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The Scarlet Letter

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But the sea, in those old times, heaved, swelled, and foamed very much at its own will, or subject only to the tempestuous wind, with hardly any attempts at regulation by human law. The buccaneer on the wave might relinquish his calling, and become at once, if he chose, a man of probity and piety on land; nor, even in the full career of his reckless life, was he regarded as a personage with whom it was disreputable to traffic or casually associate. Thus, the Puritan elders, in their black cloaks, starched bands, and steeple-crowned hats, smiled not unbenignantly at the clamor and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men; and it excited neither surprise nor animadversion when so reputable a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth, the physician, was seen to enter the market-place, in close and familiar talk with the commander of the questionable vessel. In those days, the sea moved with a will of its own or subject only to the wind. Human law hardly even attempted regulation. The sailor could give up his calling, if he chose, and instantly become a respected man on land. And even while he led his reckless life, it was not thought disrespectable to deal with him. And so the Puritan elders, in their black cloaks, ruffled collars, and pointed hats, smiled at the noise and rudeness of these jolly sailors. It did not cause surprise or elicit rebuke when a respectable citizen such as Roger Chillingworth, the doctor, was seen to enter the marketplace talking in a familiar way with the commander of the dubious ship.
The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure, so far as apparel went, anywhere to be seen among the multitude. He wore a profusion of ribbons on his garment, and gold lace on his hat, which was also encircled by a gold chain, and surmounted with a feather. There was a sword at his side, and a sword-cut on his forehead, which, by the arrangement of his hair, he seemed anxious rather to display than hide. A landsman could hardly have worn this garb and shown this face, and worn and shown them both with such a galliard air, without undergoing stern question before a magistrate, and probably incurring fine or imprisonment, or perhaps an exhibition in the stocks. As regarded the shipmaster, however, all was looked upon as pertaining to the character, as to a fish his glistening scales. The commander was by far the most showily dressed figure to be seen anywhere in the crowd. He wore a great many ribbons on his coat and gold lace on his hat, which was encircled by a gold chain and topped with a feather. There was a sword at his side and sword-scar on his forehead. You could tell by his hairdo that he wanted to show off the scar, rather than hide it. A citizen of the land could not have worn this outfit and displayed this face, and done so with such a grand air, without facing stern questioning from a magistrate, a probable fine, and then possible shaming in the stocks. Yet because he was a shipmaster, this man’s appearance looked as appropriate as a fish’s glistening scales.
After parting from the physician, the commander of the Bristol ship strolled idly through the market-place; until, happening to approach the spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared to recognize, and did not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small, vacant area—a sort of magic circle—had formed itself about her, into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured, or felt disposed to intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer; partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinctive, though no longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her fellow-creatures. Now, if never before, it answered a good purpose, by enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together without risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne’s repute before the public, that the matron in town most eminent for rigid morality could not have held such intercourse with less result of scandal than herself. After parting from the doctor, the commander of the ship strolled idly through the marketplace. When he came upon the spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he seemed to recognize her. He did not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small empty space—a sort of magic circle—had formed around her. Though people were elbowing one another and crammed together all around her, no one ventured into that space. It was a physical sign of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter encircled its wearer, partly through her own reserve, and partly by the instinctive (though no longer unkind) withdrawal of her fellow citizens. Now, at least, it served a good purpose: Hester and the ship’s commander could speak together without the risk of being overheard. Her reputation was so changed that she risked no scandal by this public conversation, no more than would the most well-respected matron in town, known for rigid morality.
“So, mistress,” said the mariner, “I must bid the steward make ready one more berth than you bargained for! No fear of scurvy or ship-fever, this voyage! What with the ship’s surgeon and this other doctor, our only danger will be from drug or pill; more by token, as there is a lot of apothecary’s stuff aboard, which I traded for with a Spanish vessel.” “So, ma’am,” said the captain, “I must instruct the steward to make room for one more passenger than you had bargained for! We needn’t fear any diseases on this voyage. With the ship’s surgeon and this other doctor on board, our only danger will be from the drugs they prescribe—and I did trade with a Spanish ship for a great deal of medicine.”
“What mean you?” inquired Hester, startled more than she permitted to appear. “Have you another passenger?” “What do you mean?” asked Hester, more startled than she allowed herself to show. “Do you have another passenger?”
“Why, know you not,” cried the shipmaster, “that this physician here—Chillingworth, he calls himself—is minded to try my cabin-fare with you? Ay, ay, you must have known it; for he tells me he is of your party, and a close friend to the gentleman you spoke of,—he that is in peril from these sour old Puritan rulers!” “Don’t you know,” cried the ship’s captain, “that this doctor here—he calls himself Chillingworth—has decided to try ship’s cooking along with you? Yeah, sure, you must have known. He tells me that he is a member of your party and a close friend of the gentleman you spoke of—the one that is in danger from these sour old Puritans.”
“They know each other well, indeed,” replied Hester, with a mien of calmness, though in the utmost consternation. “They have long dwelt together.” “They do know each other well,” replied Hester, maintaining the appearance of calmness despite her great distress. “They have lived together for a long time.”
Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. But, at that instant, she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself, standing in the remotest corner of the market-place, and smiling on her; a smile which—across the wide and bustling square, and through all the talk and laughter, and various thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd—conveyed secret and fearful meaning. The sailor and Hester Prynne spoke nothing more. But at that moment she saw old Roger Chillingworth himself, standing in the farthest corner of the marketplace and smiling at her. Even across the broad and busy square, through all the talk and laughter and various thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd, that smile conveyed a secret and fearful meaning.

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