University of Virginia Library


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7. VII.

Hester Prynne went, one day, to the mansion of
Governor Bellingham, with a pair of gloves, which she
had fringed and embroidered to his order, and which
were to be worn on some great occasion of state; for,
though the chances of a popular election had caused
this former ruler to descend a step or two from the
highest rank, he still held an honorable and influential
place among the colonial magistracy.

Another and far more important reason than the
delivery of a pair of embroidered gloves impelled
Hester, at this time, to seek an interview with a personage
of so much power and activity in the affairs of the
settlement. It had reached her ears, that there was a
design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants,
cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion
and government, to deprive her of her child. On the
supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon
origin, these good people not unreasonably argued that
a Christian interest in the mother's soul required them
to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If
the child, on the other hand, were really capable of
moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements
of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all


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the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred
to wiser and better guardianship than Hester
Prynne's. Among those who promoted the design,
Governor Bellingham was said to be one of the most
busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little
ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which, in later
days, would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction
than that of the selectmen of the town, should then have
been a question publicly discussed, and on which statesmen
of eminence took sides. At that epoch of pristine
simplicity, however, matters of even slighter public
interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than the
welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed
up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state.
The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of
our story, when a dispute concerning the right of property
in a pig, not only caused a fierce and bitter contest
in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted
in an important modification of the framework itself
of the legislature.

Full of concern, therefore,—but so conscious of her
own right, that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between
the public, on the one side, and a lonely woman,
backed by the sympathies of nature, on the other,—
Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. Little
Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was
now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's
side, and, constantly in motion from morn till sunset,
could have accomplished a much longer journey than
that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from caprice
than necessity, she demanded to be taken up in


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arms, but was soon as imperious to be set down again,
and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway,
with many a harmless trip and tumble. We have
spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty; a beauty
that shone with deep and vivid tints; a bright complexion,
eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow,
and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and which,
in after years, would be nearly akin to black. There
was fire in her and throughout her; she seemed the
unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her
mother, in contriving the child's garb, had allowed the
gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play;
arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic, of a peculiar
cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes
of gold thread. So much strength of coloring,
which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to
cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to
Pearl's beauty, and made her the very brightest little
jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and,
indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly
and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token
which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her
bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form;
the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother
herself—as if the red ignominy were so deeply
scorched into her brain, that all her conceptions assumed
its form—had carefully wrought out the similitude;
lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity, to
create an analogy between the object of her affection,
and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth,


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Pearl was the one, as well as the other; and only in
consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so
perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of
the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from
their play,—or what passed for play with those sombre
little urchins,—and spake gravely one to another:—

“Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet
letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness
of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come,
therefore, and let us fling mud at them!”

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning,
stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a
variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush
at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to flight.
She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant
pestilence,—the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged
angel of judgment,—whose mission was to
punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed
and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, which
doubtless caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake
within them. The victory accomplished, Pearl returned
quietly to her mother, and looked up smiling into
her face.

Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling
of Governor Bellingham. This was a large
wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are
specimens still extant in the streets of our elder towns;
now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy
at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences


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remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and
passed away, within their dusky chambers. Then, however,
there was the freshness of the passing year on its
exterior, and the cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the
sunny windows, of a human habitation into which death
had never entered. It had indeed a very cheery aspect;
the walls being overspread with a kind of stucco, in
which fragments of broken glass were plentifully intermixed;
so that, when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over
the front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if
diamonds had been flung against it by the double
handful. The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin's
palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan
ruler. It was further decorated with strange and seemingly
cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the
quaint taste of the age, which had been drawn in the
stucco when newly laid on, and had now grown hard
and durable, for the admiration of after times.

Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house, began
to caper and dance, and imperatively required that the
whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its
front, and given her to play with.

“No, my little Pearl!” said her mother. “Thou
must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give

They approached the door; which was of an arched
form, and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or
projection of the edifice, in both of which were lattice-windows,
with wooden shutters to close over them at
need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portal,
Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was answered


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by one of the Governor's bond-servants; a free-born
Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During
that term he was to be the property of his master, and
as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, or
a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue coat, which was
the customary garb of serving-men at that period, and
long before, in the old hereditary halls of England.

“Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?”
inquired Hester.

“Yea, forsooth,” replied the bond-servant, staring
with wide-open eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being
a new-comer in the country, he had never before seen.
“Yea, his honorable worship is within. But he hath
a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech.
Ye may not see his worship now.”

“Nevertheless, I will enter,” answered Hester
Prynne; and the bond-servant, perhaps judging from
the decision of her air and the glittering symbol in her
bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, offered no

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the
hall of entrance. With many variations, suggested by
the nature of his building-materials, diversity of climate,
and a different mode of social life, Governor
Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the
residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native
land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty
hall, extending through the whole depth of the house,
and forming a medium of general communication,
more or less directly, with all the other apartments.
At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by


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the windows of the two towers, which formed a small
recess on either side of the portal. At the other end,
though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more powerfully
illuminated by one of those embowed hall-windows
which we read of in old books, and which was
provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on
the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chronicles
of England, or other such substantial literature;
even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes
on the centre-table, to be turned over by the casual
guest. The furniture of the hall consisted of some
ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elaborately
carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a
table in the same taste; the whole being of the Elizabethan
age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred
hither from the Governor's paternal home. On
the table—in token that the sentiment of old English
hospitality had not been left behind—stood a large
pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or
Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy
remnant of a recent draught of ale.

On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing
the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with
armour on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and
robes of peace. All were characterized by the sterness
and severity which old portraits so invariably put
on; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures,
of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and
intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of
living men.

At about the centre of the oaken panels, that lined


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the hall, was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the
pictures, an ancestral relic, but of the most modern
date; for it had been manufactured by a skilful armorer
in London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham
came over to New England. There was a steel
head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a
pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all,
and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly
burnished as to glow with white radiance, and scatter
an illumination everywhere about upon the floor.
This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show,
but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn
muster and training field, and had glittered, moreover,
at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For,
though bred a lawyer, and accustomed to speak of
Bacon, Cock, Noye, and Finch, as his professional
associates, the exigencies of this new country had
transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as
well as a statesman and ruler.

Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the
gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering
frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking
into the polished mirror of the breastplate.

“Mother,” cried she, “I see you here. Look!

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and
she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex
mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated
and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly
the most prominent feature of her appearance. In
truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl


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pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece;
smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence
that was so familiar an expression on her
small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment
was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much
breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester
Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own
child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself
into Pearl's shape.

“Come along, Pearl!” said she, drawing her away.
“Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we
shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we
find in the woods.”

Pearl, accordingly, ran to the bow-window, at the
farther end of the hall, and looked along the vista of
a garden-walk, carpeted with closely shaven grass, and
bordered with some rude and immature attempt at
shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to
have relinquished, as hopeless, the effort to perpetuate
on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid the
close struggle for subsistence, the native English taste
for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain
sight; and a pumpkin vine, rooted at some distance,
had run across the intervening space, and deposited
one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall-window;
as if to warn the Governor that this great
lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as
New England earth would offer him. There were a
few rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees,
probably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend
Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula;


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that half mythological personage who rides through
our early annals, seated on the back of a bull.

Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red
rose, and would not be pacified.

“Hush, child, hush!” said her mother earnestly.
“Do not cry, dear little Pearl! I hear voices in the
garden. The Governor is coming, and gentlemen
along with him!”

In fact, adown the vista of the garden-avenue, a
number of persons were seen approaching towards the
house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt
to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became
silent; not from any notion of obedience, but
because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition
was excited by the appearance of these new