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The Scarlet Letter

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The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silent prayer, as it seemed, and then came forward. The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bowed his head in what appeared to be silent prayer and then stepped forward.
“Hester Prynne,” said he, leaning over the balcony, and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, “thou hearest what this good man says, and seest the accountability under which I labor. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him,—yea, compel him, as it were—to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee, and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself—the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!” “Hester Prynne,” he said, leaning over the balcony and looking into her eyes with a steady gaze, “you hear what this good man says and see the authority that compels me to speak. If you feel that speaking will comfort your soul and make your present punishment effective for your eternal salvation, then I charge you to speak out the name of your fellow sinner and fellow sufferer! Do not be silent out of tenderness or pity for him. Believe me, Hester, even if he stepped down from a place of power to stand beside you on that platform, it would be better for him to do so than to hide a guilty heart for the rest of his life. What can your silence do for him, except tempt him—almost force him—to add hypocrisy to his sins? Heaven has granted you a public shame so that you can enjoy a public triumph over the evil within you. Beware of denying him the bitter but nourishing cup from which you now drink! He may not have the courage to grasp that cup himself.”
The young pastor’s voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather than the direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Even the poor baby, at Hester’s bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur. So powerful seemed the minister’s appeal, that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name; or else that the guilty one himself, in whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold. The young pastor’s voice trembled sweetly, deep and broken. The feeling that it so clearly expressed, more than any words it spoke, brought sympathy from the hearts of the audience. Even the baby at Hester’s bosom was affected, for it began to gaze at Mr. Dimmesdale. It held up its arms and made a half-pleased, half-pleading sound. The minister’s appeal was so powerful that all who heard felt sure that either Hester Prynne would be moved to speak the guilty man’s name, or the guilty one himself—however powerful or lowly—would be compelled to join her on the platform.
Hester shook her head. Hester shook her head.
“Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven’s mercy!” cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. “That little babe hath been gifted with a voice, to second and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast.” “Woman, do not test the limits of Heaven’s mercy!” cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. “Your little baby, being granted a voice, agrees with the advice that you have heard. Reveal the name! That act, and your repentance, may be enough to remove the scarlet letter from you breast.”
“Never!” replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. “It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!” “Never,” replied Hester Prynne, looking not at Mr. Wilson but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger minister. “The scar is too deep. You cannot remove it. And if I could, I would endure his agony as well as my own!”
“Speak, woman!” said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold. “Speak; and give your child a father!” “Speak, woman!” said another voice, cold and stern, from the crowd. “Speak, and give your child a father!”
“I will not speak!” answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she too surely recognized. “And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!” “I will not speak!” answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she recognized all too well. “My child must seek a heavenly father; she will never have an earthly one!”
“She will not speak!” murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew back, with a long respiration. “Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart! She will not speak!” “She will not speak!” murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who had been leaning over the balcony with his hand over his heart as he had waited to see how Hester would respond. Now he drew back with a deep breath. “The strength and generosity of a woman’s heart! She will not speak!”
Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit’s mind, the elder clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the occasion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches, but with continual reference to the ignominious letter. So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or more during which his periods were rolling over the people’s heads, that it assumed new terrors in their imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure; and as her temperament was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by a swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained entire. In this state, the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears. The infant, during the latter portion of her ordeal, pierced the air with its wailings and screams; she strove to hush it, mechanically, but seemed scarcely to sympathize with its trouble. With the same hard demeanour, she was led back to prison, and vanished from the public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. It was whispered, by those who peered after her, that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior. Mr. Wilson had prepared for this occasion. Realizing that Hester would not be moved, he gave the crowd a sermon on the many kinds of sin, though he always referred to the shameful letter. He emphasized this symbol with such force during his hour-long speech that it took on new terrors in the minds of the people. The letter seemed as red as hellfire. Meanwhile, Hester Prynne remained on the shameful platform, her eyes glazed over with weary indifference. She had endured all that she could that morning. Since she was not the type to faint, her soul could only shelter itself with the appearance of a hardened exterior. But Hester heard and saw everything. In this state, the voice of the preacher thundered into her ears without remorse, but also without effect. Toward the end of the sermon, the infant pierced the air with its cries. Hester tried to quiet it almost mechanically, but she seemed to barely sympathize with its pain. With the same frozen features, she was led back to prison and disappeared from public sight behind the iron-studded door. Those who watched her go in whispered that the scarlet letter cast a red glow along the dark prison passageway.

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