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 a 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
But her recent encounter with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had given her
something new to think about. It had given her a goal to work and sacrifice for.
She had seen the intense misery the minister struggled against—or, rather, the
misery he had stopped struggling against. She saw that he stood at the edge of
madness, if indeed he had not already stepped across that edge. The secret sting
of remorse could be painful. But without a doubt, the very hand that offered to
help had made that stinging poisonous. A secret enemy had been constantly by the
minister’s side, disguised as a friend and helper. This enemy had taken
advantage of the many opportunities to disturb Mr. Dimmesdale’s delicate nature.
Hester couldn’t help but ask herself whether some defect of her own character—of
her truth, or courage, or loyalty—had helped put the minister in this position.
There was a lot to be afraid of, and little to hope for. Her only excuse was
that agreeing to Roger Chillingworth’s scheme was the only way she could think
of to save him from an even greater public shame than her own. She had made her
choice with that in mind. But now it seemed that she had chosen poorly. She
decided to correct her error, to whatever extent she could. Strengthened by
years of hard testing, she no longer felt herself unequal to a fight against
Roger Chillingworth. She had climbed her way to a much higher place since that
night when, defeated by her sins and her still-new shame, she had spoken with
him in the prison chamber. On the other hand, revenge had lowered the old man
closer down to her level—perhaps even below it.
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 medicines withal.
In conclusion, Hester Prynne decided to meet her former husband, and to do
what she could to rescue his victim from his grasp. She did not have to wait
long. One afternoon, while walking with Pearl in an isolated part of the
peninsula, she came upon the old doctor. With a basket on one arm and a staff in
the other hand, he stooped along the ground, searching for roots and herbs with
which to make his medicines.