The Scarlet Letter HTML version

3. The Recognition
From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and universal observation,
the wearer of the scarlet letter was at length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of
the crowd, a figure which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts. An Indian in his
native garb was standing there; but the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the
English settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice from Hester Prynne
at such a time; much less would he have excluded all other objects and ideas from her
mind. By the Indian's side, and evidently sustaining a companionship with him, stood a
white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.
He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as yet could hardly be termed
aged. There was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a person who had so
cultivated his mental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and become
manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly careless arrangement of his
heterogeneous garb, he had endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity, it was
sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's shoulders rose higher than the
other. Again, at the first instant of perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity of
the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor
babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother did not seem to hear it,
At his arrival in the market-place, and some time before she saw him, the stranger had
bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was carelessly at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to
look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and import, unless they bear
relation to something within his mind. Very soon, however, his look became keen and
penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding
swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in
open sight. His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so
instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, its
expression might have passed for calmness. After a brief space, the convulsion grew
almost imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. When he found
the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize
him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it
on his lips.
Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him, he addressed him in a
formal and courteous manner:
"I pray you, good Sir," said he, "who is this woman? --and wherefore is she here set up to
public shame?"
"You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," answered the townsman, looking
curiously at the questioner and his savage companion, "else you would surely have heard
of Mistress Hester Prynne and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise
you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church. "