The Scarlet Letter HTML version

4. The Interview
After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was found to be in a state of nervous
excitement, that demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should perpetrate violence on
herself, or do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe. As night approached, it
proving impossible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats of punishment,
Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician. He described him as a
man of skill in all Christian modes of physical science, and likewise familiar with
whatever the savage people could teach in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew
in the forest. To say the truth, there was much need of professional assistance, not merely
for Hester herself, but still more urgently for the child--who, drawing its sustenance from
the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil, the anguish and
despair, which pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of pain, and
was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne
throughout the day.
Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared that individual, of
singular aspect whose presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest to the wearer
of the scarlet letter. He was lodged in the prison, not as suspected of any offence, but as
the most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of him, until the magistrates should
have conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom. His name was
announced as Roger Chillingworth. The jailer, after ushering him into the room,
remained a moment, marvelling at the comparative quiet that followed his entrance; for
Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death, although the child continued to
"Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient," said the practitioner. "Trust me, good
jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your house; and, I promise you, Mistress Prynne
shall hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have found her
heretofore. "
"Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," answered Master Brackett, "I shall own you
for a man of skill, indeed! Verily, the woman hath been like a possessed one; and there
lacks little that I should take in hand, to drive Satan out of her with stripes. "
The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the profession to
which he announced himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanour change when the
withdrawal of the prison keeper left him face to face with the woman, whose absorbed
notice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a relation between himself and her.
His first care was given to the child, whose cries, indeed, as she lay writhing on the
trundle-bed, made it of peremptory necessity to postpone all other business to the task of
soothing her. He examined the infant carefully, and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern
case, which he took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical preparations,
one of which he mingled with a cup of water.