The Scarlet Letter
15. Hester And Pearl
So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figure with a face that haunted men's memories
longer than they liked--took leave of Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the
earth. He gathered here and there a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it into the basket
on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed
after him a little while, looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender
grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him and show the wavering track of
his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of
herbs they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not the earth,
quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs
of species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice
him that every wholesome growth should be converted into something deleterious and
malignant at his touch? Did the sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really fall
upon him? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along
with his deformity whichever way he turned himself? And whither was he now going?
Would he not suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in
due course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever
else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous
luxuriance? Or would he spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier the
higher he rose towards heaven?
"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as still she gazed after him, "I hate the
She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not overcome or lessen it. Attempting
to do so, she thought of those long-past days in a distant land, when he used to emerge at
eventide from the seclusion of his study and sit down in the firelight of their home, and in
the light of her nuptial smile. He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order
that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken off the scholar's
heart. Such scenes had once appeared not otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed
through the dismal medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among her
ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have been! She marvelled
how she could ever have been wrought upon to marry him! She deemed in her crime
most to be repented of, that she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of
his hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle and melt into his own.
And it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth than any which had
since been done him, that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded
her to fancy herself happy by his side.
"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester more bitterly than before. "He betrayed me! He has
done me worse wrong than I did him!"
Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost
passion of her heart! Else it may be their miserable fortune, as it was Roger