The Scarlet Letter HTML version

8. The Elf-Child And The Minister
Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy cap--such as elderly gentlemen loved to
endue themselves with, in their domestic privacy--walked foremost, and appeared to be
showing off his estate, and expatiating on his projected improvements. The wide
circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his grey beard, in the antiquated fashion of
King James's reign, caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a
charger. The impression made by his aspect, so rigid and severe, and frost-bitten with
more than autumnal age, was hardly in keeping with the appliances of worldly enjoyment
wherewith he had evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it is an error to
suppose that our great forefathers--though accustomed to speak and think of human
existence as a state merely of trial and warfare, and though unfeignedly prepared to
sacrifice goods and life at the behest of duty--made it a matter of conscience to reject
such means of comfort, or even luxury, as lay fairly within their grasp. This creed was
never taught, for instance, by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, whose beard, white as a
snow-drift, was seen over Governor Bellingham's shoulders, while its wearer suggested
that pears and peaches might yet be naturalised in the New England climate, and that
purple grapes might possibly be compelled to flourish against the sunny garden-wall. The
old clergyman, nurtured at the rich bosom of the English Church, had a long established
and legitimate taste for all good and comfortable things, and however stern he might
show himself in the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such transgressions as that of
Hester Prynne, still, the genial benevolence of his private life had won him warmer
affection than was accorded to any of his professional contemporaries.
Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other guests--one, the Reverend Arthur
Dimmesdale, whom the reader may remember as having taken a brief and reluctant part
in the scene of Hester Prynne's disgrace; and, in close companionship with him, old
Roger Chillingworth, a person of great skill in physic, who for two or three years past had
been settled in the town. It was understood that this learned man was the physician as
well as friend of the young minister, whose health had severely suffered of late by his too
unreserved self-sacrifice to the labours and duties of the pastoral relation.
The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended one or two steps, and, throwing open
the leaves of the great hall window, found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the
curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her.
"What have we here?" said Governor Bellingham, looking with surprise at the scarlet
little figure before him. "I profess, I have never seen the like since my days of vanity, in
old King James's time, when I was wont to esteem it a high favour to be admitted to a
court mask! There used to be a swarm of these small apparitions in holiday time, and we
called them children of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a guest into my hall?"
"Ay, indeed!" cried good old Mr. Wilson. "What little bird of scarlet plumage may this
be? Methinks I have seen just such figures when the sun has been shining through a
richly painted window, and tracing out the golden and crimson images across the floor.