University of Virginia Library


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10. X.

Old Roger Chillingworth, throughout life, had been
calm in temperament, kindly, though not of warm
affections, but ever, and in all his relations with the
world, a pure and upright man. He had begun an investigation,
as he imagined, with the severe and equal
integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if
the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines
and figures of a geometrical problem, instead of human
passions, and wrongs inflicted on himself. But, as he
proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce,
though still calm, necessity seized the old man within
its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had
done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor clergyman's
heart, like a miner searching for gold; or, rather,
like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of
a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's bosom,
but likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption.
Alas for his own soul, if these were what he sought!

Sometimes, a light glimmered out of the physician's
eyes, burning blue and ominous, like the reflection of
a furnace, or, let us say, like one of those gleams of
ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan's awful doorway
in the hill-side, and quivered on the pilgrim's face.


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The soil where this dark miner was working had perchance
shown indications that encouraged him.

“This man,” said he, at one such moment, to himself,
“pure as they deem him,—all spiritual as he
seems,—hath inherited a strong animal nature from
his father or his mother. Let us dig a little farther in
the direction of this vein!”

Then, after long search into the minister's dim interior,
and turning over many precious materials, in the
shape of high aspirations for the welfare of his race,
warm love of souls, pure sentiments, natural piety,
strengthened by thought and study, and illuminated by
revelation,—all of which invaluable gold was perhaps
no better than rubbish to the seeker,—he would turn
back, discouraged, and begin his quest towards another
point. He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious
a tread, and as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a
chamber where a man lies only half asleep,—or, it
may be, broad awake,—with purpose to steal the very
treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye.
In spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would
now and then creak; his garments would rustle; the
shadow of his presence, in a forbidden proximity,
would be thrown across his victim. In other words,
Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of nerve often produced
the effect of spiritual intuition, would become
vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace
had thrust itself into relation with him. But old Roger
Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were almost
intuitive; and when the minister threw his startled eyes
towards him, there the physician sat; his kind, watchful,
sympathizing, but never intrusive friend.


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Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this
individual's character more perfectly, if a certain
morbidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not
rendered him suspicious of all mankind. Trusting no
man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy
when the latter actually appeared. He therefore still
kept up a familiar intercourse with him, daily receiving
the old physician in his study; or visiting the laboratory,
and, for recreation's sake, watching the processes
by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency.

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and
his elbow on the sill of the open window, that looked
towards the grave-yard, he talked with Roger Chillingworth,
while the old man was examining a bundle of
unsightly plants.

“Where,” asked he, with a look askance at them,—
for it was the clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom,
now-a-days, looked straightforth at any object, whether
human or inanimate,—“where, my kind doctor, did
you gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby leaf?”

“Even in the grave-yard, here at hand,” answered
the physician, continuing his employment. “They are
new to me. I found them growing on a grave, which
bore no tombstone, nor other memorial of the dead
man, save these ugly weeds that have taken upon themselves
to keep him in remembrance. They grew out
of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret
that was buried with him, and which he had done better
to confess during his lifetime.”

“Perchance,” said Mr. Dimmesdale, “he earnestly
desired it, but could not.”


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“And wherefore?” rejoined the physician. “Wherefore
not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly
for the confession of sin, that these black weeds
have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest
an unspoken crime?”

“That, good Sir, is but a fantasy of yours,” replied
the minister. “There can be, if I forebode aright, no
power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether
by uttered words, or by type or emblem, the secrets
that may be buried with a human heart. The heart,
making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce
hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall
be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy
Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human
thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a
part of the retribution. That, surely, were a shallow
view of it. No; these revelations, unless I greatly
err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satisfaction
of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting,
on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made
plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful
to the completest solution of that problem. And I conceive,
moreover, that the hearts holding such miserable
secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that last
day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable.”

“Then why not reveal them here?” asked Roger
Chillingworth, glancing quietly aside at the minister.
“Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves
of this unutterable solace?”

“They mostly do,” said the clergyman, griping
hard at his breast, as if afflicted with an importunate


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throb of pain. “Many, many a poor soul hath given
its confidence to me, not only on the death-bed, but
while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever,
after such an outpouring, O, what a relief have I witnessed
in those sinful brethren! even as in one who at
last draws free air, after long stifling with his own
polluted breath. How can it be otherwise? Why
should a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder,
prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart,
rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe
take care of it!”

“Yet some men bury their secrets thus,” observed
the calm physician.

“True; there are such men,” answered Mr. Dimmesdale.
“But, not to suggest more obvious reasons,
it may be that they are kept silent by the very constitution
of their nature. Or,—can we not suppose it?—
guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal
for God's glory and man's welfare, they shrink from
displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of
men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved
by them; no evil of the past be redeemed by better
service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go
about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as
new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled
and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.”

“These men deceive themselves,” said Roger Chillingworth,
with somewhat more emphasis than usual,
and making a slight gesture with his forefinger. “They
fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to


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them. Their love for man, their zeal for God's service,—these
holy impulses may or may not coexist in
their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt
has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate
a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glorify
God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean
hands! If they would serve their fellow-men, let
them do it by making manifest the power and reality of
conscience, in constraining them to penitential self-abasement!
Wouldst thou have me to believe, O wise
and pious friend, that a false show can be better—can
be more for God's glory, or man's welfare—than
God's own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves!”

“It may be so,” said the young clergyman indifferently,
as waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant
or unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed,
of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensitive
and nervous temperament.—“But, now, I would
ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good
sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care
of this weak frame of mine?”

Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard
the clear, wild laughter of a young child's voice, proceeding
from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking
instinctively from the open window,—for it was summer-time,—the
minister beheld Hester Prynne and
little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the
inclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but
was in one of those moods of perverse merriment
which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her


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entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact.
She now skipped irreverently from one grave to
another; until, coming to the broad flat, armorial tomb-stone
of a departed worthy,—perhaps of Isaac Johnson
himself,—she began to dance upon it. In reply to
her mother's command and entreaty that she would behave
more decorously, little Pearl paused to gather the
prickly burrs from a tall burdock, which grew beside the
tomb. Taking a handful of these, she arranged them
along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the
maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their nature
was, tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them

Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached
the window, and smiled grimly down.

“There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no
regard for human ordinances or opinions, right or
wrong, mixed up with that child's composition,” remarked
he, as much to himself as to his companion.
“I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor
himself with water, at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane.
What, in Heaven's name, is she? Is the imp altogether
evil? Hath she affections? Hath she any discoverable
principle of being?”

“None,—save the freedom of a broken law,” answered
Mr. Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had
been discussing the point within himself. “Whether
capable of good, I know not.”

The child probably overheard their voices; for, looking
up to the window, with a bright, but naughty smile
of mirth and intelligence, she threw one of the prickly


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burrs at the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The sensitive
clergyman shrunk, with nervous dread, from the light
missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl clapped her little
hands in the most extravagant ecstasy. Hester Prynne,
likewise, had involuntarily looked up; and all these
four persons, old and young, regarded one another in
silence, till the child laughed aloud, and shouted,—
“Come away, mother! Come away, or yonder old
Black Man will catch you! He hath got hold of the
minister already. Come away, mother, or he will catch
you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!”

So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing,
and frisking fantastically among the hillocks of the
dead people, like a creature that had nothing in common
with a bygone and buried generation, nor owned
herself akin to it. It was as if she had been made
afresh, out of new elements, and must perforce be permitted
to live her own life, and be a law unto herself,
without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a

“There goes a woman,” resumed Roger Chillingworth,
after a pause, “who, be her demerits what they
may, hath none of that mystery of hidden sinfulness
which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is Hester
Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet
letter on her breast?”

“I do verily believe it,” answered the clergyman.
“Nevertheless, I cannot answer for her. There was
a look of pain in her face, which I would gladly have
been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, it must
needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his


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pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all
up in his heart.”

There was another pause; and the physician began
anew to examine and arrange the plants which he had

“You inquired of me, a little time agone,” said he,
at length, “my judgment as touching your health.”

“I did,” answered the clergyman, “and would gladly
learn it. Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or

“Freely, then, and plainly,” said the physician, still
busy with his plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr.
Dimmesdale, “the disorder is a strange one; not so
much in itself, nor as outwardly manifested,—in so
far, at least, as the symptoms have been laid open to
my observation. Looking daily at you, my good Sir,
and watching the tokens of your aspect, now for months
gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may be,
yet not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician
might well hope to cure you. But—I know not
what to say—the disease is what I seem to know, yet
know it not.”

“You speak in riddles, learned Sir,” said the pale
minister, glancing aside out of the window.

“Then, to speak more plainly,” continued the physician,
“and I crave pardon, Sir,—should it seem to
require pardon,—for this needful plainness of my
speech. Let me ask,—as your friend,—as one having
charge, under Providence, of your life and physical
well-being,—hath all the operation of this disorder been
fairly laid open and recounted to me?”


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“How can you question it?” asked the minister.
“Surely, it were child's play to call in a physician,
and then hide the sore!”

“You would tell me, then, that I know all?” said
Roger Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye,
bright with intense and concentrated intelligence, on
the minister's face. “Be it so! But, again! He
to whom only the outward and physical evil is laid
open knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which he
is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we
look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after
all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual
part. Your pardon, once again, good Sir, if my speech
give the shadow of offence. You, Sir, of all men
whom I have known, are he whose body is the closest
conjoined, and imbued, and identified, so to speak,
with the spirit whereof it is the instrument.”

“Then I need ask no further,” said the clergyman,
somewhat hastily rising from his chair. “You deal not,
I take it, in medicine for the soul!”

“Thus, a sickness,” continued Roger Chillingworth,
going on, in an unaltered tone, without heeding the
interruption,—but standing up, and confronting the
emaciated and white-cheeked minister with his low,
dark, and misshapen figure,—“a sickness, a sore
place, if we may so call it, in your spirit, hath immediately
its appropriate manifestation in your bodily
frame. Would you, therefore, that your physician heal
the bodily evil? How may this be, unless you first
lay open to him the wound or trouble in your soul?”

“No!—not to thee!—not to an earthly physician!”


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cried Mr. Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning
his eyes, full and bright, and with a kind of fierceness,
on old Roger Chillingworth. “Not to thee!
But, if it be the soul's disease, then do I commit myself
to the one Physician of the soul! He, if it stand
with his good pleasure, can cure; or he can kill! Let
him do with me as, in his justice and wisdom, he shall
see good. But who art thou, that meddlest in this matter?—that
dares thrust himself between the sufferer
and his God?”

With a frantic gesture, he rushed out of the room.

“It is as well to have made this step,” said Roger
Chillingworth to himself, looking after the minister with
a grave smile. “There is nothing lost. We shall be
friends again anon. But see, now, how passion takes
hold upon this man, and hurrieth him out of himself!
As with one passion, so with another! He hath done
a wild thing ere now, this pious Master Dimmesdale,
in the hot passion of his heart!”

It proved not difficult to reëstablish the intimacy of
the two companions, on the same footing and in the
same degree as heretofore. The young clergyman,
after a few hours of privacy, was sensible that the
disorder of his nerves had hurried him into an unseemly
outbreak of temper, which there had been
nothing in the physician's words to excuse or palliate.
He marvelled, indeed, at the violence with which he
had thrust back the kind old man, when merely proffering
the advice which it was his duty to bestow, and
which the minister himself had expressly sought. With
these remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making


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the amplest apologies, and besought his friend still to
continue the care, which, if not successful in restoring
him to health, had, in all probability, been the means
of prolonging his feeble existence to that hour. Roger
Chillingworth readily assented, and went on with his
medical supervision of the minister; doing his best for
him, in all good faith, but always quitting the patient's
apartment, at the close of a professional interview, with
a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This expression
was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence,
but grew strongly evident as the physician crossed the

“A rare case!” he muttered. “I must needs look
deeper into it. A strange sympathy betwixt soul and
body! Were it only for the art's sake, I must search
this matter to the bottom!”

It came to pass, not long after the scene above recorded,
that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, at noonday,
and entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep slumber,
sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter volume
open before him on the table. It must have been
a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of literature.
The profound depth of the minister's repose
was the more remarkable; inasmuch as he was one of
those persons whose sleep, ordinarily, is as light, as
fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird hopping
on a twig. To such an unwonted remoteness,
however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself, that
he stirred not in his chair, when old Roger Chillingworth,
without any extraordinary precaution, came into
the room. The physician advanced directly in front


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of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust
aside the vestment, that, hitherto, had always covered
it even from the professional eye.

Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly

After a brief pause, the physician turned away.

But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and
horror! With what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too
mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features,
and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugliness
of his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest
by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up
his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon
the floor! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth,
at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no
need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious
human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his

But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from
Satan's was the trait of wonder in it!