The Scarlet Letter

Part 3 out of 5

aught to do with it, had hitherto lain in the guardianship of an
aged deacon and apothecary, whose piety and godly deportment were
stronger testimonials in his favour than any that he could have
produced in the shape of a diploma. The only surgeon was one
who combined the occasional exercise of
that noble art with the daily and habitual flourish of a razor.
To such a professional body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant
acquisition. He soon manifested his familiarity with the
ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which
every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and
heterogeneous ingredients, as elaborately compounded as if the
proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian
captivity, moreover, he had gained much knowledge of the
properties of native herbs and roots; nor did he conceal from his
patients that these simple medicines, Nature's boon to the
untutored savage, had quite as large a share of his own
confidence as the European Pharmacopoeia, which so many learned
doctors had spent centuries in elaborating.

This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the
outward forms of a religious life; and early after his arrival,
had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in
Oxford, was considered by his more fervent admirers as little
less than a heavenly ordained apostle, destined, should he live
and labour for the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds,
for the now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers had
achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. About this
period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently
begun to fail. By those best acquainted with his habits, the
paleness of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by his
too earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial
duty, and more than all, to the fasts and vigils of which he made
a frequent practice, in order to keep the grossness of this
earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp.
Some declared, that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die,
it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any
longer trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, with
characteristic humility, avowed his belief that if Providence
should see fit to remove him, it would be because of his own
unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth. With
all this difference of opinion as to the cause of his decline,
there could be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated;
his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain melancholy
prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed, on any slight
alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart
with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain.

Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so imminent the
prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished, all
untimely, when Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town.
His first entry on the scene, few people could tell whence,
dropping down as it were out of the sky or starting from the
nether earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was easily
heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to be a man of
skill; it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of
wild-flowers, and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the
forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was
valueless to common eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm
Digby and other famous men--whose
scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than
supernatural--as having been his correspondents or associates.
Why, with such rank in the learned world, had he come hither?
What, could he, whose sphere was in great cities, be seeking in
the wilderness? In answer to this query, a rumour gained
ground--and however absurd, was entertained by some very sensible
people--that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by
transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German university
bodily through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr.
Dimmesdale's study! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew
that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the
stage-effect of what is called miraculous interposition, were
inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so
opportune arrival.

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

"I need no medicine," said he.

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

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

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

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

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

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the
medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the
disease interested the physician, but he was strongly moved to
look into the character and qualities of the patient, these two
men, so different in age, came gradually to spend much time
together. For the sake of the minister's health, and to enable
the leech to gather plants with healing balm in them, they took
long walks on the sea-shore, or in the forest; mingling various
walks with the splash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn
wind-anthem among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was the
guest of the other in his place of study and retirement There was
a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of
science, in whom he recognised an intellectual cultivation of no
moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of
ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the members of
his own profession. In truth, he was startled, if not shocked,
to find this attribute in the physician. Mr. Dimmesdale was a
true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment
largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself
powerfully along the track of a creed, and wore its passage
continually deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of
society would he have been what is called a man of liberal views;
it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of
a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him within its
iron framework. Not the less, however, though with a tremulous
enjoyment, did he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe
through the medium of another kind of intellect than those with
which he habitually held converse. It was as if a window were
thrown open, admitting a freer atmosphere into the close and
stifled study, where his life was wasting itself away, amid
lamp-light, or obstructed day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be
it sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the air was
too fresh and chill to be long breathed with comfort. So the
minister, and the physician with him, withdrew again within the
limits of what their Church defined as orthodox.

Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefully, both
as he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping an accustomed pathway
in the range of thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when
thrown amidst other moral scenery, the novelty of which might
call out something new to the surface of his character. He
deemed it essential, it would seem, to know the man, before
attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a heart and an
intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the
peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and
imagination were so active, and sensibility so intense, that the
bodily infirmity would be likely to have its groundwork there.
So Roger Chillingworth--the man of skill, the kind and friendly
physician--strove to go deep into his patient's bosom, delving
among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing
everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a
dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has
opportunity and licence to undertake such a quest, and skill to
follow it up. A man burdened with a secret
should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the
latter possess native sagacity, and a nameless something more let
us call it intuition; if he show no intrusive egotism, nor
disagreeable prominent characteristics of his own; if he have the
power, which must be born with him, to bring his mind into such
affinity with his patient's, that this last shall unawares have
spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought if such
revelations be received without tumult, and acknowledged not so
often by an uttered sympathy as by silence, an inarticulate
breath, and here and there a word to indicate that all is
understood; if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined
the advantages afforded by his recognised character as a
physician;--then, at some inevitable moment, will the soul of
the sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a dark but
transparent stream, bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.

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

After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of
Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were
lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow of the
minister's life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and
attached physician. There was much joy throughout the town when
this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held to be
the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare;
unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorised to do
so, he had selected some one of the many blooming damsels,
spiritually devoted to him, to become his devoted wife. This
latter step, however, there was no present prospect that Arthur
Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all
suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy were one of his
articles of Church discipline. Doomed by his own choice,
therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his
unsavoury morsel always at another's board, and endure the
life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself
only at another's fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious,
experienced, benevolent old physician, with his concord of
paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, was the very
man, of all mankind, to be constantly within reach of his voice.

The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widow, of good
social rank, who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the site
on which the venerable structure of King's Chapel has since been
built. It had the graveyard, originally Isaac Johnson's home-field,
on one side, and so was well adapted to call up serious
reflections, suited to their respective employments, in both
minister and man of physic. The motherly care of the good widow
assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny
exposure, and heavy window-curtains, to create a noontide shadow
when desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to
be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the
Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet,
in colours still unfaded, but which made the fair woman of the
scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.
Here the pale clergyman piled up his library, rich with
parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore of Rabbis,
and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant divines, even
while they vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet
constrained often to avail themselves. On the other side of the
house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory:
not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably
complete, but provided with a distilling apparatus and the means
of compounding drugs and chemicals, which the practised alchemist
knew well how to turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of
situation, these two learned persons sat themselves down, each in
his own domain, yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the
other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious inspection into
one another's business.

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friends, as
we have intimated, very reasonably imagined that the hand of
Providence had done all this
for the purpose--besought in so many public and domestic and
secret prayers--of restoring the young minister to health.
But, it must now be said, another portion of the community had
latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr.
Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician. When an
uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is
exceedingly apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its
judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and
warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often so profound
and so unerring as to possess the character of truth
supernaturally revealed. The people, in the case of which we
speak, could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by
no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There was an
aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a citizen of London
at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murder, now some thirty
years agone; he testified to having seen the physician, under
some other name, which the narrator of the story had now
forgotten, in company with Dr. Forman, the famous old conjurer,
who was implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three
individuals hinted that the man of skill, during his Indian
captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the
incantations of the savage priests, who were universally
acknowledged to be powerful enchanters, often performing
seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art. A
large number--and many of these were persons of such sober
sense and practical observation that their opinions would have
been valuable in other matters--affirmed that Roger
Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he
had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr.
Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative,
scholar-like. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face,
which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the
more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him.
According to the vulgar idea, the fire in his laboratory had been
brought from the lower regions, and was fed with infernal fuel;
and so, as might be expected, his visage was getting sooty with
the smoke.

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

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


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

Sometimes a light glimmered out of the physician's eyes, burning
blue and ominous, like the reflection of a furnace, or, let us
say, like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from
Bunyan's awful doorway in the hillside, and quivered on the
pilgrim's face. The soil where this dark miner was working had
perchance shown indications that encouraged him.

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

Then after long search into the minister's dim interior, and
turning over many precious materials, in the shape of high
aspirations for the welfare of his race, warm love of souls, pure
sentiments, natural piety, strengthened by thought and study, and
illuminated by revelation--all of which invaluable gold was
perhaps no better than rubbish to the seeker--he would turn
back, discouraged, and begin his quest towards another point. He
groped along as stealthily, with as cautious a tread, and as wary
an outlook, as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only
half asleep--or, it may be, broad awake--with purpose to
steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his
eye. In spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would
now and then creak; his garments would rustle; the shadow of his
presence, in a forbidden proximity, would be thrown across his
victim. In other words, Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of
nerve often produced the effect of spiritual intuition, would
become vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace had
thrust itself into relation with him. But Old Roger
Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were almost intuitive;
and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards him, there
the physician sat; his kind, watchful, sympathising, but never
intrusive friend.

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

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on the
sill of the open window, that looked towards the grave-yard, he
talked with Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was examining
a bundle of unsightly plants.

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

"Even in the graveyard here at hand," answered the physician,
continuing his employment. "They are new to me. I found them
growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, no other memorial of
the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon
themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his
heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried
with him, and which he had done better to confess during his

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

"And wherefore?" rejoined the physician.

"Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly
for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up
out of a buried heart, to make manifest, an outspoken crime?"

"That, good sir, is but a phantasy of yours," replied the
minister. "There can be, if I forbode aright, no power, short of
the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by
type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried in the human
heart. The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must
perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be
revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ, as to
understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds, then
to be made, is intended as a part of the retribution. That,
surely, were a shallow view of it. No; these revelations, unless
I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual
satisfaction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting,
on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made plain. A
knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the completest
solution of that problem. And, I conceive moreover, that the
hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of, will yield
them up, at that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy

"Then why not reveal it here?" asked Roger Chillingworth,
glancing quietly aside at the minister. "Why should not the
guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"

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

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

"True; there are such men," answered Mr. Dimmesdale. "But not
to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept
silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or--can we
not suppose it?--guilty as they may be, retaining,
nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, they
shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of
men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no
evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own
unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures,
looking pure as new-fallen snow, while their hearts are all
speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid

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

"It may be so," said the young clergyman, indifferently, as
waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or
unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from
any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous
temperament.--"But, now, I would ask of my well-skilled
physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to have profited
by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?"

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

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

"There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for
human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that
child's composition," remarked he, as much to himself as to his
companion. "I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor
himself with water at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. What, in
heaven's name, is she? Is the imp altogether evil? Hath she
affections? Hath she any discoverable principle of being?"

"None, save the freedom of a broken law," answered Mr.
Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had been discussing the
point within himself, "Whether capable of good, I know not."

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

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

"There goes a woman," resumed Roger Chillingworth, after a pause,
"who, be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mystery of
hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is
Hester Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet
letter on her breast?"

"I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. "Nevertheless,
I cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face
which I would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still,
methinks, it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to
show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it up
in his heart."

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

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

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

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

"You speak in riddles, learned sir," said the pale minister,
glancing aside out of the window.

"Then, to speak more plainly," continued the physician, "and I
crave pardon, sir, should it seem to require pardon, for this
needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask as your friend, as
one having charge, under Providence, of your life and physical
well being, hath all the operations of this disorder been fairly
laid open and recounted to me?"

"How can you question it?" asked the minister. "Surely it were
child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"

"You would tell me, then, that I know all?" said Roger
Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, bright with
intense and concentrated intelligence, on the minister's face.
"Be it so! But again! He to whom only the outward and physical
evil is laid open, knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which
he is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we look upon
as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a
symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part. Your pardon once
again, good sir, if my speech give the shadow of offence.
You, sir, of all men whom I have known, are
he whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued, and
identified, so to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the

"Then I need ask no further," said the clergyman, somewhat
hastily rising from his chair. "You deal not, I take it, in
medicine for the soul!"

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

"No, not to thee! not to an earthly physician!" cried Mr.
Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning his eyes, full and bright,
and with a kind of fierceness, on old Roger Chillingworth. "Not
to thee! But, if it be the soul's disease, then do I commit
myself to the one Physician of the soul! He, if it stand with
His good pleasure, can cure, or he can kill. Let Him do with me
as, in His justice and wisdom, He shall see good. But who art
thou, that meddlest in this matter? that dares thrust himself
between the sufferer and his God?"

With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.

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

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two
companions, on the same footing and in the same degree as
heretofore. The young clergyman, after a few hours of privacy,
was sensible that the disorder of his nerves had hurried him into
an unseemly outbreak of temper, which there had been nothing in
the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He marvelled,
indeed, at the violence with which he had thrust back the kind
old man, when merely proffering the advice which it was his duty
to bestow, and which the minister himself had expressly sought.
With these remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making the
amplest apologies, and besought his friend still to continue the
care which, if not successful in restoring him to health, had, in
all probability, been the means of prolonging his feeble
existence to that hour. Roger Chillingworth readily assented,
and went on with his medical supervision of the minister; doing
his best for him, in all good faith, but always quitting the
patient's apartment, at the close of the professional interview,
with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This
expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence, but grew
strongly evident as the physician crossed the threshold.

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

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

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

After a brief pause, the physician turned away.

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

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


After the incident last described, the intercourse between the
clergyman and the physician, though externally the same, was
really of another character than it had previously been. The
intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain
path before it. It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had
laid out for himself to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he
appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice,
hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man,
which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal
had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To make himself the one trusted
friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, the
agony, the ineffectual repentance, the backward rush of sinful
thoughts, expelled in vain! All that guilty sorrow, hidden from
the world, whose great heart would have pitied and forgiven, to
be revealed to him, the Pitiless--to him, the Unforgiving! All
that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man, to whom
nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance!

The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme
Roger Chillingworth, however, was inclined to be hardly, if at all,
less satisfied with the
aspect of affairs, which Providence--using the avenger and his
victim for its own purposes, and, perchance, pardoning, where it
seemed most to punish--had substituted for his black devices A
revelation, he could almost say, had been granted to him. It
mattered little for his object, whether celestial or from what
other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations
betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the external
presence, but the very inmost soul of the latter, seemed to be
brought out before his eyes, so that he could see and comprehend
its every movement. He became, thenceforth, not a spectator
only, but a chief actor in the poor minister's interior world.
He could play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him with a
throb of agony? The victim was for ever on the rack; it needed
only to know the spring that controlled the engine: and the
physician knew it well. Would he startle him with sudden fear?
As at the waving of a magician's wand, up rose a grisly
phantom--up rose a thousand phantoms--in many shapes, of death, or
more awful shame, all flocking round about the clergyman, and
pointing with their fingers at his breast!

All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, that the
minister, though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil
influence watching over him, could never gain a knowledge of its
actual nature. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully--even, at
times, with horror and the bitterness of hatred--at the
deformed figure of the old physician. His gestures, his gait,
his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the
very fashion of his garments, were
odious in the clergyman's sight; a token implicitly to be relied
on of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was
willing to acknowledge to himself. For, as it was impossible to
assign a reason for such distrust and abhorrence, so Mr.
Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was
infecting his heart's entire substance, attributed all his
presentiments to no other cause. He took himself to task for his
bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworth, disregarded
the lesson that he should have drawn from them, and did his best
to root them out. Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as
a matter of principle, continued his habits of social familiarity
with the old man, and thus gave him constant opportunities for
perfecting the purpose to which--poor forlorn creature that he
was, and more wretched than his victim--the avenger had devoted

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and
tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the
machinations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale
had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won
it indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual
gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and
communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural
activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. His fame,
though still on its upward slope, already overshadowed the
soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen, eminent as several
of them were. There are scholars among them, who had spent more
years in acquiring abstruse lore, connected with the divine
profession, than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived; and who might well,
therefore, be more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable
attainments than their youthful brother. There were men, too, of
a sturdier texture of mind than his, and endowed with a far
greater share of shrewd, hard iron, or granite understanding;
which, duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal
ingredient, constitutes a highly respectable, efficacious, and
unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were others
again, true saintly fathers, whose faculties had been elaborated
by weary toil among their books, and by patient thought, and
etherealised, moreover, by spiritual communications with the
better world, into which their purity of life had almost
introduced these holy personages, with their garments of
mortality still clinging to them. All that they lacked was, the
gift that descended upon the chosen disciples at Pentecost, in
tongues of flame; symbolising, it would seem, not the power of
speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing
the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language.
These fathers, otherwise so apostolic, lacked Heaven's last and
rarest attestation of their office, the Tongue of Flame. They
would have vainly sought--had they ever dreamed of seeking--to
express the highest truths through the humblest medium of
familiar words and images. Their voices came down, afar and
indistinctly, from the upper heights where they habitually dwelt.

Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr.
Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged.
To the high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he would have
climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it
might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to
totter. It kept him down on a level with the lowest; him, the man of
ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels might else have listened
to and answered! But this very burden it was that gave him sympathies
so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind; so that his heart
vibrated in unison with theirs, and received their pain into itself
and sent its own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in
gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persuasive, but
sometimes terrible! The people knew not the power that moved them
thus. They deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness. They
fancied him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdom, and
rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground on which he trod was
sanctified. The virgins of his church grew pale around him, victims
of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment, that they imagined it
to be all religion, and brought it openly, in their white bosoms, as
their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The aged members of
his flock, beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they were
themselves so rugged in their infirmity, believed that he would go
heavenward before them, and enjoined it upon their children that their
old bones should be buried close to their young pastor's holy grave.
And all this time, perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of
his grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever
grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be buried!

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

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit, with a
purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken
words like the above. More than once he had cleared his throat,
and drawn in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when
sent forth again, would come burdened with the black secret of
his soul. More than once--nay, more than a hundred times--he
had actually spoken! Spoken! But how? He had told his hearers
that he was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst
of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity, and
that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body
shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the
Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not
the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse,
and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so,
indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more.
They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those
self-condemning words. "The godly youth!" said they among
themselves. "The saint on earth! Alas! if he discern such
sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he
behold in thine or mine!" The minister well knew--subtle, but
remorseful hypocrite that he was!--the light in which his
vague confession would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat
upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had
gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without
the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the
very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And
yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and
loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all
things else, he loathed his miserable self!

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with
the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of
the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr.
Dimmesdale's secret closet, under lock and key, there was a
bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had
plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the
while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that
bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of
many other pious Puritans, to fast--not however, like them, in
order to purify the body, and render it the fitter medium of
celestial illumination--but rigorously, and until his knees
trembled beneath him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils,
likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness,
sometimes with a glimmering lamp, and sometimes, viewing his own
face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he
could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection
wherewith he tortured, but could not purify himself. In these
lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to
flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of
their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly
and close beside him, within the looking-glass. Now it was a
herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale
minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining
angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more
ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of his youth,
and his white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his
mother turning her face away as she passed by Ghost of a
mother--thinnest fantasy of a mother--methinks she might yet have
thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And now, through the
chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided
Hester Prynne leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and
pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and
then at the clergyman's own breast.

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by
an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their
misty lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not
solid in their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that
big, square, leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity.
But, for all that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most
substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is
the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his, that it steals
the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around
us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and
nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false--it
is impalpable--it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he
himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a
shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that
continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth
was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled
expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to
smile, and wear a face of gaiety, there would have been no such

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


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

It was an obscure night in early May. An unwearied pall of cloud
muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon. If the
same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester
Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned
forth, they would have discerned no face above the platform nor
hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark grey of the
midnight. But the town was all asleep. There was no peril of
discovery. The minister might stand there, if it so pleased him,
until morning should redden in the east, without other risk than
that the dank and chill night air would creep into his frame, and
stiffen his joints with rheumatism, and clog his throat with catarrh
and cough; thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's
prayer and sermon. No eye could see him, save that ever-wakeful one
which had seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge.
Why, then, had he come hither? Was it but the mockery of
penitence? A mockery, indeed, but in which his soul trifled with
itself! A mockery at which angels blushed and wept, while fiends
rejoiced with jeering laughter! He had been driven hither by the
impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere, and whose
own sister and closely linked companion was that Cowardice which
invariably drew him back, with her tremulous gripe, just when the
other impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure.
Poor, miserable man! what right had infirmity like his to burden
itself with crime? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their
choice either to endure it, or, if it press too hard, to exert
their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, and fling it
off at once! This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do
neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which
intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of
heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance.

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

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

But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far
greater power, to his own startled ears, than it actually
possessed. The town did not awake; or, if it did, the drowsy
slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a
dream, or for the noise of witches, whose voices, at that period,
were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages,
as they rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman,
therefore, hearing no symptoms of disturbance, uncovered his eyes
and looked about him. At one of the chamber-windows of Governor
Bellingham's mansion, which stood at some distance, on the line
of another street, he beheld the appearance of the old magistrate
himself with a lamp in his hand a white night-cap on his head,
and a long white gown enveloping his figure. He looked like a
ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had evidently
startled him. At another window of the same house, moreover
appeared old Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, also with a
lamp, which even thus far off revealed the expression of her sour
and discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the
lattice, and looked anxiously upward Beyond the shadow of a
doubt, this venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry,
and interpreted it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as
the clamour of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well
known to make excursions in the forest.

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lamp, the old lady
quickly extinguished her own, and vanished. Possibly, she went
up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further of her
motions. The magistrate, after a wary observation of the
darkness--into which, nevertheless, he could see but little
further than he might into a mill-stone--retired from the

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, however, were
soon greeted by a little glimmering light, which, at first a long
way off was approaching up the street. It threw a gleam of
recognition, on here a post, and there a garden fence, and here a
latticed window-pane, and there a pump, with its full trough of
water, and here again an arched door of oak, with an iron
knocker, and a rough log for the door-step. The Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale noted all these minute particulars, even while firmly
convinced that the doom of his existence was stealing onward, in
the footsteps which he now heard; and that the gleam of the
lantern would fall upon him in a few moments more, and reveal his
long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearer, be beheld, within
its illuminated circle, his brother clergyman--or, to speak
more accurately, his professional father, as well as highly
valued friend--the Reverend Mr. Wilson, who, as Mr. Dimmesdale
now conjectured, had been praying at the bedside of some
dying man. And so he had. The good old minister came
freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthrop, who had
passed from earth to heaven within that very hour. And now
surrounded, like the saint-like personage of olden times, with a
radiant halo, that glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin--as
if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his
glory, or as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of
the celestial city, while looking thitherward to see the
triumphant pilgrim pass within its gates--now, in short, good
Father Wilson was moving homeward, aiding his footsteps with a
lighted lantern! The glimmer of this luminary suggested the
above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdale, who smiled--nay, almost
laughed at them--and then wondered if he was going mad.

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

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

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

Shortly afterwards, the like grisly sense of the humorous again
stole in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He felt his
limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the
night, and doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps
of the scaffold. Morning would break and find him there The
neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest riser,
coming forth in the dim twilight, would perceive a
vaguely-defined figure aloft on the place of shame; and
half-crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, would go knocking from
door to door, summoning all the people to behold the ghost--as
he needs must think it--of some defunct transgressor. A dusky
tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. Then--the
morning light still waxing stronger--old patriarchs would
rise up in great haste, each in his flannel gown, and matronly
dames, without pausing to put off their night-gear. The whole
tribe of decorous personages, who had never heretofore been seen
with a single hair of their heads awry, would start into public
view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old
Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth, with his King James'
ruff fastened askew, and Mistress Hibbins, with some twigs of the
forest clinging to her skirts, and looking sourer than ever, as
having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride; and good
Father Wilson too, after spending half the night at a death-bed,
and liking ill to be disturbed, thus early, out of his dreams about
the glorified saints. Hither, likewise,
would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church,
and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had
made a shrine for him in their white bosoms, which now,
by-the-bye, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have
given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All people,
in a word, would come stumbling over their thresholds, and
turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the
scaffold. Whom would they discern there, with the red eastern
light upon his brow? Whom, but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale,
half-frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and standing where
Hester Prynne had stood!

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

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

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

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

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

"Come up hither, Hester, thou and Little Pearl," said the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here before, but I
was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand
all three together."

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

"Minister!" whispered little Pearl.

"What wouldst thou say, child?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale.

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

"Nay; not so, my little Pearl," answered the minister; for, with
the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure,
that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon
him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which--with
a strange joy, nevertheless--he now found himself--"not
so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee
one other day, but not to-morrow."

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

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

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

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

"And what other time?" persisted the child.

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

Pearl laughed again.

But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far
and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by
one of those meteors, which the night-watcher may so often
observe burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the
atmosphere. So powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly
illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth.
The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It
showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of
mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to
familiar objects by an unaccustomed light The wooden houses, with
their jutting storeys and quaint gable-peaks; the doorsteps and
thresholds with the early grass springing up about them; the
garden-plots, black with freshly-turned earth; the wheel-track,
little worn, and even in the market-place margined with green on
either side--all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect
that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of
this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with
his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered
letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a
symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in
the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if it were the
light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall
unite all who belong to one another.

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

Nothing was more common, in those days, than to interpret all
meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena that occured
with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so
many revelations from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing
spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows seen in the
midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to
have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. We doubt
whether any marked event, for good or evil, ever befell New
England, from its settlement down to revolutionary times, of
which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some
spectacle of its nature. Not seldom, it had been seen by
multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested on the
faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld the wonder through
the coloured, magnifying, and distorted medium of his
imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.
It was, indeed, a majestic idea that the destiny of nations should
be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven.
A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence
to write a people's doom upon. The belief was a favourite one
with our forefathers, as betokening that their infant
commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar
intimacy and strictness. But what shall we say, when an
individual discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone, on
the same vast sheet of record. In such a case, it could only be
the symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a man,
rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret
pain, had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature,
until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting
page for his soul's history and fate.

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

There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr.
Dimmesdale's psychological state at this moment. All the time
that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless,
perfectly aware that little Pearl was hinting her finger towards
old Roger Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from the
scaffold. The minister appeared to see him, with the same glance
that discerned the miraculous letter. To his feature as to all
other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expression; or
it might well be that the physician was not careful then, as at
all other times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked
upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up the sky,
and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that admonished Hester
Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment, then might Roger
Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing
there with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So vivid was the
expression, or so intense the minister's perception of it, that
it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness after the
meteor had vanished, with an effect as if the street and all
things else were at once annihilated.

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

She remembered her oath, and was silent.

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

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

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

Pearl mumbled something into his ear that sounded, indeed, like
human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be
heard amusing themselves with by the hour together. At all
events, if it involved any secret information in regard to old
Roger Chillingworth, it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite
clergyman, and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind.
The elvish child then laughed aloud.

"Dost thou mock me now?" said the minister.

"Thou wast not bold!--thou wast not true!" answered the child.
"Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and mother's hand,
to-morrow noon-tide!"

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

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

"Verily, and in good faith," answered Roger Chillingworth, "I
knew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of the
night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop, doing
what my poor skill might to give him ease. He, going home to a
better world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when this
light shone out. Come with me, I beseech you, Reverend sir, else
you will be poorly able to do Sabbath duty to-morrow. Aha! see
now how they trouble the brain--these books!--these books!
You should study less, good sir, and take a little pastime, or
these night whimsies will grow upon you."

"I will go home with you," said Mr. Dimmesdale.

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

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

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

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

"Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed!"

"And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs
handle him without gloves henceforward," remarked the old sexton,
grimly smiling. "But did your reverence hear of the portent that
was seen last night? a great red letter in the sky--the letter
A, which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our good
Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was
doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof!"

"No," answered the minister; "I had not heard of it."


In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester
Prynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the
clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His
moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It
grovelled helpless on the ground, even while his intellectual
faculties retained their pristine strength, or had perhaps
acquired a morbid energy, which disease only could have given
them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from
all others, she could readily infer that, besides the legitimate
action of his own conscience, a terrible machinery had been
brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's
well-being and repose. Knowing what this poor fallen man had
once been, her whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with
which he had appealed to her--the outcast woman--for support
against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided,
moreover, that he had a right to her utmost aid. Little
accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to measure her
ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself,
Hester saw--or seemed to see--that there lay a responsibility
upon her in reference to the clergyman, which she owned to no
other, nor to the whole world besides. The links that united her
to the rest of humankind--links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever
the material--had all been broken. Here was the iron link of
mutual crime, which neither he nor she could break. Like all
other ties, it brought along with it its obligations.

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in
which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy.
Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her
mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its
fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the
townspeople. As is apt to be the case when a person stands out
in any prominence before the community, and, at the same time,
interferes neither with public nor individual interests and
convenience, a species of general regard had ultimately grown up
in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of human
nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play,
it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and
quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the
change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original
feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne there was
neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the
public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she
made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did
not weigh upon its sympathies. Then, also, the blameless purity
of her life during all these years in which she had been set
apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favour. With nothing
now to lose, in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and
seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a genuine
regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.

It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even
the humblest title to share in the world's privileges--further than to
breathe the common air and earn daily bread for
little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands--she
was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man
whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she to
give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even
though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of
the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought
for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's
robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked
through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, whether
general or of individuals, the outcast of society at once found
her place. She came, not as a guest, but as a rightful inmate,
into the household that was darkened by trouble, as if its gloomy
twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold
intercourse with her fellow-creature There glimmered the
embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray. Elsewhere
the token of sin, it was the taper of the sick chamber. It had
even thrown its gleam, in the sufferer's bard extremity, across
the verge of time. It had shown him where to set his foot, while
the light of earth was fast becoming dim, and ere the light of
futurity could reach him. In such emergencies Hester's nature
showed itself warm and rich--a well-spring of human tenderness,
unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest.
Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow
for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of
Mercy, or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so
ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to
this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such
helpfulness was found in her--so much power to do, and power to
sympathise--that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A
by its original signification. They said that it meant Abel, so
strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.

It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When
sunshine came again, she was not there. Her shadow had faded
across the threshold. The helpful inmate had departed, without
one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any
were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously.
Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head to receive
their greeting. If they were resolute to accost her, she laid
her finger on the scarlet letter, and passed on. This might be
pride, but was so like humility, that it produced all the
softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind.
The public is despotic in its temper; it is capable of denying
common justice when too strenuously demanded as a right; but
quite as frequently it awards more than justice, when the appeal
is made, as despots love to have it made, entirely to its
generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal
of this nature, society was inclined to show its former victim a more
benign countenance than she cared to be favoured with, or, perchance,
than she deserved.

The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the community, were
longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities
than the people. The prejudices which they shared in common with
the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of
reasoning, that made it a far tougher labour to expel them. Day
by day, nevertheless, their sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing
into something which, in the due course of years, might grow to
be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men
of rank, on whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship
of the public morals. Individuals in private life, meanwhile,
had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they
had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of
that one sin for which she had borne so long and dreary a
penance, but of her many good deeds since. "Do you see that
woman with the embroidered badge?" they would say to strangers.
"It is our Hester--the town's own Hester--who is so kind to
the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the
afflicted!" Then, it is true, the propensity of human nature to
tell the very worst of itself, when embodied in the person of
another, would constrain them to whisper the black scandal of
bygone years. It was none the less a fact, however, that in the
eyes of the very men who spoke thus, the scarlet letter had the
effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a
kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all
peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe. It was
reported, and believed by many, that an Indian had drawn his
arrow against the badge, and that the missile struck it, and fell
harmless to the ground.

The effect of the symbol--or rather, of the position in respect
to society that was indicated by it--on the mind of Hester
Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar. All the light and
graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this
red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and
harsh outline, which might have been repulsive had she possessed
friends or companions to be repelled by it. Even the
attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change. It
might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dress, and
partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. It was a sad
transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had either
been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a
shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. It was
due in part to all these causes, but still more to something
else, that there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester's face
for Love to dwell upon; nothing in Hester's form, though majestic
and statue like, that Passion would ever dream of clasping in its
embrace; nothing in Hester's bosom to make it ever again the
pillow of Affection. Some attribute had departed from her, the
permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such
is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the
feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered,
and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If she be
all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will
either be crushed out of her, or--and the outward
semblance is the same--crushed so deeply into her heart that it
can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest
theory. She who has once been a woman, and ceased to be so,
might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the
magic touch to effect the transformation. We shall see whether
Hester Prynne were ever afterwards so touched and so

Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be
attributed to the circumstance that her life had turned, in a
great measure, from passion and feeling to thought. Standing
alone in the world--alone, as to any dependence on society, and
with little Pearl to be guided and protected--alone, and
hopeless of retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to
consider it desirable--she cast away the fragment a broken
chain. The world's law was no law for her mind. It was an age
in which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken a more
active and a wider range than for many centuries before. Men of
the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men bolder than these
had overthrown and rearranged--not actually, but within the
sphere of theory, which was their most real abode--the whole
system of ancient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient
principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed a
freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of
the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would
have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the
scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottage, by the seashore,
thoughts visited her such as dared to enter no
other dwelling in New England; shadowy guests, that would have
been as perilous as demons to their entertainer, could they have
been seen so much as knocking at her door.

It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often
conform with the most perfect quietude to the external
regulations of society. The thought suffices them, without
investing itself in the flesh and blood of action. So it seemed
to be with Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from
the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. Then she
might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Ann
Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect. She might, in
one of her phases, have been a prophetess. She might, and not
improbably would, have suffered death from the stern tribunals of
the period, for attempting to undermine the foundations of the
Puritan establishment. But, in the education of her child, the
mother's enthusiasm thought had something to wreak itself upon.
Providence, in the person of this little girl, had assigned to
Hester's charge, the germ and blossom of womanhood, to be
cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Everything
was against her. The world was hostile. The child's own nature
had something wrong in it which continually betokened that she
had been born amiss--the effluence of her mother's lawless
passion--and often impelled Hester to ask, in bitterness of
heart, whether it were for ill or good that the poor little
creature had been born at all.

Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with
reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth
accepting even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own
individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative,
and dismissed the point
as settled. A tendency to speculation, though it may keep women
quiet, as it does man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may
be, such a hopeless task before her. As a first step, the whole
system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then the
very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit,
which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified
before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and
suitable position. Finally, all other difficulties being
obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary
reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier
change, in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has
her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. A woman never
overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought. They are
not to be solved, or only in one way. If her heart chance to
come uppermost, they vanish. Thus Hester Prynne, whose heart had
lost its regular and healthy throb, wandered without a clue in
the dark labyrinth of mind; now turned aside by an insurmountable
precipice; now starting back from a deep chasm. There was wild
and ghastly scenery all around her, and a home and comfort
nowhere. At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul,
whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven, and
go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.

The scarlet letter had not done its office.
Now, however, her interview with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
on the night of his vigil, had given her a new
theme of reflection, and held up to her an object that appeared
worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for its attainment. She had
witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister
struggled, or, to speak more accurately, had ceased to struggle.
She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacy, if he had not
already stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt that,
whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of
remorse, a deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand
that proffered relief. A secret enemy had been continually by
his side, under the semblance of a friend and helper, and had
availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering
with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hester
could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a
defect of truth, courage, and loyalty on her own part, in
allowing the minister to be thrown into position where so much
evil was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her
only justification lay in the fact that she had been able to
discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had
overwhelmed herself except by acquiescing in Roger
Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulse she had
made her choice, and had chosen, as it now appeared, the more
wretched alternative of the two. She determined to redeem her
error so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened by years
of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so
inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night,
abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy
that was still new, when they had talked together in the
prison-chamber. She had climbed her way since then to a higher
point. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself
nearer to her level, or, perhaps, below it, by the revenge which
he had stooped for.

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


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

Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician. "I would speak
a word with you," said she--"a word that concerns us much."

"Aha! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old
Roger Chillingworth?" answered he, raising himself from
his stooping posture. "With all my heart! Why, mistress, I hear
good tidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than yester-eve,
a magistrate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of your
affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there had been
question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether
or no, with safety to the commonweal, yonder scarlet letter might
be taken off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my intreaty
to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith."

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

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

All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old man,
and was shocked, as well as wonder-smitten, to discern what a
change had been wrought upon him within the past seven years. It
was not so much that he had grown older; for though the traces of
advancing life were visible he bore his age well, and seemed to
retain a wiry vigour and alertness. But the former aspect of an
intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet, which was what she
best remembered in him, had altogether vanished, and been
succeeded by a eager, searching, almost fierce, yet
carefully guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to
mask this expression with a smile, but the latter played him
false, and flickered over his visage so derisively that the
spectator could see his blackness all the better for it. Ever
and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes,
as if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smouldering
duskily within his breast, until by some casual puff of passion
it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as
speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the
kind had happened.

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

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

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

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

"And what of him?" cried Roger Chillingworth, eagerly, as if he
loved the topic, and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it
with the only person of whom he could make a confidant. "Not to
hide the truth, Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be busy
with the gentleman. So speak freely and I will make answer."

"When we last spake together," said Hester, "now seven years ago,
it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy as touching
the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and
good fame of yonder man were in your hands there seemed no choice
to me, save to be silent in accordance with your behest. Yet it
was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself, for,
having cast off all duty towards other human beings, there
remained a duty towards him, and something whispered me that I
was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since
that day no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his
every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You
search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your
clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living
death, and still he knows you not. In permitting this I have
surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was
left me to be true!"

"What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger,
pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a
dungeon, thence, peradventure, to the gallows!"

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

"What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again.
"I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician
earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have
wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid his
life would have burned away in torments within the first two
years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For,
Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up,
as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. Oh, I
could reveal a goodly secret! But enough. What art can do, I
have exhausted on him. That he now breathes and creeps about on
earth is owing all to me!"

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

"Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth,
letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had
he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has
suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has
been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always
upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense--for
the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this--he
knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings, and
that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only
evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were
mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he
fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with
frightful dreams and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse and
despair of pardon, as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the
grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence, the
closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged,
and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the
direst revenge! Yea, indeed, he did not err, there was a fiend
at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has
become a fiend for his especial torment."

The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his
hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful
shape, which he could not recognise, usurping the place of his
own image in a glass. It was one of those moments--which
sometimes occur only at the interval of years--when a man's
moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not
improbably he had never before viewed himself as he did now.

"Hast thou not tortured him enough?" said Hester, noticing the
old man's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"

"No, no! He has but increased the debt!" answered the physician,
and as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics,
and subsided into gloom. "Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I
was nine years agone? Even then I was in the autumn of my days,
nor was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of
earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully
for the increase of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too,
though this latter object was but casual to the other--faithfully
for the advancement of human welfare. No life had
been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with
benefits conferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I not, though
you might deem me cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others,
craving little for himself--kind, true, just and of constant,
if not warm affections? Was I not all this?"

"All this, and more," said Hester.

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

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

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

He laid his finger on it with a smile.

"It has avenged thee," answered Hester Prynne.

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

"I must reveal the secret," answered Hester, firmly. "He must
discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result I
know not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him,
whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far
as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and
his earthly state, and perchance his life, he is in my hands.
Nor do I--whom the scarlet letter has disciplined to truth,
though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into the soul--nor
do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life
of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy.
Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him, no good for
me, no good for thee. There is no good for little Pearl. There
is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."

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

"And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, "for the hatred that has
transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge
it out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake,
then doubly for thine own! Forgive, and leave his further
retribution to the Power that claims it! I said, but now, that
there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who are
here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil, and
stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn
our path. It is not so! There might be good for thee, and thee
alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy
will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt
thou reject that priceless benefit?"

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

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


So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figure with a face that
haunted men's memories longer than they liked--took leave of
Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He
gathered here and there a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it
into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the
ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little
while, looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the
tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him
and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown,
across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs
they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not
the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his
eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs of species hitherto unknown,
that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him
that every wholesome growth should be converted into something
deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sun, which shone
so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him? Or was there,
as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with
his deformity whichever way he turned himself? And whither was
he now going? Would he not suddenly sink
into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due
course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood,
henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate
could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance? Or would
he spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier
the higher he rose towards heaven?

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

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

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

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along
with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their
miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth's, when some
mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her
sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the
marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her
as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago to have done with
this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven long years,
under the torture of the scarlet letter, inflicted so much of
misery and wrought out no repentance?

The emotion of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the
crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on
Hester's state of mind, revealing much that she might not
otherwise have acknowledged to herself.

He being gone, she summoned back her child.

"Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?"

Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no
loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer
of herbs. At first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully
with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom
forth, and--as it declined to venture--seeking a passage for
herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.
Soon finding, however, that either she or the image was unreal,
she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little boats
out of birch-bark, and
freighted them with snailshells, and sent out more ventures on
the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger
part of them foundered near the shore. She seized a live
horse-shoe by the tail, and made prize of several five-fingers,
and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she took
up the white foam that streaked the line of the advancing tide,
and threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it with winged
footsteps to catch the great snowflakes ere they fell.


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