The Scarlet Letter HTML version

14. Hester And The Physician
Hester bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the water, and play with the shells and
tangled sea-weed, until she should have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So
the child flew away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet went pattering
along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there she came to a full stop, ad peeped
curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth
peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf-
smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid whom Pearl, having no other playmate,
invited to take her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid on her part,
beckoned likewise, as if to say--"This is a better place; come thou into the pool." And
Pearl, stepping in mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; while, out of a
still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary smile, floating to and fro in the
agitated water.
Meanwhile her mother had accosted the physician. "I would speak a word with you," said
she--"a word that concerns us much."
"Aha! and is it Mistress Hester that has a word for old Roger Chillingworth?" answered
he, raising himself from his stooping posture. "With all my heart! Why, mistress, I hear
good tidings of you on all hands! No longer ago than yester-eve, a magistrate, a wise and
godly man, was discoursing of your affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there
had been question concerning you in the council. It was debated whether or no, with
safety to the commonweal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. On my
life, Hester, I made my intreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done
"It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off the badge," calmly replied Hester.
"Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed
into something that should speak a different purport."
"Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better," rejoined he, "A woman must needs follow her
own fancy touching the adornment of her person. The letter is gaily embroidered, and
shows right bravely on your bosom!"
All this while Hester had been looking steadily at the old man, and was shocked, as well
as wonder-smitten, to discern what a change had been wrought upon him within the past
seven years. It was not so much that he had grown older; for though the traces of
advancing life were visible he bore his age well, and seemed to retain a wiry vigour and
alertness. But the former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet,
which was what she best remembered in him, had altogether vanished, and been
succeeded by a eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look. It seemed to
be his wish and purpose to mask this expression with a smile, but the latter played him
false, and flickered over his visage so derisively that the spectator could see his blackness
all the better for it. Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes, as