After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was found to be in a
state of nervous excitement that demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should
perpetrate violence on herself, or do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor
babe. As night approached, it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by
rebuke or threats of punishment, Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to
introduce a physician. He described him as a man of skill in all Christian modes
of physical science, and likewise familiar with whatever the savage people could
teach, in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say
the truth, there was much need of professional assistance, not merely for Hester
herself, but still more urgently for the child; who, drawing its sustenance from
the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil, the
anguish, and despair, which pervaded the mother’s system. It now writhed in
convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral
agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.
Hester Prynne was extremely agitated upon returning to the prison.
She was kept under constant watch for fear that in her emotional state she might
injure herself or her child. But, despite scolding and threats of punishment,
she couldn’t be calmed. As night approached, Master Brackett, the jailer, called
a doctor—a man trained in both Western medicine and the roots and herbs of the
Indians. In truth, the doctor was desperately needed, but more for the baby than
for Hester. It seemed as though the child had absorbed Hester’s emotions—her
pain and despair—when she drank in her milk. The baby writhed in pain, a living
symbol of the moral agony Hester Prynne had suffered.
Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared that
individual, of singular aspect, whose presence in the crowd had been of such
deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was lodged in the prison,
not as suspected of any offence, but as the most convenient and suitable mode of
disposing of him, until the magistrates should have conferred with the Indian
sagamores respecting his ransom. His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth.
The jailer, after ushering him into the room, remained a moment, marvelling at
the comparative quiet that followed his entrance; for Hester Prynne had
immediately become as still as death, although the child continued to
The jailer entered the prison cell. Following closely behind him was the oddly
dressed stranger from the crowd, who had been of such interest to Hester. He was
staying in the prison, not because he was suspected of any crime, but only until
the magistrates and the Indian chiefs could agree on the price of his ransom.
His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth. After leading the man into the
cell, the jailer marveled at how quiet the prison had become. Though the baby
was still crying, Hester Prynne was as still as death.
“Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient,” said the practitioner.
“Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your house; and, I
promise you, Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more amenable to just authority
than you may have found her heretofore.”
“Please, friend, leave me alone with my patient,” said the stranger. “Trust
me, my good jailer—there will be peace here shortly. And I promise you that
Mistress Prynne will be more obedient from now on.”
“Nay, if your worship can accomplish that,” answered Master Brackett, “I shall
own you for a man of skill indeed! Verily, the woman hath been like a possessed
one; and there lacks little, that I should take in hand to drive Satan out of
her with stripes.”
“Well, sir, if you can accomplish that,” replied Master Brackett, “I will tell
everyone of your medical skill! The woman’s been acting like she’s possessed,
and I’m about ready to whip the Devil out of her.”
The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the
profession to which he announced himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanour
change, when the withdrawal of the prison-keeper left him face to face with the
woman, whose absorbed notice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a
relation between himself and her. His first care was given to the child; whose
cries, indeed, as she lay writhing on the trundle-bed, made it of peremptory
necessity to postpone all other business to the task of soothing her. He
examined the infant carefully, and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case,
which he took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain certain medical
preparations, one of which he mingled with a cup of water.
The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic stillness of the
doctor he claimed to be. His expression did not change when the jailer left him
alone with the woman whose earlier preoccupation with him suggested a close
connection. The child cried out for attention, so the stranger first turned to
the task of soothing her. He examined her carefully before taking a leather case
from underneath his clothes. The case seemed to contain various medicines, one
of which he mixed into a cup of water.
“My old studies in alchemy,” observed he, “and my sojourn, for above a year
past, among a people well versed in the kindly properties of simples, have made
a better physician of me than many that claim the medical degree. Here, woman!
The child is yours,—she is none of mine,—neither will she recognize my voice or
aspect as a father’s. Administer this draught, therefore, with thine own
“My studies in alchemy,” he said, “and my travels for more than a year among
the Indians, who know the medical properties of many plants, have made me a
better doctor than many who went to school for it. Here, woman—the child is
yours, not mine. She won’t recognize my voice or my face. Give her this potion
Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing with strongly
marked apprehension into his face.
Hester, staring with fear into his face, refused to take the medicine.
“Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?” whispered she.
“Would you take your revenge on this innocent child?” she whispered.
“Foolish woman!” responded the physician, half-coldly, half-soothingly. “What
should ail me to harm this misbegotten and miserable babe? The medicine is
potent for good; and were it my child,—yea, mine own, as well as thine!—I could
do no better for it.”
“You foolish woman!” the doctor responded, half coldly and half soothingly.
“Why would I want to hurt this miserable, ill-conceived child? This medicine
will do her much good. Were it my own child—my own, and yours as well—I could do
no better for it.”
As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state of mind, he
took the infant in his arms, and himself administered the draught. It soon
proved its efficacy, and redeemed the leech’s pledge. The moans of the little
patient subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few
moments, as is the custom of young children after relief from pain, it sank into
a profound and dewy slumber. The physician, as he had a fair right to be termed,
next bestowed his attention on the mother. With calm and intent scrutiny, he
felt her pulse, looked into her eyes,—a gaze that made her heart shrink and
shudder, because so familiar, and yet so strange and cold,—and, finally,
satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught.
Hester was still worked up from the day’s events. When she hesitated again, he
took the infant in his arms and administered the medicine himself. It worked
quickly, proving the doctor’s good word. The baby’s moans subsided, it stopped
writhing, and before long it was fast asleep. The doctor—as he had a right to be
called—then turned his attention to the mother. With a calm intensity, he felt
her pulse and looked into her eyes. His gaze made her shrink away: It was so
familiar, yet so cold and distant. Finally, satisfied with his investigation, he
mixed another potion.