HESTER AND PEARL
So Roger Chillingworth --a deformed old figure with a face that haunted men's memories longer than they liked --took leave of Hester Prynne,
and went stooping away along the earth.
He gathered here and there a herb,
or grubbed up a root and put it into the basket on his arm.
His gray beard almost touched the ground as he crept onward.
Hester gazed after him a little while,
looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him and show the wavering track of his footsteps,
sere and brown,
across its cheerful verdure.
She wondered what sort of herbs they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather.
Would not the earth,
quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye,
greet him with poisonous shrubs of species hitherto unknown,
that would start up under his fingers?
Or might it suffice him that every wholesome growth should be converted into something deleterious and malignant at his touch?
Did the sun,
which shone so brightly everywhere else,
really fall upon him?
Or was there,
as it rather seemed,
a circle of ominous shadow moving along with his deformity whichever way he turned himself?
And whither was he now going?
Would he not suddenly sink into the earth,
leaving a barren and blasted spot,
in due course of time,
would be seen deadly nightshade,
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,
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,
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,
as viewed through the dismal medium of her subsequent life,
they classed themselves among her ugliest remembrances.
She marvelled how such scenes could have been!
She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to marry him!
She deemed it her crime most to be repented of,
that she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his hand,
and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle and melt into his own.
And it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him,
in the time when her heart knew no better,
he had persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side.
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.
Where are you?"
whose activity of spirit never flagged,
had been at no loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer of herbs.
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.
that either she or the image was unreal,
she turned elsewhere for better pastime.
She made little boats out of birch-bark,
and freighted them with snailshells,
and sent out more ventures on the mighty deep than any merchant in New England;
but the larger part of them foundered near the shore.
She seized a live horse-shoe by the tail,
and made prize of several five-fingers,
and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun.
Then she took up the white foam that streaked the line of the advancing tide,
and threw it upon the breeze,
scampering after it with winged footsteps to catch the great snowflakes ere they fell.
Perceiving a flock of beach-birds that fed and fluttered along the shore,
the naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles,
creeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl,
displayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them.
One little gray bird,
with a white breast,
Pearl was almost sure had been hit by a pebble,
and fluttered away with a broken wing.
But then the elf-child sighed,
and gave up her sport,
because it grieved her to have done harm to a little being that was as wild as the sea-breeze,
or as wild as Pearl herself.
Her final employment was to gather seaweed of various kinds,
and make herself a scarf or mantle,
and a head-dress,
and thus assume the aspect of a little mermaid.
She inherited her mother's gift for devising drapery and costume.
As the last touch to her mermaid's garb,
Pearl took some eel-grass and imitated,
as best she could,
on her own bosom the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother's.
A letter --the letter A --but freshly green instead of scarlet.
The child bent her chin upon her breast,
and contemplated this device with strange interest,
even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.
"I wonder if mother will ask me what it means?"
Just then she heard her mother's voice,
flitting along as lightly as one of the little sea-birds,
appeared before Hester Prynne dancing,
and pointing her finger to the ornament upon her bosom.
"My little Pearl,"
after a moment's silence,
"the green letter,
and on thy childish bosom,
has no purport.
But dost thou know,
what this letter means which thy mother is doomed to wear?"
said the child.
"It is the great letter A. Thou hast taught me in the horn-book."
Hester looked steadily into her little face;
but though there was that singular expression which she had so often remarked in her black eyes,
she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl really attached any meaning to the symbol.
She felt a morbid desire to ascertain the point.
"Dost thou know,
wherefore thy mother wears this letter?"
"Truly do I!"
looking brightly into her mother's face.
"It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"
"And what reason is that?"
half smiling at the absurd incongruity of the child's observation;
but on second thoughts turning pale.
"What has the letter to do with any heart save mine?"
I have told all I know,"
more seriously than she was wont to speak.
"Ask yonder old man whom thou hast been talking with,
--it may be he can tell.
But in good earnest now,
what does this scarlet letter mean?
--and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom?
--and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"
She took her mother's hand in both her own,
and gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and capricious character.
The thought occurred to Hester,
that the child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike confidence,
and doing what she could,
and as intelligently as she knew how,
to establish a meeting-point of sympathy.
It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect.
while loving her child with the intensity of a sole affection,
had schooled herself to hope for little other return than the waywardness of an April breeze,
which spends its time in airy sport,
and has its gusts of inexplicable passion,
and is petulant in its best of moods,
and chills oftener than caresses you,
when you take it to your bosom;
in requital of which misdemeanours it will sometimes,
of its own vague purpose,
kiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness,
and play gently with your hair,
and then be gone about its other idle business,
leaving a dreamy pleasure at your heart.
was a mother's estimate of the child's disposition.
Any other observer might have seen few but unamiable traits,
and have given them a far darker colouring.
But now the idea came strongly into Hester's mind,
with her remarkable precocity and acuteness,
might already have approached the age when she could have been made a friend,
and intrusted with as much of her mother's sorrows as could be imparted,
without irreverence either to the parent or the child.
In the little chaos of Pearl's character there might be seen emerging and could have been from the very first --the steadfast principles of an unflinching courage --an uncontrollable will --sturdy pride,
which might be disciplined into self-respect --and a bitter scorn of many things which,
might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them.
She possessed affections,
though hitherto acrid and disagreeable,
as are the richest flavours of unripe fruit.
With all these sterling attributes,
the evil which she inherited from her mother must be great indeed,
if a noble woman do not grow out of this elfish child.
Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enigma of the scarlet letter seemed an innate quality of her being.
From the earliest epoch of her conscious life,
she had entered upon this as her appointed mission.
Hester had often fancied that Providence had a design of justice and retribution,
in endowing the child with this marked propensity;
had she bethought herself to ask,
linked with that design,
there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy and beneficence.
If little Pearl were entertained with faith and trust,
as a spirit messenger no less than an earthly child,
might it not be her errand to soothe away the sorrow that lay cold in her mother's heart,
and converted it into a tomb?
--and to help her to overcome the passion,
once so wild,
and even yet neither dead nor asleep,
but only imprisoned within the same tomb-like heart?
Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in Hester's mind,
with as much vivacity of impression as if they had actually been whispered into her ear.
And there was little Pearl,
all this while,
holding her mother's hand in both her own,
and turning her face upward,
while she put these searching questions,
once and again,
and still a third time.
"What does the letter mean,
and why dost thou wear it?
and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"
"What shall I say?"
thought Hester to herself.
if this be the price of the child's sympathy,
I cannot pay it."
Then she spoke aloud --
"what questions are these?
There are many things in this world that a child must not ask about.
What know I of the minister's heart?
And as for the scarlet letter,
I wear it for the sake of its gold thread."
In all the seven bygone years,
Hester Prynne had never before been false to the symbol on her bosom.
It may be that it was the talisman of a stern and severe,
but yet a guardian spirit,
who now forsook her;
as recognising that,
in spite of his strict watch over her heart,
some new evil had crept into it,
or some old one had never been expelled.
As for little Pearl,
the earnestness soon passed out of her face.
But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop.
Two or three times,
as her mother and she went homeward,
and as often at supper-time,
and while Hester was putting her to bed,
and once after she seemed to be fairly asleep,
Pearl looked up,
with mischief gleaming in her black eyes.
"what does the scarlet letter mean?"
And the next morning,
the first indication the child gave of being awake was by popping up her head from the pillow,
and making that other enquiry,
which she had so unaccountably connected with her investigations about the scarlet letter --
--Why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"
"Hold thy tongue,
answered her mother,
with an asperity that she had never permitted to herself before.
"Do not tease me;
else I shall put thee into the dark closet!"
A FOREST WALK
Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to Mr. Dimmesdale,
at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior consequences,
the true character of the man who had crept into his intimacy.
For several days,
she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks which she knew him to be in the habit of taking along the shores of the Peninsula,
or on the wooded hills of the neighbouring country.
There would have been no scandal,
nor peril to the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good fame,
had she visited him in his own study,
where many a penitent,
had confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye as the one betokened by the scarlet letter.
partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth,
and partly that her conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have been felt,
and partly that both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in,
while they talked together --for all these reasons Hester never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.
while attending a sick chamber,
whither the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer,
she learnt that he had gone,
the day before,
to visit the Apostle Eliot,
among his Indian converts.
He would probably return by a certain hour in the afternoon of the morrow.
the next day,
Hester took little Pearl --who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions,
however inconvenient her presence --and set forth.
after the two wayfarers had crossed from the Peninsula to the mainland,
was no other than a foot-path.
It straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval forest.
This hemmed it in so narrowly,
and stood so black and dense on either side,
and disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above,
to Hester's mind,
it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering.
The day was chill and sombre.
Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud,
by a breeze;
so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path.
This flitting cheerfulness was always at the further extremity of some long vista through the forest.
The sportive sunlight --feebly sportive,
in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scene --withdrew itself as they came nigh,
and left the spots where it had danced the drearier,
because they had hoped to find them bright.
said little Pearl,
"the sunshine does not love you.
It runs away and hides itself,
because it is afraid of something on your bosom.
There it is,
playing a good way off.
Stand you here,
and let me run and catch it.
I am but a child.
It will not flee from me --for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!"
"Nor ever will,
"And why not,
just at the beginning of her race.
"Will not it come of its own accord when I am a woman grown?"
answered her mother,
"and catch the sunshine.
It will soon be gone."
Pearl set forth at a great pace,
and as Hester smiled to perceive,
did actually catch the sunshine,
and stood laughing in the midst of it,
all brightened by its splendour,
and scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion.
The light lingered about the lonely child,
as if glad of such a playmate,
until her mother had drawn almost nigh enough to step into the magic circle too.
"It will go now,"
shaking her head.
"now I can stretch out my hand and grasp some of it."
As she attempted to do so,
the sunshine vanished;
to judge from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's features,
her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into herself,
and would give it forth again,
with a gleam about her path,
as they should plunge into some gloomier shade.
There was no other attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new and untransmitted vigour in Pearl's nature,
as this never failing vivacity of spirits: she had not the disease of sadness,
which almost all children,
in these latter days,
with the scrofula,
from the troubles of their ancestors.
was a disease,
and but the reflex of the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows before Pearl's birth.
It was certainly a doubtful charm,
imparting a hard,
metallic lustre to the child's character.
She wanted --what some people want throughout life --a grief that should deeply touch her,
and thus humanise and make her capable of sympathy.
But there was time enough yet for little Pearl.
looking about her from the spot where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine --"we will sit down a little way within the wood,
and rest ourselves."
"I am not aweary,
replied the little girl.
"But you may sit down,
if you will tell me a story meanwhile."
"And about what?"
a story about the Black Man,"
taking hold of her mother's gown,
and looking up,
into her face.
"How he haunts this forest,
and carries a book with him a big,
with iron clasps;
and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among the trees;
and they are to write their names with their own blood;
and then he sets his mark on their bosoms.
Didst thou ever meet the Black Man,
"And who told you this story,
asked her mother,
recognising a common superstition of the period.
"It was the old dame in the chimney corner,
at the house where you watched last night,"
said the child.
"But she fancied me asleep while she was talking of it.
She said that a thousand and a thousand people had met him here,
and had written in his book,
and have his mark on them.
And that ugly tempered lady,
old Mistress Hibbins,
the old dame said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on thee,
and that it glows like a red flame when thou meetest him at midnight,
here in the dark wood.
Is it true,
And dost thou go to meet him in the nighttime?"
"Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?"
"Not that I remember,"
said the child.
"If thou fearest to leave me in our cottage,
thou mightest take me along with thee.
I would very gladly go!
tell me now!
Is there such a Black Man?
And didst thou ever meet him?
And is this his mark?"
"Wilt thou let me be at peace,
if I once tell thee?"
asked her mother.
if thou tellest me all,"
"Once in my life I met the Black Man!"
said her mother.
"This scarlet letter is his mark!"
they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along the forest track.
Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss;
which at some epoch of the preceding century,
had been a gigantic pine,
with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade,
and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere.
It was a little dell where they had seated themselves,
with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side,
and a brook flowing through the midst,
over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves.
The trees impending over it had flung down great branches from time to time,
which choked up the current,
and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points;
in its swifter and livelier passages there appeared a channel-way of pebbles,
Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream,
they could catch the reflected light from its water,
at some short distance within the forest,
but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush,
and here and there a huge rock covered over with gray lichens.
All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook;
with its never-ceasing loquacity,
it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed,
or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool.
as it stole onward,
the streamlet kept up a babble,
like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness,
and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.
foolish and tiresome little brook!"
after listening awhile to its talk,
"Why art thou so sad?
Pluck up a spirit,
and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!"
But the brook,
in the course of its little lifetime among the forest trees,
had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it,
and seemed to have nothing else to say.
Pearl resembled the brook,
inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious,
and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom.
unlike the little stream,
she danced and sparkled,
and prattled airily along her course.
"What does this sad little brook say,
"If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own,
the brook might tell thee of it,"
answered her mother,
"even as it is telling me of mine.
I hear a footstep along the path,
and the noise of one putting aside the branches.
I would have thee betake thyself to play,
and leave me to speak with him that comes yonder."
"Is it the Black Man?"
"Wilt thou go and play,
repeated her mother,
"But do not stray far into the wood.
And take heed that thou come at my first call."
"But if it be the Black Man,
wilt thou not let me stay a moment,
and look at him,
with his big book under his arm?"
said her mother impatiently.
"It is no Black Man!
Thou canst see him now,
through the trees.
It is the minister!"
"And so it is!"
said the child.
he has his hand over his heart!
Is it because,
when the minister wrote his name in the book,
the Black Man set his mark in that place?
But why does he not wear it outside his bosom,
as thou dost,
and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt another time,"
cried Hester Prynne.
"But do not stray far.
Keep where thou canst hear the babble of the brook."
The child went singing away,
following up the current of the brook,
and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice.
But the little stream would not be comforted,
and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened --or making a prophetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen --within the verge of the dismal forest.
who had enough of shadow in her own little life,
chose to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook.
She set herself,
to gathering violets and wood-anemones,
and some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevice of a high rock.
When her elf-child had departed,
Hester Prynne made a step or two towards the track that led through the forest,
but still remained under the deep shadow of the trees.
She beheld the minister advancing along the path entirely alone,
and leaning on a staff which he had cut by the wayside.
He looked haggard and feeble,
and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air,
which had never so remarkably characterised him in his walks about the settlement,
nor in any other situation where he deemed himself liable to notice.
Here it was wofully visible,
in this intense seclusion of the forest,
which of itself would have been a heavy trial to the spirits.
There was a listlessness in his gait,
as if he saw no reason for taking one step further,
nor felt any desire to do so,
but would have been glad,
could he be glad of anything,
to fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree,
and lie there passive for evermore.
The leaves might bestrew him,
and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock over his frame,
no matter whether there were life in it or no.
Death was too definite an object to be wished for or avoided.
To Hester's eye,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no symptom of positive and vivacious suffering,
as little Pearl had remarked,
he kept his hand over his heart.
THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER
Slowly as the minister walked,
he had almost gone by before Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his observation.
At length she succeeded.
faintly at first,
but hoarsely --"Arthur Dimmesdale!"
answered the minister.
Gathering himself quickly up,
he stood more erect,
like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have witnesses.
Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice,
he indistinctly beheld a form under the trees,
clad in garments so sombre,
and so little relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide,
that he knew not whether it were a woman or a shadow.
It may be that his pathway through life was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out from among his thoughts.
He made a step nigher,
and discovered the scarlet letter.
"is it thou?
Art thou in life?"
"In such life as has been mine these seven years past!
dost thou yet live?"
It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's actual and bodily existence,
and even doubted of their own.
So strangely did they meet in the dim wood that it was like the first encounter in the world beyond the grave of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former life,
but now stood coldly shuddering in mutual dread,
as not yet familiar with their state,
nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings.
Each a ghost,
and awe-stricken at the other ghost.
They were awe-stricken likewise at themselves,
because the crisis flung back to them their consciousness,
and revealed to each heart its history and experience,
as life never does,
except at such breathless epochs.
The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment.
It was with fear,
as it were,
by a slow,
that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand,
chill as death,
and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne.
cold as it was,
took away what was dreariest in the interview.
They now felt themselves,
inhabitants of the same sphere.
Without a word more spoken --neither he nor she assuming the guidance,
but with an unexpressed consent --they glided back into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had emerged,
and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting.
When they found voice to speak,
it was at first only to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might have made,
about the gloomy sky,
the threatening storm,
the health of each.
Thus they went onward,
but step by step,
into the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts.
So long estranged by fate and circumstances,
they needed something slight and casual to run before and throw open the doors of intercourse,
so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold.
the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.
"hast thou found peace?"
She smiled drearily,
looking down upon her bosom.
"None --nothing but despair!"
"What else could I look for,
being what I am,
and leading such a life as mine?
Were I an atheist --a man devoid of conscience --a wretch with coarse and brutal instincts --I might have found peace long ere now.
I never should have lost it.
as matters stand with my soul,
whatever of good capacity there originally was in me,
all of God's gifts that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual torment.
I am most miserable!"
"The people reverence thee,"
"And surely thou workest good among them!
Doth this bring thee no comfort?"
--Only the more misery!"
answered the clergyman with a bitter smile.
"As concerns the good which I may appear to do,
I have no faith in it.
It must needs be a delusion.
What can a ruined soul like mine effect towards the redemption of other souls?
--or a polluted soul towards their purification?
And as for the people's reverence,
would that it were turned to scorn and hatred!
Canst thou deem it,
a consolation that I must stand up in my pulpit,
and meet so many eyes turned upward to my face,
as if the light of heaven were beaming from it!
--must see my flock hungry for the truth,
and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were speaking!
--and then look inward,
and discern the black reality of what they idolise?
I have laughed,
in bitterness and agony of heart,
at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!
And Satan laughs at it!"
"You wrong yourself in this,"
said Hester gently.
"You have deeply and sorely repented.
Your sin is left behind you in the days long past.
Your present life is not less holy,
in very truth,
than it seems in people's eyes.
Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works?
And wherefore should it not bring you peace?"
replied the clergyman.
"There is no substance in it!
It is cold and dead,
and can do nothing for me!
I have had enough!
there has been none!
I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness,
and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat.
Happy are you,
that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom!
Mine burns in secret!
Thou little knowest what a relief it is,
after the torment of a seven years' cheat,
to look into an eye that recognises me for what I am!
Had I one friend --or were it my worst enemy!
when sickened with the praises of all other men,
I could daily betake myself,
and be known as the vilest of all sinners,
methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby.
Even thus much of truth would save me!
it is all falsehood!
Hester Prynne looked into his face,
but hesitated to speak.
uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did,
his words here offered her the very point of circumstances in which to interpose what she came to say.
She conquered her fears,
"Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for,"
"with whom to weep over thy sin,
thou hast in me,
the partner of it!"
Again she hesitated,
but brought out the words with an effort.
--"Thou hast long had such an enemy,
and dwellest with him,
under the same roof!"
The minister started to his feet,
gasping for breath,
and clutching at his heart,
as if he would have torn it out of his bosom.
What sayest thou?"
And under mine own roof!
What mean you?"
Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy man,
in permitting him to lie for so many years,
for a single moment,
at the mercy of one whose purposes could not be other than malevolent.
The very contiguity of his enemy,
beneath whatever mask the latter might conceal himself,
was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as Arthur Dimmesdale.
There had been a period when Hester was less alive to this consideration;
in the misanthropy of her own trouble,
she left the minister to bear what she might picture to herself as a more tolerable doom.
But of late,
since the night of his vigil,
all her sympathies towards him had been both softened and invigorated.
She now read his heart more accurately.
She doubted not that the continual presence of Roger Chillingworth --the secret poison of his malignity,
infecting all the air about him --and his authorised interference,
as a physician,
with the minister's physical and spiritual infirmities --that these bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel purpose.
By means of them,
the sufferer's conscience had been kept in an irritated state,
the tendency of which was,
not to cure by wholesome pain,
but to disorganize and corrupt his spiritual being.
could hardly fail to be insanity,
that eternal alienation from the Good and True,
of which madness is perhaps the earthly type.
Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man,
why should we not speak it?
--still so passionately loved!
Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's good name,
and death itself,
as she had already told Roger Chillingworth,
would have been infinitely preferable to the alternative which she had taken upon herself to choose.
rather than have had this grievous wrong to confess,
she would gladly have laid down on the forest leaves,
and died there,
at Arthur Dimmesdale's feet.
In all things else,
I have striven to be true!
Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast,
and did hold fast,
through all extremity;
save when thy good --thy life --thy fame --were put in question!
Then I consented to a deception.
But a lie is never good,
even though death threaten on the other side!
Dost thou not see what I would say?
That old man!
--he whom they call Roger Chillingworth!
--he was my husband!"
The minister looked at her for an instant,
with all that violence of passion,
which --intermixed in more shapes than one with his higher,
softer qualities --was,
the portion of him which the devil claimed,
and through which he sought to win the rest.
Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than Hester now encountered.
For the brief space that it lasted,
it was a dark transfiguration.
But his character had been so much enfeebled by suffering,
that even its lower energies were incapable of more than a temporary struggle.
He sank down on the ground,
and buried his face in his hands.
"I might have known it,"
murmured he --"I did know it!
Was not the secret told me,
in the natural recoil of my heart at the first sight of him,
and as often as I have seen him since?
Why did I not understand?
little knowest all the horror of this thing!
And the shame!
--the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it!
thou art accountable for this!
--I cannot forgive thee!"
"Thou shalt forgive me!"
flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him.
"Let God punish!
Thou shalt forgive!"
With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around him,
and pressed his head against her bosom,
little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter.
He would have released himself,
but strove in vain to do so.
Hester would not set him free,
lest he should look her sternly in the face.
All the world had frowned on her --for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman --and still she bore it all,
nor ever once turned away her firm,
had frowned upon her,
and she had not died.
But the frown of this pale,
and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear,
"Wilt thou yet forgive me?"
over and over again.
"Wilt thou not frown?
Wilt thou forgive?"
"I do forgive you,
replied the minister at length,
with a deep utterance,
out of an abyss of sadness,
but no anger.
"I freely forgive you now.
May God forgive us both.
We are not,
the worst sinners in the world.
There is one worse than even the polluted priest!
That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin.
He has violated,
in cold blood,
the sanctity of a human heart.
Thou and I,
never did so!"
"What we did had a consecration of its own.
We felt it so!
We said so to each other.
Hast thou forgotten it?"
said Arthur Dimmesdale,
rising from the ground.
I have not forgotten!"
They sat down again,
side by side,
and hand clasped in hand,
on the mossy trunk of the fallen tree.
Life had never brought them a gloomier hour;
it was the point whither their pathway had so long been tending,
and darkening ever,
as it stole along --and yet it unclosed a charm that made them linger upon it,
and claim another,
The forest was obscure around them,
and creaked with a blast that was passing through it.
The boughs were tossing heavily above their heads;
while one solemn old tree groaned dolefully to another,
as if telling the sad story of the pair that sat beneath,
or constrained to forbode evil to come.
And yet they lingered.
How dreary looked the forest-track that led backward to the settlement,
where Hester Prynne must take up again the burden of her ignominy and the minister the hollow mockery of his good name!
So they lingered an instant longer.
No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest.
Here seen only by his eyes,
the scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman!
Here seen only by her eyes,
false to God and man,
for one moment true!
He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.
"here is a new horror!
Roger Chillingworth knows your purpose to reveal his true character.
Will he continue,
to keep our secret?
What will now be the course of his revenge?"
"There is a strange secrecy in his nature,"
"and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices of his revenge.
I deem it not likely that he will betray the secret.
He will doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark passion."
--how am I to live longer,
breathing the same air with this deadly enemy?"
exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale,
shrinking within himself,
and pressing his hand nervously against his heart --a gesture that had grown involuntary with him.
"Think for me,
Thou art strong.
Resolve for me!"
"Thou must dwell no longer with this man,"
slowly and firmly.
"Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye!"
"It were far worse than death!"
replied the minister.
"But how to avoid it?
What choice remains to me?
Shall I lie down again on these withered leaves,
where I cast myself when thou didst tell me what he was?
Must I sink down there,
and die at once?"
what a ruin has befallen thee!"
with the tears gushing into her eyes.
"Wilt thou die for very weakness?
There is no other cause!"
"The judgment of God is on me,"
answered the conscience-stricken priest.
"It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"
"Heaven would show mercy,"
"hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it."
"Be thou strong for me!"
"Advise me what to do."
"Is the world,
exclaimed Hester Prynne,
fixing her deep eyes on the minister's,
and instinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could hardly hold itself erect.
"Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town,
which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert,
as lonely as this around us?
Whither leads yonder forest-track?
Backward to the settlement,
Deeper it goes,
and deeper into the wilderness,
less plainly to be seen at every step;
until some few miles hence the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man's tread.
There thou art free!
So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched,
to one where thou mayest still be happy!
Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"
but only under the fallen leaves!"
replied the minister,
with a sad smile.
"Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!"
"It brought thee hither.
If thou so choose,
it will bear thee back again.
In our native land,
whether in some remote rural village,
or in vast London --or,
in pleasant Italy --thou wouldst be beyond his power and knowledge!
And what hast thou to do with all these iron men,
and their opinions?
They have kept thy better part in bondage too long already!"
"It cannot be!"
answered the minister,
listening as if he were called upon to realise a dream.
"I am powerless to go.
Wretched and sinful as I am,
I have had no other thought than to drag on my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me.
Lost as my own soul is,
I would still do what I may for other human souls!
I dare not quit my post,
though an unfaithful sentinel,
whose sure reward is death and dishonour,
when his dreary watch shall come to an end!"
"Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery,"
fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy.
"But thou shalt leave it all behind thee!
It shall not cumber thy steps,
as thou treadest along the forest-path: neither shalt thou freight the ship with it,
if thou prefer to cross the sea.
Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened.
Meddle no more with it!
Begin all anew!
Hast thou exhausted possibility in the failure of this one trial?
The future is yet full of trial and success.
There is happiness to be enjoyed!
There is good to be done!
Exchange this false life of thine for a true one.
if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission,
the teacher and apostle of the red men.
as is more thy nature,
be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the most renowned of the cultivated world.
save to lie down and die!
Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale,
and make thyself another,
and a high one,
such as thou canst wear without fear or shame.
Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life?
that have made thee feeble to will and to do?
that will leave thee powerless even to repent?
cried Arthur Dimmesdale,
in whose eyes a fitful light,
kindled by her enthusiasm,
flashed up and died away,
"thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him!
I must die here!
There is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide,
difficult world alone!"
It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit.
He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach.
He repeated the word --"Alone,
"Thou shall not go alone!"
in a deep whisper.
all was spoken!
A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE
Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which hope and joy shone out,
but with fear betwixt them,
and a kind of horror at her boldness,
who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at,
but dared not speak.
But Hester Prynne,
with a mind of native courage and activity,
and for so long a period not merely estranged,
but outlawed from society,
had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman.
She had wandered,
without rule or guidance,
in a moral wilderness,
and shadowy as the untamed forest,
amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate.
Her intellect and heart had their home,
as it were,
in desert places,
where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods.
For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions,
and whatever priests or legislators had established;
criticising all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band,
the judicial robe,
or the church.
The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free.
The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.
These had been her teachers --stern and wild ones --and they had made her strong,
but taught her much amiss.
on the other hand,
had never gone through an experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally received laws;
in a single instance,
he had so fearfully transgressed one of the most sacred of them.
But this had been a sin of passion,
not of principle,
nor even purpose.
Since that wretched epoch,
he had watched with morbid zeal and minuteness,
not his acts --for those it was easy to arrange --but each breath of emotion,
and his every thought.
At the head of the social system,
as the clergymen of that day stood,
he was only the more trammelled by its regulations,
and even its prejudices.
As a priest,
the framework of his order inevitably hemmed him in.
As a man who had once sinned,
but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the fretting of an unhealed wound,
he might have been supposed safer within the line of virtue than if he had never sinned at all.
Thus we seem to see that,
as regarded Hester Prynne,
the whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a preparation for this very hour.
But Arthur Dimmesdale!
Were such a man once more to fall,
what plea could be urged in extenuation of his crime?
unless it avail him somewhat that he was broken down by long and exquisite suffering;
that his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which harrowed it;
between fleeing as an avowed criminal,
and remaining as a hypocrite,
conscience might find it hard to strike the balance;
that it was human to avoid the peril of death and infamy,
and the inscrutable machinations of an enemy;
to this poor pilgrim,
on his dreary and desert path,
there appeared a glimpse of human affection and sympathy,
a new life,
and a true one,
in exchange for the heavy doom which he was now expiating.
And be the stern and sad truth spoken,
that the breach which guilt has once made into the human soul is never,
in this mortal state,
It may be watched and guarded,
so that the enemy shall not force his way again into the citadel,
and might even in his subsequent assaults,
select some other avenue,
in preference to that where he had formerly succeeded.
But there is still the ruined wall,
and near it the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over again his unforgotten triumph.
if there were one,
need not be described.
Let it suffice that the clergyman resolved to flee,
and not alone.
"If in all these past seven years,"
"I could recall one instant of peace or hope,
I would yet endure,
for the sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy.
But now --since I am irrevocably doomed --wherefore should I not snatch the solace allowed to the condemned culprit before his execution?
if this be the path to a better life,
as Hester would persuade me,
I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it!
Neither can I any longer live without her companionship;
so powerful is she to sustain --so tender to soothe!
O Thou to whom I dare not lift mine eyes,
wilt Thou yet pardon me?"
"Thou wilt go!"
said Hester calmly,
as he met her glance.
The decision once made,
a glow of strange enjoyment threw its flickering brightness over the trouble of his breast.
It was the exhilarating effect --upon a prisoner just escaped from the dungeon of his own heart --of breathing the wild,
free atmosphere of an unredeemed,
His spirit rose,
as it were,
with a bound,
and attained a nearer prospect of the sky,
than throughout all the misery which had kept him grovelling on the earth.
Of a deeply religious temperament,
there was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in his mood.
"Do I feel joy again?"
wondering at himself.
"Methought the germ of it was dead in me!
thou art my better angel!
I seem to have flung myself --sick,
and sorrow-blackened --down upon these forest leaves,
and to have risen up all made anew,
and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful!
This is already the better life!
Why did we not find it sooner?"
"Let us not look back,"
answered Hester Prynne.
"The past is gone!
Wherefore should we linger upon it now?
With this symbol I undo it all,
and make it as if it had never been!"
she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter,
taking it from her bosom,
threw it to a distance among the withered leaves.
The mystic token alighted on the hither verge of the stream.
With a hand's-breadth further flight,
it would have fallen into the water,
and have given the little brook another woe to carry onward,
besides the unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring about.
But there lay the embroidered letter,
glittering like a lost jewel,
which some ill-fated wanderer might pick up,
and thenceforth be haunted by strange phantoms of guilt,
sinkings of the heart,
and unaccountable misfortune.
The stigma gone,
Hester heaved a long,
in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit.
O exquisite relief!
She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom!
By another impulse,
she took off the formal cap that confined her hair,
and down it fell upon her shoulders,
dark and rich,
with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance,
and imparting the charm of softness to her features.
There played around her mouth,
and beamed out of her eyes,
a radiant and tender smile,
that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood.
A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek,
that had been long so pale.
and the whole richness of her beauty,
came back from what men call the irrevocable past,
and clustered themselves with her maiden hope,
and a happiness before unknown,
within the magic circle of this hour.
as if the gloom of the earth and sky had been but the effluence of these two mortal hearts,
it vanished with their sorrow.
All at once,
as with a sudden smile of heaven,
forth burst the sunshine,
pouring a very flood into the obscure forest,
gladdening each green leaf,
transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold,
and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees.
The objects that had made a shadow hitherto,
embodied the brightness now.
The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry gleam afar into the wood's heart of mystery,
which had become a mystery of joy.
Such was the sympathy of Nature --that wild,
heathen Nature of the forest,
never subjugated by human law,
nor illumined by higher truth --with the bliss of these two spirits!
or aroused from a death-like slumber,
must always create a sunshine,
filling the heart so full of radiance,
that it overflows upon the outward world.
Had the forest still kept its gloom,
it would have been bright in Hester's eyes,
and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's!
Hester looked at him with a thrill of another joy.
"Thou must know Pearl!"
"Our little Pearl!
Thou hast seen her --yes,
I know it!
--but thou wilt see her now with other eyes.
She is a strange child!
I hardly comprehend her!
But thou wilt love her dearly,
as I do,
and wilt advise me how to deal with her!"
"Dost thou think the child will be glad to know me?"
asked the minister,
"I have long shrunk from children,
because they often show a distrust --a backwardness to be familiar with me.
I have even been afraid of little Pearl!"
that was sad!"
answered the mother.
"But she will love thee dearly,
and thou her.
She is not far off.
I will call her.
"I see the child,"
observed the minister.
"Yonder she is,
standing in a streak of sunshine,
a good way off,
on the other side of the brook.
So thou thinkest the child will love me?"
and again called to Pearl,
who was visible at some distance,
as the minister had described her,
like a bright-apparelled vision in a sunbeam,
which fell down upon her through an arch of boughs.
The ray quivered to and fro,
making her figure dim or distinct --now like a real child,
now like a child's spirit --as the splendour went and came again.
She heard her mother's voice,
and approached slowly through the forest.
Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely while her mother sat talking with the clergyman.
The great black forest --stern as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and troubles of the world into its bosom --became the playmate of the lonely infant,
as well as it knew how.
Sombre as it was,
it put on the kindest of its moods to welcome her.
It offered her the partridge-berries,
the growth of the preceding autumn,
but ripening only in the spring,
and now red as drops of blood upon the withered leaves.
These Pearl gathered,
and was pleased with their wild flavour.
The small denizens of the wilderness hardly took pains to move out of her path.
with a brood of ten behind her,
ran forward threateningly,
but soon repented of her fierceness,
and clucked to her young ones not to be afraid.
alone on a low branch,
allowed Pearl to come beneath,
and uttered a sound as much of greeting as alarm.
from the lofty depths of his domestic tree,
chattered either in anger or merriment --for the squirrel is such a choleric and humorous little personage,
that it is hard to distinguish between his moods --so he chattered at the child,
and flung down a nut upon her head.
It was a last year's nut,
and already gnawed by his sharp tooth.
startled from his sleep by her light footstep on the leaves,
looked inquisitively at Pearl,
as doubting whether it were better to steal off,
or renew his nap on the same spot.
it is said --but here the tale has surely lapsed into the improbable --came up and smelt of Pearl's robe,
and offered his savage head to be patted by her hand.
The truth seems to be,
that the mother-forest,
and these wild things which it nourished,
all recognised a kindred wilderness in the human child.
And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets of the settlement,
or in her mother's cottage.
The Bowers appeared to know it,
and one and another whispered as she passed,
"Adorn thyself with me,
thou beautiful child,
adorn thyself with me!"
to please them,
Pearl gathered the violets,
and some twigs of the freshest green,
which the old trees held down before her eyes.
With these she decorated her hair and her young waist,
and became a nymph child,
or an infant dryad,
or whatever else was in closest sympathy with the antique wood.
In such guise had Pearl adorned herself,
when she heard her mother's voice,
and came slowly back.
Slowly --for she saw the clergyman!
THE CHILD AT THE BROOKSIDE
"Thou wilt love her dearly,"
repeated Hester Prynne,
as she and the minister sat watching little Pearl.
"Dost thou not think her beautiful?
And see with what natural skill she has made those simple flowers adorn her!
Had she gathered pearls,
and rubies in the wood,
they could not have become her better!
She is a splendid child!
But I know whose brow she has!"
"Dost thou know,
said Arthur Dimmesdale,
with an unquiet smile,
"that this dear child,
tripping about always at thy side,
hath caused me many an alarm?
what a thought is that,
and how terrible to dread it!
--that my own features were partly repeated in her face,
and so strikingly that the world might see them!
But she is mostly thine!"
answered the mother,
with a tender smile.
"A little longer,
and thou needest not to be afraid to trace whose child she is.
But how strangely beautiful she looks with those wild flowers in her hair!
It is as if one of the fairies,
whom we left in dear old England,
had decked her out to meet us."
It was with a feeling which neither of them had ever before experienced,
that they sat and watched Pearl's slow advance.
In her was visible the tie that united them.
She had been offered to the world,
these seven past years,
as the living hieroglyphic,
in which was revealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide --all written in this symbol --all plainly manifest --had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame!
And Pearl was the oneness of their being.
Be the foregone evil what it might,
how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined when they beheld at once the material union,
and the spiritual idea,
in whom they met,
and were to dwell immortally together;
thoughts like these --and perhaps other thoughts,
which they did not acknowledge or define --threw an awe about the child as she came onward.
"Let her see nothing strange --no passion or eagerness --in thy way of accosting her,"
"Our Pearl is a fitful and fantastic little elf sometimes.
Especially she is generally intolerant of emotion,
when she does not fully comprehend the why and wherefore.
But the child hath strong affections!
She loves me,
and will love thee!"
"Thou canst not think,"
said the minister,
glancing aside at Hester Prynne,
"how my heart dreads this interview,
and yearns for it!
as I already told thee,
children are not readily won to be familiar with me.
They will not climb my knee,
nor prattle in my ear,
nor answer to my smile,
but stand apart,
and eye me strangely.
Even little babes,
when I take them in my arms,
twice in her little lifetime,
hath been kind to me!
The first time --thou knowest it well!
The last was when thou ledst her with thee to the house of yonder stern old Governor."
"And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and mine!"
answered the mother.
"I remember it;
and so shall little Pearl.
She may be strange and shy at first,
but will soon learn to love thee!"
By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the brook,
and stood on the further side,
gazing silently at Hester and the clergyman,
who still sat together on the mossy tree-trunk waiting to receive her.
Just where she had paused,
the brook chanced to form a pool so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure,
with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty,
in its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliage,
but more refined and spiritualized than the reality.
so nearly identical with the living Pearl,
seemed to communicate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child herself.
It was strange,
the way in which Pearl stood,
looking so steadfastly at them through the dim medium of the forest gloom,
all glorified with a ray of sunshine,
that was attracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy.
In the brook beneath stood another child --another and the same --with likewise its ray of golden light.
Hester felt herself,
in some indistinct and tantalizing manner,
estranged from Pearl,
as if the child,
in her lonely ramble through the forest,
had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together,
and was now vainly seeking to return to it.
There were both truth and error in the impression;
the child and mother were estranged,
but through Hester's fault,
Since the latter rambled from her side,
another inmate had been admitted within the circle of the mother's feelings,
and so modified the aspect of them all,
the returning wanderer,
could not find her wonted place,
and hardly knew where she was.
"I have a strange fancy,"
observed the sensitive minister,
"that this brook is the boundary between two worlds,
and that thou canst never meet thy Pearl again.
Or is she an elfish spirit,
as the legends of our childhood taught us,
is forbidden to cross a running stream?
Pray hasten her,
for this delay has already imparted a tremor to my nerves."
said Hester encouragingly,
and stretching out both her arms.
"How slow thou art!
When hast thou been so sluggish before now?
Here is a friend of mine,
who must be thy friend also.
Thou wilt have twice as much love henceforward as thy mother alone could give thee!
Leap across the brook and come to us.
Thou canst leap like a young deer!"
without responding in any manner to these honey-sweet expressions,
remained on the other side of the brook.
Now she fixed her bright wild eyes on her mother,
now on the minister,
and now included them both in the same glance,
as if to detect and explain to herself the relation which they bore to one another.
For some unaccountable reason,
as Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himself,
his hand --with that gesture so habitual as to have become involuntary --stole over his heart.
assuming a singular air of authority,
Pearl stretched out her hand,
with the small forefinger extended,
and pointing evidently towards her mother's breast.
in the mirror of the brook,
there was the flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl,
pointing her small forefinger too.
"Thou strange child!
why dost thou not come to me?"
Pearl still pointed with her forefinger,
and a frown gathered on her brow --the more impressive from the childish,
the almost baby-like aspect of the features that conveyed it.
As her mother still kept beckoning to her,
and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed smiles,
the child stamped her foot with a yet more imperious look and gesture.
In the brook,
was the fantastic beauty of the image,
with its reflected frown,
its pointed finger,
and imperious gesture,
giving emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl.
or I shall be angry with thee!"
cried Hester Prynne,
inured to such behaviour on the elf-child's part at other seasons,
was naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now.
"Leap across the brook,
and run hither!
Else I must come to thee!"
not a whit startled at her mother's threats any more than mollified by her entreaties,
now suddenly burst into a fit of passion,
and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions.
She accompanied this wild outbreak with piercing shrieks,
which the woods reverberated on all sides,
alone as she was in her childish and unreasonable wrath,
it seemed as if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragement.
Seen in the brook once more was the shadowy wrath of Pearl's image,
crowned and girdled with flowers,
but stamping its foot,
in the midst of all,
still pointing its small forefinger at Hester's bosom.
"I see what ails the child,"
whispered Hester to the clergyman,
and turning pale in spite of a strong effort to conceal her trouble and annoyance,
"Children will not abide any,
change in the accustomed aspect of things that are daily before their eyes.
Pearl misses something that she has always seen me wear!"
"I pray you,"
answered the minister,
"if thou hast any means of pacifying the child,
do it forthwith!
Save it were the cankered wrath of an old witch like Mistress Hibbins,"
attempting to smile,
"I know nothing that I would not sooner encounter than this passion in a child.
In Pearl's young beauty,
as in the wrinkled witch,
it has a preternatural effect.
Pacify her if thou lovest me!"
Hester turned again towards Pearl with a crimson blush upon her cheek,
a conscious glance aside clergyman,
and then a heavy sigh,
even before she had time to speak,
the blush yielded to a deadly pallor.
said she sadly,
"look down at thy feet!
--on the hither side of the brook!"
The child turned her eyes to the point indicated,
and there lay the scarlet letter so close upon the margin of the stream that the gold embroidery was reflected in it.
"Bring it hither!"
"Come thou and take it up!"
"Was ever such a child!"
observed Hester aside to the minister.
I have much to tell thee about her!
in very truth,
she is right as regards this hateful token.
I must bear its torture yet a little longer --only a few days longer --until we shall have left this region,
and look back hither as to a land which we have dreamed of.
The forest cannot hide it!
The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand,
and swallow it up for ever!"
With these words she advanced to the margin of the brook,
took up the scarlet letter,
and fastened it again into her bosom.
but a moment ago,
as Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep sea,
there was a sense of inevitable doom upon her as she thus received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate.
She had flung it into infinite space!
she had drawn an hour's free breath!
and here again was the scarlet misery glittering on the old spot!
So it ever is,
whether thus typified or no,
that an evil deed invests itself with the character of doom.
Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair and confined them beneath her cap.
As if there were a withering spell in the sad letter,
the warmth and richness of her womanhood,
departed like fading sunshine,
and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.
When the dreary change was wrought,
she extended her hand to Pearl.
"Dost thou know thy mother now,
but with a subdued tone.
"Wilt thou come across the brook,
and own thy mother,
now that she has her shame upon her --now that she is sad?"
now I will!"
answered the child,
bounding across the brook,
and clasping Hester in her arms "Now thou art my mother indeed!
and I am thy little Pearl!"
In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her,
she drew down her mother's head,
and kissed her brow and both her cheeks.
But then --by a kind of necessity that always impelled this child to alloy whatever comfort she might chance to give with a throb of anguish --Pearl put up her mouth and kissed the scarlet letter,
"That was not kind!"
"When thou hast shown me a little love,
thou mockest me!"
"Why doth the minister sit yonder?"
"He waits to welcome thee,"
replied her mother.
and entreat his blessing!
He loves thee,
my little Pearl,
and loves thy mother,
Wilt thou not love him?
Come he longs to greet thee!"
"Doth he love us?"
looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face.
"Will he go back with us,
hand in hand,
we three together,
into the town?"
"But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us.
We will have a home and fireside of our own;
and thou shalt sit upon his knee;
and he will teach thee many things,
and love thee dearly.
Thou wilt love him --wilt thou not?"
"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?"
what a question is that!"
exclaimed her mother.
and ask his blessing!"
whether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive with every petted child towards a dangerous rival,
or from whatever caprice of her freakish nature,
Pearl would show no favour to the clergyman.
It was only by an exertion of force that her mother brought her up to him,
and manifesting her reluctance by odd grimaces;
ever since her babyhood,
she had possessed a singular variety,
and could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series of different aspects,
with a new mischief in them,
each and all.
The minister --painfully embarrassed,
but hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him into the child's kindlier regards --bent forward,
and impressed one on her brow.
Pearl broke away from her mother,
running to the brook,
stooped over it,
and bathed her forehead,
until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off and diffused through a long lapse of the gliding water.
She then remained apart,
silently watching Hester and the clergyman;
while they talked together and made such arrangements as were suggested by their new position and the purposes soon to be fulfilled.
And now this fateful interview had come to a close.
The dell was to be left in solitude among its dark,
with their multitudinous tongues,
would whisper long of what had passed there,
and no mortal be the wiser.
And the melancholy brook would add this other tale to the mystery with which its little heart was already overburdened,
and whereof it still kept up a murmuring babble,
with not a whit more cheerfulness of tone than for ages heretofore.
THE MINISTER IN A MAZE
As the minister departed,
in advance of Hester Prynne and little Pearl,
he threw a backward glance,
half expecting that he should discover only some faintly traced features or outline of the mother and the child,
slowly fading into the twilight of the woods.
So great a vicissitude in his life could not at once be received as real.
But there was Hester,
clad in her gray robe,
still standing beside the tree-trunk,
which some blast had overthrown a long antiquity ago,
and which time had ever since been covering with moss,
so that these two fated ones,
with earth's heaviest burden on them,
might there sit down together,
and find a single hour's rest and solace.
And there was Pearl,
lightly dancing from the margin of the brook --now that the intrusive third person was gone --and taking her old place by her mother's side.
So the minister had not fallen asleep and dreamed!
In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity of impression,
which vexed it with a strange disquietude,
he recalled and more thoroughly defined the plans which Hester and himself had sketched for their departure.
It had been determined between them that the Old World,
with its crowds and cities,
offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment than the wilds of New England or all America,
with its alternatives of an Indian wigwam,
or the few settlements of Europeans scattered thinly along the sea-board.
Not to speak of the clergyman's health,
so inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest life,
his native gifts,
and his entire development would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and refinement;
the higher the state the more delicately adapted to it the man.
In furtherance of this choice,
it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour;
one of those unquestionable cruisers,
frequent at that day,
without being absolutely outlaws of the deep,
yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character.
This vessel had recently arrived from the Spanish Main,
and within three days' time would sail for Bristol.
Hester Prynne --whose vocation,
as a self-enlisted Sister of Charity,
had brought her acquainted with the captain and crew --could take upon herself to secure the passage of two individuals and a child with all the secrecy which circumstances rendered more than desirable.
The minister had inquired of Hester,
with no little interest,
the precise time at which the vessel might be expected to depart.
It would probably be on the fourth day from the present.
"This is most fortunate!"
he had then said to himself.
why the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate we hesitate to reveal.
Nevertheless --to hold nothing back from the reader --it was because,
on the third day from the present,
he was to preach the Election Sermon;
as such an occasion formed an honourable epoch in the life of a New England Clergyman,
he could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career.
they shall say of me,"
thought this exemplary man,
"that I leave no public duty unperformed or ill-performed!"
that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived!
We have had,
and may still have,
worse things to tell of him;
so pitiably weak;
at once so slight and irrefragable,
of a subtle disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character.
for any considerable period,
can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude,
without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings as he returned from his interview with Hester,
lent him unaccustomed physical energy,
and hurried him townward at a rapid pace.
The pathway among the woods seemed wilder,
more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles,
and less trodden by the foot of man,
than he remembered it on his outward journey.
But he leaped across the plashy places,
thrust himself through the clinging underbrush,
climbed the ascent,
plunged into the hollow,
all the difficulties of the track,
with an unweariable activity that astonished him.
He could not but recall how feebly,
and with what frequent pauses for breath he had toiled over the same ground,
only two days before.
As he drew near the town,
he took an impression of change from the series of familiar objects that presented themselves.
It seemed not yesterday,
but many days,
or even years ago,
since he had quitted them.
was each former trace of the street,
as he remembered it,
and all the peculiarities of the houses,
with the due multitude of gable-peaks,
and a weather-cock at every point where his memory suggested one.
Not the less,
came this importunately obtrusive sense of change.
The same was true as regarded the acquaintances whom he met,
and all the well-known shapes of human life,
about the little town.
They looked neither older nor younger now;
the beards of the aged were no whiter,
nor could the creeping babe of yesterday walk on his feet to-day;
it was impossible to describe in what respect they differed from the individuals on whom he had so recently bestowed a parting glance;
and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to inform him of their mutability.
A similar impression struck him most remarkably as he passed under the walls of his own church.
The edifice had so very strange,
and yet so familiar an aspect,
that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between two ideas;
either that he had seen it only in a dream hitherto,
or that he was merely dreaming about it now.
in the various shapes which it assumed,
indicated no external change,
but so sudden and important a change in the spectator of the familiar scene,
that the intervening space of a single day had operated on his consciousness like the lapse of years.
The minister's own will,
and Hester's will,
and the fate that grew between them,
had wrought this transformation.
It was the same town as heretofore,
but the same minister returned not from the forest.
He might have said to the friends who greeted him --"I am not the man for whom you take me!
I left him yonder in the forest,
withdrawn into a secret dell,
by a mossy tree trunk,
and near a melancholy brook!
seek your minister,
and see if his emaciated figure,
his thin cheek,
be not flung down there,
like a cast-off garment!"
would still have insisted with him --"Thou art thyself the man!"
but the error would have been their own,
Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home,
his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling.
nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code,
in that interior kingdom,
was adequate to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortunate and startled minister.
At every step he was incited to do some strange,
wicked thing or other,
with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional,
in spite of himself,
yet growing out of a profounder self than that which opposed the impulse.
he met one of his own deacons.
The good old man addressed him with the paternal affection and patriarchal privilege which his venerable age,
his upright and holy character,
and his station in the church,
entitled him to use and,
conjoined with this,
almost worshipping respect,
which the minister's professional and private claims alike demanded.
Never was there a more beautiful example of how the majesty of age and wisdom may comport with the obeisance and respect enjoined upon it,
as from a lower social rank,
and inferior order of endowment,
towards a higher.
during a conversation of some two or three moments between the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this excellent and hoary-bearded deacon,
it was only by the most careful self-control that the former could refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions that rose into his mind,
respecting the communion-supper.
He absolutely trembled and turned pale as ashes,
lest his tongue should wag itself in utterance of these horrible matters,
and plead his own consent for so doing,
without his having fairly given it.
even with this terror in his heart,
he could hardly avoid laughing,
to imagine how the sanctified old patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by his minister's impiety.
another incident of the same nature.
Hurrying along the street,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest female member of his church,
a most pious and exemplary old dame,
and with a heart as full of reminiscences about her dead husband and children,
and her dead friends of long ago,
as a burial-ground is full of storied gravestones.
Yet all this,
which would else have been such heavy sorrow,
was made almost a solemn joy to her devout old soul,
by religious consolations and the truths of Scripture,
wherewith she had fed herself continually for more than thirty years.
And since Mr. Dimmesdale had taken her in charge,
the good grandam's chief earthly comfort --which,
unless it had been likewise a heavenly comfort,
could have been none at all --was to meet her pastor,
or of set purpose,
and be refreshed with a word of warm,
heaven-breathing Gospel truth,
from his beloved lips,
into her dulled,
but rapturously attentive ear.
on this occasion,
up to the moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear,
as the great enemy of souls would have it,
could recall no text of Scripture,
nor aught else,
except a brief,
as it then appeared to him,
unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul.
The instilment thereof into her mind would probably have caused this aged sister to drop down dead,
as by the effect of an intensely poisonous infusion.
What he really did whisper,
the minister could never afterwards recollect.
a fortunate disorder in his utterance,
which failed to impart any distinct idea to the good widows comprehension,
or which Providence interpreted after a method of its own.
as the minister looked back,
he beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine of the celestial city on her face,
so wrinkled and ashy pale.
a third instance.
After parting from the old church member,
he met the youngest sister of them all.
It was a maiden newly-won --and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon,
on the Sabbath after his vigil --to barter the transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hope that was to assume brighter substance as life grew dark around her,
and which would gild the utter gloom with final glory.
She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise.
The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart,
which hung its snowy curtains about his image,
imparting to religion the warmth of love,
and to love a religious purity.
had surely led the poor young girl away from her mother's side,
and thrown her into the pathway of this sorely tempted,
or --shall we not rather say?
--this lost and desperate man.
As she drew nigh,
the arch-fiend whispered him to condense into small compass,
and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon,
and bear black fruit betimes.
Such was his sense of power over this virgin soul,
trusting him as she did,
that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of innocence with but one wicked look,
and develop all its opposite with but a word.
So --with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained --he held his Geneva cloak before his face,
and hurried onward,
making no sign of recognition,
and leaving the young sister to digest his rudeness as she might.
She ransacked her conscience --which was full of harmless little matters,
like her pocket or her work-bag --and took herself to task,
for a thousand imaginary faults,
and went about her household duties with swollen eyelids the next morning.
Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this last temptation,
he was conscious of another impulse,
and almost as horrible.
It was --we blush to tell it --it was to stop short in the road,
and teach some very wicked words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing there,
and had but just begun to talk.
Denying himself this freak,
as unworthy of his cloth,
he met a drunken seaman,
one of the ship's crew from the Spanish Main.
since he had so valiantly forborne all other wickedness,
poor Mr. Dimmesdale longed at least to shake hands with the tarry black-guard,
and recreate himself with a few improper jests,
such as dissolute sailors so abound with,
and a volley of good,
and heaven-defying oaths!
It was not so much a better principle,
as partly his natural good taste,
and still more his buckramed habit of clerical decorum,
that carried him safely through the latter crisis.
"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?"
cried the minister to himself,
pausing in the street,
and striking his hand against his forehead.
"Am I mad?
or am I given over utterly to the fiend?
Did I make a contract with him in the forest,
and sign it with my blood?
And does he now summon me to its fulfilment,
by suggesting the performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination can conceive?"
At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus communed with himself,
and struck his forehead with his hand,
old Mistress Hibbins,
the reputed witch-lady,
is said to have been passing by.
She made a very grand appearance,
having on a high head-dress,
a rich gown of velvet,
and a ruff done up with the famous yellow starch,
of which Anne Turner,
her especial friend,
had taught her the secret,
before this last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder.
Whether the witch had read the minister's thoughts or no,
she came to a full stop,
looked shrewdly into his face,
and --though little given to converse with clergymen --began a conversation.
you have made a visit into the forest,"
observed the witch-lady,
nodding her high head-dress at him.
"The next time I pray you to allow me only a fair warning,
and I shall be proud to bear you company.
Without taking overmuch upon myself my good word will go far towards gaining any strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder potentate you wot of."
answered the clergyman,
with a grave obeisance,
such as the lady's rank demanded,
and his own good breeding made imperative --"I profess,
on my conscience and character,
that I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words!
I went not into the forest to seek a potentate,
neither do I,
at any future time,
design a visit thither,
with a view to gaining the favour of such personage.
My one sufficient object was to greet that pious friend of mine,
the Apostle Eliot,
and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he hath won from heathendom!"
cackled the old witch-lady,
still nodding her high head-dress at the minister.
we must needs talk thus in the daytime!
You carry it off like an old hand!
But at midnight,
and in the forest,
we shall have other talk together!"
She passed on with her aged stateliness,
but often turning back her head and smiling at him,
like one willing to recognise a secret intimacy of connexion.
"Have I then sold myself,"
thought the minister,
"to the fiend whom,
if men say true,
this yellow-starched and velveted old hag has chosen for her prince and master?"
The wretched minister!
He had made a bargain very like it!
Tempted by a dream of happiness,
he had yielded himself with deliberate choice,
as he had never done before,
to what he knew was deadly sin.
And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system.
It had stupefied all blessed impulses,
and awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad ones.
gratuitous desire of ill,
ridicule of whatever was good and holy,
all awoke to tempt,
even while they frightened him.
And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbins,
if it were a real incident,
did but show its sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals,
and the world of perverted spirits.
He had by this time reached his dwelling on the edge of the burial ground,
hastening up the stairs,
took refuge in his study.
The minister was glad to have reached this shelter,
without first betraying himself to the world by any of those strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been continually impelled while passing through the streets.
He entered the accustomed room,
and looked around him on its books,
and the tapestried comfort of the walls,
with the same perception of strangeness that had haunted him throughout his walk from the forest dell into the town and thitherward.
Here he had studied and written;
here gone through fast and vigil,
and come forth half alive;
here striven to pray;
here borne a hundred thousand agonies!
There was the Bible,
in its rich old Hebrew,
with Moses and the Prophets speaking to him,
and God's voice through all.
There on the table,
with the inky pen beside it,
was an unfinished sermon,
with a sentence broken in the midst,
where his thoughts had ceased to gush out upon the page two days before.
He knew that it was himself,
the thin and white-cheeked minister,
who had done and suffered these things,
and written thus far into the Election Sermon!
But he seemed to stand apart,
and eye this former self with scornful pitying,
but half-envious curiosity.
That self was gone.
Another man had returned out of the forest --a wiser one --with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached.
A bitter kind of knowledge that!
While occupied with these reflections,
a knock came at the door of the study,
and the minister said,
--not wholly devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit.
And so he did!
It was old Roger Chillingworth that entered.
The minister stood white and speechless,
with one hand on the Hebrew Scriptures,
and the other spread upon his breast.
said the physician "And how found you that godly man,
the Apostle Eliot?
you look pale,
as if the travel through the wilderness had been too sore for you.
Will not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon?"
I think not so,"
rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.
and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder,
and the free air which I have breathed have done me good,
after so long confinement in my study.
I think to need no more of your drugs,
my kind physician,
good though they be,
and administered by a friendly hand."
All this time Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his patient.
in spite of this outward show,
the latter was almost convinced of the old man's knowledge,
his confident suspicion,
with respect to his own interview with Hester Prynne.
The physician knew then that in the minister's regard he was no longer a trusted friend,
but his bitterest enemy.
So much being known,
it would appear natural that a part of it should be expressed.
It is singular,
how long a time often passes before words embody things;
and with what security two persons,
who choose to avoid a certain subject,
may approach its very verge,
and retire without disturbing it.
Thus the minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth would touch,
in express words,
upon the real position which they sustained towards one another.
Yet did the physician,
in his dark way,
creep frightfully near the secret.
"Were it not better,"
"that you use my poor skill tonight?
we must take pains to make you strong and vigorous for this occasion of the Election discourse.
The people look for great things from you,
apprehending that another year may come about and find their pastor gone."
to another world,"
replied the minister with pious resignation.
"Heaven grant it be a better one;
in good sooth,
I hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flitting seasons of another year!
But touching your medicine,
in my present frame of body I need it not."
"I joy to hear it,"
answered the physician.
"It may be that my remedies,
so long administered in vain,
begin now to take due effect.
Happy man were I,
and well deserving of New England's gratitude,
could I achieve this cure!"
"I thank you from my heart,
most watchful friend,"
said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale with a solemn smile.
"I thank you,
and can but requite your good deeds with my prayers."
"A good man's prayers are golden recompense!"
rejoined old Roger Chillingworth,
as he took his leave.
they are the current gold coin of the New Jerusalem,
with the King's own mint mark on them!"
the minister summoned a servant of the house,
and requested food,
being set before him,
he ate with ravenous appetite.
Then flinging the already written pages of the Election Sermon into the fire,
he forthwith began another,
which he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought and emotion,
that he fancied himself inspired;
and only wondered that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn music of its oracles through so foul an organ pipe as he.
leaving that mystery to solve itself,
or go unsolved for ever,
he drove his task onward with earnest haste and ecstasy.
Thus the night fled away,
as if it were a winged steed,
and he careering on it;
through the curtains;
and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the study,
and laid it right across the minister's bedazzled eyes.
There he was,
with the pen still between his fingers,
and a vast,
immeasurable tract of written space behind him!
THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY
Betimes in the morning of the day on which the new Governor was to receive his office at the hands of the people,
Hester Prynne and little Pearl came into the market-place.
It was already thronged with the craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the town,
in considerable numbers,
were many rough figures,
whose attire of deer-skins marked them as belonging to some of the forest settlements,
which surrounded the little metropolis of the colony.
On this public holiday,
as on all other occasions for seven years past,
Hester was clad in a garment of coarse gray cloth.
Not more by its hue than by some indescribable peculiarity in its fashion,
it had the effect of making her fade personally out of sight and outline;
while again the scarlet letter brought her back from this twilight indistinctness,
and revealed her under the moral aspect of its own illumination.
so long familiar to the townspeople,
showed the marble quietude which they were accustomed to behold there.
It was like a mask;
rather like the frozen calmness of a dead woman's features;
owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually dead,
in respect to any claim of sympathy,
and had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to mingle.
It might be,
on this one day,
that there was an expression unseen before,
vivid enough to be detected now;
unless some preternaturally gifted observer should have first read the heart,
and have afterwards sought a corresponding development in the countenance and mien.
Such a spiritual seer might have conceived,
after sustaining the gaze of the multitude through several miserable years as a necessity,
and something which it was a stern religion to endure,
for one last time more,
encountered it freely and voluntarily,
in order to convert what had so long been agony into a kind of triumph.
"Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!"
--the people's victim and lifelong bond-slave,
as they fancied her,
might say to them.
"Yet a little while,
and she will be beyond your reach!
A few hours longer and the deep,
mysterious ocean will quench and hide for ever the symbol which ye have caused to burn on her bosom!"
Nor were it an inconsistency too improbable to be assigned to human nature,
should we suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mind,
at the moment when she was about to win her freedom from the pain which had been thus deeply incorporated with her being.
Might there not be an irresistible desire to quaff a last,
breathless draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes,
with which nearly all her years of womanhood had been perpetually flavoured.
The wine of life,
henceforth to be presented to her lips,
must be indeed rich,
in its chased and golden beaker,
or else leave an inevitable and weary languor,
after the lees of bitterness wherewith she had been drugged,
as with a cordial of intensest potency.
Pearl was decked out with airy gaiety.
It would have been impossible to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed its existence to the shape of gloomy gray;
or that a fancy,
at once so gorgeous and so delicate as must have been requisite to contrive the child's apparel,
was the same that had achieved a task perhaps more difficult,
in imparting so distinct a peculiarity to Hester's simple robe.
so proper was it to little Pearl,
seemed an effluence,
or inevitable development and outward manifestation of her character,
no more to be separated from her than the many-hued brilliancy from a butterfly's wing,
or the painted glory from the leaf of a bright flower.
As with these,
so with the child;
her garb was all of one idea with her nature.
On this eventful day,
there was a certain singular inquietude and excitement in her mood,
resembling nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond,
that sparkles and flashes with the varied throbbings of the breast on which it is displayed.
Children have always a sympathy in the agitations of those connected with them: always,
a sense of any trouble or impending revolution,
of whatever kind,
in domestic circumstances;
and therefore Pearl,
who was the gem on her mother's unquiet bosom,
by the very dance of her spirits,
the emotions which none could detect in the marble passiveness of Hester's brow.
This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like movement,
rather than walk by her mother's side.
She broke continually into shouts of a wild,
and sometimes piercing music.
When they reached the market-place,
she became still more restless,
on perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot;
for it was usually more like the broad and lonesome green before a village meeting-house,
than the centre of a town's business.
what is this,
"Wherefore have all the people left their work to-day?
Is it a play-day for the whole world?
there is the blacksmith!
He has washed his sooty face,
and put on his Sabbath-day clothes,
and looks as if he would gladly be merry,
if any kind body would only teach him how!
And there is Master Brackett,
the old jailer,
nodding and smiling at me.
Why does he do so,
"He remembers thee a little babe,
"He should not nod and smile at me,
for all that --the black,
ugly-eyed old man!"
"He may nod at thee,
if he will;
for thou art clad in gray,
and wearest the scarlet letter.
how many faces of strange people,
and Indians among them,
What have they all come to do,
here in the market-place?"
"They wait to see the procession pass,"
"For the Governor and the magistrates are to go by,
and the ministers,
and all the great people and good people,
with the music and the soldiers marching before them."
"And will the minister be there?"
"And will he hold out both his hands to me,
as when thou ledst me to him from the brook-side?"
"He will be there,
answered her mother,
"but he will not greet thee to-day,
nor must thou greet him."
"What a strange,
sad man is he!"
said the child,
as if speaking partly to herself.
"In the dark nighttime he calls us to him,
and holds thy hand and mine,
as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder!
And in the deep forest,
where only the old trees can hear,
and the strip of sky see it,
he talks with thee,
sitting on a heap of moss!
And he kisses my forehead,
so that the little brook would hardly wash it off!
in the sunny day,
and among all the people,
he knows us not;
nor must we know him!
sad man is he,
with his hand always over his heart!"
Pearl --thou understandest not these things,"
said her mother.
"Think not now of the minister,
but look about thee,
and see how cheery is everybody's face to-day.
The children have come from their schools,
and the grown people from their workshops and their fields,
on purpose to be happy,
a new man is beginning to rule over them;
and so --as has been the custom of mankind ever since a nation was first gathered --they make merry and rejoice: as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old world!"
It was as Hester said,
in regard to the unwonted jollity that brightened the faces of the people.
Into this festal season of the year --as it already was,
and continued to be during the greater part of two centuries --the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity;
thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud,
for the space of a single holiday,
they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction.
But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge,
which undoubtedly characterized the mood and manners of the age.
The persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been born to an inheritance of Puritanic gloom.
They were native Englishmen,
whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the Elizabethan epoch;
a time when the life of England,
viewed as one great mass,
would appear to have been as stately,
as the world has ever witnessed.
Had they followed their hereditary taste,
the New England settlers would have illustrated all events of public importance by bonfires,
Nor would it have been impracticable,
in the observance of majestic ceremonies,
to combine mirthful recreation with solemnity,
as it were,
a grotesque and brilliant embroidery to the great robe of state,
which a nation,
at such festivals,
There was some shadow of an attempt of this kind in the mode of celebrating the day on which the political year of the colony commenced.
The dim reflection of a remembered splendour,
a colourless and manifold diluted repetition of what they had beheld in proud old London --we will not say at a royal coronation,
but at a Lord Mayor's show --might be traced in the customs which our forefathers instituted,
with reference to the annual installation of magistrates.
The fathers and founders of the commonwealth --the statesman,
and the soldier --seemed it a duty then to assume the outward state and majesty,
in accordance with antique style,
was looked upon as the proper garb of public and social eminence.
All came forth to move in procession before the people's eye,
and thus impart a needed dignity to the simple framework of a government so newly constructed.
the people were countenanced,
if not encouraged,
in relaxing the severe and close application to their various modes of rugged industry,
which at all other times,
seemed of the same piece and material with their religion.
it is true,
were none of the appliances which popular merriment would so readily have found in the England of Elizabeth's time,
or that of James --no rude shows of a theatrical kind;
with his harp and legendary ballad,
nor gleeman with an ape dancing to his music;
with his tricks of mimic witchcraft;
no Merry Andrew,
to stir up the multitude with jests,
perhaps a hundred years old,
but still effective,
by their appeals to the very broadest sources of mirthful sympathy.
All such professors of the several branches of jocularity would have been sternly repressed,
not only by the rigid discipline of law,
but by the general sentiment which give law its vitality.
Not the less,
honest face of the people smiled --grimly,
but widely too.
Nor were sports wanting,
such as the colonists had witnessed,
and shared in,
at the country fairs and on the village-greens of England;
and which it was thought well to keep alive on this new soil,
for the sake of the courage and manliness that were essential in them.
in the different fashions of Cornwall and Devonshire,
were seen here and there about the market-place;
in one corner,
there was a friendly bout at quarterstaff;
and --what attracted most interest of all --on the platform of the pillory,
already so noted in our pages,
two masters of defence were commencing an exhibition with the buckler and broadsword.
much to the disappointment of the crowd,
this latter business was broken off by the interposition of the town beadle,
who had no idea of permitting the majesty of the law to be violated by such an abuse of one of its consecrated places.
It may not be too much to affirm,
on the whole,
(the people being then in the first stages of joyless deportment,
and the offspring of sires who had known how to be merry,
in their day),
that they would compare favourably,
in point of holiday keeping,
with their descendants,
even at so long an interval as ourselves.
Their immediate posterity,
the generation next to the early emigrants,
wore the blackest shade of Puritanism,
and so darkened the national visage with it,
that all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up.
We have yet to learn again the forgotten art of gaiety.
The picture of human life in the market-place,
though its general tint was the sad gray,
or black of the English emigrants,
was yet enlivened by some diversity of hue.
A party of Indians --in their savage finery of curiously embroidered deerskin robes,
red and yellow ochre,
and armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed spear --stood apart with countenances of inflexible gravity,
beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain.
wild as were these painted barbarians,
were they the wildest feature of the scene.
This distinction could more justly be claimed by some mariners --a part of the crew of the vessel from the Spanish Main --who had come ashore to see the humours of Election Day.
They were rough-looking desperadoes,
with sun-blackened faces,
and an immensity of beard;
their wide short trousers were confined about the waist by belts,
often clasped with a rough plate of gold,
and sustaining always a long knife,
and in some instances,
From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of palm-leaf,
gleamed eyes which,
even in good-nature and merriment,
had a kind of animal ferocity.
They transgressed without fear or scruple,
the rules of behaviour that were binding on all others: smoking tobacco under the beadle's very nose,
although each whiff would have cost a townsman a shilling;
and quaffing at their pleasure,
draughts of wine or aqua-vitae from pocket flasks,
which they freely tendered to the gaping crowd around them.
It remarkably characterised the incomplete morality of the age,
rigid as we call it,
that a licence was allowed the seafaring class,
not merely for their freaks on shore,
but for far more desperate deeds on their proper element.
The sailor of that day would go near to be arraigned as a pirate in our own.
There could be little doubt,
that this very ship's crew,
though no unfavourable specimens of the nautical brotherhood,
had been guilty,
as we should phrase it,
of depredations on the Spanish commerce,
such as would have perilled all their necks in a modern court of justice.
But the sea in those old times heaved,
and foamed very much at its own will,
or subject only to the tempestuous wind,
with hardly any attempts at regulation by human law.
The buccaneer on the wave might relinquish his calling and become at once if he chose,
a man of probity and piety on land;
even in the full career of his reckless life,
was he regarded as a personage with whom it was disreputable to traffic or casually associate.
Thus the Puritan elders in their black cloaks,
and steeple-crowned hats,
smiled not unbenignantly at the clamour and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men;
and it excited neither surprise nor animadversion when so reputable a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth,
was seen to enter the market-place in close and familiar talk with the commander of the questionable vessel.
The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure,
so far as apparel went,
anywhere to be seen among the multitude.
He wore a profusion of ribbons on his garment,
and gold lace on his hat,
which was also encircled by a gold chain,
and surmounted with a feather.
There was a sword at his side and a sword-cut on his forehead,
by the arrangement of his hair,
he seemed anxious rather to display than hide.
A landsman could hardly have worn this garb and shown this face,
and worn and shown them both with such a galliard air,
without undergoing stern question before a magistrate,
and probably incurring a fine or imprisonment,
or perhaps an exhibition in the stocks.
As regarded the shipmaster,
all was looked upon as pertaining to the character,
as to a fish his glistening scales.
After parting from the physician,
the commander of the Bristol ship strolled idly through the market-place;
until happening to approach the spot where Hester Prynne was standing,
he appeared to recognise,
and did not hesitate to address her.
As was usually the case wherever Hester stood,
a small vacant area --a sort of magic circle --had formed itself about her,
though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance,
none ventured or felt disposed to intrude.
It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer;
partly by her own reserve,
and partly by the instinctive,
though no longer so unkindly,
withdrawal of her fellow-creatures.
if never before,
it answered a good purpose by enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together without risk of being overheard;
and so changed was Hester Prynne's repute before the public,
that the matron in town,
most eminent for rigid morality,
could not have held such intercourse with less result of scandal than herself.
said the mariner,
"I must bid the steward make ready one more berth than you bargained for!
No fear of scurvy or ship fever this voyage.
What with the ship's surgeon and this other doctor,
our only danger will be from drug or pill;
more by token,
as there is a lot of apothecary's stuff aboard,
which I traded for with a Spanish vessel."
"What mean you?"
startled more than she permitted to appear.
"Have you another passenger?"
know you not,"
cried the shipmaster,
"that this physician here --Chillingworth he calls himself --is minded to try my cabin-fare with you?
you must have known it;
for he tells me he is of your party,
and a close friend to the gentleman you spoke of --he that is in peril from these sour old Puritan rulers."
"They know each other well,
with a mien of calmness,
though in the utmost consternation.
"They have long dwelt together."
Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne.
But at that instant she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself,
standing in the remotest corner of the market-place and smiling on her;
a smile which --across the wide and bustling square,
and through all the talk and laughter,
and various thoughts,
and interests of the crowd --conveyed secret and fearful meaning.
Before Hester Prynne could call together her thoughts,
and consider what was practicable to be done in this new and startling aspect of affairs,
the sound of military music was heard approaching along a contiguous street.
It denoted the advance of the procession of magistrates and citizens on its way towards the meeting-house: where,
in compliance with a custom thus early established,
and ever since observed,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.
Soon the head of the procession showed itself,
with a slow and stately march,
turning a corner,
and making its way across the market-place.
First came the music.
It comprised a variety of instruments,
perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another,
and played with no great skill;
but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to the multitude --that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to the scene of life that passes before the eye.
Little Pearl at first clapped her hands,
but then lost for an instant the restless agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence throughout the morning;
she gazed silently,
and seemed to be borne upward like a floating sea-bird on the long heaves and swells of sound.
But she was brought back to her former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the military company,
which followed after the music,
and formed the honorary escort of the procession.
This body of soldiery --which still sustains a corporate existence,
and marches down from past ages with an ancient and honourable fame --was composed of no mercenary materials.
Its ranks were filled with gentlemen who felt the stirrings of martial impulse,
and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms,
as in an association of Knights Templars,
they might learn the science,
so far as peaceful exercise would teach them,
the practices of war.
The high estimation then placed upon the military character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company.
Some of them,
by their services in the Low Countries and on other fields of European warfare,
had fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership.
The entire array,
clad in burnished steel,
and with plumage nodding over their bright morions,
had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can aspire to equal.
And yet the men of civil eminence,
who came immediately behind the military escort,
were better worth a thoughtful observer's eye.
Even in outward demeanour they showed a stamp of majesty that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgar,
if not absurd.
It was an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now,
but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more.
The people possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverence,
in their descendants,
if it survive at all,
exists in smaller proportion,
and with a vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate of public men.
The change may be for good or ill,
and is partly,
In that old day the English settler on these rude shores --having left king,
and all degrees of awful rank behind,
while still the faculty and necessity of reverence was strong in him --bestowed it on the white hair and venerable brow of age --on long-tried integrity --on solid wisdom and sad-coloured experience --on endowments of that grave and weighty order which gave the idea of permanence,
and comes under the general definition of respectability.
These primitive statesmen,
and their compeers --who were elevated to power by the early choice of the people,
seem to have been not often brilliant,
but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety,
rather than activity of intellect.
They had fortitude and self-reliance,
and in time of difficulty or peril stood up for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a tempestuous tide.
The traits of character here indicated were well represented in the square cast of countenance and large physical development of the new colonial magistrates.
So far as a demeanour of natural authority was concerned,
the mother country need not have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers,
or make the Privy Council of the Sovereign.
Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently distinguished divine,
from whose lips the religious discourse of the anniversary was expected.
His was the profession at that era in which intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political life;
for --leaving a higher motive out of the question it offered inducements powerful enough in the almost worshipping respect of the community,
to win the most aspiring ambition into its service.
Even political power --as in the case of Increase Mather --was within the grasp of a successful priest.
It was the observation of those who beheld him now,
since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New England shore,
had he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and air with which he kept his pace in the procession.
There was no feebleness of step as at other times;
his frame was not bent,
nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart.
if the clergyman were rightly viewed,
his strength seemed not of the body.
It might be spiritual and imparted to him by angelical ministrations.
It might be the exhilaration of that potent cordial which is distilled only in the furnace-glow of earnest and long-continued thought.
Or perchance his sensitive temperament was invigorated by the loud and piercing music that swelled heaven-ward,
and uplifted him on its ascending wave.
so abstracted was his look,
it might be questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard the music.
There was his body,
and with an unaccustomed force.
But where was his mind?
Far and deep in its own region,
with preternatural activity,
to marshal a procession of stately thoughts that were soon to issue thence;
and so he saw nothing,
knew nothing of what was around him;
but the spiritual element took up the feeble frame and carried it along,
unconscious of the burden,
and converting it to spirit like itself.
Men of uncommon intellect,
who have grown morbid,
possess this occasional power of mighty effort,
into which they throw the life of many days and then are lifeless for as many more.
gazing steadfastly at the clergyman,
felt a dreary influence come over her,
but wherefore or whence she knew not,
unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphere,
and utterly beyond her reach.
One glance of recognition she had imagined must needs pass between them.
She thought of the dim forest,
with its little dell of solitude,
and the mossy tree-trunk,
they had mingled their sad and passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook.
How deeply had they known each other then!
And was this the man?
She hardly knew him now!
moving proudly past,
enveloped as it were,
in the rich music,
with the procession of majestic and venerable fathers;
so unattainable in his worldly position,
and still more so in that far vista of his unsympathizing thoughts,
through which she now beheld him!
Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a delusion,
vividly as she had dreamed it,
there could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself.
And thus much of woman was there in Hester,
that she could scarcely forgive him --least of all now,
when the heavy footstep of their approaching Fate might be heard,
--for being able so completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world --while she groped darkly,
and stretched forth her cold hands,
and found him not.
Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelings,
or herself felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen around the minister.
While the procession passed,
the child was uneasy,
fluttering up and down,
like a bird on the point of taking flight.
When the whole had gone by,
she looked up into Hester's face --
"was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"
"Hold thy peace,
dear little Pearl!"
whispered her mother.
"We must not always talk in the marketplace of what happens to us in the forest."
"I could not be sure that it was he --so strange he looked,"
continued the child.
"Else I would have run to him,
and bid him kiss me now,
before all the people,
even as he did yonder among the dark old trees.
What would the minister have said,
Would he have clapped his hand over his heart,
and scowled on me,
and bid me begone?"
"What should he say,
"save that it was no time to kiss,
and that kisses are not to be given in the market-place?
Well for thee,
that thou didst not speak to him!"
Another shade of the same sentiment,
in reference to Mr. Dimmesdale,
was expressed by a person whose eccentricities --insanity,
as we should term it --led her to do what few of the townspeople would have ventured on --to begin a conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letter in public.
It was Mistress Hibbins,
arrayed in great magnificence,
with a triple ruff,
a broidered stomacher,
a gown of rich velvet,
and a gold-headed cane,
had come forth to see the procession.
As this ancient lady had the renown (which subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were continually going forward,
the crowd gave way before her,
and seemed to fear the touch of her garment,
as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous folds.
Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne --kindly as so many now felt towards the latter --the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins had doubled,
and caused a general movement from that part of the market-place in which the two women stood.
what mortal imagination could conceive it?"
whispered the old lady confidentially to Hester.
"Yonder divine man!
That saint on earth,
as the people uphold him to be,
and as --I must needs say --he really looks!
that saw him pass in the procession,
would think how little while it is since he went forth out of his study --chewing a Hebrew text of Scripture in his mouth,
I warrant --to take an airing in the forest!
we know what that means,
I find it hard to believe him the same man.
Many a church member saw I,
walking behind the music,
that has danced in the same measure with me,
when Somebody was fiddler,
it might be,
an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with us!
That is but a trifle,
when a woman knows the world.
But this minister.
Couldst thou surely tell,
whether he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest path?"
I know not of what you speak,"
answered Hester Prynne,
feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind;
yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which she affirmed a personal connexion between so many persons (herself among them) and the Evil One.
"It is not for me to talk lightly of a learned and pious minister of the Word,
like the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale."
cried the old lady,
shaking her finger at Hester.
"Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many times,
and have yet no skill to judge who else has been there?
though no leaf of the wild garlands which they wore while they danced be left in their hair!
I know thee,
for I behold the token.
We may all see it in the sunshine!
and it glows like a red flame in the dark.
Thou wearest it openly,
so there need be no question about that.
But this minister!
Let me tell thee in thine ear!
When the Black Man sees one of his own servants,
signed and sealed,
so shy of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
he hath a way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be disclosed,
in open daylight,
to the eyes of all the world!
What is that the minister seeks to hide,
with his hand always over his heart?
"What is it,
good Mistress Hibbins?"
eagerly asked little Pearl.
"Hast thou seen it?"
responded Mistress Hibbins,
making Pearl a profound reverence.
"Thou thyself wilt see it,
one time or another.
thou art of the lineage of the Prince of Air!
Wilt thou ride with me some fine night to see thy father?
Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"
Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear her,
the weird old gentlewoman took her departure.
By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the meeting-house,
and the accents of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale were heard commencing his discourse.
An irresistible feeling kept Hester near the spot.
As the sacred edifice was too much thronged to admit another auditor,
she took up her position close beside the scaffold of the pillory.
It was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon to her ears,
in the shape of an indistinct but varied murmur and flow of the minister's very peculiar voice.
This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment,
insomuch that a listener,
comprehending nothing of the language in which the preacher spoke,
might still have been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence.
Like all other music,
it breathed passion and pathos,
and emotions high or tender,
in a tongue native to the human heart,
Muffled as the sound was by its passage through the church walls,
Hester Prynne listened with such intenseness,
and sympathized so intimately,
that the sermon had throughout a meaning for her,
entirely apart from its indistinguishable words.
if more distinctly heard,
might have been only a grosser medium,
and have clogged the spiritual sense.
Now she caught the low undertone,
as of the wind sinking down to repose itself;
then ascended with it,
as it rose through progressive gradations of sweetness and power,
until its volume seemed to envelop her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur.
majestic as the voice sometimes became,
there was for ever in it an essential character of plaintiveness.
A loud or low expression of anguish --the whisper,
or the shriek,
as it might be conceived,
of suffering humanity,
that touched a sensibility in every bosom!
At times this deep strain of pathos was all that could be heard,
and scarcely heard sighing amid a desolate silence.
But even when the minister's voice grew high and commanding --when it gushed irrepressibly upward --when it assumed its utmost breadth and power,
so overfilling the church as to burst its way through the solid walls,
and diffuse itself in the open air --still,
if the auditor listened intently,
and for the purpose,
he could detect the same cry of pain.
What was it?
The complaint of a human heart,
telling its secret,
whether of guilt or sorrow,
to the great heart of mankind;
beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness,
--at every moment,
--in each accent,
--and never in vain!
It was this profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power.
During all this time,
at the foot of the scaffold.
If the minister's voice had not kept her there,
have been an inevitable magnetism in that spot,
whence she dated the first hour of her life of ignominy.
There was a sense within her --too ill-defined to be made a thought,
but weighing heavily on her mind --that her whole orb of life,
both before and after,
was connected with this spot,
as with the one point that gave it unity.
had quitted her mother's side,
and was playing at her own will about the market-place.
She made the sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray,
even as a bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of dusky foliage by darting to and fro,
half seen and half concealed amid the twilight of the clustering leaves.
She had an undulating,
but oftentimes a sharp and irregular movement.
It indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit,
which to-day was doubly indefatigable in its tip-toe dance,
because it was played upon and vibrated with her mother's disquietude.
Whenever Pearl saw anything to excite her ever active and wandering curiosity,
she flew thitherward,
as we might say,
seized upon that man or thing as her own property,
so far as she desired it,
but without yielding the minutest degree of control over her motions in requital.
The Puritans looked on,
if they smiled,
were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring,
from the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that shone through her little figure,
and sparkled with its activity.
She ran and looked the wild Indian in the face,
and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than his own.
with native audacity,
but still with a reserve as characteristic,
she flew into the midst of a group of mariners,
the swarthy-cheeked wild men of the ocean,
as the Indians were of the land;
and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl,
as if a flake of the sea-foam had taken the shape of a little maid,
and were gifted with a soul of the sea-fire,
that flashes beneath the prow in the night-time.
One of these seafaring men the shipmaster,
who had spoken to Hester Prynne was so smitten with Pearl's aspect,
that he attempted to lay hands upon her,
with purpose to snatch a kiss.
Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird in the air,
he took from his hat the gold chain that was twisted about it,
and threw it to the child.
Pearl immediately twined it around her neck and waist with such happy skill,
once seen there,
it became a part of her,
and it was difficult to imagine her without it.
"Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter,"
said the seaman,
"Wilt thou carry her a message from me?"
"If the message pleases me,
"Then tell her,"
"that I spake again with the black-a-visaged,
hump shouldered old doctor,
and he engages to bring his friend,
the gentleman she wots of,
aboard with him.
So let thy mother take no thought,
save for herself and thee.
Wilt thou tell her this,
"Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!"
with a naughty smile.
"If thou callest me that ill-name,
I shall tell him of thee,
and he will chase thy ship with a tempest!"
Pursuing a zigzag course across the marketplace,
the child returned to her mother,
and communicated what the mariner had said.
calm steadfastly-enduring spirit almost sank,
on beholding this dark and grim countenance of an inevitable doom,
which at the moment when a passage seemed to open for the minister and herself out of their labyrinth of misery --showed itself with an unrelenting smile,
right in the midst of their path.
With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the shipmaster's intelligence involved her,
she was also subjected to another trial.
There were many people present from the country round about,
who had often heard of the scarlet letter,
and to whom it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated rumours,
but who had never beheld it with their own bodily eyes.
after exhausting other modes of amusement,
now thronged about Hester Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness.
Unscrupulous as it was,
it could not bring them nearer than a circuit of several yards.
At that distance they accordingly stood,
fixed there by the centrifugal force of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired.
The whole gang of sailors,
observing the press of spectators,
and learning the purport of the scarlet letter,
came and thrust their sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring.
Even the Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man's curiosity and,
gliding through the crowd,
fastened their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom,
that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high dignity among her people.
the inhabitants of the town (their own interest in this worn-out subject languidly reviving itself,
by sympathy with what they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter,
and tormented Hester Prynne,
perhaps more than all the rest,
with their cool,
well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame.
Hester saw and recognized the selfsame faces of that group of matrons,
who had awaited her forthcoming from the prison-door seven years ago;
all save one,
the youngest and only compassionate among them,
whose burial-robe she had since made.
At the final hour,
when she was so soon to fling aside the burning letter,
it had strangely become the centre of more remark and excitement,
and was thus made to sear her breast more painfully,
than at any time since the first day she put it on.
While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy,
where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her for ever,
the admirable preacher was looking down from the sacred pulpit upon an audience whose very inmost spirits had yielded to his control.
The sainted minister in the church!
The woman of the scarlet letter in the marketplace!
What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them both!
THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER
The eloquent voice,
on which the souls of the listening audience had been borne aloft as on the swelling waves of the sea,
at length came to a pause.
There was a momentary silence,
profound as what should follow the utterance of oracles.
Then ensued a murmur and half-hushed tumult,
as if the auditors,
released from the high spell that had transported them into the region of another's mind,
were returning into themselves,
with all their awe and wonder still heavy on them.
In a moment more the crowd began to gush forth from the doors of the church.
Now that there was an end,
they needed more breath,
more fit to support the gross and earthly life into which they relapsed,
than that atmosphere which the preacher had converted into words of flame,
and had burdened with the rich fragrance of his thought.
In the open air their rapture broke into speech.
The street and the market-place absolutely babbled,
from side to side,
with applauses of the minister.
His hearers could not rest until they had told one another of what each knew better than he could tell or hear.
According to their united testimony,
never had man spoken in so wise,
and so holy a spirit,
as he that spake this day;
nor had inspiration ever breathed through mortal lips more evidently than it did through his.
Its influence could be seen,
as it were,
descending upon him,
and possessing him,
and continually lifting him out of the written discourse that lay before him,
and filling him with ideas that must have been as marvellous to himself as to his audience.
had been the relation between the Deity and the communities of mankind,
with a special reference to the New England which they were here planting in the wilderness.
as he drew towards the close,
a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him,
constraining him to its purpose as mightily as the old prophets of Israel were constrained,
only with this difference,
whereas the Jewish seers had denounced judgments and ruin on their country,
it was his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for the newly gathered people of the Lord.
throughout it all,
and through the whole discourse,
there had been a certain deep,
sad undertone of pathos,
which could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural regret of one soon to pass away.
their minister whom they so loved --and who so loved them all,
that he could not depart heavenward without a sigh --had the foreboding of untimely death upon him,
and would soon leave them in their tears.
This idea of his transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the effect which the preacher had produced;
it was as if an angel,
in his passage to the skies,
had shaken his bright wings over the people for an instant --at once a shadow and a splendour --and had shed down a shower of golden truths upon them.
there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale --as to most men,
in their various spheres,
though seldom recognised until they see it far behind them --an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one,
or than any which could hereafter be.
at this moment,
on the very proudest eminence of superiority,
to which the gifts or intellect,
and a reputation of whitest sanctity,
could exalt a clergyman in New England's earliest days,
when the professional character was of itself a lofty pedestal.
Such was the position which the minister occupied,
as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the pulpit at the close of his Election Sermon.
Meanwhile Hester Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the pillory,
with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast!
Now was heard again the clamour of the music,
and the measured tramp of the military escort issuing from the church door.
The procession was to be marshalled thence to the town hall,
where a solemn banquet would complete the ceremonies of the day.
the train of venerable and majestic fathers were seen moving through a broad pathway of the people,
who drew back reverently,
on either side,
as the Governor and magistrates,
the old and wise men,
the holy ministers,
and all that were eminent and renowned,
advanced into the midst of them.
When they were fairly in the marketplace,
their presence was greeted by a shout.
This --though doubtless it might acquire additional force and volume from the child-like loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers --was felt to be an irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating in their ears.
Each felt the impulse in himself,
and in the same breath,
caught it from his neighbour.
Within the church,
it had hardly been kept down;
beneath the sky it pealed upward to the zenith.
There were human beings enough,
and enough of highly wrought and symphonious feeling to produce that more impressive sound than the organ tones of the blast,
or the thunder,
or the roar of the sea;
even that mighty swell of many voices,
blended into one great voice by the universal impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many.
from the soil of New England had gone up such a shout!
on New England soil had stood the man so honoured by his mortal brethren as the preacher!
How fared it with him,
Were there not the brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head?
So etherealised by spirit as he was,
and so apotheosised by worshipping admirers,
did his footsteps,
in the procession,
really tread upon the dust of earth?
As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward,
all eyes were turned towards the point where the minister was seen to approach among them.
The shout died into a murmur,
as one portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse of him.
How feeble and pale he looked,
amid all his triumph!
The energy --or say,
the inspiration which had held him up,
until he should have delivered the sacred message that had brought its own strength along with it from heaven --was withdrawn,
now that it had so faithfully performed its office.
which they had just before beheld burning on his cheek,
like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers.
It seemed hardly the face of a man alive,
with such a death-like hue: it was hardly a man with life in him,
that tottered on his path so nervously,
and did not fall!
One of his clerical brethren --it was the venerable John Wilson --observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibility,
stepped forward hastily to offer his support.
The minister tremulously,
repelled the old man's arm.
He still walked onward,
if that movement could be so described,
which rather resembled the wavering effort of an infant,
with its mother's arms in view,
outstretched to tempt him forward.
almost imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress,
he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold,
with all that dreary lapse of time between,
Hester Prynne had encountered the world's ignominious stare.
There stood Hester,
holding little Pearl by the hand!
And there was the scarlet letter on her breast!
The minister here made a pause;
although the music still played the stately and rejoicing march to which the procession moved.
It summoned him onward --inward to the festival!
--but here he made a pause.
for the last few moments,
had kept an anxious eye upon him.
He now left his own place in the procession,
and advanced to give assistance judging,
from Mr. Dimmesdale's aspect that he must otherwise inevitably fall.
But there was something in the latter's expression that warned back the magistrate,
although a man not readily obeying the vague intimations that pass from one spirit to another.
looked on with awe and wonder.
This earthly faintness,
in their view,
only another phase of the minister's celestial strength;
nor would it have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so holy,
had he ascended before their eyes,
waxing dimmer and brighter,
and fading at last into the light of heaven!
He turned towards the scaffold,
and stretched forth his arms.
my little Pearl!"
It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them;
but there was something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it.
with the bird-like motion,
which was one of her characteristics,
flew to him,
and clasped her arms about his knees.
Hester Prynne --slowly,
as if impelled by inevitable fate,
and against her strongest will --likewise drew near,
but paused before she reached him.
At this instant old Roger Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd --or,
and evil was his look,
he rose up out of some nether region --to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do!
Be that as it might,
the old man rushed forward,
and caught the minister by the arm.
what is your purpose?"
"Wave back that woman!
Cast off this child!
All shall be well!
Do not blacken your fame,
and perish in dishonour!
I can yet save you!
Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession?"
Methinks thou art too late!"
answered the minister,
encountering his eye,
"Thy power is not what it was!
With God's help,
I shall escape thee now!"
He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.
with a piercing earnestness,
"in the name of Him,
so terrible and so merciful,
who gives me grace,
at this last moment,
to do what --for my own heavy sin and miserable agony --I withheld myself from doing seven years ago,
come hither now,
and twine thy strength about me!
but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me!
This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might!
--with all his own might,
and the fiend's!
Support me up yonder scaffold."
The crowd was in a tumult.
The men of rank and dignity,
who stood more immediately around the clergyman,
were so taken by surprise,
and so perplexed as to the purport of what they saw --unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself,
or to imagine any other --that they remained silent and inactive spectators of the judgement which Providence seemed about to work.
They beheld the minister,
leaning on Hester's shoulder,
and supported by her arm around him,
approach the scaffold,
and ascend its steps;
while still the little hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his.
Old Roger Chillingworth followed,
as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors,
and well entitled,
therefore to be present at its closing scene.
"Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,"
said he looking darkly at the clergyman,
"there was no one place so secret --no high place nor lowly place,
where thou couldst have escaped me --save on this very scaffold!"
"Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!"
answered the minister.
Yet he trembled,
and turned to Hester,
with an expression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes,
not the less evidently betrayed,
that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.
"Is not this better,"
"than what we dreamed of in the forest?"
"I know not!
I know not!"
she hurriedly replied.
so we may both die,
and little Pearl die with us!"
"For thee and Pearl,
be it as God shall order,"
said the minister;
"and God is merciful!
Let me now do the will which He hath made plain before my sight.
I am a dying man.
So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!"
Partly supported by Hester Prynne,
and holding one hand of little Pearl's,
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers;
to the holy ministers,
who were his brethren;
to the people,
whose great heart was thoroughly appalled yet overflowing with tearful sympathy,
as knowing that some deep life-matter --which,
if full of sin,
was full of anguish and repentance likewise --was now to be laid open to them.
but little past its meridian,
shone down upon the clergyman,
and gave a distinctness to his figure,
as he stood out from all the earth,
to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.
"People of New England!"
with a voice that rose over them,
and majestic --yet had always a tremor through it,
and sometimes a shriek,
struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe --"ye,
that have loved me!
that have deemed me holy!
--behold me here,
the one sinner of the world!
At last --at last!
--I stand upon the spot where,
seven years since,
I should have stood,
with this woman,
more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward,
sustains me at this dreadful moment,
from grovelling down upon my face!
the scarlet letter which Hester wears!
Ye have all shuddered at it!
Wherever her walk hath been --wherever,
so miserably burdened,
she may have hoped to find repose --it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her.
But there stood one in the midst of you,
at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!"
at this point,
as if the minister must leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed.
But he fought back the bodily weakness --and,
the faintness of heart --that was striving for the mastery with him.
He threw off all assistance,
and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and the children.
"It was on him!"
with a kind of fierceness;
so determined was he to speak out the whole.
"God's eye beheld it!
The angels were for ever pointing at it!
(The Devil knew it well,
and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger!) But he hid it cunningly from men,
and walked among you with the mien of a spirit,
because so pure in a sinful world!
because he missed his heavenly kindred!
at the death-hour,
he stands up before you!
He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter!
He tells you,
with all its mysterious horror,
it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast,
and that even this,
his own red stigma,
is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart!
Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner!
a dreadful witness of it!"
With a convulsive motion,
he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast.
It was revealed!
But it were irreverent to describe that revelation.
For an instant,
the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly miracle;
while the minister stood,
with a flush of triumph in his face,
as one who,
in the crisis of acutest pain,
had won a victory.
down he sank upon the scaffold!
Hester partly raised him,
and supported his head against her bosom.
Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him,
with a blank,
out of which the life seemed to have departed.
"Thou hast escaped me!"
he repeated more than once.
"Thou hast escaped me!"
"May God forgive thee!"
said the minister.
hast deeply sinned!"
He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man,
and fixed them on the woman and the child.
"My little Pearl,"
feebly and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face,
as of a spirit sinking into deep repose;
now that the burden was removed,
it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child --"dear little Pearl,
wilt thou kiss me now?
Thou wouldst not,
in the forest!
But now thou wilt?"
Pearl kissed his lips.
A spell was broken.
The great scene of grief,
in which the wild infant bore a part had developed all her sympathies;
and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek,
they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow,
nor forever do battle with the world,
but be a woman in it.
Towards her mother,
Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was fulfilled.
said the clergyman,
"Shall we not meet again?"
bending her face down close to his.
"Shall we not spend our immortal life together?
we have ransomed one another,
with all this woe!
Thou lookest far into eternity,
with those bright dying eyes!
Then tell me what thou seest!"
with tremulous solemnity.
"The law we broke!
--the sin here awfully revealed!
--let these alone be in thy thoughts!
It may be,
when we forgot our God --when we violated our reverence each for the other's soul --it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter,
in an everlasting and pure reunion.
and He is merciful!
He hath proved his mercy,
most of all,
in my afflictions.
By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast!
By sending yonder dark and terrible old man,
to keep the torture always at red-heat!
By bringing me hither,
to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people!
Had either of these agonies been wanting,
I had been lost for ever!
Praised be His name!
His will be done!
That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath.
silent till then,
broke out in a strange,
deep voice of awe and wonder,
which could not as yet find utterance,
save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.
After many days,
when time sufficed for the people to arrange their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene,
there was more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold.
Most of the spectators testified to having seen,
on the breast of the unhappy minister,
a SCARLET LETTER --the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne --imprinted in the flesh.
As regarded its origin there were various explanations,
all of which must necessarily have been conjectural.
Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge,
had begun a course of penance --which he afterwards,
in so many futile methods,
followed out --by inflicting a hideous torture on himself.
Others contended that the stigma had not been produced until a long time subsequent,
when old Roger Chillingworth,
being a potent necromancer,
had caused it to appear,
through the agency of magic and poisonous drugs.
again and those best able to appreciate the minister's peculiar sensibility,
and the wonderful operation of his spirit upon the body --whispered their belief,
that the awful symbol was the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse,
gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly,
and at last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter.
The reader may choose among these theories.
We have thrown all the light we could acquire upon the portent,
and would gladly,
now that it has done its office,
erase its deep print out of our own brain,
where long meditation has fixed it in very undesirable distinctness.
It is singular,
that certain persons,
who were spectators of the whole scene,
and professed never once to have removed their eyes from the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
denied that there was any mark whatever on his breast,
more than on a new-born infant's.
by their report,
had his dying words acknowledged,
nor even remotely implied,
any --the slightest --connexion on his part,
with the guilt for which Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet letter.
According to these highly-respectable witnesses,
conscious that he was dying --conscious,
that the reverence of the multitude placed him already among saints and angels --had desired,
by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman,
to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of man's own righteousness.
After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good,
he had made the manner of his death a parable,
in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson,
in the view of Infinite Purity,
we are sinners all alike.
It was to teach them,
that the holiest amongst us has but attained so far above his fellows as to discern more clearly the Mercy which looks down,
and repudiate more utterly the phantom of human merit,
which would look aspiringly upward.
Without disputing a truth so momentous,
we must be allowed to consider this version of Mr. Dimmesdale's story as only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with which a man's friends --and especially a clergyman's --will sometimes uphold his character,
clear as the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letter,
establish him a false and sin-stained creature of the dust.
The authority which we have chiefly followed --a manuscript of old date,
drawn up from the verbal testimony of individuals,
some of whom had known Hester Prynne,
while others had heard the tale from contemporary witnesses fully confirms the view taken in the foregoing pages.
Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience,
we put only this into a sentence: --"Be true!
Show freely to the world,
if not your worst,
yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"
Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place,
almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's death,
in the appearance and demeanour of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth.
All his strength and energy --all his vital and intellectual force --seemed at once to desert him,
insomuch that he positively withered up,
shrivelled away and almost vanished from mortal sight,
like an uprooted weed that lies wilting in the sun.
This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge;
by its completest triumph consummation that evil principle was left with no further material to support it --when,
there was no more Devil's work on earth for him to do,
it only remained for the unhumanised mortal to betake himself whither his master would find him tasks enough,
and pay him his wages duly.
to all these shadowy beings,
so long our near acquaintances --as well Roger Chillingworth as his companions we would fain be merciful.
It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry,
whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom.
in its utmost development,
supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge;
each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual fife upon another: each leaves the passionate lover,
or the no less passionate hater,
forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject.
the two passions seem essentially the same,
except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance,
and the other in a dusky and lurid glow.
In the spiritual world,
the old physician and the minister --mutual victims as they have been --may,
have found their earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden love.
Leaving this discussion apart,
we have a matter of business to communicate to the reader.
At old Roger Chillingworth's decease,
(which took place within the year),
and by his last will and testament,
of which Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Mr. Wilson were executors,
he bequeathed a very considerable amount of property,
both here and in England to little Pearl,
the daughter of Hester Prynne.
So Pearl --the elf child --the demon offspring,
as some people up to that epoch persisted in considering her --became the richest heiress of her day in the New World.
Not improbably this circumstance wrought a very material change in the public estimation;
and had the mother and child remained here,
little Pearl at a marriageable period of life might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan among them all.
in no long time after the physician's death,
the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared,
and Pearl along with her.
For many years,
though a vague report would now and then find its way across the sea --like a shapeless piece of driftwood tossed ashore with the initials of a name upon it --yet no tidings of them unquestionably authentic were received.
The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend.
was still potent,
and kept the scaffold awful where the poor minister had died,
and likewise the cottage by the sea-shore where Hester Prynne had dwelt.
Near this latter spot,
one afternoon some children were at play,
when they beheld a tall woman in a gray robe approach the cottage-door.
In all those years it had never once been opened;
but either she unlocked it or the decaying wood and iron yielded to her hand,
or she glided shadow-like through these impediments --and,
at all events,
On the threshold she paused --turned partly round --for perchance the idea of entering alone and all so changed,
the home of so intense a former life,
was more dreary and desolate than even she could bear.
But her hesitation was only for an instant,
though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast.
And Hester Prynne had returned,
and taken up her long-forsaken shame!
But where was little Pearl?
If still alive she must now have been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood.
None knew --nor ever learned with the fulness of perfect certainty --whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maiden grave;
or whether her wild,
rich nature had been softened and subdued and made capable of a woman's gentle happiness.
But through the remainder of Hester's life there were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest with some inhabitant of another land.
with armorial seals upon them,
though of bearings unknown to English heraldry.
In the cottage there were articles of comfort and luxury such as Hester never cared to use,
but which only wealth could have purchased and affection have imagined for her.
There were trifles too,
beautiful tokens of a continual remembrance,
that must have been wrought by delicate fingers at the impulse of a fond heart.
And once Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment with such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have raised a public tumult had any infant thus apparelled,
been shown to our sober-hued community.
the gossips of that day believed --and Mr. Surveyor Pue,
who made investigations a century later,
believed --and one of his recent successors in office,
faithfully believes --that Pearl was not only alive,
and mindful of her mother;
and that she would most joyfully have entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fireside.
But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne,
in New England,
than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home.
Here had been her sin;
and here was yet to be her penitence.
She had returned,
and resumed --of her own free will,
for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it --resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale.
Never afterwards did it quit her bosom.
in the lapse of the toilsome,
and self-devoted years that made up Hester's life,
the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness,
and became a type of something to be sorrowed over,
and looked upon with awe,
yet with reverence too.
as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends,
nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment,
people brought all their sorrows and perplexities,
and besought her counsel,
as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble.
more especially --in the continually recurring trials of wounded,
or erring and sinful passion --or with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded,
because unvalued and unsought came to Hester's cottage,
demanding why they were so wretched,
and what the remedy!
Hester comforted and counselled them,
as best she might.
She assured them,
of her firm belief that,
at some brighter period,
when the world should have grown ripe for it,
in Heaven's own time,
a new truth would be revealed,
in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.
Earlier in life,
Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess,
but had long since recognised the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin,
bowed down with shame,
or even burdened with a life-long sorrow.
The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman,
not through dusky grief,
but the ethereal medium of joy;
and showing how sacred love should make us happy,
by the truest test of a life successful to such an end.
So said Hester Prynne,
and glanced her sad eyes downward at the scarlet letter.
a new grave was delved,
near an old and sunken one,
in that burial-ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built.
It was near that old and sunken grave,
yet with a space between,
as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle.
Yet one tomb-stone served for both.
there were monuments carved with armorial bearings;
and on this simple slab of slate --as the curious investigator may still discern,
and perplex himself with the purport --there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon.
It bore a device,
a herald's wording of which may serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend;
so sombre is it,
and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow: --
"ON A FIELD,
THE LETTER A,