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The Scarlet Letter

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Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the water, and play with the shells and tangled seaweed, until she should have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet, went pattering along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there, she came to a full stop, and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say,—“This is a better place! Come thou into the pool!” And Pearl, stepping in, mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; while, out of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary smile, floating to and fro in the agitated water. Hester told little Pearl to run down and play by the shore while she talked with the man gathering the herbs. The child flew away like a bird. She kicked off her shoes and went pattering along the water’s edge in her bare white feet. Now and then she stopped and peered into a pool left by the receding water, which formed a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Staring back at her from the water was a little girl with dark, shiny curls and an elflike smile in her eyes. Pearl, having no other playmate, invited the girl to take her hand and run a race with her. But the image of the girl also beckoned, as if to say, “This is a better place! Come into the pool with me!” Pearl stepped into the pool up to her knees and saw her own white feet at the bottom. Deeper down, she could see the gleam of a sort of broken smile, floating here and there in the stirred-up water.
Meanwhile, her mother had accosted the physician. Meanwhile, her mother had approached the doctor.
“I would speak a word with you,” said she,—“a word that concerns us much.” “I would like to talk with you,” she said, “about a matter that concerns us both.”
“Aha! And is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old Roger Chillingworth?” answered he, raising himself from his stooping posture. “With all my heart! Why, Mistress, I hear good tidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than yester-eve, a magistrate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of your affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there had been question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether or no, with safety to the common weal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my entreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith!” “Ah! Mistress Hester would like to talk with old Roger Chillingworth?” he answered, raising himself from his stooping position. “Well, my word! I say, Mistress, I hear many good things about you! As recently as last night a magistrate, a wise and godly man, was talking about you, Mistress Hester. He whispered to me that the council had been debating whether, without endangering public morality, that scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. I swear to you, Hester, I asked that magistrate to see it done immediately!”
“It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off this badge,” calmly replied Hester. “Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport.” “The power of the magistrates cannot take off this symbol,” Hester replied calmly. “If I were worthy to have it removed, it would simply fall away—or be transformed into something that would convey a different message.”
“Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better,” rejoined he. “A woman must needs follow her own fancy, touching the adornment of her person. The letter is gayly embroidered, and shows right bravely on your bosom!” “So wear it, if it suits you best,” he replied. “A woman must, of course, follow her own whims when it comes to dressing herself. The letter is beautifully embroidered, and it sure looks fine on your bosom!”
All this while, Hester had been looking steadily at the old man, and was shocked, as well as wonder-smitten, to discern what a change had been wrought upon him within the past seven years. It was not so much that he had grown older; for though the traces of advancing life were visible, he bore his age well, and seemed to retain a wiry vigor and alertness. But the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet, which was what she best remembered in him, had altogether vanished, and been succeeded by an eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to mask this expression with a smile; but the latter played him false, and flickered over his visage so derisively, that the spectator could see his blackness all the better for it. Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man’s soul were on fire, and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast, until, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened. While they were talking, Hester had been looking steadily at the old man. She was shocked and bewildered to see how much he had changed in the last seven years. It was not so much that he had grown older. There were signs of advancing age, but he had aged well, retaining his lean strength and alertness. But he no longer seemed like the intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet, that she remembered. That man had been replaced by a man who looked eager, inquisitive, almost fierce—yet carefully guarded. He tried to mask this expression with a smile, but he wore it so badly that it revealed his blackness even more. And there was a constant red light in his eyes, as if the old man’s soul was on fire. It seemed to smolder and smoke in his breast until some passing wind of passion ignited it into a brief flame. He would put out that fire as quickly as possible and attempt to look as though nothing had happened.
In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a Devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a Devil’s office. This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by devoting himself, for seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analyzed and gloated over. In short, old Roger Chillingworth presented a striking example of how a man who spends enough time doing the Devil’s work can actually transform himself into a Devil. This sad person had brought about this change by devoting himself, for seven full years, to the analysis of a tortured heart. He derived his enjoyment from this task, which only added fuel to those fiery tortures.
The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne’s bosom. Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to her. The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne’s bosom. She felt partly responsible for this other ruined life.
“What see you in my face,” asked the physician, “that you look at it so earnestly?” “What do you see in my face,” asked the doctor, “that makes you look at it so intently?”
“Something that would make me weep, if there were any tears bitter enough for it,” answered she. “But let it pass! It is of yonder miserable man that I would speak.” “I see something that would make me weep, if tears were bitter enough for the sadness,” she answered. “But let it pass. I would like to talk about that miserable man from the other night.”

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