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VIII.  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 contemporaries.

Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests--one,
the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom the reader may remember as
having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester
Prynne's disgrace; and, in close companionship with him, old
Roger Chillingworth, a person of great skill in physic, who for
two or three years past had been settled in the town.  It was
understood that this learned man was the physician as well as
friend of the young minister, 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.  "I 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!"

"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 mother!"

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

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

"Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern regard on
the wearer of the scarlet letter, "there hath been much question
concerning thee of late.  The point hath been weightily
discussed, whether we, that are of authority and influence, do
well 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 hither.

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 thereby 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.  "I feared the woman
had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"

"Oh, not so!--not so!" continued Mr. Dimmesdale.  "She
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

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

"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.
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IX.  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 and 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

"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

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

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 had the graveyard, originally Isaac Johnson's
home-field, on one side, and so was well adapted to call up
serious reflections, suited to their respective employments, in
both minister and man of physic.  The motherly care of the good
widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny
exposure, and heavy window-curtains, to create a 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 secure.
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X.  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 had
perchance shown indications that encouraged him.

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

Then after long search into the minister's dim interior, and
turning over many precious materials, in the 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 the 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 plants.

"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

"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

"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 to gather the prickly burrs from
a tall burdock which grew beside the tomb.  Taking a handful of
these, she arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter
that decorated the maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their
nature was, 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 crime.

"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

"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 eye.

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

After a brief pause, the physician turned away.

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

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

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

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

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XII.  The Minister's Vigil

Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and perhaps
actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism, Mr.
Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so long since, Hester
Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy.  The
same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the
storm or sunshine of seven long years, and 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 unvaried pall of
cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon.
If the same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while
Hester Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been
summoned forth, they would have discerned no face above the
platform nor hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark
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

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

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, he beheld,
within its illuminated circle, his brother clergyman--or, to
speak more accurately, his professional father, as well as
highly valued friend--the Reverend Mr. Wilson, who, as Mr.
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 going 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 he knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as
acute--he recognised the tones of little Pearl.

"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

"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 than they had ever borne before.  And there stood
the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne,
with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little
Pearl, herself a symbol, and the 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

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 occurred
with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as
so many revelations from a supernatural source.  Thus, a blazing
spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows 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 pointing 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 annihilated.

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

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 noon-tide!"

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

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

"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."
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XIII.  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 deserved.

The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the community, were
longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities
than the people.  The prejudices 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
safe.  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 of a broken
chain.  The world's law was no law for her mind.  It was an age in
which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken a more
active and a wider range than for many centuries before.  Men of
the sword had overthrown nobles and kings.  Men bolder than these
had overthrown and rearranged--not actually, but within the
sphere of theory, which was their most real abode--the whole
system of 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 of thought had something to wreak itself
upon.  Providence, in the person of this little girl, had
assigned to Hester's charge, the germ and blossom of 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 a position where so much evil was to be foreboded and nothing
auspicious to be hoped.  Her only justification lay in the fact
that she had been able to discern no method of rescuing him from
a blacker ruin than had overwhelmed herself except by
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
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XIV.  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, and peeped curiously into a pool, left
by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in.
Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening
curls around her head, and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image
of a little maid whom Pearl, having no other 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

"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 an eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully
guarded look.  It seemed to be his wish and purpose to mask this
expression with a smile, but the latter played him false, and
flickered over his visage so 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

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

"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

"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 this?"

"All this, and more," said Hester.

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

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

"I have left 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.
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XV.  Hester and Pearl

So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figure with a face that
haunted men's memories longer than they liked--took leave of
Hester 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 heaven?

"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 it her crime most to be repented of, that
she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his
hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle
and melt into his own.  And it seemed a fouler offence committed
by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him,
that, in the time when her 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

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 heart!"

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

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

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

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

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

"What does the letter mean, mother?  and why dost thou wear it?
and why does the minister 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

"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!"
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XVI.  A Forest Walk

Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to
Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior
consequences, the true 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 nighttime?"

"Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?" asked Hester.
"Not that I remember," said the child.  "If thou fearest to leave
me in our 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 underbrush, 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

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

"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 arm?"

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

"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.
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XVII.   The Pastor and his Parishioner

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

"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

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

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 peace?"

"No, Hester--no!" replied the clergyman.  "There is no substance
in it!  It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me!  Of
penance, I have had enough!  Of penitence, there has been none!
Else, I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock
holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see 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 be known as the vilest of all sinners,
methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby.  Even thus much
of truth would save me!  But now, it is all falsehood!--all
emptiness!--all death!"

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

"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 feet.

"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

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

With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her 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 so!"

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

"Hush, Hester!" said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising from the ground.
"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

"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 cause!"

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

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

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

"Is the world, then, so narrow?" exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing
her deep eyes on the minister's, and 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

"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!
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