Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.


                            EDITOR'S NOTE

    NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE was already a man of forty-six, and a tale writer
of some twenty-four years' standing, when "The Scarlet  Letter"  appeared.
He was born at Salem, Mass., on July 4th, 1804, son of a  sea-captain.  He
led there a shy and rather sombre life; of  few  artistic  encouragements,
yet not wholly uncongenial, his moody,  intensely  meditative  temperament
being considered. Its colours and shadows are marvelously reflected in his
"Twice-Told Tales" and other short  stories,  the  product  of  his  first
literary period. Even his college days at  Bowdoin  did  not  quite  break
through his acquired and  inherited  reserve;  but  beneath  it  all,  his
faculty of divining men  and  women  was  exercised  with  almost  uncanny
prescience and subtlety. "The Scarlet Letter," which explains as  much  of
this unique imaginative art, as is to be gathered from reading his highest
single achievement, yet needs to be ranged with his other writings,  early
and late, to have its last effect. In the year that saw it  published,  he
began "The House of the Seven Gables," a later romance or prose-tragedy of
the Puritan-American community as he had himself known it -  defrauded  of
art and the joy of  life,  "starving  for  symbols"  as  Emerson  has  it.
Nathaniel Hawthorne died at Plymouth, New Hampshire, on May 18th, 1864.
    The following is the table of his romances, stories, and other works:
    Fanshawe, published anonymously, 1826; Twice-Told Tales, 1st  Series,
1837; 2nd Series, 1842; Grandfather's Chair, a history  for  youth,  1845:
Famous Old People (Grandfather's Chair), 1841 Liberty Tree: with the  last
words of Grandfather's Chair, 1842;  Biographical  Stories  for  Children,
1842; Mosses from an Old Manse, 1846; The Scarlet Letter, 1850; The  House
of the Seven Gables, 1851: True Stories from History  and  Biography  (the
whole History of Grandfather's Chair), 1851 A Wonder Book  for  Girls  and
Boys, 1851; The Snow Image and other Tales, 1851: The Blithedale  Romance,
1852; Life of Franklin Pierce, 1852; Tanglewood Tales (2nd Series  of  the
Wonder Book), 1853; A Rill from the Town-Pump,  with  remarks,  by  Telba,
1857; The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of Monte  Beni  (4  EDITOR'S  NOTE)
(published in England under the title of "Transformation"), 1860, Our  Old
Home, 1863; Dolliver Romance (1st Part in "Atlantic Monthly"), 1864; in  3
Parts, 1876; Pansie, a fragment, Hawthorne' last  literary  effort,  1864;
American Note-Books, 1868; English Note Books, edited by Sophia Hawthorne,
1870; French and Italian Note  Books,  1871;  Septimius  Felton;  or,  the
Elixir of Life (from the "Atlantic  Monthly"),  1872;  Doctor  Grimshawe's
Secret, with Preface and Notes by Julian Hawthorne, 1882.
    Tales of the White Hills, Legends of  New  England,  Legends  of  the
Province House, 1877, contain tales which had already been printed in book
form in "Twice-Told Tales" and the "Mosses" "Sketched and Studies," 1883.
    Hawthorne's contributions to magazines were numerous, and most of his
tales appeared first in periodicals, chiefly in  "The  Token,"  1831-1838,
"New England Magazine," 1834,1835; "Knickerbocker," 1837-1839; "Democratic
Review,"  1838-1846;  "Atlantic  Monthly,"  1860-1872  (scenes  from   the
Dolliver  Romance,  Septimius  Felton,  and  passages   from   Hawthorne's
    Works: in 24 volumes, 1879; in 12 volumes, with introductory notes by
Lathrop, Riverside Edition, 1883.
    Biography, etc. ; A. H. Japp  (pseud.  H.  A.  Page),  Memoir  of  N.
Hawthorne, 1872; J. T. Field's  "Yesterdays  with  Authors,"  1873  G.  P.
Lathrop, "A Study of Hawthorne," 1876; Henry James English Men of Letters,
1879; Julian Hawthorne, "Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife," 1885;  Moncure
D.  Conway,  Life  of  Nathaniel  Hawthorne,  1891;  Analytical  Index  of
Hawthorne's Works, by E. M. O'Connor 1882.


    It is a little remarkable, that - though disinclined to talk overmuch
of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends -  an
autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession  of
me, in addressing the public. The first  time  was  three  or  four  years
since, when I favoured the reader - inexcusably, and for no earthly reason
that either the indulgent reader or the intrusive author  could  imagin  -
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 followed. The truth seems to be, however, that  when  he  casts
his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses,  not  the  many  who
will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but  the  few  who  will
understand him better than most of  his  schoolmates  or  lifemates.  Some
authors, indeed, do far more than this, and  indulge  themselves  in  such
confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be addressed only and
exclusively to the one heart and mind  of  perfect  sympathy;  as  if  the
printed book, thrown at large on the wide world, were certain to find  out
the divided segment of the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of
existence by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely decorous,
however, to speak all, even where we speak impersonally. But, as  thoughts
are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker stand in  some  true
relation with his audience, it may be pardonable to imagine that a friend,
a kind and apprehensive, though not the closest friend,  is  listening  to
our talk;  and  then,  a  native  reserve  being  thawed  by  this  genial
consciousness, we may prate of the circumstances that lie around  us,  and
even of ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind  its  veil.  To  this
extent,  and  within  these  limits,   an   author,   methinks,   may   be
autobiographical, without violating either the reader's rights or his own.
    It will be seen,  likewise,  that  this  Custom-House  sketch  has  a
certain  propriety,  of  a  kind  always  recognised  in  literature,   as
explaining how a large  portion  of  the  following  pages  came  into  my
possession, and as offering proofs of  the  authenticity  of  a  narrative
therein contained. This, in fact - a desire  to  put  myself  in  my  true
position as editor, or very little more, of  the  most  prolix  among  the
tales that make up my volume - this, and no other, is my true  reason  for
assuming a personal relation with the public. In  accomplishing  the  main
purpose, it has appeared allowable, by a few  extra  touches,  to  give  a
faint representation of a mode of life not heretofore described,  together
with some of the characters  that  move  in  it,  among  whom  the  author
happened to make one.
    In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, half a century  ago,
in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf -  but  which  is  now
burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, and exhibits few or  no  symptoms
of commercial life; except, perhaps, a bark or  brig,  half-way  down  its
melancholy length, discharging hides; or, nearer at hand,  a  Nova  Scotia
schooner, pitching out her cargo of firewood - at the head, I say, of this
dilapidated wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along which, at the
base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the track  of  many  languid
years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass - here, with a view from  its
front windows adown this not very enlivening prospect, and  thence  across
the harbour, stands a spacious edifice of brick. From the  loftiest  point
of its roof, during precisely three and a half  hours  of  each  forenoon,
floats or droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but  with
the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally, and  thus
indicating that a civil, and not a military, post of Uncle Sam's goverment
is  here  established.  Its  front  is  ornamented  with  a   portico   of
half-a-dozen wooden pillars, supporting a balcony, beneath which a  flight
of wide granite steps descends towards the street Over the entrance hovers
an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield
before her breast, and, if I recollect aright,  a  bunch  of  intermingled
thunder- bolts  and  barbed  arrows  in  each  claw.  With  the  customary
infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she  appears  by
the fierceness of her beak and eye, and  the  general  truculency  of  her
attitude,  to  threaten  mischief  to  the  inoffensive   community;   and
especially to warn all citizens careful of their safety against  intruding
on the premises  which  she  overshadows  with  her  wings.  Nevertheless,
vixenly as she looks, many people are  seeking  at  this  very  moment  to
shelter themselves under the wing  of  the  federal  eagle;  imagining,  I
presume, that her bosom has all the softness and snugness of an  eiderdown
pillow. But she has no great tenderness even in her best  of  moods,  and,
sooner or later - oftener soon than  late  -  is  apt  to  fling  off  her
nestlings with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her  beak,  or  a  rankling
wound from her barbed arrows.
    The pavement round about the above-described edifice - which  we  may
as well name at once as the Custom-House of the port -  has  grass  enough
growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been worn  by
any multitudinous resort of business. In some months of the year, however,
there often chances a forenoon when affairs move onward  with  a  livelier
tread. Such occasions might remind the elderly  citizen  of  that  period,
before the last war with England, when Salem was a  port  by  itself;  not
scorned, as she is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners,  who  permit
her wharves  to  crumble  to  ruin  while  their  ventures  go  to  swell,
needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at New York  or
Boston. On some such morning, when three or four vessels  happen  to  have
arrived at once usually from Africa or South America - or  to  be  on  the
verge of their departure thitherward, there is a sound  of  frequent  feet
passing briskly up and down the granite steps. Here, before his  own  wife
has greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed shipmaster, just  in  port,
with his vessel's papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box. Here,  too,
comes his owner, cheerful, sombre, gracious or in the  sulks,  accordingly
as his scheme  of  the  now  accomplished  voyage  has  been  realized  in
merchandise that will readily be turned to gold, or has buried him under a
bulk of incommodities such as nobody  will  care  to  rid  him  of.  Here,
likewise - the  germ  of  the  wrinkle-browed,  grizzly-bearded,  careworn
merchant - we have the smart young clerk, who gets the taste of traffic as
a wolf-cub does of blood, and already sends  adventures  in  his  master's
ships, when he had better be sailing mimic boats upon a mill-pond. Another
figure in the scene is the outward-bound sailor, in quest of a protection;
or the recently arrived one, pale and feeble, seeking a  passport  to  the
hospital. Nor must we forget the captains of the  rusty  little  schooners
that bring firewood from the British provinces;  a  rough-looking  set  of
tarpaulins, without the alertness of the Yankee aspect,  but  contributing
an item of no slight importance to our decaying trade.
    Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were,  with
other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for the time  being,
it made the Custom-House a stirring scene. More  frequently,  however,  on
ascending the steps, you would discern - in the entry if  it  were  summer
time, or in their appropriate rooms if wintry or inclement weathers row of
venerable figures, sitting in old-fashioned chairs, which were  tipped  on
their hind legs back against the wall. Oftentimes they  were  asleep,  but
occasionally might be heard talking together, ill voices between a  speech
and a snore, and with that lack of energy that distinguishes the occupants
of alms-houses, and all other human beings who depend for  subsistence  on
charity, on monopolized labour, or anything else but their own independent
exertions. These old gentlemen - seated, like Matthew at  the  receipt  of
custom, but not very liable to be summoned thence, like him, for apostolic
errands - were Custom-House officers.
    Furthermore, on the left hand as you  enter  the  front  door,  is  a
certain room or office, about fifteen feet square, and of a lofty  height,
with two of  its  arched  windows  commanding  a  view  of  the  aforesaid
dilapidated wharf, and the third looking across a narrow lane, and along a
portion of Derby Street. All three give glimpses of the shops of  grocers,
block-makers, slop-sellers, and ship-chandlers, around the doors of  which
are generally to be seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of  old  salts,
and such other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping  of  a  seaport.  The  room
itself is cobwebbed, and dingy with old paint; its floor  is  strewn  with
grey sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen into long disuse; and it
is easy to conclude, from the general slovenliness of the place, that this
is a sanctuary into which womankind, with her tools of  magic,  the  broom
and mop, has very infrequent access. In the way of furniture, there  is  a
stove with a voluminous funnel; an old pine desk with a three-legged stool
beside it; two or three wooden-bottom  chairs,  exceedingly  decrepit  and
infirm; and - not to forget the library - on some shelves, a score or  two
of volumes of the Acts of Congress, and a  bulky  Digest  of  the  Revenue
laws. A tin pipe ascends through the ceiling, and forms a medium of  vocal
communication with other parts of be edifice. And here,  some  six  months
ago - pacing from corner to corner, or lounging on the  long-legged  tool,
with his elbow on the desk, and his eyes wandering up and down the columns
of the morning newspaper - you might have recognised, honoured reader, the
same individual who welcomed you into his cheery little study,  where  the
sunshine glimmered so  pleasantly  through  the  willow  branches  on  the
western side of the Old Manse. But now, should you go thither to seek him,
you would inquire in vain for the Locofoco Surveyor. The besom  of  reform
hath swept him out of office, and a worthier successor wears  his  dignity
and pockets his emoluments.
    This old town of Salem - my native place, though I  have  dwelt  much
away from it both in  boyhood  and  maturer  years  -  possesses,  or  did
possess, a hold on my affection, the force of which I have never  realized
during my seasons of actual residence here. Indeed, so far as its physical
aspect is concerned, with its flat, unvaried surface, covered chiefly with
wooden houses, few or none of which pretend to architectural beauty -  its
irregularity, which is neither picturesque nor quaint, but only tame - its
long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through the whole extent of  be
peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New Guinea at one end, and a view of  the
alms-house at the other - such being the features of my  native  town,  it
would be quite as  reasonable  to  form  a  sentimental  attachment  to  a
disarranged checker-board. And yet, though invariably happiest  elsewhere,
there is within me a feeling for Old Salem, which, in  lack  of  a  better
phrase, I must be content to call affection.  The  sentiment  is  probably
assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family has stuck  into  the
soil. It is now nearly two centuries and  a  quarter  since  the  original
Briton, the earliest emigrant of my name, made his appearance in the  wild
and forest - bordered settlement which has since become a city.  And  here
his descendants have been born and died, and have  mingled  their  earthly
substance with the soil, until no small portion of it must necessarily  be
akin to the mortal frame  wherewith,  for  a  little  while,  I  walk  the
streets. In part, therefore, the attachment which I speak of is  the  mere
sensuous sympathy of dust for dust. Few of my countrymen can know what  it
is; nor, as frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stock, need
they consider it desirable to know.
    But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The figure of  that
first ancestor,  invested  by  family  tradition  with  a  dim  and  dusky
grandeur, was present to my boyish  imagination  as  far  back  as  I  can
remember. It still haunts me, and induces a sort of home-feeling with  the
past, which I scarcely claim in reference to  the  present  phase  of  the
town. I seem to have a stronger claim to a residence here  on  account  of
this grave, bearded,  sable-cloaked,  and  steeple-crowned  progenitor-who
came so early, with his Bible and his sword, and trode the  unworn  street
with such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a man of war  and
peace - a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is seldom  heard  and
my face hardly known. He was a soldier, legislator, judge; he was a  ruler
in the Church; he had all the Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was
likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness the Quakers, who have  remembered
him in their histories, and  relate  an  incident  of  his  hard  severity
towards a woman of their sect, which will last longer, it is to be feared,
than any record of his better deeds, although these were  many.  His  son,
too, inherited the persecuting spirit, and made himself so conspicuous  in
the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to  have
left a stain upon him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his dry old bones, in
the Charter-street burial-ground, must still retain it, if they  have  not
crumbled utterly to dust I  know  not  whether  these  ancestors  of  mine
bethought themselves to  repent,  and  ask  pardon  of  Heaven  for  their
cruelties; or whether they are now groaning under the  heavy  consequences
of them in another state of being. At all events, I, the  present  writer,
as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself  for  their  sakes,
and pray that any curse incurred by them - as I have  heard,  and  as  the
dreary and unprosperous condition of the race, for many a long year  back,
would argue to exist - may be now and henceforth removed.
    Doubtless, however, either of these stern and  black-browed  Puritans
would have thought it quite a sufficient retribution for  his  sins  that,
after so long a lapse of years, the old trunk of the family tree, with  so
much venerable moss upon it, should have borne, as its topmost  bough,  an
idler like myself. No aim that I have ever cherished would they  recognise
as laudable; no success of mine - if my life, beyond its  domestic  scope,
had ever been brightened by success  -  would  they  deem  otherwise  than
worthless, if not positively disgraceful. "What is he?" murmurs  one  grey
shadow of my forefathers to the other. "A writer of story books What  kind
of business in life - what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to
mankind in his day and generation -  may  that  be?  Why,  the  degenerate
fellow might as well have been a fiddler" Such are the compliments bandied
between my great grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time  And  yet,
let 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,  disgraced
by a single unworthy member; but seldom or never, on the other hand, after
the first two generations, 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   grey-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  from
his world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust  with  the
natal earth. This long connexion 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 embedded. 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 paradise.  So  has
it been in my case. I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem  my  home;
so that the mould of features and cast of character which  had  all  along
been familiar here - ever, as one representative of the race lay  down  in
the grave, another assuming, as it were, his sentry-march along  the  main
street - might still in my little day be seen and recognised  in  the  old
town. Nevertheless, this very sentiment is an evidence that the connexion,
which has become an unhealthy one,  should  at  least  be  severed.  Human
nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if  it  be  planted  and
re-planted, for too long a series of generations,  in  the  same  worn-out
soil. My children have had  other  birth-places,  and,  so  far  as  their
fortunes  may  be  within  my  control,  shall  strike  their  roots  into
accustomed earth.
    On emerging  from  the  Old  Manse,  it  was  chiefly  this  strange,
indolent, unjoyous attachment for my native town that brought me to fill a
place in Uncle Sam's brick edifice, when I might as well, or better,  have
gone somewhere else. My doom was on me, It was not the first time, nor the
second, that I had gone away  -  as  it  seemed,  permanently  -  but  yet
returned, like the  bad  halfpenny,  or  as  if  Salem  were  for  me  the
inevitable centre of the universe. So, one fine  morning  I  ascended  the
flight of granite steps, with the President's commission in my pocket, and
was introduced to the corps of gentlemen who were to aid me in my  weighty
responsibility as chief executive officer of the Custom-House.
    I doubt greatly - or, rather, I do not doubt at  all  -  whether  any
public functionary of the United States, either in the civil  or  military
line, has ever had such a patriarchal body of veterans under his orders as
myself. The whereabouts of the Oldest Inhabitant was at once settled  when
I looked at them. For upwards of  twenty  years  before  this  epoch,  the
independent position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House  out
of the whirlpool of political  vicissitude,  which  makes  the  tenure  of
office generally so fragile. A soldier - New England's most  distinguished
soldier - he stood firmly on the pedestal of his  gallant  services;  and,
himself secure in the wise liberality of  the  successive  administrations
through which  he  had  held  office,  he  had  been  the  safety  of  his
subordinates in many an hour of danger and heart-quake General Miller  was
radically conservative; a man over whose kindly nature habit had no slight
influence;  attaching  himself  strongly  to  familiar  faces,  and   with
difficulty  moved  to  change,  even  when  change  might   have   brought
unquestionable improvement. Thus, on taking charge off  my  department,  I
found few but aged men. They were ancient sea -  captains,  for  the  most
part, who, after being tossed on  every  sea,  and  standing  up  sturdily
against life's tempestuous blast, had  finally  drifted  into  this  quiet
nook, where, with little to disturb them, except the periodical terrors of
a Presidential 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 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 labours,  and  soon  afterwards  -  as  if  their  sole
principle of life had been zeal for their country's service - as I  verily
believe it was - withdrew to a better world. It is a pious consolation  to
me that, through my interference, a sufficient space was allowed them  for
repentance of the evil and corrupt practices into which, as  a  matter  of
course, every Custom-House officer must be supposed to fall.  Neither  the
front nor the back entrance of the  Custom-House  opens  on  the  road  to
    The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It  was  well  for  their
venerable brotherhood that the new Surveyor  was  not  a  politician,  and
though a faithful Democrat in principle, neither  received  nor  held  his
office with any reference to political services. Had it been  otherwise  -
had an active politician been put into this influential  post,  to  assume
the easy task of making head against a Whig Collector,  whose  infirmities
withheld him from the personal administration of his office - hardly a man
of the old corps would have drawn the breath of  official  life  within  a
month after the exterminating angel had come up  the  Custom-House  steps.
According to the received code in such matters, it would have been nothing
short of duty, in a politician, to bring every one of  those  white  heads
under the axe of the guillotine. It was plain enough to discern  that  the
old fellows dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands. It pained,  and  at
the same time amused 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 speaking-trumpet, hoarsely  enough
to frighten Boreas himself to silence.  They  knew,  these  excellent  old
persons, that, by all established rule - and, as regarded  some  of  them,
weighed by their own lack of efficiency for business - they ought to  have
given 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 incumbency,
to creep about the wharves, and loiter up and down the Custom-House steps.
They spent a good deal of time, also, asleep in their accustomed  corners,
with their chairs tilted back against the walls; awaking, however, once or
twice in the forenoon, to bore one another  with  the  several  thousandth
repetition of old sea-stories and mouldy  jokes,  that  had  grown  to  be
passwords and countersigns among them.
    The discovery was soon made, I imagine, that the new 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  gentlemen  went  through  the  various
formalities of office. Sagaciously under their spectacles, did  they  peep
into the holds of vessels Mighty was their fuss about little matters,  and
marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater  ones  to  slip
between their  fingers  Whenever  such  a  mischance  occurred  -  when  a
waggon-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
praiseworthy  caution  after  the  mischief  had  happened;   a   grateful
recognition of the promptitude of their zeal the moment that there was  no
longer any remedy.
    Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, it is  my  foolish
habit to contract a kindness for them. The better part of  my  companion's
character, if it have a better part, is that which usually comes uppermost
in my regard, and forms the type whereby I recognise the man. As  most  of
these old Custom-House officers had good traits, and  as  my  position  in
reference to them, being paternal and protective, was  favourable  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 witticisms of past generations  were  thawed  out,
and came bubbling with laughter from their lips. Externally,  the  jollity
of aged men has much in common with the mirth of children; the  intellect,
any more than a deep sense of humour, 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 grey, mouldering trunk. In
one case, however, it is real sunshine; in the other,  it  more  resembles
the phosphorescent glow of decaying wood.
    It would be sad injustice, the reader must understand,  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 ability and energy, and altogether  superior
to the sluggish and dependent mode of life on which their evil  stars  had
cast them. Then, moreover, the white locks of age were sometimes found  to
be the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair. But, as respects
the majority of my corps of veterans, there will be no  wrong  done  if  I
characterize them generally as a set  of  wearisome  old  souls,  who  had
gathered nothing worth preservation from their varied experience of  life.
They seemed to have flung away all the golden grain of  practical  wisdom,
which they had enjoyed so  many  opportunities  of  harvesting,  and  most
carefully to have stored their memory with the husks. They spoke with  far
more interest and unction of their morning's  breakfast,  or  yesterday's,
to-day's, or tomorrow'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
Inspector. 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 fill it, at a  period  of  the  early
ages which few living men can now remember. This Inspector, when  I  first
knew him, was a man of fourscore years, or thereabouts, and certainly  one
of the most wonderful specimens of winter-green that you would  be  likely
to discover in a lifetime's search. With his  florid  cheek,  his  compact
figure smartly arrayed in a  bright-buttoned  blue  coat,  his  brisk  and
vigorous step, and his hale and hearty aspect, altogether he seemed -  not
young, indeed - but a kind of new contrivance  of  Mother  Nature  in  the
shape of man, whom age and infirmity had no business to touch.  His  voice
and laugh, which  perpetually  re-echoed  through  the  Custom-House,  had
nothing of the tremulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance; they
came strutting out of his lungs, like the crow of a cock, or the blast  of
a clarion. Looking at him merely as an animal - and there was very  little
else to look at - he was a most satisfactory  object,  from  the  thorough
healthfulness and wholesomeness of his system, and his capacity,  at  that
extreme age, to enjoy all, or nearly all, the 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 removal, had no  doubt  contributed  to  make  time  pass
lightly over him. The original and more potent causes, however, lay in the
rare  perfection  of  his  animal  nature,  the  moderate  proportion   of
intellect,  and  the  very  trifling  admixture  of  moral  and  spiritual
ingredients; these  latter  qualities,  indeed,  being  in  barely  enough
measure to keep the old gentleman from walking on all-fours. He  possessed
no power of thought no depth of  feeling,  no  troublesome  sensibilities:
nothing, in short, but a few commonplace instincts, which,  aided  by  the
cheerful temper which grew inevitably out of his physical well-being,  did
duty very respectably, 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 sorrow
enough to imbue the sunniest disposition through and through with a  sable
tinge. Not so with our old Inspector One brief sigh sufficed to carry  off
the entire burden of these dismal reminiscences. The next moment he was as
ready for sport as any unbreeched infant: far readier than the Collector's
junior clerk, who at nineteen years was much the elder and graver  man  of
the two.
    I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage with,  I  think,
livelier curiosity than any other form of humanity there presented  to  my
notice. He was, in truth, a rare phenomenon; so perfect, in one  point  of
view; so shallow, so delusive, so 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 perception of deficiency, but, on my part, an  entire
contentment with what I found in him. It might be difficult - and  it  was
so - to conceive how he should exist hereafter, so  earthly  and  sensuous
did he seem; but surely his existence  here,  admitting  that  it  was  to
terminate with his last breath, had  been  not  unkindly  given;  with  no
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 dreariness and duskiness of age.
    One point in which he had vastly the advantage over  his  four-footed
brethren was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it  had  made
no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat. His gourmandism  was
a highly agreeable trait; and to hear  him  talk  of  roast  meat  was  as
appetizing as a pickle or an oyster. As he possessed no higher  attribute,
and neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual  endowment  by  devoting
all his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit of his
maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear  him  expatiate  on  fish,
poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most eligible  methods  of  preparing
them for the table. His reminiscences of good cheer, however  ancient  the
date of the actual banquet, seemed to bring the savour of  pig  or  turkey
under one's very nostrils. There were flavours  on  his  palate  that  had
lingered there not less than  sixty  or  seventy  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
marvellous to observe how the ghosts  of  bygone  meals  were  continually
rising up before him - not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful for
his former appreciation, 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  inveterately  tough,  that  the  carving-knife
would make no impression on its carcase, and it could only be divided with
an axe and handsaw.
    But it is time to quit this sketch; on which, however,  I  should  be
glad to dwell at considerably more length, because of all men whom I  have
ever known, this individual was fittest to be a Custom-House officer. Most
persons, owing to causes which I may not have space  to  hint  at,  suffer
moral detriment from this peculiar mode of life.  The  old  Inspector  was
incapable of it; and, were he to continue in office to tile 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  Custom-House
portraits would be strangely incomplete, but which  my  comparatively  few
opportunities for observation enable me  to  sketch  only  in  the  merest
outline. It is that of the Collector, our gallant old General, who,  after
his brilliant military service, subsequently to which he had ruled over  a
wild Western territory, had come hither, twenty years before, to spend the
decline of his varied and honourable life.
    The  brave  soldier  had  already  numbered,  nearly  or  quite,  his
three-score years and ten, and was pursuing the remainder of  his  earthly
march, burdened with infirmities which even the martial music of  his  own
spirit-stirring recollections could do little towards lightening. The step
was palsied now, that had been foremost in the charge. It  was  only  with
the assistance of a servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on  the  iron
balustrade, that he could slowly and  painfully  ascend  the  Custom-House
steps, and,  with  a  toilsome  progress  across  the  floor,  attain  his
customary chair beside the fireplace. There he used to sit, gazing with  a
somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures that came  and  went,  amid
the rustle of papers,  the  administering  of  oaths,  the  discussion  of
business, and the  casual  talk  of  the  office;  all  which  sounds  and
circumstances seemed but indistinctly to impress his senses, and hardly to
make their way into his inner sphere of contemplation. His countenance, in
this repose, was mild and kindly. If his notice was sought, an  expression
of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his features, proving that there
was light within him, and that it was  only  the  outward  medium  of  the
intellectual lamp that obstructed the rays in their  passage.  The  closer
you penetrated to the substance of his mind, the sounder it appeared. When
no longer called upon to speak or listen - either of which operations cost
him an evident effort - his face would briefly subside into its former not
uncheerful quietude. It was not painful to behold this look;  for,  though
dim, it had not the imbecility of  decaying  age.  The  framework  of  his
nature, originally strong and massive, was not yet crumpled 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 grey
and broken ruins. Here and there, perchance, the walls may  remain  almost
complete; but elsewhere may be only a shapeless mound, cumbrous  with  its
very strength, and overgrown, through long years  of  peace  and  neglect,
with grass and alien weeds.
    Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with affection - for, slight
as was the communication between us, my feeling towards him, like that  of
all bipeds and quadrupeds who knew him, might not improperly be termed so,
- I could discern the main points of his portrait. It was marked with  the
noble and heroic qualities which showed it to be not a mere accident,  but
of good right, that he had won a  distinguished  name.  His  spirit  could
never, I conceive, have been characterized by an uneasy activity; it must,
at any period of his life, have required an impulse to set him in  motion;
but once stirred up, with obstacles to overcome, and an adequate object to
be attained, it was not in the man to give out or fail. The heat that  had
formerly pervaded his nature, and which was not yet extinct, was never  of
the kind that flashes and flickers in a blaze; but rather a deep red glow,
as of iron in a  furnace.  Weight,  solidity,  firmness  -  this  was  the
expression of his repose, even in such decay as had  crept  untimely  over
him at the period of which I speak. But I could imagine, even then,  that,
under some excitement which should go  deeply  into  his  consciousness  -
roused by a trumpets real, loud enough to awaken all of his energies  that
were not dead, but only slumbering - he was yet capable  of  flinging  off
his infirmities like a sick man's gown, dropping the staff of age to seize
a battle-sword, and starting up once more a warrior. And, in so intense  a
moment his demeanour would have  still  been  calm.  Such  an  exhibition,
however, was but to be pictured in  fancy;  not  to  be  anticipated,  nor
desired. What I saw in him - as evidently as the  indestructible  ramparts
of Old Ticonderoga, already cited as the most appropriate simile - was 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  just  as
unmalleable or unmanageable as a ton  of  iron  ore;  and  of  benevolence
which, fiercely as he led the bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort Erie, I take
to be of quite as genuine  a  stamp  as  what  actuates  any  or  all  the
polemical philanthropists of the age. He had slain men with his own  hand,
for aught I know - certainly, they had fallen like blades of grass at  the
sweep of the scythe before the charge to which  his  spirit  imparted  its
triumphant energy - but, be that as it might, there was never in his heart
so much cruelty as would have brushed the down off a butterfly's  wing.  I
have not known the man to whose innate kindliness I would more confidently
make an appeal.
    Many characteristics - and those, too, which contribute not the least
forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch - must have vanished,  or  been
obscured, before I met the General. All  merely  graceful  attributes  are
usually the most evanescent; nor does nature adorn  the  human  ruin  with
blossoms of new beauty, that have their roots and proper nutriment only in
the chinks and crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers over the ruined
fortress of Ticonderoga. Still, even in respect of grace and beauty, there
were points well worth noting. A ray of humour, now and then,  would  make
its way through the veil of dim obstruction, and glimmer  pleasantly  upon
our faces. A trait of  native  elegance,  seldom  seen  in  the  masculine
character after childhood or early  youth,  was  shown  in  the  General's
fondness for the sight and fragrance of flowers. An old soldier  might  be
supposed to prize 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 him in conversation - was  fond  of
standing at a distance, and  watching  his  quiet  and  almost  slumberous
countenance. He seemed away from us, although we saw him but a  few  yards
off; remote, though we passed close beside his chair; unattainable, though
we might have stretched forth our hands and touched his own. It  might  be
that he lived  a  more  real  life  within  his  thoughts  than  amid  the
unappropriate environment of the Collector's office. The evolutions of the
parade; the tumult of the battle; the flourish of old heroic music,  heard
thirty years before - such scenes and  sounds,  perhaps,  were  all  alive
before his intellectual sense. Meanwhile, the merchants and  ship-masters,
the spruce clerks and uncouth sailors, entered and departed; the bustle of
his commercial and Custom-House life kept up its little murmur round about
him; and neither with the men nor their affairs did the General appear  to
sustain the most distant relation. He was as much out of place as  an  old
sword - now 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
    There was one thing that much aided me in  renewing  and  re-creating
the stalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier - the man of true and  simple
energy. It was the recollection of those memorable words of  his  -  "I'll
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, valour were rewarded
by heraldic honour, this phrase - which it seems so  easy  to  speak,  but
which only he, with such a task of danger and glory before him,  has  ever
spoken - would be the best and fittest of all mottoes  for  the  General's
shield of arms.
    It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual  health
to be  brought  into  habits  of  companionship  with  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 fulness and  variety
than during my continuance in office. There was one man,  especially,  the
observation 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
arrangement that made them vanish as by the waving of an enchanter's wand.
Bred up from boyhood in the Custom-House,  it  was  his  proper  field  of
activity; and the many  intricacies  of  business,  so  harassing  to  the
interloper, presented themselves before  him  with  the  regularity  of  a
perfectly comprehended system. In my contemplation, he stood as the  ideal
of his class. He was, indeed, the Custom-House  in  himself;  or,  at  all
events, the 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  leading
reference to their fitness  for  the  duty  to  be  performed,  they  must
perforce seek elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them.  Thus,  by  an
inevitable necessity, as a magnet attracts steel-filings, so did  our  man
of business draw to himself the difficulties  which  everybody  met  with.
With an easy condescension, and kind forbearance towards our  stupidity  -
which, to his order of mind, must have seemed  little  short  of  crime  -
would he  forth-with,  by  the  merest  touch  of  his  finger,  make  the
incomprehensible as clear as daylight. The merchants valued him  not  less
than we, his esoteric friends. His integrity was perfect; it was a law  of
nature with him, rather than a choice  or  a  principle;  nor  can  it  be
otherwise than the main condition of an intellect so remarkably clear  and
accurate as his to be honest and regular in the administration of affairs.
A stain on his 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 fair page of a book of record. Here, in a word - and it is
a rare instance in my life - I had met with a person thoroughly adapted to
the situation which he held.
    Such were some of the people with whom I now found myself  connected.
I took it in good part, at the hands of Providence, that I was thrown into
a position so little akin to my past habits; and set myself  seriously  to
gather from it whatever profit was to be had. After my fellowship of  toil
and impracticable schemes with the dreamy brethren of  Brook  Farm;  after
living for three years within the subtle influence of  an  intellect  like
Emerson's;  after  those  wild,  free  days  on  the  Assabeth,  indulging
fantastic speculations, beside our fire  of  fallen  boughs,  with  Ellery
Channing; after talking with Thoreau about pine-trees and Indian relics in
his hermitage at Walden; after growing fastidious  by  sympathy  with  the
classic refinement of Hillard's culture; after becoming imbued with poetic
sentiment at Longfellow's hearthstone - it was time,  at  length,  that  I
should exercise other faculties of my nature, and nourish myself with food
for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the old  Inspector  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 associates to remember, I could  mingle  at  once  with  men  of
altogether different qualities, and lever murmur at the change.
    Literature, its exertions and objects, were now of little  moment  in
my regard. I cared not at this period for books; they were apart from  me.
Nature - except it were human nature - the nature  that  is  developed  in
earth and 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 been 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  transforming  me  into
any shape which it would be worth my while to take. But I never considered
it as other than a transitory life. There was always a prophetic instinct,
a low whisper in my ear, that within no long period, and  whenever  a  new
change of custom should be essential to my good, 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,  if
he will only choose to give himself the trouble. My  fellow-officers,  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  probably
knew me in no other character. None of them, I presume, had  ever  read  a
page of my inditing, or would have cared a fig the more for me if they had
read them all; nor would it have mended the  matter,  in  the  least,  had
those same unprofitable pages been written with a pen like that  of  Burns
or of Chaucer, each of 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 l especially needed the lesson, either in the way
of warning or rebuke; but at any rate, I learned it  thoroughly:  nor,  it
gives me pleasure to reflect, did  the  truth,  as  it  came  home  to  my
perception, ever cost me a pang, or require to be thrown off in a sigh. In
the way of literary talk, it is true, the Naval  Officer  -  an  excellent
fellow, who came into the office with me, and went out only a little later
- would often engage me in a discussion about one  or  the  other  of  his
favourite topics, Napoleon or Shakespeare. The Collector's  junior  clerk,
too a young gentleman who, it was whispered occasionally covered  a  sheet
of Uncle Sam's letter paper with what (at the distance  of  a  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 or caring that my name should be blasoned 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  cigar-boxes,  and  bales  of  all
kinds of dutiable merchandise, 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  existence,  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 public the sketch which I am now writing.
    In the second storey of the Custom-House there is a  large  room,  in
which the brick-work and  naked  rafters  have  never  been  covered  with
panelling and plaster. The edifice  -  originally  projected  on  a  scale
adapted to the old commercial enterprise of the port, and with an idea  of
subsequent prosperity destined never to be realized -  contains  far  more
space than its occupants know what to do with. This airy 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 labour of the carpenter and mason. At one end of the room, in  a
recess, were a number  of  barrels  piled  one  upon  another,  containing
bundles of official documents. Large quantities  of  similar  rubbish  lay
lumbering the floor. It was sorrowful to think how many days,  and  weeks,
and months, and years of toil had been wasted on these musty papers, which
were now only an encumbrance on  earth,  and  were  hidden  away  in  this
forgotten corner, never more to be glanced at by  human  eyes.  But  then,
what reams of other manuscripts - filled, not with the dulness of official
formalities, but with  the  thought  of  inventive  brains  and  the  rich
effusion of deep  hearts  -  had  gone  equally  to  oblivion;  and  that,
moreover, without serving a purpose  in  their  day,  as  these  heaped-up
papers had, and - saddest of all - without purchasing  for  their  writers
the comfortable livelihood which the clerks of the Custom-House had gained
by these worthless scratchings of the pen. Yet not  altogether  worthless,
perhaps, as materials of local history. Here, no doubt, statistics of  the
former commerce of  Salem  might  be  discovered,  and  memorials  of  her
princely merchants - old King Derby - old Billy Gray - old Simon Forrester
- and many another magnate in his day, whose powdered head,  however,  was
scarcely in the tomb before his mountain pile of wealth began to  dwindle.
The founders of the greater part of the families  which  now  compose  the
aristocracy of Salem might here be traced,  from  the  petty  and  obscure
beginnings of their traffic, at periods generally much  posterior  to  the
Revolution, upward to what their children look  upon  as  long-established
    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 day, 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
decipherable on their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matters with  the
saddened, weary, half-reluctant interest which we bestow on the corpse  of
dead activity - and exerting my fancy, sluggish with little use, to  raise
up from these dry bones an image of the old towns  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 official record of  some
period long past, when clerks engrossed their stiff and formal chirography
on more substantial materials than at present. There was  something  about
it that quickened an instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded red
tape that tied up the package, with the sense that a treasure  would  here
be brought to light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment  cover,  I
found it to be a commission, under the hand and seal of Governor  Shirley,
in favour of one Jonathan Pine, as Surveyor 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  little
graveyard of St. Peter's Church,  during  the  renewal  of  that  edifice.
Nothing, 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
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 capacity, and apparently with his own
hand. I could account for their being included in the heap of Custom-House
lumber only by the fact that Mr. Pine's death had happened  suddenly,  and
that these papers, which he probably kept in his official desk, had  never
come to the knowledge of his heirs, or were  supposed  to  relate  to  the
business of the revenue. On the transfer of the archives to Halifax,  this
package, proving to be of no public concern,  was  left  behind,  and  had
remained ever since unopened.
    The ancient Surveyor - being little molested, suppose, at that  early
day with business pertaining to his office - seems to have devoted some of
his many leisure hours to researches as a  local  antiquarian,  and  other
inquisitions of a  similar  nature.  These  supplied  material  for  petty
activity to a mind that would otherwise have been eaten up with rust.
    A portion of his  facts,  by-the-by,  did  me  good  service  in  the
preparation of the article entitled "MAIN STREET," included in the present
volume. The remainder may perhaps be applied to purposes equally  valuable
hereafter, or not impossibly may be worked up, so far as they go,  into  a
regular history of Salem, should my veneration for  the  natal  soil  ever
impel me to so pious a task. Meanwhile, they shall be at  the  command  of
any gentleman, inclined and competent, to take the unprofitable labour off
my hands. As a final disposition I contemplate depositing  them  with  the
Essex Historical Society. But the object that most drew  my  attention  to
the mysterious package was a certain affair of fine red cloth,  much  worn
and faded, There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which,  however,
was greatly frayed and defaced, so that  none,  or  very  little,  of  the
glitter was left. It had been wrought,  as  was  easy  to  perceive,  with
wonderful skill of needlework; and the stitch (as I am assured  by  ladies
conversant with such mysteries) gives evidence of a now forgotten art, not
to be discovered even by the process of picking out the threads. This  rag
of scarlet cloth - for time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth had reduced
it to little other than a rag - on careful examination, assumed the  shape
of a letter.
    It was the capital letter A. By an accurate  measurement,  each  limb
proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length. It  had  been
intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental article of dress;  but
how it was to be worn, or what  rank,  honour,  and  dignity,  in  by-past
times, were signified by it, was a riddle which  (so  evanescent  are  the
fashions of the world in these particulars) I saw little hope of  solving.
And yet it strangely interested me. My eyes fastened themselves  upon  the
old scarlet letter, and would not be turned  aside.  Certainly  there  was
some deep meaning in it most worthy of interpretation, and  which,  as  it
were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly  communicating  itself
to my sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind.
    When thus perplexed - and cogitating, among other hypotheses, whether
the letter might not have been one of those decorations  which  the  white
men used to contrive in order to take the eyes of Indians - I happened  to
place it on my breast. It seemed to me - the reader may  smile,  but  must
not doubt my word - it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a  sensation
not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if  the
letter were  not  of  red  cloth,  but  red-hot  iron.  I  shuddered,  and
involuntarily let it fall upon the floor.
    In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, I had  hitherto
neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper, around which it had been
twisted. This I now opened, and had the satisfaction to find  recorded  by
the old Surveyor's pen, a reasonably complete  explanation  of  the  whole
affair. There were several foolscap sheets,  containing  many  particulars
respecting the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne, who appeared to
have been rather a noteworthy personage in the view of our ancestors.  She
had flourished during the period between the early days  of  Massachusetts
and the close of the seventeenth century. Aged persons, alive in the  time
of Mr. Surveyor Pine, and from whose oral testimony he  had  made  up  his
narrative, remembered her, in their youth, as a very old, but not decrepit
woman, of a stately and solemn aspect. It had  been  her  habit,  from  an
almost immemorial date, to go about the country as  a  kind  of  voluntary
nurse, and doing  whatever  miscellaneous  good  she  might;  taking  upon
herself, likewise, to give advice in all matters, especially those of  the
heart, by which means - as a person of such propensities inevitably must -
she gained from many people the reverence due to an angel, but,  I  should
imagine, was looked upon by others as an intruder and a  nuisance.  Prying
further into the manuscript, I  found  the  record  of  other  doings  and
sufferings of this singular  woman,  for  most  of  which  the  reader  is
referred to the story entitled "THE SCARLET  LETTER";  and  it  should  be
borne carefully in mind that the main facts of that story  are  authorized
and authenticated by the document  of  Mr.  Surveyor  Pine.  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 not be understood affirming that, in the dressing up of  the  tale,
and imagining the  motives  and  modes  of  passion  that  influenced  the
characters who figure in it, I have invariably confined myself within  the
limits of the old Surveyor's  half-a-dozen  sheets  of  foolscap.  On  the
contrary, I have allowed myself, as to such points, nearly, or altogether,
as much license as if the facts had been entirely  of  my  own  invention.
What I contend for is the authenticity of the outline.
    This incident recalled my mind, in some degree,  to  its  old  track.
There seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale. It impressed  me  as  if
the ancient Surveyor, in his garb of a hundred years gone by, and  wearing
his immortal wig - which was buried with him, but did not  perish  in  the
grave - had bet me in the deserted chamber of  the  Custom-House.  In  his
port was the dignity of one who had borne His  Majesty's  commission,  and
who was therefore illuminated by a ray of  the  splendour  that  shone  so
dazzlingly about the throne.  How  unlike  alas  the  hangdog  look  of  a
republican official, who, as the servant of the people, feels himself less
than the least, and below the lowest of his masters. With his own  ghostly
hand, the obscurely seen, but majestic, figure  had  imparted  to  me  the
scarlet symbol and the little roll of explanatory manuscript. With his own
ghostly voice he had exhorted me, on the sacred consideration of my filial
duty and reverence towards him - who might reasonably regard himself as my
official ancestor - to bring his mouldy and moth-eaten lucubrations before
the public. "Do this," said the ghost of Mr.  Surveyor  Pue,  emphatically
nodding the head that looked so imposing within  its  memorable  wig;  "do
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. Surveyor Pue  -  "I
    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  hundredfold  repetition,  the  long
extent from the front door of the Custom-House to the side  entrance,  and
back again. Great were the weariness and annoyance of  the  old  Inspector
and the Weighers  and  Gaugers,  whose  slumbers  were  disturbed  by  the
unmercifully lengthened tramp  of  my  passing  and  returning  footsteps.
Remembering their own former habits, they used to say  that  the  Surveyor
was walking the quarter-deck. They probably fancied that my sole object  -
and, indeed, the sole object for which a sane man could ever  put  himself
into voluntary 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. 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 kindle 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  have  once
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  imbecility,  and
not without fair occasion.
    It was not merely during the three hours and a half which  Uncle  Sam
claimed as his share of my daily life that  this  wretched  numbness  held
possession of me. It went with me on my sea-shore walks and  rambles  into
the country, whenever - which was seldom and  reluctantly  -  I  bestirred
myself to seek that invigorating charm of Nature which  used  to  give  me
such freshness and activity of thought, the moment that I  stepped  across
the threshold of the Old Manse. The same torpor, as regarded the  capacity
for intellectual effort, accompanied me home, and weighed upon me  in  the
chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor did it  quit  me  when,
late at night, I  sat  in  the  deserted  parlour,  lighted  only  by  the
glimmering coal-fire and the moon, striving  to  picture  forth  imaginary
scenes, which, the next day, might flow out on  the  brightening  page  in
many-hued description.
    If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour,  it  might
well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlight, in a familiar room, falling  so
white upon the carpet, and showing all its figures so distinctly -  making
every object so minutely visible, yet so  unlike  a  morning  or  noontide
visibility - is a medium the most suitable for  a  romance-writer  to  get
acquainted with his illusive guests. There is the little domestic  scenery
of  the  well-known  apartment;  the  chairs,  with  each   its   separate
individuality; the centre-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 spiritualised 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 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, therefore, the floor of our familiar  room  has  become  a
neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land,  where
the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and  each  imbue  itself  with  the
nature of the other. Ghosts might enter here without  affrighting  us.  It
would be too much in keeping with the scene to excite 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  Influence  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 upon the polish of the furniture. This warmer  light
mingles  itself  with  the  cold  spirituality  of  the  moon-beams,   and
communicates, as it were, a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to
the forms which fancy summons tip. It converts them from snow-images  into
men and women. Glancing at the looking-glass, we behold - deep within  its
haunted verge - the smouldering glow of the half-extinguished  anthracite,
the white moon-beams on the floor, and a repetition of all the  gleam  and
shadow of the picture, with one remove further from the actual, and nearer
to the imaginative. Then, at 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 susceptibilities, and a gift connected
with them - of no great richness or value, but the best I had -  was  gone
from me.
    It is my belief, however, that had I attempted a different  order  of
composition, my faculties would not  have  been  found  so  pointless  and
inefficacious. I might, for instance, have contented myself  with  writing
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 marvel loins gifts as
a story-teller. Could I have preserved the picturesque force of his style,
and the humourous colouring 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  materiality  of  this  daily  life  pressing  so
intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into another age,  or
to insist on creating the semblance 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 spiritualise 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 by 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 had 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 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
consciousness, like ether out of a phial; so that, at  every  glance,  you
find a smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact there could  be  no
doubt and, examining myself and others,  I  was  led  to  conclusions,  in
reference to the effect of  public  office  on  the  character,  not  very
favourable 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 possesses an  unusual  share
of native energy, or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long
upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable. The  ejected  officer  -
fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to  struggle
amid a struggling world - may return to himself, and become  all  that  he
has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his  ground  just
long enough for his own ruin, and is then  thrust  out,  with  sinews  all
unstrung, to totter along the difficult footpath of life as he  best  may.
Conscious of his own infirmity - that his tempered  steel  and  elasticity
are lost - he for ever afterwards 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 circumstances, he shall be restored to office. This  faith,  more  than
anything else, steals the pith and availability 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 California, when  he  is
so soon to be made happy, at monthly intervals,  with  a  little  pile  of
glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket? It is sadly curious to  observe
how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a poor  fellow  with  this
singular disease. Uncle Sam's gold - meaning no disrespect to  the  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-reliance, and all that gives  the  emphasis
to manly character.
    Here was a fine prospect  in  the  distance  Not  that  the  Surveyor
brought the lesson home to himself,  or  admitted  that  he  could  be  so
utterly undone, either by continuance  in  office  or  ejectment.  Yet  my
reflections were not the most comfortable. I began to grow melancholy  and
restless; continually prying into my mind, to discover which of  its  poor
properties were gone, and what degree of detriment had already accrued  to
the remainder. I endeavoured 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,  therefore,  that  I
was likely to grow grey and decrepit in the Surveyorship, and become  much
such another animal 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 dinner-hour the  nucleus  of  the
day, and to spend the rest of it, as an old dog spends it, asleep  in  the
sunshine or in the shade? A dreary look-forward, this, for a man who  felt
it to be the best definition of happiness to  live  throughout  the  whole
range of his faculties and sensibilities But, all this while, I was giving
myself very unnecessary alarm. Providence had meditated better things  for
me than I could possibly imagine for myself.
    A remarkable event of the third year of my Surveyorship  -  to  adopt
the tone of "P. P.  "  -  was  the  election  of  General  Taylor  to  the
Presidency. It is essential, in  order  to  a  complete  estimate  of  the
advantages of official life, to view the incumbent at the in-coming  of  a
hostile administration. His position is then one of  the  most  singularly
irksome, and, in every contingency, disagreeable, that a  wretched  mortal
can possibly occupy; with seldom an alternative of good  on  either  hand,
although what presents itself to him as the worst event may very  probably
be the best. But it is a  strange  experience,  to  a  man  of  pride  and
sensibility, to  know  that  his  interests  are  within  the  control  of
individuals who neither love nor understand him, and by whom, since one or
the other must needs happen, lie 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 are few  uglier
traits of human nature than this tendency - which I now witnessed  in  men
no worse than their neighbours  -  to  grow  cruel,  merely  because  they
possessed the power of inflicting harm. If the guillotine, as  applied  to
office-holders, were a literal fact, instead of one of  the  most  apt  of
metaphors, it is  my  sincere  belief  that  the  active  members  of  the
victorious party were 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 Democrats 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  was
weakness and cowardice to murmur at. But the long  habit  of  victory  has
made them generous. They know how to spare when  they  see  occasion;  and
when they strike, the axe may be sharp indeed,  but  its  edge  is  seldom
poisoned with ill-will; nor is it their custom ignominiously to  kick  the
head which they have just struck off.
    In short, unpleasant as 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, l had been  none  of  the  warmest  of
partisans I began now, at this season of peril and adversity, to be pretty
acutely sensible with which party my predilections lay; nor was it without
something  like  regret  and  shame  that,  according  to   a   reasonable
calculation of chances, I saw my own prospect of retaining  office  to  be
better than those of my democratic brethren. But who can see an inch  into
futurity beyond his nose? My own head was the first that fell
    The moment when a man's head drops off  is  seldom  or  never,  I  am
inclined to think, precisely the most agreeable of his life. Nevertheless,
like the greater part of our misfortunes, even so  serious  a  contingency
brings its remedy and consolation with it, if the sufferer will  but  make
the best rather than the worst, of the accident which has befallen him. In
my particular case the consolatory topics were close at hand, and, indeed,
had suggested themselves to my meditations a considerable time  before  it
was requisite to use them. In view of my previous weariness of office, and
vague thoughts of resignation, my fortune somewhat  resembled  that  of  a
person who should entertain an idea of committing  suicide,  and  although
beyond his  hopes,  meet  with  the  good  hap  to  be  murdered.  In  the
Custom-House, as before in the Old Manse, I had spent three years - a term
long enough  to  rest  a  weary  brain:  long  enough  to  break  off  old
intellectual habits, and make room for new  ones:  long  enough,  and  too
long, to have lived in an unnatural state, doing what  was  really  of  no
advantage nor delight to any human being, and withholding myself from toil
that would, at least,  have  stilled  an  unquiet  impulse  in  me.  Then,
moreover, as regarded his unceremonious ejectment, the late  Surveyor  was
not altogether ill-pleased to be recognised by  the  Whigs  as  an  enemy;
since his inactivity in political affairs - his tendency to roam, at will,
in that broad and quiet field where all  mankind  may  meet,  rather  than
confine himself to those narrow paths where brethren of the same household
must diverge from one another - had sometimes made  it  questionable  with
his brother Democrats whether he was a friend. Now, after he had  won  the
crown of martyrdom (though with no longer a head to wear it on), the point
might be looked upon as settled. Finally, little  heroic  as  he  was,  it
seemed more decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of  the  party  with
which he had been content to stand than to remain a forlorn survivor, when
so many worthier men were falling: and at last, after subsisting for  four
years on the mercy of a hostile administration, to be  compelled  then  to
define his position anew, and claim the yet more humiliating  mercy  of  a
friendly one.
    Meanwhile, the press had taken up my affair, and kept me for  a  week
or two careering through the public prints, in my decapitated state,  like
Irving's Headless Horseman, ghastly and grim, and longing to be buried, as
a political dead man ought. So much for my figurative self. The real human
being all this time, with his head safely on his  shoulders,  had  brought
himself to the comfortable conclusion that everything was  for  the  best;
and making an investment in ink, paper, and steel  pens,  had  opened  his
long-disused writing desk, and was again a literary man.
    Now it was that the  lucubrations  of  my  ancient  predecessor,  Mr.
Surveyor Pue, came into play. 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  satisfactory.  Even  yet,
though my thoughts were ultimately much absorbed in the task, it wears, to
my eye, a  stern  and  sombre  aspect:  too  much  ungladdened  by  genial
sunshine; too little relieved by the tender and familiar influences  which
soften almost every scene of nature and real life, and undoubtedly  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  involuntary
withdrawal from the toils and honours of public life,  and  the  remainder
are gleaned from annuals and magazines, 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
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 behind me.  The  old
Inspector - who, by-the-bye, l regret to say, was overthrown and killed by
a horse some time ago, else he would certainly have lived for ever  -  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, Upton, Kimball,  Bertram,  Hunt  -
these and many other names, which had such classic familiarity for my  ear
six months ago, - these men of traffic, who seemed to occupy so  important
a position in the world - how little time has it required to disconnect me
from them all, not merely in act, but recollection It is  with  an  effort
    I recall the figures and appellations of these few.  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 memory in this abode and burial-place of so many  of  my
forefathers - there has never been, for me, the genial atmosphere which  a
literary man requires in order to ripen the best harvest of  his  mind.  I
shall do better amongst other faces; and  these  familiar  ones,  it  need
hardly be said, will do just as well without me.
    It may be, however - oh, transporting and triumphant thought I - that
the great-grandchildren of the present race may sometimes think kindly  of
the scribbler of bygone days, when the antiquary of days  to  come,  among
the sites memorable in the town's history, shall point out the locality of

                           THE PRISON DOOR

    A  throng  of  bearded  men,  in  sad-coloured  garments   and   grey
steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with  women,  some  wearing  hoods,  and
others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of
which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
    The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia  of  human  virtue  and
happiness they might originally project,  have  invariably  recognised  it
among their earliest practical necessities  to  allot  a  portion  of  the
virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In
accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of
Boston had built the first  prison-house  somewhere  in  the  Vicinity  of
Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground,
on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round  about  his  grave,  which  subsequently
became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard
of King's Chapel. Certain it is that, some fifteen or twenty  years  after
the settlement of the town,  the  wooden  jail  was  already  marked  with
weather-stains and other indications of  age,  which  gave  a  yet  darker
aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust  on  the  ponderous
iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in  the
New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have  known
a youthful  era.  Before  this  ugly  edifice,  and  between  it  and  the
wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with  burdock,
pig-weed, apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found
something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the  black  flower
of civilised society, a prison. But on one side of the portal, and  rooted
almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-hush, 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 criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token  that  the  deep
heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.
    This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in  history;
but whether it had merely survived out of the  stern  old  wilderness,  so
long after the fall  of  the  gigantic  pines  and  oaks  that  originally
overshadowed it, or whether, as there is far authority for  believing,  it
had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted  Ann  Hutchinson  as  she
entered the prison-door, we shall not take upon us to  determine.  Finding
it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is  now  about  to
issue from that inauspicious portal, we could  hardly  do  otherwise  than
pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It may serve,  let
us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the
track, or relieve the darkening close of  a  tale  of  human  frailty  and

                            THE MARKET-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 fastened
on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any  other  population,  or  at  a
later period in the  history  of  New  England,  the  grim  rigidity  that
petrified the bearded  physiognomies  of  these  good  people  would  have
augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short
of the anticipated execution of some rioted culprit, on whom the  sentence
of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the  verdict  of  public  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 corrected at the whipping-post. It might be
that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist,  was  to  be
scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant  Indian,  whom  the  white
man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven  with
stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be,  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 demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people
among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose  character
both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts  of
public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, 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 dignity as the punishment of death itself.
    It was a circumstance to he noted on  the  summer  morning  when  our
story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the
crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever  penal  infliction
might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement,  that  any
sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat  and  farthingale
from  stepping  forth  into  the  public  ways,  and  wedging  their   not
unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng  nearest  to  the
scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well  as  materially,  there  was  a
coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding
than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six  or
seven  generations;  for,  throughout  that  chain  of   ancestry,   every
successive mother had transmitted to her child a  fainter  bloom,  a  more
delicate and briefer  beauty,  and  a  slighter  physical  frame,  if  not
character of less force and solidity than her own. The women who were  now
standing about the prison-door stood within less than half  a  century  of
the period when  the  man-like  Elizabeth  had  been  the  not  altogether
unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen: and  the
beef and ale of their native land, with a  moral  diet  not  a  whit  more
refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright  morning  sun,
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 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 Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her
godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should
have come upon his congregation. "
    "The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful  overmuch  -
that is a truth," added a third autumnal matron. "At the very least,  they
should have put the brand of a  hot  iron  on  Hester  Prynne's  forehead.
Madame Hester would have winced at that, I  warrant  me.  But  she  -  the
naughty baggage - little will she care what they put upon  the  bodice  of
her gown Why, look you, she may cover it with  a  brooch,  or  such  like.
heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever"
    "Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child  by
the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the  pang  of  it  will  be
always in her heart. "
    "What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the  bodice  of  her
gown or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the  ugliest  as
well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted  judges.  "This  woman
has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die; Is there not law for  it?
Truly there is, both in the 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
gristly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by  his  side,  and  his
staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented  in
his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of  law,  which
it was his business to administer in its final and closest application  to
the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in  his  left  hand,  he
laid his right upon the shoulder of a  young  woman,  whom  he  thus  drew
forward, until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him,  by
an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and  stepped
into the open air as if by her own free will.  She  bore  in  her  arms  a
child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and  turned  aside  its
little face from the too  vivid  light  of  day;  because  its  existence,
heretofore, had brought it acquaintance only with the grey twilight  of  a
dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.
    When the young woman -  the  mother  of  this  child  -  stood  fully
revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp  the
infant closely to her bosom;  not  so  much  by  an  impulse  of  motherly
affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain  token,  which  was
wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, 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 neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red  cloth,
surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes  of  gold
thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done,  and  with  so
much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of  fancy,  that  it  had  all  the
effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore, and
which was of a splendour in accordance with the  taste  of  the  age,  but
greatly beyond what was  allowed  by  the  sumptuary  regulations  of  the
    The young woman was tall, with a figure  of  perfect  elegance  on  a
large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it  threw  off
the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides being beautiful  from
regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had  the  impressiveness
belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes.  She  was  ladylike,  too,
after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterised by
a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent,  and
indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication.  And  never
had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the antique interpretation of
the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had  before  known
her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured  by  a  disastrous
cloud, 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 observer,  there  was  some
thing 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 peculiarity. 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," 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 punishment?"
    "It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames,  "if
we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for
the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag  of
mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!"
    "Oh, peace, neighbours - peace!" whispered their youngest  companion;
"do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter but  she
has felt it in her heart. "
    The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.  "Make  way,  good
people - make 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, Madame 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 unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne  set  forth  towards  the  place
appointed for her punishment. A crowd of  eager  and  curious  schoolboys,
understanding little of the matter in hand, except that  it  gave  them  a
half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually  to
stare into her face and at the winking  baby  in  her  arms,  and  at  the
ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days,
from the prison door to  the  market-place.  Measured  by  the  prisoner's
experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of  some  length;  for
haughty as her demeanour was, she perchance underwent an agony from  every
footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung
into the street for them all to spurn and trample  upon.  In  our  nature,
however, there is a provision, alike marvellous  and  merciful,  that  the
sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present
torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles  after  it.  With  almost  a
serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of
her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, at the  western  extremity  of
the market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of  Boston's  earliest
church, and appeared to be a fixture there.
    In fact, this scaffold constituted a  portion  of  a  penal  machine,
which now, for two or three generations past, has been  merely  historical
and traditionary among us, but was  held,  in  the  old  time,  to  be  as
effectual an agent, in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was  the
guillotine among the terrorists of France. 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 individual - no outrage more flagrant than to  forbid
the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it  was  the  essence  of  this
punishment  to  do.  In  Hester  Prynne's  instance,   however,   as   not
unfrequently in other cases, her sentence bore that  she  should  stand  a
certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing  that  gripe  about
the neck and confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the  most
devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well  her  part,  she
ascended a  flight  of  wooden  steps,  and  was  thus  displayed  to  the
surrounding multitude, at about the height of a man's shoulders above  the
    Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans,  he  might  have
seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and  mien,  and
with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind  him  of  the  image  of
Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have  vied  with  one
another to represent; something which should remind him, indeed, but  only
by contrast, of that sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant  was
to redeem the world. Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the  most
sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world was only
the darker for this woman's beauty, and the more lost for the infant  that
she had borne.
    The scene was not without a mixture  of  awe,  such  as  must  always
invest the spectacle of guilt  and  shame  in  a  fellow-creature,  before
society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at
it. The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not  yet  passed  beyond
their simplicity. They were stern enough to look upon her death, had  that
been the sentence, without a murmur at its severity, but had none  of  the
heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a  theme  for
jest in an exhibition like the present. Even had there been a  disposition
to turn the  matter  into  ridicule,  it  must  have  been  repressed  and
overpowered by the solemn presence of  men  no  less  dignified  than  the
governor, and several of his counsellors, 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 sombre and grave. The unhappy  culprit
sustained herself as best a woman might,  under  the  heavy  weight  of  a
thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated at  her
bosom. It was  almost  intolerable  to  be  borne.  Of  an  impulsive  and
passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the  stings  and
venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in  every  variety  of
insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in the  solemn  mood
of the popular mind, that she longed rather  to  behold  all  those  rigid
countenances contorted with scornful merriment, and  herself  the  object.
Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude - each  man,  each  woman,
each little shrill-voiced child, contributing  their  individual  parts  -
Hester Prynne might have repaid them all  with  a  bitter  and  disdainful
smile. But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom  to  endure,
she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full  power
of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground,  or
else go mad at once.
    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 indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped  and
spectral images. Her mind, and especially her memory, was  preternaturally
active, and kept bringing up other scenes than this roughly hewn street of
a little town, on the edge of the western  wilderness:  other  faces  than
were louring upon her from beneath  the  brims  of  those  steeple-crowned
hats. Reminiscences, 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 phantasmagoric forms,  from  the
cruel weight and hardness of the reality.
    Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of  view
that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she  had  been
treading, since her happy infancy. Standing on  that  miserable  eminence,
she saw again her native village, in Old England, and her paternal home: a
decayed house of grey stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining
a half obliterated shield of arms over the portal,  in  token  of  antique
gentility. She saw her father's face, with its  bold  brow,  and  reverend
white beard that flowed  over  the  old-fashioned  Elizabethan  ruff;  her
mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious love which  it  always
wore in her remembrance, and which, even since her  death,  had  so  often
laid the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in  her  daughter's  pathway.
She saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty,  and  illuminating  all
the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken in  years,  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  tile  study
and the cloister, as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not  to  recall,
was slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a  trifle  higher  than  the
right. Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallery, the intricate and
narrow thoroughfares, the tall, grey houses, the huge cathedrals, and  the
public edifices,  ancient  in  date  and  quaint  in  architecture,  of  a
continental city; where new life had awaited her, still in connexion  with
the mis-shapen scholar: a  new  life,  but  feeding  itself  on  time-worn
materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in  lieu
of these shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the  Puritan,
settlement, with all the townspeople assembled, and levelling their  stern
regards at Hester Prynne - yes, at herself - who stood on the scaffold  of
the pillory, an  infant  on  her  arm,  and  the  letter  A,  in  scarlet,
fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom
    Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely  to  her  breast
that it sent forth a cry; she turned her  eyes  downward  at  the  scarlet
letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure  herself  that  the
infant and the shame were real. Yes these were her realities  -  all  else
had vanished!

                             THE RECOGNITION

    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 settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice  from
Hester Prynne at such a time; much less would he have excluded  all  other
objects and ideas from her mind.  By  the  Indian's  side,  and  evidently
sustaining a companionship with him, stood a white man, clad in a  strange
disarray of civilized and savage costume.
    He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as  yet  could
hardly be  termed  aged.  There  was  a  remarkable  intelligence  in  his
features, as of a person who had so cultivated his  mental  part  that  it
could not fail to mould the physical to  itself  and  become  manifest  by
unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly careless arrangement of  his
heterogeneous  garb,  he  had  endeavoured  to  conceal   or   abate   the
peculiarity, it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this
man's shoulders rose higher than the other. Again, at the first instant of
perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity of the  figure,  she
pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that  the  poor
babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother did not seem to hear it,
    At his arrival in the market-place, and some time before she saw him,
the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester  Prynne.  It  was  carelessly  at
first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom  external
matters are of little value and  import,  unless  they  bear  relation  to
something within his mind. Very soon, however, his look  became  keen  and
penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like  a
snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its
wreathed intervolutions  in  open  sight.  His  face  darkened  with  some
powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so 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
imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. When he
found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his  own,  and  saw  that  she
appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made  a
gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips.
    Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near  to  him,  he
addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:
    "I pray you, good Sir," said he, "who is this woman? - and  wherefore
is she here set up to public shame?"
    "You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend,"  answered  the
townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and  his  savage  companion,
"else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne and  her  evil
doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise you,  in  godly  Master
Dimmesdale's church. "
    "You say truly," replied the other; "I am a stranger, and have been a
wanderer, sorely against my will. I have met with grievous mishaps by  sea
and land, and have been long held in bonds among the heathen-folk  to  the
southward; and am now brought hither by this Indian to be redeemed out  of
my captivity. Will it please you, therefore, to tell me of Hester Prynne's
- have I her name rightly? -  of  this  woman's  offences,  and  what  has
brought her to yonder scaffold?"
    "Truly, friend; and methinks it must gladden your heart,  after  your
troubles and sojourn in the  wilderness,"  said  the  townsman,  "to  find
yourself at length in a land where iniquity is searched out  and  punished
in the sight of rulers and people, as  here  in  our  godly  New  England.
Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, was the wife of a certain  learned  man,
English by birth, but who had long ago dwelt  in  Amsterdam,  whence  some
good time agone he was minded to cross over and cast in his lot with us of
the Massachusetts. To this purpose he sent his wife before him,  remaining
himself to look after some necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two
years, or less, that the woman has been  a  dweller  here  in  Boston,  no
tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne; and his  young
wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance- "
    "Ah! - aha! - I conceive you," said the stranger with a bitter smile.
"So learned a man as you speak of should have  learned  this  too  in  his
books. And who, by your favour, Sir, may be the father of yonder babe - it
is some three or four months old, I should judge - which  Mistress  Prynne
is holding in her arms?"
    "Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and  the  Daniel
who shall expound it is yet a-wanting,"  answered  the  townsman.  "Madame
Hester absolutely refuseth to speak, and the magistrates have  laid  their
heads together in vain. Peradventure the guilty one stands looking  on  at
this sad spectacle, unknown of man, and forgetting that God sees him. "
    "The learned man," observed the stranger with another smile,  "should
come himself to look into the mystery. "
    "It behoves him well if he be still in life," responded the townsman.
"Now, good Sir, our Massachusetts magistracy, bethinking  themselves  that
this woman is youthful and fair, and doubtless was strongly tempted to her
fall, and that, moreover, as is most likely, her husband  may  be  at  the
bottom of the sea, they have not been bold to put in force  the  extremity
of our righteous law against her. The penalty thereof  is  death.  But  in
their great mercy and tenderness of heart they have doomed Mistress Prynne
to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the  pillory,  and
then and thereafter, for the remainder of her natural life to wear a  mark
of shame upon her bosom. "
    "A wise sentence," remarked the stranger, gravely. bowing  his  head.
"Thus she will be a living  sermon  against  sin,  until  the  ignominious
letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertheless, that  the
partner of her iniquity should not at least, stand on the scaffold by  her
side. But he will be known - he will be known! - he will be known!"
    He bowed courteously to the communicative townsman, and whispering  a
few words to his Indian attendant, they both made their  way  through  the
    While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing on  her  pedestal,
still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger - so fixed a  gaze  that,  at
moments of intense absorption, all other  objects  in  the  visible  world
seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her. Such  an  interview,  perhaps,
would have been more terrible than even to meet him as she now  did,  with
the hot mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame;
with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the  sin-born  infant
in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival, staring at
the features that should have been seen only in the  quiet  gleam  of  the
fireside, in the happy shadow of a home, or beneath  a  matronly  veil  at
church. Dreadful as it was, she was conscious of a shelter in the presence
of these thousand witnesses. It was better to stand  thus,  with  so  many
betwixt him and her, than to greet him face to face - they two alone.  She
fled for refuge, as it were, to  the  public  exposure,  and  dreaded  the
moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her. Involved in these
thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind her until it had repeated  her
name more than once, in a loud and  solemn  tone,  audible  to  the  whole
    "Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne!" said the voice.
    It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on  which
Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony, or open  gallery,  appended  to
the meeting-house. It was the place whence proclamations were wont  to  be
made, amidst an assemblage of the magistracy, with all the ceremonial that
attended such public observances in those days. Here, to witness the scene
which we  are  describing,  sat  Governor  Bellingham  himself  with  four
sergeants about his chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of honour. He wore
a dark feather in his hat, a border of embroidery  on  his  cloak,  and  a
black velvet tunic beneath - a gentleman advanced in years,  with  a  hard
experience written in his wrinkles. He was not ill-fitted to be  the  head
and representative of a community which owed its origin and progress,  and
its present state of development, not to the impulses of youth, but to the
stern and tempered energies of manhood and the  sombre  sagacity  of  age;
accomplishing so much, precisely because it imagined and hoped so  little.
The other eminent characters by whom the chief ruler was  surrounded  were
distinguished by a dignity of mien, belonging to a period when  the  forms
of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of  Divine  institutions.
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
virtuous persons, who should he less capable of sitting in judgment on  an
erring woman's heart, and disentangling its mesh of good  and  evil,  than
the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her  face.
She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she might expect  lay
in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude; for, as  she  lifted  her
eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew pale, and trembled.
    The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend and
famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston, a great scholar,  like
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 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 grey  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 l, he could the better  judge  what  arguments  to  use,  whether  of
tenderness or terror,  such  as  might  prevail  over  your  hardness  and
obstinacy, insomuch that you should no longer hide the  name  of  him  who
tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me  -  with  a  young
man's over-softness, albeit wise beyond his years - that it were  wronging
the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart's  secrets  in
such broad daylight, and in presence of so great a multitude. 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
    There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of  the
balcony; and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its purport,  speaking
in an authoritative voice, although  tempered  with  respect  towards  the
youthful clergyman whom he addressed:
    "Good Master  Dimmesdale,"  said  he,  "the  responsibility  of  this
woman's soul lies greatly with you. It behoves you; therefore,  to  exhort
her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof. "
    The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole  crowd  upon
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale - young clergyman, who had come  from  one  of
the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age  into
our wild forest land. His eloquence  and  religious  fervour  had  already
given the earnest of high eminence in his profession. He was a  person  of
very striking aspect, with a white,  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 apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look -  as
of a being who felt himself quite astray, and at a loss in the pathway  of
human existence, and could only be at ease in some seclusion of  his  own.
Therefore, so far as his duties would  permit,  he  trod  in  the  shadowy
by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and childlike, coming  forth,  when
occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of thought,
which, as many people said, affected them like tile speech of an angel.
    Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the  Governor
had introduced so openly to the public notice, bidding him speak,  in  the
hearing of all men, to that mystery of a woman's soul, so sacred  even  in
its pollution. The trying nature of his position drove the blood from  his
cheek, and made his lips tremulous.
    "Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wilson. "It is  of  moment
to her soul, and, therefore, as the worshipful Governor says, momentous to
thine own, ill whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess the truth!"
    The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent  his  head,  silent  prayer,  as  it
seemed, and then came forward.
    "Hester Prynne," said he, leaning over the balcony and  looking  down
steadfastly into her eyes, "thou hearest what  this  good  man  says,  and
seest the accountability under which I labour. If thou feelest  it  to  be
for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made
more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the  name  of  thy
fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from  any  mistaken  pity
and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he  were  to  step
down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on  thy  pedestal  of
shame, yet better were it so than to hide a  guilty  heart  through  life.
What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him - yea, compel him, as
it were - to add hypocrisy to  sin?  Heaven  hath  granted  thee  an  open
ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the  evil
within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest  to  him  -
who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself - the bitter,
but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!"
    The young pastor's voice  was  tremulously  sweet,  rich,  deep,  and
broken. The feeling that it  so  evidently  manifested,  rather  than  the
direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all  hearts,  and
brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Even the poor  baby  at
Hester's bosom was affected by the same influence,  for  it  directed  its
hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its  little  arms
with  a  half-pleased,  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 else that the guilty  one  himself  in
whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by  an  inward
and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold.
    Hester shook her head.
    "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. "
    "Never," 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 another voice, coldly  and  sternly,  proceeding
from the crowd about the scaffold, "Speak; and give your child a father!"
    "I will not speak!" answered  Hester,  turning  pale  as  death,  but
responding to this voice, which she too surely recognised. "And  my  child
must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one!"
    "She will not speak!" murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over  the
balcony, with his hand upon his heart,  had  awaited  the  result  of  his
appeal. He now drew back with a long respiration. "Wondrous strength  arid
generosity of a woman's heart! She will not speak!"
    Discerning the impracticable state of the poor  culprit's  mind,  the
elder clergyman, who had carefully  prepared  himself  for  the  occasion,
addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all  its  branches,  but
with continual reference to the ignominious letter.  So  forcibly  did  he
dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or more during which his periods were
rolling over the people's heads, that it  assumed  new  terrors  in  their
imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet hue from the flames  of  the
infernal pit. Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon  the  pedestal
of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air  of  weary  indifference.  She  had
borne that morning all that nature could endure; and  as  her  temperament
was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by  a  swoon,
her  spirit  could  only  shelter  itself  beneath  a   stony   crust   of
insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained entire. In this
state,  the  voice  of   the   preacher   thundered   remorselessly,   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 sympathise with its trouble.  With
the same hard demeanour, she was led back to prison, and vanished from the
public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. It was whispered by those  who
peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a  lurid  gleam  along  the
dark passage-way of the interior.

                             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 perpetrate violence on herself, or do some  half-frenzied  mischief
to the poor babe. As night approached, it proving impossible to quell  her
insubordination by rebuke or threats of punishment, Master  Brackett,  the
jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician. He described him as a man of
skill in all Christian modes of physical science,  and  likewise  familiar
with whatever the savage people could teach in respect to medicinal  herbs
and roots that grew in the forest. To say the truth, there was  much  need
of professional assistance, not merely for Hester herself, but still  more
urgently for the child - who, drawing its  sustenance  from  the  maternal
bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil,  the  anguish  and
despair, which pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions
of pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral  agony
which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.
    Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared that
individual, of singular aspect whose presence in the  crowd  had  been  of
such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was  lodged  in
the prison, not as suspected of any offence, but as  the  most  convenient
and suitable mode of disposing of him, until the magistrates  should  have
conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom.  His  name  was
announced as Roger Chillingworth. The jailer, after ushering him into  the
room, remained a moment, marvelling at the comparative quiet that followed
his entrance; for Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as  death,
although the child continued to moan.
    "Prithee,  friend,  leave  me  alone  with  my  patient,"  said   the
practitioner. "Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your
house; and, I  promise  you,  Mistress  Prynne  shall  hereafter  be  more
amenable to just authority than you may have found her heretofore. "
    "Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," answered Master Brackett,
"I shall own you for a man of skill, indeed! Verily, the woman  hath  been
like a possessed one; and there lacks little that I should take  in  hand,
to drive Satan out of her with stripes. "
    The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of
the profession to which he announced himself as  belonging.  Nor  did  his
demeanour change when the withdrawal of the prison keeper left him face to
face with the woman, whose absorbed notice  of  him,  in  the  crowd,  had
intimated so close a relation between himself and her. His first care  was
given to the child, whose cries,  indeed,  as  she  lay  writhing  on  the
trundle-bed, made  it  of  peremptory  necessity  to  postpone  all  other
business to the task of soothing her. He examined  the  infant  carefully,
and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he took 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 recognise 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  state  of
mind, he took the  infant  in  his  arms,  and  himself  administered  the
draught. It soon proved its efficacy, and redeemed the leech's pledge. The
moans of the little patient subsided; its  convulsive  tossings  gradually
ceased; and in a few moments, as is the custom  of  young  children  after
relief from pain, it sank into a profound and dewy slumber. The physician,
as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed his  attention  on  the
mother. With calm and intent scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into  her
eyes - a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder, because so familiar,
and  yet  so  strange  and  cold  -  and,  finally,  satisfied  with   his
investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught
    "I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he;  "but  I  have  learned
many new secrets in the wilderness, and here is one of  them  -  a  recipe
that an Indian taught me, in requital of some lessons of my own, that were
as old as Paracelsus. Drink it! It may be less  soothing  than  a  sinless
conscience. That I cannot give thee.  But  it  will  calm  the  swell  and
heaving of thy passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea.
    He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow,  earnest
look into his face; not precisely a look of fear, yet full  of  doubt  and
questioning as to what his purposes might  be.  She  looked  also  at  her
slumbering child.
    "I have thought of death," said she - " have wished for  it  -  would
even have prayed for it, were it fit  that  such  as  I  should  pray  for
anything. Yet, if death be in this cup, I bid thee think again,  ere  thou
beholdest me quaff it. See! it is even now at my lips. "
    "Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold composure.  "Dost
thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are  my  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, which forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester's breast,  as  if  it
had been red hot. He noticed her involuntary gesture,  and  smiled  "Live,
therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women
- in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy husband -  in  the  eyes  of
yonder child! And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught. "
    Without further expostulation or delay,  Hester  Prynne  drained  the
cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself  on  the  bed,
where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only chair which the  room
afforded, and took his own seat beside her. She could not but  tremble  at
these preparations; for she felt that - having now done all that humanity,
or principle, or, if so it were, a refined cruelty, impelled him to do for
the relief of physical suffering - he was next to treat with  her  as  the
man whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.
    "Hester," said he, "I ask not wherefore, nor  how  thou  hast  fallen
into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the pedestal of infamy
on which I found thee. The reason is not far to seek. It was my folly, and
thy weakness. I - a man of thought - the book-worm of great libraries -  a
man already in decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry  dream
of knowledge - what had I to do with youth  and  beauty  like  thine  own?
Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself with the idea that
intellectual gifts  might  veil  physical  deformity  in  a  young  girl's
fantasy? Men call me wise. If sages were ever wise in their own behoof,  I
might have foreseen all this. I might have known that, as I  came  out  of
the vast and dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Christian  men,
the very first object to meet my eyes would  be  thyself,  Hester  Prynne,
standing up, a statue of ignominy, before the people. Nay, from the moment
when we came down the old church-steps together, a married pair,  I  might
have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our
    "Thou knowest," said Hester - for, depressed as she  was,  she  could
not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame - "thou  knowest
that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any. "
    "True," replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. But, up to that
epoch of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had been so cheerless! My
heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill,
and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one!  It  seemed  not  so
wild a dream - old as I was, and sombre as I was, and misshapen as I was -
that the simple bliss, which is scattered far and wide, for all mankind to
gather up, might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into  my  heart,
into its innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by  the  warmth  which
thy presence made there!"
    "I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.
    "We have wronged each other," answered he. "Mine was the first wrong,
when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with
my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not  thought  and  philosophised  in
vain, I seek no vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me,
the scale hangs fairly balanced.  But,  Hester,  the  man  lives  who  has
wronged us both! Who is he?"
    "Ask me not?" replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly  into  his  face.
"That thou shalt never know!"
    "Never,  sayest  thou?"  rejoined  he,  with  a  smile  of  dark  and
self-relying intelligence. "Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there  are
few things whether in the outward world, or, to a certain  depth,  in  the
invisible sphere of thought - few things hidden from the man  who  devotes
himself earnestly and unreservedly to the  solution  of  a  mystery.  Thou
mayest cover up 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 hand over her heart,  dreading  lest  he  should
read the secret there at once.
    "Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine," 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. Neither 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  outward
honour, if he may! Not the less he shall be mine!"
    "Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered and appalled; "but
thy words interpret thee as a terror!"
    "One thing, thou that wast  my  wife,  l  would  enjoin  upon  thee,"
continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy  paramour.  Keep,
likewise, mine! There are none in this land that know me. Breathe  not  to
any human soul that thou didst ever 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,
amongst whom and myself there  exist  the  closest  ligaments.  No  matter
whether of love or hate: no matter whether of right  or  wrong!  Thou  and
thine, 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 encounter the  dishonour
that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman.  It  may  be  for  other
reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Let, therefore,
thy husband be to the world as one already dead, and of  whom  no  tidings
shall ever come. Recognise me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe  not
the secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou  fail  me
in this, beware! His fame, his position, his life will  be  in  my  hands.
    "I will keep thy secret, as I have his," said Hester.
    "Swear it!" rejoined he.
    And she took the oath.
    "And now, Mistress Prynne," said old Roger Chillingworth, as  he  was
hereafter to be named, "I leave thee alone: alone with thy infant and  the
scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy sentence bind thee to wear the
token in thy sleep? Art thou not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?"
    "Why dost thou smile so at me?"  inquired  Hester,  troubled  at  the
expression of his eyes. "Art thou like  the  Black  Man  that  haunts  the
forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a bond  that  will  prove
the ruin of my soul?"
    "Not thy soul," he answered, with another smile. No, not thine!"

                           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 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  supported  by
an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by all the combative energy of her
character, which enabled her to convert the scene into  a  kind  of  lurid
triumph. It was, moreover, a separate and insulated event,  to  occur  but
once in her lifetime, and to meet which, therefore, reckless  of  economy,
she might call up the vital strength that would  have  sufficed  for  many
quiet years. The very law that condemned her - a giant  of  stem  featured
but with vigour to support, as well as to annihilate, in his  iron  arm  -
had held her up through the terrible ordeal of her ignominy. But now, with
this unattended walk from her prison door, began the daily custom; and she
must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of  her
nature, or sink beneath it. She could no longer borrow from the future  to
help her through the present grief. Tomorrow would  bring  its  own  trial
with it; so would the next day, and so would the next: each its own trial,
and yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous  to  be  borne.
The days of the far-off future would toil  onward,  still  with  the  same
burden for her to take up, and bear along with her,  but  never  to  fling
down; for the accumulating days and added years would pile up their misery
upon the heap of shame. Throughout them all, giving up her  individuality,
she would become the general symbol at which  the  preacher  and  moralist
might point, and in which they might vivify and  embody  their  images  of
woman's frailty and sinful passion. Thus  the  young  and  pure  would  be
taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast -  at
her, the child of honourable parents - at her, the mother of a  babe  that
would hereafter be a woman - at her, who had once been innocent -  as  the
figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy  that
she must carry thither would be her only monument.
    It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her - kept  by  no
restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits  of  the  Puritan
settlement, so remote and so obscure - free to return to her  birth-place,
or to any other European land, and there hide her character  and  identity
under a new exterior, as completely as if emerging into another  state  of
being - and having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to
her, where the wildness of her  nature  might  assimilate  itself  with  a
people whose customs and life were alien from the law that  had  condemned
her - it may seem marvellous that this woman should still call that  place
her home, 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 some great and  marked  event
has given the colour to their lifetime; and, still the more  irresistibly,
the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her  sin,  her  ignominy,  were  the
roots which she had struck into the soil. It was as if a new  birth,  with
stronger assimilations than the  first,  had  converted  the  forest-land,
still so uncongenial to every other  pilgrim  and  wanderer,  into  Hester
Prynne's wild and dreary, but life-long home. All other scenes of earth  -
even that village of rural England,  where  happy  infancy  and  stainless
maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping, like garments put off
long ago - were foreign to her, 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, unrecognised on earth, would bring them together before the  bar  of
final judgment, and make that their marriage-altar, for a  joint  futurity
of endless retribution. Over and over again,  the  tempter  of  souls  had
thrust  this  idea  upon  Hester's  contemplation,  and  laughed  at   the
passionate and desperate joy with which she seized,  and  then  strove  to
cast it from her. She barely looked the idea in the face, and hastened  to
bar it in its dungeon. What she  compelled  herself  to  believe  -  what,
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
herself had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the  scene  of
her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily  shame
would at length purge her soul, and work  out  another  purity  than  that
which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of martyrdom.
    Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the outskirts of the town,
within the verge of the peninsula, but not in close vicinity to any  other
habitation, there was a small thatched cottage. It had been  built  by  an
earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil about it was too  sterile
for cultivation, while its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere
of that social activity which already marked the habits of the  emigrants.
It stood on  the  shore,  looking  across  a  basin  of  the  sea  at  the
forest-covered hills, towards the west. A clump of scrubby trees, such  as
alone grew on the peninsula, did not so  much  conceal  the  cottage  from
view, as seem to denote that here was some object which  would  fain  have
been, or at  least  ought  to  be,  concealed.  In  this  little  lonesome
dwelling, with some slender means that she possessed, and by  the  licence
of the magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her, Hester
established herself, with her infant child. A mystic shadow  of  suspicion
immediately attached itself to the spot. 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 doorway, or  labouring  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 Hester's situation, and without a friend on  earth  who
dared to show himself,  she,  however,  incurred  no  risk  of  want.  She
possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively
little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving infant  and
herself. It was the art, then, as  now,  almost  the  only  one  within  a
woman's grasp - of needle-work. She bore on her breast, in  the  curiously
embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative  skill,  of
which the dames of a court might gladly have availed  themselves,  to  add
the richer and more  spiritual  adornment  of  human  ingenuity  to  their
fabrics of silk and gold. Here,  indeed,  in  the  sable  simplicity  that
generally characterised the Puritanic modes of dress, there  might  be  an
infrequent call for the finer productions of her handiwork. Yet the  taste
of the age, demanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this kind,
did not fail to extend its influence over our stern progenitors,  who  had
cast behind them so many fashions which it might seem harder  to  dispense
    Public  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-conducted ceremonial, and a sombre, but yet a
studied magnificence. Deep ruffs, painfully wrought bands, and  gorgeously
embroidered gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men
assuming the reins of power,  and  were  readily  allowed  to  individuals
dignified by rank or wealth, even while sumptuary laws forbade  these  and
similar extravagances to the plebeian order. In the array of funerals, too
- whether for the apparel of the dead body,  or  to  typify,  by  manifold
emblematic devices of sable cloth  and  snowy  lawn,  the  sorrow  of  the
survivors - there was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour
as Hester Prynne could supply. Baby-linen - for babies then wore robes  of
state - afforded still another possibility of toil and emolument.
    By degrees, not very slowly, her handiwork became what would  now  be
termed the fashion. Whether from commiseration for a woman of so miserable
a destiny; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a fictitious value even
to  common  or  worthless  things;  or  by   whatever   other   intangible
circumstance was then, as now, sufficient to bestow, on some persons, what
others might seek in vain; or because Hester really  filled  a  gap  which
must otherwise have remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready  and
fairly equited 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 wore it on their scarfs, and the minister  on  his  band;  it
decked the baby's little cap; it was shut up, to be mildewed  and  moulder
away, in the coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded that, in a single
instance, her skill was called in to embroider the white veil which was to
cover the pure blushes of  a  bride.  The  exception  indicated  the  ever
relentless vigour with which society frowned upon her sin.
    Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a  subsistence,  of  the
plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a simple abundance
for her child. Her own dress was of the coarsest materials  and  the  most
sombre hue, with only that one ornament - the scarlet letter  -  which  it
was her doom  to  wear.  The  child's  attire,  on  the  other  hand,  was
distinguished by a fanciful, or, we may rather say, a fantastic ingenuity,
which served, indeed, to heighten the  airy  charm  that  early  began  to
develop itself in the little girl, but  which  appeared  to  have  also  a
deeper meaning. We may speak further of  it  hereafter.  Except  for  that
small expenditure in the decoration of her infant, Hester bestowed all her
superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and
who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them. Much  of  the  time,
which she might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art, she
employed in making coarse garments for the poor. It is probable that there
was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation, and that she offered up
a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting  so  many  hours  to  such  rude
handiwork.  She  had  in  her  nature   a   rich,   voluptuous,   Oriental
characteristic - a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in  the
exquisite productions of her  needle,  found  nothing  else,  in  all  the
possibilities of her  life,  to  exercise  itself  upon.  Women  derive  a
pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the
needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been  a  mode  of  expressing,  and
therefore soothing, the passion of her life.  Like  all  other  joys,  she
rejected it as sin. This morbid meddling of conscience with an  immaterial
matter betokened, it is to be feared, no genuine and steadfast  penitence,
but something doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong beneath.
    In this matter, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform  in  the
world. With her native energy of character and rare capacity, it could not
entirely cast her  off,  although  it  had  set  a  mark  upon  her,  more
intolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded the brow  of  Cain.
In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that  made
her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the
silence of those with  whom  she  came  in  contact,  implied,  and  often
expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as  if  she  inhabited
another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and
senses than the rest of human kind. She stood apart from moral  interests,
yet close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the  familiar  fireside,
and can no longer make itself  seen  or  felt;  no  more  smile  with  the
household joy, nor mourn with the kindred sorrow; or, should it succeed in
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 position, although she  understood  it
well, and was in little danger of forgetting it, was often brought  before
her vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, by the  rudest  touch  upon
the tenderest spot. 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 succour them. Dames of elevated rank, likewise, whose  doors  she
entered in the way of her occupation, were accustomed to distil  drops  of
bitterness into her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice,
by which women can concoct a subtle  poison  from  ordinary  trifles;  and
sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell  upon  the  sufferer's
defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound.  Hester  had
schooled herself long and well; and she never responded to these  attacks,
save by a flush of crimson that rose irrepressibly over  her  pale  cheek,
and again subsided into the depths of her  bosom.  She  was  patient  -  a
martyr, indeed but she forebore to pray for enemies, lest, in spite of her
forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should  stubbornly  twist
themselves into a curse.
    Continually,  and  in  a  thousand  other  ways,  did  she  feel  the
innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly contrived for her
by  the  undying,  the  ever-active  sentence  of  the  Puritan  tribunal.
Clergymen paused in the streets, to address  words  of  exhortation,  that
brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and frown, around the poor,  sinful
woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the
Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of  the
discourse. She grew to have a dread of children; for 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. Therefore, first allowing her  to  pass,  they  pursued  her  at  a
distance with shrill cries, and the utterances  of  a  word  that  had  no
distinct purport to their own minds, but was none  the  less  terrible  to
her, as proceeding from lips that babbled it unconsciously. It  seemed  to
argue so wide a diffusion of her shame, that all nature  knew  of  it;  it
could have caused her no deeper pang had the leaves of the trees whispered
the dark story among themselves - had the summer breeze murmured about  it
- had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud!  Another  peculiar  torture  was
felt in the gaze of a new eye. When  strangers  looked  curiously  at  the
scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so - they branded it  afresh  in
Hester's soul; 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  callous;  it  seemed,  on  the  contrary,  to  grow  more
sensitive with daily torture.
    But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in  many  months,  she
felt an eye - a human eye - upon the ignominious  brand,  that  seemed  to
give a momentary relief, as if half of her agony  were  shared.  The  next
instant, back it all rushed again, with still a deeper throb of pain; for,
in that brief interval, she had sinned anew. (Had Hester sinned alone?)
    Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a  softer
moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more so, by the strange
and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to and fro,  with  those  lonely
footsteps, in the little world with which she was outwardly connected,  it
now and then appeared to Hester - if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless
too potent to be resisted - she felt or fancied, 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
hidden sin in other hearts. She was terrorstricken by the revelations that
were thus made. What were they?
Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad
angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman, as yet
only half his victim, that the outward guise of purity was but a
lie, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet
letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's?
Or, must she receive those intimations - so obscure, yet so
distinct - as truth?  In all her miserable experience, there was
nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense.  It
perplexed, as well as shocked her, by the irreverent
inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid
action.  Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a
sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or
magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of
antique reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship
with angels.  "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hester say to
herself.  Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing
human within the scope of view, save the form of this earthly
saint!  Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert
itself, as she met the sanctified frown of some matron, who,
according to the rumour of all tongues, had kept cold snow within
her bosom throughout life.  That unsunned snow in the matron's
bosom, and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's - what had the
two in common?  Or, once more, the electric thrill would 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 symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in youth
or age, for this poor sinner to revere?  - such loss of faith is
ever one of the saddest results of sin.  Be it accepted as a
proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim of her own
frailty, and man's hard law, that Hester Prynne yet struggled to
believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.
    The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always  contributing
a grotesque horror to what interested  their  imaginations,  had  a  story
about the scarlet letter which we might readily work up  into  a  terrific
legend. They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in
an earthly dye-pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and could be  seen
glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the night-time.
And we must needs say it seared Hester's bosom  so  deeply,  that  perhaps
there was more truth in the rumour than  our  modern  incredulity  may  be
inclined to admit.


    We have as yet hardly spoken of  the  infant  that  little  creature,
whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a
lovely and immortal flower,  out  of  the  rank  luxuriance  of  a  guilty
passion. How strange it seemed to  the  sad  woman,  as  she  watched  the
growth, and the beauty that became  every  day  more  brilliant,  and  the
intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny  features  of
this child! Her Pearl - for so had  Hester  called  her;  not  as  a  name
expressive  of  her  aspect,  which  had  nothing  of  the  calm,   white,
unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the  comparison.  But  she
named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price - purchased with all she
had - her mother's only treasure! How strange, indeed! Man had marked this
woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which  had  such  potent  and  disastrous
efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful  like
herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus  punished,
had given her a lovely child, whose place was  on  that  same  dishonoured
bosom, to connect her parent  for  ever  with  the  race  and  descent  of
mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in heaven!  Yet  these  thoughts
affected Hester Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew that her
deed had been evil; she could have no faith, therefore,  that  its  result
would be good. Day  after  day  she  looked  fearfully  into  the  child's
expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and  wild  peculiarity
that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being.
    Certainly there was no physical defect. By  its  perfect  shape,  its
vigour, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs, the
infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden: worthy to have  been
left there to be the plaything of  the  angels  after  the  world's  first
parents were driven out. The child had  a  native  grace  which  does  not
invariably co-exist with faultless beauty;  its  attire,  however  simple,
always impressed the beholder as if it were the very garb  that  precisely
became it best. But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds. Her mother,
with a morbid purpose that may be better understood hereafter, had  bought
the richest tissues that could be procured, and  allowed  her  imaginative
faculty its full play in the arrangement and  decoration  of  the  dresses
which the child wore before the public eye. So magnificent was  the  small
figure when thus arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper
beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a
paler loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her
on the darksome cottage floor. And yet a russet gown, torn and soiled with
the child's rude play, made a picture of  her  just  as  perfect.  Pearl's
aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite  variety;  in  this  one  child
there were  many  children,  comprehending  the  full  scope  between  the
wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby, and the pomp, in little,  of  an
infant princess. Throughout all, however, there was a trait of passion,  a
certain depth of hue, which she never lost; and if in any of her  changes,
she had grown fainter or paler, she would have ceased to be herself  -  it
would have been no longer Pearl!
    This outward mutability indicated,  and  did  not  more  than  fairly
express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature appeared  to
possess depth, too, as well as variety;  but  -  or  else  Hester's  fears
deceived her - it lacked reference and adaptation to the world into  which
she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her
existence a great law had been broken; and the result was  a  being  whose
elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but  all  in  disorder,  or
with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the  point  of  variety
and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered. Hester could
only account for the child's character - and even then  most  vaguely  and
imperfectly - by recalling what she herself had been during that momentous
period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her
bodily frame from its material of earth. The  mother's  impassioned  state
had been the medium through which were transmitted to  the  unborn  infant
the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally,  they
had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black
shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above  all,
the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch was perpetuated in Pearl. She
could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of  her
temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of  gloom  and  despondency
that had brooded in her heart. They were now illuminated  by  the  morning
radiance of a young child's disposition, but, later in the day of  earthly
existence, might be prolific of the storm and whirlwind.
    The discipline of the family in those days was of a  far  more  rigid
kind than now. The frown, the harsh rebuke, the  frequent  application  of
the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were used, not  merely  in  the
way of punishment for actual offences, but as a wholesome regimen for  the
growth and promotion of all childish virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless,
the loving mother of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side
of undue severity. Mindful, however, of her own  errors  and  misfortunes,
she early sought to impose a tender but strict  control  over  the  infant
immortality that was committed to her charge. But the task was beyond  her
skill. after testing both smiles and frowns, and proving that neither mode
of treatment possessed any calculable  influence,  Hester  was  ultimately
compelled to stand aside and permit the child to  be  swayed  by  her  own
impulses. Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, while
it lasted. As to any other kind of discipline, whether  addressed  to  her
mind or heart, little Pearl might or might not be  within  its  reach,  in
accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment. Her mother, while Pearl
was yet an infant, grew acquainted with  a  certain  peculiar  look,  that
warned her when it would be labour thrown  away  to  insist,  persuade  or
    It was a look so intelligent, yet inexplicable,  perverse,  sometimes
so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow  of  spirits,  that
Hester could not help questioning at such  moments  whether  Pearl  was  a
human child. She seemed rather an airy sprite, which,  after  playing  its
fantastic sports for a little while upon the  cottage  floor,  would  flit
away with a mocking smile.  Whenever  that  look  appeared  in  her  wild,
bright, deeply black eyes, it invested her with a strange  remoteness  and
intangibility: it was as if she  were  hovering  in  the  air,  and  might
vanish, like a glimmering light that comes we know not whence and goes  we
know not whither. Beholding it, Hester was constrained to rush towards the
child - to pursue the little elf in the flight which she invariably  began
- to snatch her to her bosom with a close pressure and  earnest  kisses  -
not so much from overflowing love as to  assure  herself  that  Pearl  was
flesh and blood, and not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laugh, when she was
caught, though full of merriment and music, made her mother more  doubtful
than before.
    Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, that  so  often
came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had bought  so  dear,
and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst into  passionate  tears.
Then, perhaps - for there was no foreseeing how  it  might  affect  her  -
Pearl would frown, and clench  her  little  fist,  and  harden  her  small
features into a stern, unsympathising look of discontent. Not  seldom  she
would laugh anew, and louder than  before,  like  a  thing  incapable  and
unintelligent of human sorrow. Or - but this more rarely  happened  -  she
would be convulsed with rage of grief and sob out her love for her  mother
in broken words, and seem intent on  proving  that  she  had  a  heart  by
breaking it. Yet Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty
tenderness: it passed as suddenly as it  came.  Brooding  over  all  these
matters, the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit,  but,  by  some
irregularity in  the  process  of  conjuration,  has  failed  to  win  the
master-word  that   should   control   this   new   and   incomprehensible
intelligence. Her only  real  comfort  was  when  the  child  lay  in  the
placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted hours  of  quiet,
sad, delicious happiness; until - perhaps with  that  perverse  expression
glimmering from beneath her opening lids - little Pearl awoke!
    How soon - with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive at  an
age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the mother's  ever-ready
smile and nonsense-words! And then what a happiness  would  it  have  been
could Hester Prynne have heard her clear, bird-like  voice  mingling  with
the uproar of other childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled
her own darling's tones, amid all the  entangled  outcry  of  a  group  of
sportive children. But this could never be. Pearl was a  born  outcast  of
the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no
right among christened infants.  Nothing  was  more  remarkable  than  the
instinct, as it seemed, with which the child comprehended her  loneliness:
the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole
peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other children. Never
since her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without  her.
In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there: first as the  babe
in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother,
holding a forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along at the  rate
of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the
settlement on the  grassy  margin  of  the  street,  or  at  the  domestic
thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashions as  the  Puritanic
nurture would permit!  playing  at  going  to  church,  perchance,  or  at
scourging Quakers, or taking scalps in a sham fight with the  Indians,  or
scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft.  Pearl  saw,  and
gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken  to,  she
would not speak again.  If  the  children  gathered  about  her,  as  they
sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible  in  her  puny  wrath,
snatching  up  stones  to  fling  at   them,   with   shrill,   incoherent
exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because they had so  much  the
sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue.
    The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most intolerant
brood that ever lived, had got  a  vague  idea  of  something  outlandish,
unearthly, or at variance with ordinary fashions, in the mother and child,
and therefore scorned them in their hearts, and not  unfrequently  reviled
them with their tongues. Pearl felt the sentiment, and  requited  it  with
the bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a  childish  bosom.
These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value, and  even  comfort
for the mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness  in
the mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in  the
child's manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless,  to  discern  here,
again, a shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in  herself.  All
this enmity and passion had Pearl inherited, by inalienable right, out  of
Hester's heart. Mother and daughter stood together in the same  circle  of
seclusion from human society; and in the nature of the child seemed to  be
perpetuated those unquiet  elements  that  had  distracted  Hester  Prynne
before Pearl's birth, but had since  begun  to  be  soothed  away  by  the
softening influences of maternity.
    At home, within and around her mother's cottage, Pearl wanted  not  a
wide and various circle of acquaintance. The spell of life went forth from
her ever-creative spirit, and communicated itself to a  thousand  objects,
as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may  be  applied.  The  unlikeliest
materials - a stick, a bunch of rags, a  flower  -  were  the  puppets  of
Pearl's witchcraft, and, without undergoing  any  outward  change,  became
spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied  the  stage  of  her  inner
world. Her one baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages,  old
and young, to talk withal. The pine-trees, aged, black,  and  solemn,  and
flinging groans and other melancholy  utterances  on  the  breeze,  needed
little transformation to figure as Puritan elders the ugliest weeds of the
garden were their children,  whom  Pearl  smote  down  and  uprooted  most
unmercifully. It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into  which  she
threw her intellect, with no  continuity,  indeed,  but  darting'  up  and
dancing, always in a state of preternatural activity - soon sinking  down,
as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life - and succeeded by
other shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like nothing so much as  the
phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the mere  exercise  of  the
fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing mind, there might  be  a
little more than was observable in other  children  of  bright  faculties;
except as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was  thrown  more  upon
the visionary throng which she created. The singularity lay in the hostile
feelings with which the child regarded all these  offsprings  of  her  own
heart and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing
broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest  of  armed  enemies,
against whom she rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad  -  then  what
depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt in her own  heart  the  cause  -  to
observe, in one so young, this constant recognition of an  adverse  world,
and so fierce a training of the energies that were to make good her  cause
in the contest that must ensue.
    Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon her knees,
and cried out with an agony which she would fain have  hidden,  but  which
made utterance for itself betwixt speech and a groan - "O Father in Heaven
- if Thou art still my Father - what is this being which  I  have  brought
into the world?" And Pearl, overhearing the ejaculation, or aware  through
some more subtile channel, of those throbs  of  anguish,  would  turn  her
vivid and beautiful little face upon her mother,  smile  with  sprite-like
intelligence, and resume her play.
    One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told. The
very first thing which she had noticed in her life, was - what? - not  the
mother's smile, responding to it, as  other  babies  do,  by  that  faint,
embryo smile of the little mouth, remembered so doubtfully afterwards, and
with such fond discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no means! But
that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was - shall we say
it? - the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom! One day, as her mother stooped
over the cradle, the infant's eyes had been caught by  the  glimmering  of
the gold embroidery about the letter; and putting up her little  hand  she
grasped at it, smiling, not doubtfully, but with  a  decided  gleam,  that
gave her face the look of a much older child. Then,  gasping  for  breath,
did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal token,  instinctively  endeavouring  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  agonised  gesture
were meant only to make sport for her, did  little  Pearl  look  into  her
eyes, and smile. From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester
had never felt a moment's safety: not a moment's calm  enjoyment  of  her.
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
peculiar smile and odd expression of the eyes.
    Once this freakish, elvish cast came  into  the  child's  eyes  while
Hester was looking at her own image in them, as mothers are food of doing;
and suddenly for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are pestered
with unaccountable delusions she fancied that  she  beheld,  not  her  own
miniature portrait, but another face in the small black mirror of  Pearl's
eye. It was a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice,  yet  bearing  the
semblance of features that she had known full well, though seldom  with  a
smile, and never with malice  in  them.  It  was  as  if  an  evil  spirit
possessed the child, and had just then peeped forth  in  mockery.  Many  a
time afterwards had Hester been tortured, though less vividly, by the same
    In the afternoon of a certain summer's  day,  after  Pearl  grew  big
enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering  handfuls  of  wild
flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's bosom; dancing  up
and down like a little elf whenever she hit the scarlet  letter.  Hester's
first motion had been to cover her  bosom  with  her  clasped  hands.  But
whether from pride or resignation, or a feeling  that  her  penance  might
best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, she  resisted  the  impulse,
and sat erect, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild eyes.
Still came the battery of flowers, almost invariably hitting the mark, and
covering the mother's breast with hurts for which she could find  no  balm
in this world, nor knew how to seek it in another. At last, her shot being
all expended, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that  little
laughing image of a fiend peeping out - or, 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.
    "Oh, I am your little Pearl!" answered the child.
    But while she said it, Pearl laughed, and began to dance up and  down
with the humoursome gesticulation of a little imp, whose next freak  might
be to fly up the chimney.
    "Art thou my child, in very truth?" 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, continuing her antics.
    "Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!" said  the  mother
half playfully; for it was often the case that  a  sportive  impulse  came
over her in the midst of her deepest suffering. "Tell me, then, what  thou
art, and who sent thee hither?"
    "Tell me, mother!" said the child, seriously, coming  up  to  Hester,
and pressing herself close to her knees. "Do thou tell me!"
    "Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!" answered Hester Prynne.
    But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape  the  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
    "Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not  talk  so!"  answered  the  mother.
suppressing a groan. "He sent us all into the world. He sent even me,  thy
mother. Then, much more thee! Or, if not, thou strange and  elfish  child,
whence didst thou come?"
    "Tell me! Tell me!" repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laughing
and capering about the floor. "It is thou that must tell me!"
    But Hester could not resolve the query, using  herself  in  a  dismal
labyrinth of doubt. She remembered - betwixt a smile and a shudder  -  the
talk of the neighbouring townspeople, who, seeking  vainly  elsewhere  for
the child's paternity, and observing some of her odd attributes, had given
out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring: such as, ever since  old
Catholic times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of
their mother's sin, and to promote some foul and wicked  purpose.  Luther,
according to the scandal of his  monkish  enemies,  was  a  brat  of  that
hellish breed; nor was Pearl the only  child  to  whom  this  inauspicious
origin was assigned among the New England Puritans.

                           THE GOVERNOR'S HALL

    Hester Prynne went one day to the  mansion  of  Governor  Bellingham,
with a pair of gloves which she had fringed and embroidered to his  order,
and which were to be worn on some great occasion of state; 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  honourable  and
influential place among the colonial magistracy.
    Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair  of
embroidered gloves, impelled Hester, at this time, to  seek  an  interview
with a personage of so much power and  activity  in  the  affairs  of  the
settlement. It had reached her ears that there was a design on the part of
some of the leading  inhabitants,  cherishing  the  more  rigid  order  of
principles in religion and government, to deprive her of her child. On the
supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon origin, these good
people not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in  the  mother's
soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If  the
child, on the other hand, were  really  capable  of  moral  and  religious
growth, and possessed the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it
would  enjoy  all  the  fairer  prospect  of  these  advantages  by  being
transferred to wiser and better guardianship than Hester  Prynne's.  Among
those who promoted the design, Governor Bellingham 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 select men of the
town, should then have been a question publicly discussed,  and  on  which
statesmen of eminence took sides. At that epoch  of  pristine  simplicity,
however, matters of  even  slighter  public  interest,  and  of  far  less
intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child, were  strangely
mixed up with the deliberations of legislators  and  acts  of  state.  The
period was hardly, if at all, earlier than  that  of  our  story,  when  a
dispute concerning the right of property in a pig not only caused a fierce
and bitter contest in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted  in
an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.
    Full of concern, therefore - but so conscious of her own  right  that
it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on  the  one  side,
and a lonely woman, backed by the sympathies of nature,  on  the  other  -
Hester Prynne set forth  from  her  solitary  cottage.  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 he let down  again,  and  frisked
onward before Hester 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 passionate moment. Her mother,  in  contriving  the  child's  garb,  had
allowed the gorgeous  tendencies  of  her  imagination  their  full  play,
arraying her in a crimson velvet  tunic  of  a  peculiar  cut,  abundantly
embroidered in fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So  much  strength
of colouring, which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a
fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made  her  the
very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.
    But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and  indeed,  of  the
child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the
beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was  doomed  to  wear  upon  her
bosom. It was the scarlet letter  in  another  form:  the  scarlet  letter
endowed with life! The mother herself - as if the  red  ignominy  were  so
deeply scorched into her brain that all her conceptions assumed its form -
had carefully wrought out the similitude, lavishing many hours  of  morbid
ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her affection and the
emblem of her guilt and torture. 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 appearance.
    As the two wayfarers came within  the  precincts  of  the  town,  the
children of the Puritans looked up from their player what passed for  play
with those sombre little urchins - and spoke gravely one to another
    "Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter: and  of  a
truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along
by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!"
    But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after  frowning,  stamping  her
foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening  gestures,
suddenly made a rush at the knot of her  enemies,  and  put  them  all  to
flight. She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant pestilence
- the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment  -  whose
mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed  and
shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound,  which,  doubtless,  caused
the  hearts  of  the  fugitives  to  quake  within   them.   The   victory
accomplished, Pearl  returned  quietly  to  her  mother,  and  looked  up,
smiling, into her face.
    Without further adventure, they  reached  the  dwelling  of  Governor
Bellingham. This was a large wooden house, built in  a  fashion  of  which
there are specimens still extant in the streets of  our  older  towns  now
moss - grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy at heart  with  the  many
sorrowful or  joyful  occurrences,  remembered  or  forgotten,  that  have
happened and passed away within their dusky chambers. 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 were plentifully intermixed; so that,  when  the
sunshine fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered  and
sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the  double  handful.
The brilliancy might have be  fitted  Aladdin's  palace  rather  than  the
mansion of a grave old  Puritan  ruler.  It  was  further  decorated  with
strange and seemingly cabalistic figures and  diagrams,  suitable  to  the
quaint taste of the age which had been drawn in  the  stucco,  when  newly
laid on, and had now grown hard and durable, for the admiration  of  after
    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.
    "No, my little Pearl!" said her mother; "thou must gather  thine  own
sunshine. I have none to give thee!"
    They approached the door, which was of an arched form, and flanked on
each side by a narrow tower or projection of the edifice, in both of which
were lattice-windows, the wooden shutters to  close  over  them  at  need.
Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the  portal,  Hester  Prynne  gave  a
summons, which was answered by one of the  Governor's  bond  servant  -  a
free-born Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During  that  term  he
was to be the property of his master, and as much a commodity  of  bargain
and sale as an ox, or a joint-stool. The serf wore the customary  garb  of
serving-men at that period, and long before, in the old  hereditary  halls
of England, "Is  the  worshipful  Governor  Bellingham  within?"  Inquired
    "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 honourable worship is within. But he hath
a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech. Ye may not see his
worship now. "
    "Nevertheless,  I  will  enter,"  answered  Hester  Prynne;  and  the
bond-servant, perhaps judging from  the  decision  of  her  air,  and  the
glittering symbol in her bosom, that she was a great  lady  in  the  land,
offered no opposition.
    So the mother and  little  Pearl  were  admitted  into  the  hall  of
entrance. With many variations, suggested by the nature  of  his  building
materials, diversity of climate, and a  different  mode  of  social  life,
Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of
gentlemen of fair estate in his native land. Here, then, was  a  wide  and
reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, and
forming a medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all
the other apartments. At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted  by
the windows of the two towers, which formed a small recess on either  side
of the portal. At the other end, though partly muffled by  a  curtain,  it
was more powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall windows which
we read of in old books, and which was provided with a  deep  and  cushion
seat. Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of  the  Chronicles
of England, or other such substantial literature;  even  as,  in  our  own
days, we scatter gilded volumes on the centre table, to be turned over  by
the casual guest. The furniture of the hall consisted  of  some  ponderous
chairs, the backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths  of  oaken
flowers; and likewise a table in the same taste, the whole  being  of  the
Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier,  and  heirlooms,  transferred  hither
from the Governor's paternal home. On  the  table  -  in  token  that  the
sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind  -  stood  a
large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or  Pearl  peeped
into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant of a  recent  draught  of
    On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers  of
the Bellingham lineage, some with armour on their breasts, and others with
stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were characterised by the  sternness
and severity which old portraits so invariably put on, as if they were the
ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies,  and  were  gazing
with harsh and intolerant criticism at  the  pursuits  and  enjoyments  of
living men.
    At about the centre of the oaken  panels  that  lined  the  hall  was
suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, an ancestral relic,  but
of the most modern date;  for  it  had  been  manufactured  by  a  skilful
armourer in London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham  came  over
to New England. There was a steel head-piece,  a  cuirass,  a  gorget  and
greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging  beneath;  all,  and
especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as to glow with
white radiance, and scatter an  illumination  everywhere  about  upon  the
floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, but had  been
worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and draining 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 exigenties of this new  country
had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman
and ruler.
    Little Pearl, who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour  as
she had been with the glittering frontispiece of  the  house,  spent  some
time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.
    "Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! look!"
    Hester looked by way of humouring the child; and she saw that,  owing
to the peculiar effect of this  convex  mirror,  the  scarlet  letter  was
represented in exaggerated 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  upwards  also,  at  a  similar
picture in  the  head-piece;  smiling  at  her  mother,  with  the  elfish
intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small  physiognomy.
That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror,  with
so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester  Prynne  feel
as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an  imp  who  was
seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.
    "Come along, Pearl," said she, drawing her away, "Come and look  into
this fair garden. It may be we shall see  flowers  there;  more  beautiful
ones than we find in the woods. "
    Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-window, at the further  end  of  the
hall, and  looked  along  the  vista  of  a  garden  walk,  carpeted  with
closely-shaven grass, and bordered with some rude and immature attempt  at
shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already  to  have  relinquished  as
hopeless, the effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard
soil, and amid the close struggle  for  subsistence,  the  native  English
taste for ornamental gardening.  Cabbages  grew  in  plain  sight;  and  a
pumpkin-vine, rooted at some distance,  had  run  across  the  intervening
space, and deposited one of its gigantic  products  directly  beneath  the
hall window, as if to warn the Governor that this great lump of  vegetable
gold was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer  him.  There
were a few rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees, probably the
descendants of those planted by the Reverend  Mr.  Blackstone,  the  first
settler of the peninsula;  that  half  mythological  personage  who  rides
through our early annals, seated on the back of a bull.
    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 towards the house. Pearl,  in  utter  scorn  of  her
mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream,  and  then  became
silent, not from any motion of obedience, but because the quick and mobile
curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance  of  those  new

                      THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER

    Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap - such  as  elderly
gentlemen loved to endue themselves with,  in  their  domestic  privacy  -
walked  foremost,  and  appeared  to  be  showing  off  his  estate,   and
expatiating on his projected improvements. The wide  circumference  of  an
elaborate ruff, beneath his grey beard, in the antiquated fashion of  King
James's reign, caused his head to look not a little like that of John  the
Baptist in a charger. The impression made by  his  aspect,  so  rigid  and
severe, and frost-bitten with  more  than  autumnal  age,  was  hardly  in
keeping  with  the  appliances  of  worldly  enjoyment  wherewith  he  had
evidently done his utmost to surround himself.  But  it  is  an  error  to
suppose that our great forefathers - though accustomed to speak and  think
of human existence as a state merely of  trial  and  warfare,  and  though
unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and life at the behest of  duty  -
made it a matter of conscience to reject such means of  comfort,  or  even
luxury, as lay fairly within their grasp. This creed was never taught, for
instance, by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard,  white  as  a
snow-drift, was seen  over  Governor  Bellingham's  shoulders,  while  its
wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be  naturalised  in  the
New England climate, and that purple grapes might possibly be compelled to
flourish against the sunny garden-wall. The old clergyman, nurtured at the
rich bosom of the English Church, had a long  established  and  legitimate
taste for all good and comfortable things, and however stern he might show
himself in the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such transgressions  as
that of Hester Prynne, still, the genial benevolence of his  private  life
had won him warmer affection than was accorded to any of his  professional
    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, whose health had severely suffered  of  late
by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the  labours  and  duties  of  the
pastoral relation.
    The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two  steps,
and, throwing open the leaves of the  great  hall  window,  found  himself
close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain fell  on  Hester  Prynne,
and partially concealed her.
    "What have we here?" said Governor Bellingham, looking with  surprise
at the scarlet little figure before him. "MI profess I have never seen the
like since my days of vanity, in old King James's time, when I was wont to
esteem it a high favour to be admitted to a court mask! There used to be a
swarm of these small apparitions in  holiday  time,  and  we  called  them
children of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a guest into my hall?"
    "Ay, indeed!" cried good old Mr. Wilson. "What little bird of scarlet
plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such figures when  the  sun
has been shining through a richly painted  window,  and  tracing  out  the
golden and crimson images across the floor. But that was in the old  land.
Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen
thee in this strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child - ha?  Dost  know
thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or  fairies  whom  we
thought to have left behind us, with other relics of  Papistry,  in  merry
old England?"
    "I am mother's child," answered the scarlet vision, "and my  name  is
    "Pearl? - Ruby, rather - or Coral! - or Red Rose, at the very  least,
judging from thy hue!" responded the old minister, putting forth his  hand
in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek.  "But  where  is  this
mother  of  thine?  Ah!  I  see,"  he  added;  and,  turning  to  Governor
Bellingham, whispered, "This is the selfsame child of whom  we  have  held
speech together; and behold here the unhappy  woman,  Hester  Prynne,  her
    "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  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 Prynne, laying her finger on the red token.
    "Woman, it is thy badge of shame!" replied the stern magistrate.  "It
is because of the stain which that letter indicates that we would transfer
thy child to other hands. "
    "Nevertheless," said the 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 myself. "
    "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 Christian nurture  as
befits a child of her age. "
    The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair and made an effort to
draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unaccustomed to the touch  or
familiarity of any but her mother, escaped through the  open  window,  and
stood on the upper step,  looking  like  a  wild  tropical  bird  of  rich
plumage, ready to take flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little
astonished at  this  outbreak  -  for  he  was  a  grandfatherly  sort  of
personage, and usually a vast favourite with children - essayed,  however,
to proceed with the examination.
    "Pearl," said he, with great  solemnity,  "thou  must  take  heed  to
instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear  in  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  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  England
Primer, or the  first  column  of  the  Westminster  Catechisms,  although
unacquainted with the outward form of either of  those  celebrated  works.
But that perversity, which all children have more or less of, and of which
little Pearl had a tenfold portion, 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 phantasy was probably suggested by the  near  proximity  of  the
Governor's red roses, as Pearl stood outside of the window, together  with
her recollection of the prison rose-bush, which she had passed  in  coming
    Old  Roger  Chillingworth,  with  a  smile  on  his  face,  whispered
something in the young clergyman's ear. Hester Prynne looked at the man of
skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the balance,  was  startled
to perceive what a change had come over his features  -  how  much  uglier
they were, how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier,  and  his
figure more misshapen - since the days when she had familiarly known  him.
She met his eyes for an instant, but was immediately constrained  to  give
all her attention to the scene now going forward.
    "This is awful!" cried  the  Governor,  slowly  recovering  from  the
astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him. "Here is a  child
of three years old, and she cannot tell who made  her!  Without  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 millionfold the power of retribution for my sin?  Ye
shall not take her! I will die first!"
    "My poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, "the  child  shall
be well cared for - far better than thou canst do for it."
    "God gave her into my keeping!" repeated Hester Prynne,  raising  her
voice almost to a shriek. "I will not give her up!" And here by  a  sudden
impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom, up to
this moment, she had seemed hardly so much as once  to  direct  her  eyes.
"Speak thou for me!" cried she. "Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge  of
my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I  will  not  lose  the
child! Speak for me! Thou knowest - for thou hast sympathies  which  these
men lack - thou knowest what is in my  heart,  and  what  are  a  mother's
rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother  has  but  her
child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the  child!
Look to it!"
    At this  wild  and  singular  appeal,  which  indicated  that  Hester
Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less than madness, the young
minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his  heart,
as was his custom whenever his peculiarly nervous temperament  was  thrown
into agitation. He looked now more  careworn  and  emaciated  than  as  we
described him at the scene of Hester's public  ignominy;  and  whether  it
were his failing health, or whatever the cause might be,  his  large  dark
eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.
    "There is truth in what she says," began the minister, with  a  voice
sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall re-echoed  and  the
hollow armour rang with it - "truth  in  what  Hester  says,  and  in  the
feeling which inspires her! God gave her the child, and gave her, too,  an
instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements - both  seemingly  so
peculiar - which no other mortal being  can  possess.  And,  moreover,  is
there not a quality of awful  sacredness  in  the  relation  between  this
mother and this child?"
    "Ay - how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?" interrupted the Governor.
"Make that plain, I pray you!"
    "It must be even so," resumed the  minister.  "For,  if  we  deem  it
otherwise, do we not hereby say that the Heavenly Father, the  creator  of
all flesh, hath lightly recognised a deed of sin, and made of  no  account
the distinction between unhallowed lust and holy love? This child  of  its
father's guilt and its mother's shame has come from the hand  of  God,  to
work in many ways upon her heart, who pleads so earnestly  and  with  such
bitterness of spirit the right to keep her. It was meant for a blessing  -
for the one blessing of her life! It  was  meant,  doubtless,  the  mother
herself hath told us, for a retribution, too; a torture to be felt at many
an unthought-of moment; a pang, a sting, an ever-recurring agony,  in  the
midst of a troubled joy! Hath she not expressed this thought in  the  garb
of the poor child, so forcibly reminding us of that red symbol which sears
her bosom?"
    "Well said again!" cried good Mr. Wilson. "l feared the woman had  no
better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"
    "Oh, not so! - not so!" continued Mr.  Dimmesdale.  "She  recognises,
believe me, the solemn miracle which God hath wrought in the existence  of
that child. And may she feel, too - what, methinks, is the  very  truth  -
that this boon was meant, above all things else, to keep the mother's soul
alive, and to preserve her from blacker depths of  sin  into  which  Satan
might else have sought to plunge her! Therefore it is good for this  poor,
sinful woman, that she hath an infant  immortality,  a  being  capable  of
eternal joy or sorrow, confided to her care - to be trained up by  her  to
righteousness, to remind her, at every moment, of her  fall,  but  yet  to
teach her, as if it were by the Creator's  sacred  pledge,  that,  if  she
bring the child to heaven, the child also will bring its parents  thither!
Herein is the sinful mother happier than the  sinful  father.  For  Hester
Prynne's sake, 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 Rev. Mr. Wilson.
    "What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham? Hath he not pleaded well
for the poor woman?"
    "Indeed hath he," answered the magistrate;  "and  hath  adduced  such
arguments, that we will even leave the matter as it now stands;  so  long,
at least, as there shall be no further scandal in the woman. Care must  be
had nevertheless, to put the child to due and stated  examination  in  the
catechism, at thy hands or Master  Dimmesdale's.  Moreover,  at  a  proper
season, the tithing-men must take heed that she go both to school  and  to
meeting. "
    The young minister, on ceasing to speak had  withdrawn  a  few  steps
from the group, and stood with his face partially concealed in  the  heavy
folds of the window-curtain; while the shadow of  his  figure,  which  the
sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous  with  the  vehemence  of  his
appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf stole softly towards  him,
and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her  cheek  against
it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that  her  mother,  who
was looking on, asked herself - "Is that my  Pearl?"  Yet  she  knew  that
there was love in the child's heart, although it mostly revealed itself in
passion, and hardly twice in  her  lifetime  had  been  softened  by  such
gentleness as now. The minister - for, save  the  long-sought  regards  of
woman, nothing  is  sweeter  than  these  marks  of  childish  preference,
accorded spontaneously by a spiritual instinct, and therefore  seeming  to
imply in us something truly worthy to  be  loved  -  the  minister  looked
round, laid his hand on the child's head, hesitated an instant,  and  then
kissed her brow. Little Pearl's  unwonted  mood  of  sentiment  lasted  no
longer; she laughed, and went capering down the hall so airily,  that  old
Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched the floor.
    "The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess,"  said  he  to
Mr. Dimmesdale. "She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly withal!"
    "A strange child!" remarked old Roger Chillingworth. "It is  easy  to
see the mother's part in her. Would it be beyond a philosopher's research,
think ye, gentlemen, to analyse that child's nature, and, from it  make  a
mould, to give a shrewd guess at the father?"
    "Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the  clue  of
profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. "Better to fast and  pray  upon  it;
and still 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 father's kindness towards the poor, deserted  babe.
    The affair being so satisfactorily  concluded,  Hester  Prynne,  with
Pearl, departed from the house. As they descended the steps, it is averred
that the lattice of a chamber-window was 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.
    "Hist, hist!" said she, while her ill-omened  physiognomy  seemed  to
cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house. "Wilt thou  go  with
us to-night? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I  well-nigh
promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one. "
    "Make my excuse to him, so  please  you!"  answered  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 betwixt Mistress Hibbins  and
Hester Prynne to be  authentic,  and  not  a  parable  -  was  already  an
illustration of  the  young  minister's  argument  against  sundering  the
relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of  her  frailty.  Even  thus
early had the child saved her from Satan's snare.

                                THE LEECH

    Under  the  appellation  of  Roger  Chillingworth,  the  reader  will
remember, was hidden another name, which its former  wearer  had  resolved
should never more be spoken. It has been related, how, in the  crowd  that
witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious  exposure,  stood  a  man,  elderly,
travel-worn, who, just emerging from the perilous wilderness,  beheld  the
woman, in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth  and  cheerfulness  of
home, set up as a type of sin before the people.  Her  matronly  fame  was
trodden under all men's feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public
market-place. For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach them, and for
the companions of her unspotted  life,  there  remained  nothing  but  the
contagion of her dishonour; which would not  fail  to  be  distributed  in
strict accordance arid proportion with  the  intimacy  and  sacredness  of
their previous relationship. Then why - since the choice was with  himself
- should the individual, whose connexion with the fallen  woman  had  been
the most intimate and sacred of them all, come forward  to  vindicate  his
claim to an inheritance  so  little  desirable?  He  resolved  not  to  be
pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Unknown to all  but  Hester
Prynne, and possessing the lock and  key  of  her  silence,  he  chose  to
withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, and, as  regarded  his  former
ties and interest, to vanish out of life as completely as if he indeed lay
at the bottom of the ocean, whither rumour had  long  ago  consigned  him.
This purpose once effected, new interests would immediately spring up, and
likewise a new purpose; dark, it is true, if  not  guilty,  but  of  force
enough to engage the full strength of his faculties.
    In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence in the Puritan
town as Roger Chillingworth, without other introduction than the  learning
and intelligence of which he possessed more than a common measure. As  his
studies, at a previous period  of  his  life,  had  made  him  extensively
acquainted with the medical science of the day, it was as a physician that
he presented himself and as such was cordially received. Skilful  men,  of
the medical and chirurgical profession, were of  rare  occurrence  in  the
colony. They seldom, it would appear, partook of the religious  zeal  that
brought other emigrants across the Atlantic. In their researches into  the
human frame, it may be that the higher and more subtle faculties  of  such
men were materialised, and that they lost the spiritual view of  existence
amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechanism, which seemed  to  involve
art enough to comprise all of life  within  itself.  At  all  events,  the
health of the good town of Boston, so far as medicine had aught to do with
it,  had  hitherto  lain  in  the  guardianship  of  an  aged  deacon  and
apothecary, whose piety and godly deportment were stronger testimonials in
his favour than any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma.
The only surgeon was one who combined  the  occasional  exercise  of  that
noble art with the daily and habitual flourish  of  a  razor.  To  such  a
professional body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition. He soon
manifested his familiarity with the ponderous and  imposing  machinery  of
antique physic; in which every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched
and  heterogeneous  ingredients,  as  elaborately  compounded  as  if  the
proposed result had been the Elixir of  Life.  In  his  Indian  captivity,
moreover, he had gained much knowledge of the properties of  native  herbs
and roots; nor  did  he  conceal  from  his  patients  that  these  simple
medicines, Nature's boon to the untutored savage, had  quite  as  large  a
share of his own confidence as the European Pharmacopoeia, which  so  many
learned doctors had spent centuries in elaborating.
    This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the  outward
forms of a religious life; and early after his arrival, had chosen for his
spiritual guide the Reverend  Mr.  Dimmesdale.  The  young  divine,  whose
scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford,  was  considered  by  his  more
fervent  admirers  as  little  less  than  a  heavenly  ordained  apostle,
destined, should he live and labour for the ordinary term of life,  to  do
as great deeds, for the now  feeble  New  England  Church,  as  the  early
Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian  faith.  About  this
period, 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  study,
his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty, and more  than  all,  to  the
fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practice, in  order  to  keep
the grossness of this  earthly  state  from  clogging  and  obscuring  his
spiritual lamp. Some declared, that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to
die, it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to  be  any  longer
trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other  hand,  with  characteristic
humility, avowed his belief that if Providence should see  fit  to  remove
him, it would be because of his own unworthiness to perform  its  humblest
mission here on earth. With all this difference of opinion as to the cause
of his decline, there could be no question of  the  fact.  His  form  grew
emaciated;  his  voice,  though  still  rich  and  sweet,  had  a  certain
melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed, on  any  slight
alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart with  first
a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain.
    Such was  the  young  clergyman's  condition,  and  so  imminent  the
prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished, all untimely,  when
Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town. His first  entry  on  the
scene, few people could tell whence, dropping down as it were out  of  the
sky or starting from the nether earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was
easily heightened to the miraculous. He was now  known  to  be  a  man  of
skill; it was  observed  that  he  gathered  herbs  and  the  blossoms  of
wild-flowers, and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees
like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was  valueless  to  common
eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby and  other  famous  men  -
whose scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural -
as having been his correspondents or associates. 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  query,  a
rumour gained ground - and however absurd, was entertained  by  some  very
sensible people  -  that  Heaven  had  wrought  an  absolute  miracle,  by
transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German  university  bodily
through the air and setting him down  at  the  door  of  Mr.  Dimmesdale's
study! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew that  Heaven  promotes
its purposes  without  aiming  at  the  stage-effect  of  what  is  called
miraculous interposition, were inclined to  see  a  providential  hand  in
Roger Chillingworth's so opportune arrival.
    This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the physician
ever manifested in the young clergyman; he attached himself to  him  as  a
parishioner, and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence  from  his
naturally reserved sensibility. He expressed great alarm at  his  pastor's
state of health, but was anxious  to  attempt  the  cure,  and,  if  early
undertaken, seemed not despondent of a favourable result. The elders,  the
deacons, the motherly dames,  and  the  young  and  fair  maidens  of  Mr.
Dimmesdale's flock, were alike importunate that he should  make  trial  of
the physician's frankly offered  skill.  Mr.  Dimmesdale  gently  repelled
their entreaties.
    "I need no medicine," said he.
    But how could the young minister say so, when, with every  successive
Sabbath, his cheek was paler and thinner, and  his  voice  more  tremulous
than before - when it had now become  a  constant  habit,  rather  than  a
casual gesture, to press his hand over his heart?  Was  he  weary  of  his
labours? Did he wish to die? These questions were solemnly  propounded  to
Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston, and the  deacons  of  his
church, 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.  Dimmesdale,  when,  in
fulfilment  of  this  pledge,  he  requested  old  Roger   Chillingworth's
professional advice, "I could be well content  that  my  labours,  and  my
sorrows, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end with me,  and  what
is earthly of them be buried in my grave, and the spiritual go with me  to
my eternal state, rather than that you should put your skill to the  proof
in my behalf. "
    "Ah,"  replied  Roger  Chillingworth,  with  that  quietness,  which,
whether imposed or natural, marked all his deportment, "it is thus that  a
young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthful men, not  having  taken  a  deep
root, give up their hold of life so easily! And saintly men, who walk with
God on earth, would fain be away, to walk with him on the golden pavements
of the New Jerusalem. "
    "Nay," rejoined the young minister, putting his hand  to  his  heart,
with a flush of pain flitting over his brow,  "were  I  worthier  to  walk
there, I could be better content to toil here. "
    "Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly," said the physician.
    In this manner, the mysterious old  Roger  Chillingworth  became  the
medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not  only  the  disease
interested the physician, but he was  strongly  moved  to  look  into  the
character and qualities of the patient, these two  men,  so  different  in
age, came gradually to spend much time  together.  For  the  sake  of  the
minister's health, and to enable the leech to gather plants  with  healing
balm in them, they took long walks on the sea-shore,  or  in  the  forest;
mingling various walks with the splash and murmur of the  waves,  and  the
solemn wind-anthem among the tree-tops. 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  company  of  the  man  of  science,  in  whom  he
recognised an intellectual cultivation of  no  moderate  depth  or  scope;
together with a range and freedom of ideas,  that  he  would  have  vainly
looked for among the members of his  own  profession.  In  truth,  he  was
startled, if not shocked, to find this attribute  in  the  physician.  Mr.
Dimmesdale was a true priest, a true  religionist,  with  the  reverential
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. Not the less, however, though with
a tremulous enjoyment, did he feel the occasional relief of looking at the
universe through the medium of another kind of intellect than  those  with
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  obstructed  day-beams,
and the musty fragrance, be it sensual or moral, that exhales from  books.
But the air was too fresh and chill to be long breathed with  comfort.  So
the minister, and the physician with him, withdrew again within the limits
of what their Church defined as orthodox.
    Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefully,  both  as
he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping  an  accustomed  pathway  in  the
range of thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when  thrown  amidst
other moral scenery, the novelty of which might call out something new  to
the surface of his character. He deemed it essential, it  would  seem,  to
know the man, before attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a  heart
and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged  with  the
peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and imagination were
so active, and sensibility so intense, that the bodily infirmity would  be
likely to have its groundwork there. So Roger Chillingworth - the  man  of
skill, the kind and friendly physician  -  strove  to  go  deep  into  his
patient's  bosom,  delving  among  his   principles,   prying   into   his
recollections, and probing  everything  with  a  cautious  touch,  like  a
treasure-seeker in a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an  investigator,
who has opportunity and licence to undertake such a quest,  and  skill  to
follow it up. A man burdened with a secret  should  especially  avoid  the
intimacy of his physician. If the latter possess native  sagacity,  and  a
nameless something more let us call it intuition; if he show no  intrusive
egotism, nor disagreeable prominent characteristics of his own; if he have
the power, which must be born with  him,  to  bring  his  mind  into  such
affinity with his patient's, that this last  shall  unawares  have  spoken
what he imagines himself only to  have  thought  if  such  revelations  be
received without tumult, and acknowledged  not  so  often  by  an  uttered
sympathy as by silence, an inarticulate breath, and here and there a  word
to indicate that all is  understood;  if  to  these  qualifications  of  a
confidant be joined the advantages afforded by his recognised character as
a physician; - then, at some inevitable  moment,  will  the  soul  of  the
sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a dark  but  transparent  stream,
bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.
    Roger Chillingworth possessed all, 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 matters that seemed
personal to themselves; and yet no secret, such as the  physician  fancied
must exist there, ever stole out of the minister's consciousness into  his
companion's ear. The latter had his  suspicions,  indeed,  that  even  the
nature of Mr.
    Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly been revealed to him. It
was a strange reserve!
    After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of  Mr.
Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two  were  lodged  in  the
same house; so that every ebb and flow of the minister's  life-tide  might
pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physician. There  was  much
joy throughout the town when this greatly desirable object  was  attained.
It was held to be the best possible  measure  for  the  young  clergyman's
welfare; unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorised  to  do
so, he had selected some one of the  many  blooming  damsels,  spiritually
devoted to him, to become his devoted wife.  This  latter  step,  however,
there was no present prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale  would  be  prevailed
upon to take; he rejected all suggestions of  the  kind,  as  if  priestly
celibacy were one of his articles of Church discipline. Doomed by his  own
choice, therefore,  as  Mr.  Dimmesdale  so  evidently  was,  to  eat  his
unsavoury morsel always at another's board, and endure the life-long chill
which must be his  lot  who  seeks  to  warm  himself  only  at  another's
fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, 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 covering pretty nearly the site on which
the venerable structure of King's Chapel has  since  been  built.  It  the
graveyard, originally Isaac Johnson's homefield, on one side, and  so  was
well adapted to call up serious reflections, suited  to  their  respective
employments, in both minister and man of physic. The motherly care of  the
good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a  front  apartment,  with  a  sunny
exposure, and heavy window-curtains, to  create  a  noontide  shadow  when
desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to  be  from  the
Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the  Scriptural  story  of
David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet, in colours still unfaded, but
which made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the
woe-denouncing seer. Here the pale clergyman piled up  his  library,  rich
with parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore  of  Rabbis,  and
monkish erudition, of  which  the  Protestant  divines,  even  while  they
vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet constrained often  to
avail themselves. On the other side of the house, old Roger  Chillingworth
arranged his study and laboratory: not such as a  modern  man  of  science
would reckon even tolerably  complete,  but  provided  with  a  distilling
apparatus and the means of compounding  drugs  and  chemicals,  which  the
practised  alchemist  knew  well  how  to  turn  to  purpose.  With   such
commodiousness of situation, these  two  learned  persons  sat  themselves
down, each in his own domain, yet familiarly passing from one apartment to
the other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious  inspection  into  one
another's business.
    And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friends,  as  we
have intimated, very reasonably imagined that the hand of  Providence  had
done all this for the purpose - besought in so many  public  and  domestic
and secret prayers - of restoring the young minister to  health.  But,  it
must now be said, another portion of the community had latterly  begun  to
take its  own  view  of  the  relation  betwixt  Mr.  Dimmesdale  and  the
mysterious old physician. When an uninstructed multitude attempts  to  see
with its eyes, it is exceedingly apt to be  deceived.  When,  however,  it
forms its judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and
warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often  so  profound  and  so
unerring as to possess the character of truth supernaturally revealed. The
people, in the case of which we speak, could justify its prejudice against
Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument worthy of  serious  refutation.
There was an aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been  a  citizen  of
London at the period of Sir Thomas  Overbury's  murder,  now  some  thirty
years agone; he testified to having seen the physician, under  some  other
name, which the narrator of the story had now forgotten, in  company  with
Dr. Forman, the famous old conjurer, who was implicated in the  affair  of
Overbury. Two or three individuals hinted that the man  of  skill,  during
his Indian captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by  joining  in
the incantations of the savage priests, who were universally  acknowledged
to be powerful enchanters, often performing seemingly miraculous cures  by
their skill in the black art. A large number -  and  many  of  these  were
persons of such sober sense and practical observation that their  opinions
would  have  been  valuable  in  other  matters  -  affirmed  that   Roger
Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a  remarkable  change  while  he  had
dwelt in town, and especially since his  abode  with  Mr.  Dimmesdale.  At
first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like.  Now  there
was something ugly and evil in his face, which  they  had  not  previously
noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight the  oftener  they
looked upon him. According to the vulgar idea, the fire in his  laboratory
had been brought from the lower regions, and was fed with  infernal  fuel;
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  diffused  opinion  that
the  Rev.  Arthur  Dimmesdale,  like  many  other  personages  of  special
sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by  Satan
himself or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This
diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to  burrow  into
the clergyman's intimacy, and plot against his soul. No sensible  man,  it
was confessed, could doubt on which  side  the  victory  would  turn.  The
people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come  forth  out
of the conflict transfigured with the glory which he would  unquestionably
win. Meanwhile, nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance  mortal
agony through which he must struggle towards his triumph.
    Alas! to judge from the gloom and terror in the  depth  of  the  poor
minister's eyes, the battle was a sore one, and the victory  anything  but

                       THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT

    Old  Roger  Chillingworth,  throughout  life,  had   been   calm   in
temperament, kindly, though not of warm affections, but ever, and  in  all
his relations with the world, a pure and upright  man.  He  had  begun  an
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 clergyman's heart, like
a miner searching for gold; or, rather,  like  a  sexton  delving  into  a
grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's
bosom, but likely to find nothing save 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  doorway  in
the hillside, and quivered on the pilgrim's face. The soil where this dark
miner was working bad perchance shown indications that encouraged him.
    "This man," said he, at one such moment, to himself,  "pure  as  they
deem him - all spiritual as he seems -  hath  inherited  a  strong  animal
nature from his father or his mother. Let us dig a little further  in  the
direction of this vein!"
    Then after long search into the minister's dim interior, and  turning
over many precious materials, in the 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  towards  another
point. He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious  a  tread,  and  as
wary an outlook, as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only  half
asleep - or, it may be, broad awake -  with  purpose  to  steal  the  very
treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. In  spite  of  his
premeditated carefulness, the floor would now and then creak; his garments
would rustle; the shadow of his presence, in a forbidden proximity,  would
be thrown across  his  victim.  In  other  words,  Mr.  Dimmesdale,  whose
sensibility of nerve often produced the  effect  of  spiritual  intuition,
would become vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace had thrust
itself into relation with him.  But  Old  Roger  Chillingworth,  too,  had
perceptions that were almost intuitive; and when the  minister  threw  his
startled eyes towards him, there the physician sat;  his  kind,  watchful,
sympathising, but never intrusive friend.
    Yet  Mr.  Dimmesdale  would  perhaps  have  seen  this   individual's
character more perfectly, if a certain morbidness, to  which  sick  hearts
are liable, had not rendered him suspicious of all  mankind.  Trusting  no
man as his friend, he could  not  recognize  his  enemy  when  the  latter
actually appeared. He therefore still kept up a familiar intercourse  with
him, daily receiving he old  physician  in  his  study,  or  visiting  the
laboratory, and, for recreation's sake, watching 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 towards the  grave-yard,  he  talked  with
Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was examining a bundle of unsightly
    "Where," asked he, with a look askance at  them  -  for  it  was  the
clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, now-a-days, looked straight  forth
at any object, whether human or inanimate" where, my kind doctor, did  you
gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby leaf?"
    "Even in  the  graveyard  here  at  hand,"  answered  the  physician,
continuing his employment. "They are new to me. I found them growing on  a
grave, which bore no tombstone, no other memorial of the  dead  man,  save
these ugly  weeds,  that  have  taken  upon  themselves  to  keep  him  in
remembrance. They grew out of his heart,  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 physician.
    "Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly  for
the confession of sin, that these black weeds have  sprung  up  out  of  a
buried heart, to make manifest, an outspoken crime?"
    "That, good sir, is but a phantasy of yours," replied  the  minister.
"There can be, if I forbode aright, no power, short of the  Divine  mercy,
to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by type or emblem,  the  secrets
that may be buried in the human heart. The heart, making itself guilty  of
such secrets, must perforce hold them,  until  the  day  when  all  hidden
things shall be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ,  as
to understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds, then to  be
made, is intended as a part of  the  retribution.  That,  surely,  were  a
shallow view of it. No; these revelations, unless I greatly err, are meant
merely to promote the intellectual satisfaction of all intelligent beings,
who will stand waiting, on that day, to see the dark problem of this  life
made plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the  completest
solution of that problem.  And,  I  conceive  moreover,  that  the  hearts
holding such miserable secrets as you speak of, will  yield  them  up,  at
that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable. "
    "Then why not reveal it here?" asked  Roger  Chillingworth,  glancing
quietly aside at the minister. "Why should  not  the  guilty  ones  sooner
avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"
    "They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping hard at his breast,  as
if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. "Many, 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, oh, what a relief have I witnessed in those  sinful  brethren!
even as in one who at last draws free air, after a long stifling with  his
own polluted breath. How can it be otherwise? Why should a wretched man  -
guilty, we will say, of murder - prefer to keep the dead corpse buried  in
his own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, and  let  the  universe
take care of it!"
    "Yet some men bury their secrets thus," observed the calm physician.
    "True; there are such men," answered  Mr.  Dimmesdale.  "But  not  to
suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept silent  by  the
very constitution of their nature. Or - can we not suppose it? - guilty as
they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for  God's  glory  and  man's
welfare, they shrink from displaying themselves black and  filthy  in  the
view of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by  them;  no
evil of the  past  be  redeemed  by  better  service.  So,  to  their  own
unutterable torment, they go about among their  fellow-creatures,  looking
pure as new-fallen snow, while their hearts are all speckled  and  spotted
with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves. "
    "These  men  deceive  themselves,"  said  Roger  Chillingworth,  with
somewhat more emphasis than usual, and making a slight  gesture  with  his
forefinger. "They fear to take up the shame  that  rightfully  belongs  to
them. Their love for man, their  zeal  for  God's  service  -  these  holy
impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the evil  inmates  to
which their guilt has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate  a
hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glorify God, let them  not
lift heavenward their unclean hands! If they would serve their  fellowmen,
let them do it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience,  in
constraining them to penitential self-abasement! Would  thou  have  me  to
believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be better - can be
more for God's glory, or man' welfare - than God's own  truth?  Trust  me,
such men deceive themselves!"
    "It may be so," said the young clergyman, indifferently, as waiving a
discussion that he considered irrelevant or unseasonable. He had  a  ready
faculty, indeed,  of  escaping  from  any  topic  that  agitated  his  too
sensitive 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, they heard the  clear,  wild
laughter  of  a  young  child's  voice,  proceeding  from   the   adjacent
burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open window  -  for  it  was
summer-time - the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little  Pearl  passing
along the footpath that traversed the enclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful
as the day, but was in one of those moods  of  perverse  merriment  which,
whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of
sympathy or human contact. She now skipped irreverently from one grave  to
another; until coming to the broad, flat, armorial tombstone of a departed
worthy - perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself - she began to dance upon it. In
reply to her mother's command and entreaty  that  she  would  behave  more
decorously, little Pearl paused 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,  tenaciously
adhered. Hester did not pluck them off.
    Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window and smiled
grimly down.
    "There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no  regard  for  human
ordinances or opinions,  right  or  wrong,  mixed  up  with  that  child's
composition," remarked 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 discoverable  principle
of being?"
    "None, save the freedom of a broken law," answered Mr. Dimmesdale, in
a quiet way, as if he  had  been  discussing  the  point  within  himself,
"Whether capable of good, I know not. "
    The child probably overheard their voices, for,  looking  up  to  the
window with a bright, but naughty smile of  mirth  and  intelligence,  she
threw one of the prickly burrs at the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale.  The  sensitive
clergyman shrank, with nervous dread, from the  light  missile.  Detecting
his emotion, Pearl clapped  her  little  hands  in  the  most  extravagant
ecstacy. Hester Prynne, likewise, had involuntarily  looked  up,  and  all
these four persons, old and young, regarded one another in  silence,  till
the child laughed aloud, and shouted - "Come away, mother! Come  away,  or
yonder old black man will catch you! He hath  got  hold  of  the  minister
already. Come away, mother or he will  catch  you!  But  he  cannot  catch
little Pearl!"
    So  she  drew  her  mother  away,  skipping,  dancing,  and  frisking
fantastically among the hillocks of the dead people, like a creature  that
had nothing in common with a  bygone  and  buried  generation,  nor  owned
herself akin to it. It was as if she had  been  made  afresh  out  of  new
elements, and must perforce be permitted to live her own life,  and  be  a
law unto herself without her eccentricities being reckoned to  her  for  a
    "There goes a woman," resumed Roger  Chillingworth,  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  clergyman.  "Nevertheless,  I
cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face which I  would
gladly have been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, it  must  needs
be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as this poor woman
Hester is, than to cover it up in his heart. "
    There was another pause, and the physician began anew to examine  and
arrange the plants which he had gathered.
    "You inquired of me, a little time agone," 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. "
    "Freely then, and plainly," said the physician, still busy  with  his
plants, but keeping a wary eye on  Mr.  Dimmesdale,  "the  disorder  is  a
strange one; not so much in itself nor as outwardly manifested,  -  in  so
far, at least as the symptoms have  been  laid  open  to  my  observation.
Looking daily at you, my good sir, and watching the tokens of your  aspect
now for months gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may be,  yet
not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician might well  hope
to cure you. But I know not what to say, the disease is  what  I  seem  to
know, yet know it not. "
    "You speak in riddles, learned sir," said the pale minister, glancing
aside out of the window.
    "Then, to speak more plainly," continued the physician, "and I  crave
pardon, sir, should it seem to require pardon, for this needful  plainness
of my speech. Let me ask as your  friend,  as  one  having  charge,  under
Providence, of your life and physical well being, hath all the  operations
of this disorder been fairly laid open and recounted to me?"
    "How can you question  it?"  asked  the  minister.  "Surely  it  were
child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"
    "You would tell me, then, that I know all?" said Roger 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, knoweth, oftentimes,  but
half the evil which he is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which  we
look upon as whole and entire within itself, may,  after  all,  be  but  a
symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.  Your  pardon  once  again,
good sir, if my speech give the shadow of offence. You, sir,  of  all  men
whom I have known, are he whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued,
and identified, so to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the instrument.
    "Then I need ask no further," said the  clergyman,  somewhat  hastily
rising from his chair. "You deal not, I take it, in medicine for the soul!
    "Thus, a sickness," continued Roger 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  manifestation  in  your
bodily frame. Would you, therefore, that your physician  heal  the  bodily
evil? How may this be unless you first  lay  open  to  him  the  wound  or
trouble in your soul?"
    "No, not to thee! not to an earthly physician!" cried Mr. Dimmesdale,
passionately, and turning his eyes, full and bright, and with  a  kind  of
fierceness, on old Roger Chillingworth. "Not to thee! But, if  it  be  the
soul's disease, then do I commit myself to the one Physician of the  soul!
He, if it stand with His good pleasure, can cure, or he can kill. Let  Him
do with me as, in His justice and wisdom, He shall see good. But  who  art
thou, that meddlest in this matter? that dares thrust himself between  the
sufferer and his God?"
    With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.
    "It is as well to have made this step," said Roger  Chillingworth  to
himself, looking after the minister, with a grave smile. "There is nothing
lost. We shall be friends again anon. 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 same degree as heretofore.  The
young clergyman, after a few hours  of  privacy,  was  sensible  that  the
disorder of his nerves had  hurried  him  into  an  unseemly  outbreak  of
temper, which there had been nothing in the physician's words to excuse or
palliate. He marvelled, 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 still to continue the  care  which,  if
not successful in restoring him to health, had, in all  probability,  been
the  means  of  prolonging  his  feeble  existence  to  that  hour.  Roger
Chillingworth readily assented, and went on with his  medical  supervision
of the minister; doing his best for him, in all  good  faith,  but  always
quitting the  patient's  apartment,  at  the  close  of  the  professional
interview, with a  mysterious  and  puzzled  smile  upon  his  lips.  This
expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence, but  grew  strongly
evident as the physician crossed the threshold.
    "A rare case," he muttered. "I must needs  look  deeper  into  it.  A
strange sympathy betwixt soul and body! Were it only for the art's sake, I
must search this matter to the bottom. "
    It came to pass, not long after the scene above  recorded,  that  the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, 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 table. It must have been a work of vast ability  in
the somniferous school of literature. The profound depth of the minister's
repose was the more remarkable, inasmuch as he was one  of  those  persons
whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful, and as easily  scared  away,
as a small bird hopping  on  a  twig.  To  such  an  unwonted  remoteness,
however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself that he stirred  not  in
his  chair  when  old  Roger  Chillingworth,  without  any   extraordinary
precaution, came into the room. The physician advanced directly  in  front
of his patient, laid his  hand  upon  his  bosom,  and  thrust  aside  the
vestment, that hitherto had always covered it even from  the  professional
    Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.
    After a brief pause, the physician turned away.
    But with what a wild look of wonder, joy,  and  honor!  With  what  a
ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to be expressed only  by  the  eye
and features, and therefore bursting forth through the whole  ugliness  of
his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest by  the  extravagant
gestures with which he threw up his arms towards the ceiling, and  stamped
his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth,  at  that
moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports
himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven,  and  won  into  his
    But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's  was  the
trait of wonder in it!

                        THE INTERIOR OF A HEART

    After the  incident  last  described,  the  intercourse  between  the
clergyman and the physician, though externally the  same,  was  really  of
another character than it had previously  been.  The  intellect  of  Roger
Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain path before  it.  It  was  not,
indeed, precisely that which he had laid out for himself to  tread.  Calm,
gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth
of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate  old  man,
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 revealed to him, the Pitiless  -  to  him,  the
Unforgiving! All that dark treasure to be lavished on  the  very  man,  to
whom nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance!
    The clergyman's shy and sensitive  reserve  had  balked  this  scheme
Roger Chillingworth, however, was inclined to be hardly, if at  all,  less
satisfied with the aspect of affairs, which Providence - using the avenger
and his victim for its own purposes, and, perchance, pardoning,  where  it
seemed  most  to  punish  -  had  substituted  for  his  black  devices  A
revelation, he could almost say, had been  granted  to  him.  It  mattered
little for his object, whether celestial or from what other region. By its
aid, in all the subsequent relations betwixt him and Mr.  Dimmesdale,  not
merely the external presence, but the very  inmost  soul  of  the  latter,
seemed to be brought out before  his  eyes,  so  that  he  could  see  and
comprehend its every movement. He became,  thenceforth,  not  a  spectator
only, but a chief actor in the poor minister's interior  world.  He  could
play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him with a throb of agony?  The
victim was for ever on the rack; it needed only to know  the  spring  that
controlled the engine: and the physician knew it well.  Would  he  startle
him with sudden fear? As at the waving of a magician's  wand,  up  rose  a
grisly phantom - up rose a thousand phantoms - in many shapes,  of  death,
or more awful shame, all flocking round about the clergyman, and  pointing
with their fingers at his breast!
    All this was accomplished  with  a  subtlety  so  perfect,  that  the
minister, though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil influence
watching over him, could never gain a  knowledge  of  its  actual  nature.
True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully - even, at times,  with  horror  and
the bitterness of hatred - at the deformed figure of  the  old  physician.
His gestures, his  gait,  his  grizzled  beard,  his  slightest  and  most
indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments,  were  odious  in  the
clergyman's sight; a  token  implicitly  to  be  relied  on  of  a  deeper
antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was willing  to  acknowledge
to himself. For, as it was impossible to assign a reason for such distrust
and abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid
spot was infecting  his  heart's  entire  substance,  attributed  all  his
presentiments to no other cause. He took  himself  to  task  for  his  bad
sympathies in reference to Roger  Chillingworth,  disregarded  the  lesson
that he should have drawn from them, and did his best to  root  them  out.
Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless,  as  a  matter  of  principle,
continued his habits of social familiarity with the old man, and thus gave
him constant opportunities for perfecting the  purpose  to  which  -  poor
forlorn creature that he was, and more wretched  than  his  victim  -  the
avenger had devoted himself.
    While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by
some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the machinations of  his
deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr.  Dimmesdale  had  achieved  a  brilliant
popularity in his sacred office. He 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 are scholars among them, who  had  spent  more  years  in  acquiring
abstruse lore, connected with the divine profession, than  Mr.  Dimmesdale
had lived; and who might well, 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  understanding;  which,
duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal ingredient, constitutes a
highly respectable, 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 etherealised, 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; symbolising, it  would  seem,
not the power of speech in foreign and  unknown  languages,  but  that  of
addressing the whole human brotherhood in  the  heart's  native  language.
These fathers, otherwise so apostolic, lacked  Heaven's  last  and  rarest
attestation of their office, the Tongue of Flame. They would  have  vainly
sought - had they ever dreamed of seeking - to express the highest  truths
through the humblest medium of familiar words  and  images.  Their  voices
came down, afar and  indistinctly,  from  the  upper  heights  where  they
habitually dwelt.
    Not  improbably,  it  was  to  this  latter  class  of  ms  that  Mr.
Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged. To the
high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed,  had  not
the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it might be,  of  crime
or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept him down on a
level with the 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 brotherhood of
mankind; so that his heart vibrated in unison with  theirs,  and  received
their pain into itself and sent its own throb of pain through  a  thousand
other hearts, in gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persuasive,
but sometimes terrible! The people knew not  the  power  that  moved  them
thus. They deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness. They  fancied
him the mouth-piece 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  religion,  and
brought it openly,  in  their  white  bosoms,  as  their  most  acceptable
sacrifice before the altar. The aged members of his flock,  beholding  Mr.
Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they  were  themselves  so  rugged  in
their infirmity, believed that he would go  heavenward  before  them,  and
enjoined it upon their children that their  old  bones  should  be  buried
close to their young pastor's holy grave. And all  this  time,  perchance,
when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his  grave,  he  questioned  with
himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing
must there be buried!
    It is inconceivable, the agony  with  which  this  public  veneration
tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon
all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or  value,  that  had
not its divine essence as the life within their life. Then what was he?  -
a substance? - or the dimmest of all shadows? He longed to speak out  from
his own pulpit at the full height of his voice, and tell the  people  what
he was. "I, whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood - I,
who ascend the sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward, taking  upon
myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most High  Omniscience  -
I, in whose daily life you discern  the  sanctity  of  Enoch  -  I,  whose
footsteps, as you suppose, leave a gleam along my earthly  track,  whereby
the Pilgrims that shall come after me may be guided to the regions of  the
blest - I, who have laid the hand of baptism upon your children -  I,  who
have breathed the 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 a hundred times - he had actually spoken! Spoken!  But  how?  He  had
told his hearers that he was altogether vile, a  viler  companion  of  the
vilest, the worst of sinners, an  abomination,  a  thing  of  unimaginable
iniquity, and that the only wonder was that they did not see his  wretched
body shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the Almighty!
Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not the people start up  in
their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and  tear  him  down  out  of  the
pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all,  and  did  but
reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked  in
those  self-condemning  words.  "The  godly  youth!"   said   they   among
themselves. "The saint on earth! 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-acknowledged
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
miserable self!
    His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the
old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the  church  in
which he had been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret closet,  under
lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. 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 by a faint light of their own, in the  remote  dimness  of
the  chamber,  or  more  vividly  and  close  beside   him,   within   the
looking-glass. Now it was a herd of  diabolic  shapes,  that  grinned  and
mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a  group
of shining angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more
ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of  his  youth,  and  his
white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his mother turning  her
face away as she passed by Ghost of a  mother  -  thinnest  fantasy  of  a
mother - methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance  towards  her
son! And now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts  had  made
so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne leading along little
    Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the
scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman's own breast.
    None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any  moment,  by  an
effort of his will, he could discern substances through their  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,
leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity. But,  for  all  that,
they were, in one sense, the truest and most substantial things which  the
poor minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery of  a  life  so
false as his, that it steals  the  pith  and  substance  out  of  whatever
realities there are around us, and which were meant by Heaven  to  be  the
spirit's joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false
- it is impalpable - it shrinks  to  nothing  within  his  grasp.  And  he
himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a  shadow,
or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that  continued  to  give  Mr.
Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish  in  his  inmost
soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his  aspect.  Had  he  once
found power to smile, and wear a face of gaiety, there would have been  no
such man!
    On one of those ugly nights, which we have  faintly  hinted  at,  but
forborne to picture forth, the minister started  from  his  chair.  A  new
thought had struck him. There might be a moment's peace  in  it.  Attiring
himself with as much care as if  it  had  been  for  public  worship,  and
precisely in the same manner, he stole softly down  the  staircase,  undid
the door, and issued forth.

                          THE MINISTER'S VIGIL

    Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were,  and  perhaps  actually
under the influence of a species of somnambulism, Mr.  Dimmesdale  reached
the spot where, now so long since, Hester Prynne  had  lived  through  her
first hours of public ignominy. The same platform or scaffold,  black  and
weather-stained with the storm  or  sunshine  of  seven  long  years,  and
foot-worn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it,
remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house.  The  minister
went up the steps.
    It was an obscure night in early May.  An  unwearied  pall  of  cloud
muffled the whole expanse of sky from  zenith  to  horizon.  If  the  same
multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester  Prynne  sustained
her punishment could  now  have  been  summoned  forth,  they  would  have
discerned no face above the platform nor hardly the  outline  of  a  human
shape, in the dark grey of the midnight. But  the  town  was  all  asleep.
There was no peril of discovery. The minister might stand there, if it  so
pleased him, until morning should redden in the east, without  other  risk
than that the dank and chill night air would creep  into  his  frame,  and
stiffen his joints with rheumatism, and clog his throat with  catarrh  and
cough; thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's prayer and
sermon. No eye could see him, save that ever-wakeful one  which  had  seen
him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge. 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 mockery at which angels blushed  and
wept, while fiends rejoiced with jeering  laughter!  He  had  been  driven
hither by the impulse of that Remorse which  dogged  him  everywhere,  and
whose own sister and closely linked companion  was  that  Cowardice  which
invariably drew him back, with her tremulous gripe, just  when  the  other
impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure. Poor, miserable man!
what right had infirmity like his to burden itself with  crime?  Crime  is
for the iron-nerved, who have their choice either to endure it, or, if  it
press too hard, to exert their fierce  and  savage  strength  for  a  good
purpose, and fling it off at once!  This  feeble  and  most  sensitive  of
spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or another,  which
intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the  agony  of  heaven-defying
guilt and vain repentance.
    And thus, while standing on  the  scaffold,  in  this  vain  show  of
expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as  if
the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on  his  naked  breast,  right
over his heart. On that spot, in very truth, there was, and there had long
been, the gnawing and poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without  any  effort
of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked  aloud:  an  outcry
that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to
another, and reverberated from the  hills  in  the  background;  as  if  a
company of devils, detecting so much misery and terror in it, had  made  a
plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro.
    "It is done!" muttered the  minister,  covering  his  face  with  his
hands. "The whole town will awake and hurry forth, and find me here!"
    But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far  greater
power, to his own startled ears, than it actually possessed. The town  did
not awake; or, if it did, the drowsy slumberers mistook the cry either for
something frightful in a dream, or for the noise of witches, whose voices,
at that period, were often heard to pass over the  settlements  or  lonely
cottages, as  they  rode  with  Satan  through  the  air.  The  clergyman,
therefore, hearing no symptoms of  disturbance,  uncovered  his  eyes  and
looked about him. At one of the chamber-windows of  Governor  Bellingham's
mansion, which stood at some distance, on the line of another  street,  he
beheld the appearance of the old magistrate himself with  a  lamp  in  his
hand a white night-cap on his head, and a long white gown  enveloping  his
figure. He looked like a ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry
had evidently startled him. At another window of the same house,  moreover
appeared old Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, also  with  a  lamp,
which  even  thus  far  off  revealed  the  expression  of  her  sour  and
discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the lattice, and  looked
anxiously upward Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this  venerable  witch-lady
had  heard  Mr.  Dimmesdale's  outcry,  and  interpreted  it,   with   its
multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as the clamour of the fiends  and
night-hags, with whom she was well known to make excursions in the forest.
    Detecting the gleam of  Governor  Bellingham's  lamp,  the  old  lady
quickly extinguished her own, and vanished. Possibly, she  went  up  among
the  clouds.  The  minister  saw  nothing  further  of  her  motions.  The
magistrate, after a  wary  observation  of  the  darkness  -  into  which,
nevertheless, he could see  but  little  further  than  he  might  into  a
mill-stone - retired from the window.
    The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes,  however,  were  soon
greeted by a little glimmering light, which, at first a long way  off  was
approaching up the street. It threw a gleam  of  recognition,  on  here  a
post, and there a garden fence, and here a latticed window-pane, and there
a pump, with its full trough of water, and here again an  arched  door  of
oak, with an iron knocker, and a rough log for the 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, be 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.  Dimmesdale
now conjectured, had been praying at the bedside of some dying man. And so
he had. The good old minister  came  freshly  from  the  death-chamber  of
Governor Winthrop, who had passed from earth to heaven  within  that  very
hour. And now surrounded, like the saint-like personage  of  olden  times,
with a radiant halo, that glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin - as
if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his glory,  or  as
if he had caught upon himself the distant shine  of  the  celestial  city,
while looking thitherward to see the triumphant pilgrim  pass  within  its
gates - now, in short, good Father Wilson was moving homeward, aiding  his
footsteps with a lighted lantern! The glimmer of this  luminary  suggested
the above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdale, who smiled - nay, almost laughed  at
them - and then wondered if he was gag mad.
    As the Reverend  Mr.  Wilson  passed  beside  the  scaffold,  closely
muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one arm, and holding the  lantern
before his breast with the  other,  the  minister  could  hardly  restrain
himself from speaking -
    "A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson. Come  up  hither,  I
pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!"
    Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one instant  he
believed that these words had passed his lips. But they were uttered  only
within his imagination. The venerable  Father  Wilson  continued  to  step
slowly onward, looking carefully at the muddy pathway before his feet, and
never once turning his head towards the guilty platform. When the light of
the glimmering lantern had faded quite away, the minister  discovered,  by
the faintness which came over him, that the last few moments  had  been  a
crisis of terrible anxiety, although his  mind  had  made  an  involuntary
effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid playfulness.
    Shortly afterwards, the like grisly sense of the humorous again stole
in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He  felt  his  limbs  growing
stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the night, and  doubted  whether
he should be able to descend the steps  of  the  scaffold.  Morning  would
break and find him there The neighbourhood would begin  to  rouse  itself.
The earliest riser, coming forth in the dim  twilight,  would  perceive  a
vaguely-defined figure aloft  on  the  place  of  shame;  and  half-crazed
betwixt alarm  and  curiosity,  would  go  knocking  from  door  to  door,
summoning all the people to behold the ghost - as he needs must think it -
of some defunct transgressor. A dusky tumult would flap its wings from one
house to another. Then - the morning light still  waxing  stronger  -  old
patriarchs would rise up in great haste, each in  his  flannel  gown,  and
matronly dames, without pausing to put off  their  night-gear.  The  whole
tribe of decorous personages, who had never heretofore been  seen  with  a
single hair of their heads awry, would start into  public  view  with  the
disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old  Governor  Bellingham  would
come grimly forth, with his King James' ruff fastened askew, and  Mistress
Hibbins, with some twigs of the forest clinging to her skirts, and looking
sourer than ever, as having hardly got a wink of  sleep  after  her  night
ride; and good Father Wilson too, after  spending  half  the  night  at  a
death-bed, and liking ill to be disturbed, thus early, out of  his  dreams
about the 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-bye, 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 visages around the scaffold.  Whom  would  they
discern 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 picture,  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 lie knew not whether  of
exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute - he recognised the tones  of  little
    "Pearl! Little Pearl!"  cried  he,  after  a  moment's  pause;  then,
suppressing his voice - "Hester! 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  side-walk,  along
which she had been passing. "It is I, and my little Pearl. "
    "Whence come you, Hester?" asked the minister. "What sent you hither?
    "I have been watching at a death-bed,"  answered  Hester  Prynne  "at
Governor Winthrop's death-bed, and have taken his measure for a robe,  and
am now going homeward to my dwelling. "
    "Come up hither, Hester, thou and Little Pearl,"  said  the  Reverend
Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here before, but I was  not  with  you.
Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together. "
    She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the  platform,  holding
little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the  child's  other  hand,
and took it. The  moment  that  he  did  so,  there  came  what  seemed  a
tumultuous rush of new life, other  life  than  his  own  pouring  like  a
torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all  his  veins,  as  if  the
mother and  the  child  were  communicating  their  vital  warmth  to  his
half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.
    "Minister!" whispered little Pearl.
    "What wouldst thou say, child?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale.
    "`Wilt thou stand here  with  mother  and  me,  to-morrow  noontide?"
inquired Pearl.
    "Nay; not so, my little Pearl," answered the minister; for, with  the
new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure,  that  had  so
long been the anguish of his life, had  returned  upon  him;  and  he  was
already trembling at the conjunction  in  which  -  with  a  strange  joy,
nevertheless - he now found himself - " not so, my child. I shall, indeed,
stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow. "
    Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the  minister
held it fast.
    A moment longer, my child!" said he.
    "But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, "to take my hand, and  mother's
hand, to-morrow noontide?
    "Not then, Pearl," said the minister; "but another time. "
    "And what other time?" persisted the child.
    "At the great judgment day," whispered the minister;  and,  strangely
enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled
him to answer the child so. "Then, and there,  before  the  judgment-seat,
thy mother, and thou, and I must stand together. But the daylight of  this
world shall not see our meeting!''
    Pearl laughed again.
    But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far  and
wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused  by  one  of  those
meteors, which the night-watcher may  so  often  observe  burning  out  to
waste, in the vacant  regions  of  the  atmosphere  So  powerful  was  its
radiance, that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt
the sky and earth. The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense
lamp. It showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness  of
mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted  to  familiar
objects by an unaccustomed light The wooden  houses,  with  their  jutting
storeys and quaint gable-peaks; the  doorsteps  and  thresholds  with  the
early  grass  springing  up  about  them;  the  garden-plots,  black  with
freshly-turned earth; the  wheel-track,  little  worn,  and  even  in  the
market-place margined with green on either side - all  were  visible,  but
with  a  singularity  of  aspect  that  seemed  to  give   another   moral
interpretation to the things of this world they had ever borne before. And
there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne,
with the embroidered letter glimmering on her  bosom;  and  little  Pearl,
herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in
the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if  it  were  the  light
that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite  all  who
belong to one another.
    There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes; and  her  face,  as  she
glanced upward at the minister, wore that naughty  smile  which  made  its
expression  frequently  so  elvish.  She  withdrew  her  hand   from   Mr.
Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped both his hands
over his breast, and cast his eyes towards the zenith.
    Nothing was more  common,  in  those  days,  than  to  interpret  all
meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena that occured  with  less
regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so  many  revelations
from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing spear, a  sword  of  flame,  a
bow, or a sheaf of arrows seen in  the  midnight  sky,  prefigured  Indian
warfare. Pestilence was known to  have  been  foreboded  by  a  shower  of
crimson light. We doubt whether any marked event, for good or  evil,  ever
befell New England, from its settlement down to  revolutionary  times,  of
which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some spectacle  of
its nature. Not seldom, it had been seen by multitudes. Oftener,  however,
its credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld
the wonder through the coloured, magnifying, and distorted 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 expensive for Providence to write a people's doom  upon.
The belief was a favourite one with our forefathers,  as  betokening  that
their infant commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship  of  peculiar
intimacy and strictness.  But  what  shall  we  say,  when  an  individual
discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone, on the same vast  sheet
of record. In such a case, it could  only  be  the  symptom  of  a  highly
disordered mental state, when a man, rendered morbidly  self-contemplative
by long, intense, and secret pain, had extended his egotism over the whole
expanse of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no more than a
fitting page for his soul's history and fate.
    We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in  his  own  eye  and
heart that the minister, looking upward to the zenith,  beheld  there  the
appearance of an immense letter - the letter A - marked out  in  lines  of
dull red light. Not but the meteor may have shown itself  at  that  point,
burning duskily through a veil of cloud, but with no  such  shape  as  his
guilty imagination gave it, or, at least,  with  so  little  definiteness,
that another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it.
    There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr. Dimmesdale's
psychological state at this moment. All the time that he gazed  upward  to
the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that  little  Pearl  was
hinting her finger towards old Roger Chillingworth, who stood at no  great
distance from the scaffold. The minister appeared to  see  him,  with  the
same glance that discerned the miraculous letter. To his feature as to all
other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expression; or  it  might
well be that the physician was not careful then, as at all other times, to
hide the malevolence with which he looked upon his victim.  Certainly,  if
the meteor kindled up the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an  awfulness
that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the  day  of  judgment,
then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for  the  arch-fiend,
standing there with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So vivid was  the
expression, or so intense the minister's perception of it, that it  seemed
still to remain painted on the darkness after  the  meteor  had  vanished,
with an effect as  if  the  street  and  all  things  else  were  at  once
    "Who is that man,  Hester?"  gasped  Mr.  Dimmesdale,  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 only such gibberish as children  may  be  heard  amusing
themselves with by the hour together. At all events, if  it  involved  any
secret information in regard to old  Roger  Chillingworth,  it  was  in  a
tongue unknown  to  the  erudite  clergyman,  and  did  but  increase  the
bewilderment of his mind. The elvish child then laughed aloud.
    "Dost thou mock me now?" said the minister.
    "Thou wast not bold! - thou wast not true!" answered the child. "Thou
wouldst not  promise  to  take  my  hand,  and  mother's  hand,  to-morrow
    "Worthy sir," answered the physician, who had  now  advanced  to  the
foot of the platform - "pious Master Dimmesdale! can this  be  you?  Well,
well, indeed! We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have need  to
be straitly looked after! We dream in our waking moments, and walk in  our
sleep. Come, good sir, and my dear friend, I pray  you  let  me  lead  you
    "How knewest thou that I was here?" asked the minister, fearfully.
    "Verily, and in good faith," answered Roger  Chillingworth,  "I  knew
nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of  the  night  at  the
bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop,  doing  what  my  poor  skill
might to give him ease. He, going home to a better world, I, likewise, was
on my way homeward, when this light shone out. Come  with  me,  I  beseech
you, Reverend sir, else you  will  be  poorly  able  to  do  Sabbath  duty
to-morrow. Aha! see now how they trouble the brain - these books! -  these
books! You should study less, good sir, and  take  a  little  pastime,  or
these night whimsies will grow upon you. "
    "I will go home with you," said Mr. Dimmesdale.
    With a chill despondency, like one awakening, 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
towards Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. But as he came  down
the pulpit steps, the grey-bearded sexton met  him,  holding  up  a  black
glove, which the minister recognised as his own.
    "It was found," said the Sexton, "this morning on the scaffold  where
evil-doers are set up to public shame. Satan dropped it there, I take  it,
intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But,  indeed,  he  was
blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to
cover it!"
    "Thank you, my good friend," said the minister, gravely, but startled
at heart; for so confused was his remembrance, that he had almost  brought
himself to look at the events of the past night as visionary.
    "Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed!"
    "And, since Satan saw fit to steal  it,  your  reverence  must  needs
handle him without gloves henceforward," remarked the old  sexton,  grimly
smiling. "But did your reverence hear 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
    "No," answered the minister; "I had not heard of it. "

                          ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER

    In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne was
shocked at the condition to which she found  the  clergyman  reduced.  His
nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His moral force was  abased  into  more
than childish weakness. It grovelled helpless on the  ground,  even  while
his intellectual  faculties  retained  their  pristine  strength,  or  had
perhaps acquired a morbid energy, which  disease  only  could  have  given
them. With her knowledge of a  train  of  circumstances  hidden  from  all
others, she could readily infer that, besides the legitimate action of his
own conscience, a terrible machinery had been brought  to  bear,  and  was
still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being and repose.  Knowing  what
this poor fallen man had once been,  her  whole  soul  was  moved  by  the
shuddering terror with which he had appealed to her - the outcast woman  -
for support against  his  instinctively  discovered  enemy.  She  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 owned to no other, nor to the whole  world  besides.  The  links  that
united her to the rest of humankind - 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 any prominence before the community, 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 Prynne. It is to the  credit  of  human  nature  that,
except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves  more  readily
than it hates. Hatred, by a  gradual  and  quiet  process,  will  even  be
transformed to love, unless the change be impeded  by  a  continually  new
irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In this matter of  Hester
Prynne there was neither irritation nor  irksomeness.  She  never  battled
with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to  its  worst  usage;  she
made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did not weigh
upon its sympathies. Then, also, the blameless purity of her  life  during
all these years in which she had been set apart  to  infamy  was  reckoned
largely in her favour. With nothing now to lose, in the sight of  mankind,
and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of  gaining  anything,  it  could
only be a genuine regard  for  virtue  that  had  brought  back  the  poor
wanderer to its paths.
    It was perceived, 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 labour of her hands - she was  quick  to  acknowledge  her
sisterhood with the race of man whenever benefits were  to  be  conferred.
None so ready as she to give of her little substance to  every  demand  of
poverty, even though the  bitter-hearted  pauper  threw  back  a  gibe  in
requital of the food brought  regularly  to  his  door,  or  the  garments
wrought for him by the fingers that could  have  embroidered  a  monarch's
robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked  through  the
town.  In  all  seasons  of  calamity,  indeed,  whether  general  or   of
individuals, the outcast of society at once found her place. She came, not
as a guest, but as a rightful inmate, into the household that was darkened
by trouble, as if its gloomy twilight were  a  medium  in  which  she  was
entitled to hold intercourse with her fellow-creature There glimmered  the
embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray. Elsewhere the token
of sin, it was the taper of the sick  chamber.  It  had  even  thrown  its
gleam, in the sufferer's bard extremity, across the verge of time. It  had
shown him where to set his  foot,  while  the  light  of  earth  was  fast
becoming dim, and ere the light of  futurity  could  reach  him.  In  such
emergencies Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich - a well-spring of
human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the
largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but  the  softer  pillow
for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy, or,
we may rather say, the world's  heavy  hand  had  so  ordained  her,  when
neither the world nor she looked forward to this result.  The  letter  was
the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in  her  -  so  much
power to do, and power  to  sympathise  -  that  many  people  refused  to
interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said  that  it
meant Abel, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.
    It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When  sunshine
came again, she was not there. Her shadow had faded across the  threshold.
The helpful inmate had departed, without one backward glance to gather  up
the meed of gratitude, if any were in the hearts of  those  whom  she  had
served so zealously. Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head
to receive their greeting. If they were resolute to accost her,  she  laid
her finger on the scarlet letter, and passed on. This might be pride,  but
was so like humility, that it produced all the softening influence of  the
latter quality on the public mind. The public is despotic in  its  temper;
it is capable of denying common justice when too strenuously demanded as a
right; but quite as frequently it  awards  more  than  justice,  when  the
appeal is made,  as  despots  love  to  have  it  made,  entirely  to  its
generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal  of  this
nature, society was inclined to show  its  former  victim  a  more  benign
countenance than she cared to be favoured with, or,  perchance,  than  she
    The rulers, and the wise and  learned  men  of  the  community,  were
longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities than  the
people. The prejudices which they shared in common with  the  latter  were
fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of reasoning, that made it a
far tougher labour to expel them. Day by day, nevertheless, their sour and
rigid wrinkles were relaxing into something which, in the  due  course  of
years, might grow to be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus  it  was
with the  men  of  rank,  on  whom  their  eminent  position  imposed  the
guardianship of the public morals. Individuals in private life, meanwhile,
had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her  frailty;  nay,  more,  they  had
begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of  that  one  sin
for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good
deeds since. "Do you see that woman  with  the  embroidered  badge?"  they
would say to strangers. "It is our Hester - the town's own Hester - 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, when  embodied  in  the  person  of  another,  would
constrain them to whisper the black scandal of bygone years. It  was  none
the less a fact, however, that in the eyes of the very men who spoke thus,
the scarlet letter had the effect  of  the  cross  on  a  nun's  bosom  It
imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which  enabled  her  to  walk
securely amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have  kept
her sale. It was reported, and believed by many, that an Indian had  drawn
his arrow against the badge, and that the  missile  struck  it,  and  fell
harmless to the ground.
    The effect of the symbol - or rather, of the position in  respect  to
society that was indicated by it - on the mind of  Hester  Prynne  herself
was powerful and peculiar. All the  light  and  graceful  foliage  of  her
character had been withered up by this red-hot brand,  and  had  long  ago
fallen away, leaving a bare and  harsh  outline,  which  might  have  been
repulsive had she possessed friends or companions to  be  repelled  by  it
Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar  change.  It
might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dress, and partly to
the lack of demonstration in her manners. It  was  a  sad  transformation,
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 frequently the fate, and  such  the
stern development, of the feminine character and person,  when  the  woman
has encountered, and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If
she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the  tenderness  will
either be crushed out of her, or - and the outward semblance is the same -
crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself  more.  The
latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been  a  woman,  and
ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, if  there  were
only the magic touch to effect the transformation. We  shall  see  whether
Hester Prynne were ever afterwards so touched and so transfigured.
    Much of  the  marble  coldness  of  Hester's  impression  was  to  be
attributed to the circumstance that  her  life  had  turned,  in  a  great
measure, from passion and feeling to thought. Standing alone in the  world
- alone, as to any dependence on society, and  with  little  Pearl  to  be
guided and protected - alone, and hopeless  of  retrieving  her  position,
even had she not scorned to consider it desirable  -  she  cast  away  the
fragment 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 ancient  prejudice,  wherewith
was linked much of ancient principle. Hester Prynne imbibed  this  spirit.
She assumed a freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side
of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would  have
held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the  scarlet  letter.
In her lonesome cottage, by the seashore, thoughts  visited  her  such  as
dared to enter no other dwelling in  New  England;  shadowy  guests,  that
would have been as perilous as demons to  their  entertainer,  could  they
have been seen so much as knocking at her door.
    It is remarkable that persons who speculate  the  most  boldly  often
conform with the most perfect quietude  to  the  external  regulations  of
society. The thought suffices them, without investing itself in the  flesh
and blood of action. So it seemed to be with Hester. Yet, had little Pearl
never come to her from  the  spiritual  world,  it  might  have  been  far
otherwise. Then she might have come down to us in history,  hand  in  hand
with Ann Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect. She  might,  in
one of her phases, have been a prophetess. She might, and  not  improbably
would, have suffered death from the stern tribunals  of  the  period,  for
attempting to undermine the foundations of the Puritan establishment. But,
in the education  of  her  child,  the  mother's  enthusiasm  thought  had
something to wreak itself upon. Providence, in the person of  this  little
girl, had assigned to Hester's charge, the germ and blossom of  womanhood,
to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Everything  was
against her. The world was hostile. The child's own nature  had  something
wrong in it which continually betokened that she had been born amiss - the
effluence of her mother's lawless passion - and often impelled  Hester  to
ask, in bitterness of heart, whether it were for ill or good that the poor
little creature had been born at all.
    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
existence, she had long ago decided in the  negative,  and  dismissed  the
point as settled. A tendency to speculation,  though  it  may  keep  women
quiet, as it does man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, such  a
hopeless task before her. As a first step, the whole system of society  is
to be torn down and built up anew. Then the very nature  of  the  opposite
sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to  be
essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume  what  seems  a
fair  and  suitable  position.  Finally,  all  other  difficulties   being
obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary  reforms  until
she herself shall have  undergone  a  still  mightier  change,  in  which,
perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest  life,  will  be
found to have evaporated. A woman never overcomes these  problems  by  any
exercise of thought. They are not to be solved, or only in one way. If her
heart chance to come uppermost, they vanish.  Thus  Hester  Prynne,  whose
heart had lost its regular and healthy throb, wandered without a  clue  in
the dark  labyrinth  of  mind;  now  turned  aside  by  an  insurmountable
precipice; now starting back from a deep chasm. There was wild and ghastly
scenery all around her, and a home and comfort nowhere. At times a fearful
doubt strove to possess her soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl
at once to Heaven, and go herself to  such  futurity  as  Eternal  Justice
should provide.
    The scarlet letter had not done its office.
    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 infused into it by the hand that proffered relief. A secret enemy
had been continually by his side, under the  semblance  of  a  friend  and
helper, and had availed himself of the  opportunities  thus  afforded  for
tampering with the delicate springs of  Mr.  Dimmesdale's  nature.  Hester
could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been  a  defect
of truth, courage, and loyalty on her own part, in allowing  the  minister
to be thrown into position where so much evil  was  to  be  foreboded  and
nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her only justification  lay  in  the  fact
that she had been able to discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker
ruin  than  had  overwhelmed  herself  except  by  acquiescing  in   Roger
Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulse she  had  made  her
choice, and had chosen, as it now appeared, the more wretched  alternative
of the two. She determined to redeem her error so far as it might  yet  be
possible. Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself
no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night,
abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy that was still  new,  when
they had talked together in the prison-chamber. She had  climbed  her  way
since then to a higher point. The old man, on the other hand, had  brought
himself nearer to her level, 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  concoct  his  medicine

                        HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN

    Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin  of  the  water,  and
play with the shells and tangled sea-weed, until she  should  have  talked
awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew away like a  bird,
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,  ad  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 playmate, 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 my heart Why, mistress, I hear good tidings of you on all hands!
No longer ago than yester-eve, a magistrate, a wise  and  godly  man,  was
discoursing of your affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that  there
had been question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether or
no, with safety to the commonweal, yonder scarlet letter  might  be  taken
off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my intreaty to  the  worshipful
magistrate that it might be done forthwith. "
    "It lies not in the pleasure of  the  magistrates  to  take  off  the
badge," calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be quit of it,  it  would
fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that  should
speak a different purport. "
    "Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better," rejoined  he,  "A  woman
must needs follow her own fancy touching the adornment of her person.  The
letter is gaily embroidered, and shows right bravely on your bosom!"
    All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old  man,  and
was shocked, as well as wonder-smitten, to discern what a change had  been
wrought upon him within the past seven years. It was not so much  that  he
had grown older; for though the traces of advancing life were  visible  he
bore his age well, and seemed to retain a wiry vigour and  alertness.  But
the former aspect of an intellectual and studious  man,  calm  and  quiet,
which was what she best remembered in him, had  altogether  vanished,  and
been succeeded by a 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
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  smouldering  duskily
within his breast, until by some casual puff of passion it was blown  into
a momentary flame. This he repressed as speedily as possible,  and  strove
to look as if nothing of the kind had happened.
    In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence  of  man's
faculty of transforming himself into a devil,  if  he  will  only,  for  a
reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office. This unhappy  person
had effected such a transformation by devoting himself for seven years  to
the constant analysis of  a  heart  full  of  torture,  and  deriving  his
enjoyment thence, and  adding  fuel  to  those  fiery  tortures  which  he
analysed and gloated over.
    The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. Here was  another
ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to her.
    "What see you in my face," asked the physician, "that you look at  it
so earnestly?"
    "Something that would make me weep, if there were  any  tears  bitter
enough for it," 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 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 secrecy as  touching  the  former
relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and good fame of yonder  man
were in your hands there seemed no choice to me,  save  to  be  silent  in
accordance with your behest. Yet it was not without heavy misgivings  that
I thus bound myself, for, having cast off all  duty  towards  other  human
beings, there remained a duty towards him, and something whispered me that
I was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since that day
no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his every footstep.  You
are beside him, sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts.  You  burrow
and rankle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him  to
die daily a living death, and still he knows you not. In permitting this I
have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was  left
me to be true!"
    "What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger, pointed
at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, thence,
peradventure, to the gallows!"
    "It had been better so!" said Hester Prynne.
    "What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again.  "I
tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician earned  from
monarch could not have bought such care as I have wasted on this miserable
priest! But for my aid his life would have burned away in torments  within
the first two years after the perpetration of his crime  and  thine.  For,
Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up, as  thine
has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. Oh, I could reveal a goodly
secret! But enough. What art can do, I have exhausted on him. That he  now
breathes and creeps about on earth is owing all to me!"
    "Better he had died at once!" said Hester Prynne. "Yea,  woman,  thou
sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the  lurid  fire  of
his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had he died  at  once!  Never
did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all, in  the  sight
of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an  influence
dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense  -
for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this  -  he  knew
that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings, and that an eye was
looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it.  But  he
knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common  to
his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be  tortured
with frightful dreams and desperate thoughts, the  sting  of  remorse  and
despair of pardon, as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But
it was the constant shadow of my presence, the closest propinquity of  the
man whom he had most vilely wronged, and who had grown to  exist  only  by
this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! 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 recognise, usurping the place of his  own  image  in  a
glass. It was one of those moments - which sometimes  occur  only  at  the
interval of years - when a man's moral aspect is  faithfully  revealed  to
his mind's eye. Not improbably he had never before viewed  himself  as  he
did now.
    "Hast thou not tortured him enough?" said Hester,  noticing  the  old
man's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"
    "No, no! He has but increased the debt!" answered the physician,  and
as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics, and subsided
into gloom. "Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I  was  nine  years  agone?
Even then I was in the autumn of my days, nor was it the early autumn. But
all my life had been made  up  of  earnest,  studious,  thoughtful,  quiet
years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of  mine  own  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 remember 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
    "All this, and more," said Hester.
    "And what am  I  now?"  demanded  he,  looking  into  her  face,  and
permitting the whole evil within him to be written  on  his  features.  "I
have already told thee what I am - a fiend! Who made me so?"
    "It was myself," cried Hester, shuddering. "It was I, not  less  than
he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"
    "I  have  left  thee  to   the   scarlet   letter,"   replied   Roger
Chillingworth. "If that has not avenged me, I can do no more!"
    He laid his finger on it with a smile.
    "It has avenged thee," answered Hester Prynne.
    "I judged no less," said the physician. "And now  what  wouldst  thou
with me touching this man?"
    "I must reveal the secret," answered Hester, firmly. "He must discern
thee in thy true character. What may be the result I know  not.  But  this
long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and  ruin  I  have
been, shall at length be  paid.  So  far  as  concerns  the  overthrow  or
preservation of his fair fame and his earthly  state,  and  perchance  his
life, he is in  my  hands.  Nor  do  I  -  whom  the  scarlet  letter  has
disciplined to truth, though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into
the soul - nor do I perceive such advantage in his  living  any  longer  a
life of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to  implore  thy  mercy.  Do
with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him, no good for me,  no  good
for thee. There is no good for little Pearl. There is no path to guide  us
out of this dismal maze. "
    "Woman, I could  well-nigh  pity  thee,"  said  Roger  Chillingworth,
unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too, for  there  was  a  quality
almost majestic in the despair which  she  expressed.  "Thou  hadst  great
elements. 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  evil,  and
stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn our  path.
It is not so! There might be good for thee, and  thee  alone,  since  thou
hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give
up that only privilege? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?"
    "Peace, Hester-peace!" replied the old man, with gloomy  sternness  -
"it is not granted me to pardon. I have no such power as thou  tellest  me
of. My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains all  that
we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step awry,  thou  didst  plant  the
germ of evil; but since that moment it has all been a dark  necessity.  Ye
that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of  typical  illusion;
neither am I fiend-like, who have  snatched  a  fiend's  office  from  his
hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now, go thy
ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man. "
    He waved his hand, and betook himself  again  to  his  employment  of
gathering herbs.

                           HESTER AND PEARL

    So Roger Chillingworth - a deformed  old  figure  with  a  face  that
haunted men's memories longer than they  liked  -  took  leave  of  Hester
Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He gathered here and there
a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it into the basket on  his  arm.  His
gray beard almost touched the ground as  he  crept  onward.  Hester  gazed
after him a little while, 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 suddenly 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 towards
    "Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as still  she  gazed
after him, "I hate the man?"
    She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could  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 firelight of their home, and in the light of her
nuptial smile. He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in  order
that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken  off
the scholar's heart. Such scenes had  once  appeared  not  otherwise  than
happy, but now, as viewed through the  dismal  medium  of  her  subsequent
life,  they  classed  themselves  among  her  ugliest  remembrances.   She
marvelled how such scenes could have been! She  marvelled  how  she  could
ever have been wrought upon to marry him! She deemed in her crime most  to
be repented of, that she had ever endured and  reciprocated  the  lukewarm
grasp of his hand, and had suffered the smile of  her  lips  and  eyes  to
mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed  by
Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him, that,  in  the
time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy  herself
happy by his side.
    "Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester more  bitterly  than  before.  "He
betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"
    Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along  with
it the utmost passion of  her  heart!  Else  it  may  be  their  miserable
fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth's, when some  mightier  touch  than
their own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be  reproached  even
for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which they will  have
imposed upon her as the 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 emotion of that brief space, while she  stood  gazing  after  the
crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on  Hester's
state  of  mind,  revealing  much  that  she  might  not  otherwise   have
acknowledged to herself.
    He being gone, she summoned back her child.
    "Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?"
    Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been  at  no  loss
for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer of  herbs.  At
first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully with her own image in a
pool of water, beckoning the phantom  forth,  and  -  as  it  declined  to
venture - seeking a passage for herself  into  its  sphere  of  impalpable
earth and unattainable sky. Soon finding, however, that either she or  the
image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little
boats out of birch-bark, and freighted them with snailshells, 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  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  snowflakes
ere they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach-birds that  fed  and  fluttered
along the shore, the naughty child picked up her apron  full  of  pebbles,
and, creeping from rock to rock  after  these  small  sea-fowl,  displayed
remarkable dexterity in 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 employment was to gather seaweed of various kinds, and make
herself a scarf or mantle, and a head-dress, and thus assume the aspect of
a little mermaid. She inherited her mother's gift for devising drapery and
costume. As the  last  touch  to  her  mermaid's  garb,  Pearl  took  some
eel-grass and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom the decoration
with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A letter - the letter A  -
but freshly green instead of scarlet. The child bent  her  chin  upon  her
breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest, even as if the
one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make  out
its 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  Prynne
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
    "And what reason is that?" asked Hester, half smiling at  the  absurd
incongruity of the child's observation; but  on  second  thoughts  turning
    "What has the letter to do with any heart save mine?"
    "Nay, mother, I have told all I know,"  said  Pearl,  more  seriously
than she was wont to speak. "Ask  yonder  old  man  whom  thou  hast  been
talking with, - it may be he can tell. But in  good  earnest  now,  mother
dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? - and why dost thou wear  it  on
thy bosom? - and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"
    She took her mother's hand in both her own, and gazed into  her  eyes
with an earnestness that was  seldom  seen  in  her  wild  and  capricious
character. The thought occurred to Hester, that the child might really  be
seeking to approach her with childlike  confidence,  and  doing  what  she
could, and as intelligently as she knew how, to establish a  meeting-point
of sympathy. It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect Heretofore, the mother,
while loving her child  with  the  intensity  of  a  sole  affection,  had
schooled herself to hope for little other return than the  waywardness  of
an April breeze, which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of
inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best  of  moods,  and  chills
oftener than caresses you, when you take it to your bosom; in requital  of
which misdemeanours it will sometimes, of its own vague purpose, kiss your
cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness, and play gently with your  hair,
and then be gone about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy  pleasure
at your heart. And this, moreover, was a mother's estimate of the  child's
disposition. Any other observer might have seen few but unamiable  traits,
and have given them a far darker colouring. But now the idea came strongly
into  Hester's  mind,  that  Pearl,  with  her  remarkable  precocity  and
acuteness, might already have approached the age when she could have  been
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  -  sturdy  pride,  which  might   be
disciplined into self-respect - and a bitter scorn of many  things  which,
when examined, might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them.  She
possessed affections, too, though hitherto acrid and disagreeable, as  are
the richest flavours 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  mission.
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 overcome the passion, once so  wild,  and  even
yet neither dead nor asleep, but only imprisoned within the same tomb-like
    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 keep 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 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 symbol on her bosom. It may be that it was the talisman of  a
stern and severe, but yet a guardian  spirit,  who  now  forsook  her;  as
recognising 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 homeward, 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 gleaming in her black eyes.
    "Mother," said she, "what does the scarlet letter mean?"
    And the next morning, the first indication the child  gave  of  being
awake was by popping up her head from the pillow, and  making  that  other
enquiry, 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 put thee into the dark closet!"

                           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 character of the man who had crept into  his  intimacy.  For  several
days, however, she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in  some
of the meditative walks which she knew him to be in the  habit  of  taking
along the shores  of  the  Peninsula,  or  on  the  wooded  hills  of  the
neighbouring country. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor  peril
to the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited him in
his 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
Roger  Chillingworth,  and  partly  that  her  conscious  heart   imparted
suspicion where none could have  been  felt,  and  partly  that  both  the
minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in, while 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  a  sick  chamber,  whither  the  Rev.  Mr.
Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer,  she  learnt  that  he  had
gone, the day before,  to  visit  the  Apostle  Eliot,  among  his  Indian
converts. He would probably return by a certain hour in the  afternoon  of
the morrow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little  Pearl  -
who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions, 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 disclosed such  imperfect  glimpses
of the sky above, that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not  amiss  the  moral
wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill  and
sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly  stirred,  however,
by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then  be
seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting  cheerfulness  was
always at the further extremity of some long vista through the forest. The
sportive  sunlight  -  feebly  sportive,  at  best,  in  the   predominant
pensiveness of the day and scene - withdrew itself as they came nigh,  and
left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they 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.
Now, see! There it is, playing a good way off. Stand you here, and let  me
run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me - for I  wear
nothing on my bosom yet!"
    "Nor ever will, my child, I hope," said Hester.
    "And why not, mother?" asked  Pearl,  stopping  short,  just  at  the
beginning of her race. "Will not it come of its own accord  when  I  am  a
woman grown?"
    "Run away, child," answered her mother, "and catch the  sunshine.  It
will soon be gone. "
    Pearl set forth at a great pace, and as Hester  smiled  to  perceive,
did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the  midst  of  it,
all brightened by its  splendour,  and  scintillating  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; now I can stretch out  my  hand  and
grasp some of it. "
    As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to  judge  from
the bright expression that was dancing on  Pearl's  features,  her  mother
could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into herself, and  would
give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as  they  should  plunge
into some gloomier shade. There  was  no  other  attribute  that  so  much
impressed her with a sense of new  and  untransmitted  vigour  in  Pearl's
nature, as this never failing vivacity of spirits: she had not the disease
of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with
the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this, too, was
a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy  with  which  Hester  had
fought against her sorrows  before  Pearl's  birth.  It  was  certainly  a
doubtful  charm,  imparting  a  hard,  metallic  lustre  to  the   child's
character. She wanted - what some people want throughout life  -  a  grief
that should deeply touch her, and thus humanise and make  her  capable  of
sympathy. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl.
    "Come, my child!" said Hester, looking about her from the spot  where
Pearl had stood still in the sunshine - "we will sit  down  a  little  way
within the wood, and rest ourselves. "
    "I am not aweary, mother," replied the little girl. "But you may  sit
down, if you will tell me a story meanwhile. "
    "A story, child!" said Hester. "And about what?"
    "Oh, a story about the Black Man," answered Pearl, taking hold of her
mother's gown, and looking up, half earnestly,  half  mischievously,  into
her face.
    "How he haunts this forest, and carries a book with him a big,  heavy
book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an
iron pen to everybody that meets him here among the trees; and they are to
write their names with their own blood; and then he sets his mark on their
bosoms. Didst thou ever meet the Black Man, mother?"
    "And who told you this story, Pearl," asked her mother, recognising a
common superstition of the period.
    "It was the old dame in the chimney corner, at the  house  where  you
watched last night," said the child. "But she fancied me asleep while  she
was talking of it. She said that a thousand and a thousand people had  met
him 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
    "Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?" asked Hester.
    "Not that I remember," said the child. "If thou fearest to  leave  me
in our cottage, thou mightest take me along with thee. I would very gladly
go! But, mother, tell me now! Is there such a Black Man?  And  didst  thou
ever meet him? And is this his mark?"
    "Wilt thou let me be at peace,  if  I  once  tell  thee?"  asked  her
    "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  passages  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 underbush, and  here
and there a huge rock covered over with  gray  lichens.  All  these  giant
trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making  a  mystery  of  the
course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing
loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the  heart  of  the  old  forest
whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the  smooth  surface  of  a
pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the  streamlet  kept  up  a
babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of  a  young
child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not  how
to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.
    "Oh, brook! Oh, foolish and  tiresome  little  brook!"  cried  Pearl,
after listening awhile to its 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? inquired she.
    "If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might  tell  thee  of
it," answered her mother, "even as it is telling  me  of  mine.  But  now,
Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and  the  noise  of  one  putting
aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to play, and leave me
to speak with him that comes yonder,"
    "Is it the Black Man?" asked Pearl.
    "Wilt thou go and play, child?" repeated  her  mother,  "But  do  not
stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou come at my first call. "
    "Yes, mother," answered Pearl, "But if it be the Black Man, wilt thou
not let me stay a moment, and look at him, with his  big  book  under  his
    "Go, silly child!" said her mother impatiently. "It is no Black  Man!
Thou canst see him now, through the trees. It is the minister!"
    "And so it is!" said the child. "And, mother, he has  his  hand  over
his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name  in  the  book,
the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why  does  he  not  wear  it
outside his bosom, as thou dost, mother?"
    "Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt  another  time,"
cried Hester Prynne. "But do not stray far. Keep where thou canst hear the
babble of the brook. "
    The child went singing away, following up the current of  the  brook,
and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice.
But the little stream would not be 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 yet  to  happen  -
within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who had enough of  shadow
in her own little life, chose to break  off  all  acquaintance  with  this
repining brook. She set  herself,  therefore,  to  gathering  violets  and
wood-anemones, and some scarlet columbines that she found growing  in  the
crevice of a high rock.
    When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made  a  step  or  two
towards the track that led through the forest, but  still  remained  under
the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the minister advancing along  the
path entirely alone, and leaning on a  staff  which  he  had  cut  by  the
wayside.  He  looked  haggard  and  feeble,  and  betrayed   a   nerveless
despondency in his air, which had never so remarkably characterised 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 have been a heavy trial  to
the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gait, as if he saw no  reason
for taking one step further, 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 for evermore. The leaves  might
bestrew him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a  little  hillock
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. Dimmesdale exhibited no symptom  of
positive and  vivacious  suffering,  except  that,  as  little  Pearl  had
remarked, he kept his hand over his heart.


    Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone  by  before  Hester
Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his observation. At length she
    "Arthur Dimmesdale!" she said, faintly at  first,  then  louder,  but
hoarsely - "Arthur Dimmesdale!"
    "Who speaks?" answered the minister. Gathering himself quickly up, he
stood more erect, like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which  he  was
reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the  direction
of the voice, he indistinctly beheld a  form  under  the  trees,  clad  in
garments so sombre, and so little relieved from  the  gray  twilight  into
which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage  had  darkened  the  noontide,
that he knew not whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be  that  his
pathway through life was haunted thus by a spectre  that  had  stolen  out
from among his thoughts.
    He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet letter.
    "Hester! Hester Prynne!', said he; "is it thou? Art thou in life?"
    "Even so. " she answered. "In such life as has been mine these  seven
years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live?"
    It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's  actual  and
bodily existence, and even doubted of their own.  So  strangely  did  they
meet in the dim wood that it was like the first  encounter  in  the  world
beyond the grave of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their
former life, but now stood coldly shuddering in mutual dread, as  not  yet
familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of  disembodied
beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken  at  the  other  ghost.  They  were
awe-stricken likewise at themselves, because the crisis flung back to them
their  consciousness,  and  revealed  to  each  heart  its   history   and
experience, as life never does, except at such breathless epochs. The soul
beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear,
and tremulously, and, as it were, by a  slow,  reluctant  necessity,  that
Arthur Dimmesdale 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 consent -  they  glided  back  into  the
shadow of the woods whence Hester had emerged, and sat down on the heap of
moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting. When they found voice to
speak, it was at first only to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two
acquaintances might have made,  about  the  gloomy  sky,  the  threatening
storm, and, next, the health of each. Thus they went onward,  not  boldly,
but step by step, into the themes that  were  brooding  deepest  in  their
hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed something
slight and casual to run before and throw open the doors  of  intercourse,
so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold.
    After awhile, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.
    "Hester," said he, "hast thou found peace?"
    She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.
    "Hast thou?" she asked.
    "None - nothing but despair!" he answered. "What else  could  I  look
for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Were I an atheist -
a man devoid of conscience - a wretch with coarse and brutal instincts - I
might have found peace long ere now. Nay, I never  should  have  lost  it.
But, as matters stand with  my  soul,  whatever  of  good  capacity  there
originally was in me, all of God's  gifts  that  were  the  choicest  have
become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!"
    "The people reverence thee," said Hester. "And  surely  thou  workest
good among them! Doth this bring thee no comfort?"
    "More misery, Hester! - Only the more misery!" answered the clergyman
with a bitter smile. "As concerns the good which I may  appear  to  do,  I
have no faith in it. It must needs be a delusion. What can a  ruined  soul
like mine effect towards the redemption of other souls? -  or  a  polluted
soul towards their purification? And as for the people's reverence,  would
that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou  deem  it,  Hester,  a
consolation that I must stand up in my  pulpit,  and  meet  so  many  eyes
turned upward to my face, as if the light of heaven were beaming from  it!
- must see my flock hungry for the truth, and listening to my words as  if
a tongue of Pentecost were speaking! - and then look inward,  and  discern
the black reality of what they idolise? I have laughed, in bitterness  and
agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and  what  I  am!  And
Satan laughs at it!"
    "You wrong yourself in this," said Hester gently.
    "You have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you  in
the days long past. Your present life is not less  holy,  in  very  truth,
than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence  thus
sealed and witnessed by good works? And wherefore should it not bring  you
    "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 me at the judgment-seat. Happy are  you,  Hester,
that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your 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 recognises me for what I am! Had  I
one friend - or were it my worst enemy! - to whom, when sickened with  the
praises of all other men, I could daily betake myself, and  known  as  the
vilest of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep itself  alive  thereby.
Even thus much of truth would save me! But now, it is all falsehood! - all
emptiness! - all death!"
    Hester Prynne looked into his face,  but  hesitated  to  speak.  Yet,
uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did,  his  words
here offered her the very point of circumstances  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 sayest thou?" cried he. "An enemy! And under mine own roof!
What mean you?"
    Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she
was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie for so  many
years, or, indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one whose purposes
could not be other than malevolent. The  very  contiguity  of  his  enemy,
beneath whatever mask the latter might  conceal  himself,  was  enough  to
disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as Arthur  Dimmesdale.
There had been a period when Hester was less alive to this  consideration;
or, perhaps, in the misanthropy of her own trouble, she left the  minister
to bear what she might picture to herself as a more tolerable doom. But of
late, since the night of his vigil, all her  sympathies  towards  him  had
been  both  softened  and  invigorated.  She  now  read  his  heart   more
accurately.  She  doubted  not  that  the  continual  presence  of   Roger
Chillingworth - the secret poison of his malignity, infecting all the  air
about him - and his authorised interference,  as  a  physician,  with  the
minister's  physical  and  spiritual  infirmities   -   that   these   bad
opportunities had been turned to a cruel purpose. 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 disorganize  and  corrupt
his spiritual being. Its  result,  on  earth,  could  hardly  fail  to  be
insanity, and hereafter, that eternal alienation from the Good  and  True,
of which madness is perhaps the earthly type.
    Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man, once -  nay,  why
should we not speak it? - still so passionately loved!  Hester  felt  that
the sacrifice of the clergyman's good name, and death itself, as  she  had
already told Roger Chillingworth, would have been infinitely 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
laid down on the forest leaves, and died  there,  at  Arthur  Dimmesdale's
    "Oh, Arthur!" cried she, "forgive me! In  all  things  else,  I  have
striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast,
and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when thy good - thy life  -
thy fame - were put in 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  energies  were
incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down on  the  ground,
and buried his face in his hands.
    "I might have known it," murmured he - "I did know it!  Was  not  the
secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart at the  first  sight  of
him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why did I not understand?  Oh,
Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of  this  thing!
And the shame! - the indelicacy! - the horrible ugliness of this  exposure
of a sick and guilty heart to the very  eye  that  would  gloat  over  it!
Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! -I cannot forgive thee!"
    "Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hester, Singing herself on the  fallen
leaves beside him. "Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!"
    With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms  around  him,
and pressed his head against her bosom, little  caring  though  his  cheek
rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself,  but  strove
in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should  look  her
sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her  -  for  seven  long
years had it frowned upon this lonely woman - and still she bore  it  all,
nor ever once turned away  her  firm,  sad  eyes.  Heaven,  likewise,  had
frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown of this pale,  weak,
sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, and live!
    "Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeated, over and over again.  "Wilt
thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?"
    "I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister at  length,  with  a
deep utterance, out of an abyss  of  sadness,  but  no  anger.  "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!
That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has  violated,  in
cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester,  never  did
    "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.  "No;
I have not forgotten!"
    They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand,  on  the
mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never  brought  them  a  gloomier
hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so long been tending, and
darkening ever, as it stole along - and yet it unclosed 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
forbode evil to come.
    And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the  forest-track  that  led
backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must  take  up  again  the
burden of her ignominy and the minister the hollow  mockery  of  his  good
name! So they lingered an instant longer. No golden light had ever been so
precious as the gloom of this dark forest. Here seen only by his eyes, the
scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman! Here seen
only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might  be,  for
one moment true!
    He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.
    "Hester!" cried he, "here is a new horror! Roger Chillingworth  knows
your purpose to reveal his true character. Will he continue, then, to keep
our secret? What will now be the course of his revenge?"
    "There  is  a  strange  secrecy  in  his  nature,"  replied   Hester,
thoughtfully; "and it has grown upon him by the hidden  practices  of  his
revenge. I deem it not likely that he will  betray  the  secret.  He  will
doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark passion. "
    "And I! - how am I to live longer, breathing the same air  with  this
deadly enemy?" exclaimed Arthur
    Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand nervously
against his heart - a gesture that had grown involuntary with him.  "Think
for me, Hester! Thou art strong. Resolve for me!"
    "Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said  Hester,  slowly  and
firmly. "Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye!"
    "It were far worse than death!" replied the  minister.  "But  how  to
avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall  I  lie  down  again  on  these
withered leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst tell me what he  was?
Must I sink down there, and die at once?"
    "Alas! what a ruin has befallen thee!" said Hester,  with  the  tears
gushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very weakness? There is no other
    "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 instinctively exercising a magnetic power
over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could  hardly  hold  itself
erect. "Doth the universe lie within the compass  of  yonder  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  settlement,
thou sayest! Yes; but, onward, too! Deeper it goes, and  deeper  into  the
wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step; until  some  few  miles
hence the yellow leaves will show no vestige of  the  white  man's  tread.
There thou art free! So brief a journey would  bring  thee  from  a  world
where thou hast been most wretched, to one  where  thou  mayest  still  be
happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide  thy
heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"
    "Yes,  Hester;  but  only  under  the  fallen  leaves!"  replied  the
minister, with a sad smile.
    "Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!" continued  Hester.  "It
brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will bear thee back  again.  In
our native land, whether in some remote rural village, or in vast London -
or, surely, in Germany, in France, in pleasant Italy  -  thou  wouldst  be
beyond his power and knowledge! And what hast thou to do  with  all  these
iron men, and their opinions? They have kept thy better  part  in  bondage
too long already!"
    "It cannot be!" answered the minister, listening as if he were called
upon to realise 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  existence  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 my  post,
though an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death  and  dishonour,
when his dreary watch shall come to an end!"
    "Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery,"  replied
Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy.  "But  thou
shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not cumber  thy  steps,  as  thou
treadest along the forest-path: neither shalt thou freight the  ship  with
it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here  where
it hath happened. Meddle no more  with  it!  Begin  all  anew!  Hast  thou
exhausted possibility in the failure of this one trial? Not so! The future
is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed!  There
is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for a true one.  Be,
if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, the teacher  and  apostle  of
the red men. Or, as is more thy nature, be a scholar and a sage among  the
wisest and the most renowned of the cultivated world. Preach! Write!  Act!
Do anything, save to lie down  and  die!  Give  up  this  name  of  Arthur
Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high one, such as  thou  canst
wear without fear or shame. 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!"
    "Oh, 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 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 shall not go alone!" answered she, in a deep whisper. Then, all
was spoken!

                          A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE

    Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which  hope
and joy shone out, indeed, but with fear  betwixt  them,  and  a  kind  of
horror at her boldness, who had spoken what  he  vaguely  hinted  at,  but
dared not speak.
    But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage  and  activity,  and
for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed from society,  had
habituated herself to such  latitude  of  speculation  as  was  altogether
foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a
moral wilderness, as vast,  as  intricate,  and  shadowy  as  the  untamed
forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that  was
to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it  were,
in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the  wild  Indian  in  his
woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view  at
human 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 flee. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other
women dared 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 fearfully  transgressed  one  of
the most sacred of them. But this had  been  a  sin  of  passion,  not  of
principle, nor even purpose. Since that wretched  epoch,  he  had  watched
with morbid zeal and minuteness, not his acts - for those it was  easy  to
arrange - but each breath of emotion, and his every thought. At  the  head
of the social system, as the clergymen of that day stood, he was only  the
more  trammelled  by  its  regulations,  its  principles,  and  even   its
prejudices. As a priest, the framework of his order inevitably hemmed  him
in. As a man who had once sinned, but who kept his  conscience  all  alive
and painfully sensitive by the fretting of an  unhealed  wound,  he  might
have been supposed safer within the line of virtue than if  he  had  never
sinned at all.
    Thus we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the whole  seven
years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a preparation  for
this very hour. But Arthur Dimmesdale! Were such a man once more to  fall,
what plea could be urged in extenuation of  his  crime?  None;  unless  it
avail him somewhat  that  he  was  broker,  down  by  long  and  exquisite
suffering; that his mind was darkened and confused  by  the  very  remorse
which harrowed it; that,  between  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
glimpse 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 near it the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over
again his unforgotten triumph.
    The struggle, if there were  one,  need  not  be  described.  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, 1 would yet endure, for the sake of that earnest
of Heaven's mercy. But now - since I am  irrevocably  doomed  -  wherefore
should I not snatch the solace allowed to the condemned culprit before his
execution? Or, if this be the path to  a  better  life,  as  Hester  would
persuade me, I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing  it!  Neither
can I any longer live without her companionship; so  powerful  is  she  to
sustain - so tender to soothe! O Thou to whom I dare not lift  mine  eyes,
wilt Thou yet pardon me?"
    "Thou wilt go!" said Hester calmly, as he met her glance.
    The decision once  made,  a  glow  of  strange  enjoyment  threw  its
flickering  brightness  over  the  trouble  of  his  breast.  It  was  the
exhilarating effect - upon a prisoner just escaped from the dungeon of his
own heart - of breathing the  wild,  free  atmosphere  of  an  unredeemed,
unchristianised, 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 was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in his mood.
    "Do I feel joy again?" cried he, wondering at himself. "Methought the
germ of it was dead in me! Oh, Hester, thou art my better angel! I seem to
have flung myself - sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened  -  down  upon
these forest leaves, and to have risen up all  made  anew,  and  with  new
powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! This is already the  better
life! Why did we not find it sooner?"
    "Let us not lock 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 if 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 give, the little brook another  woe  to  carry  onward,  besides  the
unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring about. But there lay the
embroidered letter, glittering like a lost  jewel,  which  some  ill-fated
wanderer might pick up, and thenceforth be haunted by strange phantoms  of
guilt, sinkings of the heart, and unaccountable misfortune.
    The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden
of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had
not known the weight until she felt the freedom! 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 vanished 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
yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown  the  gray  trunks  of  the
solemn trees. The objects that had made a shadow  hitherto,  embodied  the
brightness now. The course of the little brook  might  be  traced  by  its
merry gleam afar into the wood's heart of  mystery,  which  had  become  a
mystery of joy.
    Such was the sympathy of Nature - that wild, heathen  Nature  of  the
forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined  by  higher  truth  -
with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether 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 would have  been  bright  in  Hester's
eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's!
    Hester looked at him with a thrill of another joy.
    "Thou must know Pearl!" said she. "Our little Pearl! Thou  hast  seen
her - yes, I know it! - but thou wilt see her now with other eyes. She  is
a strange child! I hardly comprehend her! But thou wilt love  her  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. I have
even been afraid of little Pearl!"
    "Ah, that was sad!" answered the mother.  "But  she  will  love  thee
dearly, and thou her. She is not far off. I will call her. Pearl! Pearl!"
    "I see the child," observed the minister. "Yonder she is, standing in
a streak of sunshine, a good way off, on the other side of the  brook.  So
thou thinkest the child will love me?"
    Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who  was  visible  at  some
distance, as the minister had  described  her,  like  a  bright-apparelled
vision in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch  of  boughs.
The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or distinct - now  like
a real child, now like a child's spirit - as the splendour went  and  came
again. She heard her mother's voice, and  approached  slowly  through  the
    Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely while  her  mother  sat
talking with the clergyman. The great black forest - stern  as  it  showed
itself to those who brought the guilt and troubles of the world  into  its
bosom - became the playmate of the lonely infant, as well as it knew  how.
Sombre as it was, it put on the kindest of its moods to  welcome  her.  It
offered her the partridge-berries, the growth of the preceding autumn, but
ripening only in the spring, and now  red  as  drops  of  blood  upon  the
withered leaves These Pearl gathered, and  was  pleased  with  their  wild
flavour. The small denizens of the wilderness hardly took  pains  to  move
out of her path. A partridge, indeed, with a brood of ten behind her,  ran
forward threateningly, but 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 the squirrel is  such  a  choleric  and  humorous
little personage, that it is hard to distinguish between his moods - so he
chattered at the child, and flung down a nut upon her bead. 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  his  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 patted by her hand. The truth seems to be, however, that
the  mother-forest,  and  these  wild  things  which  it  nourished,   all
recognised a kindred wilderness in the human child.
    And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets  of  the
settlement, or in her mother's cottage. The Bowers appeared  to  know  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 anemones, 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 young waist, and became a nymph  child,  or
an infant dryad, or whatever else was in closest sympathy with the antique
wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned herself, when she heard her mother's
voice, and came slowly back
    Slowly - for she saw the clergyman.

                       THE CHILD AT THE BROOKSIDE

    "Thou will love her dearly," repeated Hester Prynne, as she  and  the
minister sat watching little Pearl. "Dost thou not  think  her  beautiful?
And see with what natural skill she has made those  simple  flowers  adorn
her! Had she gathered pearls, and diamonds, and rubies in the  wood,  they
could not have become her better! She is a  splendid  child!  But  I  know
whose brow she has!"
    "Dost thou know, Hester," said Arthur  Dimmesdale,  with  an  unquiet
smile, "that this dear child, tripping about  always  at  thy  side,  hath
caused me many an alarm? Methought - oh, Hester, what a thought  is  that,
and how terrible to dread it! - that my own features were partly  repeated
in her face, and so strikingly that the world might see them! But  she  is
mostly thine!"
    "No, no! Not mostly!" answered the mother, with a  tender  smile.  "A
little longer, and thou needest not to be afraid to trace whose child  she
is. But how strangely beautiful she looks with those wild flowers  in  her
hair! It is as if one of the fairies, whom we left in  dear  old  England,
had decked her out to meet us."
    It was  with  a  feeling  which  neither  of  them  had  ever  before
experienced, that they sat and watched Pearl's slow advance.  In  her  was
visible the tie that united them. She had been offered to the world, these
seven past years, as the living hieroglyphic, in which  was  revealed  the
secret they so darkly sought to hide - all written in this  symbol  -  all
plainly manifest - had there been a prophet or magician  skilled  to  read
the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness of their being.  Be  the
foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt that their earthly lives
and future destinies were conjoined when they beheld at once the  material
union, and the spiritual idea,  in  whom  they  met,  and  were  to  dwell
immortally together; thoughts like these -  and  perhaps  other  thoughts,
which they did not acknowledge or define - threw an awe about the child as
she came onward.
    "Let her see nothing strange - no passion or eagerness - in  thy  way
of accosting her," whispered Hester. "Our Pearl is a fitful and  fantastic
little elf sometimes. Especially she is generally intolerant  of  emotion,
when she does not fully comprehend the why and wherefore.  But  the  child
hath strong affections! She loves me, and will love thee!"
    "Thou canst not think," said the minister, glancing aside  at  Hester
Prynne, "how my heart dreads this interview, and yearns for  it!  But,  in
truth, as I already told thee, children are not readily won to be familiar
with me. They will not climb my knee, nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to
my smile, but stand apart, and eye me strangely. Even little babes, when I
take them in my arms, weep  bitterly.  Yet  Pearl,  twice  in  her  little
lifetime, hath been kind to me!
    The first time - thou knowest it well! The last was when  thou  ledst
her with thee to the house of yonder stern old Governor. "
    "And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf  and  mine!"  answered
the mother. "I remember it; and so shall little Pearl. Fear  nothing.  She
may be strange and shy at 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
picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of  flowers  and  wreathed
foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. This  image,
so nearly identical with the living Pearl, seemed to communicate  somewhat
of its own shadowy and intangible quality to the  child  herself.  It  was
strange, the way in which Pearl stood,  looking  so  steadfastly  at  them
through the dim medium  of  the  forest  gloom,  herself,  meanwhile,  all
glorified with a ray of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward as  by  a
certain sympathy. In the brook beneath stood another child -  another  and
the same - with likewise its ray of golden light. Hester felt herself,  in
some indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl,  as  if  the
child, in her lonely ramble through the forest, had  strayed  out  of  the
sphere in which she and her mother dwelt  together,  and  was  now  vainly
seeking to return to it.
    There were 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 running 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 wilt have
twice as much love henceforward as thy mother alone could give thee!  Leap
across the brook and come to us. Thou canst leap like a young deer!"
    Pearl,  without  responding  in  any  manner  to  these   honey-sweet
expressions, remained on the other side of the brook. Now  she  fixed  her
bright wild eyes on her mother, now on the 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  towards
her mother's breast. And beneath, in the mirror of the  brook,  there  was
the flower-girdled and sunny image of little  Pearl,  pointing  her  small
forefinger too.
    "Thou strange child! why dost thou not come to me?" exclaimed Hester.
    Pearl still pointed with her forefinger, and a frown gathered on  her
brow - the more impressive from the childish, the almost baby-like  aspect
of the features that conveyed it. As her mother still  kept  beckoning  to
her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed  smiles,  the
child stamped her foot with a yet more imperious look and gesture. In  the
brook, again, was the fantastic beauty of the image,  with  its  reflected
frown, its pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving emphasis  to  the
aspect of little Pearl.
    "Hasten, Pearl, or I shall be angry with thee!" cried Hester  Prynne,
who, however, inured to such behaviour on the elf-child's  part  at  other
seasons, was naturally anxious for a more  seemly  deportment  now.  "Leap
across the brook, naughty child, and run hither! Else I must come to thee!
    But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats any more  than
mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into  a  fit  of  passion,
gesticulating violently, and throwing  her  small  figure  into  the  most
extravagant contortions She accompanied this wild outbreak  with  piercing
shrieks, which the woods 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 that she has always seen me wear!"
    "I pray you," answered the minister,  "if  thou  hast  any  means  of
pacifying the child, do it forthwith! Save it were the cankered  wrath  of
an old witch like Mistress Hibbins," added he,  attempting  to  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 towards Pearl  with  a  crimson  blush  upon  her
cheek, a conscious glance aside 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  margin  of  the  stream  that  the  gold
embroidery was reflected in it.
    "Bring it hither!" said Hester.
    "Come thou and take it up!" answered Pearl.
    "Was ever such a child!" observed Hester aside to the minister.  "Oh,
I have much to tell thee about her! But, in very truth, she  is  right  as
regards this hateful token. I must bear its torture yet a little longer  -
only a few days longer - until we shall have left this  region,  and  look
back hither as to a land which we have dreamed of. The forest cannot  hide
it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it up for ever!"
    With these words she advanced to the margin of the 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 again  was  the  scarlet  misery
glittering on the old spot! So it ever is, whether thus  typified  or  no,
that an evil deed invests itself with the character of doom.  Hester  next
gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair and confined  them  beneath  her
cap. As if there were a withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the
warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed like fading sunshine, and a
gray shadow seemed to fall across her.
    When the dreary change was wrought, she extended her hand to Pearl
    "Dost thou know thy mother now, child?",  asked  she,  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 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!" 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! He loves  thee,  my  little  Pearl,  and  loves  thy
mother, too. Wilt thou not love him? Come he longs to greet thee!"
    "Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking  up  with  acute  intelligence
into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand,  we  three
together, into the town?"
    "Not now, my child," answered Hester. "But in days to  come  he  will
walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside  of  our  own;
and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many 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 towards a dangerous rival, or from whatever caprice  of
her freakish nature, Pearl would show no favour to the clergyman.  It  was
only by an exertion of force that  her  mother  brought  her  up  to  him,
hanging back, and manifesting her reluctance 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 unwelcome  kiss
was quite washed off and diffused through a  long  lapse  of  the  gliding
water.  She  then  remained  apart,  silently  watching  Hester  and   the
clergyman; while they talked together and made such arrangements  as  were
suggested by their new position and the purposes soon to be fulfilled.
    And now this fateful interview had come to a close. The dell  was  to
be left  in  solitude  among  its  dark,  old  trees,  which,  with  their
multitudinous tongues, would whisper long of what had passed there, and no
mortal be the wiser. And the 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 ages heretofore.

                          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,
slowly fading into the twilight of the woods. So great  a  vicissitude  in
his life could not at once be received as real. But there was Hester, clad
in her gray robe, still standing beside the tree-trunk, 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 together, and find  a  single  hour's
rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, lightly dancing from the margin
of the brook - now that the intrusive third person was gone -  and  taking
her old place by her mother's side. So the minister had not fallen  asleep
and dreamed!
    In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and  duplicity  of
impression, which vexed it with a strange  disquietude,  he  recalled  and
more thoroughly defined 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  its
alternatives of an Indian wigwam, or  the  few  settlements  of  Europeans
scattered thinly along the sea-board. 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 development would secure  him  a
home only in the midst of civilization  and  refinement;  the  higher  the
state the more delicately adapted to it the man.  In  futherance  of  this
choice, it so happened that a ship  lay  in  the  harbour;  one  of  those
unquestionable cruisers,  frequent  at  that  day,  which,  without  being
absolutely outlaws of the  deep,  yet  roamed  over  its  surface  with  a
remarkable 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 Charity,  had
brought her acquainted with the captain and crew - could take upon herself
to secure the passage of two individuals and a child with all the  secrecy
which 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. "This is most  fortunate!"
he had then  said  to  himself.  Now,  why  the  Reverend  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  from
the present, he was to  preach  the  Election  Sermon;  and,  as  such  an
occasion formed  an  honourable  epoch  in  the  life  of  a  New  England
Clergyman, he could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of
terminating his professional career. "At least, they  shall  say  of  me,"
thought this exemplary man, "that I leave no public  duty  unperformed  or
ill-performed!" Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound  and  acute
as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived! We have had,  and
may still have, worse things to tell of him; but none,  we  apprehend,  so
pitiably weak; no evidence, at once  so  slight  and  irrefragable,  of  a
subtle disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of
his character. No man, for any considerable period, can wear one  face  to
himself and another to the multitude, without finally  getting  bewildered
as to which may be the true.
    The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings as he returned  from  his
interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical energy, and  hurried
him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods  seemed  wilder,
more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles, and less trodden by the foot
of man, than he remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped across
the plashy places, thrust himself through the clinging underbush,  climbed
the ascent, plunged into the hollow,  and  overcame,  in  short,  all  the
difficulties of the track, with an unweariable  activity  that  astonished
him. He could not but recall how feebly, 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 presented themselves. It seemed not  yesterday,  not
one, not 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. Not 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 a 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 assumed, 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 transformation. It was the same town  as  heretofore,  but  the  same
minister returned not from the forest. He might have said to  the  friends
who greeted him - "I am not the man for whom  you  take  me!  I  left  him
yonder in the forest, withdrawn into a secret dell, by a mossy tree trunk,
and near a melancholy brook! Go,  seek  your  minister,  and  see  if  his
emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be
not 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
interior  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 instance, he met one of his own deacons. The good  old  man  addressed
him with the  paternal  affection  and  patriarchal  privilege  which  his
venerable age, his upright and holy character,  and  his  station  in  the
church, entitled him to use and, conjoined with  this,  the  deep,  almost
worshipping respect, which the minister's professional and private  claims
alike demanded. Never was there  a  more  beautiful  example  of  how  the
majesty of age and wisdom may  comport  with  the  obeisance  and  respect
enjoined upon it, as from a lower  social  rank,  and  inferior  order  of
endowment, towards a higher. Now, during a conversation  of  some  two  or
three moments between the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this  excellent  and
hoary-bearded deacon, it was only by the most  careful  self-control  that
the former could refrain from  uttering  certain  blasphemous  suggestions
that rose into his mind, respecting the  communion-supper.  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 patriarchal  deacon  would  have  been  petrified  by  his  minister's
    Again, another incident  of  the  same  nature.  Hurrying  along  the
street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest  female  member
of his church, a most pious and exemplary old dame, poor, widowed, lonely,
and with a heart as full of  reminiscences  about  her  dead  husband  and
children, and her dead friends of long ago, as a burial-ground is full  of
storied gravestones. Yet all this, which would else have been  such  heavy
sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her devout old soul, by  religious
consolations and the truths of Scripture, wherewith she  had  fed  herself
continually for more than thirty years. And since Mr. Dimmesdale had taken
her in charge, the good grandam's chief earthly comfort - which, unless it
had been likewise a heavenly comfort, could have been none at all - was to
meet her pastor, whether casually, or of set  purpose,  and  be  refreshed
with a word of warm, fragrant,  heavenbreathing  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  immortality  of  the
human soul. The instilment thereof  into  her  mind  would  probably  have
caused this aged sister to drop down dead, at once, as by the effect of an
intensely poisonous infusion. What he really  did  whisper,  the  minister
could never afterwards recollect. There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder
in his utterance, which failed to impart any distinct  idea  to  the  good
widows comprehension, or which Providence interpreted after  a  method  of
its own. Assuredly, as the minister looked back, he beheld  an  expression
of divine gratitude  and  ecstasy  that  seemed  like  the  shine  of  the
celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and ashy pale.
    Again, a third instance. After parting from the old church member, he
met the youngest sister of them all. It was a maiden newly-won -  and  won
by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon,  on  the  Sabbath  after  his
vigil - to barter the transitory pleasures of the world for  the  heavenly
hope that was to assume brighter substance as life grew dark  around  her,
and which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She  was  fair  and
pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The minister knew  well  that
he was himself enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart, which
hung its snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion the  warmth
of love, and to love a religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely
led the poor young girl away from her mother's side, and thrown  her  into
the 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 minister felt potent to blight all the  field  of  innocence
with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite with but a word. So
- with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained - he held his  Geneva
cloak before his face, and hurried onward, making no sign of  recognition,
and leaving the 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 playing there, and had but just begun to  talk.  Denying
himself this freak, as unworthy of his cloth, he met a drunken seaman, one
of the ship's crew from the Spanish  Main.  And  here,  since  he  had  so
valiantly forborne all other wickedness, poor  Mr.  Dimmesdale  longed  at
least to shake hands with the tarry black-guard, and recreate himself with
a few improper jests, such as dissolute sailors  so  abound  with,  and  a
volley of good, round, solid, satisfactory, and heaven-defying  oaths!  It
was not so much a better principle, as partly his natural good taste,  and
still more his buckramed habit  of  clerical  decorum,  that  carried  him
safely through the latter crisis.
    "What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" cried  the  minister  to
himself, at length, pausing in the street, and striking his  hand  against
his forehead.
    "Am I mad? or am I given over utterly to the  fiend?  Did  I  make  a
contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood?  And  does  he
now summon me to its fulfilment, by suggesting the  performance  of  every
wickedness which his most foul imagination can conceive?"
    At the moment when the Reverend Mr.  Dimmesdale  thus  communed  with
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 Anne Turner, her  especial
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 allow me only a fair warning, and I shall  be  proud  to  bear  you
company. Without taking overmuch upon myself my  good  word  will  go  far
towards gaining  any  strange  gentleman  a  fair  reception  from  yonder
potentate you wot of. "
    "I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with a  grave  obeisance,
such as  the  lady's  rank  demanded,  and  his  own  good  breeding  made
imperative - " I profess, on  my  conscience  and  character,  that  I  am
utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words! I went not  into
the forest to seek a potentate, neither do I, at any future time, design a
visit thither, with a view to gaining the favour 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
    "Ha, ha, ha!" cackled the old  witch-lady,  still  nodding  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 recognise a  secret  intimacy
of connexion.
    "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, he had yielded himself with deliberate choice, as he
had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. And the  infectious
poison of that sin had been thus rapidly  diffused  throughout  his  moral
system. It bad stupefied all blessed impulses,  and  awakened  into  vivid
life the whole brotherhood of  bad  ones.  Scorn,  bitterness,  unprovoked
malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, ridicule of  whatever  was  good  and
holy, all awoke  to  tempt,  even  while  they  frightened  him.  And  his
encounter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real incident,  did  but
show its sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals,  and  the  world  of
perverted spirits.
    He had by this time reached his dwelling on the edge  of  the  burial
ground, and, hastening up the  stairs,  took  refuge  in  his  study.  The
minister was glad to have reached this shelter,  without  first  betraying
himself to the world by any of those strange and wicked eccentricities  to
which he had been 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, with  the
same perception of strangeness that had haunted him  throughout  his  walk
from the forest dell into the town and thitherward. Here  he  had  studied
and written; here gone through fast and vigil, and come forth half  alive;
here striven to pray; here borne a hundred thousand agonies! There was the
Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and  the  Prophets  speaking  to
him, and God's voice through all
    There on the table, with the inky pen beside it,  was  an  unfinished
sermon, with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased
to gush out upon the page two days before. He knew that  it  was  himself,
the thin and white-cheeked minister,  who  had  done  and  suffered  these
things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon! But  he  seemed  to
stand  apart,  and  eye  this  former  self  with  scornful  pitying,  but
half-envious curiosity. That self was gone. Another man had  returned  out
of the forest - a 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 behold 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 Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast.
    "Welcome home, reverend sir," said the physician "And how  found  you
that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear sir, you look  pale,
as if the travel through the wilderness had been too sore  for  you.  Will
not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and strength  to  preach  your
Election Sermon?"
    "Nay, I think not so," rejoined  the  Reverend  Mr.  Dimmesdale.  "My
journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air  which
I have breathed have done me good, after so long confinement in my  study.
I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they
be, and administered by a friendly hand. "
    All this time Roger Chillingworth was looking at  the  minister  with
the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his  patient.  But,  in
spite of this outward show, the latter was almost  convinced  of  the  old
man's knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion,  with  respect  to
his own interview with Hester Prynne. The physician knew then that in  the
minister's regard he was no longer a trusted  friend,  but  his  bitterest
enemy. So much being known, it would appear natural  that  a  part  of  it
should he expressed. It is singular, however, how long a time often passes
before words embody things; and with what security two persons, who choose
to avoid a certain subject,  may  approach  its  very  verge,  and  retire
without disturbing it. Thus the minister felt no apprehension  that  Roger
Chillingworth would touch, in express words, upon the real position  which
they sustained towards one another. Yet did the  physician,  in  his  dark
way, creep frightfully near the secret.
    "Were it not better," said he, "that you use my poor  skill  tonight?
Verily, dear sir, we must take pains to make you strong and  vigorous  for
this occasion of the Election discourse. The people look for great  things
from you, apprehending that another year may come  about  and  find  their
pastor gone. "
    "Yes, to another world," replied the minister with pious resignation.
"Heaven grant it be a better one; 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  Reverend
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  with  ravenous
appetite. Then flinging the already 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 go unsolved for  ever,  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 study, and laid it  right
across the minister's bedazzled eyes. There he was,  with  the  pen  still
between his fingers, and a  vast,  immeasurable  tract  of  written  space
behind him!

                         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
numbers, among whom, likewise, were many rough figures,  whose  attire  of
deer-skins marked them as belonging to some  of  the  forest  settlements,
which surrounded the little 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 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  they
were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or, rather  like  the
frozen calmness of a dead woman's features; owing this dreary  resemblance
to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in  respect  to  any  claim  of
sympathy, and had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to
    It might be, on this one day, that there  was  an  expression  unseen
before, nor,  indeed,  vivid  enough  to  be  detected  now;  unless  some
preternaturally gifted observer should have first read the heart, and have
afterwards sought a corresponding development in the countenance and mien.
Such a spiritual sneer might have conceived, that,  after  sustaining  the
gaze of the multitude through several miserable years as  a  necessity,  a
penance, and something which it was a stern religion to endure,  she  now,
for one last time more, encountered it freely and voluntarily, in order to
convert what had so long been agony into a kind  of  triumph.  "Look  your
last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!"  -  the  people's  victim  and
lifelong bond-slave, as they fancied her, might say to them. "Yet a little
while, and she will be beyond your reach! A few hours longer and the deep,
mysterious ocean will quench and hide for ever the symbol  which  ye  have
caused to burn on her bosom!" Nor were it an inconsistency too  improbable
to be assigned to human nature, should we suppose a feeling of  regret  in
Hester's mind, at the moment when she was about to win  her  freedom  from
the pain which had been thus deeply incorporated  with  her  being.  Might
there not be an irresistible desire to  quaff  a  last,  long,  breathless
draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes, with which nearly all her  years
of womanhood had been perpetually flavoured. The wine of life,  henceforth
to be  presented  to  her  lips,  must  be  indeed  rich,  delicious,  and
exhilarating, 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 with airy gaiety. It would have been  impossible
to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed its existence  to  the
shape of gloomy gray; or that a fancy, at once so gorgeous and so delicate
as must have been requisite to contrive the child's apparel, was the  same
that had achieved a task perhaps more difficult, in imparting so  distinct
a peculiarity to Hester's simple robe. The dress,  so  proper  was  it  to
little Pearl, seemed an effluence, or inevitable development  and  outward
manifestation of her character, no more to be separated from her than  the
many-hued brilliancy from a butterfly's wing, or the  painted  glory  from
the leaf of a bright flower. As with these, so with the  child;  her  garb
was all of one idea with her nature. On this eventful day, moreover, there
was a certain singular inquietude and excitement in her  mood,  resembling
nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond,  that  sparkles  and  flashes
with the varied throbbings  of  the  breast  on  which  it  is  displayed.
Children have always a sympathy in the 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  bird-like  movement,  rather
than walk by her mother's side. She broke continually  into  shouts  of  a
wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. When  they  reached  the
market-place, she became still more restless, on perceiving the  stir  and
bustle that enlivened the spot; for it was usually more like the broad and
lonesome green before a village meeting-house, than the centre of a town's
    "Why, what is this, mother?"  cried  she.  "Wherefore  have  all  the
people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the whole world?  See,
there is the blacksmith! He has washed his sooty  face,  and  put  on  his
Sabbath-day clothes, and looks as if he would gladly be merry, if any kind
body would only teach him how! And  there  is  Master  Brackett,  the  old
jailer, nodding and smiling at me. Why does he do so, mother?"
    "He remembers thee a little babe, my child," answered Hester.
    "He should not nod and smile at me, for all that - the  black,  grim,
ugly-eyed old man!" said Pearl.
    "He may nod at thee, if he will; for  thou  art  clad  in  gray,  and
wearest the scarlet letter. But see, mother, how  many  faces  of  strange
people, and Indians among them, and sailors! What have they  all  come  to
do, here in the market-place?"
    "They wait to  see  the  procession  pass,"  said  Hester.  "For  the
Governor and the magistrates are to go by, and the ministers, and all  the
great people and good people, with the music  and  the  soldiers  marching
before them. "
    "And will the minister be there?" asked Pearl. "And will he hold  out
both his hands to me, as when thou led'st me to him from the brook-side?"
    "He will be there, child," answered her  mother,  "but  he  will  not
greet thee to-day, nor must thou greet him. "
    "What a strange, sad man is he!"  said  the  child,  as  if  speaking
partly to herself. "In the dark nighttime 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 forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off!  But,
here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he  knows  us  not;  nor
must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over  his
    "Be quiet, Pearl - thou understandest not  these  things,"  said  her
mother. "Think not now of the minister, but look about thee, and  see  how
cheery is everybody's face to-day.  The  children  have  come  from  their
schools, and the grown people from their workshops and  their  fields,  on
purpose to be happy, for, to-day, a new man  is  beginning  to  rule  over
them; and so - as has been the custom of mankind ever since a  nation  was
first gathered - they make merry and rejoice: as if a good and golden year
were at length to pass over the poor old world!"
    It was as Hester  said,  in  regard  to  the  unwonted  jollity  that
brightened the faces of the people. Into this festal season of the year  -
as it already was, and continued to be during  the  greater  part  of  two
centuries - the Puritans compressed whatever mirth  and  public  joy  they
deemed allowable  to  human  infirmity;  thereby  so  far  dispelling  the
customary cloud, that, for the space of a single  holiday,  they  appeared
scarcely more grave than most other communities at  a  period  of  general
    But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, which  undoubtedly
characterized the mood and manners of the age.  The  persons  now  in  the
market-place of Boston had not been born to an  inheritance  of  Puritanic
gloom. They were native Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in  the  sunny
richness of the Elizabethan epoch; a time when the life of England, viewed
as one great mass, would appear to have been as stately, magnificent,  and
joyous,  as  the  world  has  ever  witnessed.  Had  they  followed  their
hereditary taste, the New England  settlers  would  have  illustrated  all
events of  public  importance  by  bonfires,  banquets,  pageantries,  and
processions. Nor would it have been impracticable, 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  festivals,  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 colony commenced. The dim reflection of  a
remembered splendour, a colourless and manifold diluted repetition of what
they had beheld in proud  old  London  -  we  will  not  say  at  a  royal
coronation, but at a Lord Mayor's show - might be traced  in  the  customs
which  our  forefathers  instituted,  with   reference   to   the   annual
installation of magistrates. The fathers and founders of the  commonwealth
- the statesman, the priest, and the soldier - seemed it a  duty  then  to
assume the outward state and majesty, which, in  accordance  with  antique
style, was looked upon as the proper garb of public and  social  eminence.
All came forth to move in procession before the  people's  eye,  and  thus
impart a needed dignity to the simple framework of a government  so  newly
    Then, too, the  people  were  countenanced,  if  not  encouraged,  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 gleeman 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 a hundred 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
discipline of law, but  by  the  general  sentiment  which  give  law  its
vitality. Not the less, however, the great,  honest  face  of  the  people
smiled - grimly, perhaps, but widely too. Nor were sports wanting, such as
the colonists had witnessed, and shared in, long ago, at the country fairs
and on the village-greens of England; and which it  was  thought  well  to
keep alive on this new soil, for the sake of  the  courage  and  manliness
that were essential in them. Wrestling matches, in the different  fashions
of  Cornwall  and  Devonshire,  were  seen  here  and  there   about   the
market-place; in one corner, there was a friendly  bout  at  quarterstaff;
and - what attracted most interest  of  all  -  on  the  platform  of  the
pillory, already so noted in  our  pages,  two  masters  of  defence  were
commencing an exhibition with the buckler and broadsword. But, much to the
disappointment of the crowd, this latter 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 deportment, and the offspring of sires
who had known how to be merry, in their  day),  that  they  would  compare
favourably, in point of holiday keeping, with their descendants,  even  at
so  long  an  interval  as  ourselves.  Their  immediate  posterity,   the
generation next to  the  early  emigrants,  wore  the  blackest  shade  of
Puritanism, and so darkened the national visage  with  it,  that  all  the
subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up. We have  yet  to  learn
again the forgotten art of gaiety.
    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  deerskin  robes,  wampum-belts,  red  and
yellow ochre,  and  feathers,  and  armed  with  the  bow  and  arrow  and
stone-headed spear - stood apart with countenances of inflexible  gravity,
beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain. Nor, wild as were  these
painted barbarians, were they the  wildest  feature  of  the  scene.  This
distinction could more justly be claimed by some mariners - a part of  the
crew of the vessel from the Spanish Main - who had come ashore to see  the
humours  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  behaviour  that
were binding on all others: smoking tobacco under the beadle's very  nose,
although each whiff would have cost a townsman a shilling; and quaffing at
their pleasure, draughts of wine or aqua-vitae from pocket  flasks,  which
they freely tendered to  the  gaping  crowd  around  them.  It  remarkably
characterised the incomplete morality of the age, rigid  as  we  call  it,
that a licence was allowed the  seafaring  class,  not  merely  for  their
freaks on shore, but for far more desperate deeds on their proper element.
The sailor of that day would go near to be arraigned as a  pirate  in  our
own. There could be little doubt, for  instance,  that  this  very  ship's
crew, though no unfavourable specimens of the  nautical  brotherhood,  had
been guilty, as we should  phrase  it,  of  depredations  on  the  Spanish
commerce, such as would have perilled all their necks in a modern court of
    But the sea in those old times heaved, swelled, and foamed very  much
at its own will, or subject only to the tempestuous wind, with hardly  any
attempts at regulation by human law.  The  buccaneer  on  the  wave  might
relinquish his calling and become at once if he chose, a  man  of  probity
and piety on land; nor, even in the full career of his reckless life,  was
he regarded as a personage with whom it was  disreputable  to  traffic  or
casually associate.  Thus  the  Puritan  elders  in  their  black  cloaks,
starched bands, and steeple-crowned hats, smiled not unbenignantly at  the
clamour and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men; and  it  excited
neither surprise nor animadversion when so  reputable  a  citizen  as  old
Roger Chillingworth, the physician, was seen to enter the market-place  in
close and familiar talk with the commander of the questionable vessel.
    The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure,  so  far  as
apparel went, anywhere to be seen among the multitude. He wore a profusion
of ribbons on his garment, and gold  lace  on  his  hat,  which  was  also
encircled by a gold chain, and surmounted with  a  feather.  There  was  a
sword at his  side  and  a  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   a   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 marketplace; until  happening  to  approach  the
spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared to recognise,  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
instinctive,  though  no   longer   so   unkindly,   withdrawal   of   her
fellow-creatures. Now, if never before, it  answered  a  good  purpose  by
enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together  without  risk  of  being
overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne's repute  before  the  public,
that the matron in town, most eminent for rigid morality, could  not  have
held such intercourse with less result of scandal than herself.
    "So, mistress," said the mariner, "I must bid the steward make  ready
one more berth than you bargained for! No fear of  scurvy  or  ship  fever
this voyage. What with the ship's 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  utmost  consternation.  "They  have  long  dwelt
together. "
    Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. But  at
that instant she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself, standing  in  the
remotest comer of the market-place and smiling on her;  a  smile  which  -
across the wide  and  bustling  square,  and  through  all  the  talk  and
laughter, and various thoughts,  moods,  and  interests  of  the  crowd  -
conveyed secret and fearful meaning.

                             THE PROCESSION

    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 towards the meeting-house:  where,  in  compliance
with a custom  thus  early  established,  and  ever  since  observed,  the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.
    Soon the head of the  procession  showed  itself,  with  a  slow  and
stately  march,  turning  a  corner,  and  making  its  way   across   the
market-place. First came the music. It comprised a variety of 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 imparting a higher
and more heroic air to the scene of  life  that  passes  before  the  eye.
Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then lost for an instant  the
restless  agitation  that  had  kept  her  in  a  continual  effervescence
throughout the morning; she gazed silently, and seemed to be borne  upward
like a floating sea-bird on the long heaves and swells of sound.  But  she
was brought back to her former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on  the
weapons and bright armour of the military company,  which  followed  after
the music, and formed the honorary escort of the procession. This body  of
soldiery - which still sustains a corporate existence,  and  marches  down
from past ages with an ancient and honourable 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  exercise  would  teach  them,  the
practices of war. The  high  estimation  then  placed  upon  the  military
character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the
company. Some of 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  immediately  behind  the
military escort, were better worth a thoughtful observer's  eye.  Even  in
outward demeanour they showed a stamp of majesty that made  the  warrior's
haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was an age when what we call
talent had far less consideration than  now,  but  the  massive  materials
which produce stability and dignity of character a great  deal  more.  The
people possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverence,  which,  in
their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and
with a vastly diminished force in the selection  and  estimate  of  public
men. The change may be for good or ill, and is partly, perhaps, for  both.
In that old day the English settler on these rude  shores  -  having  left
king, nobles, and all degrees  of  awful  rank  behind,  while  still  the
faculty and necessity of reverence was strong in him - bestowed it on  the
white hair and venerable brow of age - on long-tried integrity - on  solid
wisdom and sad-coloured experience -  on  endowments  of  that  grave  and
weighty order which gave the idea  of  permanence,  and  comes  under  the
general definition of respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore
- Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their compeers - who  were
elevated to power by the early choice of the people, seem to have been not
often brilliant, 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
indicated were well represented in the  square  cast  of  countenance  and
large physical development of the new colonial magistrates. So  far  as  a
demeanour of natural authority was concerned, the mother country need  not
have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted
into the House of Peers, or make 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 expected. His was the profession  at  that  era  in  which
intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political life; for
- leaving a higher motive out  of  the  question  it  offered  inducements
powerful enough in the almost worshipping respect of the community, to win
the most aspiring ambition into its service. Even political power - as  in
the case of Increase Mather - was within the grasp of a successful priest.
    It was the observation of those who beheld him now, that never, since
Mr. Dimmesdale first set his  foot  on  the  New  England  shore,  had  he
exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and air with which  he  kept
his pace in the procession. There was no feebleness of step  as  at  other
times; his frame was not bent, nor did his hand rest  ominously  upon  his
heart. Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed  not
of the body. It might be  spiritual  and  imparted  to  him  by  angelical
ministrations. It might be the exhilaration of that potent  cordial  which
is distilled only  in  the  furnace-glow  of  earnest  and  long-continued
thought. Or perchance his sensitive temperament  was  invigorated  by  the
loud and piercing music that swelled heaven-ward, and uplifted him on  its
ascending wave. Nevertheless, so abstracted was  his  look,  it  might  be
questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale ever heard  the  music.  There  was  his
body, moving onward, and with an unaccustomed force.  But  where  was  his
mind? Far and deep in its own region, busying itself,  with  preternatural
activity, to marshal a procession of stately thoughts that  were  soon  to
issue thence; and so he saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing  of  what
was around him; but the spiritual element took up  the  feeble  frame  and
carried it along, unconscious of the burden, and converting it  to  spirit
like itself. Men of uncommon intellect, who  have  grown  morbid,  possess
this occasional power of mighty effort, into which they throw the life  of
many days and then are lifeless for as many more.
    Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the  clergyman,  felt  a  dreary
influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she knew not, unless that
he seemed so remote from her own sphere, and utterly beyond her reach. One
glance of 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 venerable fathers; he,
so unattainable in his worldly position, and still more  so  in  that  far
vista of his unsympathizing thoughts, through which she  now  beheld  him!
Her spirit sank with the idea that all must  have  been  a  delusion,  and
that, vividly as she had dreamed it, there could be no real  bond  betwixt
the clergyman and herself. And thus much of woman  was  there  in  Hester,
that she could scarcely forgive him - least of all  now,  when  the  heavy
footstep of their approaching Fate might be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer!
- for being able so completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world
- while she groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands,  and  found
him not.
    Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelings,  or  herself
felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen around the minister.
While the procession passed, the child was uneasy, fluttering up and down,
like a bird on the point of taking flight. When the whole had gone by, she
looked up into Hester's face -
    "Mother," said she, "was that the same minister that kissed me by the
    "Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother.  "We  must
not always talk in the marketplace of what happens to us in the forest. "
    "I could not be sure  that  it  was  he  -  so  strange  he  looked,"
continued the child. "Else I would have run to him, and bid  him  kiss  me
now, before all the people, even as he  did  yonder  among  the  dark  old
trees. What would the minister have said, mother? Would  he  have  clapped
his hand over his heart, and scowled on me, and bid me 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.  Dimmesdale,
was expressed by a person whose eccentricities - insanity,  as  we  should
term it - led her to do what few of the townspeople would have ventured on
- to begin a conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letter in public.
It was Mistress Hibbins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a triple
ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of  rich  velvet,  and  a  gold-headed
cane, had come forth to see the procession. As this ancient lady  had  the
renown (which subsequently cost her no less a  price  than  her  life)  of
being a  principal  actor  in  all  the  works  of  necromancy  that  were
continually going forward, the crowd gave way before her,  and  seemed  to
fear the touch of her garment, as if  it  carried  the  plague  among  its
gorgeous folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne - kindly as so many
now felt towards the latter - the dread inspired by Mistress  Hibbins  had
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! That saint on earth, as
the people uphold him to be, and as - I must needs say - he really  looks!
Who, now, that saw him pass in the  procession,  would  think  how  little
while it is since he went forth out of his study - chewing a  Hebrew  text
of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant - to take an airing  in  the  forest!
Aha! we know what that means, Hester Prynne! But truly, forsooth,  I  find
it hard to believe him the same man. Many a church member saw  I,  walking
behind the music, that has danced  in  the  same  measure  with  me,  when
Somebody was fiddler, and, it might be, an  Indian  powwow  or  a  Lapland
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  with  which  she  affirmed  a  personal
connexion between so many persons (herself among them) and the  Evil  One.
"It is not for me to talk lightly of a learned and pious minister  of  the
Word, like the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "
    "Fie, woman - fie!" cried the old lady, shaking her finger at Hester.
"Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many times, and have yet  no
skill to judge who else has been there? Yea, though no leaf  of  the  wild
garlands which they wore while they danced be left in their hair!  I  know
thee, Hester, for I behold the token. We may all see it in  the  sunshine!
and it glows like a red flame in the dark.  Thou  wearest  it  openly,  so
there need be no question about that. But this minister! Let me tell  thee
in thine ear! When the Black Man sees one of his own servants, signed  and
sealed, so shy of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he
hath a way of ordering matters so that the mark  shall  be  disclosed,  in
open daylight, to the eyes of all the world! What  is  that  the  minister
seeks to hide, with his hand always over his heart? Ha, Hester Prynne?"
    "What is it, good Mistress  Hibbins?"  eagerly  asked  little  Pearl.
"Hast thou seen it?"
    "No matter, darling!" responded  Mistress  Hibbins,  making  Pearl  a
profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it, one time or  another.  They
say, child, thou art of the lineage of the Prince of Air! Wilt  thou  ride
with me some fine night to see thy father? Then thou shalt know  wherefore
the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"
    Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place  could  hear  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 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,  insomuch  that  a
listener, comprehending nothing of the  language  in  which  the  preacher
spoke, might still have been swayed to  and  fro  by  the  mere  tone  and
cadence. Like all  other  music,  it  breathed  passion  and  pathos,  and
emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human  heart,  wherever
educated. Muffled as the sound was  by  its  passage  through  the  church
walls, Hester Prynne listened with such intenseness,  and  sympathized  so
intimately, that the sermon had throughout a  meaning  for  her,  entirely
apart from its indistinguishable words. These, perhaps, if more distinctly
heard, might have been  only  a  grosser  medium,  and  have  clogged  the
spiritual sense. Now she caught the low undertone, as of the wind  sinking
down to  repose  itself;  then  ascended  with  it,  as  it  rose  through
progressive gradations of sweetness and power, until its volume seemed  to
envelop her with an atmosphere  of  awe  and  solemn  grandeur.  And  yet,
majestic as the voice sometimes became,  there  was  for  ever  in  it  an
essential character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expression of  anguish
- the whisper, or the shriek, as  it  might  be  conceived,  of  suffering
humanity, that touched a sensibility in every bosom! At  times  this  deep
strain of pathos was all that could be heard, and scarcely  heard  sighing
amid a desolate silence. But even when the minister's voice grew high  and
commanding - when it gushed irrepressibly upward -  when  it  assumed  its
utmost breadth and power, so overfilling the church as to  burst  its  way
through the 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,
sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, telling its secret, whether  of  guilt  or
sorrow, to  the  great  heart  of  mankind;  beseeching  its  sympathy  or
forgiveness, - at every moment, - in each accent, - and never in vain!  It
was this profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman his most
appropriate power.
    During all this time, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot  of  the
scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept  her  there,  there  would,
nevertheless, have been an inevitable magnetism in that spot,  whence  she
dated the first hour of her life of ignominy. There was a sense within her
- too ill-defined to be made a thought, but 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-place. She made the sombre  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 undulating, but oftentimes a sharp and irregular  movement.  It
indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit,  which  to-day  was  doubly
indefatigable in its  tip-toe  dance,  because  it  was  played  upon  and
vibrated with her mother's disquietude. Whenever  Pearl  saw  anything  to
excite her ever active and wandering curiosity, she flew thitherward, and,
as we might say, seized upon that man or thing as her own property, so far
as she desired it, but without yielding the  minutest  degree  of  control
over her motions in requital. The Puritans looked on, and, if they smiled,
were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from
the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that 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.
    One of these seafaring men the shipmaster, indeed, who had spoken  to
Hester Prynne was so smitten with Pearl's aspect, that he attempted to lay
hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Finding it as impossible to
touch her as to catch a humming-bird in the air, he took from his hat  the
gold chain that was twisted about it, and threw it  to  the  child.  Pearl
immediately twined it around her neck and waist  with  such  happy  skill,
that, once seen there, it became a part of her, and it  was  difficult  to
imagine her without it.
    "Thy mother is yonder  woman  with  the  scarlet  letter,"  said  the
seaman, "Wilt thou carry her a message from me?"
    "If the message pleases me, I will," answered Pearl.
    "Then  tell  her,"  rejoined  he,  "that  I  spake  again  with   the
black-a-visaged, hump shouldered old doctor, and he engages to  bring  his
friend, the gentleman she wots of, aboard with him. So let thy mother take
no thought, save for herself and thee.  Wilt  thou  tell  her  this,  thou
    "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 marketplace, the  child  returned
to her mother, and  communicated  what  the  mariner  had  said.  Hester's
strong,  calm  steadfastly-enduring  spirit  almost  sank,  at  last,   on
beholding this dark and grim countenance of an inevitable 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 exaggerated  rumours,  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  accordingly
stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force of the  repugnance  which  the
mystic symbol inspired. The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the
press of spectators, and learning the purport of the scarlet letter,  came
and thrust their sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring.  Even
the Indians were affected by a sort of cold  shadow  of  the  white  man's
curiosity and, gliding through the crowd, fastened their snake-like  black
eyes on Hester's bosom, conceiving,  perhaps,  that  the  wearer  of  this
brilliantly embroidered badge must needs be a personage  of  high  dignity
among her people Lastly, the inhabitants of the town (their  own  interest
in this worn-out subject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with  what
they saw others feel) lounged idly to  the  same  quarter,  and  tormented
Hester  Prynne,  perhaps  more  than  all  the  rest,  with  their   cool,
well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. Hester saw and recognized  the
selfsame faces of that group of matrons, who had awaited  her  forthcoming
from the prison-door seven years ago; all save one, the youngest and  only
compassionate among them, whose burial-robe she had  since  made.  At  the
final hour, when she was so soon to fling aside the burning letter, it had
strangely become the centre of more remark and excitement,  and  was  thus
made to sear her breast more painfully, than at any time since  the  first
day she put it on.
    While Hester stood in  that  magic  circle  of  ignominy,  where  the
cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed  her  for  ever,  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
marketplace! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise
that the same scorching stigma was on them both!


    The eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listening audience  had
been borne aloft as on the swelling waves of the sea, at length came to  a
pause. There was a momentary silence, profound as what should  follow  the
utterance of oracles. Then 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. Now that  there  was  an  end,
they needed more breath, more fit to support the gross  and  earthly  life
into which they relapsed, than that  atmosphere  which  the  preacher  had
converted into words of flame, and had burdened with the rich fragrance of
his thought.
    In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street  and  the
market-place absolutely 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 wise,
so high, and so holy a  spirit,  as  he  that  spake  this  day;  nor  had
inspiration ever breathed through mortal lips more evidently than  it  did
through his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descending upon him,
and possessing him,  and  continually  lifting  him  out  of  the  written
discourse that lay before him, and filling him with ideas that  must  have
been as marvellous  to  himself  as  to  his  audience,  His  subject,  it
appeared, had been the relation between the Deity and the  communities  of
mankind, with a special reference to the New England which they were  here
planting in the wilderness. And, as he drew towards the close, a spirit as
of prophecy had come upon him, constraining him to its purpose as mightily
as the old prophets of Israel were constrained, only with this difference,
that, whereas the Jewish seers had denounced 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, throughout it all, and through
the whole discourse, there had been  a  certain  deep,  sad  undertone  of
pathos, which could not be  interpreted  otherwise  than  as  the  natural
regret of one soon to pass away. Yes; their minister whom they so loved  -
and who so loved them all, that he could not depart heavenward  without  a
sigh - had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and would soon leave
them in their tears. This idea of his transitory stay on  earth  gave  the
last emphasis to the effect which the preacher had produced; it was 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 splendour -  and  had  shed
down a shower of golden truths upon them.
    Thus, there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale - as to most men,
in their various spheres, though seldom recognised until they see  it  far
behind them - an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any
previous one, or than any which could hereafter  be.  He  stood,  at  this
moment, on the very proudest eminence of superiority, to which  the  gifts
or intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation 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 bowed his head forward on  the
cushions of the pulpit at the close  of  his  Election  Sermon.  Meanwhile
Hester Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the  pillory,  with  the
scarlet letter still burning on her breast!
    Now was heard again the clamour of the music, and the measured  tramp
of the military escort issuing from the church door. The procession was to
be marshalled thence to the  town  hall,  where  a  solemn  banquet  would
complete the ceremonies of the day.
    Once more, therefore, the train of  venerable  and  majestic  fathers
were seen moving through a broad pathway 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 marketplace,
their presence was greeted by a shout. This - though  doubtless  it  might
acquire additional force and volume from the child-like loyalty which  the
age awarded to its rulers - was felt to be an  irrepressible  outburst  of
enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence  which
was yet reverberating in their ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and
in the same breath, caught it from his neighbour. Within  the  church,  it
had hardly been kept down; beneath the sky it pealed upward to the zenith.
There  were  human  beings  enough,  and  enough  of  highly  wrought  and
symphonious feeling to produce that more impressive sound than  the  organ
tones of the blast, or the thunder, or the roar  of  the  sea;  even  that
mighty swell of many voices, blended into one great voice by the universal
impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many.  Never,  from
the soil of New England had gone up such a shout! Never,  on  New  England
soil had stood the man so honoured by his mortal brethren as the preacher!
    How fared it with him, then? Were there not the  brilliant  particles
of a halo in the air about his head? So etherealised by spirit as he  was,
and so apotheosised by worshipping admirers, did  his  footsteps,  in  the
procession, really tread upon the dust of earth?
    As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, all eyes
were turned towards the point where the  minister  was  seen  to  approach
among them. The shout died into a murmur, as  one  portion  of  the  crowd
after another obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble and  pale  he  looked,
amid all his triumph! The energy - or say, rather, the  inspiration  which
had held him up, until he should have delivered the  sacred  message  that
had brought its own strength along with it from heaven  -  was  withdrawn,
now that it had so faithfully performed its office. The glow,  which  they
had just before beheld burning on his  cheek,  was  extinguished,  like  a
flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers. It seemed
hardly the face of a man alive, with such a death-like hue: it was  hardly
a man with life in him, that  tottered  on  his  path  so  nervously,  yet
tottered, and did not fall!
    One of his clerical brethren - it was the  venerable  John  Wilson  -
observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring  wave
of intellect  and  sensibility,  stepped  forward  hastily  to  offer  his
support. The minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the  old  man's
arm. He still walked onward, if that movement could be so described, which
rather resembled the wavering effort of an infant, with its mother's  arms
in view, outstretched to tempt him forward. And now, almost  imperceptible
as were the latter steps  of  his  progress,  he  had  come  opposite  the
well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold, where, long since, with all
that dreary lapse of time  between,  Hester  Prynne  had  encountered  the
world's ignominious stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the
hand! And there was the scarlet letter on her breast!  The  minister  here
made a pause; although the music still played the  stately  and  rejoicing
march to which the procession moved. It summoned him onward  -  inward  to
the festival! - but here he made a pause.
    Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an  anxious  eye  upon
him. He now left his own place in the procession,  and  advanced  to  give
assistance judging, from Mr. 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
intimations 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 towards the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms.
    "Hester," said he, "come hither! Come, my little Pearl!"
    It was a ghastly look with which he  regarded  them;  but  there  was
something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The  child,  with
the bird-like motion, which was one of her characteristics, flew  to  him,
and clasped her arms about his  knees.  Hester  Prynne  -  slowly,  as  if
impelled by inevitable fate, and against her  strongest  will  -  likewise
drew near, but paused before she reached him. At this  instant  old  Roger
Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd -  or,  perhaps,  so  dark,
disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose up out of some nether  region  -
to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do! Be that as it  might,
the old man rushed 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 dishonour! I can yet save you! Would  you  bring  infamy  on
your sacred profession?"
    "Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too  late!"  answered  the  minister,
encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. "Thy power  is  not  what  it
was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"
    He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.
    "Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnestness, "in the  name
of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives  me  grace,  at  this  last
moment, to do what - for my own heavy sin and miserable agony - I withheld
myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength
about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God
hath granted me! This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all
his might! - with all his own might, and the fiend's! Come, Hester - come!
Support me up yonder scaffold. "
    The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank  and  dignity,  who  stood
more immediately around the clergyman, were so taken by surprise,  and  so
perplexed as to the purport of what they  saw  -  unable  to  receive  the
explanation which most readily presented itself, or to imagine any other -
that they remained silent and inactive spectators of the  judgement  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 ascend its  steps;  while  still  the  little  hand  of  the
sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger  Chillingworth  followed,  as
one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which  they
had all been actors, and well entitled, therefore to  be  present  at  its
closing scene.
    "Hadst thou sought the whole earth over," said he looking  darkly  at
the clergyman, "there was no one place so secret - no high place nor lowly
place, where thou couldst have escaped me - save on this very scaffold!"
    "Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!" answered the minister.
    Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester, with an  expression  of  doubt
and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that there was a
feeble smile upon his lips.
    "Is not this better," murmured he, "than what we dreamed  of  in  the
    I know not! 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. Dimmesdale 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 some deep life-matter - which, if full of sin, was full of
anguish and repentance likewise - was now to be laid  open  to  them.  The
sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave
a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth,  to  put
in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.
    "People of New England!" cried he, with a voice that rose over  them,
high, solemn, and majestic - yet had  always  a  tremor  through  it,  and
sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and
woe - "ye, that have loved me! - ye, that have deemed me holy! - behold me
here, the one sinner of the world! At last - at last! - I stand  upon  the
spot where, seven years since, I should have stood, here, with this woman,
whose  arm,  more  than  the  little  strength  wherewith  I  have   crept
hitherward, 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 shuddered!"
    It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder
of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness  -  and,
still more, the faintness of heart - that was  striving  for  the  mastery
with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward  a
pace before the woman and the children.
    "It was on  him!"  he  continued,  with  a  kind  of  fierceness;  so
determined was he to speak out tile  whole.  "God's  eye  beheld  it!  The
angels were for ever pointing at it! (The Devil knew it 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 mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he  bears  on  his
own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no  more  than  the
type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand  any  here  that  question
God's judgment on a sinner! Behold! Behold, a dreadful witness of it!"
    With a convulsive motion, he tore  away  the  ministerial  band  from
before his breast. It was revealed! But it  were  irreverent  to  describe
that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude
was concentrated on the ghastly miracle; while the minister 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
    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 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. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as  a
messenger of anguish was 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 ransomed 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 I - the sin here 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
reunion. God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most  of
all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon  my
breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep  the  torture
always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant
ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies  been  wanting,  I
had been lost for ever! Praised be His name! His will be done! Farewell!"
    That final word came forth with the minister's expiring  breath.  The
multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and
wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in  this  murmur  that
rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.


    After many days, when time sufficed for the people to  arrange  their
thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene,  there  was  more  than  one
account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold.
    Most of the spectators testified to having 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 necessarily have been conjectural.
Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr.  Dimmesdale,  on  the  very  day  when
Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge,  had  begun  a  course  of
penance - which he afterwards, in so many futile methods, followed  out  -
by inflicting a hideous torture on  himself.  Others  contended  that  the
stigma had not been produced until a long time subsequent, when old  Roger
Chillingworth, being a  potent  necromancer,  had  caused  it  to  appear,
through the agency of magic and poisonous drugs. 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  remorse,
gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly, and at last manifesting  Heaven's
dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter.  The  reader  may
choose among these theories. We have thrown all the light we could acquire
upon the portent, and would gladly, now that it has done its office, erase
its deep print out of our own brain, where long meditation has fixed it in
very 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 Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied  that  there  was  any
mark whatever on his breast, more than on a new-born infant's. Neither, by
their report, had his dying words acknowledged, nor even remotely implied,
any - the slightest - connexion on his part,  with  the  guilt  for  which
Hester Prynne had so long worn the  scarlet  letter.  According  to  these
highly-respectable witnesses, the minister, conscious that he was dying  -
conscious, also, that the reverence of the multitude  placed  him  already
among saints and angels - had desired, by yielding up his  breath  in  the
arms of that fallen woman, to express to the world how utterly nugatory is
the choicest of man's own righteousness.  After  exhausting  life  in  his
efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his  death
a parable, in order to impress on his admirers  the  mighty  and  mournful
lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike. It
was to teach them, that the holiest amongst us has  but  attained  so  far
above his fellows 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 stubborn fidelity  with  which  a  man's  friends  -  and
especially a clergyman's -  will  sometimes  uphold  his  character,  when
proofs, clear as the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letter, establish him
a false and sin-stained creature of the dust.
    The authority which we have chiefly followed - a  manuscript  of  old
date, drawn up from the verbal testimony of individuals, some of whom  had
known Hester Prynne, while others had heard  the  tale  from  contemporary
witnesses fully confirms the view taken in the foregoing pages. Among many
morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable  experience,
we put only this into a sentence: - "Be  true!  Be  true!  Be  true!  Show
freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby  the  worst
may be inferred!"
    Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place,  almost
immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's death, in the appearance and  demeanour
of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth. All his strength and energy -
all his vital and intellectual force -  seemed  at  once  to  desert  him,
insomuch that he  positively  withered  up,  shrivelled  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  revenge;  and  when,  by  its
completest triumph 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  unhumanised  mortal
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
acquaintances - as well Roger Chillingworth as  his  companions  we  would
fain be merciful. It is a curious  subject  of  observation  and  inquiry,
whether hatred and love be not the same thing  at  bottom.  Each,  in  its
utmost   development,   supposes   a   high   degree   of   intimacy   and
heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his
affections and spiritual fife upon another:  each  leaves  the  passionate
lover, or the no less  passionate  hater,  forlorn  and  desolate  by  the
withdrawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, therefore, the  two
passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen  in
a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky  and  lurid  glow.  In  the
spiritual world, the old physician and the minister -  mutual  victims  as
they have been - may, unawares, have found their earthly stock  of  hatred
and antipathy transmuted into golden love.
    Leaving this discussion apart,  we  have  a  matter  of  business  to
communicate to the reader. At old Roger  Chillingworth's  decease,  (which
took place within the year), and by his last will and testament, of  which
Governor Bellingham  and  the  Reverend  Mr.  Wilson  were  executors,  he
bequeathed a very considerable  amount  of  property,  both  here  and  in
England to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne.
    So Pearl - the elf child - the demon offspring, as some people up  to
that epoch persisted in considering her - became the  richest  heiress  of
her day in the New World. Not 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 physician's death, the wearer  of
the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl along with her. For many  years,
though a vague report would now and then find its way  across  the  sea  -
like a shapeless piece of driftwood tossed ashore with the initials  of  a
name upon it - yet  no  tidings  of  them  unquestionably  authentic  were
received. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend.  Its  spell,
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 beheld a  tall  woman  in  a  gray  robe  approach  the
cottage-door. In all those years it had never once been opened; but either
she unlocked it or the decaying wood and iron yielded to her hand, or  she
glided shadow-like through these impediments - and, at  all  events,  went
    On the threshold she paused - turned partly round - for perchance the
idea of entering alone and all so changed, the home of so intense a former
life, was more dreary and desolate than  even  she  could  bear.  But  her
hesitation was only for an  instant,  though  long  enough  to  display  a
scarlet letter on her breast.
    And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long-forsaken shame!
But where was little Pearl? If still alive she must now have been  in  the
flush and bloom of early womanhood. None knew - nor ever learned with  the
fulness of perfect  certainty  -  whether  the  elf-child  had  gone  thus
untimely to a maiden grave; or whether her  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  with
some inhabitant of another land. Letters came, with  armorial  seals  upon
them, though of bearings unknown to English heraldry. In the cottage there
were articles of comfort and luxury such as Hester never cared to use, but
which only wealth could have purchased and  affection  have  imagined  for
her. There were trifles too,  little  ornaments,  beautiful  tokens  of  a
continual remembrance, that must have been wrought by delicate fingers  at
the impulse of a fond heart  And  once  Hester  was  seen  embroidering  a
baby-garment with such a lavish richness of golden  fancy  as  would  have
raised a public tumult had any infant thus apparelled, been shown  to  our
sober-hued community.
    In fine, the gossips of that day believed - and Mr. 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
    But there was a more real  life  for  Hester  Prynne,  here,  in  New
England, that 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
the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never  afterwards  did
it quit her bosom. But, in the lapse  of  the  toilsome,  thoughtful,  and
self-devoted years that made up Hester's life, the scarlet  letter  ceased
to be a stigma which attracted  the  world's  scorn  and  bitterness,  and
became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with  awe,
yet with 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  especially  -  in  the
continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted,  wronged,  misplaced,  or
erring and sinful  passion  -  or  with  the  dreary  burden  of  a  heart
unyielded,  because  unvalued  and  unsought  came  to  Hester's  cottage,
demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester comforted
and counselled them, as best she might. She assured them, too, of her firm
belief that, at some brighter period, when the  world  should  have  grown
ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order
to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of
mutual happiness. Earlier in life, Hester had  vainly  imagined  that  she
herself might be the destined prophetess, but had  long  since  recognised
the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious  truth  should
be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with  shame,  or  even
burdened with a life-long sorrow. The angel  and  apostle  of  the  coming
revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure,  and  beautiful,  and
wise; moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium  of  joy;
and showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of  a
life successful to such an end.
    So said Hester Prynne, and glanced  her  sad  eyes  downward  at  the
scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved,  near
an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside  which  King's  Chapel
has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave,  yet  with  a
space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to  mingle.
Yet one 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
purport - there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It  bore
a device, a herald's wording of which may serve  for  a  motto  and  brief
description of our now concluded legend; so sombre  is  it,  and  relieved
only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow: -

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