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Tema: Nathaniel Hawthorne ~ Nataniel Hotorn  (Pročitano 21468 puta)
05. Okt 2006, 09:21:38
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The Scarlet Letter




Editor's Note

Nathaniel Hawthorne was already a man of forty-six, and a tale
writer of some twenty-four years' standing, when "The Scarlet
Letter" appeared.  He was born at Salem, Mass., on July 4th, 1804,
son of a sea-captain.  He led there a shy and rather sombre life;
of few artistic encouragements, yet not wholly uncongenial, his
moody, intensely meditative temperament being considered.  Its
colours and shadows are marvelously reflected in his "Twice-Told
Tales" and other short stories, the product of his first literary
period.  Even his college days at Bowdoin did not quite break
through his acquired and inherited reserve; but beneath it all,
his faculty of divining men and women was exercised with almost
uncanny prescience and subtlety.  "The Scarlet Letter," which
explains as much of this unique imaginative art, as is to be
gathered from reading his highest single achievement, yet needs
to be ranged with his other writings, early and late, to have its
last effect.  In the year that saw it published, he began "The
House of the Seven Gables," a later romance or prose-tragedy of
the Puritan-American community as he had himself known it--
defrauded of art and the joy of life, "starving for symbols" as
Emerson has it.  Nathaniel Hawthorne died at Plymouth, New
Hampshire, on May 18th, 1864.

The following is the table of his romances,
stories, and other works:

Fanshawe, published anonymously, 1826; Twice-Told Tales, 1st
Series, 1837; 2nd Series, 1842; Grandfather's Chair, a history
for youth, 1845: Famous Old People (Grandfather's Chair), 1841
Liberty Tree: with the last words of Grandfather's Chair, 1842;
Biographical Stories for Children, 1842; Mosses from an Old
Manse, 1846; The Scarlet Letter, 1850; The House of the Seven
Gables, 1851: True Stories from History and Biography (the whole
History of Grandfather's Chair), 1851 A Wonder Book for Girls and
Boys, 1851; The Snow Image and other Tales, 1851: The Blithedale
Romance, 1852; Life of Franklin Pierce, 1852; Tanglewood Tales
(2nd Series of the Wonder Book), 1853; A Rill from the Town-Pump,
with remarks, by Telba, 1857; The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of
Monte Beni (4 EDITOR'S NOTE) (published in England under the
title of "Transformation"), 1860, Our Old Home, 1863; Dolliver
Romance (1st Part in "Atlantic Monthly"), 1864; in 3 Parts, 1876;
Pansie, a fragment, Hawthorne' last literary effort, 1864;
American Note-Books, 1868; English Note Books, edited by Sophia
Hawthorne, 1870; French and Italian Note Books, 1871; Septimius
Felton; or, the Elixir of Life (from the "Atlantic Monthly"),
1872; Doctor Grimshawe's Secret, with Preface and Notes by
Julian Hawthorne, 1882.

Tales of the White Hills, Legends of New England, Legends of the
Province House, 1877, contain tales which had already been
printed in book form in "Twice-Told Tales" and the "Mosses"
"Sketched and Studies," 1883.

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

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

Biography, etc.; A. H. Japp (pseud.  H. A. Page), Memoir of N.
Hawthorne, 1872; J. T. Field's "Yesterdays with Authors," 1873 G.
P. Lathrop, "A Study of Hawthorne," 1876; Henry James English Men
of Letters, 1879; Julian Hawthorne, "Nathaniel Hawthorne and his
wife," 1885; Moncure D. Conway, Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
1891; Analytical Index of Hawthorne's Works, by E. M. O'Connor
1882.



Contents


    Introductory.     The Custom-House

    Chapter I.        The Prison-Door

    Chapter II.       The Market-Place

    Chapter III.      The Recognition

    Chapter IV.       The Interview

    Chapter V.        Hester at her Needle

    Chapter VI.       Pearl

    Chapter VII.      The Governor's Hall

    Chapter VIII.     The Elf-Child and the Minister

    Chapter IX.       The Leech

    Chapter X.        The Leech and his Patient

    Chapter XI.       The Interior of a Heart

    Chapter XII.      The Minister's Vigil

    Chapter XIII.     Another View of Hester

    Chapter XIV.      Hester and the Physician

    Chapter XV.       Hester and Pearl

    Chapter XVI.      A Forest Walk

    Chapter XVII.     The Pastor and his Parishioner

    Chapter XVIII.    A Flood of Sunshine

    Chapter XIX.      The Child at the Brook-Side

    Chapter XX.       The Minister in a Maze

    Chapter XXI.      The New England Holiday

    Chapter XXII.     The Procession

    Chapter XXIII.    The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter

    Chapter XXIV.     Conclusion
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The Custom-House

Introductory to "The Scarlet Letter"


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

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

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

The pavement round about the above-described edifice--which we
may as well name at once as the Custom-House of the port--has
grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of
late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business.  In
some months of the year, however, there often chances a forenoon
when affairs move onward with a livelier tread.  Such occasions
might remind the elderly citizen of that period, before the last
war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned,
as she is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners, who permit
her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell,
needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at
New York or Boston.  On some such morning, when three or four
vessels happen to have arrived at once usually from Africa or
South America--or to be on the verge of their departure
thitherward, there is a sound of frequent feet passing briskly
up and down the granite steps.  Here, before his own wife has
greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in
port, with his vessel's papers under his arm in a tarnished tin
box.  Here, too, comes his owner, cheerful, sombre, gracious or
in the sulks, accordingly as his scheme of the now accomplished
voyage has been realized in merchandise that will readily be
turned to gold, or has buried him under a bulk of incommodities
such as nobody will care to rid him of.  Here, likewise--the germ
of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded, careworn merchant--we
have the smart young clerk, who gets the taste of traffic as a
wolf-cub does of blood, and already sends adventures in his
master's ships, when he had better be sailing mimic boats upon a
mill-pond.  Another figure in the scene is the outward-bound
sailor, in quest of a protection; or the recently arrived one,
pale and feeble, seeking a passport to the hospital.  Nor must we
forget the captains of the rusty little schooners that bring
firewood from the British provinces; a rough-looking set of
tarpaulins, without the alertness of the Yankee aspect, but
contributing an item of no slight importance to our decaying
trade.

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

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

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

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

Doubtless, however, either of these stern and black-browed
Puritans would have thought it quite a sufficient retribution
for his sins that, after so long a lapse of years, the old trunk
of the family tree, with so much venerable moss upon it, should
have borne, as its topmost bough, an idler like myself.  No aim
that I have ever cherished would they recognise as laudable; no
success of mine--if my life, beyond its domestic scope, had ever
been brightened by success--would they deem otherwise than
worthless, if not positively disgraceful.  "What is he?" murmurs
one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other.  "A writer of
story books!  What kind of business in life--what mode of
glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and
generation--may that be?  Why, the degenerate fellow might as
well have been a fiddler!"  Such are the compliments bandied
between my great grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time!
And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits of their
nature have intertwined themselves with mine.

Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and childhood, by
these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since
subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as
I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member; but seldom
or never, on the other hand, after the first two generations,
performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting forward a
claim to public notice.  Gradually, they have sunk almost out of
sight; as old houses, here and there about the streets, get
covered half-way to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil.
From father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed the
sea; a grey-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from
the quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took
the hereditary place before the mast, confronting the salt spray
and the gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire.
The boy, also in due time, passed from the forecastle to the
cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned from his
world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with
the natal earth.  This long connexion of a family with one spot,
as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the
human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in
the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him.  It is not
love but instinct.  The new inhabitant--who came himself from a
foreign land, or whose father or grandfather came--has little
claim to be called a Salemite; he has no conception of the
oyster-like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his
third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his
successive generations have been embedded.  It is no matter that
the place is joyless for him; that he is weary of the old wooden
houses, the mud and dust, the dead level of site and sentiment,
the chill east wind, and the chillest of social
atmospheres;--all these, and whatever faults besides he may see
or imagine, are nothing to the purpose.  The spell survives, and
just as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly
paradise.  So has it been in my case.  I felt it almost as a
destiny to make Salem my home; so that the mould of features and
cast of character which had all along been familiar here--ever,
as one representative of the race lay down in the grave, another
assuming, as it were, his sentry-march along the main
street--might still in my little day be seen and recognised in
the old town.  Nevertheless, this very sentiment is an evidence
that the connexion, which has become an unhealthy one, should at
last be severed.  Human nature will not flourish, any more than
a potato, if it be planted and re-planted, for too long a series
of generations, in the same worn-out soil.  My children have had
other birth-places, and, so far as their fortunes may be within
my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

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

I doubt greatly--or, rather, I do not doubt at all--whether any
public functionary of the United States, either in the civil or
military line, has ever had such a patriarchal body of veterans
under his orders as myself.  The whereabouts of the Oldest
Inhabitant was at once settled when I looked at them.  For
upwards of twenty years before this epoch, the independent
position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House out of
the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which makes the tenure
of office generally so fragile.  A soldier--New England's most
distinguished soldier--he stood firmly on the pedestal of his
gallant services; and, himself secure in the wise liberality of
the successive administrations through which he had held office,
he had been the safety of his subordinates in many an hour of
danger and heart-quake.  General Miller was radically
conservative; a man over whose kindly nature habit had no slight
influence; attaching himself strongly to familiar faces, and
with difficulty moved to change, even when change might have
brought unquestionable improvement.  Thus, on taking charge of my
department, I found few but aged men.  They were ancient
sea-captains, for the most part, who, after being tossed on
every sea, and standing up sturdily against life's tempestuous
blast, had finally drifted into this quiet nook, where, with
little to disturb them, except the periodical terrors of a
Presidential election, they one and all acquired a new lease of
existence.  Though by no means less liable than their fellow-men
to age and infirmity, they had evidently some talisman or other
that kept death at bay.  Two or three of their number, as I was
assured, being gouty and rheumatic, or perhaps bed-ridden, never
dreamed of making their appearance at the Custom-House during a
large part of the year; but, after a torpid winter, would creep
out into the warm sunshine of May or June, go lazily about what
they termed duty, and, at their own leisure and convenience,
betake themselves to bed again.  I must plead guilty to the
charge of abbreviating the official breath of more than one of
these venerable servants of the republic.  They were allowed, on
my representation, to rest from their arduous labours, and soon
afterwards--as if their sole principle of life had been zeal for
their country's service--as I verily believe it was--withdrew to
a better world.  It is a pious consolation to me that, through my
interference, a sufficient space was allowed them for repentance
of the evil and corrupt practices into which, as a matter of
course, every Custom-House officer must be supposed to fall.
Neither the front nor the back entrance of the Custom-House
opens on the road to Paradise.

The greater part of my officers were Whigs.  It was well for
their venerable brotherhood that the new Surveyor was not a
politician, and though a faithful Democrat in principle, neither
received nor held his office with any reference to political
services.  Had it been otherwise--had an active politician been
put into this influential post, to assume the easy task of
making head against a Whig Collector, whose infirmities withheld
him from the personal administration of his office--hardly a man
of the old corps would have drawn the breath of official life
within a month after the exterminating angel had come up the
Custom-House steps.  According to the received code in such
matters, it would have been nothing short of duty, in a
politician, to bring every one of those white heads under the
axe of the guillotine.  It was plain enough to discern that the
old fellows dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands.  It
pained, and at the same time amused me, to behold the terrors
that attended my advent, to see a furrowed cheek, weather-beaten
by half a century of storm, turn ashy pale at the glance of so
harmless an individual as myself; to detect, as one or another
addressed me, the tremor of a voice which, in long-past days,
had been wont to bellow through a speaking-trumpet, hoarsely
enough to frighten Boreas himself to silence.  They knew, these
excellent old persons, that, by all established rule--and, as
regarded some of them, weighed by their own lack of efficiency
for business--they ought to have given place to younger men,
more orthodox in politics, and altogether fitter than themselves
to serve our common Uncle.  I knew it, too, but could never quite
find in my heart to act upon the knowledge.  Much and deservedly
to my own discredit, therefore, and considerably to the
detriment of my official conscience, they continued, during my
incumbency, to creep about the wharves, and loiter up and down
the Custom-House steps.  They spent a good deal of time, also,
asleep in their accustomed corners, with their chairs tilted
back against the walls; awaking, however, once or twice in the
forenoon, to bore one another with the several thousandth
repetition of old sea-stories and mouldy jokes, that had grown
to be passwords and countersigns among them.

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

Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, it is my
foolish habit to contract a kindness for them.  The better part
of my companion's character, if it have a better part, is that
which usually comes uppermost in my regard, and forms the type
whereby I recognise the man.  As most of these old Custom-House
officers had good traits, and as my position in reference to
them, being paternal and protective, was favourable to the
growth of friendly sentiments, I soon grew to like them all.  It
was pleasant in the summer forenoons--when the fervent heat,
that almost liquefied the rest of the human family, merely
communicated a genial warmth to their half torpid systems--it
was pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry, a row of
them all tipped against the wall, as usual; while the frozen
witticisms of past generations were thawed out, and came
bubbling with laughter from their lips.  Externally, the jollity
of aged men has much in common with the mirth of children; the
intellect, any more than a deep sense of humour, has little to
do with the matter; it is, with both, a gleam that plays upon
the surface, and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect alike to the
green branch and grey, mouldering trunk.  In one case, however,
it is real sunshine; in the other, it more resembles the
phosphorescent glow of decaying wood.

It would be sad injustice, the reader must understand, to
represent all my excellent old friends as in their dotage.  In
the first place, my coadjutors were not invariably old; there
were men among them in their strength and prime, of marked
ability and energy, and altogether superior to the sluggish and
dependent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them.
Then, moreover, the white locks of age were sometimes found to
be the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair.  But,
as respects the majority of my corps of veterans, there will be
no wrong done if I characterize them generally as a set of
wearisome old souls, who had gathered nothing worth preservation
from their varied experience of life.  They seemed to have flung
away all the golden grain of practical wisdom, which they had
enjoyed so many opportunities of harvesting, and most carefully
to have stored their memory with the husks.  They spoke with far
more interest and unction of their morning's breakfast, or
yesterday's, to-day's, or tomorrow's dinner, than of the
shipwreck of forty or fifty years ago, and all the world's
wonders which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes.

The father of the Custom-House--the patriarch, not only of this
little squad of officials, but, I am bold to say, of the
respectable body of tide-waiters all over the United States--was
a certain permanent Inspector.  He might truly be termed a
legitimate son of the revenue system, dyed in the wool, or
rather born in the purple; since his sire, a Revolutionary
colonel, and formerly collector of the port, had created an
office for him, and appointed him to fill it, at a period of the
early ages which few living men can now remember.  This
Inspector, when I first knew him, was a man of fourscore years,
or thereabouts, and certainly one of the most wonderful
specimens of winter-green that you would be likely to discover
in a lifetime's search.  With his florid cheek, his compact
figure smartly arrayed in a bright-buttoned blue coat, his brisk
and vigorous step, and his hale and hearty aspect, altogether he
seemed--not young, indeed--but a kind of new contrivance of
Mother Nature in the shape of man, whom age and infirmity had no
business to touch.  His voice and laugh, which perpetually
re-echoed through the Custom-House, had nothing of the tremulous
quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance; they came strutting
out of his lungs, like the crow of a cock, or the blast of a
clarion.  Looking at him merely as an animal--and there was very
little else to look at--he was a most satisfactory object, from
the thorough healthfulness and wholesomeness of his system, and
his capacity, at that extreme age, to enjoy all, or nearly all,
the delights which he had ever aimed at or conceived of.  The
careless security of his life in the Custom-House, on a regular
income, and with but slight and infrequent apprehensions of
removal, had no doubt contributed to make time pass lightly over
him.  The original and more potent causes, however, lay in the
rare perfection of his animal nature, the moderate proportion of
intellect, and the very trifling admixture of moral and
spiritual ingredients; these latter qualities, indeed, being in
barely enough measure to keep the old gentleman from walking on
all-fours.  He possessed no power of thought, no depth of
feeling, no troublesome sensibilities: nothing, in short, but a
few commonplace instincts, which, aided by the cheerful temper
which grew inevitably out of his physical well-being, did duty
very respectably, and to general acceptance, in lieu of a heart.
He had been the husband of three wives, all long since dead; the
father of twenty children, most of whom, at every age of
childhood or maturity, had likewise returned to dust.  Here, one
would suppose, might have been sorrow enough to imbue the
sunniest disposition through and through with a sable tinge.  Not
so with our old Inspector.  One brief sigh sufficed to carry off
the entire burden of these dismal reminiscences.  The next moment
he was as ready for sport as any unbreeched infant: far readier
than the Collector's junior clerk, who at nineteen years was
much the elder and graver man of the two.

I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage with, I
think, livelier curiosity than any other form of humanity there
presented to my notice.  He was, in truth, a rare phenomenon; so
perfect, in one point of view; so shallow, so delusive, so
impalpable such an absolute nonentity, in every other.  My
conclusion was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing,
as I have already said, but instincts; and yet, withal, so
cunningly had the few materials of his character been put
together that there was no painful perception of deficiency,
but, on my part, an entire contentment with what I found in him.
It might be difficult--and it was so--to conceive how he should
exist hereafter, so earthly and sensuous did he seem; but surely
his existence here, admitting that it was to terminate with his
last breath, had been not unkindly given; with no higher moral
responsibilities than the beasts of the field, but with a larger
scope of enjoyment than theirs, and with all their blessed
immunity from the dreariness and duskiness of age.

One point in which he had vastly the advantage over his
four-footed brethren was his ability to recollect the good
dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of
his life to eat.  His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait;
and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle
or an oyster.  As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither
sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all
his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit
of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him
expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most
eligible methods of preparing them for the table.  His
reminiscences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the
actual banquet, seemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey
under one's very nostrils.  There were flavours on his palate
that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years,
and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop
which he had just devoured for his breakfast.  I have heard him
smack his lips over dinners, every guest at which, except
himself, had long been food for worms.  It was marvellous to
observe how the ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising
up before him--not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful
for his former appreciation, and seeking to reduplicate an
endless series of enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual: a
tenderloin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of
pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey,
which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder
Adams, would be remembered; while all the subsequent experience
of our race, and all the events that brightened or darkened his
individual career, had gone over him with as little permanent
effect as the passing breeze.  The chief tragic event of the old
man's life, so far as I could judge, was his mishap with a
certain goose, which lived and died some twenty or forty years
ago: a goose of most promising figure, but which, at table,
proved so inveterately tough, that the carving-knife would make
no impression on its carcase, and it could only be divided with
an axe and handsaw.

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

There is one likeness, without which my gallery of Custom-House
portraits would be strangely incomplete, but which my
comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to
sketch only in the merest outline.  It is that of the Collector,
our gallant old General, who, after his brilliant military
service, subsequently to which he had ruled over a wild Western
territory, had come hither, twenty years before, to spend the
decline of his varied and honourable life.

The brave soldier had already numbered, nearly or quite, his
three-score years and ten, and was pursuing the remainder of his
earthly march, burdened with infirmities which even the martial
music of his own spirit-stirring recollections could do little
towards lightening.  The step was palsied now, that had been
foremost in the charge.  It was only with the assistance of a
servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on the iron balustrade,
that he could slowly and painfully ascend the Custom-House
steps, and, with a toilsome progress across the floor, attain
his customary chair beside the fireplace.  There he used to sit,
gazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures
that came and went, amid the rustle of papers, the administering
of oaths, the discussion of business, and the casual talk of the
office; all which sounds and circumstances seemed but
indistinctly to impress his senses, and hardly to make their way
into his inner sphere of contemplation.  His countenance, in this
repose, was mild and kindly.  If his notice was sought, an
expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his
features, proving that there was light within him, and that it
was only the outward medium of the intellectual lamp that
obstructed the rays in their passage.  The closer you penetrated
to the substance of his mind, the sounder it appeared.  When no
longer called upon to speak or listen--either of which
operations cost him an evident effort--his face would briefly
subside into its former not uncheerful quietude.  It was not
painful to behold this look; for, though dim, it had not the
imbecility of decaying age.  The framework of his nature,
originally strong and massive, was not yet crumpled into ruin.

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

Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with affection--for,
slight as was the communication between us, my feeling towards
him, like that of all bipeds and quadrupeds who knew him, might
not improperly be termed so,--I could discern the main points of
his portrait.  It was marked with the noble and heroic qualities
which showed it to be not a mere accident, but of good right,
that he had won a distinguished name.  His spirit could never, I
conceive, have been characterized by an uneasy activity; it
must, at any period of his life, have required an impulse to set
him in motion; but once stirred up, with obstacles to overcome,
and an adequate object to be attained, it was not in the man to
give out or fail.  The heat that had formerly pervaded his
nature, and which was not yet extinct, was never of the kind
that flashes and flickers in a blaze; but rather a deep red
glow, as of iron in a furnace.  Weight, solidity, firmness--this
was the expression of his repose, even in such decay as had
crept untimely over him at the period of which I speak.  But I
could imagine, even then, that, under some excitement which
should go deeply into his consciousness--roused by a trumpet's
peal, loud enough to awaken all of his energies that were not
dead, but only slumbering--he was yet capable of flinging off
his infirmities like a sick man's gown, dropping the staff of
age to seize a battle-sword, and starting up once more a
warrior.  And, in so intense a moment his demeanour would have
still been calm.  Such an exhibition, however, was but to be
pictured in fancy; not to be anticipated, nor desired.  What I
saw in him--as evidently as the indestructible ramparts of Old
Ticonderoga, already cited as the most appropriate simile--was
the features of stubborn and ponderous endurance, which might
well have amounted to obstinacy in his earlier days; of
integrity, that, like most of his other endowments, lay in a
somewhat heavy mass, and was just as unmalleable or unmanageable
as a ton of iron ore; and of benevolence which, fiercely as he
led the bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort Erie, I take to be of
quite as genuine a stamp as what actuates any or all the
polemical philanthropists of the age.  He had slain men with his
own hand, for aught I know--certainly, they had fallen like
blades of grass at the sweep of the scythe before the charge to
which his spirit imparted its triumphant energy--but, be that as
it might, there was never in his heart so much cruelty as would
have brushed the down off a butterfly's wing.  I have not known
the man to whose innate kindliness I would more confidently make
an appeal.

Many characteristics--and those, too, which contribute not the
least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch--must have
vanished, or been obscured, before I met the General.  All merely
graceful attributes are usually the most evanescent; nor does
nature adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty, that
have their roots and proper nutriment only in the chinks and
crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers over the ruined
fortress of Ticonderoga.  Still, even in respect of grace and
beauty, there were points well worth noting.  A ray of humour,
now and then, would make its way through the veil of dim
obstruction, and glimmer pleasantly upon our faces.  A trait of
native elegance, seldom seen in the masculine character after
childhood or early youth, was shown in the General's fondness
for the sight and fragrance of flowers.  An old soldier might be
supposed to prize only the bloody laurel on his brow; but here
was one who seemed to have a young girl's appreciation of the
floral tribe.

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

There was one thing that much aided me in renewing and
re-creating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier--the
man of true and simple energy.  It was the recollection of those
memorable words of his--"I'll try, Sir"--spoken on the very
verge of a desperate and heroic enterprise, and breathing the
soul and spirit of New England hardihood, comprehending all
perils, and encountering all.  If, in our country, valour were
rewarded by heraldic honour, this phrase--which it seems so easy
to speak, but which only he, with such a task of danger and
glory before him, has ever spoken--would be the best and fittest
of all mottoes for the General's shield of arms.

It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual
health to be brought into habits of companionship with
individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits,
and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to
appreciate.  The accidents of my life have often afforded me this
advantage, but never with more fulness and variety than during
my continuance in office.  There was one man, especially, the
observation of whose character gave me a new idea of talent.  His
gifts were emphatically those of a man of business; prompt,
acute, clear-minded; with an eye that saw through all
perplexities, and a faculty of arrangement that made them vanish
as by the waving of an enchanter's wand.  Bred up from boyhood in
the Custom-House, it was his proper field of activity; and the
many intricacies of business, so harassing to the interloper,
presented themselves before him with the regularity of a
perfectly comprehended system.  In my contemplation, he stood as
the ideal of his class.  He was, indeed, the Custom-House in
himself; or, at all events, the mainspring that kept its
variously revolving wheels in motion; for, in an institution
like this, where its officers are appointed to subserve their
own profit and convenience, and seldom with a leading reference
to their fitness for the duty to be performed, they must
perforce seek elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them.
Thus, by an inevitable necessity, as a magnet attracts
steel-filings, so did our man of business draw to himself the
difficulties which everybody met with.  With an easy
condescension, and kind forbearance towards our
stupidity--which, to his order of mind, must have seemed little
short of crime--would he forth-with, by the merest touch of his
finger, make the incomprehensible as clear as daylight.  The
merchants valued him not less than we, his esoteric friends.  His
integrity was perfect; it was a law of nature with him, rather
than a choice or a principle; nor can it be otherwise than the
main condition of an intellect so remarkably clear and accurate
as his to be honest and regular in the administration of
affairs.  A stain on his conscience, as to anything that came
within the range of his vocation, would trouble such a man very
much in the same way, though to a far greater degree, than an
error in the balance of an account, or an ink-blot on the fair
page of a book of record.  Here, in a word--and it is a rare
instance in my life--I had met with a person thoroughly adapted
to the situation which he held.

Such were some of the people with whom I now found myself
connected.  I took it in good part, at the hands of Providence,
that I was thrown into a position so little akin to my past
habits; and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever
profit was to be had.  After my fellowship of toil and
impracticable schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm;
after living for three years within the subtle influence of an
intellect like Emerson's; after those wild, free days on the
Assabeth, indulging fantastic speculations, beside our fire of
fallen boughs, with Ellery Channing; after talking with Thoreau
about pine-trees and Indian relics in his hermitage at Walden;
after growing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement
of Hillard's culture; after becoming imbued with poetic
sentiment at Longfellow's hearthstone--it was time, at length,
that I should exercise other faculties of my nature, and nourish
myself with food for which I had hitherto had little appetite.
Even the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a
man who had known Alcott.  I looked upon it as an evidence, in
some measure, of a system naturally well balanced, and lacking
no essential part of a thorough organization, that, with such
associates to remember, I could mingle at once with men of
altogether different qualities, and never murmur at the change.

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

Meanwhile, there I was, a Surveyor of the Revenue and, so far as
I have been able to understand, as good a Surveyor as need be.  A
man of thought, fancy, and sensibility (had he ten times the
Surveyor's proportion of those qualities), may, at any time, be
a man of affairs, if he will only choose to give himself the
trouble.  My fellow-officers, and the merchants and sea-captains
with whom my official duties brought me into any manner of
connection, viewed me in no other light, and probably knew me in
no other character.  None of them, I presume, had ever read a
page of my inditing, or would have cared a fig the more for me
if they had read them all; nor would it have mended the matter,
in the least, had those same unprofitable pages been written
with a pen like that of Burns or of Chaucer, each of whom was a
Custom-House officer in his day, as well as I. It is a good
lesson--though it may often be a hard one--for a man who has
dreamed of literary fame, and of making for himself a rank among
the world's dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of the
narrow circle in which his claims are recognized and to find how
utterly devoid of significance, beyond that circle, is all that
he achieves, and all he aims at.  I know not that I especially
needed the lesson, either in the way of warning or rebuke; but
at any rate, I learned it thoroughly: nor, it gives me pleasure
to reflect, did the truth, as it came home to my perception,
ever cost me a pang, or require to be thrown off in a sigh.  In
the way of literary talk, it is true, the Naval Officer--an
excellent fellow, who came into the office with me, and went out
only a little later--would often engage me in a discussion about
one or the other of his favourite topics, Napoleon or
Shakespeare.  The Collector's junior clerk, too a young gentleman
who, it was whispered occasionally covered a sheet of Uncle
Sam's letter paper with what (at the distance of a few yards)
looked very much like poetry--used now and then to speak to me
of books, as matters with which I might possibly be conversant.
This was my all of lettered intercourse; and it was quite
sufficient for my necessities.

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

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

In the second storey of the Custom-House there is a large room,
in which the brick-work and naked rafters have never been
covered with panelling and plaster.  The edifice--originally
projected on a scale adapted to the old commercial enterprise of
the port, and with an idea of subsequent prosperity destined
never to be realized--contains far more space than its occupants
know what to do with.  This airy hall, therefore, over the
Collector's apartments, remains unfinished to this day, and, in
spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon its dusky beams, appears
still to await the labour of the carpenter and mason.  At one end
of the room, in a recess, were a number of barrels piled one
upon another, containing bundles of official documents.  Large
quantities of similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor.  It was
sorrowful to think how many days, and weeks, and months, and
years of toil had been wasted on these musty papers, which were
now only an encumbrance on earth, and were hidden away in this
forgotten corner, never more to be glanced at by human eyes.  But
then, what reams of other manuscripts--filled, not with the
dulness of official formalities, but with the thought of
inventive brains and the rich effusion of deep hearts--had gone
equally to oblivion; and that, moreover, without serving a
purpose in their day, as these heaped-up papers had,
and--saddest of all--without purchasing for their writers the
comfortable livelihood which the clerks of the Custom-House had
gained by these worthless scratchings of the pen.  Yet not
altogether worthless, perhaps, as materials of local history.
Here, no doubt, statistics of the former commerce of Salem might
be discovered, and memorials of her princely merchants--old King
Derby--old Billy Gray--old Simon Forrester--and many another
magnate in his day, whose powdered head, however, was scarcely
in the tomb before his mountain pile of wealth began to dwindle.
The founders of the greater part of the families which now
compose the aristocracy of Salem might here be traced, from the
petty and obscure beginnings of their traffic, at periods
generally much posterior to the Revolution, upward to what their
children look upon as long-established rank,

Prior to the Revolution there is a dearth of records; the
earlier documents and archives of the Custom-House having,
probably, been carried off to Halifax, when all the king's
officials accompanied the British army in its flight from
Boston.  It has often been a matter of regret with me; for, going
back, perhaps, to the days of the Protectorate, those papers
must have contained many references to forgotten or remembered
men, and to antique customs, which would have affected me with
the same pleasure as when I used to pick up Indian arrow-heads
in the field near the Old Manse.

But, one idle and rainy day, it was my fortune to make a
discovery of some little interest.  Poking and burrowing into the
heaped-up rubbish in the corner, unfolding one and another
document, and reading the names of vessels that had long ago
foundered at sea or rotted at the wharves, and those of
merchants never heard of now on 'Change, nor very readily
decipherable on their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matters
with the saddened, weary, half-reluctant interest which we
bestow on the corpse of dead activity--and exerting my fancy,
sluggish with little use, to raise up from these dry bones an
image of the old town's brighter aspect, when India was a new
region, and only Salem knew the way thither--I chanced to lay my
hand on a small package, carefully done up in a piece of ancient
yellow parchment.  This envelope had the air of an official
record of some period long past, when clerks engrossed their
stiff and formal chirography on more substantial materials than
at present.  There was something about it that quickened an
instinctive curiosity, and made me undo the faded red tape that
tied up the package, with the sense that a treasure would here
be brought to light.  Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment
cover, I found it to be a commission, under the hand and seal of
Governor Shirley, in favour of one Jonathan Pue, as Surveyor of
His Majesty's Customs for the Port of Salem, in the Province of
Massachusetts Bay.  I remembered to have read (probably in Felt's
"Annals") a notice of the decease of Mr. Surveyor Pue, about
fourscore years ago; and likewise, in a newspaper of recent
times, an account of the digging up of his remains in the little
graveyard of St. Peter's Church, during the renewal of that
edifice.  Nothing, if I rightly call to mind, was left of my
respected predecessor, save an imperfect skeleton, and some
fragments of apparel, and a wig of majestic frizzle, which,
unlike the head that it once adorned, was in very satisfactory
preservation.  But, on examining the papers which the parchment
commission served to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Pue's
mental part, and the internal operations of his head, than the
frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull itself.
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They were documents, in short, not official, but of a private
nature, or, at least, written in his private capacity, and
apparently with his own hand.  I could account for their being
included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact
that Mr. Pue's death had happened suddenly, and that these
papers, which he probably kept in his official desk, had never
come to the knowledge of his heirs, or were supposed to relate
to the business of the revenue.  On the transfer of the archives
to Halifax, this package, proving to be of no public concern,
was left behind, and had remained ever since unopened.

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

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

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

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

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

This incident recalled my mind, in some degree, to its old
track.  There seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale.  It
impressed me as if the ancient Surveyor, in his garb of a
hundred years gone by, and wearing his immortal wig--which was
buried with him, but did not perish in the grave--had met me in
the deserted chamber of the Custom-House.  In his port was the
dignity of one who had borne His Majesty's commission, and who
was therefore illuminated by a ray of the splendour that shone
so dazzlingly about the throne.  How unlike alas the hangdog look
of a republican official, who, as the servant of the people,
feels himself less than the least, and below the lowest of his
masters.  With his own ghostly hand, the obscurely seen, but
majestic, figure had imparted to me the scarlet symbol and the
little roll of explanatory manuscript.  With his own ghostly
voice he had exhorted me, on the sacred consideration of my
filial duty and reverence towards him--who might reasonably
regard himself as my official ancestor--to bring his mouldy and
moth-eaten lucubrations before the public.  "Do this," said the
ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, emphatically nodding the head that
looked so imposing within its memorable wig; "do this, and the
profit shall be all your own.  You will shortly need it; for it
is not in your days as it was in mine, when a man's office was a
life-lease, and oftentimes an heirloom.  But I charge you, in
this matter of old Mistress Prynne, give to your predecessor's
memory the credit which will be rightfully due" And I said to
the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue--"I will".

On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestowed much thought.
It was the subject of my meditations for many an hour, while
pacing to and fro across my room, or traversing, with a
hundredfold repetition, the long extent from the front door of
the Custom-House to the side entrance, and back again.  Great
were the weariness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the
Weighers and Gaugers, whose slumbers were disturbed by the
unmercifully lengthened tramp of my passing and returning
footsteps.  Remembering their own former habits, they used to say
that the Surveyor was walking the quarter-deck.  They probably
fancied that my sole object--and, indeed, the sole object for
which a sane man could ever put himself into voluntary
motion--was to get an appetite for dinner.  And, to say the
truth, an appetite, sharpened by the east wind that generally
blew along the passage, was the only valuable result of so much
indefatigable exercise.  So little adapted is the atmosphere of a
Custom-house to the delicate harvest of fancy and sensibility,
that, had I remained there through ten Presidencies yet to come,
I doubt whether the tale of "The Scarlet Letter" would ever have
been brought before the public eye.  My imagination was a
tarnished mirror.  It would not reflect, or only with miserable
dimness, the figures with which I did my best to people it.  The
characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered
malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual
forge.  They would take neither the glow of passion nor the
tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead
corpses, and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin
of contemptuous defiance.  "What have you to do with us?" that
expression seemed to say.  "The little power you might have once
possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone!  You have
bartered it for a pittance of the public gold.  Go then, and earn
your wages!"  In short, the almost torpid creatures of my own
fancy twitted me with imbecility, and not without fair occasion.

It was not merely during the three hours and a half which Uncle
Sam claimed as his share of my daily life that this wretched
numbness held possession of me.  It went with me on my sea-shore
walks and rambles into the country, whenever--which was seldom
and reluctantly--I bestirred myself to seek that invigorating
charm of Nature which used to give me such freshness and
activity of thought, the moment that I stepped across the
threshold of the Old Manse.  The same torpor, as regarded the
capacity for intellectual effort, accompanied me home, and
weighed upon me in the chamber which I most absurdly termed my
study.  Nor did it quit me when, late at night, I sat in the
deserted parlour, lighted only by the glimmering coal-fire and
the moon, striving to picture forth imaginary scenes, which, the
next day, might flow out on the brightening page in many-hued
description.

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour, it
might well be deemed a hopeless case.  Moonlight, in a familiar
room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showing all its
figures so distinctly--making every object so minutely visible,
yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility--is a medium the
most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his
illusive guests.  There is the little domestic scenery of the
well-known apartment; the chairs, with each its separate
individuality; the centre-table, sustaining a work-basket, a
volume or two, and an extinguished lamp; the sofa; the
book-case; the picture on the wall--all these details, so
completely seen, are so spiritualised by the unusual light, that
they seem to lose their actual substance, and become things of
intellect.  Nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo this
change, and acquire dignity thereby.  A child's shoe; the doll,
seated in her little wicker carriage; the hobby-horse--whatever,
in a word, has been used or played with during the day is now
invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness, though
still almost as vividly present as by daylight.  Thus, therefore,
the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory,
somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the
Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with
the nature of the other.  Ghosts might enter here without
affrighting us.  It would be too much in keeping with the scene
to excite surprise, were we to look about us and discover a
form, beloved, but gone hence, now sitting quietly in a streak
of this magic moonshine, with an aspect that would make us doubt
whether it had returned from afar, or had never once stirred
from our fireside.

The somewhat dim coal fire has an essential Influence in
producing the effect which I would describe.  It throws its
unobtrusive tinge throughout the room, with a faint ruddiness
upon the walls and ceiling, and a reflected gleam upon the
polish of the furniture.  This warmer light mingles itself with
the cold spirituality of the moon-beams, and communicates, as it
were, a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms
which fancy summons up.  It converts them from snow-images into
men and women.  Glancing at the looking-glass, we behold--deep
within its haunted verge--the smouldering glow of the
half-extinguished anthracite, the white moon-beams on the floor,
and a repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture,
with one remove further from the actual, and nearer to the
imaginative.  Then, at such an hour, and with this scene before
him, if a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things,
and make them look like truth, he need never try to write
romances.

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

It is my belief, however, that had I attempted a different order
of composition, my faculties would not have been found so
pointless and inefficacious.  I might, for instance, have
contented myself with writing out the narratives of a veteran
shipmaster, one of the Inspectors, whom I should be most
ungrateful not to mention, since scarcely a day passed that he
did not stir me to laughter and admiration by his marvelous
gifts as a story-teller.  Could I have preserved the picturesque
force of his style, and the humourous colouring which nature
taught him how to throw over his descriptions, the result, I
honestly believe, would have been something new in literature.
Or I might readily have found a more serious task.  It was a
folly, with the materiality of this daily life pressing so
intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into
another age, or to insist on creating the semblance of a world
out of airy matter, when, at every moment, the impalpable beauty
of my soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual
circumstance.  The wiser effort would have been to diffuse
thought and imagination through the opaque substance of to-day,
and thus to make it a bright transparency; to spiritualise the
burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seek, resolutely, the
true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and
wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters with which I was
now conversant.  The fault was mine.  The page of life that was
spread out before me seemed dull and commonplace only because I
had not fathomed its deeper import.  A better book than I shall
ever write was there; leaf after leaf presenting itself to me,
just as it was written out by the reality of the flitting hour,
and vanishing as fast as written, only because my brain wanted
the insight, and my hand the cunning, to transcribe it.  At some
future day, it may be, I shall remember a few scattered
fragments and broken paragraphs, and write them down, and find
the letters turn to gold upon the page.

These perceptions had come too late.  At the Instant, I was only
conscious that what would have been a pleasure once was now a
hopeless toil.  There was no occasion to make much moan about
this state of affairs.  I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably
poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor
of the Customs.  That was all.  But, nevertheless, it is anything
but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect
is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your consciousness, like
ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a
smaller and less volatile residuum.  Of the fact there could be
no doubt and, examining myself and others, I was led to
conclusions, in reference to the effect of public office on the
character, not very favourable to the mode of life in question.
In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these
effects.  Suffice it here to say that a Custom-House officer of
long continuance can hardly be a very praiseworthy or
respectable personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure
by which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of
his business, which--though, I trust, an honest one--is of such
a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind.

An effect--which I believe to be observable, more or less, in
every individual who has occupied the position--is, that while
he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper
strength departs from him.  He loses, in an extent proportioned
to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability
of self-support.  If he possesses an unusual share of native
energy, or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long
upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable.  The ejected
officer--fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth
betimes, to struggle amid a struggling world--may return to
himself, and become all that he has ever been.  But this seldom
happens.  He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his
own ruin, and is then thrust out, with sinews all unstrung, to
totter along the difficult footpath of life as he best may.
Conscious of his own infirmity--that his tempered steel and
elasticity are lost--he for ever afterwards looks wistfully
about him in quest of support external to himself.  His pervading
and continual hope--a hallucination, which, in the face of all
discouragement, and making light of impossibilities, haunts him
while he lives, and, I fancy, like the convulsive throes of the
cholera, torments him for a brief space after death--is, that
finally, and in no long time, by some happy coincidence of
circumstances, he shall be restored to office.  This faith, more
than anything else, steals the pith and availability out of
whatever enterprise he may dream of undertaking.  Why should he
toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out
of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his
Uncle will raise and support him?  Why should he work for his
living here, or go to dig gold in California, when he is so soon
to be made happy, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of
glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket?  It is sadly curious
to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a
poor fellow with this singular disease.  Uncle Sam's
gold--meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman--has, in
this respect, a quality of enchantment like that of the devil's
wages.  Whoever touches it should look well to himself, or he may
find the bargain to go hard against him, involving, if not his
soul, yet many of its better attributes; its sturdy force, its
courage and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance, and all
that gives the emphasis to manly character.

Here was a fine prospect in the distance.  Not that the Surveyor
brought the lesson home to himself, or admitted that he could be
so utterly undone, either by continuance in office or ejectment.
Yet my reflections were not the most comfortable.  I began to
grow melancholy and restless; continually prying into my mind,
to discover which of its poor properties were gone, and what
degree of detriment had already accrued to the remainder.  I
endeavoured to calculate how much longer I could stay in the
Custom-House, and yet go forth a man.  To confess the truth, it
was my greatest apprehension--as it would never be a measure of
policy to turn out so quiet an individual as myself; and it
being hardly in the nature of a public officer to resign--it was
my chief trouble, therefore, that I was likely to grow grey and
decrepit in the Surveyorship, and become much such another
animal as the old Inspector.  Might it not, in the tedious lapse
of official life that lay before me, finally be with me as it
was with this venerable friend--to make the dinner-hour the
nucleus of the day, and to spend the rest of it, as an old dog
spends it, asleep in the sunshine or in the shade?  A dreary
look-forward, this, for a man who felt it to be the best
definition of happiness to live throughout the whole range of
his faculties and sensibilities.  But, all this while, I was
giving myself very unnecessary alarm.  Providence had meditated
better things for me than I could possibly imagine for myself.

A remarkable event of the third year of my Surveyorship--to
adopt the tone of "P. P. "--was the election of General Taylor
to the Presidency.  It is essential, in order to form a complete
estimate of the advantages of official life, to view the
incumbent at the in-coming of a hostile administration.  His
position is then one of the most singularly irksome, and, in
every contingency, disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can
possibly occupy; with seldom an alternative of good on either
hand, although what presents itself to him as the worst event
may very probably be the best.  But it is a strange experience,
to a man of pride and sensibility, to know that his interests
are within the control of individuals who neither love nor
understand him, and by whom, since one or the other must needs
happen, he would rather be injured than obliged.  Strange, too,
for one who has kept his calmness throughout the contest, to
observe the bloodthirstiness that is developed in the hour of
triumph, and to be conscious that he is himself among its
objects!  There are few uglier traits of human nature than this
tendency--which I now witnessed in men no worse than their
neighbours--to grow cruel, merely because they possessed the
power of inflicting harm.  If the guillotine, as applied to
office-holders, were a literal fact, instead of one of the most
apt of metaphors, it is my sincere belief that the active
members of the victorious party were sufficiently excited to
have chopped off all our heads, and have thanked Heaven for the
opportunity!  It appears to me--who have been a calm and curious
observer, as well in victory as defeat--that this fierce and
bitter spirit of malice and revenge has never distinguished the
many triumphs of my own party as it now did that of the Whigs.
The Democrats take the offices, as a general rule, because they
need them, and because the practice of many years has made it
the law of political warfare, which unless a different system be
proclaimed, it was weakness and cowardice to murmur at.  But the
long habit of victory has made them generous.  They know how to
spare when they see occasion; and when they strike, the axe may
be sharp indeed, but its edge is seldom poisoned with ill-will;
nor is it their custom ignominiously to kick the head which they
have just struck off.

In short, unpleasant as was my predicament, at best, I saw much
reason to congratulate myself that I was on the losing side
rather than the triumphant one.  If, heretofore, I had been none
of the warmest of partisans I began now, at this season of peril
and adversity, to be pretty acutely sensible with which party my
predilections lay; nor was it without something like regret and
shame that, according to a reasonable calculation of chances, I
saw my own prospect of retaining office to be better than those
of my democratic brethren.  But who can see an inch into futurity
beyond his nose?  My own head was the first that fell.

The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom or never, I am
inclined to think, precisely the most agreeable of his life.
Nevertheless, like the greater part of our misfortunes, even so
serious a contingency brings its remedy and consolation with it,
if the sufferer will but make the best rather than the worst, of
the accident which has befallen him.  In my particular case the
consolatory topics were close at hand, and, indeed, had
suggested themselves to my meditations a considerable time
before it was requisite to use them.  In view of my previous
weariness of office, and vague thoughts of resignation, my
fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who should entertain
an idea of committing suicide, and although beyond his hopes,
meet with the good hap to be murdered.  In the Custom-House, as
before in the Old Manse, I had spent three years--a term long
enough to rest a weary brain: long enough to break off old
intellectual habits, and make room for new ones: long enough,
and too long, to have lived in an unnatural state, doing what
was really of no advantage nor delight to any human being, and
withholding myself from toil that would, at least, have stilled
an unquiet impulse in me.  Then, moreover, as regarded his
unceremonious ejectment, the late Surveyor was not altogether
ill-pleased to be recognised by the Whigs as an enemy; since his
inactivity in political affairs--his tendency to roam, at will,
in that broad and quiet field where all mankind may meet, rather
than confine himself to those narrow paths where brethren of the
same household must diverge from one another--had sometimes made
it questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was a
friend.  Now, after he had won the crown of martyrdom (though
with no longer a head to wear it on), the point might be looked
upon as settled.  Finally, little heroic as he was, it seemed
more decorous to be overthrown in the downfall of the party with
which he had been content to stand than to remain a forlorn
survivor, when so many worthier men were falling: and at last,
after subsisting for four years on the mercy of a hostile
administration, to be compelled then to define his position
anew, and claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a friendly
one.

Meanwhile, the press had taken up my affair, and kept me for a
week or two careering through the public prints, in my
decapitated state, like Irving's Headless Horseman, ghastly and
grim, and longing to be buried, as a political dead man ought.
So much for my figurative self.  The real human being all this
time, with his head safely on his shoulders, had brought himself
to the comfortable conclusion that everything was for the best;
and making an investment in ink, paper, and steel pens, had
opened his long-disused writing desk, and was again a literary
man.

Now it was that the lucubrations of my ancient predecessor, Mr.
Surveyor Pue, came into play.  Rusty through long idleness, some
little space was requisite before my intellectual machinery
could be brought to work upon the tale with an effect in any
degree satisfactory.  Even yet, though my thoughts were
ultimately much absorbed in the task, it wears, to my eye, a
stern and sombre aspect: too much ungladdened by genial
sunshine; too little relieved by the tender and familiar
influences which soften almost every scene of nature and real
life, and undoubtedly should soften every picture of them.  This
uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly
accomplished revolution, and still seething turmoil, in which
the story shaped itself.  It is no indication, however, of a lack
of cheerfulness in the writer's mind: for he was happier while
straying through the gloom of these sunless fantasies than at
any time since he had quitted the Old Manse.  Some of the briefer
articles, which contribute to make up the volume, have likewise
been written since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and
honours of public life, and the remainder are gleaned from
annuals and magazines, of such antique date, that they have gone
round the circle, and come back to novelty again.  Keeping up the
metaphor of the political guillotine, the whole may be
considered as the POSTHUMOUS PAPERS OF A DECAPITATED SURVEYOR:
and the sketch which I am now bringing to a close, if too
autobiographical for a modest person to publish in his lifetime,
will readily be excused in a gentleman who writes from beyond
the grave.  Peace be with all the world!  My blessing on my
friends!  My forgiveness to my enemies!  For I am in the realm of
quiet!

The life of the Custom-House lies like a dream behind me.  The
old Inspector--who, by-the-bye, I regret to say, was overthrown
and killed by a horse some time ago, else he would certainly
have lived for ever--he, and all those other venerable
personages who sat with him at the receipt of custom, are but
shadows in my view: white-headed and wrinkled images, which my
fancy used to sport with, and has now flung aside for ever.  The
merchants--Pingree, Phillips, Shepard, Upton, Kimball, Bertram,
Hunt--these and many other names, which had such classic
familiarity for my ear six months ago,--these men of traffic,
who seemed to occupy so important a position in the world--how
little time has it required to disconnect me from them all, not
merely in act, but recollection!  It is with an effort that I
recall the figures and appellations of these few.  Soon,
likewise, my old native town will loom upon me through the haze
of memory, a mist brooding over and around it; as if it were no
portion of the real earth, but an overgrown village in
cloud-land, with only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden
houses and walk its homely lanes, and the unpicturesque
prolixity of its main street.  Henceforth it ceases to be a
reality of my life; I am a citizen of somewhere else.  My good
townspeople will not much regret me, for--though it has been as
dear an object as any, in my literary efforts, to be of some
importance in their eyes, and to win myself a pleasant memory in
this abode and burial-place of so many of my forefathers--there
has never been, for me, the genial atmosphere which a literary
man requires in order to ripen the best harvest of his mind.  I
shall do better amongst other faces; and these familiar ones, it
need hardly be said, will do just as well without me.

It may be, however--oh, transporting and triumphant
thought--that the great-grandchildren of the present race may
sometimes think kindly of the scribbler of bygone days, when the
antiquary of days to come, among the sites memorable in the
town's history, shall point out the locality of THE TOWN PUMP.
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I. The Prison Door


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

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue
and happiness they might originally project, have invariably
recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to
allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another
portion as the site of a prison.  In accordance with this rule it
may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built
the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill,
almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground,
on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which
subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated
sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel.  Certain it is
that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the
town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and
other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its
beetle-browed and gloomy front.  The rust on the ponderous
iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything
else in the New World.  Like all that pertains to crime, it
seemed never to have known a youthful era.  Before this ugly
edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a
grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern,
and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something
congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower
of civilised society, a prison.  But on one side of the portal,
and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush,
covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which
might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to
the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he
came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature
could pity and be kind to him.

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in
history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old
wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and
oaks that originally overshadowed it, or whether, as there is
fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the
footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the
prison-door, we shall not take upon us to determine.  Finding it
so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now
about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do
otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the
reader.  It may serve, let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral
blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the
darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
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Variety is the spice of life

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II. The Market-Place


The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain
summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by
a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with
their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.
Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the
history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the
bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured
some awful business in hand.  It could have betokened nothing
short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on
whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the
verdict of public sentiment.  But, in that early severity of the
Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so
indubitably be drawn.  It might be that a sluggish bond-servant,
or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the
civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post.  It
might be that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox
religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle or
vagrant Indian, whom the white man's firewater had made riotous
about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow
of the forest.  It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress
Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die
upon the gallows.  In either case, there was very much the same
solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as
befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost
identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly
interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public
discipline were alike made venerable and awful.  Meagre, indeed,
and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for,
from such bystanders, at the scaffold.  On the other hand, a
penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking
infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern
a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

It was a circumstance to be noted on the summer morning when our
story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were
several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in
whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue.  The age
had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety
restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from
stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not
unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest
to the scaffold at an execution.  Morally, as well as materially,
there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old
English birth and breeding than in their fair descendants,
separated from them by a series of six or seven generations;
for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother
had transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate
and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not
character of less force and solidity than her own.  The women who
were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than
half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had
been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex.
They were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native
land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely
into their composition.  The bright morning sun, therefore, shone
on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and
ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had
hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New
England.  There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech
among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would
startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport
or its volume of tone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door of the jail being flung open from within there
appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into
sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle, with
a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand.  This
personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole
dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his
business to administer in its final and closest application to
the offender.  Stretching forth the official staff in his left
hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom
he thus drew forward, until, on the threshold of the
prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural
dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air as
if by her own free will.  She bore in her arms a child, a baby of
some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little
face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence,
heretofore, had brought it acquaintance only with the grey
twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the
prison.

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

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a
large scale.  She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it
threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides
being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of
complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow
and deep black eyes.  She was ladylike, too, after the manner of
the feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain
state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and
indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication.
And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the
antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the
prison.  Those who had before known her, and had expected to
behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were
astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone
out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she
was enveloped.  It may be true that, to a sensitive observer,
there was some thing exquisitely painful in it.  Her attire,
which indeed, she had wrought for the occasion in prison, and
had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the
attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood,
by its wild and picturesque peculiarity.  But the point which
drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer--so that
both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with
Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the
first time--was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically
embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.  It had the effect of
a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity,
and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked
one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this
brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it?  Why, gossips,
what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates,
and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a
punishment?"

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

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

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.  "Make way,
good people--make way, in the King's name!" cried he.  "Open a
passage; and I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where
man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel
from this time till an hour past meridian.  A blessing on the
righteous colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged
out into the sunshine!  Come along, Madame Hester, and show your
scarlet letter in the market-place!"

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

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

Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might
have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire
and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind
him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious
painters have vied with one another to represent; something
which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that
sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem
the world.  Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the most
sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the
world was only the darker for this woman's beauty, and the more
lost for the infant that she had borne.

The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always
invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature,
before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead
of shuddering at it.  The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace
had not yet passed beyond their simplicity.  They were stern
enough to look upon her death, had that been the sentence,
without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the
heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a
theme for jest in an exhibition like the present.  Even had there
been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule, it must
have been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of
men no less dignified than the governor, and several of his
counsellors, a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town,
all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-house,
looking down upon the platform.  When such personages could
constitute a part of the spectacle, without risking the majesty,
or reverence of rank and office, it was safely to be inferred
that the infliction of a legal sentence would have an earnest
and effectual meaning.  Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and
grave.  The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman
might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes,
all fastened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom.  It was
almost intolerable to be borne.  Of an impulsive and passionate
nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and
venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every
variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible
in the solemn mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather
to behold all those rigid countenances contorted with scornful
merriment, and herself the object.  Had a roar of laughter burst
from the multitude--each man, each woman, each little
shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts--Hester
Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful
smile.  But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to
endure, she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out
with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the
scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once.

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was
the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or,
at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of
imperfectly shaped and spectral images.  Her mind, and especially
her memory, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up
other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town, on
the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were
lowering upon her from beneath the brims of those
steeple-crowned hats.  Reminiscences, the most trifling and
immaterial, passages of infancy and school-days, sports,
childish quarrels, and the little domestic traits of her maiden
years, came swarming back upon her, intermingled with
recollections of whatever was gravest in her subsequent life;
one picture precisely as vivid as another; as if all were of
similar importance, or all alike a play.  Possibly, it was an
instinctive device of her spirit to relieve itself by the
exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight
and hardness of the reality.

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of
view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which
she had been treading, since her happy infancy.  Standing on that
miserable eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old
England, and her paternal home: a decayed house of grey stone,
with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half obliterated
shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility.
She saw her father's face, with its bold brow, and reverend
white beard that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff;
her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious love
which it always wore in her remembrance, and which, even since
her death, had so often laid the impediment of a gentle
remonstrance in her daughter's pathway.  She saw her own face,
glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior
of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken in
years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and
bleared by the lamp-light that had served them to pore over many
ponderous books.  Yet those same bleared optics had a strange,
penetrating power, when it was their owner's purpose to read the
human soul.  This figure of the study and the cloister, as Hester
Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, was slightly
deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right.
Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallery, the intricate
and narrow thoroughfares, the tall, grey houses, the huge
cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and quaint
in architecture, of a continental city; where new life had
awaited her, still in connexion with the misshapen scholar: a
new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft
of green moss on a crumbling wall.  Lastly, in lieu of these
shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan,
settlement, with all the townspeople assembled, and levelling
their stern regards at Hester Prynne--yes, at herself--who stood
on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the
letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold
thread, upon her bosom.

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

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III.  The Recognition


From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe
and universal observation, the wearer of the scarlet letter was
at length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of the
crowd, a figure which irresistibly took possession of her
thoughts.  An Indian in his native garb was standing there; but
the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English
settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice
from Hester Prynne at such a time; much less would he have
excluded all other objects and ideas from her mind.  By the
Indian's side, and evidently sustaining a companionship with
him, stood a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized
and savage costume.

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as yet
could hardly be termed aged.  There was a remarkable intelligence
in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental
part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and
become manifest by unmistakable tokens.  Although, by a seemingly
careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb, he had
endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity, it was
sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's
shoulders rose higher than the other.  Again, at the first
instant of perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity
of the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom with so
convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of
pain.  But the mother did not seem to hear it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He bowed courteously to the communicative townsman, and
whispering a few words to his Indian attendant, they both made
their way through the crowd.

While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing on her
pedestal, still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger--so fixed
a gaze that, at moments of intense absorption, all other objects
in the visible world seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her.
Such an interview, perhaps, would have been more terrible than
even to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day sun
burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame; with the
scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant
in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival,
staring at the features that should have been seen only in the
quiet gleam of the fireside, in the happy shadow of a home, or
beneath a matronly veil at church.  Dreadful as it was, she was
conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand
witnesses.  It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him
and her, than to greet him face to face--they two alone.  She
fled for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and dreaded
the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her.
Involved in these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind
her until it had repeated her name more than once, in a loud and
solemn tone, audible to the whole multitude.

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

It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on
which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony, or open
gallery, appended to the meeting-house.  It was the place whence
proclamations were wont to be made, amidst an assemblage of the
magistracy, with all the ceremonial that attended such public
observances in those days.  Here, to witness the scene which we
are describing, sat Governor Bellingham himself with four
sergeants about his chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of
honour.  He wore a dark feather in his hat, a border of
embroidery on his cloak, and a black velvet tunic beneath--a
gentleman advanced in years, with a hard experience written in
his wrinkles.  He was not ill-fitted to be the head and
representative of a community which owed its origin and
progress, and its present state of development, not to the
impulses of youth, but to the stern and tempered energies of
manhood and the sombre sagacity of age; accomplishing so much,
precisely because it imagined and hoped so little.  The other
eminent characters by whom the chief ruler was surrounded were
distinguished by a dignity of mien, belonging to a period when
the forms of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of
Divine institutions.  They were, doubtless, good men, just and
sage.  But, out of the whole human family, it would not have been
easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who
should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring
woman's heart, and disentangling its mesh of good and evil, than
the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned
her face.  She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy
she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the
multitude; for, as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the
unhappy woman grew pale, and trembled.

The voice which had called her attention was that of the
reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston,
a great scholar, like most of his contemporaries in the
profession, and withal a man of kind and genial spirit.  This
last attribute, however, had been less carefully developed than
his intellectual gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of
shame than self-congratulation with him.  There he stood, with a
border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap, while his grey
eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking,
like those of Hester's infant, in the unadulterated sunshine.  He
looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed
to old volumes of sermons, and had no more right than one of
those portraits would have to step forth, as he now did, and
meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and anguish.

"Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, "I have striven with my
young brother here, under whose preaching of the Word you have
been privileged to sit"--here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the
shoulder of a pale young man beside him--"I have sought, I say,
to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here
in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers,
and in hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and
blackness of your sin.  Knowing your natural temper better than
I, he could the better judge what arguments to use, whether of
tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your hardness
and obstinacy, insomuch that you should no longer hide the name
of him who tempted you to this grievous fall.  But he opposes to
me--with a young man's over-softness, albeit wise beyond his
years--that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force
her to lay open her heart's secrets in such broad daylight, and
in presence of so great a multitude.  Truly, as I sought to
convince him, the shame lay in the commission of the sin, and
not in the showing of it forth.  What say you to it, once again,
brother Dimmesdale?  Must it be thou, or I, that shall deal with
this poor sinner's soul?"

There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of
the balcony; and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its
purport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tempered
with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed:

"Good Master Dimmesdale," said he, "the responsibility of this
woman's soul lies greatly with you.  It behoves you; therefore,
to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and
consequence thereof."

The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd
upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale--young clergyman, who had come
from one of the great English universities, bringing all the
learning of the age into our wild forest land.  His eloquence and
religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminence
in his profession.  He was a person of very striking aspect, with
a white, lofty, and impending brow; large, brown, melancholy
eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it,
was apt to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and
a vast power of self restraint.  Notwithstanding his high native
gifts and scholar-like attainments, there was an air about this
young minister--an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened
look--as of a being who felt himself quite astray, and at a loss
in the pathway of human existence, and could only be at ease in
some seclusion of his own.  Therefore, so far as his duties would
permit, he trod in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself
simple and childlike, coming forth, when occasion was, with a
freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of thought, which, as
many people said, affected them like the speech of an angel.

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

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

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silent prayer,
as it seemed, and then came forward.

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

The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and
broken.  The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather than
the direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all
hearts, and brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy.
Even the poor baby at Hester's bosom was affected by the same
influence, for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr.
Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms with a half-pleased,
half-plaintive murmur.  So powerful seemed the minister's appeal
that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would
speak out the guilty name, or else that the guilty one himself
in whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth
by an inward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend
the scaffold.

Hester shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared
that individual, of singular aspect whose presence in the crowd
had been of such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet
letter.  He was lodged in the prison, not as suspected of any
offence, but as the most convenient and suitable mode of
disposing of him, until the magistrates should have conferred
with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom.  His name was
announced as Roger Chillingworth.  The jailer, after ushering him
into the room, remained a moment, marvelling at the comparative
quiet that followed his entrance; for Hester Prynne had
immediately become as still as death, although the child
continued to moan.

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

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

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

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

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing
with strongly marked apprehension into his face.  "Wouldst thou
avenge thyself on the innocent babe?" whispered she.

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

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state
of mind, he took the infant in his arms, and himself
administered the draught.  It soon proved its efficacy, and
redeemed the leech's pledge.  The moans of the little patient
subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few
moments, as is the custom of young children after relief from
pain, it sank into a profound and dewy slumber.  The physician,
as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed his attention
on the mother.  With calm and intent scrutiny, he felt her pulse,
looked into her eyes--a gaze that made her heart shrink and
shudder, because so familiar, and yet so strange and cold--and,
finally, satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle
another draught.

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

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

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

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

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained
the cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself
on the bed, where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only
chair which the room afforded, and took his own seat beside her.
She could not but tremble at these preparations; for she felt
that--having now done all that humanity, or principle, or, if so
it were, a refined cruelty, impelled him to do for the relief of
physical suffering--he was next to treat with her as the man
whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.

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

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

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

"I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.

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

"Ask me not!" replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his
face.  "That thou shalt never know!"

"Never, sayest thou?" rejoined he, with a smile of dark and
self-relying intelligence.  "Never know him!  Believe me, Hester,
there are few things whether in the outward world, or, to a
certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought--few things
hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and
unreservedly to the solution of a mystery.  Thou mayest cover up
thy secret from the prying multitude.  Thou mayest conceal it,
too, from the ministers and magistrates, even as thou didst this
day, when they sought to wrench the name out of thy heart, and
give thee a partner on thy pedestal.  But, as for me, I come to
the inquest with other senses than they possess.  I shall seek
this man, as I have sought truth in books: as I have sought gold
in alchemy.  There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of
him.  I shall see him tremble.  I shall feel myself shudder,
suddenly and unawares.  Sooner or later, he must needs be mine."

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

"Thou wilt not reveal his name?   Not the less he is mine,"
resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one
with him.  "He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his
garment, as thou dost, but I shall read it on his heart.  Yet
fear not for him!  Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's
own method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to the
gripe of human law.  Neither do thou imagine that I shall
contrive aught against his life; no, nor against his fame, if as
I judge, he be a man of fair repute.  Let him live!  Let him hide
himself in outward honour, if he may!  Not the less he shall be
mine!"

"Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered and appalled;
"but thy words interpret thee as a terror!"

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

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

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

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

"Swear it!" rejoined he.

And she took the oath.

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

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

"Not thy soul," he answered, with another smile.  "No, not
thine!"
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V.  Hester at her Needle


Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end.  Her
prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the
sunshine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and
morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal
the scarlet letter on her breast.  Perhaps there was a more real
torture in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of
the prison than even in the procession and spectacle that have
been described, where she was made the common infamy, at which
all mankind was summoned to point its finger.  Then, she was
supported by an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by all the
combative energy of her character, which enabled her to convert
the scene into a kind of lurid triumph.  It was, moreover, a
separate and insulated event, to occur but once in her lifetime,
and to meet which, therefore, reckless of economy, she might
call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many
quiet years.  The very law that condemned her--a giant of stern
features but with vigour to support, as well as to annihilate,
in his iron arm--had held her up through the terrible ordeal of
her ignominy.  But now, with this unattended walk from her prison
door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain and
carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or
sink beneath it.  She could no longer borrow from the future to
help her through the present grief.  Tomorrow would bring its own
trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next:
each its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so
unutterably grievous to be borne.  The days of the far-off future
would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take
up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down; for the
accumulating days and added years would pile up their misery
upon the heap of shame.  Throughout them all, giving up her
individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the
preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might
vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful
passion.  Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her,
with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast--at her, the child
of honourable parents--at her, the mother of a babe that would
hereafter be a woman--at her, who had once been innocent--as the
figure, the body, the reality of sin.  And over her grave, the
infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.

It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her--kept by
no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of
the Puritan settlement, so remote and so obscure--free to return
to her birth-place, or to any other European land, and there
hide her character and identity under a new exterior, as
completely as if emerging into another state of being--and
having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to
her, where the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself
with a people whose customs and life were alien from the law
that had condemned her--it may seem marvellous that this woman
should still call that place her home, where, and where only,
she must needs be the type of shame.  But there is a fatality, a
feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of
doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger
around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and
marked event has given the colour to their lifetime; and, still
the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.  Her
sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the
soil.  It was as if a new birth, with stronger assimilations than
the first, had converted the forest-land, still so uncongenial
to every other pilgrim and wanderer, into Hester Prynne's wild
and dreary, but life-long home.  All other scenes of earth--even
that village of rural England, where happy infancy and stainless
maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping, like
garments put off long ago--were foreign to her, in comparison.
The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to
her inmost soul, but could never be broken.

It might be, too--doubtless it was so, although she hid the
secret from herself, and grew pale whenever it struggled out of
her heart, like a serpent from its hole--it might be that
another feeling kept her within the scene and pathway that had
been so fatal.  There dwelt, there trode, the feet of one with
whom she deemed herself connected in a union that, unrecognised
on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final
judgment, and make that their marriage-altar, for a joint
futurity of endless retribution.  Over and over again, the
tempter of souls had thrust this idea upon Hester's
contemplation, and laughed at the passionate and desperate joy
with which she seized, and then strove to cast it from her.  She
barely looked the idea in the face, and hastened to bar it in
its dungeon.  What she compelled herself to believe--what,
finally, she reasoned upon as her motive for continuing a
resident of New England--was half a truth, and half a
self-delusion.  Here, she said to herself had been the scene of
her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly
punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame
would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than
that which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of
martyrdom.

Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee.  On the outskirts of the
town, within the verge of the peninsula, but not in close
vicinity to any other habitation, there was a small thatched
cottage.  It had been built by an earlier settler, and abandoned,
because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while
its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that
social activity which already marked the habits of the
emigrants.  It stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the
sea at the forest-covered hills, towards the west.  A clump of
scrubby trees, such as alone grew on the peninsula, did not so
much conceal the cottage from view, as seem to denote that here
was some object which would fain have been, or at least ought to
be, concealed.  In this little lonesome dwelling, with some
slender means that she possessed, and by the licence of the
magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her,
Hester established herself, with her infant child.  A mystic
shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot.
Children, too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be
shut out from the sphere of human charities, would creep nigh
enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-window, or
standing in the doorway, or labouring in her little garden, or
coming forth along the pathway that led townward, and,
discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off
with a strange contagious fear.

Lonely as was Hester's situation, and without a friend on earth
who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of
want.  She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that
afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply
food for her thriving infant and herself.  It was the art, then,
as now, almost the only one within a woman's grasp--of
needle-work.  She bore on her breast, in the curiously
embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative
skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed
themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of
human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold.  Here, indeed,
in the sable simplicity that generally characterised the
Puritanic modes of dress, there might be an infrequent call for
the finer productions of her handiwork.  Yet the taste of the
age, demanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this
kind, did not fail to extend its influence over our stern
progenitors, who had cast behind them so many fashions which it
might seem harder to dispense with.

Public ceremonies, such as ordinations, the installation of
magistrates, and all that could give majesty to the forms in
which a new government manifested itself to the people, were, as
a matter of policy, marked by a stately and well-conducted
ceremonial, and a sombre, but yet a studied magnificence.  Deep
ruffs, painfully wrought bands, and gorgeously embroidered
gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men
assuming the reins of power, and were readily allowed to
individuals dignified by rank or wealth, even while sumptuary
laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the plebeian
order.  In the array of funerals, too--whether for the apparel of
the dead body, or to typify, by manifold emblematic devices of
sable cloth and snowy lawn, the sorrow of the survivors--there
was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour as
Hester Prynne could supply.  Baby-linen--for babies then wore
robes of state--afforded still another possibility of toil and
emolument.

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

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence, of
the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a
simple abundance for her child.  Her own dress was of the
coarsest materials and the most sombre hue, with only that one
ornament--the scarlet letter--which it was her doom to wear.  The
child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a
fanciful, or, we may rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which
served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to
develop itself in the little girl, but which appeared to have
also a deeper meaning.  We may speak further of it hereafter.
Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her
infant, Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on
wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently
insulted the hand that fed them.  Much of the time, which she
might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art, she
employed in making coarse garments for the poor.  It is probable
that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation,
and that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in
devoting so many hours to such rude handiwork.  She had in her
nature a rich, voluptuous, Oriental characteristic--a taste for
the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in the exquisite
productions of her needle, found nothing else, in all the
possibilities of her life, to exercise itself upon.  Women derive
a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate
toil of the needle.  To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode
of expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life.
Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin.  This morbid
meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened, it
is to be feared, no genuine and steadfast penitence, but
something doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong
beneath.

In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in
the world.  With her native energy of character and rare
capacity, it could not entirely cast her off, although it had
set a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman's heart than
that which branded the brow of Cain.  In all her intercourse with
society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she
belonged to it.  Every gesture, every word, and even the silence
of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often
expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she
inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature
by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind.  She
stood apart from mortal interests, yet close beside them, like a
ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer
make itself seen or felt; no more smile with the household joy,
nor mourn with the kindred sorrow; or, should it succeed in
manifesting its forbidden sympathy, awakening only terror and
horrible repugnance.  These emotions, in fact, and its bitterest
scorn besides, seemed to be the sole portion that she retained
in the universal heart.  It was not an age of delicacy; and her
position, although she understood it well, and was in little
danger of forgetting it, was often brought before her vivid
self-perception, like a new anguish, by the rudest touch upon
the tenderest spot.  The poor, as we have already said, whom she
sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the
hand that was stretched forth to succour them.  Dames of elevated
rank, likewise, whose doors she entered in the way of her
occupation, were accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into
her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by
which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles;
and sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell upon the
sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an
ulcerated wound.  Hester had schooled herself long and well; and
she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson
that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided
into the depths of her bosom.  She was patient--a martyr, indeed
but she forebore to pray for enemies, lest, in spite of her
forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should
stubbornly twist themselves into a curse.

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the
innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly
contrived for her by the undying, the ever-active sentence of
the Puritan tribunal.  Clergymen paused in the streets, to
address words of exhortation, that brought a crowd, with its
mingled grin and frown, around the poor, sinful woman.  If she
entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the
Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the
text of the discourse.  She grew to have a dread of children; for
they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something
horrible in this dreary woman gliding silently through the town,
with never any companion but one only child.  Therefore, first
allowing her to pass, they pursued her at a distance with shrill
cries, and the utterances of a word that had no distinct purport
to their own minds, but was none the less terrible to her, as
proceeding from lips that babbled it unconsciously.  It seemed to
argue so wide a diffusion of her shame, that all nature knew of
it; it could have caused her no deeper pang had the leaves of
the trees whispered the dark story among themselves--had the
summer breeze murmured about it--had the wintry blast shrieked
it aloud!  Another peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new
eye.  When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter and
none ever failed to do so--they branded it afresh in Hester's
soul; so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet
always did refrain, from covering the symbol with her hand.  But
then, again, an accustomed eye had likewise its own anguish to
inflict.  Its cool stare of familiarity was intolerable.  From
first to last, in short, Hester Prynne had always this dreadful
agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew
callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with
daily torture.

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

Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a
softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more
so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life.  Walking to
and fro, with those lonely footsteps, in the little world with
which she was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to
Hester--if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent to
be resisted--she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter
had endowed her with a new sense.  She shuddered to believe, yet
could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic
knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts.  She was terror-
stricken by the revelations that were thus made.  What were they?
Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad
angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman, as
yet only half his victim, that the outward guise of purity was
but a lie, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a
scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester
Prynne's?  Or, must she receive those intimations--so obscure,
yet so distinct--as truth?  In all her miserable experience,
there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense.
It perplexed, as well as shocked her, by the irreverent
inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid
action.  Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a
sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or
magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of
antique reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship
with angels.  "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hester say to
herself.  Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing
human within the scope of view, save the form of this earthly
saint!  Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert
itself, as she met the sanctified frown of some matron, who,
according to the rumour of all tongues, had kept cold snow
within her bosom throughout life.  That unsunned snow in the
matron's bosom, and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's--what
had the two in common?  Or, once more, the electric thrill would
give her warning--"Behold Hester, here is a companion!" and,
looking up, she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing
at the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted,
with a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks as if her purity were
somewhat sullied by that momentary glance.  O Fiend, whose
talisman was that fatal symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing,
whether in youth or age, for this poor sinner to revere?--such
loss of faith is ever one of the saddest results of sin.  Be it
accepted as a proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim
of her own frailty, and man's hard law, that Hester Prynne yet
struggled to believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like
herself.

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always
contributing a grotesque horror to what interested their
imaginations, had a story about the scarlet letter which we
might readily work up into a terrific legend.  They averred that
the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly
dye-pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen
glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the
night-time.  And we must needs say it seared Hester's bosom so
deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in the rumour than our
modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.
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Variety is the spice of life

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VI.  Pearl


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

Certainly there was no physical defect.  By its perfect shape,
its vigour, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its
untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought forth
in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of
the angels after the world's first parents were driven out.  The
child had a native grace which does not invariably co-exist with
faultless beauty; its attire, however simple, always impressed
the beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became
it best.  But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds.  Her
mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood
hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be
procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in
the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child
wore before the public eye.  So magnificent was the small figure
when thus arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own
proper beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might
have extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute
circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor.  And
yet a russet gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude play,
made a picture of her just as perfect.  Pearl's aspect was imbued
with a spell of infinite variety; in this one child there were
many children, comprehending the full scope between the
wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby, and the pomp, in
little, of an infant princess.  Throughout all, however, there
was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she never
lost; and if in any of her changes, she had grown fainter or
paler, she would have ceased to be herself--it would have been
no longer Pearl!

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

The discipline of the family in those days was of a far more
rigid kind than now.  The frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent
application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were
used, not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences,
but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all
childish virtues.  Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the loving mother
of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side of
undue severity.  Mindful, however, of her own errors and
misfortunes, she early sought to impose a tender but strict
control over the infant immortality that was committed to her
charge.  But the task was beyond her skill.  After testing both
smiles and frowns, and proving that neither mode of treatment
possessed any calculable influence, Hester was ultimately
compelled to stand aside and permit the child to be swayed by
her own impulses.  Physical compulsion or restraint was
effectual, of course, while it lasted.  As to any other kind of
discipline, whether addressed to her mind or heart, little Pearl
might or might not be within its reach, in accordance with the
caprice that ruled the moment.  Her mother, while Pearl was yet
an infant, grew acquainted with a certain peculiar look, that
warned her when it would be labour thrown away to insist,
persuade or plead.

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

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

How soon--with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive at
an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the
mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words!  And then what a
happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her
clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other
childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own
darling's tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of
sportive children.  But this could never be.  Pearl was a born
outcast of the infantile world.  An imp of evil, emblem and
product of sin, she had no right among christened infants.
Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed,
with which the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny
that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole
peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other
children.  Never since her release from prison had Hester met the
public gaze without her.  In all her walks about the town, Pearl,
too, was there: first as the babe in arms, and afterwards as the
little girl, small companion of her mother, holding a forefinger
with her whole grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or
four footsteps to one of Hester's.  She saw the children of the
settlement on the grassy margin of the street, or at the
domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashions
as the Puritanic nurture would permit; playing at going to
church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in
a sham fight with the Indians, or scaring one another with
freaks of imitative witchcraft.  Pearl saw, and gazed intently,
but never sought to make acquaintance.  If spoken to, she would
not speak again.  If the children gathered about her, as they
sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible in her puny
wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill,
incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because
they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some
unknown tongue.

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

At home, within and around her mother's cottage, Pearl wanted
not a wide and various circle of acquaintance.  The spell of life
went forth from her ever-creative spirit, and communicated
itself to a thousand objects, as a torch kindles a flame
wherever it may be applied.  The unlikeliest materials--a stick,
a bunch of rags, a flower--were the puppets of Pearl's
witchcraft, and, without undergoing any outward change, became
spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied the stage of her
inner world.  Her one baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary
personages, old and young, to talk withal.  The pine-trees, aged,
black, and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy
utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure
as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their
children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted most unmercifully.
It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into which she threw
her intellect, with no continuity, indeed, but darting up and
dancing, always in a state of preternatural activity--soon
sinking down, as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of
life--and succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild energy.  It
was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the
northern lights.  In the mere exercise of the fancy, however, and
the sportiveness of a growing mind, there might be a little more
than was observable in other children of bright faculties;
except as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was thrown
more upon the visionary throng which she created.  The
singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the child
regarded all these offsprings of her own heart and mind.  She
never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast
the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies,
against whom she rushed to battle.  It was inexpressibly
sad--then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt in her own
heart the cause--to observe, in one so young, this constant
recognition of an adverse world, and so fierce a training of the
energies that were to make good her cause in the contest that
must ensue.

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

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

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

In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after Pearl grew big
enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls
of wild flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's
bosom; dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit
the scarlet letter.  Hester's first motion had been to cover her
bosom with her clasped hands.  But whether from pride or
resignation, or a feeling that her penance might best be wrought
out by this unutterable pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat
erect, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild
eyes.  Still came the battery of flowers, almost invariably
hitting the mark, and covering the mother's breast with hurts
for which she could find no balm in this world, nor knew how to
seek it in another.  At last, her shot being all expended, the
child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little laughing
image of a fiend peeping out--or, whether it peeped or no, her
mother so imagined it--from the unsearchable abyss of her black
eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes; I am little Pearl!" repeated the child, continuing her
antics.

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

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

"Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!" answered Hester Prynne.

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

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

"Hush, Pearl, hush!  Thou must not talk so!" answered the
mother, suppressing a groan.  "He sent us all into the world.  He
sent even me, thy mother.  Then, much more thee!  Or, if not, thou
strange and elfish child, whence didst thou come?"

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

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


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

Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a
pair of embroidered gloves, impelled Hester, at this time, to
seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity
in the affairs of the settlement.  It had reached her ears that
there was a design on the part of some of the leading
inhabitants, cherishing the more rigid order of principles in
religion and government, to deprive her of her child.  On the
supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon origin,
these good people not unreasonably argued that a Christian
interest in the mother's soul required them to remove such a
stumbling-block from her path.  If the child, on the other hand,
were really capable of moral and religious growth, and possessed
the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy
all the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred
to wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prynne's.  Among
those who promoted the design, Governor Bellingham was said to
be one of the most busy.  It may appear singular, and, indeed,
not a little ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which in
later days would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction
than that of the select men of the town, should then have been a
question publicly discussed, and on which statesmen of eminence
took sides.  At that epoch of pristine simplicity, however,
matters of even slighter public interest, and of far less
intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child, were
strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legislators and
acts of state.  The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than
that of our story, when a dispute concerning the right of
property in a pig not only caused a fierce and bitter contest in
the legislative body of the colony, but resulted in an important
modification of the framework itself of the legislature.

Full of concern, therefore--but so conscious of her own right
that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on
the one side, and a lonely woman, backed by the sympathies of
nature, on the other--Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary
cottage.  Little Pearl, of course, was her companion.  She was now
of an age to run lightly along by her mother's side, and,
constantly in motion from morn till sunset, could have
accomplished a much longer journey than that before her.  Often,
nevertheless, more from caprice than necessity, she demanded to
be taken up in arms; but was soon as imperious to be let down
again, and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway,
with many a harmless trip and tumble.  We have spoken of Pearl's
rich and luxuriant beauty--a beauty that shone with deep and
vivid tints, a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both
of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and
which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black.  There was
fire in her and throughout her: she seemed the unpremeditated
offshoot of a passionate moment.  Her mother, in contriving the
child's garb, had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her
imagination their full play, arraying her in a crimson velvet
tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered in fantasies and
flourishes of gold thread.  So much strength of colouring, which
must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter
bloom, was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made her the
very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the
earth.

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and indeed, of
the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and
inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester
Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom.  It was the scarlet
letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life!
The mother herself--as if the red ignominy were so deeply
scorched into her brain that all her conceptions assumed its
form--had carefully wrought out the similitude, lavishing many
hours of morbid ingenuity to create an analogy between the
object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture.
But, in truth, Pearl was the one as well as the other; and only
in consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so
perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.

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

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

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

Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Governor
Bellingham.  This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of
which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our
older towns now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy
at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences,
remembered or forgotten, that have happened and passed away
within their dusky chambers.  Then, however, there was the
freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the
cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human
habitation, into which death had never entered.  It had, indeed,
a very cheery aspect, the walls being overspread with a kind of
stucco, in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully
intermixed; so that, when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over the
front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds
had been flung against it by the double handful.  The brilliancy
might have be fitted Aladdin's palace rather than the mansion of
a grave old Puritan ruler.  It was further decorated with strange
and seemingly cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the
quaint taste of the age which had been drawn in the stucco, when
newly laid on, and had now grown hard and durable, for the
admiration of after times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of
entrance.  With many variations, suggested by the nature of his
building materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode
of social life, Governor Bellingham had planned his new
habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in
his native land.  Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty
hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, and
forming a medium of general communication, more or less
directly, with all the other apartments.  At one extremity, this
spacious room was lighted by the windows of the two towers,
which formed a small recess on either side of the portal.  At the
other end, though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more
powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall windows
which we read of in old books, and which was provided with a
deep and cushioned seat.  Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome,
probably of the Chronicles of England, or other such substantial
literature; even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes
on the centre table, to be turned over by the casual guest.  The
furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous chairs, the
backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken
flowers; and likewise a table in the same taste, the whole being
of the Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms,
transferred hither from the Governor's paternal home.  On the
table--in token that the sentiment of old English hospitality
had not been left behind--stood a large pewter tankard, at the
bottom of which, had Hester or Pearl peeped into it, they might
have seen the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, adown the vista of the garden avenue, a number of
persons were seen approaching towards the house.  Pearl, in utter
scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch
scream, and then became silent, not from any notion of
obedience, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her
disposition was excited by the appearance of those new
personages.
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