“I profess, madam,” answered the clergyman, with a grave obeisance, such as
the lady’s rank demanded, and his own good-breeding made imperative,—“I profess,
on my conscience and character, that I am utterly bewildered as touching the
purport of your words! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate; neither
do I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a view to gaining the
favor of such personage. My one sufficient object was to greet that pious friend
of mine, the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he
hath won from heathendom!”
“Honestly, madam,” answered the clergyman, with the serious bow that the
lady’s position and his own good breeding demanded, “on my conscience and my
character, I am completely confused about the meaning of your words! I did not
go the forest seeking to visit any man of power, nor do I intend to do so. My
one and only purpose was to meet that holy friend of mine, the Apostle Eliot,
and celebrate the many precious souls he has won over to the church!”
“Ha, ha, ha!” cackled the old witch-lady, still nodding her high head-dress at
the minister. “Well, well, we must needs talk thus in the daytime! You carry it
off like an old hand! But at midnight, and in the forest, we shall have other
The old witch-lady cackled and nodded her headdress at the minister. “Well,
well—we must say such things in the day time! You carry it off like an old hand!
But at midnight, in the forest, we will have to talk honestly together!”
She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often turning back her head and
smiling at him, like one willing to recognize a secret intimacy of
She walked off with the stateliness of her age, but often looked back and
smiled at him, like one who acknowledges a secret, intimate connection.
“Have I then sold myself,” thought the minister, “to the fiend whom, if men
say true, this yellow-starched and velveted old hag has chosen for her prince
“So have I sold myself,” thought the minister, “to the Devil who they say this
old woman has chosen for her lord and master?”
The wretched minister! He had made a bargain very like it! Tempted by a dream
of happiness, he had yielded himself with deliberate choice, as he had never
done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that
sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had stupefied
all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad
ones. Scorn, bitterness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill,
ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke, to tempt, even while they
frightened him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real
incident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals and the
world of perverted spirits.
The miserable minister! He had made a very similar bargain! Tempted by a dream
of happiness, he had deliberately given in to deadly sin, as he had never done
before. And the poison of that sin had rapidly infected his entire moral system.
It had deadened all of his holy impulses and awakened a whole host of bad ones.
He was tempted and frightened by scorn, bitterness, malice, and a desire to
ridicule everything good and holy. And his encounter with old Mistress
Hibbins—if it happened in the first place—showed his sympathy and friendship
with wicked mortals and the world of strange spirits.
He had by this time reached his dwelling, on the edge of the burial-ground,
and, hastening up the stairs, took refuge in his study. The minister was glad to
have reached this shelter, without first betraying himself to the world by any
of those strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been continually
impelled while passing through the streets. He entered the accustomed room, and
looked around him on its books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried
comfort of the walls, with the same perception of strangeness that had haunted
him throughout his walk from the forest-dell into the town, and thitherward.
Here he had studied and written; here, gone through fast and vigil, and come
forth half alive; here, striven to pray; here, borne a hundred thousand agonies!
There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and the Prophets
speaking to him, and God’s voice through all!
By this time, he had reached his home by the edge of the burial ground.
Hurrying up the stairs, he took shelter in his study. The minister was glad he’d
made it home without revealing himself to the world with any of the strange and
wicked actions he’d felt compelled to take. He entered the familiar room and
looked around him at its books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestries
that hung from its walls. The same sense of strangeness that haunted him
throughout his walk from the forest had followed him home. He had studied and
written here, fasted and tried to pray here, endured a hundred thousand agonies
here! There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and the prophets
speaking to him and God’s voice through it all.
There, on the table, with the inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon,
with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased to gush out
upon the page two days before. He knew that it was himself, the thin and
white-cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these things, and written thus
far into the Election Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye this former
self with scornful, pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That self was gone!
Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a knowledge of
hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached. A
bitter kind of knowledge that!
There on the table, with the pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon. He had
stopped writing it two days ago, when his thoughts had broken off in the middle
of a sentence. He knew that he himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who
had done and suffered these things, and had written this much of the Election
Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart from this former self, looking at him with
a mix of scornful pity and half-envious curiosity. That old self was gone.
Another man had returned from the forest, a wiser one. This new man had
knowledge of hidden mysteries his former, simpler self could never have
understood. It was truly a bitter knowledge!
While occupied with these reflections, a knock came at the door of the study,
and the minister said, “Come in!”—not wholly devoid of an idea that he might
behold an evil spirit. And so he did! It was old Roger Chillingworth that
entered. The minister stood, white and speechless, with one hand on the Hebrew
Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast.
While he was caught up in these thoughts, there was a knock on the door of the
study. The minister said, “Come in!” half-thinking an evil spirit would enter.
And then one did! It was old Roger Chillingworth. The minister stood there, pale
and speechless, with one hand on the Holy Scriptures and the other on his
“Welcome home, reverend Sir!” said the physician. “And how found you that
godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear Sir, you look pale; as if the
travel through the wilderness had been too sore for you. Will not my aid be
requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your Election
“Welcome home, reverend sir,” said the physician. “How was that holy man, the
apostle Eliot? Dear sir, I think you look pale, as though travel through the
wilderness has exhausted you. Won’t you need my help to give you the spirit and
strength to preach the Election Sermon?”
“Nay, I think not so,” rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. “My journey, and
the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed,
have done me good, after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no
more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by
a friendly hand.”
“No, I don’t think so,” replied the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. “My journey, my
conversation with the holy Apostle, and the fresh air have all done me good,
after being cooped up in my study for so long. I don’t think I’ll need any more
of your drugs, my kind doctor, though they are good indeed—and dispensed by a