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“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 he?” “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 know!”
“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 mine!” “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 there.
“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 mine!” “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 mine!”
“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 once?” “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 openly?”
“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. Beware!”
“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?”