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THE SCARLET LETTER

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

EDITOR'S NOTE

Nathaniel Hawthorne was already a man of forty-sixand a tale
writer of some twenty-four years' standingwhen "The Scarlet
Letter" appeared. He was born at SalemMass.on July 4th1804
son of a sea-captain. He led there a shy and rather sombre life;
of few artistic encouragementsyet not wholly uncongenialhis
moodyintensely meditative temperament being considered. Its
colours and shadows are marvelously reflected in his "Twice-Told
Tales" and other short storiesthe product of his first literary
period. Even his college days at Bowdoin did not quite break
through his acquired and inherited reserve; but beneath it all
his faculty of divining men and women was exercised with almost
uncanny prescience and subtlety. "The Scarlet Letter which
explains as much of this unique imaginative art, as is to be
gathered from reading his highest single achievement, yet needs
to be ranged with his other writings, early and late, to have its
last effect. In the year that saw it published, he began The
House of the Seven Gables a later romance or prose-tragedy of
the Puritan-American community as he had himself known it defrauded
of art and the joy of life, starving for symbols" as
Emerson has it. Nathaniel Hawthorne died at PlymouthNew
Hampshireon May 18th1864.

The following is the table of his romances
storiesand other works:

Fanshawepublished anonymously1826; Twice-Told Tales1st
Series1837; 2nd Series1842; Grandfather's Chaira history
for youth1845: Famous Old People (Grandfather's Chair)1841
Liberty Tree: with the last words of Grandfather's Chair1842;
Biographical Stories for Children1842; Mosses from an Old
Manse1846; The Scarlet Letter1850; The House of the Seven
Gables1851: True Stories from History and Biography (the whole
History of Grandfather's Chair)1851 A Wonder Book for Girls and
Boys1851; The Snow Image and other Tales1851: The Blithedale
Romance1852; Life of Franklin Pierce1852; Tanglewood Tales
(2nd Series of the Wonder Book)1853; A Rill from the Town-Pump
with remarksby Telba1857; The Marble Faun; orThe Romance of
Monte Beni (4 EDITOR'S NOTE) (published in England under the
title of "Transformation")1860Our Old Home1863; Dolliver
Romance (1st Part in "Atlantic Monthly")1864; in 3 Parts1876;
Pansiea fragmentHawthorne' last literary effort1864;
American Note-Books1868; English Note Booksedited by Sophia
Hawthorne1870; French and Italian Note Books1871; Septimius
Felton; orthe Elixir of Life (from the "Atlantic Monthly")
1872; Doctor Grimshawe's Secretwith Preface and Notes by
Julian Hawthorne1882.

Tales of the White HillsLegends of New EnglandLegends of the
Province House1877contain tales which had already been
printed in book form in "Twice-Told Tales" and the "Mosses"


Sketched and Studies,1883.

Hawthorne's contributions to magazines were numerousand most of
his tales appeared first in periodicalschiefly in "The Token
1831-1838, New England Magazine 1834,1835; Knickerbocker
1837-1839; Democratic Review 1838-1846; Atlantic Monthly
1860-1872 (scenes from the Dolliver Romance, Septimius Felton,
and passages from Hawthorne's Note-Books).

Works: in 24 volumes, 1879; in 12 volumes, with introductory
notes by Lathrop, Riverside Edition, 1883.

Biography, etc. ; A. H. Japp (pseud. H. A. Page), Memoir of N.
Hawthorne, 1872; J. T. Field's Yesterdays with Authors 1873 G.

P. Lathrop, A Study of Hawthorne 1876; Henry James English Men
of Letters, 1879; Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his
wife 1885; Moncure D. Conway, Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
1891; Analytical Index of Hawthorne's Works, by E. M. O'Connor
1882.
CONTENTS
INTRODUCTORY. THE CUSTOM-HOUSE
CHAPTER I. THE PRISON-DOOR
CHAPTER II. THE MARKET-PLACE
CHAPTER III. THE RECOGNITION
CHAPTER IV. THE INTERVIEW
CHAPTER V. HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
CHAPTER VI. PEARL
CHAPTER VII. THE GOVERNOR'S HALL
CHAPTER VIII. THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER
CHAPTER IX. THE LEECH
CHAPTER X. THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT
CHAPTER XI. THE INTERIOR OF A HEART
CHAPTER XII. THE MINISTER'S VIGIL
CHAPTER XIII. ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER
CHAPTER XIV. HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN
CHAPTER XV. HESTER AND PEARL
CHAPTER XVI. A FOREST WALK
CHAPTER XVII. THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER
CHAPTER XVIII. A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE
CHAPTER XIX. THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE
CHAPTER XX. THE MINISTER IN A MAZE


CHAPTER XXI. THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY

CHAPTER XXII. THE PROCESSION

CHAPTER XXIII. THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER

CHAPTER XXIV. CONCLUSION

THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

INTRODUCTORY TO THE SCARLET LETTER"

It is a little remarkablethat--though disinclined to talk
overmuch of myself and my affairs at the firesideand to my
personal friends--an autobiographical impulse should twice in
my life have taken possession of mein addressing the public.
The first time was three or four years sincewhen I favoured the
reader--inexcusablyand for no earthly reason that either the
indulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine--with a
description of my way of life in the deep quietude of an Old
Manse. And now--becausebeyond my desertsI was happy enough
to find a listener or two on the former occasion--I again seize
the public by the buttonand talk of my three years' experience
in a Custom-House. The example of the famous "P. P.Clerk of
this Parish was never more faithfully followed. The truth
seems to be, however, that when he casts his leaves forth upon
the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside
his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand
him better than most of his schoolmates or lifemates. Some
authors, indeed, do far more than this, and indulge themselves in
such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be
addressed only and exclusively to the one heart and
mind of perfect sympathy; as if the printed book, thrown at large
on the wide world, were certain to find out the divided segment
of the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of existence
by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely decorous,
however, to speak all, even where we speak impersonally. But, as
thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker
stand in some true relation with his audience, it may be
pardonable to imagine that a friend, a kind and apprehensive,
though not the closest friend, is listening to our talk; and
then, a native reserve being thawed by this genial consciousness,
we may prate of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of
ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this
extent, and within these limits, an author, methinks, may be
autobiographical, without violating either the reader's rights or
his own.

It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom-House sketch has a
certain propriety, of a kind always recognised in literature, as
explaining how a large portion of the following pages came into
my possession, and as offering proofs of the authenticity of a
narrative therein contained. This, in fact--a desire to put
myself in my true position as editor, or very little more, of the
most prolix among the tales that make up my volume--this, and
no other, is my true reason for assuming a personal relation with
the public. In accomplishing the main purpose, it has appeared
allowable, by a few extra touches, to give a faint representation
of a mode of life not heretofore described, together with some of


the characters that move in it, among whom the author happened to
make one.

In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, half a century
ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf--but
which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, and
exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life; except, perhaps,
a bark or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, discharging
hides; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, pitching out
her cargo of firewood--at the head, I say, of this dilapidated
wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along which, at the
base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the track of many
languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass--here,
with a view from its front windows adown this not very enlivening
prospect, and thence across the harbour, stands a spacious
edifice of brick. From the loftiest point of its roof, during
precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats or
droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but with
the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally,
and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military, post of
Uncle Sam's government is here established. Its front is
ornamented with a portico of half-a-dozen wooden pillars,
supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide granite
steps descends towards the street Over the entrance hovers an
enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a
shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of
intermingled thunder- bolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With
the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy
fowl, she appears by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the
general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the
inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens careful of their
safety against intruding on the premises which she overshadows
with her wings. Nevertheless, vixenly as she looks, many people
are seeking at this very moment to shelter themselves under the
wing of the federal eagle; imagining, I presume, that her bosom
has all the softness and snugness of an eiderdown pillow. But
she has no great tenderness even in her best of moods, and,
sooner or later--oftener soon than late--is apt to fling off
her nestlings with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a
rankling wound from her barbed arrows.

The pavement round about the above-described edifice--which we
may as well name at once as the Custom-House of the port--has
grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of
late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business. In
some months of the year, however, there often chances a forenoon
when affairs move onward with a livelier tread. Such occasions
might remind the elderly citizen of that period, before the last
war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned,
as she is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners, who permit
her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell,
needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at New
York or Boston. On some such morning, when three or four vessels
happen to have arrived at once usually from Africa or South
America--or to be on the verge of their departure thitherward,
there is a sound of frequent feet passing briskly up and down the
granite steps. Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you
may greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in port, with his
vessel's papers under his arm in a
tarnished tin box. Here, too, comes his owner, cheerful, sombre,
gracious or in the sulks, accordingly as his scheme of the now
accomplished voyage has been realized in merchandise that will
readily be turned to gold, or has buried him under a bulk of
incommodities such as nobody will care to rid him of. Here,


likewise--the germ of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded,
careworn merchant--we have the smart young clerk, who gets the
taste of traffic as a wolf-cub does of blood, and already sends
adventures in his master's ships, when he had better be sailing
mimic boats upon a mill-pond. Another figure in the scene is the
outward-bound sailor, in quest of a protection; or the recently
arrived one, pale and feeble, seeking a passport to the hospital.
Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners
that bring firewood from the British provinces; a rough-looking
set of tarpaulins, without the alertness of the Yankee aspect,
but contributing an item of no slight importance to our decaying
trade.

Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were,
with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for
the time being, it made the Custom-House a stirring scene. More
frequently, however, on ascending the steps, you would discern -in
the entry if it were summer time, or in their appropriate
rooms if wintry or inclement weathers row of venerable figures,
sitting in old-fashioned chairs, which were tipped on their hind
legs back against the wall. Oftentimes they were asleep, but
occasionally might be heard talking together, ill
voices between a speech and a snore, and with that lack of energy
that distinguishes the occupants of alms-houses, and all other
human beings who depend for subsistence on charity, on
monopolized labour, or anything else but their own independent
exertions. These old gentlemen--seated, like Matthew at the
receipt of custom, but not very liable to be summoned thence,
like him, for apostolic errands--were Custom-House officers.

Furthermore, on the left hand as you enter the front door, is a
certain room or office, about fifteen feet square, and of a lofty
height, with two of its arched windows commanding a view of the
aforesaid dilapidated wharf, and the third looking across a
narrow lane, and along a portion of Derby Street. All three give
glimpses of the shops of grocers, block-makers, slop-sellers, and
ship-chandlers, around the doors of which are generally to be
seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of old salts, and such
other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping of a seaport. The room
itself is cobwebbed, and dingy with old paint; its floor is
strewn with grey sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen
into long disuse; and it is easy to conclude, from the general
slovenliness of the place, that this is a sanctuary into which
womankind, with her tools of magic, the broom and mop, has very
infrequent access. In the way of furniture, there is a stove
with a voluminous funnel; an old pine desk with a three-legged
stool beside it; two or three wooden-bottom chairs, exceedingly
decrepit and infirm; and--not to forget the library--on some
shelves, a score or two of volumes of the Acts of Congress, and a
bulky Digest of the Revenue laws. A
tin pipe ascends through the ceiling, and forms a medium of vocal
communication with other parts of be edifice. And here, some six
months ago--pacing from corner to corner, or lounging on the
long-legged tool, with his elbow on the desk, and his eyes
wandering up and down the columns of the morning newspaper--you
might have recognised, honoured reader, the same individual who
welcomed you into his cheery little study, where the sunshine
glimmered so pleasantly through the willow branches on the
western side of the Old Manse. But now, should you go thither to
seek him, you would inquire in vain for the Locofoco Surveyor.
The besom of reform hath swept him out of office, and a worthier
successor wears his dignity and pockets his emoluments.

This old town of Salem--my native place, though I have dwelt


much away from it both in boyhood and maturer years--possesses,
or did possess, a hold on my affection, the force of which I have
never realized during my seasons of actual residence here.
Indeed, so far as its physical aspect is concerned, with its
flat, unvaried surface, covered chiefly with wooden houses, few
or none of which pretend to architectural beauty--its
irregularity, which is neither picturesque nor quaint, but only
tame--its long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through
the whole extent of the peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New
Guinea at one end, and a view of the alms-house at the other--such
being the features of my native town, it would be quite as
reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a disarranged
checker-board. And yet, though invariably happiest elsewhere,
there is within me a feeling for Old Salem, which, in lack of a
better phrase, I must be content to call affection. The sentiment is
probably assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family
has stuck into the soil. It is now nearly two centuries and a
quarter since the original Briton, the earliest emigrant of my
name, made his appearance in the wild and forest--bordered
settlement which has since become a city. And here his
descendants have been born and died, and have mingled their
earthly substance with the soil, until no small portion of it
must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a
little while, I walk the streets. In part, therefore, the
attachment which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust
for dust. Few of my countrymen can know what it is; nor, as
frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stock, need
they consider it desirable to know.

But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The figure of
that first ancestor, invested by family tradition with a dim and
dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish imagination as far back
as I can remember. It still haunts me, and induces a sort of
home-feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in reference
to the present phase of the town. I seem to have a stronger
claim to a residence here on account of this grave, bearded,
sable-cloaked, and steeple-crowned progenitor-who came so early,
with his Bible and his sword, and trode the unworn street with
such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a man of war
and peace--a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is
seldom heard and my face hardly known. He was a soldier,
legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the Church; he had all the
Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was
likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness the Quakers, who have
remembered him in their histories, and relate an incident of his
hard severity towards a woman of their sect, which will last
longer, it is to be feared, than any record of his better deeds,
although these were many. His son, too, inherited the
persecuting spirit, and made himself so conspicuous in the
martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to
have left a stain upon him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his
dry old bones, in the Charter-street burial-ground, must still
retain it, if they have not crumbled utterly to dust I know not
whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent,
and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties; or whether they are
now groaning under the heavy consequences of them in another
state of being. At all events, I, the present writer, as their
representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes,
and pray that any curse incurred by them--as I have heard, and
as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the race, for many a
long year back, would argue to exist--may be now and henceforth
removed.

Doubtless, however, either of these stern and black-browed


Puritans would have thought it quite a sufficient retribution for
his sins that, after so long a lapse of years, the old trunk of
the family tree, with so much venerable moss upon it, should have
borne, as its topmost bough, an idler like myself. No aim that I
have ever cherished would they recognise as laudable; no success
of mine--if my life, beyond its domestic scope, had ever been
brightened by success--would they deem otherwise
than worthless, if not positively disgraceful. What is he?"
murmurs one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other. "A
writer of story books! What kind of business 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 my great grandsires and myselfacross the gulf of time
And yetlet them scorn me as they willstrong traits of their
nature have intertwined themselves with mine.

Planted deepin the town's earliest infancy and childhoodby
these two earnest and energetic menthe race has ever since
subsisted here; alwaystooin respectability; neverso far as
I have knowndisgraced by a single unworthy member; but seldom
or neveron the other handafter the first two generations
performing any memorable deedor so much as putting forward a
claim to public notice. Graduallythey have sunk almost out of
sight; as old houseshere and there about the streetsget
covered half-way to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil.
From father to sonfor above a hundred yearsthey followed the
sea; a grey-headed shipmasterin each generationretiring from
the quarter-deck to the homesteadwhile a boy of fourteen took
the hereditary place before the mastconfronting the salt spray
and the gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire.
The boyalso in due timepassed from the forecastle to the
cabinspent a tempestuous manhoodand returned from his
world-wanderingsto grow oldand dieand mingle his dust with
the natal earth. This long connexion of a
family with one spotas its place of birth and burialcreates a
kindred between the human being and the localityquite
independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances
that surround him. It is not love but instinct. The new
inhabitant--who came himself from a foreign landor whose
father or grandfather came--has little claim to be called a
Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster--like tenacity
with which an old settlerover whom his third century is
creepingclings to the spot where his successive generations
have been embedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless
for him; that he is weary of the old wooden housesthe mud and
dustthe dead level of site and sentimentthe chill east wind
and the chillest of social atmospheres;--all theseand
whatever faults besides he may see or imagineare nothing to the
purpose. The spell survivesand just as powerfully as if the
natal spot were an earthly paradise. So has it been in my case.
I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home; so that the
mould of features and cast of character which had all along been
familiar here--everas one representative of the race lay down
in the graveanother assumingas it werehis sentry-march
along the main street--might still in my little day be seen and
recognised in the old town. Neverthelessthis very sentiment is
an evidence that the connexionwhich has become an unhealthy
oneshould at least be severed. Human nature will not flourish
any more than a potatoif it be planted and re-plantedfor too
long a series of generationsin the same worn-out soil. My
children have had other birth-placesandso far as their
fortunes may be within my controlshall strike their roots into
accustomed earth.


On emerging from the Old Manseit was chiefly this strange
indolentunjoyous attachment for my native town that brought me
to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edificewhen I might as
wellor betterhave gone somewhere else. My doom was on meIt
was not the first timenor the secondthat I had gone away--as it
seemedpermanently--but yet returnedlike the bad
halfpennyor as if Salem were for me the inevitable centre of
the universe. Soone fine morning I ascended the flight of
granite stepswith the President's commission in my pocketand
was introduced to the corps of gentlemen who were to aid me in my
weighty responsibility as chief executive officer of the
Custom-House.

I doubt greatly--orratherI do not doubt at all--whether
any public functionary of the United Stateseither in the civil
or military linehas ever had such a patriarchal body of
veterans under his orders as myself. The whereabouts of the
Oldest Inhabitant was at once settled when I looked at them. For
upwards of twenty years before this epochthe independent
position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House out of
the whirlpool of political vicissitudewhich makes the tenure of
office generally so fragile. A soldier--New England's most
distinguished soldier--he stood firmly on the pedestal of his
gallant services; andhimself secure in the wise liberality of
the successive administrations through which he had held office
he had been the safety of his subordinates in many an hour of
danger and heart-quake General Miller was radically conservative;
a man over whose kindly nature habit had no slight
influence; attaching himself strongly to familiar facesand with
difficulty moved to changeeven when change might have brought
unquestionable improvement. Thuson taking charge of my
departmentI found few but aged men. They were ancient
sea-captainsfor the most partwhoafter being tossed on every
seaand standing up sturdily against life's tempestuous blast
had finally drifted into this quiet nookwherewith little to
disturb 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 other that kept
death at bay. Two or three of their numberas I was assured
being gouty and rheumaticor perhaps bed-riddennever dreamed
of making their appearance at the Custom-House during a large
part of the year; butafter a torpid winterwould creep out
into the warm sunshine of May or Junego lazily about what they
termed dutyandat their own leisure and conveniencebetake
themselves to bed again. I must plead guilty to the charge of
abbreviating the official breath of more than one of these
venerable servants of the republic. They were allowedon my
representationto rest from their arduous laboursand soon
afterwards--as if their sole principle of life had been zeal
for their country's service--as I verily believe it was--withdrew
to a better world. It is a pious consolation to me
thatthrough my interferencea sufficient space was allowed
them for repentance of the evil and corrupt practices into
whichas a matter of courseevery Custom-House officer must be
supposed to fall. Neither the front nor the back entrance of the
Custom-House opens on the road to Paradise.

The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It was well for
their venerable brotherhood that the new Surveyor was not a
politicianand though a faithful Democrat in principleneither
received nor held his office with any reference to political
services. Had it been otherwise--had an active politician been


put into this influential postto assume the easy task of making
head against a Whig Collectorwhose infirmities withheld him
from the personal administration of his office--hardly a man of
the old corps would have drawn the breath of official life within
a month after the exterminating angel had come up the
Custom-House steps. According to the received code in such
mattersit would have been nothing short of dutyin a
politicianto bring every one of those white heads under the axe
of the guillotine. It was plain enough to discern that the old
fellows dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands. It pained
and at the same time amused meto behold the terrors that
attended my adventto see a furrowed cheekweather-beaten by
half a century of stormturn ashy pale at the glance of so
harmless an individual as myself; to detectas one or another
addressed methe tremor of a voice whichin long-past dayshad
been wont to bellow through a speaking-trumpethoarsely enough
to frighten Boreas himself to silence. They knewthese
excellent old personsthatby all established rule--andas
regarded some of themweighed by their own lack of
efficiency for business--they ought to have given place to
younger menmore orthodox in politicsand altogether fitter
than themselves to serve our common Uncle. I knew ittoobut
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 official consciencethey
continuedduring my incumbencyto creep about the wharvesand
loiter up and down the Custom-House steps. They spent a good
deal of timealsoasleep in their accustomed cornerswith
their chairs tilted back against the walls; awakinghowever
once or twice in the forenoonto bore one another with the
several thousandth repetition of old sea-stories and mouldy
jokesthat had grown to be passwords and countersigns among
them.

The discovery was soon madeI imaginethat the new Surveyor had
no great harm in him. Sowith lightsome hearts and the happy
consciousness of being usefully employed--in their own behalf
at leastif not for our beloved country--these good old
gentlemen went through the various formalities of office.
Sagaciously under their spectaclesdid they peep into the holds
of vessels Mighty was their fuss about little mattersand
marvelloussometimesthe obtuseness that allowed greater ones
to slip between their fingers Whenever such a mischance
occurred--when a waggon-load of valuable merchandise had been
smuggled ashoreat noondayperhapsand directly beneath their
unsuspicious noses--nothing could exceed the vigilance and
alacrity with which they proceeded to lockand double-lockand
secure with tape and sealing--waxall the avenues of
the delinquent vessel. Instead of a reprimand for their previous
negligencethe case seemed rather to require an eulogium on
their praiseworthy caution after the mischief had happened; a
grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal the moment
that there was no longer any remedy.

Unless people are more than commonly disagreeableit is my
foolish habit to contract a kindness for them. The better part
of my companion's characterif it have a better partis that
which usually comes uppermost in my regardand forms the type
whereby I recognise the man. As most of these old Custom-House
officers had good traitsand as my position in reference to
thembeing paternal and protectivewas favourable to the growth
of friendly sentimentsI soon grew to like them all. It was
pleasant in the summer forenoons--when the fervent heatthat
almost liquefied the rest of the human familymerely


communicated a genial warmth to their half 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 intellect
any more than a deep sense of humourhas little to do with the
matter; it iswith botha gleam that plays upon the surface
and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect alike to the green branch
and greymouldering 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 my excellent old friends as in their dotage. In
the first placemy coadjutors were not invariably old; there
were men among them in their strength and primeof marked
ability and energyand altogether superior to the sluggish and
dependent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them.
Thenmoreoverthe white locks of age were sometimes found to be
the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair. Butas
respects the majority of my corps of veteransthere will be no
wrong done if I characterize them generally as a set of wearisome
old soulswho had gathered nothing worth preservation from their
varied experience of life. They seemed to have flung away all
the golden grain of practical wisdomwhich they had enjoyed so
many opportunities of harvestingand most carefully to have
stored their memory with the husks. They spoke with far more
interest and unction of their morning's breakfastor
yesterday'sto-day'sor tomorrow's dinnerthan of the
shipwreck of forty or fifty years agoand all the world's
wonders which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes.

The father of the Custom-House--the patriarchnot only of this
little squad of officialsbutI am bold to sayof the
respectable body of tide-waiters all over the United
States--was a certain permanent Inspector. He might truly
be termed a legitimate son of the revenue systemdyed in
the woolor rather born in the purple; since his sirea
Revolutionary coloneland formerly collector of the port
had created an office for himand appointed him to fill it
at a period of the early ages which few living men
can now remember. This Inspectorwhen I first knew himwas a
man of fourscore yearsor thereaboutsand certainly one of the
most wonderful specimens of winter-green that you would be likely
to discover in a lifetime's search. With his florid cheekhis
compact figure smartly arrayed in a bright-buttoned blue coat
his brisk and vigorous stepand his hale and hearty aspect
altogether he seemed--not youngindeed--but a kind of new
contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape of manwhom age and
infirmity had no business to touch. His voice and laughwhich
perpetually re-echoed through the Custom-Househad nothing of
the tremulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance; they
came strutting out of his lungslike the crow of a cockor the
blast of a clarion. Looking at him merely as an animal--and
there was very little else to look at--he was a most
satisfactory objectfrom the thorough healthfulness and
wholesomeness of his systemand his capacityat that extreme
ageto enjoy allor nearly allthe delights which he had ever
aimed at or conceived of. The careless security of his life in
the Custom-Houseon a regular incomeand with but slight and
infrequent apprehensions of removalhad no doubt contributed to
make time pass lightly over him. The original and more potent
causeshoweverlay in the rare perfection of his animal nature
the moderate proportion of intellectand the very trifling


admixture of moral and spiritual ingredients; these latter
qualitiesindeedbeing in barely enough measure to keep the old
gentleman from walking on all-fours. He possessed no power of
thought no depth of feelingno troublesome sensibilities: nothing
in shortbut a few commonplace instincts
whichaided by the cheerful temper which grew inevitably out of
his physical well-beingdid duty very respectablyand to
general acceptancein lieu of a heart. He had been the husband
of three wivesall long since dead; the father of twenty
childrenmost of whomat every age of childhood or maturity
had likewise returned to dust. Hereone would supposemight
have been sorrow enough to imbue the sunniest disposition through
and through with a sable tinge. Not so with our old Inspector
One brief sigh sufficed to carry off the entire burden of these
dismal reminiscences. The next moment he was as ready for sport
as any unbreeched infant: far readier than the Collector's junior
clerkwho at nineteen years was much the elder and graver man of
the two.

I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage withI
thinklivelier curiosity than any other form of humanity there
presented to my notice. He wasin trutha rare phenomenon; so
perfectin one point of view; so shallowso delusiveso
impalpable such an absolute nonentityin every other. My
conclusion was that he had no soulno heartno mind; nothing
as I have already saidbut instincts; and yetwithalso
cunningly had the few materials of his character been put
together that there was no painful perception of deficiencybut
on my partan entire contentment with what I found in him. It
might be difficult--and it was so--to conceive how he should
exist hereafterso earthly and sensuous did he seem; but surely
his existence hereadmitting that it was to terminate with his
last breathhad been not unkindly given; with no higher moral
responsibilities than the beasts of the fieldbut with a larger scope
of enjoyment than theirsand with all their blessed immunity from
the dreariness and duskiness of age.

One point in which he had vastly the advantage over his
four-footed brethren was his ability to recollect the good
dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of
his life to eat. His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait;
and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle
or an oyster. As he possessed no higher attributeand neither
sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all
his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit
of his mawit always pleased and satisfied me to hear him
expatiate on fishpoultryand butcher's meatand the most
eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His
reminiscences of good cheerhowever ancient the date of the
actual banquetseemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey under
one's very nostrils. There were flavours on his palate that had
lingered there not less than sixty or seventy yearsand were
still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop which he had
just devoured for his breakfast. 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 or retributionbut as if grateful for his former
appreciationand seeking to repudiate an endless series of
enjoyment. at once shadowy and sensualA tender loin of beefa
hind-quarter of veala spare-rib of porka particular chickenor a
remarkably praiseworthy turkeywhich had perhaps adorned his board
in the days of the elder Adamswould be remembered; while all the
subsequent experience of our raceand all the events that


brightened or darkened his individual careerhad gone over him
with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief
tragic event of the old man's lifeso far as I could judgewas
his mishap with a certain goosewhich lived and died some twenty
or forty years ago: a goose of most promising figurebut which
at tableproved so inveterately toughthat the carving-knife
would make no impression on its carcaseand it could only be
divided with an axe and handsaw.

But it is time to quit this sketch; on whichhoweverI should
be glad to dwell at considerably more lengthbecause of all men
whom I have ever knownthis individual was fittest to be a
Custom-House officer. Most personsowing to causes which I may
not have space to hint atsuffer moral detriment from this
peculiar mode of life. The old Inspector was incapable of it;
andwere he to continue in office to tile end of 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
portraits would be strangely incompletebut which my
comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to
sketch only in the merest outline. It is that of the Collector
our gallant old Generalwhoafter his brilliant military
servicesubsequently to which he had ruled over a wild Western
territoryhad come hithertwenty years beforeto spend the
decline of his varied and honourable life.

The brave soldier had already numberednearly or quitehis
three-score years and tenand was pursuing the remainder of his
earthly marchburdened with infirmities which even the martial
music of his own spirit-stirring recollections could do little
towards lightening. The step was palsied nowthat had been
foremost in the charge. It was only with the assistance of a
servantand by leaning his hand heavily on the iron balustrade
that he could slowly and painfully ascend the Custom-House steps
andwith a toilsome progress across the floorattain his
customary chair beside the fireplace. There he used to sit
gazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures that
came and wentamid the rustle of papersthe administering of
oathsthe discussion of businessand the casual talk of the
office; all which sounds and circumstances seemed but
indistinctly to impress his sensesand hardly to make their way
into his inner sphere of contemplation. His countenancein this
reposewas mild and kindly. If his notice was soughtan
expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his
featuresproving that there was light within 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 speak or listen--either of which
operations cost him an evident effort--his face would briefly
subside into its former not uncheerful quietude. It was not
painful to behold this look; forthough dimit had not the
imbecility of decaying age. The framework of his nature
originally strong and massivewas not yet crumpled into ruin.

To observe and define his characterhoweverunder such
disadvantageswas as difficult a task as to trace out and build
up anewin imaginationan old fortresslike Ticonderogafrom
a view of its grey and broken ruins. Here and thereperchance
the walls may remain almost complete; but elsewhere may be only a
shapeless moundcumbrous with its very strengthand overgrown
through long years of peace and neglectwith grass and alien


weeds.

Neverthelesslooking at the old warrior with affection--for
slight as was the 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 and heroic
qualities which showed it to be not a mere accidentbut of good
rightthat he had won a distinguished name. His spirit could
neverI conceivehave been characterized by an uneasy activity;
it mustat any period of his lifehave required an impulse to
set him in motion; but once stirred upwith obstacles to
overcomeand an adequate object to be attainedit was not in
the man to give out or fail. The heat that had formerly pervaded
his natureand which was not yet extinctwas never of the kind
that flashes and flickers in a blaze; but rather a deep red glow
as of iron in a furnace. Weightsolidityfirmness--this was
the expression of his reposeeven in such decay as had crept
untimely over him at the period of which I speak. But I could
imagineeven thenthatunder some excitement which should go
deeply into his consciousness--roused by a trumpets realloud
enough to awaken all of his energies that
were not deadbut only slumbering--he was yet capable of
flinging off his infirmities like a sick man's gowndropping the
staff of age to seize a battle-swordand starting up once more a
warrior. Andin so intense a moment his demeanour would have
still been calm. Such an exhibitionhoweverwas but to be
pictured in fancy; not to be anticipatednor desired. What I
saw in him--as evidently as the indestructible ramparts of Old
Ticonderogaalready cited as the most appropriate simile--was
the features 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 or unmanageable
as a ton of iron ore; and of benevolence whichfiercely as he
led the bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort ErieI take to be of
quite as genuine a stamp as what actuates any or all the
polemical philanthropists of the age. He had slain men with his
own handfor aught I know--certainlythey had fallen like
blades of grass at the sweep of the scythe before the charge to
which his spirit imparted its triumphant energy--butbe that
as it mightthere was never in his heart so much cruelty as
would have brushed the down off a butterfly's wing. I have not
known the man to whose innate kindliness I would more confidently
make an appeal.

Many characteristics--and thosetoowhich contribute not the
least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch--must have
vanishedor been obscuredbefore I met the General. All merely
graceful 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-flowers over the ruined
fortress of Ticonderoga. Stilleven in respect of grace and
beautythere were points well worth noting. A ray of humour
now and thenwould make its way through the veil of dim
obstructionand glimmer pleasantly upon our faces. A trait of
native eleganceseldom seen in the masculine character after
childhood or early youthwas shown in the General's fondness for
the sight and fragrance of flowers. An old soldier might be
supposed to prize only the bloody laurel on his brow; but here
was one who seemed to have a young girl's appreciation of the
floral tribe.


Therebeside the fireplacethe brave old General used to sit;
while the Surveyor--though seldomwhen it could be avoided
taking upon himself the difficult task of engaging him in
conversation--was fond of standing at a distanceand watching
his quiet and almost slumberous countenance. He seemed away from
usalthough 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 be that
he lived a more real life within his thoughts than amid the
unappropriate environment of the Collector's office. The
evolutions of the parade; the tumult of the battle; the flourish
of old heroic musicheard thirty years before--such scenes and
soundsperhapswere all alive before his intellectual sense.
Meanwhilethe merchants and ship-mastersthe spruce clerks and
uncouth sailorsentered and departed; the bustle of
his commercial and Custom-House life kept up its little murmur
round about him; and neither with the men nor their affairs did
the General appear to sustain the most distant relation. He was
as much out of place as an old sword--now rustybut which had
flashed once in the battle's frontand showed still a bright
gleam along its blade--would have been among the inkstands
paper-foldersand mahogany rulers on the Deputy Collector's
desk.

There was one thing that much aided me in renewing and
re-creating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier--the
man of true and simple energy. It was the recollection of those
memorable words of his--"I'll trySir"--spoken on the very
verge of a desperate and heroic enterpriseand breathing the
soul and spirit of New England hardihoodcomprehending all
perilsand encountering all. Ifin our countryvalour were
rewarded by heraldic honourthis phrase--which it seems so
easy to speakbut which only hewith such a task of danger and
glory before himhas ever spoken--would be the best and
fittest of all mottoes for the General's shield of arms.
It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual
health to be brought into habits of companionship with
individuals unlike himselfwho care little for his pursuitsand
whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to
appreciate. The accidents of my life have often afforded me this
advantagebut never with more fulness and variety than during my
continuance in office. There was one manespeciallythe
observation 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 them vanish
as by the waving of an enchanter's wand. Bred up from boyhood in
the Custom-Houseit was his proper field of activity; and the
many intricacies of businessso harassing to the interloper
presented themselves before him with 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 mainspring that kept its
variously revolving wheels in motion; forin an institution
like thiswhere its officers are appointed to subserve their own
profit and convenienceand seldom with a leading reference to
their fitness for the duty to be performedthey must perforce
seek elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them. Thusby an
inevitable necessityas a magnet attracts steel-filingsso did
our man of business draw to himself the difficulties which
everybody met with. With an easy condescensionand kind
forbearance towards our stupidity--whichto his order of mind
must have seemed little short of crime--would he forth-withby
the merest touch of his fingermake the incomprehensible as


clear as daylight. The merchants valued him not less than we
his esoteric friends. His integrity was perfect; it was a law of
nature with himrather than a choice or a principle; nor can it
be otherwise than the main condition of an intellect so
remarkably clear and accurate as his to be honest and regular in
the administration of affairs. A stain on his conscienceas to
anything that came within the range of his vocationwould trouble
such a man very much in the same waythough to a far greater degree
than an error in the balance of an accountor an ink-blot on the
fair page of a book of record. Herein a word--and it is a
rare instance in my life--I had met with a person thoroughly
adapted to the situation which he held.

Such were some of the people with whom I now found myself
connected. I took it in good partat the hands of Providence
that I was thrown into a position so little akin to my past
habits; and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever
profit was to be had. After my fellowship of toil and
impracticable schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm;
after living for three years within the subtle influence of an
intellect like Emerson's; after those wildfree days on the
Assabethindulging fantastic speculationsbeside our fire of
fallen boughswith Ellery Channing; after talking with Thoreau
about pine-trees and Indian relics in his hermitage at Walden;
after growing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement
of Hillard's culture; after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment
at Longfellow's hearthstone--it was timeat lengththat I
should exercise other faculties of my natureand nourish myself
with food for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the
old Inspector was desirableas a change of dietto a man who
had known Alcott. I looked upon it as an evidencein some
measureof a system naturally well balancedand lacking no
essential part of a thorough organizationthatwith such
associates to rememberI could mingle at once with men of
altogether different qualitiesand never murmur at the change.

Literatureits exertions and objectswere now of little moment
in my regard. I cared not at this period for books; they were
apart from me. Nature--except it were human nature--the
nature that is developed in earth and skywasin one sense
hidden from me; and all the imaginative delight wherewith it had
been spiritualized passed away out of my mind. A gifta
facultyif it had not been departedwas suspended and inanimate
within me. There would have been something sadunutterably
drearyin all thishad I not been conscious that it lay at my
own option to recall whatever was valuable in the past. It might
be trueindeedthat this was a life which could notwith
impunitybe lived too long; elseit might make me permanently
other than I had beenwithout transforming me into any shape
which it would be worth my while to take. But I never considered
it as other than a transitory life. There was always a prophetic
instincta low whisper in my earthat within no long period
and whenever a new change of custom should be essential to my
goodchange would come.

Meanwhilethere I wasa Surveyor of the Revenue andso far as
I have been able to understandas good a Surveyor as need be. A
man of thoughtfancyand sensibility (had he ten times the
Surveyor's proportion of those qualities)mayat any timebe a
man of affairsif he will only choose to give himself the
trouble. My fellow-officersand the merchants and sea-captains
with whom my official duties brought me into any manner of
connectionviewed me in no other lightand probably knew me in
no other character. None of themI presumehad


ever read a page of my inditingor would have cared a fig the
more for me if they had read them all; nor would it have mended
the matterin the leasthad those same unprofitable pages been
written with a pen like that of Burns or of Chaucereach of whom
was a Custom-House officer in his dayas well as I. It is a
good lesson--though it may often be a hard one--for a man who
has dreamed of literary fameand of making for himself a rank
among the world's dignitaries by such meansto step aside out of
the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized and to find
how utterly devoid of significancebeyond that circleis all
that he achievesand all he aims at. I know not that I
especially needed the lessoneither in the way of warning or
rebuke; but at any rateI learned it thoroughly: norit gives
me pleasure to reflectdid the truthas it came home to my
perceptionever cost me a pangor require to be thrown off in a
sigh. In the way of literary talkit is truethe Naval Officer--an
excellent fellowwho came into the office with meand
went out only a little later--would often engage me in a
discussion about one or the other of his favourite topics
Napoleon or Shakespeare. The Collector's junior clerktoo a
young gentleman whoit was whispered occasionally covered a
sheet of Uncle Sam's letter paper with what (at the distance of a
few yards) looked very much like poetry--used now and then to
speak to me of booksas matters with which I might possibly be
conversant. This was my all of lettered intercourse; and it was
quite sufficient for my necessities.

No longer seeking or caring that my name should
be blasoned abroad on title-pagesI smiled to think that it had
now another kind of vogue. The Custom-House marker imprinted it
with a stencil and black painton pepper-bagsand baskets of
anattoand cigar-boxesand bales of all kinds of dutiable
merchandisein testimony that these commodities had paid the
impostand gone regularly through the office. Borne on such
queer vehicle of famea knowledge of my existenceso far as a
name conveys itwas carried where it had never been beforeand
I hopewill never go again.

But the past was not dead. Once in a great whilethe thoughts
that had seemed so vital and so activeyet had been put to rest
so quietlyrevived again. One of the most remarkable occasions
when the habit of bygone days awoke in mewas that which brings
it within the law of literary propriety to offer the public the
sketch which I am now writing.

In the second storey of the Custom-House there is a large room
in which the brick-work and naked rafters have never been covered
with panelling and plaster. The edifice--originally projected
on a scale adapted to the old commercial enterprise of the port
and with an idea of subsequent prosperity destined 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 its dusky beamsappears still to await
the labour of the carpenter and mason. At one end of the room
in a recesswere a number of barrels piled one upon another
containing bundles of official documents. Large quantities of
similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor. It was sorrowful to think
how many daysand weeksand monthsand years of toil had been
wasted on these musty paperswhich were now only an encumbrance
on earthand were hidden away in this forgotten cornernever
more to be glanced at by human eyes. But thenwhat reams of
other manuscripts--fillednot with the dulness of official
formalitiesbut with the thought of inventive brains and the


rich effusion of deep hearts--had gone equally to oblivion; and
thatmoreoverwithout 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 had gained by these worthless
scratchings of the pen. Yet not altogether worthlessperhaps
as materials of local history. Hereno doubtstatistics of the
former commerce of Salem might be discoveredand memorials of
her princely merchants--old King Derby--old Billy Gray--old
Simon Forrester--and many another magnate in his daywhose
powdered headhoweverwas scarcely in the tomb before his
mountain pile of wealth began to dwindle. The founders of the
greater part of the families which now compose the aristocracy of
Salem might here be tracedfrom the petty and obscure beginnings
of their trafficat periods generally much posterior to the
Revolutionupward to what their children look upon as
long-established rank

Prior to the Revolution there is a dearth of records; the earlier
documents and archives of the Custom-House havingprobablybeen
carried off to Halifaxwhen all the king's officials accompanied
the British army in its flight 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 Indian arrow-heads in the field near the
Old Manse.

Butone idle and rainy dayit was my fortune to make a
discovery of some little interest. Poking and burrowing into the
heaped-up rubbish in the cornerunfolding one and another
documentand reading the names of vessels that had long ago
foundered at sea or rotted at the wharvesand those of merchants
never heard of now on 'Changenor very readily decipherable on
their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matters with the
saddenedwearyhalf-reluctant interest which we bestow on the
corpse of dead activity--and exerting my fancysluggish with
little useto raise up from these dry bones an image of the old
towns brighter aspectwhen India was a new regionand only
Salem knew the way thither--I chanced to lay my hand on a
small packagecarefully done up in 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 was something about it that quickened an instinctive
curiosityand made me undo the faded red tape that tied up the
packagewith the sense that a treasure would here be brought to
light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment coverI found
it to be a commissionunder the hand and seal of Governor
Shirleyin favour of one Jonathan Pineas Surveyor of His
Majesty's Customs for the Port of Salemin the Province of
Massachusetts Bay. I remembered to have read (probably in Felt's
Annals) a notice of the decease of Mr. Surveyor Pueabout
fourscore years ago; and likewisein a newspaper of recent
timesan account of the digging up of his remains in the little
graveyard of St. Peter's Churchduring the renewal 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 frizzlewhich
unlike the head that it once adornedwas in very satisfactory
preservation. Buton examining the papers which the parchment
commission served to envelopI found more traces of Mr. Pue's
mental partand the internal operations of his headthan the


frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull itself.

They were documentsin shortnot officialbut of a private
natureorat leastwritten in his private capacityand
apparently with his own hand. I could account for their being
included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact that
Mr. Pine's death had happened suddenlyand that these papers
which he probably kept in his official deskhad never come to
the knowledge of his heirsor were supposed to relate to the
business of the revenue. On the transfer of the archives to
Halifaxthis packageproving to be of no public concernwas
left behindand had remained ever since unopened.

The ancient Surveyor--being little molestedsupposeat that
early day with business pertaining to his office--seems to have
devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches as a local
antiquarianand other inquisitions of a similar nature. These
supplied material for petty activity to a mind that would
otherwise have been eaten up with rust.

A portion of his factsby-the-bydid me good service in the
preparation of the article entitled "MAIN STREET included in
the present volume. The remainder may perhaps be applied to
purposes equally valuable hereafter, or not impossibly may be
worked up, so far as they go, into a regular history of Salem,
should my veneration for the natal soil ever impel me to so pious
a task. Meanwhile, they shall be at the command of any
gentleman, inclined and competent, to take the unprofitable
labour off my hands. As a final disposition I contemplate
depositing them with the Essex Historical Society. But the
object that most drew my attention to the mysterious package was
a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded, There
were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was
greatly frayed and defaced, so that none, or very little, of the
glitter was left. It had been wrought, as was easy to perceive,
with wonderful skill of needlework; and the stitch (as I am
assured by ladies conversant with such mysteries) gives evidence
of a now forgotten art, not to be discovered even by the process
of picking out the threads. This rag of scarlet cloth--for
time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth had reduced it to little
other than a rag--on careful examination, assumed the shape of
a letter.

It was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurement, each
limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length.
It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental
article of dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank,
honour, and dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was
a riddle which (so evanescent are the fashions of the world in
these particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet it
strangely interested me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the
old scarlet letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly
there was some deep meaning in it most worthy of interpretation,
and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol,
subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading the
analysis of my mind.

When thus perplexed--and cogitating, among other hypotheses,
whether the letter might not have been one of those decorations
which the white men used to contrive in order to take the eyes of
Indians--I happened to place it on my breast. It seemed to
me--the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word--it seemed
to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether
physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if the letter


were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered, and
involuntarily let it fall upon the floor.

In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, I had
hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper, around
which it had been twisted. This I now opened, and had the
satisfaction to find recorded by the old Surveyor's pen, a
reasonably complete explanation of the whole
affair. There were several foolscap sheets, containing many
particulars respecting the life and conversation of one Hester
Prynne, who appeared to have been rather a noteworthy personage
in the view of our ancestors. She had flourished during the
period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of
the seventeenth century. Aged persons, alive in the time of Mr.
Surveyor Pue, and from whose oral testimony he had made up his
narrative, remembered her, in their youth, as a very old, but not
decrepit woman, of a stately and solemn aspect. It had been her
habit, from an almost immemorial date, to go about the country as
a kind of voluntary nurse, and doing whatever miscellaneous good
she might; taking upon herself, likewise, to give advice in all
matters, especially those of the heart, by which means--as a
person of such propensities inevitably must--she gained from
many people the reverence due to an angel, but, I should imagine,
was looked upon by others as an intruder and a nuisance. Prying
further into the manuscript, I found the record of other doings
and sufferings of this singular woman, for most of which the
reader is referred to the story entitled THE SCARLET LETTER";
and it should be borne carefully in mind that the main facts of
that story are authorized and authenticated by the document of
Mr. Surveyor Pue. The original paperstogether with the
scarlet letter itself--a most curious relic--are still in my
possessionand shall be freely exhibited to whomsoeverinduced
by the great interest of the narrativemay desire a sight of
them I must not be understood affirming thatin the dressing up
of the taleand imagining the motives
and modes of passion that influenced the characters who figure in
itI have invariably confined myself within the limits of the
old Surveyor's half-a-dozen sheets of foolscap. On the contrary
I have allowed myselfas to such pointsnearlyor altogether
as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my own
invention. What I contend for is the authenticity of the outline.

This incident recalled my mindin some degreeto its old track.
There seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale. It impressed
me as if the ancient Surveyorin his garb of a hundred years
gone byand wearing his immortal wig--which was buried with
himbut did not perish in the grave--had bet me in the
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 splendour that shone so
dazzlingly about the throne. How unlike alas the hangdog look
of a republican officialwhoas the servant of the people
feels himself less than the leastand below the lowest of his
masters. With his own ghostly handthe obscurely seenbut
majesticfigure had imparted to me the scarlet symbol and the
little roll of explanatory manuscript. With his own ghostly
voice he had exhorted meon the sacred consideration of my
filial duty and reverence towards him--who might reasonably
regard himself as my official ancestor--to bring his mouldy and
moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. "Do this said the
ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, emphatically nodding the head that
looked so imposing within its memorable wig; do thisand the
profit 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 office was a life-leaseand


oftentimes an heirloom. But I charge youin this matter of old
Mistress Prynnegive to your predecessor's memory the credit
which will be rightfully due" And I said to the ghost of Mr.
Surveyor Pue--"I will".

On Hester Prynne's storythereforeI bestowed much thought. It
was the subject of my meditations for many an hourwhile pacing
to and fro across my roomor traversingwith a hundredfold
repetitionthe long extent from the front door of the
Custom-House to the side entranceand back again. Great were
the weariness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the Weighers
and Gaugerswhose slumbers were disturbed by the unmercifully
lengthened tramp of my passing and returning footsteps.
Remembering their own former habitsthey used 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--was to
get an appetite for dinner. Andto say the truthan appetite
sharpened by the east wind that generally blew along the passage
was the only valuable result of so much indefatigable exercise.
So little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom-house to the
delicate harvest of fancy and sensibilitythathad I remained
there through ten Presidencies yet to comeI doubt whether the
tale of "The Scarlet Letter" would ever have been brought before
the public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It would
not reflector only with miserable
dimnessthe figures with which I did my best to people it. The
characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered
malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual
forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor the
tenderness of sentimentbut retained all the rigidity of dead
corpsesand stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin
of contemptuous defiance. "What have you to do with us?" that
expression seemed to say. "The little power you might have once
possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone You have
bartered it for a pittance of the public gold. Go thenand earn
your wages" In shortthe almost torpid creatures of my own
fancy twitted me with imbecilityand not without fair occasion.

It was not merely during the three hours and a half which Uncle
Sam claimed as his share of my daily life that this wretched
numbness held possession of me. It went with me on my sea-shore
walks and rambles into the countrywhenever--which was seldom
and reluctantly--I bestirred myself to seek that invigorating
charm of Nature which used to give me such freshness and activity
of thoughtthe moment that I stepped across the threshold of the
Old Manse. The same torporas regarded the capacity for
intellectual effortaccompanied me homeand weighed upon me in
the chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor did it
quit me whenlate at nightI sat in the deserted parlour
lighted only by the glimmering coal-fire and the moonstriving
to picture forth imaginary sceneswhichthe next daymight
flow out on the brightening page in many-hued description.

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hourit
might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlightin a familiar
roomfalling so white upon the carpetand showing all its
figures so distinctly--making every object so minutely visible
yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility--is a medium the
most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his
illusive guests. There is the little domestic scenery of the
well-known 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 detailsso completely seen
are so spiritualised by the unusual lightthat they seem to lose
their actual substanceand become things of intellect. 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-horse--whateverin a wordhas been
used or played with during the day is now 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 enter here without affrighting us. It would be too
much in keeping with the scene to excite surprisewere we to
look about us and discover a formbelovedbut gone hencenow
sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshinewith an
aspect 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 effect which I would describe. It throws its
unobtrusive tinge throughout the roomwith a faint ruddiness
upon the walls and ceilingand a reflected gleam upon the polish
of the furniture. This warmer light mingles itself with the cold
spirituality of the moon-beamsand communicatesas it werea
heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms which
fancy summons tip. It converts them from snow-images into men
and women. Glancing at the looking-glasswe behold--deep
within its haunted verge--the smouldering glow of the
half-extinguished anthracitethe white moon-beams on the floor
and a repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picturewith
one remove further from the actualand nearer to the
imaginative. Thenat such an hourand with this scene before
himif a mansitting all alonecannot dream strange things
and make them look like truthhe need never try to write romances.

Butfor myselfduring the whole of my Custom-House experience
moonlight and sunshineand the glow of firelightwere just
alike in my regard; and neither of them was of one whit more
avail than the twinkle of a tallow-candle. An entire class of
susceptibilitiesand a gift connected with them--of no great
richness or valuebut the best I had--was gone from me.

It is my beliefhoweverthat had I attempted a different order
of compositionmy faculties would not have been found so
pointless and inefficacious. I mightfor instancehave contented
myself with writing out the narratives of a veteran shipmasterone
of the Inspectorswhom I should be most ungrateful not to mention
since scarcely a day passed that he did not stir me to laughter and
admiration by his marvelous gifts as a story-teller. Could I have
preserved the picturesque force of his styleand the humourous
colouring which nature taught him 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 life pressing so
intrusively upon meto attempt to fling myself back into another
ageor to insist on creating the semblance of a world out of
airy matterwhenat every momentthe impalpable beauty of my
soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual
circumstance. The wiser effort would have been to diffuse
thought and imagination through the opaque substance of to-day
and thus to make it a bright transparency; to spiritualise the
burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seekresolutelythe
true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and


wearisome incidentsand ordinary characters with which I was now
conversant. The fault was mine. The page of life that was
spread out before me seemed dull and commonplace only because I
had not fathomed its deeper import. A better book than I shall
ever write was there; leaf after leaf presenting itself to me
just as it was written out by the reality of the flitting hour
and vanishing as fast as writtenonly because my brain wanted
the insightand my hand the cunningto transcribe it. At some
future dayit may beI shall remember a few scattered fragments
and broken paragraphsand write them downand find the letters
turn to gold upon the page.

These perceptions had come too late. At the InstantI was only
conscious that what would have been a pleasure once was now a
hopeless toil. There was no occasion to make much moan about
this state of affairs. I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably
poor tales and essaysand had become a tolerably good Surveyor
of the Customs. That was all. Butneverthelessit is anything
but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect
is dwindling awayor exhalingwithout your consciousnesslike
ether out of a phial; so thatat every glanceyou find a
smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact there could be
no doubt andexamining myself and othersI was led to
conclusionsin reference to the effect of public office on the
characternot very favourable to the mode of life in question.
In some other formperhapsI may hereafter develop these
effects. Suffice it here to say that a Custom-House officer of
long continuance can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable
personagefor many 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
every individual who has occupied the position--isthat while
he leans on the mighty arm of the Republichis own proper strength
departs from him. He losesin an extent proportioned to the weakness
or force of his original naturethe capability of self-support. If
he possesses an unusual share of native energyor the enervating
magic of place do not operate too long upon himhis forfeited
powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer--fortunate in
the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimesto struggle amid
a struggling world--may return to himselfand become all that
he has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his
ground just long enough for his own ruinand is then thrust out
with sinews all unstrungto totter along the difficult footpath
of life as he best may. Conscious of his own infirmity--that
his tempered steel and elasticity are lost--he for ever
afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external
to himself. His pervading and continual hope--a hallucination
whichin the face of all discouragementand making light of
impossibilitieshaunts him while he livesandI fancylike
the convulsive throes of the choleratorments him for a brief
space after death--isthat finallyand in no long timeby
some happy coincidence of circumstanceshe shall be restored to
office. This faithmore than anything elsesteals the pith and
availability out of whatever enterprise he 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 of his Uncle will raise and support
him? Why should he work for his living hereor go to dig gold
in Californiawhen he is so soon to be made happyat monthly
intervalswith a little pile of glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket?
It is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to


infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's
gold--meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman--has
in this respecta quality of enchantment like that of the
devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himself
or he may find the bargain to go hard against himinvolvingif
not his soulyet many of its better attributes; its sturdy
forceits 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 the lesson home to himselfor admitted that he could be
so utterly undoneeither by continuance in office or ejectment.
Yet my reflections were not the most comfortable. I began to
grow melancholy and restless; continually prying into my mindto
discover which of its poor properties were goneand what degree
of detriment had already accrued to the remainder. I endeavoured
to calculate how much longer I could stay in the Custom-House
and yet go forth a man. To confess the truthit was my greatest
apprehension--as it would never be a measure of policy to turn
out so quiet an individual as myself; and it being hardly in the
nature of a public officer to resign--it was my chief trouble
thereforethat I was likely to grow grey and decrepit in the
Surveyorshipand become much such another animal as the old
Inspector. Might it notin the tedious lapse of official life
that lay before mefinally be with me as it was with this
venerable 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 in the shade? A dreary look-forwardthisfor
a man who felt it to be the best definition of happiness to live
throughout the whole range of his faculties and sensibilities
Butall this whileI was giving myself very unnecessary alarm.
Providence had meditated better things for me than I could
possibly imagine for myself.

A remarkable event of the third year of my Surveyorship--to
adopt the tone of "P. P. "--was the election of General Taylor
to the Presidency. It is essentialin order to a complete
estimate of the advantages of official lifeto view the
incumbent at the in-coming of a hostile administration. His
position is then one of the most singularly irksomeandin
every contingencydisagreeablethat a wretched mortal can
possibly occupy; with seldom an alternative of good on either
handalthough what presents itself to him as the worst event may
very probably be the best. But it is a strange experienceto a
man of pride and sensibilityto know that his interests are
within the control of individuals who neither love nor understand
himand by whomsince one or the other must needs happenhe
would rather be injured than obliged. Strangetoofor one who
has kept his calmness throughout the contestto observe the
bloodthirstiness that is developed in the hour of triumphand to
be conscious that he is himself among its objects! There are few
uglier traits of human nature than this tendency--which I now
witnessed in men no worse than their neighbours--to grow cruel
merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm. If
the guillotineas applied to office-holderswere a literal factinstead
of one of the most apt of metaphorsit is my sincere belief that the
active members of the victorious party were sufficiently excited to have
chopped off all our headsand have thanked Heaven for the opportunity!
It appears to me--who have been a calm and curious observeras
well in victory as defeat--that this fierce and bitter spirit
of malice and revenge has never distinguished the many triumphs
of my own party as it now did that of the Whigs. The Democrats
take the officesas a general rulebecause they need themand
because the practice of many years has made it the law of


political warfarewhich unless a different system be proclaimed
it was weakness and cowardice to murmur at. But the long habit
of victory has made them generous. They know how to spare when
they see occasion; and when they strikethe axe may be sharp
indeedbut its edge is seldom poisoned with ill-will; nor is it
their custom ignominiously to kick the head which they have just
struck off.

In shortunpleasant as was my predicamentat bestI saw much
reason to congratulate myself that I was on the losing side
rather than the triumphant one. Ifheretoforel had been none
of the warmest of partisans I began nowat this season of peril
and adversityto be pretty acutely sensible with which party my
predilections lay; nor was it without something like regret and
shame thataccording to a reasonable calculation of chancesI
saw my own prospect of retaining office to be better than those
of my democratic brethren. But who can see an inch into futurity
beyond his nose? My own head was the first that fell

The moment when a man's head drops off is
seldom or neverI am inclined to thinkprecisely the most
agreeable of his life. Neverthelesslike the greater part of
our misfortuneseven so serious a contingency brings its remedy
and consolation with itif the sufferer will but make the best
rather than the worstof the accident which has befallen him.
In my particular case the consolatory topics were close at hand
andindeedhad suggested themselves to my meditations a
considerable time before it was requisite to use them. In view
of my previous weariness of officeand vague thoughts of
resignationmy fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who
should entertain an idea of committing suicideand although
beyond his hopesmeet with the good hap to be murdered. In the
Custom-Houseas before in the Old ManseI had spent three years--a
term long enough to rest a 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 being
and withholding myself from toil that wouldat leasthave
stilled an unquiet impulse in me. Thenmoreoveras regarded
his unceremonious ejectmentthe late Surveyor was not altogether
ill-pleased to be recognised by the Whigs as an enemy; since his
inactivity in political affairs--his tendency to roamat will
in that broad and quiet field where all mankind may meetrather
than confine himself to those narrow paths where brethren of the
same household must diverge from one another--had sometimes
made it questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was a
friend. Nowafter he had won the crown of martyrdom (though with
no longer a head to wear it on)the point might be looked upon as
settled. Finallylittle heroic as he wasit seemed more decorous to be
overthrown in the downfall of the party with which he had been content
to stand than to remain a forlorn survivorwhen so many worthier
men were falling: and at lastafter subsisting for four years on the
mercy of a hostile administrationto be compelled then to define
his position anewand claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a
friendly one.

Meanwhilethe press had taken up my affairand kept me for a
week or two careering through the public printsin my
decapitated statelike Irving's Headless Horsemanghastly and
grimand longing to be buriedas a political dead man ought.
So much for my figurative self. The real human being all this
timewith his head safely on his shouldershad brought himself
to the comfortable conclusion that everything was for the best;
and making an investment in inkpaperand steel penshad


opened his long-disused writing deskand was again a literary
man.
Now it was that the lucubrations of my ancient predecessorMr.
Surveyor Puecame into play. Rusty through long idlenesssome
little space was requisite before my intellectual machinery could
be brought to work upon the tale with an effect in any degree
satisfactory. Even yetthough my thoughts were ultimately much
absorbed in the taskit wearsto my eyea stern and sombre
aspect: too much ungladdened by genial sunshine; too little
relieved by the tender and familiar influences which soften
almost every scene of nature and real lifeand
undoubtedly should soften every picture of them. This
uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly
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 happier while
straying through the gloom of these sunless fantasies than at any
time since he had quitted the Old Manse. Some of the briefer
articleswhich contribute to make up the volumehave likewise
been written since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and
honours of public lifeand the remainder are gleaned from
annuals and magazinesof such antique datethat they have gone
round the circleand come 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 a closeif too
autobiographical for a modest person to publish in his lifetime
will readily be excused in a gentleman who writes from beyond the
grave. Peace be with all the world My blessing on my friends My
forgiveness to my enemies For I am in the realm of quiet

The life of the Custom--House lies like a dream behind me. The
old Inspector--whoby-the-byel regret to saywas overthrown
and killed by a horse some time agoelse he would certainly have
lived for ever--heand all those other venerable personages
who sat with him at the receipt of customare but shadows in my
view: white-headed and wrinkled imageswhich my fancy used to
sport withand has now flung aside for ever. The merchants--
PingreePhillipsShepardUptonKimballBertramHunt--these
and many other nameswhich had such classic familiarity for my ear
six months ago--these men of trafficwho seemed to occupy so
important a position in the world--how little time has it
required to disconnect me from them allnot merely in actbut
recollection It is with an effort that

I recall the figures and appellations of these few. Soon
likewisemy old native town will loom upon me through the haze
of memorya mist brooding over and around it; as if it were no
portion of the real earthbut an overgrown village in
cloud-landwith only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden
houses and walk its homely lanesand the unpicturesque prolixity
of its main street. Henceforth it ceases to be a reality of my
life; I am a citizen of somewhere else. My good townspeople will
not much regret mefor--though it has been as dear an object
as anyin my literary effortsto be of some importance in their
eyesand to win myself a pleasant memory in this abode and
burial-place of so many of my forefathers--there has never
beenfor methe genial atmosphere which a literary man requires
in order to ripen the best harvest of his mind. I shall do
better amongst other faces; and these familiar onesit need
hardly be saidwill do just as well without me.

It may behowever--ohtransporting and triumphant thought
I--that the great-grandchildren of the present race may


sometimes think kindly of the scribbler of bygone dayswhen the
antiquary of days to comeamong the sites memorable in the
town's historyshall point out the locality of THE TOWN PUMP.

THE SCARLET LETTER

I. THE PRISON DOOR
A throng of bearded menin sad-coloured garments and grey
steeple-crowned hatsinter-mixed with womensome wearing hoods
and others bareheadedwas assembled in front of a wooden
edificethe door of which was heavily timbered with oakand
studded with iron spikes.

The founders of a new colonywhatever Utopia of human virtue
and happiness they might originally projecthave invariably
recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot
a portion of the virgin soil as a cemeteryand another portion
as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may
safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the
first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhillalmost
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 churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is thatsome
fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the townthe wooden jail was
already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age
which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy
front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door
looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like
all that pertains to crimeit seemed never to have known a
youthful era. Before this ugly edificeand between it and the
wheel-track of the streetwas a grass-plotmuch overgrown with
burdockpig-weedapple-pernand such unsightly vegetation
which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so
early borne the black flower of civilised societya prison. But
on one side of the portaland rooted almost at the threshold
was a wild rose-bushcoveredin this month of Junewith its
delicate gemswhich might be imagined to offer their fragrance
and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went inand to the
condemned criminal as he came forth to his doomin token that
the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.

This rose-bushby a strange chancehas been kept alive in
history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old
wildernessso long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks
that originally overshadowed itor whetheras there is far
authority for believingit had sprung up under the footsteps of
the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-doorwe
shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on
the threshold of our narrativewhich is now about to issue from
that inauspicious portalwe could hardly do otherwise
than pluck one of its flowersand present it to the reader. It
may servelet us hopeto symbolise some sweet moral blossom
that may be found along the trackor relieve the darkening close
of a tale of human frailty and sorrow


II. THE MARKET-PLACE
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 Bostonall with
their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.
Amongst any other populationor at a later period in the history
of New Englandthe grim rigidity that petrified the bearded
physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful
business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the
anticipated execution of some rioted culpriton whom the
sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of
public sentiment. Butin that early severity of the Puritan
characteran inference of this kind could not so indubitably be
drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servantor an undutiful
childwhom his parents had given over to the civil authority
was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be that an
Antinomiana Quakeror other heterodox religionistwas to be
scourged out of the townor an idle or vagrant Indianwhom the
white man's firewater had made riotous about the streetswas to
be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might
betoothat a witchlike old Mistress Hibbinsthe bitter-tempered
widow of the magistratewas to die upon the gallows. In either
casethere was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the
part of the spectatorsas befitted a people among whom religion
and law were almost identicaland in whose character both were
so thoroughly interfusedthat the mildest and severest acts of
public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre
indeedand coldwas the sympathy that a transgressor might look
forfrom such bystandersat the scaffold. On the other handa
penalty whichin our dayswould infer a degree of mocking
infamy and ridiculemight then be invested with almost as stern
a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

It was a circumstance to be noted on the summer morning when our
story begins its coursethat the womenof whom there were
several in the crowdappeared to take a peculiar interest in
whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age
had not so much refinementthat any sense of impropriety
restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping
forth into the public waysand wedging their not unsubstantial
personsif occasion wereinto the throng nearest to the
scaffold at an execution. Morallyas well as materiallythere
was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English
birth and breeding than in their fair descendantsseparated from
them by a series of six or seven generations; forthroughout
that chain of ancestryevery successive mother had transmitted
to her child a fainter blooma more delicate and briefer beauty
and a slighter physical frameif not
character of less force and solidity than her own. The women who
were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than
half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been
the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They
were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land
with a moral diet not a whit more refinedentered largely into
their composition. The bright morning sunthereforeshone on
broad shoulders and well-developed bustsand on round and ruddy
cheeksthat had ripened in the far-off islandand had hardly
yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England.
There wasmoreovera boldness and rotundity of speech among
these matronsas most of them seemed to bethat would startle
us at the present daywhether in respect to its purport or its
volume of tone.


Goodwives,said a hard-featured dame of fiftyI'll tell ye a
piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof if
we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute,
should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester
Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for
judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together,
would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful
magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not

People say,said anotherthat the Reverend Master
Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart
that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation.

The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful
overmuch--that is a truth,added a third autumnal
matron. "At the very leastthey should have put the brand of a
hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester would have
winced at thatI warrant me. But she--the naughty baggage-little
will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown
Whylook youshe may cover it with a broochor such like.
heathenish adornmentand so walk the streets as brave as ever"

Ah, but,interposedmore softlya young wifeholding a
child by the handlet her cover the mark as she will, the pang
of it will be always in her heart.

What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of
her gown or the flesh of her forehead?cried another femalethe
ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted
judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us alland ought to
die; Is there not law for it? Truly there isboth in the
Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrateswho
have made it of no effectthank themselves if their own wives
and daughters go astray"

Mercy on us, goodwifeexclaimed a man in the crowdis there
no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of
the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush now, gossips for
the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress
Prynne herself.

The door of the jail being flung open from within there
appearedin the first placelike a black shadow emerging into
sunshinethe grim and gristly presence of the town-beadlewith
a sword by his sideand his staff of office in his hand. This personage
prefigured and
represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the
Puritanic code of lawwhich it was his business to administer in
its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching
forth the official staff in his left handhe laid his right upon
the shoulder of a young womanwhom he thus drew forwarduntil
on the threshold of the prison-doorshe repelled himby an
action marked with natural dignity and force of characterand
stepped into the open air as if by her own free will. She bore
in her arms a childa baby of some three months oldwho winked
and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day;
because its existenceheretoforehad brought it acquaintance
only with the grey twilight of a dungeonor other darksome
apartment of the prison.

When the young woman--the mother of this child--stood fully
revealed before the crowdit seemed to be her first impulse to
clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse
of motherly affectionas that she might thereby conceal a


certain tokenwhich was wrought or fastened into her dress. In
a momenthoweverwisely judging that one token of her shame
would but poorly serve to hide anothershe took the baby on her
armand with 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 an elaborate embroidery and fantastic
flourishes of gold threadappeared the letter A. It was so
artistically doneand with so much fertility and gorgeous
luxuriance of fancythat it had all the effect of a last and fitting
decoration to the apparel which she woreand which was of a
splendour in accordance with the taste of the agebut greatly
beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the
colony.

The young woman was tallwith a figure of perfect elegance on a
large scale. She had dark and abundant hairso glossy that it
threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face whichbesides
being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of
complexionhad the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and
deep black eyes. She was ladyliketooafter the manner of the
feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain
state and dignityrather than by the delicateevanescentand
indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication.
And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylikein the
antique interpretation of the termthan as she issued from the
prison. Those who had before known herand had expected to
behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloudwere
astonishedand even startledto perceive how her beauty shone
outand made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she
was enveloped. It may be true thatto a sensitive observer
there was some thing exquisitely painful in it. Her attire
which indeedshe had wrought for the occasion in prisonand had
modelled much after her own fancyseemed to express the attitude
of her spiritthe desperate recklessness of her moodby its
wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all
eyesandas it weretransfigured the wearer--so that both
men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with
Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the
first time--was that SCARLET LETTERso fantastically
embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of
a spelltaking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity
and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain,remarked
one of her female spectators; "but did ever a womanbefore this
brazen hussycontrive such a way of showing it? Whygossips
what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates
and make a pride out of what theyworthy gentlemenmeant for a
punishment?"

It were well,muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames
if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty
shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so
curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to
make a fitter one!

Oh, peace, neighbours--peace!whispered their youngest
companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that
embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart. "

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff. "Make way
good people--make wayin the King's name!" cried he. "Open a
passage; and I promise yeMistress Prynne shall be set where


manwomanand child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel
from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the
righteous colony of the Massachusettswhere iniquity is dragged
out into the sunshine! Come alongMadame Hesterand show your
scarlet letter in the market-place!"

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators.
Preceded by the beadleand attended by an irregular procession
of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged womenHester Prynne set
forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd
of eager and curious schoolboysunderstanding little of the
matter in handexcept that it gave them a half-holidayran
before her progressturning their heads continually to stare
into her face and at the winking baby in her armsand at the
ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distancein
those daysfrom the prison door to the market-place. Measured
by the prisoner's experiencehoweverit might be reckoned a
journey of some length; for haughty as her demeanour wasshe
perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that
thronged to see heras if her heart had been flung into the
street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature
howeverthere is a provisionalike marvellous and merciful
that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he
endures by its present torturebut chiefly by the pang that
rankles after it. With almost a serene deportmenttherefore
Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordealand came
to a sort of scaffoldat the western extremity of the
market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's
earliest churchand appeared to be a fixture there.

In factthis scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine
which nowfor two or three generations pasthas been merely
historical and traditionary among usbut was heldin the old
timeto be as effectual an agentin the promotion of good
citizenshipas ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France.
It wasin shortthe platform of the pillory; and above it rose
the framework of that instrument of disciplineso fashioned as
to confine the human head in its tight graspand thus hold it up
to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and
made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be
no outragemethinksagainst our common nature--whatever be
the delinquencies of the individual--no outrage more flagrant
than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was
the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's
instancehoweveras not unfrequently in other casesher
sentence bore that she should stand a certain time upon the
platformbut without undergoing that gripe about the neck and
confinement of the headthe proneness to which was the most
devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her
partshe ascended a flight of wooden stepsand was thus
displayed to 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 in this beautiful womanso picturesque in her attire
and mienand with the infant at her bosoman object to remind
him of the image of Divine Maternitywhich so many illustrious
painters have vied with one another to represent; something which
should remind himindeedbut only by contrastof that sacred
image of sinless motherhoodwhose infant was to redeem the
world. Herethere 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 she had borne.


The scene was not without a mixture of awesuch as must always
invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature
before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smileinstead
of shuddering at it. The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace
had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern
enough to look upon her deathhad that been the sentence
without a murmur at its severitybut had none of the
heartlessness of another social statewhich 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 the solemn presence of men no
less dignified than the governorand several of his counsellors
a judgea generaland the ministers of the townall of whom
sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-houselooking down upon
the platform. When such personages could constitute a part of
the spectaclewithout risking the majestyor 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 heavy weight
of a thousand unrelenting eyesall fastened upon herand
concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be
borne. Of an impulsive and passionate natureshe had fortified
herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public
contumelywreaking itself in every variety of insult; but there
was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn
mood of the popular mindthat she longed rather to behold all
those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merrimentand
herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from the
multitude--each maneach womaneach little shrill-voiced
childcontributing their individual parts--Hester Prynne might
have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But
under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endureshe
feltat momentsas if she must needs shriek out with the full
power of her lungsand cast herself from the scaffold down upon
the groundor else go mad at once.

Yet there were intervals when the whole scenein which she was
the most conspicuous objectseemed to vanish from her eyesor
at leastglimmered indistinctly before themlike a mass of
imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mindand especially
her memorywas preternaturally activeand kept bringing up
other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little townon
the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were lowering
upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats.
Reminiscencesthe most trifling and immaterialpassages of
infancy and school-dayssportschildish quarrelsand the
little domestic traits of her maiden yearscame swarming back
upon herintermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest
in her subsequent 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 itself by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms
from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality.

Be that as it mightthe scaffold of the pillory was
a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track
along which she had been treadingsince her happy infancy.
Standing on that miserable eminenceshe saw again her native
villagein Old Englandand her paternal home: a decayed house
of grey stonewith a poverty-stricken aspectbut retaining a
half obliterated shield of arms over the portalin token of
antique gentility. She saw her father's facewith its bold


browand reverend white beard that flowed over the old-fashioned
Elizabethan ruff; her mother'stoowith the look of heedful and
anxious love which it always wore in her remembranceand which
even since her deathhad so often laid the impediment of a
gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her own
faceglowing with girlish beautyand illuminating all the
interior of the dusky mirror in which 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 ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a
strangepenetrating powerwhen it was their owner's purpose to
read the human soul. This figure of the study and the cloister
as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recallwas
slightly deformedwith the left shoulder a trifle higher than
the right. Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallerythe
intricate and narrow thoroughfaresthe tallgrey housesthe
huge cathedralsand the public edificesancient in date and
quaint in architectureof a continental city; where new life had
awaited herstill in connexion with the misshapen 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 Puritansettlementwith all the
townspeople assembledand levelling their stern regards at
Hester Prynne--yesat herself--who stood on the scaffold of
the pilloryan infant on her armand the letter Ain scarlet
fantastically embroidered with gold threadupon her bosom.

Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her
breast that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at
the scarlet letterand even touched it with her fingerto
assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes
these were her realities--all else had vanished!

III. THE RECOGNITION
From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and
universal observationthe wearer of the scarlet letter was at
length relievedby discerningon the outskirts of the crowda
figure which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts. An
Indian in his native garb was standing there; but the red men
were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements that
one of them would have attracted any notice from Hester Prynne at
such a time; much less would he have excluded all other objects
and ideas from her mind. By the Indian's sideand evidently
sustaining a companionship with himstood a white manclad in a
strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.

He was small in staturewith a furrowed visagewhich as yet
could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence
in his featuresas of a person who had so cultivated his mental
part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and
become manifest by unmistakable tokens. Althoughby a seemingly
careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garbhe had
endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarityit was
sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's
shoulders rose higher than the other. Againat the first instant of
perceiving that thin visageand the slight deformity of the figureshe
pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that
the poor babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother did
not seem to hear it


At his arrival in the market-placeand some time before she saw
himthe stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was
carelessly at firstlike a man chiefly accustomed to look
inwardand to whom external matters are of little value and
importunless they bear relation to something within his mind.
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 effort of his willthatsave
at a single momentits expression might have passed for
calmness. After a brief spacethe convulsion grew almost
imperceptibleand finally subsided into the depths of his
nature. When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his
ownand saw that she appeared to recognize himhe slowly and
calmly raised his fingermade a gesture with it in the airand
laid it on his lips.

Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him
he addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:

I pray you, good Sir,said hewho is this woman? --and
wherefore is she here set up to public shame?

You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend,answered
the townsmanlooking curiously at the questioner and his savage
companionelse you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester
Prynne and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I
promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church.

You say truly,replied the other; "I am a strangerand have
been a wanderersorely against my will. I have met with
grievous mishaps by sea and landand have been long held in
bonds among the heathen-folk to the southward; and am now brought
hither by this Indian to be redeemed out of my captivity. Will
it please youthereforeto tell me of Hester Prynne's--have I
her name rightly? --of this woman's offencesand what has
brought her to yonder scaffold?"

Truly, friend; and methinks it must gladden your heart, after
your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness,said the townsman
to find yourself at length in a land where iniquity is searched
out and punished in the sight of rulers and people, as here in
our godly New England. Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, was the
wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long
ago dwelt in Amsterdam, whence some good time agone he was minded
to cross over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts.
To this purpose he sent his wife before him, remaining himself to
look after some necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two
years, or less, that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston,
no tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne;
and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance--

Ah!--aha!--I conceive you,said the stranger with a
bitter smile. "So learned a man as you speak of should have
learned this too in his books. And whoby your favourSirmay
be the father of yonder babe--it is some three or four months
oldI should judge--which Mistress Prynne is holding in her
arms?"

Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the
Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting,answered the


townsman. "Madame Hester absolutely refuseth to speakand the
magistrates have laid their heads together in vain. Peradventure
the guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacleunknown
of manand forgetting that God sees him. "


The learned man,observed the stranger with another smile
should come himself to look into the mystery.


It behoves him well if he be still in life,responded the
townsman. "Nowgood Sirour Massachusetts magistracy
bethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fairand
doubtless was strongly tempted to her falland thatmoreover
as is most likelyher husband may be at the bottom of the sea
they have not been bold to put in force the extremity of our
righteous law against her. The penalty thereof is death. But in
their great mercy and tenderness of heart they have doomed
Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the
platform of the pilloryand then and thereafterfor the
remainder of her natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her
bosom. "


A wise sentence,remarked the strangergravely
bowing his head. "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin
until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It
irks meneverthelessthat the partner of her iniquity should
not at leaststand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be
known--he will be known!--he will be known!"


He bowed courteously to the communicative townsmanand
whispering a few words to his Indian attendantthey both made
their way through the crowd.


While this passedHester Prynne had been standing on her
pedestalstill with a fixed gaze towards the stranger--so
fixed a gaze thatat moments of intense absorptionall other
objects in the visible world seemed to vanishleaving only him
and her. Such an interviewperhapswould have been more
terrible than even to meet him as she now didwith the hot
mid-day sun burning down upon her faceand lighting up its
shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the
sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole peopledrawn forth as
to a festivalstaring at the features that should have been seen
only in the quiet gleam of the firesidein the happy shadow of a
homeor beneath a matronly veil at church. Dreadful as it was
she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand
witnesses. It was better to stand thuswith so many betwixt him
and herthan to greet him face to face--they two alone. She
fled for refugeas it wereto the public exposureand dreaded
the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her.
Involved in these thoughtsshe scarcely heard a voice behind her
until it had repeated her name more than oncein
a loud and solemn toneaudible to the whole multitude.


Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne!said the voice.


It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on
which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balconyor open gallery
appended to the meeting-house. It was the place whence
proclamations were wont to be madeamidst an assemblage of the
magistracywith all the ceremonial that attended such public
observances in those days. Hereto witness the scene which we
are describingsat Governor Bellingham himself with four
sergeants about his chairbearing halberdsas a guard of
honour. He wore a dark feather in his hata border of



embroidery on his cloakand a black velvet tunic beneath--a
gentleman advanced in yearswith a hard experience written in
his wrinkles. He was not ill-fitted to be the head and
representative of a community which owed its origin and progress
and its present state of developmentnot to the impulses of
youthbut to the stern and tempered energies of manhood and the
sombre sagacity of age; accomplishing so muchprecisely because
it imagined and hoped so little. The other eminent characters by
whom the chief ruler was surrounded were distinguished by a
dignity of mienbelonging to a period when the forms of
authority were felt to possess the sacredness of Divine
institutions. They weredoubtlessgood menjust and sage.
Butout of the whole human familyit would not have been easy
to select the same number of wise and virtuous personswho
should he less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring
woman's heartand disentangling its mesh of good and evilthan
the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned
her face. She seemed consciousindeedthat whatever sympathy
she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude;
foras she lifted her eyes towards the balconythe unhappy woman
grew paleand trembled.

The voice which had called her attention was that of the
reverend and famous John Wilsonthe eldest clergyman of Boston
a great scholarlike most of his contemporaries in the
professionand withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This
last attributehoweverhad been less carefully developed than
his intellectual giftsand wasin truthrather a matter of
shame than self-congratulation with him. There he stoodwith a
border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-capwhile his grey
eyesaccustomed to the shaded light of his studywere winking
like those of Hester's infantin the unadulterated sunshine. He
looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed
to old volumes of sermonsand had no more right than one of
those portraits would have to step forthas he now didand
meddle with a question of human guiltpassionand anguish.

Hester Prynne,said the clergymanI have striven with my
young brother here, under whose preaching of the Word you have
been privileged to sit--here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the
shoulder of a pale young man beside him--"I have soughtI say
to persuade this godly youththat he should deal with youhere
in the face of Heavenand before these wise and upright rulers
and in hearing of all the peopleas touching the vileness and
blackness of your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than Ihe
could the better judge what arguments to usewhether of tenderness or
terrorsuch as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy
insomuch that you should no longer hide the name of him who
tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me--with
a young man's over-softnessalbeit wise beyond his years--that
it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay
open her heart's secrets in such broad daylightand in presence
of so great a multitude. Trulyas I sought to convince 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 thouor Ithat 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 voicealthough tempered
with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed:

Good Master Dimmesdale,said hethe responsibility of this


woman's soul lies greatly with you. It behoves you; therefore,
to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and
consequence thereof.

The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd
upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale--young clergymanwho had
come from one of the great English universitiesbringing all the
learning of the age into our wild forest land. His eloquence and
religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminence
in his profession. He was a person of very striking aspectwith a
whiteloftyand impending brow; largebrownmelancholy eyes
and 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 and
scholar-like attainmentsthere was an air about this young minister--an
apprehensivea startleda half-frightened look--as of a being
who felt himself quite astrayand at a loss in the pathway of
human existenceand could only be at ease in some seclusion of
his own. Thereforeso far as his duties would permithe trod
in the shadowy by-pathsand thus kept himself simple and
childlikecoming forthwhen occasion waswith a freshnessand
fragranceand dewy purity of thoughtwhichas many people
saidaffected them like tile speech of an angel.

Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the
Governor had introduced so openly to the public noticebidding
him speakin the hearing of all mento that mystery of 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 woman, my brother,said Mr. Wilson. "It is of
moment to her soulandthereforeas the worshipful Governor
saysmomentous to thine ownill whose charge hers is. Exhort
her to confess the truth!"

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his headsilent prayeras it
seemedand then came forward.

Hester Prynne,said heleaning over the balcony and looking
down steadfastly into her eyesthou hearest what this good man
says, and seest the accountability under which I labour. If thou
feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment
will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to
speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!
Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for,
believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place,
and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were
it so than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do
for him, except it tempt him--yea, compel him, as it were--to add
hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy,
that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil
within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest
to him--who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for
himself--the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented
to thy lips!

The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweetrichdeepand
broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifestedrather
than the direct purport of the wordscaused it to vibrate within
all heartsand brought the listeners into one accord of
sympathy. Even the poor baby at Hester's bosom was affected by
the same influencefor it directed its hitherto vacant gaze
towards Mr. Dimmesdaleand held up its little arms with a


half-pleasedhalf-plaintive murmur. So powerful seemed the
minister's appeal that the people could not believe but that
Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty nameor else that the
guilty one himself in whatever high or lowly place he stood
would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessityand
compelled to ascend the scaffold.

Hester shook her head.

Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!
cried the Reverend Mr. Wilsonmore harshly than before. "That
little babe hath been gifted with a voiceto second and confirm
the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That
and thy repentancemay avail to take the scarlet letter off thy
breast. "

Never,replied Hester Prynnelookingnot at Mr. Wilsonbut
into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. "It is
too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I
might endure his agony as well as mine!"

Speak, woman!said another voicecoldly and sternly
proceeding from the crowd about the scaffoldSpeak; and give
your child a father!

I will not speak!answered Hesterturning pale as deathbut
responding to this voicewhich she too surely recognised. "And
my child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an
earthly one!"

She will not speak!murmured Mr. Dimmesdalewholeaning over
the balconywith his hand upon his hearthad awaited the
result of his appeal. He now drew back with a long respiration.
Wondrous strength arid generosity of a woman's heart! She will
not speak!

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind
the elder clergymanwho had carefully prepared himself for the
occasionaddressed to the multitude a discourse on sinin all
its branchesbut with continual reference to the ignominious letter.
So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbolfor the hour or more during
which is periods were rolling over the people's headsthat it assumed
new terrors in their imaginationand seemed to derive its
scarlet hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne
meanwhilekept her place upon the pedestal of shamewith glazed
eyesand an air of weary indifference. She had borne that
morning all that nature could endure; and as her temperament was
not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by a
swoonher spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust
of insensibilitywhile the faculties of animal life remained
entire. In this statethe voice of the preacher thundered
remorselesslybut unavailinglyupon her ears. The infant
during the latter portion of her ordealpierced the air with its
wailings and screams; she strove to hush it mechanicallybut
seemed scarcely to sympathise 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 whispered by
those who peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a lurid
gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior.

IV. THE INTERVIEW

After her return to the prisonHester Prynne was found to be in
a state of nervous excitementthat demanded constant
watchfulnesslest she should perpetrate violence on herselfor
do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe. As night
approachedit proving impossible to quell her insubordination by
rebuke or threats of punishmentMaster Brackettthe jailer
thought fit to introduce a physician. He described him as a man
of skill in all Christian modes of physical scienceand likewise
familiar with whatever the savage people could teach in respect
to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say the
truththere was much need of professional assistancenot merely
for Hester herselfbut still more urgently for the child--who
drawing its sustenance from the maternal bosomseemed to have
drank in with it all the turmoilthe anguish and despairwhich
pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of
painand was a forcible typein its little frameof the moral
agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartmentappeared
that individualof singular aspect whose presence in the crowd
had been of such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter.
He was lodged in the prisonnot as suspected of any offencebut
as the most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of himuntil
the magistrates should have conferred with the Indian sagamores
respecting his ransom. His name was announced as Roger
Chillingworth. The jailerafter ushering him into the roomremained
a momentmarvelling at the comparative quiet that followed his
entrance; for Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death
although the child continued to moan.

Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient,said the
practitioner. "Trust megood jaileryou shall briefly have
peace in your house; andI promise youMistress Prynne shall
hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have
found her heretofore. "

Nay, if your worship can accomplish that,answered Master
BrackettI shall own you for a man of skill, indeed! Verily,
the woman hath been like a possessed one; and there lacks little
that I should take in hand, to drive Satan out of her with
stripes.

The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic
quietude of the profession to which he announced himself as
belonging. Nor did his demeanour change when the withdrawal of
the prison keeper left him face to face with the womanwhose
absorbed notice of himin the crowdhad intimated so close a
relation between himself and her. His first care was given to
the childwhose criesindeedas she lay writhing on the
trundle-bedmade it of peremptory necessity to postpone all
other business to the task of soothing her. He examined the infant carefully
and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern casewhich he took from
beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical preparations
one of which he mingled with a cup of water.

My old studies in alchemy,observed heand my sojourn, for
above a year past, among a people well versed in the kindly
properties of simples, have made a better physician of me than
many that claim the medical degree. Here, woman! The child is
yours--she is none of mine--neither will she recognise my
voice or aspect as a father's. Administer this draught,
therefore, with thine own hand.

Hester repelled the offered medicineat the same time gazing


with strongly marked apprehension into his face.
Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?whispered
she.


Foolish woman!responded the physicianhalf coldlyhalf
soothingly. "What should ail me to harm this misbegotten and
miserable babe? The medicine is potent for goodand were it my
child--yeamine ownas well as thine! I could do no better
for it."


As she still hesitatedbeingin factin no reasonable state
of mindhe took the infant in his armsand himself administered
the draught. It soon proved its efficacyand redeemed the
leech's pledge. The moans of the little patient subsided; its
convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few momentsas is
the custom of young children after relief from painit sank into
a profound and dewy slumber. The physicianas he had a fair
right to be termednext bestowed his attention on the mother.
With calm and intent scrutinyhe felt her pulselooked into her
eyes--a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudderbecause so
familiarand yet so strange and cold--andfinallysatisfied with his
investigationproceeded to mingle another draught.


I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe,remarked he; "but I have
learned many new secrets in the wildernessand here is one of
them--a recipe that an Indian taught mein requital of some
lessons of my ownthat were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it! It
may be less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot
give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy
passionlike oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea."


He presented the cup to Hesterwho received it with a slow
earnest look into his face; not precisely a look of fearyet
full of doubt and questioning as to what his purposes might be.
She looked also at her slumbering child.


I have thought of death,said she--"have wished for it--would
even have prayed for itwere it fit that such as I should
pray for anything. Yetif death be in this cupI bid thee
think againere thou beholdest me quaff it. See! it is even
now at my lips."


Drink, then,replied hestill with the same cold composure.
Dost thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are my purposes
wont to be so shallow? Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance,
what could I do better for my object than to let thee live--than
to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life--so
that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy bosom?As
he spokehe laid his long fore-finger on the scarlet letter
which forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester's breastas if it
ad been red hot. He noticed her involuntary gestureand smiled.
Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes
of men and women--in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy
husband--in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayest live,
take off this draught.


Without further expostulation or delayHester Prynne drained
the cupandat the motion of the man of skillseated herself
on the bedwhere the child was sleeping; while he drew the only
chair which the room affordedand took his own seat beside her.
She could not but tremble at these preparations; for she felt
that--having now done all that humanityor principleorif
so it werea refined crueltyimpelled him to do for the relief
of physical suffering--he was next to treat with her as the man



whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.

Hester,said heI ask not wherefore, nor how thou hast
fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the
pedestal of infamy on which I found thee. The reason is not far
to seek. It was my folly, and thy weakness. I--a man of
thought--the book-worm of great libraries--a man already in
decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of
knowledge--what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine
own? Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself
with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical
deformity in a young girl's fantasy? Men call me wise. If sages
were ever wise in their own behoof, I might have foreseen all
this. I might have known that, as I came out
of the vast and dismal forest, and entered this settlement of
Christian men, the very first object to meet my eyes would be
thyself, Hester Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before
the people. Nay, from the moment when we came down the old
church-steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the
bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!

Thou knowest,said Hester--fordepressed as she wasshe
could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her
shame--"thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love
nor feigned any."

True,replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. Butup
to that epoch of my lifeI had lived in vain. The world had
been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enough for
many guestsbut lonely and chilland without a household fire.
I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream--old as
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 first
wrongwhen I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and
unnatural relation with my decay. Thereforeas a man who has
not thought and philosophised in vainI seek no vengeanceplot
no evil against thee. Between thee and methe scale hangs fairly
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!"

Never, sayest thou?rejoined hewith a smile of dark and
self-relying intelligence. "Never know him! Believe meHester
there are few things whether in the outward worldorto a
certain depthin the invisible sphere of thought--few things
hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and
unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou mayest cover up
thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest conceal it
toofrom the ministers and magistrateseven as thou didst this
daywhen they sought to wrench the name out of thy heartand
give thee a partner on thy pedestal. Butas for meI come to
the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall seek
this manas I have sought truth in books: as I have sought gold
in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of
him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder


suddenly and unawares. Sooner or laterhe must needs be mine."

The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her
that Hester Prynne clasped her hand over her heartdreading lest
he should read the secret there at once.

Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine,
resumed hewith a look of confidenceas if destiny were at one
with him. "He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his
garmentas thou dostbut I shall read it on his heart . Yet
fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's
own method of retributionorto my own lossbetray him to the
gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall
contrive aught against his life; nonor against his fameif as
I judgehe be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let him hide
himself in outward honourif 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 thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee,
continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy
paramour. Keeplikewisemine! There are none in this land
that know me. Breathe not to any human soul that thou didst ever
call me husband! Hereon this wild outskirt of the earthI
shall pitch my tent; forelsewhere a wandererand isolated
from human interestsI find here a womana mana child
amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No
matter whether of love or hate: no matter whether of right or
wrong! Thou and thineHester Prynnebelong to me. My home is
where thou art and where he is. But betray me not!"

Wherefore dost thou desire it?inquired Hestershrinkingshe
hardly knew whyfrom this secret bond. "Why not announce
thyself openlyand cast me off at once?"

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

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

Swear it!rejoined he.

And she took the oath.

And now, Mistress Prynne,said old Roger Chillingworthas he
was hereafter to be namedI leave thee alone: alone with thy
infant and the scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy
sentence bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep? Art thou not
afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?

Why dost thou smile so at me?inquired Hestertroubled at the
expression of his eyes. "Art thou like the Black Man that
haunts the forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a
bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?"


Not thy soul,he answeredwith another smile. "Nonot
thine!"

V. HESTER AT HER NEEDLE
Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end. Her
prison-door was thrown openand she came forth into the
sunshinewhichfalling on all alikeseemedto her sick and
morbid heartas if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the
scarlet letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more real
torture in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of
the prison than even in the procession and spectacle that have
been 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 eventto occur but once in her lifetime
and to meet whichthereforereckless of economyshe might call
up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many quiet
years. The very law that condemned her--a giant of stem
featured but with vigour to supportas well as to annihilatein
his iron arm--had held her up through the terrible ordeal of
her ignominy. But nowwith this unattended walk from her prison
doorbegan the daily custom; and she must either sustain and
carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her natureor sink
beneath it. She could no longer borrow from the future to help
her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial
with it; so would the next dayand so would the next: each its own
trialand yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous
to be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onwardstill
with the same burden for her to take upand bear along with her
but never to fling down; for the accumulating days and added years
would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame. Throughout them
allgiving up her individualityshe would become the general symbol
at which the preacher and moralist might pointand in which they
might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and
sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look
at herwith the scarlet letter flaming on her breast--at her
the child of honourable parents--at herthe mother of a babe
that would hereafter be a woman--at herwho had once been
innocent--as the figurethe bodythe reality of sin. And
over her gravethe infamy that she must carry thither would be
her only monument.

It may seem marvellous thatwith the world before her--kept
by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of
the Puritan settlementso remote and so obscure--free to
return to her birth-placeor to any other European landand
there hide her character and identity under a new exterioras
completely as if emerging into another state of being--and
having also the passes of the darkinscrutable forest open to
herwhere the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people
whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned
her--it may seem marvellous that this woman should still call
that place her homewhereand where onlyshe must needs be the
type of shame. But there is a fatalitya feeling so
irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doomwhich
almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and
hauntghost-likethe spot where some great and marked event has
given the colour to their lifetime; andstill the more
irresistiblythe darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sinher


ignominywere the roots which she had struck into the soil. It
was as if a new birthwith stronger assimilations than the
firsthad converted the forest-landstill so uncongenial to
every other pilgrim and wandererinto Hester Prynne's wild and
drearybut life-long home. All other scenes of earth--even
that village of rural Englandwhere happy infancy and stainless
maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keepinglike
garments put off long ago--were foreign to herin comparison.
The chain that bound her here was of iron linksand galling to
her inmost soulbut could never be broken.

It might betoo--doubtless it was soalthough she hid the
secret from herselfand grew pale whenever it struggled out of
her heartlike a serpent from its hole--it might be that
another feeling kept her within the scene and pathway that had
been so fatal. There dweltthere trodethe feet of one with
whom she deemed herself connected in a union thatunrecognised
on earthwould bring them together before the bar of final
judgmentand make that their marriage-altarfor a joint
futurity of endless retribution. Over and over againthe tempter
of souls had thrust this idea upon Hester's contemplationand
laughed at the passionate an desperate joy with which she seized
and then strove to cast it from her. She barely looked the idea in
the faceand hastened to bar it in its dungeon. What she compelled
herself to believe--whatfinallyshe reasoned upon as her motive for
continuing a resident of New England--was half a truthand half a
self-delusion. Hereshe said to herself had been the scene of
her guiltand here should be the scene of her earthly
punishment; and soperchancethe torture of her daily shame
would at length purge her souland work out another purity than
that which she had lost: more saint-likebecause the result of
martyrdom.

Hester Prynnethereforedid not flee. On the outskirts of the
townwithin the 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 abandoned
because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivationwhile
its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that
social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants.
It stood on the shorelooking across a basin of the sea at the
forest-covered hillstowards the west. A clump of scrubby
treessuch as alone grew on the peninsuladid not so much
conceal the cottage from viewas seem to denote that here was
some object which would fain have beenor at least ought to be
concealed. In this little lonesome dwellingwith some slender
means that she possessedand by the licence of the magistrates
who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her
Hester established herselfwith her infant child. A mystic
shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot.
Childrentoo young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be
shut out from the sphere of human charitieswould creep nigh
enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-windowor
standing in the doorwayor labouring in her little gardenor
coming forth along the pathway that led townwardanddiscerning
the scarlet letter on her breastwould scamper off with a
strange contagious fear.

Lonely as was Hester's situationand without a friend on earth
who dared to show himselfshehoweverincurred no risk of
want. She possessed an art that sufficedeven in a land that
afforded comparatively little scope for its exerciseto supply
food for her thriving infant and herself. It was the artthen
as nowalmost the only one within a woman's grasp--of


needle-work. She bore on her breastin the curiously
embroidered lettera specimen of her delicate and imaginative
skillof which the dames of a court might gladly have availed
themselvesto add the richer and more spiritual adornment of
human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold. Hereindeed
in the sable simplicity that generally characterised the
Puritanic modes of dressthere might be an infrequent call for
the finer productions of her handiwork. Yet the taste of the
agedemanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this
kinddid not fail to extend its influence over our stern
progenitorswho had cast behind them so many fashions which it
might seem harder to dispense with.

Public ceremoniessuch as ordinationsthe installation of
magistratesand 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 official state of men
assuming the reins of powerand were readily allowed to
individuals dignified by rank or wealtheven while sumptuary
laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the plebeian
order. In the array of funeralstoo--whether for the apparel
of the dead bodyor to typifyby manifold emblematic devices of
sable cloth and snowy lawnthe sorrow of the survivors--there
was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour as
Hester Prynne could supply. Baby-linen--for babies then wore
robes of state--afforded still another possibility of toil and
emolument.

By degreesnot very slowlyher handiwork became what would now
be termed the fashion. Whether from commiseration for a woman of
so miserable a destiny; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a
fictitious value even to common or worthless things; or by
whatever other intangible circumstance was thenas now
sufficient to bestowon some personswhat others might seek in
vain; or because Hester really filled a gap which must otherwise
have remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready and fairly
equited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy
with her needle. Vanityit may bechose to mortify itselfby
putting onfor ceremonials of pomp and statethe garments that had
been wrought by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seen on the
ruff of the Governor; military men wore it on their scarfsand
the minister on his band; it decked the baby's little cap; it was
shut upto be mildewed and moulder awayin the coffins of the
dead. But it is not recorded thatin a single instanceher
skill was called in to embroider the white veil which was to
cover the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the
ever relentless vigour with which society frowned upon her sin.

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistenceof
the plainest and most ascetic descriptionfor herselfand a
simple abundance for her child. Her own dress was of the
coarsest materials and the most sombre huewith only that one
ornament--the scarlet letter--which it was her doom to wear.
The child's attireon the other handwas distinguished by a
fancifulorwe may rather saya fantastic ingenuitywhich
servedindeedto heighten the airy charm that early began to
develop itself in the little girlbut which appeared to have
also a deeper meaning. We may speak further of it hereafter.
Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her
infantHester bestowed all her superfluous means in charityon
wretches less miserable than herselfand who not unfrequently


insulted the hand that fed them. Much of the timewhich she
might readily have applied to the better efforts of her artshe
employed in making coarse garments for the poor. It is probable
that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupationand
that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting so
many hours to such rude handiwork. She had in her nature a rich
voluptuousOriental characteristic--a taste for the gorgeously
beautifulwhichsave in the exquisite productions of her
needlefound nothing elsein all the possibilities of her life
to exercise itself upon. Women derive a pleasure
incomprehensible to the other sexfrom the delicate toil of the
needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of
expressingand therefore soothingthe passion of her life.
Like all other joysshe rejected it as sin. This morbid
meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokenedit is
to be fearedno genuine and steadfast penitencebut something
doubtfulsomething that might be deeply wrong beneath.

In this matterHester 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
a mark upon hermore intolerable to a woman's heart than that
which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with
societyhoweverthere was nothing that made her feel as if she
belonged to it. Every gestureevery wordand even the silence
of those with whom she came in contactimpliedand often
expressedthat she was banishedand as much alone as if she
inhabited another sphereor communicated with the common nature
by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind. She
stood apart from moral interestsyet close beside themlike a
ghost that revisits the familiar firesideand can no longer make
itself seen or felt; no more smile with the household joynor mourn
with the kindred sorrow; orshould it
succeed in manifesting its forbidden sympathyawakening only
terror and horrible repugnance. These emotionsin factand its
bitterest scorn besidesseemed to be the sole portion that she
retained in the universal heart. It was not an age of delicacy;
and her positionalthough she understood it welland was in
little danger of forgetting itwas often brought before her
vivid self-perceptionlike a new anguishby the rudest touch
upon the tenderest spot. The pooras we have already saidwhom
she sought out to be the objects of her bountyoften reviled the
hand that was stretched forth to succour them. Dames of elevated
ranklikewisewhose doors she entered in the way of her
occupationwere accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into
her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet maliceby
which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles;
and sometimesalsoby a coarser expressionthat fell upon the
sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated
wound. Hester had schooled herself long and well; and she never
responded to these attackssave by a flush of crimson that rose
irrepressibly over her pale cheekand again subsided into the
depths of her bosom. She was patient--a martyrindeed but she
forebore to pray for enemieslestin spite of her forgiving
aspirationsthe words of the blessing should stubbornly twist
themselves into a curse.

Continuallyand in a thousand other waysdid she feel the
innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly
contrived for her by the undyingthe ever-active sentence
of the Puritan tribunal. Clergymen paused in the streetsto
address words of exhortationthat brought a crowdwith its
mingled grin and frownaround the
poorsinful woman. If she entered a churchtrusting to share


the Sabbath smile of the Universal 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 woman gliding
silently through the townwith never any companion but one only
child. Thereforefirst allowing her to passthey pursued her
at a distance with shrill criesand the utterances of a word
that had no distinct purport to their own mindsbut was none the
less terrible to heras proceeding from lips that babbled it
unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her
shamethat all nature knew of it; it could have caused her no
deeper pang had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story
among themselves--had the summer breeze murmured about
it--had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud! Another peculiar torture
was felt in the gaze of a new eye. When strangers looked
curiously at the scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so--they
branded it afresh in Hester's soul; so thatoftentimesshe
could scarcely refrainyet always did refrainfrom covering the
symbol with her hand. But thenagainan accustomed eye had
likewise its own anguish to inflict. Its cool stare of
familiarity was intolerable. From first to lastin short
Hester Prynne had always 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 months
she felt an eye--a human eye--upon the ignominious brand
that seemed to give a momentary reliefas if half of her agony
were shared. The next instantback it all rushed againwith
still a deeper throb of pain; forin that brief intervalshe
had sinned anew. (Had Hester sinned alone?)

Her imagination was somewhat affectedandhad she been of a
softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more
soby the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to
and frowith those lonely footstepsin the little world with
which she was outwardly connectedit now and then appeared to
Hester--if altogether fancyit was nevertheless too potent to
be resisted--she felt or fanciedthenthat the scarlet letter
had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believeyet
could not help believingthat it gave her a sympathetic
knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. She was terrorstricken
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 the struggling womanas yet
only half his victimthat the outward guise of purity was but a
lieand thatif truth were everywhere to be showna scarlet
letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's?
Ormust she receive those intimations--so obscureyet so
distinct--as truth? In all her miserable experiencethere was
nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense. It
perplexedas well as shocked herby the irreverent
inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid
action. Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a
sympathetic throbas she passed near a venerable minister or
magistratethe model of piety and justiceto whom that age of
antique reverence looked upas to a mortal man in fellowship
with angels. "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hester say to
herself. Lifting her reluctant eyesthere would be nothing
human within the scope of viewsave the form of this earthly
saint! Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert
itselfas she met the sanctified frown of some matronwho
according to the rumour of all tongueshad kept cold snow within
her bosom throughout life. That unsunned snow 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--"Behold Hesterhere is a companion!" andlooking
upshe would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at the
scarlet lettershyly and asideand quickly avertedwith a
faintchill crimson in her cheeks as if her purity were somewhat
sullied by that momentary glance. O Fiendwhose talisman was
that fatal symbolwouldst thou leave nothingwhether in youth
or agefor this poor sinner to revere?--such loss of faith is
ever one of the saddest results of sin. Be it accepted as a
proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim of her own
frailtyand man's hard lawthat Hester Prynne yet struggled to
believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.

The vulgarwhoin those dreary old timeswere always
contributing a grotesque horror to what interested their
imaginationshad a story about the scarlet
letter which we might readily work up into a terrific legend.
They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet clothtinged
in an earthly dye-potbut was red-hot with infernal fireand
could be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked
abroad in the night-time. And we must needs say it seared
Hester's bosom so deeplythat perhaps there was more truth in
the rumour than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.

VI. PEARL
We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant that little creature
whose innocent life had sprungby the inscrutable decree of
Providencea lovely and immortal flowerout of the rank
luxuriance of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad
womanas she watched the growthand the beauty that became
every day more brilliantand the intelligence that threw its
quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child! Her
Pearl--for so had Hester called her; not as a name expressive
of her aspectwhich had nothing of the calmwhite
unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison.
But she named the infant "Pearl as being of great price--purchased
with all she had--her mother's only treasure! How
strange, indeed! Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet
letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no
human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself.
God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished,
had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same
dishonoured bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race
and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in
heaven! Yet these thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope
than apprehension. She knew that her deed
had been evil; she could have no faith, therefore, that its
result would be good. Day after day she looked fearfully into
the child's expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark
and wild peculiarity that should correspond with the guiltiness
to which she owed her being.

Certainly there was no physical defect. By its perfect shape,
its vigour, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its
untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought forth
in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of
the angels after the world's first parents were driven out. The
child had a native grace which does not invariably co-exist with
faultless beauty; its attire, however simple, always impressed
the beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became it


best. But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds. Her
mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood
hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured,
and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the
arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore
before the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure when
thus arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper
beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have
extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute
circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor. And
yet a russet gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude play,
made a picture of her just as perfect. Pearl's aspect was imbued
with a spell of infinite variety; in this one child there were
many children, comprehending the full scope between the
wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby, and the
pomp, in little, of an infant princess. Throughout all, however,
there was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she
never lost; and if in any of her changes, she had grown fainter
or paler, she would have ceased to be herself--it would have
been no longer Pearl!

This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly
express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature
appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but--or
else Hester's fears deceived her--it lacked reference and
adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could
not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence a great
law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements
were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or
with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of
variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be
discovered. Hester could only account for the child's
character--and even then most vaguely and imperfectly--by recalling
what she herself had been during that momentous period while
Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her
bodily frame from its material of earth. The mother's
impassioned state had been the medium through which were
transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and,
however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep
stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow,
and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above
all, the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch was perpetuated
in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood,
the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes
of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. They were
now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's
disposition, but, later in the day of earthly existence, might be
prolific of the storm and whirlwind.

The discipline of the family in those days was of a far more
rigid kind than now. The frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent
application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were
used, not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences,
but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all
childish virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the loving mother
of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side of undue
severity. Mindful, however, of her own errors and misfortunes,
she early sought to impose a tender but strict control over the
infant immortality that was committed to her charge. But the
task was beyond her skill. after testing both smiles and frowns,
and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any
calculable influence, Hester was ultimately compelled to stand
aside and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses.
Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, while


it lasted. As to any other kind of discipline, whether addressed
to her mind or heart, little Pearl might or might not be within
its reach, in accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment.
Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted with a
certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labour
thrown away to insist, persuade or plead.

It was a look so intelligent, yet inexplicable, perverse,
sometimes so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow
of spirits, that Hester could not help questioning at such
moments whether Pearl was a human child. She seemed rather an
airy sprite, which, after playing its fantastic sports for a
little while upon the cottage floor, would flit away with a
mocking smile. Whenever that look appeared in her wild, bright,
deeply black eyes, it invested her with a strange remoteness and
intangibility: it was as if she were hovering in the air, and
might vanish, like a glimmering light that comes we know not
whence and goes we know not whither. Beholding it, Hester was
constrained to rush towards the child--to pursue the little elf
in the flight which she invariably began--to snatch her to her
bosom with a close pressure and earnest kisses--not so much
from overflowing love as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh
and blood, and not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laugh, when she
was caught, though full of merriment and music, made her mother
more doubtful than before.

Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, that so
often came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had
bought so dear, and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst
into passionate tears. Then, perhaps--for there was no
foreseeing how it might affect her--Pearl would frown, and
clench her little fist, and harden her small features into a
stern, unsympathising look of discontent. Not seldom she would
laugh anew, and louder than before, like a thing incapable and
unintelligent of human sorrow. Or--but this more rarely happened--she
would be convulsed with rage of grief and
sob out her love for her mother in broken words, and seem intent
on proving that she had a heart by breaking it. Yet Hester was
hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty tenderness: it
passed as suddenly as it came. Brooding over all these matters,
the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some
irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the
master-word that should control this new and incomprehensible
intelligence. Her only real comfort was when the child lay in
the placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted
hours of quiet, sad, delicious happiness; until--perhaps with
that perverse expression glimmering from beneath her opening
lids--little Pearl awoke!

How soon--with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive
at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the
mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what a
happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her
clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish
voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's
tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive
children. But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast of
the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin,
she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more
remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which the child
comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an
inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in
short, of her position in respect to other children. Never since
her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without


her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there: first
as the babe in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small
companion of her mother, holding a forefinger with her whole
grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or four footsteps
to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the settlement on the
grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic thresholds,
disporting themselves in such grim fashions as the Puritanic
nurture would permit! playing at going to church, perchance,
or at scourging Quakers, or taking scalps in a sham fight with the
Indians, or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft.
Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance.
If spoken to, she would not speak again. If the children gathered about
her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible
in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with
shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble,
because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some
unknown tongue.

The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most
intolerant brood that ever lived, had got a vague idea of
something outlandish, unearthly, or at variance with ordinary
fashions, in the mother and child, and therefore scorned them in
their hearts, and not unfrequently reviled them with their
tongues. Pearl felt the sentiment, and requited it with the
bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish
bosom. These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value,
and even comfort for the mother; because there was at least an
intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of the fitful caprice
that so often thwarted her in the child's manifestations. It appalled
her, nevertheless, to discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the
evil that had existed in herself. All this enmity and passion had Pearl
inherited, by inalienable right, out of Hester's heart. Mother
and daughter stood together in the same circle of seclusion from
human society; and in the nature of the child seemed to be
perpetuated those unquiet elements that had distracted Hester
Prynne before Pearl's birth, but had since begun to be soothed
away by the softening influences of maternity.

At home, within and around her mother's cottage, Pearl wanted not
a wide and various circle of acquaintance. The spell of life
went forth from her ever-creative spirit, and communicated itself
to a thousand objects, as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may
be applied. The unlikeliest materials--a stick, a bunch of
rags, a flower--were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft, and,
without undergoing any outward change, became spiritually adapted
to whatever drama occupied the stage of her inner world. Her one
baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages, old and
young, to talk withal. The pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn,
and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the
breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders
the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl
smote down and uprooted most unmercifully. It was wonderful, the
vast variety of forms into which she threw her intellect, with no
continuity, indeed, but darting up and dancing, always in a
state of preternatural activity--soon sinking down, as if exhausted
by so rapid and feverish a tide of life--and succeeded by other
shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like nothing so much as
the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the mere
exercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing
mind, there might be a little more than was observable in other
children of bright faculties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of
human playmates, was thrown more upon the visionary throng which
she created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with
which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart


and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed always to be
sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of
armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle. It was
inexpressibly sad--then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who
felt in her own heart the cause--to observe, in one so young,
this constant recognition of an adverse world, and so fierce a
training of the energies that were to make good her cause in the
contest that must ensue.

Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon her
knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have
hidden, but which made utterance for itself betwixt speech and a
groan--O Father in Heaven--if Thou art still my Father--what is
this being which I have brought into the world?" And
Pearloverhearing the ejaculationor aware through some more
subtile channelof those throbs of anguishwould turn her vivid
and beautiful little face upon her mothersmile with sprite-like
intelligenceand resume her play.

One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told.
The very first thing which she had noticed in her life
was--what?--not the mother's smileresponding to itas other
babies doby that faintembryo smile of the little mouth
remembered so doubtfully afterwardsand with such fond
discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no means! But
that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware
was--shall we say it?--the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom! One
dayas her mother stooped over the cradlethe infant's eyes had
been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the
letter; and putting up her little hand she grasped at it
smilingnot doubtfullybut with a decided gleamthat gave her
face the look of a much older child. Thengasping for breath
did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal tokeninstinctively
endeavouring to tear it awayso infinite was the torture
inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand. Again
as if her mother's agonised gesture were meant only to make sport
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 then
againit would come at unawareslike the stroke of sudden
deathand always with that peculiar smile and odd expression of
the eyes.

Once this freakishelvish cast came into the child's eyes while
Hester was looking at her own image in themas mothers are fond
of doing; and suddenly for women in solitudeand with troubled
heartsare pestered with unaccountable delusions she fancied that
she beheldnot her own miniature portraitbut another face in the
small black mirror of Pearl's eye. It was a facefiend-like
full of smiling maliceyet bearing the semblance of features
that she had known full wellthough seldom with a smileand
never with malice in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed
the childand had just then peeped forth in mockery. Many a
time afterwards had Hester been torturedthough less vividlyby
the same illusion.

In the afternoon of a certain summer's dayafter Pearl grew big
enough to run aboutshe amused herself with gathering handfuls
of wild flowersand flinging themone by oneat her mother's
bosom; dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit the
scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been to cover her
bosom with her clasped hands. But whether from pride or


resignationor a feeling that her penance might best be wrought
out by this unutterable painshe resisted the impulseand sat
erectpale as deathlooking sadly into little Pearl's wild
eyes. Still came the battery of flowersalmost invariably
hitting the markand covering the mother's breast with hurts for
which she could find no balm in this worldnor knew how to seek
it in another. At lasther shot being all expendedthe child
stood still and gazed at Hesterwith that little laughing image
of a fiend peeping out--orwhether it peeped or noher mother
so imagined it--from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes.

Child, what art thou?cried the mother.

Oh, I am your little Pearl!answered the child.

But while she said itPearl laughedand began to dance up and
down with the humoursome gesticulation of a little impwhose
next freak might be to fly up the chimney.

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

Nor did she put the question altogether idlybutfor the
momentwith a portion of genuine earnestness; forsuch was
Pearl's wonderful intelligencethat her mother half doubted
whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her
existenceand might not now reveal herself.

Yes; I am little Pearl!repeated the childcontinuing her
antics.

Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!said the
mother half playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive
impulse came over her in the midst of her deepest suffering.
Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither?

Tell me, mother!said the 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 the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary
freakishnessor because an evil spirit prompted hershe put up
her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter.

He did not send me!cried shepositively. "I have no Heavenly
Father!"

Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!answered the mother.
suppressing a groan. "He sent us all into the world. He sent even
methy mother. Thenmuch more thee! Orif notthou strange
and elfish childwhence didst thou come?"

Tell me! Tell me!repeated Pearlno longer seriouslybut
laughing and capering about the floor. "It is thou that must
tell me!"

But Hester could not resolve the queryusing herself in a dismal
labyrinth of doubt. She remembered--betwixt a smile and a
shudder--the talk of the neighbouring townspeoplewhoseeking
vainly elsewhere for the child's paternityand observing some of
her odd attributeshad given out that poor little Pearl was a
demon offspring: such asever since old Catholic timeshad


occasionally been seen on earththrough the agency of their
mother's sinand to promote some foul and wicked purpose.
Lutheraccording to the scandal of his monkish enemieswas a
brat of that hellish breed; nor was Pearl the only child to whom
this inauspicious origin was assigned among the New England
Puritans.

VII. THE GOVERNOR'S HALL
Hester Prynne went one day to the mansion of Governor Bellingham
with a pair of gloves which she had fringed and embroidered to
his orderand which were to be worn on some great occasion of
state; forthough the chances of a popular election had caused
this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank
he still held an honourable and influential place among the
colonial magistracy.

Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair
of embroidered glovesimpelled Hesterat this timeto seek an
interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the
affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears that there
was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants
cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and
governmentto deprive her of her child. On the supposition that
Pearlas already hintedwas of demon originthese good people
not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in the mother's
soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her
path. If the childon the other handwere 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 than Hester Prynne's. Among those who
promoted the designGovernor Bellingham was said to be one of
the most busy. It may appear singularandindeednot a little
ludicrousthat an affair of this kindwhich in later days would
have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the
select men of the townshould then have been a question publicly
discussedand on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At
that epoch of pristine simplicityhowevermatters of even
slighter public interestand of far less intrinsic weight than
the welfare of Hester and her childwere strangely mixed up with
the deliberations of legislators and acts of state. The period
was hardlyif at allearlier than that of our storywhen a
dispute concerning the right of property in a pig not only caused
a fierce and bitter contest in the 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 right
that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on
the one sideand a lonely womanbacked by the sympathies of
natureon 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 sideand
constantly in motion from morn till sunsetcould have
accomplished a much longer journey than that before her. Often
neverthelessmore from caprice than necessityshe demanded to
be taken up in arms; but was soon as imperious to be let down
againand frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway
with many a harmless trip and tumble. We
have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty--a beauty that
shone with deep and vivid tintsa bright complexioneyes


possessing intensity both of depth and glowand hair already of
a deepglossy brownand whichin after yearswould be nearly
akin to black. There was fire in her and throughout her: she
seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her
motherin contriving the child's garbhad allowed the gorgeous
tendencies of her imagination their full playarraying her in a
crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cutabundantly embroidered in
fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So much strength of
colouringwhich must have given a wan and pallid aspect to
cheeks of a fainter bloomwas admirably adapted to Pearl'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 garband indeedof
the child's whole appearancethat it irresistibly and inevitably
reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed
to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another
form: the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother herself--as
if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain
that all her conceptions assumed its form--had carefully
wrought out the similitudelavishing many hours of morbid
ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her
affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. Butin
truthPearl was the one as well as the other; and only in
consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to
represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the townthe
children of the Puritans looked up from their player what passed
for play with those sombre little urchins--and spoke gravely
one to another

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

But Pearlwho was a dauntless childafter frowningstamping
her footand shaking her little hand with a variety of
threatening gesturessuddenly made a rush at the knot of her
enemiesand put them all to flight. She resembledin her
fierce pursuit of theman infant pestilence--the scarlet
feveror some such half-fledged angel of judgment--whose
mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She
screamed and shoutedtoowith a terrific volume of sound
whichdoubtlesscaused the hearts of the fugitives to quake
within them. The victory accomplishedPearl returned quietly to
her motherand looked upsmilinginto her face.
Without further adventurethey reached the dwelling of Governor
Bellingham. This was a large wooden housebuilt in a fashion of
which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our
older towns now moss--growncrumbling to decayand melancholy
at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences
remembered or forgottenthat have happened and passed away
within their dusky chambers. Thenhoweverthere was the
freshness of the passing year on its exteriorand the
cheerfulnessgleaming forth from the sunny windowsof a human
habitationinto which death had never entered. It hadindeed
a very cheery aspectthe walls being overspread with a kind of
stuccoin which fragments of broken
glass were plentifully intermixed; so thatwhen the sunshine
fell aslant-wise over the front of the edificeit glittered and
sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double
handful. The brilliancy might have be fitted Aladdin's palace


rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It was
further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures
and diagramssuitable to the quaint taste of the age which had
been drawn in the stuccowhen newly laid onand had now grown
hard and durablefor the admiration of after times.

Pearllooking at this bright wonder of a house began to caper
and danceand imperatively required that the whole breadth of
sunshine should be stripped off its frontand given her to play
with.

No, my little Pearl!said her mother; "thou must gather thine
own sunshine. I have none to give thee!"

They approached the doorwhich was of an arched formand
flanked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the
edificein both of which were lattice-windowsthe wooden
shutters to close over them at need. Lifting the iron hammer
that hung at the portalHester Prynne gave a summonswhich was
answered by one of the Governor's bond servant--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
customary garb of serving-men at that periodand long beforein
the old hereditary halls of England.

Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?Inquired Hester.

Yea, forsooth,replied the bond-servantstaring with wide-open
eyes at the scarlet letterwhichbeing a new-comer in the
countryhe had never before seen. "Yeahis honourable worship
is within. But he hath a godly minister or two with himand
likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now."

Nevertheless, I will enter,answered Hester Prynne; and the
bond-servantperhaps judging from the decision of her airand
the glittering symbol in her bosomthat she was a great lady in
the landoffered no opposition.

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of
entrance. With many variationssuggested by the nature of his
building materialsdiversity of climateand a different mode of
social lifeGovernor Bellingham had planned his new habitation
after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native
land. Herethenwas a wide and reasonably lofty hall
extending through the whole depth of the houseand forming a
medium of general communicationmore or less directlywith all
the other apartments. At one extremitythis spacious room was
lighted by the windows of the two towerswhich formed a small
recess on either side of the portal. At the other endthough
partly muffled by a curtainit was more powerfully illuminated
by one of those embowed hall windows which we read of in old
booksand which was provided with a deep and cushion seat.
Hereon the cushionlay a folio tomeprobably 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. The furniture of the
hall consisted of some ponderous chairsthe backs of which were
elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a
table in the same tastethe whole being of the Elizabethan age
or perhaps earlierand heirloomstransferred hither from the
Governor's paternal home. On the table--in token that the
sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind--stood
a large pewter tankardat the bottom of whichhad Hester


or Pearl peeped into itthey might have seen the frothy remnant
of a recent draught of ale.

On the wall hung a row of portraitsrepresenting the forefathers
of the Bellingham lineagesome with armour on their breastsand
others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were
characterised by the sternness and severity which old portraits
so invariably put onas if they were the ghostsrather than the
picturesof departed worthiesand were gazing with harsh and
intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living
men.

At about the centre of the oaken panels that lined the hall was
suspended a suit of mailnotlike the picturesan ancestral
relicbut of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured
by a skilful armourer in Londonthe same year in which Governor
Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steel
head-piecea cuirassa gorget and greaveswith a pair of
gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; alland especially the
helmet and breastplateso highly burnished as to glow with white
radianceand scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the
floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle showbut
had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and draining
fieldand had glitteredmoreoverat the head of a regiment in the
Pequod war. Forthough bred a lawyerand accustomed to speak
of BaconCokeNoyeand Finchas his professional associates
the exigenties of this new country had transformed Governor
Bellingham into a soldieras well as a statesman and ruler.

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

Mother,cried sheI see you here. Look! look!

Hester looked by way of humouring the child; and she saw that
owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirrorthe scarlet
letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions
so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance.
In truthshe seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed
upwards alsoat a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at
her motherwith the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an
expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty
merriment was likewise reflected in the mirrorwith so much
breadth and intensity of effectthat it made Hester Prynne feel
as if it could not be the image of her own childbut of an imp
who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.

Come along, Pearl,said shedrawing her awayCome and look
into this fair garden. It may be we shall see flowers there;
more beautiful ones than we find in the woods.

Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-windowat the further end of
the halland looked along the vista of a garden walkcarpeted
with closely-shaven grassand bordered
with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery. But the
proprietor appeared already to have relinquished as hopelessthe
effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlanticin a hard
soiland amid the close struggle for subsistencethe native
English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain
sight; and a pumpkin-vinerooted at some distancehad run
across the intervening spaceand deposited one of its gigantic
products directly beneath the hall windowas if to warn the


Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an
ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were a few
rose-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 early annalsseated on the back of a bull.

Pearlseeing the rose-bushesbegan to cry for a red roseand
would not be pacified.

Hush, child--hush!said her motherearnestly. "Do not cry
dear 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 seen approaching towards the house. Pearlin utter
scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet hergave an eldritch
screamand then became silentnot from any motion of obedience
but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was
excited by the appearance of those new personages.

VIII. THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER
Governor Bellinghamin a loose gown and easy cap--such as
elderly gentlemen loved to endue themselves within their
domestic privacy--walked foremostand appeared to be showing
off his estateand expatiating on his projected improvements.
The wide circumference of an elaborate ruffbeneath his grey
beardin the antiquated fashion of King James's reigncaused
his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a
charger. The impression made by his aspectso rigid and severe
and frost-bitten with more than autumnal agewas hardly in
keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had
evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it is an
error to suppose that our great forefathers--though accustomed
to speak and think of human existence as a state merely of trial
and warfareand though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods
and life at the behest of duty--made it a matter of conscience
to reject such means of comfortor even luxuryas lay fairly
within their grasp. This creed was never taughtfor instance
by the venerable pastorJohn Wilsonwhose beardwhite as a
snow-driftwas seen over Governor Bellingham's shoulderswhile
its wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalised
in the New England climateand that purple grapes might possibly
be compelled to flourish against the sunny garden-wall. The old
clergymannurtured at the rich bosom of the English Churchhad
a long established and legitimate taste for all good and
comfortable thingsand however stern he might show himself in
the pulpitor in his public reproof of such transgressions as
that of Hester Prynnestillthe genial benevolence of his
private life had won him warmer affection than was accorded to
any of his professional contemporaries.

Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests--one
the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdalewhom the reader may remember as
having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester
Prynne's disgrace; andin close companionship with himold
Roger Chillingwortha person of great skill in physicwho for
two or three years past had been settled in the town. It was
understood that this learned man was the physician as well as
friend of the young ministerwhose health had severely suffered
of late by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labours and


duties of the pastoral relation.

The Governorin advance of his visitorsascended one or two
stepsandthrowing open the leaves of the great hall window
found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain
fell on Hester Prynneand partially concealed her.

What have we here?said Governor Bellinghamlooking with
surprise at the scarlet little figure before him. "I professI
have never seen the like since my days of vanityin old King
James's timewhen I was wont to esteem it a high favour to be
admitted to a court mask! There used to be a swarm of these
small apparitions in holiday timeand we called them children of
the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a guest into my hall?"

Ay, indeed!cried good old Mr. Wilson. "What little bird of
scarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such
figures when the sun has been shining through a richly painted
windowand tracing out the golden and crimson images across the
floor. But that was in the old land. Pritheeyoung onewho
art thouand what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this
strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child--ha? Dost know
thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies
whom we thought to have left behind uswith other relics of
Papistryin merry old England?"

I am mother's child,answered the scarlet visionand my name
is Pearl!

Pearl?--Ruby, rather--or Coral!--or Red Rose, at the
very least, judging from thy hue!responded the old minister
putting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on
the cheek. "But where is this mother of thine? Ah! I see he
added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, This is
the selfsame child of whom we have held speech together; and
behold here the unhappy womanHester Prynneher mother!"

Sayest thou so?cried the Governor. "Naywe might have judged
that such a child's mother must needs be a scarlet womanand a
worthy type of her of Babylon! But she comes at a good timeand
we will look into this matter forthwith."

Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hall
followed by his three guests.

Hester Prynne,said hefixing his naturally stern regard on
the wearer of the scarlet letterthere hath been much question
concerning thee of late. The point hath been weightily
discussed, whether we, that are of authority and influence, do
well discharge our consciences by trusting an immortal soul, such
as there is in yonder child, to the guidance of one who hath
stumbled and fallen amid the pitfalls of this world. Speak thou,
the child's own mother! Were it not, thinkest thou, for thy
little one's temporal and eternal welfare that she be taken out
of thy charge, and clad soberly, and disciplined strictly, and
instructed in the truths of heaven and earth? What canst thou do
for the child in this kind?

I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!
answered Hester Prynnelaying her finger on the red token.

Woman, it is thy badge of shame!replied the stern magistrate.
It is because of the stain which that letter indicates that we
would transfer thy child to other hands.


Nevertheless,said the mothercalmlythough growing more
palethis badge hath taught me--it daily teaches me--it is
teaching me at this moment--lessons whereof my child may be
the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself.

We will judge warily,said Bellinghamand look well what we
are about to do. Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this
Pearl--since that is her name--and see whether she hath had
such Christian nurture as befits a child of her age.

The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair and made an
effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child
unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but her mother
escaped through the open windowand stood on the upper step
looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumageready to take
flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilsonnot a little astonished
at this outbreak--for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage
and usually a vast favourite with children--essayedhowever
to proceed with the examination.

Pearl,said hewith great solemnitythou must take heed to
instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy
bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child,
who made thee?

Now Pearl knew well enough who made herfor Hester Prynnethe
daughter of a pious homevery soon after her talk with the child
about her Heavenly Fatherhad begun to inform her of those
truths which the human spiritat whatever stage of immaturity
imbibes with such eager interest. Pearltherefore--so large
were the attainments of her three years' lifetime--could have
borne a fair examination in the New England Primeror the first
column of the Westminster Catechismsalthough unacquainted with
the outward form of either of those celebrated works. But that
perversitywhich all children have more or less ofand of which
little Pearl had a tenfold portionnowat the most inopportune
momenttook thorough possession of herand closed her lipsor
impelled her to speak words amiss. After putting her finger in
her mouthwith many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr.
Wilson's questionthe child finally announced that she had not been
made at allbut had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild
roses that grew by the prison-door.

This phantasy was probably suggested by the near proximity of the
Governor's red rosesas Pearl stood outside of the window
together with her recollection of the prison rose-bushwhich she
had passed in coming hither.

Old Roger Chillingworthwith a smile on his facewhispered
something in the young clergyman's ear. Hester Prynne looked at
the man of skilland even thenwith her fate hanging in the
balancewas startled to perceive what a change had come over his
features--how much uglier they werehow his dark complexion
seemed to have grown duskierand his figure more misshapen--since
the days when she had familiarly known him. She met his
eyes for an instantbut was immediately constrained to give all
her attention to the scene now going forward.

This is awful!cried the Governorslowly recovering from the
astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him. "Here
is a child of three years oldand she cannot tell who made 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 arms
confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce
expression. Alone in the worldcast off by itand with this
sole treasure to keep her heart aliveshe felt that she
possessed indefeasible rights against the worldand was ready
to defend them to the death.

God gave me the child!cried she. "He gave her in requital of
all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness--she
is my torturenone the less! Pearl keeps me here in
life! Pearl punishes metoo! See ye notshe is the scarlet
letteronly capable of being lovedand so endowed with a
millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not
take her! I will die first!"

My poor woman,said the not unkind old ministerthe child
shall be well cared for--far better than thou canst do for it.

God gave her into my keeping!repeated Hester Prynneraising
her voice 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 momentshe had seemed hardly so
much as once to direct her eyes. "Speak thou for me!" cried she.
Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me
better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for
me! Thou knowest--for thou hast sympathies which these men
lack--thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's
rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has
but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will
not lose the child! Look to it!

At this wild and singular appealwhich indicated that Hester
Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less than madness
the young minister at once came forwardpaleand holding his
hand over his heartas was his custom whenever his peculiarly
nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. He looked now
more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene
of Hester's public ignominy; and whether it were his failing
healthor whatever the cause might behis large dark eyes had a
world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.

There is truth in what she says,began the ministerwith a
voice sweettremulousbut powerfulinsomuch that the hall
re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it--"truth in what
Hester saysand in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her
the childand gave hertooan instinctive knowledge of its
nature and requirements--both seemingly so peculiar--which no
other mortal being can possess. Andmoreoveris there not a
quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother
and this child?"

Ay--how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?interrupted the
Governor. "Make that plainI pray you!"

It must be even so,resumed the minister. "Forif we deem it
otherwisedo we not hereby say that the Heavenly Fatherthe
creator of all fleshhath lightly recognised a deed of sinand
made of no account the distinction between unhallowed lust and
holy love? This child of its father's guilt and its mother's
shame has come from the hand of Godto work in many ways upon
her heartwho pleads so earnestly and with such bitterness of
spirit the right to keep her. It was meant for a blessing--for


the one blessing of her life! It was meantdoubtlessthe
mother herself hath told usfor a retributiontoo;
a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment; a panga
stingan ever-recurring agonyin the midst of a troubled joy!
Hath she not expressed this thought in the garb of the poor
childso forcibly reminding us of that red symbol which sears
her bosom?"

Well said again!cried good Mr. Wilson. "I feared the woman
had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"

Oh, not so!--not so!continued Mr. Dimmesdale. "She
recognisesbelieve methe solemn miracle which God hath wrought
in the existence of that child. And may she feeltoo--what
methinksis the very truth--that this boon was meantabove
all things elseto keep the mother's soul aliveand to preserve
her from blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have
sought to plunge her! Therefore it is good for this poorsinful
womanthat she hath an infant immortalitya being capable of
eternal joy or sorrowconfided to her care--to be trained up
by her to righteousnessto remind herat every momentof her
fallbut yet to teach heras if it were by the Creator's sacred
pledgethatif she bring the child to heaventhe child also
will bring its parents thither! Herein is the sinful mother
happier than the sinful father. For Hester Prynne's sakethen
and no less for the poor child's sakelet us leave them as
Providence hath seen fit to place them!"

You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness,said old
Roger Chillingworthsmiling at him.

And there is a weighty import in what my young brother hath
spoken,added the Rev. Mr. Wilson.

What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham? Hath he not pleaded
well for the poor woman?

Indeed hath he,answered the magistrate; "and hath adduced such
argumentsthat we will even leave the matter as it now stands;
so longat leastas there shall be no further scandal in the
woman. Care must be had neverthelessto put the child to due
and stated examination in the catechismat thy hands or Master
Dimmesdale's. Moreoverat a proper seasonthe tithing-men must
take heed that she go both to school and to meeting."

The young ministeron ceasing to speak had withdrawn a few steps
from the groupand stood with his face partially concealed in
the heavy folds of the window-curtain; while the shadow of his
figurewhich the sunlight cast upon the floorwas tremulous
with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearlthat wild and flighty
little elf stole softly towards himand taking his hand in the
grasp of both her ownlaid her cheek against it; a caress so
tenderand withal so unobtrusivethat her motherwho was
looking onasked herself--"Is that my Pearl?" Yet she knew
that there was love in the child's heartalthough it mostly
revealed itself in passionand hardly twice in her lifetime had
been softened by such gentleness as now. The minister--for
save the long-sought regards of 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 round
laid his hand on the child's headhesitated an instantand then
kissed her brow. Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment
lasted no longer; she laughedand went capering down the hall so


airilythat old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her
tiptoes touched the floor.

The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess,said he
to Mr. Dimmesdale. "She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly
withal!"

A strange child!remarked old Roger Chillingworth. "It is easy
to see the mother's part in her. Would it be beyond a
philosopher's researchthink yegentlemento analyse that
child's natureandfrom it make a mouldto give a shrewd guess
at the father?"

Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the clue
of profane philosophy,said Mr. Wilson. "Better to fast and
pray upon it; and still betterit may beto leave the mystery
as we find itunless Providence reveal it of its own accord
Therebyevery good Christian man hath a title to show a father's
kindness towards the poordeserted babe."

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 was thrown open
and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress
HibbinsGovernor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sisterand the
same whoa few years laterwas executed as a witch.

Hist, hist!said shewhile her ill-omened physiognomy seemed
to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house. "Wilt
thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the
forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester
Prynne should make one."

Make my excuse to him, so please you!answered Hesterwith a
triumphant smile. "I must tarry at homeand keep watch over my
little Pearl. Had they taken her from meI would willingly have
gone with thee into the forestand signed my name in the Black
Man's book tooand that with mine own blood!"

We shall have thee there anon!said the witch-ladyfrowning
as she drew back her head.

But here--if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins
and Hester Prynne to be authenticand not a parable--was
already an illustration of the young minister's argument against
sundering the relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of her
frailty. Even thus early had the child saved her from Satan's
snare.

IX. THE LEECH
Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworththe reader will
rememberwas hidden another namewhich its former wearer had
resolved should never more be spoken. It has been relatedhow
in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure
stood a manelderlytravel-wornwhojust emerging from the
perilous wildernessbeheld the womanin whom he hoped to find
embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of homeset up as a type of
sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under all
men's feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public
market-place. For her kindredshould the tidings ever reach
themand for the companions of her unspotted lifethere


remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonour; which would
not fail to be distributed in strict accordance arid proportion
with the intimacy and sacredness of their previous relationship.
Then why--since the choice was with himself--should the
individualwhose connexion with the fallen woman had been the
most intimate and sacred of them allcome forward to vindicate
his claim to an inheritance so little desirable? He resolved not
to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Unknown to
all but Hester Prynneand possessing the lock and key of her silence
he chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankindandas
regarded his former ties and interestto vanish out of life as completely
as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the oceanwhither rumour
had long ago consigned him. This purpose once effectednew
interests would immediately spring upand likewise a new
purpose; 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 town as Roger Chillingworthwithout other introduction
than the learning and intelligence of which he possessed more
than a common measure. As his studiesat a previous period of
his lifehad made him extensively acquainted with the medical
science of the dayit was as a physician that he presented
himself and as such was cordially received. Skilful menof the
medical and chirurgical professionwere of rare occurrence in
the colony. They seldomit would appearpartook of the
religious zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic.
In their researches into the human frameit may be that the
higher and more subtle faculties of such men were materialised
and that they lost the spiritual view of existence amid the
intricacies of that wondrous mechanismwhich seemed to involve
art enough to comprise all of life within itself. At all events
the health of the good town of Bostonso far as medicine had
aught to do with ithad hitherto lain in the guardianship of an
aged deacon and apothecarywhose piety and godly deportment were
stronger testimonials in his favour than any that he could have
produced in the shape of a diploma. The only surgeon was one
who combined the occasional exercise of
that noble art with the daily and habitual flourish of a razor.
To such a professional body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant
acquisition. He soon manifested his familiarity with the
ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which
every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and
heterogeneous ingredientsas elaborately compounded as if the
proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian
captivitymoreoverhe had gained much knowledge of the
properties of native herbs and roots; nor did he conceal from his
patients that 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 had spent centuries in elaborating.

This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the
outward forms of a religious life; and early after his arrival
had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
The young divinewhose scholar-like renown still lived in
Oxfordwas considered by his more fervent admirers as little
less than a heavenly ordained apostledestinedshould he live
and labour for the ordinary term of lifeto do as great deeds
for the now feeble New England Churchas the early Fathers had
achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. About this
periodhoweverthe health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently
begun to fail. By those best acquainted with his habitsthe
paleness of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by his


too earnest devotion to studyhis scrupulous fulfilment of parochial
dutyand more than allto the fasts and vigils of which he made
a frequent practicein order to keep the grossness of this
earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp.
Some declaredthat if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die
it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any
longer trodden by his feet. He himselfon the other handwith
characteristic humilityavowed his belief that if Providence
should see fit to remove himit would be because of his own
unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth. With
all this difference of opinion as to the cause of his decline
there could be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated;
his voicethough still rich and sweethad a certain melancholy
prophecy of decay in it; he was often observedon any slight
alarm or other sudden accidentto put his hand over his heart
with first a flush and then a palenessindicative of pain.


Such was the young clergyman's conditionand so imminent the
prospect that his dawning light would be extinguishedall
untimelywhen Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town.
His first entry on the scenefew people could tell whence
dropping down as it were out of the sky or starting from the
nether earthhad an aspect of mysterywhich was easily
heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to be a man of
skill; it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of
wild-flowersand dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the
forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was
valueless to common eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm
Digby and other famous men--whose
scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than
supernatural--as having been his correspondents or associates.
Whywith such rank in the learned worldhad he come hither?
Whatcould hewhose sphere was in great citiesbe seeking in
the wilderness? In answer to this querya rumour gained
ground--and however absurdwas entertained by some very sensible
people--that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracleby
transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German university
bodily through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr.
Dimmesdale's study! Individuals of wiser faithindeedwho knew
that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the
stage-effect of what is called miraculous interpositionwere
inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so
opportune arrival.


This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the
physician ever manifested in the young clergyman; he attached
himself to him as a parishionerand sought to win a friendly
regard and confidence from his naturally reserved sensibility.
He expressed great alarm at his pastor's state of healthbut was
anxious to attempt the cureandif early undertakenseemed not
despondent of a favourable result. The eldersthe deaconsthe
motherly damesand the young and fair maidens of Mr.
Dimmesdale's flockwere alike importunate that he should make
trial of the physician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale
gently repelled their entreaties.


I need no medicine,said he.


But how could the young minister say sowhen
with every successive Sabbathhis cheek was paler and thinner
and his voice more tremulous than before--when it had now
become a constant habitrather than a casual gestureto press
his hand over his heart? Was he weary of his labours? Did he
wish to die? These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr.



Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Bostonand the deacons of
his churchwhoto use their own phrasedealt with him,on
the sin of rejecting the aid which Providence so manifestly held
out. He listened in silenceand finally promised to confer with
the physician.

Were it God's will,said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalewhenin
fulfilment of this pledgehe requested old Roger Chillingworth's
professional adviceI could be well content that my labours,
and my sorrows, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end
with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my grave, and
the spiritual go with me to my eternal state, rather than that
you should put your skill to the proof in my behalf.

Ah,replied Roger Chillingworthwith that quietnesswhich
whether imposed or naturalmarked all his deportmentit is
thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthful men, not
having taken a deep root, give up their hold of life so easily!
And saintly men, who walk with God on earth, would fain be away,
to walk with him on the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem.

Nay,rejoined the young ministerputting his hand to his
heartwith a flush of pain flitting over his browwere I
worthier to walk there, I could be better content to toil here.

Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly,said the
physician.

In this mannerthe mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the
medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the
disease interested the physicianbut he was strongly moved to
look into the character and qualities of the patientthese two
menso different in agecame gradually to spend much time
together. For the sake of the minister's healthand to enable
the leech to gather plants with healing balm in themthey took
long walks on the sea-shoreor in the forest; mingling various
walks with the splash and murmur of the wavesand the solemn
wind-anthem among the tree-tops. Oftenlikewiseone was the
guest of the other in his place of study and retirement There was
a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of
sciencein whom he recognised an intellectual cultivation of no
moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of
ideasthat he would have vainly looked for among the members of
his own profession. In truthhe was startledif not shocked
to find this attribute in the physician. Mr. Dimmesdale was a
true priesta true religionistwith the reverential sentiment
largely developedand an order of mind that impelled itself
powerfully along the track of a creedand wore its passage
continually deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of
society would he have been what is called a man of liberal views;
it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of
a faith about himsupportingwhile it confined him within its
iron framework. Not the lesshoweverthough with a tremulous
enjoymentdid he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe
through the medium of another kind of intellect than those with
which he habitually held converse. It was as if a window were
thrown 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 sensual or moralthat exhales from books. But the air was
too fresh and chill to be long breathed with comfort. So the
ministerand the physician with himwithdrew again within the
limits of what their Church defined as orthodox.


Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefullyboth
as he saw him in his ordinary lifekeeping an accustomed pathway
in the range of thoughts familiar to himand as he appeared when
thrown amidst other moral scenerythe novelty of which might
call out something new to the surface of his character. He
deemed it essentialit would seemto know the manbefore
attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a heart and an
intellectthe diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the
peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdalethought and
imagination were so activeand sensibility so intensethat the
bodily infirmity would be likely to have its groundwork there.
So Roger Chillingworth--the man of skillthe kind and friendly
physician--strove to go deep into his patient's bosomdelving
among his principlesprying into his recollectionsand probing
everything with a cautious touchlike a treasure-seeker in a
dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigatorwho has
opportunity and licence to undertake such a questand skill to
follow it up. A man burdened with a secret
should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the
latter possess native sagacityand a nameless something more let
us call it intuition; if he show no intrusive egotismnor
disagreeable 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 have
spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought if such
revelations be received without tumultand acknowledged not so
often by an uttered sympathy as by silencean inarticulate
breathand here and there a word to indicate that all is
understood; if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined
the advantages afforded by his recognised character as a
physician;--thenat some inevitable momentwill the soul of
the sufferer be dissolvedand flow forth in a dark but
transparent streambringing all its mysteries into the daylight.

Roger Chillingworth possessed allor mostof the attributes
above enumerated. Neverthelesstime went on; a kind of
intimacyas we have saidgrew up between these two cultivated
mindswhich had as wide a field as the whole sphere of human
thought and study to meet upon; they discussed every topic of
ethics and religionof public affairsand private character;
they talked muchon both sidesof matters that seemed personal
to themselves; and yet no secretsuch as the physician fancied
must exist thereever stole out of the minister's consciousness
into his companion's ear. The latter had his suspicionsindeed
that 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 of the
minister's life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and
attached physician. There was much joy throughout the town when
this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held to be
the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare;
unlessindeedas often urged by such as felt authorised to do
sohe had selected some one of the many blooming damsels
spiritually devoted to himto become his devoted wife. This
latter stephoweverthere was no present prospect that Arthur
Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all
suggestions of the kindas if priestly celibacy were one of his
articles of Church discipline. Doomed by his own choice
thereforeas Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently wasto eat his
unsavoury morsel always at another's boardand endure the
life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself


only at another's firesideit truly seemed that this sagacious
experiencedbenevolent old physicianwith his concord of
paternal and reverential love for the young pastorwas the very
manof all mankindto be constantly within reach of his voice.

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 has since been
built. It had the graveyardoriginally Isaac Johnson's home-field
on one sideand so was well adapted to call up serious
reflectionssuited to their respective employmentsin both
minister and man of physic. The motherly care of the good widow
assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartmentwith a sunny
exposureand heavy window-curtainsto create a noontide shadow
when desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestrysaid to
be from the Gobelin loomsandat all eventsrepresenting the
Scriptural story of David and Bathshebaand Nathan the Prophet
in colours still unfadedbut which made the fair woman of the
scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.
Here the pale clergyman piled up his libraryrich with
parchment-bound folios of the Fathersand the lore of Rabbis
and monkish eruditionof which the Protestant divineseven
while they vilified and decried that class of writerswere yet
constrained often to avail themselves. On the other side of the
houseold Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory:
not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably
completebut provided with a distilling apparatus and the means
of compounding drugs and chemicalswhich the practised alchemist
knew well how 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 not incurious inspection into
one another's business.

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friendsas
we have intimatedvery reasonably imagined that the hand of
Providence had done all this
for the purpose--besought in so many public and domestic and
secret prayers--of restoring the young minister to health.
Butit must now be saidanother portion of the community had
latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr.
Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician. When an
uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyesit is
exceedingly apt to 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 unerring as to possess the character of truth
supernaturally revealed. The peoplein the case of which we
speakcould justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by
no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There was an
aged handicraftsmanit is truewho had been a citizen of London
at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murdernow some thirty
years agone; he testified to having seen the physicianunder
some other namewhich the narrator of the story had now
forgottenin company with Dr. Formanthe famous old conjurer
who was implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three
individuals hinted that the man of skillduring his Indian
captivityhad enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the
incantations of the savage priestswho were universally
acknowledged to be powerful enchantersoften performing
seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art. A
large number--and many of these were persons of such sober
sense and practical observation that their opinions would have
been valuable in other matters--affirmed that Roger


Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he
had dwelt in townand especially since his abode with Mr.
Dimmesdale. At firsthis expression had been calmmeditative
scholar-like. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face
which they had not previously noticedand which grew still the
more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him.
According to the vulgar 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 opinion
that the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdalelike many other personages of
special sanctityin all ages of the Christian worldwas haunted
either by Satan himself or Satan's emissaryin the guise of old
Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine
permissionfor a seasonto burrow into the clergyman's
intimacyand plot against his soul. No sensible manit was
confessedcould doubt on which side the victory would turn. The
people lookedwith an unshaken hopeto see the minister come
forth out of the conflict transfigured with the glory which he
would unquestionably win. Meanwhileneverthelessit was sad to
think of the perchance mortal agony through which he must
struggle towards his triumph.

Alas! to judge from the gloom and terror in the depth of the
poor minister's eyesthe battle was a sore oneand the victory
anything but secure.

X. THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT
Old Roger Chillingworththroughout lifehad been calm in
temperamentkindlythough not of warm affectionsbut everand
in all his relations with the worlda pure and upright man. He
had begun an investigationas he imaginedwith the severe and
equal integrity of a judgedesirous only of trutheven as if
the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines and
figures of a geometrical probleminstead of human passionsand
wrongs inflicted on himself. Butas he proceededa terrible
fascinationa kind of fiercethough still calmnecessity
seized the old man within its gripeand never set him free again
until he had done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor
clergyman's heartlike a miner searching for gold; orrather
like a sexton delving into a gravepossibly in quest of a jewel
that had been buried on the dead man's bosombut likely to find
nothing save mortality and corruption. Alasfor his own soul
if these were what he sought!

Sometimes a light glimmered out of the physician's eyesburning
blue and ominouslike the reflection of a furnaceorlet us
saylike one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from
Bunyan's awful doorway in the hillsideand quivered on the
pilgrim's face. The soil where this dark miner was working had
perchance shown indications that encouraged him.

This man,said heat one such momentto himselfpure as
they deem him--all spiritual as he seems--hath inherited a
strong animal nature from his father or his mother. Let us dig a
little further in the direction of this vein!

Then after long search into the minister's dim interiorand
turning over many precious materialsin the shape of high


aspirations for the welfare of his racewarm love of soulspure
sentimentsnatural pietystrengthened by thought and studyand
illuminated by revelation--all of which invaluable gold was
perhaps no better than rubbish to the seeker--he would turn
backdiscouragedand begin his quest towards another point. He
groped along as stealthilywith as cautious a treadand as wary
an outlookas a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only
half asleep--orit may bebroad awake--with purpose to
steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his
eye. In spite of his premeditated carefulnessthe floor would
now and then creak; his garments would 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 aware that something inimical to his peace had
thrust itself into relation with him. But Old Roger
Chillingworthtoohad perceptions that were almost intuitive;
and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards himthere
the physician sat; his kindwatchfulsympathisingbut never
intrusive friend.

Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual's
character more perfectlyif a certain morbidnessto which sick
hearts are liablehad not rendered him suspicious of all
mankind. Trusting no man as his friendhe could not recognize
his enemy when the latter actually appeared. He therefore still
kept up a familiar intercourse with himdaily receiving the old
physician in his studyor 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 the open windowthat looked towards the grave-yardhe
talked with Roger Chillingworthwhile the old man was examining
a bundle of unsightly plants.

Where,asked hewith a look askance at them--for it was the
clergyman's peculiarity that he seldomnow-a-dayslooked
straight forth at any objectwhether human or inanimatewhere,
my kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, with such a dark,
flabby leaf?

Even in the graveyard here at hand,answered the physician
continuing his employment. "They are new to me. I found them
growing on a gravewhich bore no tombstoneno other memorial of
the dead mansave these ugly weedsthat have taken upon
themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his
heartand typifyit may besome hideous secret that was buried
with himand which he had done better to confess during his
lifetime."

Perchance,said Mr. Dimmesdalehe earnestly desired it, but
could not.

And wherefore?rejoined the physician.

Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly
for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up
out of a buried heart, to make manifest, an outspoken crime?

That, good sir, is but a phantasy of yours,replied the
minister. "There can beif I forbode arightno powershort of
the Divine mercyto disclosewhether by uttered wordsor by
type or emblemthe secrets that may be buried in the human


heart. The heartmaking itself guilty of such secretsmust
perforce hold themuntil the day when all hidden things shall be
revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writas to
understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deedsthen
to be madeis intended as a part of the retribution. That
surelywere a shallow view of it. No; these revelationsunless
I greatly errare meant merely to promote the intellectual
satisfaction of all intelligent beingswho will stand waiting
on that dayto see the dark problem of this life made plain. A
knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the completest
solution of that problem. AndI conceive moreoverthat the
hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak ofwill yield
them upat that last daynot with reluctancebut with a joy
unutterable."

Then why not reveal it here?asked Roger Chillingworth
glancing quietly aside at the minister. "Why should not the
guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"

They mostly do,said the clergymangriping hard at his breast
as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. "Manymany a
poor soul hath given its confidence to menot only on the
death-bedbut while strong in lifeand fair in reputation. And
everafter such an outpouringohwhat a relief have I witnessed in
those sinful brethren! even as in one who at last draws free
airafter a long stifling with his own polluted breath. How can
it be otherwise? Why should a wretched man--guiltywe will
sayof murder--prefer to keep the dead corpse buried 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 calm
physician.

True; there are such men,answered Mr. Dimmesdale. "But not
to suggest more obvious reasonsit may be that they are kept
silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or--can we
not suppose it?--guilty as they may beretaining
neverthelessa zeal for God's glory and man's welfarethey
shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of
men; becausethenceforwardno good can be achieved by them; no
evil of the past be redeemed by better service. Soto their own
unutterable tormentthey go about among their fellow-creatures
looking pure as new-fallen snowwhile their hearts are all
speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid
themselves."

These men deceive themselves,said Roger Chillingworthwith
somewhat more emphasis than usualand making a slight gesture
with his forefinger. "They fear to take up the shame that
rightfully belongs to them. Their love for mantheir zeal for
God's service--these holy impulses may or may not coexist in
their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has
unbarred the doorand which must needs propagate a hellish breed
within them. Butif they seek to glorify Godlet them not lift
heavenward their unclean hands! If they would serve their
fellowmenlet them do it by making manifest the power and
reality of consciencein constraining them to penitential
self-abasement! Would thou have me to believeO wise and
pious friendthat a false show can be better--can be more for
God's gloryor man' welfare--than God's own truth? Trust me
such men deceive themselves!"

It may be so,said the young clergymanindifferentlyas


waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or
unseasonable. He had a ready facultyindeedof escaping from
any topic that agitated 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 clear
wild laughter of a young child's voiceproceeding from the
adjacent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open
window--for it was summer-time--the minister beheld Hester
Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed
the enclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the daybut was in
one of those moods of perverse merriment whichwhenever they
occurredseemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of
sympathy or human contact. She now skipped irreverently from one
grave to another; until coming to the broadflatarmorial
tombstone of a departed worthy--perhaps of Isaac Johnson
himself--she began to dance upon it. In reply to her mother's
command and entreaty that she would behave more decorously
little Pearl paused to gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock
which grew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of theseshe
arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated
the maternal bosomto which the burrsas their nature was
tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them off.

Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window and
smiled grimly down.

There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for
human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that
child's composition,remarked heas much to himself as to his
companion. "I saw herthe other daybespatter the Governor
himself with water at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. Whatin
heaven's nameis she? Is the imp altogether evil? Hath she
affections? Hath she any discoverable principle of being?"

None, save the freedom of a broken law,answered Mr.
Dimmesdalein a quiet wayas if he had been discussing the
point within himselfWhether capable of good, I know not.

The child probably overheard their voicesforlooking up to the
window with a brightbut naughty smile of mirth and
intelligenceshe threw one of the prickly burrs at the Rev. Mr.
Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman shrankwith nervous dread
from the light missile. Detecting his emotionPearl clapped her
little hands in the most extravagant ecstacy. Hester Prynne
likewisehad involuntarily looked upand all these four
personsold and youngregarded one another in silencetill the
child laughed aloudand shouted--"Come awaymother! Come
awayor yonder old black man will catch you! He hath got hold
of the minister already. Come awaymother or he will catch
you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!"

So she drew her mother awayskippingdancingand frisking
fantastically among the hillocks of the dead peoplelike a
creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buried
generationnor owned herself akin to it. It was as if she had
been made afresh out of new elementsand must perforce be
permitted to live her own lifeand be a law unto herself without
her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.

There goes a woman,resumed Roger Chillingworthafter a pause
who, be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mystery of


hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is
Hester Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet
letter on her breast?

I do verily believe it,answered the clergyman. "Nevertheless
I cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face
which I would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still
methinksit must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to
show his painas this poor woman Hester isthan to cover it up
in his heart."

There was another pauseand the physician began anew to examine
and arrange the plants which he had gathered.

You inquired of me, a little time agone,said heat length
my judgment as touching your health.

I did,answered the clergymanand would gladly learn it.
Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or death.

Freely then, and plainly,said the physicianstill busy with
his plantsbut keeping a wary eye on Mr. Dimmesdalethe
disorder is a strange one; not so much in itself nor as outwardly
manifested,--in so far, at least as the symptoms have been laid
open to my observation. Looking daily at you, my good sir, and
watching the tokens of your aspect now for months gone by, I
should deem you a man sore sick, it may be, yet not so sick but
that an instructed and watchful physician might well hope to cure
you. But I know not what to say, the disease is what I seem to
know, yet know it not.

You speak in riddles, learned sir,said the pale minister
glancing aside out of the window.

Then, to speak more plainly,continued the physicianand I
crave pardon, sir, should it seem to require pardon, for this
needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask as your friend, as
one having charge, under Providence, of your life and physical
well being, hath all the operations of this disorder been fairly
laid open and recounted to me?

How can you question it?asked the minister. "Surely it were
child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"

You would tell me, then, that I know all?said Roger
Chillingworthdeliberatelyand fixing an eyebright with
intense and concentrated intelligenceon the minister's face.
Be it so! But again! He to whom only the outward and physical
evil is laid open, knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which
he is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we look upon
as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a
symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part. Your pardon once
again, good sir, if my speech give the shadow of offence.
You, sir, of all men whom I have known, are
he whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued, and
identified, so to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the
instrument.

Then I need ask no further,said the clergymansomewhat
hastily rising from his chair. "You deal notI take itin
medicine for the soul!"

Thus, a sickness,continued Roger Chillingworthgoing onin
an unaltered tonewithout heeding the interruptionbut standing


up and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked ministerwith
his lowdarkand misshapen figure--"a sicknessa sore
placeif we may so call itin your spirit hath immediately its
appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame. Would you
thereforethat your physician heal the bodily evil? How may
this be unless you first lay open to him the wound or trouble in
your soul?"

No, not to thee! not to an earthly physician!cried Mr.
Dimmesdalepassionatelyand turning his eyesfull and bright
and 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
His good pleasurecan cureor he can kill. Let Him do with me
asin His justice and wisdomHe shall see good. But who art
thouthat meddlest in this matter? that dares thrust himself
between the sufferer and his God?"

With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.

It is as well to have made this step,said Roger Chillingworth
to himselflooking after the ministerwith a grave smile.
There is nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But
see, now, how passion takes hold upon this man, and hurrieth
him out of himself! As with one passion so with another. He
hath done a wild thing ere now, this pious Master Dimmesdale,
in the hot passion of his heart.

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two
companionson the same footing and in the same degree as
heretofore. The young clergymanafter a few hours of privacy
was sensible that the disorder of his nerves had hurried him into
an unseemly outbreak of temperwhich there had been nothing in
the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He marvelled
indeedat the violence with which he had thrust back the kind
old manwhen merely proffering the advice which it was his duty
to bestowand which the minister himself had expressly sought.
With these remorseful feelingshe lost no time in making the
amplest apologiesand besought 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 assented
and went on with his medical supervision of the minister; doing
his best for himin all good faithbut always quitting the
patient's apartmentat the close of the professional interview
with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This
expression was 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 Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalenoon-dayand
entirely unawaresfell into a deepdeep slumbersitting in his
chairwith a large black-letter volume open before him on the
table. It must have been a work of vast ability in the
somniferous school of literature. The profound depth of the
minister's repose was the more remarkableinasmuch as he was one
of those persons whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful
and as easily scared awayas a small bird hopping on a twig. To
such an unwonted remotenesshoweverhad his spirit now
withdrawn into itself that he stirred not in his chair when old


Roger Chillingworthwithout any extraordinary precautioncame
into the room. The physician advanced directly in front of his
patientlaid his hand upon his bosomand thrust aside the
vestmentthat hitherto had always covered it even from the
professional eye.

ThenindeedMr. Dimmesdale shudderedand slightly stirred.

After a brief pausethe physician turned away.

But with what a wild look of wonderjoyand honor! With what a
ghastly raptureas it weretoo mighty to be expressed only by
the eye and featuresand therefore bursting forth through the
whole ugliness of his figureand making itself even riotously
manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up his
arms towards the ceilingand 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
himself when a precious human soul is lost to heavenand won
into his kingdom.

But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was
the trait of wonder in it!

XI. THE INTERIOR OF A HEART
After the incident last describedthe intercourse between the
clergyman and the physicianthough externally the samewas
really of another character than it had previously been. The
intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain
path before it. It was notindeedprecisely that which he had
laid out for himself to tread. Calmgentlepassionlessas he
appearedthere was yetwe feara quiet depth of malice
hitherto latentbut active nowin this unfortunate old man
which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal
had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To make himself the one trusted
friendto whom should be confided all the fearthe remorsethe
agonythe ineffectual repentancethe backward rush of sinful
thoughtsexpelled in vain! All that guilty sorrowhidden from
the worldwhose great heart would have pitied and forgivento
be revealed to himthe Pitiless--to himthe Unforgiving! All
that dark treasure to be lavished on the very manto whom
nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance!

The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme
Roger Chillingworthhoweverwas inclined to be hardlyif at all
less satisfied with the
aspect of affairswhich Providence--using the avenger and his
victim for its own purposesandperchancepardoningwhere it
seemed most to punish--had substituted for his black devices A
revelationhe could almost sayhad been granted to him. It
mattered little for his objectwhether celestial or from what
other region. By its aidin all the subsequent relations
betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdalenot merely the external
presencebut the very inmost soul of the latterseemed to be
brought out before his eyesso that he could see and comprehend
its every movement. He becamethenceforthnot a spectator
onlybut a chief actor in the poor minister's interior world.
He could play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him with a
throb of agony? The victim was for ever on the rack; it needed
only to know the spring that controlled the engine: and the
physician knew it well. Would he startle him with sudden fear?


As at the waving of a magician's wandup rose a grisly
phantom--up rose a thousand phantoms--in many shapesof deathor
more awful shameall flocking round about 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 its
actual nature. Truehe looked doubtfullyfearfully--evenat
timeswith horror and the bitterness of hatred--at the
deformed figure of the old physician. His gestureshis gait
his grizzled beardhis slightest and most indifferent actsthe
very fashion of his garmentswere
odious in the clergyman's sight; a token implicitly to be relied
on of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was
willing to acknowledge to himself. Foras it was impossible to
assign a reason for such distrust and abhorrenceso Mr.
Dimmesdaleconscious that the poison of one morbid spot was
infecting his heart's entire substanceattributed all his
presentiments to no other cause. He took himself to task for his
bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworthdisregarded
the lesson that he should have drawn from themand 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 purpose to which--poor forlorn creature that he
wasand more wretched than his victim--the avenger had devoted
himself.

While thus suffering under bodily diseaseand gnawed and
tortured by some black trouble of the souland given over to the
machinations of his deadliest enemythe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale
had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won
it indeedin great partby his sorrows. His intellectual
giftshis moral perceptionshis power of experiencing and
communicating emotionwere kept in a state of preternatural
activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. His fame
though still on its upward slopealready overshadowed the
soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymeneminent as several
of them were. There are scholars among themwho had spent more
years in acquiring abstruse loreconnected with the divine
professionthan Mr. Dimmesdale had lived; and who might well
thereforebe more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable
attainments than their youthful brother. There were mentooof
a sturdier texture of mind than hisand endowed with a far
greater share of shrewdhard ironor granite understanding;
whichduly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal
ingredientconstitutes a highly respectableefficaciousand
unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were others
againtrue saintly fatherswhose faculties had been elaborated
by weary toil among their booksand by patient thoughtand
etherealisedmoreoverby spiritual communications with the
better worldinto which their purity of life had almost
introduced these holy personageswith their garments of
mortality still clinging to them. All that they lacked wasthe
gift that descended upon the chosen disciples at Pentecostin
tongues of flame; symbolisingit would seemnot the power of
speech in foreign and unknown languagesbut that of addressing
the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language.
These fathersotherwise so apostoliclacked Heaven's last and
rarest attestation of their officethe Tongue of Flame. They
would have vainly sought--had they ever dreamed of seeking--to

express the highest truths through the humblest medium of
familiar words and images. Their voices came downafar and


indistinctlyfrom the upper heights where they habitually dwelt.

Not improbablyit was to this latter class of men that Mr.
Dimmesdaleby many of his traits of characternaturally belonged.
To the high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he would 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 down on 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 was that gave him sympathies
so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind; so that his heart
vibrated in unison with theirsand received their pain into itself
and 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 the young 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 grew pale around himvictims
of a passion so imbued with religious sentimentthat they imagined it
to be all religionand brought it openlyin their white bosomsas
their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The aged members of
his flockbeholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so feeblewhile they were
themselves so rugged in their infirmitybelieved that he would go
heavenward before themand enjoined it upon their children that their
old bones should be buried close to their young pastor's holy grave.
And all this timeperchancewhen poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of
his gravehe questioned 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
tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truthand
to reckon all things shadow-likeand utterly devoid of weight or
valuethat had not its divine essence as the life within their
life. Then what was he?--a substance?--or the dimmest of
all shadows? He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the
full height of his voiceand tell the people what he was. "I
whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood--I
who ascend the sacred deskand turn my pale face heavenward
taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most
High Omniscience--Iin whose daily life you discern the
sanctity of Enoch--Iwhose footstepsas you supposeleave a
gleam along my earthly trackwhereby the Pilgrims that shall
come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest--Iwho
have laid the hand of baptism upon your children--Iwho have
breathed the parting prayer over your dying friendsto whom the
Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted--I
your pastorwhom you so reverence and trustam utterly a
pollution and a lie!"

More than onceMr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpitwith a
purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken
words like the above. More than once he had cleared his throat
and drawn in the longdeepand tremulous breathwhichwhen
sent forth againwould come burdened with the black secret of
his soul. More than once--naymore than a hundred times--he
had actually spoken! Spoken! But how? He had told his hearers
that he was altogether vilea viler companion of the vilestthe worst
of sinnersan abominationa thing of unimaginable iniquityand
that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body
shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the
Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not
the people start up in their seatsby a simultaneous impulse
and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so


indeed! They heard it alland did but reverence him the more.
They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those
self-condemning words. "The godly youth!" said they among
themselves. "The saint on earth! Alas! if he discern such
sinfulness in his own white soulwhat horrid spectacle would he
behold in thine or mine!" The minister well knew--subtlebut
remorseful hypocrite that he was!--the light in which his
vague confession would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat
upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty 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
loathed the lieas few men ever did. Thereforeabove all
things elsehe loathed his miserable self!

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with
the oldcorrupted faith of Rome than 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 Puritan divine had
plied it on his own shoulderslaughing bitterly at himself the
whileand smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that
bitter laugh. It was his customtooas it has been that of
many other pious Puritansto fast--not howeverlike themin
order to purify the bodyand render it the fitter medium of
celestial illumination--but rigorouslyand until his knees
trembled beneath himas an act of penance. He kept vigils
likewisenight after nightsometimes in utter darkness
sometimes with a glimmering lampand sometimesviewing his own
face in a looking-glassby the most powerful light which he
could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection
wherewith he torturedbut could not purify himself. In these
lengthened vigilshis brain often reeledand visions seemed to
flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfullyand by a faint light of
their ownin the remote dimness of the chamberor more vividly
and close beside himwithin the looking-glass. Now it was a
herd of diabolic shapesthat grinned and mocked at the pale
ministerand beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining
angelswho flew upward heavilyas sorrow-ladenbut grew more
ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of his youth
and his white-bearded fatherwith a saint-like frownand his
mother turning her face away as she passed by Ghost of a
mother--thinnest fantasy of a mother--methinks she might yet have
thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And nowthrough the
chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastlyglided
Hester Prynne leading along little Pearlin her scarlet garband
pointing her forefingerfirst at the scarlet letter on her bosomand
then at the clergyman's own breast.

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any momentby
an effort of his willhe could discern substances through their
misty lack of substanceand convince himself that they were not
solid in their naturelike yonder table of carved oakor that
bigsquareleather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity.
Butfor all thatthey werein one sensethe truest and most
substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is
the unspeakable misery of a life so false as histhat it steals
the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around
usand which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and
nutriment. To the untrue manthe whole universe is false--it
is impalpable--it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he
himself in so far as he shows himself in a false lightbecomes a
shadoworindeedceases to exist. The only truth that


continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth
was the anguish in his inmost souland the undissembled
expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to
smileand wear a face of gaietythere would have been no such
man!

On one of those ugly nightswhich we have faintly hinted atbut
forborne to picture forththe minister started from his chair.
A new thought had struck him. There might be a moment's peace in
it. Attiring himself with as much care as if it had been for
public worshipand precisely in the same mannerhe stole softly
down the staircaseundid the doorand issued forth.

XII. THE MINISTER'S VIGIL
Walking in the shadow of a dreamas it wereand perhaps
actually under the influence of a species of somnambulismMr.
Dimmesdale reached the spot wherenow so long sinceHester
Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy. The
same platform or scaffoldblack and weather-stained with the
storm or sunshine of seven long yearsand foot-worntoowith
the tread of many culprits who had since ascended itremained
standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house. The minister
went up the steps.

It was an obscure night in early May. An unwearied pall of cloud
muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon. If the
same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester
Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned
forththey would have discerned no face above the platform nor
hardly the outline of a human shapein the dark grey of the
midnight. But the town was all asleep. There was no peril of
discovery. The minister might stand thereif it so pleased him
until morning should redden in the eastwithout other risk than
that the dank and chill night air would creep into his frameand
stiffen his joints with rheumatismand clog his throat with catarrh
and cough; thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's
prayer and sermon. No eye could see himsave that ever-wakeful one
which had seen him in his closetwielding the bloody scourge.
Whythenhad he come hither? Was it but the mockery of
penitence? A mockeryindeedbut in which his soul trifled with
itself! A mockery at which angels blushed and weptwhile fiends
rejoiced with jeering laughter! He had been driven hither by the
impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhereand whose
own sister and closely linked companion was that Cowardice which
invariably drew him backwith her tremulous gripejust when the
other impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure.
Poormiserable man! what right had infirmity like his to burden
itself with crime? Crime is for the iron-nervedwho have their
choice either to endure itorif it press too hardto exert
their fierce and savage strength for a good purposeand fling it
off at once! This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do
neitheryet continually did one thing or anotherwhich
intertwinedin the same inextricable 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 on his
naked breastright over his heart. On that spotin very truth
there wasand there had long beenthe gnawing and poisonous
tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of his willor power


to restrain himselfhe shrieked aloud: an outcry that went pealing
through the nightand was beaten back from one house to another
and reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of
devilsdetecting 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 his
hands. "The whole town will awake and 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 drowsy
slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a
dreamor for the noise of witcheswhose voicesat that period
were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages
as they rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman
thereforehearing no symptoms of disturbanceuncovered his eyes
and looked about him. At one of the chamber-windows of Governor
Bellingham's mansionwhich stood at some distanceon the line
of another streethe beheld the appearance of the old magistrate
himself with a lamp in his hand a white night-cap on his head
and a long white gown enveloping his figure. He looked like a
ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had evidently
startled him. At another window of the same housemoreover
appeared old Mistress Hibbinsthe Governor's sisteralso with a
lampwhich even thus far off revealed the expression of her sour
and discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the
latticeand looked anxiously upward Beyond the shadow of a
doubtthis venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry
and interpreted itwith its multitudinous echoes and reverberationsas
the clamour of the fiends and night-hagswith whom she was well
known to make excursions in the forest.

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lampthe old lady
quickly extinguished her ownand vanished. Possiblyshe went
up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further of her
motions. The magistrateafter a wary observation of the
darkness--into whichneverthelesshe could see but little
further than he might into a mill-stone--retired from the
window.

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyeshoweverwere
soon greeted by a little glimmering lightwhichat first a long
way off was approaching up the street. It threw a gleam of
recognitionon here a postand there a garden fenceand here a
latticed window-paneand there a pumpwith its full trough of
waterand here again an 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 his existence was stealing onwardin
the footsteps which he now heard; and that the gleam of the
lantern would fall upon him in a few moments moreand reveal his
long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearerbe beheldwithin
its illuminated circlehis brother clergyman--orto speak
more accuratelyhis professional fatheras well as highly
valued friend--the Reverend Mr. Wilsonwhoas Mr. Dimmesdale
now conjecturedhad been praying at the bedside of some
dying man. And so he had. The good old minister came
freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthropwho had
passed from earth to heaven within that very hour. And now
surroundedlike the saint-like personage of olden timeswith a
radiant halothat glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin--as
if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his


gloryor as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of
the celestial citywhile looking thitherward 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 was going mad.

As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffoldclosely
muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one armand holding the
lantern before his breast with the otherthe minister could
hardly restrain himself from speaking-


A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson. Come up hither,
I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!

Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one
instant he believed that these words had passed his lips. But
they were uttered only within his imagination. The venerable
Father Wilson continued to step slowly onwardlooking carefully
at the muddy pathway before his feetand never once turning his
head towards the guilty platform. When the light of the
glimmering lantern had faded quite awaythe minister discovered
by the faintness which came over himthat the last few moments had
been a crisis of terrible anxietyalthough 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 in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He felt his
limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the
nightand doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps
of the scaffold. Morning would break and find him there The
neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest riser
coming forth in the dim twilightwould perceive a
vaguely-defined figure aloft on the place of shame; and
half-crazed betwixt alarm and curiositywould go knocking from
door to doorsummoning all the people to behold the ghost--as
he needs must think it--of some defunct transgressor. A dusky
tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. Then--the
morning light still waxing stronger--old patriarchs would
rise up in great hasteeach in his flannel gownand matronly
dameswithout pausing to put off their night-gear. The whole
tribe of decorous personageswho had never heretofore been seen
with a single hair of their heads awrywould start into public
view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old
Governor Bellingham would come grimly forthwith his King James'
ruff fastened askewand Mistress Hibbinswith some twigs of the
forest clinging to her skirtsand looking sourer than everas
having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride; and good
Father Wilson tooafter spending half the night at a death-bed
and liking ill to be disturbedthus earlyout of his dreams about
the glorified saints. Hitherlikewise
would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church
and the young virgins who so idolized their ministerand had
made a shrine for him in their white bosomswhich now
by-the-byein their hurry and confusionthey would scantly have
given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All people
in a wordwould come stumbling over their thresholdsand
turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the
scaffold. Whom would they discern therewith the red eastern
light upon his brow? Whombut the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
half-frozen to deathoverwhelmed with shameand standing where
Hester 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 as
acute--he recognised the tones of little Pearl.

Pearl! Little Pearl!cried heafter a moment's pause; then
suppressing his voice--"Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you
there?"

Yes; it is Hester Prynne!she repliedin a tone of surprise;
and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the
side-walkalong which she had been passing. "It is Iand my
little Pearl."

Whence come you, Hester?asked the minister. "What sent you
hither?"

I have been watching at a death-bed,answered Hester Prynne "at
Governor Winthrop's death-bedand have taken his measure for a
robeand am now going homeward to my dwelling."

Come up hither, Hester, thou and Little Pearl,said the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here beforebut I
was not with you. Come up hither once againand we will stand
all three together."

She silently ascended the stepsand stood on the platform
holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the
child's other handand took it. The moment that he did so
there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new lifeother life
than his own pouring like a torrent into his heartand hurrying
through all his veinsas if the mother and the child were
communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The
three formed an electric chain.

Minister!whispered little Pearl.

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

`Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?
inquired Pearl.

Nay; not so, my little Pearl,answered the minister; forwith
the new energy of the momentall the dread of public exposure
that had so long been the anguish of his lifehad returned upon
him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which--with
a strange joynevertheless--he now found himself--"not
somy child. I shallindeedstand with thy mother and thee
one other daybut not to-morrow."

Pearl laughedand attempted to pull away her hand. But the
minister held it fast.

A moment longer, my child!said he.

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

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

And what other time?persisted the child.


At the great judgment day,whispered the minister; and
strangely enoughthe sense that he was a professional teacher of
the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Thenand there
before the judgment-seatthy motherand thouand I must stand
together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our
meeting!''

Pearl laughed again.

But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speakinga light gleamed far
and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by
one of those meteorswhich the night-watcher may so often
observe burning out to wastein the vacant regions of the
atmosphere. So powerful was its radiancethat it thoroughly
illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth.
The great vault brightenedlike the dome of an immense lamp. It
showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of
mid-daybut also with the awfulness that is always imparted to
familiar objects by an unaccustomed light The wooden houseswith
their jutting storeys and quaint gable-peaks; the doorsteps and
thresholds with the early grass springing up about them; the
garden-plotsblack with freshly-turned earth; the wheel-track
little wornand even in the market-place margined with green on
either side--all were visiblebut with a singularity of aspect
that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of
this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the ministerwith
his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynnewith the embroidered
letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearlherself a
symboland the connecting link between those two. They stood in
the noon of that strange and solemn splendouras if it were the
light that is to 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
glanced upward at the ministerwore that naughty smile which
made its expression frequently so elvish. She withdrew her hand
from Mr. Dimmesdale'sand pointed across the street. But he
clasped both his hands over his breastand cast his eyes towards
the zenith.

Nothing was more commonin those daysthan to interpret all
meteoric appearancesand other natural phenomena that occured
with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moonas so
many revelations from a supernatural source. Thusa blazing
speara sword of flamea bowor a sheaf of arrows seen in the
midnight skyprefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to
have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. We doubt
whether any marked eventfor good or evilever befell New
Englandfrom its settlement down to revolutionary timesof
which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some
spectacle of its nature. Not seldomit had been seen by
multitudes. Oftenerhoweverits credibility rested on the
faith of some lonely eye-witnesswho beheld the wonder through
the colouredmagnifyingand distorted medium of his
imaginationand shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.
It wasindeeda majestic idea that the destiny of nations should
be revealedin these awful hieroglyphicson the cope of heaven.
A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence
to write a people's doom upon. The belief was a favourite one
with our forefathersas betokening that their infant
commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar
intimacy and strictness. But what shall we saywhen an
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 man
rendered morbidly self-contemplative by longintenseand secret
painhad extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature
until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting
page for his soul's history and fate.

We impute itthereforesolely to the disease in his own eye and
heart that the ministerlooking upward to the zenithbeheld
there the appearance of an immense letter--the letter A--marked
out in lines of dull red light. Not but the meteor may
have shown itself at that pointburning duskily through a veil
of cloudbut with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave
itorat leastwith so little definitenessthat another's
guilt might have seen another symbol in it.

There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr.
Dimmesdale's psychological state at this moment. All the time
that he gazed upward to the zenithhe wasnevertheless
perfectly aware that little Pearl was hinting her finger towards
old Roger Chillingworthwho stood at no great distance from the
scaffold. The minister appeared to see himwith the same glance
that discerned the miraculous letter. To his feature as to all
other objectsthe meteoric light imparted a new expression; or
it might well be that the physician was not careful thenas at
all other timesto hide the malevolence with which he looked
upon his victim. Certainlyif the meteor kindled up the sky
and disclosed the earthwith an awfulness that admonished Hester
Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgmentthen might Roger
Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiendstanding
there with a smile and scowlto claim his own. So vivid was the
expressionor so intense the minister's perception of itthat
it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness after the
meteor had vanishedwith an effect as if the street and all
things else were at once annihilated.

Who is that man, Hester?gasped Mr. Dimmesdaleovercome with
terror. "I shiver at him! Dost thou know the man? I hate him
Hester!"

She remembered her oathand was silent.

I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!muttered the minister
again. "Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I
have a nameless horror of the man!"

Minister,said little PearlI can tell thee who he is!

Quickly, then, child!said the ministerbending his ear close
to her lips. "Quicklyand as low as thou canst whisper."

Pearl mumbled something into his ear that soundedindeedlike
human languagebut was only such gibberish as children may be
heard amusing themselves with by the hour together. At all
eventsif it involved any secret information in regard to old
Roger Chillingworthit was in a tongue unknown to 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 hand, and mother's hand,
to-morrow noon-tide!


Worthy sir,answered the physicianwho had now advanced to the
foot of the platform--"pious Master Dimmesdale! can this be
you? Wellwellindeed! We men of studywhose heads are in
our bookshave need to be straitly looked after! We dream in
our waking momentsand walk in our sleep. Comegood sirand
my dear friendI pray you let me lead you home!"

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

Verily, and in good faith,answered Roger ChillingworthI
knew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of the
night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop, doing
what my poor skill might to give him ease. He, going home to a
better world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when this
light shone out. Come with me, I beseech you, Reverend sir, else
you will be poorly able to do Sabbath duty to-morrow. Aha! see
now how they trouble the brain--these books!--these books!
You should study less, good sir, and take a little pastime, or
these night whimsies will grow upon you.

I will go home with you,said Mr. Dimmesdale.

With a chill despondencylike one awakeningall nervelessfrom
an ugly dreamhe yielded himself to the physicianand was led
away.

The next dayhoweverbeing the Sabbathhe preached a discourse
which was held to be the richest and most powerfuland the most
replete with heavenly influencesthat had ever proceeded from
his lips. Soulsit is saidmore souls than onewere brought
to the truth by the efficacy of that sermonand vowed within
themselves to cherish a holy gratitude towards Mr. Dimmesdale
throughout the long hereafter. But as he came down the pulpit
stepsthe grey-bearded sexton met himholding up a black glove
which the minister recognised as his own.

It was found,said the Sextonthis morning on the scaffold
where evil-doers are set up to public shame. Satan dropped it
there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your
reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and
always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!

Thank you, my good friend,said the ministergravelybut
startled at heart; for so confused was his remembrancethat he
had almost brought himself to look at the events of the past
night as visionary.

Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed!

And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs
handle him without gloves henceforward,remarked the old sexton
grimly smiling. "But did your reverence hear of the portent that
was seen last night? a great red letter in the sky--the letter
Awhich 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 be some notice thereof!"

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

XIII. ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER

In her late singular interview with Mr. DimmesdaleHester
Prynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the
clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His
moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It
grovelled helpless on the groundeven while his intellectual
faculties retained their pristine strengthor had perhaps
acquired a morbid energywhich disease only could have given
them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from
all othersshe could readily infer thatbesides the legitimate
action of his own consciencea terrible machinery had been
brought to bearand was still operatingon Mr. Dimmesdale's
well-being and repose. Knowing what this poor fallen man had
once beenher whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with
which he had appealed to her--the outcast woman--for support
against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided
moreoverthat 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 herself
Hester saw--or seemed to see--that there lay a responsibility
upon her in reference to the clergymanwhich she owned to no
othernor to the whole world besides. The links that united her
to the rest of humankind--links of flowersor silkor goldor whatever
the material--had all been broken. Here was the iron link of
mutual crimewhich neither he nor she could break. Like all
other tiesit brought along with it its obligations.

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in
which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy.
Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her
motherwith the scarlet letter on her breastglittering in its
fantastic embroideryhad long been a familiar object to the
townspeople. As is apt to be the case when a person stands out
in any prominence before the communityandat the same time
interferes neither with public nor individual interests and
conveniencea species of general regard had ultimately grown up
in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of human
nature thatexcept where its selfishness is brought into play
it loves more readily than it hates. Hatredby a gradual and
quiet processwill even be transformed to loveunless the
change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original
feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne there was
neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the
publicbut submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she
made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did
not weigh upon its sympathies. Thenalsothe blameless purity
of her life during all these years in which she had been set
apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favour. With nothing
now to losein the sight of mankindand with no hopeand
seemingly no wishof gaining anythingit could only be a genuine
regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.

It was perceivedtoothat while Hester never put forward even
the humblest title to share in the world's privileges--further than to
breathe the common air and earn daily bread for
little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands--she
was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man
whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she to
give of her little substance to every demand of povertyeven
though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of
the food brought regularly to his dooror the garments wrought
for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's
robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked
through the town. In all seasons of calamityindeedwhether


general or of individualsthe outcast of society at once found
her place. She camenot as a guestbut as a rightful inmate
into the household that was darkened by troubleas if its gloomy
twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold
intercourse with her fellow-creature 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 bard extremityacross
the verge of time. It had shown him where to set his footwhile
the light of earth was fast becoming dimand ere the light of
futurity could reach him. In such emergencies Hester's nature
showed itself warm and rich--a well-spring of human tenderness
unfailing to every real demandand inexhaustible by the largest.
Her breastwith its badge of shamewas but the softer pillow
for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of
Mercyorwe may rather saythe 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 to
sympathise--that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A
by its original signification. They said that it meant Abelso
strong was Hester Prynnewith a woman's strength.

It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When
sunshine came againshe was not there. Her shadow had faded
across the threshold. The helpful inmate had departedwithout
one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitudeif any
were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously.
Meeting them in the streetshe never raised her head to receive
their greeting. If they were resolute to accost hershe laid
her finger on the scarlet letterand passed on. This might be
pridebut was so like humilitythat it produced all the
softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind.
The public is despotic in its temper; it is capable of denying
common justice when too strenuously demanded as a right; but
quite as frequently it awards more than justicewhen the appeal
is madeas despots love to have it madeentirely to its
generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal
of this naturesociety was inclined to show its former victim a more
benign countenance than she cared to be favoured withorperchance
than she deserved.

The rulersand the wise and learned men of the communitywere
longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities
than the people. The prejudices which they shared in common with
the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of
reasoningthat made it a far tougher labour to expel them. Day
by dayneverthelesstheir sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing
into something whichin the due course of yearsmight grow to
be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men
of rankon whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship
of the public morals. Individuals in private lifemeanwhile
had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; naymorethey
had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the tokennot of
that one sin for 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's own Hester--who is so kind to
the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the
afflicted!Thenit is truethe propensity of human nature to
tell the very worst of itselfwhen embodied in the person of
anotherwould constrain them to whisper the black scandal of
bygone years. It was none the less a facthoweverthat in the
eyes of the very men who spoke thusthe scarlet letter had the


effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a
kind of sacrednesswhich enabled her to walk securely amid all
peril. Had she fallen among thievesit would have kept her safe. It was
reportedand believed by manythat an Indian had drawn his
arrow against the badgeand that the missile struck itand fell
harmless to the ground.

The effect of the symbol--or ratherof the position in respect
to society that was indicated by it--on the mind of Hester
Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar. All the light and
graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this
red-hot brandand had long ago fallen awayleaving a bare and
harsh outlinewhich might have been repulsive had she possessed
friends or companions to be repelled by it. Even the
attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change. It
might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dressand
partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. It was a sad
transformationtoothat her rich and luxuriant hair had either
been cut offor was so completely hidden by a capthat not a
shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. It was
due in part to all these causesbut still more to something
elsethat there seemed to be no longer anything 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 bosom to make it ever again the
pillow of Affection. Some attribute had departed from herthe
permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such
is frequently the fateand such the stern developmentof the
feminine character and personwhen the woman has encountered
and lived throughan experience of peculiar severity. If she be
all tendernessshe will die. If she survivethe tenderness will
either be crushed out of heror--and the outward
semblance is the same--crushed so deeply into her heart that it
can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest
theory. She who has once been a womanand ceased to be so
might 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 touched and so
transfigured.

Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be
attributed to the circumstance that her life had turnedin a
great measurefrom passion and feeling to thought. Standing
alone in the world--aloneas to any dependence on societyand
with little Pearl to be guided and protected--aloneand
hopeless of retrieving her positioneven had she not scorned to
consider it desirable--she cast away the fragment a broken
chain. The world's law was no law for her mind. It was an age
in which the human intellectnewly emancipatedhad taken a more
active and a wider range than for many centuries before. Men of
the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men bolder than these
had overthrown and rearranged--not actuallybut within the
sphere of theorywhich was their most real abode--the whole
system of ancient prejudicewherewith was linked much of ancient
principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed a
freedom of speculationthen common enough on the other side of
the Atlanticbut which our forefathershad they known itwould
have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the
scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottageby the seashore
thoughts visited her such as dared to enter no
other dwelling in New England; shadowy gueststhat would have
been as perilous as demons to their entertainercould they have
been seen so much as knocking at her door.


It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often
conform with the most perfect quietude to the external
regulations of society. The thought suffices themwithout
investing itself in the flesh and blood of action. So it seemed
to be with Hester. Yethad little Pearl never come to her from
the spiritual worldit might have been far otherwise. Then she
might have come down to us in historyhand in hand with Ann
Hutchinsonas the foundress of a religious sect. She mightin
one of her phaseshave been a prophetess. She mightand not
improbably wouldhave suffered death from the stern tribunals of
the periodfor attempting to undermine the foundations of the
Puritan establishment. Butin the education of her childthe
mother's enthusiasm thought had something to wreak itself upon.
Providencein the person of this little girlhad assigned to
Hester's chargethe germ and blossom of womanhoodto be
cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Everything
was against her. The world was hostile. The child's own nature
had something wrong in it which continually betokened that she
had been born amiss--the effluence of her mother's lawless
passion--and often impelled Hester to askin bitterness 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 mind with
reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth
accepting even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own
individual existenceshe had long ago decided in the negative
and dismissed the point
as settled. A tendency to speculationthough it may keep women
quietas it does manyet makes her sad. She discernsit may
besuch a hopeless task before her. As a first stepthe whole
system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then the
very nature of the opposite sexor its long hereditary habit
which has become like natureis to be essentially modified
before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and
suitable position. Finallyall other difficulties being
obviatedwoman cannot take advantage of these preliminary
reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier
changein whichperhapsthe ethereal essencewherein she has
her truest lifewill be found to have evaporated. A woman never
overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought. They are
not to be solvedor only in one way. If her heart chance to
come uppermostthey vanish. Thus Hester Prynnewhose heart had
lost its regular and healthy throbwandered without a clue in
the dark labyrinth of mind; now turned aside by an insurmountable
precipice; now starting back from a deep chasm. There was wild
and ghastly scenery all around herand a home and comfort
nowhere. At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul
whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heavenand
go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.

The scarlet letter had not done its office.
Nowhoweverher interview with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale
on the night of his vigilhad given her a new
theme of reflectionand held up to her an object that appeared
worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for its attainment. She had
witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister
struggledorto speak more accuratelyhad ceased to struggle.
She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacyif he had not
already stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt that
whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of
remorsea deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand
that proffered relief. A secret enemy had been continually by
his sideunder the semblance of a friend and helperand had


availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering
with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hester
could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a
defect of truthcourageand loyalty on her own partin
allowing the minister to be thrown into position where so much
evil was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her
only justification lay in the fact that she had been able to
discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had
overwhelmed herself except by acquiescing in Roger
Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulse she had
made her choiceand had chosenas it now appearedthe more
wretched alternative of the two. She determined to redeem her
error so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened by years
of hard and solemn trialshe felt herself no longer so
inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night
abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy
that was still newwhen they had talked together in the
prison-chamber. She had climbed her way since then to a higher
point. The old manon the other handhad brought himself
nearer to her levelorperhapsbelow itby the revenge which
he had stooped for.

In fineHester Prynne resolved to meet her former husbandand
do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on
whom he had so evidently set his gripe. The occasion was not
long to seek. One afternoonwalking with Pearl in a retired
part of the peninsulashe beheld the old physician with a basket
on one arm and a staff in the other handstooping along the
ground in quest of roots and herbs to concoct his medicine
withal.

XIV. HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN
Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the waterand
play with the shells and tangled sea-weeduntil she should have
talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew
away like a birdandmaking bare her small white feet went
pattering along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there she
came to a full stopad peeped curiously into a poolleft by the
retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth
peeped at herout of the poolwith darkglistening curls
around her headand an elf-smile in her eyesthe image of a
little maid whom Pearlhaving no other playmateinvited to take
her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid
on her partbeckoned likewiseas if to say--"This is a
better place; come thou into the pool." And Pearlstepping in
mid-leg deepbeheld her own white feet at the bottom; whileout
of a still lower depthcame the gleam of a kind of fragmentary
smilefloating to and fro in the agitated water.

Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician. "I would speak
a word with you said she--a word that concerns us much."

Aha! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old
Roger Chillingworth?answered heraising himself from
his stooping posture. "With all my heart! WhymistressI hear
good tidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than yester-eve
a magistratea wise and godly manwas discoursing of your
affairsMistress Hesterand whispered me that there had been
question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether
or nowith safety to the commonwealyonder scarlet letter might
be taken off your bosom. On my lifeHesterI made my intreaty


to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith."

It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off the
badge,calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be quit of it
it would fall away of its own natureor be transformed into
something that should speak a different purport."

Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better,rejoined heA
woman must needs follow her own fancy touching the adornment of
her person. The letter is gaily embroidered, and shows right
bravely on your bosom!

All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old man
and was shockedas 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 visible he bore his age welland seemed to
retain a wiry vigour and alertness. But the former aspect of an
intellectual and studious mancalm and quietwhich was what she
best remembered in himhad altogether vanishedand been
succeeded by a eagersearchingalmost fierceyet
carefully guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to
mask this expression with a smilebut the latter played him
falseand flickered over his visage so derisively that the
spectator could see his blackness all the better for it. Ever
and anontoothere came a glare of red light out of his eyes
as if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smouldering
duskily within his breastuntil by some casual puff of passion
it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as
speedily as possibleand strove to look as if nothing of the
kind had happened.

In a wordold Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of
man's faculty of transforming himself into a devilif he will
onlyfor a reasonable space of timeundertake a devil's office.
This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by
devoting himself for seven years to the constant analysis of a
heart full of tortureand deriving his enjoyment thenceand
adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analysed and 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 physicianthat you look at
it so earnestly?

Something that would make me weep, if there were any tears
bitter enough for it,answered she. "But let it pass! It is of
yonder miserable man that I would speak."

And what of him?cried Roger Chillingwortheagerlyas if he
loved 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 and I will make answer."

When we last spake together,said Hesternow seven years ago,
it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy as touching
the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and
good fame of yonder man were in your hands there seemed no choice
to me, save to be silent in accordance with your behest. Yet it
was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself, for,


having cast off all duty towards other human beings, there
remained a duty towards him, and something whispered me that I
was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since
that day no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his
every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You
search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your
clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living
death, and still he knows you not. In permitting this I have
surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was
left me to be true!

What choice had you?asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger
pointed at this manwould have hurled him from his pulpit into a
dungeonthenceperadventureto the gallows!"

It had been better so!said Hester Prynne.

What evil have I done the man?asked Roger Chillingworth again.
I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician
earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have
wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid his
life would have burned away in torments within the first two
years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For,
Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up,
as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. Oh, I
could reveal a goodly secret! But enough. What art can do, I
have exhausted on him. That he now breathes and creeps about on
earth is owing all to me!

Better he had died at once!said Hester Prynne.

Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!cried old Roger Chillingworth
letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had
he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has
suffered. And allallin the sight of his worst enemy! He has
been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always
upon him like a curse. He knewby some spiritual sense--for
the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this--he
knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstringsand
that an eye was looking curiously into himwhich sought only
eviland found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were
mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhoodhe
fancied himself given over to a fiendto be tortured with
frightful dreams and desperate thoughtsthe sting of remorse and
despair of pardonas a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the
grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presencethe
closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged
and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the
direst revenge! Yeaindeedhe did not errthere was a fiend
at his elbow! A mortal manwith once a human hearthas
become a fiend for his especial torment."

The unfortunate physicianwhile uttering these wordslifted his
hands with a look of horroras if he had beheld some frightful
shapewhich he could not recogniseusurping the place of his
own image in a glass. It was one of those moments--which
sometimes occur only at the interval of years--when a man's
moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not
improbably he had never before viewed himself as he did now.

Hast thou not tortured him enough?said Hesternoticing the
old man's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"

No, no! He has but increased the debt!answered the physician


and as he proceededhis manner lost its fiercer characteristics
and subsided into gloom. "Dost thou remember meHesteras I
was nine years agone? Even then I was in the autumn of my days
nor was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of
earneststudiousthoughtfulquiet yearsbestowed faithfully
for the increase of mine own knowledgeand faithfullytoo
though this latter object was but casual to the other--faithfully
for the advancement of human welfare. No life had
been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with
benefits conferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I notthough
you might deem me coldnevertheless a man thoughtful for others
craving little for himself--kindtruejust and of constant
if not warm affections? Was I not all this?"

All this, and more,said Hester.

And what am I now?demanded helooking into her faceand
permitting the whole evil within him to be written on his
features. "I have already told thee what I am--a fiend! Who
made me so?"

It was myself,cried Hestershuddering. "It was Inot less
than he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"

I have left thee to the scarlet letter,replied Roger
Chillingworth. "If that has not avenged meI can do no more!"

He laid his finger on it with a smile.

It has avenged thee,answered Hester Prynne.

I judged no less,said the physician. "And now what wouldst
thou with me touching this man?"

I must reveal the secret,answered Hesterfirmly. "He must
discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result I
know not. But this long debt of confidencedue from me to him
whose bane and ruin I have beenshall at length be paid. So far
as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and
his earthly stateand perchance his lifehe is in my hands.
Nor do I--whom the scarlet letter has disciplined to truth
though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into the soul--nor
do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life
of ghastly emptinessthat I shall stoop to implore thy mercy.
Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for himno good for
meno good for thee. There is no good for little Pearl. There
is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."

Woman, I could well-nigh pity thee,said Roger Chillingworth
unable to restrain a thrill of admiration toofor there was a
quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed.
Thou hadst great elements. Peradventure, hadst thou met
earlier with a better love than mine, this evil had not been. I
pity thee, for the good that has been wasted in thy nature.

And I thee,answered Hester Prynnefor the hatred that has
transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge
it out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake,
then doubly for thine own! Forgive, and leave his further
retribution to the Power that claims it! I said, but now, that
there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who are
here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil, and
stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn
our path. It is not so! There might be good for thee, and thee


alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy
will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt
thou reject that priceless benefit?

Peace, Hester--peace!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 to meand explains all that we doand all we suffer. By
thy first step awrythou didst plant the germ of evil; but since
that moment it 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 blossom as it
may! Nowgo thy waysand deal as thou wilt with yonder man."

He waved his handand betook himself again to his employment of
gathering herbs.

XV. HESTER AND PEARL
So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figure with a face that
haunted men's memories longer than they liked--took leave of
Hester Prynneand went stooping away along the earth. He
gathered here and there a herbor grubbed up a root and put it
into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the
ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little
whilelooking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the
tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him
and show the wavering track of his footstepssere and brown
across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs
they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not
the earthquickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his
eyegreet him with poisonous shrubs of species hitherto unknown
that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him
that every wholesome growth should be converted into something
deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sunwhich shone
so brightly everywhere elsereally fall upon him? Or was there
as it rather seemeda circle of ominous shadow moving along with
his deformity whichever way he turned himself? And whither was
he now going? Would he not suddenly sink
into the earthleaving a barren and blasted spotwherein due
course of timewould be seen deadly nightshadedogwood
henbaneand whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate
could produceall flourishing with hideous luxuriance? Or would
he spread bat's wings and flee awaylooking so much the uglier
the higher he rose towards heaven?

Be it sin or no,said Hester Prynnebitterlyas still she
gazed after himI hate the man!

She upbraided herself for the sentimentbut could not overcome
or lessen it. Attempting to do soshe thought of those
long-past days in a distant landwhen he used to emerge at
eventide from the seclusion of his study and sit down in the
firelight of their homeand in the light of her nuptial smile.
He needed to bask himself in that smilehe saidin order that
the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken
off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared not
otherwise than happybut nowas viewed through the dismal
medium of her subsequent lifethey classed themselves among her
ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have


been! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to
marry him! She deemed in her crime most to be repented ofthat
she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his
handand had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle
and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed
by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him
thatin the time when her heart knew no betterhe had persuaded her
to fancy herself happy by his side.

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

Let men tremble to win the hand of womanunless they win along
with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their
miserable fortuneas it was Roger Chillingworth'swhen some
mightier 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 to have done with
this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven long years
under the torture of the scarlet letterinflicted so much of
misery and wrought out no repentance?

The emotion of that brief spacewhile she stood gazing after the
crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworththrew a dark light on
Hester's state of mindrevealing much that she might not
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 for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer
of herbs. At firstas already toldshe had flirted fancifully
with her own image in a pool of waterbeckoning the phantom
forthand--as it declined to venture--seeking a passage for
herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.
Soon findinghoweverthat either she or the image was unreal
she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little boats
out of birch-barkand
freighted them with snailshellsand sent out more ventures on
the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger
part of them foundered near the shore. She seized a live
horse-shoe by the tailand made prize of several five-fingers
and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she took
up the white foam that streaked the line of the advancing tide
and threw it upon the breezescampering after it with winged
footsteps to catch the great snowflakes ere they fell.
Perceiving a flock of beach-birds that fed and fluttered along
the shorethe naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles
andcreeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl
displayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them. One little gray
birdwith a white breastPearl was almost sure had been hit by
a pebbleand fluttered away with a broken wing. But then the
elf-child sighedand gave up her sportbecause it grieved her
to have done harm to a little being that was as wild as the
sea-breezeor as wild as Pearl herself.

Her final employment was to gather seaweed of various kindsand
make herself a scarf or mantleand a head-dressand thus assume
the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited her mother's gift
for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her
mermaid's garbPearl took some eel-grass and imitatedas best


she couldon her own bosom the decoration with which she was so
familiar on her mother's. A letter--the letter A--but
freshly green instead of scarlet. The child bent her chin upon her
breastand contemplated this device with strange interesteven
as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the
world was to make out its hidden import.

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

Just then she heard her mother's voiceandflitting along as
lightly as one of the little sea-birdsappeared before Hester
Prynne dancinglaughingand pointing her finger to the ornament
upon her bosom.

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

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

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

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

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

And what reason is that?asked Hesterhalf smiling at the
absurd incongruity of the child's observation; but on second
thoughts turning pale.

What has the letter to do with any heart save mine?

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

She took her mother's hand in both her ownand gazed into her
eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and
capricious character. The thought occurred to Hesterthat the
child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike
confidenceand doing what she couldand as intelligently as she
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 than the waywardness of
an April breezewhich spends its time in airy sportand has its
gusts of inexplicable passionand is petulant in its best of
moodsand chills oftener than caresses youwhen you take it to
your bosom; in requital of which misdemeanours it will sometimes
of its own vague purposekiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful
tendernessand play 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 but
unamiable traitsand have given them a far darker colouring.
But now the idea came strongly into Hester's mindthat Pearl
with her remarkable precocity and acutenessmight already have
approached the age when she could have been made a friendand
intrusted with as much of her mother's sorrows as could be imparted
without irreverence either to the parent or the child. In the little
chaos of Pearl's character there might be seen emerging and could
have been from the very first--the steadfast principles of an
unflinching courage--an uncontrollable will--sturdy pride
which might be disciplined into self-respect--and a bitter
scorn of many things whichwhen examinedmight be found to have
the taint of falsehood in them. She possessed affectionstoo
though hitherto acrid and disagreeableas are the richest
flavours of unripe fruit. With all these sterling attributes
thought Hesterthe evil which she inherited from her mother must
be 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 letter seemed an innate quality of her being. From the
earliest epoch of her conscious lifeshe had entered upon this
as her appointed mission. Hester had often fancied that
Providence had a design of justice and retributionin endowing
the child with this marked propensity; but neveruntil nowhad
she bethought herself to askwhetherlinked with that design
there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy and beneficence.
If little Pearl were entertained with faith and trustas a
spirit messenger no less than an earthly childmight it not be
her errand to soothe away the sorrow that lay cold in her
mother's heartand converted it into a tomb?--and to help her
to overcome the passiononce so wildand even 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 mind
with as much vivacity of impression as if they had actually been
whispered into her ear. And there was little Pearlall this
whileholding her mother's hand in both her ownand turning her
face upwardwhile she put these searching questionsonce and
againand still a third time.

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

What shall I say?thought Hester to herself. "No! if this be
the price of the child's sympathyI cannot pay it. "

Then she spoke aloud-


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

In all the seven bygone yearsHester Prynne had never before
been false to the 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 recognising thatin spite of his strict
watch over her heartsome new evil had crept into itor some
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 timesas her mother and she went homewardand


as often at supper-timeand while Hester was putting her to
bedand once after she seemed to be fairly asleepPearl
looked upwith mischief gleaming in her black eyes.

Mother,said shewhat does the scarlet letter mean?

And the next morningthe first indication the child gave of
being awake was by popping up her head from the pillowand
making that other enquirywhich she had so unaccountably
connected with her investigations about the scarlet letter-


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

Hold thy tongue, naughty child!answered her motherwith an
asperity that she had never permitted to herself before. "Do not
tease me; else I shall put thee into the dark closet!"

XVI. 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 crept into
his intimacy. For several dayshowevershe vainly sought an
opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks
which she knew him to be in the habit of taking along the shores
of the Peninsulaor on the wooded hills of the neighbouring
country. There would have been no scandalindeednor peril to
the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good famehad she visited
him in his own studywhere many a penitentere nowhad
confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye as the one betokened by
the scarlet letter. Butpartly that she dreaded the secret or
undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworthand partly
that her conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have
been feltand partly that both the minister and she would need
the whole wide world to breathe inwhile they talked together--for
all these reasons Hester never thought of meeting him in any
narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.

At lastwhile attending a sick chamberwhither the Rev. Mr.
Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayershe learnt that
he had gonethe day beforeto visit the Apostle Eliotamong his
Indian converts. He would probably return by a certain hour in 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 forth.

The roadafter the two wayfarers had crossed from the Peninsula
to the mainlandwas no other than a foot-path. It straggled
onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it
in so 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 chill and sombre.
Overhead was a gray expanse of cloudslightly stirredhowever
by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and
then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting
cheerfulness was always at the further extremity of some long
vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight--feebly
sportiveat bestin the predominant pensiveness of the day and
scene--withdrew itself as they came nighand left the spots
where it had danced the drearierbecause they had hoped to find


them bright.

Mother,said little Pearlthe sunshine does not love you. It
runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on
your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing a good way off.
Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child.
It will not flee from me--for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!

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

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

Run away, child,answered her motherand catch the sunshine.
It will soon be gone

Pearl set forth at a great paceand as Hester smiled to
perceivedid actually catch the sunshineand stood laughing in
the midst of itall brightened by its splendourand
scintillating 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 my hand
and grasp some of it."

As she attempted to do sothe sunshine vanished; orto judge
from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's features
her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into
herselfand would give it forth againwith 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 vigour in Pearl's natureas this never failing
vivacity of spirits: she had not the disease of sadnesswhich
almost all childrenin these latter daysinheritwith the
scrofulafrom the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this
toowas a diseaseand but the reflex of the wild energy with
which Hester had fought against her sorrows before Pearl's birth.
It was certainly a doubtful charmimparting a hardmetallic lustre
to the child's character. She wanted--what some people want
throughout life--a grief that should deeply touch herand thus
humanise and make her capable of sympathy. But there was time
enough yet for little Pearl.

Come, my child!said Hesterlooking about her from the spot
where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine--"we will sit down
a little way within the woodand rest ourselves."

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

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

Oh, a story about the Black Man,answered Pearltaking hold of
her mother's gownand looking uphalf earnestlyhalf
mischievouslyinto her face.

How he haunts this forest, and carries a book with him a big,
heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers
his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among


the trees; and they are to write their names with their own
blood; and then he sets his mark on their bosoms. Didst thou
ever meet the Black Man, mother?

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

It was the old dame in the chimney corner, at the house where
you watched last night,said the child. "But she fancied me
asleep while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand and
a thousand people had met him hereand had written in his
bookand have his mark on them. And that ugly tempered lady
old Mistress Hibbinswas one. Andmotherthe old dame said
that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on theeand
that it glows like a red flame when thou meetest him at midnight
here in the dark wood. Is it truemother? And dost thou go to
meet him in the nighttime?"

Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?asked Hester.
Not that I remember,said the child. "If thou fearest to leave
me in our cottagethou mightest take me along with thee. I
would very gladly go! Butmothertell me now! Is there such a
Black Man? And didst thou ever meet him? And is this his mark?"

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

Yes, if thou tellest me all,answered Pearl.

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

Thus conversingthey entered sufficiently deep into the wood to
secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger
along the forest track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap
of moss; which at some epoch of the preceding centuryhad been a
gigantic pinewith its roots and trunk in the darksome shade
and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere It was a little dell
where they had seated themselveswith a leaf-strewn bank rising
gently on either sideand a brook flowing through the midst
over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending
over it had flung down great branches from time to timewhich
choked up the currentand compelled it to form eddies and black
depths at some points; whilein its swifter and livelier passages there
appeared a channel-way of pebblesand brownsparkling sand. Letting the
eyes follow along the course of the streamthey could catch the
reflected light from its waterat some short distance within the
forestbut soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of
tree-trunks and underbushand here and there a huge rock covered
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 whence it flowedor mirror its revelations on the smooth
surface of a pool. Continuallyindeedas it stole onwardthe
streamlet kept up a babblekindquietsoothingbut
melancholylike the voice of a young child that was spending its
infancy without playfulnessand knew not how to be merry among
sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.

Oh, brook! Oh, foolish and tiresome little brook!cried Pearl
after listening awhile to its talkWhy art thou so sad? Pluck
up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!


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 have nothing else
to say. Pearl resembled the brookinasmuch 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 and sparkledand prattled airily along her course.

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

If thou hadst a sorrow of thine ownthe brook might tell thee
of it answered her mother, even as it is telling me of mine.
But nowPearlI hear a footstep along the pathand the noise
of one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake
thyself to playand leave me to speak with him that comes
yonder."

Is it the Black Man?asked Pearl.

Wilt thou go and play, child?repeated her motherBut do not
stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou come at my
first call.

Yes, mother,answered PearlBut if it be the Black Man, wilt
thou not let me stay a moment, and look at him, with his big book
under his arm?

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

And so it is!said the child. "Andmotherhe has his hand
over his heart! Is it becausewhen the minister wrote his name
in the bookthe Black Man set his mark in that place? But why
does he not wear it outside his bosomas thou dostmother?"

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

The child went singing awayfollowing up the current of the
brookand striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its
melancholy voice. But the little
stream would not be comfortedand still kept telling its
unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had
happened--or making a prophetic lamentation about something
that was yet to happen--within the verge of the dismal forest.
So Pearlwho had enough of shadow in her own little lifechose
to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set
herselfthereforeto gathering violets and wood-anemonesand
some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevice of
a high rock.

When her elf-child had departedHester Prynne made a step or two
towards the track that led through the forestbut still remained
under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the minister
advancing along the path entirely aloneand leaning on a staff
which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble
and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his airwhich had never
so remarkably characterised him in his walks about the
settlementnor in any other situation where he deemed himself
liable to notice. Here it was wofully visiblein this intense
seclusion of the forestwhich of itself would have been a heavy
trial to the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gaitas


if he saw no reason for taking one step furthernor felt any
desire to do sobut would have been gladcould he be glad of
anythingto fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree
and lie there passive for evermore. The leaves might bestrew
himand 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 for or avoided.

To Hester's eyethe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no
symptom of positive and vivacious sufferingexcept thatas
little Pearl had remarkedhe kept his hand over his heart.

XVII. THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER
Slowly as the minister walkedhe had almost gone by before
Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his
observation. At length she succeeded.

Arthur Dimmesdale!she saidfaintly at firstthen louder
but hoarsely--"Arthur Dimmesdale!"

Who speaks?answered the minister. Gathering himself quickly
uphe stood more erectlike a man taken by surprise in a mood
to which he was reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes
anxiously in the direction of the voicehe indistinctly beheld a
form under the treesclad in garments so sombreand so little
relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and
the heavy foliage had darkened the noontidethat he knew not
whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be that his pathway
through life was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out
from among his thoughts.

He made a step nigherand discovered the scarlet letter.

Hester! Hester Prynne!', said he; is it thou? Art thou in
life?"

Even so.she answered. "In such life as has been mine these
seven years past! And thouArthur Dimmesdaledost thou yet live?"

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's actual
and bodily existenceand even doubted of their own. So
strangely did they meet in the dim wood that it was like the
first encounter in the world beyond the grave of two spirits who
had been intimately connected in their former lifebut now stood
coldly shuddering in mutual dreadas not yet familiar with their
statenor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings.
Each a ghostand awe-stricken at the other ghost. They were
awe-stricken likewise at themselvesbecause the crisis flung
back to them their consciousnessand revealed to each heart its
history and experienceas life never doesexcept at such
breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the mirror of
the passing moment. It was with fearand tremulouslyandas
it wereby a slowreluctant necessitythat Arthur Dimmesdale
put forth his handchill as deathand touched the chill hand of
Hester Prynne. The graspcold as it wastook away what was
dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselvesat least
inhabitants of the same sphere.

Without a word more spoken--neither he nor she assuming the
guidancebut with an unexpressed consent--they glided back
into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had emergedand sat


down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been
sitting. When they found voice to speakit was at first only to
utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might
have madeabout the gloomy skythe threatening stormand
nextthe health of each. Thus they went onwardnot boldlybut step
by stepinto the themes that were brooding deepest in their
hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstancesthey needed
something slight and casual to run before and throw open the
doors of intercourseso that their real thoughts might be led
across the threshold.

After awhilethe minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.

Hester,said hehast thou found peace?

She smiled drearilylooking down upon her bosom.

Hast thou?she asked.

None--nothing but despair!he answered. "What else could I
look forbeing what I amand leading such a life as mine? Were
I an atheist--a man devoid of conscience--a wretch with
coarse and brutal instincts--I might have found peace long ere
now. NayI never should have lost it. Butas matters stand
with my soulwhatever of good capacity there originally was in
meall of God's gifts that were the choicest have become the
ministers of spiritual torment. HesterI am most miserable!"

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

More misery, Hester!--Only the more misery!answered the
clergyman with a bitter smile. "As concerns the good which I may
appear to doI have no faith in it. It must needs be a
delusion. What can a ruined soul like mine effect towards the
redemption of other souls?--or a polluted soul towards their
purification? And as for the people's reverence
would that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou deem
itHestera consolation that I must stand up in my pulpitand
meet so many eyes turned upward to my faceas if the light of
heaven were beaming from it!--must see my flock hungry for the
truthand listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were
speaking!--and then look inwardand discern the black reality
of what they idolise? 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 have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind
you in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy,
in very truth, than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no
reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works?
And wherefore should it not bring you peace?

No, Hester--no!replied the clergyman. "There is no
substance in it] It is cold and deadand can do nothing for me!
Of penanceI have had enough! Of penitencethere has been
none! ElseI should long ago have thrown off these garments of
mock holinessand have shown myself to mankind as they will see
me at the judgment-seat. Happy are youHesterthat wear the
scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!
Thou little knowest what a relief it isafter the torment of a
seven years' cheatto look into an eye that recognises me for


what I am! Had I one friend--or were it my worst enemy!--to
whomwhen sickened with the praises of all other menI could
daily betake myselfand known as the vilest of all sinnersmethinks
my soul might keep itself alive 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. Yet
uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did
his words here offered her the very point of circumstances 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 shewith
whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!
Again she hesitatedbut brought out the words with an 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 his heartas if he would have torn it out of his
bosom.

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

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which
she was responsible to this unhappy manin permitting him to lie
for so many yearsorindeedfor a single momentat the mercy
of one whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. The
very contiguity of his enemybeneath whatever mask the latter
might conceal himselfwas enough to disturb the magnetic sphere
of a being so sensitive as Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a
period when Hester was less alive to this consideration; or
perhapsin the misanthropy of 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 read his heart more
accurately. She doubted not that the continual presence of Roger
Chillingworth--the secret poison of his malignityinfecting
all the air about him--and his authorised interferenceas a
physicianwith the minister's physical and spiritual
infirmities--that these bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel
purpose. By means of themthe sufferer'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 Trueof which madness is perhaps the earthly type.

Such was the ruin to which she had brought the manonce--nay
why should we not speak it?--still so passionately loved!
Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's good nameand
death itselfas she had already told Roger Chillingworthwould
have been infinitely preferable to the alternative which she had
taken upon herself to choose. And nowrather than have had this
grievous wrong to confessshe would gladly have laid down on the
forest leavesand died thereat Arthur Dimmesdale's feet.

Oh, Arthur!cried sheforgive me! In all things else, I have
striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have
held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when
thy good--thy life--thy fame--were put in question! Then I
consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even


though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what
I would say? That old man!--the physician!--he whom they
call Roger Chillingworth!--he was my husband!

The minister looked at her for an instantwith all that violence
of passionwhich--intermixed in more shapes than one with his
higherpurersofter qualities--wasin factthe portion of
him which the devil claimedand through which he sought to win
the rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than
Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it lastedit
was a dark transfiguration. But his character had been so much
enfeebled by sufferingthat even its lower energies were
incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down on the
groundand buried his face in his hands.

I might have known it,murmured he--"I did know it! Was not
the secret told mein the natural recoil of my heart at the
first sight of himand as often as I have seen him since? Why
did I not understand? OhHester Prynnethou littlelittle
knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!--the
indelicacy!--the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick
and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it!
Womanwomanthou art accountable for this!--I cannot forgive
thee!"

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

With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around
himand pressed his head against her bosomlittle caring though
his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself
but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him 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 firm
sad eyes. Heavenlikewisehad frowned upon herand she had
not died. But the frown 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 you, Hester,replied the minister at lengthwith
a deep utteranceout of an abyss of sadnessbut no anger. "I
freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both. We are not
Hesterthe worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than
even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been
blacker than my sin. He has violatedin cold bloodthe
sanctity of a human heart. Thou and IHesternever did so!"

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

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

They sat down againside by sideand hand clasped in handon
the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought them
a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so
long been tendingand darkening everas it stole along--and
yet it unclosed a charm that made them linger upon itand claim
anotherand anotherandafter allanother
moment. The forest was obscure around themand creaked with a


blast that was passing through it. The boughs were tossing
heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaned
dolefully 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 backward to the settlementwhere Hester Prynne must take up
again the burden of her ignominy and the minister the hollow
mockery of his good name! So they lingered an instant longer.
No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this
dark forest. Here seen only by his eyesthe scarlet letter need
not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman! Here seen only by
her eyesArthur Dimmesdalefalse to God and manmight befor
one moment true!

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.

Hester!cried hehere is a new horror! Roger Chillingworth
knows your purpose to reveal his true character. Will he
continue, then, to keep our secret? What will now be the course
of his revenge?

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

And I! --how am I to live longer, breathing the same air with
this deadly enemy?exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdaleshrinking
within himselfand pressing his hand
nervously against his heart--a gesture that had grown
involuntary with him. "Think for meHester! Thou art strong.
Resolve for me!"

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

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

Alas! what a ruin has befallen thee!said Hesterwith the
tears gushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very weakness?
There is no other cause!"

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

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

Be thou strong for me!answered he. "Advise me what to do."

Is the world, then, so narrow?exclaimed Hester Prynnefixing
her deep eyes on the minister'sand instinctively exercising a
magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it
could hardly hold itself erect. "Doth the universe lie within
the compass of yonder townwhich only a little time ago was but
a leaf-strewn desertas lonely as this around us? Whither leads
yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlementthou sayest!
Yes; butonwardtoo! Deeper it goesand deeper into the
wildernessless plainly to be seen at every step; until some few


miles hence the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white
man's tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would
bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretchedto
one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough
in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of
Roger Chillingworth?"

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

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

It cannot be!answered the ministerlistening as if he were
called upon to realise a dream. "I am powerless to go. Wretched
and sinful as I amI have had no other thought than to drag on
my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed
me. Lost as my own soul isI would still do what I may for
other human souls! I dare not quit my postthough an unfaithful
sentinelwhose sure reward is death and dishonourwhen his
dreary watch shall come to an end!"

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 shall not
cumber thy stepsas thou treadest along the forest-path: neither
shalt thou freight the ship with itif thou prefer to cross the sea.
Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. Meddle no
more with it! Begin all anew! Hast thou exhausted possibility
in the failure of this one trial? Not so! The future is yet
full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed!
There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for
a true one. Beif thy spirit summon thee to such a missionthe
teacher and apostle of the red men. Oras is more thy nature
be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the most renowned of
the cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do anythingsave
to lie down and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdaleand
make thyself anotherand a high onesuch as thou canst wear
without fear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one
other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life?
that have made thee feeble to will and to do? that will leave
thee powerless even to repent? Upand away!"

Oh, Hester!cried Arthur Dimmesdalein whose eyes a fitful
lightkindled by her enthusiasmflashed up and died awaythou
tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering
beneath him! I must die here! There is not the strength or
courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult
world alone!

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

He repeated the word--"AloneHester!"

Thou shall not go alone!answered shein a deep whisper.
Thenall was spoken!


XVIII. A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE
Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which
hope and joy shone outindeedbut with fear betwixt themand a
kind of horror at her boldnesswho had spoken what he vaguely
hinted atbut dared not speak.

But Hester Prynnewith a mind of native courage and activity
and for so long a period not merely estrangedbut outlawed from
societyhad habituated herself to such latitude of speculation
as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered
without rule or guidancein a moral wildernessas vastas
intricateand shadowy as the untamed forestamid the gloom of
which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their
fate. Her intellect and heart had their homeas it werein
desert placeswhere she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in
his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged
point of view at human institutionsand whatever priests or
legislators had established; criticising all with hardly more
reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical bandthe
judicial robethe pillorythe gallowsthe firesideor the
church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set
her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions
where other women dared not tread. 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
experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally
received laws; althoughin a single instancehe had so
fearfully 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 to arrange--but
each breath of emotionand his every thought. At the head
of the social systemas the clergymen of that day stoodhe was
only the more trammelled by its regulationsits principlesand
even its prejudices. As a priestthe framework of his order
inevitably hemmed him in. As a man who had once sinnedbut who
kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the
fretting of an unhealed woundhe might have been supposed safer
within the line of virtue than if he had never sinned at all.

Thus we seem to see thatas regarded Hester Prynnethe whole
seven years of 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 him somewhat
that he was brokerdown by long and exquisite suffering; that
his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which
harrowed it; thatbetween fleeing as an avowed criminaland
remaining as a hypocriteconscience might find it hard to strike the
balance; that it was human to avoid the peril of death and
infamyand the inscrutable machinations of an enemy; that
finallyto this poor pilgrimon his dreary and desert path
faintsickmiserablethere appeared a glimpse of human
affection and sympathya new lifeand a true onein exchange
for the heavy doom which he was now expiating. And be the stern
and sad truth spokenthat the breach which guilt has once made
into the human soul is neverin this mortal staterepaired. It
may be watched and guardedso that the enemy shall not force his


way again into the citadeland might even in his subsequent
assaultsselect some other avenuein preference to that where
he had formerly succeeded. But there is still the ruined wall
and near it the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over
again his unforgotten triumph.

The struggleif there were oneneed not be described. Let it
suffice that the clergyman resolved to fleeand not alone.

If in all these past seven years,thought heI could recall
one instant of peace or hope, 1 would yet endure, for the sake of
that earnest of Heaven's mercy. But now--since I am
irrevocably doomed--wherefore should I not snatch the solace
allowed to the condemned culprit before his execution? Or, if
this be the path to a better life, as Hester would persuade me, I
surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! Neither can I
any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to
sustain--so tender to soothe! O Thou to whom I dare not lift
mine eyes, wilt Thou yet pardon me?

Thou wilt go!said Hester calmlyas he met her glance.

The decision once madea glow of strange enjoyment threw its
flickering brightness over the trouble of his breast. It was the
exhilarating effect--upon a prisoner just escaped from the
dungeon of his own heart--of breathing the wildfree
atmosphere of an unredeemedunchristianisedlawless region His
spirit roseas it werewith a boundand attained a nearer
prospect of the skythan throughout all the misery which had
kept him grovelling on the earth. Of a deeply religious
temperamentthere was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in
his mood.

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

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

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
hither verge of the stream. With a hand's-breadth further
flightit would have fallen into the waterand have givethe
little brook another woe to carry onwardbesides
the unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring about. But
there lay the embroidered letterglittering like a lost jewel
which some ill-fated wanderer might pick upand thenceforth be
haunted by strange phantoms of guiltsinkings of the heartand
unaccountable misfortune.

The stigma goneHester heaved a longdeep sighin which the
burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O
exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt
the freedom! By another impulseshe took off the formal cap
that confined her hairand down it fell upon her shouldersdark
and richwith at once a shadow and a light in its abundanceand
imparting the charm of softness to her features. There played


around her mouthand beamed out of her eyesa radiant and
tender smilethat seemed gushing from the very heart of
womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheekthat had
been long so pale. Her sexher youthand the whole richness of
her beautycame back from what men call the irrevocable past
and clustered themselves with her maiden hopeand a happiness
before unknownwithin the magic circle of this hour. Andas if
the gloom of the earth and sky had been but the effluence of
these two mortal heartsit vanished with their sorrow. All at
onceas with a sudden smile of heavenforth burst the sunshine
pouring a very flood into the obscure forestgladdening each
green leaftransmuting the yellow fallen ones to goldand
gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objects
that had made a shadow hithertoembodied the brightness now.
The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry
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! Love
whether newly-bornor aroused from a death-like slumbermust
always create a sunshinefilling the heart so full of radiance
that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still
kept its gloomit would have been bright in Hester's eyesand
bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's!

Hester looked at him with a thrill of another joy.

Thou must know Pearl!said she. "Our little Pearl! Thou hast
seen her--yesI know it!--but thou wilt see her now with
other eyes. She is a strange child! I hardly comprehend her!
But thou 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 the
ministersomewhat uneasily. "I have long shrunk from children
because they often show a distrust--a backwardness to be
familiar with me. I have even been afraid of little Pearl!"

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

I see the child,observed the minister. "Yonder she is
standing in a streak of 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 visible at some
distanceas the minister had described herlike a bright-apparelled
vision in a sunbeamwhich fell down upon her through an arch of
boughs. The ray quivered to and fromaking her figure dim or
distinct--now like a real childnow like a child's spirit--as the
splendour went and came again. She heard her mother's voice
and approached slowly through the forest.

Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely while her mother
sat talking with the clergyman. The great black forest--stern
as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and troubles
of the world into its bosom--became the playmate of the lonely
infantas well as it knew how. Sombre as it wasit put on the
kindest of its moods to welcome her. It offered her the
partridge-berriesthe growth of the preceding autumnbut
ripening only in the springand now red as drops of blood upon


the withered leaves. These Pearl gatheredand was pleased with
their wild flavour. The small denizens of the wilderness hardly
took pains to move out of her path. A partridgeindeedwith a
brood of ten behind herran forward threateninglybut soon
repented of her fiercenessand clucked to her young ones not to
be afraid. A pigeonalone on a low branchallowed Pearl to
come beneathand uttered a sound as much of greeting as alarm.
A squirrelfrom the lofty depths of his domestic treechattered
either in anger or merriment--for the squirrel is such a
choleric and humorous little personagethat it is hard to
distinguish between his moods--so he chattered at the child
and flung down a nut upon her head. It was a last year's nut
and already gnawed by his sharp tooth. A foxstartled from his
sleep by her light footstep on the leaveslooked inquisitively at
Pearlas doubting whether it were better to steal offor renew
his nap on the same spot. A wolfit is said--but here the
tale has surely lapsed into the improbable--came up and smelt
of Pearl's robeand offered his savage head to be patted by her
hand. The truth seems to behoweverthat the mother-forest
and these wild things which it nourishedall recognised a
kindred wilderness in the human child.

And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets of
the settlementor in her mother's cottage. The Bowers appeared
to know itand one and another whispered as she passedAdorn
thyself with me, thou beautiful child, adorn thyself with me!--and
to please themPearl gathered the violetsand
anemonesand columbinesand some twigs of the freshest green
which the old trees held down before her eyes. With these she
decorated her hair and her young waistand became a nymph child
or an infant dryador whatever else was in closest sympathy with
the antique wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned herselfwhen
she heard her mother's voiceand came slowly back.

Slowly--for she saw the clergyman!

XIX. THE CHILD AT THE BROOKSIDE
Thou will love her dearly,repeated Hester Prynneas she and
the minister sat watching little Pearl. "Dost thou not think her
beautiful? And see with what natural skill she has made those
simple flowers adorn her! Had she gathered pearlsand diamonds
and rubies in the woodthey could not have become her better!
She is a splendid child! But I know whose brow she has!"

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

No, no! Not mostly!answered the motherwith a tender smile.
A little longer, and thou needest not to be afraid to trace
whose child she is. But how strangely beautiful she looks with
those wild flowers in her hair! It is as if one of the fairies,
whom we left in dear old England, had decked her out to meet us.

It was with a feeling which neither of them had
ever before experiencedthat they sat and watched Pearl's slow
advance. In her was visible the tie that united them. She had
been offered to the worldthese seven past yearsas the living


hieroglyphicin which was revealed the secret they so darkly
sought to hide--all written in this symbol--all plainly
manifest--had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read
the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness of their
being. Be the foregone evil what it mighthow could they doubt
that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined when
they beheld at once the material unionand the spiritual idea
in whom they metand were to dwell immortally together; thoughts
like these--and perhaps other thoughtswhich they did not
acknowledge or define--threw an awe about the child as she came
onward.

Let her see nothing strange--no passion or eagerness--in thy
way of accosting her,whispered Hester. "Our Pearl is a fitful
and fantastic little elf sometimes. Especially she is generally
intolerant of emotionwhen she does not fully comprehend the why
and wherefore. But the child hath strong affections! She loves
meand will love thee!"

Thou canst not think,said the ministerglancing aside at
Hester Prynnehow my heart dreads this interview, and yearns
for it! But, in truth, as I already told thee, children are not
readily won to be familiar with me. They will not climb my knee,
nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to my smile, but stand apart,
and eye me strangely. Even little babes, when I take them in my
arms, weep bitterly. Yet Pearl, twice in her little lifetime, hath
been kind to me! The first time--thou knowest it well! The
last was when thou ledst her with thee to the house of yonder
stern old Governor.

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

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the brookand stood
on the further sidegazing silently at Hester and the clergyman
who still sat together on the mossy tree-trunk waiting to receive
her. Just where she had pausedthe brook chanced to form a pool
so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her
little figurewith all the brilliant picturesqueness of her
beautyin its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliagebut
more refined and spiritualized than the reality. This imageso
nearly identical with the living 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
gloomherselfmeanwhileall glorified with a ray of sunshine
that was attracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy. In the
brook beneath stood another child--another and the same--with
likewise its ray of golden light. Hester felt herselfin some
indistinct and tantalizing mannerestranged from Pearlas if
the childin her lonely ramble through the foresthad 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 were estrangedbut through Hester's faultnot Pearl's.
Since the latter rambled from her sideanother inmate had been
admitted within the circle of the mother's feelingsand so
modified the aspect of them allthat Pearlthe returning
wanderercould not find her wonted placeand hardly knew where
she was.


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

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

Pearlwithout responding in any manner to these honey-sweet
expressionsremained on the other side of the brook. Now she
fixed her bright wild eyes on her mothernow on the minister
and now included them both in the same glanceas if to detect
and explain to herself the relation which they bore to one
another. For some unaccountable reasonas Arthur Dimmesdale
felt the child's eyes upon himselfhis hand--with that gesture
so habitual as to have become involuntary--stole over his heart.
At lengthassuming a singular air of authorityPearl stretched out
her handwith the small forefinger extendedand pointing evidently
towards her mother's breast. And beneathin the mirror of the
brookthere was the flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl
pointing her small forefinger too.

Thou strange child! why dost thou not come to me?exclaimed
Hester.

Pearl still pointed with her forefingerand a frown gathered on
her brow--the more impressive from the childishthe almost
baby-like aspect of the features that conveyed it. As her mother
still kept beckoning to herand arraying her face in a holiday
suit of unaccustomed smilesthe child stamped her foot with a
yet more imperious look and gesture. In the brookagainwas
the fantastic beauty of the imagewith its reflected frownits
pointed fingerand imperious gesturegiving emphasis to the
aspect of little Pearl.

Hasten, Pearl, or I shall be angry with thee!cried Hester
Prynnewhohoweverinured to such behaviour on the elf-child's
part at other seasonswas naturally anxious for a more seemly
deportment now. "Leap across the brooknaughty childand run
hither! Else I must come to thee!"

But Pearlnot a whit startled at her mother's threats any more
than mollified by her entreatiesnow suddenly burst into a fit
of passiongesticulating violentlyand throwing her small
figure into the most extravagant contortions She accompanied this
wild outbreak with piercing shriekswhich the woods reverberated
on all sidesso thatalone as she was in her childish and
unreasonable wrathit seemed as if a hidden
multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragement.
Seen in the brook once more was the shadowy wrath of Pearl's
imagecrowned and girdled with flowersbut stamping its foot
wildly gesticulatingandin the midst of allstill pointing
its small forefinger at Hester's bosom.

I see what ails the child,whispered Hester to the clergyman
and turning pale in spite of a strong effort to conceal her
trouble and annoyanceChildren will not abide any, the
slightest, change in the accustomed aspect of things that are


daily before their eyes. Pearl misses something that she has
always seen me wear!

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

Hester turned again towards Pearl with a crimson blush upon her
cheeka conscious glance aside clergymanand then a heavy sigh
whileeven before she had time to speakthe blush yielded to a
deadly pallor.

Pearl,said she sadlylook down at thy feet! There!--before
thee!--on the hither side of the brook!

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

Bring it hither!said Hester.

Come thou and take it up!answered Pearl.

Was ever such a child!observed Hester aside to the minister.
Oh, I have much to tell thee about her! But, in very truth, she
is right as regards this hateful token. I must bear its torture
yet a little longer--only a few days longer--until we shall
have left this region, and look back hither as to a land which we
have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide it! The mid-ocean shall
take it from my hand, and swallow it up for ever!

With these words she advanced to the margin of the brooktook up
the scarlet letterand fastened it again into her bosom.
Hopefullybut a moment agoas Hester had spoken of drowning it
in the deep seathere was a sense of inevitable doom upon her as
she thus received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate.
She had flung it into infinite space! she had drawn an hour's
free breath! and here again was the scarlet misery glittering on
the old spot! So it ever iswhether thus typified or nothat
an evil deed invests itself with the character of doom. Hester
next gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair and confined them
beneath her cap. As if there were a withering spell in the sad
letterher beautythe warmth and richness of her womanhood
departed like fading sunshineand a gray shadow seemed to fall
across her.

When the dreary change was wroughtshe extended her hand to
Pearl.

Dost thou know thy mother now, child?asked she
reproachfullybut with a subdued tone. "Wilt thou come across
the brookand own thy mothernow that she has her shame upon
her--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 her mother's headand kissed her brow and both her cheeks.


But then--by a kind of necessity that always impelled this
child to alloy whatever comfort she might chance to give with a
throb of anguish--Pearl put up her mouth and kissed the scarlet
lettertoo

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

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 mothertoo. Wilt thou not love him? Come he longs to greet
thee!"

Doth he love us?said Pearllooking up with acute intelligence
into her mother's face. "Will he go back with ushand in hand
we three togetherinto the town?"

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

And will he always keep his hand over his heart?inquired
Pearl.

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

Butwhether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive
with every petted child towards a dangerous rivalor from
whatever caprice of her freakish naturePearl would show no
favour to the clergyman. It was only by an exertion of force
that her mother brought her up to himhanging backand
manifesting her reluctance by odd grimaces; of whichever since
her babyhoodshe had possessed a singular varietyand could
transform her mobile physiognomy into a series of different
aspectswith a new mischief in themeach and all. The
minister--painfully embarrassedbut hoping that a kiss might prove a
talisman to admit him into the child's kindlier regards--bent
forwardand impressed one on her brow. HereuponPearl broke
away from her motherandrunning to the brookstooped over it
and bathed her foreheaduntil the unwelcome kiss was quite
washed off and diffused through a long lapse of the gliding
water. She then remained apartsilently watching Hester and the
clergyman; while they talked together and made such arrangements
as were suggested by their new position and the purposes soon to
be fulfilled.

And now this fateful interview had come to a close. The dell was
to be left in solitude among its darkold treeswhichwith
their multitudinous tongueswould whisper long of what had
passed thereand no mortal be the wiser. And the melancholy
brook would add this other tale to the mystery with which its
little heart was already overburdenedand whereof it still kept
up a murmuring babblewith not a whit more cheerfulness of tone
than for ages heretofore.

XX. THE MINISTER IN A MAZE

As the minister departedin advance of Hester Prynne and little
Pearlhe threw a backward glancehalf expecting that he should
discover only some faintly traced features or outline of the
mother and the childslowly fading into the twilight of the
woods. So great a vicissitude in his life could not at once be
received as real. But there was Hesterclad in her gray robe
still standing beside the tree-trunkwhich some blast had
overthrown a long antiquity agoand which time had ever since
been covering with mossso that these two fated oneswith
earth's heaviest burden on themmight there sit down together
and find a single hour's rest and solace. And there was Pearl
toolightly dancing from the margin of the brook--now that the
intrusive third person was gone--and taking her old place by
her mother's side. So the minister had not fallen asleep and
dreamed!

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity
of impressionwhich vexed it with a strange disquietudehe
recalled and more thoroughly defined the plans which Hester and
himself had sketched for their departure. It had been determined
between them that the Old Worldwith its crowds
and citiesoffered them a more eligible shelter and concealment
than the wilds of New England or all Americawith its
alternatives of an Indian wigwamor the few settlements of
Europeans scattered thinly along the sea-board. Not to speak of
the clergyman's healthso inadequate to sustain the hardships of
a forest lifehis native giftshis cultureand his entire
development would secure him a home only in the midst of
civilization and refinement; the higher the state the more
delicately adapted to it the man. In futherance of this choice
it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour; one of those
unquestionable cruisersfrequent at that daywhichwithout
being absolutely outlaws of the deepyet roamed over its surface
with a remarkable irresponsibility of character. This vessel had
recently arrived from the Spanish Mainand within three days'
time would sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne--whose vocationas
a self-enlisted Sister of Charityhad brought her acquainted
with the captain and crew--could take upon herself to secure
the passage of two individuals and a child with all the secrecy
which circumstances rendered more than desirable.

The minister had inquired of Hesterwith no little interestthe
precise time 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 fortunate we
hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless--to hold nothing back from
the reader--it was becauseon the third day from the present
he was to preach the Election Sermon; andas such an occasion
formed an honourable epoch in the life of a New England Clergyman
he 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
unperformed or ill-performed!" 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
disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance
of his character. No manfor any considerable periodcan wear
one face to himself and another to the multitudewithout finally
getting bewildered as to which may be the true.

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings as he returned from


his interview with Hesterlent him unaccustomed physical energy
and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the
woods seemed wildermore uncouth with its rude natural
obstaclesand less trodden by the foot of manthan he
remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped across the
plashy placesthrust himself through the clinging underbush
climbed the ascentplunged into the hollowand overcamein
shortall the difficulties of the trackwith an unweariable
activity that astonished him. He could not but recall how
feeblyand with what frequent pauses for breath he had toiled
over the same groundonly two days before. As he drew near the
townhe took an impression of change from the series of familiar
objects that presented themselves. It seemed not yesterday
not onenot twobut many daysor even years agosince he had
quitted them. Thereindeedwas each former trace of the
streetas he remembered itand all the peculiarities of the
houseswith the due multitude of gable-peaksand a weather-cock
at every point where his memory suggested one. Not the less
howevercame this importunately obtrusive sense of change. The
same was true as regarded the acquaintances whom he metand all
the well-known shapes of human lifeabout the little town. They
looked neither older nor younger now; 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 they
differed from the individuals on whom he had so recently bestowed
a parting glance; and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to
inform him of their mutability. A similar impression struck him
most remarkably a he passed under the walls of his own church.
The edifice had so very strangeand yet so familiar an aspect
that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between 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 assumed
indicated no external changebut so sudden and important a
change in the spectator of the familiar scenethat the
intervening space of a single day had operated on his
consciousness like the lapse of years. The minister's own will
and Hester's willand the fate that grew between themhad
wrought this transformation. It was the same town as heretofore
but the same minister returned not from the
forest. He might have said to the friends who greeted him--"I
am not the man for whom you take me! I left him yonder in the
forestwithdrawn into a secret dellby a mossy tree trunkand
near a melancholy brook! Goseek your ministerand see if his
emaciated figurehis thin cheekhis whiteheavypain-wrinkled
browbe not flung down therelike a cast-off garment!" His
friendsno doubtwould still have insisted with him--"Thou
art thyself the man!" but the error would have been their own
not his.
Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached homehis inner man gave him other
evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling.
In truthnothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral
codein that interior kingdomwas adequate to account for the
impulses now communicated to the unfortunate and startled
minister. At every step he was incited to do some strangewild
wicked thing or otherwith a sense that it would be at once
involuntary and intentionalin spite of himselfyet growing out
of a profounder self than that which opposed the impulse. For
instancehe met one of his own deacons. The good old man
addressed him with the paternal affection and patriarchal
privilege which his venerable agehis upright and holy
characterand his station in the churchentitled him to use
andconjoined with thisthe deepalmost worshipping respect


which the minister's professional and private claims alike
demanded. Never was there a more beautiful example of how the
majesty of age and wisdom may comport with the obeisance and
respect enjoined upon itas from a lower social rankand
inferior order of endowmenttowards a higher. Nowduring a
conversation of some two or three moments between the Reverend
Mr. Dimmesdale and this excellent and hoary-bearded deaconit
was only by the most careful self-control that the former could
refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions that rose
into his mindrespecting the communion-supper. He absolutely
trembled and turned pale as asheslest his tongue should wag
itself in utterance of these horrible mattersand plead his own
consent for so doingwithout his having fairly given it. And
even with this terror in his hearthe could hardly avoid
laughingto imagine how the sanctified old patriarchal deacon
would have been petrified by his minister's impiety.

Againanother incident of the same nature. Hurrying along the
streetthe Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest
female member of his churcha most pious and exemplary 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 such heavy sorrowwas made
almost a solemn joy to her devout old soulby religious
consolations and the truths of Scripturewherewith she had fed
herself continually for more than thirty years. And since Mr.
Dimmesdale had taken her in chargethe good grandam's chief
earthly comfort--whichunless it had been likewise a heavenly
comfortcould have been none at all--was to meet her pastor
whether casuallyor of set purposeand be refreshed with a word
of warmfragrantheaven-breathing Gospel truthfrom his
beloved lipsinto her dulledbut rapturously attentive ear. But
on this occasionup to the moment of putting his lips
to the old woman's earMr. Dimmesdaleas the great enemy
of souls would have itcould
recall no text of Scripturenor aught elseexcept a brief
pithyandas it then appeared to himunanswerable argument
against the immortality of the human soul. The instilment
thereof into her mind would probably have caused this aged sister
to drop down deadat onceas by the effect of an intensely
poisonous infusion. What he really did whisperthe minister
could never afterwards recollect. There wasperhapsa
fortunate disorder in his utterancewhich failed to impart any
distinct idea to the good widows comprehensionor which
Providence interpreted after a method of its own. Assuredlyas
the minister looked backhe beheld an expression of divine
gratitude and ecstasy that 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 the youngest sister of them all. It was a maiden
newly-won--and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own
sermonon the Sabbath after his vigil--to barter the
transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hope that was
to assume brighter substance as life grew dark around herand
which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She was fair
and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The minister
knew well that he was himself enshrined within the stainless
sanctity of her heartwhich hung its snowy
curtains about his imageimparting to religion the warmth of
loveand to 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. As she drew
nighthe arch-fiend whispered him to condense into small
compassand drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would
be sure to blossom darkly soonand bear black fruit betimes.
Such was his sense of power over this virgin soultrusting him
as she didthat the minister felt potent to blight all the field
of innocence with but one wicked lookand develop all its
opposite with but a word. So--with a mightier struggle than he
had yet sustained--he held his Geneva cloak before his face
and hurried onwardmaking no sign of recognitionand leaving
the young sister to digest his rudeness as she might. She
ransacked her conscience--which was full of harmless little
matterslike her pocket or her work-bag--and took herself to
taskpoor thing! for a thousand imaginary faultsand went
about her household duties with swollen eyelids the next morning.

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this
last temptationhe was conscious of another impulsemore
ludicrousand almost as horrible. It was--we blush to tell it--it
was to stop short in the roadand teach some very wicked
words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing
thereand had but just begun to talk. Denying himself this
freakas unworthy of his clothhe met a drunken seamanone of
the ship's crew from the Spanish Main. And heresince he had
so valiantly forborne all
other wickednesspoor Mr. Dimmesdale longed at least to shake
hands with the tarry black-guardand recreate himself with a few
improper jestssuch as dissolute sailors so abound withand a
volley of goodroundsolidsatisfactoryand heaven-defying
oaths! It was not so much a better principleas partly his
natural good tasteand still more his buckramed habit of
clerical decorumthat carried him safely through the latter
crisis.

What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?cried the minister
to himselfat lengthpausing in the streetand striking his
hand against his forehead.

Am I mad? or am I given over utterly to the fiend? Did I make
a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood?
And does he now summon me to its fulfilment, by suggesting the
performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination
can conceive?

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 been passing by.
She made a very grand appearancehaving on a high head-dressa
rich gown of velvetand a ruff done up with the famous yellow
starchof which Anne Turnerher especial friendhad taught her
the secretbefore this last good lady had been hanged for Sir
Thomas Overbury's murder. Whether the witch had read the
minister's thoughts or noshe came to a full stoplooked
shrewdly into his facesmiled craftilyand--though little
given to converse with clergymen--began a conversation.

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


I profess, madam,answered the clergymanwith a grave
obeisancesuch as the lady's rank demandedand his own good
breeding made imperative--"I professon my conscience and
characterthat I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport
of your words! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate
neither do Iat any future timedesign a visit thitherwith a
view to gaining the favour of such personage. My one sufficient
object was to greet that pious friend of minethe Apostle Eliot
and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he hath won
from heathendom!"

Ha, ha, ha!cackled the old witch-ladystill nodding her high
head-dress at the minister. "Wellwell! we must needs talk
thus in the daytime! You carry it off like an old hand! But at
midnightand in the forestwe shall have other talk together!"

She passed on with her aged statelinessbut often turning back
her head and smiling at himlike one willing to recognise a
secret intimacy of connexion.

Have I then sold myself,thought the ministerto the fiend
whom, if men say true, this 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 dream of happinesshe had yielded himself with
deliberate choiceas he had never done beforeto what he knew
was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin had been
thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had
stupefied all blessed impulsesand awakened into vivid life the
whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scornbitternessunprovoked
malignitygratuitous desire of illridicule of whatever was
good and holyall awoke to tempteven while they frightened
him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbinsif it were a
real incidentdid but show its sympathy and fellowship with
wicked mortalsand the world of perverted spirits.

He had by this time reached his dwelling on the edge of the
burial groundandhastening up the stairstook refuge in his
study. The minister was glad to have reached this shelter
without first betraying himself to the world by any of those
strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been
continually impelled while passing through the streets. He
entered the accustomed roomand looked around him on its books
its windowsits fireplaceand the tapestried comfort of the
wallswith the same perception of strangeness that had haunted
him throughout his walk from the forest dell into the town and
thitherward. Here he had studied and written; here gone through
fast and vigiland come forth half alive; here striven to pray;
here borne a hundred thousand agonies! There was the Biblein
its rich old Hebrewwith Moses and the Prophets speaking to him
and God's voice through all.

There on 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 and white-cheeked minister
who had done and suffered these thingsand written thus far into
the Election Sermon! But he seemed 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 the former 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 saidCome in!--not wholly
devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. And so he
did! It was old Roger Chillingworth that entered. The minister
stood white and speechlesswith one hand on the Hebrew
Scripturesand the other spread upon his breast.

Welcome home, reverend sir,said the physician "And how found
you that godly manthe Apostle Eliot? But methinksdear sir
you look paleas if the travel through the wilderness had been
too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put you in
heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon?"

Nay, I think not so,rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the
free air which I have breathed have done me good, after so long
confinement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs,
my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by a
friendly hand.

All this time Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister
with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his
patient. Butin spite of this outward showthe latter was
almost convinced of the old man's knowledgeorat leasthis
confident suspicionwith respect to his own interview with
Hester Prynne. The physician knew then that in the minister's
regard he was no longer a trusted friendbut his bitterest
enemy. So much being knownit would appear natural that a part
of it should he expressed. It is singularhoweverhow long a
time often passes before words embody things; and with what
security two personswho choose to avoid a certain subjectmay
approach its very vergeand retire without disturbing it. Thus
the minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth would
touchin express wordsupon the real position which they
sustained towards one another. Yet did the physicianin his
dark waycreep frightfully near the secret.

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

Yes, to another world,replied the minister with pious
resignation. "Heaven grant it be a better one; forin good
soothI hardly think to tarry with my flock through the
flitting seasons of another year! But touching your medicine
kind sirin my present frame of body I need it not."

I joy to hear it,answered the physician. "It may be that my
remediesso long administered in vainbegin now to take due
effect. Happy man were Iand well deserving of New England's
gratitudecould I achieve this cure!"

I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend,said the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale with 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 Roger
Chillingworthas he took his leave. "Yeathey are the current
gold coin of the New Jerusalemwith the King's own mint mark on
them!"


Left alonethe minister summoned a servant of the houseand
requested foodwhichbeing set before himhe ate with ravenous
appetite. Then flinging the already written pages of the
Election Sermon into the firehe forthwith began anotherwhich
he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought and emotionthat
he fancied himself inspired; and only wondered that Heaven should
see fit to transmit the grand and solemn music of its oracles
through so foul an organ pipe as he. Howeverleaving that
mystery to solve itselfor go unsolved for everhe drove his
task onward with earnest haste and ecstasy.

Thus the night fled awayas if it were a winged steedand he
careering on it; morning cameand peepedblushingthrough the
curtains; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the studyand
laid it right across the minister's bedazzled eyes. There he waswith
the pen still between his fingersand a vastimmeasurable tract
of written space behind him!

XXI. THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY
Betimes in the morning of the day on which the new Governor was
to receive his office at the hands of the peopleHester Prynne
and little Pearl came into the market-place. It was already
thronged with the craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the
townin considerable numbersamong whomlikewisewere many
rough figureswhose attire of deer-skins marked them as
belonging to some of the forest settlementswhich surrounded the
little metropolis of the colony.

On this public holidayas on all other occasions for seven years
pastHester was clad in a garment of coarse gray cloth. Not
more by its hue than by some indescribable peculiarity in its
fashionit had the effect of making her fade personally out of
sight and outline; while again the scarlet letter brought her
back from this twilight indistinctnessand revealed her under
the moral aspect of its own illumination. Her faceso long
familiar to the townspeopleshowed the marble quietude which
they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or
rather like the frozen calmness of a dead woman's features; owing
this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually
deadin respect to any claim of sympathyand had departed out of
the world with which she still seemed to mingle.

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 the heart
and have afterwards sought a corresponding development in the
countenance and mien. Such a spiritual sneer might have
conceivedthatafter sustaining the gaze of the multitude
through several miserable years as a necessitya penanceand
something which it was a stern religion to endureshe nowfor
one last time moreencountered it freely and voluntarilyin
order to convert what had so long been agony into a kind of
triumph. "Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!"--the
people's victim and lifelong bond-slaveas they fancied
hermight say to them. "Yet a little whileand she will be
beyond your reach! A few hours longer and the deepmysterious
ocean will quench and hide for ever the symbol which ye have
caused to burn on her bosom!" Nor were it an inconsistency too
improbable to be assigned to human natureshould we suppose a
feeling of regret in Hester's mindat the moment when she was
about to win her freedom from the pain which had been thus deeply


incorporated with her being. Might there not be an irresistible
desire to quaff a lastlongbreathless draught of the cup of
wormwood and aloeswith which nearly all her years of womanhood
had been perpetually flavoured. The wine of lifehenceforth to
be presented to her lipsmust be indeed richdeliciousand
exhilaratingin its chased and golden beakeror else leave an
inevitable and weary languorafter the lees of bitterness wherewith
she had been druggedas with a cordial of intensest potency.

Pearl was decked out with airy gaiety. It would have been
impossible to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed
its existence to the shape of gloomy gray; or that a fancyat
once so gorgeous and so delicate as must have been requisite to
contrive the child's apparelwas the same that had achieved a
task perhaps more difficultin imparting so distinct a
peculiarity to Hester's simple robe. The dressso proper was it
to little Pearlseemed an effluenceor inevitable development
and outward manifestation of her characterno more to be
separated from her than the many-hued brilliancy from a
butterfly's wingor the painted glory from the leaf of a bright
flower. As with theseso with the child; her garb was all of
one idea with her nature. On this eventful daymoreoverthere
was a certain singular inquietude and excitement in her mood
resembling nothing so much as the shimmer 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 any trouble or impending revolutionof whatever kind
in domestic circumstances; and therefore Pearlwho was the gem
on her mother's unquiet bosombetrayedby the very dance of her
spiritsthe emotions which none could detect in the marble
passiveness of Hester's brow.

This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like movement
rather than walk by her mother's side.

She broke continually into shouts of a wildinarticulateand
sometimes piercing music. When they reached the market-place
she became still more restlesson perceiving the stir and bustle
that enlivened the spot; for it was usually more like the broad
and lonesome green before a village meeting-housethan the
centre of a town's business

Why, what is this, mother?cried she. "Wherefore have all the
people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the whole
world? 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 him how!
And there is Master Brackettthe old jailernodding and
smiling at me. Why does he do somother?"

He remembers thee a little babe, my child,answered Hester.

He should not nod and smile at me, for all that--the black,
grim, ugly-eyed old man!said Pearl.

He may nod at thee, if he will; for thou art clad in gray, and
wearest the scarlet letter. But see, mother, how many faces of
strange people, and Indians among them, and sailors! What have
they all come to do, here in the market-place?

They wait to see the procession pass,said Hester. "For the
Governor and the magistrates are to go byand the ministersand
all the great people and good peoplewith the music and the


soldiers marching before them. "

And will the minister be there?asked Pearl. "And will he hold
out both his hands to meas when thou led'st me to him from the
brook-side?"

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

What a strange, sad man is he!said the childas if speaking
partly to herself. "In the dark nighttime he calls us to him
and holds thy hand and mineas when we stood with him on the
scaffold yonder! And in the deep forestwhere only the old
trees can hearand the strip of sky see ithe talks with thee
sitting 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 hewith his hand always
over his heart!"

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

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

But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tingewhich
undoubtedly characterized the mood and manners of the age. The
persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been born to an
inheritance of Puritanic gloom. They were native Englishmen
whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the Elizabethan
epoch; a time when the life of Englandviewed as one great mass
would appear to have been as statelymagnificentand joyousas
the world has ever witnessed. Had they followed their hereditary
tastethe New England settlers would have illustrated all events
of public importance by bonfiresbanquetspageantriesand
processions. Nor would it have been impracticablein the
observance of majestic ceremoniesto combine mirthful recreation
with solemnityand giveas it werea grotesque and brilliant
embroidery to the great robe of statewhich a nationat such
festivalsputs on. There was some shadow of an attempt of this
kind in the mode of celebrating the day on which the political
year of the colony commenced. The dim reflection of a remembered
splendoura colourless and manifold diluted repetition of what
they had beheld in proud old London--we will not say at a royal
coronationbut at a Lord Mayor's show--might be traced in the
customs which our forefathers institutedwith reference to the
annual installation of magistrates. The fathers and founders of
the commonwealth--the statesmanthe priestand the
soldier--seemed it a duty then to assume the outward state and


majestywhichin accordance with antique
stylewas looked upon as the proper garb of public and social
eminence. All came forth to move in procession before the
people's eyeand thus impart a needed dignity to the simple
framework of a government so newly constructed.

Thentoothe people were countenancedif not encouragedin
relaxing the severe and close application to their various modes
of rugged industrywhich at all other timesseemed of the same
piece and material with their religion. Hereit is truewere
none of the appliances which popular merriment would so readily
have found in the England of Elizabeth's timeor that of
James--no rude shows of a theatrical kind; no minstrelwith his harp
and legendary balladnor gleeman with an ape dancing to his
music; no jugglerwith his tricks of mimic witchcraft; no Merry
Andrewto stir up the multitude with jestsperhaps a hundred
years oldbut still effectiveby their appeals to the very
broadest sources of mirthful sympathy. All such professors of
the several branches of jocularity would have been sternly
repressednot only by the rigid discipline of lawbut by the
general sentiment which give law its vitality. Not the less
howeverthe greathonest face of the people smiled--grimly
perhapsbut widely too. Nor were sports wantingsuch as the
colonists had witnessedand shared inlong agoat the country
fairs and on the village-greens of England; and which it was
thought well to keep alive on this new soilfor the sake of the
courage and manliness that were essential in them. Wrestling
matchesin the different fashions of Cornwall and Devonshire
were 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 of defence were commencing an
exhibition with the buckler and broadsword. Butmuch to the
disappointment of the crowdthis latter business was broken off
by the interposition of the town beadlewho had no idea of
permitting the majesty of the law to be violated by such an abuse
of one of its consecrated places.

It may not be too much to affirmon the whole(the people being
then in the first stages of joyless deportmentand the offspring
of sires who had known how to be merryin their day)that they
would compare favourablyin point of holiday keepingwith their
descendantseven at so long an interval as ourselves. Their
immediate posteritythe generation next to the early emigrants
wore the blackest shade of Puritanismand so darkened the
national visage with itthat all the subsequent years have not
sufficed to clear it up. We have yet to learn again the
forgotten art of gaiety.

The picture of human life in the market-placethough its general
tint was the sad graybrownor black of the English emigrants
was yet enlivened by some diversity of hue. A party of Indians--in
their savage finery of curiously embroidered deerskin
robeswampum-beltsred and yellow ochreand feathersand
armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed spear--stood
apart with countenances of inflexible gravitybeyond what even
the Puritan aspect could attain. Norwild as were these painted
barbarianswere they the wildest feature of the scene. This
distinction could more justly be claimed by some mariners--a
part of the crew of the vessel from the Spanish Main--who had
come ashore to see the humours of Election Day. They were
rough-looking desperadoeswith sun-blackened facesand an
immensity of beard; their wide short trousers were confined about
the waist by beltsoften clasped with a rough plate of goldand


sustaining always a long knifeand in some instancesa sword.
From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of palm-leafgleamed eyes
whicheven in good-nature and merrimenthad a kind of animal
ferocity. They transgressed without fear or scruplethe rules
of behaviour that were binding on all others: smoking tobacco
under the beadle's very nosealthough each whiff would have cost
a townsman a shilling; and quaffing at their pleasuredraughts
of wine or aqua-vitae from pocket flaskswhich they freely
tendered to the gaping crowd around them. It remarkably
characterised the incomplete morality of the agerigid as we
call itthat a licence was allowed 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
unfavourable specimens of the nautical brotherhoodhad been
guiltyas we should phrase itof depredations on the Spanish
commercesuch as would have perilled all their necks in a modern
court of justice.

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

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figureso far
as apparel wentanywhere to be seen among the multitude. He
wore a profusion of ribbons on his garmentand gold lace on his
hatwhich was also encircled by a gold chainand surmounted
with a feather. There was a sword at his side and a sword-cut on
his foreheadwhichby the arrangement of his hairhe seemed
anxious rather to display than hide. A landsman 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 magistrateand probably incurring a fine or
imprisonmentor perhaps an exhibition in the stocks. As
regarded the shipmasterhoweverall was looked upon as
pertaining to the characteras to a fish his glistening scales.

After parting from the physicianthe commander of the Bristol
ship strolled idly through the market-place; until happening to
approach the spot where Hester Prynne
was standinghe appeared to recogniseand did not hesitate to
address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stooda
small vacant area--a sort of magic circle--had formed itself
about herinto whichthough the people were elbowing one
another at a little distancenone ventured or felt disposed to
intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which
the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer; partly by her own
reserveand partly by the instinctivethough no longer so
unkindlywithdrawal of her fellow-creatures. Nowif never
beforeit answered a good purpose by enabling Hester and the
seaman to speak together without risk of being overheard; and so


changed was Hester Prynne's repute before the publicthat the
matron in townmost eminent for rigid moralitycould not have
held such intercourse with less result of scandal than herself.


So, mistress,said the marinerI must bid the steward make
ready one more berth than you bargained for! No fear of scurvy
or ship fever this voyage. What with the ship's surgeon and this
other doctor, our only danger will be from drug or pill; more by
token, as there is a lot of apothecary's stuff aboard, which I
traded for with a Spanish vessel.


What mean you?inquired Hesterstartled more than she
permitted to appear. "Have you another passenger?"


Why, know you not,cried the shipmasterthat this physician
here--Chillingworth he calls himself--is minded to try my
cabin-fare with you? Ay, ay, you must have known it; for he
tells me he is of your party, and a close friend to the gentleman you
spoke of--he that is in peril from these sour old Puritan rulers.


They know each other well, indeed,replied Hesterwith a mien
of calmnessthough in the utmost consternation. "They have long
dwelt together."


Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne.
But at that instant she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself
standing in the remotest comer of the market-place and smiling on
her; a smile which--across the wide and bustling squareand
through all the talk and laughterand various thoughtsmoods
and interests of the crowd--conveyed secret and fearful
meaning.


XXII. THE PROCESSION
Before Hester Prynne could call together her thoughtsand
consider what was practicable to be done in this new and
startling aspect of affairsthe sound of military music was
heard approaching along a contiguous street. It denoted the
advance of the procession of magistrates and citizens on its way
towards the meeting-house: wherein compliance with a custom
thus early establishedand ever since observedthe Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.

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 of
instrumentsperhaps imperfectly adapted to one anotherand
played with no great skill; but yet attaining the great object
for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to the
multitude--that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to
the scene of life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at
first clapped her handsbut then lost for an instant the
restless agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence
throughout the morning; she gazed silentlyand seemed to be
borne upward like a floating sea-bird on the long heaves and swells
of sound. But she was brought back to her former mood by the shimmer
of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the military
companywhich followed after the musicand formed the honorary
escort of the procession. This body of soldiery--which still
sustains a corporate existenceand marches down from past ages
with an ancient and honourable fame--was composed of no
mercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with gentlemen who


felt the stirrings of martial impulseand sought to establish a
kind of College of Armswhereas in an association of Knights
Templarsthey might learn the scienceandso far as peaceful
exercise would teach themthe practices of war. The high
estimation then placed upon the military character might be seen
in the lofty port of each individual member of the company. Some
of themindeedby their services in the Low Countries and on
other fields of European warfarehad fairly won their title to
assume the name and pomp of soldiership. The entire array
moreoverclad 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 military escortwere better worth a thoughtful observer's
eye. Even in outward demeanour they showed a stamp of majesty
that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgarif not
absurd. It was an age when what we call talent had far less
consideration than nowbut the massive materials which produce
stability and dignity of character a great deal more. The people
possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverencewhichin their
descendantsif it survive at allexists in smaller proportion
and with a vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate
of public men. The change may be for good or illand is partly
perhapsfor both. In that old day the English settler on these
rude shores--having left kingnoblesand all degrees of awful
rank behindwhile still the faculty and necessity of reverence
was strong in him--bestowed it on the white hair and venerable
brow of age--on long-tried integrity--on solid wisdom and
sad-coloured experience--on endowments of that grave and
weighty order which gave the idea of permanenceand comes under
the general definition of respectability. These primitive
statesmentherefore--BradstreetEndicottDudleyBellingham
and their compeers--who were elevated to power by the early
choice of the peopleseem to have been not often brilliantbut
distinguished by a ponderous sobrietyrather than activity of
intellect. They had fortitude and self-relianceand in time of
difficulty or peril stood up for the welfare of the state like a
line of cliffs against a tempestuous tide. The traits of
character here indicated were well represented in the square cast
of countenance and large physical development of the new colonial
magistrates. So far as a demeanour of natural authority was
concernedthe mother country need not have been ashamed to see
these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted into the House
of Peersor make the Privy Council of the Sovereign.

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

It was the observation of those who beheld him nowthat never
since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New England
shorehad he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and
air with which he kept his pace in the procession. There was no
feebleness of step as at other times; his frame was not bentnor
did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. Yetif the
clergyman were rightly viewedhis strength seemed not of the


body. It might be spiritual and imparted to him by angelical
ministrations. It might be the exhilaration of that potent
cordial which is distilled only in the furnace-glow of earnest
and long-continued thought. Or perchance his sensitive
temperament was invigorated by the loud and piercing music that
swelled heaven-wardand uplifted him on its ascending wave.
Neverthelessso abstracted was his lookit might be questioned
whether Mr. Dimmesdale ever heard the music. There was his
bodymoving onwardand with an unaccustomed force. But where
was his mind? Far and deep in its own regionbusying itself
with preternatural activityto marshal a procession of stately
thoughts that were soon to issue thence; and so he saw nothing
heard nothingknew nothing of what was around him;
but the spiritual element took up the feeble frame and
carried it alongunconscious of the burdenand
converting it to spirit like itself. Men of uncommon intellect
who have grown morbidpossess this occasional power of mighty
effortinto which they throw the life of many days and then are
lifeless for as many more.

Hester Prynnegazing steadfastly at the clergymanfelt a dreary
influence come over herbut wherefore or whence she knew not
unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphereand utterly
beyond her reach. One glance of recognition she had imagined
must needs pass between them. She thought of the dim forest
with its little dell of solitudeand loveand anguishand the
mossy tree-trunkwheresitting hand-in-handthey had mingled
their sad and passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the
brook. How deeply had they known each other then! And was this
the man? She hardly knew him now! Hemoving proudly past
enveloped as it werein the rich musicwith the procession of
majestic and venerable fathers; heso unattainable in his
worldly positionand still more so in that far vista of his
unsympathizing thoughtsthrough which she now beheld him! Her
spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a delusionand
thatvividly as she had dreamed itthere could be no real bond
betwixt the clergyman and herself. And thus much of woman was
there in Hesterthat she could scarcely forgive 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 darklyand stretched forth her cold
handsand found him not.

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelingsor
herself felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen
around the minister. While the procession passedthe child was
uneasyfluttering up and downlike a bird on the point of
taking flight. When the whole had gone byshe looked up into
Hester's face-


Mother,said shewas that the same minister that kissed me by
the brook?

Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!whispered her mother. "We
must not always talk in the marketplace 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 peopleeven as he did yonder among
the dark old trees. What would the minister have saidmother?
Would he have clapped his hand over his heartand scowled on me
and bid me begone?"


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

Another shade of the same sentimentin reference to Mr.
Dimmesdalewas expressed by a person whose
eccentricities--insanityas we should term it--led her to
do what few of the townspeople would have
ventured on--to begin a conversation with the wearer of the
scarlet letter in public. It was Mistress Hibbinswhoarrayed
in great magnificencewith a triple ruffa broidered stomacher
a gown of rich velvetand a gold-headed canehad come forth to
see the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown (which
subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a
principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were
continually going forwardthe crowd gave way before herand
seemed to fear the touch of her garmentas if it carried the
plague among its gorgeous folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester
Prynne--kindly as so many now felt towards the latter--the
dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins had doubledand caused a
general movement from that part of the market-place in which the
two women stood.

Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it?whispered the
old lady confidentially to Hester. "Yonder divine man! That
saint on earthas the people uphold him to beand as--I must
needs say--he really looks! Whonowthat saw him pass in the
processionwould think how little while it is since he went
forth out of his study--chewing a Hebrew text of Scripture in
his mouthI warrant--to take an airing in the forest! Aha!
we know what that meansHester Prynne! But trulyforsoothI
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 was fiddlerandit might bean
Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with
us! That is but a triflewhen a woman knows the world. But
this minister. Couldst thou surely tellHesterwhether he was
the same man that encountered thee on the forest path?"

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

Fie, woman--fie!cried the old ladyshaking her finger at
Hester. "Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many
timesand have yet no skill to judge who else has been there?
Yeathough no leaf of the wild garlands which they wore while
they danced be left in their hair! I know theeHesterfor I
behold the token. We may all see it in the sunshine! and it
glows like a red flame in the dark. Thou wearest it openlyso
there need be no question about that. But this minister! Let me
tell thee in thine ear! When the Black Man sees one of his own
servantssigned and sealedso shy of owning to the bond as is
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdalehe hath a way of ordering matters
so that the mark shall be disclosedin open daylightto the
eyes of all the world! What is that the minister seeks to hide
with his hand always over his heart? HaHester Prynne?"


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

No matter, darling!responded Mistress Hibbinsmaking Pearl a
profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see itone time or
another. They saychildthou art of the lineage of the Prince
of Air! Wilt thou ride with me some fine night to see thy
father? Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his
hand over his heart!"

Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear herthe
weird old gentlewoman 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
kept Hester near the spot. As the sacred edifice was too much
thronged to admit another auditorshe took up her position close
beside the scaffold of the pillory. It was in sufficient
proximity to bring the whole sermon to her earsin the shape of
an indistinct but varied murmur and flow of the minister's very
peculiar voice.

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowmentinsomuch that a
listenercomprehending nothing of the language in which the
preacher spokemight still have been swayed to and fro by the
mere tone and cadence. Like all other musicit breathed passion
and pathosand emotions high or tenderin a tongue native to
the human heartwherever educated. Muffled as the sound was by
its passage through the church wallsHester Prynne listened with
such intensenessand sympathized so intimatelythat the sermon
had throughout a meaning for herentirely apart from its
indistinguishable words. Theseperhapsif more distinctly heardmight
have been only a grosser mediumand have clogged the spiritual sense.
Now she caught the low undertoneas of the wind sinking down to
repose itself; then ascended with itas it rose through
progressive gradations of sweetness and poweruntil its volume
seemed to envelop her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn
grandeur. And yetmajestic as the voice sometimes becamethere
was for ever in it an essential character of plaintiveness. A
loud or low expression of anguish--the whisperor the shriek
as it might be conceivedof suffering humanitythat touched a
sensibility in every bosom! At times this deep strain of pathos
was all that could be heardand scarcely heard sighing amid a
desolate silence. But even when the minister's voice grew high
and commanding--when it gushed irrepressibly upward--when it
assumed its utmost breadth and powerso overfilling the church
as to burst its way through the solid wallsand diffuse 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 guilt or sorrowto the
great heart of mankind; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness--at
every moment--in each accent--and never in vain! It
was this profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman
his most appropriate power.

During all this timeHester stoodstatue-likeat the foot of
the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept her there
there wouldneverthelesshave been an inevitable magnetism in
that spotwhence she dated the first hour of her life of ignominy.
There was a sense within her--too ill-defined to be made a thought
but weighing heavily on her mind--that her whole orb of lifeboth
before and afterwas connected with this spotas with the one point


that gave it unity.

Little Pearlmeanwhilehad quitted her mother's sideand was
playing at her own will about the market-place. She made the
sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening rayeven as
a bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of dusky
foliage by darting to and frohalf seen and half concealed amid
the twilight of the clustering leaves. She had an undulating
but oftentimes a sharp and irregular movement. It indicated the
restless vivacity of her spiritwhich to-day was doubly
indefatigable in its tip-toe dancebecause it was played upon
and vibrated with her mother's disquietude. Whenever Pearl saw
anything to excite her ever active and wandering curiosityshe
flew thitherwardandas we might sayseized upon that man or
thing as her own propertyso far as she desired itbut without
yielding the minutest degree of control over her motions in
requital. The Puritans looked onandif they smiledwere none
the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspringfrom
the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that shone
through her little figureand sparkled with its activity. She
ran and looked the wild Indian in the faceand he grew conscious
of a nature wilder than his own. Thencewith native audacity
but still with a reserve as characteristicshe flew into the
midst of a group of marinersthe swarthy-cheeked wild men of the
oceanas the Indians were of the land; and they gazed
wonderingly and admiringly at Pearlas if a flake of the
sea-foam had taken the shape of a little maidand were gifted
with a soul of the sea-firethat flashes beneath the prow in the
night-time.

One of these seafaring men the shipmasterindeedwho had spoken
to Hester Prynne was so smitten with Pearl's aspectthat he
attempted to lay hands upon herwith purpose to snatch a kiss.
Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird
in the airhe took from his hat the gold chain that was twisted
about itand threw it to the child. Pearl immediately twined it
around her neck and waist with such happy 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 the
seamanWilt thou carry her a message from me?

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

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

Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!cried
Pearlwith a naughty smile. "If thou callest me that ill-name
I shall tell him of theeand he will chase thy ship with a
tempest!"

Pursuing a zigzag course across the marketplacethe child
returned to her motherand communicated what the mariner had
said. Hester's strongcalm steadfastly-enduring spirit almost
sankat laston beholding this dark and grim countenance of an
inevitable doomwhich at the moment when a passage seemed to
open for the minister and herself out of their labyrinth of
misery--showed itself with an unrelenting smileright in the
midst of their path.


With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the
shipmaster's intelligence involved hershe was also subjected to
another trial. There were many people present from the country
round aboutwho had often heard of the scarlet letterand to
whom it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated
rumoursbut who had never beheld it with their own bodily eyes.
Theseafter exhausting other modes of amusementnow 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 stoodfixed there 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 and desperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the
Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man's
curiosity andgliding through the crowdfastened their
snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosomconceivingperhaps
that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must
needs be a personage of high dignity among her people. Lastlythe
inhabitants of the town (their own interest in this worn-out
subject languidly reviving itselfby sympathy with what they saw
others feel) lounged idly to the same quarterand tormented
Hester Prynneperhaps more than all the restwith their cool
well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. Hester saw and
recognized the selfsame faces of that group of matronswho had
awaited her forthcoming from the prison-door seven years ago; all
save onethe youngest and only compassionate among themwhose
burial-robe she had since made. At the final hourwhen she was
so soon to fling aside the burning letterit had strangely
become the centre of more remark and excitementand was thus
made to sear her breast more painfullythan at any time since
the first day she put it on.

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominywhere the
cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her for
everthe admirable preacher was looking down from the sacred
pulpit upon an audience whose very inmost spirits had yielded to
his control. The sainted minister in the church! The woman of
the scarlet letter in the marketplace! What imagination would
have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching
stigma was on them both!

XXIII. THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER
The eloquent voiceon which the souls of the listening audience
had been borne aloft as 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 tumultas if the auditorsreleased from
the high spell that had transported them into the region of
another's mindwere returning into themselveswith all their
awe and wonder still heavy on them. In a moment more the crowd
began to gush forth from the doors of the church. Now that there
was an endthey needed more breathmore fit to support the
gross and earthly life into which they relapsedthan that
atmosphere which the preacher had converted into words of flame
and had burdened with the rich fragrance of his thought.

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street and


the market-place absolutely babbledfrom side to sidewith
applauses of the minister. His hearers could not rest until they
had told one another of what each knew better than he could tell
or hear.

According to their united testimonynever had man spoken in so
wiseso highand so holy a spiritas he that spake this day;
nor had inspiration ever breathed through mortal lips more
evidently than it did through his. Its influence could be seen
as it weredescending upon himand possessing himand
continually lifting him out of the written discourse that lay
before himand filling him with ideas that must have been as
marvellous to himself as to his audience. His subjectit
appearedhad been the relation between the Deity and the
communities of mankindwith a special reference to the New
England which they were here planting in the wilderness. Andas
he drew towards the closea spirit as of prophecy had come upon
himconstraining him to its purpose as mightily as the old
prophets of Israel were constrainedonly with this difference
thatwhereas the Jewish seers had denounced judgments and ruin
on their countryit was his mission to foretell a high and
glorious destiny for the newly gathered people of the Lord. But
throughout it alland through the whole discoursethere had
been a certain deepsad undertone of pathoswhich could not be
interpreted otherwise than as the natural regret of one soon to
pass away. Yes; their minister whom they so loved--and who so
loved them allthat he could not depart heavenward without a
sigh--had the foreboding of untimely death upon himand would
soon leave them in their tears. This idea of his transitory stay
on earth gave the last emphasis to the effect which the preacher
had produced; it was if an angelin his passage to the skies
had shaken his bright wings over the people for an instant--at
once a shadow and a splendour--and had shed down a shower
of golden truths upon them.

Thusthere had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale--as to
most menin their various spheresthough seldom recognised
until they see it far behind them--an epoch of life more
brilliant and full of triumph than any previous oneor than any
which could hereafter be. He stoodat this momenton the very
proudest eminence of superiorityto which the gifts or
intellectrich loreprevailing eloquenceand a reputation of
whitest sanctitycould exalt a clergyman in New England's
earliest dayswhen the professional character was of itself a
lofty pedestal. Such was the position which the minister
occupiedas he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the
pulpit at the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester
Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the pillorywith the
scarlet letter still burning on her breast!

Now was heard again the clamour of the musicand the measured
tramp of the military escort issuing 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
were seen moving through a broad pathway of the peoplewho drew
back reverentlyon either sideas the Governor and magistrates
the old and wise menthe holy ministersand all that were
eminent and renownedadvanced into the midst of them. When they
were fairly in the marketplacetheir presence was greeted by a
shout. This--though doubtless it might acquire additional
force and volume from the child-like loyalty which the age awarded to its
rulers--was felt to be an irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm


kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence which
was yet reverberating in their ears. Each felt the impulse in
himselfand in the same breathcaught it from his neighbour.
Within the churchit had hardly been kept down; beneath the sky
it pealed upward to the zenith. There were human beings enough
and enough of highly wrought and symphonious feeling to produce
that more impressive sound than the organ tones of the blastor
the thunderor the roar of the sea; even that mighty swell of
many voicesblended into one great voice by the universal
impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many.
Neverfrom the soil of New England had gone up such a shout!
Neveron New England soil had stood the man so honoured by his
mortal brethren as the preacher!

How fared it with himthen? Were there not the brilliant
particles of a halo in the air about his head? So etherealised
by spirit as he wasand so apotheosised by worshipping admirers
did his footstepsin the processionreally tread upon the dust
of earth?

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onwardall
eyes were turned towards the point where the minister was seen to
approach among them. The shout died into a murmuras one
portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse of him.
How feeble and pale he lookedamid all his triumph! The
energy--or sayratherthe inspiration which had held him upuntil
he should have delivered the sacred message that had brought its own
strength along with it from heaven--was withdrawnnow that it had so
faithfully performed its office. The glowwhich they had just
before beheld burning on his cheekwas extinguishedlike a
flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers.
It seemed hardly the face of a man alivewith such a death-like
hue: it was hardly a man with life in himthat tottered on his
path so nervouslyyet totteredand did not fall!

One of his clerical brethren--it was the venerable John
Wilson--observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left
by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibilitystepped forward
hastily to offer his support. The minister tremulouslybut
decidedlyrepelled the old man's arm. He still walked onward
if that movement could be so describedwhich rather resembled
the wavering effort of an infantwith its mother's arms in view
outstretched to tempt him forward. And nowalmost imperceptible
as were the latter steps of his progresshe had come opposite
the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffoldwherelong
sincewith all that dreary lapse of 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 him onward--inward
to the festival!--but here he made a pause.

Bellinghamfor the last few momentshad kept an anxious eye
upon him. He now left his own place in the processionand
advanced to give assistance judgingfrom Mr.
Dimmesdale's aspect that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But
there was something in the latter's expression that warned back
the magistratealthough a man not readily obeying the vague
intimations that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd
meanwhilelooked on with awe and wonder. This earthly
faintnesswasin their viewonly another phase of the
minister's celestial strength; nor would it have seemed a miracle
too high to be wrought for one so holyhad he ascended before


their eyeswaxing dimmer and brighterand fading at last into
the light of heaven!


He turned towards the scaffoldand stretched forth his arms.


Hester,said hecome hither! Come, my little Pearl!


It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was
something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The
childwith the bird-like motionwhich was one of her
characteristicsflew to himand clasped her arms about his
knees. Hester Prynne--slowlyas if impelled by inevitable
fateand against her strongest will--likewise drew nearbut
paused before she reached him. At this instant old Roger
Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd--orperhapsso
darkdisturbedand evil was his lookhe rose up out of some
nether region--to snatch back his victim from what he sought to
do! Be that as it mightthe old man rushed forwardand caught
the minister by the arm.


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


Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!answered the
ministerencountering his eyefearfullybut firmly. "Thy
power is not what it was! With God's helpI shall escape thee
now!"


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


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


The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignitywho
stood more immediately around the clergymanwere so taken by
surpriseand so perplexed as to the purport of what they
saw--unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented
itselfor to imagine any other--that they remained silent and
inactive spectators of the judgement which Providence seemed
about to work. They beheld the ministerleaning on Hester's
shoulderand supported by her arm around himapproach the
scaffoldand ascend its steps; while still the little
hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger
Chillingworth followedas one intimately connected with the
drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actorsand
well entitledtherefore to be present at its closing scene.


Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,said he looking darkly
at the clergymanthere was no one place so secret--no high
place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me--save
on this very scaffold!


Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!answered the minister.


Yet he trembledand turned to Hesterwith an expression of



doubt and anxiety in his eyesnot the less evidently betrayed
that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.

Is not this better,murmured hethan what we dreamed of in
the 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 Pearl, be it as God shall order,said the
minister; "and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which He
hath made plain before my sight. ForHesterI am a dying man.
So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!"

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 his brethren;
to the peoplewhose great heart was thoroughly appalled yet
overflowing with tearful sympathyas knowing that some deep
life-matter--whichif full of sinwas full of anguish and repentance
likewise--was now to be laid open to them. The sunbut little past
its meridianshone down upon the clergymanand gave a
distinctness to his figureas he stood out from all the earthto put
in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.

People of New England!cried hewith a voice that rose over
themhighsolemnand majestic--yet had always a tremor
through itand sometimes a shriekstruggling up out of a
fathomless depth of remorse and woe--"yethat have loved me!--ye
that have deemed me holy!--behold me herethe one
sinner of the world! At last--at last!--I stand upon the
spot whereseven years sinceI should have stoodherewith
this womanwhose armmore than the little strength wherewith I
have crept hitherwardsustains me at this dreadful 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 lurid gleam of awe and horrible
repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of
youat whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!"

It seemedat this pointas if the minister must leave the
remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the
bodily weakness--andstill morethe faintness of heart--that
was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all
assistanceand stepped passionately forward a pace before the
woman and the children.

It was on him!he continuedwith a kind of
fierceness; so determined was he to speak out tile whole. "God's
eye beheld it! The angels were for ever pointing at it! (The
Devil knew it welland fretted it continually with the touch of
his burning finger!) But he hid it cunningly from menand walked
among you with the mien of a spiritmournfulbecause so pure in
a sinful world! --and sadbecause he missed his heavenly
kindred! Nowat the death-hourhe stands up before you! He
bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you
thatwith all its mysterious horrorit is but the shadow of
what he bears on his own breastand that even thishis own red
stigmais no more than the type of what has seared his inmost
heart! Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner!
Behold! Beholda dreadful witness of it!"

With a convulsive motionhe tore away the ministerial band from


before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to
describe that revelation. For an instantthe gaze of the
horror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly
miracle; while the minister stoodwith a flush of triumph in his
faceas one whoin the crisis of acutest painhad won a
victory. Thendown he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly
raised himand supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger
Chillingworth knelt down beside himwith a blankdull
countenanceout of which the life seemed to have departed

Thou hast escaped me!he repeated more than once. "Thou hast
escaped me!"

May God forgive thee!said the minister. "Thoutoohast
deeply sinned!"

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old manand fixed them on
the woman and the child.

My little Pearl,said hefeebly and there was a sweet and
gentle smile over his faceas of a spirit sinking into deep
repose; naynow that the burden was removedit seemed almost as
if he would be sportive with the child--"dear little Pearl
wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst notyonderin the forest!
But now thou wilt?"

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of
griefin which the wild infant bore a part had 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 sorrow
nor forever do battle with the worldbut be a woman in it.
Towards her mothertooPearl's errand as a messenger of anguish
was fulfilled.

Hester,said the clergymanfarewell!

Shall we not meet again?whispered shebending her face down
close to his. "Shall we not spend our immortal life together?
Surelysurelywe have ransomed one anotherwith all this woe!
Thou lookest far into eternitywith those bright dying eyes!
Then tell me what thou seest!"

Hush, Hester--hush!said hewith tremulous solemnity. "The
law we broke I--the sin here awfully revealed!--let these
alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may bethat
when we forgot our God--when we violated our reverence each for
the other's soul--it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could
meet hereafterin an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows;
and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercymost of allin my
afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast!
By sending yonder dark and terrible old manto keep the torture
always at red-heat! By bringing me hitherto die this death of
triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these
agonies been wantingI had been lost for ever! Praised be His
name! His will be done! Farewell!"

That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath.
The multitudesilent till thenbroke out in a strangedeep
voice of awe and wonderwhich could not as yet find utterance
save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed
spirit.


XXIV. CONCLUSION
After many dayswhen time sufficed for the people to arrange
their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scenethere 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 unhappy ministera SCARLET LETTER--the very semblance of
that worn by Hester Prynne--imprinted in the flesh. As
regarded its origin there were various explanationsall of which
must necessarily have been conjectural. Some affirmed that the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdaleon the very day when Hester Prynne
first wore her ignominious badgehad begun a course of
penance--which he afterwardsin so many futile methodsfollowed
out--by inflicting a hideous torture on himself. Others contended
that the stigma had not been produced until a long time
subsequentwhen old Roger Chillingworthbeing a potent
necromancerhad caused it to appearthrough the agency of magic
and poisonous drugs. Othersagain and those best able to
appreciate the minister's peculiar sensibilityand the wonderful
operation of his spirit upon the body--whispered their belief
that the awful symbol was the effect of the ever-active
tooth of remorsegnawing from the inmost heart outwardlyand at
last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by the visible
presence of the letter. The reader may choose among these
theories. We have thrown all the light we could acquire upon the
portentand would gladlynow that it has done its officeerase
its deep print out of our own brainwhere long meditation has
fixed it in very undesirable distinctness.

It is singularneverthelessthat certain personswho were
spectators of the whole sceneand professed never once to have
removed their eyes from the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdaledenied that
there was any mark whatever on his breastmore than on a
new-born infant's. Neitherby their reporthad his dying words
acknowledgednor even remotely impliedany--the
slightest--connexion on his partwith the guilt for which Hester Prynne had
so long worn the scarlet letter. According to these
highly-respectable witnessesthe ministerconscious that he was
dying--consciousalsothat the reverence of the multitude
placed him already among saints and angels--had desiredby
yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen womanto
express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of
man's own righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts
for mankind's spiritual goodhe 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
amongst us has but attained so far above his fellows as to
discern more clearly the Mercy which
looks downand repudiate more utterly the phantom of human
meritwhich would look aspiringly upward. Without disputing a
truth so momentouswe must be allowed to consider this version
of Mr. Dimmesdale's story as only an instance of that stubborn
fidelity with which a man's friends--and especially a
clergyman's--will sometimes uphold his characterwhen proofs
clear as the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letterestablish
him a false and sin-stained creature of the dust.

The authority which we have chiefly followed--a manuscript of
old datedrawn up from the verbal testimony of individualssome
of whom had known Hester Prynnewhile others had heard the tale
from contemporary witnesses fully confirms the view taken in the


foregoing pages. Among many morals which press upon us from the
poor minister's miserable experiencewe put only this into a
sentence:--"Be true! Be true! 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 place
almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's deathin the
appearance and demeanour of the old man known as Roger
Chillingworth. All his strength and energy--all his vital and
intellectual force--seemed at once to desert himinsomuch that
he positively withered upshrivelled away and almost vanished
from mortal sightlike an uprooted weed that lies wilting in the
sun. This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to
consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise revenge; and when
by its completest triumph consummation that evil principle was left
with no further material to support it--whenin shortthere was no
more Devil's work on earth for him to doit only remained for the
unhumanised mortal to betake himself whither his master would
find him tasks enoughand pay him his wages duly. Butto all
these shadowy beingsso long our near acquaintances--as well
Roger Chillingworth as his companions we would fain be merciful.
It is a curious subject of observation and inquirywhether
hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Eachin its
utmost developmentsupposes a high degree of intimacy and
heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the
food of his affections and spiritual fife upon another: each
leaves the passionate loveror the no less passionate hater
forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject.
Philosophically consideredthereforethe two passions seem
essentially the sameexcept that one happens to be seen in a
celestial radianceand the other in a dusky and lurid glow. In
the spiritual worldthe old physician and the minister--mutual
victims as they have been--mayunawareshave found their
earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden
love.

Leaving this discussion apartwe have a matter of business to
communicate to the reader. At old Roger Chillingworth's decease
(which took place within the year)and by his last will and
testamentof which Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Mr.
Wilson were executorshe bequeathed a very considerable amount
of propertyboth here and in England to little Pearlthe
daughter of Hester Prynne.

So Pearl--the elf child--the demon offspringas some people
up to that epoch persisted in considering her--became the
richest heiress of her day in the New World. Not improbably this
circumstance wrought a very material change in the public
estimation; and had the mother and child remained herelittle
Pearl at a marriageable period of life might have mingled her
wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan 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 a shapeless piece of
driftwood tossed ashore with the initials of a name upon it--yet
no tidings of them unquestionably authentic were received.
The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend. Its spell
howeverwas still potentand kept the scaffold awful where the
poor minister had diedand likewise the cottage by the sea-shore
where Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter spotone
afternoon some children were at playwhen they beheld a tall
woman in a gray robe approach the cottage-door. In all those


years it had never once been opened; but either she unlocked it
or the decaying wood and iron yielded to her handor she glided
shadow-like through these impediments--andat all eventswent
in.

On the threshold she paused--turned partly round--for
perchance the idea of entering alone and all so changedthe home
of so intense a former lifewas more dreary and desolate than
even she could bear. But her hesitation was only for an instant
though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast.

And Hester Prynne had returnedand taken up her long-forsaken
shame! But where was little Pearl? If still alive she must now
have been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood. None
knew--nor ever learned with the fulness of perfect certainty--whether
the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maiden grave;
or whether her wildrich nature had been softened and subdued
and made capable of a woman's gentle happiness. But through the
remainder of Hester's life there were indications that the
recluse of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest
with some inhabitant of another land. Letters camewith
armorial seals upon themthough of bearings unknown to English
heraldry. In the cottage there were articles of comfort and
luxury such as Hester never cared to usebut which only wealth
could have purchased and affection have imagined for her. There
were trifles toolittle ornamentsbeautiful tokens of a
continual remembrancethat must have been wrought by delicate
fingers at the impulse of a fond heart. And once Hester was seen
embroidering a baby-garment with such a lavish richness of golden
fancy as would have raised a public tumult had any infant thus
apparelledbeen shown to our sober-hued community.

In finethe gossips of that day believed--and Mr. Surveyor
Puewho made investigations a century laterbelieved--and one
of his recent successors in officemoreoverfaithfully believes--that
Pearl was not only alivebut marriedand happyand
mindful of her mother; and that she would most joyfully have
entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fireside.

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynneherein New
Englandthat in that unknown region where Pearl had found a
home. Here had been her sin; hereher sorrow; and here was yet
to be her penitence. She had returnedthereforeand resumed of
her own free willfor not the sternest magistrate of that iron
period would have imposed it--resumed the symbol of which we
have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did 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 to be sorrowed over
and looked upon with aweyet with reverence too. Andas Hester
Prynne had no selfish endsnor lived in any measure for her own
profit and enjoymentpeople brought all their sorrows and
perplexitiesand besought her counselas one who had herself
gone through a mighty trouble. Womenmore especially--in the
continually recurring trials of woundedwastedwronged
misplacedor erring and sinful passion--or with the dreary
burden of a heart unyieldedbecause unvalued and unsought came
to Hester's cottagedemanding why they were so wretchedand
what the remedy! Hester comforted and counselled themas best
she might. She assured themtooof her firm belief thatat
some brighter periodwhen the world should have grown ripe for
itin Heaven's own timea new truth would be 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 long since recognised the impossibility that
any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to
a woman stained with sinbowed down with shameor even burdened
with a life-long sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming
revelation must be a womanindeedbut loftypureand
beautifuland wise; moreovernot through dusky griefbut the
ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make
us happyby the truest test of a life successful to such an end.

So said Hester Prynneand glanced her sad eyes downward at the
scarlet letter. Andafter manymany yearsa new grave was
delvednear an old and sunken onein that burial-ground beside
which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old
and sunken graveyet with a space betweenas if the dust of the
two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tomb-stone served
for both. All aroundthere were monuments carved with armorial
bearings; and on this simple slab of slate--as the curious
investigator may still discernand perplex himself with the
purport--there appeared the semblance of an engraved
escutcheon. It bore a devicea herald's wording of which may
serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded
legend; so sombre is itand relieved only by one ever-glowing
point of light gloomier than the shadow: -


ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES