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THE SCARLET LETTER 



THE WORKS OF 



NATHANIEL 
HAWTHORNE 



The Scarlet Letter 

A ROMANCE 




Volume III. 



THE NOTTINGHAM SOCIETT 

New York :: Philadelphia :: Chicago 



EDITION DE LUXE 

Limited to One Thousand Sets 
Piinted for Subscribers Only 



CONTENTS. 



Paqx 

The Custom-House. — Introductory 1 

I.— The Prison-Door 59 

II.— The Market-Piace 61 

III.— The Recognition 75 

IV,— The Interview 88 

v.— Hester at Her Needle 97 

VI.— Pearl ; Ill 

VII.— The Governor's Hall 125 

VIII.— The Elf -Child and the Minister 135 

IX.— The Leech 147 

X.— The Leech and his Patient 162 

XL— The Interior of a Heart 175 

XII.— The Minister's Vigil 185 

XIII.— Another View of Hester 201 

XrV.— Hester and the Physician 212 

XV.— Hester and Pearl 221 

XVI.— A Forest Walk 231 

XVII.— The Pastor and His Parishioner 240 

XVIII.— A Flood of Sunshine 253 

XIX.— The Child at the Brook-side 262 

XX.— The Minister in a Maze 272 

XXL— The New England Holiday 287 

XXII. —The Procession 300 

XXIIL— The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter 315 

XXIV.— Conclusion 827 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 

INTRODUCTION TO THE "SCARLET LETTER. 



It is a little remarkable, that — though disinclined 
to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fire- 
side, and to my personal friends — an autobiographical 
impulse should twice in my life have taken possession 
of me, in addressing the public. The first time was 
three or four years since, when I favored the reader — 
inexcusably, and for no earthly reason, that either the 
indulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine 
• — with a description of my way of life in the deep 
quietude of an Old Manse. And now — because, beyond 
my deserts, I was happy enough to find a listener or 
two on the former occasion — I again seize the public 
by the button, and talk of my three years' experience 
in a Custom-House. The example of the famous " P. P., 
Clerk of this Parish," was never more faithfully fol- 
lowed. The truth seems to be, however, that, when he 
casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author ad- 
dresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, 
or never take it up, but the few who will understand 
him, better than most of his schoolmates or lifemates. 
Some authors, indeed, do far more than this, and in- 



^ THE SCA RL ET L EfTEtt. 

dulge themselves in such confidential depths of revela- 
tion as could fittingly be addressed, only and exclu- 
sively, 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 w4th his audience, it may be pardon- 
able 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 in- 
most Me behind its veil. To this extent, and within 
these limits, an author, methinks, may be autobio- 
graphical, without violating either the readers rights 
or his own. 

It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom -House 
sketch has a certain propriety, of a kind alwaj^s recog- 
nized 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 ray true reason for 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 3 

assuming a personal relation with the public. 
In accomplishing the main purpose, it has appeared 
allowable, bv a few extra touches, to give a faint 
representation of a mode of life not heretofore de- 
scribed, 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 fire-wood — at the 
head, I sa}^, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide 
often overflows, and along which, at the base and in 
the rear of the row of buildings, the track of many 
languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass — 
here, with a view from its front windows adown this 
not very enlivening prospect, and thence across the 
harbor, stands a spacious edifice of brick. From the 
loftiest point of its roof, during precisely three and a 
half hours of each forenoon, floats or droops, in breeze 
or calm, the banner of the republic ; but with the thir- 
teen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally, 
and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military post 
cf Uncle Sam's government, is here established. Its 
front is ornamented with a portico of half a dozen 



4 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

wooden pillars, supporting a balcony, beneath which a 
flight of wide granite steps descends toward 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 inter- 
mingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. 
With the customary infirmity of temper that charac- 
terizes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierce- 
ness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency 
of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive 
community ; and especially to warn all citizens, care- 
ful of their safety, against intruding 'on the premises 
which she overshadows Avith her Avings. 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 eider-down 
pillow. But she has no great tenderness, even in her 
best of moods, and, sooner or later — oftener soon than 
late — is apt to fling off her nestling, 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 edi- 
fice — which we may as well name at once as the Cus- 
tom-IIouse of the port — has grass enough growing in 
its chinks to show that it has not, of late da3'^s, 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 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 5 

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 might}'" 
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 or somber, gracious or 
in the sullcs, 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, care-AVorn 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. Kor must 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 

we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners that 
bring fire-wood 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 some- 
times 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 Aveather — a 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 talk- 
ing together, in voices between 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 labor, or 
anything else but their own independent exertions. 
These old gentlemen — seated, like Matthew, at the re- 
ceipt of customs, 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 dilapi- 
dated 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 cob» 
Avebbed, and dingy with old paint ; its Hoor is strewn 
with gray sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen 
into long disuse ; and it is easy to conclude, from the 
general slovenliness of the place, that this is a sanct- 
uary into which woman-kind, with her tools of magic, 
the broom and mop, has very infrequent access. In 
the way of furniture, there is a stove with a volum- 
inous funnel ; an old pine desk, Avith 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 ceil- 
ing, and forms a medium of vocal communication with 
other parts of the edifice. And here, some six months 
ago — pacing from corner to corner, or lounging on the 
long-legged stool, with his elbow on the desk, and his 
eyes wandering up and down the columns of the morn- 
ing newspaper — you might have recognized, honored 
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 



8 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

go thither to seek him, you would inquire in vaiu for 
the Locofoco Surveyor. The besom of reform has 
swept him out of oflSce ; and a worthier successor wears 
his dignity, and pockets his emoluments. 

This old town of Salem — my native place, though I 
have dwelt much away from it, both in boyhood and 
maturer years — possesses, or did possess, a hold on 
my affections, the force of which I have never realized 
during my seasons of actual residence here. Indeed, 
so far as its physical aspect is concerned, with its flat, 
unvaried surface, covered chiefl}'" 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, loung- 
ing wearisomely through the whole extent of the penin- 
sula, 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 Avould be quite as 
reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a dis- 
arranged checker-board. And yet, though invariably 
happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for old 
Salem, Avhich, 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 fam- 
ily has struck into the soil. It is now nearly two cen- 
turies 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 minarled their early sub- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 9 

stance 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 quahty. 
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 remem- 
ber. It still haunts me, and induces a sort of home- 
feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in refer- 
ence 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 better prosecutor; as 
witness the Quakers, who have remembered him in 
their histories, and relate an incident of his hard 
severity toward a woman of their sect, which will last 
longer, it is to be feard, than any record of his better 



10 THE SCARLET LE2TER. 

deeds, although these were many. His son, too, in- 
herited 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 old dry bones, 
in the Charter street burial-ground, must still retain it, 
if they have not crumbled utterly to dust ! I know 
not whether these ancestors of mine bethought them- 
selves 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 represent- 
ative, 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, 
Avould 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 suffi- 
cient 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 top- 
most bough, an idler like myself. No aim, that I have 
ever cherished, would they recognize 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 gray shadow of my 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. H 

forefathers to the other. " A vriter of story-books ! 
What kind of a business in life — what mode of glori- 
fying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day 
and generation — may that be? Why, the degen- 
erate fellow might as well have been a fiddler ! " 
Such are the compliments bandied between my 
great-grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time !. 
And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits 
of their nature have intertwined themselves with 
mine. 

Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and 
childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, 
the race has ever since subsisted here ; always, too, in 
respectability ; never, so far as I have known, dis- 
graced by a single unworthy member ; but seldom or 
never, on the other hand, after the first two genera- 
tions, performing any memorable deed, or so much as 
putting forward a claim to public notice. Gradually, 
they have sunk almost out of sight ; as old houses, 
here and there about the streets, get covered half-way 
to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil. From 
father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed 
the sea; a gray-headed shipmaster, in each generation, 
retiring from the quarter-deck to the homestead, while 
a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place before the 
mast, confronting the salt spray and the gale, which 
had blustered against his sire and grandsire. The boy, 
also, in due time, passed from the forecastle to the 
cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned 



12 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

from his world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and 
mingle his dust with the natal earth. This long con- 
nection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth 
and burial, creates a kindred between the human 
being and the locality, quite independent of any charm 
in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround 
him. It is not love, but instinct. The new inhabitant 
— who came himself from a foreign land, or whose 
father or grandfather came — has little claim to be 
called a Salemite ; he has no conception of the oyster- 
like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom 
his third century is creeping, clings to the spot where 
his successive generations have been imbedded. It is 
no matter that the place is joyless for him ; that he is 
weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, 
the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, 
and the chillest of social atmospheres ; all these, and 
whatever faults besides he may see or imagine, are 
nothing to the purpose. The spell survives, and just 
as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly par- 
adise. So has it been in my case. I felt it almost as 
a destiny to make Salem my home ; so that the mold 
of features and cast of character which had all along 
been familiar here — ever, as one representative of the 
race lay down in his grave, another assuming, as it 
were, his sentry-march along the main street — might 
still in my little day be seen and recognized in the old 
town. Nevertheless, this very sentiment is an evi- 
dence that the connection, which has become an un- 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 13 

healthy one, should at least be severed. Human 
nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it 
be planted and replanted, for too long a series of gen- 
erations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have 
had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may 
be within my control, shall strike her roots into unac- 
customed earth. 

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

I doubt greatly — or, rather, I do not doubt at all — 
whether any public functionary of the United States, 
either in the civil or military line, has ever had such a 
patriarchal body of veterans under his orders as m}^- 
self. The whereabouts of the Oldest Inhabitant was at 
once settled, when I looked at them. For upward of 
twenty years before this epoch, the independent posi- 
tion of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House 



14 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

out of the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which 
makes the tenure of office generally so fragile. A 
soldier — New England's most distinguished soldier — 
he stood firmly on the pedestal of his gallant services ; 
and, himself secure in the wise liberality of the succes- 
sive 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 him- 
self strongly to familiar faces, and with difficulty 
moved to change, even when change might have 
brought unquestionable improvement. Thus, on tak- 
ing charge of my department, I found few but aged 
men. They were ancient sea-captains, for the most 
part, who, after being tost on every sea, and standing 
up sturdily against life's tempestuous blast, had finally 
drifted into this quiet nook ; where, with little to dis- 
turb them, except the periodical terrors of a Presiden- 
tial election, they one and all acquired a new lease of 
existence. Though by no means less liable than their 
fellow-men to age and infirmity, they had evidently 
some talisman or other that kept death at bay. Two 
or three of their number, as I was assured, being 
gouty and rheumatic, or perhaps bed-ridden, never 
dreamed of making their appearance at the Custom- 
House, during a large part of the year ; but, after a 
torpid winter, would creep out into the warm sunshine 
of May or June, go lazily about what they termed 



THE SCARLET LETTER. Iff 

duty, and, at their own leisure and convenience, betake 
themselves to bed again. I must plead guilty to the 
charge of abbreviating the official breath of more than 
one of these venerable servants of the republic. They 
were allowed, on my representation, to rest from their 
arduous labors, and soon afterward — as if their 
sole principle of life had been zeal for their country's 
service, as I verily believe it was — withdrew to a bet- 
ter world. It is a pious consolation to me, that, 
through my interference, a sufficient space was allowed 
them for repentance of the evil and corrupt practices, 
into which, as a matter of course, every Cusom-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 Sur- 
veyor was not a politician, and though a faithful Demo- 
crat in principle, neither received nor held his office with 
any reference to political services. Had it been other- 
wise — had an active politician been put into this 
influential post, to assume the easy task of making 
head against a Whig Collector, whose infirmities with- 
held 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 ex- 
terminating angel had come up the Custom-House 
steps. According to the received code in such matters, 
it would have been nothing short of duty, in a poli- 



16 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

tician, to bring every one of those white heads under 
the ax of the guillotine. It was plain enough to dis- 
cern, that the old fellows dreaded some such discourtesy 
at my hands. It pained, and at the same time amused 
me, to behold the terrors that attended my advent ; to 
see a furrowed cheek, weather-beaten by half a century 
of storm, turn ashy pale at the glance of so harmless 
an individual as myself ; to detect, as one or another 
addressed me, the tremor of a voice, which, in long- 
past days, had been wont to bellow through a speak- 
ing-trumpet, hoarsely enough to frighten Boreas him- 
self to silence. They knew, these excellent old persons, 
that by all established rule — and, as regarded some of 
them, weighed by their own lack of efficiency for busi- 
ness — they ought to have given place to younger men, 
more orthodox in politics, and altogether fitter than 
themselves to serve our common Uncle. I knew it too, 
but could never quite find in my heart to act upon the 
knowledge. Much and deservedly to my own discredit, 
therefore, and considerably to the detriment of my 
official conscience, they continued, during my incum- 
bency, to creep about the wharves, and loiter up and 
down the Custom-House steps. They spent a good 
deal of time, also, asleep in their accustomed corners, 
with their chairs tilted back against the wall ; awak- 
ing, however, once or twice in the forenoon, to bore 
one another with the several thousandth repetition 
of old sea-stories, and moldy jokes, that had 
grown to be pass- words and countersigns among 
them. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 17 

The discovery was soon made, I imagine, that the 
new Surveyor had no great harm in him. So, with 
lightsome hearts, and the happy consciousness of being 
usefully employed — in their own behalf, at least, if 
not for our beloved country — these good old gentle- 
men went through the various formalities of office. 
Sagaciously, under their spectacles, did they peep into 
the holds of vessels ! Mighty was their fuss about lit- 
tle matters, and marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness 
that allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers! 
"Whenever such a mischance occurred, when a wagon- 
load of valuable merchandise had been smuggled 
ashore, at noonday, perhaps, and directly beneath their 
unsuspicious noses, nothing could exceed the vigilance 
and alacrity with which they proceeded to lock, and 
double-lock, and secure with tape and sealing-wax, all 
the avenues of the delinquent vessel. Instead of a 
reprimand for their previous negligence, the case 
seemed rather to require an eulogium on their praise- 
worthy caution after the mischief had happened ; a 
grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal, 
the moment that there was no longer any remedy. 

Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, 
it is my foolish habit to contract a kindness for them. 
The better part of my companion's character, if it 
have a better part, is that which usuall}'" comes upper- 
most in my regard, and forms the type whereby I 
recognize the man. As most of these old Custom- 
House officers had good traits, and as my position in 



18 TffE SCARLET LETTER. 

reference to them, being paternal and protective, Was 
favorable to the growth of friendly sentiments, I soon 
grew to like them all. It was pleasant, in the summer 
forenoons, when the fervent heat, that almost liquefied 
the rest of the human family, merely communicated a 
genial warmth to their half-torpid systems, it was 
pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry, a 
row of them all tipped against the wall, as usual ; while 
the frozen witticism of past generations were thawed 
out, and came bubbling with laughter from their lips. 
Externally, the jollity of aged men has much in com- 
mon with the mirth of children; the intellect, any 
more than a deep sense of humor, has little to do with 
the matter ; it is, with both, a gleam that plays upon 
the surface and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect 
alike to the green branch, and gray, moldering trunk. 
In one case, however, it is real sunshine ; in the other, 
it more resembles the phosphorescent glow of decay- 
ing wood. 

It would be sad injustice, the reader must under- 
stand, to represent all my excellent old friends as in 
their dotage. In the first place, my coadjutors were 
not invariably old; there were men among them in 
their strength and prime, of marked abilit}'^ and en- 
ergy, and altogether superior to the sluggish and de- 
pendent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast 
them. Then, moreover, the white locks of age were 
sometimes found to be the thatch of an intellectual 
tenement in good repair. But, as respects the major 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 19 

ity of my corps of veterans, there will be no wrong 
done, if I characterize them generally as a set of wea- 
risome old souls, who had gathered nothing worth pre- 
servation from their varied experience of life. They 
seemed to have flung away all the golden grain of 
practical wisdom, which they had enjoyed so many 
opportunities of harvesting, and most carefully to have 
stored their memories with the husks. They spoke 
with far more interest and unction of their morning's 
breakfast or yesterday's, to-day's, or to-morrow's dinner, 
than of the shipwreck of forty or fifty years ago, and 
all the world's wonders which they had witnessed with 
their youthful eyes. 

The father of the Custom-House — the patriarch, 
not only of this little squad of officials, but, I am bold 
to say, of the respectable body of tide-waiters all over 
the United States — was a certain permanent Inspec- 
tor. He might truly be termed a legitimate son of the 
revenue system, dyed in the wool, or, rather, born in 
the purple ; since his sire, a Revolutionary colonel, and 
formerly collector of the port, had created an office for 
him, and appointed him to till it, at a period of the 
early ages which few living men can now remember. 
This Inspector, when I first knew him, was a man of 
fourscore years, or therebouts, and 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 cheek, his compact figure, smartly ar- 
rayed in a bright-buttoned blue coat, his brisk and 



20 THE SCARE ET LETTER. 

vigorous step, and his hale and heart}' aspect, alto- 
gether he seemed — not young indeed — but a kind of 
new contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape of 
man, whom age and infirmity had no business to 
touch. His voice and laugh, which perpetually re- 
echoed through the Custom-House, had nothing of the 
tremulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utter- 
ance ; they came strutting out of his lungs, like the 
crow of a cock, or the blast of a clarion. Looking at 
him merely as an animal, and there was very little 
else to look at, he was a most satisfactory object, 
from the thorough healthfulness and wholesomeness 
of his system, and his capacity, at that extreme age, to 
enjoy all, or nearly all, the delights which he had ever 
aimed at, or conceived of. The careless security of his 
life in the Custom-House, on a regular income, and 
with but slight and infrequent apprehensions of re- 
moval, had no doubt contributed to make time pass 
lightly over him. The original and more potent causes, 
however, lay in the rare perfection of his animal 
nature, the moderate proportion of intellect, and the 
very trifling admixture of moral and spiritual ingredi- 
ents; these latter qualities, indeed, being in barely 
enough measure to keep the old gentleman from walk- 
ing on all-fours. He possessed no power of thought, 
no depth of feeling, no troublesome sensibilities ; noth- 
ing, in short, but a few commonplace instincts, which, 
aided by the cheerful temper that grew inevitably out 
of his physical well-being, did duty very respectably, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 21 

and to general acceptance, in lieu of a heart. He had 
been the husband of three wives, all long since dead ; 
the father of twenty children, most of whom, at every 
age of childhood or maturity, had likewise returned to 
dust. Here, one would suppose, might have been sor- 
row 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 en- 
tire burden of these dismal reminiscences. The next 
moment, he was as ready for sport as any unbreeched 
infant ; far readier than the Collector's junior clerk, 
who, at nineteen years, was much the elder and graver 
man of the two. 

I used CO watch and study this patriarchal personage 
with, I think, livelier curiosity, than any other form 
of humanity there presented to my notice. He was, 
in truth, a rare phenomenon ; so perfect, in one point 
of view ; so shallow, so delusive, so impalpable, such an 
absolute nonentity, in every other. My conclusion 
was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind ; nothing, 
as I have already said, but instincts ; and yet, withal, 
so cunningly had the few materials of his character 
been put together, that there was no painful percep- 
tion of deficiency, but, on my part, an entire content- 
ment with what I found in him. It might be difficult 
— and it was so — to conceive how he should exist 
hereafter, so earthly and sensuous did he seem ; 
but surely his existence here, addmitting that it was to 
terminate with his last breath, had been not unkindly 



23 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

given; with no higher moral responsibilities than 
the beasts of the field, but with a larger scope 
of enjoyment than theirs, and with all their 
blessed immunity from the drearinaos and duski- 
ness of age. 

One point, in which he had vastly the advantage 
over his four-footed brethren, was his ability to recol- 
lect the good dinners which it had made no small por- 
tion of the happiness of his life to eat. His gour- 
mandism 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 attribute, and 
neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endow- 
ment by devoting all his energies and ingenuities to 
subserve the delight and profit of his maw, it always 
pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish, 
poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most eligible 
methods of preparing them for the table. His reminis- 
cences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the 
actual banquet, seemed to bring the savor of pig or 
turkey under one's very nostrils. There were flavors 
on his palate, that had lingered there not less than 
sixty or seventy years, and 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 dinners, every guest at which, except 
himself, had long been food for worms. It was mar- 
vellous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals 
were continually rising up before him; not in anger 



TME so a ttL ST LSTTMR. 23 

of retribution, but as if grateful for his former appre- 
ciation, and seeking to repudiate an endless series of 
enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual. A tender- 
loin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, 
a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy 
turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the 
days of the elder Adams, would be remembered ; while 
all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the 
events that brightened or darkened his individual 
career, had gone over him with as little permanent 
effect as the passing breeze. The chief tragic event 
of the old man's life, so far as I could judge, was his 
mishap with a certain goose, which lived and died 
some twenty or forty years ago ; a goose of most 
promising figure, but which, at table, proved so invet- 
erately tough that the carving-knife would make no 
impression on its carcass, and it could only be divided 
with an ax and handsaw. 

But it is time to quit this sketch ; on which, how- 
ever, I should be glad to dwell at considerably more 
length, because of all men whom I have ever known, 
this individual was fittest to be a Custom-House officer. 
iMost persons, owing to causes which I may not have 
space to hint at, suffer moral detriment from this pecu- 
liar mode of life. The old Inspector was incapable of 
it ;1 and, were he to continue in office to the end of 
time, would be just as good as he was then, and sit 
down to dinner with just as good an appetite. 

There is one likeness, without which my gallery of 



24 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Custom-House portraits would be strangely incom* 
plete ; but which my comparatively few opportunities 
for observation enable me to sketch only in the merest 
outline. It is that of the Collector, our gallant old 
General, who, after his brilliant military service, sub- 
sequently to which he had ruled over a wild Western 
territory, had come hither, twenty years before, to 
spend the decline of his varied and honorable life. 
The brave soldier had already numbered, nearly or 
quite, his threescore years and ten, and was pursuing 
the remainder of his earthly march, burdened with in- 
firmities which even the martial music of his own 
spirit-stirring recollections could do little toward 
lightening. The step was palsied now, that had been 
foremost in the charge. It was only with the assist- 
ance of a servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on 
the iron balustrade, that he could slowly and painfully 
ascend the Custom-House steps, and, with a toilsome 
progress across the floor, attain his customar}"- chair 
beside the fireplace. There he used to sit, gazing with 
a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures that 
came and Avent ; amid the rustle of papers, the admin- 
istering of oaths, the discussion of business, and the 
casual talk of the office ; all which sounds and circum- 
stances seemed but indistinctly to impress his senses, 
and hardly to make their way into his inner sphere 
of comtemplation. His countenance, in this repose, 
was mild and kindly. If his notice was sought, an 
expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 25 

his features ; proving that there was light within him, 
and that it was only the outward medium of the intel- 
lectual lamp that obstructed the rays in their passage. 
The closer you penetrated to the substance of his mind, 
the sounder it appeared. When no longer called upon 
to speak, or listen, either of which operations cost him 
an evident effort, his face would briefly subside into 
its former not uncheerful quietude. It was not pain- 
ful to behold this look ; for, though dim, it had not the 
imbecility of decaying age. The framework of his nat- 
ure, originally strong and massive, was not yet crum- 
bled into ruin. 

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

Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with affec- 
tion, for slight as was the communication between us, 
my feeling toward him, like that of all bipeds and 
quadrupeds who knew him, might not improperly be 
termed so, I could discern the main points of his por- 
trait. It was marked with the noble and heroic quali- 
ties which showed it to be not by a mere accident, 
but of good right, that he had won a distinguished 



26 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

name. His spirit could never, I conceive, have been 
characterized by an uneasy activity ; it must, at any 
period of his life, have require<-l an impulse to set him 
in motion ; but, once stirred up, with obstacles to over- 
come, and an adequate object to be attained, it was not 
in the man to give out or fail. The heat that had for- 
merly pervaded his nature, and which was not yet ex- 
tinct, was never of the kind that flashes and flickers in 
a blaze ; but, rather, a deep, red glow, as of iron in a 
furnace. Weight, solidity, firmness ; this was the ex- 
pression of his repose, even in such decay as had crept 
untimely over him, at the period of which I speak. 
But I could imagine, even then, that, under some ex- 
citement which should go deeply into his consciousness, 
roused by a trumpet-peal, loud enough to awaken all 
of his energies that were not dead, but only slumber- 
ing, he was yet capable of flinging off his infirmities 
like a sick man's gown, dropping the staff of age to 
seize a battle-sword, and starting up once more a war- 
rior. And, in so intense a moment, his demeanor 
would have still been calm. Such an exhibition, how- 
ever, was but to be pictured in fancy ; not to be an- 
ticipated, nor desired. "What I saw in him — as evi- 
dently as the indestructible ramparts of Old Ticonder- 
oga, already cited as the most appropriate simile — were 
the features of stubborn and ponderous endurance, 
which might well have amounted to obstinacy in his 
earlier days ; of integrity, that, like most of his other 
endowments, lay in a somewhat heavy mass, and was 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 27 

just as unmalleable and unmanageable as a ton of iron 
ore ; and of benevolence, which, fiercely as he led the 
bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort Erie, 1 take to be of 
quite as genuine a stamp as what actuates any or all 
the polemical philanthropists of the age. He had slain 
men with his own hand, for aught I know ; certainly, 
they had fallen, like blades of grass at the sweep of 
the scythe, before the charge to which his spirit im- 
parted its triumphant energy ; but, be that as it might, 
there was never in his heart so much cruelty as would 
have brushed the down off a butterfly's wing, I have 
not known the man, to whose innate kindliness I would 
more confidently make an appeal. 

Many characteristics — and those, too, which contrib- 
ute not the least forcibly to impart resemblance in a 
sketch — must have vanished, or been obscured, before 
I met the general. All merely graceful attributes are 
usually the most evanescent ; nor does nature adorn 
the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty, that 
have their roots and proper nutriment only in the 
chinks and crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers 
over the ruined fortress of Ticonderoga. Still, even 
in respect of grace and beauty, there were points well 
worth noting. A ray of humor, now and then, would 
make its way through the veil of dim obstruction, and 
glimmer pleasantly upon our faces. A trait of native 
elegance, seldom seen in the masculine character after 
childhood or early youth, was shown in the general's 
fondness for the sight and fragrance of flowers. An 



28 the: scarlet letter. 

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. 

There, beside the fireplace, the brave old General 
used to sit ; while the Surveyor— though seldom, when 
it could be avoided, taking upon himself the difficult 
task of engaging hira in conversation — was fond of 
standing at a distance, and watching his quiet and al- 
most slumberous countenance. He seemed away from 
us, although we saw him but a few yards off ; remote, 
though we passed close beside his chair ; unattainable, 
though we might have stretched forth our hands and 
touched his own. It might be that he lived a more 
real life within his thoughts, than amid the unappro- 
priate environment of the collector's office. The evo- 
lutions of the parade ; the tumult of the battle ; the 
flourish of old, heroic music, heard thirty years before ; 
such scenes and sounds, perhaps, were all alive before 
his intellectual sense. Meanwhile, the merchants and 
shipmasters, the spruce clerks and uncouth sailors, 
entered and departed ; the bustle of this commercial 
and Custom-House life kept up its little murmur round 
about him ; and neither with the men nor their affairs 
did the General appear to sustain the most distant re- 
lation. He was as much out of place as an old sword 
— now rusty, but which had flashed once in the battle's 
front, and showed still a bright gleam along its blade 
— would have been, among the inkstands, paper-folders, 
and mahogany rulers, on the Deputy Collector's desk. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 29 

There was one thing that much aided me in renew- 
ing 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 
try, sir ! " spoken on the very verge of a desperate and 
heroic enterprise, and breathing the soul and spirit of 
New England hardihood, comprehending all perils, and 
encountering all. If, in our country, valor were re- 
warded by heraldic honor, this phrase — which it seems 
so easy to speak, but which only he, with such a task 
of danger and glory before him, has ever spoken — 
would be the best and fittest of all mottoes for the 
General's shield of arms. 

It contributes greatly toward a man's moral and in- 
tellectual health, to be brought into habits of compan- 
ionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little 
for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must 
go out of himself to appreciate. The accidents of my 
life have often afforded me this advantage, but never 
with more fullness and variety than during my continu- 
ance in office. There was one man, especially, the ob- 
servation of whose character gave me a new idea of 
talent. His gifts were emphatically those of a man of 
business ; prompt, acute, clear-minded ; with an eye 
that saw through all perplexities, and a faculty of ar- 
rangement that made them vanish, as by the waving 
of an enchanter's wand. Bred up from boyhood in 
the Custom-House, it was his proper field of activity ; 
and the many intricacies of business, so harassing to 



30 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

the interloper, presented themselves before him with 
the regularity of a perfectly comprehended system. 
In my contemplation, he stood as the ideal of his class. 
lie was, indeed, the Custom-House in himself ; or, at 
all events, the mainspring that kept its variously 
revolving wheels in motion ; for in an institution like 
this, where its officers are appointed to subserve their 
own profit and convenience, and seldom with a lead- 
ing reference to their fitness for the duty to be per- 
formed, they must perforce seek elsewhere the dex- 
terity which is not in them. Thus, by an inevitable 
necessity, as a magnet attracts steel-filings, so did our 
man of business draw to himself the difficulties which 
everybody met with. With an easy condescension, 
and kind forbearance toward our stupidity — which, to 
his order of mind, must have seemed little short of 
crime — would he forthwith, by the merest touch of 
his finger, make the incomprehensible as clear as day- 
light. The merchants valued him not less than we, 
his esoteric friends. His integrity was perfect ; it was 
a law of nature with him, rather than a choice or a 
principle ; nor can it be otherwise than the main con- 
dition of an intellect so remarkably clear and accurate 
as his, to be honest and regular in the administration 
of affairs. A stain on his conscience, as to anything 
that came within the range of his vocation, would 
trouble such a man very much in the same way, 
though to a far greater degree, than an error 
in the balance of an account, or an ink-blot on the 



'THE SOAULET LETTER. 31 

fair page of a book of record. Here, in a word — 
and it is a rare instance in ray life — I had met with 
a person thoroughly adapted to the situation which 
he held. 

Such were some of the people with whom I now 
found myself connected. I took it in good part, at 
the hands of Providence, that I was thrown into a 
position so little akin to my past habits ; and set my- 
self seriously to gather from it whatever profit was to 
be had. After my fellowship of toil and impracticable 
schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm ; 
after living for three years within the subtile influ- 
ence of an intellect like Emerson's ; after those wild, 
free-days on the Assabeth, indulging fantastic specula- 
tions, beside our fire of fallen boughs, with Ellery Chan- 
ning; after talking with Thoreau about pine-trees and 
Indian relics, in his hermitage at Walden ; after grow- 
ing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement 
of Hillard's culture ; after becoming imbued with 
poetic sentiment at Longfellow's hearth-stone ; it 
was time, at length, that I should exercise other 
faculties of my nature, and nourish myself with food 
for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even 
the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, 
to a man who had known Alcott. I looked upon it 
as an evidence, in some measure, of a system naturally 
well balanced, and lacking no essential part of 
a thorough organization, that, with such asso- 
ciates to remember, X could mingle at once with men 



32 TEE 8CA dL ET LETTER. 

of altogether different qualities, and never murmur at 
the change. 

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

Meanwhile, there I was, a Surveyor of the Revenue, 
and, so far as I have been able to understand, as good 
a Surveyor as need be. A man of thought, fancy, and 
sensibility (had he ten times the Surveyor's proportion 
of those qualities) may, at any time, be a man of affairs. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 33 

if he will only choose to give himself the trouble. My 
feUow-ofl&cers, and the merchants and sea-captains with 
whom my official duties brought me into any manner 
of connection, viewed me in no other light, and prob- 
ably knew me in no other character. Kone of them, I 
presume, had ever read a page of my inditing, or would 
have cared a fig the more for me, if they had read them, 
all ; nor would it have mended the matter, in the least, 
had those same unprofitable pages been written with a 
pen like that of Burns or of Chaucer, each of whom was 
a Custom-House officer in his day, as well as I. It is a 
good lesson — though it may often be a hard one — for 
a man who has dreamed of literary fame, and of making 
for himself a rank among the world's dignitaries by such 
means, to step aside out of the narrow circle in which 
his claims are recognized, and to find how utterly devoid 
of significance, beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, 
and all he aims at. I know not that I especially needed 
the lesson, either in the way of warning or rebuke ; 
but, at any rate, I learned it throughly : nor, it gives 
me pleasure to reflect, did the truth, as it came home 
to my perception, ever cost me a pang, or require to be 
thrown off in a sigh. In the way of literarj'^ talk, it is 
true, the Naval Officer — an excellent fellow, who came 
into office with me and went out only a little later — 
would often engage me in a discussion about one or the 
other of his favorite topics, Napoleon or Shakespeare. 
The Collector's junior clerk, too, a young gentleman 
who, it was whispered, occasionally covered a sheet of 



34 TBE SCAkLEt LETTBlt. 

Uncle Sara'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 books, as matters with 
which I might possibly be conversant. This was my 
all of lettered intercourse ; and it was quite sufficient 
for my necessities. 

No longer seeking nor caring that my name should 
be blazoned abroad on title-pages, I smiled to think 
that it had now another kind of vogue. The Custom- 
House marker imprinted it, with a stencil and black 
paint, on pepper-bags, and baskets of anatto, and ci- 
gar-boxes, and bales of all kinds of dutiable merchan- 
dise, in testimony that these commodities had paid the 
impost, and gone regularly through the office. Borne 
on such queer vehicle of fame, a knowledge of my ex- 
istence, so far as a name conveys it, was carried where 
it had never been before, and, I hope, will never go 
again. 

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

In the second story of the Custora-House there is a 
large room, in which the brick-work and naked rafters 
have never been covered with paneling and plaster. 
The edifice — originally projected on a scale adapted to 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 35 

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 hall, therefore, over 
the Collector's apartments, remains unfinished to this 
day, and, in spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon its 
dusky beams, appears still to await the labor of the 
carpenter and mason. At one end of the room, in a 
recess, were a number of barrels, piled one upon another, 
containing bundles of official documents. Large quan- 
tities of similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor. It was 
sorrowful to think how many days, and weeks, and 
months, and years of toil had been wasted on these 
musty papers, which were now only an encumbrance 
on earth, and were hidden away in this forgotton cor- 
ner, never more to be glanced at by human eyes. But, 
then what reams of other manuscripts — filled not with 
the dulness of official formalities, bat with the thought 
of inventive brains and the rich effusion of deep hearts 
— had gone equally to oblivion; and that, moreover, 
without serving a purpose in their day, as these 
heaped-up papers had, and — saddest of all — 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 alto- 
gether worthless, perhaps, as materials of local his- 
tory. Here, no doubt, statistics of the former com- 
merce of Salem might be discovered, and memorials of 
her princely merchants, old King Derby, old Billy 



3 6 TEE 8CA RL ET LETTER. 

Gray, old Simon Forrester, and many another magnate 
in his day; whose powdered head, however, was 
scarcely in the tomb, before his mountain-pile of 
wealth began to dwindle. The founders of the greater 
part of the families which now compose the aristo- 
cracy of Salem might here be traced, from the petty 
and obscure beginnings of their traffic, at periods gen- 
erally much posterior to the Revolution, upward 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 having, probably, been carried off to Halifax, 
when all the king's officials accompanied the British 
army in its flight from Boston. It has often been a 
matter of regret with me ; for, going back, perhaps, 
to the days of the Protectorate, those papers must 
have contained many references to forgotten or 
remembered men, and to antique customs, which 
would have affected me with the same pleasure as 
when I used to pick up Indian arrow-heads in the field 
near the Old Manse. 

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



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 37 

able on their mossv tomb-stones ; fflancing: at such 
matters with the saddened, weary, half reluctant in- 
terest which we bestow on the corpse of dead activ- 
ity, and exerting my fancy, sluggish with little use, to 
raise up from these dry bones an image of the old 
town's brighter aspect, when India was a new region 
and only Salem knew the way thither, I chanced to 
lay my hand on a small package, carefully done up in 
a piece of ancient yellow parchment. This envelope 
had the air of an oflScial record of some period long 
past, when clerks engrossed their stiff and formal 
chirography on more substantial materials than at 
present. There was something about it that quickened 
an instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded 
red tape, that tied up the package, with the sense that 
a treasure would here be brought to light. Unbend- 
ing the rigid folds of the parchment cover, I found it 
to be a commission, under the hand and seal of Gover- 
nor Shirley, in favor of one Jonathan Pue, as Sur- 
veyor of his Majesty's Customs for the port of Salem, 
in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. I remembered 
to have read (probably in Felt's Annals) a notice of the 
decease of Mr. Surveyor Pue, about fourscore years 
ago ; and likewise, in a newspaper of recent times, an 
account of the digging up of his remains in the httle 
grave-yard of St. Peter's Church, during the renewal 
of that edifice. Kothing, if I rightly call to mind, 
was left of my respected predecessor, save an imperfect 
skeleton, and some fragments of apparel, and a wig of 



38 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

majestic frizzle; which, unlike the head that it once 
adorned, was in very satisfactory preservation. But, on 
examining the papers which the parchment commission 
served to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Pue's 
mental part, and the internal operations of his head, 
than the frizzled wig had contained of the venerable 
skull itself. 

They were documents, in short, not official, but of a 
private nature, or, at least, written in his private capa- 
city, and apparently with his own hand. I could ac- 
count for their being included in the heap of Custom- 
House lumber only by the fact that Mr. Pue's death 
had happened suddenly ; and that these papers, which 
he probably kept in his official desk, had never come 
to the knowledge of his heirs, or were supposed to re- 
late to the business of the revenue. On the transfer 
of the archives to Halifax, this package, proving to be 
of no public concern, was left behind, and had re- 
mained ever since unopened. 

The ancient Surveyor — being little molested, I sup- 
pose, at that early day, with business pertaining to 
his office — seems to have devoted some of his many 
leisure hours to researches as a local antiquarian, and 
other inquisitions of a similar nature. These supplied 
material for petty activity to a mind that would 
otherwise have been eaten up with rust. A portion 
of his facts, by the by, did me good service in the pre- 
paration of the article entitled " Main Street," in- 
cluded in the present volume. The remainder may 



TSE SCAttLST LETTER. 39 

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 labor 
off my hands. As a final disposition, I contem- 
plate depositing them with the Essex Historical 
Society. 

But the object that most drew my attention, in 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 recovered even by the process of picking 
out the threads. This rag of scarlet cloth — for time, 
and wear, and a sacrilegious moth, had reduced it to 
little other than a rag — on careful examination, 
assumed the 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, honor, and dignity, in by-past 



40 ■ TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 them- 
selves upon the old scarlet letter, and would not be 
turned aside. Certainly, there was some deep mean- 
ing 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. 

While thus perplexed — and cogitating, among other 
hypotheses, whether the letter might not have been 
one of those decorations which the white man used to 
contrive, in order to take the eyes of Indians — I hap- 
pened 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 smaU 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 reasonbly complete ex- 
planation of the whole affair. There were several 
foolscap sheets, containing many particulars respect- 
ing the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 41 

who appeared to have been rather a noteworthy per- 
sonage in the view of our ancestors. She had flour- 
ished 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 hi& 
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 im- 
memorial 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 inevita- 
bly 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 docu- 
ment of Mr. Surveyor Pue. The original papers, 
together with the scarlet letter itself — ^a most curious 
relic — are still in my possession, and shall be freely 
exhibited to whomsoever, induced by the great interest 
of the narrative, may desire a sight of them. I must 
Dot be understood as affirming that, in tne dressing up 



42 TEE SO A RL ET L ETTER. 

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

This incident recalled my mind, in some degree, to 
its old track. There seemed to be here the ground- 
work of a tale. It impressed me as if the ancient 
Surveyor, in his garb of a hundred years gone by, and 
wearing his immortal wig — which was buried with him, 
but did not perish in the grave — had met me in the 
deserted chamber of the Custom-House. In his port 
was the dignity of one who had borne his Majesty's 
commission, and who was therefore illuminated by a 
ray of the splendor that shone so dazzlingly about the 
throne. How unlike, alas! the hang-dog look of a 
republican official, who, as the servant of the people, 
feels himself less than the least, and below the lowest, 
of his masters. With his own ghostl}-^ hand, the 
obscurely seen but majestic figure had imparted to me 
the scarlet symbol, and the little roll of explanatory 
manuscript. With his own ghostly voice, he had ex- 
horted me, on the sacred consideration of my filial 
duty and reverence toward him — who might reasonabl}' 
regard himself as my official ancestor — to bring his 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 43 

moldy and moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. 
" Do this," said the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, em- 
phatically nodding the head that looked so imposing 
within its memorable wig, " do this, and the profit shall 
be all your own ! You will shortly need it ; for it is 
not in your days as it was in mine, when a man's office 
was a life-lease, and oftentimes an heirloom. But, I 
charge you, in this matter of old Mistress Prynne, give 
to your predecessor's memory the credit which will be 
rightfully due ! " And I said to the ghost of Mr. Sur- 
veyor Pue, " I will ! " 

On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestowed 
much thought. It was the subject of my meditations for 
many an hour, while pacing to and fro across my , room, 
or traversing, with a hundred-fold repetition, the long 
extent from the front-door of the Gusto m-House to the 
side-entrance, and back again. Great were the weari- 
ness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the 
Weighers and Gangers, whose slumbers Avere disturbed 
by the unmercifully lengthened tramp of my passing 
and returning footsteps. Remembering their own for- 
mer habits, they used to say that the Surveyor was 
walking the quarter-deck. They probably fancied 
that my sole object — and, indeed, the sole object for 
which a sane man could ever put himself into volun- 
tary motion — was, to get an appetite for dinner. And 
to say the truth, an appetite, sharpened by the east 
wind that generally blew along the passage, was the 
only valuable result of so much indefatigable exercise. 



4i TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

So little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom- 
House to the delicate harvest of fancy and sensibility, 
that, had I remained there through ten Presidencies 
yet to come, I doubt whether the tale of " The Scarlet 
Letter" would ever have been brought before the 
public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. 
It would not reflect, or only with miserable dimness, 
the figures with which I did my best to people it. 
The characters of the narrative would not be warmed 
and rendered malleable by any heat that I could kin- 
dle at my intellectual forge. They would take neither 
the glow of passion nor the tenderness of sentiment, 
but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses, and 
stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of 
contemptuous defiance. " What have you to do with 
us ? " that expression seemed to say. " The little 
power you might once have possessed over the tribe 
of unrealities is gone! You have bartered it for a 
pittance of the public gold. Go, then, and earn your 
wages ! " In short, the almost torpid creatures of my 
own fancy twitted me with imbecifity, and not 
without fair occasion. 

It was not merely during the three hours and a half 
which Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily life, 
that this wretched numbness held possession of me. 
It went with me on my sea-shore walks, and rambles 
into the country, whenever — which was seldom and 
reluctantly — I bestirred myself to seek that invigorat- 
ing charm of JS^ature, which used to give me such fresh* 



I 



THE atidRLET LETTER. 45 

ness and activity of thought, the moment that I stepped 
across the threshold of the Old Manse. The same tor- 
por, as regarded the capacity for intellectual effort, ac- 
companied me home, and weighed upon me in the 
chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. 
Nor did it quit me, when, late at night, I sat 
in the deserted parlor, lighted only by the glim- 
mering coal-fire and the moon, striving to picture 
forth imaginary scenes, which, the next day, might 
flow out on the brightening page in many-hued 
description. 

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an 
hour^ it might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moon- 
light, in a familiar room, falling so "vvhite upon the 
carpet, and showing all its figures so distinctly — mak- 
ing 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 chairs, with each its 
separate individuality ; the center table, sustaining a 
work-basket, a volume or two, and an extinguished 
lamp ; the sofa ; the book-case ; the picture on the 
Wall ; all these details, so completely seen, are so spirit- 
ualized by the unusual light that they seem to lose their 
actual substance, and become things of intellect. 
Nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo this 
change, and acquire dignity thereby. A child's shoe ; 
the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage ; the 



46 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

hobby-horse; whatever, in a word, has been used or 
played with, during the day, is now invested with a 
quality of strangeness and remoteness, though still 
almost as vividly present as by daylight. Thus, there- 
fore, the floor of our familiar room has become a neu- 
tral territory, somewhere between the real world and 
fairy land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may 
meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of 
the other. Ghosts might enter here, without affright- 
ing us. It would be too much in keeping with the 
scene to excite surprise, were we to look about us 
and discover a form, beloved, but gone hence, now 
sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine, 
with an aspect that would make us doubt whether it 
had returned from afar, or had never once stirred 
from our fireside. 

The somewhat dim coal fire has an essential influ- 
ence in producing the effect which I would describe. 
It throws its unobtrusive tinge throughout the room, 
with a faint ruddiness upon the walls and ceiling, and 
a reflected gleam from the polish of the furniture. 
This warmer light mingles itself with the cold spirit- 
uality of the moonbeams, and communicates, as it 
were, a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to 
the forms which fancy summons up. It converts them 
from snow images into men and women. Glancmg at 
the looking-glass, we behold — deep within its haunted 
verge — the smoldering glow of the half extinguished 
anthracite, the white moonbeams on the floor, and a 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 47 

repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture, 
with one remove further from the actual, and nearer 
to the imaginative. Then, at such an hour, and with 
this scene before him, if a man, sitting all alone, 
cannot dream strange things, and make them look like 
truth, he need never try to write romances. 

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

It is my belief, however, that, had I attempted a 
different order of composition, my faculties would not 
have been found so pointless and inefficacious. I 
might, for instance, have contented myself with writ- 
ing out the narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one of 
the Inspectors, whom 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 marvellous 
gifts as a story teller. Could I have preserved the 
picturesque force of his style, and the humorous color- 
ing which nature taught him how to throw over 
his descriptions, the result, I honestly believe, would 
have been something new in literature. Or I might 
readily have found a more serious task. It was a folly, 
with the materiahty of this daily life pressing so 



48 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back 
into another age ; or to insist on creating the sem- 
blance of a world out of airy matter, when, at every 
moment, the 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 spiritualize the burden that began to 
weigh so heavily ; to seek, resolutely, the true and 
indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and 
wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters, with 
which I was now conversant. The fault was mine. 
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 of the reality 
of the flitting hour, and vanishing as fast as written, 
only because my brain wanted the insight and my 
hand the cunning to transcribe it. At some future 
day, it may be, I shall remember a few scattered 
fragments and broken paragraphs, and write them 
down, and find the letters turn to gold upon the page. 
These perceptions have come too late. At the 
instant, I was only conscious that what would have 
been a pleasure once was now a hopeless toil. There 
was no occasion to make much moan about this 
state of affairs. I had ceased to be a writer of 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 49 

tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a 
tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was 
all. But, nevertheless, it is anything but agreeable 
to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect is 
dwindling away ; or exhaling, without your con- 
sciousness, like ether out of a phial ; so that, at every 
glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum. 
Of the fact, there could be no doubt ; and, examining 
myself and others, I was led to conclusions, in ref- 
erence to the effect of public office on the character 
not very favorable to the mode of life in question. In 
some other form, perhaps I may hereafter develop 
these effects. Suffice it here to say, that a Custom- 
House officer, of long continuance, can hardly be a 
very praiseworthy or respectable personage, for many 
reasons ; one of them, the tenure by which he holds 
his situation, and another, the very nature of his 
business, which — though, I trust, an honest one — is of 
such a sort that he does not share in the united effort 
of mankind. 

An effect — which I believe to be observable, more or 
less, in every individual who has occupied the position 
is, that, while he leans on the mighty arm of the 
Republic, his own proper strength departs from him. 
He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or 
force of his original nature, the capability of self 
support. If he possess an unusual share of native 
energy, or the enervating magic of place do not 
operate too long upon him, his forfeited powers may 



60 TUB SCARLET LSTTER. 

be redeemable. The ejected officer — fortunate in the 
unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to 
struggle amid a struggling world — may return to 
himself, and become all that he has ever been. But 
this seldom happens. He usually keeps his ground 
just long enough for his own ruin, and is then thrust 
out, with sinews all unstrung, to totter along the 
difficult footpath of life as he best may. Conscious of 
his own infirmity, that his tempered steel and elasticity 
are lost, he forever afterward looks wistfully about 
him in quest of support external to himself. His 
pervading and continual hope — a hallucination, which, 
in the face of all discouragement, and making light of 
impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, I fancy, 
like the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments 
him for a brief space after death — is, that finally, and 
in no long time, by some happy coincidence of cir- 
cumstances, he shall be restored to office. This faith, 
more than anything else, steals the pith and availa- 
bility out of whatever enterprise he may dream of 
undertaking. Why should he toil and moil, and be at 
so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, 
when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his 
Uncle will raise and support him ? Why should he 
work for his living here, or go to dig gold in Califor- 
nia, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly 
intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his 
Uncle's pocket ? It is sadly curious to observe how slight 
a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 51 

this singular disease. Uncle Sam's gold — meaning no 
disrespect to the worthy old gentleman — has, in this 
respect, a 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 him, involving, if not his soul, yet many of its 
better attributes ; its sturdy force, its courage and 
constancy, its truth, its self-reMance, 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 himself, 
or admitted that he could be so utterly undone, either 
by continuance in office, or ejectment. Yet my re- 
flections were not the most confortable. I began to 
grow melancholy and restless ; continually prying 
into my mind, to discover which of its poor properties 
were gone, and what degree of detriment had already 
accrued to the remainder. I endeavored to calculate 
how much longer I could stay in the Custom-House, 
and yet go forth a man. To confess the truth, it was 
my greatest apprehension — as it would never be a 
measure of policy to turn out so quiet an individual 
as myself, and it being hardly in the nature of a 
public officer to resign — it was my chief trouble, there- 
fore, that I was likely to grow gray and decrepit in 
the Surveyorship, and become much such another ani- 
mal as the old Inspector. Might it not, in the tedious 
lapse of official life that lay before me, finally be with 
me as it was with this venerable friend — to make the 



52 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

dinner-hour the nucleus of the day, and to spend the 
rest of it, as an old dog spends i"t, asleep in the sun- 
shine or in the shade? A dreary look-forward this, 
for a man who felt it to be the best definition of happi- 
ness to live throughout the whole range of his faculties 
and sensibilities ! But, all this while, I was giving my- 
self very unnecessary alarm. Providence had medi- 
tated better things for me than I could possibly imagine 
for myself. 

A remarkable event of the third year of my Survey- 
orship — to adopt the tone of " P. P." — was the election 
of General Tajdor to the Presidency. It is essential, 
in order to a complete estimate of the advantages of 
official life, to view the incumbent at the in-coming of 
a hostile administration. His position is then one of 
the most singularly irksome, and, in ever}'^ contingency, 
disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can possibly 
occupy ; with seldom an alternative of good, on either 
hand, although what presents itself to him as the 
worst event may very probably be the best. But 
it is a strange experience, to a man of pride and sen- 
sibility, to know that his interests are within the con- 
trol of individuals who neither love nor understand 
him, and by whom, since one or the other must needs 
happen, he would rather be injured than obliged. 
Strange, too, for one who has kept his calmness 
throughout the contest, to observe the bloodthirstiness 
that is developed in the hour of triumph, and to be 
conscious that he is himself among its objects ! There 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 53 

are few uglier traits of human nature than this ten- 
dency — which I now witnessed in men no worse than 
their neighbors — to grow cruel, merely because they 
possessed the power of inflicting harm. If the guil- 
lotine, as applied to the oflBce-holders, were a literal 
fact, instead of one of the most apt of metaphors, it is 
my sincere belief that the active members of the vic- 
torious party were sufficiently excited to have chopped 
off all our heads, and have thanked Heaven for the 
opportunity ! It appears to me — who have been a 
calm and curious observer, as well in victory as defeat 
— that this fierce and bitter spirit of malice and revenge 
has never distinguished the many triumphs of my own 
party as it now did that of the Whigs. The Demo- 
crats take the offices, as a general rule, because they 
need them, and because the practice of many years 
has made it the law of political warfare, which, unless 
a different system be proclaimed, it were weakness 
and cowardice to murmur at. But the long habit of 
victory has made them generous. They know how to 
spare, when they see occasion ; and when they strike, 
the ax may be sharp, indeed, but its edge is sel- 
dom poisoned with ill-will ; nor is it their custom 
ignominiously to kick the head which they have just 
struck off. 

In short, unpleasant as was my predicament, at best, 
I saw much reason to congratulate myself that I was 
on the losing side, rather than the triumphant one. 
If, heretofore, I had been none of the warmest of 



54 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

partisans, I began now, at this season of peril and 
adversity, to be pretty acutely sensible with which 
party my predilections lay; nor was it without 
something like regret and shame, that, according to 
a reasonable calculation of chances, I saw my own 
prospect of retaining office to be better than those of my 
Democratic brethren. But who can see an inch into 
futurity, beyond his nose? My own head was the 
first that fell ! 

The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom 
or never, I am inclined to think, precisely the most 
agreeable of his life. Nevertheless, like the greater 
part of our misfortunes, even so serious a contingency 
brings its remedy and consolati Jn with it, if the suf- 
ferer will but make the best, rather than the worst, 
of the accident which has befallen him. In ray par- 
ticular case, the consolatory topics were close at hand, 
and, indeed, had suggested themselves to ray medita- 
tions a considerable time before it was requisite to 
use them. In view of my previous weariness of office, 
and vague thoughts of resignation, my fortune some- 
what resembled that of a person who should entertain 
an idea of committing suicide, and, although beyond 
his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered. 
In the Custom-House, as before in the Old Manse, I 
had spent three years ; a term long enough to rest a 
weary brain ; long enough to break off old intellect- 
ual habits, and make room for new ones ; long enough, 
and too long, to have lived in an unnatural state, 



rSE SCARLET LETTER. 65 

doing what was really of no advantage nor delight 
to any human being, and withholding myself from 
toil that would, at least, have stilled an unquiet im- 
pulse in me. Then, moreover, as regarded his uncere- 
monious ejectment, the late Surveyor w^as not alto- 
gether ill-pleased to be recognized by the Whigs as an 
enemy ; since his inactivity in political affairs — his 
tendency to roam, at will, in that broad and quiet field 
where all mankind may meet, rather than confine him- 
self to those narrow paths where brethren of the same 
household must diverge from one another — had some- 
times made it questionable with his brother Demo- 
crats whether he was a friend. Now, after he had 
won the crown of martyrdom (though w^th no longer 
a head to Avear it on), the point might be looked upon 
as settled. Finally, little heroic as he was, it seemed 
more decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of 
the party with which he had been content to stand, 
than to remain a forlorn survivor, when so many 
worthier men were falling; and, at last, after sub- 
sisting for four years on the mercy of a hostile admin- 
istration, to be compelled then to define his position 
anew, and claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a 
friendly one. 

Meanwhile the press had taken up my affair, and 
kept me, for a week or two, careering through the 
public prints, in my decapitated state, like Irving's 
Headless Horseman ; ghastl}' and grim, and longing 
to be buried, as a politically dead man ought. So 



56 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

much for my figurative self. The real human being, 
all this time, with his head safely on his shoulders, 
had brought himself to the confortable conclusion 
that everj^thing was for the best ; and, making an 
investment in ink, paper and steel pens, had opened 
his long-disused writing-desk, and was again a literary 
man. 

Now it was that the lucubrations of my ancient pred- 
ecessor, Mr. Surveyor Pue, came into play. Rusty 
through long idleness, some little space was requisite 
before my intellectual machinery could be brought to 
work upon the tale with an effect in any degree satis- 
factory. Even yet, though my thoughts were ultimately 
much absorbed in the task, it wears, to my eye, astern 
and somber aspect ; too much ungladdened by genial 
sunshine ; too little relieved by the tender and familiar 
influences which soften almost ever}^ scene of nature and 
real life, and, undoubted!}^, should soften every picture 
of them. This uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to 
the period of hardly accomplished revolution, and still 
seething turmoil, in which the story shaped itself. It 
is no indication, however, of a lack of cheerfulness in 
the writer's mind ; for he was happier, while straying 
through the gloom of these sunless fantasies, than at 
any time since he had quitted the Old Manse. Some 
of the briefer articles, which contribute to make up the 
volume, have likewise been written since my involun- 
tary withdrawal from the toils and honors of public life, 
and the remainder are gleaned from annuals and maga- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 57 

zines, of such antique date that they have gone round 
the circle, and come back to novelty again.* Keeping 
up the metaphor of the political guillotine, the whole 
may be considered as the Posthumous Papers of a 
Decapitated Surveyor ; and the sketch which I am 
now bringing to a close, if 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 be- 
hind me. The old Inspector — who, by the way, I regret 
to say, was overthrown and killed by a horse, some time 
ago ; else he would certainly have lived forever — he, 
and all those other venerable personages who sat with 
him at the receipt of custom, are but shadows in my 
view ; white-headed and wrinkled images, which my 
fancy used to sport with, and has now flung aside for- 
ever. The merchants — Pingree, Phillips, Shepard, Up- 
ton, Kimball, Bertram, Hunt — these, and many other 
names, which had such a classic familiarity for my ear 
six months ago — these men of traJBfic, who seemed to 
occupy so important a position in the world — how little 
time has it required to disconnect me from them all, not 
merely in act, but recollection ! It is with an effort that 
I recall the figures and appellations of these few. 

* At the time of writing tliis article the author intended to pub- 
lish, along with " The Scarlet Letter," several shorter tales and 
sketches. These it has been thought advisable to defer. 



58 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

It may be, however — O, transporting and triumph- 
ant thought! — that the great-grandchildren of the 
present race may sometimes think kindly of the scrib- 
bler of bygone days, when the antiquary of days to 
come, among the sites memorable in the town's histony. 
shall point out the locality of The Town Pump I 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



I. 

THE PRISON-DOOE. 

A THRONG of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, 
and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with 
women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, 
was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of 
which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded 
with iron spikes. 

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of 
human virtue and happiness they might originally 
project, have invariably recognized it among their 
earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the 
virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the 
site of a prison. In accordance with this rule, it may 
safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had 
built the first prison-house somewhere in the vicinity 
of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out 
the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and 
^ound about his grave, which subsequently became 
the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the 
old church-yard of King's Chapel. Certain it is, that, 
some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of 
the town, the wooden jail was already marked with 



60 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 N'ew World. Like all that pertains to 
crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. 
Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the 
wheel-track of the street, Avas a grass-plot, much over- 
grown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-peru, and such 
unsightly vegetation, which evidently found some- 
thing congenial in the soil that had so early borne the 
black flower of civilized society, a prison. But, on one 
side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, 
was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, 
with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to 
offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the 
prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned crim- 
inal as he came forth to his doom, in token that 
the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind 
to him. 

~- This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept 
alive in history ; but whether it had merely survived 
out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall 
of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally over- 
shadowed it — or whether, as there is fair authority 
for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of 
the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the 
prison-door — we shall not take upon us to determine. 
Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 61 

which is now about to issue from that inauspicious 
portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck 
one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It 
may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral 
blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve 
the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and 
sorrow. 



n. 

THE MAEKET-PLACE. 

The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison-lane, on a 
certain summer morning, not less than two centuries 
ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the 
inhabitants of Boston ; all with their eyes intently fas- 
tened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Among any 
other population, or at a later period in the history 
of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the 
bearded physiognomies of these good people would 
have augured some awful business in hand. It could 
have betokened nothing short of the anticipated exe- 
cution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of 
a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of pub- 
lic sentiment. But, in that early severity of the 
Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not 
so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish 
bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents 
had given over to the civil authority, was to be cor- 



62 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

rected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an An- 
tinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, 
was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and 
vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had 
made riotous about the streets, was to be driven 
with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might 
be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the 
bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die 
upon the gallows. In either case, there was very 
much the same solemnity of demeanor on the part 
of the spectators ; as befitted a people among whom 
religion and law were almost identical, and in whose 
character both were so thoroughly interfused, that 
the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline 
were alike made venerable and awful. Meager, indeed, 
and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor 
might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold. 
On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, 
would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, 
might then be invested with almost as stern a diginity 
as the punishment of death itself. 

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer 
morning when our story begins its course, that the 
women, of whom there w^ere several in the crowd, 
appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal 
infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had 
not so much, refinement, that any sense of impropriety 
restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale 
from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging 



THE 8UARLET LETTER. 63 

their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into 
the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. 
Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fiber 
in those wives and maidens of old English birth and 
breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from 
them by a series of six or seven generations ; for, 
throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive 
mother has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a 
more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter phy- 
sical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, 
than her own. The women who were now standing 
about the prison-door stood within less than half a 
century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had 
been the not altogether unsuitable representative of 
the sex. They were her countrywomen ; and the beef 
and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a 
whit more refined, entered largely into their composi- 
tion. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on 
broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on 
round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far- 
off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner 
in the atmosphere of New England. There was, 
moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among 
these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that 
would startle us at the present day, whether in respect 
to its purport or its volume of tone. 

"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, 
" I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly 
for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature 



64 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 another, "that the Eeverend 
Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very 
grievously to heart that such a scandal should have 
come upon his congregation." 

" The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but 
merciful overmuch, that is a truth," added a third 
autumnal matron, "At the very least, they should 
have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's 
forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, 
I warrant me. But she, the naughty baggage, little 
will she care what they put upon the bodice of her 
gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a 
brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk 
the streets as brave as ever ! " 

" Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, 
holding a child by the hand, " let her cover the mark 
as she will, the pang of it will be always in her 
heart." 

" What do we talk of marks and brands, whether 
on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her fore- 
head ? " cried another female, the ugliest as well as the 
most pitiless of these self -constituted judges. "This 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 65 

woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to 
die. Is there not law for it ? Truly there is, both in 
the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the 
magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank 
themselves if their own wives and daughters go 
astray !" 

" Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the 
crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what 
springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows ? That 
is the hardest word yet ! 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 appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow 
emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence 
of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his 
staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured 
and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity 
of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business 
to administer in its final and closest application to the 
offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left 
hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young 
woman, whom he thus drew forward ; until, on the 
threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an 
action marked with natural dignity and force of char- 
acter, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own 
free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of 
some three months old, who winked and turned aside 
its little face from the too vivid light of day ; because 



66 TEE SCARLET LETTEIt. 

its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted 
only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other 
darksome apartment of the prison. 

When the young woman — the mother of this child 
• — stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to 
be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her 
bosom ; not so much by an impulse of motherly affec- 
tion, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, 
which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a 
moment, however, wisely judging that one token of 
her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she 
took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, 
and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be 
abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neigh- 
bors. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, 
surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic 
flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It 
was so artistically done, and with so much fertility 
and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the 
effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel 
which she wore ; and which was of a splendor in ac- 
cordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond 
what was allowed b}'' the sumptuary regulations of 
the colony. 

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect 
elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant 
hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a 
gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from 
regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 67 

the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and 
deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too, after the man- 
ner of the feminine gentility of those days ; character- 
ized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the 
delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace which is 
now recognized as its indication. And never had Hes- 
ter Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique in- 
terpretation of the term, than as she issued from the 
prison. Those who had before known her and had 
expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a 
disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to 
perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo 
of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was 
enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensitive ob- 
server, there was something exquisitely painful in it. 
Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the 
occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her 
own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, 
the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and 
picturesque peculiarit}''. But the point which drew all 
eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer — so that 
both men and women, who had been familiarly 
acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed 
as if they beheld her for the first time — was that 
Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and 
illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a 
spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with 
humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself. 
" She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," 



68 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

remarked one of her female spectators ; " but did ever 
a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way 
of showing it ! "Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh 
in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride 
out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a pun- 
ishment?" 

" It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the 
oM dames, " if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown 
off lier 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 !" 

"O, peace, neighbors, 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 way, in the King's 
name !" cried he. " Open a passage, and, I promise ye, 
Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman and 
child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from 
this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on 
the righteous colony of the Massachusetts, where 
iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine ! Come 
along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in 
the market-place !" 

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of 
spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by 
an irregular procession of stern-browed men and un- 
kindly -visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth toward 



THE SC ABLET LETTER. 69 

the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of 
eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of 
the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half- 
holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads 
continually to stare into her face, and at the winking 
baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on 
her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, 
from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured 
by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be 
reckoned a journey of some length, for, haughty as 
her demeanor was, she perchance underwent an agony 
from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, 
as if her heart had been flung into the street for them 
all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, how- 
ever, there is a provision, alike marvelous and mer- 
ciful, that the sufferer should never know the in- 
tensity of what he endures by its present torture, 
but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With 
almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne 
passed through this portion of her ordeal, and came to 
a sort of scaffold at the western extremity of the 
market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of 
Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture 
there. 

In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal 
machine, which now, for two or three generations past, 
has been merely historical and traditionary among us, 
but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an 
agent, in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever 



70 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

was the guillotine among the terrorists of France. It 
was, in short, the platform of the pillory ; and above 
it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, 
so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight 
grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The 
very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made 
manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There 
can be no outrage, methinks, against our common 
nature — whatever be the delinquencies of the individ- 
ual — no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the 
culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the 
essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's 
instance, however, as not unfrequently in other cases, 
her sentence bore, that she should stand a certain time 
upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe 
about the neck and confinement of the head, the 
proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic 
of this ugly engine. Knowing well her part, she 
ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus 
displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the 
height of a man's shoulders above the street. 

Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puri- 
tans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so 
picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant 
at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image 
of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious paint- 
ters have vied with one another to represent ; some- 
thing which should remind him, indeed, but onl}'- by 
contrast, of that sacred image of sinless motherhoocl 



THE SCARLET LETTER. "J-l 

whose infant was to redeem the world. Here, there 
was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality 
of human life, working such effect, that the vrorld was 
only the darker for this woman's beauty, and the 
more lost for the infant that she had borne. 
* The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such 
as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame 
in a fellow-creature, before societ}'' shall have grown 
corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering, at it. 
The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet 
passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern 
enough to look upon her death, had that been the 
sentence, without a murmur at its severity, but had 
none of the heartlessness of another social state, which 
would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like 
the present. Even had there been a disposition to 
turn the matter into ridicule, it must have been re- 
pressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of 
men no less dignified than the Governor, and several 
of his counsellors, a judge, a general, and the ministers 
of the town ; all of whom sat or stood in a balcony 
of the meeting-house, looking down upon the platform. 
"When such personages could constitute a part of the 
spectacle, without risking the majesty or reverence 
of rank and office, it was safely to be inferred that 
the infliction of a legal sentence would have an 
earnest and effectual meaning. Accordingly, the 
crowd was somber and grave. The unhappy culprit 
sustained herself as best a woman might, under the 



72 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fas. 
tened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom. It 
was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive 
and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to 
encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public 
contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult ; 
but there was a quality so much more terrible in the 
solemn mood of the popular mind, that she longed 
rather to behold all those rigid countenances contorted 
with scornful merriment, and herself the object. Had 
a roar of laughter burst from the multitude — each 
man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, con- 
tributing their individual parts — Hester Prynno 
might have repaid them all with a bitter and 
disdainful smile. But, under the leaden infliction 
which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at 
moments, as if she must needs shriek out with 
the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the 
scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at 
once. 

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in 
which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to 
vanish from her eyes, or, at least, glimmered indistinct 
ly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and 
spectral images. Her mind, and especially her mem- 
ory, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up 
other scenes than this roughl3^-hewn street of a little 
town, on the edge of the Western wilderness ; other 
faces than Avere lowering upon her from beneath the 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 73 

brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Eeminiscences, 
the most trifling and immaterial, passages of infancy 
and school-days, sports, childish quarrels, and the little 
domestic traits of her maiden years, came swarming 
back upon her, intermingled with recollections of 
whatever was gravest in her subsequent life ; one 
picture precisely as vivid as another ; as if all were 
of similar importance, or all alike a play. Possibly, 
it was an instinctive device of her spirit, to 
relieve itself, by the exhibition of these phantasma- 
goric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of 
the reality. 

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was 
a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the 
entire track along which she had been treading, 
since her happy infancy. Standing on that miserable 
eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old 
England, and her paternal home ; a decayed house of 
gray stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retain- 
ing a half-obliterated shield of arms over the portal, 
in token of antique gentility. She saw her father's 
face, with its bald brow, and reverend white beard, 
that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff ; 
her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious 
love which it always wore in her remembrance, and 
which, even since her death, had so often laid the im- 
pediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter's 
pathway. She saw her own face, glowing with girl- 
ish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the 



74 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it. 
There she beheld another countenance, of a man well 
stricken in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, 
with eyes dim and bleared by the lamp-light that had 
served them to pore over many ponderous books. Yet 
those same bleared optics had a strange, penetrating 
power, when it was their owner's purpose to read the 
human soul. This figure of the study and the cloister, 
as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, 
was shghtly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle 
higher than the right, Next rose before her, in mem- 
ory's picture-gallery, the intricate and narrow 
thoroughfares, the tall gra}' houses, the huge cathe- 
drals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and quaint 
in architecture, of a Continental city ; where a new 
life had awaited her, still in connection with the misshap- 
pen scholar ; anew life, but feeding itself on time-worn 
materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling 
wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, came 
back the rude market-place of the Puritan settle- 
ment, with all the townspeople assembled and 
leveling their stern regards at Hester Prynne — 
yes, at herself — who stood on the scaffold of the 
pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in 
scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, 
upon her bosom. 

Could it be true ? She clutched the child so fiercely 
to her breast that it sent forth a cry ; she turned her 
eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched 



THE SCARLET LETTER. yS 

it with her JBnger, to assure herself that the infant and 
the shame were real. Yes ! these were her realities, 
all else had vanished ! 



III. 

THE EECOGNrriON. 

From this intense consciousness of being the object 
of severe and universal observation, the wearer of the 
scarlet letter was at length relieved, by discerning, on 
the outskirts of the crowd, a figure which irresistibly 
took 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 settle- 
ments, that one of them would have attracted any 
notice from Hester Prynne, at such a time ; much less 
would he have excluded all other objects and ideas 
from her mind. By the Indian's side, and evidently 
sustaining a companionship with him, stood a white 
man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage 
costume. 

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, 
which, as yet, could hardly be termed aged. There 
was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a 
person who had so cultivated his mental part that it 
could not fail to mold the physical to itself, and 
become manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, 
by a seemingly careless arrangement of his hetero- 
geneous garb, he had endeavored to conceal or abate 



76 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the peculiarity, it was sufl&ciently evident to Hester 
Prynne, that one of this man's slioulders rose higher 
than the other. Again, at the first instant of perceiv- 
ing that thin visage, and the slight deformity of the 
figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom, with so 
convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another 
cry of pain. But the mother did not seem to hear it. 

At his arrival in the market-place, and some time 
before she saw him, the stranger had bent his eyes on 
Hester Prynne. It was carelessly, at first, like a man 
chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom exter- 
nal matters are of little value and import, unless they 
bear relation to something within his mind. Very 
soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative. 
A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, 
like a snake gliding-swiftly over them, and making one 
little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open 
sight. His face darkened with some powerful emotion 
which, nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled 
by an effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, 
its expression might have passed for calmness. After 
a brief space, the convulsion grew almost impercepti- 
ble, and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. 
When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened 
on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize 
him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a 
gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips. 

Then, touching the shoulder of a townsman who 
stood next to him, he addressed him in a formal and 
courteous manner. 



A 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 77 

"I pray you, good sir," said he, " who is this wo- 
man ? — and wherefore is she here set up to public 
shame ? " 

"You must needs be a strano;er in this reo-ion, 
friend," answered the townsman, looking curiously at 
the questioner and his savage companion, " else 3'ou 
would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne, 
and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scan- 
dal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's 
church." 

" You say truly," replied the other. " I am a 
stranger, and have been a wanderer, sorely against 
my will. 1 have met wath grevious mishaps by sea 
and land, and have been long held in bonds among the 
heathen-folk, to the southward ; and am now brought 
hither by this Indian, to be redeemed out of my cap- 
tivity. Will it please you, therefore, to tell me of 
Hester Prynne's — have I her name rightly ? — of this 
woman's offences, and what has brought her to yonder 
scaffold ?" 

" Truly, friend ; and methinks it must gladden ^^our 
heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilder- 
ness," 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 
Kew England. Yonder woman, sir, you must know, 
was the wife of a certain learned man, English by 
birth, but wiio had long dwelt in Amsterdam, whence, 
some good time agone, he was minded to cross over 



78 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 w^oman 
lias 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 mis- 
guidance " 

"■Ah! — aha! — I conceive you," said the stranger, 
w4th a bitter smile. " So learned a man as you speak 
of should have learned this too in his books. And 
who, by your favor, sir, may be the father of yon- 
der babe — it is some three or four months old, I 
stiould judge — which Mistress Prynne is holding in 
her arms?" 

" Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a rid- 
dle; and the Daniel who shall expound it is yet 
a-wanting," answered the townsman. " Madam Hester 
absolutely refuseth to speak, and the magistrates have 
laid their heads together in vain. Peradventure the 
guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacle, 
unknown of man and forgetting that God sees him." 

"The learned man," observed the stranger, w4th 
another smile, " should come himself, to look into the 
mystery." 

" It behooves him well, if he be still in life," res- 
ponded the townsman. " Now, good sir, our Massa- 
chusetts magistracy, bethinking themselves that this 
woman is youthful and fair, and doubtless was strongly 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 79 

tempted to her fall ; and that, moreover, as is most 
likely, her husband may be at the bottom of the sea ; 
they have not been bold to put in force the extremity 
of our righteous law against her. The penalty thereof 
is death. But in their great mercy and tenderness of 
heart, they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand 
only a space of three hours on the platform of the 
pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of 
her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her 
bosom." 

" A wise sentence ! " remarked the stranger, gravely 
bowing his head. " Thus she will be a living sermon 
against sin, until the ignomonious letter be engraved 
upon her tomb-stone. It irks me, nevertheless, that 
the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand 
on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known ! — 
he will be known ! — he will be known ! " 

He bowed courteously to the communicative towns- 
man, and, whispering a few words to his Indian attend- 
ant, they both made their way through the crowd. 

While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing 
on her pedestal, still with a fixed gaze toward the 
stranger ; so fixed a gaze, that, at moments of intense 
absorption, all other objects in the visible world seemed 
to vanish, leaving only him and her. Such an inter- 
view, perhaps, would have been more terrible than 
even to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day 
sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its 
shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her 



80 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

breast ; with the sin-born infant in her arms : with a 
whole people, drawn forth as to a festival, staring at 
the features that should have been seen only in the 
quiet gleam of the fireside, in the happy shadow of a 
home, or beneath a matronly veil, at church. Dread- 
ful as it was, she ^vas conscious of a shelter in the 
presence of these thousand witnesses. It was better 
to stand thus, with so many between him and her, than 
to greet him, face to face, they two alone. She fled 
for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and 
dreaded the moment when its protection should be 
withdrawn from her. Involved in these thoughts, she 
scarcely heard a voice behind her, until it had repeated 
her name more than once, in a loud and solemn tone, 
audible to the whole multitude. 

" Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne," said the voice. 

It has already been noticed that directly over the 
platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of 
bilcony, or open gallery, appended to the meeting- 
house. It was the place whence proclamations were 
wont to be made, amid an assemblage of the magis- 
tracy, with all the ceremonial that attended such 
public observances in those days. Here, to witness 
the scene which we are describing, sat Governor 
Bellinghara himself, with four sergeants about his 
chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of honor. He 
wore a dark feather in his hat, a border of embroidery 
on his cloak and a black velvet tunic beneath ; a 
gentleman advanced in years, with a hard experience 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 81 

written in his wrinkles. He was not ill fitted to be 
the head and representative of a community which 
owed its origin and progress and its present state of 
development, not to the impulses of youth, but to the 
stern and tempered energies of manhood, and the 
somber sagacity of age ; accomplishing so much pre- 
cisely because it imagined and hoped so little. The 
other eminent characters, by whom the chief ruler was 
surrounded, were distinguished by a dignity of mien 
belonging to a period when the forms of authority 
were felt to possess the sacredness of divine institu- 
tions. They were, doubtless, good men, just and sage. 
But, out of the whole human family, it would not have 
been easy to select the same number of wise and vir- 
tuous persons who should be less capable of sitting in 
judgment on an erring woman's heart, and disentan- 
gling its mesh of good and evil, than the sages of rigid 
aspect toward whom Hester Prynne now turned her 
face. She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever 
sympathy she might expect lay in the larger and 
warmer heart of the multitude ; for, as she lifted her 
eyes toward the balcony, the unhappy woman grew 
pale and trembled. 

The voice which had called her attention was that 
of the reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest 
clergyman of Boston, a great scholar, hke most of his 
contemporaries in the profession, and withal a man of 
kind and genial spirit. This last attribute, however, 
had been less carefully developed than his intellectual 



82 TME SCARLET LETTER. 

gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of shame than 
self-congratulation with him. There he stood, with a 
border of grizzled locks beneath his skull cap, while 
his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his 
study, were winking, like those of Hester's infant, in 
the unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly 
engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old 
volumes of sermons, and had no more right than one 
of those portraits would have to step forth, as he now 
did, and meddle with a question of human guilt, 
passion and anguish. 

" Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, " I have 
striven with my young brother here, under whose 
preaching of the word you have been privileged to 
sit " — here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder 
of a pale young man beside him — " I have sought, I 
say, to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal 
with you, here in the face of Heaven, and before these 
wise and upright rulers, and in hearing of all the people, 
as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin. 
Knowing your natural temper better than I, he could 
the better judge what arguments to use, whether of 
tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your 
hardness and obstinacy ; insomuch that you should no 
longer hide the name of him who tempted you to this 
grievous fall. But he opposes to me (with a young 
man's over-softness, albeit wise beyond his years) that 
it were wronging the very nature of woman to force 
her to lay open her heart's secrets in such broad day- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 83 

light, and in presence of so great a multitude. Truly, 
as I sought to convince him, the shame lay in the 
commission of the sin, and not in the showing of it 
forth. What say you to it, once again. Brother 
Dimmesdale ? Must it be thou, or I, that shall deal 
with this poor sinner's soul ?" 

There was a murmur among the dignified and rever- 
end occupants of the balcony, and Governor Belling- 
ham gave expression to its purport, speaking in an 
authoritative voice, although tempered with respect 
toward the youthful clergyman whom he addressed. 

" Good Master Dimmesdale," said he, " the respon- 
sibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you. It 
behooves 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 ; a 
young clergyman, who had come from one of the 
great English universities, bringing all the learning of 
the age into our wild forest-land. His eloquence and 
religious fervor had already given the earnest of high 
eminence in his profession. He was a person of very 
striking aspect, with a white, lofty and impending 
brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth 
which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt 
to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility 
and a vast power of self-restraint. Notwithstanding 
his high native gifts and scholar-like attainments, 
there was an air about this young minister — an appre^ 



84 TEE SCA EL ET L ETTER. 

hensive, a startled, a lialf-friglitened look — as of a 
being who felt himself quite astray and at a loss in 
the pathway of human existence, and could only be at 
ease in some seclusion of his own. Therefore, so far 
as his duties would permit, he trod in the shadowy by- 
paths, and thus kept himself simple and childlike; 
coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, 
and fragrance, and dewy purit}?" of thought, which, as 
many people said, affected them like the speech of an 
angel. 

Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. 
Wilson and the Governor had introduced so openly to 
the public notice, bidding him speak, in the hearing 
of all men, to that mystery of a woman's soul, so 
sacred even in its pollution. The tr^nng nature of his 
position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his 
lips tremulous. 

"Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wil- 
son. " It is of moment to her soul and therefore, as 
the worshipful Governor says, momentous to thine 
own, in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess 
the truth ! " 

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head 
in silent pra3^er, as it seemed, and then came for- 
ward. 

" Hester Prynne," said he, leaning over the bal- 
cony, and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, 
" thou hearest what this good man says, and seest 
the accountability under which I labor. If thou feel 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 85 

est 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 sweet, 
rich, deep and broken. The feeling that it so evi- 
dently manifested, rather than the direct purport of 
the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and 
brought the listeners into one accord of S3mipathy. 
Even the poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected 
by the same influence ; for it directed its hitherto va- 
cant gaze toward Mr, Dimmesdale, and held up its 
little arms, with a half pleased, half plaintive 
murmur. So powerful seemed the minister's appeal, 
that the people could not believe but that Hester 
Prynne would speak out the guilty name; or 



8G THE SCARLET LETTER. 

else that the guilty one himself in whatever high or 
lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by an in- 
ward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend 
the scaffold. 

Hester shook her head. 

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

"JS'ever!" replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at 
Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and troubled eyes of 
the younger clergyman. " It is too deeply branded. 
Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure 
his agony, as well as mine ! " 

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

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

"She will not speak ! " murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, 
who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon 
his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He 
now drew back, with a long respiration. " Wondrous 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 87 

strength and generosity of a woman's heart ! She will 
not speak ! " 

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor cul- 
prit's mind, the elder clergyman, who had carefully 
^prepared himself for the occasion, addressed to the 
multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches, but 
with continual reference to the ignominious letter. 
So forcibly did he dwell upon the symbol, for the 
hour or more during which his periods were rolling 
over the people's heads, that it assumed new terrors 
in their imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet 
hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester 
Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal 
of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indif- 
ference. She had borne, that morning, all that nature 
could endure ; and as her temperament was not of the 
order that escapes from too intense sujffering by a 
swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a 
stonv crust of insensiblitv, while the faculties of ani- 
mal life remained entire. In this state, the voice of 
the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, 
upon her ears. The infant, during the latter portion 
of her ordeal, pierced the air with its wailings and 
screams ; she strove to hush it, mechanically, but 
seemed scarcely to sympathize with its trouble. "With 
the same hard demeanor, she was led back to prison, 
and vanished from the public gaze within its iron- 
clamped portal. It was whispered, by those who 
peered after her, that the scarlet letter threw a 



88 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the 
interior. 



IV. 

THE INTERVIEW. 

After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was 
found to be in a state of nervous excitement that 
demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should per- 
petrate violence on herself, or do so some half-frenzied 
mischief to the poor babe. As night approached, it 
proving impossible to quell her insubordination by 
rebuke or threats of punishment. Master Brackett, the 
jailer, thought it fit to introduce a physician. He 
described him as a man of skill in all Christian modes 
of physical science, and Ukewise familiar with what- 
ever the savage people could teach, in respect to medi- 
cinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say 
the truth, there was much need of professional assist- 
ance, not merely for Hester herself, but still more 
urgently for the child ; who, drawing its sustenance 
from the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in 
with it all the turmoil, the anguish and despair, which 
pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in 
convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type, in its 
little frame, of the moral agony which Hester Prynne 
had borne throughout the day. 

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apart- 
ment, appeared that individual, of singular aspect, 



I 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 89 

whose presence in tlie crowd had been of such deep 
interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was 
lodged in the prison, not as suspected of any offence, 
but as the most convenient and suitable mode of dis- 
posing of him, until the magistrates should have con- 
ferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ran- 
som. His name was announced as Ro^er Chilling- 
wofth. The jailer, after ushering him into the room, 
remained a moment, marveling at the comparative 
quiet that followed his entrance ; for Hester Pr3mne 
had immediately become as still as death, although 
the child continued to moan. 

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

"Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," an- 
swered Master Brackett, " I shall own you for a man 
of skill indeed ! Yerily, 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 charac- 
teristic quietude of the profession to which he an- 
nounced himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanor 
change, when the withdrawal of the prison-keeper left 
him face to face with the woman, whose absorbed 
notice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a 



90 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

relation between himself and her. His first care was 
given to the child ; whose cries, indeed, as she lay 
writhing on the trundle-bed, made it of peremptor}'^ 
necessity to postpone all other business to the task of 
soothing her. He examined the infant carefully, and 
then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he 
took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain 
medical preparations, one of which he mingled with a 
cup of water. 

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

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

" Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe ?" 
whispered she. 

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

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable 



THE SCARLET LETTER. '\ 91 

state of mind, he took the infant in his arms, and him- 
self administered the draught. It soon proved its effi- 
cacy, and redeemed the leech's pledge. The moans of 
the little patient subsided ; its convulsive tossings 
gradually ceased ; and, in a few moments, as is the 
custom of young children after relief from pain, it sank 
into a profound and dewy slumber. The physician, 
as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed his 
attention on the mother. "With calm and intent 
scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into hei' eyes — a gaze 
that made her heart shrink and shudder, because so 
familiar, and ^'^et so strange and cold — and, finally, 
satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle 
another draught. 

" I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he ; 
" but I have learned man}'' new secrets in the wilder- 
ness, and here is one of them — a recipe that an Indian 
taught me, in requital of some lessons of my own, 
that were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it ! It may be 
less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot 
give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of 
thy passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempest- 
uous sea." 

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

" I have thought of death," said she — " have wished 



93 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

for it — would even have prayed for it, were it fit 
that such as I should pray for anything. Yet, if 
death be in this cup, I bid thee think again, ere 
thou beholdest me quaff it. See ! It is even now at 
my lips." 

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

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester 
Prynne drained the cup, and at the motion of the 
man of skill, seated herself on the bed where the 
child was sleeping, while he drew the only chair Avhich, 
the room afforded, and took his own seat beside her. 
She could not but tremble at these preparations ; for 
she felt that — having now done all that humanity, or 
principle, or, if so it were, a refined cruelty, inipelled 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 93 

him to do, for the rehef of physical suffering — he was 
next to treat with her as the man whom she had most 
deeply and irreparably injured. 

" Hester," said he, " I ask not wherefore, nor how, 
Ihou hast fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast 
ascended to the pedestal of infamy, on which I found 
tbee. 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, hav- 
ing given my best years to feed the hungry dream of 
knowledge — what had I to do with youth and beauty 
(ike thine own ! Misshapen from my birth-hour, how 
30uld 1 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 igno- 
miny before the people. Nay, from the moment when 
we came down the old church steps together a married 
pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet 
letter blazing at the end of our path ! " 

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

"True," replied he. "It was my folly! I have 



94 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

said it. But up to that epoch of my life, I had lived 
in vain. The world had been so cheerless ! My heart 
was a habitation large enough for many guests, but 
lonely and chill and without a household fire. I longed 
to kindle one ! It seemed not so wild a dream — old as 
I was, and somber as I was, and misshapen as I was — ■ 
that the simple bliss, which is scattered far and wide, 
for all mankind to gather up, might yet be mine. And 
so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its inner- 
most chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth 
which thy presence made there !" 

" I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester. 

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

" Aek me not," replied Hester Prynne, looking firm- 
ly into his face. " That thou shalt never know." 

" Never, say est thou," rejoined he, with a smile of 
dark and self-relying intelligence. " Never know him \ 
Believe me, Hester, there are few things — whether in 
the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invis- 
ble sphere of thought — few things hidden from the 
man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly 
to the solution of a mastery. Thou may est cover up 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 95 

thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest 
conceal it, too, from the ministers and magistrates, 
even as thou didst this day, when they sought to 
wrench the name out of thy heart, and give thee a 
partner on thy pedestal. But as for me, I come to the 
inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall 
seek this man, as I have sought truth in books, as I 
have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy 
that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him 
tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and 
unawares. Sooner or later he must needs be mine !" 

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

" Thou wilt not reveal his name ? Not the less he is 
mine," resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if 
destiny were at one with him. " He bears no letter of 
infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost, but I 
shall read it on his heart. Yet fear not for him! 
Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own 
method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him 
to the gripe of human law. Keither do thou imagine 
that I shall contrive aught against his life, no, nor 
against his fame, if, as I judge, he be a man of fair 
repute. Let him live ! Let him hide himself in out- 
ward honor, if he may ! Not the less he shall be 
mine 1" 

" Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered 



96 TUE SCARLET LETTER. 

and appalled. "But thy words interpret thee as a 
terror !" 

" One thing, thou that wast ray wife, I would enjoin 
upon thee," continued the scholar. " Thou hast kept 
the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise, mine! 
There are none in this land that know me. Breatlie 
not to any human soul that thou didst ever call me 
husband. Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I 
shall pitch my tent ; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and 
isolated from human interests, I find here a woman, a 
man, a child, among whom and myself there exist 
the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or 
hate, no matter Avhether of right or wrong. Thou and 
thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is 
where thou art and where he is. But betray me 
not !" 

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

" It may be," he replied, " because I will not en- 
counter the dishonor that besmirches the husband of 
a faithless woman. It ma}'' 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, 
liecognize 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' 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 97 

His fame, his position, his hfe, 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 Koger Chil- 
lingworth, as he was hereafter to be named, " I leava 
thee alone; alone with thy infant, and the scarlet 
letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy sentence 
bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep ? Art thou 
not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams? " 

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

" Kot thy soul," he answered, with another smile 
« No, not thine ! " 



Y. 

HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 

Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at 
an end. Her prison-door was thrown open, and she 
came forth into the sunshine, which, falling on all 
alike, seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if 
meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet 
letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more real 
torture in her first unattended footsteps from the 



98 TSE SCAttLET LETTER. 

threshold of the prison, than even in the procession 
and spectacle that have been described, where she was 
made the common infamy, at which all mankind was 
summoned to point its finger. Then, she was sup- 
ported by an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by 
all the combative energy of her character, which 
enabled her to convert the scene into a kind of lurid 
triumph. It was, moreover, a separate and insulated 
event, to occur but once in her lifetime, and to meet 
which, therefore, reckless of econom}'^, she might call 
up the vital strength that would have sufiiced for 
many quiet years. The very law that condemned her 
— a giant of stern features, but with vigor to support, 
as well as to annihilate, in his iron arm — had held her 
up, through the terrible ordeal of her ignominy. But 
now, with this unattended walk from her prison-door, 
began the daily custom ; and she must either sustain 
and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her 
nature, or sink beneath it. She could not longer bor- 
row from the future to help her through the present 
grief. To-morrow would bring its own trial with it ; 
so would the next day, and so would the next ; each 
its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so 
unutterably grievous to be borne. The days of the 
far-off future would toil onward, still with the same 
burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, 
but never to fling down ; for the accumulating days* 
and added years, would pile up their misery upon the 
heap of shame. Throughout them all, giving up her 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 99 

individuality, she would become the general S3'^mbol at 
which the preacher and moralist might point, and in 
which they might vivify and embody their images of 
woman's frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young 
and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scar- 
let letter flaming on her breast — at her, the child of 
honorable parents — at her, the mother of a babe, that 
would hereafter be a woman — at her, who had once 
been innocent — as the figure, the body, the reality 
of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that 
she must carry thither would be her only monu- 
ment. 

It may seem marvelous, that, with the world before 
her — kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation 
within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so remote 
and so obscure — free to return to her birth-place, or to 
any other European land, and there hide her character 
and identity under a new exterior, as completely as if 
emerging into another state of being — and having also 
the passess of the dark, inscrutable forest open to her, 
where the wildness of her nature might assimilate 
/itself with a people whose customs and life were alien 
from the law that had condemned her — it may seem 
marvelous, that this woman should still call that place 
her home, where, and where only, she must needs be 
the type of shame. But there is a fatality, a feeling 
so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of 
doom, which almost invariably compels human beings 
to linger around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where 



100 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

some great and marked event has given the color to 
their hfetime ; and still the more irresistibly, the 
darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her ig- 
nominy, were the roots which she had struck into the 
soil. It was as if a new birth, with stronger assimila- 
tions than the first, had converted the forest-land, still 
so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and wanderer, 
into Hester Pr3mne's wild and dreary, but life-long 
home. All other scenes of earth — even that village of 
rural England, where happy infancy and stainless 
maidenhood seemed 3'^et to be in her mother's keeping, 
like garments put off long ago — were foreign to her, 
in comparison. The chain that bound her here was of 
iron links, and galling to her inmost soul, but could 
never be broken. 

It might be, too — doubtless it was so, although she 
hid the secret from herself, and grew pale whenever it 
struggled out of her heart, like a serpent from its hole 
— it might be that another feeling kept her within the 
scene and pathway that had been so fatal. There 
dwelt, there trode the feet of one with whom she 
deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecog- 
nized on earth, would bring them together before the 
bar of final judgment, and make that their marriage- 
altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution. 
Over and over again, the tempter of souls had thrust 
this idea upon Hester's contemplation, and laughed 
at the passionate and desperate joy with which she 
seized, and then strove to cast it from her. She bareljf 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 101 

looked the idea in the face, and hastened to bar it in 
Its dungeon. AVhat she compelled herself to believe 
— what finally, she reasoned upon, as her motive for 
continuing a resident of New England — was half a 
truth, and half a self-delusion. Here, she said to her- 
self, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should 
be the scene of her earthly punishment ; and so, per- 
chance, the torture of her daily shame would at length 
purge her soul, and work out another purity than that 
■which she had lost ; more saint-like, because the result 
of martyrdom. 

Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the out- 
skirts of the town, within the verge of the peninsula, 
but not in close vicinit}'' to any other habitation, 
there was a small thatched cottage. It had been built 
by an earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil 
about it was too sterile for cultivation, while its com- 
parative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that 
social activity which already marked the habits of the 
emigrants. It stood on the shore, looking across a 
basin of the sea at the forest-covered hills, toward the 
west. A clump of scrubby trees, such as alone grew 
on the peninsula, did not so much conceal the cottage 
from view, as seem to denote that here was some 
object which would fain have been, or at least ought 
to be concealed. In this little, lonesome dwelling, 
"with some slender means that she possessed, and by 
the license of the magistrates, who still kept an in- 
quisitorial watch over her, Hester established herself, 



103 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

with her infant child. A mystic shadow of suspicion 
immediately attached itself to the spot. Children, too 
young to comprehend wherefore this woman should 
be shut out from the sphere of human charities, would 
creep nigh enough to behold her plying her needle at 
the cottage-window, or standing in the door-wa}'', or 
laboring in her little garden, or coming forth along 
the pathway that led townward ; and, discerning the 
scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a 
strange, contagious fear. 

Lonely as was Iles^^i's situation, and without a 
friend on e«.rth who dared to show himself, she, how- 
ever, incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art 
tliat sufficed, even in a land that afforded compara- 
tively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for 
her thriving infant and herself. It was the art — then, 
as now, almost the only one within a women's grasp— 
of needle-work. She bore on her breast, in the curi- 
ously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate 
and imaginative skill, of which the dames of a court 
might gladly have availed themselves, to add the richer 
and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to 
their fabrics of silk and gold. Here, indeed, in the 
sable simplicity that generally characterized the Puri- 
tanic modes of dress, there might be an infrequent 
call for the finer productions of her handiwork. Yet 
the taste of the age, demanding whatever was elabor- 
ate in compositions of this kind, did not fail to extend 
its influence over our stern progenitors, who had cast 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 103 

behind them so many fashions which it might seem 
harder to dispense with. PubHc ceremonies, such as 
ordinations, the installation of magistrates, and all 
that could give majesty to the forms in which a new 
government manifested itself to the people, were, as a 
matter of policy, marked by a stately and well-con- 
ducted ceremonial, and a somber, but yet a studied 
magnificence. Deep ruffs, painfully wrought bands, 
and gorgeously embroidered gloves, were all deemed 
necessary to the official state of men assuming the 
reins of power ; and were readily allowed to individu- 
als dignified by rank or wealth, even while sumptuary 
laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the 
plebeian order. In the array of funerals, too, whether 
for the apparel of the dead body, or to typify, by 
manifold emblematic devices of sable cloth and snowy 
lawn, the sorrow of the survivors, there was a frequent 
and characteristic demand for such labor as Hester 
Pr3'nne could supply. Baby-linen — for babies then 
wore robes of state — afforded still another possibility 
of toil and emolument. 

By degrees, nor very slowly, her handiwork became 
what would now be termed the fashion, Whethei? 
from commiseration for a woman of so miserable a 
destiny ; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a fic- 
titious value even to common or worthless things ; or 
tjy whatever other intangible circumstance was then, 
as now, sufficient to bestow, on some persons, what 
others might seek in vain ; or because Hester really 



104 TEE SCA RL ET L ETTER. 

filled a gap which must otherwise have remained va- 
cant ; it is certain that she had ready and fairly re- 
quited employment for as many hours as she saw fit 
to occupy with her needle. Vanity, it may be, chose 
to mortify itself, by putting on, for ceremonials of 
pomp and state, the garments that had been wrought 
by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seen on the 
ruff of the Governor ; military men Avore it on their 
scarfs, and the minister on his band ; it decked the baby's 
little cap ; it was shut up, to be mildewed and molder 
away, in the coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded 
that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to 
embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure 
blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the ever- 
relentless vigor with which society frowned upon her 
sin. 

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a 
subsistence, of the plainest and most ascetic descrip- 
tion, for herself, and a simple abundance for her child. 
Her own dress was of the coarsest materials and the most 
somber hue ; with only that one ornament — the scar- 
let letter — which it was her doom to wear. The child's 
attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a fan- 
ciful, or, we might rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, 
which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that 
early began to develop itself in the little girl, but 
which appeared to have also a deeper meaning. We 
may speak further of it hereafter. Except for that 
small expenditure in the decoration of her infant, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 105 

Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, 
on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not 
unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them. Much 
of the time, which she might readily have appUed to 
the better efforts of her art, she employed in making 
coarse garments for the poor. It is probable that 
there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupa- 
tion, and that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoy- 
ment, in devoting so many hours to such rude handi- 
work. She had in her nature a rich, voluptuous. Ori- 
ental characteristic, a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, 
which, save in the exquisite productions of her needle, 
found nothing else, in all the possibilities of her life, to 
exercise itself upon. Women derive a pleasure, in- 
comprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil 
of the needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a 
mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the pas- 
sion of her life. Like all other joj^s, she rejected it as 
sin. This morbid meddling of conscience with an im- 
material matter betokened, it is to be feared, no genu- 
ine and steadfast penitence, but some thing doubtful, 
something that might be deeply wrong, beneath. 

In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part 
to perform in the world. With her native energy of 
character, and rare capacity, it could not entirely 
cast her off, although it had set a mark upon her, 
more intolerable to a woman's heart than that which 
branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse 
with society, however, there was nothing that made 



106 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every 
word, and even the silence of those with whom she 
came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she 
was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited 
another sphere, or communicated with the common 
nature by other organs and senses than the rest of 
human kind. She stood apart from moral interests, 
3'et close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the 
familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen 
or felt ; no more smile with the household joy, nor 
mourn with the kindred sorrow ; or, should it succeed 
in manifesting its forbidden sympathy, awakening 
only terror and horrible repugnance. These emotions, 
in fact, and its bitterest scorn besides, seemed to be 
the sole portion that she retained in the universal 
heart. It was not an age of delicacy ; and her posi- 
tion, although she understood it well, and was in 
little danger of forgetting it, was often brought be- 
fore her vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, 
by the rudest touch upon the tenderest spot. The 
poor, as we have already said, whom she sought 
out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled 
the hand that was stretched forth to succor them. 
Dames of elevated rank, likewise, whose doors she 
entered in the way of her occupation, were accus- 
tomed to distil drops of bitterness into her heart* 
sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by 
which women can concoct a subtile poison from or- 
dinary trifles; and sometimes, also, by a coarsep 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 107 

expression, that fell upon the sufferer's defenceless 
breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound. 
Hester had schooled herself long and well ; she never 
responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson 
that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again 
subsided into the depths of her bosora. She was 
patient — a martyr, indeed — but she forebore to pray; 
for her enemies ; lest, in spite of her forgiving aspira- 
tions, the Avords of the blessing should stubbornly twist 
themselves into a curse. 

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she 
feel the innumerable throbs of anguish that had been 
so cunningly contrived for her by the undying, the 
ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal. Clergy- 
men paused in the street to address words of exhorta- 
tion, that brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and 
frown, around the poor, sinful woman. If she entered 
a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the 
Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find her- 
self the text of the discourse. She grew to have a 
dread of children ; for they had imbibed from their 
parents a vague idea of something horrible in this 
dreary woman, gliding silently through the town, 
with never any companion but one only child. There- 
fore, first allowing her to pass, they pursued her at a 
distance with shrill cries, and the utterance of a word 
that had no distinct purport to their own minds, but 
was none the less terrible to her, as proceeding from 
lips that babbled it unconsciously. It seemed to arguti 



108 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

SO wide a diffusion of her shame, that all nature knew 
of it ; it could have caused her no deeper pang, had 
the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story among 
themselves — had the summer breeze murmured about 
it — had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud ! Another 
peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new eye. 
"When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter 
— and none ever failed to do so — they branded it 
afresh into Hester's soul ; so that, oftentimes, 
she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, 
from covering the symbol with her hand. But 
then, again, an accustomed eye had likewise its 
own anguish to inflict. Its cool stare of familiarity 
was intolerable. From first to last, in short, Hester 
Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a 
human eye upon the token ; the spot never grew cal- 
lous ; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensi- 
tive with daily torture. 

But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in 
many months, she felt an eye — a human eye — upon 
the ignominious brand, that seemed to give a momen- 
tary relief, as if half of her agony were shared. The 
next instant, back it all rushed again, with still a 
deeper throb of pain ; for, in that brief interval, she 
had sinned anew. Had Hester sinned alone ? 

Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had 
she been of a softer moral and intellectual fiber, would 
have been still more so, by the strange and solitary 
anguish of her life. Walking to and fro, with those 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 109 

lonely footsteps, in the little world with which she 
was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared 
to Hester — if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too 
potent to be resisted — she felt or fancied, then, that 
the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. 
She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, 
that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hid- 
den sin in other hearts. She was terror-stricken by 
the revelations that were thus made. What were 
they ? Could they be other than the insidious 
whispers of the bad angel, who would fain have per- 
suaded the struggling woman, as yet only half his 
victim, that the outward guise of purity was but a lie, 
and that, if truth were every^where to be shown, a 
scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom be- 
sides Hester Prynne's? Or must she receive those 
intimations — so obscure, yet so distinct — as truth ? In 
all her miserable experience, there was nothing else so 
awful and so loathsome as this sense. It perplexed, as 
well as shocked her, by the irreverent inopportuneness 
of the occasions that brought it into vivid action. 
Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give 
a sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable 
minister or magistrate, the model of piety and justice, 
to whom that age of antique reverence looked up, as to 
a mortal man in fellowship with angels. " What evil 
thing is at hand ? " would Hester say to herself. 
Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing 
human within the scope of view, save the form of this 



110 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

earthly saint ! Again, a m3'^stic sisterhood would con- 
tumaciously assert itself, as she met the sanctified 
frown of some matron, who, according to the rumor of 
all tongues, had kept cold snow within her bosom 
throughout life. That unsunned snow in the matron's 
bosom, and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's — 
what had the two in common ? Or, once more, the 
electric thrill Avould give her warning — " Behold, 
Hester, here is a companion ! " and, looking up, she 
would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at 
the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted, 
with a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks ; as if her 
purity were somewhat sullied by that momentary 
glance. O Fiend, whose talisman was that fatal sym- 
bol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in youth or 
age, for this poor sinner to revere ? — such loss of faith 
is ever one of the saddest results of sin. Be it accepted 
as a proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim 
of her own frailty, and man's hard law, that Hester 
Prynne yet struggled to believe that no fellow-mortal 
was guilty like herself. 

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were 
always contributing a grotesque horror to what in- 
terested their imaginations, had a story about the scar- 
let letter which we might readily work up into a ter- 
r.ific legend. They averred, that the symbol was not 
mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly dye-pot, but 
Avas red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glow- 
ing all night, whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad 



THE SCARLET LETTER. HI 

in the night-time. And we must needs say, it seared 
Hester's bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more 
truth in the rumor than our modern incredulity may 
be inclined to admit. 



VI. 

PEAEL. 



We have as yet hardl}'- spoken of the infant ; that 
little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by the 
inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immor- 
tal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty pas- 
sion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she 
watched the growth, and the beauty that became every 
day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its 
quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this 
child ! Her Pearl ! — For so had Hester called her ; 
not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had 
nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned luster 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 treas- 
ure ! How strange, indeed ! Man had marked this 
woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent 
and disastrous efficacy that no human sj'mpathy could 
reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, as a 
direct consequence of the sin which man thus pun- 
ished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on 
that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent 



1 1 2 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

forever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be 
finally a blessed soul in heaven ! Yet these thoughts 
affected Hester Prynne less with hope than appre- 
hension. 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 per- 
fect shape, its vigor, and its natural dexterity in the 
use of all its untried limbs, the infant was worthy to 
have been brought forth in Eden ; worthy to have been 
left there, to be the plaything of the angels, after the 
world's first parents were driven out. The child had a 
native grace which does not invariably coexist with 
faultless beauty ; its attire, however simple, always im- 
pressed 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 facult}'^ its full play in the arrange- 
ment 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 
splendor of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining 
through the gorgeous robes which might have extin- 
guished a paler loveliness, that there was an abso- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 113 

lute 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, how- 
ever, there was a trait of a 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 exist- 
ence, 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, amid which the point of variety and 
arrangement was diflicult or impossible to be discov- 
ered. Hester could only account for the child's char- u^ 
acter — and even then most vaguely and imperfectly — 
bv recalling what she herself had been, during that 
momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul 



114 THE SCA RL ET L ETTER. 

from the spiritual world, and her bodily fame from its 
material of earth. The mother's impassioned state 
had been the medium through which were trans- 
mitted 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 
luster, 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 fiightiness of her temper, and even 
some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despond- 
ency 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 lonely 
mother of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the 
side of undue severity. Mindful, however, of her own 
errors and misfortunes, she early sought to impose a 
tender but strict control over the infant immortality 
that was committed to h^v charge. But the task was 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 115 

beyond her skill. After testing both smiles and frowns, 
and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed 
any calculable influence, Hester was ultimately com- 
pelled 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 labor thrown 
away to insist, persuade or plead. It was a look so 
intelligent, yet inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so 
malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow of 
spirits, that Hester could not help questioning at 
such moments whether Pearl w^as 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. When- 
ever that look appeared in her wild, bright, deeply 
black eyes, it invested her with a strange remoteness 
and intangibihty ; it w^as 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 toward the child, to pursue the little elf in the 
flight w^hich she invariably began, to snatch her to 
her bosom, with a close pressure and earnest kisses. 



] 16 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

not so much from overflowing love as to assure herself 
that Pearl was flesh and blood, and not utterly delus- 
ive. 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 treas- 
ure, 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 
clinch her little fist, and harden her small features 
into a stern, unsympathizing look of discontent. Not 
seldom she would laugh anew, and louder than before, 
like a thing incapable and unintelligent of human sor- 
row. Or — but this more rarely happened — she would 
be convulsed with a rage of grief, and sob out her love 
for her mother in broken words, and seem intent on 
proving that she had a heart by breaking it. Yet 
Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself to that 
gusty tenderness ; 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 incom- 
prehensible intelligence. Her only real comfort was 
when the child lay in the placidit}'^ of sleep. Then 
she was sure of her, and tasted hours of quiet, sad, 
delicious happiness, until— perhap ^vith that perverse 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 117 

expression glimmering from beneath her opening hds 
— Uttle 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-read}'^ smile and 
nonsense-words ! x\nd 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 unraveled 
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 re- 
spect 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 afterward as the little 
girl, small companion of her mother, holding a fore- 
finger 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, dis- 
porting themselves in such grim fashion as the Puri- 
tanic nurture would permit ; playing at going to 



1 1 S THE SCARLET L RTTER. 

church, perchance ; or at scoui'ging Quakers ; or tak- 
ing scalps in a sham-fight with the Indians ; or scar- 
ing one another Avith 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 unfre- 
quently reviled them with their tongues. Pearl felt 
the sentiment, and requited it with the bitterest hatred 
that can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom. 
These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value, 
and even comfort, for her mother ; because there was 
at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead 
of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her m 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 to- 
gether in the same circle of seclusion from human 



TEE SCJ RLET LETTEU. 1 1 9 

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 acquaint- 
ance. 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 witch- 
craft, and, without undergoing any outward change, 
became spiritually adapted to whatever drama occu- 
pied 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, 
>I)lack and solemn, and flinging groans and other mel- 
ancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little trans- 
formation 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 pre- 
ternatural activity — soon sinking down, as if ex- 
hausted 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 



120 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

play of the northern lights. In the mere exercise of 
the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing 
mind, there might be 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 w^hich she created. The 
singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the 
child regarded all these offspring 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 Pr3mne often dropped her 
w^ork upon her knees, and cried out with an agony 
which she would fain have hidden, but which made 
utterance for itself, between 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 Pearl, overhearing the ejaculation, or aware, 
through some more subtile channel, of those throbs of 
anguish, would turn her vivid and beautiful little face 
upon her mother, smile with sprite-like intelligence, 
and resume her play. 



THE SCARLET LETTER 121 

One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains 
yet to be told. The very first thing which she had 
noticed, in her life, was, what ? — not the mother's smile, 
responding to it, as other babies do, by that faint, 
embrj'^o smile of the little mouth, remembered so 
doubtfully afterward, and with such fond discussion 
whether it were indeed a smile. By no means ! But 
that first object of which Pearl seemed to become 
aware was— shall we say it ?— the scarlet letter on Hes- 
ter's bosom ! One day, as her mother stooped over the 
cradle, the infant's eyes had been caught by the glim- 
mering of the gold embroidery about the letter ; and, 
putting up her little hand, she grasped at it, smiling, 
not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam, that gave 
her face the look of a much older child. Then, gasp- 
ing for breath, did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal 
token, instinctively endeavoring to tear it away; so 
infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent 
touch of Pearl's baby-hand. Again, as if her mother's 
agonized gesture were meant only to make sport for 
her, did little Pearl look into her ej^es, and smile ! 
From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, 
Hester had never felt a moment's safety ; not a mo 
ment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, 
would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze 
might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter ; 
but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the 
stroke of sudden death, and always with that peouliar 
smile, and odd expression of the eyes. 



122 THB! SCARLET LKTTEIt. 

Once, this freakish, elvish cast came into the child's 
eyes while Hester was looking at her own image in 
them, as mothers are fond of doing ; and, suddenly^ 
for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are 
pestered with unaccountable delusions — she fancied 
that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but 
another face, in the small block mirror of Pearl's eye. 
It was a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet 
bearing the semblance of features that she had known 
full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with 
malice in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed 
the child, and had just then peeped forth in mockery. 
Many a time afterward had Hester been tortured, 
though less vividly, by the same illusion. 

In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after 
Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused her- 
self with gathering handfuls of wild - flowers, and 
flinging them, one by one, at her mother's bosom ; 
dancing up and down, like a little elf, whenever she 
hit the scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been 
to cover her bosom with her clasped hands. But, 
whether from pride or resignation, or a feeling that 
her penance might best be wrought out by this unut- 
terable pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat erect, 
pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild 
eyes. Still came the battery of flowers, almost invalu- 
ably hitting the mark, and covering the mother's 
breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in 
this world, nor knew bow to seek it in another. At 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 123 

last, her shot bemg all expended, the child stood still 
and gazed at Hester, with that little, laughing image 
of a fiend peeping out — or, whether it peeped or no, 
her mother so imagined it — from the unsearchable 
abyss of her black eyes. 

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

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

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

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

Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for 
the moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness ; 
for such was Pearl's wonderful intelligence, that her 
mother half doubted whether she were not acquainted 
with the secret spell of her existence, and might not 
now reveal herself. 

'" Yes ; I am little Pearl ! " repeated the child, con- 
tinuing her antics. 

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

" Tell me, mother ! " said the child, seriously, com 
ing up to Hester, and pressing herself close to her 
knees. " Do thou tell me ? " 

" Thy Heavenly Father sent thee ! " answered Hes 
ter Prynne- 



524 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape 
the acuteness of the child. Whether moved only by 
her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit 
prompted her, she put up her small forefinger, and 
touched the scarlet letter. 

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

" Hush, Pearl, hush ! Thou must not talk so!" an- 
swered the mother, suppressing a groan. " He sent us 
all into this world. He sent ev^en me, th}'^ mother. 
Then, much more, thee ! Or, if not, thou strange and 
elfish child, whence didst thou come ? " 

" Tell me ! Tell me ! " repeated Pearl, no longer 
seriously, but laughing, and capering about the floor. 
*" it is thou that must tell me ! " 

But Hester could not resolve the query, being her- 
self in a dismal labyrinth of doubt. She remembered 
— between a smile and a shudder— the talk of the 
neighboring townspeople ; who, seeking vainly else- 
where for the child's paternity, and observing some of 
her odd attributes, had given out that poor little Pearl 
was a demon offspring ; such as, ever since old Catholic 
times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the 
agency of their mother's sin, and to promote some 
foul and wicked purpose. Luther, according to the 
scandal of his monkish enemies, was a brat of that hell- 
ish breed ; nor was Pearl the only child to whom this 
inauspicious origin was assigned, among the New Eng- 
land Puritans. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 12-5 

YII. 

THE governor's FALL. 

Hester Prtnxe went one day to the mansion of 
Governor Bellingham with a pair of gloves which she 
had fringed and embroidered to his order, and which 
were to be worn on some great occasion of state, for, 
though the chances of a popular election had caused 
this former ruler to descend a step or two from the 
highest rank, he still held an honorable and influential 
place among the colonial magistracy. 

Another and far more important reason than the de- 
livery of a pair of embroidered gloves impelled Hester 
at this time to seek an interview with a personage of 
so much power and activity in the affairs of the settle- 
ment. It had reached her ears that there was a design 
on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, cherish- 
ing the more rigid order of principles in religion and 
government, to deprive her of her child. On the sup- 
position that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon 
origin, these good people not unreasonably argued that 
a Christian interest in the mother^s soul required them 
to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If 
the child, on the other hand, were really capable of 
moral and religious growth, and possessed the ele- 
ments of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would en- 
joy all the fairer prospects of these advantages by 
being transferred to wiser and better guardianship 
t^\an Hester Prynne's. Among those who promoted 



] 26 THE SCARL BT LETTER. 

tne design Governor Bellinghara was said to be one of 
the most busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, 
not a little ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which 
in later days would have been referred to no higher 
jurisdiction than that of the selectmen of the town, 
should then have been a o.uestion publicly discussed, 
and on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At 
that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, matters of 
even slighter public interest, and of far less intrinsic 
weight, than the welfare of Hester and her child, were 
strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legisla- 
tors and acts of state. The period was hardly, if at 
all, earlier than that of our story, when a dispute con- 
cerning the right of property in a pig not only caused 
a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the 
colony, but resulted in an important modification of 
the framework itself of the legislature. 

Full of concern, therefore, but so conscious of her 
own right that it seemed scarcely an unequal match be- 
tween the public, on the one side, and a lonely woman, 
backed by the sympathies of nature, on the other, 
Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. 
Little Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was 
now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's- 
side, and, constantly in motion, from morn till 
sunset, could have accomplished a much longer journey 
than that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from 
caprice than necessity, she demanded to be taken up 
in arms; but was soon as imperious to be set down. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 127 

again, and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy 
pathway, with many a harmless trip and tumble. We 
have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty ; a 
beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints ; a bright 
complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth 
and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, 
and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to 
black. There was fire in her and throughout her; 
she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passion- 
ate moment. Her mother, in contriving the child's 
garb, had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her im- 
agination their full play ; arraying her in a crimson 
velvet tunic, of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroid- 
ered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So 
much strength of coloring, which must have given a 
■wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloom, 
was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made 
her the very brightest little jet of flame that ever 
danced upon the earth. 

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, 
indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irre- 
sistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the 
token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon 
her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form ; 
the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother 
herself — as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched 
into her brain that all her conceptions assumed its 
form — had carefully wrought out the similitude ; 
lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity, to create 



1 28 THE SCA RLET L ETTER. 

an analogy between the object of her affection and 
the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, 
Pearl was the one, as well as the other ; and only in 
consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so 
perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appear- 
ance. 

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of 
the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from 
their play — or what passed for play with those somber 
little urchins — and spake gravely one to another : 

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

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, aft&r frown- 
ing, stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand 
with a variety of threatening gestures, suddenl}' made 
a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to 
flight. She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, 
an infant pestilence — the scarlet fever, or some such 
half-fledged angel of judgment — whose mission was to 
punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed 
and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, 
which, doubtless, caused the hearts of the fugitives to 
quake within them. The victory accomphshed, Pearl 
returned quietl}' to her mother, and looked up, smil- 
ing, into her face. 

Without further adventure, they reached the dwell- 
ing of Governor Bellingham. This was a large wooden 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 129 

house, built in a fashion of which there are specimens 
still extant in the streets of our elder towns ; now 
mossgrown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy at 
heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences, 
remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and 
passed away, within their dusky chambers. Then, 
however, there was the freshness of the passing year 
on its exterior, and the cheerfulness, gleaming forth 
from the sunny windows, of a human habitation, into 
which death had never entered. It had, indeed, a 
very cheery aspect ; the walls being overspread with 
a kind of stucco, in which fragments of broken glass 
Avere plentifully intermixed ; so that when the sun- 
shine fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, 
it ghttered and sparkled as if diamonds had been 
flung against it b}' the double handful. The brill- 
iancy might have befitted Aladdin's palace, rather 
than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It 
was further decorated with strange and seemingly 
cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the 
quaint taste of the age, which had been drawn in 
the stucco when newlj"" laid on, and had now 
grown hard and durable, for the admiration of after 
times. 

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



150 THE SCAULET letter. 

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

They approached the door, which Avas of an arched 
form, and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or 
projection of the edifice, in both of which were lattice- 
windows, with wooden shutters to close over them at 
need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the por- 
tal, Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was 
answered by one of the Governor's bond-servants ; a 
free-born Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. 
During that term he was to be the property of his 
master and as much a commodity of bargain and sale 
as an ox, or a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue coat, 
which was the customary garb of serving-men at that 
period, and long before, in the old hereditary halls of 
England. 

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

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

" Nevertheless, I will enter," answered Hester 
Prynne ; and the bond-servant, perhaps judging from 
the decision of her air, and the glittering symbol in 
her bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, 
offered no oppositi^^ 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 131 

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into 
the hall of entrance. With many variations, suggested 
by the nature of nis building materials, diversity of 
climate, and a different mode of social life, Governor 
Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the 
residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native 
land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty 
hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, 
and forming a medium of general communication, 
more or less directly, with all the other apartments. 
At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by 
the windows of the two towers, which formed a small 
recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, 
though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more power- 
fully illuminated by one of those embowed hall-win- 
dows which we read of in old books, and which was 
provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on 
the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chroni- 
cles of England, or other such substantial literature ; 
even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes on 
the center-table, to be turned over by the casual guest. 
The furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous 
chairs, the backs of which were elaborately carved 
with wreaths of oaken flowers ; and likewise a table 
in the same taste ; the whole being of the Elizabethan 
age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred 
hither from the Governor's paternal home. On the 
table — in token that the sentiment of old English 



132 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

hospitality had not been left behind — stood a large 
pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester 
or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the 
frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale. 

On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing 
the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with 
armor on their breasts, and others witli stately ruffs 
and robes of peace. All were characterized by the 
sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably 
put on ; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the 
pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with 
harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and en- 
joyments of living men. 

At about the center of the oaken panels, that lined 
the hall, was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the 
pictures, an ancestral relic, but of most modern date ; 
for it had been manufactured by a skilful armorer in 
London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham 
came over to New England. There was a steel head- 
piece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of 
gauntlets and sword hanging beneath ; all, and espec- 
ially the helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as 
to glow with white radiance, and scatter an illumination 
everywhere about upon the floor. This bright panoply 
was not meant for mere idle show, but had been worn 
by the Governor on many a solemn muster and training 
field, and had glittered, moreover, at the head of a 
regiment in the Pequod war. For, though bred a 
lawyer, and accustomed to speak of Bacon, Coke, 
Noye, and Finch as his professional associates, the ex- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 133 

igfencies of this new country had transformed Gover- 
nor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman 
and ruler. 

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

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

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child, and 
she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this con- 
vex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exag- 
gerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly 
the most prominent feature of her appearance. In 
truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl 
pointed upward also at a similar picture in the head- 
piece, smiling at her mother with the elfish intelli- 
gence that was so familiar an expression on her small 
physiognomy. That look of haughty merriment was 
likewise reflected in the mirror with so much breadth 
and intensity of effect that it made Hester Prynne feel 
as if it could not be the image of her own child, but 
of an imp who was seeking to mold itself into 
Pearl's shape. 

" Come along, Pearl," said she, drawing her away. 
*' Come and look into this fair garden. It may be we 
shaU see flowers there, more beautiful ones than we 
find in the woods." 

Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-window, at the 



134 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

further end of the hall, and looked along the vista of 
a garden wall, carpeted with closely-shaven grass and 
bordered with some rude and immature attempt at 
shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to 
have relinquished as hopeless the effort to perpetuate 
on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid 
the close struggle for subsistence, the native English 
taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in 
plain sight and a pumpkin-vine, rooted at some dis- 
tance, had run across the intervening space and depos- 
ited one of its gigantic products directly beneath the 
hall window, as if to warn the Governor that this 
great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an orna- 
ment as New England earth would offer him. There 
were a few rose-bushes, however, and a number of 
apple-trees, probably the descendants of those planted 
by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler ox 
the peninsula — that half-mythological personage who 
rides through our early annals seated on the back of 
a bull. 

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

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

In fact, adown the vista of the garden avenue a 
number of persons were seen approaching toward the 
bouse. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt 



THE 8VARLET LETTER. 135 

to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream and then became 
silent, not from any notion of obedience, but because 
the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was 
excited by the appearance of these new personages. 



VIII. 

THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 

Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy 
cap — such as elderly gentlemen loved to endue them- 
selves with, in their domestic privacy — walked fore- 
most, and appeared to be showing off his estate, and 
expatiating on his projected improvements. The wide 
circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his gray 
beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James' reign, 
caused his head to look not a little like that of John 
the Baptist in a charger. The impression made by his 
aspect, so rigid and severe, and frost-bitten with more 
than autumnal age, was hardly in keeping with the 
appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had 
evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But 
it is an error to suppose that our grave forefathers — 
though accustomed to speak and think of human ex- 
istence as a state merely of trial and warfare, and 
though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and 
life at the behest of duty — made it a matter of con- 
science to reject such means of comfort, or even luxury, 
as lay fairly within their grasp. This creed was never 



136 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

taught, for instance, by the venerable pastor, John 
"Wilson, whose beard, white as a snow-drift, w^as seen 
over Governor Bellingham's shoulder ; while its wearer 
suggested that pears and peaches might yet be natur- 
alized in the Ncav England climate, and that purple 
grapes might possibly be compelled to flourish, against 
the sunny garden-wall. The old clergyman, nurtured 
at the rich bosom of the English Church, had a long- 
established and legitimate taste for all good and com- 
fortable things, and however stern he might show 
himself in the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such 
transgressions as that of Hester Prynne, still, the 
genial benevolence of his private life had won him 
warmer aflfection than was accorded to any of his pro- 
fessional contemporaries. 

Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two 
other guests ; one, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, 
whom the reader may remember, as having taken a 
brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester 
Prynne's disgrace ; and, in close companionship with 
him, old Roger Chillingworth, a person of great skill 
in physic, who, for two or three years past, had been 
settled in the town. It was understood that this 
learned man was the physician as well as friend of the 
young minister, w^hose health had severely suffered, of 
late, by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labors 
and duties of the pastoral relation. 

The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended 
one or two steps, and, throwing open the leaves of the 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 137 

great hall window, found himself close to little Pearl. 
The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and 
partially concealed her. 

" What have we here ? " said Governor Bellingham 
looking with surprise at the scarlet little figure before 
him. " I profess, I have never seen the like, since my 
days of vanity, in old King James' time, when I was 
wont to esteem it a high favor to be admitted to a 
court mask ! There used to be a swarm of these small 
apparitions, in holiday time ; and we called them chil- 
dren of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a 
guest into my hall ? " 

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

" I am mother's child ! " answered the scarlet vision, 
" and my name is Pearl ! " 

" Pearl ? — 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 



138 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. " But where 
is this mother of thine ? Ah ! I see ! " he added ; and, 
turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, "This is 
the selfsame child of whom we have held speech to- 
gether ; and behold here the unhappy woman, Hester 
Prynne, her mother ! " 

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

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

" Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern 
regard on the wearer of the scarlet letter, " there hath 
been much question concerning thee, of late. The 
point hath been weightily discussed, whether we, that 
are of authority and influence, do well to 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 Pr3mne, laying her 
finger on the red toKeu*- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 139 

" 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 mother, calmly, though 
growing more pale, " this badge hath taught me, it 
daily teaches me, it is teaching me at this moment, 
lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, 
albeit they can profit nothing to m3'self." 

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

The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair, and 
made an effort to draw Pearl between his knees. But 
the child, unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of 
any but her mother, escaped through the open win- 
dow, and stood on the upper step, looking like a wild 
tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into 
the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at 
this outbreak — for he was a grandfatherly sort of per- 
sonage, and usually a vast favorite with children — es- 
sayed, however, to proceed w^ith the examination. 

"Pearl," said he, wnth great solemnity, " thou 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 her ; for 



140 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

Hester Prynne, the daughter of a pious home, very 
soon after her talk with the child about her Heavenly 
Father, had begun to inform her of those truths which 
the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity, 
imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore, so 
large were the attainments of her three years' lifetime, 
could have borne a fair examination in the New Eng- 
land Primer, or the first column of the Westminister 
Catechisms, although unacquainted with the outward 
form of either of those celebrated works. But that 
perversity, which all children have more or less of, and 
of which little Pearl had a ten-fold portion, now, at the 
most inopportune moment, took thorough possession 
of her and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak 
words amiss. After putting her finger in her mouth, 
with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. 
"Wilson's question, the child finally announced that she 
had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her 
mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the 
prison-door. 

This fantasy was probably suggested by the near 
proximity of the Governor's red roses, as Pearl stood 
outside of the window ; together with her recollection 
of the prison rose-bush, which she had passed iin com- 
ing hither. 

Old Roger Chilling worth, with a smile on his face, 
whispered something in the young clergyman's ear. 
Hester Prynne looked at the man of skill, and even 
then, with her fate hanging in the balance, was 



THE SCARLET LETTER 141 

startled to perceive what a change had come over his 
features — how much uglier they were — how his dark 
complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his 
figure more misshapen — since the days when she had 
familiarly known him. She met his eyes for an in- 
stant, but was immediately constrained to give all her 
attention to the scene now going forward. 

" This is awful ! " cried the Governor, slowly recov- 
ering from the astonishment into which Pearl's re- 
sponse had thrown him. " Here is a child of three 
years old, and she cannot tell who made her ! With- 
out question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, 
its present depravity, and future destiny ! Methinks, 
gentlemen, we need inquire no further." 

Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly 
into her arms, confronting the old Puritan magistrate 
with almost a fierce expression. Alone in the world, 
cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to keep her 
heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible 
rights against the world, and was ready to defend 
them to the death. 

"God gave me the child!" cried she. " He gave 
her in requital of all things else, which ye had taken 
from me. She is my happiness ! — she is my torture, 
none the less ! Pearl keeps me here in life ! Pearl 
punishes me too ! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, 
only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a 
million-fold the power of retribution for my sin ? Ye 
shall not take her ! I will die first ! " 



Ii2 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Mj poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, 
" the child shall be well cared for ! — far better than 
thou canst do it." 

" God gave her into my keeping," repeated Hester 
Prynne, raising her voice almost to a shriek. " I will 
not give her up !" And here, by a sudden impulse, she 
turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at 
whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so 
much as once to direct her eyes. " Speak thou for 
me ! " cried she. " Thou wast my pastor, and hadst 
charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these 
men can. I will not lose the child ! Speak for me ! 
Thou knowest — for thou hast sympathies which these 
men lack ! — thou knowest what is in my heart, and 
what are a mother's rights, and how much the stronger 
they are, when that mother has but her child and the 
scarlet letter ! Look thou to it ! I will not lose the 
child ! Look to it ! " 

At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated 
that Hester Prynne's situation had provoked her to 
little less than madness, the young minister at once 
came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his 
heart, as was his custom whenever his peculiarly 
nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. 
He looked now more careworn and emaciated than 
as we described him at the scene of Hester's public 
ignominy ; and whether it were his faihng health, 
or whatever the cause might be, his large dark 
eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melan- 
choly depth. 



d 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 143 

" There is truth in what she says," began the minis- 
ter, with a voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, inso- 
much that the hall re-echoed and the hollow armor 
rang with it — " truth in what Hester says, and in the 
feeUng which inspires her. God gave her the child 
and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its 
nature and requirements — both seemingly so peculiar 
— which no other mortal being can possess. And, 
moreover, is there not a qualit}'^ of awful sacredness in 
the relation between this mother and this child ?" 

"Ay! — how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?" 
interrupted the Governor. " Make that plain, I pray 
you !" 

" It must be even so," resumed the minister. " For 
if we deem it otherwise, do we not thereby say that 
the Heavenly Father, the Creator of all flesh, hath 
lightly recognized a deed of sin, and made of no ac- 
count the distinction between unhallowed lust and 
holy love? This child of its father's guilt and its 
mother's shame hath come from the hand of God to 
work in many ways upon her heart who pleads so 
earnestly, and with such bitterness of spirit, the right 
to keep her. It was meant for a blessing — for the one 
blessing of her life ? It was meant, doubtless, as the 
mother herself hath told us, for a retribution too, a 
torture to be felt at many an unthought of moment, 
a pang, a sting, an ever-recurring agony in the midst 
of a troubled joy. Hath she not expressed this 
thought in the garb of the poor child, so forcibly re- 



144 THE SCARLET LETTEIt. 

minding us of that red symbol which sears her 
bosom 1" 

" Well said again ! " cried good Mr. Wilson. " 1 
feared the woman had no better thought than to make 
a mountebank of her child." 

" O, not so, not so," continued Mr. Dimmesdale. 
" She recognizes, believe me, the solemn miracle which 
God hath wrought in the existence of that child. And 
may she feel, too — what methinks is the very truth — 
that this boon was meant, above all things else, to 
keep the mother's soul alive and to preserve her from 
blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have 
sought to plunge her. Therefore it is good for this 
poor, sinful woman that she hath an infant immortal- 
ity, a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow, confided 
to her care, to be trained up by her to righteousness, to 
remind her at every moment of her fall, but yet to 
teach her, as it were by the Creator's sacred pledge, 
that if she bring the child to heaven the child also 
will bring its parent thither. Herein is the sinful 
mother happier than the sinful father. For Hester 
Prynne's sake, then, and no less for the poor child's 
sake, let us leave them as Providence hath seen fit to 
place them." 

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

" And there is a weighty import in what my young 
brother hath spoken," added the Reverend Mr. Wilson. 
" What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham ? 
Hath he not pleaded well for the poor woman?" 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 145 

" Indeed hath he," answered the magistrate, " and 
hath adduced such arguments, that we will even leave 
tlie matter as it now stands ; so long, at least, as there 
shall be no further scandal in the woman. Care must 
be had, nevertheless, to put the child to due and stated 
examination in the catechism, at thy hands or Master 
Dimmesdale's. Moreover, at a proper season, the tith- 
ing-men must take heed that she go both to school and 
to meeting. 

The young minister, on ceasing to speak, had with- 
drawn a few steps from the group, and stood with his 
face partially concealed in the heavy folds of the win- 
dow-curtain ; while the shadow of his figure, which 
the sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous with 
the vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and 
flighty little elf, stole softly toward him, and taking 
his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek 
against it ; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtru- 
sive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked her- 
self : "Is that my Pearl?" Yet she knew that there 
was love in the child's heart, although it mostly re- 
vealed itself in passion, and hardly twice in her life- 
time had been softened by such gentleness as now. 
The minister, for, save the long-sought regards of 
"woman, nothing is sweeter than these marks of child- 
ish preference, accorded spontaneously by a spiritual 
instinct, and therefore seeming to imply in us some- 
thing truly worthy to be loved, the minister looked 
round, laid his hand on the child's head, hesitated an 



146 THE SCARLET LETTER, 

instant, and then kissed her brow. Little Pearl's un- 
wonted mood of sentiment lasted no longer ; she 
laughed, and went capering down the hall, so airily, 
that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even 
her tiptoes touched the floor. 

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

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

" Nay ; it would be sinful, in such a question, to fol- 
low the clew of profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. 
" Better to fast and pra}'- upon it ; and still better, it 
may be, to leave the mystery as we find it, unless 
Providence reveal it of its own accord. Thereby 
every good Christian man hath a title to show a fa- 
ther's kindness toward the poor, deserted babe." 

The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester 
Prynne, with Pearl, departed from the house. As they 
descended the steps, it is averred that the lattice of a 
chamber-window was thrown open, and forth into 
the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress 
Hibbins, Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister, 
and the same who, a few years later, was executed as 
a witch. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. I47 

" Hist, hist ! " said she, while her ilLomened physi- 
ognomy 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 ! " an- 
swered Hester, with a triumphant smile. "I must 
tarry at home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. 
Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have 
gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in 
the Black Man's book too, and that with mine own 
blood!" 

" We shall have thee there anon ! " said the witch- 
lady, frowning, as she drew back her head. 

But here — if we suppose this interview between 
Mistress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic, 
and not a parable — was already an illustration of the 
young minister's argument against sundering the re- 
lation 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. 

(Jnder the appellation of Koger Chillingworth, the 
reader will remember, was hidden another name, 
which its former wearer had resolved should never 



U8 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

more be spoken. It has been related, bow, in the 
crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious ex- 
posure, stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just 
emerging from the perilous wilderness, beheld the 
woman, in w^hom he hoped to find embodied the 
warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a type of 
sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trod- 
den under all men's feet. Infamy was babbling 
around her in the public market-place. For her kin- 
dred, should the tidings ever reach them, and for the 
companions of her unspotted life, there remained 
nothing but the contagion of her dishonor; which 
would not fail to be distributed in strict accordance 
and proportion with the intimacy and sacredness of 
their previous relationship. Then why — since the 
choice was with himself — should the individual, whose 
connection with the fallen w^oman had been the most 
intimate and sacred of them all, come forward to vin- 
dicate his claim to an inheritance so little desirable ? 
He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on her ped- 
estal of shame. Unknown to all but Hester Prynne, 
and possessing the lock and key of her silence, he 
chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, 
and, as regarded his former ties and interests, to van- 
ish out of life as completely as if he indeed la}' at the 
bottom of the ocean, whither rumor had long ago con- 
signed him. This purpose once effected, new interests 
would immediately spring up, and likewise a new pur- 
pose ; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of force enough 
to engage the full strength of his faculties. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 149 

In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence 
in the Puritan town, as Roger ChiHingworth, without 
other introduction than the learning and intelligence 
of which he possessed more than a common measure. 
As his studies, at a previous period of his life, had 
made him extensively acquainted with the medical 
science of the day, it was as a physician that he pre- 
sented himself, and as such was cordially received. 
Skillful men, of the medical and chirurgical profession, 
were of rare occurrence in the colony. They seldom, 
it would appear, partook of the religious zeal that 
brought other emigrants across the Atlantic. In 
their researches into the human frame, it may be that 
the higher and more subtile faculties of such men 
were materialized, and that they lost the spiritual view 
of existence amid the intricacies of that wondrous 
mechanism, which seemed to involve art enough to 
comprise all of life within itself. At all events, the 
health of the good town of Boston, so far as medicine 
had aught to do with it, had hitherto lain in the 
guardianship of an aged deacon and apothecary, whose 
piety and godly deportment were stronger testimonials 
in his favor than any that he could have produced in 
the shape of a diploma. The only surgeon was one 
who 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 familiar- 
ity with the ponderous and imposing machinery of 



150 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

antique physic ; in which every remedy contained a 
multitude of far-fetched and lieterogeneous ingredients, 
as elaborately compounded as if the proposed result 
had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian captivity, 
moreover, he had gained much knowledge of the 
properties of native herbs and roois ; nor did he con- 
ceal from his patients, that these simple medicines, 
Nature's boon to the untutored savage, had quite as 
large a share of his own confidence as the European 
pharmacopoeia, which so many learned doctors had 
spent centuries in elaborating. 

This learned stranger was exemplary, as regarded, 
at least, the outward forms of a religious life, and, 
early after his arrival, had chosen for his spiritual 
guide the Eeverend Mr, Dimmesdale. The young 
divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, 
was considered by his more fervent admirers as little 
less than a heavenly-ordained apostle, destined, should 
he live and labor for the ordinary term of life, to do as 
great deeds for the now feeble New England Church, as 
the early Fathers had achieved for the infanc}' of the 
Christian faith. About this period, however, the 
health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail. 
By those best acquainted with his habits, the paleness 
of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by 
his too earnest devotion to stud}'^, his scrupulous ful- 
filment of parochial duty, and more than all by the 
fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practice, 
in order to keep the grossness of this earthly state 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 151 

from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some 
declared that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to 
die, it was cause enough that the world was not wor-_ 
thy to be any longer trodden by his feet. He himself, 
on the other hand, with characteristic humility, avowed 
bis belief that, if Providence should see fit to remove 
him, it would be because of his own unworthiness to per- 
form its humblest mission here on earth "With all this 
difiference or opinion as to the cause of his decline, 
there could be no question of the fact. His form 
grew emaciated, his voice, though still rich and sweet, 
had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it ; he 
w^as often observed, on any slight alarm or other 
sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart, w^ith 
first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain. 

Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so 
imminent the prospect that his dawning light would 
be extinguished all untimely, when Roger Chilling- 
worth made his advent to the town. His first entry 
on the scene, few people could tell whence, dropping 
down, as it were, out of the sky, or starting from the 
nether earth, had an aspect of mystery which was 
easily heightened to the miraculous. He was now 
known to be a man of skill ; it was observed that he 
gathered herbs and the blossoms of wild flowers, and 
dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest 
trees, like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what 
was valueless to common eyes. He was heard to speak 
of Sir Kenelm Digby and other famous men — whose 



152 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than 
supernatural — as having been his correspondents or 
associates. Why, with such rank in the learned world, 
had he come hither? "What could he, whose sphere 
was in great cities, be seeking in the wilderness ? In 
answer to this quer}^ a rumor gained ground, and, 
however absurd, was entertained by some very sensible 
people, that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle 
by transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic, frora_a_ 
German university, bodily through the air and setting 
him down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale's study. 
Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, Avho knew that 
Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the 
stage effect of what is called miraculous interposition, 
were inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chil- 
lingworth's so opportune arrival. 

This idea was countenanced by the strong interest 
which the physician ever manifested in the young cler- 
gyman ; he attached himself to him as a parishioner, 
and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence 
from his naturally reserved sensibility. He expressed 
great alarm at his pastor's state of health, but was 
anxious to attempt the cure, and, if early undertaken, 
seemed not despondent of a favorable result. The 
elders, the deacons, the motherly dames, and the young 
and fair maidens, of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock, were 
alilve importunate that he should make trial of the phy- 
sician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale gently 
repelled their entreaties. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 153 

" I need no medicine," said he. 

But how could the young minister say so, when, 
with every successive Sabbath, his cheek was paler and 
thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before — 
when it had now become a constant habit, rather 
than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his heart ? 
Was he weary of his labors ? Did he wish to die ? 
These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr. 
Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston and the 
deacons of his church, who, to use their own phrase, 
"dealt with him," on the sin of rejecting the aid 
which Providence so manifestly held out. He 
listened in silence, and finally promised to confer with 
the physician. 

" Were it God's will," said the Reverend Mr. Dim- 
mesdale, when, in fulfilment of this pledge, he requested 
old Eoger Chillingworth's professional advice, "I 
could be well content, that my labors, and my sorrows, 
and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end with 
me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my 
grave, and the spiritual go with me to my 
eternal state, rather than that you should put your 
skill to the proof in my behalf." 

" Ah," replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quiet- 
ness which, whether imposed or natural, marked all 
his deportment, " it is thus that a young clergyman is 
apt to speak. Youthful men, not having taken a deep 
root, give up their hold of life so easily ! And saintly 
men, who walk with God on earth, would fain be 



154 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

away, to walk with him on the golden pavements of the 
New Jerusalem." 

"Nay," rejoined the young minister, putting his 
hand to his heart, with a flush of pain flitting over his 
brow, " were I worthier to walk there, I could be bet- 
ter content to toil here." 

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

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chilling- 
worth became the medical adviser of the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the disease interested 
the physician, but he was strongly moved to look into 
the character and qualities of the patient, these two 
men, so different in age, came gradually to spend much 
time together. For the sake of the minister's health, 
and to enable the leech to gather plants with healing 
balm in them, they took long walks on the sea-shore, 
or in the forest ; mingling various talks with the plash 
and murmur of the waves, and the solemn wind-an- 
them among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was the 
guest of the other, in his place of study and retirement. 
There was a fascination for the minister in the com- 
pany of the man of science, in whom he recognized an 
intellectual cultivation of no moderate depth or scope ; 
together with a range and freedom of ideas, that he 
would have vainly looked for among the members of 
his own profession. In truth, he was startled, if not 
shocked, to find this attribute in the physician. Mr. 
Piramesdale was a true priest, a true religionist, with 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 155 

the reverential sentiment largely developed, and an 
order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along 
the track of a creed, and wore its passage continually 
deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of society 
would he have been what is called a man of liberal 
views ; it would always be essential to his peace to 
feel the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while 
it confined him within its iron framework. Kot the 
less, however, though with a tremulous enjoyment, did 
he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe 
through the medium of another kind of intellect than 
those with which he habitually held converse. It was 
as if a window were thrown open, admitting a freer 
atmosphere into the close and stifled study, where his 
life was wasting itself away, amid lamp-light, or ob- 
structed day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be it 
sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the 
air was too fresh and chill to be long breathed with 
comfort. So the minister, and the physician with 
him, withdrew again Avithin the limits of what their 
church defined as orthodox. 

Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinized his patient 
carefully, both as he saw him in his ordinary fife, 
keeping an accustomed pathway in the range of 
thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when 
thrown amid other moral scenery, the novelty of 
which might call out something new to the surface of 
his character. He deemed it essential, it would seem, 
to know the man, before attempting to do him good 



156 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases 
of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities 
of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and imag- 
ination were so active, and sensibility so intense, that 
the bodily infirmity would be likely to have its ground- 
work there. So Eoger Chillingworth — the man of 
skill, the kind and friendly physician — strove to go 
deep into his patient's bosom, delving among his prin- 
ciples, prying into his recollections, and probing every- 
thing with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a 
dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator 
who has opportunity and license to undertake such a 
quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with 
a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his phy- 
sician. If the latter possess native sagacity, and a 
nameless something more, let us call it intuition ; if he 
show no intrusive egotism, nor disagreeably prominent 
characteristics of his own ; if he have the power, 
which must be born with him, to bring his mind into 
such affinity with his patient's that this last shall un- 
awares have spoken what he imagines himself only to 
have thought ; if such revelations be received Avithout 
tumult, and acknowledged not so often by an unuttered 
sympathy as by silence, an inarticulate breath, and 
here and there a word, to indicate that all is under- 
stood ; if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined 
the advantages afforded by his recognized character 
as a physician ; then, at some inevitable moment, will 
the soul of the suft'erer be dissolved, and floAv forth in 



THE SCARLET LETTER.] 157 

a dark but transparent stream, bringing all its myster- 
ies into the daylight. 

Roger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the 
attributes above enumerated. Nevertheless, time 
went on ; a kind of intimacy, as we have said, grew up 
between these two cultivated minds, which had as 
wide a field as the whole sphere of human thought 
and study, to meet upon ; they discussed every topic 
of ethics and religion, of public affairs, and private 
character ; they talked much, on both sides, of mat- 
ters that seemed personal to themselves ; and yet no 
secret, such as the physician fancied must exist there, 
ever stole out of the minister's consciousness into his 
companion's ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed, 
that even the nature of Mr. Diraraesdale's bodily dis- 
ease bad never fairly been revealed to him. It was a 
strange reserve ! 

After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, 
the friends of Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrange- 
ment by which the two Avere 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 ; unless, indeed, as often urged by 
such as felt authorized to do so, he had selected some 
one of the many blooming damsels, spiritually devoted 
to him, to become his devoted wife. This latter stejv 



158 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

however, there was no present prospect that Arthur 
Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take ; he re- 
jected all suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy 
were one of his articles of church-discipline. Doomed 
by his own choice, therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so 
evidently was, to eat his unsavory morsel always at 
another's board, and endure the life-long chill which 
must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at 
another's fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, 
experienced, benevolent old physician, with his concord 
of paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, 
was the very man, of all mankind, to be constantly 
within reach of his voice. 

The new abode of the two friends was with a pious 
widow, of good social rank, who dwelt in a house cov- 
ering pretty nearly the site on which the venerable 
structure of King's Chapel has since been built. It 
had the grave-yard, originally Isaac Johnson's home- 
field, on one side, and so was well adapted to call up 
serious reflections, suited to their respective employ- 
ments, in both minister and man of physic. The 
motherly care of the good widow assigned to Mr. 
Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny exposure, 
and heavy window - curtains, to create a noontide 
shadow, when desirable. The walls were hung round 
with tapestry said to be from the Gobelin looms, and 
at all events, representing the Scriptural story of 
David and Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet, in 
colors still unfaded, but which made the fair woman 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 159 

of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe- 
denouncing seer. Here the pale clergyman piled up 
his library, rich with parchment-bound folios of the 
Fathers and the lore of Rabbis, and monkish erudi- 
tion, of which the Protestant divines, even while they 
vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet con- 
strained often to avail themselves. On the other side 
of the house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his 
study and laboratory, not such as a modern man of 
science would reckon even tolerably complete, but 
provided with a distilling apparatus and the means of 
compounding drugs and chemicals which the practised 
alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose. With 
such commodiousness of situation, these two learned 
persons sat themselves down, each in his own domain, 
yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the 
other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious in- 
spection into one another's business. 

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best dis- 
cerning friends, as we have intimated, very reasonably 
imagined that the hand of Providence had done all 
this, for the purpose — besought in so many public, and 
domestic and secret prayers — of restoring the young 
minister to health. But, it must now be said, another 
portion of the community had latterly begun to take 
its own view of the relation between Mr. Dimmesdale 
and the mysterious old physician. When an unin- 
structed multitude attempts to see with its eyes it is 
exceedingly apt to be deceived. When^ however, it 



160 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

forms its judgment, as it usually does, on the intui- 
tions of its great and warm heart, the conclusions thus 
attained are often so profound and so unerring as to 
possess the character of truths supernaturally revealed. 
The people, in the case of which we speak, could jus- 
tify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no 
fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There 
was an aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been 
a citizen of London at the period of Sir Tliomas Over- 
bury's murder, now some thirty years agone ; he testi- 
fied to having seen the physician, under some other 
name, which the narrator of the story had now for- 
gotten, in company with Dr. Forman, the famous old 
conjuror, who was implicated in the affair of Over- 
bury. Two or three individuals hinted that the man 
of skill, during his Indian captivity, had enlarged his 
medical attainments by joining in the incantations of 
the savage priests ; who were universally acknowledged 
to be powerful enchanters, often 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 opin- 
ions would have been valuable, in other matters — 
affirmed that Roger Chillingworth's aspect had under- 
gone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, 
and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. 
At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, 
scholar-like. Now, there was something ugh' and evil 
in his face, which the}'^ had not previously noticed, and 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 161 

which grew still the more obvious to sight, the of tener 
they looked upon him. According to the vulgar idea, 
the fire in his laboratory had been brought from the 
lower regions, and was fed with infernal fuel ; and so, 
as might be expected, his visage was getting sooty 
with the smoke. 

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely dif- 
fused opinion, that the Keverend Arthur Dimmesdale, 
like many other personages of especial sanctity, in all 
ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by 
Satan himself, or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old 
Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the 
Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the 
clergyman's intimacy, and plot against his soul. 
No sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt 
on which side the victory would turn. The people 
looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister 
come forth out of the conflict, transfigured with the 
glor}'^ which he would unquestionably win. Mean- 
while, nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance 
mortal agony through which he must struggle toward 
his triumph. 

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



162 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 



X. 

THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 

Old Eoger Chillingworth, throughout life, had been 
calm in temperament, kindly, though not of warm 
affections, but ever, and in all his relations Avith the 
world, a pure and upright man. He had begun an 
investigation, as he imagined, with the severe and 
equal integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even 
as if the question involved no more than the air-drawn 
lines and figures of a geometrical problem, instead of 
human passions, and wrongs inflicted on himself. But 
as he proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, 
though still calm, necessity seized the old man within 
its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had 
done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor clergy- 
man's heart, like a miner searching for gold ; or rather, 
like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of 
a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's 
bosom, but likely to find nothing save mortality and 
corruption. Alas for his own soul, if these were what 
he sought ! 

Sometimes, a light glimmered out of the physician's 
eyes, burning blue and ominous, like the reflection 
of a furnace, or, let us say, like one of those gleams 
of ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan's awful 
door-way in the hill-side, and quivered on the 
pilgrim's face. The soil where this dark miner was 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 163 

working had perchance shown indications that encour- 
aged hira. 

" This man," said he, at one such moment, to him- 
self, "pure as they deem him — all spiritual as he 
seems — hath inherited a strong animal nature from his 
father or his mother. Let us dig a Uttle further in the 
direction of this vein ! " 

Then, after long search into the minister's dim inte- 
rior, and turning over many precious materials, in the 
shape of high aspirations for the welfare of his race, 
warm love of souls, pure sentiments, natural piety, 
strengthened by thought and study, and illuminated by 
revelation — all of which invaluable gold was perhaps 
no better than rubbish to the seeker — he would turn 
back, discouraged, and begin his quest toward another 
point. He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious 
a tread, and as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a 
chamber where a man lies only half asleep — or, it may 
be, broad awake — with purpose to steal the very treas- 
ure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. In 
spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would 
now and then creak ; his garments would rustle ; the 
shadow of his presence, in a forbidden proximity, 
would be thrown across his victim. In other words, 
Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of nerve often pro- 
duced the effect of spiritual intuition, would become 
vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace 
had thrust itself into relation with him. But old 
Roger Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were 



] 64 TEE SCA RLET L ETTER. 

almost intuitive; and when the minister threw" his 
startled e3"es toward him, there the pliysician sat ; 
his kind, watchful, sympathizing, but never intrusive 
friend. 

Yet Mr. Diramesdale would perhaps have seen this 
individual's character more perfectly, if a certain mor- 
bidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not ren- 
dered him suspicious of all mankind. Trusting no man 
as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when 
the latter actually appeared. He therefore still kept 
up a familiar intercourse with him, daily receiving the 
old physician in his study ; or visiting the laborator}'- 
and, for recreation's sake, Avatching the processes by 
which weeds were converted into drugs of potency. 

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his 
elbow on the sill of the open window, that looked 
toward the grave-yard, he talked with Roger Chil- 
lingworth, w^hile the old man was examining a bundle 
of unsightly plants. 

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

" Even in the grave-yard here at hand," answered 
the physician, continuing his employment. " They are 
new to me. I found them growing on a grave, which 
bore no tomb-stone, nor other memorial of the dead 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 165 

man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon 
themselves to keep him in remembrance. They 
grew out of his heart, and typify, it may be, some 
hideous secret that was buried with him, and which 
he had done better to confess during his lifetime." 

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

" And wherefore ? " rejoined the ph3'sician. "Where- 
fore not ; since all the powers of nature call so ear 
nestly for the confession of sin, that these black weeds 
have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make mani' 
fest an unspoken crime ? " 

" That, good sir, is but a fantasy of yours," replied 
the minister. " There can be, if I forebode aright, no 
power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether 
by uttered words, or b}'- type or emblem, the secrets 
that may be buried with a human heart. The heart, 
making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce 
hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall 
be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted H0I3' 
Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human 
thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a 
part of the retribution. That, surely, were a shallow 
view of it. ^No; these revelations, unless I greatly 
err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satis- 
faction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting,, 
on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made 
plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to 
the completest solution of that problem. And I con 



166 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ceive, moreover, that the hearts holding such miserable 
secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that 
last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutter- 
able." 

"Then why not reveal them here?" asked Koger 
Chillingworth, glancing quietly aside at the minister. 
" Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail them- 
selves of this, unutterable solace ?" 

"^ They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping hard 
at his breast, as if afflicted with an importunate 
throb of pain. " Many, many a poor soul hath given 
its confidence to me, not only on the death-bed, but 
while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever, 
after such an outpouring, O, what a relief have I wit- 
nessed in those sinful brethren ! even as in one who at 
last draws free air after long stifling with his own pol- 
luted breath. How can it be otherwise ? Why should 
a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder, pre- 
fer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, 
rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe 
take care of it ! " 

" Yet some men bury their secrets thus," observed 
the calm physician. 

" True ; there are such men," answered Mr. Dira- 
mesdale. " But, not to suggest more obvious reasons, 
it may be that they are kept silent by the very con- 
stitution of their nature. Or — can we not suppose it ? — 
guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal 
for God's glory and man's welfare, they shrink from 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 167 

displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of 
men ; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved 
by them ; no evil of the past be redeemed by better ser- 
vice. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go 
about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as 
new-fallen snow ; while their hearts are all speckled 
and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid 
themselves." 

" These men deceive themselves," said Kogfer Chil- 
lingworth, with somewhat more emphasis than usual, 
and making a slight gesture with his forefinger. 
*' They fear to take up the shame that rightfully be- 
longs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for 
God's service — these holy impulses may or may not 
co-exist in their hearts with the evil inmates to which 
their guilt has unbarred the door, and which must 
needs propagate a hellish breed within them. But, if 
they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward 
their unclean hands ! If they would serve their fellow- 
men, let them do it by making manifest the power 
and reality of conscience, in constraining them to peni- 
tential self-abasement ! Wouldst thou have me to be- 
lieve, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can 
be better — can be more for God's glory, or man's wel- 
fare — than God's own truth ? Trust me, such men de- 
ceive themselves ! " 

" It may be so," said the young clergyman, indiffer- 
ently, as waiving a discussion that he considered irrele- 
vant or unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed. 



168 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of escaping from an^'- topic that agitated his too sensi- 
tive and nervous temperament. '' But, now, I would 
ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good 
sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care 
of this weak frame of mine ? " 

Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, the}'' 
heard the clear, wild laughter of a young child's voice, 
proceeding from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking 
instinctively from the open window — for it was sum- 
mer-time — the minister beheld Hester Prynne and 
little Pearl passing along the foot-path that traversed 
the inclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the da\', 
but Avas in one of those moods of perverse merriment 
which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her 
entirely out of the sphere of sympath}^ or human con- 
tact. She now skipped irreverently from one grave 
to another ; until, coming to the broad, flat, armorial 
tombstone of a departed worthy — perhaps of Isaac 
Johnson himself — she began to dance upon it. In re- 
ply to her mother's command and entreaty that she 
would behave more decorously, little Pearl paused to 
gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock which 
grew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of these, she 
arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter 
that decorated the maternal bosom, to which the 
burrs, as their nature was, tenaciousl}'' adhered. Hes- 
ter did not pluck them off. 

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 169 

" 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," re- 
marked he, as much to himself as to his companion, 
-'I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor 
himself with water, at the cattle-trough in Spring-lane. 
What, in Heaven's name, is she ? Is the imp altogether 
evil ? Hath she affections ? Hath she any discover- 
able principle of being ? " 

" ]^one — save the freedom of a broken law," an- 
swered Mr. Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had 
been discussing the point within himself. " Whether 
capable of good, I know not." 

The child probably overheard their voices ; for, look- 
ing up to the window, with a bright but naughty 
smile of mirth and intelligence, she threw one of the 
prickly burrs at the Keverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The 
sensitive clergyman shrunk, with nervous dread, from 
the light missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl 
clapped her little hands, in the most extravagant 
ecstacy. Hester Prynne, likewise, had involuntarily 
looked up ; and all these four persons, old and young, 
regarded one another in silence, till the child laughed 
aloud, and shouted — "Come away, mother! Come 
away, or yonder old Black Man will catch you ! He 
hath got hold of the minister already. Come away, 
mother, or he will catch you ! But he cannot catch 
little Pearl ! " 

So she drew her mother awav, skipping, dancing, 



170 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and frisking fantastically, among the hillocks of the 
dead people, like a creature that had nothing in com- 
mon with a bygone and buried generation, nor owned 
herself akin to it. It was as if she had been made 
afresh, out of new elements, and must perforce be per- 
mitted to live her own life, and be a law unto herself, 
without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a 
crime. 

" There goes a woman," resumed Koger Chilling- 
worth, after 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 clegyman. 
" 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, methinks, it must 
needs be better for the suJfferer to be free to show his 
pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all 
up in his heart." 

There was another pause ; and the physician began 
anew to examine and arrange the plants which he had 
gathered, 

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

" I did," answered the clergyman, "and would gladly 
learn it Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life 
or death." ■- -' 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 171 

" Freely, then, and plainly," said the pnysician, still 
busy with his plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr. 
Dimmesdale, " the disorder is a strange one ; not so 
much in itself, nor as outwardly manifested — in so far, 
at least, as the symptoms have been laid open to my 
observation. Looking daily at you, my good sir, and 
watching the tokens of your aspect, now for months 
gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may 
be, yet not so sick but that an instructed and watch- 
ful 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 windoAV. 

" Then, to speak more plainh^," continued the phj^si- 
cian, " and I crave pardon, sir — should it seem to re- 
quire 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 operation 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 Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, 
bright with intense and concentrated intelligence, on 
the minister's face. "Be it so. But, again. He to 
whom only the outward and physical evil is laid open 



172 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

knoweth oftentimes but half the evil which he is 
called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which Ave 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 ray 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 clergyman, 
somewhat hastily rising from his chair. " You deal 
not, I take it, in medicine for the soul." 

" Thus, a sickness," continued Eoger Chillingworth, 
going on in an unaltered tone, without heeding the 
interruption, but standing up and confronting the 
emaciated and white-cheeked minister, with his low, 
dark and misshapen figure — " a sickness, a sore place, 
if we may so call it, in your spirit hath immediately 
its appropriate maniiestation in your bodily frame. 
Would you, therefore, that your physician heal the 
bodily evil? How may this be unless you first lay 
open to him the wound or trouble in your soul ?" 

" No, not to thee — not to an earthly ph3'sician !" 
cried Mr. Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning his 
eyes, full and bright, and with a kind of fierceness, on 
old Roger Chillingworth. " Not to thee ! But if it 
be the soul's disease, then do I commit m3'^self to the 
one Ph3"sician of the soul. He, if it stand with His 
good pleasure, can cure or He can Idll. I,et Him do 



TSE SCARLET LETTER. 173 

with me as, in His justice and wisdom, He shall see 
good. But who art thou that meddlest in this matter ? 
■ — that dares thrust himself between the sufferer and 
his God ?" 

With a frantic gesture, he rushed out of the room. 

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

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of 
the two companions, on the same footing and in the 
some degree as heretofore. The young clergyman 
after a few hours of privacy, was sensible that the dis- 
order of his nerves had hurried him into an unseemly 
outbreak of temper, which there had been nothing in 
the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He mar- 
veled, indeed, at the violence with which he had thrust 
back the kind old man, when merely proffering the 
advice which it was his duty to bestow, and which the 
minister himself had expressly sought. With these 
remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making the 
amplest apologies, and besought his friend stiU to con- 
tinue the care, which, if not successful in restoring 
him to health, had, in all probabihty, been the means of 
prolonging his feeble existence to that hour. Roger 



174 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Chillingworth readily assented, and went on with his 
medical supervision of the minister ; doing his best for 
him, in all good faith, but always quitting the patient's 
apartment, at the close of a professional interview, 
with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. 
This expression was invisible in Mr Dimmesdale's 
presence, but grew strongly evident as the physician 
crossed the threshold. 

"A rare case! " he muttered. "I must needs look 
deeper into it. A strange sympathy between soul 
and body ! Were it only for the art's sake, I must 
search this matter to the bottom ! " 

It came to pass, not long after the scene above re- 
corded, that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, at noon- 
day, and entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep 
slumber, sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter 
volume open before him on the talDle. It must have 
been a work of vast ability in the somniferous school 
of literature. The profound depth of the minister's re- 
pose was the more remarkable, inasmuch as he was one 
of those persons whose sleep, ordinarily, is as light, as 
fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird 
hopping on a twig. To such an unwonted remoteness, 
however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself 
that he stirred not in his chair, when old Roger 
Chillingworth, without any extraodinary precaution, 
came into the room. The physician advanced directly 
in front of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, 
and thrust aside the vestment, that, hitherto, had 
always covered it even from the professional eye. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 175 

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

After a brief pause, the physician turned away. 

But with what a wild look of wonder, joy and hor- 
ror ! With what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too 
mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features, 
and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugli- 
ness of his figure, and making itself even riotously 
manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he 
threw up his arms toward the ceiling, and stamped his 
foot upon the floor ! Had a man seen old Roger Chil- 
lingworth, at that moment of his ecstacy, he would 
have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, 
when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won 
into his kingdom. 

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



XL 

THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 

After the incident last described, the intercourse 
between the clergyman and the physician, though ex- 
ternally the same, was really of another character 
than it had previously been. The intellect of Boger 
Chillingworth had noAV a sulRciently plain path before 
it. It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had 
laid out for himself to tread. Calm, gentle, passion- 
less as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet 



1 76 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in 
this unfortunate old man, which led him to imagine a 
more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever 
wreaked upon an enemy. To make himself the one 
trusted friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, 
the remorse, the agony, the ineffectual repentance, the 
backward rush of sinful thoughts, expelled in vain ! 
All that guilty sorrow, hidden from the world, whose 
great heart would have pitied and forgiven, to be re- 
vealed to him, the Pitiless, to him, the Unforgiving ! 
All that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man, 
to whom nothing else could so adequately pay the debt 
of vengeance 1 

The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked 
this scheme. Roger Chillingworth, however, was in- 
clined to be hardly, if at all, less satisfied with the 
aspect of affairs, which Providence — using the avenger 
and his victim for its own purposes, and, perchance, 
pardoning, where it seemed most to punish — had sub- 
stituted for his black devices. A revelation, he could 
almost say, had been granted to him. It mattered 
little, for his object, whether celestial, or from what 
other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations 
between him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the ex- 
ternal presence, but the very inmost soul, of the latter, 
seemed to be brought out before his eyes, so that he 
could see and comprehend its every movement. He 
became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief 
actor, in the poor minister's interior world. He 



THE SCARLET LETTER 177 

<50uld play upon him as he chose. "Would he arouse 
him with a throb of agony ? The victim was forever 
on the rack ; it needed only to know the spring that 
controlled the engine; and the physician knew it 
well ! Would he startle him with sudden fear ? As 
at the waving of a magician's wand, uprose a grisly 
phantom — uprose a thousand phantoms — in many 
shapes, of death, or more awful shame, all flocking 
round about the clergyman, and pointing with their 
fingers at his breast ! 

All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, 
that the minister, though he had constantly a dim per- 
ception of some evil influence watching over him, 
could never gain a knowledge of its actual nature. 
True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully — even, at times, 
with horror and the bitterness of hatred — at the de- 
formed figure of the old physician. His gestures, his 
gait, his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indiffer- 
ent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were odious 
in the clergyman's sight ; a token implicitly to be re- 
lied on, of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the lat- 
ter than he was willing to acknowledge to himself. 
For, as it was impossible to assign a reason for such 
distrust and abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious 
that the poison of one morbid spot was int^cti jg his 
heart's entire substance, attributed all his presenti- 
ments to no other cause. He took himself to task for 
his bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chilling- 
worth, disregarded the lesson that he should have 



178 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

drawn from them, and did his best to root them out. 
Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as a mat- 
ter of principle, continued his habits of social famili- 
arity with the old man, and thus gave him con- 
stant opportunities for perfecting the purpose to 
which — poor, forlorn creature that he was, and more 
wretched than his victim — the avenger had devoted 
himself. 

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and 
gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the 
soul, and given over to the machinations of his deadli- 
est enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved 
a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it, 
• indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual 
gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing 
and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of 
preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his 
daily life. His fame, though still on its upward 
slope, already overshadowed the soberer reputations of 
his fellow-clergymen, eminent as several of them were. 
There were scholars among them who had spent more 
years in acquiring abstruse lore connected with the 
divine profession than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived, and 
who might well, therefore, be more profoundly versed 
in such solid and valuable attainments than their 
youthful brother. There were men, too, of a sturdier 
texture of mind than his, and endowed with a far 
greater share of shrewd, hard, iron or granite under- 
standing, which, duly mingled with a fair proportion 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 179 

of doctrinal ingredient, constitutes a highly respect- 
able, efficacious and unamiable variety of the clerical 
species. There were others, again, true saintly 
fathers, whose faculties had been elaborated by weary 
toil among their books, and by patient thought and 
etherealized, moreover, by spiritual communications 
with the better world, into which their purity of life 
had almost introduced these holy personages with 
their garments of mortality still clinging to them. All 
that they lacked was the gift that descended upon the 
chosen disciples at Pentecost in tongues of flame, sym- 
bolizing, it would seem, not the power of speech in 
foreign and unknown languages, but that of address- 
ing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native 
language. These fathers, otherwise so apostolic, 
lacked Heaven's last and rarest attestation of their 
office, the Tongue of Flame. They would have vainly X 
sought — had they ever dreamed of seeking — to ex- 
press the highest truths through the humblest medium 
of familiar words and images. Their voices came 
down, afar and indistinctly, from the upper heights 
where they habitually dwelt. 

Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men 
that Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of charac- 
ter, naturally belonged. To the high mountain peaks 
of faith and sanctity he would have climbed had not 
the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever 
it might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was 
his doom to totter. It kept him down on a level with 



180 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

^ihe lowest — him, the man of ethereal attributes, 
whose voice the angels might else have listened to 
and answered ! But this very burden it was that gave 
him sympathies so intimate with the sinful brother- 
hood of mankind, so that his heart vibrated in unison 
with theirs and received their pain into itself, and 
sent its own throb of pain through a thousand other 
hearts, in gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence. Often- 
est persuasive, but sometimes terrible ! The peo- 
ple knew not the power that moved them thus. 
They deemed the 3'oung clerg3"man a miracle of 
holiness. They fancied him the mouthpiece of 
Heaven's messages of wisdom and rebuke and 
love. In their eyes the very ground on which he 
trod was sanctified. The virgins of his church grew 
pale around him, victims of a passion so imbued with 
religious sentiment that they imagined it to be all relig- 
ion, and brought it openly in their white bosoms, as 
their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The 
aged members of his flock, beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's 
frame so feeble, while they were themselves so rugged 
in their infirmity, believed that he would go heaven- 
ward before them, and enjoined it upon their children, 
that their old bones should be buried close to their 
young pastor's holy grave. And all this time per- 
chance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of 
his grave, he questioned with himself whether the 
grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing 
must there be buried ! 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 181 

It is inconceivable, the agony with which this pub- 
lic veneration tortured him ! It was his genuine im- 
pulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things 
shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, 
that had not its divine essence as the life within their 
life. Then, what was he ? — a substance ? — or the dim- 
mest of all shadows ? He longed to speak out from 
his own pulpit, at the full height of his voice, and tell 
the people what he was. " I whom you behold in these 
'/ black garments of the priesthood, I, who ascend the 
sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward, taking 
upon myself to hold communion, in jovlv behalf, with 
the Most High Omniscience, I, in whose daily life you 
discern the sanctity of Enoch, I, whose footsteps, as 
you suppose, leave a gleam along my earthly track, 
vrhereby the pilgrims that shall come after me may be 
guided to the regions of the blest, I, who have laid the 
hand of baptism upon your children, I, who have 
breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends, 
to whom the Amen sounded faintly from a world 
which they had quitted, I, your pastor, whom you so 
reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie ! " 

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the 
pulpit, with a purpose never to come down its steps, 
until he should have spoken words like the above. 
More than once, he had cleared his throat, and drawn 
in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when 
sent forth again, would come burdened with the black 
secret of his soul. More than once — nay, more than 



182 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

a hundred times — he had actually spoken! Spoken 1 
But how ? He had told his hearers that he was alto- 
gether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst 
of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable 
iniquit}'^ ; and that the only wonder was, that they did 
hot see his Avretched body shrivelled up before their 
«yes, by the burning wrath of the Almighty ! Could 
there be plainer speech than this ? Would not the 
people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous im- 
pulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he 
defiled? Not so, indeed! The}'- heard it all, and did 
but reverence him the more. They little guessed 
what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning 
words. " The godly youth ! " said they among them- 
selves. " The saint on earth ! Alas, if he discern 
such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid 
spectacle would he behold in thine or mine ! " The 
minister well knew — subtle, but remorseful hypocrite 
that he was ! — the light in which his vague confession 
would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat upon 
himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, 
but had gained only one other sin, and a self-ac- 
knowledged shame, without the momentary relief of 
being self-deceived. He had spoken the very truth, 
and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And 
yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the 
truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. 
Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miser- 
able self I ' ""■ ~^ 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 183 

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in 
accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Kome, 
than with the better light of the church in which he 
had been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdalo's 
secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody i 
scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan 
divine had plied it on his own shoulders ; laughing 
bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much 
the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh. It 
was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other 
pious Puritans, to fast — not, however like them, in 
order to purify the body and render it the fitter 
medium of celestial illumination, but rigorously, and 
until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of 
penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, 
sometimes in utter darkness ; sometimes with a 
glimmering lamp; and sometimes, viewing his own 
face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light 
which he could throw upon it. He thus typified the 
constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but 
could not purify himself. In these lengthened vigils, 
his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit before 
him ; perhaps seen doubtfully, and b}'^ a faint light of 
their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber^ or 
more vividly, and close beside him, within ^elooking- 
glass. Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, that 
grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned 
him away with them ; now a group of shining 
angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but 



184 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

^ grew more ethereal as they rose. Xow came the dead 
Iriends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, 
with a saint-like frown, and his mother, turning her 
face away as she passed by. Ghost of a mother- 
thinnest fantasy of a mother — methinks she might 
yet have throAvn a pitying glance toward her son ! 
And now, through the chamber which these spectral 
thoughts had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne, 
leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, 
and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter 
on her bosom, and then at the clergyman's own 
breast. 

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At 
any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern 
substances through their misty lack of substance, and 
convince himself that they were not solid in their 
nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, 
square, leathern-bound and brazen-clasped volume of 
divinity. But for all that, they were, in one sense, 
the truest and most substantial things which the poor 
minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable 
misery of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith 
and substance out of whatever realities there are 
around us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the 
spirit's joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the 
whole universe is false — it is impalpable — it shrinks 
to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in 
so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes 
a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 185 

truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real 
existence on this earth, was the anguish in his 
inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his 
aspect. Had he once found power to smile, and 
wear a face of gayety, there would have been no 
such man ! 

On one of those ugly nights, which we have faintly 
hinted at, but forborne to picture forth, the minister 
started from his chair. A new thought had struck 
him. There might be a moment's peace in it. Attir- 
ing himself with as much care as if it had been for 
public worship, and precisely in the same manner, he 
stole softly down the staircase, undid the door and 
issued forth. 



XII. 

THE minister's VIGIL. 

Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and 
perhaps actually under the influence of a species of 
somnambulism, Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot 
where, now so long since, Hester Prynne had lived 
through her first hours of public ignominy. The 
same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained 
with the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and 
footworn, too, with the tread of many culprits who 
had since ascended it, remained standing beneath the 
balcony of the meeting house. The minister went up 
the steps. 



186 TEE SCA RL ET L ETTER. 

It was an obscure night of early 'Kay. An unvaried 
pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sk}-- from 
zenith to horizon. If the same multitude which had 
stood as eye-witnesses while Hester Prynne sustained 
her punishment could now have been summoned forth, 
they would have discerned no face above the platform, 
nor hardly the outline of a human shape in the dark 
gray of the midnight. But the town was all asleep. 
There was no peril of discovery. The minister might 
stand there, if it so pleased him, until morning 
should redden in the east without other risk than that 
the dank and chill night-air would creep into his 
frame, and stiffen his joints with rheumatism, and 
clog his tliroat with catarrh and cough ; thereby de- 
frauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's pra3''er 
and sermon. Ko e3'e could see him, save that ever- 
wakeful one which had seen him in his closet, wielding 
the bloody scourge. Why, then, had he come hither ? 
"Was it but the mockery of penitence ? A mockery, 
indeed, but in which his soul trifled with itself ! A 
mocker}'- at which angels blushed and wept, while 
fiends rejoiced, with jeering laughter ! He had been 
driven hither by the impulse of that Remorse which 
dogged him everywhere, and whose own sister and 
closely linked companion was that Cowardice which 
invariably drew him back, with her tremulous gripe, 
just when the other impulse had hurried him to the 
verge of a disclosure. Poor, miserable man! Whett 
right had infirmity like his to burden itself with crime? 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 187 

Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their choice 
either to endure it, or, if it press too hard, to exert 
their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, 
and fling it off at once ! This feeble and most sensitive 
of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one 
thing or another, which intertwined, in the same inex- 
tricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying guilt and 
vain repentance. 

And thus, while standing on the scaffold, in this 
vain show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was over- 
come with a great horror of mind, as if the universe 
were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, 
riglit over his heart. On that spot, in very truth, 
tnere was, and there had long been, the gnawing and 
poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of 
his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked 
aloud ; an outcry that Avent pealing through the night, 
and was beaten back from one house to another, and 
reverberated from the hills in the background ; as if a 
company of devils, detecting so much misery and ter- 
ror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were 
bandying it to and fro. 

"It is done!" muttered the minister, covering his 
face with his hands. " The whole town will awake, 
and hurry forth, and find me here ! " 

But it Avas not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded 
with a far greater power, to his own startled ears, 
than it actually possessed. The town did not awake ; 
or, if it did, the drowsy slumberers mistook the cry 



y 



J88 ^^^ SCARLET LETTER. 

either for something frightful in a dream, or for the 
noise of witches ; whose voices, at that period, were 
often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cot- 
tages, as they rode with Satan through the air. The 
clergyman, therefore, hearing no symptoms of disturb- 
ance, uncovered his eyes and looked about him. At 
one of the chamber-windows of Governor Belhngham's 
mansion, which stood at some distance, on the line 
of another street, he beheld the appearance of the 
old magistrate himself, with a lamp in his hand, a 
white night-cap on his head, and a long white gown 
enveloping his figure. He looked like a ghost, 
evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had 
evidently startled him. At another window of the 
same house, moreover, appeared old Mistress Hibbins. 
the Governor's sister, also with a lamp, which, even 
thus far off, revealed the expression of her sour and 
discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the 
lattice, and looked anxiously upward. Beyond the 
shadow of a doubt, this venerable witch-lad}^ had heard 
Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and interpreted it, with its 
multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as the clamor 
of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well 
known to make excursions into the forest. 

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's 
lamp, the old lady quickly extinguished her own, and 
vanished. Possibly, she went up among the clouds. 
The minister saw nothing further of her motions. The 
magistrate, after a wary observation of the darkness 



THE SCARLET LETTER. Ig9 

— into which, nevertheless, he could see but Uttle fur- 
ther than he might into a mill-stone — retired from the 
window. 

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, 
aowever, were soon greeted by a little, glimmering 
jight, which, at first a long way off, was approaching 
up the street. It threw a gleam of recognition on 
here a post, and there a garden-fence, and here a lat- 
ticed window-pane, and there a pump, with its full 
trough of water, and here, again, an arched door of 
oak, with an iron knocker, and a rough log for the 
door-step. The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale noted all 
these minute particulars, even while firmly convinced 
that the doom of his existence was stealing onward, in 
the footsteps which he now heard ; and that the gleam 
of the lantern would fall upon him, in a few moments 
more, and reveal his long-hidden secret. As the light 
drew nearer, he beheld, within its illuminated circle, 
his brother clergyman, or, to speak more accurately, 
his professional father, as well as highly valued 
friend, the Reverend Mr. Wilson ; who, as Mr. Dim- 
mesdale now conjectured, had been praying at the 
bedside of some dying man. And so he had. The 
good old minister came freshly from the death-cham- 
ber of Governor Winthrop, who had passed from 
earth to heaven within that ver}'- hour. And now, 
surrounded, like the saint-like personages of olden 
times, with a radiant halo, that glorified him amid this 
gloomy night of sin, as if tha departed Governor had 



190 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

As the Keverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaf- 
fold, closely muffling his Geneva cloak about him with 
one arm, and holding the lantern before his breast with 
the other, the minister could hardly restrain himself 
from speaking. 

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

Good heavens I Had Mr. Dimraesdale actually 
spoken ? For one instant he believed that these words 
had passed his lips. But they were uttered only 
J within his imagination. The venerable Father Wilson 
continued to step slowly onward, looking carefully at 
the muddy pathway before his feet, and never once 
turning his head toward the guilty platform. When 
the light of the glimmering lamp had faded quite 
away, the minister discovered, by the faintness which 
came over him, that the last few moments had been a 
crisis of terrible anxiety, although his mind had made 
an involuntary effort to reheve itself by a kind of lurid 
V playfulness. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 191 

Shortly afterward the like grisly sense of the 
humorous again stole in among the solemn phantoms 
of his thought. He felt his limbs growing stiff with 
the unaccustomed chilliness of the night, and doubted 
whether he should be able to descend the steps of the 
scaffold. Morning would break and find him there. 
The neighborhood would begin to rouse itself. The 
earliest riser, coming forth in the dim twilight, would 
perceive a vaguely -defined figure aloft on the place of 
shame, and half -crazed between alarm and curiosity, 
would go knocking from door to door, summoning all 
the people to behold the ghost — as he needs must 
think it — of some defunct transgressor. A dusky 
tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. 
Then — the morning light still waxing stronger — old 
patriarchs would rise up in great haste, each in his 
flannel gown, and matronly dames, without pausing to 
put off their night-gear. The whole tribe of decorous 
personages who had never heretofore been seen with 
a single hair of their heads awry, would start into 
public view, with the disorder of a nightmare in their 
aspects. Old Governor Bellingham would come 
grimly forth, with his King James' ruff fastened 
askew, and Mistress Hibbins, with some twigs of the 
forest cUnging to her skirts, and looking sourer than 
ever, as having hardly got a wink of sleep after her 
night ride, and good Father Wilson, too, after spend- 
ing half the night at a death-bed, and liking ill to be 
disturbed thus early out of his dreams about tha 



192 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

glorified saints. Hither, likewise, would come the 
elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church, and 
the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and 
/ had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms, 
"which now, by the by, in their hurry and confusion 
they would scantly have given themselves time to 
cover with their kerchiefs. All people, in a word, 
'would come stumbling over their thresholds, and 
turning up their amazed and horror-stricken vis- 
ages around the scaffold. Whom would they dis- 
cern there, with the red eastern light upon his 
brow ? Whom but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale^ 
half frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and 
standing where Hester Prynne had stood ! 

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

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! " cried he, after a moment's 
pause; then, suppressing his voice-— " Hester 1 Hester 
Prynne ! Are you there ? " 

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 193 

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

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

" Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl," 
said the Eeverend Mr. Diramesdale. "Ye have 
both been here before, but I was not with j^ou. 
Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three 
together ! " 

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

" Minister ! " whispered little Pearl. 

" What wouldst thou say, child ? " asked Mr. Dim- 
mesdale. 

" Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-mor- 
row noontide ? " inquired Pearl. 

" I*Tay ; not so, my little Pearl," answered the minis- 
ter ; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the 
dread of public exposure, that had so long been the 



194 THE SCA RL ET L ETTER. 

anguish of his life, had returned upon him ; and he 
was ah'eady trembling at the conjunction in which — • 
with a strange joy, nevertheless — he now found 
himself. " Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, 
stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but 
not to-morrow." 

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

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

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

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

" And what other time ? " persisted the child. 

"At the great judgment day," whispered the 
minister — and, strangely enough, the sense that he 
was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him 
to answer the child so. " Then, and there, before the 
judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must 
stand together. But the daylight of this world shall 
not see our meeting ! " 

Pearl laughed again. 

But, before Mr. Diramesdale had done speaking, a 
light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. 
It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors, 
which the night-watcher may so often observe burn- 
ing out to waste, in the vacant regions of the atmos- 
phere. So powerful was its radiance that it thor- 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 195 

oughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud be- 
tween the sky and earth. The great vault brightened^ 
like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the 
familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of 
mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always 
imparted to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. 
The wooden houses, with their jutting stories and 
quaint gable-peaks ; the doorsteps and thresholds, with 
the early grass springing up about them ; the garden- 
plots, black with freshly turned earth ; the wheel- 
track, little worn, and, even in the market-place, mar- 
gined with green on either side ; all were visible, but 
with a singularity of aspect that seemed to give an- 
other moral interpretation to the things of this world 
than they had ever borne before. And there stood 
the minister, with his hand over his heart ; and Hester 
Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her 
bosom ; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the con- 
necting link between those two. They stood in the 
noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it 
were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the 
daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one 
another. 

There was witchcraft in httle Pearl's eyes ; and her 
face, as she glanced upward at the minister, wore that 
naughty smile which made its expression frequently 
so elvish. She withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmes- 
dale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped 
both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes 
toward the zenith. 



196 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Nothing was more common, in those days, than to 
interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural 
phenomena, that occurred with less regularity than 
the rise and set of sun and moon, as so many revela- 
tions from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing 
spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheath of arrows, 
seen in the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. 
Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by a 
shower of crimson light. AVe doubt whether any 
marked event, for good or evil, ever befell New Eng- 
land, from its settlement down to Revolutionary times, 
of which the inhabitants had not been previously 
warned by some spectacle of this nature. Kot seldom, 
it had been seen by multitudes. Oftener, however, its 
credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eye-wit- 
ness, who beheld the wonder through the colored, mag- 
nifjdng, and distorting medium of his imagination, and 
shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought. It was, 
indeed, a majestic idea, that the destiny of nations 
should be revealed in these awful hieroglyphics, on the 
cope of heaven. A scroll so wide might not be deemed 
too expansive for Providence to write a people's doom 
upon. The belief was a favorite one with our fore- 
fathers, as betokening that their infant commonwealth 
was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar inti- 
macy and strictness. But what shall we say, when an 
individual discovers a revelation, addressed to himself 
alone, on the same vast sheet of record ! In such a 
case, it could only be the symptom of a highly disor 



THE SCARLET LETTER 197 

dered mental state, when a man, rendered morbidly 
self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret pain, 
had extended his egotism over the whole expanse 
of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no 
more than a fitting page for his soul's history and 
fatel 

"We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his 
own eye and heart, that the minister, looking upward 
to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an im- 
mense letter — the letter A — marked out in hues of 
dull red light. Not but the meteor may have shown 
itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil of 
cloud ; but with no such shape as his guilty imagina- 
tion ga'^e it ; or, at least, with so little definiteness, 
that another's guilt might have seen another symbol 
in it. 

There was a singular circumstance that character^ 
ized Mr. Dimmesdele's psychological state, at this mo- 
ment. All the time that he gazed upward to the 
zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that 
little Pearl was pointing her finger toward old Roger 
Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from 
the scaffold. The minister appeared to see him, with 
the same glance that discerned the miraculous letter. 
To his features, as to all other objects, the meteoric 
light imparted a new expression ; or it might well be 
that the physician was not careful then, as at all other 
times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked 
upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up 



198 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness 
that admonished Hester Prynne and the clerg3'^man of 
the day of judgment, then might Roger Chilhngworth 
have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing 
there with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So 
vivid was the expression, or so intense the minister's 
perception of it, that it seemed still to remain painted 
on the darkness, after the meteor had vanished, with 
an effect as if the street and all things else were at 
once annihilated. 

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

She remembered her oath, and was silent. 

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

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

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

Pearl mumbled something into his ear that sounded, 
indeed, like human language, but was onl}' such gib- 
berish as children may be heard amusing themselves 
with by the hour together. At all events, if it in- 
volved any secret information in regard to old Roger 
Chilline: worth it was in a tongue unknown to the 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 199 

erudite clergyman, and did but increase the bewilder- 
ment of his raind. The elvish child then laughed 
aloud, 

" Dost thou mock me now ^ " said the minister. 
' " Thou wast not bold — thou wast not true ! " an- 
swered the child. "Thou wouldst not promise to 
take my hand and mother's hand to-morrow noon- 
tide!" 

" "Worthy sir," answered the physician, who had now 
advanced to the foot of the platform. " Pious Master 
Dimmesdale ! Can this be you ? Well, well, indeed ! 
AVe men of study, whose heads are in our books, have 
need to be straitly looked after. "We dream in our 
waking moments and walk in our sleep. Come, good 
sir, and my dear friend, I pray you let me lead you 
home." 

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

" Yerily and in good faith," answered Roger Chil- 
lingworth, "I knew nothing of the matter.' I had 
spent the better part of the night at the bedside of the 
worshipful Governor "Winthrop, doing what my poor 
skill might to give him ease. He going home to a 
better world, 1 likewise was on my way homeward, 
when this strange 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 pas- 
time, or these night-whimsevs will grow upon you." 



200 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" I will go home with 3''ou," said Mr. Dimmesdale. 

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

The next day, however, being the Sabbath, he 
preached a discourse, which was held to be the richest 
and most powerful, and the most replete with heavenly 
influences that had ever proceeded from his lips. Souls, 
it is said, more souls than one, were brought to the 
truth by the efficacy of that sermon, and vowed within 
themselves to cherish a holy gratitude toward Mr. 
Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. But, as 
he came down the pulpit steps, the gray-bearded sex- 
ton met him, holding up a black glove, which the 
minister recognized as his own. 

" It was found," said the sexton, " this morning, on 
the scaffold where evil-doers are set up to public shame. 
Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a scurril- 
ous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was 
blind and foolish, as he ever and alwa3's is. A pure 
hand needs no glove to cover it." 

" Thank you, my good friend," said the minister, 
gravely, but startled at heart ; for, so confused was his 
remembrance, that he had almost brought himself to 
look at the events of the past night as visionary. 
" Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed ! " 

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



TBE SCARLET LETTER. 201 

your reverence hear of the portent that was seen last 
night ? — a great red letter in the sky — the letter A, 
which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our 
good Governor Winthrop was made an angel 
this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there 
should be some notice thereof ! " 

" Ko," answered the minister, " I had not heard of it." 



xni. 

ANOTHEK VIEV/ OF HE8TEE. 

In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, Hester Prynne was shocked at the condition to 
which she found the clergyman reduced. His nerve 
seemed absolutely destroyed. His moral force was 
abased into more than childish weakness. It grov- 
elled helpless on the ground, even while his intellect- 
ual faculties retained their pristine strength, or had 
perhaps acquired a morbid energy, which disease onl}-- 
could have given them. With her knowledge of a 
train of circumstances hidden from all others, she 
could readily infer that, besides the legitimate action 
of his own conscience, a terrible machinery had been 
brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dim- 
mesdale's well-being and repose. Knowing what this 
poor, fallen man had once been, her whole soul was 
moved by the shuddering terror Avith which he had 
appealed to her — the outcast woman — for support 
against his instinctively discovered enemy. She 



202 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

decided, moreover, that he had a right to her utmost 
aid. Little accustomed, in her long seclusion from 
society, to measure her ideas of right and wrong by 
any standard external to herself, Hester saw — or 
seemed to see — that there lay a responsibility upon 
her, in reference to the clergyman, which she 
owed to no other, nor to the whole world besides. 
The links that united her to the rest of human 
kind — links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever 
the material — had all been broken. Here was the iron 
link of mutual crime, which neither he nor she could 
break. Like all other ties, it brought along with it its 
obligations. 

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the 
same 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 mother, 
with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its 
fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar object 
to the townspeople. As is apt to be the case when a 
person stands out in an}'^ prominence before the com- 
munity, and, at the same time, interferes neither "with 
public nor individual interests and convenience, a 
species of general regard had ultimately grown up in 
reference to Hester Pr3'nne. It is to the credit of 
human nature, that, except where its selfishness is 
brought into pla}^ it loves more readily than it hates. 
Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be 
transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 203 

a continually ne\v irritation of the original feeling of 
hostilit}'. In this matter of Hester Prynne, there was 
neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled 
with the public, but submitted, uncomplainingly, to its 
worst usage ; she made no claim upon it, in requital 
for what she suffered ; she did not weigh upon its sym- 
pathies. Then, also, the blameless purity of her life 
during all these years in which she had been set 
apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favor, 
"With nothing now to lose, in the sight of mankind, 
and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gain- 
ing anything, it could only be a genuine regard for 
virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to 
its paths. 

It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put 
forward even the humblest title to share in the world's 
privileges — further than to breathe the common air, 
and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself by the 
faithful labor of her hands — she was quick to acknowl- 
edge her sisterhood with the race of man, w^henever 
benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she 
to give of her little substance to every demand of 
poverty ; even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw 
back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly 
to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the 
fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's robe. 
Kone so self-devoted as Hester, when pestilence stalked 
through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, 
\vhether general or of individuals, the outcast of society 



204 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

at once found her place. She came, not as a guest, 
but as a rightful inmate, into the household that was 
darkened by trouble ; as if its gloomy twilight were a 
medium in which she was entitled to hold intercourse 
with her fellow-creatures. There glimmered the em- 
broidered letter, with comfort in its unearthl}"- ray. 
Elsewhere the token of sin, it was the taper of the 
sick-chamber. It had even thrown its gleam, in the 
sufferer's hard extremity, across the verge of time. It 
had shown him where to set his foot, while the light 
of earth was fast becoming dim, and ere the light of 
futurity could reach him. In such emergencies, Hes- 
ter's nature showed itself warm and rich ; a well- 
spring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real 
demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her 
breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer 
pillow for the head that needed one. She was self- 
ordained a Sister of Mercy ; or, we may rather say, 
the world's heavy hand had so ordained her, w^hen 
neither the world nor she looked forward to this result. 
The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such help- 
fulness was found in her — so much power to do, and 
power to sympathize — that many people refused to in- 
terpret the scarlet A by its original signification. 
They said that it meant Able ; so strong was Hester 
Prynne, with a woman's strength. 

It was only the darkened house that could contain 
her. When sunshine came again, she was not there. 
Her shadow had faded across the threshold. The 



TSB SCARLET LETTER 205 

helpful inmate had departed, without one backward 
glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any were 
in the hearts of those whom she had served so zeal- 
ously. Meeting them in the street, she nev^er raised 
her head to receive their greeting. If they were reso- 
lute to accost her, she laid her finger on the scarlet 
letter, and passed on. This might be pride, but it was 
so like humility that it produced all the softening in- 
fluence of the latter quality on the public mind. The 
public is despotic in its temper ; it is capable of deny- 
ing common justice, when too strenuously demanded 
as a right ; but quite as frequently it awards more 
than justice, when the appeal is made, as despots love 
to have it made, entirely to its generosity. Interpret- 
ing Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal of this 
nature, society was inclined to show its former 
victim a more benign'^countenance than she cared 
to be favored with, or, perchance, than she deserved. 

The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the 
community, were longer in acknowledging the influ- 
ence of Hester's good qualities than the people. The 
prejudices which they shared in common with the lat- 
ter were fortified in themselves by an iron framework 
of reasoning, that made it a far tougher labor to expel 
them. Day by day, nevertheless, their sour and ri gid 
wrinkles were relaxing into something which, in the 
due course of years, might grow to be an expression 
of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men 
of rank, on whom their eminent position imp.osed 



206 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the guardianship of the public morals. Individuals 
in private life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester 
Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they had begun 
to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of 
that one sin, for which she had borne so long and 
dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. 
" Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?" 
they Avould 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 ! " 
Then, it is true, the propensity of human nature to 
tell the very worst of itself, Avhen embodied in the 
person of another, would constrain them to whisper 
the black scandal of bj^gone years. It was none 
the less a fact, however, that, in the e3"es of the 
very men who spoke thus, the scarlet letter had 
the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted 
to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled 
her to walk securely amid all peril. Had she fallen 
among thieves, it would have kept her safe. It 
was reported, and believed by many, that an 
Indian had drawn his arrow against the badge, 
and that the missile struck it, but fell harmless to the 
ground. 

The effect of the symbol — or, rather, of the posi- 
tion 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 



THE SCARLET LETTElt. 207 

this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, 
leaving a bare and harsh outline, which might have 
been repulsive, had she possessed friends or compan- 
ions to be repelled by it. Even the attractiveness of 
her person had undergone a similar change. It 
might be partly owing to the studied austerity of 
her dress, and partly to the lack of demonstration 
in her manners. It was a sad transformation, too, 
that her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut 
off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not 
a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. 
It was due in part to all these causes, but still more 
to something else, that there seemed to be no longer 
anything in Hester's face for Love to dwell upon ; 
nothing in Hester's form, though majestic and statue- 
like, that Passion would ever dream of clasping in 
its embrace ; nothing in Hester's bosom, to make it 
ever again the pillow of Affection. Some attribute 
had departed from her, the permanence of which had 
been essential to keep her a woman. Such is fre- 
quently the fate and such the stern development, 
of the feminine character and person, when the 
woman has encountered, and lived through, an 
experience of peculiar severity. If she be all ten- 
derness, she will die. If she survive, the tender- 
ness will either be crushed out of her, or — and the 
outward semblance is the same — crushed so deeply in- 
to her heart that it can never show itself more. 
The latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who 



208 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

has once been woman, and ceased to be so, might 
at any moment become a woman again, if there were 
only the magic touch to effect the transfigura- 
tion. We shall see whether Hester Prynne 
were ever afterward so touched, and so transfigured. 

Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression 
was to be attributed to the circumstance, that her life 
had turned, in a great measure, from passion and feel- 
ing, to thought. Standing alone in the world — alone 
as to any dependence on society, and with little Pearl 
to be guided and protected — alone, and hopeless of 
retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to 
consider it desirable, she cast away the fragments of 
a broken chain. The world's law was no law for her 
mind. It was an age in which the human intellect, 
newly emancipated, had taken a more active and a 
wider range than for many centuries before. Men of 
the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men 
bolder than these had overthrown and rearranged — 
not actually, but within the sphere of theory, which 
was their most real abode — the whole system of an- 
cient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient 
principle. Hester Pr3mne imbibed this spirit. She as- 
sumed a freedom of speculation, then common enough 
on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our fore- 
father's, had they known it, would have held to be a 
deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet let- 
ter. In her lonesome cottage, b}'^ the sea-shore, 
thoughts visited her, such as dared to enter no other 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 203 

dwelling in NewEngland ; shadowy guests, that would 
have been as perilous as demons to their entertainer, 
could they have been seen so much as knocking at her 
door. 

It is remarkable, that persons who speculate the 
most boldly often conform with the most perfect quie- 
tude to the external regulations of society. The 
thought suffices them, without investing itself in the 
flesh and blood of action. So it seemed to be with 
Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from 
the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. 
Then, she might have come down to us in history, 
hand in hand with Ann Hutchinson, as the foundress 
of a religious sect. She might, in one of her phases, 
have been a prophetess. She might, and not improb- 
ably would, have suffered death from the stern tri- 
bunals of the period, for attempting to undermine the 
foundations of the Puritan establishment. But, in the 
education of her child, the mother's enthusiasm of 
thought had something to wreak itself upon. Provi- 
dence, in the person of this little girl, had assigned to 
Hester's charge the germ and blossom of womanhood, 
to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficul- 
ties. 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 pas- 
sion, and often impelled Hester to ask, in bitterness of 
heart, whether it were for ill or good that the poor lit- 
tle creature had been born at aU. . 



210 TUE SCARLET LETTER. 

Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her 
mind, with reference to the whole race of womanhood. 
Was existence worth accepting, even to the happiest 
among them ? As concerned her own individual exist- 
ence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and 
dismissed the point as settled. A tendency to specu- 
lation, though it may keep woman quiet, as it doe? 
man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, 
such a hopeless task before her. As a first step, the 
whole sy^stem of society is to be torn down, and built 
up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, 
or its long hereditary habit, which has become like 
nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can 
be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suit- 
able position. Finally, all other difficulties being ob- 
viated, woman cannot take advantage of these prelim- 
inary reforms, until she herself shall have undergone 
a still mightier change, in which, perhaps, the ether- 
eal essence wherein she has her truest life will be 
found to have evaporated. A woman never over- 
comes these problems by any exercise of thought. 
They are not to be solved, or only in one way. If her 
heart chance to come uppermost, they vanish. Thus, 
Hester Prynne, whose heart had lost its regular and 
healthy throb, wandered without a clew in the dark 
labyrinth of mind, now turned aside by an insur- 
mountable precipice, now starting back from a deep 
chasm. There was wild and ghastly scenery all 
around her, and a home and comfort nowhere. At 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 211 

times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul whether 
it were not better to send Pearl at once to 
heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal 
Justice should provide. 

The scarlet letter had not done its office. 

Now, however, her interview with the Reverend Mr. 
Dimmesdale, on the night of his vigil, had given her a 
new theme of reflection, and held up to her an object 
that appeared worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for 
its attainment. She had witnessed the intense misery 
beneath which the minister struggled, or, to speak 
more accurately, had ceased to struggle. She saw 
that he stood on the verge of lunacy, if he had not 
already stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt 
that, whatever painful efficacy there might be in the 
secret sting of remorse, a deadlier venom had been in- 
fused into it by the hand that proffered relief. A 
secret enemy had been continually by his side, under 
the semblance of a friend and helper, and had availed 
himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tamper- 
ing with the delicate springs of Mr, Dimmesdale's 
nature, Hester could not but ask herself whether 
there had not originally been a defect of truth, cour- 
age and loyalty on her own part, in allowing the min- 
ister to be thrown into a position where so much evil 
was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped. 
Her only justification lay in the fact that she had been 
able to discern no method of rescuing him from a 
blacker ruin than had overwhelmed herself, except by 



212 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

acquiescing in Roger Chillingwortb's scheme of disguise. 
Under that impulse she had made her choice, and 
had chosen, as it now^ appeared, the more wretched al- 
ternative of the two. She determined to redeem her 
error, so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened 
by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no 
longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth 
as on that night, abased by sin, and half maddened by 
the ignominy that was still new, when they had 
talked together in the prison chamber. She had 
climbed her way since then to a higher point. The 
old man, on the other hand, had brought himself 
nearer to her level, or perhaps below it, by the revenge 
which he had stooped for. 

In fine, Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former 
husband, and do what might be in her power for the 
rescue of the victim on whom he had so evidently set 
his gripe. The occasion was not long to seek. One 
afternoon, walking with Pearl in a retired part of the 
peninsula, she beheld the old physician, with a basket 
on one arm, and a staff in the other hand, stooping 
along the ground, in quest of roots and herbs to con- 
coct his medicines withal. 



XIV. 

HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 



Hesteb bade little Pearl run down to the margin of 
the water, and play with the shells and tangled sea- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 213 

weed, until she should have talked awhile mila. yonder 
gatherer of herbs. So the child flew away like a bird, 
and, making bare her small white feet, went pattering 
along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there 
she came to a full stop, and peeped curiously into a 
pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to 
see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, 
with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an 
elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid, 
whom Pearl, having no other pla^'^mate, invited to 
take her hand, and run a race with her. But the 
visionary little maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, 
as if to say — " This is a better place ! Come thou into 
the pool ! " And Pearl, stepping in, mid-leg deep, 
beheld her own white feet at the bottom ; while, out 
of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of 
fragmentary smile, floating to and fro in the agitated 
water. 

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 he, raising 
himself from his stooping posture. " With all m}*- 
heart! Why, mistress, I hear good tidings of you, 
on all hands ! No longer ago than yester-eve, a mag- 
istrate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of your 
aJSairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there 
had been question concerning you in the council. It 



214 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

was debated whether or no, with safety to the common 
weal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your 
bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my entreaty to 
the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forth- 
with!" 

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

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

All this while, Hester had been looking steadily at 
the old man, and was shocked, as well as wonder- 
smitten, to discern what a change had been wrought 
upon him within the past seven years. It was not so 
much that he had grown older ; for though the traces 
of advancing life were visible, he bore his age well, 
and seemed to retain a wiry vigor and alertness. But 
the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, 
calm and quiet, which was what she best remembered 
in him, had altogether vanished, and been succeeded 
by an eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully 
guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose 
to mask this expression with a smile ; but the latter 
played him false, and flickered over his visage so 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 215 

derisively that the spectator could see his blackness 
all the better for it. Ever and anon, too, there came 
a glare of red light out of his eyes ; as if the old 
man's soul were on fire, and kept on smoldering 
duskily within his breast, until, b}'^ some casual puff 
of passion, it was blown into a momentary flame. 
This he repressed as speedily as possible, and 
strove to look as if nothing of the kind had 
happened. 

In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking 
evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into 
a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, 
undertake a devil's office. This unhappy person had 
effected such a transformation by devoting himself, for 
seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of 
torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and add- 
ing fuel to those fiery tortures which he analyzed and 
gloated over. 

The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. 
Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which 
came partly home to her. 

" What see you in my face," asked the physician, 
" that you look at it so earnestly ? " 

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

"And what of him?" cried Roger Chillingworth, 
eagerly, as if he loved the topic, and were glad of an 



216 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

opportunity to discuss it with the only person of whom 
he could make a confidant. " Not to hide the truth, 
Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be 
busy with the gentleman. So speak freely ; and I will 
make answer." 

" When we last spake together," said Hester, " now 
seven years ago, it was your pleasure to extort a 
promise of secrec}'', as touching the former relation be- 
tween 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 to- 
ward other human beings, there remained a duty to- 
ward 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 walking. You search his thoughts. You 
burroAv 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 have j^ou ? " asked Eoger Chilling- 
worth. "My finger, pointed at this man, would have 
hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, thence per- 
adventure, to the gallows ! " 

" It had been better so ! " said Hester Pr3mne. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 217 

" What evil have I done the man ? " asked Eoger 
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, O, I could reveal a goodly secret ! But 
enough! What art can do, I have exhausted on him. 
That he now breathes, and creeps about on earth, is 
owing all to me ! " 

" Better he had died at once ! " said Hester Prynne. 

" Yea, woman, thou 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 all, all, in the sight of his w^orst enemy ! He 
has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence 
dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by 
some spiritual sense — for the Creator never made 
another being so sensitive as this — he knew that no 
friendly hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that 
an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought 
only evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye 
and hand were mine ! With the superstition common 
to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a 
fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and des* 



218 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

perate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of 
pardon ; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the 
grave. But it was the constant shadow of my pres- 
ence ! — the closest propinquity of the man whom he 
had most vilely wronged ! — and who had grown to 
exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst re- 
venge ! Yea, indeed ! — he did not err ! — there was 
a fiend at his elbow ! A mortal man, with once 
a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial 
torment ! " 

The unfortunate physician, while uttering these 
words, lifted his hands with a look of horror as if he 
had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not 
recognize, usurping the 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 Hester, 
noticing the old man's look. " Has he not paid thee 
all?" 

" No ! — no ! — He has but increased the debt ! " an- 
swered the physician ; and as he proceeded, his manner 
lost its fiercer characteristics, and subsided into gloom. 
"Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I was nine years 
agone? Even then, I was in the autumn of my 
days, nor was it the early autumn. But all my life 
had been made up of earnest, studious, thoughtful, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 31 9 

quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of 
mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too, though this 
latter object was but casual to the other — faithfully 
for the advancement of human welfare. No life had 
been more peaceful and innocent than mine ; few 
lives so rich with benefits conferred. Dost thou re- 
member me ? "Was I not, though you might deem me 
cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others, 
craving little for himself — kind, true, just, and of 
constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all 
this?" 

" All this, and more," said Hester. 

" And what am I now ? " demanded he, looking into 
her face, and permitting the whole evil within him to 
be written on his features. " I have already told thee 
what I am I A fiend ! "Who made me so ? " 

" It was myself I " cried Hester, shuddering. " It 
was I, not less than he. "Why hast thou not avenged 
thyself on me ? " 

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

He laid his finger on it with a smile. 

" It has avenged thee," answered Hester Prynne. 

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

" I must reveal the secret," answered Hester firmly. 
" He must discern thee in thy true character. "What 
may be the result I know not. But this long debt of 



220 THE SOAHLEr LETTER. 

confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin 
I have been, shall at length be paid. So far as con- 
cerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame 
and his earthly state, and perchance his life, he is in 
thy hands. Nor do I — whom the scarlet letter has 
disciplined to truth, though it be the truth of red-hot 
iron entering into the soul — nor do I perceive such ad- 
vantage in his living any longer a life of ghastly 
emptiness that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy. 
Do with him as thou wilt. There is no good for him, 
no good for me, no good for thee. There is no good 
for little Pearl. There is no path to guide us out of 
this dismal maze ! " 

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

" And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, " for the 
hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a 
fiend. Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee and be once 
more human ? If not for his sake, then doubly for 
thine own. Forgive and leave his further retribution 
to the Power that claims it. I said but now that there 
could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who 
are here wandering together in this gloomy maze of 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 221 

evil, and stumbling at every step over the guilt where 
with 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 par- 
don. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt 
thou reject that priceless benefit V 

" Peace, Hester, peace ! " replied the old man, with 
gloomy sternness. " It is not granted me to pardon. 
I have no such power as thou tellest me of. My old 
faith, long forgotten, comes back to me and explains 
all that we do and all we suffer. By thy first step 
awry thou didst plant the germ of evil, but since that 
moment it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have 
wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical 
illusion, neither am I fiend-like who have snatched a 
fiend's office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the 
black flower blossom as it ma3\ Now go thy ways, 
and deal as thou wilt with yonder man." 

He waived his hand, and betook himself again to his 
employment of gathering herbs. 



XV. 

HESTER AND PEAEL. 

So RoGEK Chillingwokth — a deformed old figure, 
with a face that haunted men's memories longer than 
they liked — took leave of Hester Prynne, and went 
stooping away along the earth. He gathered here 
and there an herb, or grubbed up a root, and put it 



222 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost 
touched the ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed 
after him a httle Avhile, looking 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 footsteps, sere 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 earth, quickened to an evil 
purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet 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 sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, 
really fall upon him? Or was there, as it rather 
seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with 
his deformity, whichever way he turned himself? 
And whither was he now going? Would he not sud- 
denly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted 
spot, where, in due course of time, would be seen 
deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever 
else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, 
all flourishing with hideous luxuriance ? Or would he 
spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the 
uglier, the higher he rose toward heaven ? 

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

She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 223 

not overcome or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she 
thought of those long-past days, in a distant land, 
when he used to emerge at eventide from the seclusion 
of his study, and sit down in the fire-light of their 
home, and in the light of her nuptial smile. He 
needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order 
that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books 
might be tai^en off the scholar's heart. Such scenes 
had once appeared not otherwise than happy, but now, 
as viewed through the dismal medium of her subse- 
quent life, they classed themselves among her ugliest 
remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes 
could have been ! She marvelled how she could ever 
have been wrought upon to marry him ! She deemed 
it her crime most to be repented of, that she had ever 
endured, and reciprocated, the lukewarm grasp of bis 
hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes 
to mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed a 
fouler offence committed by Roger Chilling worth, 
than any which had since been done him, that, in the 
time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded 
her to fancy herself happy by his side. 

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

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless 
they win along with it the utmost passion of her 
heart ! Else it may be their miserable fortune, as it 
was Roger Chillingworth's, when some mightier touch 



224 TEE SCA RL ET LETTISR. 

than their own may have awakened all her sensibili- 
ties, to be reproached even for the calm content, the 
marble image of happiness, which they will have im- 
posed 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 letter, inflicted so much of misery, and 
wrought out no repentance ? 

The emotions of that brief space, "while she stood 
gazing after the crooked figure of old Roger Chilling- 
worth, threw a dark light on Hester's state of mind, 
revealing much that she might not otherwise have ac- 
knowledged to herself. 

He being gone, she summoned back her child. 

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! Where are you ? ,' 

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 225 

of several five-fingers, and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in 
the warm sun. Then she took up the white foam, 
that streaked the line of the advancing tide, and 
threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it, with 
winged footsteps, to catch the great snow-flakes ere 
they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach-birds, that fed 
and fluttered along the shore, the naughty child j^icked 
up her apron full of pebbles, and, creeping from rock 
to rock after these small sea-fowl, displayed remark- 
able dexterity in pelting them. One little gray bird, 
with a white breast, Pearl was almost sure, had been 
hit by a pebble, and fluttered away with a broken 
wing. But then the elf-child sighed, and gave up her 
sport ; because it grieved her to have done harm to a 
little being that was as wild as the sea-breeze, or as 
wild as Pearl herself. 

Her final emp]o3"ment was to gather sea-weed, of 
various kinds, and make herself a scarf, or mantle, 
and a head-dress, and thus assume the aspect of a 
little mermaid. She inherited her mother's gift 
for devising drapery and costume. As the last 
touch to her mermaid's garb, Pearl took some 
eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her 
own bosom, the decoration with which she was 
so familiar on her mother's. A letter — the letter 
A — but freshly green, instead of scarlet ! The 
child bent her chin upon her breast, and con- 
templated this device with strange interest; even 
as if the one only thing for which she had been 



226 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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 voice, and 
flitting along as lightly as one of the little sea- 
birds, appeared before Hester Pr^'nne, dancing, 
laughing, and pointing her finger to the ornament 
upon her bosom. 

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

"Yes, mother," said the child. "It is the 
great letter A. 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 eyes, she 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 Pearl, looking brightly 
into her mother's face. " It is for the same 
reason that the minister keeps his hand over his 
heart!" 



THE SCA RL ET LETTER. 227 

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

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

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



228 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of doubt- 
ful tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and 
then begone about its other idle business, leaving a 
dreamy pleasure at your heart. And this, more- 
over, was a mother's estimate of the child's disposition. 
Any other observer might have seen few but unami- 
able traits, and have given them a far darker coloring. 
But now the idea came strongly into Hester's mind 
that Pearl, with her remarkable precocity and acute- 
ness, might alread}?- have approached the age when 
she could be made a friend, and intrusted with as much 
of her mother's sorrows as could be imparted without 
irreverence either to the parent or the child. In the 
little chaos of 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, a sturdy pride, which might be dis- 
ciplined into self-respect, and a bitter scorn of many 
things, which, when examined, might be found to have 
the taint of falsehood in them. She possessed affec- 
tions, too, though hitherto acrid and disagreeable, as 
are the richest flavors of unripe fruit. With all these 
sterling attributes, thought Hester, the evil which she 
inherited from her mother must be great indeed if a 
noble woman do not grow out of this elfish child. 

Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the 
enigma of the scarlet letter seemed an innate quality 
of her being. From the earliest epoch of her conscious 
life she had entered upon this as her appointed mis- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 229 

sion. Hester had often fancied that Providence had a 
design of justice and retribution in endowing the child 
with this marked propensity, but never until now had 
she bethought herself to ask whether, linked with that 
design, there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy 
and beneficence. If little Pearl were entertained with 
faith and trust, as a spirit messenger no less than an 
earthly child, might it not be her errand to soothe 
away the sorrow that lay cold in her mother's heart 
and converted it into a tomb — and to help her to over- 
come the passion, once so wild, and even yet neither 
dead nor asleep, but only imprisoned within the same 
tomb-like heart? 

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

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

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

Then she spoke aloud. 

" Silly Pearl," said she, " what questions are these ? 
There are many things in this world that a child must 



230 ^^^ SCARLET LETTER. 

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

But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. 
Two or three times, as her mother and she went home- 
ward, and as often at supper-time, and while Hester 
was putting her to bed, and once after she seemed to 
be fairly asleep. Pearl looked up, with mischief gleam- 
ing in her black eyes. 

*' Mother," said she, " what does the scarlet lettei 
mean ? " 

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

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

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 231 

XVI. 

A FOREST WALK. 

Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to 
make known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of 
present pain or ulterior consequences, the true charac- 
ter of the man who had crept into his intimacy. For 
several days, however, she vainly sought an opportu- 
nity of addressing him in some of the meditative 
walks which she knew him to be in the habit of tak- 
ing, along the shores of the peninsula, or on the wooded 
hills of the neighboring country. There would have 
been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to the holy white- 
ness of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited 
him in his own study ; where many a penitent, ere 
now, had confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye as 
the one betokened by the scarlet letter. But, partly 
that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference 
of old Koger Chillingworth, and partly that her con- 
scious heart imputed suspicion where none could have 
been felt, and partly that both the minister and she 
would need the whole wide world to breathe in, Vv^hile 
they talked together, for all these reasons, Hester 
never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy 
than beneath the open sky. 

At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither 
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned 
to make a prayer, she learned that he had gone, the 
day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian 



232 TH E SCA RLET L ETTER. 

converts. lie Avould probably return, by a certain 
hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, there- 
fore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl — who 
was necessarily the companion of all her mother's ex- 
peditions, however inconvenient her presence — and 
set forth. 

The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from 
the peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a 
foot-path. It straggled onward into the mystery of 
the primeval forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, 
and stood so black and dense on either side, and dis- 
closed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, 
to Hesters mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilder- 
ness in which she had so long been wandering. The 
day was chill and somber. Overhead was a gray ex- 
panse of cloud, shghtly stirred, however, by a breeze ; 
so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and 
then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This 
flitting cheerfulness was always at the further extrem- 
it\^ of some long vista through the forest. The sport- 
ive sunlight — feebly sportive, at best, in the predomi- 
nant pensiveness of the day and scene — withdrew it- 
self as the\' came nigh, and left the spots where it had 
danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find 
them bright. 

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



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 233 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished ; 
or, to judge from the bright expression that was danc- 
ing on Pearl's features, her mother could have fancied 
that the child had absorbed it into herself, and would 
give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as 
they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There 
was no other attribute that so much impressed her 
with a sense of new and untransmitted vigor in Pearl's 



234 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

nature, as this never-failing vivacity of spirits; she 
had not the disease of sadness, which almost all chil- 
dren, in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, 
from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this too 
was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy 
with which Hester had fought against her sorrows, 
before Pearl's birth. It was certainly a doubtful 
charm, imparting a hard, metallic luster to the 
child's character. She wanted — what some people 
want throughout life — a grief that should deeply 
touch her, and thus humanize and make her capable 
of sympathy. But there was time enough yet for 
little Pearl. 

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

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

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

" O, a story about the Black Man," answered 
Pearl, taking hold of her mother's gown, and 
looking up, half earnestly, half mischievously 
mto 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 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 235 

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

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

"It 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 here, and had written in his book, and 
have his mark on them. And that ugly-tempered 
lady, old Mistress Hibbins, was one. And, mother, 
the old dame said that this scarlet letter was the 
Black Man's mark on thee, and that it glows like a 
red flame when thou meetest him at midnight, here in 
the dark wood. Is it true, mother ? And dost thou 
go to meet him in the night-time ? " 

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

" Not that I remember," said the child. " If thou 
fearest to leave me in our cottage, thou mightest take 
me along with thee. 1 would very gladly go ! But, 
mother, tell me now ! Is there such a Black Man ? 
And didst thou ever meet him ? And is this his 
mark ? " 

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



236 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" 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 conversing, they 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 century, had been a 
gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome 
shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It 
was a little dell where they had seated themselves, 
with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, 
and a brook 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 time, 
which choked up the current, and compelled it to form 
eddies and black depths at some points ; while in its 
swifter and livelier jiassages, there appeared a channel- 
way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting 
the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they 
could catch the reflected light from its water, at some 
short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces 
of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and under- 
brush, and here and there a huge rock covered over 
with gray lichens. All these giant trees and bowlders 
of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the 
course of this small brook ; fearing, perhaps, that, with 
its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out 
of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or 



THE SCARLET LETTER 237 

mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. 
Continually, indeed, as it stole, onward, the streamlet 
kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melan- 
choly, like the voice of a young child that was spend- 
ing its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how 
to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of 
somber hue. 

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

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

" "What does this sad little brook say, mother ? " in« 
quired she. 

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



238 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Is it the Black Man ?" asked Pearl. 

" Wilt thou go and play, child ?" repeated hef 
mother. " But do not stray far into the wood, and 
take heed that thou come at ray first call." 

" Yes, mother," answered Pearl. " But 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 now through 
the trees. It is the minister." 

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

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

The child went singing away, following up the cur- 
rent of the brook, and striving to mingle a more light- 
some cadence with its melancholy voice. But the 
little stream would not be comforted, and still kept 
telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful 
mystery that had happened, or making a prophetic 
lamentation about something that was 3^et to happen 
within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who 
had enough of shadow in her own little life, chose to 
break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 239 

She set herself, therefore, to gathering violets and 
wood-anemones, and some scarlet columbines that she 
found growing in the crevices of a high rock. 

When her elf -child had departed, Hester Prynne 
made a step or two toward the track that led through 
the forest, but still remained under the deep shadow of 
the trees. She beheld the minister advancing along 
the path, entirely alone, and leaning on a staff Avhich 
he had cut by the way-side. He looked haggard and 
feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his 
air, which had never so remarkably characterized him 
in his walks about the settlement, nor in any other 
situation where he deemed himself liable to notice. 
Here it was wofully visible, in this intense seclusion of 
the forest, which of itself would haV'C been a heavy 
trial to the spirits. There was a listlessness in his 
gait ; as if he saw no reason for taking one step fur- 
ther, nor felt any desire to do so, but would have been 
glad, could he be glad of anything, to fling himself 
down at the root of the nearest tree, and lie there 
passive, forevermore. The leaves might bestrew him, 
and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hil- 
lock over his frame no matter whether there were life 
in it or no. Death was too definite an object to be 
wished for, or avoided. 

To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Diramesdale ex- 
hibited no symptom of positive and vivacious suffer- 
ing, except that, as little Pearl had remarked, he kept 
his hand over his heart. 



240 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

XYII. 

THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 

Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost 
gone by before Hester Prynne could gather voice 
enough to attract his observation. At length she suc- 
ceeded. 

" Arthur Dimmesdale ! " she said, faintly at first ; 
then louder, but hoarsely. '' Arthur Dimmesdale I " 

" Who speaks ? " answered the minister. 

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

He made a step nigher, and 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 thou, Arthur 
Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live ? " 

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one an- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 241 

other's actual and bodily existence, and even doubted 
of their own. So strangely did they meet, in the dim 
wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world 
beyond the grave, of two spirits who had been inti- 
mately connected in their former life, but now stood 
coldly shuddering, in mutual dread ; as not yet familiar 
with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of 
disembodied beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken 
at the other ghost ! They were awe stricken likewise 
at themselves ; because the crisis flung back to them 
their consciousness, and revealed to each heart its 
history and experience, as life never does, except at 
such breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features 
in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with 
fear, and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, re- 
luctant necessity, that Arthur Dimraesdale put forth 
his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of 
Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away 
what was dreariest in the interview. They now 
felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same 
sphere. 

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



243 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

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

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

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. 

" Hast thou ? " she asked. 

" IS'one ! — nothing but despair ! " he answered. 
" What else could I look for, being what I am, and 
leading such a life as mine? "Were I an atheist — a 
man devoid of conscience — a wretch with course and 
brutal instincts — I might have found peace, long ere 
now. Nay, I never should have lost it ! But, as mat- 
ters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity 
there originally was in me, all of God's gifts that were 
the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual tor- 
ment. Hester, I am most miserable ! " 

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

" More misery, Hester ! — only the more misery ! " 
answered the clergyman, with a bitter smile. " As 
concerns the good which I may appear to do, I have 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 243 

no faith in it. It must needs be a delusion. "What 
can a ruined soul, like mine, effect toward the re- 
demption of other souls ? — or a polluted soul, toward 
their purification ? And as for the people's reverence, 
would that it were turned to scorn and hatred ! Canst 
thou deem it, Hester, a consolation, that I must stand 
up in my pulpit, and meet so many e3^es turned up- 
ward to m}'' face, as if the light of heaven were beam- 
ing from it ! — must see ray flock hungry for the truth, 
and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost 
were speaking ! — and then look inward, and discern 
the black reality of what they idolize ? I have 
laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the con- 
trast 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 b}'^ 
good works? And wherefore should it not bring 
you peace ? " 

'- No, Hester, no ! " replied the clergyman. " There 
is no substance in it ! It is cold and dead, and can do 
nothing for me ! Of penance, I have had enough ! Of 
penitence, there has been none ! Else, I should long 
ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, 
and have shown myself to mankind as they will see 



244 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, 
that wear the scarlet letter openly upon 3'^our bosom ! 
Mine burns in secret ! Thou little knowest what a 
relief it is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to 
look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am ! 
Had I one friend — or were it ray worst enemy ! — to 
whom, when sickened with the praises of all other 
men, I could daily betake myself, and be known as the 
vilest of all sinners, methinks m}^ soul might keep 
itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would 
save me ! But, now, it is all falsehood ! — all empti- - 
ness ! — all death ! " 

Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to 
speak. Yet, uttering his long-restrained emotions 
so vehemently as he did, his words here offered her 
the very point of circumstances in which to interpose 
what she came to say. She conquered her fears, and 
spoke. 

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

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

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



THE SCA RLET LETTER. 245 

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep 
injury for whicli she was responsible to this unhappy 
man, in permitting him to lie for so many years, or, 
indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one whose 
purposes could not be other than malevolent. The 
very contiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever mask 
the latter might conceal himself, was enough to dis- 
turb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as 
Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a period when 
Hester was less alive to this consideration, or perhaps, 
in the misanthropy of her own trouble, she left the 
minister to bear what she might picture to herself as 
a more tolerable doom. But of late, since the night 
of his vigil, all her sympathies toward him had been 
both softened and invigorated. She now read his 
heart more accurately. She doubted not that the con- 
tinual presence of Roger Chillingworth — the secret 
poison of his malignity, infecting all the air about him, 
and his authorized interference, as a physician, with 
the minister's physical and spiritual infirmities — that 
these bad opportunities had been turned to cruel pur- 
pose. By means of them the sufferer's conscience had 
been kept in an irritated state, the tendency of which 
was, not to cure by wholesome pain, but to disorgan- 
ize and corrupt his spiritual being. Its result, on 
earth, could hardly fail to be insanity, and hereafter, 
that eternal alienation from the Good and True of 
which madness is perhaps the earthly type. 

Such was the ruin to which she had brought the 



246 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

" O, Arthur," cried she, " forgive rae ! In all things 
else I have striven to be true ! Truth was the one vir- 
tue 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 instant with all 
that violence of passion which, intermixed in more 
'shapes than one with his higher, purer, softer qualities, 
'was, in fact, the portion of him which the devil claimed, 
and 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 lasted 
it was a dark transfiguration. But his character had 
been so much enfeebled by suffering that even its 
lower ertergies were incapable of more than a tempor- 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 24? 

ary struggle. He sank down on the ground and 
buried his face in his hands. 

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

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

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

"Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeated, over 



248 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and over again. " "Wilt thou not f ro^vn ? "Wilt thou 
forgive ? " 

" I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister, at 
length, with a deep utterance, out of an abyss of sad- 
ness, but no anger. " I freely forgive you now. May 
God forgive us both ! We are not, Hester, the worst 
sinners in the world . There is one worse than even 
the polluted priest ! The old man's revenge has been 
blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, 
the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, 
never did so ! " 

" Never, never ! " whispered she. " What 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 Dimmesdale, rising 
from the ground. " Ko ; I have not forgotten ! " 

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 249 

And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the 
forest-track that led backward to the settlement, 
where Hester Prynne must take up again the burden 
of her ignominy, and the minister the hollow mockery 
of his good name ! So they lingered an instant longer. 
Ko golden light had ever been so precious as the 
gloom of this dark forest. Here, seen only by his 
e3'es, the scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of 
the fallen woman ! Here, seen only by her eyes, Ar- 
thur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might be, for 
one moment, true! 

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to 
him. 

" Hester," cried he, " here is a new horror ! Koger 
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. T deem it not 
likely that he will betray the secret. He will doubt* 
less seek other means of satiating his dark passion." 

" And I ! — how am I to live longer, breathing the 
same air with this deadly enemy ? " exclaimed Arthur 
Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his 
hand nervously against his heart, a gesture that had 
grown involuntary with him. " Think for me, Hester 1 
Thou art strong. Kesolve for me ! " 

" Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said 



250 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Hester, slowly and firmly. " Thy heart must be no 
longer under his evil eye ! " 

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

" Alas what a ruin has befallen thee ! " said Hester, 
with the tears gushing into her eyes. " "Wilt thou die 
for very 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 Hester, 
"hadst 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 
Prynne, fixing her deep eyes on the minister's, and in- 
stinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so 
shattered and subdued that it could hardl}' hold itself 
erect. " Doth the universe lie within the compass of 
yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf 
strewn desert, as lonely as this around us ? Whither 
leads yonder forest-track? Backward to the settle- 
ment, thou sayest! Yes; but onward, too! Deeper 
it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to 
be seen at every step ; until, some few miles hence. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 251 

the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white marx's 
tread. There thou art free ! So brief a journey 
would bring thee from a world where thou hast been 
most wretched, to one where thou raa^'^est still be 
happy ! Is there not shade enough in all this bound- 
less forest to hide thy heart from 'the gaze of Eoger 
Chillingworth ? " 

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

" Then there is the broad pathwa}'^ of the sea ! " con- 
tinued Hester. " It brought thee hither. If thou so 
choose, it will bear thee back again. In our native 
land, w^hether 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 knowl- 
edge ! And what hast thou to do with all these iron 
men, and their opinions ? They have kept thy better 
part in bondage too long already ! " 

" It cannot be ! " answered the minister, listening as 
if he were called upon to realize a dream. " I am 
powerless to go! Wretched and sinful as I am, I have 
had no other thought than to drag on my earthly ex- 
istence in the sphere where Providence hath placed 
me. Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I 
may for other human souls ! I dare not quit m}'- post, 
though an unfaithful sentinel, w^hose sure reward is 
death and dishonor, when his dreary watch shall come 
to an end ! " 

" Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight 



852 THE J^CA RL ET L ETTER. 

of misery," replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy 
him up with her own energy, " But thou shalt leave 
it all behind thee ! It shall not cumber thy steps, as 
thou treadest along the forest-path ; neither shalt thou 
freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. 
Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath hap- 
pened. 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 enjoA^ed ? There is 
good to be done ! Exchange this false life of thine for 
a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a 
mission, the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or 
— as is more thy nature — be a scholar and a sage 
among the wisest and the most renowned of the culti- 
vated world. Preach ! "Write ! Act ! Do anything, 
save to lie down and die ! Give up this name of 
Arthur Diramesdale, and make thyself another, and a 
high one, such 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 ! 
Up, and away ! " 

" O Hester ! " cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose 
eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed 
up and died away, " thou 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 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 253 

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. 

"Alone, Hester!" 

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

Then, all was spoken ! 



XYIII. 

A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 

Akthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a 
look in which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but with 
fear between them, and a kind of horror at her bold- 
ness, who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, but 
dared not speak. 

But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage 
and activit}^, and for so long a period not merely es- 
tranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated 
herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether 
foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered,without 
rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as 
intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the 
gloom of which they were now holding a colloqu}'^ that 
was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had 
their home, as it were, in desert places, where she 



254 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

roamed as Ireely as the wild Indian in bis woods. For 
years past she had looked from this estranged point 
of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or 
legislators had established ; criticising all with hardly 
more reverence than the Indian would feel for the 
clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, 
the fireside, or the church. The tendency of her 
fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scar- 
let letter was her passport into regions where other 
women dare not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude ! 
These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones — 
and they had made her strong, but taught her much 
amiss. 

The minister, on the other hand, had never gone 
through an experience calculated to lead him beyond 
the scope of generally received laws ; although, in a 
single instance, he had so fearfullj'- transgressed one 
of the most sacred of them. But this had been a sin 
of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose. Since 
that 'ftTetched epoch, he had watched, with morbid 
zeal and minuteness, not his acts — for those it was 
easy to aiTange — but each breath of emotion, and his 
every tluiught. At the head of the social system, as 
tne clergymen of that day stood, he was only the 
more trammeled by its regulations, its principles, 
and even its prejudices. As a priest, the frame- 
work of his order inevitably hemmed him in. As a 
man who had once sinned, but who kept his conscience 
til alive and pamfuLly sensitive by the fretimg of an 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 255 

unhealed wound, he might have been supposed safer 
within the line of virtue than if he had never sinned 
at all. 

Thus we seem to see that, as regarded Hester 
Prynne, the whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy 
had been little other than a preparation for this very 
hour. But Arthur Dimmesdale ! AVere such a man 
once more to fall, what plea could be urged in extenua- 
tion of his crime ? None ; unless it avail him some- 
what, that he was broken down by long and exquisite 
suffering ; that his mind was darkened and confused 
by the very remorse which harrowed it ; that, be- 
tween fleeing as an avowed criminal, and remaining 
as a hypocrite, conscience might find it hard to strike 
the balance ; that it was human to avoid the peril of 
death and infamy, and the inscrutable machinations of 
an enemy ; that, finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his 
dreary and desert path, faint, sick, miserable, there 
appeared a ghmpse of human affection and sympathy, 
a new life, and a true one, in exchange for the heavy 
doom which he was now expiating. And be the stern 
and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has 
once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal 
state, repaired. It may be watched and guarded ; so 
that the enemy shall not force his way again into the 
citadel, and might even, in his subsequent assaults, 
select some other avenue, in preference to that where 
he had formerly succeeded. But there is still the 
ruined wall, and, nepv it, the stealthy tread of 



256 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

the foe that would win over again his unforgotten 
triumph. 

The struggle, if there were one, need not be de- 
scribed. Let it suffice, that the clergyman resolved to 
flee, and not alone. 

" If, in all these past seven years," thought he, '' I 
could recall one instant of peace or hope, I would yet 
endure, for the sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy. 
But now — since I am irrevocably doomed — wherefore 
should I not snatch the solace allowed to the con- 
demned 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 companion- 
ship; so powerful is she to sustain — so tender to 
soothe ! O Thou to whom I dare not lift mine eyes, 
wilt Thou yet pardon me ! " 

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

The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoy- 
ment 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 wild, free atmosphere of an 
unredeemed, unchristianized, lawless region. His 
spirit rose, as it were, with a bound, and attained a 
nearer prospect of the sky, than throughout all 
the misery which had kept him grovelling on the 
earth. Of a deeply religious temperament, there 



THE SCARLET LETTER, 257 

was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in his 
mood. 

" Do I feel joy again ? " cried he, wondering at him- 
self. " Methought the germ of it was dead in me ! 
O, Hester, thou art my better angel ! I seem to 
have flung myself — sick, sin-stained, and sorrow- 
blackened — down upon these forest-leaves, and 
to have risen up all made anew, and with new 
powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful ! 

This is already the better life ! "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 
all, and make it as it had never been ! " 

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

The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, 



258 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

in which the burden of shame and anguish departed 
from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not 
known the weight until she felt the freedom! By 
another impulse she took off the formal cap that 
confined her hair ; and down it fell upon her 
shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a 
light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of 
softness to her features. There played around her 
mouth and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and 
tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart 
of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her 
cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, 
and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from 
what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered 
themselves, with her maiden hope and a happiness 
before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour. 
And, as if the gloom of the earth and sky had been 
but the effluence of these two mortal hearts, it van- 
ished with their sorrow. All at once, as with a sudden 
smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a 
very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each 
green leaf, transmuting the ^^ellow fallen ones to gold, 
and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn 
trees. The objects that had made a shadow hitherto 
embodied the brightness now. The course of the little 
brook might be traced by its merry gleam afar into 
the wood's heart of mystery, which had become a 
mystery of joy. 

Such was the sympathy of ligature — that wild, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 259 

heathen Katu?e of the forest, never subjugated by 
human law, nor illumined by higher truth — with the 
bliss of these two spirits ! Love, whether newly born, 
or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always 
create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance 
that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the 
forest still kept its gloom it ^vould have been bright in 
Hester's eyes and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's. 
Hester looked at him with the thrill of another 

joy- 

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

" Dost thou think the child will be glad to know 
me ?" asked the minister, somewhat uneasily. " I have 
long shrunk from children, because they often show a 
distrust, a backwardness to be familiar with me. 1 
have even been afraid of little Pearl !" 

" Ah, that w^as sad ! " ansAvered the mother. " But 
she will love thee dearly and tjiou her. She is not far 
off. I will call her ! Pearl ! Pearl !" 

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

Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who was 



260 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

visible at some distance, as the minister had described 
her, like a bright-appareled vision, in a sunbeam which 
fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The 
ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or dis- 
tinct — now like a real child, now like a child's spirit- 
as the splendor went and came again. She heard her 
mother's voice, and approached slowly through the 
forest. 

Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely, 
while her mother sat talking with the clergyman. 
The great black forest — stern as it showed itself to 
those who brought the guilt and troubles of the world 
into its bosom — became the playmate of the lonely in- 
fant, as well as it knew how. Somber as it was, it put 
on the kindest of its moods to welcome her. It offered 
her the partridge-berries, the growth of the preceding 
autumn, but ripening only in the spring, and now red 
as drops of blood upon the withered leaves. These 
Pearl gathered, and was pleased with their wild flavor. 
The small denizens of the wilderness hardly took pains 
to move out of her path. A partridge, indeed, with a 
brood of ten behind her, ran forward threateningl}'^, 
but soon repented of her fierceness, and clucked to her 
young ones not to be afraid. A pigeon, alone on a low 
branch, allowed Pearl to come beneath, and uttered a 
sound as much of greeting as alarm. A squirrel, from 
the lofty depths of his domestic tree, chattered either 
in anger or merriment — for a squirrel is such a choleric 
and humorous little personage that it is hard to distin- 



TEE SCARLET LETTER 261 

gid?h 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 
fox, startled from his sleep by her light footstep on the 
leaves, looked inquisitively at Pearl, as doubting 
whether it were better to steal off, or renew a nap on 
the same spot. A wolf it is said — but here the tale has 
surely lapsed into the improbable — came up, and smelt 
of Pearl's robe, and offered his savage head to be pat- 
ted by her hand. The truth seems to be, however, 
that the mother-forest, and these wild things which it 
nourished, all recognized a kindred wildness in the hu- 
man child. 

And she was gentler here than in the grassy -mar- 
gined streets of the settlement, or in her mother's cot- 
tage. The flowers appeared to laiow it ; and one and 
another whispered as she passed, " Adorn thyself with 
me, thou beautiful child, adorn thyself with me ! " and, 
to please them. Pearl gathered the violets, and ane- 
mones, and columbines, and some twigs of the freshest 
green, which the old trees held down before her eyes. 
With these she decorated her hair and her youug waist, 
and became a nymph-child, or an infant dryad, or 
whatever else was in closest sympathy with the an- 
tique wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned herself, 
when she heard her mother's voice, and came slowly 
back. 

Slowly ; for she saw the clergyman I 



263 TEH SCARLET LETTER. 

XIX. 

THE CHILD AT THE BEOOKSIDE. 

Thou wilt love her dearly, " repeated Hester Prynne, 
as she and the minister sat watching little Pearl. 
" Dost thou not think her beautiful i And see with 
what natural skill she has made those simple flowers 
adorn her ! Had she gathered pearls, and diamonds, 
and rubies, in the wood, they could not have become 
her better. She is a splendid child I But I know 
whose brow she has ! " 

" Dost thou know, Hester," said Arthur Dimmes- 
dale, with an unquiet smile, "that this dear child, 
tripping about always at thy side, hath caused me 
many an alarm ? Methought — O Hester, what a 
thought is that, and how terrible to dread it ! — that 
my 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 mother, 
with a tender smile. " A little longer, and thou need- 
est 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, whoni 
we left in our dear old England, had decked her out 
to meet us." 

It was with a feehng which neither of them had 
ever before experienced that they sat and watched 
Pearl's slow advance. In her was visible the tie that 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 263 

united them. She had been offered to the world, 
these seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in 
which was revealed the secret they so darkly sought 
to hide — all written in this symbol — all plainly mani- 
fest—had there been a prophet or magician skilled to 
read the character of flame ! And Pearl was the one- 
ness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it 
might, how could they doubt that their earthly lives 
and future destinies w^ere conjoined, when they beheld 
at once the material union, and the spiritual idea, in 
whom they met, and were to dwell immortally to- 
gether ? Thoughts like these — and perhaps other 
thoughts, which they did not acknowledge or define — 
threw an awe about the child, as she came onward. 

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

" Thou canst not think," said the minister, glancing 
aside at Hester Prynne, " how my heart dreads this 
interview, and yearns for it. But, in truth, as I al- 
ready 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, 



264 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

twice in her little lifetime, bath been kind to me. The 
first time — thou knowest it welll 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 first, but will soon learn to love 
thee." 

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the 
brook, and stood on the further side, gazing silently at 
Hester and the clergyman, who still sat together on 
the mossy tree trunk, waiting to receive her. Just 
where she had paused the brook chanced to form a 
pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect 
image of her little figure, with all the brilliant pict- 
uresqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers 
and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritual- 
ized than the reality. This image, so nearly identical 
with the living Pearl, seemed to communicate some- 
what of its own shadowy and intangible quality to 
the child herself. It was strange, the way in which ' 
Pearl stood looking so steadfastly at them through the 
dim medium of the forest gloom, herself meanwhile 
all glorified with a ray of sunshine, that was at- 
tracted 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 herself, in some indi-stJBct and tantalizing manner, 



TEE SCAELET LETTER. 265 

estranged from Pearl, as if the child, in her lonely 
ramble through the forest, had strayed out of the 
sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together, 
and was now vainly seeking to return to it. 

There was both truth and error in the impression ; 
the child and mother were estranged, but through 
Hester's fault, not Pearl's. Since the latter rambled 
from her side, another inmate had been admitted within 
the circle of the mother's feelings, and so modified the 
aspect of them all that Pearl, the returning wanderer, 
could not find her wonted place, and hardly knew 
where she was. 

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

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

Pearl, without responding in any manner to these 
honey-sweet expressions, remained on the other side of 



266 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the brook. Now she fixed her bright, wild eyes on 
her mother, now on tlie minister, and now included 
them both in the same glance ; as if to detect and 
explain to herself the relation which they bore to 
one another. For some unaccountable reason, as 
Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himself, 
his hand — with that gesture so habitual as to have 
become involuntary — stole over his heart. At length, 
assuming a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched 
out her hand, with the small forefinger extended, and 
pointing evidently toward her mother's breast. And 
beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the 
flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, point- 
ing her small forefinger too. 

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

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

" Hasten, Pearl, or I shall be angr}'^ with thee ! " 
cried Hester Prynne, who, however inured to such 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 267 

behavior on the elf-child's part at other seasons, was 
naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now. 
" Leap across the brook, naughty child, and run hither ! 
Else I must come to thee ! " 

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

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

" I pray you," answered the minister, " if thou 
hast any means of pacifying the child, do it forth- 
with ! Save it were the cankered wrath of an 



268 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

old witch, like Mistress Hibbins," added he, attempt- 
ing to smile, " I 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 toward Pearl, with a crimson 
blush upon her cheek, a conscious glance aside at the 
clergyman, and then a heavy sigh ; while, even before 
she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a deadly 
pallor. 

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

The child turned her eyes to the point indicated ; 
and there lay the scarlet letter, so close upon the mar- 
gin of the stream that the gold embroidery was re- 
fleeted 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, " O, 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 forever ! " 



THE SCARLET LETTER. ^69 

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

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

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

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

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with 



370 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

her, she drew down her mother's head, and kissed her 
brow and both her cheeks. But then —by a kind of 
necessity that always 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 letter too ! 

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

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

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

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

" Kot now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in 
days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We 
will have a home and fireside of our own ; and thou 
shalt sit upon his knee ; and he will teach thee man}'^ 
things, and 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 !" 

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems 
instinctive with every petted child toward a dangerous 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 271 

rival, or from whatever caprice of her freakish nature, 
Pearl would show no favor to the clergyman. It was 
only by an exertion of force that her mother brought 
her up to him, hanging back, and manifesting her re- 
luctance by odd grimaces ; of which, ever since her 
babyhood, she had possessed a singular variety, and 
could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series 
of different aspects, with a new mischief in them, each 
and all. The minister — painfully embarrassed, but 
hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him 
into the child's kindlier regards — bent forward, and 
impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke 
away from her mother, and, running to the brook, 
stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the un- 
welcome kiss was quite washed off, and diffused 
through a long lapse of the gliding water. She then 
remained apart, silently watching Hester and the cler- 
gyman ; while they talked together, and made such 
arrangements as were suggested by their new position, 
and the purposes soon to be fulfilled. 

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



372 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

XX. 

THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 

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

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and 
duplicity of impression, which vexed it with a strange 
disquietude, he recalled and more thoroughly de- 
fined the plans which Hester and himself had sketched 
for their departure. It had been determined between 
them, that the Old World, with its crowds and cities, 
offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment 
than the wilds of New England, or all America, with 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 273 

its alternatives of an Indian wigwam, or the few 
settlements of Europeans, scattered thinly along the 
seaboard. Not to speak of the clergyman's health, so 
inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest life, his 
native gifts, his culture, and his entire developmentj 
would secure him a home only in the midst of civili- 
zation and refinement ; the higher the state, the more 
delicately adapted to it the man. In furtherance of 
this choice, it so happened that a ship lay in the 
harbor ; one of those questionable cruisers, frequent 
at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws 
of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a re- 
markable irresponsibility of character. This vessel 
had recently arrived from the Spanish Main, and, 
within three days' time, would sail for Bristol. 
Hester Prynne — whose vocation, as a self-enlisted 
Sister of Oharit}'", had brought her acquainted with the 
captain and crew — could take upon herself to secure 
the passage of two individuals and a child, with all 
the secrecy which circumstances rendered more than 
desirable. 

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little 
interest, the precise time at which the vessel might be 
expected to depart. It would probably be on the 
fourth day from the present. " That is most fortu- 
nate!" he had then said to himself. Kow, why the Kev- 
erend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate, 
we hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless— to hold nothing 
back from the reader — it was because, on the third day 



2 74 TEE SCA RLET L ETTER. 

from the present, he was to preax^h the Election Sermon; 
and as such an occasion, formed an honorable epoch in 
the life of a New England clergyman, he could not have 
chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of ter- 
minating his professional career. " At least, they shall 
say of me," thought this exemplar}'- man, " that I 
leave no public duty unperformed, nor ill performed !" 
Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound and 
acute as this poor ministers should be so miserably 
deceived ! We have had, and may still have, worse 
things to tell of him ; but none, we apprehend, so piti- 
ably weak ; no evidence, at once so slight and irre- 
fragable, of a subtle disease, that had long since begun 
to eat into the real substance of his character. No 
man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to 
himself, and another to the multitude, without finally 
getting bewildered as to which may be the true. 

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings, as he 
returned from his interview with Hester, lent him un- 
accustomed physical energy, and hurried him town- 
ward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods 
seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natu- 
ral obstacles, and less trodden by the foot of man, 
than he remembered it on his outward journey. But 
he leaped across the plashy places, thrust himself 
through the clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, 
plunged into the hollow, and overcame, in short, all 
the difficulties of the track, with an unweariable activ- 
ity that astonished him. He could not but recall how 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 275 

feebl}'', and with what frequent pauses for breath, he 
had toiled over the same ground, only two days before. 
As he drew near the town, he took an impression of 
change from the series of familiar objects that pre- 
sented themselves. It seemed not yesterday, not one, 
nor two, but many days, or even years ago, since he 
had quitted them. There, indeed, was each former 
trace of the street, as he remembered it, and all the 
peculiarities of the houses, with the due multitude of 
gable-peaks, and a weather-cock at every point where 
his memory suggested one. Kot the less, however, 
came this importunately obtrusive sense of change. 
The same was true as regarded the acquaintances 
whom he met, and all the well-known shapes of human 
life, about the little town. They looked neither older 
nor younger now ; the beards of the aged were no 
whiter, nor could the creeping babe of yesterday walk 
on his feet to-day ; it was impossible to describe in 
what respect they differed from the individuals on 
whom he had so recently bestowed a parting glance ; 
and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to inform 
him of their mutability. A similar impression struck 
him most remarkably, as he passed under the walls of 
his own church. The edifice had so very strange, and 
yet so familiar, an aspect, that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind 
vibrated between two ideas ; either that he had seen 
it only in a dream hitherto, or that he was merely 
dreaming about it now. 
This phenomenon, in the various shapes which it aS" 



276 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

sumed, indicated no external change, but so sudden 
and important a change in the spectator of the familiar 
scene, that 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 will, and the 
fate that grew between them, had wrought this trans 
formation. It was the same town as heretofore, but 
the same minister returned not from the forest. He 
might have said to the friends who greeted him : " I 
am not the man for whom you take me. I left him 
yonder in the forest, -withdrawn into a secret dell, b}i 
a mossy tree trunk and near a melancholy brook ! Go, 
seek your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, his 
thin cheek, his w^hite, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be 
not flung down there, like a cast-off garment ?" His 
friends, no doubt, would still have insisted with him — 
" Thou art thyself the man !" but the error would have 
been their own not his. 

Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home his inner man 
gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere 
of thought and feeling. In truth, nothing short of a 
total change of dynasty and moral code in that inte- 
rior kingdom was adequate to account for the impulses 
now communicated to the unfortunate and startled 
minister. At every step he was incited to do some 
strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that 
it would be at once involuntary and intentional, in 
spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self 
than that which opposed the impulse. For instanccj 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 277 

he met one of his own deacons. The good old man 
addressed him with the paternal affection and patri- 
archal privilege which his venerable age, his upright 
and holy character and his station in the church en- 
titled him to use, and, conjoined with this, the deep, 
almost worshiping respect, which the minister's profes- 
sional and private claims alike demanded. Kever was 
there a more beautiful example of how the majesty of 
age and wisdom may comport with the obeisance and 
respect enjoined upon it, as from a lower social ranlc 
and inferior order of endowment toward a hig-her. 
Now, during a conversation of some two or three 
moments between the Eeverend Mr. Dimmesdale and 
this excellent and hoary-headed deacon, it was only 
by the most careful self-control that the former could 
refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions 
that rose into his mind respecting the communion- 
supper. He absolutely trembled and turned pale as 
ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself in utterance of 
these horrible matters, and plead his own consent for 
so doing, without his having fairly given it. And, 
even with this terror in his heart, he could hardly 
avoid laughing to imagine how the sanctified old patri- 
archal deacon would have been petrified by his minis- 
ter's impiety. 

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hur- 
rying along the street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale 
encountered the eldest female member of his church ; 
a most pious and exemplary old dame ; poor, widowed, 



278 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

lonely, and with a heart as full of reminiscences about 
her dead husband and children, and her dead friends 
of long ago, as a burial-ground is full of storied grave- 
stones. Yet all this, which would else have been such 
heavy sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her 
devout old soul, by religious consolations and the 
truths of Scripture, wherewith she had fed herself 
continually for more than thirty years. And, since 
Mr. Dimmesdale had taken her in charge, the good 
granddam's chief earthly comfort — which, unless it had 
been likewise a heavenly comfort, could have been 
none at all — was to meet her pastor, whether casually, 
or of set purpose, and be refreshed with a word of 
warm, fragrant, heaven-breathing Gospel truth 
from his beloved lips, into her dulled, but rapturously 
attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the 
moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear, 
Mr. Dimmesdale, as the great enemy of souls would 
have it, could recall no text of Scripture, nor aught 
else, except a brief, pithy, and, as it then appeared to 
him, unanswerable argument against the immortahty 
of the human soul. The instillment thereof into her 
mind would probably have caused this aged sister to 
drop down dead, at once, as by the eflfect of an 
intensely poisonous infusion. "What he really did 
whisper, the minister could never afterward recollect. 
There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder in his utter- 
ance, which failed to impart any distinct idea to the 
good widow's comprehension, or which Providence 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 279 

interpreted after a method of its own. Assuredly, as 
the minister looked back, he beheld an expression of 
divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine 
of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and ashy 
pale. 

\ Again, a third instance. After parting from the old 
church-member, he met the youngest sister of them 
all. It was a maiden newly won — and won by the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon, on the Sab- 
bath after his vigil — to barter the transitory pleasures 
of the world for the heavenly hope, that was to assume 
brighter substance as life grew dark around her, and 
which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. 
She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in 
Paradise. The minister knew well that he was him- 
self enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart, 
which hung its snowy curtains about his image, im- 
parting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a 
religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely 
led the poor young girl away from her mother's side, 
and thrown her into the pathway of this sorely 
tempted, or — shall we not rather say ? — this lost and 
desperate man. As she drew nigh, the arch-fiend 
whispered him to condense into small compass 
and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that 
would be sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black 
fruit betimes. Such was his sense of power over 
this virgin soul, trusting him as she did, that the min- 
ister felt potent to blight all the field of innocence 



280 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite 
with but a word. So — with a mightier struggle than 
he had yet sustained — he held his Geneva cloak before 
his face, and hurried onward, making no sign of rec- 
ognition, and leaving the young sister to digest his 
rudeness as she might. She ransacked her conscience 
—which was full of harmless little matters, like her 
pocket or her work-bag — and took herself to task, 
poor thing! for a thousand imaginary faults; and 
went about her household duties with swollen eyelids 
the next morning. 

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



TEE SCARLET LETTER. ?81 

"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" 
cried the minister to himself, at length, pausing in the 
street, and 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 ever}'' 
wickedness which his most foul imagination can con- 
ceive ? " 

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

" So, reverend sir, you have made a visit into the 
forest," observed the witch-lady, nodding her high 
head-dress at him. " The next time, I pray you to al- 
low 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 toward gaining any 



282 THE SCARLET LETTER, 

strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder poten* 
tate you wot of ! " 

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

" Ha, ha, ha ! " cackled the old witch-lady, still nod- 
ding her high head-dress at the minister. " Well, well, 
we must needs talk thus in the daytime ! You carry 
it off like an old hand ! But at midnight, and in the 
forest, we shall have other talk together ! " 

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

" Have I then sold myself," thought the minister, 
" to the fiend whom, if men say true, this 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 happiness, be 
had yielded himself, with deliberate choice, as he had 
never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 283 

And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus 
rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had 
stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid 
life the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitter- 
ness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, 
ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke, to 
tempt, even while they frightened him. And his en- 
counter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real in- 
cident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship with 
wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits. 

He had, by this time, reached his dwelling, on the 
edge of the burial-ground, and, hastening up the stairs, 
took refuge in his study. The minister was glad to 
have reached this shelter without first betraying him- 
self to the world by an}'- of those strange and wicked 
eccentricities to w^hich he had been continually impelled 
while passing through the streets. He entered the 
accustomed room, and looked around him on its 
books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried 
comfort of the walls, Avith the same perception of 
strangeness that had haunted him throughout his 
walk from the forest-dell into the town, and thither- 
ward. Here he had studied and Avritten ; here, gone 
through fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here, 
striven to pra}'; here, borne a hundred thousand 
agonies ! There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, 
with Moses and the Prophets speaking to him, and 
God's voice through all. There, on the table, with the 
inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon, with a 



284 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had 
ceased to gush out upon the page, two days before. 
He knew that it was himself, the thin and white- 
cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these 
things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon. 
But he seemed to stand apart and eye this former self 
with scornful, pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That 
self was gone. Another man had returned out of 
the forest — a 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 reflections a knock came 
at the door of the study, and the minister said, "Come 
in ! " — not wholly devoid of an idea that he might be- 
hold an evil spirit. And so he did. It was old Roger 
Chillingworth that entered. The minister stood, white 
and speechless, with one hand on the Hebrew Script- 
ures and the other spread upon his breast. 

"Welcome home, reverend sir," said the physi 
cian. " And how found you that godly man, th» 
apostle Eliot ? But methinks, dear sir, you look pale 
as if the travel through the wilderness hath been toe 
sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put 
you in heart and strength to preach your Election 
Sermon ? " 

"IS'ay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr 
Dimmesdale. " My journe}'", and the sight of the holy 
apostle yonder, and the free air which I have 



t:HE scarlet letter. 2S5 

breathed, have done me good after so long confine- 
ment 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 Koger Chillingworth was looking at 
the minister with the grave and intent regard of a 
physician toward his patient. But, in spite of this out- 
ward show, the latter was almost convinced of the old 
man's knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion, 
with respect to his own interview with Hester 
Prynne. The physician knew then that, in the minis- 
ter's regard, he was no longer a trusted friend, but his 
bitterest enemy. So much being known, it would ap- 
pear natural that a part of it should be expressed. It 
is singular^ however, how long a time often passes be- 
fore words embody things, and with what security two 
persons, who choose to avoid a certain subject, may 
approach its very verge and retire without disturbing 
it. Thus the minister felt no apprehension that Roger 
Chillingworth would touch, in express words, upon the 
real position which they sustained toward one another. 
Yet did the physician, in his dark way, creep fright- 
fully near the secret. 

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



286 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

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

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

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

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the 
house, and requested food, which, being set before him, 
he ate Mith ravenous appetite. Then, flinging the al- 
ready written pages of the Election Sermon into the 
fire, he forthwith began another, which he wrote with 
such an impulsive flow of thought and emotion, that 
he fancied himself inspired ; and only wondered that 
Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn 
music of its oracles through so foul an organ-pipe as 
he. However, leaving that mystery to solve itself, or 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 287 

go unsolved forever, he drove his task onward, with 
earnest haste and ecstasy. Thus the night fled away, 
as if it were a winged steed, and he careering on it ; 
morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the 
curtains ; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into 
the stud}'-, and laid it right across the minister's be- 
dazzled eyes. There he was, with the pen still be- 
tween his fingers, and a vast, immeasurable 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 people, Hester Prynne and little Pearl came 
into the market-place. It was already thronged with 
the craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the 
town, in considerable numbei's ; among whom, like- 
wise, were many rough figures, whose attire of deer- 
skins marked them as belonging to some of the forest 
settlements which surrounded the httle metropolis of 
the colony. 

On this public holiday, as on all other occasions, for 
seven years past, Hester was clad in a garment of 
coarse gray cloth. Not more by its hue than by some 
indescribable peculiarity in its fashion, it had the 
effect of making her fade personally out of sight and 
outline ; while, again, the scarlet letter brought her 



288 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

back from this twilight indistinctness, and revealed her 
under the moral aspect of its own illumination. Her 
face, so long familiar to the townspeople, showed the 
marble quietude which the}^ 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 dead, in respect to any claim of sympathy, 
and had departed out of the world with which she 
still seemed to mingle. 

It might be, on this one day, that there was an ex- 
pression unseen before, nor, indeed, vivid enough to 
be detected now ; unless some preternaturally gifted 
observer should have first read the heart and have 
afterward sought a corresponding development in the 
countenance and mien. Such a spiritual seer might 
have conceived, that, after sustaining the gaze of the 
multitude through several miserable years as a neces- 
sity, a penance, and something which it was a stern re- 
ligion to endure, she now, for one last time more, en- 
countered it freely and voluntarily, in order to convert 
what had so long been agony into a kind of triumph. 
" Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer ! " 
— the people's victim and life-long bond-slave, as they 
fancied her, miglit sa}'' to them. " Yet a little while, 
and she will be beyond 3'^our reach ! A few hours 
longer, and the deep, mysterious ocean will quench 
and hide forever the symbol which ye have caused to 
burn upon her bosom ! " Nor were it an inconsistency 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 289 

too improbable to be assigned to human nature, should 
we suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mind, at 
the moment when she was about to win her freedom 
from the pain which had been thus deeply incorpor- 
ated with her being. Might there not be an irresis- 
tible desire to quaff a last, long breathless draught of 
the cup of wormwood and aloes, with which nearly all 
her years of womanhood had been jjerpetually fla- 
vored ? The wine of life, henceforth to be presented 
to her lips, must be indeed rich, delicious, and exhil- 
arating, in its chased and golden beaker ; or else 
leave an inevitable and weary languor, after the lees 
of bitterness wherewith she had been drugged, as 
with a cordial of intensest potency. 

Pearl was decked out \vith airy gayety. It would 
have been impossible to guess that this bright and 
sunny apparition owed its existence to the shape of 
gloomy gray ; or that a fancy, at once so gorgeous 
and so delicate as must have been requisite to con- 
trive the child's apparel, was the same that had 
achieved a task perhaps more difficult, in imparting so 
distinct a peculiarity to Hester's simple robe. The 
dress, so proper was it to little Pearl, seemed an efflu- 
ence, or inevitable development and outward mani- 
festation of her character, no more to be separated 
from her than the many-hued brilliancy from a but- 
terfly's wing, or the painted glory from the leaf of a 
bright flower. As with these, so with the child ; her 
garb was all of one idea with her nature. On this 



290 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

eventful day, moreover, there was a certain singular 
inquietude and excitement in her mood, resembling 
nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond, that 
sparkles and flashes with the varied throbbings of the 
breast on which it is displayed. Children have always 
a sympathy in the agitations of those connected with 
them ; always, especially, a sense of any trouble or 
impending revolution, of whatever kind, in domestic 
circumstances ; and therefore Pearl, who was the gem 
on her mother's unquiet bosom, betrayed, by the 
very dance of her spirits, the emotions which none 
could detect in the marble passiveness of Hester's 
brow. 

This effervescence made her flit with a birdlike 
movement, rather than walk by her mother's side. 
She broke continually into shouts of a wild, inarticu- 
late, and sometimes piercing music. When they 
reached the market-place, she became still more rest- 
less, on perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened 
the spot ; for it was usually more like the broad and 
lonesome green before a village meeting-house, than 
the center of a town's business. 

" Why, what is this, mother ? " cried she. " Where- 
fore have all the people left their work to-day ? Is it 
a play-day for the whole world? See, there is the 
blacksmith ! He has washed his sooty face, and put 
on his Sabbath-day clothes, and looks as if he would 
gladly be merry, if any kind body would onl}'- teach 
him how ! And there is ]\Iaster Brackett, the old 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 291 

jailer, nodding and smiling at me. Why does lie do 
so, mother ? " 

" He remembers thee a little babe, my child," an- 
swered Hester. 

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

" They wait to see the procession pass," said Hester. 
" For the Governor and the magistrates are to go by, 
and the ministers, and all the great people and good 
people, Avith the music and the soldiers marching be- 
fore them." 

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

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

" What a strange, sad man is he ! " said the child, as 
if speaking partly to herself. "In the dark night- 
time he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, 
as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder 
And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can 
hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, 
sitting on a heap of moss ! And he kisses my fore- 



292 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

head, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it 
off ! But here, in the sunny day, and among all the 
people, he knows us not ; nor must we know him ! 
A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over 
his heart ! " 

"Be quiet, Pearl! Thou understandest not these 
things," said her mother, "Think not now of the 
minister, but look about thee, and see how cheery is 
everybody's face to-da}". The children have come 
from their schools, and the grown people from their 
workshops and their fields, on purpose to be happy. 
For to-day a new man is beginning to rule over them ; 
and so — as has been the custom of mankind ever since 
a nation was first gathered — they make merry and re- 
joice ; as if a good and golden 3^ear were at length to 
pass over the poor old world ! " 

It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jol- 
lit}'^ that brightened the faces of the people. Into this 
festal season of the year — as it already was, and con- 
tinued to be during the greater part of two centuries — 
the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public 
joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity ; there- 
by so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, for the 
space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more 
grave than most other communities at a period of 
general affiiction. 

But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, 
which undoubtedly characterized the mood and man- 
ners of the age. The persons now in the market-place 



THE SCARLET LETTER 293 

of Boston had not been born to an inheritance of Puri- 
tanic gloom. They were native Englishmen, whose 
fathers had lived in the sunn}'- richness of the Eliza- 
bethan epoch; a time when the life of England, viewed 
as one great mass, would appear to have been as stately, 
magnificent, and joyous, as the world has ever wit- 
nessed. Had they followed their hereditary taste, the 
New England settlers would have illustrated all events 
of public importance by bonfires, banquets, pageant- 
ries, and processions. ISTor would it have been im- 
practicable, in the observance of majestic ceremonies, 
to combine mirthful recreation with solemnity and 
give, as it were, a grotesque and brilliant embroidery 
to the great robe of state which a nation, at such fes- 
tivals puts 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 colon}'- commenced. 
The dim reflection of a remembered past splendor, the 
colorless and manifold diluted repetition of what they 
had beheld in proud old London — we will not say at a 
royal coronation, but at a Lord ]\Iayor's show — might be 
traced in the customs which our forefathers instituted 
with reference to the annual installation of magis- 
trates. The fathers and founders of the common- 
wealth — the statesman, the priest and the soldier — 
deemed it a duty then to assume the outward state 
and majesty which, in accordance with a-ntique style, 
was looked upon as the proper garb of public or social 
eminence. All came forth, to move in procession be- 



294 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

fore the people^s eye, and thus impart a needed dignity 
to the simple framework of a government so newly 
constructed. 

Then, too, the people were countenanced, if not en- 
couraged, in relaxing the severe and close application 
to their various modes of rugged industry, which, at 
all other times, seemed of the same piece and material 
with their religion. Here, it is true, were none of the 
appliances which popular merriment would so readily 
have found in the England of Elizabeth's time, or that 
of James — no rude shows of a theatrical kind; no 
minstrel, with his harp and legendary ballad, nor glee- 
man, with an ape dancing to his music ; no juggler, 
with his tricks of mimic witchcraft ; no Merry Andrew, 
to stir up the multitude with jests, perhaps hundreds 
of years old, but still effective, by their appeals to the 
very broadest sources of mirthful sympathy. All such 
professors of the several branches of jocularity would 
have been sternly repressed, not only by the rigid dis- 
cipline of law, but by the general sentiment which 
gives law its vitality. Not the less, however, the 
great, honest face of the people smiled — grimly, per- 
haps, but widely too. ISTor were sports wanting, such 
as the colonists had witnessed and shared in, long ago, 
at the country fairs and on the village greens of Eng- 
land, and which it was thought well to keep alive on 
this new soil, for the sake of the courage and manli- 
ness that were essential in them. Wrestling matches, 
in the different fashions of Cornwall and Devonshire, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 295 

were seen here and there about the market-place ; in 
one corner there was a friendly bout at quarterstaff, 
and — what attracted most interest of all — on the plat- 
form of the pillory, already so noted in our pages, two 
masters of defense were commencing an exhibition 
with the buckler and broadsword. But, much to the 
disappointment of the crowd, this latter business was 
broken off by the interposition of the town beadle, who 
had no idea of permitting the majesty of the law to 
be violated by such an abuse of one of its consecrated 
places. 

It may not be too much to affirm, on the whole (the 
people being then in the first stages of joyless deport- 
ment, and the offspring of sires who had known how 
to be merry, in their day), that they would compare 
favorably, in point of holiday keeping, with their de- 
scendants, even at so long an interval as ourselves. 
Their immediate posterity, the generation next to the 
early emigrants, wore the blackest shade of Puritan- 
ism, and so darkened the national visage with it, that 
all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it 
up. "We have yet to learn again the forgotten art of 
gayety. 

The picture of human life in the market-place, 
though its general tint was the sad gray, brown, or 
black of the English emigrants, was yet enlivened by 
some diversity of hue. A party of Indians — in their 
savage finery of curiously embroidered deer-skin robes, 
wampum-belts, red and yellow ochre, and feathers, 



296 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed 
spear — stood apart, with countenances of inflexible 
gravity beyond what even the Puritan aspect could 
attain. Nor, wild as were these painted barbarians, 
were they the wildest feature of the scene. This dis- 
tinction could more justl}^ be claimed by some mari- 
ners — a part of the crew of the vessel from the Spanish 
Main — who had come ashore to see the humors of 
Election Day. They were rough-looking desperadoes, 
with sun-blackened faces, and an immensity of beard ; 
their wide, short trousers were confined about the 
waist by belts, often clasped with a rough plate of 
gold, and sustaining always a long knife, and, in some 
instances, a sword. From beneath their broad- 
brimmed hats of palm-leaf, gleamed eyes which, even 
in good nature and merriment, had a kind of animal 
ferocity. They transgressed, without fear or scruple, 
the rules of behavior that were binding on all others ; 
smoking tobacco under the beadle's very nose, al- 
though each whiff would have cost a townsman a 
shilling ; and quaffing, at their pleasure, draughts of 
wine or aquavita3 from pocket-flasks, which they 
freely tendered to the gaping crowd around them. Lb 
remarkably characterized the incomplete morality of 
the age, rigid as we call it, that a license was allowed 
the sea-faring class, not merely for their freaks on 
shore, but for far more desperate deeds on their proper 
element. The sailor of that day would go near to be 
arraigned as a pirate in our own. There could be 



THE SC ABLET LETTER. 297 

little doubt, for instance, that this very ship's crew, 
though no unfavorable specimens of the nautical 
brotherhood, had been guilty, as we should phrase it, 
of depredations on the Spanish commerce, such as 
would have periled all their necks in a modern court 
of justice. 

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

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant 
figure, so far as apparel went, anywhere to be seen 
among the multitude. He wore a profusion of rib- 
bons on his garment, and gold lace on his hat, which 
was also encircled b}^ a gold chain, and surmounted 
with a feather. There was a sword at his side, and a 



298 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 299 

" So, mistress," said the mariner, " I must bid the 
steward make ready one more berth than you bar- 
gained 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 Hester, startled more 
than she permitted to appear. "Have you another 
passenger ? " 

" Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, " that 
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 
Hester, with a mien of calmness, though in the ut- 
most consternation. "They have long dwelt to- 
gether." 

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



300 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

XXII. 

THE TBOCESSION. 

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

Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with 
a slow and stately march, turning a corner, and 
making its way across the market-place. First came 
the music. It comprised a variety of instruments, 
perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and 
played with no great skill ; but yet attaining the 
great object for which the harmony of drum and 
clarion addresses itself to the multitude — that of im- 
parting a higher and more heroic air to the scene of 
life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at first 
clapped her hands, but then lost, for an instant, the 
restless agitation that had kept her in a continual 
effervescence throughout the morning ; she gazed 
silently, and seemed to be borne upward,4ike a floating 
sea-bird, on the long heaves and swells of sound. But 
she was brought back to her former mood by the shim- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 301 

mer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armor 
of the military company which followed after the 
music, and formed the honorary escort of the proces- 
sion. This body of soldiery — which still sustains a 
corporate existence, and marches down from past ages 
with an ancient and honorable fame — was composed 
of no mercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with 
gentlemen who felt the stirrings of martial impulse, 
and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms, 
where, as in an association of Knights Templars, 
they might learn the science, and, so far as 
peaceful exercises would teach them, the practices of 
war. The high estimation then placed upon the mili- 
tary character might be seen in the lofty port of each 
individual member of the company. Some of them, 
indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on 
other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their 
title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership. 
The entire array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, 
and with plumage nodding over their bright morions, 
had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can 
aspire to equal. 

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came imme- 
diately behind the military escort, were better worth a 
thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward demeanor, 
they showed a stamp of majesty that made the warrior's 
haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was an 
age when what we call talent had far less consider- 
ation than now, but the massive materials which pro- 



302 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

duced stability and dignity of character a great deal 
more. The people possessed, by hereditary right, the 
quality of reverence, %yhich, in their descendants, if it 
survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a 
vastly diminished force, in the selection and estimate 
of public men. The change may be for good or ill, 
and is partly, perhaps, for both. In that old day the 
English settler on these rude shores — having left king, 
nobles and all degrees of awful rank behind, while 
still the faculty and necessity of reverence were strong 
in him — bestowed it on. the white hair and venerable 
brow of age ; on long-tried integrity ; on solid wisdom 
and sad-colored experience ; on endowments of that 
grave and weighty order which gives the idea of per- 
manence, and comes under the general definition of 
respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore 
— Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their 
compeers — who were elevated to power by the early 
choice of the people, seem to have been not often bril- 
liant, but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather 
than activity of intellect. They had fortitude and 
self-reliance, and in time of difficulty or peril, stood up 
for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against 
a tempestuous tide. The traits of character here indi- 
cated were well represented in the square cast of coun- 
tenance and large physical development of the new 
colonial magistrates. So far as a demeanor of natural 
authority was concerned, the mother country need not 
have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 303 

actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers, or 
made the Privy Council of the sovereign. 

Next in order to the magistrates came the young 
and eminently distinguished divine, from whose lips 
the religious discourse of the anniversary was ex- 
pected. 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 worshiping respect of the community, to 
win the most aspiring ambition into its service. 
Even political power — as in the case of Increase 
Mather — was within the grasp of a successful priest. 

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



304 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

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

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



THE SCARLET LETTER. 305 

tion, and still more so in that far vista of his unsyin- 
pathizing thoughts through which she now beheld 
him ! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have 
been a delusion, and that, vividly as she had dreamed 
it, there could be no real bond between the clergyman 
and herself. And thus much of woman was there in 
Hester, that she could scarcely forgive him, least of 
all now, when the heavy footstep of their approaching 
Fate might be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer ! — for be- 
ing able so completely to withdraw himself from their 
mutual world ; while she groped darkly, and stretched 
forth her cold hands, and found him not. 

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

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

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

" I could not be sure that it was he ; so strange he 
looked," continued the child. "Else I would have run 
to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the peo- 
ple ; even as he did yonder among the dark old trees. 
VThat would the minister have said, mother ? Would 



306 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

he have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled 
on me, and bid me begone ? " 

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

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference 
to Mr. Dimraesdale, was expressed by a person whose 
eccentricities — or insanity, as we should terra 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 Hib- 
bins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a triple 
ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich velvet, and 
a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see the proces- 
sion. As this ancient lady had the renown (which 
subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of 
being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy 
that were continually going forward, the crowd gave 
way before her, and seemed to fear the touch of her 
•garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous 
folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne^ 
kindly as so many now felt toward the latter — the dread 
inspired by Mistress Hibbins was doubled, and caused 
a general movement from that part of the market- 
place in which the two women stood. 

" Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it ! " 
whispered the old lady, confidentially, to Hester. 
" Yonder divine man 1 That saint on earth, as the 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 307 

people uphold him to be, and as — I must needs say — • 
he really looks ! Who, now, that saw him pass in tbe 
procession, would think how little while it is since he 
went forth out of his study — chewing a Hebrew 
text of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant — to take an 
airing in the forest ! Alia ! we know what that means 
Hester Prynne ! But, truly, forsooth, I find it hard 
to believe him the same man. Many a church-member 
saw I, walking behind the music, that has danced m 
the same measure with me, when Somebody was 
fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a 
Lapland wizard changing hands with us ! That is but 
a trifle, when a woman knows the world. But this 
minister! Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether 
he was the same man that 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 witli which she afiirmecl 
a personal connection 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 Word, like the Eeverend Mr. 
Dimmesdale ! " 

" Fie, woman, fie ! " cried the old lady, shaking her 
finger at Hester. " Dost thou think I have been to 
the forest so man}'^ times, and have yet no skill to 
judge who else has been there ? Yea ; though no leaf 



308 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of the wild garlands, which they wore while thej' 
danced, be left in their hair ! I know thee, Hester ; 
for I behold the token. We may all see it in the sun- 
shine; and it glows like a red flame in the dark. 
Thou wearest it openly ; so there need be no question 
about that. But this minister ! Let me tell thee, in 
t,hine ear ! When the Black Man sees one of his own 
servants, signed and sealed, so shy of owning to the 
bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he hath a 
way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be 
disclosed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world ! 
What is it that the minister seeks to hide, with 
his hand alwa\^s over his heart? Ha, Hester 
Prynne ! " 

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

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

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

By this time the preliminary prayer had been 
offered in the meeting-house, and the accents of the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale were heard commencing 



THE SCARLET LETTER 309 

his discourse. An irresistible feeling kept Hester 
near the spot. As the sacred edifice was too much 
thronged to admit another auditor, she took up her 
position close beside the scaffold of the pillory. It 
was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon 
to her ears, in the shape of an indistinct, but varied, 
murmur and flow of the minister's very peculiar 
voice. 

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment, in- 
somuch that a listener, comprehending nothing of the 
language in which the preacher spoke, might still have 
been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence. 
Like all other music, it breathed passion and pathos, 
and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the 
human heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the 
sound was by its passage through the church walls, 
Hester Prynne listened with such intentness, and sym- 
pathized so intimately, that the sermon had through- 
out a meaning for her entirely apart from its indistin- 
guishable words. These, perhaps, if more distinctly 
heard, might have been only a grosser medium, and 
have clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the 
low undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose 
itself, then ascended with it, as it rose through progress- 
ive gradations of sweetness and power, until its volume 
seemed to envelop her with an atmosj^here of awe and, 
solemn grandeur. And yet, majestic as the voice 
sometimes became, there was forever in it an essential 
character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expression 



310 TUE SCARLET LETTER. 

of anguish — the whisper or the shriek, as it might be 
conceived, of suffering humanity, that touched a sens- 
ibihty in every bosom. At times this deep strain of 
pathos was all that could be heard, and scarcely heard, 
siffhing- amid a desolate silence. But even when the 
minister's voice grew high and commanding, w^hen it 
gushed irrepressibly upward, w^hen it assumed its ut- 
most breadth and power, so overfilling the church as to 
burst its way through the solid walls and diffuse itself 
in the open air, still, if the auditor listened intently and 
for the purpose, he could detect the same cry of pain, 
"What was it ? The complaint of a human heart, sor- 
row-laden, perchance guilty, telling its secret, whether 
of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart of mankind, be- 
seeching its sympathy or forgiveness — at every moment, 
in each accent, and never in vain. It was this pro- 
found and continual undertone that gave the clergy- 
man his most appropriate power. 

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

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother's side 
and was playing at her own will about the market- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 311 

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



312 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

One of these sea-faring men — the shipmaster, indeed, 
who had spoken to Hester Prynne — was so smitten 
with Pearl's aspect, that he attempted to lay hands 
upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Finding it as 
impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird in 
the air, he took from his hat the gold chain that was 
twisted about it, and threw it to the child. Pearl im- 
mediately twined it around her neck and waist, with 
such happy skill, that, once seen there, it became a 
part of her, and it was difficult to imagine her with- 
out it. 

" Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet let- 
ter," said the seaman. " Wilt thou carry her a message 
from me ? " 

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

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

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

Pursuing a zigzag course across the market-place, 
the child returned to her mother, and communicated 
what the mariner had said. Hester's strong, calm, 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 31 3 

steadfastly enduring spii'it almost sank, at last, on be- 
holding this dark and grim countenance of an inevi- 
table doom, which — 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 smile, right in the midst of their path. 

With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity 
in which the shipmaster's intelligence involved her, 
she was also subjected to another trial. There were 
many people present, from the country round about, 
who had often heard of the scarlet letter, and to whom 
it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exag- 
gerated rumors, but who had never beheld it with their 
own bodily eyes. These, after exhausting other modes 
of amusement, now thronged about Hester Prynne 
with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous as 
it was, however, it could not bring them nearer than a 
circuit of several yards. At that distance they ac- 
cordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force 
of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. 
The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the 
press of spectators, and learning the purport of the 
scarlet letter, came and thrust their sunburnt and des- 
perado-looking faces into the ring. Even the Indians 
were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white 
man's curiosity, and, gliding through the crowd, fast- 
tened their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom ; 
conceiving, perhaps, that the wearer of this brilliantly 
embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high 



314 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

dignit}'' among her people. Lastly, the inhabitants of 
the town (their own interest in this worn-out subject 
languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with what they 
saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter, and 
tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than all the 
rest, with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her fa- 
miliar shame. Hester saw and recognized the self-same 
faces of that group of matrons, who had awaited her 
forthcoming from the prison-door, seven years ago; 
all save one, the youngest and only compassionate 
among them, whose burial-robe she had since made. 
At the final hour, when she was so soon to fling aside 
the burning letter, it had strangely become the center 
of more remark and excitement, and was thus made to 
scar her breast more painfully, than at any time since 
the first day she put it on. 

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, 
where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to 
have fixed her forever, the admirable preacher was 
looking down from the sacred pulpit upon an audience, 
whose very inmost spirits had yielded to his control. 
The sainted minister in the church ! The woman of 
the scarlet letter in the market-place! "What im- 
agination would have been irreverent enough to 
surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them 
both! 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 315 

XXIII. 

THE EEVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER- 

The eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listen- 
ing audience had been borne aloft as on the swell- 
ing waves of the sea, at length came to a pause. There 
was a momentary silence, profound as what should fol- 
low the utterence of oracles. Then ensued a murmur 
and half-hushed tumult ; as if the auditors, released 
from the high spell that had transported them into 
the region of another's mind, were returning into 
themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy 
on them. In a moment more, the crowd began to 
gush forth from the doors of the church. I^ow that 
there vras an end, they needed other breath, more fit 
to support the gross and earthly life into which the}'' 
relapsed, than that atmosphere which the peacher 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 babbled, 
from side to side, with applauses of the minister. His 
hearers could not rest until they had told one another 
of what each knew better than he could tell or hear. 
According to their united testimony, never had man 
spoken in so Avise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he 
that spake this day ; nor had inspiration ever breathed 
through mortal lips more evidently than it did through 
his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descendmg 



316 THE SCARL ET LETTER. 

upon him, and possessing him, and continually lifting 
him out of the written discourse that lay before him, 
and filling him with ideas that must have been as mar- 
velous to himself as to his audience. His subject, it 
appeared, had been the relation between the Deity 
and the communities of mankind, with a special refer- 
ence to the New England which they were here plant 
ing in the wilderness. And as he drew toward the 
close, a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him, con- 
straining him to its purpose as mightily as the old 
prophets of Israel were constrained ; only with this 
difference, that, whereas the Jewish seers had de- 
nounced judgments and ruin on their country, it was 
his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for 
the newly gathered people of the Lord. But, through- 
out it all, and through the whole discourse, there had 
oeen a certain deep, sad undertone of pathos, which 
could not be interpi'eted otherwise than as the natural 
regret of one soon to pass away. Yes ; their minister 
whom they so loved — and who so loved them all, 
that he could not dep art heavenward without a sigh- 
had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and 
would soon leave them in their tears ! This idea of his 
transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the 
effect which the preacher had produced ; it was as if 
an angel, in his passage to the skies, had shaken his 
bright wings over the people for an instant — at once a 
shadow and a splendor — and had shed down a shower 
of golden truths upon them. 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 317 

Thus there had come to the Reverend. Mr. Dimmes- 
dale — as to most men in their various spheres, though 
seldom recognized until they see it far behind them — 
an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph 
than any previous one, or than any which could here- 
after be. He stood at this moment, on the very 
proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts of 
intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputa- 
tion of whitest sanctity could exalt a clergyman in 
New England's earliest days, when the professional 
character was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the 
position which the minister occupied, as he bo\, 3d 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 pil- 
lory, with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast. 

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

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and ma- 
jestic fathers was seen moving through a broad path- 
way of the people, who drew back reverently on either 
side as the Governor and magistrates, the old and wise 
men, the holy ministers, and all that were eminent and 
renowned, advanced into the midst of them. When 
they were fairly in the market-place, their presence 
was greeted by a shout. This — though doubtless it 



318 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

might acquire additional force and volume from the 
childlike 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 himself, and, in the same breath, caught 
it from his neighbor. Within the church, it had 
hardly been kept down ; beneath the sky, it pealed up- 
ward to the zenith. There were human beings enough, 
and enough of highly wrought and symphonious feel- 
ing to produce that more impressive sound than the 
organ tones of the blast, or the thunder, or the roar of 
the sea ; even that mighty swell of many voices, 
blended into one great voice by the universal impulse 
which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many. 
Never, from the soil of New England, had gone up 
such a shout ! Never, on New England soil, had stood 
the man so honored by his mortal brethren as the 
preacher 1 

How fared it with him then ? Were there not the 
brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head? 
So ether eali zed by spirit as he was, and so apotheo- 
sized by worshiping admirers, did his footsteps, in the 
procession really tread upon the dust of earth ? 

As the ranks of military men and civil fathei*s moved 
onward, all eyes were turned toward the point where 
the minister was seen to approach among them. The 
shout died into a murmur, as one portion of the crowd 
after another obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 319 

and pale he looked amid all bis triumph ! The energy 
— or say, rather, the inspiration which had held hini 
up, until he should have delivered the sacred message 
that brought its own strength along with it from 
heaven — was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully 
performed its office. The glow which they had just 
before beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguishedj 
like a flame that sinks down hopelessly, among the 
late-decaying embers. It seemed hardly the face of a 
man alive, with such a deathlike hue ; it was hardly a 
man with life in him, that tottered on his path so 
nervelessly, yet tottered, and did not fall ! 

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



320 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the music still played the stately and rejoicing march 
to which the procession moved. It summoned him 
onward — onward to the festival ! — but here he made a 
pause. 

Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an 
anxious eye upon hira. He now left his own pface in 
the procession, and advanced to give assistance ; judg- 
ing, from Mr, Dimmesdale's aspect, that he must 
otherwise inevitably fall. But there was something in 
the latter's expression that warned back the magistrate, 
although a man not readily obeying the vague intima- 
tions that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd, 
meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This 
earthly faintness was, in their view, only another 
phase of the minister's celestial strength ; nor would 
it have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for 
one so holy, had he ascended before their eyes, waxing 
dimmer and brighter, and fading at last into the light 
of Heaven ! 

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

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

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them ; 
but there was something at once tender and strangely 
triumphant in it. The child, with the bird-like motion 
which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and 
clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne — 
slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against 



THE SCARLET LETTER 331 

her strongest will — likewise drew near, but paused be- 
fore she reached him. At this instant, old Roger Chil- 
lingworth thrust himself through the crowd — or per- 
haps, so dark, disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose 
up out of some nether region — to snatch back his viC' 
tim from what he sought to do ! Be that as it might, 
the old man rushed forward, and caught the minister 
by the arm. 

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

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

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

" Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnest- 
ness, " in the name of Him, so terrible and so merci- 
ful, 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 I 
Support me up yondtjr acaifold I " 



322 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and 
dignity, who stood more immediately around the cler- 
gyman, were so taken by surprise, and so perplexed as 
to the purport of what they saw — unable to receive 
the explanation w^hich most readily presented itself, or 
to imagine any other — that they remained silent and 
inactive spectators of the judgment which Providence 
seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, 
leaning on Hester's shoulder, and supported by her 
arm around him, approach the scaffold, and as- 
cend its steps ; while still the little hand of the sin- 
born child was clasped in his. Old Roger Chilling- 
worth followed, as one intimately connected with the 
drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been 
actors, and well entitled, therefore, to be present, at its 
closing scene, 

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

" Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither ! " an- 
swered the minister. 

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester, with an ex- 
pression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less 
evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon 
his lips. 

" Is not this better," murmured he, " than what we 
dreamed of in the forest ? " 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 333 

" I know not 1 I know not ! " she hurriedly replied. 
" Better ? Yea ; so we may both die, and 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. 
For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste 
to take my shame upon me ! " 

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding 
one hand of little Pearl's, the Reverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers ; to 
the holy ministers, who were his brethren ; to the 
people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet 
overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that 
gome deep life-matter — which, if full of sin, was full of 
anguish and repentance likewise — was now to be laid 
open to them. The sun, but little past its meridian, 
shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinct- 
ness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, 
to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal 
Justice. 

" People of New England ! " cried he, with a voice 
that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic — yet 
iiad always a tremor through it, and sometimes a 
shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of re- 
morse and woe — ye, that have loved me ! — ye, that 
have deemed me holy ! — behold me here, the one sin- 
ner of the world ! At last ! — at last ! — I stand upon 
the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood ; 



324 THE SCARLET LETTER, 

here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little 
strength wherewith I have crept hither ward, sustains 
me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down 
upon my face ! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester 
wears ! Ye have all shuddered at it ? "Wherever her 
walk hath been — wherever, so miserably burdened, 
she may have hoped to find repose — it hath cast a 
lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round 
about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, 
at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shud- 
dered ! " 

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must 
leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he 
fought back the bodily weakness — and, still more, the 
faintness of heart — that was striving for the mastery 
with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped 
passionately forward a pace before the woman and the 
child. 

" It was on him ! " he continued, with a kind of 
fierceness ; so determined was he to speak out the 
whole. "God's eye beheld it! The angels were for- 
ever pointing at it ! The Devil knew it well, and fretted 
it continually with the touch of his burning finger ! But 
he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you 
with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure 
in a sinful world ! — and sad, because he missed his 
heavenly kindred ! Now, at the death-hour, he stands 
up before you ! He bids you look again at Hester's 
scarlet letter ! He tells you, that with all its mysteri- 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 325 

ous horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on 
his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, 
is no more than the type of what has seared his in- 
most heart ! Stand any here that question God's judg- 
ment on a sinner ? Behold ! Behold a dreadful wit- 
ness of it !" 

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the minis- 
terial band from before his breast. It was revealed ! 
But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For 
an instant the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude 
was concentred on the ghastly miracle ; while the min- 
ister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one 
who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. 
Then, down he sank upon the scaffold. Hester partly 
raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. 
Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with 
a blank, dull countenance, out 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. " Thou, 
too, hast deeply sinned." 

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

" My little Pearl," said he, feebly — and there was a 
sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit 
sinking into deep repose ; nay, now that the burden was 
removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive 
with the child — " dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me 



326 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

now ? Thou wouldst not, yonder in the forest. But 
now thou wilt ? " 

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The 
great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a 
part, had developed all her sympathies, and as her 
tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge 
that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, 
nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman 
in it. Toward her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a 
messenger of anguish was all fulfilled. 

" Hester," said the clergyman, " farewell." 

" Shall we not meet again ?" whispered she, bending 
her face down close to his. " Shall we not spend our 
immortal life together ? Surely, surely, we have ran- 
somed one another, with all this woe ! Thou lookest 
far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes. Then, 
tell me what thou seest ?" 

" Hush, Hester, hush !" said he, with tremulous 
solemnity. " The law we broke ! — the sin here so 
awfully revealed ! — let these alone be in thy thoughts. 
I fear ! I fear ! It may be that, when we forgot our 
God — when we violated our reverence each for the 
other's soul — it was thenceforth vain to hope that we 
could meet hereafter in an everlasting and pure re- 
union. God knows, and he is merciful ! He hath 
proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By 
giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! 
By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep 
the torture always at red-heat ! By bringing me 



THE SCARLET LETTER, 327 

hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy be- 
fore the people ! Had either of these agonies been 
wanting, I had been lost forever! Praised be his 
name ! His will be done ! Farewell ! " 
- That final word came forth with the minister's ex- 
piring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke 
out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which 
could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur 
that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit. 



XXIY. 

CONCLUSION. 

Aftfir many days, when time sufficed for the peoplo 
to arrange their thoughts in reference to the forego- 
ing scene, there was more than one account of what 
had been witnessed on the scaffold. 

Most of the spectators testified to having seen, on 
the breast of the unhappy minister, a scarlet letter 
— the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne 
— imprinted in the flesh. As regarded its origin, there 
were various explanations, all of which must neces- 
sarily have been conjectural. Some affirmed that the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,on the very day when Hester 
Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, had begun 
a course of penance — which he afterward, in so many 
futile methods, followed out — by inflicting a hideous 
torture on himself. Others contended that the stigma 
had not been produced until a long time subsequent, 



338 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

■when old Roger Chillingworth, being a potent necro- 
mancer, had caused it to appear, throuojh the agency 
of magic and poisonous drugs. Others, again — and 
those best able to appreciate the minister's peculiar 
sensibility, and 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 re- 
morse, gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly, and 
at last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by the 
visible presence of the letter. The reader may choose 
among these theories. "We have thrown all the light 
we could acquire upon the portent, and would gladly, 
now that it has done its office, erase its deep print out 
of our own brain ; where long meditation has lixed it 
in very undesirable distinctness. 

It is singular, nevertheless, that certain persons, who 
were spectators of the whole scene, and professed 
never once to have removed their eyes from the Rev- 
erend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied that there was any 
mark whatever on his breast, more than on a new-born 
infant's. ISTeither, by their report, had his dymg words 
acknowledged, nor even remotely implied, any, the 
slightest connection, on his part, with the guilt for 
which Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet 
letter. According to these highly respectable wit- 
nesses, the minister, conscious that he was dying — 
conscious, also, that the reverence of the multitude 
placed him already among saints and angels — had de- 
sired, by yielding up his breath in the arms of that 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 329 

fallen woman, to express to the world how utterly 
nugatory is the choicest of man's own righteousness. 
After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spir- 
itual good, he had made the manner of his death a 
parable, in order to impress on his admirers the 
mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the "view of In- 
finite Purity, we are sinners all alike. It was to teach 
them, that the holiest among us has but attained so far 
above his feUows as to discern more clearly the Mercy 
which looks down, and repudiate more utterly the 
phantom of human merit, which would look aspiringly 
upward. Without disputing a truth so momentous, 
we must be allowed to consider this version of Mr. 
Dimmesdale's story as only an instance of that stub- 
born fidelity with which a man's friends — and espe- 
cially a clergyman's — will sometimes uphold his char- 
acter, when proofs, clear as the mid-day sunshine on 
the scarlet letter, establish him a false and sin-stained 
creature of the dust. 

The authority which we have chiefly followed — a 
manuscript of old date, drawn up from the verbal 
testimony of individuals, some of whom had known 
Hester Prynne, while others had heard the tale from 
contemporary witnesses — fully confirms the view 
taken in the foregoing pages. Among many morals 
which press upon us from the poor minister's miser- 
able experience, we put only this into a sentence: 
"Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the 
world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the 
worst may be inferred I " 



330 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Nothing was more remarkable than the change which 
took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's 
death, in the appearance and demeanor of the old man. 
known as Roger Chillingworth. All his strength and 
energy — all his vital and intellectual force — seemed 
at once to desert him ; insomuch that he positively 
withered up, shriveled away, and almost vanished 
from mortal sight, like an uprooted weed that lies 
wilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made the 
very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and 
systematic exercise of revenge, and when, by its com- 
pletest triumph and consummation, that evil principle 
was left with no further material to support it — when, 
in short, there was no more Devil's work on earth for 
him to do, it only remained for the unhumanized mor- 
tal to betake himself whither his Master would find 
him tasks enough and pay him his wages duly. But, 
to all these shadowy beings, so long our near acquaint- 
ances — as well Roger Chillingworth as his companions 
— we would fain be merciful. It is a curious subject 
of observation and inquiry, Avhether hatred and love be 
not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost 
development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and 
heart knowledge ; each renders one individual depend 
ent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon 
another ; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no 
less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the with- 
drawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, 
therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 331 

except that one happens to be seen in a celestial 
radiance and the other in a dusky and lurid glow. 
In the spiritual world the old physician and the minis- 
ter — mutual victims as they have been — may unawares 
have found their earthly stock of hatred and antipathy 
transmuted into golden love. 

Leaving this discussion apart, we have a matter of 
business to communicate to the reader. At old Roger 
Chillingworth's decease (which took place within the 
year), and by his last will and testament, of which 
Governor Bellingham and the Eeverend Mr. "Wilson 
were executors, he bequeathed a very considerable 
amount of property, both here and in England, to little 
Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. 

So Pearl — the elf-child — the demon offspring, as 
some people, up to that epoch, persisted in considering 
her — became the richest heiress of her day in the New 
World. ISTot improbably, this circumstance wrought a 
very material change in the public estimation, and, had 
the mother and child remained here, little Pearl, at a 
marriageable period of life, might have mingled her 
wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan 
among them all. But, in no long time after the physi- 
cian's death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disap- 
peared, and Pearl along with her. For many years 
though, a vague report would now and then find its 
way across the sea — like a shapeless piece of drift- 
wood tost ashore, with the initials of a name upon it 
— yet no tidings of them unquestionably authentic 



332 THE SCARLET LETTER. I 

were received. The story of the scarlet letter grew 
into a legend. Its spell, however, was still potent, and 
kept the scaffold awful where the poor minister had 
died, and likewise the cottage by the sea-shore, where 
Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter spot, one 
afternoon, some children were at play, when they be- 
held a tall woman, in a gray robe, approach the cot- 
tage-door. In all those years it had never once been 
opened ; but either she unlocked it, or the decaying 
wood and iron yielded to her hand, or she glided 
shadows-like through these impediments — and, at all 
events, went in. 

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

And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her 
lono:-forsaken shame ! But where was little Pearl ? 
If still alive, she must now have been in the flush and 
bloom of early w^omanhood. 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 wild, rich nature had been 
softened and subdued, and made capable of a woman's 
gentle happiness. But, through the remainder of 
Hester's life, there were indications that the recluse 
of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest 



TEE SCARLET LETTER. 333 

with some inhabitant of another land. Letters came, 
with armorial seals upon them, though of bearings un- 
known to English heraldry. In the cottage there were 
articles of comfort and luxury, such as Hester never 
cared to use, but which only wealth could have pur- 
chased, and affection have imagined for her. There 
were trifles, too, little ornaments, beautiful tokens of a 
continual remembrance, that must have been wrought 
by delicate fingers, at the impulse of a fond heart. 
And, once, Hester was seen embroidering a baby- 
garment, with such a lavish richness of golden fancy 
as would have raised a public tumult, had any infant, 
thus apparelled, been shown to our sober-hued com- 
munity. 

In fine, the gossips of that day believed — and Mr. 
Surveyor Pue, who made investigations a century later, 
believed — and one of his recent successors in office, 
moreover, faithfully believes — that Pearl was not 
only alive, but married, and happy, and mindful of 
her mother ; and that she would most joyfully have 
entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fire- 
side. 

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, 
here, in ISTew England, than in that unknown region 
where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her 
sin ; here, her sorrow ; and here was yet to be her 
penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed 
— of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate 
of that iron period would have imposed it — resumed 



334 TEE SCARLET LETTER. 

the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. 
Never afterward did it quit her bosom. But, in the 
lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self -de voted 
years that made up Hester's life, the scarlet letter 
ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's 
scorn and bitterness, and became a type of some- 
thing to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with 
awe, yet with reverence too. And, as Hester Prynne 
had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her 
own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their 
sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as 
one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble. 
"Women more especialh'' — in the continually recurring 
trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or 
erring and sinful passion — or with the dreary burden 
of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought, 
came to Hester's cottage, demanding why they were 
so wretched, and what the remedy ! Hester comforted 
and counselled them, as best she might. She assured 
them, too, of her firm belief, that, at some brighter 
period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, 
in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in 
order to establish the whole relation between man 
and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. 
Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she 
herself might be the destined prophetess, but had 
long since recognized the impossibility that any mis- 
sion of divine and mysterious truth should be confided 
to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, 



THE 8UARLET LETTER. 335 

or even burdened with a life-long sorrow. The angel 
and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, 
indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful ; and wise, more- 
over, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal me- 
dium of joy; and showing how sacred love should 
make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful 
to such an end ! 

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes 
downward at the scarlet letter. And, after many, 
many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and 
sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King's 
Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and 
sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust 
of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one 
tomb-stone served for both. All around, there were 
monuments carved with armorial bearings ; and on 
this simple slab of slate — as the curious investigator 
may still discern, and perplex himself with the pur- 
port — there appeared the semblance of an engraved 
escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's wording of 
which might serve for a motto and brief description of 
our now concluded legend ; so somber is it, and re- 
lieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier 
than the shadow : 

"On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." 

THE END. 




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