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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE * * * * * 7




THE PRISON-DOOR * * * * * 59




THE MARKET-PLACE * * * * * 62




THE RECOGNITION * * * * * * 75




THE INTERVIEW * * * * * * 87








PEARL * * * * * * * * 109



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL * * * * * 122








THE LEECH * * * * * * * 143
























HESTER AND PEARL * * * * * 250




A FOREST WALK * * * * * * 219








A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE * * * * * 240
















THE PROCESSION * * * * * * 285








CONCLUSION * * * * * * * 315













It is a little remarkable, that -- though disinclined to talk

overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my

personal friends -- an autobiographical impulse should twice in

my life have taken possession of me, in addressing the public.

The first time was three or four years since, when I favoured the

reader -- inexcusably, and for no earthly reason that either the

indulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine -- with a

description of my way of life in the deep quietude of an Old

Manse. And now -- because, beyond my deserts, I was happy enough

to find a listener or two on the former occasion -- I again seize

the public by the button, and talk of my three years' experience

in a Custom-House. The example of the famous "P. P. , Clerk of

this Parish," was never more faithfully followed. The truth

seems to be, however, that when he casts his leaves forth upon

the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside

his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand

him better than most of his schoolmates or lifemates. Some

authors, indeed, do far more than this, and indulge themselves in

such confidential depths of revelation as could fittingly be

addressed only and exclusively to the one heart and








mind of perfect sympathy; as if the printed book, thrown at large

on the wide world, were certain to find out the divided segment

of the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of existence

by bringing him into communion with it. It is scarcely decorous,

however, to speak all, even where we speak impersonally. But, as

thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker

stand in some true relation with his audience, it may be

pardonable to imagine that a friend, a kind and apprehensive,

though not the closest friend, is listening to our talk; and

then, a native reserve being thawed by this genial consciousness,

we may prate of the circumstances that lie around us, and even of

ourself, but still keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this

extent, and within these limits, an author, methinks, may be

autobiographical, without violating either the reader's rights or

his own.


It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom-House sketch has a

certain propriety, of a kind always recognised in literature, as

explaining how a large portion of the following pages came into

my possession, and as offering proofs of the authenticity of a

narrative therein contained. This, in fact -- a desire to put

myself in my true position as editor, or very little more, of the

most prolix among the tales that make up my volume -- this, and

no other, is my true reason for assuming a personal relation with

the public. In accomplishing the main purpose, it has appeared

allowable, by a few extra touches, to give a faint representation

of a mode of life not heretofore described, together with some of

the characters that move in it, among whom the author happened to

make one.








In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, half a century

ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf -- but

which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, and

exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life; except, perhaps,

a bark or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, discharging

hides; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, pitching out

her cargo of firewood -- at the head, I say, of this dilapidated

wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along which, at the

base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the track of many

languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass -- here,

with a view from its front windows adown this not very enlivening

prospect, and thence across the harbour, stands a spacious

edifice of brick. From the loftiest point of its roof, during

precisely three and a half hours of each forenoon, floats or

droops, in breeze or calm, the banner of the republic; but with

the thirteen stripes turned vertically, instead of horizontally,

and thus indicating that a civil, and not a military, post of

Uncle Sam's government is here established. Its front is

ornamented with a portico of half-a-dozen wooden pillars,

supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide granite

steps descends towards the street Over the entrance hovers an

enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a

shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of

intermingled thunder- bolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With

the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy

fowl, she appears by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the

general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the

inoffensive com-








munity; and especially to warn all citizens careful of their

safety against intruding on the premises which she overshadows

with her wings. Nevertheless, vixenly as she looks, many people

are seeking at this very moment to shelter themselves under the

wing of the federal eagle; imagining, I presume, that her bosom

has all the softness and snugness of an eiderdown pillow. But

she has no great tenderness even in her best of moods, and,

sooner or later -- oftener soon than late -- is apt to fling off

her nestlings with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a

rankling wound from her barbed arrows.


The pavement round about the above-described edifice -- which we

may as well name at once as the Custom-House of the port -- has

grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of

late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business. In

some months of the year, however, there often chances a forenoon

when affairs move onward with a livelier tread. Such occasions

might remind the elderly citizen of that period, before the last

war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned,

as she is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners, who permit

her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell,

needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at New

York or Boston. On some such morning, when three or four vessels

happen to have arrived at once usually from Africa or South

America -- or to be on the verge of their departure thitherward,

there is a sound of frequent feet passing briskly up and down the

granite steps. Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you

may greet the sea-flushed ship-








master, just in port, with his vessel's papers under his arm in a

tarnished tin box. Here, too, comes his owner, cheerful, sombre,

gracious or in the sulks, accordingly as his scheme of the now

accomplished voyage has been realized in merchandise that will

readily be turned to gold, or has buried him under a bulk of

incommodities such as nobody will care to rid him of. Here,

likewise -- the germ of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded,

careworn merchant -- we have the smart young clerk, who gets the

taste of traffic as a wolf-cub does of blood, and already sends

adventures in his master's ships, when he had better be sailing

mimic boats upon a mill-pond. Another figure in the scene is the

outward-bound sailor, in quest of a protection; or the recently

arrived one, pale and feeble, seeking a passport to the hospital.

Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners

that bring firewood from the British provinces; a rough-looking

set of tarpaulins, without the alertness of the Yankee aspect,

but contributing an item of no slight importance to our decaying



Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were,

with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for

the time being, it made the Custom-House a stirring scene. More

frequently, however, on ascending the steps, you would discern --

in the entry if it were summer time, or in their appropriate

rooms if wintry or inclement weathers row of venerable figures,

sitting in old-fashioned chairs, which were tipped on their hind

legs back against the wall. Oftentimes they were asleep, but

occasionally might be heard talking together, ill








voices between a speech and a snore, and with that lack of energy

that distinguishes the occupants of alms-houses, and all other

human beings who depend for subsistence on charity, on

monopolized labour, or anything else but their own independent

exertions. These old gentlemen -- seated, like Matthew at the

receipt of custom, but not very liable to be summoned thence,

like him, for apostolic errands -- were Custom-House officers.


Furthermore, on the left hand as you enter the front door, is a

certain room or office, about fifteen feet square, and of a lofty

height, with two of its arched windows commanding a view of the

aforesaid dilapidated wharf, and the third looking across a

narrow lane, and along a portion of Derby Street. All three give

glimpses of the shops of grocers, block-makers, slop-sellers, and

ship-chandlers, around the doors of which are generally to be

seen, laughing and gossiping, clusters of old salts, and such

other wharf-rats as haunt the Wapping of a seaport. The room

itself is cobwebbed, and dingy with old paint; its floor is

strewn with grey sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen

into long disuse; and it is easy to conclude, from the general

slovenliness of the place, that this is a sanctuary into which

womankind, with her tools of magic, the broom and mop, has very

infrequent access. In the way of furniture, there is a stove

with a voluminous funnel; an old pine desk with a three-legged

stool beside it; two or three wooden-bottom chairs, exceedingly

decrepit and infirm; and -- not to forget the library -- on some

shelves, a score or two of volumes of the Acts of Congress, and a

bulky Digest of the Revenue laws. A








tin pipe ascends through the ceiling, and forms a medium of vocal

communication with other parts of be edifice. And here, some six

months ago -- pacing from corner to corner, or lounging on the

long-legged tool, with his elbow on the desk, and his eyes

wandering up and down the columns of the morning newspaper -- you

might have recognised, honoured reader, the same individual who

welcomed you into his cheery little study, where the sunshine

glimmered so pleasantly through the willow branches on the

western side of the Old Manse. But now, should you go thither to

seek him, you would inquire in vain for the Locofoco Surveyor.

The besom of reform hath swept him out of office, and a worthier

successor wears his dignity and pockets his emoluments.


This old town of Salem -- my native place, though I have dwelt

much away from it both in boyhood and maturer years -- possesses,

or did possess, a hold on my affection, the force of which I have

never realized during my seasons of actual residence here.

Indeed, so far as its physical aspect is concerned, with its

flat, unvaried surface, covered chiefly with wooden houses, few

or none of which pretend to architectural beauty -- its

irregularity, which is neither picturesque nor quaint, but only

tame -- its long and lazy street, lounging wearisomely through

the whole extent of be peninsula, with Gallows Hill and New

Guinea at one end, and a view of the alms-house at the other --

such being the features of my native town, it would be quite as

reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a disarranged

checker-board. And yet, though invariably happiest elsewhere,

there is within me a feeling for Old Salem, which, in lack of a









phrase, I must be content to call affection. The sentiment is

probably assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family

has stuck into the soil. It is now nearly two centuries and a

quarter since the original Briton, the earliest emigrant of my

name, made his appearance in the wild and forest -- bordered

settlement which has since become a city. And here his

descendants have been born and died, and have mingled their

earthly substance with the soil, until no small portion of it

must necessarily be akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a

little while, I walk the streets. In part, therefore, the

attachment which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of dust

for dust. Few of my countrymen can know what it is; nor, as

frequent transplantation is perhaps better for the stock, need

they consider it desirable to know.


But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The figure of

that first ancestor, invested by family tradition with a dim and

dusky grandeur, was present to my boyish imagination as far back

as I can remember. It still haunts me, and induces a sort of

home-feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in reference

to the present phase of the town. I seem to have a stronger

claim to a residence here on account of this grave, bearded,

sable-cloaked, and steeple-crowned progenitor-who came so early,

with his Bible and his sword, and trode the unworn street with

such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a man of war

and peace -- a stronger claim than for myself, whose name is

seldom heard and my face hardly known. He was a soldier,

legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the Church; he had all the

Puritanic traits, both good and evil. He was








likewise a bitter persecutor; as witness the Quakers, who have

remembered him in their histories, and relate an incident of his

hard severity towards a woman of their sect, which will last

longer, it is to be feared, than any record of his better deeds,

although these were many. His son, too, inherited the

persecuting spirit, and made himself so conspicuous in the

martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to

have left a stain upon him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his

dry old bones, in the Charter-street burial-ground, must still

retain it, if they have not crumbled utterly to dust I know not

whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves to repent,

and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties; or whether they are

now groaning under the heavy consequences of them in another

state of being. At all events, I, the present writer, as their

representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes,

and pray that any curse incurred by them -- as I have heard, and

as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the race, for many a

long year back, would argue to exist -- may be now and henceforth



Doubtless, however, either of these stern and black-browed

Puritans would have thought it quite a sufficient retribution for

his sins that, after so long a lapse of years, the old trunk of

the family tree, with so much venerable moss upon it, should have

borne, as its topmost bough, an idler like myself. No aim that I

have ever cherished would they recognise as laudable; no success

of mine -- if my life, beyond its domestic scope, had ever been

brightened by success -- would they deem otherwise








than worthless, if not positively disgraceful. "What is he?"

murmurs one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other. "A

writer of story books What kind of business in life -- what mode

of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and

generation -- may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as

well have been a fiddler" Such are the compliments bandied

between my great grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time

And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits of their

nature have intertwined themselves with mine


Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and childhood, by

these two earnest and energetic men, the race has ever since

subsisted here; always, too, in respectability; never, so far as

I have known, disgraced by a single unworthy member; but seldom

or never, on the other hand, after the first two generations,

performing any memorable deed, or so much as putting forward a

claim to public notice. Gradually, they have sunk almost out of

sight; as old houses, here and there about the streets, get

covered half-way to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil.

From father to son, for above a hundred years, they followed the

sea; a grey-headed shipmaster, in each generation, retiring from

the quarter-deck to the homestead, while a boy of fourteen took

the hereditary place before the mast, confronting the salt spray

and the gale which had blustered against his sire and grandsire.

The boy, also in due time, passed from the forecastle to the

cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and returned from his

world-wanderings, to grow old, and die, and mingle his dust with

the natal earth. This long connexion of a







family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a

kindred between the human being and the locality, quite

independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances

that surround him. It is not love but instinct. The new

inhabitant -- who came himself from a foreign land, or whose

father or grandfather came -- has little claim to be called a

Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster -- like tenacity

with which an old settler, over whom his third century is

creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations

have been embedded. It is no matter that the place is joyless

for him; that he is weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and

dust, the dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind,

and the chillest of social atmospheres; -- all these, and

whatever faults besides he may see or imagine, are nothing to the

purpose. The spell survives, and just as powerfully as if the

natal spot were an earthly paradise. So has it been in my case.

I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home; so that the

mould of features and cast of character which had all along been

familiar here -- ever, as one representative of the race lay down

in the grave, another assuming, as it were, his sentry-march

along the main street -- might still in my little day be seen and

recognised in the old town. Nevertheless, this very sentiment is

an evidence that the connexion, which has become an unhealthy

one, should at least be severed. Human nature will not flourish,

any more than a potato, if it be planted and re-planted, for too

long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My

children have had other birth-places, and, so far as their

fortunes may be








within my control, shall strike their roots into accustomed



On emerging from the Old Manse, it was chiefly this strange,

indolent, unjoyous attachment for my native town that brought me

to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edifice, when I might as

well, or better, have gone somewhere else. My doom was on me, It

was not the first time, nor the second, that I had gone away --

as it seemed, permanently -- but yet returned, like the bad

halfpenny, or as if Salem were for me the inevitable centre of

the universe. So, one fine morning I ascended the flight of

granite steps, with the President's commission in my pocket, and

was introduced to the corps of gentlemen who were to aid me in my

weighty responsibility as chief executive officer of the



I doubt greatly -- or, rather, I do not doubt at all -- whether

any public functionary of the United States, either in the civil

or military line, has ever had such a patriarchal body of

veterans under his orders as myself. The whereabouts of the

Oldest Inhabitant was at once settled when I looked at them. For

upwards of twenty years before this epoch, the independent

position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House out of

the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which makes the tenure of

office generally so fragile. A soldier -- New England's most

distinguished soldier -- he stood firmly on the pedestal of his

gallant services; and, himself secure in the wise liberality of

the successive administrations through which he had held office,

he had been the safety of his subordinates in many an hour of

danger and heart-quake General Miller was radically con-








servative; a man over whose kindly nature habit had no slight

influence; attaching himself strongly to familiar faces, and with

difficulty moved to change, even when change might have brought

unquestionable improvement. Thus, on taking charge off my

department, I found few but aged men. They were ancient sea --

captains, for the most part, who, after being tossed on every

sea, and standing up sturdily against life's tempestuous blast,

had finally drifted into this quiet nook, where, with little to

disturb them, except the periodical terrors of a Presidential

election, they one and all acquired a new lease of existence.

Though by no means less liable than their fellow-men to age and

infirmity, they had evidently some talisman or other that kept

death at bay. Two or three of their number, as I was assured,

being gouty and rheumatic, or perhaps bed-ridden, never dreamed

of making their appearance at the Custom-House during a large

part of the year; but, after a torpid winter, would creep out

into the warm sunshine of May or June, go lazily about what they

termed duty, and, at their own leisure and convenience, betake

themselves to bed again. I must plead guilty to the charge of

abbreviating the official breath of more than one of these

venerable servants of the republic. They were allowed, on my

representation, to rest from their arduous labours, and soon

afterwards -- as if their sole principle of life had been zeal

for their country's service -- as I verily believe it was --

withdrew to a better world. It is a pious consolation to me

that, through my interference, a sufficient space was allowed

them for repentance of the evil and corrupt practices into








which, as a matter of course, every Custom-House officer must be

supposed to fall. Neither the front nor the back entrance of the

Custom-House opens on the road to Paradise.


The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It was well for

their venerable brotherhood that the new Surveyor was not a

politician, and though a faithful Democrat in principle, neither

received nor held his office with any reference to political

services. Had it been otherwise -- had an active politician been

put into this influential post, to assume the easy task of making

head against a Whig Collector, whose infirmities withheld him

from the personal administration of his office -- hardly a man of

the old corps would have drawn the breath of official life within

a month after the exterminating angel had come up the

Custom-House steps. According to the received code in such

matters, it would have been nothing short of duty, in a

politician, to bring every one of those white heads under the axe

of the guillotine. It was plain enough to discern that the old

fellows dreaded some such discourtesy at my hands. It pained,

and at the same time amused me, to behold the terrors that

attended my advent, to see a furrowed cheek, weather-beaten by

half a century of storm, turn ashy pale at the glance of so

harmless an individual as myself; to detect, as one or another

addressed me, the tremor of a voice which, in long-past days, had

been wont to bellow through a speaking-trumpet, hoarsely enough

to frighten Boreas himself to silence. They knew, these

excellent old persons, that, by all established rule -- and, as

regarded some of them, weighed by their own lack of








efficiency for business -- they ought to have given place to

younger men, more orthodox in politics, and altogether fitter

than themselves to serve our common Uncle. I knew it, too, but

could never quite find in my heart to act upon the knowledge.

Much and deservedly to my own discredit, therefore, and

considerably to the detriment of my official conscience, they

continued, during my incumbency, to creep about the wharves, and

loiter up and down the Custom-House steps. They spent a good

deal of time, also, asleep in their accustomed corners, with

their chairs tilted back against the walls; awaking, however,

once or twice in the forenoon, to bore one another with the

several thousandth repetition of old sea-stories and mouldy

jokes, that had grown to be passwords and countersigns among



The discovery was soon made, I imagine, that the new Surveyor had

no great harm in him. So, with lightsome hearts and the happy

consciousness of being usefully employed -- in their own behalf

at least, if not for our beloved country -- these good old

gentlemen went through the various formalities of office.

Sagaciously under their spectacles, did they peep into the holds

of vessels Mighty was their fuss about little matters, and

marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater ones

to slip between their fingers Whenever such a mischance occurred

-- when a waggon-load of valuable merchandise had been smuggled

ashore, at noonday, perhaps, and directly beneath their

unsuspicious noses -- nothing could exceed the vigilance and

alacrity with which they proceeded to lock, and double-lock, and

secure with tape and sealing -- wax, all the avenues of








the delinquent vessel. Instead of a reprimand for their previous

negligence, the case seemed rather to require an eulogium on

their praiseworthy caution after the mischief had happened; a

grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal the moment

that there was no longer any remedy.


Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, it is my

foolish habit to contract a kindness for them. The better part

of my companion's character, if it have a better part, is that

which usually comes uppermost in my regard, and forms the type

whereby I recognise the man. As most of these old Custom-House

officers had good traits, and as my position in reference to

them, being paternal and protective, was favourable to the growth

of friendly sentiments, I soon grew to like them all. It was

pleasant in the summer forenoons -- when the fervent heat, that

almost liquefied the rest of the human family, merely

communicated a genial warmth to their half torpid systems -- it

was pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry, a row of

them all tipped against the wall, as usual; while the frozen

witticisms of past generations were thawed out, and came bubbling

with laughter from their lips. Externally, the jollity of aged

men has much in common with the mirth of children; the intellect,

any more than a deep sense of humour, has little to do with the

matter; it is, with both, a gleam that plays upon the surface,

and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect alike to the green branch

and grey, mouldering trunk. In one case, however, it is real

sunshine; in the other, it more resembles the phosphorescent glow

of decaying wood.








It would be sad injustice, the reader must understand, to

represent all my excellent old friends as in their dotage. In

the first place, my coadjutors were not invariably old; there

were men among them in their strength and prime, of marked

ability and energy, and altogether superior to the sluggish and

dependent mode of life on which their evil stars had cast them.

Then, moreover, the white locks of age were sometimes found to be

the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good repair. But, as

respects the majority of my corps of veterans, there will be no

wrong done if I characterize them generally as a set of wearisome

old souls, who had gathered nothing worth preservation from their

varied experience of life. They seemed to have flung away all

the golden grain of practical wisdom, which they had enjoyed so

many opportunities of harvesting, and most carefully to have

stored their memory with the husks. They spoke with far more

interest and unction of their morning's breakfast, or

yesterday's, to-day's, or tomorrow's dinner, than of the

shipwreck of forty or fifty years ago, and all the world's

wonders which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes.


The father of the Custom-House -- the patriarch, not only of this

little squad of officials, but, I am bold to say, of the

respectable body of tide-waiters all over the United States --

was a certain permanent Inspector. He might truly be termed a

legitimate son of the revenue system, dyed in the wool, or rather

born in the purple; since his sire, a Revolutionary colonel, and

formerly collector of the port, had created an office for him,

and appointed him to fill it, at a period of the early ages which

few living men








can now remember. This Inspector, when I first knew him, was a

man of fourscore years, or thereabouts, and certainly one of the

most wonderful specimens of winter-green that you would be likely

to discover in a lifetime's search. With his florid cheek, his

compact figure smartly arrayed in a bright-buttoned blue coat,

his brisk and vigorous step, and his hale and hearty aspect,

altogether he seemed -- not young, indeed -- but a kind of new

contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape of man, whom age and

infirmity had no business to touch. His voice and laugh, which

perpetually re-echoed through the Custom-House, had nothing of

the tremulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance; they

came strutting out of his lungs, like the crow of a cock, or the

blast of a clarion. Looking at him merely as an animal -- and

there was very little else to look at -- he was a most

satisfactory object, from the thorough healthfulness and

wholesomeness of his system, and his capacity, at that extreme

age, to enjoy all, or nearly all, the delights which he had ever

aimed at or conceived of. The careless security of his life in

the Custom-House, on a regular income, and with but slight and

infrequent apprehensions of removal, had no doubt contributed to

make time pass lightly over him. The original and more potent

causes, however, lay in the rare perfection of his animal nature,

the moderate proportion of intellect, and the very trifling

admixture of moral and spiritual ingredients; these latter

qualities, indeed, being in barely enough measure to keep the old

gentleman from walking on all-fours. He possessed no power of

thought no depth of feeling, no troublesome sensi-








bilities: nothing, in short, but a few commonplace instincts,

which, aided by the cheerful temper which grew inevitably out of

his physical well-being, did duty very respectably, and to

general acceptance, in lieu of a heart. He had been the husband

of three wives, all long since dead; the father of twenty

children, most of whom, at every age of childhood or maturity,

had likewise returned to dust. Here, one would suppose, might

have been sorrow enough to imbue the sunniest disposition through

and through with a sable tinge. Not so with our old Inspector

One brief sigh sufficed to carry off the entire burden of these

dismal reminiscences. The next moment he was as ready for sport

as any unbreeched infant: far readier than the Collector's junior

clerk, who at nineteen years was much the elder and graver man of

the two.


I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage with, I

think, livelier curiosity than any other form of humanity there

presented to my notice. He was, in truth, a rare phenomenon; so

perfect, in one point of view; so shallow, so delusive, so

impalpable such an absolute nonentity, in every other. My

conclusion was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing,

as I have already said, but instincts; and yet, withal, so

cunningly had the few materials of his character been put

together that there was no painful perception of deficiency, but,

on my part, an entire contentment with what I found in him. It

might be difficult -- and it was so -- to conceive how he should

exist hereafter, so earthly and sensuous did he seem; but surely

his existence here, admitting that it was to terminate with his

last breath, had been not unkindly








given; with no higher moral responsibilities than the beasts of

the field, but with a larger scope of enjoyment than theirs, and

with all their blessed immunity from the dreariness and duskiness

of age.


One point in which he had vastly the advantage over his

four-footed brethren was his ability to recollect the good

dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of

his life to eat. His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait;

and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle

or an oyster. As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither

sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all

his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit

of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him

expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most

eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His

reminiscences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the

actual banquet, seemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey under

one's very nostrils. There were flavours on his palate that had

lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were

still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop which he had

just devoured for his breakfast. I have heard him smack his lips

over dinners, every guest at which, except himself, had long been

food for worms. It was marvellous to observe how the ghosts of

bygone meals were continually rising up before him -- not in

anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former

appreciation, and seeking to repudiate an endless series of

enjoyment. at once shadowy and sensual, A tender loin of beef, a

hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken,

or a remarkably








praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the

days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while all the

subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that

brightened or darkened his individual career, had gone over him

with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. The chief

tragic event of the old man's life, so far as I could judge, was

his mishap with a certain goose, which lived and died some twenty

or forty years ago: a goose of most promising figure, but which,

at table, proved so inveterately tough, that the carving-knife

would make no impression on its carcase, and it could only be

divided with an axe and handsaw.


But it is time to quit this sketch; on which, however, I should

be glad to dwell at considerably more length, because of all men

whom I have ever known, this individual was fittest to be a

Custom-House officer. Most persons, owing to causes which I may

not have space to hint at, suffer moral detriment from this

peculiar mode of life. The old Inspector was incapable of it;

and, were he to continue in office to tile end of time, would be

just as good as he was then, and sit down to dinner with just as

good an appetite.


There is one likeness, without which my gallery of Custom-House

portraits would be strangely incomplete, but which my

comparatively few opportunities for observation enable me to

sketch only in the merest outline. It is that of the Collector,

our gallant old General, who, after his brilliant military

service, subsequently to which he had ruled over a wild Western

territory, had come hither, twenty years before, to spend the

decline of his varied and honourable life.








The brave soldier had already numbered, nearly or quite, his

three-score years and ten, and was pursuing the remainder of his

earthly march, burdened with infirmities which even the martial

music of his own spirit-stirring recollections could do little

towards lightening. The step was palsied now, that had been

foremost in the charge. It was only with the assistance of a

servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on the iron balustrade,

that he could slowly and painfully ascend the Custom-House steps,

and, with a toilsome progress across the floor, attain his

customary chair beside the fireplace. There he used to sit,

gazing with a somewhat dim serenity of aspect at the figures that

came and went, amid the rustle of papers, the administering of

oaths, the discussion of business, and the casual talk of the

office; all which sounds and circumstances seemed but

indistinctly to impress his senses, and hardly to make their way

into his inner sphere of contemplation. His countenance, in this

repose, was mild and kindly. If his notice was sought, an

expression of courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his

features, proving that there was light within him, and that it

was only the outward medium of the intellectual lamp that

obstructed the rays in their passage. The closer you penetrated

to the substance of his mind, the sounder it appeared. When no

longer called upon to speak or listen -- either of which

operations cost him an evident effort -- his face would briefly

subside into its former not uncheerful quietude. It was not

painful to behold this look; for, though dim, it had not the

imbecility of decaying age. The framework of his nature,

originally strong and massive, was not yet crumpled into ruin.








To observe and define his character, however, under such

disadvantages, was as difficult a task as to trace out and build

up anew, in imagination, an old fortress, like Ticonderoga, from

a view of its grey and broken ruins. Here and there, perchance,

the walls may remain almost complete; but elsewhere may be only a

shapeless mound, cumbrous with its very strength, and overgrown,

through long years of peace and neglect, with grass and alien



Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with affection -- for,

slight as was the communication between us, my feeling towards

him, like that of all bipeds and quadrupeds who knew him, might

not improperly be termed so, -- I could discern the main points

of his portrait. It was marked with the noble and heroic

qualities which showed it to be not a mere accident, but of good

right, that he had won a distinguished name. His spirit could

never, I conceive, have been characterized by an uneasy activity;

it must, at any period of his life, have required an impulse to

set him in motion; but once stirred up, with obstacles to

overcome, and an adequate object to be attained, it was not in

the man to give out or fail. The heat that had formerly pervaded

his nature, and which was not yet extinct, was never of the kind

that flashes and flickers in a blaze; but rather a deep red glow,

as of iron in a furnace. Weight, solidity, firmness -- this was

the expression of his repose, even in such decay as had crept

untimely over him at the period of which I speak. But I could

imagine, even then, that, under some excitement which should go

deeply into his consciousness -- roused by a trumpets real, loud

enough to awaken all of his energies that








were not dead, but only slumbering -- he was yet capable of

flinging off his infirmities like a sick man's gown, dropping the

staff of age to seize a battle-sword, and starting up once more a

warrior. And, in so intense a moment his demeanour would have

still been calm. Such an exhibition, however, was but to be

pictured in fancy; not to be anticipated, nor desired. What I

saw in him -- as evidently as the indestructible ramparts of Old

Ticonderoga, already cited as the most appropriate simile -- was

the features of stubborn and ponderous endurance, which might

well have amounted to obstinacy in his earlier days; of

integrity, that, like most of his other endowments, lay in a

somewhat heavy mass, and was just as unmalleable or unmanageable

as a ton of iron ore; and of benevolence which, fiercely as he

led the bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort Erie, I take to be of

quite as genuine a stamp as what actuates any or all the

polemical philanthropists of the age. He had slain men with his

own hand, for aught I know -- certainly, they had fallen like

blades of grass at the sweep of the scythe before the charge to

which his spirit imparted its triumphant energy -- but, be that

as it might, there was never in his heart so much cruelty as

would have brushed the down off a butterfly's wing. I have not

known the man to whose innate kindliness I would more confidently

make an appeal.


Many characteristics -- and those, too, which contribute not the

least forcibly to impart resemblance in a sketch -- must have

vanished, or been obscured, before I met the General. All merely

graceful attributes are usually the most evanescent; nor does








nature adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty, that

have their roots and proper nutriment only in the chinks and

crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers over the ruined

fortress of Ticonderoga. Still, even in respect of grace and

beauty, there were points well worth noting. A ray of humour,

now and then, would make its way through the veil of dim

obstruction, and glimmer pleasantly upon our faces. A trait of

native elegance, seldom seen in the masculine character after

childhood or early youth, was shown in the General's fondness for

the sight and fragrance of flowers. An old soldier might be

supposed to prize only the bloody laurel on his brow; but here

was one who seemed to have a young girl's appreciation of the

floral tribe.


There, beside the fireplace, the brave old General used to sit;

while the Surveyor -- though seldom, when it could be avoided,

taking upon himself the difficult task of engaging him in

conversation -- was fond of standing at a distance, and watching

his quiet and almost slumberous countenance. He seemed away from

us, although we saw him but a few yards off; remote, though we

passed close beside his chair; unattainable, though we might have

stretched forth our hands and touched his own. It might be that

he lived a more real life within his thoughts than amid the

unappropriate environment of the Collector's office. The

evolutions of the parade; the tumult of the battle; the flourish

of old heroic music, heard thirty years before -- such scenes and

sounds, perhaps, were all alive before his intellectual sense.

Meanwhile, the merchants and ship-masters, the spruce clerks and

uncouth sailors, entered and departed; the bustle of








his commercial and Custom-House life kept up its little murmur

round about him; and neither with the men nor their affairs did

the General appear to sustain the most distant relation. He was

as much out of place as an old sword -- now rusty, but which had

flashed once in the battle's front, and showed still a bright

gleam along its blade -- would have been among the inkstands,

paper-folders, and mahogany rulers on the Deputy Collector's



There was one thing that much aided me in renewing and

re-creating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara frontier -- the

man of true and simple energy. It was the recollection of those

memorable words of his -- "I'll try, Sir" -- spoken on the very

verge of a desperate and heroic enterprise, and breathing the

soul and spirit of New England hardihood, comprehending all

perils, and encountering all. If, in our country, valour were

rewarded by heraldic honour, this phrase -- which it seems so

easy to speak, but which only he, with such a task of danger and

glory before him, has ever spoken -- would be the best and

fittest of all mottoes for the General's shield of arms.


It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and intellectual

health to be brought into habits of companionship with

individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and

whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to

appreciate. The accidents of my life have often afforded me this

advantage, but never with more fulness and variety than during my

continuance in office. There was one man, especially, the

observation of whose character gave me a new idea of talent. His

gifts were emphatically those of a man of business;








prompt, acute, clear-minded; with an eye that saw through all

perplexities, and a faculty of arrangement that made them vanish

as by the waving of an enchanter's wand. Bred up from boyhood in

the Custom-House, it was his proper field of activity; and the

many intricacies of business, so harassing to the interloper,

presented themselves before him with the regularity of a

perfectly comprehended system. In my contemplation, he stood as

the ideal of his class. He was, indeed, the Custom-House in

himself; or, at all events, the mainspring that kept its

variously revolving wheels in motion; for, in an institution

like this, where its officers are appointed to subserve their own

profit and convenience, and seldom with a leading reference to

their fitness for the duty to be performed, they must perforce

seek elsewhere the dexterity which is not in them. Thus, by an

inevitable necessity, as a magnet attracts steel-filings, so did

our man of business draw to himself the difficulties which

everybody met with. With an easy condescension, and kind

forbearance towards our stupidity -- which, to his order of mind,

must have seemed little short of crime -- would he forth-with, by

the merest touch of his finger, make the incomprehensible as

clear as daylight. The merchants valued him not less than we,

his esoteric friends. His integrity was perfect; it was a law of

nature with him, rather than a choice or a principle; nor can it

be otherwise than the main condition of an intellect so

remarkably clear and accurate as his to be honest and regular in

the administration of affairs. A stain on his conscience, as to

anything that came within the range of his vocation, would

trouble such








a man very much in the same way, though to a far greater degree,

than an error in the balance of an account, or an ink-blot on the

fair page of a book of record. Here, in a word -- and it is a

rare instance in my life -- I had met with a person thoroughly

adapted to the situation which he held.


Such were some of the people with whom I now found myself

connected. I took it in good part, at the hands of Providence,

that I was thrown into a position so little akin to my past

habits; and set myself seriously to gather from it whatever

profit was to be had. After my fellowship of toil and

impracticable schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm;

after living for three years within the subtle influence of an

intellect like Emerson's; after those wild, free days on the

Assabeth, indulging fantastic speculations, beside our fire of

fallen boughs, with Ellery Channing; after talking with Thoreau

about pine-trees and Indian relics in his hermitage at Walden;

after growing fastidious by sympathy with the classic refinement

of Hillard's culture; after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment

at Longfellow's hearthstone -- it was time, at length, that I

should exercise other faculties of my nature, and nourish myself

with food for which I had hitherto had little appetite. Even the

old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who

had known Alcott. I looked upon it as an evidence, in some

measure, of a system naturally well balanced, and lacking no

essential part of a thorough organization, that, with such

associates to remember, I could mingle at once with men of

altogether different qualities, and never murmur at the change.








Literature, its exertions and objects, were now of little moment

in my regard. I cared not at this period for books; they were

apart from me. Nature -- except it were human nature -- the

nature that is developed in earth and sky, was, in one sense,

hidden from me; and all the imaginative delight wherewith it had

been spiritualized passed away out of my mind. A gift, a

faculty, if it had not been departed, was suspended and inanimate

within me. There would have been something sad, unutterably

dreary, in all this, had I not been conscious that it lay at my

own option to recall whatever was valuable in the past. It might

be true, indeed, that this was a life which could not, with

impunity, be lived too long; else, it might make me permanently

other than I had been, without transforming me into any shape

which it would be worth my while to take. But I never considered

it as other than a transitory life. There was always a prophetic

instinct, a low whisper in my ear, that within no long period,

and whenever a new change of custom should be essential to my

good, change would come.


Meanwhile, there I was, a Surveyor of the Revenue and, so far as

I have been able to understand, as good a Surveyor as need be. A

man of thought, fancy, and sensibility (had he ten times the

Surveyor's proportion of those qualities), may, at any time, be a

man of affairs, if he will only choose to give himself the

trouble. My fellow-officers, and the merchants and sea-captains

with whom my official duties brought me into any manner of

connection, viewed me in no other light, and probably knew me in

no other character. None of them, I presume, had








ever read a page of my inditing, or would have cared a fig the

more for me if they had read them all; nor would it have mended

the matter, in the least, had those same unprofitable pages been

written with a pen like that of Burns or of Chaucer, each of whom

was a Custom-House officer in his day, as well as I. It is a

good lesson -- though it may often be a hard one -- for a man who

has dreamed of literary fame, and of making for himself a rank

among the world's dignitaries by such means, to step aside out of

the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized and to find

how utterly devoid of significance, beyond that circle, is all

that he achieves, and all he aims at. I know not that l

especially needed the lesson, either in the way of warning or

rebuke; but at any rate, I learned it thoroughly: nor, it gives

me pleasure to reflect, did the truth, as it came home to my

perception, ever cost me a pang, or require to be thrown off in a

sigh. In the way of literary talk, it is true, the Naval Officer

-- an excellent fellow, who came into the office with me, and

went out only a little later -- would often engage me in a

discussion about one or the other of his favourite topics,

Napoleon or Shakespeare. The Collector's junior clerk, too a

young gentleman who, it was whispered occasionally covered a

sheet of Uncle Sam's letter paper with what (at the distance of a

few yards) looked very much like poetry -- used now and then to

speak to me of books, as matters with which I might possibly be

conversant. This was my all of lettered intercourse; and it was

quite sufficient for my necessities.


No longer seeking or caring that my name should








be blasoned abroad on title-pages, I smiled to think that it had

now another kind of vogue. The Custom-House marker imprinted it,

with a stencil and black paint, on pepper-bags, and baskets of

anatto, and cigar-boxes, and bales of all kinds of dutiable

merchandise, in testimony that these commodities had paid the

impost, and gone regularly through the office. Borne on such

queer vehicle of fame, a knowledge of my existence, so far as a

name conveys it, was carried where it had never been before, and,

I hope, will never go again.


But the past was not dead. Once in a great while, the thoughts

that had seemed so vital and so active, yet had been put to rest

so quietly, revived again. One of the most remarkable occasions,

when the habit of bygone days awoke in me, was that which brings

it within the law of literary propriety to offer the public the

sketch which I am now writing.


In the second storey of the Custom-House there is a large room,

in which the brick-work and naked rafters have never been covered

with panelling and plaster. The edifice -- originally projected

on a scale adapted to the old commercial enterprise of the port,

and with an idea of subsequent prosperity destined never to be

realized -- contains far more space than its occupants know what

to do with. This airy hall, therefore, over the Collector's

apartments, remains unfinished to this day, and, in spite of the

aged cobwebs that festoon its dusky beams, appears still to await

the labour of the carpenter and mason. At one end of the room,

in a recess, were a number of barrels piled one upon another,

containing bundles of official documents. Large quantities of









rubbish lay lumbering the floor. It was sorrowful to think how

many days, and weeks, and months, and years of toil had been

wasted on these musty papers, which were now only an encumbrance

on earth, and were hidden away in this forgotten corner, never

more to be glanced at by human eyes. But then, what reams of

other manuscripts -- filled, not with the dulness of official

formalities, but with the thought of inventive brains and the

rich effusion of deep hearts -- had gone equally to oblivion; and

that, moreover, without serving a purpose in their day, as these

heaped-up papers had, and -- saddest of all -- without

purchasing for their writers the comfortable livelihood which the

clerks of the Custom-House had gained by these worthless

scratchings of the pen. Yet not altogether worthless, perhaps,

as materials of local history. Here, no doubt, statistics of the

former commerce of Salem might be discovered, and memorials of

her princely merchants -- old King Derby -- old Billy Gray -- old

Simon Forrester -- and many another magnate in his day, whose

powdered head, however, was scarcely in the tomb before his

mountain pile of wealth began to dwindle. The founders of the

greater part of the families which now compose the aristocracy of

Salem might here be traced, from the petty and obscure beginnings

of their traffic, at periods generally much posterior to the

Revolution, upward to what their children look upon as

long-established rank,


Prior to the Revolution there is a dearth of records; the earlier

documents and archives of the Custom-House having, probably, been

carried off to Halifax, when all the king's officials accompanied








the British army in its flight from Boston. It has often been a

matter of regret with me; for, going back, perhaps, to the days

of the Protectorate, those papers must have contained many

references to forgotten or remembered men, and to antique

customs, which would have affected me with the same pleasure as

when I used to pick up Indian arrow-heads in the field near the

Old Manse.


But, one idle and rainy day, it was my fortune to make a

discovery of some little interest. Poking and burrowing into the

heaped-up rubbish in the corner, unfolding one and another

document, and reading the names of vessels that had long ago

foundered at sea or rotted at the wharves, and those of merchants

never heard of now on 'Change, nor very readily decipherable on

their mossy tombstones; glancing at such matters with the

saddened, weary, half-reluctant interest which we bestow on the

corpse of dead activity -- and exerting my fancy, sluggish with

little use, to raise up from these dry bones an image of the old

towns brighter aspect, when India was a new region, and only

Salem knew the way thither -- I chanced to lay my hand on a

small package, carefully done up in a piece of ancient yellow

parchment. This envelope had the air of an official record of

some period long past, when clerks engrossed their stiff and

formal chirography on more substantial materials than at present.

There was something about it that quickened an instinctive

curiosity, and made me undo the faded red tape that tied up the

package, with the sense that a treasure would here be brought to

light. Unbending the rigid folds of the parchment cover, I found








it to be a commission, under the hand and seal of Governor

Shirley, in favour of one Jonathan Pine, as Surveyor of His

Majesty's Customs for the Port of Salem, in the Province of

Massachusetts Bay. I remembered to have read (probably in Felt's

"Annals") a notice of the decease of Mr. Surveyor Pue, about

fourscore years ago; and likewise, in a newspaper of recent

times, an account of the digging up of his remains in the little

graveyard of St. Peter's Church, during the renewal of that

edifice. Nothing, if I rightly call to mind, was left of my

respected predecessor, save an imperfect skeleton, and some

fragments of apparel, and a wig of majestic frizzle, which,

unlike the head that it once adorned, was in very satisfactory

preservation. But, on examining the papers which the parchment

commission served to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Pue's

mental part, and the internal operations of his head, than the

frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull itself.


They were documents, in short, not official, but of a private

nature, or, at least, written in his private capacity, and

apparently with his own hand. I could account for their being

included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact that

Mr. Pine's death had happened suddenly, and that these papers,

which he probably kept in his official desk, had never come to

the knowledge of his heirs, or were supposed to relate to the

business of the revenue. On the transfer of the archives to

Halifax, this package, proving to be of no public concern, was

left behind, and had remained ever since unopened.








The ancient Surveyor -- being little molested, suppose, at that

early day with business pertaining to his office -- seems to have

devoted some of his many leisure hours to researches as a local

antiquarian, and other inquisitions of a similar nature. These

supplied material for petty activity to a mind that would

otherwise have been eaten up with rust.


A portion of his facts, by-the-by, did me good service in the

preparation of the article entitled "MAIN STREET," included in

the present volume. The remainder may perhaps be applied to

purposes equally valuable hereafter, or not impossibly may be

worked up, so far as they go, into a regular history of Salem,

should my veneration for the natal soil ever impel me to so pious

a task. Meanwhile, they shall be at the command of any

gentleman, inclined and competent, to take the unprofitable

labour off my hands. As a final disposition I contemplate

depositing them with the Essex Historical Society. But the

object that most drew my attention to the mysterious package was

a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded, There

were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was

greatly frayed and defaced, so that none, or very little, of the

glitter was left. It had been wrought, as was easy to perceive,

with wonderful skill of needlework; and the stitch (as I am

assured by ladies conversant with such mysteries) gives evidence

of a now forgotten art, not to be discovered even by the process

of picking out the threads. This rag of scarlet cloth -- for

time, and wear, and a sacrilegious moth had reduced it to little

other than a rag -- on careful examination, assumed the shape of

a letter.








It was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurement, each

limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length.

It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental

article of dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank,

honour, and dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was

a riddle which (so evanescent are the fashions of the world in

these particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet it

strangely interested me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the

old scarlet letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly

there was some deep meaning in it most worthy of interpretation,

and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol,

subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading the

analysis of my mind.


When thus perplexed -- and cogitating, among other hypotheses,

whether the letter might not have been one of those decorations

which the white men used to contrive in order to take the eyes of

Indians -- I happened to place it on my breast. It seemed to me

-- the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word -- it seemed

to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether

physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if the letter

were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered, and

involuntarily let it fall upon the floor.


In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, I had

hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper, around

which it had been twisted. This I now opened, and had the

satisfaction to find recorded by the old Surveyor's pen, a

reasonably complete explanation of the whole








affair. There were several foolscap sheets, containing many

particulars respecting the life and conversation of one Hester

Prynne, who appeared to have been rather a noteworthy personage

in the view of our ancestors. She had flourished during the

period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of

the seventeenth century. Aged persons, alive in the time of Mr.

Surveyor Pine, and from whose oral testimony he had made up his

narrative, remembered her, in their youth, as a very old, but not

decrepit woman, of a stately and solemn aspect. It had been her

habit, from an almost immemorial date, to go about the country as

a kind of voluntary nurse, and doing whatever miscellaneous good

she might; taking upon herself, likewise, to give advice in all

matters, especially those of the heart, by which means -- as a

person of such propensities inevitably must -- she gained from

many people the reverence due to an angel, but, I should imagine,

was looked upon by others as an intruder and a nuisance. Prying

further into the manuscript, I found the record of other doings

and sufferings of this singular woman, for most of which the

reader is referred to the story entitled "THE SCARLET LETTER";

and it should be borne carefully in mind that the main facts of

that story are authorized and authenticated by the document of

Mr. Surveyor Pine. The original papers, together with the

scarlet letter itself -- a most curious relic -- are still in my

possession, and shall be freely exhibited to whomsoever, induced

by the great interest of the narrative, may desire a sight of

them I must not be understood affirming that, in the dressing up

of the tale, and imagining the motives








and modes of passion that influenced the characters who figure in

it, I have invariably confined myself within the limits of the

old Surveyor's half-a-dozen sheets of foolscap. On the contrary,

I have allowed myself, as to such points, nearly, or altogether,

as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my own

invention. What I contend for is the authenticity of the



This incident recalled my mind, in some degree, to its old track.

There seemed to be here the groundwork of a tale. It impressed

me as if the ancient Surveyor, in his garb of a hundred years

gone by, and wearing his immortal wig -- which was buried with

him, but did not perish in the grave -- had bet me in the

deserted chamber of the Custom-House. In his port was the

dignity of one who had borne His Majesty's commission, and who

was therefore illuminated by a ray of the splendour that shone so

dazzlingly about the throne. How unlike alas the hangdog look

of a republican official, who, as the servant of the people,

feels himself less than the least, and below the lowest of his

masters. With his own ghostly hand, the obscurely seen, but

majestic, figure had imparted to me the scarlet symbol and the

little roll of explanatory manuscript. With his own ghostly

voice he had exhorted me, on the sacred consideration of my

filial duty and reverence towards him -- who might reasonably

regard himself as my official ancestor -- to bring his mouldy and

moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. "Do this," said the

ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, emphatically nodding the head that

looked so imposing within its memorable wig; "do this, and the

profit shall be all








your own You will shortly need it; for it is not in your days as

it was in mine, when a man's office was a life-lease, and

oftentimes an heirloom. But I charge you, in this matter of old

Mistress Prynne, give to your predecessor's memory the credit

which will be rightfully due" And I said to the ghost of Mr.

Surveyor Pue -- "I will"


On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestowed much thought. It

was the subject of my meditations for many an hour, while pacing

to and fro across my room, or traversing, with a hundredfold

repetition, the long extent from the front door of the

Custom-House to the side entrance, and back again. Great were

the weariness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the Weighers

and Gaugers, whose slumbers were disturbed by the unmercifully

lengthened tramp of my passing and returning footsteps.

Remembering their own former habits, they used to say that the

Surveyor was walking the quarter-deck. They probably fancied

that my sole object -- and, indeed, the sole object for which a

sane man could ever put himself into voluntary motion -- was to

get an appetite for dinner. And, to say the truth, an appetite,

sharpened by the east wind that generally blew along the passage,

was the only valuable result of so much indefatigable exercise.

So little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom-house to the

delicate harvest of fancy and sensibility, that, had I remained

there through ten Presidencies yet to come, I doubt whether the

tale of "The Scarlet Letter" would ever have been brought before

the public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It would

not reflect, or only with miserable








dimness, the figures with which I did my best to people it. The

characters of the narrative would not be warmed and rendered

malleable by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectual

forge. They would take neither the glow of passion nor the

tenderness of sentiment, but retained all the rigidity of dead

corpses, and stared me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin

of contemptuous defiance. "What have you to do with us?" that

expression seemed to say. "The little power you might have once

possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone You have

bartered it for a pittance of the public gold. Go then, and earn

your wages" In short, the almost torpid creatures of my own

fancy twitted me with imbecility, and not without fair occasion.


It was not merely during the three hours and a half which Uncle

Sam claimed as his share of my daily life that this wretched

numbness held possession of me. It went with me on my sea-shore

walks and rambles into the country, whenever -- which was seldom

and reluctantly -- I bestirred myself to seek that invigorating

charm of Nature which used to give me such freshness and activity

of thought, the moment that I stepped across the threshold of the

Old Manse. The same torpor, as regarded the capacity for

intellectual effort, accompanied me home, and weighed upon me in

the chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor did it

quit me when, late at night, I sat in the deserted parlour,

lighted only by the glimmering coal-fire and the moon, striving

to picture forth imaginary scenes, which, the next day, might

flow out on the brightening page in many-hued description.








If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour, it

might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlight, in a familiar

room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showing all its

figures so distinctly -- making every object so minutely visible,

yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility -- is a medium the

most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his

illusive guests. There is the little domestic scenery of the

well-known apartment; the chairs, with each its separate

individuality; the centre-table, sustaining a work-basket, a

volume or two, and an extinguished lamp; the sofa; the book-case;

the picture on the wall -- all these details, so completely seen,

are so spiritualised by the unusual light, that they seem to lose

their actual substance, and become things of intellect. Nothing

is too small or too trifling to undergo this change, and acquire

dignity thereby. A child's shoe; the doll, seated in her little

wicker carriage; the hobby-horse -- whatever, in a word, has been

used or played with during the day is now invested with a quality

of strangeness and remoteness, though still almost as vividly

present as by daylight. Thus, therefore, the floor of our

familiar room has become a neutral territory, somewhere between

the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary

may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other.

Ghosts might enter here without affrighting us. It would be too

much in keeping with the scene to excite surprise, were we to

look about us and discover a form, beloved, but gone hence, now

sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine, with an

aspect that would make us doubt whether it had returned








from afar, or had never once stirred from our fireside.


The somewhat dim coal fire has an essential Influence in

producing the effect which I would describe. It throws its

unobtrusive tinge throughout the room, with a faint ruddiness

upon the walls and ceiling, and a reflected gleam upon the polish

of the furniture. This warmer light mingles itself with the cold

spirituality of the moon-beams, and communicates, as it were, a

heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms which

fancy summons tip. It converts them from snow-images into men

and women. Glancing at the looking-glass, we behold -- deep

within its haunted verge -- the smouldering glow of the

half-extinguished anthracite, the white moon-beams on the floor,

and a repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture, with

one remove further from the actual, and nearer to the

imaginative. Then, at such an hour, and with this scene before

him, if a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things,

and make them look like truth, he need never try to write



But, for myself, during the whole of my Custom-House experience,

moonlight and sunshine, and the glow of firelight, were just

alike in my regard; and neither of them was of one whit more

avail than the twinkle of a tallow-candle. An entire class of

susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them -- of no great

richness or value, but the best I had -- was gone from me.


It is my belief, however, that had I attempted a different order

of composition, my faculties would not have been found so

pointless and inefficacious. I








might, for instance, have contented myself with writing out the

narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one of the Inspectors, whom I

should be most ungrateful not to mention, since scarcely a day

passed that he did not stir me to laughter and admiration by his

marvel loins gifts as a story-teller. Could I have preserved the

picturesque force of his style, and the humourous colouring which

nature taught him how to throw over his descriptions, the result,

I honestly believe, would have been something new in literature.

Or I might readily have found a more serious task. It was a

folly, with the materiality of this daily life pressing so

intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into another

age, or to insist on creating the semblance of a world out of

airy matter, when, at every moment, the impalpable beauty of my

soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual

circumstance. The wiser effort would have been to diffuse

thought and imagination through the opaque substance of to-day,

and thus to make it a bright transparency; to spiritualise the

burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seek, resolutely, the

true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and

wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters with which I was now

conversant. The fault was mine. The page of life that was

spread out before me seemed dull and commonplace only because I

had not fathomed its deeper import. A better book than I shall

ever write was there; leaf after leaf presenting itself to me,

just as it was written out by the reality of the flitting hour,

and vanishing as fast as written, only because my brain wanted

the insight, and my








hand the cunning, to transcribe it. At some future day, it may

be, I shall remember a few scattered fragments and broken

paragraphs, and write them down, and find the letters turn to

gold upon the page.


These perceptions had come too late. At the Instant, I was only

conscious that what would have been a pleasure once was now a

hopeless toil. There was no occasion to make much moan about

this state of affairs. I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably

poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor

of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is anything

but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect

is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your consciousness, like

ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a

smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact there could be

no doubt and, examining myself and others, I was led to

conclusions, in reference to the effect of public office on the

character, not very favourable to the mode of life in question.

In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these

effects. Suffice it here to say that a Custom-House officer of

long continuance can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable

personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by which he

holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his

business, which -- though, I trust, an honest one -- is of such a

sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind.


An effect -- which I believe to be observable, more or less, in

every individual who has occupied the position -- is, that while

he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper

strength, departs from








him. He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or

force of his original nature, the capability of self-support. If

he possesses an unusual share of native energy, or the enervating

magic of place do not operate too long upon him, his forfeited

powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer -- fortunate in

the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to struggle amid

a struggling world -- may return to himself, and become all that

he has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his

ground just long enough for his own ruin, and is then thrust out,

with sinews all unstrung, to totter along the difficult footpath

of life as he best may. Conscious of his own infirmity -- that

his tempered steel and elasticity are lost -- he for ever

afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external

to himself. His pervading and continual hope -- a hallucination,

which, in the face of all discouragement, and making light of

impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, I fancy, like

the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments him for a brief

space after death -- is, that finally, and in no long time, by

some happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be restored to

office. This faith, more than anything else, steals the pith and

availability out of whatever enterprise he may dream of

undertaking. Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much

trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little

while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support

him? Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig gold

in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly

intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his

Uncle's pocket? It is sadly








curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to

infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's

gold -- meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman -- has,

in this respect, a quality of enchantment like that of the

devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himself,

or he may find the bargain to go hard against him, involving, if

not his soul, yet many of its better attributes; its sturdy

force, its courage and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance,

and all that gives the emphasis to manly character.


Here was a fine prospect in the distance Not that the Surveyor

brought the lesson home to himself, or admitted that he could be

so utterly undone, either by continuance in office or ejectment.

Yet my reflections were not the most comfortable. I began to

grow melancholy and restless; continually prying into my mind, to

discover which of its poor properties were gone, and what degree

of detriment had already accrued to the remainder. I endeavoured

to calculate how much longer I could stay in the Custom-House,

and yet go forth a man. To confess the truth, it was my greatest

apprehension -- as it would never be a measure of policy to turn

out so quiet an individual as myself; and it being hardly in the

nature of a public officer to resign -- it was my chief trouble,

therefore, that I was likely to grow grey and decrepit in the

Surveyorship, and become much such another animal as the old

Inspector. Might it not, in the tedious lapse of official life

that lay before me, finally be with me as it was with this

venerable friend -- to make the dinner-hour the nucleus of the

day, and to spend the rest of it, as an old dog spends it, asleep









the sunshine or in the shade? A dreary look-forward, this, for a

man who felt it to be the best definition of happiness to live

throughout the whole range of his faculties and sensibilities

But, all this while, I was giving myself very unnecessary alarm.

Providence had meditated better things for me than I could

possibly imagine for myself.


A remarkable event of the third year of my Surveyorship -- to

adopt the tone of "P. P. " -- was the election of General Taylor

to the Presidency. It is essential, in order to a complete

estimate of the advantages of official life, to view the

incumbent at the in-coming of a hostile administration. His

position is then one of the most singularly irksome, and, in

every contingency, disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can

possibly occupy; with seldom an alternative of good on either

hand, although what presents itself to him as the worst event may

very probably be the best. But it is a strange experience, to a

man of pride and sensibility, to know that his interests are

within the control of individuals who neither love nor understand

him, and by whom, since one or the other must needs happen, he

would rather be injured than obliged. Strange, too, for one who

has kept his calmness throughout the contest, to observe the

bloodthirstiness that is developed in the hour of triumph, and to

be conscious that he is himself among its objects! There are few

uglier traits of human nature than this tendency -- which I now

witnessed in men no worse than their neighbours -- to grow cruel,

merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm. If

the guillotine, as applied to office-holders, were a literal

fact, instead of one of the most apt of








metaphors, it is my sincere belief that the active members of the

victorious party were sufficiently excited to have chopped off

all our heads, and have thanked Heaven for the opportunity! It

appears to me -- who have been a calm and curious observer, as

well in victory as defeat -- that this fierce and bitter spirit

of malice and revenge has never distinguished the many triumphs

of my own party as it now did that of the Whigs. The Democrats

take the offices, as a general rule, because they need them, and

because the practice of many years has made it the law of

political warfare, which unless a different system be proclaimed,

it was weakness and cowardice to murmur at. But the long habit

of victory has made them generous. They know how to spare when

they see occasion; and when they strike, the axe may be sharp

indeed, but its edge is seldom poisoned with ill-will; nor is it

their custom ignominiously to kick the head which they have just

struck off.


In short, unpleasant as was my predicament, at best, I saw much

reason to congratulate myself that I was on the losing side

rather than the triumphant one. If, heretofore, l had been none

of the warmest of partisans I began now, at this season of peril

and adversity, to be pretty acutely sensible with which party my

predilections lay; nor was it without something like regret and

shame that, according to a reasonable calculation of chances, I

saw my own prospect of retaining office to be better than those

of my democratic brethren. But who can see an inch into futurity

beyond his nose? My own head was the first that fell


The moment when a man's head drops off is








seldom or never, I am inclined to think, precisely the most

agreeable of his life. Nevertheless, like the greater part of

our misfortunes, even so serious a contingency brings its remedy

and consolation with it, if the sufferer will but make the best

rather than the worst, of the accident which has befallen him.

In my particular case the consolatory topics were close at hand,

and, indeed, had suggested themselves to my meditations a

considerable time before it was requisite to use them. In view

of my previous weariness of office, and vague thoughts of

resignation, my fortune somewhat resembled that of a person who

should entertain an idea of committing suicide, and although

beyond his hopes, meet with the good hap to be murdered. In the

Custom-House, as before in the Old Manse, I had spent three years

-- a term long enough to rest a weary brain: long enough to break

off old intellectual habits, and make room for new ones: long

enough, and too long, to have lived in an unnatural state, doing

what was really of no advantage nor delight to any human being,

and withholding myself from toil that would, at least, have

stilled an unquiet impulse in me. Then, moreover, as regarded

his unceremonious ejectment, the late Surveyor was not altogether

ill-pleased to be recognised by the Whigs as an enemy; since his

inactivity in political affairs -- his tendency to roam, at will,

in that broad and quiet field where all mankind may meet, rather

than confine himself to those narrow paths where brethren of the

same household must diverge from one another -- had sometimes

made it questionable with his brother Democrats whether he was a

friend. Now, after he had won the








crown of martyrdom (though with no longer a head to wear it on),

the point might be looked upon as settled. Finally, little

heroic as he was, it seemed more decorous to be overthrown in the

downfall of the party with which he had been content to stand

than to remain a forlorn survivor, when so many worthier men were

falling: and at last, after subsisting for four years on the

mercy of a hostile administration, to be compelled then to define

his position anew, and claim the yet more humiliating mercy of a

friendly one.


Meanwhile, the press had taken up my affair, and kept me for a

week or two careering through the public prints, in my

decapitated state, like Irving's Headless Horseman, ghastly and

grim, and longing to be buried, as a political dead man ought.

So much for my figurative self. The real human being all this

time, with his head safely on his shoulders, had brought himself

to the comfortable conclusion that everything was for the best;

and making an investment in ink, paper, and steel pens, had

opened his long-disused writing desk, and was again a literary



Now it was that the lucubrations of my ancient predecessor, Mr.

Surveyor Pue, came into play. Rusty through long idleness, some

little space was requisite before my intellectual machinery could

be brought to work upon the tale with an effect in any degree

satisfactory. Even yet, though my thoughts were ultimately much

absorbed in the task, it wears, to my eye, a stern and sombre

aspect: too much ungladdened by genial sunshine; too little

relieved by the tender and familiar influences which soften

almost every scene of nature and real life, and








undoubtedly should soften every picture of them. This

uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly

accomplished revolution, and still seething turmoil, in which the

story shaped itself. It is no indication, however, of a lack of

cheerfulness in the writer's mind: for he was happier while

straying through the gloom of these sunless fantasies than at any

time since he had quitted the Old Manse. Some of the briefer

articles, which contribute to make up the volume, have likewise

been written since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and

honours of public life, and the remainder are gleaned from

annuals and magazines, of such antique date, that they have gone

round the circle, and come back to novelty again. Keeping up the

metaphor of the political guillotine, the whole may be considered


sketch which I am now bringing to a close, if too

autobiographical for a modest person to publish in his lifetime,

will readily be excused in a gentleman who writes from beyond the

grave. Peace be with all the world My blessing on my friends My

forgiveness to my enemies For I am in the realm of quiet


The life of the Custom -- House lies like a dream behind me. The

old Inspector -- who, by-the-bye, l regret to say, was overthrown

and killed by a horse some time ago, else he would certainly have

lived for ever -- he, and all those other venerable personages

who sat with him at the receipt of custom, are but shadows in my

view: white-headed and wrinkled images, which my fancy used to

sport with, and has now flung aside for ever. The merchants --









Phillips, Shepard, Upton, Kimball, Bertram, Hunt -- these and

many other names, which had such classic familiarity for my ear

six months ago, -- these men of traffic, who seemed to occupy so

important a position in the world -- how little time has it

required to disconnect me from them all, not merely in act, but

recollection It is with an effort that


I recall the figures and appellations of these few. Soon,

likewise, my old native town will loom upon me through the haze

of memory, a mist brooding over and around it; as if it were no

portion of the real earth, but an overgrown village in

cloud-land, with only imaginary inhabitants to people its wooden

houses and walk its homely lanes, and the unpicturesque prolixity

of its main street. Henceforth it ceases to be a reality of my

life; I am a citizen of somewhere else. My good townspeople will

not much regret me, for -- though it has been as dear an object

as any, in my literary efforts, to be of some importance in their

eyes, and to win myself a pleasant memory in this abode and

burial-place of so many of my forefathers -- there has never

been, for me, the genial atmosphere which a literary man requires

in order to ripen the best harvest of his mind. I shall do

better amongst other faces; and these familiar ones, it need

hardly be said, will do just as well without me.


It may be, however -- oh, transporting and triumphant thought I

-- that the great-grandchildren of the present race may

sometimes think kindly of the scribbler of bygone days, when the

antiquary of days to come, among the sites memorable in the

town's history, shall point out the locality of THE TOWN PUMP.




















A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey

steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods,

and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden

edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and

studded with iron spikes.


The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue

and happiness they might originally project, have invariably

recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot

a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion

as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may

safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the

first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill, almost

as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on

Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which

subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres

in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is that, some

fifteen or twenty








years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was

already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age,

which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy

front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door

looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like

all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a

youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the

wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with

burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation,

which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so

early borne the black flower of civilised society, a prison. But

on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold,

was a wild rose-hush, covered, in this month of June, with its

delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance

and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the

condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that

the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.


This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in

history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old

wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks

that originally overshadowed it, or whether, as there is far

authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of

the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-door, we

shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on

the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from

that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise








than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It

may serve, let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom

that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close

of a tale of human frailty and sorrow












THE grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain

summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by

a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with

their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.

Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history

of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded

physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful

business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the

anticipated execution of some rioted culprit, on whom the

sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of

public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan

character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be

drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful

child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority,

was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be that an

Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be

scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant Indian, whom the

white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to

be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might









too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered

widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either

case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the

part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion

and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were

so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of

public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre,

indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look

for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a

penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking

infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern

a dignity as the punishment of death itself.


It was a circumstance to he noted on the summer morning when our

story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were

several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in

whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age

had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety

restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping

forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial

persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the

scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there

was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English

birth and breeding than in their fair descendants, separated from

them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout

that chain of ancestry, every successive mother had transmitted

to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty,

and a slighter physical frame, if not








character of less force and solidity than her own. The women who

were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than

half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been

the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They

were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land,

with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into

their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on

broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy

cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly

yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England.

There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among

these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle

us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its

volume of tone.


"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a

piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof if

we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute,

should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester

Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for

judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together,

would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful

magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not"


"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master

Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart

that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation. "


"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but








merciful overmuch -- that is a truth," added a third autumnal

matron. "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a

hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester would have

winced at that, I warrant me. But she -- the naughty baggage --

little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown

Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like.

heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever"


"Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a

child by the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the pang

of it will be always in her heart. "


"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of

her gown or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the

ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted

judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to

die; Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the

Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who

have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives

and daughters go astray"


"Mercy on us, goodwife" exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there

no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of

the gallows? That is the hardest word yet Hush now, gossips for

the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress

Prynne herself. "


The door of the jail being flung open from within there

appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into

sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle, with

a sword by his side, and his








staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and

represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the

Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in

its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching

forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon

the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward, until,

on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an

action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and

stepped into the open air as if by her own free will. She bore

in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked

and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day;

because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquaintance

only with the grey twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome

apartment of the prison.


When the young woman -- the mother of this child -- stood fully

revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to

clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse

of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a

certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In

a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame

would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her

arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a

glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her

townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine

red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic

flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so

artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous









of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting

decoration to the apparel which she wore, and which was of a

splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly

beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the



The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a

large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it

threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides

being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of

complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and

deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the

feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain

state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and

indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication.

And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the

antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the

prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to

behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were

astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone

out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she

was enveloped. It may be true that, to a sensitive observer,

there was some thing exquisitely painful in it. Her attire,

which indeed, she had wrought for the occasion in prison, and had

modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude

of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its

wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all

eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer -- so that both

men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with








Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the

first time -- was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically

embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of

a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity,

and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.


"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked

one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this

brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips,

what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates,

and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a



"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames,

"if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty

shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so

curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to

make a fitter one!"


"Oh, peace, neighbours -- peace!" whispered their youngest

companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that

embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart. "


The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff. "Make way,

good people -- make way, in the King's name!" cried he. "Open a

passage; and I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where

man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel

from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the

righteous colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged

out into the sunshine! Come along, Madame Hester, and show your

scarlet letter in the market-place!"








A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators.

Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession

of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne set

forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd

of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the

matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran

before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare

into her face and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the

ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in

those days, from the prison door to the market-place. Measured

by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a

journey of some length; for haughty as her demeanour was, she

perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that

thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the

street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature,

however, there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful,

that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he

endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that

rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore,

Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and came

to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the

market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's

earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.


In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine,

which now, for two or three generations past, has been merely

historical and traditionary among us, but was held, in the old

time, to be as effectual an agent, in the promotion of good









ship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France.

It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose

the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as

to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up

to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and

made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be

no outrage, methinks, against our common nature -- whatever be

the delinquencies of the individual -- no outrage more flagrant

than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was

the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's

instance, however, as not unfrequently in other cases, her

sentence bore that she should stand a certain time upon the

platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and

confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the most

devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her

part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus

displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a

man's shoulders above the street.


Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might

have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire

and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind

him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious

painters have vied with one another to represent; something which

should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that sacred

image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the

world. Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the most

sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world

was only the darker for this woman's beauty,








and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.


The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always

invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature,

before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead

of shuddering at it. The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace

had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern

enough to look upon her death, had that been the sentence,

without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the

heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a

theme for jest in an exhibition like the present. Even had there

been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule, it must have

been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of men no

less dignified than the governor, and several of his counsellors,

a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town, all of whom

sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-house, looking down upon

the platform. When such personages could constitute a part of

the spectacle, without risking the majesty, or reverence of rank

and office, it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of a

legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning.

Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and grave. The unhappy culprit

sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight

of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and

concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be

borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she had fortified

herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public

contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult; but there

was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn








mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather to behold all

those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merriment, and

herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from the

multitude -- each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced

child, contributing their individual parts -- Hester Prynne might

have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But,

under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she

felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full

power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon

the ground, or else go mad at once.


Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was

the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or,

at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of

imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mind, and especially

her memory, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up

other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town, on

the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were louring

upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats.

Reminiscences, the most trifling and immaterial, passages of

infancy and school-days, sports, childish quarrels, and the

little domestic traits of her maiden years, came swarming back

upon her, intermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest

in her subsequent life; one picture precisely as vivid as

another; as if all were of similar importance, or all alike a

play. Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit to

relieve itself by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms,

from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality.


Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was








a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track

along which she had been treading, since her happy infancy.

Standing on that miserable eminence, she saw again her native

village, in Old England, and her paternal home: a decayed house

of grey stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a

half obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of

antique gentility. She saw her father's face, with its bold

brow, and reverend white beard that flowed over the old-fashioned

Elizabethan ruff; her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and

anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance, and which,

even since her death, had so often laid the impediment of a

gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her own

face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the

interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze

at it. There she beheld another countenance, of a man well

stricken in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes

dim and bleared by the lamp-light that had served them to pore

over many ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a

strange, penetrating power, when it was their owner's purpose to

read the human soul. This figure of tile study and the cloister,

as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, was

slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than

the right. Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallery, the

intricate and narrow thoroughfares, the tall, grey houses, the

huge cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and

quaint in architecture, of a continental city; where new life had

awaited her, still in connexion with the mis-shapen scholar: a

new life, but feeding itself on








time-worn materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling

wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, came back the

rude market-place of the Puritan, settlement, with all the

townspeople assembled, and levelling their stern regards at

Hester Prynne -- yes, at herself -- who stood on the scaffold of

the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet,

fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom


Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her

breast that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at

the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to

assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes

these were her realities -- all else had vanished!














FROM this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and

universal observation, the wearer of the scarlet letter was at

length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of the crowd, a

figure which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts. An

Indian in his native garb was standing there; but the red men

were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements that

one of them would have attracted any notice from Hester Prynne at

such a time; much less would he have excluded all other objects

and ideas from her mind. By the Indian's side, and evidently

sustaining a companionship with him, stood a white man, clad in a

strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.


He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as yet

could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence

in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental

part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and

become manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly

careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb, he had

endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity, it was

sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's

shoulders rose








higher than the other. Again, at the first instant of perceiving

that thin visage, and the slight deformity of the figure, she

pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that

the poor babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother did

not seem to hear it,


At his arrival in the market-place, and some time before she saw

him, the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was

carelessly at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look

inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and

import, unless they bear relation to something within his mind.

Very soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative. A

writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake

gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all

its wreathed intervolutions in open sight. His face darkened

with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so

instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save

at a single moment, its expression might have passed for

calmness. After a brief space, the convulsion grew almost

imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his

nature. When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his

own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and

calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and

laid it on his lips.


Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him,

he addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:


"I pray you, good Sir," said he, "who is this woman? -- and

wherefore is she here set up to public shame?"








"You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," answered

the townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and his savage

companion, "else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester

Prynne and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I

promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church. "


"You say truly," replied the other; "I am a stranger, and have

been a wanderer, sorely against my will. I have met with

grievous mishaps by sea and land, and have been long held in

bonds among the heathen-folk to the southward; and am now brought

hither by this Indian to be redeemed out of my captivity. Will

it please you, therefore, to tell me of Hester Prynne's -- have I

her name rightly? -- of this woman's offences, and what has

brought her to yonder scaffold?"


"Truly, friend; and methinks it must gladden your heart, after

your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness," said the townsman,

"to find yourself at length in a land where iniquity is searched

out and punished in the sight of rulers and people, as here in

our godly New England. Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, was the

wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long

ago dwelt in Amsterdam, whence some good time agone he was minded

to cross over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts.

To this purpose he sent his wife before him, remaining himself to

look after some necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two

years, or less, that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston,

no tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne;

and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance

-- "








"Ah! -- aha! -- I conceive you," said the stranger with a

bitter smile. "So learned a man as you speak of should have

learned this too in his books. And who, by your favour, Sir, may

be the father of yonder babe -- it is some three or four months

old, I should judge -- which Mistress Prynne is holding in her



"Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the

Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting," answered the

townsman. "Madame Hester absolutely refuseth to speak, and the

magistrates have laid their heads together in vain. Peradventure

the guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacle, unknown

of man, and forgetting that God sees him. "


"The learned man," observed the stranger with another smile,

"should come himself to look into the mystery. "


"It behoves him well if he be still in life," responded the

townsman. "Now, good Sir, our Massachusetts magistracy,

bethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fair, and

doubtless was strongly tempted to her fall, and that, moreover,

as is most likely, her husband may be at the bottom of the sea,

they have not been bold to put in force the extremity of our

righteous law against her. The penalty thereof is death. But in

their great mercy and tenderness of heart they have doomed

Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the

platform of the pillory, and then and thereafter, for the

remainder of her natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her

bosom. "


"A wise sentence," remarked the stranger, gravely.








bowing his head. "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin,

until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It

irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should

not at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be

known -- he will be known! -- he will be known!"


He bowed courteously to the communicative townsman, and

whispering a few words to his Indian attendant, they both made

their way through the crowd.


While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing on her

pedestal, still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger -- so

fixed a gaze that, at moments of intense absorption, all other

objects in the visible world seemed to vanish, leaving only him

and her. Such an interview, perhaps, would have been more

terrible than even to meet him as she now did, with the hot

mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its

shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the

sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as

to a festival, staring at the features that should have been seen

only in the quiet gleam of the fireside, in the happy shadow of a

home, or beneath a matronly veil at church. Dreadful as it was,

she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand

witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him

and her, than to greet him face to face -- they two alone. She

fled for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and dreaded

the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her.

Involved in these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind her

until it had repeated her name more than once, in








a loud and solemn tone, audible to the whole multitude.


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


It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on

which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony, or open gallery,

appended to the meeting-house. It was the place whence

proclamations were wont to be made, amidst an assemblage of the

magistracy, with all the ceremonial that attended such public

observances in those days. Here, to witness the scene which we

are describing, sat Governor Bellingham himself with four

sergeants about his chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of

honour. He wore a dark feather in his hat, a border of

embroidery on his cloak, and a black velvet tunic beneath -- a

gentleman advanced in years, with a hard experience written in

his wrinkles. He was not ill-fitted to be the head and

representative of a community which owed its origin and progress,

and its present state of development, not to the impulses of

youth, but to the stern and tempered energies of manhood and the

sombre sagacity of age; accomplishing so much, precisely because

it imagined and hoped so little. The other eminent characters by

whom the chief ruler was surrounded were distinguished by a

dignity of mien, belonging to a period when the forms of

authority were felt to possess the sacredness of Divine

institutions. They were, doubtless, good men, just and sage.

But, out of the whole human family, it would not have been easy

to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who

should he less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring

woman's heart, and








disentangling its mesh of good and evil, than the sages of rigid

aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her face. She

seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she might expect

lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude; for, as she

lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew pale,

and trembled.


The voice which had called her attention was that of the

reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston,

a great scholar, like most of his contemporaries in the

profession, and withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This

last attribute, however, had been less carefully developed than

his intellectual gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of

shame than self-congratulation with him. There he stood, with a

border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap, while his grey

eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking,

like those of Hester's infant, in the unadulterated sunshine. He

looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed

to old volumes of sermons, and had no more right than one of

those portraits would have to step forth, as he now did, and

meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and anguish


"Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, "I have striven with my

young brother here, under whose preaching of the Word you have

been privileged to sit" -- here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the

shoulder of a pale young man beside him -- "I have sought, I say,

to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here

in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers,

and in hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and

blackness of








your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than l, he could

the better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or

terror, such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy,

insomuch that you should no longer hide the name of him who

tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me -- with

a young man's over-softness, albeit wise beyond his years -- that

it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay

open her heart's secrets in such broad daylight, and in presence

of so great a multitude. Truly, as I sought to convince him, the

shame lay in the commission of the sin, and not in the showing of

it forth. What say you to it, once again, brother Dimmesdale?

Must it be thou, or I, that shall deal with this poor sinner's



There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of

the balcony; and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its

purport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tempered

with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed:


"Good Master Dimmesdale," said he, "the responsibility of this

woman's soul lies greatly with you. It behoves you; therefore,

to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and

consequence thereof. "


The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd

upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale -- young clergyman, who had

come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the

learning of the age into our wild forest land. His eloquence and

religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminence

in his profession. He was a person of








very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow;

large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he

forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous, expressing both

nervous sensibility and a vast power of self restraint.

Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like

attainments, there was an air about this young minister -- an

apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look -- as of a being

who felt himself quite astray, and at a loss in the pathway of

human existence, and could only be at ease in some seclusion of

his own. Therefore, so far as his duties would permit, he trod

in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and

childlike, coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, and

fragrance, and dewy purity of thought, which, as many people

said, affected them like tile speech of an angel.


Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the

Governor had introduced so openly to the public notice, bidding

him speak, in the hearing of all men, to that mystery of a

woman's soul, so sacred even in its pollution. The trying nature

of his position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips



"Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wilson. "It is of

moment to her soul, and, therefore, as the worshipful Governor

says, momentous to thine own, ill whose charge hers is. Exhort

her to confess the truth!"


The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, silent prayer, as it

seemed, and then came forward.


"Hester Prynne," said he, leaning over the balcony and looking

down steadfastly into her eyes, "thou








hearest what this good man says, and seest the accountability

under which I labour. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's

peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more

effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of

thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any

mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester,

though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there

beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than

to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for

him, except it tempt him -- yea, compel him, as it were -- to add

hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy,

that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil

within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest

to him -- who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for

himself -- the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented

to thy lips!"


The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and

broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather

than the direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within

all hearts, and brought the listeners into one accord of

sympathy. Even the poor baby at Hester's bosom was affected by

the same influence, for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze

towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms with a

half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur. So powerful seemed the

minister's appeal that the people could not believe but that

Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name, or else that the

guilty one himself in whatever high or lowly place he stood,

would be drawn forth by an inward and








inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold.


Hester shook her head.


"Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!"

cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. "That

little babe hath been gifted with a voice, to second and confirm

the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That,

and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy

breast. "


"Never," replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but

into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. "It is

too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I

might endure his agony as well as mine!"


"Speak, woman!" said another voice, coldly and sternly,

proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold, "Speak; and give

your child a father!"


"I will not speak!" answered Hester, turning pale as death, but

responding to this voice, which she too surely recognised. "And

my child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an

earthly one!"


"She will not speak!" murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over

the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the

result of his appeal. He now drew back with a long respiration.

"Wondrous strength arid generosity of a woman's heart! She will

not speak!"


Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind,

the elder clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the

occasion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all

its branches, but








with continual reference to the ignominious letter. So forcibly

did he dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or more during which

his periods were rolling over the people's heads, that it assumed

new terrors in their imagination, and seemed to derive its

scarlet hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne,

meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed

eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had borne that

morning all that nature could endure; and as her temperament was

not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by a

swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust

of insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained

entire. In this state, the voice of the preacher thundered

remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears. The infant,

during the latter portion of her ordeal, pierced the air with its

wailings and screams; she strove to hush it mechanically, but

seemed scarcely to sympathise with its trouble. With the same

hard demeanour, she was led back to prison, and vanished from the

public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. It was whispered by

those who peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a lurid

gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior.












After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was found to be in

a state of nervous excitement, that demanded constant

watchfulness, lest she should perpetrate violence on herself, or

do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe. As night

approached, it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by

rebuke or threats of punishment, Master Brackett, the jailer,

thought fit to introduce a physician. He described him as a man

of skill in all Christian modes of physical science, and likewise

familiar with whatever the savage people could teach in respect

to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say the

truth, there was much need of professional assistance, not merely

for Hester herself, but still more urgently for the child -- who,

drawing its sustenance from the maternal bosom, seemed to have

drank in with it all the turmoil, the anguish and despair, which

pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of

pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral

agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.


Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared

that individual, of singular aspect







whose presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest to the

wearer of the scarlet letter. He was lodged in the prison, not

as suspected of any offence, but as the most convenient and

suitable mode of disposing of him, until the magistrates should

have conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom.

His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth. The jailer, after

ushering him into the room, remained a moment, marvelling at the

comparative quiet that followed his entrance; for Hester Prynne

had immediately become as still as death, although the child

continued to moan.


"Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient," said the

practitioner. "Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have

peace in your house; and, I promise you, Mistress Prynne shall

hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have

found her heretofore. "


"Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," answered Master

Brackett, "I shall own you for a man of skill, indeed! Verily,

the woman hath been like a possessed one; and there lacks little

that I should take in hand, to drive Satan out of her with

stripes. "


The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic

quietude of the profession to which he announced himself as

belonging. Nor did his demeanour change when the withdrawal of

the prison keeper left him face to face with the woman, whose

absorbed notice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a

relation between himself and her. His first care was given to

the child, whose cries, indeed, as she lay writhing on the

trundle-bed, made it of peremptory necessity to postpone all

other business








to the task of soothing her. He examined the infant carefully,

and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he took from

beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical preparations,

one of which he mingled with a cup of water.


"My old studies in alchemy," observed he, "and my sojourn, for

above a year past, among a people well versed in the kindly

properties of simples, have made a better physician of me than

many that claim the medical degree. Here, woman! The child is

yours -- she is none of mine -- neither will she recognise my

voice or aspect as a father's. Administer this draught,

therefore, with thine own hand. "

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing

with strongly marked apprehension into his face.


"Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?" whispered



"Foolish woman!" responded the physician, half coldly, half

soothingly. "What should ail me to harm this misbegotten and

miserable babe? The medicine is potent for good, and were it my

child -- yea, mine own, as well as thine! I could do no better

for it. "


As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state

of mind, he took the infant in his arms, and himself administered

the draught. It soon proved its efficacy, and redeemed the

leech's pledge. The moans of the little patient subsided; its

convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few moments, as is

the custom of young children after relief from pain, it sank into

a profound and dewy slumber. The physician, as he had a fair

right to be termed,








next bestowed his attention on the mother. With calm and intent

scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into her eyes -- a gaze that

made her heart shrink and shudder, because so familiar, and yet

so strange and cold -- and, finally, satisfied with his

investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught


"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he; "but I have

learned many new secrets in the wilderness, and here is one of

them -- a recipe that an Indian taught me, in requital of some

lessons of my own, that were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it! It

may be less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot

give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy

passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea. "


He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow,

earnest look into his face; not precisely a look of fear, yet

full of doubt and questioning as to what his purposes might be.

She looked also at her slumbering child.


"I have thought of death," said she -- " have wished for it --

would even have prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should

pray for anything. Yet, if death be in this cup, I bid thee

think again, ere thou beholdest me quaff it. See! it is even

now at my lips. "


"Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold composure.

"Dost thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are my purposes

wont to be so shallow? Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance,

what could I do better for my object than to let thee live --

than to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life --

so that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy bosom?" As

he spoke, he laid his long fore-








finger on the scarlet letter, which forthwith seemed to scorch

into Hester's breast, as if it had been red hot. He noticed her

involuntary gesture, and smiled "Live, therefore, and bear about

thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women -- in the eyes

of him whom thou didst call thy husband -- in the eyes of yonder

child! And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught. "


Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained

the cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself

on the bed, where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only

chair which the room afforded, and took his own seat beside her.

She could not but tremble at these preparations; for she felt

that -- having now done all that humanity, or principle, or, if

so it were, a refined cruelty, impelled him to do for the relief

of physical suffering -- he was next to treat with her as the man

whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.


"Hester," said he, "I ask not wherefore, nor how thou hast

fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the

pedestal of infamy on which I found thee. The reason is not far

to seek. It was my folly, and thy weakness. I -- a man of

thought -- the book-worm of great libraries -- a man already in

decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of

knowledge -- what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine

own? Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself

with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical

deformity in a young girl's fantasy? Men call me wise. If sages

were ever wise in their own behoof, I might








have foreseen all this. I might have known that, as I came out

of the vast and dismal forest, and entered this settlement of

Christian men, the very first object to meet my eyes would be

thyself, Hester Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before

the people. Nay, from the moment when we came down the old

church-steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the

bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!"


"Thou knowest," said Hester -- for, depressed as she was, she

could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame

-- "thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor

feigned any. "


"True," replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. But, up

to that epoch of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had

been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enough for

many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire.

I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream -- old as

I was, and sombre as I was, and misshapen as I was -- that the

simple bliss, which is scattered far and wide, for all mankind to

gather up, might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into

my heart, into its innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by

the warmth which thy presence made there!"


"I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.


"We have wronged each other," answered he. "Mine was the first

wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and

unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has

not thought and philosophised in vain, I seek no vengeance, plot

no evil against thee. Between thee and








me, the scale hangs fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives

who has wronged us both! Who is he?"


"Ask me not?" replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his

face. "That thou shalt never know!"


"Never, sayest thou?" rejoined he, with a smile of dark and

self-relying intelligence. "Never know him! Believe me, Hester,

there are few things whether in the outward world, or, to a

certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought -- few things

hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and

unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou mayest cover up

thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest conceal it,

too, from the ministers and magistrates, even as thou didst this

day, when they sought to wrench the name out of thy heart, and

give thee a partner on thy pedestal. But, as for me, I come to

the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall seek

this man, as I have sought truth in books: as I have sought gold

in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of

him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder,

suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine. "


The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her,

that Hester Prynne clasped her hand over her heart, dreading lest

he should read the secret there at once.


"Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine,"

resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one

with him. "He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his

garment, as thou dost, but I shall read it on his heart . Yet

fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's








own method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to the

gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall

contrive aught against his life; no, nor against his fame, if as

I judge, he be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let him hide

himself in outward honour, if he may! Not the less he shall be



"Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered and appalled;

"but thy words interpret thee as a terror!"


"One thing, thou that wast my wife, l would enjoin upon thee,"

continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy

paramour. Keep, likewise, mine! There are none in this land

that know me. Breathe not to any human soul that thou didst ever

call me husband! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I

shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated

from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child,

amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No

matter whether of love or hate: no matter whether of right or

wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is

where thou art and where he is. But betray me not!"


"Wherefore dost thou desire it?" inquired Hester, shrinking, she

hardly knew why, from this secret bond. "Why not announce

thyself openly, and cast me off at once?"


"It may be," he replied, "because I will not encounter the

dishonour that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It

may be for other reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and

die unknown. Let, therefore, thy husband be to the world as one








already dead, and of whom no tidings shall ever come. Recognise

me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above

all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this,

beware! His fame, his position, his life will be in my hands.



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


"Swear it!" rejoined he.

And she took the oath.


"And now, Mistress Prynne," said old Roger Chillingworth, as he

was hereafter to be named, "I leave thee alone: alone with thy

infant and the scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy

sentence bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep? Art thou not

afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?"


"Why dost thou smile so at me?" inquired Hester, troubled at the

expression of his eyes. "Art thou like the Black Man that

haunts the forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a

bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?"


"Not thy soul," he answered, with another smile. No, not















Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end. Her

prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the

sunshine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and

morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the

scarlet letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more real

torture in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of

the prison than even in the procession and spectacle that have

been described, where she was made the common infamy, at which

all mankind was summoned to point its finger. Then, she was

supported by an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by all the

combative energy of her character, which enabled her to convert

the scene into a kind of lurid triumph. It was, moreover, a

separate and insulated event, to occur but once in her lifetime,

and to meet which, therefore, reckless of economy, she might call

up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many quiet

years. The very law that condemned her -- a giant of stem

featured but with vigour to support, as well as to annihilate, in

his iron arm -- had held her up through the terrible ordeal of

her ignominy. But now, with this unattended walk from her prison

door, began the daily








custom; and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the

ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. She could

no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present

grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the

next day, and so would the next: each its own trial, and yet the

very same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. The

days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same

burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to

fling down; for the accumulating days and added years would pile

up their misery upon the heap of shame. Throughout them all,

giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol

at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they

might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and

sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look

at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast -- at her,

the child of honourable parents -- at her, the mother of a babe

that would hereafter be a woman -- at her, who had once been

innocent -- as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And

over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be

her only monument.


It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her -- kept

by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of

the Puritan settlement, so remote and so obscure -- free to

return to her birth-place, or to any other European land, and

there hide her character and identity under a new exterior, as

completely as if emerging into another state of being -- and

having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to

her, where the








wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people

whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned

her -- it may seem marvellous that this woman should still call

that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs be the

type of shame. But there is a fatality, a feeling so

irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which

almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and

haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked event has

given the colour to their lifetime; and, still the more

irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her

ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the soil. It

was as if a new birth, with stronger assimilations than the

first, had converted the forest-land, still so uncongenial to

every other pilgrim and wanderer, into Hester Prynne's wild and

dreary, but life-long home. All other scenes of earth -- even

that village of rural England, where happy infancy and stainless

maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping, like

garments put off long ago -- were foreign to her, in comparison.

The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to

her inmost soul, but could never be broken.

It might be, too -- doubtless it was so, although she hid the

secret from herself, and grew pale whenever it struggled out of

her heart, like a serpent from its hole -- it might be that

another feeling kept her within the scene and pathway that had

been so fatal. There dwelt, there trode, the feet of one with

whom she deemed herself connected in a union that, unrecognised

on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final

judgment, and make that their








marriage-altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution.

Over and over again, the tempter of souls had thrust this idea

upon Hester's contemplation, and laughed at the passionate and

desperate joy with which she seized, and then strove to cast it

from her. She barely looked the idea in the face, and hastened

to bar it in its dungeon. What she compelled herself to believe

-- what, finally, she reasoned upon as her motive for continuing

a resident of New England -- was half a truth, and half a

self-delusion. Here, she said to herself had been the scene of

her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly

punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame

would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than

that which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of



Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the outskirts of the

town, within the verge of the peninsula, but not in close

vicinity to any other habitation, there was a small thatched

cottage. It had been built by an earlier settler, and abandoned,

because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while

its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that

social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants.

It stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the sea at the

forest-covered hills, towards the west. A clump of scrubby

trees, such as alone grew on the peninsula, did not so much

conceal the cottage from view, as seem to denote that here was

some object which would fain have been, or at least ought to be,

concealed. In this little lonesome dwelling, with some slender

means that she possessed, and by the licence of the








magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her,

Hester established herself, with her infant child. A mystic

shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot.

Children, too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be

shut out from the sphere of human charities, would creep nigh

enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-window, or

standing in the doorway, or labouring in her little garden, or

coming forth along the pathway that led townward, and, discerning

the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a

strange contagious fear.


Lonely as was Hester's situation, and without a friend on earth

who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of

want. She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that

afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply

food for her thriving infant and herself. It was the art, then,

as now, almost the only one within a woman's grasp -- of

needle-work. She bore on her breast, in the curiously

embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative

skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed

themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of

human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold. Here, indeed,

in the sable simplicity that generally characterised the

Puritanic modes of dress, there might be an infrequent call for

the finer productions of her handiwork. Yet the taste of the

age, demanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this

kind, did not fail to extend its influence over our stern

progenitors, who had cast behind them so many fashions which it

might seem harder to dispense with.








Public ceremonies, such as ordinations, the installation of

magistrates, and all that could give majesty to the forms in

which a new government manifested itself to the people, were, as

a matter of policy, marked by a stately and well-conducted

ceremonial, and a sombre, but yet a studied magnificence. Deep

ruffs, painfully wrought bands, and gorgeously embroidered

gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men

assuming the reins of power, and were readily allowed to

individuals dignified by rank or wealth, even while sumptuary

laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the plebeian

order. In the array of funerals, too -- whether for the apparel

of the dead body, or to typify, by manifold emblematic devices of

sable cloth and snowy lawn, the sorrow of the survivors -- there

was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour as

Hester Prynne could supply. Baby-linen -- for babies then wore

robes of state -- afforded still another possibility of toil and



By degrees, not very slowly, her handiwork became what would now

be termed the fashion. Whether from commiseration for a woman of

so miserable a destiny; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a

fictitious value even to common or worthless things; or by

whatever other intangible circumstance was then, as now,

sufficient to bestow, on some persons, what others might seek in

vain; or because Hester really filled a gap which must otherwise

have remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready and fairly

equited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy

with her needle. Vanity, it may be, chose to mortify itself, by









on, for ceremonials of pomp and state, the garments that had been

wrought by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seen on the

ruff of the Governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, and

the minister on his band; it decked the baby's little cap; it was

shut up, to be mildewed and moulder away, in the coffins of the

dead. But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her

skill was called in to embroider the white veil which was to

cover the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the

ever relentless vigour with which society frowned upon her sin.


Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence, of

the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a

simple abundance for her child. Her own dress was of the

coarsest materials and the most sombre hue, with only that one

ornament -- the scarlet letter -- which it was her doom to wear.

The child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a

fanciful, or, we may rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which

served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to

develop itself in the little girl, but which appeared to have

also a deeper meaning. We may speak further of it hereafter.

Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her

infant, Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on

wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently

insulted the hand that fed them. Much of the time, which she

might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art, she

employed in making coarse garments for the poor. It is probable

that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation, and








that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting so

many hours to such rude handiwork. She had in her nature a rich,

voluptuous, Oriental characteristic -- a taste for the gorgeously

beautiful, which, save in the exquisite productions of her

needle, found nothing else, in all the possibilities of her life,

to exercise itself upon. Women derive a pleasure,

incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the

needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of

expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life.

Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin. This morbid

meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened, it is

to be feared, no genuine and steadfast penitence, but something

doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong beneath.


In this matter, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in

the world. With her native energy of character and rare

capacity, it could not entirely cast her off, although it had set

a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman's heart than that

which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with

society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she

belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence

of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often

expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she

inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature

by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind. She

stood apart from moral interests, yet close beside them, like a

ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make

itself seen or felt; no more smile with the








household joy, nor mourn with the kindred sorrow; or, should it

succeed in manifesting its forbidden sympathy, awakening only

terror and horrible repugnance. These emotions, in fact, and its

bitterest scorn besides, seemed to be the sole portion that she

retained in the universal heart. It was not an age of delicacy;

and her position, although she understood it well, and was in

little danger of forgetting it, was often brought before her

vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, by the rudest touch

upon the tenderest spot. The poor, as we have already said, whom

she sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the

hand that was stretched forth to succour them. Dames of elevated

rank, likewise, whose doors she entered in the way of her

occupation, were accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into

her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by

which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles;

and sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell upon the

sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated

wound. Hester had schooled herself long and well; and she never

responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson that rose

irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided into the

depths of her bosom. She was patient -- a martyr, indeed but she

forebore to pray for enemies, lest, in spite of her forgiving

aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist

themselves into a curse.


Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the

innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly

contrived for her by the undying,








the ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal. Clergymen

paused in the streets, to address words of exhortation, that

brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and frown, around the

poor, sinful woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share

the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her

mishap to find herself the text of the discourse. She grew to

have a dread of children; for they had imbibed from their parents

a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary woman gliding

silently through the town, with never any companion but one only

child. Therefore, first allowing her to pass, they pursued her

at a distance with shrill cries, and the utterances of a word

that had no distinct purport to their own minds, but was none the

less terrible to her, as proceeding from lips that babbled it

unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her

shame, that all nature knew of it; it could have caused her no

deeper pang had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story

among themselves -- had the summer breeze murmured about it --

had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud! Another peculiar torture

was felt in the gaze of a new eye. When strangers looked

curiously at the scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so --

they branded it afresh in Hester's soul; so that, oftentimes, she

could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering the

symbol with her hand. But then, again, an accustomed eye had

likewise its own anguish to inflict. Its cool stare of

familiarity was intolerable. From first to last, in short,

Hester Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human

eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it








seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily



But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in many months,

she felt an eye -- a human eye -- upon the ignominious brand,

that seemed to give a momentary relief, as if half of her agony

were shared. The next instant, back it all rushed again, with

still a deeper throb of pain; for, in that brief interval, she

had sinned anew. (Had Hester sinned alone?)


Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a

softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more

so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to

and fro, with those lonely footsteps, in the little world with

which she was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to

Hester -- if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent to

be resisted -- she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter

had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet

could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic

knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. She was terror-

stricken by the revelations that were thus made. What were they?

Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad

angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman, as yet

only half his victim, that the outward guise of purity was but a

lie, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet

letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's?

Or, must she receive those intimations -- so obscure, yet so

distinct -- as truth? In all her miserable experience, there was

nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense. It

perplexed, as well as shocked her, by the irreverent








inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid

action. Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a

sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or

magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of

antique reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship

with angels. "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hester say to

herself. Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing

human within the scope of view, save the form of this earthly

saint! Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert

itself, as she met the sanctified frown of some matron, who,

according to the rumour of all tongues, had kept cold snow within

her bosom throughout life. That unsunned snow in the matron's

bosom, and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's -- what had the

two in common? Or, once more, the electric thrill would give her

warning -- "Behold Hester, here is a companion!" and, looking

up, she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at the

scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted, with a

faint, chill crimson in her cheeks as if her purity were somewhat

sullied by that momentary glance. O Fiend, whose talisman was

that fatal symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in youth

or age, for this poor sinner to revere? -- such loss of faith is

ever one of the saddest results of sin. Be it accepted as a

proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim of her own

frailty, and man's hard law, that Hester Prynne yet struggled to

believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.


The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always

contributing a grotesque horror to what








interested their imaginations, had a story about the scarlet

letter which we might readily work up into a terrific legend.

They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged

in an earthly dye-pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and

could be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked

abroad in the night-time. And we must needs say it seared

Hester's bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in

the rumour than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.
















We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant that little creature,

whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of

Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank

luxuriance of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad

woman, as she watched the growth, and the beauty that became

every day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its

quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child! Her

Pearl -- for so had Hester called her; not as a name expressive

of her aspect, which had nothing of the calm, white,

unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison.

But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price --

purchased with all she had -- her mother's only treasure! How

strange, indeed! Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet

letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no

human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself.

God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished,

had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same

dishonoured bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race

and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in

heaven! Yet these thoughts affected Hester








Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew that her deed

had been evil; she could have no faith, therefore, that its

result would be good. Day after day she looked fearfully into

the child's expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark

and wild peculiarity that should correspond with the guiltiness

to which she owed her being.


Certainly there was no physical defect. By its perfect shape,

its vigour, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its

untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought forth

in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of

the angels after the world's first parents were driven out. The

child had a native grace which does not invariably co-exist with

faultless beauty; its attire, however simple, always impressed

the beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became it

best. But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds. Her

mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood

hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured,

and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the

arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore

before the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure when

thus arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper

beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have

extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute

circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor. And

yet a russet gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude play,

made a picture of her just as perfect. Pearl's aspect was imbued

with a spell of infinite variety; in this one child there were

many children, comprehending the full scope








between the wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby, and the

pomp, in little, of an infant princess. Throughout all, however,

there was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she

never lost; and if in any of her changes, she had grown fainter

or paler, she would have ceased to be herself -- it would have

been no longer Pearl!


This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly

express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature

appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but -- or

else Hester's fears deceived her -- it lacked reference and

adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could

not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence a great

law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements

were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or

with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of

variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be

discovered. Hester could only account for the child's character

-- and even then most vaguely and imperfectly -- by recalling

what she herself had been during that momentous period while

Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her

bodily frame from its material of earth. The mother's

impassioned state had been the medium through which were

transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and,

however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep

stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow,

and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above

all, the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch was perpetuated

in Pearl. She could








recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of

her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and

despondency that had brooded in her heart. They were now

illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's

disposition, but, later in the day of earthly existence, might be

prolific of the storm and whirlwind.


The discipline of the family in those days was of a far more

rigid kind than now. The frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent

application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were

used, not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences,

but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all

childish virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the loving mother

of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side of undue

severity. Mindful, however, of her own errors and misfortunes,

she early sought to impose a tender but strict control over the

infant immortality that was committed to her charge. But the

task was beyond her skill. after testing both smiles and frowns,

and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any

calculable influence, Hester was ultimately compelled to stand

aside and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses.

Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, while

it lasted. As to any other kind of discipline, whether addressed

to her mind or heart, little Pearl might or might not be within

its reach, in accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment.

Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted with a

certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labour

thrown away to insist, persuade or plead.








It was a look so intelligent, yet inexplicable, perverse,

sometimes so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow

of spirits, that Hester could not help questioning at such

moments whether Pearl was a human child. She seemed rather an

airy sprite, which, after playing its fantastic sports for a

little while upon the cottage floor, would flit away with a

mocking smile. Whenever that look appeared in her wild, bright,

deeply black eyes, it invested her with a strange remoteness and

intangibility: it was as if she were hovering in the air, and

might vanish, like a glimmering light that comes we know not

whence and goes we know not whither. Beholding it, Hester was

constrained to rush towards the child -- to pursue the little elf

in the flight which she invariably began -- to snatch her to her

bosom with a close pressure and earnest kisses -- not so much

from overflowing love as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh

and blood, and not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laugh, when she

was caught, though full of merriment and music, made her mother

more doubtful than before.


Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, that so

often came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had

bought so dear, and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst

into passionate tears. Then, perhaps -- for there was no

foreseeing how it might affect her -- Pearl would frown, and

clench her little fist, and harden her small features into a

stern, unsympathising look of discontent. Not seldom she would

laugh anew, and louder than before, like a thing incapable and

unintelligent of human sorrow. Or -- but this more








rarely happened -- she would be convulsed with rage of grief and

sob out her love for her mother in broken words, and seem intent

on proving that she had a heart by breaking it. Yet Hester was

hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty tenderness: it

passed as suddenly as it came. Brooding over all these matters,

the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some

irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the

master-word that should control this new and incomprehensible

intelligence. Her only real comfort was when the child lay in

the placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted

hours of quiet, sad, delicious happiness; until -- perhaps with

that perverse expression glimmering from beneath her opening lids

-- little Pearl awoke!


How soon -- with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive

at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the

mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what a

happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her

clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish

voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's

tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive

children. But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast of

the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin,

she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more

remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which the child

comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an

inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in

short, of her position in respect to








other children. Never since her release from prison had Hester

met the public gaze without her. In all her walks about the

town, Pearl, too, was there: first as the babe in arms, and

afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother,

holding a forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along at

the rate of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw

the children of the settlement on the grassy margin of the

street, or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in

such grim fashions as the Puritanic nurture would permit!

playing at going to church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers,

or taking scalps in a sham fight with the Indians, or scaring one

another with freaks of imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and

gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken

to, she would not speak again. If the children gathered about

her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible

in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with

shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble,

because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some

unknown tongue.


The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most

intolerant brood that ever lived, had got a vague idea of

something outlandish, unearthly, or at variance with ordinary

fashions, in the mother and child, and therefore scorned them in

their hearts, and not unfrequently reviled them with their

tongues. Pearl felt the sentiment, and requited it with the

bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish

bosom. These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value,

and even comfort for the mother;








because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the

mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in

the child's manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless, to

discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the evil that had

existed in herself. All this enmity and passion had Pearl

inherited, by inalienable right, out of Hester's heart. Mother

and daughter stood together in the same circle of seclusion from

human society; and in the nature of the child seemed to be

perpetuated those unquiet elements that had distracted Hester

Prynne before Pearl's birth, but had since begun to be soothed

away by the softening influences of maternity.


At home, within and around her mother's cottage, Pearl wanted not

a wide and various circle of acquaintance. The spell of life

went forth from her ever-creative spirit, and communicated itself

to a thousand objects, as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may

be applied. The unlikeliest materials -- a stick, a bunch of

rags, a flower -- were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft, and,

without undergoing any outward change, became spiritually adapted

to whatever drama occupied the stage of her inner world. Her one

baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages, old and

young, to talk withal. The pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn,

and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the

breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders

the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl

smote down and uprooted most unmercifully. It was wonderful, the

vast variety of forms into which she threw her intellect, with no

continuity, indeed, but darting' up and dancing, always in a

state of preter-








natural activity -- soon sinking down, as if exhausted by so

rapid and feverish a tide of life -- and succeeded by other

shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like nothing so much as

the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the mere

exercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing

mind, there might be a little more than was observable in other

children of bright faculties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of

human playmates, was thrown more upon the visionary throng which

she created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with

which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart

and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed always to be

sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of

armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle. It was

inexpressibly sad -- then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who

felt in her own heart the cause -- to observe, in one so young,

this constant recognition of an adverse world, and so fierce a

training of the energies that were to make good her cause in the

contest that must ensue.


Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon her

knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have

hidden, but which made utterance for itself betwixt speech and a

groan -- "O Father in Heaven -- if Thou art still my Father --

what is this being which I have brought into the world?" And

Pearl, overhearing the ejaculation, or aware through some more

subtile channel, of those throbs of anguish, would turn her vivid

and beautiful little face upon her mother, smile with sprite-like

intelligence, and resume her play.








One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told.

The very first thing which she had noticed in her life, was --

what? -- not the mother's smile, responding to it, as other

babies do, by that faint, embryo smile of the little mouth,

remembered so doubtfully afterwards, and with such fond

discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no means! But

that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was --

shall we say it? -- the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom! One

day, as her mother stooped over the cradle, the infant's eyes had

been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the

letter; and putting up her little hand she grasped at it,

smiling, not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam, that gave her

face the look of a much older child. Then, gasping for breath,

did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal token, instinctively

endeavouring to tear it away, so infinite was the torture

inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand. Again,

as if her mother's agonised gesture were meant only to make sport

for her, did little Pearl look into her eyes, and smile. From

that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never

felt a moment's safety: not a moment's calm enjoyment of her.

Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's

gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then,

again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden

death, and always with that peculiar smile and odd expression of

the eyes.


Once this freakish, elvish cast came into the child's eyes while

Hester was looking at her own image in them, as mothers are food

of doing; and








suddenly for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are

pestered with unaccountable delusions she fancied that she

beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another face in the

small black mirror of Pearl's eye. It was a face, fiend-like,

full of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features

that she had known full well, though seldom with a smile, and

never with malice in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed

the child, and had just then peeped forth in mockery. Many a

time afterwards had Hester been tortured, though less vividly, by

the same illusion.


In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after Pearl grew big

enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls

of wild flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's

bosom; dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit the

scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been to cover her

bosom with her clasped hands. But whether from pride or

resignation, or a feeling that her penance might best be wrought

out by this unutterable pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat

erect, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild

eyes. Still came the battery of flowers, almost invariably

hitting the mark, and covering the mother's breast with hurts for

which she could find no balm in this world, nor knew how to seek

it in another. At last, her shot being all expended, the child

stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little laughing image

of a fiend peeping out -- or, whether it peeped or no, her mother

so imagined it -- from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes.


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








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


But while she said it, Pearl laughed, and began to dance up and

down with the humoursome gesticulation of a little imp, whose

next freak might be to fly up the chimney.


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


Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for the

moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was

Pearl's wonderful intelligence, that her mother half doubted

whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her

existence, and might not now reveal herself.


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



"Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!" said the

mother half playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive

impulse came over her in the midst of her deepest suffering.

"Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither?"


"Tell me, mother!" said the child, seriously, coming up to

Hester, and pressing herself close to her knees. "Do thou tell



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


But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the

acuteness of the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary

freakishness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up

her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter.


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



"Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!" answered the mother.

suppressing a groan. "He sent








us all into the world. He sent even me, thy mother. Then, much

more thee! Or, if not, thou strange and elfish child, whence

didst thou come?"


"Tell me! Tell me!" repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but

laughing and capering about the floor. "It is thou that must

tell me!"


But Hester could not resolve the query, using herself in a dismal

labyrinth of doubt. She remembered -- betwixt a smile and a

shudder -- the talk of the neighbouring townspeople, who, seeking

vainly elsewhere for the child's paternity, and observing some of

her odd attributes, had given out that poor little Pearl was a

demon offspring: such as, ever since old Catholic times, had

occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of their

mother's sin, and to promote some foul and wicked purpose.

Luther, according to the scandal of his monkish enemies, was a

brat of that hellish breed; nor was Pearl the only child to whom

this inauspicious origin was assigned among the New England















Hester Prynne went one day to the mansion of Governor Bellingham,

with a pair of gloves which she had fringed and embroidered to

his order, and which were to be worn on some great occasion of

state; for, though the chances of a popular election had caused

this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank,

he still held an honourable and influential place among the

colonial magistracy.


Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair

of embroidered gloves, impelled Hester, at this time, to seek an

interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the

affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears that there

was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants,

cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and

government, to deprive her of her child. On the supposition that

Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon origin, these good people

not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in the mother's

soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her

path. If the child, on the other hand, were really capable of

moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements of

ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all the








fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred to wiser

and better guardianship than Hester Prynne's. Among those who

promoted the design, Governor Bellingham was said to be one of

the most busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little

ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which in later days would

have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the

select men of the town, should then have been a question publicly

discussed, and on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At

that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, matters of even

slighter public interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than

the welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed up with

the deliberations of legislators and acts of state. The period

was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of our story, when a

dispute concerning the right of property in a pig not only caused

a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the

colony, but resulted in an important modification of the

framework itself of the legislature.


Full of concern, therefore -- but so conscious of her own right

that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on

the one side, and a lonely woman, backed by the sympathies of

nature, on the other -- Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary

cottage. Little Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was

now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's side, and,

constantly in motion from morn till sunset, could have

accomplished a much longer journey than that before her. Often,

nevertheless, more from caprice than necessity, she demanded to

be taken up in arms; but was soon as imperious to he let down

again, and frisked onward before Hester








the grassy pathway, with many a harmless trip and tumble. We

have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty -- a beauty that

shone with deep and vivid tints, a bright complexion, eyes

possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of

a deep, glossy brown, and which, in after years, would be nearly

akin to black. There was fire in her and throughout her: she

seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her

mother, in contriving the child's garb, had allowed the gorgeous

tendencies of her imagination their full play, arraying her in a

crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered in

fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So much strength of

colouring, which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to

cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to Pearl's

beauty, and made her the very brightest little jet of flame that

ever danced upon the earth.


But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and indeed, of

the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably

reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed

to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another

form: the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother herself

-- as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain

that all her conceptions assumed its form -- had carefully

wrought out the similitude, lavishing many hours of morbid

ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her

affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in

truth, Pearl was the one as well as the other; and only in

consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to

represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.








As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the town, the

children of the Puritans looked up from their player what passed

for play with those sombre little urchins -- and spoke gravely

one to another


"Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter: and of

a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter

running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud

at them!"


But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamping

her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of

threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her

enemies, and put them all to flight. She resembled, in her

fierce pursuit of them, an infant pestilence -- the scarlet

fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment -- whose

mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She

screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound,

which, doubtless, caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake

within them. The victory accomplished, Pearl returned quietly to

her mother, and looked up, smiling, into her face.


Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Governor

Bellingham. This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of

which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our

older towns now moss -- grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy

at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences,

remembered or forgotten, that have happened and passed away

within their dusky chambers. Then, however, there was the

freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the

cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human

habitation, into which death had never








entered. It had, indeed, a very cheery aspect, the walls being

overspread with a kind of stucco, in which fragments of broken

glass were plentifully intermixed; so that, when the sunshine

fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered and

sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double

handful. The brilliancy might have be fitted Aladdin's palace

rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It was

further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures

and diagrams, suitable to the quaint taste of the age which had

been drawn in the stucco, when newly laid on, and had now grown

hard and durable, for the admiration of after times.


Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house began to caper

and dance, and imperatively required that the whole breadth of

sunshine should be stripped off its front, and given her to play



"No, my little Pearl!" said her mother; "thou must gather thine

own sunshine. I have none to give thee!"


They approached the door, which was of an arched form, and

flanked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the

edifice, in both of which were lattice-windows, the wooden

shutters to close over them at need. Lifting the iron hammer

that hung at the portal, Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was

answered by one of the Governor's bond servant -- a free-born

Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During that term he

was to be the property of his master, and as much a commodity of

bargain and sale as an ox, or a joint-stool. The serf wore the

customary garb of serving-men at that period, and long before, in

the old hereditary halls of England,








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


"Yea, forsooth," replied the bond-servant, staring with wide-open

eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being a new-comer in the

country, he had never before seen. "Yea, his honourable worship

is within. But he hath a godly minister or two with him, and

likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now. "


"Nevertheless, I will enter," answered Hester Prynne; and the

bond-servant, perhaps judging from the decision of her air, and

the glittering symbol in her bosom, that she was a great lady in

the land, offered no opposition.


So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of

entrance. With many variations, suggested by the nature of his

building materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode of

social life, Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation

after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native

land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty hall,

extending through the whole depth of the house, and forming a

medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all

the other apartments. At one extremity, this spacious room was

lighted by the windows of the two towers, which formed a small

recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, though

partly muffled by a curtain, it was more powerfully illuminated

by one of those embowed hall windows which we read of in old

books, and which was provided with a deep and cushion seat.

Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the

Chronicles of England, or other such substantial literature; even

as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes on the centre

table, to be








turned over by the casual guest. The furniture of the hall

consisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were

elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a

table in the same taste, the whole being of the Elizabethan age,

or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the

Governor's paternal home. On the table -- in token that the

sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind --

stood a large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester

or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant

of a recent draught of ale.


On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers

of the Bellingham lineage, some with armour on their breasts, and

others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were

characterised by the sternness and severity which old portraits

so invariably put on, as if they were the ghosts, rather than the

pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and

intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living



At about the centre of the oaken panels that lined the hall was

suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, an ancestral

relic, but of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured

by a skilful armourer in London, the same year in which Governor

Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steel

head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget and greaves, with a pair of

gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all, and especially the

helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as to glow with white

radiance, and scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the

floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, but

had been








worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and draining field,

and had glittered, moreover, at the head of a regiment in the

Pequod war. For, though bred a lawyer, and accustomed to speak

of Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch, as his professional associates,

the exigenties of this new country had transformed Governor

Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman and ruler.


Little Pearl, who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour

as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house,

spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the



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


Hester looked by way of humouring the child; and she saw that,

owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet

letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions,

so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance.

In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed

upwards also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at

her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an

expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty

merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much

breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel

as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp

who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.


"Come along, Pearl," said she, drawing her away, "Come and look

into this fair garden. It may be we shall see flowers there;

more beautiful ones than we find in the woods. "


Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-window, at the further end of

the hall, and looked along the vista of








a garden walk, carpeted with closely-shaven grass, and bordered

with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery. But the

proprietor appeared already to have relinquished as hopeless, the

effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard

soil, and amid the close struggle for subsistence, the native

English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain

sight; and a pumpkin-vine, rooted at some distance, had run

across the intervening space, and deposited one of its gigantic

products directly beneath the hall window, as if to warn the

Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an

ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were a few

rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees, probably the

descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the

first settler of the peninsula; that half mythological personage

who rides through our early annals, seated on the back of a bull.



Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose, and

would not be pacified.


"Hush, child -- hush!" said her mother, earnestly. "Do not cry,

dear little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is

coming, and gentlemen along with him. "


In fact, adown the vista of the garden avenue, a number of

persons were seen approaching towards the house. Pearl, in utter

scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch

scream, and then became silent, not from any motion of obedience,

but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was

excited by the appearance of those new personages.
















Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap -- such as

elderly gentlemen loved to endue themselves with, in their

domestic privacy -- walked foremost, and appeared to be showing

off his estate, and expatiating on his projected improvements.

The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his grey

beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James's reign, caused

his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a

charger. The impression made by his aspect, so rigid and severe,

and frost-bitten with more than autumnal age, was hardly in

keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had

evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it is an

error to suppose that our great forefathers -- though accustomed

to speak and think of human existence as a state merely of trial

and warfare, and though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods

and life at the behest of duty -- made it a matter of conscience

to reject such means of comfort, or even luxury, as lay fairly

within their grasp. This creed was never taught, for instance,

by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard, white as a

snow-drift, was seen over Governor Bellingham's shoulders, while









wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalised

in the New England climate, and that purple grapes might possibly

be compelled to flourish against the sunny garden-wall. The old

clergyman, nurtured at the rich bosom of the English Church, had

a long established and legitimate taste for all good and

comfortable things, and however stern he might show himself in

the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such transgressions as

that of Hester Prynne, still, the genial benevolence of his

private life had won him warmer affection than was accorded to

any of his professional contemporaries.


Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests -- one,

the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom the reader may remember as

having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester

Prynne's disgrace; and, in close companionship with him, old

Roger Chillingworth, a person of great skill in physic, who for

two or three years past had been settled in the town. It was

understood that this learned man was the physician as well as

friend of the young minister, whose health had severely suffered

of late by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labours and

duties of the pastoral relation.


The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two

steps, and, throwing open the leaves of the great hall window,

found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain

fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her.


"What have we here?" said Governor Bellingham, looking with

surprise at the scarlet little figure before him. "MI profess I

have never seen the like since my days of vanity, in old King

James's time, when I was








wont to esteem it a high favour to be admitted to a court mask!

There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions in holiday

time, and we called them children of the Lord of Misrule. But

how gat such a guest into my hall?"


"Ay, indeed!" cried good old Mr. Wilson. "What little bird of

scarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such

figures when the sun has been shining through a richly painted

window, and tracing out the golden and crimson images across the

floor. But that was in the old land. Prithee, young one, who

art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this

strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child -- ha? Dost know

thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies

whom we thought to have left behind us, with other relics of

Papistry, in merry old England?"


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

is Pearl!"


"Pearl? -- Ruby, rather -- or Coral! -- or Red Rose, at the

very least, judging from thy hue!" responded the old minister,

putting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on

the cheek. "But where is this mother of thine? Ah! I see," he

added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, "This is

the selfsame child of whom we have held speech together; and

behold here the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!"


"Sayest thou so?" cried the Governor. "Nay, we might have judged

that such a child's mother must needs be a scarlet woman, and a

worthy type of her of Babylon! But she comes at a good time, and

we will look into this matter forthwith. "








Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hall,

followed by his three guests.


"Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern regard on

the wearer of the scarlet letter, "there hath been much question

concerning thee of late. The point hath been weightily

discussed, whether we, that are of authority and influence, do

well discharge our consciences by trusting an immortal soul, such

as there is in yonder child, to the guidance of one who hath

stumbled and fallen amid the pitfalls of this world. Speak thou,

the child's own mother! Were it not, thinkest thou, for thy

little one's temporal and eternal welfare that she be taken out

of thy charge, and clad soberly, and disciplined strictly, and

instructed in the truths of heaven and earth? What canst thou do

for the child in this kind?"


"I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!"

answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token.


"Woman, it is thy badge of shame!" replied the stern magistrate.

"It is because of the stain which that letter indicates that we

would transfer thy child to other hands. "


"Nevertheless," said the mother, calmly, though growing more

pale, "this badge hath taught me -- it daily teaches me -- it is

teaching me at this moment -- lessons whereof my child may be

the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself. "


"We will judge warily," said Bellingham, "and look well what we

are about to do. Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this

Pearl -- since that is her name -- and see whether she hath had

such Christian nurture as befits a child of her age. "








The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair and made an

effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child,

unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but her mother,

escaped through the open window, and stood on the upper step,

looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumage, ready to take

flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished

at this outbreak -- for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage,

and usually a vast favourite with children -- essayed, however,

to proceed with the examination.


"Pearl," said he, with great solemnity, "thou must take heed to

instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy

bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child,

who made thee?"


Now Pearl knew well enough who made her, for Hester Prynne, the

daughter of a pious home, very soon after her talk with the child

about her Heavenly Father, had begun to inform her of those

truths which the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity,

imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore -- so large

were the attainments of her three years' lifetime -- could have

borne a fair examination in the New England Primer, or the first

column of the Westminster Catechisms, although unacquainted with

the outward form of either of those celebrated works. But that

perversity, which all children have more or less of, and of which

little Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the most inopportune

moment, took thorough possession of her, and closed her lips, or

impelled her to speak words amiss. After putting her finger in

her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr.









question, the child finally announced that she had not been made

at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild

roses that grew by the prison-door.


This phantasy was probably suggested by the near proximity of the

Governor's red roses, as Pearl stood outside of the window,

together with her recollection of the prison rose-bush, which she

had passed in coming hither.


Old Roger Chillingworth, with a smile on his face, whispered

something in the young clergyman's ear. Hester Prynne looked at

the man of skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the

balance, was startled to perceive what a change had come over his

features -- how much uglier they were, how his dark complexion

seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen --

since the days when she had familiarly known him. She met his

eyes for an instant, but was immediately constrained to give all

her attention to the scene now going forward.


"This is awful!" cried the Governor, slowly recovering from the

astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him. "Here

is a child of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her!

Without question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its

present depravity, and future destiny! Methinks, gentlemen, we

need inquire no further. "


Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly into her arms,

confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce

expression. Alone in the world, cast off by it, and with this

sole treasure to keep her heart alive, she felt that she

possessed in-








defeasible rights against the world, and was ready to defend them

to the death.


"God gave me the child!" cried she. "He gave her in requital of

all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness

-- she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in

life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet

letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a

millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not

take her! I will die first!"


"My poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, "the child

shall be well cared for -- far better than thou canst do for it.



"God gave her into my keeping!" repeated Hester Prynne, raising

her voice almost to a shriek. "I will not give her up!" And here

by a sudden impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr.

Dimmesdale, at whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so

much as once to direct her eyes. "Speak thou for me!" cried she.

"Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me

better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for

me! Thou knowest -- for thou hast sympathies which these men

lack -- thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's

rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has

but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will

not lose the child! Look to it!"


At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated that Hester

Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less than madness,

the young minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his

hand over his heart, as was his custom whenever his peculiarly








nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. He looked now

more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene

of Hester's public ignominy; and whether it were his failing

health, or whatever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a

world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.


"There is truth in what she says," began the minister, with a

voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall

re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it -- "truth in what

Hester says, and in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her

the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its

nature and requirements -- both seemingly so peculiar -- which no

other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there not a

quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother

and this child?"


"Ay -- how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?" interrupted the

Governor. "Make that plain, I pray you!"


"It must be even so," resumed the minister. "For, if we deem it

otherwise, do we not hereby say that the Heavenly Father, the

creator of all flesh, hath lightly recognised a deed of sin, and

made of no account the distinction between unhallowed lust and

holy love? This child of its father's guilt and its mother's

shame has come from the hand of God, to work in many ways upon

her heart, who pleads so earnestly and with such bitterness of

spirit the right to keep her. It was meant for a blessing -- for

the one blessing of her life! It was meant, doubtless, the

mother herself hath told us, for a retribution, too;








a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment; a pang, a

sting, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy!

Hath she not expressed this thought in the garb of the poor

child, so forcibly reminding us of that red symbol which sears

her bosom?"


"Well said again!" cried good Mr. Wilson. "l feared the woman

had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"


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

recognises, believe me, the solemn miracle which God hath wrought

in the existence of that child. And may she feel, too -- what,

methinks, is the very truth -- that this boon was meant, above

all things else, to keep the mother's soul alive, and to preserve

her from blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have

sought to plunge her! Therefore it is good for this poor, sinful

woman, that she hath an infant immortality, a being capable of

eternal joy or sorrow, confided to her care -- to be trained up

by her to righteousness, to remind her, at every moment, of her

fall, but yet to teach her, as if it were by the Creator's sacred

pledge, that, if she bring the child to heaven, the child also

will bring its parents thither! Herein is the sinful mother

happier than the sinful father. For Hester Prynne's sake, then,

and no less for the poor child's sake, let us leave them as

Providence hath seen fit to place them!"


"You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness," said old

Roger Chillingworth, smiling at him.


"And there is a weighty import in what my young brother hath

spoken," added the Rev. Mr. Wilson.








"What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham? Hath he not pleaded

well for the poor woman?"


"Indeed hath he," answered the magistrate; "and hath adduced such

arguments, that we will even leave the matter as it now stands;

so long, at least, as there shall be no further scandal in the

woman. Care must be had nevertheless, to put the child to due

and stated examination in the catechism, at thy hands or Master

Dimmesdale's. Moreover, at a proper season, the tithing-men must

take heed that she go both to school and to meeting. "


The young minister, on ceasing to speak had withdrawn a few steps

from the group, and stood with his face partially concealed in

the heavy folds of the window-curtain; while the shadow of his

figure, which the sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous

with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty

little elf stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the

grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so

tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was

looking on, asked herself -- "Is that my Pearl?" Yet she knew

that there was love in the child's heart, although it mostly

revealed itself in passion, and hardly twice in her lifetime had

been softened by such gentleness as now. The minister -- for,

save the long-sought regards of woman, nothing is sweeter than

these marks of childish preference, accorded spontaneously by a

spiritual instinct, and therefore seeming to imply in us

something truly worthy to be loved -- the minister looked round,

laid his hand on the child's head, hesitated an instant, and then

kissed her brow. Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment

lasted no longer;








she laughed, and went capering down the hall so airily, that old

Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched

the floor.


"The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess," said he

to Mr. Dimmesdale. "She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly



"A strange child!" remarked old Roger Chillingworth. "It is easy

to see the mother's part in her. Would it be beyond a

philosopher's research, think ye, gentlemen, to analyse that

child's nature, and, from it make a mould, to give a shrewd guess

at the father?"


"Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the clue

of profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. "Better to fast and

pray upon it; and still better, it may be, to leave the mystery

as we find it, unless Providence reveal it of its own accord

Thereby, every good Christian man hath a title to show a father's

kindness towards the poor, deserted babe. "


The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester Prynne, with

Pearl, departed from the house. As they descended the steps, it

is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window was thrown open,

and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress

Hibbins, Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister, and the

same who, a few years later, was executed as a witch.


"Hist, hist!" said she, while her ill-omened physiognomy seemed

to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house. "Wilt

thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the

forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester

Prynne should make one. "








"Make my excuse to him, so please you!" answered Hester, with a

triumphant smile. "I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my

little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have

gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black

Man's book too, and that with mine own blood!"


"We shall have thee there anon!" said the witch-lady, frowning,

as she drew back her head.


But here -- if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins

and Hester Prynne to be authentic, and not a parable -- was

already an illustration of the young minister's argument against

sundering the relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of her

frailty. Even thus early had the child saved her from Satan's

















Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth, the reader will

remember, was hidden another name, which its former wearer had

resolved should never more be spoken. It has been related, how,

in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure,

stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from the

perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he hoped to find

embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a type of

sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under all

men's feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public

market-place. For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach

them, and for the companions of her unspotted life, there

remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonour; which would

not fail to be distributed in strict accordance arid proportion

with the intimacy and sacredness of their previous relationship.

Then why -- since the choice was with himself -- should the

individual, whose connexion with the fallen woman had been the

most intimate and sacred of them all, come forward to vindicate

his claim to an inheritance so little desirable? He resolved not

to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Unknown to

all but Hester








Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of her silence, he chose

to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, and, as regarded

his former ties and interest, to vanish out of life as completely

as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean, whither rumour

had long ago consigned him. This purpose once effected, new

interests would immediately spring up, and likewise a new

purpose; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of force enough to

engage the full strength of his faculties.


In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence in the

Puritan town as Roger Chillingworth, without other introduction

than the learning and intelligence of which he possessed more

than a common measure. As his studies, at a previous period of

his life, had made him extensively acquainted with the medical

science of the day, it was as a physician that he presented

himself and as such was cordially received. Skilful men, of the

medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in

the colony. They seldom, it would appear, partook of the

religious zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic.

In their researches into the human frame, it may be that the

higher and more subtle faculties of such men were materialised,

and that they lost the spiritual view of existence amid the

intricacies of that wondrous mechanism, which seemed to involve

art enough to comprise all of life within itself. At all events,

the health of the good town of Boston, so far as medicine had

aught to do with it, had hitherto lain in the guardianship of an

aged deacon and apothecary, whose piety and godly deportment were

stronger testimonials in his favour








than any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma.

The only surgeon was one who combined the occasional exercise of

that noble art with the daily and habitual flourish of a razor.

To such a professional body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant

acquisition. He soon manifested his familiarity with the

ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which

every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and

heterogeneous ingredients, as elaborately compounded as if the

proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian

captivity, moreover, he had gained much knowledge of the

properties of native herbs and roots; nor did he conceal from his

patients that these simple medicines, Nature's boon to the

untutored savage, had quite as large a share of his own

confidence as the European Pharmacopoeia, which so many learned

doctors had spent centuries in elaborating.


This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the

outward forms of a religious life; and early after his arrival,

had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.

The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in

Oxford, was considered by his more fervent admirers as little

less than a heavenly ordained apostle, destined, should he live

and labour for the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds,

for the now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers had

achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. About this

period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently

begun to fail. By those best acquainted with his habits, the

paleness of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by his









earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial

duty, and more than all, to the fasts and vigils of which he made

a frequent practice, in order to keep the grossness of this

earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp.

Some declared, that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die,

it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any

longer trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, with

characteristic humility, avowed his belief that if Providence

should see fit to remove him, it would be because of his own

unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth. With

all this difference of opinion as to the cause of his decline,

there could be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated;

his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain melancholy

prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed, on any slight

alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart

with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain.


Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so imminent the

prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished, all

untimely, when Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town.

His first entry on the scene, few people could tell whence,

dropping down as it were out of the sky or starting from the

nether earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was easily

heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to be a man of

skill; it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of

wild-flowers, and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the

forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was

valueless to common eyes. He was heard to








speak of Sir Kenelm Digby and other famous men -- whose

scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than

supernatural -- as having been his correspondents or associates.

Why, with such rank in the learned world, had he come hither?

What, could he, whose sphere was in great cities, be seeking in

the wilderness? In answer to this query, a rumour gained ground

-- and however absurd, was entertained by some very sensible

people -- that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by

transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German university

bodily through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr.

Dimmesdale's study! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew

that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the

stage-effect of what is called miraculous interposition, were

inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so

opportune arrival.


This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the

physician ever manifested in the young clergyman; he attached

himself to him as a parishioner, and sought to win a friendly

regard and confidence from his naturally reserved sensibility.

He expressed great alarm at his pastor's state of health, but was

anxious to attempt the cure, and, if early undertaken, seemed not

despondent of a favourable result. The elders, the deacons, the

motherly dames, and the young and fair maidens of Mr.

Dimmesdale's flock, were alike importunate that he should make

trial of the physician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale

gently repelled their entreaties.


"I need no medicine," said he.


But how could the young minister say so, when,








with every successive Sabbath, his cheek was paler and thinner,

and his voice more tremulous than before -- when it had now

become a constant habit, rather than a casual gesture, to press

his hand over his heart? Was he weary of his labours? Did he

wish to die? These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr.

Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston, and the deacons of

his church, who, to use their own phrase, "dealt with him," on

the sin of rejecting the aid which Providence so manifestly held

out. He listened in silence, and finally promised to confer with

the physician.


"Were it God's will," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, when, in

fulfilment of this pledge, he requested old Roger Chillingworth's

professional advice, "I could be well content that my labours,

and my sorrows, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end

with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my grave, and

the spiritual go with me to my eternal state, rather than that

you should put your skill to the proof in my behalf. "


"Ah," replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quietness, which,

whether imposed or natural, marked all his deportment, "it is

thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthful men, not

having taken a deep root, give up their hold of life so easily!

And saintly men, who walk with God on earth, would fain be away,

to walk with him on the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem. "


"Nay," rejoined the young minister, putting his hand to his

heart, with a flush of pain flitting over his brow, "were I

worthier to walk there, I could be better content to toil here. "








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



In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the

medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the

disease interested the physician, but he was strongly moved to

look into the character and qualities of the patient, these two

men, so different in age, came gradually to spend much time

together. For the sake of the minister's health, and to enable

the leech to gather plants with healing balm in them, they took

long walks on the sea-shore, or in the forest; mingling various

walks with the splash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn

wind-anthem among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was the

guest of the other in his place of study and retirement There was

a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of

science, in whom he recognised an intellectual cultivation of no

moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of

ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the members of

his own profession. In truth, he was startled, if not shocked,

to find this attribute in the physician. Mr. Dimmesdale was a

true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment

largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself

powerfully along the track of a creed, and wore its passage

continually deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of

society would he have been what is called a man of liberal views;

it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of

a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him within its

iron framework. Not the less, however, though with a tremulous









did he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe

through the medium of another kind of intellect than those with

which he habitually held converse. It was as if a window were

thrown open, admitting a freer atmosphere into the close and

stifled study, where his life was wasting itself away, amid

lamp-light, or obstructed day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be

it sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the air was

too fresh and chill to be long breathed with comfort. So the

minister, and the physician with him, withdrew again within the

limits of what their Church defined as orthodox.


Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefully, both

as he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping an accustomed pathway

in the range of thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when

thrown amidst other moral scenery, the novelty of which might

call out something new to the surface of his character. He

deemed it essential, it would seem, to know the man, before

attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a heart and an

intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the

peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and

imagination were so active, and sensibility so intense, that the

bodily infirmity would be likely to have its groundwork there.

So Roger Chillingworth -- the man of skill, the kind and friendly

physician -- strove to go deep into his patient's bosom, delving

among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing

everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a

dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has

opportunity and licence to undertake such a








quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with a secret

should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the

latter possess native sagacity, and a nameless something more let

us call it intuition; if he show no intrusive egotism, nor

disagreeable prominent characteristics of his own; if he have the

power, which must be born with him, to bring his mind into such

affinity with his patient's, that this last shall unawares have

spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought if such

revelations be received without tumult, and acknowledged not so

often by an uttered sympathy as by silence, an inarticulate

breath, and here and there a word to indicate that all is

understood; if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined

the advantages afforded by his recognised character as a

physician; -- then, at some inevitable moment, will the soul of

the sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a dark but

transparent stream, bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.



Roger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the attributes

above enumerated. Nevertheless, time went on; a kind of

intimacy, as we have said, grew up between these two cultivated

minds, which had as wide a field as the whole sphere of human

thought and study to meet upon; they discussed every topic of

ethics and religion, of public affairs, and private character;

they talked much, on both sides, of matters that seemed personal

to themselves; and yet no secret, such as the physician fancied

must exist there, ever stole out of the minister's consciousness

into his companion's ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed,

that even the nature of Mr.








Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly been revealed to

him. It was a strange reserve!


After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of

Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were

lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow of the

minister's life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and

attached physician. There was much joy throughout the town when

this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held to be

the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare;

unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorised to do

so, he had selected some one of the many blooming damsels,

spiritually devoted to him, to become his devoted wife. This

latter step, however, there was no present prospect that Arthur

Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all

suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy were one of his

articles of Church discipline. Doomed by his own choice,

therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his

unsavoury morsel always at another's board, and endure the

life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself

only at another's fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious,

experienced, benevolent old physician, with his concord of

paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, was the very

man, of all mankind, to be constantly within reach of his voice.


The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widow, of good

social rank, who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the site

on which the venerable structure of King's Chapel has since been

built. It the graveyard, originally Isaac Johnson's home-








field, on one side, and so was well adapted to call up serious

reflections, suited to their respective employments, in both

minister and man of physic. The motherly care of the good widow

assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny

exposure, and heavy window-curtains, to create a noontide shadow

when desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to

be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the

Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet,

in colours still unfaded, but which made the fair woman of the

scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.

Here the pale clergyman piled up his library, rich with

parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore of Rabbis,

and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant divines, even

while they vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet

constrained often to avail themselves. On the other side of the

house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory:

not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably

complete, but provided with a distilling apparatus and the means

of compounding drugs and chemicals, which the practised alchemist

knew well how to turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of

situation, these two learned persons sat themselves down, each in

his own domain, yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the

other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious inspection into

one another's business.


And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friends, as

we have intimated, very








reasonably imagined that the hand of Providence had done all this

for the purpose -- besought in so many public and domestic and

secret prayers -- of restoring the young minister to health.

But, it must now be said, another portion of the community had

latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr.

Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician. When an

uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is

exceedingly apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its

judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and

warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often so profound

and so unerring as to possess the character of truth

supernaturally revealed. The people, in the case of which we

speak, could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by

no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There was an

aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a citizen of London

at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murder, now some thirty

years agone; he testified to having seen the physician, under

some other name, which the narrator of the story had now

forgotten, in company with Dr. Forman, the famous old conjurer,

who was implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three

individuals hinted that the man of skill, during his Indian

captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the

incantations of the savage priests, who were universally

acknowledged to be powerful enchanters, often performing

seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art. A

large number -- and many of these were persons of such sober

sense and practical observation that their opinions would have








been valuable in other matters -- affirmed that Roger

Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he

had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr.

Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative,

scholar-like. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face,

which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the

more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him.

According to the vulgar idea, the fire in his laboratory had been

brought from the lower regions, and was fed with infernal fuel;

and so, as might be expected, his visage was getting sooty with

the smoke.


To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion

that the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of

special sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted

either by Satan himself or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old

Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine

permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman's

intimacy, and plot against his soul. No sensible man, it was

confessed, could doubt on which side the victory would turn. The

people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come

forth out of the conflict transfigured with the glory which he

would unquestionably win. Meanwhile, nevertheless, it was sad to

think of the perchance mortal agony through which he must

struggle towards his triumph.


Alas! to judge from the gloom and terror in the depth of the

poor minister's eyes, the battle was a sore one, and the victory

anything but secure.
















Old Roger Chillingworth, throughout life, had been calm in

temperament, kindly, though not of warm affections, but ever, and

in all his relations with the world, a pure and upright man. He

had begun an investigation, as he imagined, with the severe and

equal integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if

the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines and

figures of a geometrical problem, instead of human passions, and

wrongs inflicted on himself. But, as he proceeded, a terrible

fascination, a kind of fierce, though still calm, necessity,

seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again

until he had done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor

clergyman's heart, like a miner searching for gold; or, rather,

like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel

that had been buried on the dead man's bosom, but likely to find

nothing save mortality and corruption. Alas, for his own soul,

if these were what he sought!


Sometimes a light glimmered out of the physician's eyes, burning

blue and ominous, like the reflection of a furnace, or, let us

say, like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from

Bunyan's awful doorway in the hillside, and quivered on the









face. The soil where this dark miner was working bad perchance

shown indications that encouraged him.


"This man," said he, at one such moment, to himself, "pure as

they deem him -- all spiritual as he seems -- hath inherited a

strong animal nature from his father or his mother. Let us dig a

little further in the direction of this vein!"


Then after long search into the minister's dim interior, and

turning over many precious materials, in the shape of high

aspirations for the welfare of his race, warm love of souls, pure

sentiments, natural piety, strengthened by thought and study, and

illuminated by revelation -- all of which invaluable gold was

perhaps no better than rubbish to the seeker -- he would turn

back, discouraged, and begin his quest towards another point. He

groped along as stealthily, with as cautious a tread, and as wary

an outlook, as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only

half asleep -- or, it may be, broad awake -- with purpose to

steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his

eye. In spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would

now and then creak; his garments would rustle; the shadow of his

presence, in a forbidden proximity, would be thrown across his

victim. In other words, Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of

nerve often produced the effect of spiritual intuition, would

become vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace had

thrust itself into relation with him. But Old Roger

Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were almost intuitive;

and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards him, there

the physician sat; his kind, watchful, sympathising,


but never intrusive friend.








Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual's

character more perfectly, if a certain morbidness, to which sick

hearts are liable, had not rendered him suspicious of all

mankind. Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize

his enemy when the latter actually appeared. He therefore still

kept up a familiar intercourse with him, daily receiving he old

physician in his study, or visiting the laboratory, and, for

recreation's sake, watching the processes by which weeds were

converted into drugs of potency.


One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on the

sill of the open window, that looked towards the grave-yard, he

talked with Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was examining

a bundle of unsightly plants.


"Where," asked he, with a look askance at them -- for it was the

clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, now-a-days, looked

straight forth at any object, whether human or inanimate" where,

my kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, with such a dark,

flabby leaf?"


"Even in the graveyard here at hand," answered the physician,

continuing his employment. "They are new to me. I found them

growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, no other memorial of

the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon

themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his

heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried

with him, and which he had done better to confess during his

lifetime. "


"Perchance," said Mr. Dimmesdale, "he earnestly desired it, but

could not. "


"And wherefore?" rejoined the physician.








"Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly

for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up

out of a buried heart, to make manifest, an outspoken crime?"


"That, good sir, is but a phantasy of yours," replied the

minister. "There can be, if I forbode aright, no power, short of

the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by

type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried in the human

heart. The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must

perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be

revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ, as to

understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds, then

to be made, is intended as a part of the retribution. That,

surely, were a shallow view of it. No; these revelations, unless

I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual

satisfaction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting,

on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made plain. A

knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the completest

solution of that problem. And, I conceive moreover, that the

hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of, will yield

them up, at that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy

unutterable. "


"Then why not reveal it here?" asked Roger Chillingworth,

glancing quietly aside at the minister. "Why should not the

guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"


"They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping hard at his breast,

as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. "Many, many a

poor soul hath given its confidence to me, not only on the

death-bed, but while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And









after such an outpouring, oh, what a relief have I witnessed in

those sinful brethren! even as in one who at last draws free

air, after a long stifling with his own polluted breath. How can

it be otherwise? Why should a wretched man -- guilty, we will

say, of murder -- prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his

own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, and let the

universe take care of it!"


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



"True; there are such men," answered Mr. Dimmesdale. "But not

to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept

silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or -- can we

not suppose it? -- guilty as they may be, retaining,

nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, they

shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of

men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no

evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own

unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures,

looking pure as new-fallen snow, while their hearts are all

speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid

themselves. "


"These men deceive themselves," said Roger Chillingworth, with

somewhat more emphasis than usual, and making a slight gesture

with his forefinger. "They fear to take up the shame that

rightfully belongs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for

God's service -- these holy impulses may or may not coexist in

their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has

unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate a hellish breed

within them. But, if








they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their

unclean hands! If they would serve their fellowmen, let them do

it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience, in

constraining them to penitential self-abasement! Would thou have

me to believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be

better -- can be more for God's glory, or man' welfare -- than

God's own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves!"


"It may be so," said the young clergyman, indifferently, as

waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or

unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from

any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous

temperament. -- "But, now, I would ask of my well-skilled

physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to have profited

by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?"


Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard the clear,

wild laughter of a young child's voice, proceeding from the

adjacent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open

window -- for it was summer-time -- the minister beheld Hester

Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed

the enclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but was in

one of those moods of perverse merriment which, whenever they

occurred, seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of

sympathy or human contact. She now skipped irreverently from one

grave to another; until coming to the broad, flat, armorial

tombstone of a departed worthy -- perhaps of Isaac Johnson

himself -- she began to dance upon it. In reply to her mother's

command and entreaty that she would behave more decorously,

little Pearl paused








gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock which grew beside

the tomb. Taking a handful of these, she arranged them along the

lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the maternal bosom, to

which the burrs, as their nature was, tenaciously adhered.

Hester did not pluck them off.


Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window and

smiled grimly down.


"There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for

human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that

child's composition," remarked he, as much to himself as to his

companion. "I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor

himself with water at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. What, in

heaven's name, is she? Is the imp altogether evil? Hath she

affections? Hath she any discoverable principle of being?"


"None, save the freedom of a broken law," answered Mr.

Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had been discussing the

point within himself, "Whether capable of good, I know not. "


The child probably overheard their voices, for, looking up to the

window with a bright, but naughty smile of mirth and

intelligence, she threw one of the prickly burrs at the Rev. Mr.

Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman shrank, with nervous dread,

from the light missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl clapped her

little hands in the most extravagant ecstacy. Hester Prynne,

likewise, had involuntarily looked up, and all these four

persons, old and young, regarded one another in silence, till the

child laughed aloud, and shouted -- "Come away, mother! Come

away, or yonder old black man will catch you! He hath got








hold of the minister already. Come away, mother or he will catch

you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!"


So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing, and frisking

fantastically among the hillocks of the dead people, like a

creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buried

generation, nor owned herself akin to it. It was as if she had

been made afresh out of new elements, and must perforce be

permitted to live her own life, and be a law unto herself without

her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.


"There goes a woman," resumed Roger Chillingworth, after a pause,

"who, be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mystery of

hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is

Hester Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet

letter on her breast?"


"I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. "Nevertheless,

I cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face

which I would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still,

methinks, it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to

show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it up

in his heart. "


There was another pause, and the physician began anew to examine

and arrange the plants which he had gathered.


"You inquired of me, a little time agone," said he, at length,

"my judgment as touching your health. "


"I did," answered the clergyman, "and would gladly learn it.

Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or death. "








"Freely then, and plainly," said the physician, still busy with

his plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr. Dimmesdale, "the

disorder is a strange one; not so much in itself nor as outwardly

manifested, -- in so far, at least as the symptoms have been laid

open to my observation. Looking daily at you, my good sir, and

watching the tokens of your aspect now for months gone by, I

should deem you a man sore sick, it may be, yet not so sick but

that an instructed and watchful physician might well hope to cure

you. But I know not what to say, the disease is what I seem to

know, yet know it not. "


"You speak in riddles, learned sir," said the pale minister,

glancing aside out of the window.


"Then, to speak more plainly," continued the physician, "and I

crave pardon, sir, should it seem to require pardon, for this

needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask as your friend, as

one having charge, under Providence, of your life and physical

well being, hath all the operations of this disorder been fairly

laid open and recounted to me?"


"How can you question it?" asked the minister. "Surely it were

child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"


"You would tell me, then, that I know all?" said Roger

Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, bright with

intense and concentrated intelligence, on the minister's face.

"Be it so! But again! He to whom only the outward and physical

evil is laid open, knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which

he is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we look upon

as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a

symptom of some ailment in the spiritual








part. Your pardon once again, good sir, if my speech give the

shadow of offence. You, sir, of all men whom I have known, are

he whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued, and

identified, so to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the

instrument. "


"Then I need ask no further," said the clergyman, somewhat

hastily rising from his chair. "You deal not, I take it, in

medicine for the soul!"


"Thus, a sickness," continued Roger Chillingworth, going on, in

an unaltered tone, without heeding the interruption, but standing

up and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked minister, with

his low, dark, and misshapen figure, -- "a sickness, a sore

place, if we may so call it, in your spirit hath immediately its

appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame. Would you,

therefore, that your physician heal the bodily evil? How may

this be unless you first lay open to him the wound or trouble in

your soul?"


"No, not to thee! not to an earthly physician!" cried Mr.

Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning his eyes, full and bright,

and with a kind of fierceness, on old Roger Chillingworth. "Not

to thee! But, if it be the soul's disease, then do I commit

myself to the one Physician of the soul! He, if it stand with

His good pleasure, can cure, or he can kill. Let Him do with me

as, in His justice and wisdom, He shall see good. But who art

thou, that meddlest in this matter? that dares thrust himself

between the sufferer and his God?"


With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.


"It is as well to have made this step," said Roger Chillingworth

to himself, looking after the minister, with a grave smile.

"There is nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But

see, now, how passion








takes hold upon this man, and hurrieth him out of himself! As

with one passion so with another. He hath done a wild thing ere

now, this pious Master Dimmesdale, in the hot passion of his

heart. "


It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two

companions, on the same footing and in the same degree as

heretofore. The young clergyman, after a few hours of privacy,

was sensible that the disorder of his nerves had hurried him into

an unseemly outbreak of temper, which there had been nothing in

the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He marvelled,

indeed, at the violence with which he had thrust back the kind

old man, when merely proffering the advice which it was his duty

to bestow, and which the minister himself had expressly sought.

With these remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making the

amplest apologies, and besought his friend still to continue the

care which, if not successful in restoring him to health, had, in

all probability, been the means of prolonging his feeble

existence to that hour. Roger Chillingworth readily assented,

and went on with his medical supervision of the minister; doing

his best for him, in all good faith, but always quitting the

patient's apartment, at the close of the professional interview,

with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This

expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence, but grew

strongly evident as the physician crossed the threshold.


"A rare case," he muttered. "I must needs look deeper into it.

A strange sympathy betwixt soul and body! Were it only for the

art's sake, I must search this matter to the bottom. "


It came to pass, not long after the scene above








recorded, that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, noon-day, and

entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep slumber, sitting in his

chair, with a large black-letter volume open before him on the

table. It must have been a work of vast ability in the

somniferous school of literature. The profound depth of the

minister's repose was the more remarkable, inasmuch as he was one

of those persons whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful,

and as easily scared away, as a small bird hopping on a twig. To

such an unwonted remoteness, however, had his spirit now

withdrawn into itself that he stirred not in his chair when old

Roger Chillingworth, without any extraordinary precaution, came

into the room. The physician advanced directly in front of his

patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the

vestment, that hitherto had always covered it even from the

professional eye.


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


After a brief pause, the physician turned away.


But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and honor! With what a

ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to be expressed only by

the eye and features, and therefore bursting forth through the

whole ugliness of his figure, and making itself even riotously

manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up his

arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon the floor!

Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his

ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports

himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won

into his kingdom.


But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was

the trait of wonder in it!
















After the incident last described, the intercourse between the

clergyman and the physician, though externally the same, was

really of another character than it had previously been. The

intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain

path before it. It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had

laid out for himself to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he

appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice,

hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man,

which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal

had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To make himself the one trusted

friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, the

agony, the ineffectual repentance, the backward rush of sinful

thoughts, expelled in vain! All that guilty sorrow, hidden from

the world, whose great heart would have pitied and forgiven, to

be revealed to him, the Pitiless -- to him, the Unforgiving! All

that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man, to whom

nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance!


The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme

Roger Chillingworth, however,








was inclined to be hardly, if at all, less satisfied with the

aspect of affairs, which Providence -- using the avenger and his

victim for its own purposes, and, perchance, pardoning, where it

seemed most to punish -- had substituted for his black devices A

revelation, he could almost say, had been granted to him. It

mattered little for his object, whether celestial or from what

other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations

betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the external

presence, but the very inmost soul of the latter, seemed to be

brought out before his eyes, so that he could see and comprehend

its every movement. He became, thenceforth, not a spectator

only, but a chief actor in the poor minister's interior world.

He could play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him with a

throb of agony? The victim was for ever on the rack; it needed

only to know the spring that controlled the engine: and the

physician knew it well. Would he startle him with sudden fear?

As at the waving of a magician's wand, up rose a grisly phantom

-- up rose a thousand phantoms -- in many shapes, of death, or

more awful shame, all flocking round about the clergyman, and

pointing with their fingers at his breast!


All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, that the

minister, though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil

influence watching over him, could never gain a knowledge of its

actual nature. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully -- even, at

times, with horror and the bitterness of hatred -- at the

deformed figure of the old physician. His gestures, his gait,

his grizzled beard, his slightest and








most indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were

odious in the clergyman's sight; a token implicitly to be relied

on of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was

willing to acknowledge to himself. For, as it was impossible to

assign a reason for such distrust and abhorrence, so Mr.

Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was

infecting his heart's entire substance, attributed all his

presentiments to no other cause. He took himself to task for his

bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworth, disregarded

the lesson that he should have drawn from them, and did his best

to root them out. Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as

a matter of principle, continued his habits of social familiarity

with the old man, and thus gave him constant opportunities for

perfecting the purpose to which -- poor forlorn creature that he

was, and more wretched than his victim -- the avenger had devoted



While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and

tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the

machinations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale

had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won

it indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual

gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and

communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural

activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. His fame,

though still on its upward slope, already overshadowed the

soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen, eminent as several

of them were. There are scholars among them, who had spent more








years in acquiring abstruse lore, connected with the divine

profession, than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived; and who might well,

therefore, be more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable

attainments than their youthful brother. There were men, too, of

a sturdier texture of mind than his, and endowed with a far

greater share of shrewd, hard iron, or granite understanding;

which, duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal

ingredient, constitutes a highly respectable, efficacious, and

unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were others

again, true saintly fathers, whose faculties had been elaborated

by weary toil among their books, and by patient thought, and

etherealised, moreover, by spiritual communications with the

better world, into which their purity of life had almost

introduced these holy personages, with their garments of

mortality still clinging to them. All that they lacked was, the

gift that descended upon the chosen disciples at Pentecost, in

tongues of flame; symbolising, it would seem, not the power of

speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing

the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language.

These fathers, otherwise so apostolic, lacked Heaven's last and

rarest attestation of their office, the Tongue of Flame. They

would have vainly sought -- had they ever dreamed of seeking --

to express the highest truths through the humblest medium of

familiar words and images. Their voices came down, afar and

indistinctly, from the upper heights where they habitually dwelt.



Not improbably, it was to this latter class of ms that Mr.

Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of








character, naturally belonged. To the high mountain peaks of

faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the tendency

been thwarted by the burden, whatever it might be, of crime or

anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept him

down on a level with the lowest; him, the man of ethereal

attributes, whose voice the angels might else have listened to

and answered! But this very burden it was that gave him

sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind; so

that his heart vibrated in unison with theirs, and received their

pain into itself and sent its own throb of pain through a

thousand other hearts, in gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence.

Oftenest persuasive, but sometimes terrible! The people knew not

the power that moved them thus. They deemed the young clergyman

a miracle of holiness. They fancied him the mouth-piece of

Heaven's messages of wisdom, and rebuke, and love. In their

eyes, the very ground on which he trod was sanctified. The

virgins of his church grew pale around him, victims of a passion

so imbued with religious sentiment, that they imagined it to be

all religion, and brought it openly, in their white bosoms, as

their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The aged

members of his flock, beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so

feeble, while they were themselves so rugged in their infirmity,

believed that he would go heavenward before them, and enjoined it

upon their children that their old bones should be buried close

to their young pastor's holy grave. And all this time,

perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave,

he questioned with himself whether the grass








would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be



It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration

tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and

to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or

value, that had not its divine essence as the life within their

life. Then what was he? -- a substance? -- or the dimmest of

all shadows? He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the

full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. "I,

whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood -- I,

who ascend the sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward,

taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most

High Omniscience -- I, in whose daily life you discern the

sanctity of Enoch -- I, whose footsteps, as you suppose, leave a

gleam along my earthly track, whereby the Pilgrims that shall

come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest -- I, who

have laid the hand of baptism upon your children -- I, who have

breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends, to whom the

Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted -- I,

your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a

pollution and a lie!"


More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit, with a

purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken

words like the above. More than once he had cleared his throat,

and drawn in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when

sent forth again, would come burdened with the black secret of

his soul. More than once -- nay, more than a hundred times -- he

had actually








spoken! Spoken! But how? He had told his hearers that he was

altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of

sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity, and

that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body

shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the

Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not

the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse,

and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so,

indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more.

They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those

self-condemning words. "The godly youth!" said they among

themselves. "The saint on earth! Alas! if he discern such

sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he

behold in thine or mine!" The minister well knew -- subtle, but

remorseful hypocrite that he was! -- the light in which his

vague confession would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat

upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had

gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without

the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the

very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And

yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and

loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all

things else, he loathed his miserable self!


His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with

the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of

the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr.

Dimmesdale's secret closet, under lock and key, there was a









scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had

plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the

while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that

bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of

many other pious Puritans, to fast -- not however, like them, in

order to purify the body, and render it the fitter medium of

celestial illumination -- but rigorously, and until his knees

trembled beneath him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils,

likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness,

sometimes with a glimmering lamp, and sometimes, viewing his own

face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he

could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection

wherewith he tortured, but could not purify himself. In these

lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to

flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of

their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly

and close beside him, within the looking-glass. Now it was a

herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale

minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining

angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more

ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of his youth,

and his white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his

mother turning her face away as she passed by Ghost of a mother

-- thinnest fantasy of a mother -- methinks she might yet have

thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And now, through the

chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided

Hester Prynne leading along little








Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at

the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman's own



None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by

an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their

misty lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not

solid in their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that

big, square, leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity.

But, for all that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most

substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is

the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his, that it steals

the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around

us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and

nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false -- it

is impalpable -- it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he

himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a

shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that

continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth

was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled

expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to

smile, and wear a face of gaiety, there would have been no such



On one of those ugly nights, which we have faintly hinted at, but

forborne to picture forth, the minister started from his chair.

A new thought had struck him. There might be a moment's peace in

it. Attiring himself with as much care as if it had been for

public worship, and precisely in the same manner, he stole softly

down the staircase, undid the door, and issued forth.
















Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and perhaps

actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism, Mr.

Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so long since, Hester

Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy. The

same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the

storm or sunshine of seven long years, and foot-worn, too, with

the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it, remained

standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house. The minister

went up the steps.


It was an obscure night in early May. An unwearied pall of cloud

muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon. If the

same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester

Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned

forth, they would have discerned no face above the platform nor

hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark grey of the

midnight. But the town was all asleep. There was no peril of

discovery. The minister might stand there, if it so pleased him,

until morning should redden in the east, without other risk than

that the dank and chill night air would creep into his frame, and

stiffen his joints








with rheumatism, and clog his throat with catarrh and cough;

thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's prayer

and sermon. No eye could see him, save that ever-wakeful one

which had seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge.

Why, then, had he come hither? Was it but the mockery of

penitence? A mockery, indeed, but in which his soul trifled with

itself! A mockery at which angels blushed and wept, while fiends

rejoiced with jeering laughter! He had been driven hither by the

impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere, and whose

own sister and closely linked companion was that Cowardice which

invariably drew him back, with her tremulous gripe, just when the

other impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure.

Poor, miserable man! what right had infirmity like his to burden

itself with crime? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their

choice either to endure it, or, if it press too hard, to exert

their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, and fling it

off at once! This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do

neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which

intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of

heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance.


And thus, while standing on the scaffold, in this vain show of

expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of

mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his

naked breast, right over his heart. On that spot, in very truth,

there was, and there had long been, the gnawing and poisonous

tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of his will, or power

to restrain himself, he shrieked








aloud: an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was

beaten back from one house to another, and reverberated from the

hills in the background; as if a company of devils, detecting so

much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound,

and were bandying it to and fro.


"It is done!" muttered the minister, covering his face with his

hands. "The whole town will awake and hurry forth, and find me



But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far

greater power, to his own startled ears, than it actually

possessed. The town did not awake; or, if it did, the drowsy

slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a

dream, or for the noise of witches, whose voices, at that period,

were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages,

as they rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman,

therefore, hearing no symptoms of disturbance, uncovered his eyes

and looked about him. At one of the chamber-windows of Governor

Bellingham's mansion, which stood at some distance, on the line

of another street, he beheld the appearance of the old magistrate

himself with a lamp in his hand a white night-cap on his head,

and a long white gown enveloping his figure. He looked like a

ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had evidently

startled him. At another window of the same house, moreover

appeared old Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, also with a

lamp, which even thus far off revealed the expression of her sour

and discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the

lattice, and looked anxiously upward Beyond the shadow of a

doubt, this venerable








witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and interpreted

it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as the

clamour of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well

known to make excursions in the forest.


Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lamp, the old lady

quickly extinguished her own, and vanished. Possibly, she went

up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further of her

motions. The magistrate, after a wary observation of the

darkness -- into which, nevertheless, he could see but little

further than he might into a mill-stone -- retired from the



The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, however, were

soon greeted by a little glimmering light, which, at first a long

way off was approaching up the street. It threw a gleam of

recognition, on here a post, and there a garden fence, and here a

latticed window-pane, and there a pump, with its full trough of

water, and here again an arched door of oak, with an iron

knocker, and a rough log for the door-step. The Reverend Mr.

Dimmesdale noted all these minute particulars, even while firmly

convinced that the doom of his existence was stealing onward, in

the footsteps which he now heard; and that the gleam of the

lantern would fall upon him in a few moments more, and reveal his

long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearer, be beheld, within

its illuminated circle, his brother clergyman -- or, to speak

more accurately, his professional father, as well as highly

valued friend -- the Reverend Mr. Wilson, who, as Mr. Dimmesdale

now conjectured, had been praying at the bedside of








some dying man. And so he had. The good old minister came

freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthrop, who had

passed from earth to heaven within that very hour. And now

surrounded, like the saint-like personage of olden times, with a

radiant halo, that glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin --

as if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his

glory, or as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of

the celestial city, while looking thitherward to see the

triumphant pilgrim pass within its gates -- now, in short, good

Father Wilson was moving homeward, aiding his footsteps with a

lighted lantern! The glimmer of this luminary suggested the

above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdale, who smiled -- nay, almost

laughed at them -- and then wondered if he was gag mad.


As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffold, closely

muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one arm, and holding the

lantern before his breast with the other, the minister could

hardly restrain himself from speaking --


"A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson. Come up hither,

I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!"


Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one

instant he believed that these words had passed his lips. But

they were uttered only within his imagination. The venerable

Father Wilson continued to step slowly onward, looking carefully

at the muddy pathway before his feet, and never once turning his

head towards the guilty platform. When the light of the

glimmering lantern had faded quite away, the minister discovered,

by the








faintness which came over him, that the last few moments had been

a crisis of terrible anxiety, although his mind had made an

involuntary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid



Shortly afterwards, the like grisly sense of the humorous again

stole in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He felt his

limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the

night, and doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps

of the scaffold. Morning would break and find him there The

neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest riser,

coming forth in the dim twilight, would perceive a

vaguely-defined figure aloft on the place of shame; and

half-crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, would go knocking from

door to door, summoning all the people to behold the ghost -- as

he needs must think it -- of some defunct transgressor. A dusky

tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. Then --

the morning light still waxing stronger -- old patriarchs would

rise up in great haste, each in his flannel gown, and matronly

dames, without pausing to put off their night-gear. The whole

tribe of decorous personages, who had never heretofore been seen

with a single hair of their heads awry, would start into public

view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old

Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth, with his King James'

ruff fastened askew, and Mistress Hibbins, with some twigs of the

forest clinging to her skirts, and looking sourer than ever, as

having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride; and good

Father Wilson too, after spending half the night at a death-bed,

and liking ill to be disturbed, thus early,








out of his dreams about the glorified saints. Hither, likewise,

would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church,

and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had

made a shrine for him in their white bosoms, which now,

by-the-bye, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have

given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All people,

in a word, would come stumbling over their thresholds, and

turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the

scaffold. Whom would they discern there, with the red eastern

light upon his brow? Whom, but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale,

half-frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and standing where

Hester Prynne had stood


Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the

minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a

great peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a

light, airy, childish laugh, in which, with a thrill of the heart

-- but lie knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as

acute -- he recognised the tones of little Pearl.


"Pearl! Little Pearl!" cried he, after a moment's pause; then,

suppressing his voice -- "Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you



"Yes; it is Hester Prynne!" she replied, in a tone of surprise;

and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the

side-walk, along which she had been passing. "It is I, and my

little Pearl. "


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



"I have been watching at a death-bed," answered Hester Prynne "at

Governor Winthrop's death-bed,








and have taken his measure for a robe, and am now going homeward

to my dwelling. "


"Come up hither, Hester, thou and Little Pearl," said the

Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here before, but I

was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand

all three together. "


She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform,

holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the

child's other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so,

there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life

than his own pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying

through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were

communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The

three formed an electric chain.


"Minister!" whispered little Pearl.


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


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

inquired Pearl.


"Nay; not so, my little Pearl," answered the minister; for, with

the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure,

that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon

him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which --

with a strange joy, nevertheless -- he now found himself -- " not

so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee

one other day, but not to-morrow. "


Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the

minister held it fast.


A moment longer, my child!" said he.








"But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, "to take my hand, and

mother's hand, to-morrow noontide?


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


"And what other time?" persisted the child.


"At the great judgment day," whispered the minister; and,

strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of

the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and there,

before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I must stand

together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our



Pearl laughed again.


But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far

and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by

one of those meteors, which the night-watcher may so often

observe burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the

atmosphere So powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly

illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth.

The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It

showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of

mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to

familiar objects by an unaccustomed light The wooden houses, with

their jutting storeys and quaint gable-peaks; the doorsteps and

thresholds with the early grass springing up about them; the

garden-plots, black with freshly-turned earth; the wheel-track,

little worn, and even in the market-place margined with green on

either side -- all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect

that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of

this world








they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with

his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered

letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a

symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in

the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if it were the

light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall

unite all who belong to one another.


There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes; and her face, as she

glanced upward at the minister, wore that naughty smile which

made its expression frequently so elvish. She withdrew her hand

from Mr. Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. But he

clasped both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes towards

the zenith.


Nothing was more common, in those days, than to interpret all

meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena that occured

with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so

many revelations from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing

spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows seen in the

midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to

have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. We doubt

whether any marked event, for good or evil, ever befell New

England, from its settlement down to revolutionary times, of

which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some

spectacle of its nature. Not seldom, it had been seen by

multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested on the

faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld the wonder through

the coloured, magnifying, and distorted medium of his

imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought.









was, indeed, a majestic idea that the destiny of nations should

be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven.

A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence

to write a people's doom upon. The belief was a favourite one

with our forefathers, as betokening that their infant

commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar

intimacy and strictness. But what shall we say, when an

individual discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone, on

the same vast sheet of record. In such a case, it could only be

the symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a man,

rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret

pain, had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature,

until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting

page for his soul's history and fate.


We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his own eye and

heart that the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld

there the appearance of an immense letter -- the letter A --

marked out in lines of dull red light. Not but the meteor may

have shown itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil

of cloud, but with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave

it, or, at least, with so little definiteness, that another's

guilt might have seen another symbol in it.


There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr.

Dimmesdale's psychological state at this moment. All the time

that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless,

perfectly aware that little Pearl was hinting her finger towards

old Roger Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from the

scaffold. The minister appeared to see him, with the same glance








that discerned the miraculous letter. To his feature as to all

other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expression; or

it might well be that the physician was not careful then, as at

all other times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked

upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up the sky,

and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that admonished Hester

Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment, then might Roger

Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing

there with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So vivid was the

expression, or so intense the minister's perception of it, that

it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness after the

meteor had vanished, with an effect as if the street and all

things else were at once annihilated.


"Who is that man, Hester?" gasped Mr. Dimmesdale, overcome with

terror. "I shiver at him! Dost thou know the man? I hate him,



She remembered her oath, and was silent.


"I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!" muttered the minister

again. "Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I

have a nameless horror of the man!"


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


"Quickly, then, child!" said the minister, bending his ear close

to her lips. "Quickly, and as low as thou canst whisper. "


Pearl mumbled something into his ear that sounded, indeed, like

human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be

heard amusing themselves with by the hour together. At all

events, if it involved any secret information in regard to old









Chillingworth, it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite

clergyman, and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind.

The elvish child then laughed aloud.


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


"Thou wast not bold! -- thou wast not true!" answered the child.

"Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and mother's hand,

to-morrow noon-tide!"


"Worthy sir," answered the physician, who had now advanced to the

foot of the platform -- "pious Master Dimmesdale! can this be

you? Well, well, indeed! We men of study, whose heads are in

our books, have need to be straitly looked after! We dream in

our waking moments, and walk in our sleep. Come, good sir, and

my dear friend, I pray you let me lead you home!"


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



"Verily, and in good faith," answered Roger Chillingworth, "I

knew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of the

night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop, doing

what my poor skill might to give him ease. He, going home to a

better world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when this

light shone out. Come with me, I beseech you, Reverend sir, else

you will be poorly able to do Sabbath duty to-morrow. Aha! see

now how they trouble the brain -- these books! -- these books!

You should study less, good sir, and take a little pastime, or

these night whimsies will grow upon you. "


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


With a chill despondency, like one awakening, all nerveless, from

an ugly dream, he yielded himself to the physician, and was led









The next day, however, being the Sabbath, he preached a discourse

which was held to be the richest and most powerful, and the most

replete with heavenly influences, that had ever proceeded from

his lips. Souls, it is said, more souls than one, were brought

to the truth by the efficacy of that sermon, and vowed within

themselves to cherish a holy gratitude towards Mr. Dimmesdale

throughout the long hereafter. But as he came down the pulpit

steps, the grey-bearded sexton met him, holding up a black glove,

which the minister recognised as his own.


"It was found," said the Sexton, "this morning on the scaffold

where evil-doers are set up to public shame. Satan dropped it

there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your

reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and

always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!"


"Thank you, my good friend," said the minister, gravely, but

startled at heart; for so confused was his remembrance, that he

had almost brought himself to look at the events of the past

night as visionary.


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


"And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs

handle him without gloves henceforward," remarked the old sexton,

grimly smiling. "But did your reverence hear of the portent that

was seen last night? a great red letter in the sky -- the letter

A, which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our good

Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was

doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof!"


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
















In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester

Prynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the

clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His

moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It

grovelled helpless on the ground, even while his intellectual

faculties retained their pristine strength, or had perhaps

acquired a morbid energy, which disease only could have given

them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from

all others, she could readily infer that, besides the legitimate

action of his own conscience, a terrible machinery had been

brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's

well-being and repose. Knowing what this poor fallen man had

once been, her whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with

which he had appealed to her -- the outcast woman -- for support

against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided,

moreover, that he had a right to her utmost aid. Little

accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to measure her

ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself,

Hester saw -- or seemed to see -- that there lay a responsibility

upon her in








reference to the clergyman, which she owned to no other, nor to

the whole world besides. The links that united her to the rest

of humankind -- links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever

the material -- had all been broken. Here was the iron link of

mutual crime, which neither he nor she could break. Like all

other ties, it brought along with it its obligations.


Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in

which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy.

Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her

mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its

fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the

townspeople. As is apt to be the case when a person stands out

in any prominence before the community, and, at the same time,

interferes neither with public nor individual interests and

convenience, a species of general regard had ultimately grown up

in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of human

nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play,

it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and

quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the

change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original

feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne there was

neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the

public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she

made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did

not weigh upon its sympathies. Then, also, the blameless purity

of her life during all these years in which she had been set

apart to infamy was reckoned








largely in her favour. With nothing now to lose, in the sight of

mankind, and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining

anything, it could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had

brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.


It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even

the humblest title to share in the world's privileges --

further than to breathe the common air and earn daily bread for

little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands --

she was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man

whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she to

give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even

though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of

the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought

for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's

robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked

through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, whether

general or of individuals, the outcast of society at once found

her place. She came, not as a guest, but as a rightful inmate,

into the household that was darkened by trouble, as if its gloomy

twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold

intercourse with her fellow-creature There glimmered the

embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray. Elsewhere

the token of sin, it was the taper of the sick chamber. It had

even thrown its gleam, in the sufferer's bard extremity, across

the verge of time. It had shown him where to set his foot, while

the light of earth was fast becoming dim, and ere the light of

futurity could reach him. In such emergencies Hester's nature








showed itself warm and rich -- a well-spring of human tenderness,

unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest.

Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow

for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of

Mercy, or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so

ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to

this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such

helpfulness was found in her -- so much power to do, and power to

sympathise -- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A

by its original signification. They said that it meant Abel, so

strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.


It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When

sunshine came again, she was not there. Her shadow had faded

across the threshold. The helpful inmate had departed, without

one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any

were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously.

Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head to receive

their greeting. If they were resolute to accost her, she laid

her finger on the scarlet letter, and passed on. This might be

pride, but was so like humility, that it produced all the

softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind.

The public is despotic in its temper; it is capable of denying

common justice when too strenuously demanded as a right; but

quite as frequently it awards more than justice, when the appeal

is made, as despots love to have it made, entirely to its

generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal

of this nature,








society was inclined to show its former victim a more benign

countenance than she cared to be favoured with, or, perchance,

than she deserved.


The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the community, were

longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities

than the people. The prejudices which they shared in common with

the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of

reasoning, that made it a far tougher labour to expel them. Day

by day, nevertheless, their sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing

into something which, in the due course of years, might grow to

be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men

of rank, on whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship

of the public morals. Individuals in private life, meanwhile,

had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they

had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of

that one sin for which she had borne so long and dreary a

penance, but of her many good deeds since. "Do you see that

woman with the embroidered badge?" they would say to strangers.

"It is our Hester -- the town's own Hester -- who is so kind to

the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the

afflicted!" Then, it is true, the propensity of human nature to

tell the very worst of itself, when embodied in the person of

another, would constrain them to whisper the black scandal of

bygone years. It was none the less a fact, however, that in the

eyes of the very men who spoke thus, the scarlet letter had the

effect of the cross on a nun's bosom It imparted to the wearer a

kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all

peril. Had








she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her sale. It was

reported, and believed by many, that an Indian had drawn his

arrow against the badge, and that the missile struck it, and fell

harmless to the ground.


The effect of the symbol -- or rather, of the position in respect

to society that was indicated by it -- on the mind of Hester

Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar. All the light and

graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this

red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and

harsh outline, which might have been repulsive had she possessed

friends or companions to be repelled by it Even the

attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change. It

might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dress, and

partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. It was a sad

transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had either

been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a

shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. It was

due in part to all these causes, but still more to something

else, that there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester's face

for Love to dwell upon; nothing in Hester's form, though majestic

and statue like, that Passion would ever dream of clasping in its

embrace; nothing in Hester's bosom to make it ever again the

pillow of Affection. Some attribute had departed from her, the

permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such

is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the

feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered,

and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If she be

all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tender-








ness will either be crushed out of her, or -- and the outward

semblance is the same -- crushed so deeply into her heart that it

can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest

theory. She who has once been a woman, and ceased to be so,

might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the

magic touch to effect the transformation. We shall see whether

Hester Prynne were ever afterwards so touched and so



Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be

attributed to the circumstance that her life had turned, in a

great measure, from passion and feeling to thought. Standing

alone in the world -- alone, as to any dependence on society, and

with little Pearl to be guided and protected -- alone, and

hopeless of retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to

consider it desirable -- she cast away the fragment a broken

chain. The world's law was no law for her mind. It was an age

in which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken a more

active and a wider range than for many centuries before. Men of

the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men bolder than these

had overthrown and rearranged -- not actually, but within the

sphere of theory, which was their most real abode -- the whole

system of ancient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient

principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed a

freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of

the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would

have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the

scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottage, by the seashore,

thoughts visited her such as dared to enter no








other dwelling in New England; shadowy guests, that would have

been as perilous as demons to their entertainer, could they have

been seen so much as knocking at her door.


It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often

conform with the most perfect quietude to the external

regulations of society. The thought suffices them, without

investing itself in the flesh and blood of action. So it seemed

to be with Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from

the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. Then she

might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Ann

Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect. She might, in

one of her phases, have been a prophetess. She might, and not

improbably would, have suffered death from the stern tribunals of

the period, for attempting to undermine the foundations of the

Puritan establishment. But, in the education of her child, the

mother's enthusiasm thought had something to wreak itself upon.

Providence, in the person of this little girl, had assigned to

Hester's charge, the germ and blossom of womanhood, to be

cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Everything

was against her. The world was hostile. The child's own nature

had something wrong in it which continually betokened that she

had been born amiss -- the effluence of her mother's lawless

passion -- and often impelled Hester to ask, in bitterness of

heart, whether it were for ill or good that the poor little

creature had been born at all.


Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with

reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth

accepting even to the








happiest among them? As concerned her own individual existence,

she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point

as settled. A tendency to speculation, though it may keep women

quiet, as it does man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may

be, such a hopeless task before her. As a first step, the whole

system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then the

very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit,

which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified

before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and

suitable position. Finally, all other difficulties being

obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary

reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier

change, in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has

her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. A woman never

overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought. They are

not to be solved, or only in one way. If her heart chance to

come uppermost, they vanish. Thus Hester Prynne, whose heart had

lost its regular and healthy throb, wandered without a clue in

the dark labyrinth of mind; now turned aside by an insurmountable

precipice; now starting back from a deep chasm. There was wild

and ghastly scenery all around her, and a home and comfort

nowhere. At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul,

whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven, and

go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.


The scarlet letter had not done its office.


Now, however, her interview with the Reverend








Mr. Dimmesdale, on the night of his vigil, had given her a new

theme of reflection, and held up to her an object that appeared

worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for its attainment. She had

witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister

struggled, or, to speak more accurately, had ceased to struggle.

She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacy, if he had not

already stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt that,

whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of

remorse, a deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand

that proffered relief. A secret enemy had been continually by

his side, under the semblance of a friend and helper, and had

availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering

with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hester

could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a

defect of truth, courage, and loyalty on her own part, in

allowing the minister to be thrown into position where so much

evil was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her

only justification lay in the fact that she had been able to

discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had

overwhelmed herself except by acquiescing in Roger

Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulse she had

made her choice, and had chosen, as it now appeared, the more

wretched alternative of the two. She determined to redeem her

error so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened by years

of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so

inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night,

abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy








that was still new, when they had talked together in the

prison-chamber. She had climbed her way since then to a higher

point. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself

nearer to her level, or, perhaps, below it, by the revenge which

he had stooped for.


In fine, Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former husband, and

do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on

whom he had so evidently set his gripe. The occasion was not

long to seek. One afternoon, walking with Pearl in a retired

part of the peninsula, she beheld the old physician with a basket

on one arm and a staff in the other hand, stooping along the

ground in quest of roots and herbs to concoct his medicine













Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the water, and

play with the shells and tangled sea-weed, until she should have

talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew

away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet went

pattering along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there she

came to a full stop, ad peeped curiously into a pool, left by the

retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth

peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening curls

around her head, and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a

little maid whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take

her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid

on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say -- "This is a

better place; come thou into the pool. " And Pearl, stepping in

mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; while, out

of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary

smile, floating to and fro in the agitated water.


Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician. "I would speak

a word with you," said she -- "a word that concerns us much. "


"Aha! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word








for old Roger Chillingworth?" answered he, raising himself from

his stooping posture. "With all my heart Why, mistress, I hear

good tidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than yester-eve,

a magistrate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of your

affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there had been

question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether

or no, with safety to the commonweal, yonder scarlet letter might

be taken off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my intreaty

to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith. "


"It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off the

badge," calmly replied Hester. "Were I worthy to be quit of it,

it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into

something that should speak a different purport. "


"Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better," rejoined he, "A

woman must needs follow her own fancy touching the adornment of

her person. The letter is gaily embroidered, and shows right

bravely on your bosom!"


All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old man,

and was shocked, as well as wonder-smitten, to discern what a

change had been wrought upon him within the past seven years. It

was not so much that he had grown older; for though the traces of

advancing life were visible he bore his age well, and seemed to

retain a wiry vigour and alertness. But the former aspect of an

intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet, which was what she

best remembered in him, had altogether vanished, and been

succeeded by a eager, searching, almost fierce, yet








carefully guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to

mask this expression with a smile, but the latter played him

false, and flickered over his visage so derisively that the

spectator could see his blackness all the better for it. Ever

and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes,

as if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smouldering

duskily within his breast, until by some casual puff of passion

it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as

speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the

kind had happened.


In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of

man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will

only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office.

This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by

devoting himself for seven years to the constant analysis of a

heart full of torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and

adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analysed and gloated



The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. Here was

another ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to



"What see you in my face," asked the physician, "that you look at

it so earnestly?"


"Something that would make me weep, if there were any tears

bitter enough for it," answered she. "But let it pass! It is of

yonder miserable man that I would speak. "


"And what of him?" cried Roger Chillingworth, eagerly, as if he

loved the topic, and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it

with the only person of whom he could make a confidant. "Not to

hide the








truth, Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be busy

with the gentleman. So speak freely and I will make answer. "


"When we last spake together," said Hester, "now seven years ago,

it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy as touching

the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and

good fame of yonder man were in your hands there seemed no choice

to me, save to be silent in accordance with your behest. Yet it

was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself, for,

having cast off all duty towards other human beings, there

remained a duty towards him, and something whispered me that I

was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since

that day no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his

every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You

search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your

clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living

death, and still he knows you not. In permitting this I have

surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was

left me to be true!"


"What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger,

pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a

dungeon, thence, peradventure, to the gallows!"


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


"What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again.

"I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician

earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have

wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid his








life would have burned away in torments within the first two

years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For,

Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up,

as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. Oh, I

could reveal a goodly secret! But enough. What art can do, I

have exhausted on him. That he now breathes and creeps about on

earth is owing all to me!"


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

thou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the

lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had

he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has

suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has

been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always

upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense -- for

the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this -- he

knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings, and

that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only

evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were

mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he

fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with

frightful dreams and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse and

despair of pardon, as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the

grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence, the

closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged,

and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the

direst revenge! Yea, indeed, he did not err, there was a fiend

at his elbow! A mortal man, with








once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment.



The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his

hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful

shape, which he could not recognise, usurping the place of his

own image in a glass. It was one of those moments -- which

sometimes occur only at the interval of years -- when a man's

moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not

improbably he had never before viewed himself as he did now.


"Hast thou not tortured him enough?" said Hester, noticing the

old man's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"


"No, no! He has but increased the debt!" answered the physician,

and as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics,

and subsided into gloom. "Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I

was nine years agone? Even then I was in the autumn of my days,

nor was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of

earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully

for the increase of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too,

though this latter object was but casual to the other --

faithfully for the advancement of human welfare. No life had

been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with

benefits conferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I not, though

you might deem me cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others,

craving little for himself -- kind, true, just and of constant,

if not warm affections? Was I not all this?"


"All this, and more," said Hester.








"And what am I now?" demanded he, looking into her face, and

permitting the whole evil within him to be written on his

features. "I have already told thee what I am -- a fiend! Who

made me so?"


"It was myself," cried Hester, shuddering. "It was I, not less

than he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"


"I have left thee to the scarlet letter," replied Roger

Chillingworth. "If that has not avenged me, I can do no more!"


He laid his finger on it with a smile.


"It has avenged thee," answered Hester Prynne.


"I judged no less," said the physician. "And now what wouldst

thou with me touching this man?"


"I must reveal the secret," answered Hester, firmly. "He must

discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result I

know not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him,

whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far

as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and

his earthly state, and perchance his life, he is in my hands.

Nor do I -- whom the scarlet letter has disciplined to truth,

though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into the soul --

nor do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life

of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy.

Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him, no good for

me, no good for thee. There is no good for little Pearl. There

is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze. "


"Woman, I could well-nigh pity thee," said Roger Chillingworth,

unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too, for there was a

quality almost majestic in








the despair which she expressed. "Thou hadst great elements.

Peradventure, hadst thou met earlier with a better love than

mine, this evil had not been. I pity thee, for the good that has

been wasted in thy nature. "


"And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, "for the hatred that has

transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge

it out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake,

then doubly for thine own! Forgive, and leave his further

retribution to the Power that claims it! I said, but now, that

there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who are

here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil, and

stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn

our path. It is not so! There might be good for thee, and thee

alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy

will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt

thou reject that priceless benefit?"


"Peace, Hester--peace!" replied the old man, with gloomy

sternness -- "it is not granted me to pardon. I have no such

power as thou tellest me of. My old faith, long forgotten, comes

back to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By

thy first step awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil; but since

that moment it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have

wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion;

neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend's office from

his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it

may! Now, go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man. "


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

gathering herbs.












So Roger Chillingworth -- a deformed old figure with a face that

haunted men's memories longer than they liked -- took leave of

Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He

gathered here and there a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it

into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the

ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little

while, looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the

tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him

and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown,

across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs

they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not

the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his

eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs of species hitherto unknown,

that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him

that every wholesome growth should be converted into something

deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sun, which shone

so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him? Or was there,

as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with

his deformity whichever way he turned him-








self? And whither was he now going? Would he not suddenly sink

into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due

course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood,

henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate

could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance? Or would

he spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier

the higher he rose towards heaven?


"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as still she

gazed after him, "I hate the man!"


She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not overcome

or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she thought of those

long-past days in a distant land, when he used to emerge at

eventide from the seclusion of his study and sit down in the

firelight of their home, and in the light of her nuptial smile.

He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order that

the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken

off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared not

otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through the dismal

medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among her

ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have

been! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to

marry him! She deemed in her crime most to be repented of, that

she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his

hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle

and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed

by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him,

that, in








the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to

fancy herself happy by his side.


"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester more bitterly than before.

"He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"


Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along

with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their

miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth's, when some

mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her

sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the

marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her

as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago to have done with

this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven long years,

under the torture of the scarlet letter, inflicted so much of

misery and wrought out no repentance?


The emotion of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the

crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on

Hester's state of mind, revealing much that she might not

otherwise have acknowledged to herself.


He being gone, she summoned back her child.


"Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?"


Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no

loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer

of herbs. At first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully

with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom

forth, and -- as it declined to venture -- seeking a passage for

herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.

Soon finding, however,








that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for

better pastime. She made little boats out of birch-bark, and

freighted them with snailshells, and sent out more ventures on

the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger

part of them foundered near the shore. She seized a live

horse-shoe by the tail, and made prize of several five-fingers,

and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she took

up the white foam that streaked the line of the advancing tide,

and threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it with winged

footsteps to catch the great snowflakes ere they fell.

Perceiving a flock of beach-birds that fed and fluttered along

the shore, the naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles,

and, creeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl,

displayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them. One little gray

bird, with a white breast, Pearl was almost sure had been hit by

a pebble, and fluttered away with a broken wing. But then the

elf-child sighed, and gave up her sport, because it grieved her

to have done harm to a little being that was as wild as the

sea-breeze, or as wild as Pearl 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









green instead of scarlet. The child bent her chin upon her

breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest, even

as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the

world was to make out its hidden import.


"I wonder if mother will ask me what it means?" thought Pearl.


Just then she heard her mother's voice, and, flitting along as

lightly as one of the little sea-birds, appeared before Hester

Prynne dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the ornament

upon her bosom.


"My little Pearl," said Hester, after a moment's silence, "the

green letter, and on thy childish bosom, has no purport. But

dost thou know, my child, what this letter means which thy mother

is doomed to wear?"


"Yes, mother," said the child. "It is the great letter A. Thou

hast taught me in the horn-book. "


Hester looked steadily into her little face; but though there was

that singular expression which she had so often remarked in her

black eyes, she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl really

attached any meaning to the symbol. She felt a morbid desire to

ascertain the point.


"Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears this letter?"


"Truly do I!" answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother's

face. "It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his

hand over his heart!"


"And what reason is that?" asked Hester, half smiling at the

absurd incongruity of the child's observation; but on second

thoughts turning pale.








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


"Nay, mother, I have told all I know," said Pearl, more seriously

than she was wont to speak. "Ask yonder old man whom thou hast

been talking with, -- it may be he can tell. But in good earnest

now, mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? -- and why

dost thou wear it on thy bosom? -- and why does the minister

keep his hand over his heart?"


She took her mother's hand in both her own, and gazed into her

eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and

capricious character. The thought occurred to Hester, that the

child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike

confidence, and doing what she could, and as intelligently as she

knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy. It showed

Pearl in an unwonted aspect Heretofore, the mother, while loving

her child with the intensity of a sole affection, had schooled

herself to hope for little other return than the waywardness of

an April breeze, which spends its time in airy sport, and has its

gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of

moods, and chills oftener than caresses you, when you take it to

your bosom; in requital of which misdemeanours it will sometimes,

of its own vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful

tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and then be gone

about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure at your

heart. And this, moreover, was a mother's estimate of the

child's disposition. Any other observer might have seen few but

unamiable traits, and have given them a far darker colouring.

But now the idea came








strongly into Hester's mind, that Pearl, with her remarkable

precocity and acuteness, might already have approached the age

when she could have been made a friend, and intrusted with as

much of her mother's sorrows as could be imparted, without

irreverence either to the parent or the child. In the little

chaos of Pearl's character there might be seen emerging and could

have been from the very first -- the steadfast principles of an

unflinching courage -- an uncontrollable will -- sturdy pride,

which might be disciplined into self-respect -- and a bitter

scorn of many things which, when examined, might be found to have

the taint of falsehood in them. She possessed affections, too,

though hitherto acrid and disagreeable, as are the richest

flavours of unripe fruit. With all these sterling attributes,

thought Hester, the evil which she inherited from her mother must

be great indeed, if a noble woman do not grow out of this elfish



Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enigma of the

scarlet letter seemed an innate quality of her being. From the

earliest epoch of her conscious life, she had entered upon this

as her appointed mission. Hester had often fancied that

Providence had a design of justice and retribution, in endowing

the child with this marked propensity; but never, until now, had

she bethought herself to ask, whether, linked with that design,

there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy and beneficence.

If little Pearl were entertained with faith and trust, as a

spirit messenger no less than an earthly child, might it not be

her errand to soothe away the sorrow that lay cold in her

mother's heart, and converted it








into a tomb? -- and to help her to overcome the passion, once so

wild, and even yet neither dead nor asleep, but only imprisoned

within the same tomb-like heart?


Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in Hester's mind,

with as much vivacity of impression as if they had actually been

whispered into her ear. And there was little Pearl, all this

while, holding her mother's hand in both her own, and turning her

face upward, while she put these searching questions, once and

again, and still a third time.


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

and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"


"What shall I say?" thought Hester to herself. "No! if this be

the price of the child's sympathy, I cannot pay it. "


Then she spoke aloud --


"Silly Pearl," said she, "what questions are these? There are

many things in this world that a child must not ask about. What

know I of the minister's heart? And as for the scarlet letter, I

wear it for the sake of its gold thread. "


In all the seven bygone years, Hester Prynne had never before

been false to the symbol on her bosom. It may be that it was the

talisman of a stern and severe, but yet a guardian spirit, who

now forsook her; as recognising that, in spite of his strict

watch over her heart, some new evil had crept into it, or some

old one had never been expelled. As for little Pearl, the

earnestness soon passed out of her face.


But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. Two or

three times, as her mother and she went








homeward, and as often at supper-time, and while Hester was

putting her to bed, and once after she seemed to be fairly

asleep, Pearl looked up, with mischief gleaming in her black



"Mother," said she, "what does the scarlet letter mean?"


And the next morning, the first indication the child gave of

being awake was by popping up her head from the pillow, and

making that other enquiry, which she had so unaccountably

connected with her investigations about the scarlet letter --


"Mother! Mother Why does the minister keep his hand over his



"Hold thy tongue, naughty child!" answered her mother, with an

asperity that she had never permitted to herself before. "Do not

tease me; else I shall put thee into the dark closet!"












Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to

Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior

consequences, the true character of the man who had crept into

his intimacy. For several days, however, she vainly sought an

opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks

which she knew him to be in the habit of taking along the shores

of the Peninsula, or on the wooded hills of the neighbouring

country. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to

the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited

him in his own study, where many a penitent, ere now, had

confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye as the one betokened by

the scarlet letter. But, partly that she dreaded the secret or

undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly

that her conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have

been felt, and partly that both the minister and she would need

the whole wide world to breathe in, while they talked together --

for all these reasons Hester never thought of meeting him in any

narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.


At last, while attending a sick chamber, whither the Rev. Mr.

Dimmesdale had been summoned








to make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day before, to

visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian converts. He would

probably return by a certain hour in the afternoon of the morrow.

Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl -- who

was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions,

however inconvenient her presence -- and set forth.


The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the Peninsula

to the mainland, was no other than a foot-path. It straggled

onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it

in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and

disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to

Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which

she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and sombre.

Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however,

by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and

then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting

cheerfulness was always at the further extremity of some long

vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight -- feebly

sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and

scene -- withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the spots

where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find

them bright.


"Mother," said little Pearl, the sunshine does not love you. It

runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on

your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing a good way off.

Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child.

It will not flee from me -- for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!"








"Nor ever will, my child, I hope," said Hester.


"And why not, mother?" asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the

beginning of her race. "Will not it come of its own accord when

I am a woman grown?"


"Run away, child," answered her mother, "and catch the sunshine.

It will soon be gone. "


Pearl set forth at a great pace, and as Hester smiled to

perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in

the midst of it, all brightened by its splendour, and

scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion. The

light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a

playmate, until her mother had drawn almost nigh enough to step

into the magic circle too.


"It will go now," said Pearl, shaking her head.


"See!" answered Hester, smiling; now I can stretch out my hand

and grasp some of it. "


As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to judge

from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's features,

her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into

herself, and would give it forth again, with a gleam about her

path, as they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There was

no other attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new

and untransmitted vigour in Pearl's nature, as this never failing

vivacity of spirits: she had not the disease of sadness, which

almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with the

scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this,

too, was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy with

which Hester had fought against her sorrows before Pearl's birth.

It was certainly a








doubtful charm, imparting a hard, metallic lustre to the child's

character. She wanted -- what some people want throughout life

-- a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus humanise and

make her capable of sympathy. But there was time enough yet for

little Pearl.


"Come, my child!" said Hester, looking about her from the spot

where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine -- "we will sit down

a little way within the wood, and rest ourselves. "


"I am not aweary, mother," replied the little girl. "But you may

sit down, if you will tell me a story meanwhile. "


"A story, child!" said Hester. "And about what?"


"Oh, a story about the Black Man," answered Pearl, taking hold of

her mother's gown, and looking up, half earnestly, half

mischievously, into her face.


"How he haunts this forest, and carries a book with him a big,

heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers

his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among

the trees; and they are to write their names with their own

blood; and then he sets his mark on their bosoms. Didst thou

ever meet the Black Man, mother?"


"And who told you this story, Pearl," asked her mother,

recognising a common superstition of the period.


"It was the old dame in the chimney corner, at the house where

you watched last night," said the child. "But she fancied me

asleep while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand and

a thousand people had met him here, and had written in his








book, and have his mark on them. And that ugly tempered lady,

old Mistress Hibbins, was one. And, mother, the old dame said

that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on thee, and

that it glows like a red flame when thou meetest him at midnight,

here in the dark wood. Is it true, mother? And dost thou go to

meet him in the nighttime?"


"Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?" asked Hester.


"Not that I remember," said the child. "If thou fearest to leave

me in our cottage, thou mightest take me along with thee. I

would very gladly go! But, mother, tell me now! Is there such a

Black Man? And didst thou ever meet him? And is this his mark?"


"Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee?" asked her



"Yes, if thou tellest me all," answered Pearl.


"Once in my life I met the Black Man!" said her mother. This

scarlet letter is his mark!"


Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to

secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger

along the forest track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap

of moss; which at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a

gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade,

and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere It was a little dell

where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising

gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst,

over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending

over it had flung down great branches from time to time, which

choked up the current, and








compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points;

while, in its swifter and livelier passages there appeared a

channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the

eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the

reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the

forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of

tree-trunks and underbush, and here and there a huge rock covered

over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of

granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this

small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing

loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old

forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth

surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the

streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but

melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its

infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among

sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.


"Oh, brook! Oh, foolish and tiresome little brook!" cried Pearl,

after listening awhile to its talk, "Why art thou so sad? Pluck

up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and 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. But, unlike the

little stream, she








danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course.


"What does this sad little brook say, mother? inquired she.


"If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee

of it," answered her mother, "even as it is telling me of mine.

But now, Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise

of one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake

thyself to play, and leave me to speak with him that comes



"Is it the Black Man?" asked Pearl.


"Wilt thou go and play, child?" repeated her mother, "But do not

stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou come at my

first call. "


"Yes, mother," answered Pearl, "But if it be the Black Man, wilt

thou not let me stay a moment, and look at him, with his big book

under his arm?"


"Go, silly child!" said her mother impatiently. "It is no Black

Man! Thou canst see him now, through the trees. It is the



"And so it is!" said the child. "And, mother, he has his hand

over his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name

in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why

does he not wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, mother?"


"Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt another

time," cried Hester Prynne. "But do not stray far. Keep where

thou canst hear the babble of the brook. "


The child went singing away, following up the current of the

brook, and striving to mingle a more








lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little

stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its

unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had

happened -- or making a prophetic lamentation about something

that was yet to happen -- within the verge of the dismal forest.

So Pearl, who had enough of shadow in her own little life, chose

to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set

herself, therefore, to gathering violets and wood-anemones, and

some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevice of

a high rock.


When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made a step or two

towards the track that led through the forest, but still remained

under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the minister

advancing along the path entirely alone, and leaning on a staff

which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble,

and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air, which had never

so remarkably characterised him in his walks about the

settlement, nor in any other situation where he deemed himself

liable to notice. Here it was wofully visible, in this intense

seclusion of the forest, which of itself would have been a heavy

trial to the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gait, as

if he saw no reason for taking one step further, nor felt any

desire to do so, but would have been glad, could he be glad of

anything, to fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree,

and lie there passive for evermore. The leaves might bestrew

him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock

over his frame, no matter








whether there were life in it or no. Death was too definite an

object to be wished for or avoided.


To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no

symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, except that, as

little Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his heart.
















Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone by before

Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his

observation. At length she succeeded.


"Arthur Dimmesdale!" she said, faintly at first, then louder,

but hoarsely -- "Arthur Dimmesdale!"


"Who speaks?" answered the minister. Gathering himself quickly

up, he stood more erect, like a man taken by surprise in a mood

to which he was reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes

anxiously in the direction of the voice, he indistinctly beheld a

form under the trees, clad in garments so sombre, and so little

relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and

the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that he knew not

whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be that his pathway

through life was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out

from among his thoughts.


He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet letter.


"Hester! Hester Prynne!', said he; "is it thou? Art thou in



"Even so. " she answered. "In such life as has








been mine these seven years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale,

dost thou yet 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, and tremulously, and, as

it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale

put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of

Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away what was

dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves, at least,

inhabitants of the same sphere.


Without a word more spoken -- neither he nor she assuming the

guidance, but with an unexpressed consent -- they glided back

into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had emerged, and sat

down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been

sitting. When they found voice to speak, it was at first only to

utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might

have made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and,









the health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step

by step, into the themes that were brooding deepest in their

hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed

something slight and casual to run before and throw open the

doors of intercourse, so that their real thoughts might be led

across the threshold.


After awhile, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.


"Hester," said he, "hast thou found peace?"


She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.


"Hast thou?" she asked.


"None -- nothing but despair!" he answered. "What else could I

look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Were

I an atheist -- a man devoid of conscience -- a wretch with

coarse and brutal instincts -- I might have found peace long ere

now. Nay, I never should have lost it. But, as matters stand

with my soul, whatever of good capacity there originally was in

me, all of God's gifts that were the choicest have become the

ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!"


"The people reverence thee," said Hester. "And surely thou

workest good among them! Doth this bring thee no comfort?"


"More misery, Hester! -- Only the more misery!" answered the

clergyman with a bitter smile. "As concerns the good which I may

appear to do, I have no faith in it. It must needs be a

delusion. What can a ruined soul like mine effect towards the

redemption of other souls? -- or a polluted soul








towards their purification? And as for the people's reverence,

would that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou deem

it, Hester, a consolation that I must stand up in my pulpit, and

meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if the light of

heaven were beaming from it! -- must see my flock hungry for the

truth, and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were

speaking! -- and then look inward, and discern the black reality

of what they idolise? I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of

heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And

Satan laughs at it!"


"You wrong yourself in this," said Hester gently.


"You have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind

you in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy,

in very truth, than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no

reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works?

And wherefore should it not bring you peace?"


"No, Hester -- no!" replied the clergyman. "There is no

substance in it] It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me!

Of penance, I have had enough! Of penitence, there has been

none! Else, I should long ago have thrown off these garments of

mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see

me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the

scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!

Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a

seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognises me for

what I am! Had I one friend -- or were it my worst enemy! -- to

whom, when sickened with the praises of all other men, I could

daily betake myself, and








known as the vilest of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep

itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me!

But now, it is all falsehood! -- all emptiness! -- all death!"


Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to speak. Yet,

uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did,

his words here offered her the very point of circumstances in

which to interpose what she came to say. She conquered her

fears, and spoke:


"Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for," said she, "with

whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!"

Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with an effort

"Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him, under

the same roof!"


The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and

clutching at his heart, as if he would have torn it out of his



"Ha! What sayest thou?" cried he. "An enemy! And under mine

own roof! What mean you?"


Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which

she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie

for so many years, or, indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy

of one whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. The

very contiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever mask the latter

might conceal himself, was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere

of a being so sensitive as Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a

period when Hester was less alive to this consideration; or,

perhaps, in the misanthropy of her own trouble, she left the

minister to bear what she might picture to








herself as a more tolerable doom. But of late, since the night

of his vigil, all her sympathies towards him had been both

softened and invigorated. She now read his heart more

accurately. She doubted not that the continual presence of Roger

Chillingworth -- the secret poison of his malignity, infecting

all the air about him -- and his authorised interference, as a

physician, with the minister's physical and spiritual infirmities

-- that these bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel

purpose. By means of them, the sufferer's conscience had been

kept in an irritated state, the tendency of which was, not to

cure by wholesome pain, but to disorganize and corrupt his

spiritual being. Its result, on earth, could hardly fail to be

insanity, and hereafter, that eternal alienation from the Good

and True, of which madness is perhaps the earthly type.


Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man, once -- nay,

why should we not speak it? -- still so passionately loved!

Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's good name, and

death itself, as she had already told Roger Chillingworth, would

have been infinitely preferable to the alternative which she had

taken upon herself to choose. And now, rather than have had this

grievous wrong to confess, she would gladly have laid down on the

forest leaves, and died there, at Arthur Dimmesdale's feet


"Oh, Arthur!" cried she, "forgive me! In all things else, I have

striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have

held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when

thy good -- thy life -- thy fame -- were put in question!








Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even

though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what

I would say? That old man! -- the physician! -- he whom they

call Roger Chillingworth! -- he was my husband!"


The minister looked at her for an instant, with all that violence

of passion, which -- intermixed in more shapes than one with his

higher, purer, softer qualities -- was, in fact, the portion of

him which the devil claimed, and through which he sought to win

the rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than

Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it lasted, it

was a dark transfiguration. But his character had been so much

enfeebled by suffering, that even its lower energies were

incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down on the

ground, and buried his face in his hands.


"I might have known it," murmured he -- "I did know it! Was not

the secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart at the

first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why

did I not understand? Oh, Hester Prynne, thou little, little

knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame! -- the

indelicacy! -- the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick

and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it!

Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! -I cannot forgive



"Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hester, Singing herself on the

fallen leaves beside him. "Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!"


With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around

him, and pressed his head against her bosom, little caring though

his cheek rested on








the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but strove

in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should

look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her

-- for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman --

and still she bore it all, nor ever once turned away her firm,

sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had

not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and

sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, and live!


"Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeated, over and over again.

"Wilt thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?"


"I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister at length, with

a deep utterance, out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. "I

freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both. We are not,

Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than

even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been

blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the

sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!"


"Never, never!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecration

of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other. Hast thou

forgotten it?"


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

"No; I have not forgotten!"


They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand, on

the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought them

a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so

long been tending, and darkening ever, as it stole along -- and

yet it unclosed a charm that made them linger








upon it, and claim another, and another, and, after all, another

moment. The forest was obscure around them, and creaked with a

blast that was passing through it. The boughs were tossing

heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaned

dolefully to another, as if telling the sad story of the pair

that sat beneath, or constrained to forbode evil to come.


And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest-track that

led backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must take up

again the burden of her ignominy and the minister the hollow

mockery of his good name! So they lingered an instant longer.

No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this

dark forest. Here seen only by his eyes, the scarlet letter need

not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman! Here seen only by

her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might be, for

one moment true!


He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.


"Hester!" cried he, "here is a new horror! Roger Chillingworth

knows your purpose to reveal his true character. Will he

continue, then, to keep our secret? What will now be the course

of his revenge?"


"There is a strange secrecy in his nature," replied Hester,

thoughtfully; "and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices

of his revenge. I deem it not likely that he will betray the

secret. He will doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark

passion. "


"And I! -- how am I to live longer, breathing the same air with

this deadly enemy?" exclaimed Arthur








Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand

nervously against his heart -- a gesture that had grown

involuntary with him. "Think for me, Hester! Thou art strong.

Resolve for me!"


"Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said Hester, slowly

and firmly. "Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye!"


"It were far worse than death!" replied the minister. "But how

to avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall I lie down again

on these withered leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst

tell me what he was? Must I sink down there, and die at once?"


"Alas! what a ruin has befallen thee!" said Hester, with the

tears gushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very weakness?

There is no other cause!"


"The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken

priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"


"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the

strength to take advantage of it. "


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


"Is the world, then, so narrow?" exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing

her deep eyes on the minister's, and instinctively exercising a

magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it

could hardly hold itself erect. "Doth the universe lie within

the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but

a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads

yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest!

Yes; but, onward, too! Deeper it goes, and deeper into the

wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step; until some few








miles hence the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white

man's tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would

bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to

one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough

in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of

Roger Chillingworth?"


"Yes, Hester; but only under the fallen leaves!" replied the

minister, with a sad smile.


"Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!" continued Hester.

"It brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will bear thee

back again. In our native land, whether in some remote rural

village, or in vast London -- or, surely, in Germany, in France,

in pleasant Italy -- thou wouldst be beyond his power and

knowledge! And what hast thou to do with all these iron men, and

their opinions? They have kept thy better part in bondage too

long already!"


"It cannot be!" answered the minister, listening as if he were

called upon to realise a dream. "I am powerless to go. Wretched

and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag on

my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed

me. Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I may for

other human souls! I dare not quit my post, though an unfaithful

sentinel, whose sure reward is death and dishonour, when his

dreary watch shall come to an end!"


"Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery,"

replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own

energy. "But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not

cumber thy steps, as thou treadest along the forest-path: neither









thou freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea.

Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. Meddle no

more with it! Begin all anew! Hast thou exhausted possibility

in the failure of this one trial? Not so! The future is yet

full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed!

There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for

a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, the

teacher and apostle of the red men. Or, as is more thy nature,

be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the most renowned of

the cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do anything, save

to lie down and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale, and

make thyself another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear

without fear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one

other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life?

that have made thee feeble to will and to do? that will leave

thee powerless even to repent? Up, and away!"


"Oh, Hester!" cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful

light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, "thou

tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering

beneath him! I must die here! There is not the strength or

courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult

world alone!"


It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit.

He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within

his reach.


He repeated the word -- "Alone, Hester!"


"Thou shall not go alone!" answered she, in a deep whisper.

Then, all was spoken!
















Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which

hope and joy shone out, indeed, 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, as vast, as

intricate, 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, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the

church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set

her flee. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions








where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!

These had been her teachers -- stern and wild ones -- and they

had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.


The minister, on the other hand, had never gone through an

experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally

received laws; although, 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, its principles, 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? None; unless it avail him somewhat

that he was broker, down by long and exquisite suffering; that

his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which

harrowed it; that, between fleeing as an avowed criminal, and









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; that,

finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his dreary and desert path,

faint, sick, miserable, 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, repaired. 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.


The struggle, 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," thought he, "I could recall

one instant of peace or hope, 1 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? Or, 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, unchristianised, lawless region 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?" cried he, wondering at himself.

"Methought the germ of it was dead in me! Oh, Hester, thou art

my better angel! I seem to have flung myself -- sick,

sin-stained, 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 lock back," answered Hester Prynne. "The past is

gone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now? See! With this

symbol I undo it all, and make it as if it had never been!"


So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet

letter, and, 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 give, 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, deep sigh, 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. Her sex, her youth, 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. And, 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! Love,

whether newly-born, 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!" said she. "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, somewhat uneasily. "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!"


"Ah, that was sad!" answered the mother. "But she will love thee

dearly, and thou her. She is not far off. I will call her.

Pearl! Pearl!"


"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?"


Hester smiled, 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. A partridge, indeed, 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. A pigeon, alone on a low branch, allowed Pearl to

come beneath, and uttered a sound as much of greeting as alarm.

A squirrel, 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 bead. It was a last year's nut,

and already gnawed by his sharp tooth. A fox, startled from his









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. A wolf, 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, however, 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!"

-- and, to please them, Pearl gathered the violets, and

anemones, and columbines, 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.
















"Thou will 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 diamonds,

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, Hester," said Arthur Dimmesdale, with an unquiet

smile, "that this dear child, tripping about always at thy side,

hath caused me many an alarm? Methought -- oh, Hester, 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!"


"No, no! Not mostly!" 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



"Let her see nothing strange -- no passion or eagerness -- in thy

way of accosting her," whispered Hester. "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! But, in truth, 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, weep bitterly. Yet Pearl, 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.

Fear nothing. 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. This image, 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, herself, meanwhile, 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, not Pearl's.

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, that Pearl, 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,

who, 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. "


"Come, dearest child!" 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!"


Pearl, 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. At length, assuming

a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched out her hand, with

the small forefinger extended, and pointing evidently towards her

mother's breast. And beneath, 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?" exclaimed



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, again, 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.


"Hasten, Pearl, or I shall be angry with thee!" cried Hester

Prynne, who, however, 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, naughty child, and run

hither! Else I must come to thee!"


But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats any more

than mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into a fit

of passion, gesticulating violently, 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, so that, 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,

wildly gesticulating, and, 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, the

slightest, 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," added he,

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,

while, even before she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a

deadly pallor.


"Pearl," said she sadly, "look down at thy feet! There! --

before thee! -- 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



"Bring it hither!" said Hester.


"Come thou and take it up!" answered Pearl.


"Was ever such a child!" observed Hester aside to the minister.

"Oh, I have much to tell thee about her! But, 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.

Hopefully, 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, her beauty, 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









"Dost thou know thy mother now, child?", asked she,

reproachfully, 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?"


"Yes; 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, too


"That was not kind!" said Hester. "When thou hast shown me a

little love, thou mockest me!"


"Why doth the minister sit yonder?" asked Pearl.


"He waits to welcome thee," replied her mother. "Come thou, and

entreat his blessing! He loves thee, my little Pearl, and loves

thy mother, too. Wilt thou not love him? Come he longs to greet



"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, 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?"


"Not now, my child," answered Hester. "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



"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired



"Foolish child, what a question is that!" exclaimed her mother.

"Come, and ask his blessing!"


But, 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, hanging back, and

manifesting her reluctance by odd grimaces; of which, 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. Hereupon, Pearl broke

away from her mother, and, 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, old trees, which, 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













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,

too, 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



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, his culture, 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 futherance of this choice,

it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour; one of those

unquestionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, 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. Now, 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; and, as such an occasion









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. "At least, they shall say

of me," thought this exemplary man, "that I leave no public duty

unperformed or ill-performed!" Sad, indeed, 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; but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak;

no evidence, at once so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle

disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance

of his character. No man, 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 underbush,

climbed the ascent, plunged into the hollow, and overcame, in

short, 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,








not one, not two, but many days, or even years ago, since he had

quitted them. There, indeed, 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,

however, 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 a 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.


This phenomenon, 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! Go, seek your minister, and see if his

emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled

brow, be not flung down there, like a cast-off garment!" His

friends, no doubt, would still have insisted with him -- "Thou

art thyself the man!" but the error would have been their own,

not his.


Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other

evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling.

In truth, 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, wild,

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. For

instance, 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, the deep, 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. Now, 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. And,

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.


Again, 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,

poor, widowed, lonely, 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,

whether casually, or of set purpose, and be refreshed with a word

of warm, fragrant, heaven-








breathing Gospel truth, from his beloved lips, into her dulled,

but rapturously attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the

moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear, Mr.

Dimmesdale, as the great enemy of souls would have it, could

recall no text of Scripture, nor aught else, except a brief,

pithy, and, 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, at once, as by the effect of an intensely

poisonous infusion. What he really did whisper, the minister

could never afterwards recollect. There was, perhaps, 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. Assuredly, 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.


Again, 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. Satan, that afternoon, 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, poor thing! 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, more

ludicrous, 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. And here, 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, round, solid, satisfactory, 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



"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" cried the minister

to himself, at length, 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, smiled craftily, and -- though little

given to converse with clergymen -- began a conversation.








"So, reverend sir, 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. "


"I profess, madam," 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!"


"Ha, ha, ha!" cackled the old witch-lady, still nodding her high

head-dress at the minister. "Well, well! 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 bad

stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid life the

whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitterness, unprovoked

malignity, 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, and, 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,

its windows, its fireplace, 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, "Come in!" -- 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.


"Welcome home, reverend sir," said the physician "And how found

you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear sir,

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?"


"Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.

"My journey, 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. But, in spite of this outward show, the latter was

almost convinced of the old man's knowledge, or, at least, 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 he expressed. It is singular, however, 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," said he, "that you use my poor skill

tonight? Verily, dear sir, 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. "


"Yes, to another world," replied the minister with pious

resignation. "Heaven grant it be a better one; for, in good

sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my








flock through the flitting seasons of another year! But touching

your medicine, kind sir, 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. "Yea, they are the current

gold coin of the New Jerusalem, with the King's own mint mark on



Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the house, and

requested food, which, 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. However, 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; morning came, and peeped, blushing, 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!
















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, among whom, likewise, 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. Her face, so long

familiar to the townspeople, showed the marble quietude which

they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or,

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, nor, indeed, 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 sneer might have

conceived, that, after sustaining the gaze of the multitude

through several miserable years as a necessity, a penance, and

something which it was a stern religion to endure, she now, 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, long, 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, delicious, and

exhilarating, 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. The dress, 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, moreover, 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, especially, 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, betrayed, 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, inarticulate, 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


"Why, what is this, mother?" cried she. "Wherefore have all the

people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the whole

world? See, 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, mother?"


"He remembers thee a little babe, my child," answered Hester.


"He should not nod and smile at me, for all that -- the black,

grim, ugly-eyed old man!" said Pearl.


"He may nod at thee, if he will; for thou art clad in gray, and

wearest the scarlet letter. But see, mother, how many faces of

strange people, and Indians among them, and sailors! What have

they all come to do, here in the market-place?"


"They wait to see the procession pass," said Hester. "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?" asked Pearl. "And will he hold

out both his hands to me, as when thou led'st me to him from the









"He will be there, child," 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, too, so

that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But, here, in

the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor

must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always

over his heart!"


"Be quiet, 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, for, to-day,

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, that,

for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more

grave than most other communities at a period of general



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, magnificent, and joyous, 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, banquets, pageantries, and

processions. Nor would it have been impracticable, in the

observance of majestic ceremonies, to combine mirthful recreation

with solemnity, and give, as it were, a grotesque and brilliant

embroidery to the great robe of state, which a nation, at such

festivals, puts on. 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, the priest, and the soldier --

seemed it a duty then to assume the








outward state and majesty, which, 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.


Then, too, 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. Here, 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; no minstrel, with his harp

and legendary ballad, nor gleeman with an ape dancing to his

music; no juggler, 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,

however, the great, honest face of the people smiled -- grimly,

perhaps, but widely too. Nor were sports wanting, such as the

colonists had witnessed, and shared in, long ago, 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. Wrestling

matches, 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. But, 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, brown, 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, wampum-belts, red and yellow ochre, and feathers, 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. Nor, 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, a sword.

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, for instance, 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, swelled, 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; nor, 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, starched bands, 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, the physician, was seen to enter the market-place

in close and familiar talk with the commander of the questionable



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, which, 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, however, 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, into which, 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. Now, 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.


"So, mistress," 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?" inquired Hester, startled more than she

permitted to appear. "Have you another passenger?


"Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, "that this physician

here -- Chillingworth he calls himself -- is minded to try my

cabin-fare with you? Ay, ay, 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, indeed," replied Hester, 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 comer 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, moods,

and interests of the crowd -- conveyed secret and fearful











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, where, as in an association of Knights

Templars, they might learn the science, and, 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, indeed, 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,

moreover, 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









by hereditary right the quality of reverence, which, 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,

perhaps, for both. In that old day the English settler on these

rude shores -- having left king, nobles, 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, therefore -- Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham,

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, that never,

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. Yet, 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.

Nevertheless, so abstracted was his look, it might be questioned

whether Mr. Dimmesdale ever heard the music. There was his

body, moving onward, and with an unaccustomed force. But where

was his mind? Far and deep in its own region, busying itself,

with preternatural activity, to marshal a procession of stately

thoughts that were soon to








issue thence; and so he saw nothing, heard 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.


Hester Prynne, 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 love, and anguish, and the

mossy tree-trunk, where, sitting hand-in-hand, 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! He, moving proudly past,

enveloped as it were, in the rich music, with the procession of

majestic and venerable fathers; he, 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, and

that, 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, nearer, nearer, nearer! -- 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 --


"Mother," said she, "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, mother?

Would he have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on me,

and bid me begone?"


"What should he say, Pearl," answered Hester, "save that it was

no time to kiss, and that kisses are not to be given in the

market-place? Well for thee, foolish child, 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, who, 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.


"Now, 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! Who, now, 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! Aha!

we know what that means, Hester Prynne! But truly, forsooth, 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, and, 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, Hester, whether he was

the same man that encountered thee on the forest path?"


"Madam, 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. "


"Fie, woman -- fie!" 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?

Yea, though no leaf of the wild garlands which they wore while

they danced be left in their hair! I know thee, Hester, 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? Ha, Hester Prynne?"


"What is it, good Mistress Hibbins?" eagerly asked little Pearl.

"Hast thou seen it?"








"No matter, darling!" responded Mistress Hibbins, making Pearl a

profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it, one time or

another. They say, child, 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, wherever educated. 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









words. These, perhaps, 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. And yet, 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, sorrow-laden, perchance

guilty, 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, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot of

the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept her there,

there would, nevertheless, 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



Little Pearl, meanwhile, 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, and, 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, and, 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. Thence, 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



One of these seafaring men the shipmaster, indeed, 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, that, 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, I will," answered Pearl.


"Then tell her," rejoined he, "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, thou witch-baby?"


"Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!" cried

Pearl, 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









Pursuing a zigzag course across the marketplace, the child

returned to her mother, and communicated what the mariner had

said. Hester's strong, calm steadfastly-enduring spirit almost

sank, at last, 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.

These, after exhausting other modes of amusement, now thronged

about Hester Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness.

Unscrupulous as it was, however, 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, likewise, 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, conceiving, perhaps,

that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must








needs be a personage of high dignity among her people Lastly, 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 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, so high, 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, His subject, it

appeared, 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. And, 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,

that, 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. But,

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. Yes; 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 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



Thus, 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. He stood, at this moment, on the very

proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts or

intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, 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.


Once more, therefore, 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.

Never, from the soil of New England had gone up such a shout!

Never, on New England soil had stood the man so honoured by his

mortal brethren as the preacher!


How fared it with him, then? 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, rather, 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. The glow, which they had just

before beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, 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, yet tottered, 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, but

decidedly, 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. And now, almost imperceptible

as were the latter steps of his progress, he had come opposite

the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold, where, long

since, 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.


Bellingham, 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. The crowd,

meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This earthly

faintness, was, 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.


"Hester," said he, "come hither! Come, 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. The

child, 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, perhaps, so

dark, disturbed, 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.


"Madman, hold! what is your purpose?" whispered








he. "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?"


"Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!" answered the

minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. "Thy

power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee



He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.


"Hester Prynne," cried he, 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! Thy strength,

Hester; 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! Come,

Hester -- come! 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," murmured he, "than what we dreamed of in

the forest?"


I know not! I know not!" she hurriedly replied "Better? Yea; 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. For, Hester, 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. The sun, 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!" cried he, with a voice that rose over

them, high, solemn, 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!

-- ye, 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, here, with

this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I

have crept hitherward, sustains me at this dreadful moment, from

grovelling down upon my face! Lo, 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!"


It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the

remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the

bodily weakness -- and, still more, 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!" he continued, with a kind of








fierceness; so determined was he to speak out tile 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, mournful, because so pure in

a sinful world! -- and sad, because he missed his heavenly

kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He

bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you,

that, 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!

Behold! Behold, 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. Then, 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, dull

countenance, 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. "Thou, too, hast

deeply sinned!"








He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on

the woman and the child.


"My little Pearl," said he, feebly and there was a sweet and

gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep

repose; nay, 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, yonder, 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, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish

was fulfilled.


"Hester," said the clergyman, "farewell!"


"Shall we not meet again?" whispered she, bending her face down

close to his. "Shall we not spend our immortal life together?

Surely, surely, 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!"


"Hush, Hester -- hush!" said he, with tremulous solemnity. "The

law we broke I -- the sin here awfully revealed! -- let these

alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be, that,

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. God knows;

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! Farewell!"


That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath.

The multitude, 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















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. Others, 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, nevertheless, 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. Neither, 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, the minister, conscious that he was

dying -- conscious, also, 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, that, 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, when proofs,

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! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the

world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be



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 revenge; and when,

by its completest triumph








consummation that evil principle was left with no further

material to support it -- when, in short, 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. But, 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. Each, 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.

Philosophically considered, therefore, 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, unawares, have found their

earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden



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. But, 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. Its spell,

however, 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, went



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. Letters came, 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, little ornaments, 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.


In fine, 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, moreover, faithfully believes

-- that Pearl was not only alive, but married, and happy, 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, here, in New

England, that in that unknown region where Pearl had found a

home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet

to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, 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. But, in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, 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. And, 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. Women, more especially -- in the

continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged,

misplaced, 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, too, 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, indeed, but lofty, pure, and

beautiful, and wise; moreover, 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. And, after many, many years, 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. All around, 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: --