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The Scarlet Letter

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Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap,—such as elderly gentlemen loved to indue themselves with, in their domestic privacy,—walked foremost, and appeared to be showing off his estate, and expatiating on his projected improvements. The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his gray beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James’s reign, caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a charger. The impression made by his aspect, so rigid and severe, and frost-bitten with more than autumnal age, was hardly in keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it is an error to suppose that our grave forefathers—though accustomed to speak and think of human existence as a state merely of trial and warfare, and though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and life at the behest of duty—made it a matter of conscience to reject such means of comfort, or even luxury, as lay fairly within their grasp. This creed was never taught, for instance, by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard, white as a snow-drift, was seen over Governor Bellingham’s shoulder; while its wearer suggested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalized in the New England climate, and that purple grapes might possibly be compelled to flourish, against the sunny garden-wall. The old clergyman, nurtured at the rich bosom of the English Church, had a long established and legitimate taste for all good and comfortable things; and however stern he might show himself in the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such transgressions as that of Hester Prynne, still, the genial benevolence of his private life had won him warmer affection than was accorded to any of his professional contemporaries. Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and cap—the sort worn by elderly men in the comfort of their homes—walked in front of the group. He seemed to be showing off his home and explaining all the improvements he hoped to make. He wore a wide, ruffed collar beneath his gray beard, in the old fashion of

King James

Ruler of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1603—1625).

King James
’s time, making his head look a little like

John the Baptist

John’s beheading is described in Matthew 1:1—12.

John the Baptist
’s on a silver platter. The impression he made—stiff, harsh, and very old—seemed out of place with the worldly pleasures of his estate. But it would be wrong to assume that our great ancestors rejected comfort and luxury. True, they thought and spoke of human existence as a state of constant warfare and trial with temptation, and they were prepared to sacrifice their possessions and even their lives when duty called. But they still enjoyed what pleasures they could. Of course, this lesson was never taught by the wise, old pastor John Wilson, whose white beard could now be seen over Governor Bellingham’s shoulder. Reverend Wilson was just then suggesting that pears and peaches might be transplanted to New England and grapes might grow well against the sunny garden wall. The old minister, who grew up in the wealthy Church of England, had a well-earned taste for all comforts. Despite how stern he might appear in the pulpit or in his public dealings with Hester Prynne, the warmth and goodwill displayed in his private life had made him more beloved than is typical for ministers.
Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests; one, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom the reader may remember, as having taken a brief and reluctant part in the scene of Hester Prynne’s disgrace; and, in close companionship with him, old Roger Chillingworth, a person of great skill in physic, who, for two or three years past, had been settled in the town. It was understood that this learned man was the physician as well as friend of the young minister, whose health had severely suffered, of late, by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the pastoral relation. Two other guests walked behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson. You may remember the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, who played a brief and reluctant role at the scene of Hester Prynne’s public disgrace. Close beside him was old Roger Chillingworth, the skilled physician, who had been living in the town for the last two or three years. This wise man was well known as both doctor and friend to the young minister, whose health had recently suffered from his sacrificial devotion to his religious duties.
The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two steps, and, throwing open the leaves of the great hall window, found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her. The Governor, walking ahead of his visitors, climbed one or two steps and, throwing open the great hall window, found himself right in front of little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, partially hiding her.
“What have we here?” said Governor Bellingham, looking with surprise at the scarlet little figure before him. “I profess, I have never seen the like, since my days of vanity, in old King James’ time, when I was wont to esteem it a high favor to be admitted to a court mask! There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions, in holiday-time; and we called them children of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a guest into my hall?” “What have we here?” said Governor Bellingham, looking surprised at the scarlet child in front of him. “I declare, I haven’t seen something like this since my younger days, in old King James’s time, when I used to go to masquerade parties at the court! There used to be a swarm of these little creatures at Christmastime. We called them the children of the

Lord of Misrule

Person appointed to preside over the Christmastime festivities in medieval England.

Lord of Misrule
. But how did this guest get into my hall?”
“Ay, indeed!” cried good old Mr. Wilson. “What little bird of scarlet plumage may this be? Methinks I have seen just such figures, when the sun has been shining through a richly painted window, and tracing out the golden and crimson images across the floor. But that was in the old land. Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child,—ha? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies, whom we thought to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry, in merry old England?” “Indeed!” cried good old Mr. Wilson. “What kind of little scarlet-feathered bird is this? I think I’ve seen these sorts of visions when the sun shines through a stained-glass window, casting gold and crimson pictures on the floor. But that was back in England. Tell me, young one, what are you, and what is wrong with your mother that she dresses you in such strange clothes? Are you a Christian child? Do you know your prayers? Or are you one of those elves or fairies we thought we had left behind us, along with all the other funny Catholic beliefs, in England?”
“I am mother’s child,” answered the scarlet vision, “and my name is Pearl!” “I am my mother’s child,” answered the scarlet vision, “and my name is Pearl!”
“Pearl?—Ruby, rather!—or Coral!—or Red Rose, at the very least, judging from thy hue!” responded the old minister, putting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. “But where is this mother of thine? Ah! I see,” he added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered,—“This is the selfsame child of whom we have held speech together; and behold here the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!” “‘Pearl?’ No! You should be named ‘Ruby,’ or ‘Coral,’ or ‘Red Rose’ at least, judging by your color!” responded the old minister, stretching out his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. “But where is this mother of yours? Ah, I see,” he added. Turning to Governor Bellingham, he whispered, “This is the child we were talking about. And look, here is the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!”
“Sayest thou so?” cried the Governor. “Nay, we might have judged that such a child’s mother must needs be a scarlet woman, and a worthy type of her Babylon! But she comes at a good time; and we will look into this matter forthwith.” “Is it really?” cried the Governor. “Well, we should have figured the mother of such a child to be a scarlet woman, as that is the appropriate color for a whore! But she is here at a good time. We’ll look into this matter immediately.”

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