How fared it with him then? Were there not the brilliant particles of a halo
in the air about his head? So etherealized by spirit as he was, and so
apotheosized by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps in the procession really
tread upon the dust of earth?
So what did he make of it? Wasn’t there a sparkling halo floating above his
head? Being so filled with spirit, and held up so high by his worshippers, did
his footsteps really fall upon the dust of the earth?
As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, all eyes were
turned towards the point where the minister was seen to approach among them. The
shout died into a murmur, as one portion of the crowd after another obtained a
glimpse of him. How feeble and pale he looked amid all his triumph! The
energy—or say, rather, the inspiration which had held him up, until he should
have delivered the sacred message that brought its own strength along with it
from Heaven—was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully performed its office.
The glow, which they had just before beheld burning on his cheek, was
extinguished, like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late-decaying
embers. It seemed hardly the face of a man alive, with such a deathlike hue; it
was hardly a man with life in him, that tottered on his path so nervelessly, yet
tottered, and did not fall!
As the military men and civic leaders moved past, all eyes turned toward the
point where the minister could be seen drawing near. The shouts quieted to a
murmur as one part of the crowd and then another caught a glimpse of him. How
weak and pale he looked even in his triumph! The energy—or rather, the
inspiration that had held him up to deliver the sacred message—had vanished now
that it had performed it’s mission. The fire that had glowed on his cheek was
extinguished like a flame that sinks down into the dying embers. His face hardly
seemed to belong to a living man—its color was so deathly. It was hardly a man
with life in him who wobbled along his path—wobbled, but did not fall!
One of his clerical brethren,—it was the venerable John Wilson,—observing the
state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring wave of intellect and
sensibility, stepped forward hastily to offer his support. The minister
tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old man’s arm. He still walked onward,
if that movement could be so described, which rather resembled the wavering
effort of an infant, with its mother’s arms in view, outstretched to tempt him
forward. And now, almost imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress,
he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold, where,
long since, with all that dreary lapse of time between, Hester Prynne had
encountered the world’s ignominious stare. There stood Hester, holding little
Pearl by the hand! And there was the scarlet letter on her breast! The minister
here made a pause; although the music still played the stately and rejoicing
march to which the procession moved. It summoned him onward,—onward to the
festival!—but here he made a pause.
One of his fellow ministers—the great John Wilson—saw the condition in which
the retreating wave of inspiration had left Mr. Dimmesdale and stepped quickly
forward to offer his support. The minister refused his arm, though he trembled
as he did so. He kept walking forward, if it could be described as walking. His
movement more closely resembled those of an infant teetering toward its mother’s
arms as they were stretched out to coax him along. And now, although his last
steps had been almost imperceptibly small, he arrived at the familiar and
weather-beaten platform where Hester Prynne had long ago faced the world’s
shameful stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand! And there
was the scarlet letter on her breast! The minister paused here, although the
band still played its stately and joyful march and the procession moved forward.
The music summoned him onward to the festival, but he paused here.
Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an anxious eye upon him. He now
left his own place in the procession, and advanced to give assistance; judging
from Mr. Dimmesdale’s aspect that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But there
was something in the latter’s expression that warned back the magistrate,
although a man not readily obeying the vague intimations that pass from one
spirit to another. The crowd, meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This
earthly faintness was, in their view, only another phase of the minister’s
celestial strength; nor would it have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought
for one so holy, had he ascended before their eyes, waxing dimmer and brighter,
and fading at last into the light of Heaven!
Bellingham had kept an anxious eye upon him for the last few moments. Now he
left his own place in the procession to give assistance. From Mr. Dimmesdale’s
appearance, it seemed certain that he would fall. But there was something in the
minister’s expression that warned Bellingham to stay back, though he was not the
sort of man to follow ambiguous signs. The crowd, meanwhile, looked on with awe
and wonder. This mortal weakness was, in their eyes, just another indication of
the minister’s heavenly strength. It would not have seemed too great a miracle
for one so holy to ascend right before their eyes, growing dimmer and yet
brighter as he finally faded into the light of Heaven!
He turned towards the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms.
He turned toward the platform and extended his arms.
“Hester,” said he, “come hither! Come, my little Pearl!”
“Hester,” he said, “come here! Come, my little Pearl!”
It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was something at
once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The child, with the bird-like motion
which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and clasped her arms about
his knees. Hester Prynne—slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against
her strongest will—likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him. At
this instant old Roger Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd,—or,
perhaps, so dark, disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose up out of some
nether region,—to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do! Be that as
it might, the old man rushed forward and caught the minister by the arm.
He gave them a ghastly look, but there was something both tender and strangely
triumphant to it. The child, with her birdlike motion, flew to him and clasped
her arms around his knees. Hester Prynne—slowly, as if moved against her will by
an inevitable fate—also drew near, but paused before she reached him. At that
moment old Roger Chillingworth broke through the crowd to stop his victim from
what he was about to do. Or, perhaps, looking as dark, disturbed, and evil as he
did, Chillingworth rose up from some corner of Hell. Whatever the case, the old
man rushed forward and grabbed the minister by the arm.
“Madman, hold! What is your purpose?” whispered he. “Wave back that woman!
Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in
dishonor! I can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred
“Stop, madman! What are you doing” he whispered. “Send that woman back! Push
this child away! Everything will be fine! Don’t ruin your fame and die
dishonored! I can still save you! Do you want to bring shame to your sacred
“Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!” answered the minister, encountering
his eye, fearfully, but firmly. “Thy power is not what it was! With God’s help,
I shall escape thee now!”
“Ha, tempter! I think you are too late!” answered the minister, looking him in
the eye fearfully but firmly. “Your power is not as strong as it was! With God’s
help, I will escape you now!”
He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.
Again he extended his hand to the woman with the scarlet letter.
“Hester Prynne,” cried he, with a piercing earnestness, “in the name of Him,
so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do
what—for my own heavy sin and miserable agony—I withheld myself from doing seven
years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength,
Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! This
wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might!—with all his own
might and the fiend’s! Come, Hester, come! Support me up yonder
“Hester Prynne,” he cried with an intense seriousness, “in the name of God, so
terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace at this last moment to do what I
kept myself from doing seven years ago, come here now and wrap your strength
around me! Your strength, Hester, but let it be guided by the will that God has
granted me! This old man, both sinful and sinned against, is opposing me with
all his might! With all his might and with the Devil’s too! Come here,
Hester—come here! Help me up onto that platform!”