual infirmities--that these
bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel purpose. By means of themthesufferer's conscience had been kept in an
irritated statethe tendency of which wasnot to cure by wholesome painbut to disorganize and corrupt his spiritual
being. Its resulton earthcould hardly fail to be insanityand hereafterthat eternal alienation from the Good and True
of which madness is perhaps the earthly type.
Such was the ruin to which she had brought the manonce--naywhy should wenot speak it?--still so
passionately loved! Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's goodnameand death itselfas she had already told
Roger Chillingworthwould have been infinitely preferable to the alternativewhich she had taken upon herself to
choose. And nowrather than have had this grievous wrong to confessshewould gladly have laid down on the forest-leaves
and died thereat Arthur Dimmesdale's feet.
"O Arthur" cried she"forgive me! In all things elseI havestriven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I
might have held fastand did hold fast through all extremity; save when thygood--thy life--thy fame--were put in
question! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never goodeventhough death threaten on the other side! Dost
thou not see what I would say? That old man!--the physician!--he whom theycall Roger Chillingworth!--he was my
The minister looked at herfor an instantwith all that violence ofpassionwhich--intermixedin more shapes
than onewith his higherpurersofter qualities--wasin factthe portionof him which the Devil claimedand through
which he sought to win the rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercerfrownthan Hester now encountered. For the
brief space that it lastedit was a dark transfiguration. But his characterhad been so mu ch enfeebled by sufferingthat
even its lower energies were incapable of more than a temporary struggle. Hesank down on the groundand buried his
face in his hands.
"I might have known it!" murmured he. "I did know it! Was notthe secret told me in the natural recoil of my
heartat the first sight of himand as often as I have seen him since? Whydid I not understand? O Hester Prynnethou
littlelittle knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!--theindelicacy!--the horrible ugliness of this exposure
of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Womanwomanthou art accountable for this! I
cannot forgive thee!".56
"Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hesterflinging herself on thefallen leaves beside him. "Let God punish! Thou
With sudden and desperate tendernessshe threw her arms around himandpressed his head against her bosom;
little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would havereleased himselfbut strove in vain to do so.
Hester would not set him freelest 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 allnor ever once turned away her firmsad
eyes. Heavenlikewisehad frowned upon herand she had not died. But thefrown of this paleweaksinfuland
sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bearand live!
"Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeatedover and over again."Wilt thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?"
"I do forgive youHester" replied the ministerat lengthwith adeep utterance out of an abyss of sadnessbut no
anger. "I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both! We are notHesterthe worst sinners in the world. There is
one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has beenblacker than my sin. He has violatedin cold
bloodthe sanctity of a human heart. Thou and IHesternever did so!"
"Nevernever!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecrationof its own. We felt it so! We said so to each
other! Hast thou forgotten it?"
"HushHester!" said Arthur Dimmesdalerising from the ground."No; I have not forgotten!"
They sat down againside by sideand hand clasped in handon the mossytrunk of the fallen tree. Life had never
brought them a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had solong been tendingand darkening everas
it stole along;--and yet it inclosed a charm that made them linger upon itand claim anotherand anotherandafter all
another moment. The forest was obscure around themand creaked with a blastthat was passing through it. The boughs
were tossing heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaneddolefully to anotheras if telling the sad
story of the pair that sat beneathor constrained to forbode evil to come.
And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest-track that led backwardto the settlementwhere Hester
Prynne must take up again the burden of her ignominyand the minister thehollow mockery of his good name! So they
lingered an instant longer. No golden light had ever been so precious as thegloom of this dark forest. Hereseen only
by his eyesthe scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallenwoman! Hereseen only by her eyesArthur
Dimmesdalefalse to God and manmight befor one momenttrue!
He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.
"Hester" cried he"here is a new horror! Roger Chillingworthknows your purpose to reveal his true character.
Will he continuethento keep our secret? What will now be the course ofhis revenge?"
"There is a strange secrecy in his nature" replied Hesterthoughtfully; "and it has grown upon him by the hidden
practices of his revenge. I deem it not likely that he will betray thesecret. He will doubtless seek other means of
satiating his dark passion."
"And I!--how am I to live longerbreathing the same air with thisdeadly enemy?" exclaimed Arthur
Dimmesdaleshrinking within himselfand pressing his hand nervously againsthis heart--a gesture that had grown
involuntary with him. "Think for meHester! Thou art strong. Resolvefor me!"
"Thou must dwell no longer with this man" said Hesterslowly andfirmly. "Thy heart must be no longer under
his evil eye!"
"It were far worse than death!" replied the minister. "But howto avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall I lie
down again on these withered leaveswhere I cast myself when thou didst tellme what he was? Must I sink down there
and die at once?"
"Alaswhat a ruin has befallen thee!" said Hesterwith the tearsgushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very
weakness? There is no other cause!"
"The judgment of God is on me" answered the conscience-strickenpriest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle
"Heaven would show mercy" rejoined Hester"hadst thou butthe strength to take advantage of it."
"Be thou strong for me!" answered he. "Advise me what todo."
"Is the world then so narrow?" exclaimed Hester Prynnefixing herdeep eyes on the minister'sand instinctively
exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subduedthat itcould hardly hold itself erect. "Doth the
universe lie within the compass of yonder townwhich only a little time agowas but a leaf-strewn desertas lonely as
this around us? Whither leads yonder forest-track? Backward to thesettlementthou sayest! Yes; but onwardtoo!
Deeper it goesand deeperinto the wildernessless plainly to be seen atevery step; untilsome few miles hencethe
yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man's tread. There thou artfree! So brief a journey would bring thee
from a world where thou hast been most wretchedto one where thou mayeststill be happy! Is there not shade enough
in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of RogerChillingworth?"
"YesHester; but only under the fallen leaves!" replied theministerwith a sad smile.
"Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!" continued Hester."It brought thee hither. If thou so chooseit will
bear thee back again. In our native landwhether in some remote ruralvillage or in vast London--orsurelyin
Germanyin Francein pleasant Italy--thou wouldst be beyond his power andknowledge! And what hast thou to do
with all these iron menand their opinions? They have kept thy better partin bondage too long already!"
"It cannot be!" answered the ministerlistening as if he werecalled upon to realize a dream. "I am powerless to
go. Wretched and sinful as I amI have had no other thought than to drag onmy earthly existence in the sphere where.57
Providence hath placed me. Lost as my own soul isI would still do what Imay for other human souls! I dare not quit
my postthough an unfaithful sentinelwhose sure reward is death anddishonorwhen his dreary watch shall come to
"Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery"replied Hesterfervently resolved to buoy him up
with her own energy. "But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shallnot cumber thy stepsas thou treadest along the
forest-path; neither shalt thou freight the ship with itif thou prefer tocross the sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here
where it hath happened! Meddle no more with it! Begin all anew! Hast thouexhausted possibility in the failure of this
one trial? Not so! The future is yet full of trial and success. There ishappiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done!
Exchange this false life of thine for a true one. Beif thy spirit summonthee to such a missionthe teacher and apostle
of the red men. Or--as is more thy nature--be a scholar and a sage amongthe wisest and the most renowned of the
cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do any thingsave to lie down and die!Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale
and make thyself anotherand a high onesuch as thou canst wear withoutfear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so
much as one other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thylife!--that have made thee feeble to will and to do!--
that will leave thee powerless even to repent! Upand away!"
"O Hester!" cried Arthur Dimmesdalein whose eyes a fitful lightkindled by her enthusiasmflashed up and
died away"thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees aretottering beneath him! I must die here. There is not
the strength or courage left me to venture into the widestrangedifficultworldalone!"
It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. He lackedenergy to grasp the better fortune that
seemed within his reach.
He repeated the word.
"Thou shall not go alone!" answered shein a deep whisper.
Thenall was spoken!
A Flood of Sunshine
Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which hope and joyshone outindeedbut with fear
betwixt themand a kind of horror at her boldnesswho had spoken what hevaguely hinted atbut dared not speak.
But Hester Prynnewith a mind of native courage and activityand for solong a period not merely estrangedbut
outlawedfrom societyhad habituated herself to such latitude ofspeculation as was altogether foreign to the
clergyman. She had wanderedwithout rule or guidancein a moral wilderness;as vastas intricate and shadowyas the
untamed forestamid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy thatwas to decide their fate. Her intellect
and heart had their homeas it werein desert placeswhere she roamed asfreely as the wild Indian in his woods. For
years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at humaninstitutionsand whatever priests or legislators
had established; criticizing all with hardly more reverence than the Indianwould feel for the clerical bandthe judicial
robethe pillorythe gallowsthe firesideor the church. The tendency ofher fate and fortunes had been to set her free.
The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared nottread. ShameDespairSolitude! These
had been her teachers--stern and wild ones--and they had made her strongbut taught her much amiss.
The ministeron the other handhad never gone through an experiencecalculated to lead him beyond the scope
of generally received laws; althoughin a single instancehe had sofearfully transgressed one of the most sacred of
them. But this had been a sin of passionnot of principlenor even purpose.Since that wretched epochhe had watched
with morbid zeal and minutenessnot his acts--for those it was easy toarrange--but each breath of emotionand his
every thought. At the head of the social systemas the clergymen of that daystoodhe was only the more trammelled by
its regulationsits principlesand even its prejudices. As a priesttheframework of his order inevitably hemmed him in.
As a man who had once sinnedbut who kept his conscience all alive andpainfully sensitive by the fretting of an
unhealed woundhe might have been supposed safer within the line of virtuethan if he had never sinned at all.
Thuswe seem to see thatas regarded Hester Prynnethe whole seven yearsof outlaw and ignominy had been
little other than a preparation for this very hour. But Arthur Dimmesdale!Were such a man once more to fallwhat plea
could be urged in extenuation of his crime? None; unless it avail himsomewhatthat he was broken down by long and
exquisite suffering; that his mind was darkened and confused by the veryremorse which harrowed it; thatbetween
fleeing as an avowed criminaland remaining as a hypocriteconscience mightfind it hard to strike the balance; that it
was human to avoid the peril of death and infamyand the inscrutablemachinations of an enemy; thatfinallyto this
poor pilgrimon his dreary and desert pathfaintsickmiserablethereappeared a glimpse of human affection and
sympathya new lifeand a true onein exchange for the heavy doom which hewas now expiating. And be the stern
and sad truth spokenthat the breach which guilt has once made into thehuman soul is neverin this mortal state
repaired. It may be watched and guarded; so that the enemy shall not forcehis way again into the citadeland might
evenin his subsequent assaultsselect some other avenuein preference tothat where he had formerly succeeded. But
there is still the ruined wallandnear itthe stealthy tread of the foethat would win over again his unforgotten triumph.
The struggleif there were oneneed not be described. Let it sufficethatthe clergyman resolved to fleeand not
"Ifin all these past seven years" thought he"I couldrecall one instant of peace or hopeI would yet endurefor
the sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy. But now--since I am irrevocablydoomed--wherefore should I not snatch
the solace allowed to the condemned culprit before his execution? Orif thisbe the path to a better lifeas Hester would.58
persuade meI surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! Neither canI any longer live without her
companionship; so powerful is she to sustain--so tender to soothe! O Thou towhom I dare not lift mine eyeswilt Thou
yet pardon me!"
"Thou wilt go!" said Hester calmlyas he met her glance.
The decision once madea glow of strange enjoyment threw its flickeringbrightness over the trouble of his
breast. It was the exhilarating effect--upon a prisoner just escaped from thedungeon of his own heart--of breathing the
wildfree atmosphere of an unredeemedunchristianizedlawless region. Hisspirit roseas it werewith a boundand
attained a nearer prospect of the skythan throughout all the misery whichhad kept him grovelling on the earth. Of a
deeply religious temperamentthere was inevitably a tinge of the devotionalin his mood.
"Do I feel joy again?" cried hewondering at himself."Methought the germ of it was dead in me! O Hesterthou
art my better angel! I seem to have flung myself--sicksin-stainedandsorrow-blackened--down upon these forest-leaves
and to have risen up all made anewand with new powers to glorify Him thathath been merciful! This is already
the better life! Why did we not find it sooner?"
"Let us not look back" answered Hester Prynne. "The past isgone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now?
See! With this symbolI undo it alland make it as if it had neverbeen!"
So speakingshe undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letterandtaking it from her bosomthrew it to a
distance among the withered leaves. The mystic token alighted on the hitherverge of the stream. With a hand's breadth
farther flight it would have fallen into the waterand have given the littlebrook another woe to carry onwardbesides
the unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring about. But there laythe embroidered letterglittering like a lost
jewelwhich some ill-fated wanderer might pick upand thenceforth behaunted by strange phantoms of guiltsinkings
of the heartand unaccountable misfortune.
The stigma goneHester heaved a longdeep sighin which the burden ofshame and anguish departed from her
spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weightuntil she felt thefreedom! By another impulseshe took off the
formal cap that confined her hair; and down it fell upon her shouldersdarkand richwith at once a shadow and a light
in its abundanceand imparting the charm of softness to her features. Thereplayed around her mouthand beamed out
of her eyesa radiant and tender smilethat seemed gushing from the veryheart of womanhood. A crimson flush was
glowing on her cheekthat had been long so pale. Her sexher youthand thewhole richness of her beautycame back
from what men call the irrevocable pastand clustered themselveswith hermaiden hopeand a happiness before
unknownwithin the magic circle of this hour. Andas if the gloom of theearth and sky had been but the effluence of
these two mortal heartsit vanished with their sorrow. All at onceas witha sudden smile of heavenforth burst the
sunshinepouring a very flood into the obscure forestgladdening each greenleaftransmuting the yellow fallen ones to
goldand gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objectsthat had made a shadow hithertoembodied
the brightness now. The course of the little brook might be traced by itsmerry gleam afar into the wood's heart of
mysterywhich had become a mystery of joy.
Such was the sympathy of Nature--that wildheathen Nature of the forestnever subjugated by human lawnor
illumined by higher truth--with the bliss of these two spirits! Lovewhethernewly bornor aroused from a deathlike
slumbermust always create a sunshinefilling the heart so full ofradiancethat it overflows upon the outward world.
Had the forest still kept its gloomit would have been bright in Hester'seyesand bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's!
Hester looked at him with the thrill of another joy.
"Thou must know Pearl!" said she. "Our little Pearl! Thou hastseen her--yesI know it!--but thou wilt see her
now with other eyes. She is a strange child! I hardly comprehend her! Butthou wilt love her dearlyas I doand wilt
advise me how to deal with her."
"Dost thou think the child will be glad to know me?" asked theministersomewhat uneasily. "I have long shrunk
from childrenbecause they often show a distrust--a backwardness to befamiliar with me. I have even been afraid of
"Ahthat was sad!" answered the mother. "But she will lovethee dearlyand thou her. She is not far off. I will
call her! Pearl! Pearl!"
"I see the child" observed the minister. "Yonder she isstanding in a streak of sunshinea good way offon the
other side of the brook. So thou thinkest the child will love me?"
Hester smiledand again called to Pearlwho was visibleat some distanceas the minister had described her
like a bright-apparelled visionin a sunbeamwhich fell down upon herthrough an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to
and fromaking her figure dim or distinct--now like a real childnow likea child's spirit--as the splendor went and
came again. She heard her mother's voiceand approached slowly through theforest.
Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomelywhile her mother sat talkingwith the clergyman. The great black
forest--stern as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and troublesof the world into its bosom--became the
playmate of the lonely infantas well as it knew how. Sombre as it wasitput on the kindest of its moods to welcome
her. It offered her the partridge-berriesthe growth of the precedingautumnbut ripening only in the springand now
red as drops of blood upon the withered leaves. These Pearl gatheredand waspleased with their wild flavor. The small
denizens of the wilderness hardly took pains to move out of her path. Apartridgeindeedwith a brood of ten behind
herran forward threateninglybut soon repented of her fiercenessandclucked to her young ones not to be afraid. A
pigeonalone on a low branchallowed Pearl to come beneathand uttered asound as much of greeting as alarm. A
squirrelfrom the lofty depths of his domestic treechattered either inanger or merriment--for a squirrel is such a.59
choleric and humorous little personage that it is hard to distinguish betweenhis moods--so he chattered at the childand
flung down a nut upon her head. It was a last year's nutand already gnawedby his sharp tooth. A foxstartled from his
sleep by her light footstep on the leaveslooked inquisitively at Pearlasdoubting whether it were better to steal offor
renew his nap on the same spot. A wolfit is said--but here the tale hassurely lapsed into the improbable--came up
and smelt of Pearl's robeand offered his savage head to be patted by herhand. The truth seems to behoweverthat the
mother-forestand these wild things which it nourishedall recognized akindred wildness in the human child.
And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets of thesettlementor in her mother's cottage. The
flowers appeared to know it; and one and another whisperedas she passed"Adorn thyself with methou beautiful
childadorn thyself with me!"--andto please themPearl gathered thevioletsand anemonesand columbinesand
some twigs of the freshest greenwhich the old trees held down before hereyes. With these she decorated her hairand
her young waistand became a nymph-childor an infant dryador whateverelse was in closest sympathy with the
antique wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned herselfwhen she heard hermother's voiceand came slowly back.
Slowly; for she saw the clergyman!
The Child at the Brook-Side
"Thou wilt love her dearly" repeated Hester Prynneas she and theminister sat watching little Pearl. "Dost thou
not think her beautiful? And see with what natural skill she has made thosesimple flowers adorn her! Had she gathered
pearlsand diamondsand rubiesin the woodthey could not have become herbetter. She is a splendid child! But I
know whose brow she has!"
"Dost thou knowHester" said Arthur Dimmesdalewith an unquietsmile"that this dear childtripping about
always at thy sidehath caused me many an alarm? Methought--O Hesterwhat athought is thatand how terrible to
dread it!--that my own features were partly repeated in her faceand sostrikingly that the world might see them! But
she is mostly thine!"
"Nono! Not mostly!" answered the mother with a tender smile."A little longerand thou needest not to be afraid
to trace whose child she is. But how strangely beautiful she lookswiththose wild flowers in her hair! It is as if one of
the fairieswhom we left in dear old Englandhad decked her out to meetus."
It was with a feeling which neither of them had ever before experiencedthatthey sat and watched Pearl's slow
advance. In her was visible the tie that united them. She had been offered tothe worldthese seven past yearsas the
living hieroglyphicin which was revealed the secret they so darkly soughtto hide--all written in this symbol--all
plainly manifest--had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read thecharacter of flame! And Pearl was the
oneness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it mighthow could theydoubt that their earthly lives and future
destinies were conjoinedwhen they beheld at once the material unionandthe spiritual ideain whom they metand
were to dwell immortally together? Thoughts like these--and perhaps otherthoughtswhich they did not acknowledge
or define--threw an awe about the childas she came onward.
"Let her see nothing strange--no passion or eagerness--in thy way ofaccosting her" whispered Hester. "Our
Pearl is a fitful and fantastic little elfsometimes. Especiallyshe isseldom tolerant of emotionwhen she does not fully
comprehend the why and wherefore. But the child hath strong affections! Sheloves meand will love thee!"
"Thou canst not think" said the ministerglancing aside at HesterPrynne"how my heart dreads this interview
and yearns for it! Butin truthas I already told theechildren are notreadily won to be familiar with me. They will not
climb my kneenor prattle in my earnor answer to my smile; but standapartand eye me strangely. Even little babes
when I take them in my armsweep bitterly. Yet Pearltwice in her littlelifetimehath been kind to me! The first time--
thou knowest it well! The last was when thou ledst her with thee to the houseof yonder stern old Governor."
"And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and mine!" answeredthe mother. "I remember it; and so shall little
Pearl. Fear nothing! She may be strange and shy at firstbut will soon learnto love thee!"
By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the brookand stood on thefarther sidegazing silently at Hester
and the clergymanwho still sat together on the mossy tree-trunkwaiting toreceive her. Just where she had paused the
brook chanced to form a poolso smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfectimage of her little figurewith all the
brilliant picturesqueness of her beautyin its adornment of flowers andwreathed foliagebut more refined and
spiritualized than the reality. This imageso nearly identical with theliving Pearlseemed to communicate somewhat of
its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child herself. It was strangethe way in which Pearl stoodlooking so
steadfastly at them through the dim medium of the forest-gloom; herselfmeanwhileall glorified with a ray of
sunshinethat was attracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy. In thebrook beneath stood another child--another
and the same--with likewise its ray of golden light. Hester felt herselfinsome indistinct and tantalizing manner
estranged from Pearl; as if the childin her lonely ramble through theforesthad strayed out of the sphere in which she
and her mother dwelt togetherand was now vainly seeking to return to it.
There were both truth and error in the impression; the child and mother wereestrangedbut through Hester's
faultnot Pearl's. Since the latter rambled from her sideanother inmatehad been admitted within the circle of the
mother's feelingsand so modified the aspect of them allthat Pearlthereturning wanderercould not find her wonted
placeand 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 elfish spiritwhoas the legends of our childhood taught us
is forbidden to cross a running stream? Pray hasten her; for this delay hasalready imparted a tremor to my nerves.".60
"Comedearest child!" said Hester encouraginglyand stretchingout both her arms. "How slow thou art! When
hast thou been so sluggish before now? Here is a friend of minewho must bethy friend also. Thou wilt have twice as
much lovehenceforwardas thy mother alone could give thee! Leap across thebrook and come to us. Thou canst leap
like a young deer!"
Pearlwithout responding in any manner to these honey-sweet expressionsremained on the other side of the
brook. Now she fixed her brightwild eyes on her mothernow on theministerand now included them both in the same
glance; as if to detect and explain to herself the relation which they boreto one another. For some unaccountable
reasonas Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himselfhishand--with that gesture so habitual as to have
become involuntary--stole over his heart. At lengthassuming a singular airof authorityPearl stretched out her hand
with the small forefinger extendedand pointing evidently towards hermother's breast. And beneathin the mirror of
the brookthere was the flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearlpointing her small forefinger too.
"Thou strange childwhy dost thou not come to me?" exclaimedHester.
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 motherstill kept beckoning to herand arraying her
face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed smilesthe child stamped her footwith a yet more imperious look and gesture. In
the brookagainwas the fantastic beauty of the imagewith its reflectedfrownits pointed fingerand imperious
gesturegiving emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl.
"HastenPearl; or I shall be angry with thee!" cried HesterPrynnewhohowever inured to such behaviour on the
elf-child's part at other seasonswas naturally anxious for a more seemlydeportment now. "Leap across the brook
naughty childand run hither! Else I must come to thee!"
But Pearlnot a whit startled at her mother's threatsany more thanmollified by her entreatiesnow suddenly
burst into a fit of passiongesticulating violentlyand throwing her smallfigure into the most extravagant contortions.
She accompanied this wild outbreak with piercing shriekswhich the woodsreverberated on all sides; so thatalone as
she was in her childish and unreasonable wrathit seemed as if a hiddenmultitude were lending her their sympathy and
encouragement. Seen in the brookonce morewas the shadowy wrath of Pearl'simagecrowned and girdled with
flowersbut stamping its footwildly gesticulatingandin the midst ofallstill pointing its small forefinger at Hester's
"I see what ails the child" whispered Hester to the clergymanandturning pale in spite of a strong effort to
conceal her trouble and annoyance. "Children will not abide anytheslightestchange in the accustomed aspect of
things that are daily before their eyes. Pearl misses something which she hasalways seen me wear!"
"I pray you" answered the minister"if thou hast any meansof pacifying the childdo it forthwith! Save it were
the cankered wrath of an old witchlike Mistress Hibbins" added heattempting to smile"I know nothing that I would
not sooner encounter than this passion in a child. In Pearl's young beautyas in the wrinkled witchit has a preternatural
effect. Pacify herif thou lovest me!"
Hester turned again towards Pearlwith a crimson blush upon her cheekaconscious glance aside at the
clergymanand then a heavy sigh; whileeven before she had time to speakthe blush yielded to a deadly pallor.
"Pearl" said shesadly"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 scarletletterso close upon the margin of the
streamthat 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."OI have much to tell thee about her. Butin
very truthshe is right as regards this hateful token. I must bear itstorture yet a little longer--only a few days longer--
until we shall have left this regionand look back hither as to a land whichwe have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide
it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my handand swallow it up forever!"
With these wordsshe advanced to the margin of the brooktook up thescarlet letterand fastened it again into
her bosom. Hopefullybut a moment agoas Hester had spoken of drowning itin the deep seathere was a sense of
inevitable doom upon heras she thus received back this deadly symbol fromthe hand of fate. She had flung it into
infinite space!--she had drawn an hour's free breath!--and here again was thescarlet miseryglittering on the old spot!
So it ever iswhether thus typified or nothat an evil deed invests itselfwith the character of doom. Hester next
gathered up the heavy tresses of her hairand confined them beneath her cap.As if there were a withering spell in the
sad letterher beautythe warmth and richness of her womanhooddepartedlike fading sunshine; and a gray shadow
seemed to fall across her.
When the dreary change was wroughtshe extended her hand to Pearl.
"Dost thou know thy mother nowchild?" asked shereproachfullybut with a subdued tone. "Wilt thou come
across the brookand own thy mothernow that she has her shame uponher--now that she is sad?"
"Yes; now I will!" answered the childbounding across the brookand 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 hershe drew down hermother's headand kissed her brow and
both her cheeks. But then--by a kind of necessity that always impelled thischild to alloy whatever comfort she might
chance to give with a throb of anguish--Pearl put up her mouthand kissedthe scarlet lettertoo!
"That was not kind!" said Hester. "When thou hast shown me alittle lovethou mockest me!".61
"Why doth the minister sit yonder?" asked Pearl.
"He waits to welcome thee" replied her mother. "Come thouand entreat his blessing! He loves theemy little
Pearland loves thy mother too. Wilt thou not love him? Come! he longs togreet thee!"
"Doth he love us?" said Pearllooking up with acute intelligenceinto her mother's face. "Will he go back with us
hand in handwe three togetherinto the town?"
"Not nowdear child" answered Hester. "But in days to comehe 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 willteach thee many thingsand love thee dearly.
Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"
"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
"Foolish childwhat a question is that!" exclaimed her mother."Come and ask his blessing!"
Butwhether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive with everypetted child towards a dangerous rival
or from whatever caprice of her freakish naturePearl would show no favor tothe clergyman. It was only by an exertion
of force that her mother brought her up to himhanging backand manifestingher reluctance by odd grimaces; of
whichever since her babyhoodshe had possessed a singular varietyandcould transform her mobile physiognomy
into a series of different aspectswith a new mischief in themeach andall. The minister--painfully embarrassedbut
hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him into the child'skindlier regards--bent forwardand impressed
one on her brow. HereuponPearl broke away from her motherandrunning tothe brookstooped over itand bathed
her foreheaduntil the unwelcome kiss was quite washed offand diffusedthrough a long lapse of the gliding water. She
then remained apartsilently watching Hester and the clergyman; while theytalked togetherand made such
arrangements as were suggested by their new positionand the purposes soonto be fulfilled.
And now this fateful interview had come to a close. The dell was to be leftin solitude among its darkold trees
whichwith their multitudinous tongueswould whisper long of what hadpassed thereand no mortal be the wiser. And
the melancholy brook would add this other tale to the mystery with which itslittle heart was already overburdenedand
whereof it still kept up a murmuring babblewith not a whit morecheerfulness of tone than for ages heretofore.
The Minister in a Maze
As the minister departedin advance of Hester Prynne and little Pearlhethrew a backward glance; half
expecting that he should discover only some faintly traced features oroutline of the mother and the childslowly fading
into the twilight of the woods. So great a vicissitude in his life could notat once be received as real. But there was
Hesterclad in her gray robestill standing beside the tree-trunkwhichsome blast had overthrown a long antiquity ago
and which time had ever since been covering with mossso that these twofated oneswith earth's heaviest burden on
themmight there sit down togetherand find a single hour's rest andsolace. And there was Pearltoolightly dancing
from the margin of the brook--now that the intrusive third person wasgone--and taking her old place by her mother's
side. So the minister had not fallen asleepand dreamed!
In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity ofimpressionwhich vexed it with a strange
disquietudehe recalled and more thoroughly defined the plans which Hesterand himself had sketched for their
departure. It had been determined between themthat the Old Worldwith itscrowds and citiesoffered them a more
eligible shelter and concealment than the wilds of New Englandor allAmericawith its alternatives of an Indian
wigwamor the few settlements of Europeansscattered thinly along thesea-board. Not to speak of the clergyman's
healthso inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest lifehis nativegiftshis cultureand his entire development
would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and refinement; thehigher the statethe more delicately
adapted to it the man. In furtherance of this choiceit so happened that aship lay in the harbour; one of those
questionable cruisersfrequent at that daywhichwithout being absolutelyoutlaws of the deepyet roamed over its
surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character. This vessel hadrecently arrived from the Spanish Mainand
within three days' timewould sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne--whosevocationas a self-enlisted Sister of Charityhad
brought her acquainted with the captain and crew--could take upon herself tosecure the passage of two individuals and
a childwith all the secrecy which circumstances rendered more thandesirable.
The minister had inquired of Hesterwith no little interestthe precisetime at which the vessel might be expected
to depart. It would probably be on the fourth day from the present."This is most fortunate!" he had then said to himself.
Nowwhy the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunatewehesitate to reveal. Nevertheless--to hold
nothing back from the reader--it was becauseon the third day from thepresenthe was to preach the Election Sermon;
andas such an occasion formed an honorable epoch in the life of a NewEngland clergymanhe could not have chanced
upon a more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career."At leastthey shall say of me" thought this
exemplary man"that I leave no public duty unperformednor illperformed!" Sadindeedthat an introspection so
profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived!We have hadand may still haveworse
things to tell of him; but nonewe apprehendso pitiably weak; no evidenceat once so slight and irrefragableof a
subtle diseasethat had long since begun to eat into the real substance ofhis character. No manfor any considerable
periodcan wear one face to himselfand another to the multitudewithoutfinally getting bewildered as to which may
be the true.
The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelingsas he returned from hisinterview with Hesterlent him
unaccustomed physical energyand hurried him townward at a rapid pace. Thepathway among the woods seemed
wildermore uncouth with its rude natural obstaclesand less trodden by thefoot of manthan he remembered it on his.62
outward journey. But he leaped across the plashy placesthrust himselfthrough the clinging underbrushclimbed the
ascentplunged into the hollowand overcamein shortall the difficultiesof the trackwith an unweariable activity that
astonished him. He could not but recall how feeblyand with what frequentpauses for breathhe had toiled over the
same ground only two days before. As he drew near the townhe took animpression of change from the series of
familiar objects that presented themselves. It seemed not yesterdaynot onenor twobut many daysor even years ago
since he had quitted them. Thereindeedwas each former trace of thestreetas he remembered itand all the
peculiarities of the houseswith the due multitude of gable-peaksand aweathercock at every point where his memory
suggested one. Not the lesshowevercame this importunately obtrusive senseof change. The same was true as
regarded the acquaintances whom he metand all the well-known shapes ofhuman lifeabout the little town. They
looked neither older nor youngernow; the beards of the aged were no whiternor could the creeping babe of yesterday
walk on his feet to-day; it was impossible to describe in what respect theydiffered from the individuals on whom he had
so recently bestowed a parting glance; and yet the minister's deepest senseseemed to inform him of their mutability. A
similar impression struck him most remarkablyas he passed under the wallsof his own church. The edifice had so very
strangeand yet so familiaran aspectthat Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibratedbetween two ideas; either that he had seen
it only in a dream hithertoor that he was merely dreaming about it now.
This phenomenonin the various shapes which it assumedindicated noexternal changebut so sudden and
important a change in the spectator of the familiar scenethat theintervening space of a single day had operated on his
consciousness like the lapse of years. The minister's own willand Hester'swilland the fate that grew between them
had wrought this transformation. It was the same town as heretofore; but thesame minister returned not from the forest.
He might have said to the friends who greeted him--"I am not the manfor whom you take me! I left him yonder in the
forestwithdrawn into a secret dellby a mossy tree-trunkand near amelancholy brook! Goseek your ministerand
see if his emaciated figurehis thin cheekhis whiteheavypain-wrinkledbrowbe not flung down there like a cast-off
garment!" His friendsno doubtwould still have insisted withhim--"Thou art thyself the man!"--but the error would
have been their ownnot his.
Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached homehis inner man gave him other evidences ofa revolution in the sphere of
thought and feeling. In truthnothing short of a total change of dynasty andmoral codein that interior kingdomwas
adequate to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortunate andstartled minister. At every step he was
incited to do some strangewildwicked thing or otherwith a sense that itwould be at once involuntary and
intentional; in spite of himselfyet growing out of a profounder self thanthat which opposed the impulse. For instance
he met one of his own deacons. The good old man addressed him with thepaternal affection and patriarchal privilege
which his venerable agehis upright and holy characterand his station inthe Churchentitled him to use; and
conjoined with thisthe deepalmost worshipping respectwhich theminister's professional and private claims alike
demanded. Never was there a more beautiful example of how the majesty of ageand wisdom may comport with the
obeisance and respect enjoined upon itas from a lower social rank andinferior order of endowmenttowards a higher.
Nowduring a conversation of some two or three moments between the ReverendMr. Dimmesdale and this excellent
and hoary-bearded deaconit was only by the most careful self-control thatthe former could refrain from uttering
certain blasphemous suggestions that rose into his mindrespecting thecommunion-supper. He absolutely trembled and
turned pale as asheslest his tongue should wag itselfin utterance ofthese horrible mattersand plead his own consent
for so doingwithout his having fairly given it. Andeven with this terrorin his hearthe could hardly avoid laughing to
imagine how the sanctified old patriarchal deacon would have been petrifiedby his minister's impiety!
Againanother incident of the same nature. Hurrying along the streettheReverend Mr. Dimmesdale
encountered the eldest female member of his church; a most pious andexemplary old dame; poorwidowedlonelyand
with a heart as full of reminiscences about her dead husband and childrenand her dead friends of long agoas a burial-ground
is full of storied gravestones. Yet all thiswhich would else have been suchheavy sorrowwas made almost a
solemn joy to her devout old soul by religious consolations and the truths ofScripturewherewith she had fed herself
continually for more than thirty years. Andsince Mr. Dimmesdale had takenher in chargethe good grandam's chief
earthly comfort--whichunless it had been likewise a heavenly comfortcouldhave been none at all--was to meet her
pastorwhether casuallyor of set purposeand be refreshed with a word ofwarmfragrantheaven-breathing Gospel
truth from his beloved lips into her dulledbut rapturously attentive ear.Buton this occasionup to the moment of
putting his lips to the old woman's earMr. Dimmesdaleas the great enemyof souls would have itcould recall no text
of Scripturenor aught elseexcept a briefpithyandas it then appearedto himunanswerable argument against the
immortality of the human soul. The instilment thereof into her mind wouldprobably have caused this aged sister to drop
down deadat onceas by the effect of an intensely poisonous infusion. Whathe really did whisperthe minister could
never afterwards recollect. There wasperhapsa fortunate disorder in hisutterancewhich failed to impart any distinct
idea to the good widow's comprehensionor which Providence interpreted aftera method of its own. Assuredlyas the
minister looked backhe beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasythat seemed like the shine of the celestial
city on her faceso wrinkled and ashy pale.
Againa third instance. After parting from the old church-memberhe met theyoungest sister of them all. It was
a maiden newly won--and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermononthe Sabbath after his vigil--to barter
the transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hopethat was toassume brighter substance as life grew dark
around herand which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She wasfair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in
Paradise. The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within thestainless sanctity of her heartwhich hung its.63
snowy curtains about his imageimparting to religion the warmth of loveandto love a religious purity. Satanthat
afternoonhad surely led the poor young girl away from her mother's sideand thrown her into the pathway of this
sorely temptedor--shall we not rather say?--this lost and desperate man. Asshe drew nighthe arch-fiend whispered
him to condense into small compass and drop into her tender bosom a germ ofevil that would be sure to blossom darkly
soonand bear black fruit betimes. Such was his sense of power over thisvirgin soultrusting him as she didthat the
minister felt potent to blight all the field of innocence with but one wickedlookand develop all its opposite with but a
word. So--with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained--he held hisGeneva cloak before his faceand hurried
onwardmaking no sign of recognitionand leaving the young sister to digesthis rudeness as she might. She ransacked
her conscience--which was full of harmless little matterslike her pocketor her work-bag--and took herself to task
poor thingfor a thousand imaginary faults; and went about her householdduties with swollen eyelids the next morning.
Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this lasttemptationhe was conscious of another
impulsemore ludicrousand almost as horrible. It was--we blush to tellit--it was to stop short in the roadand teach
some very wicked words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playingthereand had but just begun to talk.
Denying himself this freakas unworthy of his clothhe met a drunkenseamanone of the ship's crew from the Spanish
Main. Andheresince he had so valiantly forborne all other wickednesspoor Mr. Dimmesdale longedat leastto
shake hands with the tarry blackguardand recreate himself with a fewimproper jestssuch as dissolute sailors so
abound withand a volley of goodroundsolidsatisfactoryandheaven-defying oaths! It was not so much a better
principleas partly his natural good tasteand still more his buckramedhabit of clerical decorumthat carried him safely
through the latter crisis.
"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" cried the minister tohimselfat lengthpausing in the streetand
striking his hand against his forehead. "Am I mad? or am I given overutterly to the fiend? Did I make a contract with
him in the forestand sign it with my blood? And does he now summon me toits fulfilmentby suggesting the
performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination canconceive?"
At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus communed with himselfand struck his forehead with
his handold Mistress Hibbinsthe reputed witch-ladyis said to have beenpassing by. She made a very grand
appearance; having on a high head-dressa rich gown of velvetand a ruffdone up with the famous yellow starchof
which Anne Turnerher especial friendhad taught her the secretbeforethis last good lady had been hanged for Sir
Thomas Overbury's murder. Whether the witch had read the minister's thoughtsor noshe came to a full stoplooked
shrewdly into his facesmiled craftilyand--though little given to conversewith clergymen--began a conversation.
"Soreverend Siryou have made a visit into the forest" observedthe witch-ladynodding her high head-dress at
him. "The next timeI pray you to allow me only a fair warningand Ishall be proud to bear you company. Without
taking overmuch upon myselfmy good word will go far towards gaining anystrange gentleman a fair reception from
yonder potentate you wot of!"
"I professmadam" answered the clergymanwith a grave obeisancesuch as the lady's rank demandedand his
own good-breeding made imperative--"I professon my conscience andcharacterthat I am utterly bewildered as
touching the purport of your words! I went not into the forest to seek apotentate; neither do Iat any future timedesign
a visit thitherwith a view to gaining the favor of such personage. My onesufficient object was to greet that pious
friend of minethe Apostle Eliotand rejoice with him over the manyprecious souls he hath won from heathendom!"
"Hahaha!" cackled the old witch-ladystill nodding her highhead-dress at the minister. "Wellwellwe must
needs talk thus in the daytime! You carry it off like an old hand! But atmidnightand in the forestwe shall have other
She passed on with her aged statelinessbut often turning back her head andsmiling at himlike one willing to
recognize a secret intimacy of connection.
"Have I then sold myself" thought the minister"to the fiendwhomif men say truethis yellow-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 dreamof happinesshe had yielded
himself with deliberate choiceas he had never done beforeto what he knewwas deadly sin. And the infectious poison
of that sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. Ithad stupefied all blessed impulsesand
awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scornbitternessunprovoked malignitygratuitous desire
of illridicule of whatever was good and holyall awoketo temptevenwhile they frightened him. And his encounter
with old Mistress Hibbinsif it were a real incidentdid but show itssympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals and
the world of perverted spirits.
He had by this time reached his dwellingon the edge of the burial-groundandhastening up the stairstook
refuge in his study. The minister was glad to have reached this shelterwithout first betraying himself to the world by
any of those strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had beencontinually impelled while passing through the
streets. He entered the accustomed roomand looked around him on its booksits windowsits fireplaceand the
tapestried comfort of the wallswith the same perception of strangeness thathad haunted him throughout his walk from
the forest-dell into the townand thitherward. Here he had studied andwritten; heregone through fast and vigiland
come forth half alive; herestriven to pray; hereborne a hundred thousandagonies! There was the Biblein its rich old
Hebrewwith Moses and the Prophets speaking to himand God's voice throughall! Thereon the tablewith the inky
pen beside itwas an unfinished sermonwith a sentence broken in the midstwhere his thoughts had ceased to gush out
upon the page two days before. He knew that it was himselfthe thin andwhite-cheeked ministerwho had done and.64
suffered these thingsand written thus far into the Election Sermon! But heseemed to stand apartand eye this former
self with scornful pityingbut half-envious curiosity. That self was gone!Another man had returned out of the forest; a
wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of theformer never could have reached. A bitter
kind of knowledge that!
While occupied with these reflectionsa knock came at the door of the studyand the minister said"Come in!"--
not wholly devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. And so hedid! It was old Roger Chillingworth that
entered. The minister stoodwhite and speechlesswith one hand on theHebrew Scripturesand the other spread upon
"Welcome homereverend Sir!" said the physician. "And howfound you that godly manthe Apostle Eliot? But
methinksdear Siryou look pale; as if the travel through the wildernesshad been too sore for you. Will not my aid be
requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your ElectionSermon?"
"NayI think not so" rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale."My journeyand the sight of the holy Apostle
yonderand the free air which I have breathedhave done me goodafter solong confinement in my study. I think to
need no more of your drugsmy kind physiciangood though they beandadministered by a friendly hand."
All this timeRoger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with the graveand intent regard of a physician
towards his patient. Butin spite of this outward showthe latter wasalmost convinced of the old man's knowledgeor
at leasthis confident suspicionwith respect to his own interview withHester Prynne. The physician knewthenthat
in the minister's regardhe was no longer a trusted friendbut hisbitterest enemy. So much being knownit would
appear natural that a part of it should be expressed. It is singularhoweverhow long a time often passes before words
embody things; and with what security two personswho choose to avoid acertain subjectmay approach its very verge
and retire without disturbing it. Thusthe minister felt no apprehensionthat Roger Chillingworth would touchin
express wordsupon the real position which they sustained towards oneanother. Yet did the physicianin his dark way
creep frightfully near the secret.
"Were it not better" said he"that you use my poor skillto-night? Verilydear Sirwe must take pains to make
you strong and vigorous for this occasion of the Election discourse. Thepeople look for great things from you;
apprehending that another year may come aboutand find their pastorgone."
"Yeato another world" replied the ministerwith piousresignation. "Heaven grant it be a better one; forin
good soothI hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flittingseasons of another year! Buttouching your
medicinekind Sirin my present frame of body I need it not."
"I joy to hear it" answered the physician. "It may be that myremediesso long administered in vainbegin now
to take due effect. Happy man were Iand well deserving of New England'sgratitudecould I achieve this cure!"
"I thank you from my heartmost watchful friend" said theReverend Mr. Dimmesdalewith a solemn smile. "I
thank youand can but requite your good deeds with my prayers."
"A good man's prayers are golden recompense!" rejoined old RogerChillingworthas he took his leave. "Yea
they are the current gold coin of the New Jerusalemwith the King's ownmint-mark on them!"
Left alonethe minister summoned a servant of the houseand requested foodwhichbeing set before himhe
ate with ravenous appetite. Thenflinging the already written pages of theElection Sermon into the firehe forthwith
began anotherwhich he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought andemotionthat he fancied himself inspired;
and only wondered that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemnmusic of its oracles through so foul an
organ-pipe as he. Howeverleaving that mystery to solve itselfor gounsolved for everhe drove his task onwardwith
earnest haste and ecstasy. Thus the night fled awayas if it were a wingedsteedand he careering on it; morning came
and peeped blushing through the curtains; and at last sunrise threw a goldenbeam into the studyand laid it right across
the minister's bedazzled eyes. There he waswith the pen still between hisfingersand a vastimmeasurable tract of
written space behind him!
The New England Holiday
Betimes in the morning of the day on which the new Governor was to receivehis office at the hands of the
peopleHester Prynne and little Pearl came into the market-place. It wasalready thronged with the craftsmen and other
plebeian inhabitants of the townin considerable numbers; among whomlikewisewere many rough figureswhose
attire of deer-skins marked them as belonging to some of the forestsettlementswhich surrounded the little metropolis
of the colony.
On this public holidayas on all other occasionsfor seven years pastHester was clad in a garment of coarse
gray cloth. Not more by its hue than by some indescribable peculiarity in itsfashionit had the effect of making her fade
personally out of sight and outline; whileagainthe scarlet letter broughther back from this twilight indistinctnessand
revealed her under the moral aspect of its own illumination. Her facesolong familiar to the townspeopleshowed the
marble quietude which they were accustomed to behold there. It was like amask; or ratherlike the frozen calmness of a
dead woman's features; owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hesterwas actually deadin respect to any claim
of sympathyand had departed out of the world with which she still seemed tomingle.
It might beon this one daythat there was an expression unseen beforenorindeedvivid enough to be detected
now; unless some preternaturally gifted observer should have first read theheartand have afterwards sought a
corresponding development in the countenance and mien. Such a spiritual seermight have conceivedthatafter
sustaining the gaze of the multitude through seven miserable years as anecessitya penanceand something which it.65
was a stern religion to endureshe nowfor one last time moreencounteredit freely and voluntarilyin order to convert
what had so long been agony into a kind of triumph. "Look your last onthe scarlet letter and its wearer!"--the people's
victim and life-long bond-slaveas they fancied hermight say to them."Yet a little whileand she will be beyond your
reach! A few hours longerand the deepmysterious ocean will quench andhide for ever the symbol which ye have
caused to burn on her bosom!" Nor were it an inconsistency tooimprobable to be assigned to human natureshould we
suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mindat the moment when she wasabout to win her freedom from the pain which
had been thus deeply incorporated with her being. Might there not be anirresistible desire to quaff a lastlong
breathless draught of the cup of wormwood and aloeswith which nearly allher years of womanhood had been
perpetually flavored? The wine of lifehenceforth to be presented to herlipsmust be indeed richdeliciousand
exhilaratingin its chased and golden beaker; or else leave an inevitableand weary languorafter the lees of bitterness
wherewith she had been druggedas with a cordial of intensest potency.
Pearl was decked out with airy gayety. It would have been impossible to guessthat this bright and sunny
apparition owed its existence to the shape of gloomy gray; or that a fancyat once so gorgeous and so delicate as must
have been requisite to contrive the child's apparelwas the same that hadachieved a task perhaps more difficultin
imparting so distinct a peculiarity to Hester's simple robe. The dresssoproper was it to little Pearlseemed an
effluenceor inevitable development and outward manifestation of hercharacterno more to be separated from her than
the many-hued brilliancy from a butterfly's wingor the painted glory fromthe leaf of a bright flower. As with theseso
with the child; her garb was all of one idea with her nature. On thiseventful daymoreoverthere was a certain singular
inquietude and excitement in her moodresembling nothing so much as theshimmer of a diamondthat sparkles and
flashes with the varied throbbings of the breast on which it is displayed.Children have always a sympathy in the
agitations of those connected with them; alwaysespeciallya sense of anytrouble or impending revolutionof whatever
kindin domestic circumstances; and therefore Pearlwho was the gem on hermother's unquiet bosombetrayedby the
very dance of her spiritsthe emotions which none could detect in the marblepassiveness of Hester's brow.
This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like movementrather than walkby her mother's side. She broke
continually into shouts of a wildinarticulateand sometimes piercingmusic. When they reached the market-placeshe
became still more restlesson perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivenedthe spot; for it was usually more like the
broad and lonesome green before a village meeting-housethan the centre of atown's business.
"Whywhat is thismother?" cried she. "Wherefore have allthe people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for
the whole world? Seethere is the blacksmith! He has washed his sooty faceand put on his Sabbath-day clothesand
looks as if he would gladly be merryif any kind body would only teach himhow! And there is Master Brackettthe old
jailernodding and smiling at me. Why does he do somother?"
"He remembers thee a little babemy child" answered Hester.
"He should not nod and smile at mefor all that--the blackgrimugly-eyed old man!" said Pearl. "He may nod
at thee if he will; for thou art clad in grayand wearest the scarletletter. Butseemotherhow many faces of strange
peopleand Indians among themand sailors! What have they all come to dohere in the market-place?"
"They wait to see the procession pass" said Hester. "For theGovernor and the magistrates are to go byand the
ministersand all the great people and good peoplewith the musicand thesoldiers marching before them."
"And will the minister be there?" asked Pearl. "And will hehold out both his hands to meas when thou ledst me
to him from the brook-side?"
"He will be therechild" answered her mother. "But he willnot greet thee to-day; nor must thou greet him."
"What a strangesad man is he!" said the childas if speakingpartly to herself. "In the dark night-timehe calls
us to himand holds thy hand and mineas when we stood with him on thescaffold yonder! And in the deep forest
where only the old trees can hearand the strip of sky see ithe talks withtheesitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses
my foreheadtooso that the little brook would hardly wash it off! Butherein the sunny dayand among all the
peoplehe knows us not; nor must we know him! A strangesad man is hewithhis hand always over his heart!"
"Be quietPearl! Thou understandest not these things" said hermother. "Think not now of the ministerbut look
about theeand see how cheery is every body's face to-day. The children havecome from their schoolsand the grown
people from their workshops and their fieldson purpose to be happy. Forto-daya new man is beginning to rule over
them; and so--as has been the custom of mankind ever since a nation was firstgathered--they make merry and rejoice;
as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor oldworld!"
It was as Hester saidin regard to the unwonted jollity that brightened thefaces of the people. Into this festal
season of the year--as it already wasand continued to be during the greaterpart of two centuries--the Puritans
compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to humaninfirmity; thereby so far dispelling the
customary cloudthatfor the space of a single holidaythey appearedscarcely more grave than most other communities
at a period of general affliction.
But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tingewhich undoubtedlycharacterized the mood and manners of
the age. The persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been born toan inheritance of Puritanic gloom. They
were native Englishmenwhose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of theElizabethan epoch; a time when the life of
Englandviewed as one great masswould appear to have been as statelymagnificentand joyousas the world has
ever witnessed. Had they followed their hereditary tastethe New Englandsettlers would have illustrated all events of
public importance by bonfiresbanquetspageantriesand processions. Norwould it have been impracticablein the
observance of majestic ceremoniesto combine mirthful recreation withsolemnityand giveas it werea grotesque and.66
brilliant embroidery to the great robe of statewhich a nationat suchfestivalsputs on. There was some shadow of an
attempt of this kind in the mode of celebrating the day on which thepolitical year of the colony commenced. The dim
reflection of a remembered splendora colorless and manifold dilutedrepetition of what they had beheld in proud old
London--we will not say at a royal coronationbut at a Lord Mayor'sshow--might be traced in the customs which our
forefathers institutedwith reference to the annual installation ofmagistrates. The fathers and founders of the
commonwealth--the statesmanthe priestand the soldier--deemed it a dutythen to assume the outward state and
majestywhichin accordance with antique stylewas looked upon as theproper garb of public and social eminence. All
came forthto move in procession before the people's eyeand thus impart aneeded dignity to the simple framework of
a government so newly constructed.
Thentoothe people were countenancedif not encouragedin relaxing thesevere and close application to their
various modes of rugged industrywhichat all other timesseemed of thesame piece and material with their religion.
Hereit is truewere none of the appliances which popular merriment wouldso readily have found in the England of
Elizabeth's timeor that of James;--no rude shows of a theatrical kind; nominstrel with his harp and legendary ballad
nor gleemanwith an ape dancing to his music; no jugglerwith his tricks ofmimic witchcraft; no Merry Andrewto stir
up the multitude with jestsperhaps hundreds of years oldbut stilleffectiveby their appeals to the very broadest
sources of mirthful sympathy. All such professors of the several branches ofjocularity would have been sternly
repressednot only by the rigid discipline of lawbut by the generalsentiment which gives law its vitality. Not the less
howeverthe greathonest face of the people smiledgrimlyperhapsbutwidely too. Nor were sports wantingsuch as
the colonists had witnessedand shared inlong agoat the country fairsand on the village-greens of England; and
which it was thought well to keep alive on this new soilfor the sake of thecourage and manliness that were essential in
them. Wrestling-matchesin the different fashions of Cornwall andDevonshirewere seen here and there about the
market-place; in one cornerthere was a friendly bout at quarterstaff;and--what attracted most interest of all--on the
platform of the pilloryalready so noted in our pagestwo masters ofdefence were commencing an exhibition with the
buckler and broadsword. Butmuch to the disappointment of the crowdthislatter business was broken off by the
interposition of the town beadlewho had no idea of permitting the majestyof the law to be violated by such an abuse
of one of its consecrated places.
It may not be too much to affirmon the whole(the people being then in thefirst stages of joyless deportment
and the offspring of sires who had known how to be merryin their day) thatthey would compare favorablyin point of
holiday keepingwith their descendantseven at so long an interval asourselves. Their immediate posteritythe
generation next to the early emigrantswore the blackest shade ofPuritanismand so darkened the national visage with
itthat all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up. We haveyet to learn again the forgotten art of gayety.
The picture of human life in the market-placethough its general tint wasthe sad graybrownor black of the
English emigrantswas yet enlivened by some diversity of hue. A party ofIndians--in their savage finery of curiously
embroidered deer-skin robeswampum-beltsred and yellow ochreandfeathersand armed with the bow and arrow
and stone-headed spear--stood apartwith countenances of inflexible gravitybeyond what even the Puritan aspect could
attain. Norwild as were these painted barbarianswere they the wildestfeature of the scene. This distinction could
more justly be claimed by some mariners--a part of the crew of the vesselfrom the Spanish Main--who had come
ashore to see the humors of Election Day. They were rough-lookingdesperadoeswith sun-blackened facesand an
immensity of beard; their wideshort trousers were confined about the waistby beltsoften clasped with a rough plate
of goldand sustaining always a long knifeandin some instancesa sword.From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of
palm-leafgleamed eyes whicheven in good nature and merrimenthad a kindof animal ferocity. They transgressed
without fear or scruplethe rules of behaviour that were binding on allothers; smoking tobacco under the beadle's very
nosealthough each whiff would have cost a townsman a shilling; andquaffingat their pleasuredraughts of wine or
aqua-vitae from pocket-flaskswhich they freely tendered to the gaping crowdaround them. It remarkably characterized
the incomplete morality of the agerigid as we call itthat a license wasallowed the seafaring classnot merely for their
freaks on shorebut 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 doubtfor instancethat this very ship's crewthough no
unfavorable specimens of the nautical brotherhoodhad been guiltyas weshould phrase itof depredations on the
Spanish commercesuch as would have perilled all their necks in a moderncourt of justice.
But the seain those old timesheavedswelledand foamed very much at itsown willor subject only to the
tempestuous windwith hardly any attempts at regulation by human law. Thebuccaneer on the wave might relinquish
his callingand become at onceif he chosea man of probity and piety onland; noreven in the full career of his
reckless lifewas he regarded as a personage with whom it was disreputableto trafficor casually associate. Thusthe
Puritan eldersin their black cloaksstarched bandsand steeple-crownedhatssmiled not unbenignantly at the clamor
and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men; and it excited neithersurprise nor animadversion when so reputable a
citizen as old Roger Chillingworththe physicianwas seen to enter themarket-placein close and familiar talk with the
commander of the questionable vessel.
The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figureso far as apparelwentanywhere to be seen among the
multitude. He wore a profusion of ribbons on his garmentand gold lace onhis hatwhich was also encircled by a gold
chainand surmounted with a feather. There was a sword at his sideand asword-cut on his foreheadwhichby the
arrangement of his hairhe seemed anxious rather to display than hide. Alandsman could hardly have worn this garb
and shown this faceand worn and shown them both with such a galliard airwithout undergoing stern question before a.67
magistrateand probably incurring a fine or imprisonmentor perhaps anexhibition in the stocks. As regarded the
shipmasterhoweverall was looked upon as pertaining to the characterasto a fish his glistening scales.
After parting from the physicianthe commander of the Bristol ship strolledidly through the market-place; until
happening to approach the spot where Hester Prynne was standinghe appearedto recognizeand did not hesitate to
address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stooda smallvacantarea--a sort of magic circle--had formed
itself about herinto whichthough the people were elbowing one another ata little distancenone venturedor felt
disposed to intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in whichthe scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer;
partly by her own reserveand partly by the instinctivethough no longer sounkindlywithdrawal of her fellow-creatures.
Nowif never beforeit answered a good purposeby enabling Hester and theseaman to speak together
without risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne's reputebefore the publicthat the matron in town
most eminent for rigid morality could not have held such intercourse withless result of scandal than herself.
"Somistress" said the mariner"I must bid the steward makeready one more berth than you bargained for! No
fear of scurvy or ship-feverthis voyage! What with the ship's surgeon andthis other doctorour only danger will be
from drug or pill; more by tokenas there is a lot of apothecary's stuffaboardwhich I traded for with a Spanish vessel."
"What mean you?" inquired Hesterstartled more than she permittedto appear. "Have you another passenger?"
"Whyknow you not" cried the shipmaster"that thisphysician here--Chillingworthhe calls himself--is minded
to try my cabin-fare with you? Ayayyou must have known it; for he tellsme he is of your partyand a close friend to
the gentleman you spoke of--he that is in peril from these sour old Puritanrulers!"
"They know each other wellindeed" replied Hesterwith a mien ofcalmnessthough in the utmost
consternation. "They have long dwelt together."
Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. Butat thatinstantshe beheld old Roger
Chillingworth himselfstanding in the remotest corner of the market-placeand smiling on her; a smile which--across
the wide and bustling squareand through all the talk and laughterandvarious thoughtsmoodsand interests of the
crowd--conveyed secret and fearful meaning.
Before Hester Prynne could call together her thoughtsand consider what waspracticable to be done in this new
and startling aspect of affairsthe sound of military music was heardapproaching along a contiguous street. It denoted
the advance of the procession of magistrates and citizenson its way towardsthe meeting-house; wherein compliance
with a custom thus early establishedand ever since observedthe ReverendMr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election
Soon the head of the procession showed itselfwith a slow and stately marchturning a cornerand making its
way across the market-place. First came the music. It comprised a variety ofinstrumentsperhaps imperfectly adapted
to one anotherand played with no great skillbut yet attaining the greatobject for which the harmony of drum and
clarion addresses itself to the multitude--that of imparting a higher andmore heroic air to the scene of life that passes
before the eye. Little Pearl at first clapped her handsbut then lostforan instantthe restless agitation that had kept her
in a continual effervescence throughout the morning; she gazed silentlyandseemed to be borne upwardlike a floating
sea-birdon the long heaves and swells of sound. But she was brought back toher former mood by the shimmer of the
sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the military companywhichfollowed after the musicand formed the
honorary escort of the procession. This body of soldiery--which stillsustains a corporate existenceand marches down
from past ages with an ancient and honorable fame--was composed of nomercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with
gentlemenwho felt the stirrings of martial impulseand sought to establisha kind of College of Armswhereas in an
association of Knights Templarsthey might learn the scienceandso far aspeaceful exercise would teach themthe
practices of war. The high estimation then placed upon the military charactermight be seen in the lofty port of each
individual member of the company. Some of themindeedby their services inthe Low Countries and on other fields of
European warfarehad fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp ofsoldiership. The entire arraymoreover
clad in burnished steeland with plumage nodding over their bright morionshad a brilliancy of effect which no modern
display can aspire to equal.
And yet the men of civil eminencewho came immediately behind the militaryescortwere better worth a
thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward demeanour they showed a stamp ofmajesty that made the warrior's haughty
stride look vulgarif not absurd. It was an age when what we call talent hadfar less consideration than nowbut the
massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character a greatdeal more. The people possessedby
hereditary rightthe quality of reverence; whichin their descendantsifit survive at allexists in smaller proportion
and with a vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate of publicmen. The change may be for good or illand is
partlyperhapsfor both. In that old daythe English settler on these rudeshores--having left kingnoblesand all
degrees of awful rank behindwhile still the faculty and necessity ofreverence were strong in him--bestowed it on the
white hair and venerable brow of age; on long-tried integrity; on solidwisdom and sad-colored experience; on
endowments of that grave and weighty orderwhich gives the idea ofpermanenceand comes under the general
definition of respectability. These primitive statesmentherefore--BradstreetEndicottDudleyBellinghamand their
compeers--who were elevated to power by the early choice of the peopleseemto have been not often brilliantbut
distinguished by a ponderous sobrietyrather than activity of intellect.They had fortitude and self-relianceandin time
of difficulty or perilstood up for the welfare of the state like a line ofcliffs against a tempestuous tide. The traits of.68
character here indicated were well represented in the square cast ofcountenance and large physical development of the
new colonial magistrates. So far as a demeanour of natural authority wasconcernedthe mother country need not have
been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted intothe House of Peersor make the Privy
Council of the sovereign.
Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently distinguisheddivinefrom whose lips the
religious discourse of the anniversary was expected. His was the professionat that erain which intellectual ability
displayed itself far more than in political life; for--leaving a highermotive out of the question--it offered inducements
powerful enoughin the almost worshipping respect of the communityto winthe most aspiring ambition into its
service. Even political power--as in the case of Increase Mather--was withinthe grasp of a successful priest.
It was the observation of those who beheld him nowthat neversince Mr.Dimmesdale first set his foot on the
New England shorehad he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait andair with which he kept his pace in the
procession. There was no feebleness of stepas at other times; his frame wasnot bent; nor did his hand rest ominously
upon his heart. Yetif the clergyman were rightly viewedhis strengthseemed not of the body. It might be spiritualand
imparted to him by angelic ministrations. It might be the exhilaration ofthat potent cordialwhich is distilled only in the
furnace-glow of earnest and long-continued thought. Orperchancehissensitive temperament was invigorated by the
loud and piercing musicthat swelled heavenwardand uplifted him on itsascending wave. Neverthelessso abstracted
was his lookit might be questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard themusic. There was his bodymoving
onwardand with an unaccustomed force. But where was his mind? Far and deepin its own regionbusying itselfwith
preternatural activityto marshal a procession of stately thoughts that weresoon to issue thence; and so he saw nothing
heard nothingknew nothingof what was around him; but the spiritualelement took up the feeble frameand carried it
alongunconscious of the burdenand converting it to spirit like itself.Men of uncommon intellectwho have grown
morbidpossess this occasional power of mighty effortinto which they throwthe life of many daysand then are
lifeless for as many more.
Hester Prynnegazing steadfastly at the clergymanfelt a dreary influencecome over herbut wherefore or
whence she knew not; unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphereandutterly beyond her reach. One glance
of recognitionshe had imaginedmust needs pass between them. She thoughtof the dim forestwith its little dell of
solitudeand loveand anguishand the mossy tree-trunkwheresittinghand in handthey had mingled their sad and
passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How deeply had theyknown each other then! And was this
the man? She hardly knew him now! Hemoving proudly pastenvelopedas itwerein the rich musicwith the
procession of majestic and venerable fathers; heso unattainable in hisworldly positionand still more so in that far
vista of his unsympathizing thoughtsthrough which she now beheld him! Herspirit sank with the idea that all must
have been a delusionand thatvividly as she had dreamed itthere could beno real bond betwixt the clergyman and
herself. And thus much of woman was there in Hesterthat she could scarcelyforgive him--least of all nowwhen the
heavy footstep of their approaching Fate might be heardnearernearernearer!--for being able so completely to
withdraw himself from their mutual world; while she groped darklyandstretched forth her cold handsand found him
Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelingsor herself felt theremoteness and intangibility that had
fallen around the minister. While the procession passedthe child wasuneasyfluttering up and downlike a bird on the
point of taking flight. When the whole had gone byshe looked up intoHester's face.
"Mother" said she"was that the same minister that kissed meby the brook?"
"Hold thy peacedear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. "Wemust not always talk in the market-place of what
happens 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 himand
bid him kiss me nowbefore all the people; even as he did yonder among thedark old trees. What would the minister
have saidmother? Would he have clapped his hand over his heartand scowledon meand bid me begone?"
"What should he sayPearl" answered Hester"save that itwas no time to kissand that kisses are not to be
given in the market-place? Well for theefoolish childthat thou didst notspeak to him!"
Another shade of the same sentimentin reference to Mr. Dimmesdalewasexpressed by a person whose
eccentricities--or insanityas we should term it--led her to do what few ofthe townspeople would have ventured on; to
begin a conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letterin public. It wasMistress Hibbinswhoarrayed in great
magnificencewith a triple ruffa broidered stomachera gown of richvelvetand a gold-headed canehad come forth
to see the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown (whichsubsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of
being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were continuallygoing forwardthe crowd gave way before
herand seemed to fear the touch of her garmentas if it carried the plagueamong its gorgeous folds. Seen in
conjunction with Hester Prynne--kindly as so many now felt towards thelatter--the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins
had doubledand caused a general movement from that part of the market-placein which the two women stood.
"Nowwhat mortal imagination could conceive it!" whispered the oldlady confidentially to Hester. "Yonder
divine man! That saint on earthas the people uphold him to beand as--Imust needs say--he really looks! Whonow
that saw him pass in the processionwould think how little while it is sincehe went forth out of his study--chewing a
Hebrew text of Scripture in his mouthI warrant--to take an airing in theforest! Aha! we know what that meansHester
Prynne! ButtrulyforsoothI find it hard to believe him the same man.Many a church-member saw Iwalking behind
the musicthat has danced in the same measure with mewhen Somebody wasfiddlerandit might bean Indian.69
powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with us! That is but a triflewhena woman knows the world. But this
minis ter! Couldst thou surely tellHesterwhether he was the same man thatencountered thee on the forest-path?"
"MadamI know not of what you speak" answered Hester Prynnefeeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind;
yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which sheaffirmed a personal connection between so
many persons (herself among them) and the Evil One. "It is not for me totalk lightly of a learned and pious minister of
the Wordlike the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale!"
"Fiewomanfie!" cried the old ladyshaking her finger atHester. "Dost thou think I have been to the forest so
many timesand have yet no skill to judge who else has been there? Yea;though no leaf of the wild garlandswhich
they wore while they dancedbe left in their hair! I know theeHester; forI 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 ofhis own servantssigned and sealedso shy
of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalehe hath a way ofordering matters so that the mark shall be
disclosed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world! What is that theminister seeks to hidewith his hand always over
his heart? HaHester Prynne!"
"What is itgood Mistress Hibbins?" eagerly asked little Pearl."Hast thou seen it?"
"No matterdarling!" responded Mistress Hibbinsmaking Pearl aprofound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it
one time or another. They saychildthou art of the lineage of the Princeof the Air! Wilt thou ride with mesome fine
nightto see thy father? Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keepshis hand over his heart!"
Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear herthe weird oldgentlewoman took her departure.
By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the meeting-houseand the accents of the Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale were heard commencing his discourse. An irresistible feeling keptHester near the spot. As the sacred
edifice was too much thronged to admit another auditorshe took up herposition close beside the scaffold of the pillory.
It was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon to her earsin theshape of an indistinctbut variedmurmur
and flow of the minister's very peculiar voice.
This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment; insomuch that a listenercomprehending nothing of the
language in which the preacher spokemight still have been swayed to and froby the mere tone and cadence. Like all
other musicit breathed passion and pathosand emotions high or tenderina tongue native to the human heart
wherever educated. Muffled as the sound was by its passage through thechurch-wallsHester Prynne listened with such
intentnessand sympathized so intimatelythat the sermon had throughout ameaning for herentirely apart from its
indistinguishable words. Theseperhapsif more distinctly heardmight havebeen only a grosser mediumand have
clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the low undertoneas of the windsinking down to repose itself; then
ascended with itas it rose through progressive gradations of sweetness andpoweruntil its volume seemed to envelop
her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur. And yetmajestic as thevoice sometimes becamethere was for
ever in it an essential character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expressionof anguish--the whisperor the shriekas it
might be conceivedof suffering humanitythat touched a sensibility inevery bosom! At times this deep strain of pathos
was all that could be heardand scarcely heardsighing amid a desolatesilence. But even when the minister's voice
grew high and commanding--when it gushed irrepressibly upward--when itassumed its utmost breadth and powerso
overfilling the church as to burst its way through the solid wallsanddiffuse itself in the open air--stillif the auditor
listened intentlyand for the purposehe could detect the same cry of pain.What was it? The complaint of a human
heartsorrow-ladenperchance guiltytelling its secretwhether of guiltor sorrowto the great heart of mankind;
beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness--at every moment--in eachaccent--and never in vain! It was this profound and
continual undertone that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power.
During all this time Hester stoodstatue-likeat the foot of the scaffold.If the minister's voice had not kept her
therethere would nevertheless have been an inevitable magnetism in thatspotwhence she dated the first hour of her
life of ignominy. There was a sense within her--too ill-defined to be made athoughtbut weighing heavily on her
mind--that her whole orb of lifeboth before and afterwas connected withthis spotas with the one point that gave it
Little Pearlmeanwhilehad quitted her mother's sideand was playing ather own will about the market-place.
She made the sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray; even asa bird of bright plumage illuminates a
whole tree of dusky foliage by darting to and frohalf seen and halfconcealedamid the twilight of the clustering
leaves. She had an undulatingbutoftentimesa sharp and irregularmovement. It indicated the restless vivacity of her
spiritwhich to-day was doubly indefatigable in its tip-toe dancebecauseit was played upon and vibrated with her
mother's disquietude. Whenever Pearl saw any thing to excite her ever activeand wandering curiosityshe flew
thitherwardandas we might sayseized upon that man or thing as her ownpropertyso far as she desired it; but
without yielding the minutest degree of control over her motions in requital.The Puritans looked onandif they smiled
were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspringfromthe indescribable charm of beauty and
eccentricity that shone through her little figureand sparkled with itsactivity. She ran and looked the wild Indian in the
face; and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than his own. Thencewithnative audacitybut still with a reserve as
characteristicshe flew into the midst of a group of marinerstheswarthy-cheeked wild men of the oceanas the Indians
were of the land; and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearlas if aflake of the sea-foam had taken the shape
of a little maidand were gifted with a soul of the sea-firethat flashesbeneath the prow in the night-time..70
One of these seafaring men--the shipmasterindeedwho had spoken to HesterPrynne--was so smitten with
Pearl's aspectthat he attempted to lay hands upon herwith purpose tosnatch a kiss. Finding it as impossible to touch
her as to catch a humming-bird in the airhe took from his hat the goldchain that was twisted about itand threw it to
the child. Pearl immediately twined it around her neck and waistwith suchhappy skillthatonce seen thereit became
a part of herand it was difficult to imagine her without it.
"Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter" said theseaman. "Wilt thou carry her a message from
"If the message pleases me I will" answered Pearl.
"Then tell her" rejoined he"that I spake again with theblack-a-visagedhump -shouldered old doctorand he
engages to bring his friendthe gentleman she wots ofaboard with him. Solet thy mother take no thoughtsave for
herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her thisthou witch-baby?"
"Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!" criedPearlwith her naughty smile. "If thou callest
me that ill-nameI shall tell him of thee; and he will chase thy ship with atempest!"
Pursuing a zigzag course across the market-placethe child returned to hermotherand communicated what the
mariner had said. Hester's strongcalm steadfastly enduring spirit almostsankat laston beholding this dark and grim
countenance of an inevitable doomwhich--at the moment when a passage seemedto open for the minister and herself
out of their labyrinth of misery--showed itselfwith an unrelenting smileright in the midst of their path.
With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the shipmaster'sintelligence involved hershe was
also subjected to another trial. There were many people presentfrom thecountry roundaboutwho had often heard of
the scarlet letterand to whom it had been made terrific by a hundred falseor exaggerated rumorsbut who had never
beheld it with their own bodily eyes. Theseafter exhausting other modes ofamusementnow thronged about Hester
Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous as it washoweverit could not bring them nearer than a
circuit of several yards. At that distance they accordingly stoodfixedthere by the centrifugal force of the repugnance
which the mystic symbol inspired. The whole gang of sailorslikewiseobserving the press of spectatorsand learning
the purport of the scarlet lettercame and thrust their sunburnt anddesperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the
Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man's curiosityandgliding through the crowdfastened
their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom; conceivingperhapsthat thewearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge
must needs be a personage of high dignity among her people. Lastlytheinhabitants of the town (their own interest in
this worn-out subject languidly reviving itselfby sympathy with what theysaw others feel) lounged idly to the same
quarterand tormented Hester Prynneperhaps more than all the restwiththeir coolwell-acquainted gaze at her
familiar shame. Hester saw and recognized the self same faces of that groupof matronswho had awaited her
forthcoming from the prison-doorseven years ago; all save onethe youngestand only compassionate among them
whose burial-robe she had since made. At the final hourwhen she was so soonto fling aside the burning letterit had
strangely become the centre of more remark and excitementand was thus madeto 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 ignominywhere the cunningcruelty of her sentence seemed to have
fixed her for everthe admirable preacher was looking down from the sacredpulpit upon an audiencewhose very
inmost spirits had yielded to his control. The sainted minister in thechurch! The woman of the scarlet letter in the
market-place! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmisethat the same scorching stigma was on
of the Scarlet Letter
The eloquent voiceon which the souls of the listening audience had beenborne aloftas on the swelling waves
of the seaat length came to a pause. There was a momentary silenceprofound as what should follow the utterance of
oracles. Then ensued a murmur and half-hushed tumult; as if the auditorsreleased from the high spell that had
transported them into the region of another's mindwere returning intothemselveswith all their awe and wonder still
heavy on them. In a moment morethe crowd began to gush forth from the doorsof the church. Now that there was an
endthey needed other breathmore fit to support the gross and earthly lifeinto which they relapsedthan that
atmosphere which the preacher had converted into words of flameand hadburdened with the rich fragrance of his
In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street and themarket-place absolutely babbledfrom side to
sidewith applauses of the minister. His hearers could not rest until theyhad told one another of what each knew better
than he could tell or hear. According to their united testimonynever hadman spoken in so wiseso highand so holy a
spiritas he that spake this day; nor had inspiration ever breathed throughmortal lips more evidently than it did through
his. Its influence could be seenas it weredescending upon himandpossessing himand continually lifting him out of
the written discourse that lay before himand filling him with ideas thatmust have been as marvellous to himself as to
his audience. His subjectit appearedhad been the relation between theDeity and the communities of mankindwith a
special reference to the New England which they were here planting in thewilderness. Andas he drew towards the
closea spirit as of prophecy had come upon himconstraining him to itspurpose as mightily as the old prophets of
Israel were constrained; only with this differencethatwhereas the Jewishseers had denounced judgments and ruin on
their countryit was his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny forthe newly gathered people of the Lord. But.71
throughout it alland through the whole discoursethere had been a certaindeepsad undertone of pathoswhich could
not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural regret of one soon to passaway. Yes; their minister whom they so
loved--and who so loved them allthat he could not depart heavenward withouta sigh--had the foreboding of untimely
death upon himand would soon leave them in their tears! This idea of histransitory stay on earth gave the last
emphasis to the effect which the preacher had produced; it was as if anangelin his passage to the skieshad shaken his
bright wings over the people for an instant--at once a shadow and asplendor--and had shed down a shower of golden
truths upon them.
Thusthere had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale--as to most menin theirvarious spheresthough seldom
recognized until they see it far behind them--an epoch of life more brilliantand full of triumph than any previous one
or than any which could hereafter be. He stoodat this momenton the veryproudest eminence of superiorityto which
the gifts of intellectrich loreprevailing eloquenceand a reputation ofwhitest sanctitycould exalt a clergyman in
New England's earliest dayswhen the professional character was of itself alofty pedestal. Such was the position which
the minister occupiedas he bowed his head forward on the cushions of thepulpitat the close of his Election Sermon.
MeanwhileHester Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the pillorywith the scarlet letter still burning on her
Now was heard again the clangor of the musicand the measured tramp of themilitary escortissuing from the
church-door. The procession was to be marshalled thence to the town-hallwhere a solemn banquet would complete the
ceremonies of the day.
Once morethereforethe train of venerable and majestic fathers was seenmoving through a broad pathway of
the peoplewho drew back reverentlyon either sideas the Governor andmagistratesthe old and wise menthe holy
ministersand all that were eminent and renownedadvanced into the midst ofthem. When they were fairly in the
market-placetheir presence was greeted by a shout. This --though doubtlessit might acquire additional force and
volume from the child-like loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers--wasfelt to be an irrepressible outburst of the
enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence which wasyet reverberating in their ears. Each felt
the impulse in himselfandin the same breathcaught it from hisneighbour. Within the churchit had hardly been kept
down; beneath the skyit pealed upward to the zenith. There were humanbeings enoughand enough of highly wrought
and symphonious feelingto produce that more impressive sound than theorgan-tones of the blastor the thunderor the
roar of the sea; even that mighty swell of many voicesblended into onegreat voice by the universal impulse which
makes likewise one vast heart out of the many. Neverfrom the soil of NewEnglandhad gone up such a shout! Never
on New England soilhad stood the man so honored by his mortal brethren asthe preacher!
How fared it with him then? Were there not the brilliant particles of a haloin the air about his head? So
etherealized by spirit as he wasand so apotheosized by worshippingadmirersdid his footsteps in the procession really
tread upon the dust of earth?
As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onwardall eyes wereturned towards the point where the
minister was seen to approach among them. The shout died into a murmurasone portion of the crowd after another
obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble and pale he looked amid all histriumph! The energy--or sayratherthe
inspiration which had held him upuntil he should have delivered the sacredmessage that brought its own strength
along with it from heaven--was withdrawnnow that it had so faithfullyperformed its office. The glowwhich they had
just before beheld burning on his cheekwas extinguishedlike a flame thatsinks down hopelessly among the late-decaying
embers. It seemed hardly the face of a man alivewith such a deathlike hue;it was hardly a man with life in
himthat tottered on his path so nervelesslyyet totteredand did notfall!
One of his clerical brethren--it was the venerable John Wilson--observingthe state in which Mr. Dimmesdale
was left by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibilitystepped forwardhastily to offer his support. The minister
tremulouslybut decidedlyrepelled the old man's arm. He still walkedonwardif that movement could be so described
which rather resembled the wavering effort of an infantwith its mother'sarms in viewoutstretched to tempt him
forward. And nowalmost imperceptible as were the latter steps of hisprogresshe had come opposite the well-remembered
and weather-darkened scaffoldwherelong sincewith all that dreary lapseof time betweenHester
Prynne had encountered the world's ignominious stare. There stood Hesterholding 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 summoned himonward--onward to the festival!--but here he made a
Bellinghamfor the last few momentshad kept an anxious eye upon him. Henow left his own place in the
processionand advanced to give assistance; judging from Mr. Dimmesdale'saspect that he must otherwise inevitably
fall. But there was something in the latter's expression that warned back themagistratealthough a man not readily
obeying the vague intimations that pass from one spirit to another. Thecrowdmeanwhilelooked on with awe and
wonder. This earthly faintness wasin their viewonly another phase of theminister's celestial strength; nor would it
have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so holyhad he ascendedbefore their eyeswaxing dimmer and
brighterand fading at last into the light of heaven!
He turned towards the scaffoldand stretched forth his arms.
"Hester" said he"come hither! Comemy little Pearl!"
It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was something atonce tender and strangely
triumphant in it. The childwith the bird-like motion which was one of hercharacteristicsflew to himand clasped her.72
arms about his knees. Hester Prynne--slowlyas if impelled by inevitablefateand against her strongest will--likewise
drew nearbut paused before she reached him. At this instant old RogerChillingworth thrust himself through the
crowd--orperhapsso darkdisturbedand evil was his lookhe rose upout of some nether region--to snatch back his
victim from what he sought to do! Be that as it mightthe old man rushedforward and caught the minister by the arm.
"Madmanhold! What is your purpose?" whispered he. "Wave backthat woman! Cast off this child! All shall be
well! Do not blacken your fameand perish in dishonor! I can yet save you!Would you bring infamy on your sacred
"Hatempter! Methinks thou art too late!" answered the ministerencountering his eyefearfullybut firmly.
"Thy power is not what it was! With God's helpI shall escape theenow!"
He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.
"Hester Prynne" cried hewith a piercing earnestness"inthe name of Himso terrible and so mercifulwho
gives me graceat this last momentto do what--for my own heavy sin andmiserable agony--I withheld myself from
doing seven years agocome hither nowand twine thy strength about me! ThystrengthHester; but let it be guided by
the will which God hath granted me! This wretched and wronged old man isopposing it with all his might!--with all his
own might and the fiend's! ComeHestercome! Support me up yonderscaffold!"
The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignitywho stood moreimmediately around the clergyman
were so taken by surpriseand so perplexed as to the purport of what theysaw--unable to receive the explanation which
most readily presented itselfor to imagine any other--that they remainedsilent and inactive spectators of the judgment
which Providence seemed about to work. They beheld the ministerleaning onHester's shoulder and supported by her
arm around himapproach the scaffoldand ascend its steps; while still thelittle hand of the sin-born child was clasped
in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followedas one intimately connected withthe drama of guilt and sorrow in which they
had all been actorsand well entitledthereforeto be present at itsclosing scene.
"Hadst thou sought the whole earth over" said helooking darklyat the clergyman"there was no one place so
secret--no high place nor lowly placewhere thou couldst have escapedme--save on this very scaffold!"
"Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!" answered the minister.
Yet he trembledand turned to Hester with an expression of doubt and anxietyin his eyesnot the less evidently
betrayedthat there was a feeble smile upon his lips.
"Is not this better" murmured he"than what we dreamed of inthe forest?"
"I know not! I know not!" she hurriedly replied. "Better? Yea;so we may both dieand little Pearl die with us!"
"For thee and Pearlbe 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. ForHesterI am a dying man. Solet me make haste to take my shame upon
Partly supported by Hester Prynneand holding one hand of little Pearl'sthe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned
to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministerswho were hisbrethren; to the peoplewhose great heart was
thoroughly appalledyet overflowing with tearful sympathyas knowing thatsome deep life-matter--whichif full of
sinwas full of anguish and repentance likewise--was now to be laid open tothem. The sunbut little past its meridian
shone down upon the clergymanand gave a distinctness to his figureas hestood out from all the earth to put in his
plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.
"People of New England!" cried hewith a voice that rose overthemhighsolemnand majestic--yet had
always a tremor through itand sometimes a shriekstruggling up out of afathomless depth of remorse and woe--"ye
that have loved me!--yethat have deemed me holy!--behold me herethe onesinner of the world! At last!--at last!--I
stand upon the spot whereseven years sinceI should have stood; herewiththis womanwhose armmore than the
little strength wherewith I have crept hitherwardsustains meat thisdreadful momentfrom grovelling down upon my
face! Lothe scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it!Wherever her walk hath been--whereverso
miserably burdenedshe may have hoped to find repose--it hath cast a luridgleam of awe and horrible repugnance
round about her. But there stood one in the midst of youat whose brand ofsin and infamy ye have not shuddered!"
It seemedat this pointas if the minister must leave the remainder of hissecret undisclosed. But he fought back
the bodily weakness--andstill morethe faintness of heart--that wasstriving for the mastery with him. He threw off all
assistanceand stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and thechild.
"It was on him!" he continuedwith a kind of fierceness; sodetermined was he to speak out the whole. "God's
eye beheld it! The angels were for ever pointing at it! The Devil knew itwelland fretted it continually with the touch
of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from menand walked among youwith the mien of a spiritmournful
because so pure in a sinful world!--and sadbecause he missed his heavenlykindred! Nowat the death-hourhe stands
up before you! He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tellsyouthatwith all its mysterious horrorit is but
the shadow of what he bears on his own breastand that even thishis ownred stigmais no more than the type of what
has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God's judgment on asinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful
witness of it!"
With a convulsive motion he tore away the ministerial band from before hisbreast. It was revealed! But it were
irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant the gaze of thehorror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the
ghastly miracle; while the minister stood with a flush of triumph in hisfaceas one whoin the crisis of acutest pain
had won a victory. Thendown he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raisedhimand supported his head against her.73
bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside himwith a blankdullcountenanceout of which the life seemed to
"Thou hast escaped me!" he repeated more than once. "Thou hastescaped me!"
"May God forgive thee!" said the minister. "Thoutoohastdeeply sinned!"
He withdrew his dying eyes from the old manand fixed them on the woman andthe child.
"My little Pearl" said he feebly--and there was a sweet andgentle smile over his faceas of a spirit sinking into
deep repose; naynow that the burden was removedit seemed almost as if hewould be sportive with the child--"dear
little Pearlwilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not yonderin the forest!But now thou wilt?"
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of griefin whichthe wild infant bore a parthad
developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheekthey were the pledge that she would grow up
amid human joy and sorrownor for ever do battle with the worldbut be awoman in it. Towards her mothertoo
Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
"Hester" said the clergyman"farewell!"
"Shall we not meet again?" whispered shebending her face downclose to his. "Shall we not spend our immortal
life together? Surelysurelywe have ransomed one anotherwith all thiswoe! Thou lookest far into eternitywith those
bright dying eyes! Then tell me what thou seest?"
"HushHesterhush!" said hewith tremulous solemnity. "Thelaw we broke!--the sin here so awfully revealed!--
let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may bethatwhen weforgot our Go d--when we violated our
reverence each for the other's soul--it was thenceforth vain to hope that wecould meet hereafterin an everlasting and
pure reunion. God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercymostof allin my afflictions. By giving me
this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark andterrible old manto keep the torture always at
red-heat! By bringing me hitherto die this death of triumphant ignominybefore the people! Had either of these agonies
been wantingI had been lost for ever! Praised be his name! His will bedone! Farewell!"
That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath. Themultitudesilent till thenbroke out in a
strangedeep voice of awe and wonderwhich could not as yet find utterancesave in this murmur that rolled so heavily
after the departed spirit.
After many dayswhen time sufficed for the people to arrange their thoughtsin reference to the foregoing scene
there was more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold.
Most of the spectators testified to having seenon the breast of the unhappyministera SCARLET LETTER--the
very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne--imprinted in the flesh. Asregarded its originthere were various
explanationsall of which must necessarily have been conjectural. Someaffirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale
on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badgehadbegun a course of penance--which he
afterwardsin so many futile methodsfollowed out--by inflicting a hideoustorture on himself. Others contended that
the stigma had not been produced until a long time subsequentwhen old RogerChillingworthbeing a potent
necromancerhad caused it to appearthrough the agency of magic andpoisonous drugs. Othersagain--and those best
able to appreciate the minister's peculiar sensibilityand the wonderfuloperation of his spirit upon the body--whispered
their beliefthat the awful symbol was the effect of the ever active toothof remorsegnawing from the inmost heart
outwardlyand at last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by the visiblepresence of the letter. The reader may
choose among these theories. We have thrown all the light we could acquireupon the portentand would gladlynow
that it has done its officeerase its deep print out of our own brain; wherelong meditation has fixed it in very
It is singularneverthelessthat certain personswho were spectators ofthe whole sceneand professed never
once to have removed their eyes from the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdaledenied thatthere was any mark whatever on his
breastmore than on a new-born infant's. Neitherby their reporthad hisdying words acknowledgednor even
remotely impliedanythe slightest connectionon his partwith the guiltfor which Hester Prynne had so long worn the
scarlet letter. According to these highly respectable witnessestheministerconscious that he was dying--conscious
alsothat the reverence of the multitude placed him already among saints andangels--had desiredby yielding up his
breath in the arms of that fallen womanto express to the world how utterlynugatory is the choicest of man's own
righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritualgoodhe had made the manner of his death a
parablein order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lessonthatin the view of Infinite Puritywe are
sinners all alike. It was to teach themthat the holiest among us has butattained so far above his fellows as to discern
more clearly the Mercy which looks downand repudiate more utterly thephantom of human meritwhich would look
aspiringly upward. Without disputing a truth so momentouswe must be allowedto consider this version of Mr.
Dimmesdale's story as only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with which aman's friends--and especially a
clergyman's--will sometimes uphold his character; when proofsclear as themid-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 datedrawnup from the verbal testimony of
individualssome of whom had known Hester Prynnewhile others had heard thetale from contemporary witnesses--
fully confirms the view taken in the foregoing pages. Among many morals whichpress upon us from the poor minister's.74
miserable experiencewe put only this into a sentence:--"Be true! Betrue! Be true! Show freely to the worldif not your
worstyet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"
Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took placealmostimmediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's
deathin the appearance and demeanour of the old man known as RogerChillingworth. All his strength and energy--all
his vital and intellectual force--seemed at once to desert him; insomuch thathe positively withered upshrivelled away
and almost vanished from mortal sightlike an uprooted weed that lieswilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made
the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematicexercise of revenge; and whenby its completest
triumph and consummationthat evil principle was left with no furthermaterial to support it--whenin shortthere was
no more devil's work on earth for him to doit only remained for theunhumanized mortal to betake himself whither his
Master would find him tasks enoughand pay him his wages duly. Butto allthese shadowy beingsso long our near
acquaintances--as well Roger Chillingworth as his companions--we would fainbe merciful. It is a curious subject of
observation and inquirywhether hatred and love be not the same thing atbottom. Eachin its utmost development
supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders oneindividual dependent for the food of his
affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate loveror the no less passionate haterforlorn and
desolate by the withdrawal of his object. Philosophically consideredthereforethe two passions seem essentially the
sameexcept that one happens to be seen in a celestial radianceand theother in a dusky and lurid glow. In the spiritual
worldthe old physician and the minister--mutual victims as they havebeen--mayunawareshave found their earthly
stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden love.
Leaving this discussion apartwe have a matter of business to communicate tothe reader. At old Roger
Chillingworth's decease (which took place within the year)and by his lastwill and testamentof which Governor
Bellingham and the Reverend Mr. Wilson were executorshe bequeathed a veryconsiderable amount of propertyboth
here and in Englandto little Pearlthe daughter of Hester Prynne.
So Pearl--the elf-child--the demon offspringas some peopleup to thatepochpersisted in considering her--
became the richest heiress of her dayin the New World. Not improbablythiscircumstance wrought a very material
change in the public estimation; andhad the mother and child remained herelittle Pearlat a marriageable period of
lifemight have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutestPuritan among them all. Butin no long time
after the physician's deaththe wearer of the scarlet letter disappearedand Pearl along with her. For many yearsthough
a vague report would now and then find its way across the sea--like ashapeless piece of driftwood tost ashorewith the
initials of a name upon it--yet no tidings of them unquestionably authenticwere received. The story of the scarlet letter
grew into a legend. Its spellhoweverwas still potentand kept thescaffold awful where the poor minister had died
and likewise the cottage by the sea-shorewhere Hester Prynne had dwelt.Near this latter spotone afternoonsome
children were at playwhen they beheld a tall womanin a gray robeapproach the cottage-door. In all those years it had
never once been opened; but either she unlocked itor the decaying wood andiron yielded to her handor she glided
shadow-like through these impediments--andat all eventswent in.
On the threshold she paused--turned partly round--forperchancethe ideaof enteringall aloneand all so
changedthe home of so intense a former lifewas more dreary and desolatethan even she could bear. But her
hesitation was only for an instantthough long enough to display a scarletletter on her breast.
And Hester Prynne had returnedand taken up her long-forsaken shame. Butwhere was little Pearl? If still alive
she must now have been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood. Noneknew--nor ever learnedwith the fulness of
perfect certainty--whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maidengrave; or whether her wildrich nature had
been softened and subduedand made capable of a woman's gentle happiness.Butthrough the remainder of Hester's
lifethere were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was theobject of love and interest with some inhabitant
of another land. Letters camewith armorial seals upon themthough ofbearings unknown to English heraldry. In the
cottage there were articles of comfort and luxurysuch as Hester never caredto usebut which only wealth could have
purchasedand affection have imagined for her. There were triflestoolittle ornamentsbeautiful tokens of a continual
remembrancethat must have been wrought by delicate fingersat the impulseof a fond heart. AndonceHester was
seen embroidering a baby-garmentwith such a lavish richness of golden fancyas would have raised a public tumult
had any infantthus apparelledbeen shown to our sobre-hued community.
In finethe gossips of that day believed--and Mr. Surveyor Puewho madeinvestigations a century later
believed--and one of his recent successors in officemoreoverfaithfullybelieves--that Pearl was not only alivebut
marriedand happyand mindful of her mother; and that she would mostjoyfully have entertained that sad and lonely
mother at her fireside.
But there was a more real life for Hester Prynneherein New Englandthatin that unknown region where Pearl
had found a home. Here had been her sin; hereher sorrow; and here was yetto be her penitence. She had returned
thereforeand resumed--of her own free willfor not the sternestmagistrate of that iron period would have imposed it--
resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwardsdid it quit her bosom. Butin the lapse of
the toilsomethoughtfuland self-devoted years that made up Hester's lifethe scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which
attracted the world's scorn and bitternessand became a type of something tobe sorrowed overand looked upon with
aweyet with reverence too. Andas Hester Prynne had no selfish endsnorlived in any measure for her own profit and
enjoymentpeople brought all their sorrows and perplexitiesand besoughther counselas one who had herself gone
through a mighty trouble. Womenmore especially--in the continuallyrecurring trials of woundedwastedwronged
misplacedor erring and sinful passion--or with the dreary burden of aheart unyieldedbecause unvalued and.75
unsought--came to Hester's cottagedemanding why they were so wretchedandwhat the remedy! Hester comforted
and counselled themas best she might. She assured themtooof her firmbeliefthatat some brighter periodwhen the
world should have grown ripe for itin Heaven's own timea new truth wouldbe revealedin order to establish the
whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.Earlier in lifeHester had vainly
imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetessbut had longsince recognized the impossibility that any
mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stainedwith sinbowed down with shameor
even burdened with a life-long sorrow. The angel and apostle of the comingrevelation must be a womanindeedbut
loftypureand beautiful; and wisemoreovernot through dusky griefbutthe ethereal medium of joy; and showing
how sacred love should make us happyby the truest test of a life successfulto such an end!
So said Hester Prynneand glanced her sad eyes downward at the scarletletter. Andafter manymany yearsa
new grave was delvednear an old and sunken onein that burial-groundbeside which King's Chapel has since been
built. It was near that old and sunken graveyet with a space betweenas ifthe dust of the two sleepers had no right to
mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both. All aroundthere were monumentscarved with armorial bearings; and on
this simple slab of slate--as the curious investigator may still discernandperplex himself with the purport--there
appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a deviceaherald's wording of which might serve for a
motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre is itandrelieved only by one ever-glowing point
of light gloomier than the shadow:--
"On a fieldsablethe letter Agules."