The Scarlet Letter

Part 2 out of 5

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!


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

"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 he less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring
woman's heart, and disentangling its mesh of good and evil, than
the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned
her face. She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy
she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude;
for, as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman
grew pale, and trembled.

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

"Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, "I have striven with my
young brother here, under whose preaching of the Word you have
been privileged to sit"--here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the
shoulder of a pale young man beside him--"I have sought, I say,
to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here
in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers,
and in hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and
blackness of your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hester shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind,
the elder clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the
occasion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all
its branches, but with continual reference to the ignominious letter.
So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or more during
which is 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.


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

"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
ad 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

"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.

"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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a
softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more
so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to
and fro, with those lonely footsteps, in the little world with
which she was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to
Hester--if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent to
be resisted--she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter
had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet
could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic
knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. She was 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.


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

"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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 player what passed
for play with those sombre little urchins--and spoke gravely
one to another

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

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamping
her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of
threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her
enemies, and put them all to flight. She resembled, in her
fierce pursuit of them, an infant pestilence--the scarlet
fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment--whose
mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She
screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound,
which, doubtless, caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake
within them. The victory accomplished, Pearl returned quietly to
her mother, and looked up, smiling, into her face.
Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Governor
Bellingham. This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of
which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our
older towns now moss--grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy
at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences,
remembered or forgotten, that have happened and passed away
within their dusky chambers. Then, however, there was the
freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the
cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human
habitation, into which death had never entered. It had, indeed,
a very cheery aspect, the walls being overspread with a kind of
stucco, in which fragments of broken
glass were plentifully intermixed; so that, when the sunshine
fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered and
sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double
handful. The brilliancy might have be fitted Aladdin's palace
rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It was
further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures
and diagrams, suitable to the quaint taste of the age which had
been drawn in the stucco, when newly laid on, and had now grown
hard and durable, for the admiration of after 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

"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 cushion seat.
Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the
Chronicles of England, or other such substantial literature; even
as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes on the centre
table, to be turned over by the casual guest. The furniture of the
hall consisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were
elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a
table in the same taste, the whole being of the Elizabethan age,
or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the
Governor's paternal home. On the table--in token that the
sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind--stood
a large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester
or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant
of a recent draught of 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap--such as
elderly gentlemen loved to endue themselves with, in their
domestic privacy--walked foremost, and appeared to be showing
off his estate, and expatiating on his projected improvements.
The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his grey
beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James's reign, caused
his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a
charger. The impression made by his aspect, so rigid and severe,
and frost-bitten with more than autumnal age, was hardly in
keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had
evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it is an
error to suppose that our great forefathers--though accustomed
to speak and think of human existence as a state merely of trial
and warfare, and though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods
and life at the behest of duty--made it a matter of conscience
to reject such means of comfort, or even luxury, as lay fairly
within their grasp. This creed was never taught, for instance,
by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard, white as a
snow-drift, was seen over Governor Bellingham's shoulders, while
its wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalised
in the New England climate, and that purple grapes might possibly
be compelled to flourish against the sunny garden-wall. The old
clergyman, nurtured at the rich bosom of the English Church, had
a long established and legitimate taste for all good and
comfortable things, and however stern he might show himself in
the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such transgressions as
that of Hester Prynne, still, the genial benevolence of his
private life had won him warmer affection than was accorded to
any of his professional contemporaries.

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

The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two
steps, and, throwing open the leaves of the great hall window,
found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain
fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Roger Chillingworth, with a smile on his face, whispered
something in the young clergyman's ear. Hester Prynne looked at
the man of skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the
balance, was startled to perceive what a change had come over his
features--how much uglier they were, how his dark complexion
seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen--since
the days when she had familiarly known him. She met his
eyes for an instant, but was immediately constrained to give all
her attention to the scene now going forward.

"This is awful!" cried the Governor, slowly recovering from the
astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him. "Here
is a child of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her!
Without question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its
present depravity, and future destiny! Methinks, gentlemen, we
need inquire no further."

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

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

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

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

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

"There is truth in what she says," began the minister, with a
voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall
re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it--"truth in what
Hester says, and in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her
the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its
nature and requirements--both seemingly so peculiar--which no
other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there not a
quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother
and this child?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The young minister, on ceasing to speak had withdrawn a few steps
from the group, and stood with his face partially concealed in
the heavy folds of the window-curtain; while the shadow of his
figure, which the sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous
with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty
little elf stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the
grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so
tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was
looking on, asked herself--"Is that my Pearl?" Yet she knew
that there was love in the child's heart, although it mostly
revealed itself in passion, and hardly twice in her lifetime had
been softened by such gentleness as now. The minister--for,
save the long-sought regards of woman, nothing is sweeter than
these marks of childish preference, accorded spontaneously by a
spiritual instinct, and therefore seeming to imply in us
something truly worthy to be loved--the minister looked round,
laid his hand on the child's head, hesitated an instant, and then
kissed her brow. Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment
lasted no longer; she laughed, and went capering down the hall so
airily, that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her
tiptoes touched the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth, the reader will
remember, was hidden another name, which its former wearer had
resolved should never more be spoken. It has been related, how,
in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure,
stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from the
perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he hoped to find
embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a type of
sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under all
men's feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public
market-place. For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach
them, and for the companions of her unspotted life, there
remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonour; which would
not fail to be distributed in strict accordance arid proportion
with the intimacy and sacredness of their previous relationship.
Then why--since the choice was with himself--should the
individual, whose connexion with the fallen woman had been the
most intimate and sacred of them all, come forward to vindicate
his claim to an inheritance so little desirable? He resolved not
to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Unknown to
all but Hester Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of her silence,
he chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, and, as
regarded his former ties and interest, to vanish out of life as completely
as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean, whither rumour
had long ago consigned him. This purpose once effected, new
interests would immediately spring up, and likewise a new
purpose; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of force enough to
engage the full strength of his faculties.

In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence in the
Puritan town as Roger Chillingworth, without other introduction
than the learning and intelligence of which he possessed more
than a common measure. As his studies, at a previous period of
his life, had made him extensively acquainted with the medical
science of the day, it was as a physician that he presented
himself and as such was cordially received. Skilful men, of the
medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in
the colony. They seldom, it would appear, partook of the
religious zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic.
In their researches into the human frame, it may be that the
higher and more subtle faculties of such men were materialised,
and that they lost the spiritual view of existence amid the
intricacies of that wondrous mechanism, which seemed to involve
art enough to comprise all of life within itself. At all events,
the health of the good town of Boston, so far as medicine had


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