The Scarlet Letter HTML version

9. The Leech
Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth, the reader will remember, was hidden
another name, which its former wearer had resolved should never more be spoken. It has
been related, how, in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure,
stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from the perilous wilderness,
beheld the woman, in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of
home, set up as a type of sin before the people. Her matronly fame was trodden under all
men's feet. Infamy was babbling around her in the public market-place. For her kindred,
should the tidings ever reach them, and for the companions of her unspotted life, there
remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonour; which would not fail to be
distributed in strict accordance arid proportion with the intimacy and sacredness of their
previous relationship. Then why--since the choice was with himself--should the
individual, whose connexion with the fallen woman had been the most intimate and
sacred of them all, come forward to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so little
desirable? He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on her pedestal of shame. Unknown
to all but Hester Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of her silence, he chose to
withdraw his name from the roll of mankind, and, as regarded his former ties and interest,
to vanish out of life as completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean, whither
rumour had long ago consigned him. This purpose once effected, new interests would
immediately spring up, and likewise a new purpose; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of
force enough to engage the full strength of his faculties.
In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence in the Puritan town as Roger
Chillingworth, without other introduction than the learning and intelligence of which he
possessed more than a common measure. As his studies, at a previous period of his life,
had made him extensively acquainted with the medical science of the day, it was as a
physician that he presented himself and as such was cordially received. Skilful men, of
the medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony. They
seldom, it would appear, partook of the religious zeal that brought other emigrants across
the Atlantic. In their researches into the human frame, it may be that the higher and more
subtle faculties of such men were materialised, and that they lost the spiritual view of
existence amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechanism, which seemed to involve art
enough to comprise all of life within itself. At all events, the health of the good town of
Boston, so far as medicine had aught to do with it, had hitherto lain in the guardianship of
an aged deacon and apothecary, whose piety and godly deportment were stronger
testimonials in his favour than any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma.
The only surgeon was one who combined the occasional exercise of that noble art with
the daily and habitual flourish of a razor. To such a professional body Roger
Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition. He soon manifested his familiarity with the
ponderous and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which every remedy contained a
multitude of far-fetched and heterogeneous ingredients, as elaborately compounded as if
the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. In his Indian captivity, moreover, he had
gained much knowledge of the properties of native herbs and roots; nor did he conceal
from his patients that these simple medicines, Nature's boon to the untutored savage, had