“I have greatly wronged thee,” murmured Hester.
“I have greatly wronged you,” mumbled Hester.
“We have wronged each other,” answered he. “Mine was the first wrong, when I
betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay.
Therefore, as a man who has not thought and philosophized in vain, I seek no
vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me, the scale hangs
fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is
“We have wronged each other,” he answered. “My wrong was the first: I tricked
your youth and beauty into an unnatural marriage with my decrepitude. I haven’t
read all that philosophy for nothing: I learned enough to seek no revenge and
plot no evil against you. You and I are even. But, Hester, there is a man who
has wronged us both! Who is he?”
“Ask me not!” replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his face. “That thou
shalt never know!”
“Do not ask!” replied Hester Prynne, looking him firmly in the face. “You will
“Never, sayest thou?” rejoined he, with a smile of dark and self-relying
intelligence. “Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are few things,—whether
in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of
thought,—few things hidden from the man, who devotes himself earnestly and
unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou mayest cover up thy secret from
the prying multitude. Thou mayest conceal it, too, from the ministers and
magistrates, even as thou didst this day, when they sought to wrench the name
out of thy heart, and give thee a partner on thy pedestal. But, as for me, I
come to the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall seek this man,
as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a
sympathy that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall
feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be
“Never, you say?” he retorted, with a dark and knowing smile. “Never know him!
Believe me, Hester, few things remain hidden from a man who devotes himself to
solving their mystery. You can keep your secret from the prying masses. You can
conceal it from the ministers and magistrates, as you did today when they tried
to wrench the name from your heart. But I come to this investigation with skills
they lack. I will seek this man as I have sought truth in books, as I have
sought gold in alchemy. We share a connection that will reveal this man to me.
When he trembles, I will feel it. Sooner or later, he will be mine.”
The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, that Hester
Prynne clasped her hands over her heart, dreading lest he should read the secret
there at once.
The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely that Hester Prynne put
her hand over her heart to keep him from reading the secret hidden
“Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine,” resumed he, with a
look of confidence, as if destiny were at one with him, “He bears no letter of
infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost; but I shall read it on his heart.
Yet fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven’s own method
of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to the gripe of human law.
Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive aught against his life, no, nor
against his fame; if, as I judge, he be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let
him hide himself in outward honor, if he may! Not the less he shall be
“You won’t reveal his name? He is still mine,” he continued, with a look of
confidence, as though destiny were on his side. “He wears no letter of shame on
his clothes, as you do, but I will read the shame in his heart. But do not fear
for him! Don’t think that I will interfere with Heaven’s own revenge or give him
up to the magistrates. I will not plot to injure him or ruin his reputation. Let
him live! Let him hide himself in worldly honor, if he can! He will still be
“Thy acts are like mercy,” said Hester, bewildered and appalled. “But thy
words interpret thee as a terror!”
“Your actions seem like mercy,” said Hester, confused and pale, “but your
words are terrifying!”
“One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee,” continued the
scholar. “Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise, mine! There
are none in this land that know me. Breathe not, to any human soul, that thou
didst ever call me husband! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I shall
pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated from human interests, I
find here a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist the
closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate; no matter whether of right
or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is where thou
art, and where he is. But betray me not!”
“One thing, woman who was my wife, I would demand from you,” continued the
scholar. “You have kept your lover’s secret. Keep mine, too! No one knows me
here. Don’t tell a soul that you ever called me husband! I will pitch my tent
here, at the edge of civilization. I have been a wanderer, cut off from mankind,
but here there is a woman, a man, and a child to whom I am closely bound.Whether
it’s through love or hate, right or wrong. You and yours, Hester Prynne, belong
to me. My home is where you are and where he is. But do not betray me!”
“Wherefore dost thou desire it?” inquired Hester, shrinking, she hardly knew
why, from this secret bond. “Why not announce thyself openly, and cast me off at
“Why do you want this?” asked Hester, shrinking from this secret bond, though
she hardly knew why. “Why not reveal yourself to everyone and denounce me
“It may be,” he replied, “because I will not encounter the dishonor that
besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It may be for other reasons.
Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Let, therefore, thy husband be
to the world as one already dead, and of whom no tidings shall ever come.
Recognize me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above all,
to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this, beware! His fame, his
position, his life, will be in my hands. Beware!”
“Perhaps,” he replied, “because I want to avoid the dishonor that comes to the
husband of a cheating woman. Or perhaps I have other reasons. It should be
enough for you that I wish to live and die unknown. So tell the world that your
husband is already dead, and never to be heard from again. Give no hint that you
recognize me! Most of all, do not tell your man about me! If you fail me in
this, beware! His reputation, his career, and his life will be in my hands.
“I will keep thy secret, as I have his,” said Hester.
“I will keep your secret, as I have kept his,” said Hester.
“Swear it!” rejoined he.
“Swear to it!” he replied.
And she took the oath.
And she swore the oath.
“And now, Mistress Prynne,” said old Roger Chillingworth, as he was hereafter
to be named, “I leave thee alone; alone with thy infant, and the scarlet letter!
How is it, Hester? Doth thy sentence bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep?
Art thou not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?”
“And now, Mistress Prynne,” said old Roger Chillingworth, as he would be known
from then on, “I leave you alone with your infant and your scarlet letter! What
about it, Hester? Does your sentence require you to wear it while you sleep?
Aren’t you afraid of nightmares?”