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. She had been offered to the world, these seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in which was re- vealed 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! May God forgive us both! 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. Was I not, though you might deem me cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others, craving lit- tle for himself, — kind, true, just, and of constant, if not warm affections? And it seemed a fouler offence committed by Koger 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. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. If not for his sake, then doub ly f or thine own 1 Forgive, and leave his further ret ri- bution to the Power t hat claims it I I said, but n ow, t hat there could be no good event for him, or thee , or me, who ar e here wandering together in this gloom y maze of evil, and stumbling at every step over the guilt wh erewith we h ave s trewn our path.
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. Vanity, it may be, chose to mortify itself, by putting on, for ceremonials of pomp and state, the garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands. Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as a mat- ter of principle, continued his habits of social familiar- ity with the old man, and thus gave him constant op- portunities for perfecting the purpose to which — poor, forlorn creature that he was, and more wretched than his victim — the avenger had devoted himself. 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. But see, now, how pas- sion takes hold upon this man, and hurrieth him out of himself! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment! And yet, though invariably happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for old Salem, which, in lack of a better phrase, I must be content to call affection.
But I never considered it as other than a transitory life. 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. Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? 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. He seemed away from us, although we saw him but a few yards off ; remote, though we pcissed close beside his chair; unattainable, though we might have stretched forth our hands and touched his own. 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? 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? murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to the other. It was almost intolerable to be borne.
What view of Hester Prynne's character does the old Surveyor's document convey? 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. So the child flew away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet, went pattering along the moist margin of the sea. But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him. She had flourished during the period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century. 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. Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head to receive their greeting.
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. 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! It may be that it was the talisman of a stern and se- vere, but yet a guardian spirit, who now forsook her ; as recognizing 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. It is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. But, up to that epoch of my life, I had lived in vain. And then he sets his mark on their bosoms! He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing a scarlet letter seared into the flesh of his chest. Or I might readily have found a more serious task.
His name was announced as Roger Chilling- worth. A tenderloin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that brightened or darkened his individual career, had gone over him with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze. Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth? 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. But the object that most drew my attention in the mysterious package was a certain affair of fine re d cl oth, much worn and faded. I have not known the man, to whose innate kindliness I would more confidently make an appeal. Mother and daughter stood to- gether in the same circle of seclusion from human so- ciety; 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 be- gun to be soothed away by the softening influences of maternity.
Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had not died. 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. His voice and laugh, which perpetually reëchoed through the Custom-House, had nothing of the tremulous quaver and cackle of an old mans utterance; they came strutting out of his lungs, like the crow of a cock, or the blast of a clarion. There was fire in her and throughout her ; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passion- ate moment. He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him. Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or death.
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. That, surely, were a shallow view of it. Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners that bring firewood from the British provinces; a rough-looking set of tarpaulins, without the alertness of the Yankee aspect, but contributing an item of no slight importance to our decaying trade. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. 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. This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the physician ever manifested in the young cler- gyman ; he attached himself to him as a parishioner, and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence from his naturally reserved sensibility. Neither can I any longer live without her companionship ; so powerful is she to sustain, — so tender to soothe! 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.
They were allowed, on my representation, to rest from their arduous labors, and soon afterwardsas if their sole principle of life had been zeal for their countrys service; as I verily believe it waswithdrew to a better world. Ye shall not take her! He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. 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. Let us dig a little further in the direction of this vein! Often, likewise, one was the guest of the other, in his place of study and retire- ment. 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. 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, and with a hard experience written in his wrinkles. 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.