The Scarlet Letter HTML version

11. The Interior Of A Heart
After the incident last described, the intercourse between the clergyman and the
physician, though externally the same, was really of another character than it had
previously been. The intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain path
before it. It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had laid out for himself to tread.
Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice,
hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man, which led him to imagine a
more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To make
himself the one trusted friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, the
agony, the ineffectual repentance, the backward rush of sinful thoughts, expelled in vain!
All that guilty sorrow, hidden from the world, whose great heart would have pitied and
forgiven, to be revealed to him, the Pitiless--to him, the Unforgiving! All that dark
treasure to be lavished on the very man, to whom nothing else could so adequately pay
the debt of vengeance!
The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked this scheme Roger Chillingworth,
however, was inclined to be hardly, if at all, less satisfied with the aspect of affairs, which
Providence--using the avenger and his victim for its own purposes, and, perchance,
pardoning, where it seemed most to punish--had substituted for his black devices A
revelation, he could almost say, had been granted to him. It mattered little for his object,
whether celestial or from what other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations
betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the external presence, but the very inmost
soul of the latter, seemed to be brought out before his eyes, so that he could see and
comprehend its every movement. He became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a
chief actor in the poor minister's interior world. He could play upon him as he chose.
Would he arouse him with a throb of agony? The victim was for ever on the rack; it
needed only to know the spring that controlled the engine: and the physician knew it well.
Would he startle him with sudden fear? As at the waving of a magician's wand, up rose a
grisly phantom--up rose a thousand phantoms--in many shapes, of death, or more awful
shame, all flocking round about the clergyman, and pointing with their fingers at his
All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, that the minister, though he had
constantly a dim perception of some evil influence watching over him, could never gain a
knowledge of its actual nature. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully--even, at times, with
horror and the bitterness of hatred--at the deformed figure of the old physician. His
gestures, his gait, his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the very
fashion of his garments, were odious in the clergyman's sight; a token implicitly to be
relied on of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was willing to
acknowledge to himself. For, as it was impossible to assign a reason for such distrust and
abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was
infecting his heart's entire substance, attributed all his presentiments to no other cause. He
took himself to task for his bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworth,
disregarded the lesson that he should have drawn from them, and did his best to root them