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The Scarlet Letter

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“And what of him?” cried Roger Chillingworth eagerly, as if he loved the topic, and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it with the only person of whom he could make a confidant. “Not to hide the truth, Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be busy with the gentleman. So speak freely; and I will make answer.” “What of him?” answered Roger Chillingworth eagerly, as though he loved the topic and was glad to discuss it with the only person he could confide in. “In all honesty, Mistress Hester, I was just now thinking of the gentleman. Speak freely, and I will answer you.”
“When we last spake together,” said Hester, “now seven years ago, it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy, as touching the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and good fame of yonder man were in your hands, there seemed no choice to me, save to be silent, in accordance with your behest. Yet it was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself; for, having cast off all duty towards other human beings, there remained a duty towards him; and something whispered me that I was betraying it, in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since that day, no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living death; and still he knows you not. In permitting this, I have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was left me to be true!” “When we last spoke,” said Hester, “some seven years ago, you made me promise to keep our former relationship a secret. Since the life and reputation of that man were in your hands, I seemed to have no choice but to keep the secret as you asked. But I made that promise with great fear. Though I had renounced all duty toward other human beings, I still had a duty towards him. Something told me that I was betraying that duty by pledging to keep your secret. Since that day, no one has been as close to him as you. You follow his every footstep. You are beside him when he sleeps and when he is awake. You search his thoughts. You dig into his heart and make it sore! You have a grip on his life that causes him to die a living death every day. And yet he does not know the real you. By allowing this to happen, I have surely been untrue to the only man that I have the power to be true to!”
“What choice had you?” asked Roger Chillingworth. “My finger, pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon,—thence, peradventure, to the gallows!” “What choice did you have?” asked Roger Chillingworth. “If I had pointed my finger at this man, he would have been thrown from his pulpit into prison—and perhaps from there to the gallows!”
“It had been better so!” said Hester Prynne. “It would have been better that way!” said Hester Prynne.
“What evil have I done the man?” asked Roger Chillingworth again. “I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid, his life would have burned away in torments, within the first two years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For, Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. O, I could reveal a goodly secret! But enough! What art can do, I have exhausted on him. That he now breathes, and creeps about on earth, is owing all to me!” “What evil have I done to this man?” asked Roger Chillingworth again. “I tell you, Hester Prynne, the richest king could not have bought the care that I have wasted on this miserable priest! If not for my help, his life would have been consumed by his torments within two years of your mutual crime. His spirit was not strong enough to bear a burden like your scarlet letter, Hester. Oh, I could have revealed the secret! But enough of that! I have done for him all that medicine can do. I am the only reason that he still breathes and crawls this earth!”
“Better he had died at once!” said Hester Prynne. “It would have been better if he had died at once!” said Hester Prynne.
“Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!” cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. “Better had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense,—for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this,—he knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!—the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!—and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed!—he did not err!—there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!” “Yes, woman, you speak the truth!” cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the fire in his heart blaze in front of her eyes. “It would have been better if he had died at once! No man has ever suffered what this man has suffered. And all of it in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been aware of me. He has felt a pressure hanging over him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense—for God has never made a being as sensitive as him—that an unfriendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings. He knew that an eye was peering intently into him, searching for evil—and finding it. But he did not know that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common among ministers, he imagined himself handed over to a demon, to be tortured with terrible nightmares and desperate thoughts—the sting of remorse and the despair of pardon—as a taste of what waits for him in Hell. But it was my constant presence! The proximity of the man he had wronged the most! The man created by the poisonous drug of revenge! Yes, indeed! He was not wrong: There was a demon at his side! A mortal man, whose heart had once been human, but who has become a demon devoted to his torment!”
The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. It was one of those moments—which sometimes occur only at the interval of years—when a man’s moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind’s eye. Not improbably, he had never before viewed himself as he did now. As the unfortunate doctor uttered these words, he raised his hands with a look of horror, as though he had looked into a mirror and seen a frightful, unrecognizable shape instead of his own image. It was one of those rare moments, which come only once every few years, in which a man sees his true character in his mind’s eye. He had probably never seen himself as he did now.
“Hast thou not tortured him enough?” said Hester, noticing the old man’s look. “Has he not paid thee all?” “Haven’t you tortured him enough?” said Hester, noticing the old man’s look. “Hasn’t he repaid you completely?”
“No!—no!—He has but increased the debt!” answered the physician; and, as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics, and subsided into gloom. “Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I was nine years agone? Even then, I was in the autumn of my days, nor was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too, though this latter object was but casual to the other,—faithfully for the advancement of human welfare. No life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with benefits conferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I not, though you might deem cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others, craving little for himself,—kind, true, just, and of constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all this?” “No! No! He has only increased the debt!” the doctor answered. As he went on, his manner lost some of its fierceness and became gloomy. “Hester, do you remember me as I was nine years ago? Even then, I was in the autumn of my life—and it was not early autumn. My life had consisted of earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years. I spent my time increasing my own knowledge and—though this was only a secondary goal—advancing human welfare. No life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine, and few lives had been so rich. Do you remember me? Wasn’t I a man who thought of others and asked little for himself? Wasn’t I a kind, faithful, just, and loyal—if not necessarily warm—man? Wasn’t I all of this?”

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