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The Scarlet Letter

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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 farther than he might into a mill-stone—retired from the window. Seeing the light of Governor Bellingham’s lamp, the old lady quickly extinguished her own and vanished. Maybe she flew up to the clouds. The minister didn’t see her again that night. The magistrate, after cautiously surveying the darkness—which he could see into about as good as if he were looking through stone—drew back from the window.
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, he 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 personages 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 were going mad. The minister calmed down a bit, but his eyes soon detected a small glimmering light approaching from way up the street. It briefly illuminated nearby objects as it made its way: a post here, a garden fence there; a window, a water pump and trough; and that oak door, iron knocker, and wooden step of the prison house. The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale noticed all of these details, even as he became convinced that the light was his doom drawing near. In a few moments, the lantern’s beam would fall on him, revealing his long-hidden secret. As the light came closer he saw his fellow clergyman within its circle. To be more precise, it was his mentor and good friend, the Reverend Mr. Wilson. Mr. Dimmesdale assumed he had been praying at the bedside of some dying man. In fact, he had. The good old minister came from the death chamber of Governor Winthrop, who had passed to Heaven that very hour. Good Father Wilson was making his way home, his footsteps aided by a lantern’s light which surrounded him with a radiant halo, like the saints of old. He seemed glorified on this gloomy, sin-filled night, as if the dead Governor had bequeathed to him his brilliance, or as if he had caught the shine from the heavenly city as he watched the Governor make his way there. These are the images that occurred to Mr. Dimmesdale. He smiled and almost laughed at the extravagant metaphors, and then he wondered if he were going mad.
As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffold, closely muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one arm, and holding the lantern before his breast with the other, the minister could hardly restrain himself from speaking. The Reverend Mr. Wilson passed by the platform, holding his ministerial cloak about him with one arm and the lantern in front of him with the other. Dimmesdale could hardly keep from speaking:
“A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson! Come up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!” “Good evening to you, Reverend Father Wilson. Come up here, please, and spend a fine 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 playfulness. Good heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For a moment, he believed that he had. But he only said those words in his mind. Old Father Wilson continued to walk slowly onward, looking carefully at the muddy path before him, and never once turning his head toward the guilty platform. After the light of the glimmering lantern had faded away entirely, the minister realized that even though his mind had tried to relieve itself through this elaborate game, the terrible tension of the last few minutes had left him weak.
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’s 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 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 by, 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! Shortly afterward, this morbid humor again invaded his serious thoughts. He felt his limbs growing stiff with the chill of night. He wasn’t sure whether he would be able to climb down from the platform. Morning would find him still sitting there. The neighborhood would begin to stir. The earliest riser, walking out into the dim twilight, would see a hazy figure on the platform. Caught between fear and curiosity, he would knock on every door, calling everyone to come and see the ghost—as he would surely think it was—of some dead sinner. The morning’s commotion would spread from one house to another. Then, as the daylight grew stronger, respectable old men in their flannel nightgowns would quickly rise. Proud old women would get up without pausing to change out of their nightclothes. All of the town’s most important people, who were never seen with a hair out of place, would hurry into public view with the disorder of a nightmare in their faces. Old Governor Bellingham would appear, his ruffled collar wrongly fastened. Mistress Hibbins would come out, twigs clinging to her skirt and her face looking more sour than ever after having spent all night riding with the witches. And good Father Wilson, unhappy to be woken from his dreams of the saints after spending half the night at a deathbed, would make his way there. So too would the elders of Mr. Dimmesdale’s church, and the young women who had idolized their minister and made a place for him in their white bosoms, which they would barely have had time to cover with their handkerchiefs amid the chaos and confusion. In a word, everyone would come stumbling out of their doors. They would turn their amazed and horrified faces to the platform. Who would they see sitting there, the red rising sun shining on his face? Who but Arthur Dimmesdale, half-frozen to death, overcome with shame, and standing where Hester Prynne had stood!

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