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The Scarlet Letter

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So Roger Chillingworth—a deformed old figure, with a face that haunted men’s memories longer than they liked!—took leave of Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He gathered here and there an herb, or grubbed up a root, and put it into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the ground, as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little while, looking with a half-fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him, and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs they were, which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs, of species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him, that every wholesome growth should be converted into something deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with his deformity, whichever way he turned himself? And whither was he now going? Would he not suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance? Or would he spread bat’s wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier, the higher he rose towards Heaven? Roger Chillingworth took his leave of Hester Prynne. He was a deformed old figure, with a face that lingered unpleasantly in people’s memories. As he stooped away, he gathered an herb here, dug up a root there, and put them into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the ground as he crept along. Hester stared after him for a while, half-imagining that his feet might burn the early spring grass on which he walked. She wondered what sort of herbs the old man was gathering so purposefully. Wouldn’t the earth, awakened to his evil purpose, send poisonous shrubs growing up beneath his fingers? Wouldn’t it suit him if his touch converted every good and wholesome thing into something diseased and harmful? Did the sun, which shined so brightly everywhere else, really fall on him? Or was there, as it seemed, a circle of ominous shadow following him wherever he turned? And where was he going now? Would he suddenly sink into the earth, leaving barren ground behind? Would poisonous plants grow up where he had vanished? Or would he spread bat‘s wings and fly away, looking uglier the closer he came to Heaven?
“Be it sin or no,” said Hester Prynne bitterly, as she still gazed after him, “I hate the man!” “Whether or not it’s a sin,” said Hester bitterly, as she stared after him, “I hate the man!”
She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not overcome or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she thought of those long-past days, in a distant land, when he used to emerge at eventide from the seclusion of his study, and sit down in the fire-light of their home, and in the light of her nuptial smile. He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken off the scholar’s heart. Such scenes had once appeared not otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through the dismal medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among her ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have been! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to marry him! She deemed it her crime most to be repented of, that she had ever endured, and reciprocated, the lukewarm grasp of his hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth, than any which had since been done him, that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side. She blamed herself for the feeling, but she could neither conquer it nor reduce it. Trying nonetheless to do so, she thought of days long past, in a distant land. He would emerge from his study at the end of the day and enjoy the firelight of their home, and the light of her newlywed’s smile. He said that he needed to bask in that smile in order to warm his heart after so many cold and lonely hours among his books. Such scenes had seemed happy. But now, looking back at them through the lens of what followed, Hester considered them some of her ugliest memories. She was amazed that such scenes could have occurred! She wondered how she could ever have been convinced to marry him! She considered it her worst crime that she had endured—and even returned—the lukewarm grasp of his hand, had allowed her smile to melt into his own. She certainly repented that misdeed. And it seemed that when Roger Chillingworth convinced her to believe herself happy by his side, at a time when her heart knew no better, he committed a graver offense than any that was later committed against him.
“Yes, I hate him!” repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. “He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!” “Yes, I hate him!” repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. “He betrayed me! He has done worse to me than I ever did to him!”
Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth’s, when some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago to have done with this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven long years, under the torture of the scarlet letter, inflicted so much of misery, and wrought out no repentance? Men should be afraid to win a woman’s hand in marriage unless they win her complete heart and passion along with it! Otherwise it may be their misfortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth’s, that when another man awakens the woman’s feelings more powerfully, she reproaches her husband for the false image of happiness and contentment that he has passed off on her as the real thing. But Hester should have made peace with this injustice long ago. What did her outburst mean? Had seven long years under the torture of the scarlet letter inflicted so much misery without moving her to repentance?
The emotions of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on Hester’s state of mind, revealing much that she might not otherwise have acknowledged to herself. The emotions of that brief time in which she stood staring after the crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth shower Hester’s state of mind in a dark light, revealing a great deal that she might otherwise have denied even to herself.
He being gone, she summoned back her child. When he was gone, she summoned her child back.
“Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?” “Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?”
Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer of herbs. At first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and—as it declined to venture—seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky. Soon finding, however, that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little boats out of birch-bark, and freighted them with snail-shells, and sent out more ventures on the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger part of them foundered near the shore. She seized a live horseshoe by the tail, and made prize of several five-fingers, and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she took up the white foam, that streaked the line of the advancing tide, and threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it with winged footsteps, to catch the great snow-flakes ere they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach-birds, that fed and fluttered along the shore, the naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles, and, creeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl, displayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them. One little gray bird, with a white breast, Pearl was almost sure, had been hit by a pebble and fluttered away with a broken wing. But then the elf-child sighed, and gave up her sport; because it grieved her to have done harm to a little being that was as wild as the sea-breeze, or as wild as Pearl herself. Pearl, whose active spirit never tired, had amused herself while her mother talked with the old doctor. At first, as already described, she flirted with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom in the water to come out and play, and trying to join the girl when she saw that she would not leave her pool. When Pearl discovered that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better amusement. She made little boats out of birch bark, placed snail shells upon them, and sent more vessels into the mighty ocean than any merchant in New England. Most of them sank near the shore. She grabbed a horseshoe crab by the tail, collected several starfish, and laid a jellyfish out to melt in the warm sun. Then she took the white foam, which streaked along the advancing tide, and threw it into the breeze. She scampered after the foam snowflakes, trying to catch them before they fell. Seeing a flock of seabirds feeding and fluttering along the shore, the naughty child gathered pebbles in her apron and, creeping from rock to rock as she stalked the small birds, showed remarkable ability in hitting them. Pearl was almost certain that one little gray bird with a white breast had been hit by a pebble and fluttered away with a broken wing. But then the elflike child gave up her amusement because it saddened her to have harmed a little being that was as wild as the sea breeze, as wild as Pearl herself.

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