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The Scarlet Letter

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The scarlet letter had not done its office. The scarlet letter had not done its job.
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 stooped for. 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.

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