The Scarlet Letter HTML version
10. The Leech And His Patient
Old Roger Chillingworth, throughout life, had been calm in temperament, kindly, though
not of warm affections, but ever, and in all his relations with the world, a pure and
upright man. He had begun an investigation, as he imagined, with the severe and equal
integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if the question involved no more than
the air-drawn lines and figures of a geometrical problem, instead of human passions, and
wrongs inflicted on himself. But, as he proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce,
though still calm, necessity, seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free
again until he had done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor clergyman's heart, like a
miner searching for gold; or, rather, like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest
of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's bosom, but likely to find nothing save
mortality and corruption. Alas, for his own soul, if these were what he sought!
Sometimes a light glimmered out of the physician's eyes, burning blue and ominous, like
the reflection of a furnace, or, let us say, like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that
darted from Bunyan's awful doorway in the hillside, and quivered on the pilgrim's face.
The soil where this dark miner was working had perchance shown indications that
"This man," said he, at one such moment, to himself, "pure as they deem him--all
spiritual as he seems--hath inherited a strong animal nature from his father or his mother.
Let us dig a little further in the direction of this vein!"
Then after long search into the minister's dim interior, and turning over many precious
materials, in the shape of high aspirations for the welfare of his race, warm love of souls,
pure sentiments, natural piety, strengthened by thought and study, and illuminated by
revelation--all of which invaluable gold was perhaps no better than rubbish to the seeker-
-he would turn back, discouraged, and begin his quest towards another point. He groped
along as stealthily, with as cautious a tread, and as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a
chamber where a man lies only half asleep--or, it may be, broad awake--with purpose to
steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. In spite of his
premeditated carefulness, the floor would now and then creak; his garments would rustle;
the shadow of his presence, in a forbidden proximity, would be thrown across his victim.
In other words, Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of nerve often produced the effect of
spiritual intuition, would become vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace had
thrust itself into relation with him. But Old Roger Chillingworth, too, had perceptions
that were almost intuitive; and when the minister threw his startled eyes towards him,
there the physician sat; his kind, watchful, sympathising, but never intrusive friend.
Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this individual's character more perfectly,
if a certain morbidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not rendered him suspicious
of all mankind. Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the
latter actually appeared. He therefore still kept up a familiar intercourse with him, daily