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The Scarlet Letter

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This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like movement, rather than walk by her mother’s side. She broke continually into shouts of a wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. When they reached the market-place, she became still more restless, on perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot; for it was usually more like the broad and lonesome green before a village meeting-house, than the centre of a town’s business. Pearl’s bubbliness made her move like a bird, flitting along rather than walking by her mother’s side. She kept breaking into shouts of wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. When they reached the marketplace, she became even more restless, sensing the energy of the crowd. The spot was usually like a broad, lonely lawn in front of a meetinghouse. Today it was the center of the town’s business.
“Why, what is this, mother?” cried she. “Wherefore have all the people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the whole world? See, there is the blacksmith! He has washed his sooty face, and put on his Sabbath-day clothes, and looks, as if he would gladly be merry, if any kind body would only teach him how! And there is Master Brackett, the old jailer, nodding and smiling at me. Why does he do so, mother?” “Why, what’s going on, mother?” Pearl cried. “Why have all these people left work today? Is it a playday for the whole world? Look, there’s the blacksmith! He has washed his dirty face and put on his Sunday best. He looks as though he would be jolly, if someone could teach him how! And there’s Master Brackett, the old jailer, nodding and smiling at me. Why is he doing that, mother?”
“He remembers thee a little babe, my child,” answered Hester. “He remembers you as a little baby, my child,” answered Hester.
“He should not nod and smile at me, for all that,—the black, grim, ugly-eyed old man!” said Pearl. “He may nod at thee if he will; for thou art clad in gray, and wearest the scarlet letter. But, see, mother, how many faces of strange people, and Indians among them, and sailors! What have they all come to do here in the market-place?” “He shouldn’t nod and smile at me, the mean, grim, ugly-eyed old man!” said Pearl. “He can nod at you, if he likes, for you are dressed in gray and wearing the scarlet letter. But see, mother, how many strange faces there are: even Indians and sailors! What are they all doing here, in the marketplace?”
“They wait to see the procession pass,” said Hester. “For the Governor and the magistrates are to go by, and the ministers, and all the great people and good people, with the music, and the soldiers marching before them.” “They are waiting to see the procession,” said Hester. “The Governor and the magistrates will pass by, and the ministers and all the great people and good people, with the band and the soldiers marching ahead of them.”
“And will the minister be there?” asked Pearl. “And will he hold out both his hands to me, as when thou ledst me to him from the brook-side?” “And will the minister be there?” asked Pearl. “And will he hold out his hands to me, as he did when you led me to him in the forest?”
“He will be there, child,” answered her mother. “But he will not greet thee to-day; nor must thou greet him.” “He will be there, child,” answered her mother, “but he will not greet you today. And you must not greet him.”
“What a strange, sad man is he!” said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. “In the dark night-time, he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But here in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!” “What a strange, sad man he is!” said the child, as though speaking half to herself. “At night he calls us to him, and holds our hands, like that time when we stood on that platform over there! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear and the strip of sky can see, he sits on a heap of moss and talks with you! And he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But here, in the sunny day and among all the people, he doesn’t know us—and we can’t know him! A strange, sad man he is, with his hand always over his heart!”
“Be quiet, Pearl! Thou understandest not these things,” said her mother. “Think not now of the minister, but look about thee, and see how cheery is every body’s face to-day. The children have come from their schools, and the grown people from their workshops and their fields, on purpose to be happy. For, to-day, a new man is beginning to rule over them; and so—as has been the custom of mankind ever since a nation was first gathered—they make merry and rejoice; as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old world!” “Be quiet, Pearl—you do not understand these things,” said her mother. “Do not think of the minister, but look around you and see how cheerful everyone’s face is today. The children have left their schools. The adults have left their workshops and fields. They have come here to be happy because a new man is beginning to rule over them today. So they make merry and rejoice, as if the coming year will be a good and golden one!”
It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jollity that brightened the faces of the people. Into this festal season of the year—as it already was, and continued to be during the greater part of two centuries—the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction. The scene was as Hester described it: The faces of the people were unusually bright and jolly. The Puritans compressed the small amount of permitted joy and happiness into the holiday season, which this was. On those days, the usual cloud was so completely dispelled that for one day the Puritans seemed no more serious than a normal community faced with a plague.
But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, which undoubtedly characterized the mood and manners of the age. The persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been born to an inheritance of Puritanic gloom. They were native Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the Elizabethan epoch; a time when the life of England, viewed as one great mass, would appear to have been as stately, magnificent, and joyous, as the world has ever witnessed. Had they followed their hereditary taste, the New England settlers would have illustrated all events of public importance by bonfires, banquets, pageantries, and processions. Nor would it have been impracticable, in the observance of majestic ceremonies, to combine mirthful recreation with solemnity, and give, as it were, a grotesque and brilliant embroidery to the great robe of state, which a nation, at such festivals, puts on. There was some shadow of an attempt of this kind in the mode of celebrating the day on which the political year of the colony commenced. The dim reflection of a remembered splendor, a colorless and manifold diluted repetition of what they had beheld in proud old London,—we will not say at a royal coronation, but at a Lord Mayor’s show,—might be traced in the customs which our forefathers instituted, with reference to the annual installation of magistrates. The fathers and founders of the commonwealth—the statesman, the priest, and the soldier—deemed it a duty then to assume the outward state and majesty, which, in accordance with antique style, was looked upon as the proper garb of public or social eminence. All came forth, to move in procession before the people’s eye, and thus impart a needed dignity to the single framework of a government so newly constructed. And then again, perhaps I’m exaggerating the darkness of the moods and manners of the day. The people who filled Boston’s marketplace were not born to inherit the Puritan gloom. They were native Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. At that time, the life of England, viewed as a whole, seems to have been as grand, magnificent, and joyous as anything the world has ever witnessed. Had they followed in the steps of their ancestors, the New England settlers would have celebrated all events of public importance with bonfires, banquets, pageants, and processions. And it would have been possible, in performing these ceremonies, to combine joyful play with solemnity and give an eccentric, brilliant embroidery to the great robe of state that a nation puts on at such festivals. There was a hint of an attempt at this playfulness in the celebration of political inaugurations. A dim reflection of a half-remembered splendor, a gray and diluted version of what these settlers had seen in proud old London, could be observed in our forefathers’ celebration of the annual installation of magistrates. The leaders of the community—politician, priest, and soldier—felt it was their duty to put on the older style of dress. They all moved in a procession before the eyes of the people, giving a needed dignity to a government so recently formed.

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