The Scarlet Letter
17. The Pastor And His Parishioner
Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone by before Hester Prynne could gather
voice enough to attract his observation. At length she succeeded.
"Arthur Dimmesdale!" she said, faintly at first, then louder, but hoarsely--"Arthur
"Who speaks?" answered the minister. Gathering himself quickly up, he stood more
erect, like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have witnesses.
Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice, he indistinctly beheld a form
under the trees, clad in garments so sombre, and so little relieved from the gray twilight
into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that he
knew not whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be that his pathway through life
was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out from among his thoughts.
He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet letter.
"Hester! Hester Prynne!', said he; "is it thou? Art thou in life?"
"Even so." she answered. "In such life as has been mine these seven years past! And thou,
Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live?"
It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's actual and bodily existence, and
even doubted of their own. So strangely did they meet in the dim wood that it was like
the first encounter in the world beyond the grave of two spirits who had been intimately
connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering in mutual dread, as not
yet familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings.
Each a ghost, and awe-stricken at the other ghost. They were awe-stricken likewise at
themselves, because the crisis flung back to them their consciousness, and revealed to
each heart its history and experience, as life never does, except at such breathless epochs.
The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and
tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put
forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp,
cold as it was, took away what was dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves,
at least, inhabitants of the same sphere.
Without a word more spoken--neither he nor she assuming the guidance, but with an
unexpressed consent--they glided back into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had
emerged, and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting.
When they found voice to speak, it was at first only to utter remarks and inquiries such as
any two acquaintances might have made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm,
and, next, the health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, into
the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts. So long estranged by fate and