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The Scarlet Letter

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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! Old Roger Chillingworth had been a calm and kind man throughout his life. He may not have been warm, but he was always honest and upright in his dealings with the world. In his mind, he had begun his latest investigation with the stern but fair integrity of a judge, desiring only to find the truth. He figured he would approach the problem with the same dry logic and deductive reasoning that a mathematician brings to a geometrical question, rather than with the human emotions of someone wronged. But as he proceeded, a horrible fascination—a kind of fierce, though still calm, need to know—gripped the old man and would not let go. He now dug into the clergyman’s heart like a miner searching for gold—or like a gravedigger digging into a grave with the hopes of stealing a jewel buried on the dead man’s bosom, though he was likely to find nothing but death and decay. It’s too bad for Chillingworth’s soul that death and decay were all 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 door-way in the hill-side, and quivered on the pilgrim’s face. The soil where this dark miner was working had perchance shown indications that encouraged him. At times, a light glimmered in the doctor’s eyes, like the reflection of a furnace, or those terrifying lights that shined onto the pilgrim’s face from Bunyan’s awful

hillside doorway

Lighted doorway in Bunyan’s work Pilgrim’s Progress leads to the gates of Hell.

hillside doorway
. Perhaps the ground where that dark miner was digging provided some hint to encourage 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 farther in the direction of this vein!” “This man,” Chillingworth said to himself at one such moment, “though everyone thinks he is spiritual, has inherited a wild side from one of his parents. Let me dig a little further into that!”
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, sympathizing, but never intrusive friend. Chillingworth would search long in the minister’s psyche, as though it were a mine. He would rummage through the good things he found there as if they were trash, then he would turn back, discouraged, and resume his quest elsewhere in the minister’s soul. The doctor groped along as carefully and quietly as a thief entering the room of a man half asleep—or perhaps only pretending to sleep—hoping to steal that man’s most precious treasure. In spite of the doctor’s care, Mr. Dimmesdale would sometimes become vaguely aware of the danger—as though the floor had creaked or the thief’s clothes had rustled as his shadow fell across his sleeping victim. The minister’s acute sensitivity often seemed like spiritual intuition. He could sometimes sense when a threat was near. But old Roger Chillingworth’s senses were also instinctive. When the minister looked with suspicion at the doctor, Chillingworth would sit there, seeming like a kind, observant, sympathetic, but never intrusive friend.
Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual’s character more perfectly, if a certain morbidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not rendered him suspicious of all mankind. Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared. He therefore still kept up a familiar intercourse with him, daily receiving the old physician in his study; or visiting the laboratory, and, for recreation’s sake, watching the processes by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency. Mr. Dimmesdale might have seen the doctor’s character more clearly if he had not become suspicious of the whole world. Sick hearts are prone to paranoia. Because he trusted no man as his friend, he could not recognize a real enemy when one appeared. So he kept up friendly relations with the doctor, receiving the old man in his study, or visiting the laboratory and watching him turn herbs into potent medicines.
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. One day the minister talked with Roger Chillingworth while the old man was examining a bundle of ugly plants. Mr. Dimmesdale sat with his forehead in his hand and his elbow resting on the sill of an open window that looked out on the graveyard.
“Where,” asked he, with a look askance at them,—for it was the clergyman’s peculiarity that he seldom, now-a-days, looked straightforth at any object, whether human or inanimate,—“where, my kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby leaf?” “Where,” he asked, with a sideways glance at the plants, for the minister had developed the odd habit of never looking straight at anything, “where, my kind doctor, did you gather herbs with such a dark, flabby leaf?”
“Even in the grave-yard, 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, nor 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.” “Why, right here in the graveyard,” answered the doctor, continuing to examine them. “They are new to me. I found them growing on a grave that had no tombstone or other marker, except for these ugly weeds. It seems that they had taken it upon themselves to keep his memory. They grew out of his heart: Perhaps they reflect some hideous secret buried with him. He would have been better off had he confessed during his lifetime.”

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