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  外语解密学习法 逆读法(Reverse Reading Method) 和  解读法(Decode-Reading Method)训练范文 ——                 

解密目标语言:英语                                解密辅助语言:汉语
              Language to be decoded:  English             Auxiliary Language :  Chinese  

  
       
解密文本:     《红字》   [美] 霍桑  著         
 

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne



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I. THE PRISON DOOR

A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilised society, a prison. But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it, or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-door, we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.

 

 

II. THE MARKET-PLACE

The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant Indian, whom the white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.

It was a circumstance to be noted on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother had transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not character of less force and solidity than her own. The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen: and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.

"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not."

"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."

"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch—that is a truth," added a third autumnal matron. "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she—the naughty baggage—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"

"Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart."

"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die; is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray."

"Mercy on us, goodwife!" exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush now, gossips for the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."

The door of the jail being flung open from within there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward, until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquaintance only with the grey twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.

When the young woman—the mother of this child—stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore, and which was of a splendour in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace which is now recognised as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more ladylike, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. It may be true that, to a sensitive observer, there was some thing exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which indeed, she had wrought for the occasion in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer—so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time—was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it? Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"

"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel to make a fitter one!"

"Oh, peace, neighbours—peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter but she has felt it in her heart."

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff. "Make way, good people—make way, in the King's name!" cried he. "Open a passage; and I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madame Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!"

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length; for haughty as her demeanour was, she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.

In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine, which now, for two or three generations past, has been merely historical and traditionary among us, but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an agent, in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France. It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature—whatever be the delinquencies of the individual—no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's instance, however, as not unfrequently in other cases, her sentence bore that she should stand a certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a man's shoulders above the street.

Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent; something which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world. Here, there was the taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world was only the darker for this woman's beauty, and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.

The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame in a fellow-creature, before society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it. The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern enough to look upon her death, had that been the sentence, without a murmur at its severity, but had none of the heartlessness of another social state, which would find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the present. Even had there been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule, it must have been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of men no less dignified than the governor, and several of his counsellors, a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town, all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-house, looking down upon the platform. When such personages could constitute a part of the spectacle, without risking the majesty, or reverence of rank and office, it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning. Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and grave. The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and concentrated at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she had fortified herself to encounter the stings and venomous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in every variety of insult; but there was a quality so much more terrible in the solemn mood of the popular mind, that she longed rather to behold all those rigid countenances contorted with scornful merriment, and herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude—each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts—Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once.

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to vanish from her eyes, or, at least, glimmered indistinctly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images. Her mind, and especially her memory, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little town, on the edge of the western wilderness: other faces than were lowering upon her from beneath the brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Reminiscences, the most trifling and immaterial, passages of infancy and school-days, sports, childish quarrels, and the little domestic traits of her maiden years, came swarming back upon her, intermingled with recollections of whatever was gravest in her subsequent life; one picture precisely as vivid as another; as if all were of similar importance, or all alike a play. Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit to relieve itself by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality.

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she had been treading, since her happy infancy. Standing on that miserable eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old England, and her paternal home: a decayed house of grey stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility. She saw her father's face, with its bold brow, and reverend white beard that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious love which it always wore in her remembrance, and which, even since her death, had so often laid the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it. There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and bleared by the lamp-light that had served them to pore over many ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a strange, penetrating power, when it was their owner's purpose to read the human soul. This figure of the study and the cloister, as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, was slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right. Next rose before her in memory's picture-gallery, the intricate and narrow thoroughfares, the tall, grey houses, the huge cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in date and quaint in architecture, of a continental city; where new life had awaited her, still in connexion with the misshapen scholar: a new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan, settlement, with all the townspeople assembled, and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne—yes, at herself—who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom.

Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes these were her realities—all else had vanished!

 

 

III. THE RECOGNITION

From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe and universal observation, the wearer of the scarlet letter was at length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of the crowd, a figure which irresistibly took possession of her thoughts. An Indian in his native garb was standing there; but the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice from Hester Prynne at such a time; much less would he have excluded all other objects and ideas from her mind. By the Indian's side, and evidently sustaining a companionship with him, stood a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as yet could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and become manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb, he had endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity, it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's shoulders rose higher than the other. Again, at the first instant of perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity of the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother did not seem to hear it.

At his arrival in the market-place, and some time before she saw him, the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was carelessly at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and import, unless they bear relation to something within his mind. Very soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative. A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight. His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, its expression might have passed for calmness. After a brief space, the convulsion grew almost imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips.

Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him, he addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:

"I pray you, good Sir," said he, "who is this woman?—and wherefore is she here set up to public shame?"

"You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," answered the townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and his savage companion, "else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church."

"You say truly," replied the other; "I am a stranger, and have been a wanderer, sorely against my will. I have met with grievous mishaps by sea and land, and have been long held in bonds among the heathen-folk to the southward; and am now brought hither by this Indian to be redeemed out of my captivity. Will it please you, therefore, to tell me of Hester Prynne's—have I her name rightly?—of this woman's offences, and what has brought her to yonder scaffold?"

"Truly, friend; and methinks it must gladden your heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness," said the townsman, "to find yourself at length in a land where iniquity is searched out and punished in the sight of rulers and people, as here in our godly New England. Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, was the wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long ago dwelt in Amsterdam, whence some good time agone he was minded to cross over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts. To this purpose he sent his wife before him, remaining himself to look after some necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two years, or less, that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne; and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance—"

"Ah!—aha!—I conceive you," said the stranger with a bitter smile. "So learned a man as you speak of should have learned this too in his books. And who, by your favour, Sir, may be the father of yonder babe—it is some three or four months old, I should judge—which Mistress Prynne is holding in her arms?"

"Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle; and the Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting," answered the townsman. "Madame Hester absolutely refuseth to speak, and the magistrates have laid their heads together in vain. Peradventure the guilty one stands looking on at this sad spectacle, unknown of man, and forgetting that God sees him."

"The learned man," observed the stranger with another smile, "should come himself to look into the mystery."

"It behoves him well if he be still in life," responded the townsman. "Now, good Sir, our Massachusetts magistracy, bethinking themselves that this woman is youthful and fair, and doubtless was strongly tempted to her fall, and that, moreover, as is most likely, her husband may be at the bottom of the sea, they have not been bold to put in force the extremity of our righteous law against her. The penalty thereof is death. But in their great mercy and tenderness of heart they have doomed Mistress Prynne to stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom."

"A wise sentence," remarked the stranger, gravely, bowing his head. "Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known—he will be known!—he will be known!"

He bowed courteously to the communicative townsman, and whispering a few words to his Indian attendant, they both made their way through the crowd.

While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing on her pedestal, still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger—so fixed a gaze that, at moments of intense absorption, all other objects in the visible world seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her. Such an interview, perhaps, would have been more terrible than even to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival, staring at the features that should have been seen only in the quiet gleam of the fireside, in the happy shadow of a home, or beneath a matronly veil at church. Dreadful as it was, she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him and her, than to greet him face to face—they two alone. She fled for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and dreaded the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her. Involved in these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind her until it had repeated her name more than once, in a loud and solemn tone, audible to the whole multitude.

"Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne!" said the voice.

It has already been noticed that directly over the platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of balcony, or open gallery, appended to the meeting-house. It was the place whence proclamations were wont to be made, amidst an assemblage of the magistracy, with all the ceremonial that attended such public observances in those days. Here, to witness the scene which we are describing, sat Governor Bellingham himself with four sergeants about his chair, bearing halberds, as a guard of honour. He wore a dark feather in his hat, a border of embroidery on his cloak, and a black velvet tunic beneath—a gentleman advanced in years, with a hard experience written in his wrinkles. He was not ill-fitted to be the head and representative of a community which owed its origin and progress, and its present state of development, not to the impulses of youth, but to the stern and tempered energies of manhood and the sombre sagacity of age; accomplishing so much, precisely because it imagined and hoped so little. The other eminent characters by whom the chief ruler was surrounded were distinguished by a dignity of mien, belonging to a period when the forms of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of Divine institutions. They were, doubtless, good men, just and sage. But, out of the whole human family, it would not have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman's heart, and disentangling its mesh of good and evil, than the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her face. She seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude; for, as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew pale, and trembled.

The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston, a great scholar, like most of his contemporaries in the profession, and withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This last attribute, however, had been less carefully developed than his intellectual gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of shame than self-congratulation with him. There he stood, with a border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap, while his grey eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking, like those of Hester's infant, in the unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes of sermons, and had no more right than one of those portraits would have to step forth, as he now did, and meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and anguish.

"Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, "I have striven with my young brother here, under whose preaching of the Word you have been privileged to sit"—here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder of a pale young man beside him—"I have sought, I say, to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers, and in hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than I, he could the better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy, insomuch that you should no longer hide the name of him who tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me—with a young man's over-softness, albeit wise beyond his years—that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart's secrets in such broad daylight, and in presence of so great a multitude. Truly, as I sought to convince him, the shame lay in the commission of the sin, and not in the showing of it forth. What say you to it, once again, brother Dimmesdale? Must it be thou, or I, that shall deal with this poor sinner's soul?"

There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of the balcony; and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its purport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tempered with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed:

"Good Master Dimmesdale," said he, "the responsibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you. It behoves you; therefore, to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof."

The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale—young clergyman, who had come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forest land. His eloquence and religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow; large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self restraint. Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like attainments, there was an air about this young minister—an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look—as of a being who felt himself quite astray, and at a loss in the pathway of human existence, and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own. Therefore, so far as his duties would permit, he trod in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and childlike, coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of thought, which, as many people said, affected them like the speech of an angel.

Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the Governor had introduced so openly to the public notice, bidding him speak, in the hearing of all men, to that mystery of a woman's soul, so sacred even in its pollution. The trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips tremulous.

"Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wilson. "It is of moment to her soul, and, therefore, as the worshipful Governor says, momentous to thine own, in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess the truth!"

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silent prayer, as it seemed, and then came forward.

"Hester Prynne," said he, leaning over the balcony and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, "thou hearest what this good man says, and seest the accountability under which I labour. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him—yea, compel him, as it were—to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself—the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!"

The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather than the direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Even the poor baby at Hester's bosom was affected by the same influence, for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur. So powerful seemed the minister's appeal that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name, or else that the guilty one himself in whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold.

Hester shook her head.

"Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!" cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. "That little babe hath been gifted with a voice, to second and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast."

"Never," replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. "It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony as well as mine!"

"Speak, woman!" said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold, "Speak; and give your child a father!"

"I will not speak!" answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she too surely recognised. "And my child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one!"

"She will not speak!" murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew back with a long respiration. "Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart! She will not speak!"

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind, the elder clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the occasion, addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches, but with continual reference to the ignominious letter. So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or more during which his periods were rolling over the people's heads, that it assumed new terrors in their imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had borne that morning all that nature could endure; and as her temperament was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by a swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained entire. In this state, the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears. The infant, during the latter portion of her ordeal, pierced the air with its wailings and screams; she strove to hush it mechanically, but seemed scarcely to sympathise with its trouble. With the same hard demeanour, she was led back to prison, and vanished from the public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. It was whispered by those who peered after her that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior.

IV. THE INTERVIEW

After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was found to be in a state of nervous excitement, that demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should perpetrate violence on herself, or do some half-frenzied mischief to the poor babe. As night approached, it proving impossible to quell her insubordination by rebuke or threats of punishment, Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician. He described him as a man of skill in all Christian modes of physical science, and likewise familiar with whatever the savage people could teach in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say the truth, there was much need of professional assistance, not merely for Hester herself, but still more urgently for the child—who, drawing its sustenance from the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil, the anguish and despair, which pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, appeared that individual, of singular aspect whose presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was lodged in the prison, not as suspected of any offence, but as the most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of him, until the magistrates should have conferred with the Indian sagamores respecting his ransom. His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth. The jailer, after ushering him into the room, remained a moment, marvelling at the comparative quiet that followed his entrance; for Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death, although the child continued to moan.

"Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient," said the practitioner. "Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your house; and, I promise you, Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have found her heretofore."

"Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," answered Master Brackett, "I shall own you for a man of skill, indeed! Verily, the woman hath been like a possessed one; and there lacks little that I should take in hand, to drive Satan out of her with stripes."

The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the profession to which he announced himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanour change when the withdrawal of the prison keeper left him face to face with the woman, whose absorbed notice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a relation between himself and her. His first care was given to the child, whose cries, indeed, as she lay writhing on the trundle-bed, made it of peremptory necessity to postpone all other business to the task of soothing her. He examined the infant carefully, and then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain medical preparations, one of which he mingled with a cup of water.

"My old studies in alchemy," observed he, "and my sojourn, for above a year past, among a people well versed in the kindly properties of simples, have made a better physician of me than many that claim the medical degree. Here, woman! The child is yours—she is none of mine—neither will she recognise my voice or aspect as a father's. Administer this draught, therefore, with thine own hand."

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing with strongly marked apprehension into his face. "Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?" whispered she.

"Foolish woman!" responded the physician, half coldly, half soothingly. "What should ail me to harm this misbegotten and miserable babe? The medicine is potent for good, and were it my child—yea, mine own, as well as thine! I could do no better for it."

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state of mind, he took the infant in his arms, and himself administered the draught. It soon proved its efficacy, and redeemed the leech's pledge. The moans of the little patient subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a few moments, as is the custom of young children after relief from pain, it sank into a profound and dewy slumber. The physician, as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed his attention on the mother. With calm and intent scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into her eyes—a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder, because so familiar, and yet so strange and cold—and, finally, satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught.

"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he; "but I have learned many new secrets in the wilderness, and here is one of them—a recipe that an Indian taught me, in requital of some lessons of my own, that were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it! It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea."

He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow, earnest look into his face; not precisely a look of fear, yet full of doubt and questioning as to what his purposes might be. She looked also at her slumbering child.

"I have thought of death," said she—"have wished for it—would even have prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should pray for anything. Yet, if death be in this cup, I bid thee think again, ere thou beholdest me quaff it. See! it is even now at my lips."

"Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold composure. "Dost thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are my purposes wont to be so shallow? Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance, what could I do better for my object than to let thee live—than to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life—so that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy bosom?" As he spoke, he laid his long fore-finger on the scarlet letter, which forthwith seemed to scorch into Hester's breast, as if it had been red hot. He noticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. "Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women—in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy husband—in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught."

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained the cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself on the bed, where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only chair which the room afforded, and took his own seat beside her. She could not but tremble at these preparations; for she felt that—having now done all that humanity, or principle, or, if so it were, a refined cruelty, impelled him to do for the relief of physical suffering—he was next to treat with her as the man whom she had most deeply and irreparably injured.

"Hester," said he, "I ask not wherefore, nor how thou hast fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the pedestal of infamy on which I found thee. The reason is not far to seek. It was my folly, and thy weakness. I—a man of thought—the book-worm of great libraries—a man already in decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge—what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine own? Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical deformity in a young girl's fantasy? Men call me wise. If sages were ever wise in their own behoof, I might have foreseen all this. I might have known that, as I came out of the vast and dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Christian men, the very first object to meet my eyes would be thyself, Hester Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before the people. Nay, from the moment when we came down the old church-steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!"

"Thou knowest," said Hester—for, depressed as she was, she could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame—"thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any."

"True," replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. But, up to that epoch of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream—old as I was, and sombre as I was, and misshapen as I was—that the simple bliss, which is scattered far and wide, for all mankind to gather up, might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made there!"

"I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.

"We have wronged each other," answered he. "Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not thought and philosophised in vain, I seek no vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me, the scale hangs fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?"

"Ask me not!" replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his face. "That thou shalt never know!"

"Never, sayest thou?" rejoined he, with a smile of dark and self-relying intelligence. "Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are few things whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought—few things hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou mayest cover up thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest conceal it, too, from the ministers and magistrates, even as thou didst this day, when they sought to wrench the name out of thy heart, and give thee a partner on thy pedestal. But, as for me, I come to the inquest with other senses than they possess. I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books: as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine."

The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, that Hester Prynne clasped her hand over her heart, dreading lest he should read the secret there at once.

"Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine," resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one with him. "He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost, but I shall read it on his heart. Yet fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to the gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive aught against his life; no, nor against his fame, if as I judge, he be a man of fair repute. Let him live! Let him hide himself in outward honour, if he may! Not the less he shall be mine!"

"Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered and appalled; "but thy words interpret thee as a terror!"

"One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee," continued the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise, mine! There are none in this land that know me. Breathe not to any human soul that thou didst ever call me husband! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate: no matter whether of right or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is where thou art and where he is. But betray me not!"

"Wherefore dost thou desire it?" inquired Hester, shrinking, she hardly knew why, from this secret bond. "Why not announce thyself openly, and cast me off at once?"

"It may be," he replied, "because I will not encounter the dishonour that besmirches the husband of a faithless woman. It may be for other reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Let, therefore, thy husband be to the world as one already dead, and of whom no tidings shall ever come. Recognise me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this, beware! His fame, his position, his life will be in my hands. Beware!"

"I will keep thy secret, as I have his," said Hester.

"Swear it!" rejoined he.

And she took the oath.

"And now, Mistress Prynne," said old Roger Chillingworth, as he was hereafter to be named, "I leave thee alone: alone with thy infant and the scarlet letter! How is it, Hester? Doth thy sentence bind thee to wear the token in thy sleep? Art thou not afraid of nightmares and hideous dreams?"

"Why dost thou smile so at me?" inquired Hester, troubled at the expression of his eyes. "Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?"

"Not thy soul," he answered, with another smile. "No, not thine!"

V. HESTER AT HER NEEDLE

Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at an end. Her prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the sunshine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast. Perhaps there was a more real torture in her first unattended footsteps from the threshold of the prison than even in the procession and spectacle that have been described, where she was made the common infamy, at which all mankind was summoned to point its finger. Then, she was supported by an unnatural tension of the nerves, and by all the combative energy of her character, which enabled her to convert the scene into a kind of lurid triumph. It was, moreover, a separate and insulated event, to occur but once in her lifetime, and to meet which, therefore, reckless of economy, she might call up the vital strength that would have sufficed for many quiet years. The very law that condemned her—a giant of stern features but with vigour to support, as well as to annihilate, in his iron arm—had held her up through the terrible ordeal of her ignominy. But now, with this unattended walk from her prison door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next: each its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down; for the accumulating days and added years would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame. Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast—at her, the child of honourable parents—at her, the mother of a babe that would hereafter be a woman—at her, who had once been innocent—as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.

It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her—kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so remote and so obscure—free to return to her birth-place, or to any other European land, and there hide her character and identity under a new exterior, as completely as if emerging into another state of being—and having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to her, where the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned her—it may seem marvellous that this woman should still call that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs be the type of shame. But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked event has given the colour to their lifetime; and, still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the soil. It was as if a new birth, with stronger assimilations than the first, had converted the forest-land, still so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and wanderer, into Hester Prynne's wild and dreary, but life-long home. All other scenes of earth—even that village of rural England, where happy infancy and stainless maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's keeping, like garments put off long ago—were foreign to her, in comparison. The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to her inmost soul, but could never be broken.

It might be, too—doubtless it was so, although she hid the secret from herself, and grew pale whenever it struggled out of her heart, like a serpent from its hole—it might be that another feeling kept her within the scene and pathway that had been so fatal. There dwelt, there trode, the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union that, unrecognised on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final judgment, and make that their marriage-altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution. Over and over again, the tempter of souls had thrust this idea upon Hester's contemplation, and laughed at the passionate and desperate joy with which she seized, and then strove to cast it from her. She barely looked the idea in the face, and hastened to bar it in its dungeon. What she compelled herself to believe—what, finally, she reasoned upon as her motive for continuing a resident of New England—was half a truth, and half a self-delusion. Here, she said to herself had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another purity than that which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of martyrdom.

Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the outskirts of the town, within the verge of the peninsula, but not in close vicinity to any other habitation, there was a small thatched cottage. It had been built by an earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants. It stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the sea at the forest-covered hills, towards the west. A clump of scrubby trees, such as alone grew on the peninsula, did not so much conceal the cottage from view, as seem to denote that here was some object which would fain have been, or at least ought to be, concealed. In this little lonesome dwelling, with some slender means that she possessed, and by the licence of the magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch over her, Hester established herself, with her infant child. A mystic shadow of suspicion immediately attached itself to the spot. Children, too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be shut out from the sphere of human charities, would creep nigh enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-window, or standing in the doorway, or labouring in her little garden, or coming forth along the pathway that led townward, and, discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a strange contagious fear.

Lonely as was Hester's situation, and without a friend on earth who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving infant and herself. It was the art, then, as now, almost the only one within a woman's grasp—of needle-work. She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold. Here, indeed, in the sable simplicity that generally characterised the Puritanic modes of dress, there might be an infrequent call for the finer productions of her handiwork. Yet the taste of the age, demanding whatever was elaborate in compositions of this kind, did not fail to extend its influence over our stern progenitors, who had cast behind them so many fashions which it might seem harder to dispense with.

Public ceremonies, such as ordinations, the installation of magistrates, and all that could give majesty to the forms in which a new government manifested itself to the people, were, as a matter of policy, marked by a stately and well-conducted ceremonial, and a sombre, but yet a studied magnificence. Deep ruffs, painfully wrought bands, and gorgeously embroidered gloves, were all deemed necessary to the official state of men assuming the reins of power, and were readily allowed to individuals dignified by rank or wealth, even while sumptuary laws forbade these and similar extravagances to the plebeian order. In the array of funerals, too—whether for the apparel of the dead body, or to typify, by manifold emblematic devices of sable cloth and snowy lawn, the sorrow of the survivors—there was a frequent and characteristic demand for such labour as Hester Prynne could supply. Baby-linen—for babies then wore robes of state—afforded still another possibility of toil and emolument.

By degrees, not very slowly, her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion. Whether from commiseration for a woman of so miserable a destiny; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a fictitious value even to common or worthless things; or by whatever other intangible circumstance was then, as now, sufficient to bestow, on some persons, what others might seek in vain; or because Hester really filled a gap which must otherwise have remained vacant; it is certain that she had ready and fairly requited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy with her needle. Vanity, it may be, chose to mortify itself, by putting on, for ceremonials of pomp and state, the garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seen on the ruff of the Governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, and the minister on his band; it decked the baby's little cap; it was shut up, to be mildewed and moulder away, in the coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in to embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the ever relentless vigour with which society frowned upon her sin.

Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a subsistence, of the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a simple abundance for her child. Her own dress was of the coarsest materials and the most sombre hue, with only that one ornament—the scarlet letter—which it was her doom to wear. The child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by a fanciful, or, we may rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that early began to develop itself in the little girl, but which appeared to have also a deeper meaning. We may speak further of it hereafter. Except for that small expenditure in the decoration of her infant, Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them. Much of the time, which she might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art, she employed in making coarse garments for the poor. It is probable that there was an idea of penance in this mode of occupation, and that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting so many hours to such rude handiwork. She had in her nature a rich, voluptuous, Oriental characteristic—a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in the exquisite productions of her needle, found nothing else, in all the possibilities of her life, to exercise itself upon. Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life. Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin. This morbid meddling of conscience with an immaterial matter betokened, it is to be feared, no genuine and steadfast penitence, but something doubtful, something that might be deeply wrong beneath.

In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part to perform in the world. With her native energy of character and rare capacity, it could not entirely cast her off, although it had set a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind. She stood apart from mortal interests, yet close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen or felt; no more smile with the household joy, nor mourn with the kindred sorrow; or, should it succeed in manifesting its forbidden sympathy, awakening only terror and horrible repugnance. These emotions, in fact, and its bitterest scorn besides, seemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the universal heart. It was not an age of delicacy; and her position, although she understood it well, and was in little danger of forgetting it, was often brought before her vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, by the rudest touch upon the tenderest spot. The poor, as we have already said, whom she sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succour them. Dames of elevated rank, likewise, whose doors she entered in the way of her occupation, were accustomed to distil drops of bitterness into her heart; sometimes through that alchemy of quiet malice, by which women can concoct a subtle poison from ordinary trifles; and sometimes, also, by a coarser expression, that fell upon the sufferer's defenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound. Hester had schooled herself long and well; and she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided into the depths of her bosom. She was patient—a martyr, indeed but she forebore to pray for enemies, lest, in spite of her forgiving aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into a curse.

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly contrived for her by the undying, the ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal. Clergymen paused in the streets, to address words of exhortation, that brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and frown, around the poor, sinful woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the discourse. She grew to have a dread of children; for they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary woman gliding silently through the town, with never any companion but one only child. Therefore, first allowing her to pass, they pursued her at a distance with shrill cries, and the utterances of a word that had no distinct purport to their own minds, but was none the less terrible to her, as proceeding from lips that babbled it unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her shame, that all nature knew of it; it could have caused her no deeper pang had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story among themselves—had the summer breeze murmured about it—had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud! Another peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new eye. When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so—they branded it afresh in Hester's soul; so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering the symbol with her hand. But then, again, an accustomed eye had likewise its own anguish to inflict. Its cool stare of familiarity was intolerable. From first to last, in short, Hester Prynne had always this dreadful agony in feeling a human eye upon the token; the spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture.

But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in many months, she felt an eye—a human eye—upon the ignominious brand, that seemed to give a momentary relief, as if half of her agony were shared. The next instant, back it all rushed again, with still a deeper throb of pain; for, in that brief interval, she had sinned anew. (Had Hester sinned alone?)

Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a softer moral and intellectual fibre would have been still more so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to and fro, with those lonely footsteps, in the little world with which she was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to Hester—if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent to be resisted—she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. She was terror-stricken by the revelations that were thus made. What were they? Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman, as yet only half his victim, that the outward guise of purity was but a lie, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne's? Or, must she receive those intimations—so obscure, yet so distinct—as truth? In all her miserable experience, there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome as this sense. It perplexed, as well as shocked her, by the irreverent inopportuneness of the occasions that brought it into vivid action. Sometimes the red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or magistrate, the model of piety and justice, to whom that age of antique reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship with angels. "What evil thing is at hand?" would Hester say to herself. Lifting her reluctant eyes, there would be nothing human within the scope of view, save the form of this earthly saint! Again a mystic sisterhood would contumaciously assert itself, as she met the sanctified frown of some matron, who, according to the rumour of all tongues, had kept cold snow within her bosom throughout life. That unsunned snow in the matron's bosom, and the burning shame on Hester Prynne's—what had the two in common? Or, once more, the electric thrill would give her warning—"Behold Hester, here is a companion!" and, looking up, she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted, with a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks as if her purity were somewhat sullied by that momentary glance. O Fiend, whose talisman was that fatal symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether in youth or age, for this poor sinner to revere?—such loss of faith is ever one of the saddest results of sin. Be it accepted as a proof that all was not corrupt in this poor victim of her own frailty, and man's hard law, that Hester Prynne yet struggled to believe that no fellow-mortal was guilty like herself.

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were always contributing a grotesque horror to what interested their imaginations, had a story about the scarlet letter which we might readily work up into a terrific legend. They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly dye-pot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the night-time. And we must needs say it seared Hester's bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in the rumour than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.

VI. PEARL

We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant; that little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she watched the growth, and the beauty that became every day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child! Her Pearl—for so had Hester called her; not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison. But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price—purchased with all she had—her mother's only treasure! How strange, indeed! Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonoured bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in heaven! Yet these thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew that her deed had been evil; she could have no faith, therefore, that its result would be good. Day after day she looked fearfully into the child's expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being.

Certainly there was no physical defect. By its perfect shape, its vigour, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of the angels after the world's first parents were driven out. The child had a native grace which does not invariably co-exist with faultless beauty; its attire, however simple, always impressed the beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became it best. But little Pearl was not clad in rustic weeds. Her mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore before the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure when thus arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor. And yet a russet gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude play, made a picture of her just as perfect. Pearl's aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite variety; in this one child there were many children, comprehending the full scope between the wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby, and the pomp, in little, of an infant princess. Throughout all, however, there was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she never lost; and if in any of her changes, she had grown fainter or paler, she would have ceased to be herself—it would have been no longer Pearl!

This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but—or else Hester's fears deceived her—it lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered. Hester could only account for the child's character—and even then most vaguely and imperfectly—by recalling what she herself had been during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her bodily frame from its material of earth. The mother's impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above all, the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch was perpetuated in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. They were now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's disposition, but, later in the day of earthly existence, might be prolific of the storm and whirlwind.

The discipline of the family in those days was of a far more rigid kind than now. The frown, the harsh rebuke, the frequent application of the rod, enjoined by Scriptural authority, were used, not merely in the way of punishment for actual offences, but as a wholesome regimen for the growth and promotion of all childish virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the loving mother of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the side of undue severity. Mindful, however, of her own errors and misfortunes, she early sought to impose a tender but strict control over the infant immortality that was committed to her charge. But the task was beyond her skill. After testing both smiles and frowns, and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed any calculable influence, Hester was ultimately compelled to stand aside and permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses. Physical compulsion or restraint was effectual, of course, while it lasted. As to any other kind of discipline, whether addressed to her mind or heart, little Pearl might or might not be within its reach, in accordance with the caprice that ruled the moment. Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, grew acquainted with a certain peculiar look, that warned her when it would be labour thrown away to insist, persuade or plead.

It was a look so intelligent, yet inexplicable, perverse, sometimes so malicious, but generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that Hester could not help questioning at such moments whether Pearl was a human child. She seemed rather an airy sprite, which, after playing its fantastic sports for a little while upon the cottage floor, would flit away with a mocking smile. Whenever that look appeared in her wild, bright, deeply black eyes, it invested her with a strange remoteness and intangibility: it was as if she were hovering in the air, and might vanish, like a glimmering light that comes we know not whence and goes we know not whither. Beholding it, Hester was constrained to rush towards the child—to pursue the little elf in the flight which she invariably began—to snatch her to her bosom with a close pressure and earnest kisses—not so much from overflowing love as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh and blood, and not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laugh, when she was caught, though full of merriment and music, made her mother more doubtful than before.

Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, that so often came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had bought so dear, and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst into passionate tears. Then, perhaps—for there was no foreseeing how it might affect her—Pearl would frown, and clench her little fist, and harden her small features into a stern, unsympathising look of discontent. Not seldom she would laugh anew, and louder than before, like a thing incapable and unintelligent of human sorrow. Or—but this more rarely happened—she would be convulsed with rage of grief and sob out her love for her mother in broken words, and seem intent on proving that she had a heart by breaking it. Yet Hester was hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty tenderness: it passed as suddenly as it came. Brooding over all these matters, the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit, but, by some irregularity in the process of conjuration, has failed to win the master-word that should control this new and incomprehensible intelligence. Her only real comfort was when the child lay in the placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, and tasted hours of quiet, sad, delicious happiness; until—perhaps with that perverse expression glimmering from beneath her opening lids—little Pearl awoke!

How soon—with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what a happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive children. But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other children. Never since her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there: first as the babe in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother, holding a forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the settlement on the grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashions as the Puritanic nurture would permit; playing at going to church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in a sham fight with the Indians, or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken to, she would not speak again. If the children gathered about her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue.

The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the most intolerant brood that ever lived, had got a vague idea of something outlandish, unearthly, or at variance with ordinary fashions, in the mother and child, and therefore scorned them in their hearts, and not unfrequently reviled them with their tongues. Pearl felt the sentiment, and requited it with the bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom. These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value, and even comfort for the mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the child's manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless, to discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in herself. All this enmity and passion had Pearl inherited, by inalienable right, out of Hester's heart. Mother and daughter stood together in the same circle of seclusion from human society; and in the nature of the child seemed to be perpetuated those unquiet elements that had distracted Hester Prynne before Pearl's birth, but had since begun to be soothed away by the softening influences of maternity.

At home, within and around her mother's cottage, Pearl wanted not a wide and various circle of acquaintance. The spell of life went forth from her ever-creative spirit, and communicated itself to a thousand objects, as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may be applied. The unlikeliest materials—a stick, a bunch of rags, a flower—were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft, and, without undergoing any outward change, became spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied the stage of her inner world. Her one baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages, old and young, to talk withal. The pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted most unmercifully. It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into which she threw her intellect, with no continuity, indeed, but darting up and dancing, always in a state of preternatural activity—soon sinking down, as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life—and succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the mere exercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing mind, there might be a little more than was observable in other children of bright faculties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was thrown more upon the visionary throng which she created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad—then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt in her own heart the cause—to observe, in one so young, this constant recognition of an adverse world, and so fierce a training of the energies that were to make good her cause in the contest that must ensue.

Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon her knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have hidden, but which made utterance for itself betwixt speech and a groan—"O Father in Heaven—if Thou art still my Father—what is this being which I have brought into the world?" And Pearl, overhearing the ejaculation, or aware through some more subtile channel, of those throbs of anguish, would turn her vivid and beautiful little face upon her mother, smile with sprite-like intelligence, and resume her play.

One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains yet to be told. The very first thing which she had noticed in her life, was—what?—not the mother's smile, responding to it, as other babies do, by that faint, embryo smile of the little mouth, remembered so doubtfully afterwards, and with such fond discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no means! But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was—shall we say it?—the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom! One day, as her mother stooped over the cradle, the infant's eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the letter; and putting up her little hand she grasped at it, smiling, not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam, that gave her face the look of a much older child. Then, gasping for breath, did Hester Prynne clutch the fatal token, instinctively endeavouring to tear it away, so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand. Again, as if her mother's agonised gesture were meant only to make sport for her, did little Pearl look into her eyes, and smile. From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety: not a moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile and odd expression of the eyes.

Once this freakish, elvish cast came into the child's eyes while Hester was looking at her own image in them, as mothers are fond of doing; and suddenly for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are pestered with unaccountable delusions she fancied that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another face in the small black mirror of Pearl's eye. It was a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features that she had known full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with malice in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child, and had just then peeped forth in mockery. Many a time afterwards had Hester been tortured, though less vividly, by the same illusion.

In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's bosom; dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been to cover her bosom with her clasped hands. But whether from pride or resignation, or a feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat erect, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl's wild eyes. Still came the battery of flowers, almost invariably hitting the mark, and covering the mother's breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in this world, nor knew how to seek it in another. At last, her shot being all expended, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that little laughing image of a fiend peeping out—or, whether it peeped or no, her mother so imagined it—from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes.

"Child, what art thou?" cried the mother.

"Oh, I am your little Pearl!" answered the child.

But while she said it, Pearl laughed, and began to dance up and down with the humoursome gesticulation of a little imp, whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney.

"Art thou my child, in very truth?" asked Hester.

Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for the moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was Pearl's wonderful intelligence, that her mother half doubted whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her existence, and might not now reveal herself.

"Yes; I am little Pearl!" repeated the child, continuing her antics.

"Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!" said the mother half playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive impulse came over her in the midst of her deepest suffering. "Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither?"

"Tell me, mother!" said the child, seriously, coming up to Hester, and pressing herself close to her knees. "Do thou tell me!"

"Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!" answered Hester Prynne.

But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness of the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter.

"He did not send me!" cried she, positively. "I have no

Heavenly Father!"

 

"Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!" answered the mother, suppressing a groan. "He sent us all into the world. He sent even me, thy mother. Then, much more thee! Or, if not, thou strange and elfish child, whence didst thou come?"

"Tell me! Tell me!" repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laughing and capering about the floor. "It is thou that must tell me!"

But Hester could not resolve the query, being herself in a dismal labyrinth of doubt. She remembered—betwixt a smile and a shudder—the talk of the neighbouring townspeople, who, seeking vainly elsewhere for the child's paternity, and observing some of her odd attributes, had given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring: such as, ever since old Catholic times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of their mother's sin, and to promote some foul and wicked purpose. Luther, according to the scandal of his monkish enemies, was a brat of that hellish breed; nor was Pearl the only child to whom this inauspicious origin was assigned among the New England Puritans.

VII. THE GOVERNOR'S HALL

Hester Prynne went one day to the mansion of Governor Bellingham, with a pair of gloves which she had fringed and embroidered to his order, and which were to be worn on some great occasion of state; for, though the chances of a popular election had caused this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank, he still held an honourable and influential place among the colonial magistracy.

Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair of embroidered gloves, impelled Hester, at this time, to seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears that there was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and government, to deprive her of her child. On the supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon origin, these good people not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in the mother's soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If the child, on the other hand, were really capable of moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred to wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prynne's. Among those who promoted the design, Governor Bellingham was said to be one of the most busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which in later days would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the select men of the town, should then have been a question publicly discussed, and on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, matters of even slighter public interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state. The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of our story, when a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig not only caused a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted in an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.

Full of concern, therefore—but so conscious of her own right that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public on the one side, and a lonely woman, backed by the sympathies of nature, on the other—Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. Little Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's side, and, constantly in motion from morn till sunset, could have accomplished a much longer journey than that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from caprice than necessity, she demanded to be taken up in arms; but was soon as imperious to be let down again, and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway, with many a harmless trip and tumble. We have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty—a beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints, a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black. There was fire in her and throughout her: she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her mother, in contriving the child's garb, had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play, arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered in fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So much strength of colouring, which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made her the very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother herself—as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain that all her conceptions assumed its form—had carefully wrought out the similitude, lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, Pearl was the one as well as the other; and only in consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from their play,—or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins—and spoke gravely one to another.

"Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter: and of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!"

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to flight. She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant pestilence—the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment—whose mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, which, doubtless, caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake within them. The victory accomplished, Pearl returned quietly to her mother, and looked up, smiling, into her face.

Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Governor Bellingham. This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our older towns now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences, remembered or forgotten, that have happened and passed away within their dusky chambers. Then, however, there was the freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human habitation, into which death had never entered. It had, indeed, a very cheery aspect, the walls being overspread with a kind of stucco, in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully intermixed; so that, when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double handful. The brilliancy might have be fitted Aladdin's palace rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It was further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the quaint taste of the age which had been drawn in the stucco, when newly laid on, and had now grown hard and durable, for the admiration of after times.

Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house began to caper and dance, and imperatively required that the whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its front, and given her to play with.

"No, my little Pearl!" said her mother; "thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!"

They approached the door, which was of an arched form, and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the edifice, in both of which were lattice-windows, the wooden shutters to close over them at need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portal, Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was answered by one of the Governor's bond servant—a free-born Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During that term he was to be the property of his master, and as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, or a joint-stool. The serf wore the customary garb of serving-men at that period, and long before, in the old hereditary halls of England.

"Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?" inquired Hester.

"Yea, forsooth," replied the bond-servant, staring with wide-open eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being a new-comer in the country, he had never before seen. "Yea, his honourable worship is within. But he hath a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now."

"Nevertheless, I will enter," answered Hester Prynne; and the bond-servant, perhaps judging from the decision of her air, and the glittering symbol in her bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, offered no opposition.

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of entrance. With many variations, suggested by the nature of his building materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode of social life, Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, and forming a medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all the other apartments. At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by the windows of the two towers, which formed a small recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall windows which we read of in old books, and which was provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chronicles of England, or other such substantial literature; even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes on the centre table, to be turned over by the casual guest. The furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a table in the same taste, the whole being of the Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the Governor's paternal home. On the table—in token that the sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind—stood a large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale.

On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with armour on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were characterised by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on, as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men.

At about the centre of the oaken panels that lined the hall was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, an ancestral relic, but of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured by a skilful armourer in London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steel head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all, and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as to glow with white radiance, and scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and training field, and had glittered, moreover, at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For, though bred a lawyer, and accustomed to speak of Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch, as his professional associates, the exigencies of this new country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman and ruler.

Little Pearl, who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house, spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.

"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"

Hester looked by way of humouring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upwards also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.

"Come along, Pearl," said she, drawing her away, "Come and look into this fair garden. It may be we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."

Pearl accordingly ran to the bow-window, at the further end of the hall, and looked along the vista of a garden walk, carpeted with closely-shaven grass, and bordered with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to have relinquished as hopeless, the effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil, and amid the close struggle for subsistence, the native English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain sight; and a pumpkin-vine, rooted at some distance, had run across the intervening space, and deposited one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall window, as if to warn the Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were a few rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees, probably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula; that half mythological personage who rides through our early annals, seated on the back of a bull.

Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose, and would not be pacified.

"Hush, child—hush!" said her mother, earnestly. "Do not cry, dear little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is coming, and gentlemen along with him."

In fact, adown the vista of the garden avenue, a number of persons were seen approaching towards the house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became silent, not from any notion of obedience, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance of those new personages.

VIII. 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. But that was in the old land. Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child—ha? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies whom we thought to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry, in merry old England?"

"I am mother's child," answered the scarlet vision, "and my name is Pearl!"

"Pearl?—Ruby, rather—or Coral!—or Red Rose, at the very least, judging from thy hue!" responded the old minister, putting forth his hand in a vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. "But where is this mother of thine? Ah! I see," he added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, "This is the selfsame child of whom we have held speech together; and behold here the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!"

"Sayest thou so?" cried the Governor. "Nay, we might have judged that such a child's mother must needs be a scarlet woman, and a worthy type of her of Babylon! But she comes at a good time, and we will look into this matter forthwith."

Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hall, followed by his three guests.

"Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern regard on the wearer of the scarlet letter, "there hath been much question concerning thee of late. The point hath been weightily discussed, whether we, that are of authority and influence, do well discharge our consciences by trusting an immortal soul, such as there is in yonder child, to the guidance of one who hath stumbled and fallen amid the pitfalls of this world. Speak thou, the child's own mother! Were it not, thinkest thou, for thy little one's temporal and eternal welfare that she be taken out of thy charge, and clad soberly, and disciplined strictly, and instructed in the truths of heaven and earth? What canst thou do for the child in this kind?"

"I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!" answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token.

"Woman, it is thy badge of shame!" replied the stern magistrate. "It is because of the stain which that letter indicates that we would transfer thy child to other hands."

"Nevertheless," said the mother, calmly, though growing more pale, "this badge hath taught me—it daily teaches me—it is teaching me at this moment—lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself."

"We will judge warily," said Bellingham, "and look well what we

are about to do. Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this

Pearl—since that is her name—and see whether she hath had such

Christian nurture as befits a child of her age."

 

The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair and made an effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but her mother, escaped through the open window, and stood on the upper step, looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumage, ready to take flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at this outbreak—for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage, and usually a vast favourite with children—essayed, however, to proceed with the examination.

"Pearl," said he, with great solemnity, "thou must take heed to instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee?"

Now Pearl knew well enough who made her, for Hester Prynne, the daughter of a pious home, very soon after her talk with the child about her Heavenly Father, had begun to inform her of those truths which the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity, imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore—so large were the attainments of her three years' lifetime—could have borne a fair examination in the New England Primer, or the first column of the Westminster Catechisms, although unacquainted with the outward form of either of those celebrated works. But that perversity, which all children have more or less of, and of which little Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the most inopportune moment, took thorough possession of her, and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak words amiss. After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's question, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door.

This phantasy was probably suggested by the near proximity of the Governor's red roses, as Pearl stood outside of the window, together with her recollection of the prison rose-bush, which she had passed in coming hither.

Old Roger Chillingworth, with a smile on his face, whispered something in the young clergyman's ear. Hester Prynne looked at the man of skill, and even then, with her fate hanging in the balance, was startled to perceive what a change had come over his features—how much uglier they were, how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen—since the days when she had familiarly known him. She met his eyes for an instant, but was immediately constrained to give all her attention to the scene now going forward.

"This is awful!" cried the Governor, slowly recovering from the astonishment into which Pearl's response had thrown him. "Here is a child of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her! Without question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its present depravity, and future destiny! Methinks, gentlemen, we need inquire no further."

Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly into her arms, confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce expression. Alone in the world, cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to keep her heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible rights against the world, and was ready to defend them to the death.

"God gave me the child!" cried she. "He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness—she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!"

"My poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, "the child shall be well cared for—far better than thou canst do for it."

"God gave her into my keeping!" repeated Hester Prynne, raising her voice almost to a shriek. "I will not give her up!" And here by a sudden impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her eyes. "Speak thou for me!" cried she. "Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest—for thou hast sympathies which these men lack—thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!"

At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated that Hester Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less than madness, the young minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his heart, as was his custom whenever his peculiarly nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. He looked now more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene of Hester's public ignominy; and whether it were his failing health, or whatever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.

"There is truth in what she says," began the minister, with a voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it—"truth in what Hester says, and in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements—both seemingly so peculiar—which no other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and this child?"

"Ay—how is that, good Master Dimmesdale?" interrupted the

Governor. "Make that plain, I pray you!"

 

"It must be even so," resumed the minister. "For, if we deem it otherwise, do we not thereby say that the Heavenly Father, the creator of all flesh, hath lightly recognised a deed of sin, and made of no account the distinction between unhallowed lust and holy love? This child of its father's guilt and its mother's shame has come from the hand of God, to work in many ways upon her heart, who pleads so earnestly and with such bitterness of spirit the right to keep her. It was meant for a blessing—for the one blessing of her life! It was meant, doubtless, the mother herself hath told us, for a retribution, too; a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment; a pang, a sting, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy! Hath she not expressed this thought in the garb of the poor child, so forcibly reminding us of that red symbol which sears her bosom?"

"Well said again!" cried good Mr. Wilson. "I feared the woman had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child!"

"Oh, not so!—not so!" continued Mr. Dimmesdale. "She recognises, believe me, the solemn miracle which God hath wrought in the existence of that child. And may she feel, too—what, methinks, is the very truth—that this boon was meant, above all things else, to keep the mother's soul alive, and to preserve her from blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have sought to plunge her! Therefore it is good for this poor, sinful woman, that she hath an infant immortality, a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow, confided to her care—to be trained up by her to righteousness, to remind her, at every moment, of her fall, but yet to teach her, as if it were by the Creator's sacred pledge, that, if she bring the child to heaven, the child also will bring its parents thither! Herein is the sinful mother happier than the sinful father. For Hester Prynne's sake, then, and no less for the poor child's sake, let us leave them as Providence hath seen fit to place them!"

"You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness," said old

Roger Chillingworth, smiling at him.

 

"And there is a weighty import in what my young brother hath spoken," added the Rev. Mr. Wilson.

"What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham? Hath he not pleaded well for the poor woman?"

"Indeed hath he," answered the magistrate; "and hath adduced such arguments, that we will even leave the matter as it now stands; so long, at least, as there shall be no further scandal in the woman. Care must be had nevertheless, to put the child to due and stated examination in the catechism, at thy hands or Master Dimmesdale's. Moreover, at a proper season, the tithing-men must take heed that she go both to school and to meeting."

The young minister, on ceasing to speak had withdrawn a few steps from the group, and stood with his face partially concealed in the heavy folds of the window-curtain; while the shadow of his figure, which the sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous with the vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself—"Is that my Pearl?" Yet she knew that there was love in the child's heart, although it mostly revealed itself in passion, and hardly twice in her lifetime had been softened by such gentleness as now. The minister—for, save the long-sought regards of woman, nothing is sweeter than these marks of childish preference, accorded spontaneously by a spiritual instinct, and therefore seeming to imply in us something truly worthy to be loved—the minister looked round, laid his hand on the child's head, hesitated an instant, and then kissed her brow. Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment lasted no longer; she laughed, and went capering down the hall so airily, that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether even her tiptoes touched the floor.

"The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I profess," said he to Mr. Dimmesdale. "She needs no old woman's broomstick to fly withal!"

"A strange child!" remarked old Roger Chillingworth. "It is easy to see the mother's part in her. Would it be beyond a philosopher's research, think ye, gentlemen, to analyse that child's nature, and, from it make a mould, to give a shrewd guess at the father?"

"Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the clue of profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. "Better to fast and pray upon it; and still better, it may be, to leave the mystery as we find it, unless Providence reveal it of its own accord. Thereby, every good Christian man hath a title to show a father's kindness towards the poor, deserted babe."

The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester Prynne, with Pearl, departed from the house. As they descended the steps, it is averred that the lattice of a chamber-window was thrown open, and forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins, Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister, and the same who, a few years later, was executed as a witch.

"Hist, hist!" said she, while her ill-omened physiognomy seemed to cast a shadow over the cheerful newness of the house. "Wilt thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one."

"Make my excuse to him, so please you!" answered Hester, with a triumphant smile. "I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man's book too, and that with mine own blood!"

"We shall have thee there anon!" said the witch-lady, frowning, as she drew back her head.

But here—if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic, and not a parable—was already an illustration of the young minister's argument against sundering the relation of a fallen mother to the offspring of her frailty. Even thus early had the child saved her from Satan's snare.

IX. 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 and 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 quite as large a share of his own confidence as the European Pharmacopoeia, which so many learned doctors had spent centuries in elaborating.

This learned stranger was exemplary as regarded at least the outward forms of a religious life; and early after his arrival, had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was considered by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heavenly ordained apostle, destined, should he live and labour for the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds, for the now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to fail. By those best acquainted with his habits, the paleness of the young minister's cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty, and more than all, to the fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practice, in order to keep the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some declared, that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any longer trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, with characteristic humility, avowed his belief that if Providence should see fit to remove him, it would be because of his own unworthiness to perform its humblest mission here on earth. With all this difference of opinion as to the cause of his decline, there could be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated; his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed, on any slight alarm or other sudden accident, to put his hand over his heart with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain.

Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so imminent the prospect that his dawning light would be extinguished, all untimely, when Roger Chillingworth made his advent to the town. His first entry on the scene, few people could tell whence, dropping down as it were out of the sky or starting from the nether earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was easily heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to be a man of skill; it was observed that he gathered herbs and the blossoms of wild-flowers, and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless to common eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby and other famous men—whose scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural—as having been his correspondents or associates. Why, with such rank in the learned world, had he come hither? What, could he, whose sphere was in great cities, be seeking in the wilderness? In answer to this query, a rumour gained ground—and however absurd, was entertained by some very sensible people—that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic from a German university bodily through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale's study! Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the stage-effect of what is called miraculous interposition, were inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so opportune arrival.

This idea was countenanced by the strong interest which the physician ever manifested in the young clergyman; he attached himself to him as a parishioner, and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence from his naturally reserved sensibility. He expressed great alarm at his pastor's state of health, but was anxious to attempt the cure, and, if early undertaken, seemed not despondent of a favourable result. The elders, the deacons, the motherly dames, and the young and fair maidens of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock, were alike importunate that he should make trial of the physician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale gently repelled their entreaties.

"I need no medicine," said he.

But how could the young minister say so, when, with every successive Sabbath, his cheek was paler and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before—when it had now become a constant habit, rather than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his heart? Was he weary of his labours? Did he wish to die? These questions were solemnly propounded to Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston, and the deacons of his church, who, to use their own phrase, "dealt with him," on the sin of rejecting the aid which Providence so manifestly held out. He listened in silence, and finally promised to confer with the physician.

"Were it God's will," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, when, in fulfilment of this pledge, he requested old Roger Chillingworth's professional advice, "I could be well content that my labours, and my sorrows, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my grave, and the spiritual go with me to my eternal state, rather than that you should put your skill to the proof in my behalf."

"Ah," replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quietness, which, whether imposed or natural, marked all his deportment, "it is thus that a young clergyman is apt to speak. Youthful men, not having taken a deep root, give up their hold of life so easily! And saintly men, who walk with God on earth, would fain be away, to walk with him on the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem."

"Nay," rejoined the young minister, putting his hand to his heart, with a flush of pain flitting over his brow, "were I worthier to walk there, I could be better content to toil here."

"Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly," said the physician.

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the disease interested the physician, but he was strongly moved to look into the character and qualities of the patient, these two men, so different in age, came gradually to spend much time together. For the sake of the minister's health, and to enable the leech to gather plants with healing balm in them, they took long walks on the sea-shore, or in the forest; mingling various walks with the splash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn wind-anthem among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was the guest of the other in his place of study and retirement. There was a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of science, in whom he recognised an intellectual cultivation of no moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the members of his own profession. In truth, he was startled, if not shocked, to find this attribute in the physician. Mr. Dimmesdale was a true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the track of a creed, and wore its passage continually deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of society would he have been what is called a man of liberal views; it would always be essential to his peace to feel the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him within its iron framework. Not the less, however, though with a tremulous enjoyment, did he feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe through the medium of another kind of intellect than those with which he habitually held converse. It was as if a window were thrown open, admitting a freer atmosphere into the close and stifled study, where his life was wasting itself away, amid lamp-light, or obstructed day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be it sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the air was too fresh and chill to be long breathed with comfort. So the minister, and the physician with him, withdrew again within the limits of what their Church defined as orthodox.

Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinised his patient carefully, both as he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping an accustomed pathway in the range of thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when thrown amidst other moral scenery, the novelty of which might call out something new to the surface of his character. He deemed it essential, it would seem, to know the man, before attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and imagination were so active, and sensibility so intense, that the bodily infirmity would be likely to have its groundwork there. So Roger Chillingworth—the man of skill, the kind and friendly physician—strove to go deep into his patient's bosom, delving among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has opportunity and licence to undertake such a quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the latter possess native sagacity, and a nameless something more,—let us call it intuition; if he show no intrusive egotism, nor disagreeable prominent characteristics of his own; if he have the power, which must be born with him, to bring his mind into such affinity with his patient's, that this last shall unawares have spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought; if such revelations be received without tumult, and acknowledged not so often by an uttered sympathy as by silence, an inarticulate breath, and here and there a word to indicate that all is understood; if to these qualifications of a confidant be joined the advantages afforded by his recognised character as a physician;—then, at some inevitable moment, will the soul of the sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a dark but transparent stream, bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.

Roger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the attributes above enumerated. Nevertheless, time went on; a kind of intimacy, as we have said, grew up between these two cultivated minds, which had as wide a field as the whole sphere of human thought and study to meet upon; they discussed every topic of ethics and religion, of public affairs, and private character; they talked much, on both sides, of matters that seemed personal to themselves; and yet no secret, such as the physician fancied must exist there, ever stole out of the minister's consciousness into his companion's ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed, that even the nature of Mr. Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly been revealed to him. It was a strange reserve!

After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow of the minister's life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physician. There was much joy throughout the town when this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held to be the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare; unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorised to do so, he had selected some one of the many blooming damsels, spiritually devoted to him, to become his devoted wife. This latter step, however, there was no present prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy were one of his articles of Church discipline. Doomed by his own choice, therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his unsavoury morsel always at another's board, and endure the life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another's fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, experienced, benevolent old physician, with his concord of paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, was the very man, of all mankind, to be constantly within reach of his voice.

The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widow, of good social rank, who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the site on which the venerable structure of King's Chapel has since been built. It had the graveyard, originally Isaac Johnson's home-field, on one side, and so was well adapted to call up serious reflections, suited to their respective employments, in both minister and man of physic. The motherly care of the good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny exposure, and heavy window-curtains, to create a noontide shadow when desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet, in colours still unfaded, but which made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer. Here the pale clergyman piled up his library, rich with parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore of Rabbis, and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant divines, even while they vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet constrained often to avail themselves. On the other side of the house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory: not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably complete, but provided with a distilling apparatus and the means of compounding drugs and chemicals, which the practised alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of situation, these two learned persons sat themselves down, each in his own domain, yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious inspection into one another's business.

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best discerning friends, as we have intimated, very reasonably imagined that the hand of Providence had done all this for the purpose—besought in so many public and domestic and secret prayers—of restoring the young minister to health. But, it must now be said, another portion of the community had latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician. When an uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is exceedingly apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often so profound and so unerring as to possess the character of truth supernaturally revealed. The people, in the case of which we speak, could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There was an aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a citizen of London at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murder, now some thirty years agone; he testified to having seen the physician, under some other name, which the narrator of the story had now forgotten, in company with Dr. Forman, the famous old conjurer, who was implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three individuals hinted that the man of skill, during his Indian captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the incantations of the savage priests, who were universally acknowledged to be powerful enchanters, often performing seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art. A large number—and many of these were persons of such sober sense and practical observation that their opinions would have been valuable in other matters—affirmed that Roger Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight the oftener they looked upon him. According to the vulgar idea, the fire in his laboratory had been brought from the lower regions, and was fed with infernal fuel; and so, as might be expected, his visage was getting sooty with the smoke.

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion that the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of special sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by Satan himself or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman's intimacy, and plot against his soul. No sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt on which side the victory would turn. The people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out of the conflict transfigured with the glory which he would unquestionably win. Meanwhile, nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony through which he must struggle towards his triumph.

Alas! to judge from the gloom and terror in the depth of the poor minister's eyes, the battle was a sore one, and the victory anything but secure.

X. 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 encouraged him.

"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 receiving the old physician in his study, or visiting the laboratory, and, for recreation's sake, watching the processes by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency.

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on the sill of the open window, that looked towards the grave-yard, he talked with Roger Chillingworth, while the old man was examining a bundle of unsightly plants.

"Where," asked he, with a look askance at them—for it was the clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, now-a-days, looked straight forth at any object, whether human or inanimate, "where, my kind doctor, did you gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby leaf?"

"Even in the graveyard here at hand," answered the physician, continuing his employment. "They are new to me. I found them growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, no other memorial of the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime."

"Perchance," said Mr. Dimmesdale, "he earnestly desired it, but could not."

"And wherefore?" rejoined the physician.

"Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest, an outspoken crime?"

"That, good sir, is but a phantasy of yours," replied the minister. "There can be, if I forbode aright, no power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried in the human heart. The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a part of the retribution. That, surely, were a shallow view of it. No; these revelations, unless I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satisfaction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting, on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful to the completest solution of that problem. And, I conceive moreover, that the hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of, will yield them up, at that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable."

"Then why not reveal it here?" asked Roger Chillingworth, glancing quietly aside at the minister. "Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?"

"They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping hard at his breast, as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. "Many, many a poor soul hath given its confidence to me, not only on the death-bed, but while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever, after such an outpouring, oh, what a relief have I witnessed in those sinful brethren! even as in one who at last draws free air, after a long stifling with his own polluted breath. How can it be otherwise? Why should a wretched man—guilty, we will say, of murder—prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe take care of it!"

"Yet some men bury their secrets thus," observed the calm physician.

"True; there are such men," answered Mr. Dimmesdale. "But not to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or—can we not suppose it?—guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow, while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves."

"These men deceive themselves," said Roger Chillingworth, with somewhat more emphasis than usual, and making a slight gesture with his forefinger. "They fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for God's service—these holy impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean hands! If they would serve their fellowmen, let them do it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience, in constraining them to penitential self-abasement! Would thou have me to believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be better—can be more for God's glory, or man' welfare—than God's own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves!"

"It may be so," said the young clergyman, indifferently, as waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous temperament.—"But, now, I would ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?"

Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard the clear, wild laughter of a young child's voice, proceeding from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open window—for it was summer-time—the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the enclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but was in one of those moods of perverse merriment which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact. She now skipped irreverently from one grave to another; until coming to the broad, flat, armorial tombstone of a departed worthy—perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself—she began to dance upon it. In reply to her mother's command and entreaty that she would behave more decorously, little Pearl paused to gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock which grew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of these, she arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their nature was, tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them off.

Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached the window and smiled grimly down.

"There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that child's composition," remarked he, as much to himself as to his companion. "I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor himself with water at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. What, in heaven's name, is she? Is the imp altogether evil? Hath she affections? Hath she any discoverable principle of being?"

"None, save the freedom of a broken law," answered Mr. Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had been discussing the point within himself, "Whether capable of good, I know not."

The child probably overheard their voices, for, looking up to the window with a bright, but naughty smile of mirth and intelligence, she threw one of the prickly burrs at the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman shrank, with nervous dread, from the light missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl clapped her little hands in the most extravagant ecstacy. Hester Prynne, likewise, had involuntarily looked up, and all these four persons, old and young, regarded one another in silence, till the child laughed aloud, and shouted—"Come away, mother! Come away, or yonder old black man will catch you! He hath got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother or he will catch you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!"

So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing, and frisking fantastically among the hillocks of the dead people, like a creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buried generation, nor owned herself akin to it. It was as if she had been made afresh out of new elements, and must perforce be permitted to live her own life, and be a law unto herself without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a crime.

"There goes a woman," resumed Roger Chillingworth, after a pause, "who, be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mystery of hidden sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is Hester Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet letter on her breast?"

"I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. "Nevertheless, I cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face which I would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it up in his heart."

There was another pause, and the physician began anew to examine and arrange the plants which he had gathered.

"You inquired of me, a little time agone," said he, at length, "my judgment as touching your health."

"I did," answered the clergyman, "and would gladly learn it.

Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or death."

 

"Freely then, and plainly," said the physician, still busy with his plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr. Dimmesdale, "the disorder is a strange one; not so much in itself nor as outwardly manifested,—in so far, at least as the symptoms have been laid open to my observation. Looking daily at you, my good sir, and watching the tokens of your aspect now for months gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may be, yet not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician might well hope to cure you. But I know not what to say, the disease is what I seem to know, yet know it not."

"You speak in riddles, learned sir," said the pale minister, glancing aside out of the window.

"Then, to speak more plainly," continued the physician, "and I crave pardon, sir, should it seem to require pardon, for this needful plainness of my speech. Let me ask as your friend, as one having charge, under Providence, of your life and physical well being, hath all the operations of this disorder been fairly laid open and recounted to me?"

"How can you question it?" asked the minister. "Surely it were child's play to call in a physician and then hide the sore!"

"You would tell me, then, that I know all?" said Roger Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, bright with intense and concentrated intelligence, on the minister's face. "Be it so! But again! He to whom only the outward and physical evil is laid open, knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which he is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part. Your pardon once again, good sir, if my speech give the shadow of offence. You, sir, of all men whom I have known, are he whose body is the closest conjoined, and imbued, and identified, so to speak, with the spirit whereof it is the instrument."

"Then I need ask no further," said the clergyman, somewhat hastily rising from his chair. "You deal not, I take it, in medicine for the soul!"

"Thus, a sickness," continued Roger Chillingworth, going on, in an unaltered tone, without heeding the interruption, but standing up and confronting the emaciated and white-cheeked minister, with his low, dark, and misshapen figure,—"a sickness, a sore place, if we may so call it, in your spirit hath immediately its appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame. Would you, therefore, that your physician heal the bodily evil? How may this be unless you first lay open to him the wound or trouble in your soul?"

"No, not to thee! not to an earthly physician!" cried Mr. Dimmesdale, passionately, and turning his eyes, full and bright, and with a kind of fierceness, on old Roger Chillingworth. "Not to thee! But, if it be the soul's disease, then do I commit myself to the one Physician of the soul! He, if it stand with His good pleasure, can cure, or he can kill. Let Him do with me as, in His justice and wisdom, He shall see good. But who art thou, that meddlest in this matter? that dares thrust himself between the sufferer and his God?"

With a frantic gesture he rushed out of the room.

"It is as well to have made this step," said Roger Chillingworth to himself, looking after the minister, with a grave smile. "There is nothing lost. We shall be friends again anon. But see, now, how passion takes hold upon this man, and hurrieth him out of himself! As with one passion so with another. He hath done a wild thing ere now, this pious Master Dimmesdale, in the hot passion of his heart."

It proved not difficult to re-establish the intimacy of the two companions, on the same footing and in the same degree as heretofore. The young clergyman, after a few hours of privacy, was sensible that the disorder of his nerves had hurried him into an unseemly outbreak of temper, which there had been nothing in the physician's words to excuse or palliate. He marvelled, indeed, at the violence with which he had thrust back the kind old man, when merely proffering the advice which it was his duty to bestow, and which the minister himself had expressly sought. With these remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making the amplest apologies, and besought his friend still to continue the care which, if not successful in restoring him to health, had, in all probability, been the means of prolonging his feeble existence to that hour. Roger Chillingworth readily assented, and went on with his medical supervision of the minister; doing his best for him, in all good faith, but always quitting the patient's apartment, at the close of the professional interview, with a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This expression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence, but grew strongly evident as the physician crossed the threshold.

"A rare case," he muttered. "I must needs look deeper into it. A strange sympathy betwixt soul and body! Were it only for the art's sake, I must search this matter to the bottom."

It came to pass, not long after the scene above recorded, that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, noon-day, and entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep slumber, sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter volume open before him on the table. It must have been a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of literature. The profound depth of the minister's repose was the more remarkable, inasmuch as he was one of those persons whose sleep ordinarily is as light as fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird hopping on a twig. To such an unwonted remoteness, however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself that he stirred not in his chair when old Roger Chillingworth, without any extraordinary precaution, came into the room. The physician advanced directly in front of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the vestment, that hitherto had always covered it even from the professional eye.

Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.

After a brief pause, the physician turned away.

But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror! With what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features, and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugliness of his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.

But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was the trait of wonder in it!

XI. 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 breast!

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 out. Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as a matter of principle, continued his habits of social familiarity with the old man, and thus gave him constant opportunities for perfecting the purpose to which—poor forlorn creature that he was, and more wretched than his victim—the avenger had devoted himself.

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the machinations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. His fame, though still on its upward slope, already overshadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow-clergymen, eminent as several of them were. There are scholars among them, who had spent more years in acquiring abstruse lore, connected with the divine profession, than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived; and who might well, therefore, be more profoundly versed in such solid and valuable attainments than their youthful brother. There were men, too, of a sturdier texture of mind than his, and endowed with a far greater share of shrewd, hard iron, or granite understanding; which, duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal ingredient, constitutes a highly respectable, efficacious, and unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were others again, true saintly fathers, whose faculties had been elaborated by weary toil among their books, and by patient thought, and etherealised, moreover, by spiritual communications with the better world, into which their purity of life had almost introduced these holy personages, with their garments of mortality still clinging to them. All that they lacked was, the gift that descended upon the chosen disciples at Pentecost, in tongues of flame; symbolising, it would seem, not the power of speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language. These fathers, otherwise so apostolic, lacked Heaven's last and rarest attestation of their office, the Tongue of Flame. They would have vainly sought—had they ever dreamed of seeking—to express the highest truths through the humblest medium of familiar words and images. Their voices came down, afar and indistinctly, from the upper heights where they habitually dwelt.

Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged. To the high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept him down on a level with the lowest; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels might else have listened to and answered! But this very burden it was that gave him sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind; so that his heart vibrated in unison with theirs, and received their pain into itself and sent its own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persuasive, but sometimes terrible! The people knew not the power that moved them thus. They deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness. They fancied him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdom, and rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground on which he trod was sanctified. The virgins of his church grew pale around him, victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment, that they imagined it to be all religion, and brought it openly, in their white bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before the altar. The aged members of his flock, beholding Mr. Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they were themselves so rugged in their infirmity, believed that he would go heavenward before them, and enjoined it upon their children that their old bones should be buried close to their young pastor's holy grave. And all this time, perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be buried!

It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within their life. Then what was he?—a substance?—or the dimmest of all shadows? He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. "I, whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood—I, who ascend the sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward, taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the Most High Omniscience—I, in whose daily life you discern the sanctity of Enoch—I, whose footsteps, as you suppose, leave a gleam along my earthly track, whereby the Pilgrims that shall come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest—I, who have laid the hand of baptism upon your children—I, who have breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends, to whom the Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted—I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!"

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the pulpit, with a purpose never to come down its steps until he should have spoken words like the above. More than once he had cleared his throat, and drawn in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when sent forth again, would come burdened with the black secret of his soul. More than once—nay, more than a hundred times—he had actually spoken! Spoken! But how? He had told his hearers that he was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity, and that the only wonder was that they did not see his wretched body shrivelled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this? Would not the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words. "The godly youth!" said they among themselves. "The saint on earth! Alas! if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!" The minister well knew—subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was!—the light in which his vague confession would be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without the momentary relief of being self-deceived. He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood. And yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast—not however, like them, in order to purify the body, and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination—but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness, sometimes with a glimmering lamp, and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify himself. In these lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly and close beside him, within the looking-glass. Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead friends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his mother turning her face away as she passed by. Ghost of a mother—thinnest fantasy of a mother—methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance towards her son! And now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman's own breast.

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their misty lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not solid in their nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, square, leather-bound and brazen-clasped volume of divinity. But, for all that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false—it is impalpable—it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to smile, and wear a face of gaiety, there would have been no such man!

On one of those ugly nights, which we have faintly hinted at, but forborne to picture forth, the minister started from his chair. A new thought had struck him. There might be a moment's peace in it. Attiring himself with as much care as if it had been for public worship, and precisely in the same manner, he stole softly down the staircase, undid the door, and issued forth.

XII. THE MINISTER'S VIGIL

Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and perhaps actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism, Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so long since, Hester Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy. The same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and foot-worn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it, remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting-house. The minister went up the steps.

It was an obscure night in early May. An unvaried pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon. If the same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned forth, they would have discerned no face above the platform nor hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark grey of the midnight. But the town was all asleep. There was no peril of discovery. The minister might stand there, if it so pleased him, until morning should redden in the east, without other risk than that the dank and chill night air would creep into his frame, and stiffen his joints with rheumatism, and clog his throat with catarrh and cough; thereby defrauding the expectant audience of to-morrow's prayer and sermon. No eye could see him, save that ever-wakeful one which had seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge. Why, then, had he come hither? Was it but the mockery of penitence? A mockery, indeed, but in which his soul trifled with itself! A mockery at which angels blushed and wept, while fiends rejoiced with jeering laughter! He had been driven hither by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere, and whose own sister and closely linked companion was that Cowardice which invariably drew him back, with her tremulous gripe, just when the other impulse had hurried him to the verge of a disclosure. Poor, miserable man! what right had infirmity like his to burden itself with crime? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their choice either to endure it, or, if it press too hard, to exert their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, and fling it off at once! This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance.

And thus, while standing on the scaffold, in this vain show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart. On that spot, in very truth, there was, and there had long been, the gnawing and poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud: an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to another, and reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of devils, detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro.

"It is done!" muttered the minister, covering his face with his hands. "The whole town will awake and hurry forth, and find me here!"

But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded with a far greater power, to his own startled ears, than it actually possessed. The town did not awake; or, if it did, the drowsy slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a dream, or for the noise of witches, whose voices, at that period, were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages, as they rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman, therefore, hearing no symptoms of disturbance, uncovered his eyes and looked about him. At one of the chamber-windows of Governor Bellingham's mansion, which stood at some distance, on the line of another street, he beheld the appearance of the old magistrate himself with a lamp in his hand a white night-cap on his head, and a long white gown enveloping his figure. He looked like a ghost evoked unseasonably from the grave. The cry had evidently startled him. At another window of the same house, moreover appeared old Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, also with a lamp, which even thus far off revealed the expression of her sour and discontented face. She thrust forth her head from the lattice, and looked anxiously upward. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and interpreted it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as the clamour of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well known to make excursions in the forest.

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lamp, the old lady quickly extinguished her own, and vanished. Possibly, she went up among the clouds. The minister saw nothing further of her motions. The magistrate, after a wary observation of the darkness—into which, nevertheless, he could see but little further than he might into a mill-stone—retired from the window.

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, however, were soon greeted by a little glimmering light, which, at first a long way off was approaching up the street. It threw a gleam of recognition, on here a post, and there a garden fence, and here a latticed window-pane, and there a pump, with its full trough of water, and here again an arched door of oak, with an iron knocker, and a rough log for the door-step. The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale noted all these minute particulars, even while firmly convinced that the doom of his existence was stealing onward, in the footsteps which he now heard; and that the gleam of the lantern would fall upon him in a few moments more, and reveal his long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearer, he beheld, within its illuminated circle, his brother clergyman—or, to speak more accurately, his professional father, as well as highly valued friend—the Reverend Mr. Wilson, who, as Mr. Dimmesdale now conjectured, had been praying at the bedside of some dying man. And so he had. The good old minister came freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthrop, who had passed from earth to heaven within that very hour. And now surrounded, like the saint-like personage of olden times, with a radiant halo, that glorified him amid this gloomy night of sin—as if the departed Governor had left him an inheritance of his glory, or as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of the celestial city, while looking thitherward to see the triumphant pilgrim pass within its gates—now, in short, good Father Wilson was moving homeward, aiding his footsteps with a lighted lantern! The glimmer of this luminary suggested the above conceits to Mr. Dimmesdale, who smiled—nay, almost laughed at them—and then wondered if he was going mad.

As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaffold, closely muffling his Geneva cloak about him with one arm, and holding the lantern before his breast with the other, the minister could hardly restrain himself from speaking—

"A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson. Come up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!"

Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one instant he believed that these words had passed his lips. But they were uttered only within his imagination. The venerable Father Wilson continued to step slowly onward, looking carefully at the muddy pathway before his feet, and never once turning his head towards the guilty platform. When the light of the glimmering lantern had faded quite away, the minister discovered, by the faintness which came over him, that the last few moments had been a crisis of terrible anxiety, although his mind had made an involuntary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid playfulness.

Shortly afterwards, the like grisly sense of the humorous again stole in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He felt his limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the night, and doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps of the scaffold. Morning would break and find him there. The neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest riser, coming forth in the dim twilight, would perceive a vaguely-defined figure aloft on the place of shame; and half-crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, would go knocking from door to door, summoning all the people to behold the ghost—as he needs must think it—of some defunct transgressor. A dusky tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. Then—the morning light still waxing stronger—old patriarchs would rise up in great haste, each in his flannel gown, and matronly dames, without pausing to put off their night-gear. The whole tribe of decorous personages, who had never heretofore been seen with a single hair of their heads awry, would start into public view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth, with his King James' ruff fastened askew, and Mistress Hibbins, with some twigs of the forest clinging to her skirts, and looking sourer than ever, as having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride; and good Father Wilson too, after spending half the night at a death-bed, and liking ill to be disturbed, thus early, out of his dreams about the glorified saints. Hither, likewise, would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale's church, and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms, which now, by-the-bye, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All people, in a word, would come stumbling over their thresholds, and turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the scaffold. Whom would they discern there, with the red eastern light upon his brow? Whom, but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, half-frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and standing where Hester Prynne had stood!

Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a light, airy, childish laugh, in which, with a thrill of the heart—but he knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute—he recognised the tones of little Pearl.

"Pearl! Little Pearl!" cried he, after a moment's pause; then, suppressing his voice—"Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you there?"

"Yes; it is Hester Prynne!" she replied, in a tone of surprise; and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the side-walk, along which she had been passing. "It is I, and my little Pearl."

"Whence come you, Hester?" asked the minister. "What sent you hither?"

"I have been watching at a death-bed," answered Hester Prynne "at Governor Winthrop's death-bed, and have taken his measure for a robe, and am now going homeward to my dwelling."

"Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together."

She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child's other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.

"Minister!" whispered little Pearl.

"What wouldst thou say, child?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale.

"Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" inquired Pearl.

"Nay; not so, my little Pearl," answered the minister; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which—with a strange joy, nevertheless—he now found himself—"not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow."

Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the minister held it fast.

"A moment longer, my child!" said he.

"But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, "to take my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide?"

"Not then, Pearl," said the minister; "but another time."

"And what other time?" persisted the child.

"At the great judgment day," whispered the minister; and, strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and there, before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!"

Pearl laughed again.

But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors, which the night-watcher may so often observe burning out to waste, in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of mid-day, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden houses, with their jutting storeys and quaint gable-peaks; the doorsteps and thresholds with the early grass springing up about them; the garden-plots, black with freshly-turned earth; the wheel-track, little worn, and even in the market-place margined with green on either side—all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.

There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes; and her face, as she glanced upward at the minister, wore that naughty smile which made its expression frequently so elvish. She withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes towards the zenith.

Nothing was more common, in those days, than to interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so many revelations from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows seen in the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. We doubt whether any marked event, for good or evil, ever befell New England, from its settlement down to revolutionary times, of which the inhabitants had not been previously warned by some spectacle of its nature. Not seldom, it had been seen by multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld the wonder through the coloured, magnifying, and distorted medium of his imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after-thought. It was, indeed, a majestic idea that the destiny of nations should be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven. A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence to write a people's doom upon. The belief was a favourite one with our forefathers, as betokening that their infant commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness. But what shall we say, when an individual discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone, on the same vast sheet of record. In such a case, it could only be the symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a man, rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret pain, had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul's history and fate.

We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his own eye and heart that the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter—the letter A—marked out in lines of dull red light. Not but the meteor may have shown itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil of cloud, but with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave it, or, at least, with so little definiteness, that another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it.

There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr. Dimmesdale's psychological state at this moment. All the time that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that little Pearl was pointing her finger towards old Roger Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from the scaffold. The minister appeared to see him, with the same glance that discerned the miraculous letter. To his feature as to all other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expression; or it might well be that the physician was not careful then, as at all other times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment, then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing there with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So vivid was the expression, or so intense the minister's perception of it, that it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness after the meteor had vanished, with an effect as if the street and all things else were at once annihilated.

"Who is that man, Hester?" gasped Mr. Dimmesdale, overcome with terror. "I shiver at him! Dost thou know the man? I hate him, Hester!"

She remembered her oath, and was silent.

"I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!" muttered the minister again. "Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I have a nameless horror of the man!"

"Minister," said little Pearl, "I can tell thee who he is!"

"Quickly, then, child!" said the minister, bending his ear close to her lips. "Quickly, and as low as thou canst whisper."

Pearl mumbled something into his ear that sounded, indeed, like human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be heard amusing themselves with by the hour together. At all events, if it involved any secret information in regard to old Roger Chillingworth, it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite clergyman, and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind. The elvish child then laughed aloud.

"Dost thou mock me now?" said the minister.

"Thou wast not bold!—thou wast not true!" answered the child. "Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noon-tide!"

"Worthy sir," answered the physician, who had now advanced to the foot of the platform—"pious Master Dimmesdale! can this be you? Well, well, indeed! We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have need to be straitly looked after! We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep. Come, good sir, and my dear friend, I pray you let me lead you home!"

"How knewest thou that I was here?" asked the minister, fearfully.

"Verily, and in good faith," answered Roger Chillingworth, "I knew nothing of the matter. I had spent the better part of the night at the bedside of the worshipful Governor Winthrop, doing what my poor skill might to give him ease. He, going home to a better world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when this light shone out. Come with me, I beseech you, Reverend sir, else you will be poorly able to do Sabbath duty to-morrow. Aha! see now how they trouble the brain—these books!—these books! You should study less, good sir, and take a little pastime, or these night whimsies will grow upon you."

"I will go home with you," said Mr. Dimmesdale.

With a chill despondency, like one awakening, all nerveless, from an ugly dream, he yielded himself to the physician, and was led away.

The next day, however, being the Sabbath, he preached a discourse which was held to be the richest and most powerful, and the most replete with heavenly influences, that had ever proceeded from his lips. Souls, it is said, more souls than one, were brought to the truth by the efficacy of that sermon, and vowed within themselves to cherish a holy gratitude towards Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. But as he came down the pulpit steps, the grey-bearded sexton met him, holding up a black glove, which the minister recognised as his own.

"It was found," said the Sexton, "this morning on the scaffold where evil-doers are set up to public shame. Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!"

"Thank you, my good friend," said the minister, gravely, but startled at heart; for so confused was his remembrance, that he had almost brought himself to look at the events of the past night as visionary.

"Yes, it seems to be my glove, indeed!"

"And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs handle him without gloves henceforward," remarked the old sexton, grimly smiling. "But did your reverence hear of the portent that was seen last night? a great red letter in the sky—the letter A, which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof!"

"No," answered the minister; "I had not heard of it."

XIII. ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER

In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne was shocked at the condition to which she found the clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. His moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It grovelled helpless on the ground, even while his intellectual faculties retained their pristine strength, or had perhaps acquired a morbid energy, which disease only could have given them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from all others, she could readily infer that, besides the legitimate action of his own conscience, a terrible machinery had been brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being and repose. Knowing what this poor fallen man had once been, her whole soul was moved by the shuddering terror with which he had appealed to her—the outcast woman—for support against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided, moreover, that he had a right to her utmost aid. Little accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself, Hester saw—or seemed to see—that there lay a responsibility upon her in reference to the clergyman, which she owned to no other, nor to the whole world besides. The links that united her to the rest of humankind—links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever the material—had all been broken. Here was the iron link of mutual crime, which neither he nor she could break. Like all other ties, it brought along with it its obligations.

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in which we beheld her during the earlier periods of her ignominy. Years had come and gone. Pearl was now seven years old. Her mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its fantastic embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the townspeople. As is apt to be the case when a person stands out in any prominence before the community, and, at the same time, interferes neither with public nor individual interests and convenience, a species of general regard had ultimately grown up in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of human nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne there was neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she made no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did not weigh upon its sympathies. Then, also, the blameless purity of her life during all these years in which she had been set apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favour. With nothing now to lose, in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.

It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even the humblest title to share in the world's privileges—further than to breathe the common air and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands—she was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, whether general or of individuals, the outcast of society at once found her place. She came, not as a guest, but as a rightful inmate, into the household that was darkened by trouble, as if its gloomy twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold intercourse with her fellow-creature. There glimmered the embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly ray. Elsewhere the token of sin, it was the taper of the sick chamber. It had even thrown its gleam, in the sufferer's bard extremity, across the verge of time. It had shown him where to set his foot, while the light of earth was fast becoming dim, and ere the light of futurity could reach him. In such emergencies Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich—a well-spring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy, or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her—so much power to do, and power to sympathise—that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Abel, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.

It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When sunshine came again, she was not there. Her shadow had faded across the threshold. The helpful inmate had departed, without one backward glance to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any were in the hearts of those whom she had served so zealously. Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head to receive their greeting. If they were resolute to accost her, she laid her finger on the scarlet letter, and passed on. This might be pride, but was so like humility, that it produced all the softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind. The public is despotic in its temper; it is capable of denying common justice when too strenuously demanded as a right; but quite as frequently it awards more than justice, when the appeal is made, as despots love to have it made, entirely to its generosity. Interpreting Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal of this nature, society was inclined to show its former victim a more benign countenance than she cared to be favoured with, or, perchance, than she deserved.

The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the community, were longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester's good qualities than the people. The prejudices which they shared in common with the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame-work of reasoning, that made it a far tougher labour to expel them. Day by day, nevertheless, their sour and rigid wrinkles were relaxing into something which, in the due course of years, might grow to be an expression of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men of rank, on whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship of the public morals. Individuals in private life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay, more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. "Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?" they would say to strangers. "It is our Hester—the town's own Hester—who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!" Then, it is true, the propensity of human nature to tell the very worst of itself, when embodied in the person of another, would constrain them to whisper the black scandal of bygone years. It was none the less a fact, however, that in the eyes of the very men who spoke thus, the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have kept her safe. It was reported, and believed by many, that an Indian had drawn his arrow against the badge, and that the missile struck it, and fell harmless to the ground.

The effect of the symbol—or rather, of the position in respect to society that was indicated by it—on the mind of Hester Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar. All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline, which might have been repulsive had she possessed friends or companions to be repelled by it. Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change. It might be partly owing to the studied austerity of her dress, and partly to the lack of demonstration in her manners. It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine. It was due in part to all these causes, but still more to something else, that there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester's face for Love to dwell upon; nothing in Hester's form, though majestic and statue like, that Passion would ever dream of clasping in its embrace; nothing in Hester's bosom to make it ever again the pillow of Affection. Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman. Such is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered, and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or—and the outward semblance is the same—crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been a woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the magic touch to effect the transformation. We shall see whether Hester Prynne were ever afterwards so touched and so transfigured.

Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression was to be attributed to the circumstance that her life had turned, in a great measure, from passion and feeling to thought. Standing alone in the world—alone, as to any dependence on society, and with little Pearl to be guided and protected—alone, and hopeless of retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to consider it desirable—she cast away the fragment of a broken chain. The world's law was no law for her mind. It was an age in which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken a more active and a wider range than for many centuries before. Men of the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men bolder than these had overthrown and rearranged—not actually, but within the sphere of theory, which was their most real abode—the whole system of ancient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed a freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatised by the scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottage, by the seashore, thoughts visited her such as dared to enter no other dwelling in New England; shadowy guests, that would have been as perilous as demons to their entertainer, could they have been seen so much as knocking at her door.

It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society. The thought suffices them, without investing itself in the flesh and blood of action. So it seemed to be with Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. Then she might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Ann Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect. She might, in one of her phases, have been a prophetess. She might, and not improbably would, have suffered death from the stern tribunals of the period, for attempting to undermine the foundations of the Puritan establishment. But, in the education of her child, the mother's enthusiasm of thought had something to wreak itself upon. Providence, in the person of this little girl, had assigned to Hester's charge, the germ and blossom of womanhood, to be cherished and developed amid a host of difficulties. Everything was against her. The world was hostile. The child's own nature had something wrong in it which continually betokened that she had been born amiss—the effluence of her mother's lawless passion—and often impelled Hester to ask, in bitterness of heart, whether it were for ill or good that the poor little creature had been born at all.

Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point as settled. A tendency to speculation, though it may keep women quiet, as it does man, yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, such a hopeless task before her. As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position. Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change, in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. A woman never overcomes these problems by any exercise of thought. They are not to be solved, or only in one way. If her heart chance to come uppermost, they vanish. Thus Hester Prynne, whose heart had lost its regular and healthy throb, wandered without a clue in the dark labyrinth of mind; now turned aside by an insurmountable precipice; now starting back from a deep chasm. There was wild and ghastly scenery all around her, and a home and comfort nowhere. At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.

The scarlet letter had not done its office. Now, however, her interview with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, on the night of his vigil, had given her a new theme of reflection, and held up to her an object that appeared worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for its attainment. She had witnessed the intense misery beneath which the minister struggled, or, to speak more accurately, had ceased to struggle. She saw that he stood on the verge of lunacy, if he had not already stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt that, whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret sting of remorse, a deadlier venom had been infused into it by the hand that proffered relief. A secret enemy had been continually by his side, under the semblance of a friend and helper, and had availed himself of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering with the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hester could not but ask herself whether there had not originally been a defect of truth, courage, and loyalty on her own part, in allowing the minister to be thrown into a position where so much evil was to be foreboded and nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her only justification lay in the fact that she had been able to discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had overwhelmed herself except by acquiescing in Roger Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that impulse she had made her choice, and had chosen, as it now appeared, the more wretched alternative of the two. She determined to redeem her error so far as it might yet be possible. Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night, abased by sin and half-maddened by the ignominy that was still new, when they had talked together in the prison-chamber. She had climbed her way since then to a higher point. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself nearer to her level, or, perhaps, below it, by the revenge which he had stooped for.

In fine, Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former husband, and do what might be in her power for the rescue of the victim on whom he had so evidently set his gripe. The occasion was not long to seek. One afternoon, walking with Pearl in a retired part of the peninsula, she beheld the old physician with a basket on one arm and a staff in the other hand, stooping along the ground in quest of roots and herbs to concoct his medicine withal.

XIV. 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, and 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 forthwith."

"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 an 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 if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast, until by some casual puff of passion it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened.

In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office. This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by devoting himself for seven years to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analysed and gloated over.

The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to her.

"What see you in my face," asked the physician, "that you look at it so earnestly?"

"Something that would make me weep, if there were any tears bitter enough for it," answered she. "But let it pass! It is of yonder miserable man that I would speak."

"And what of him?" cried Roger Chillingworth, eagerly, as if he loved the topic, and were glad of an opportunity to discuss it with the only person of whom he could make a confidant. "Not to hide the truth, Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be busy with the gentleman. So speak freely and I will make answer."

"When we last spake together," said Hester, "now seven years ago, it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy as touching the former relation betwixt yourself and me. As the life and good fame of yonder man were in your hands there seemed no choice to me, save to be silent in accordance with your behest. Yet it was not without heavy misgivings that I thus bound myself, for, having cast off all duty towards other human beings, there remained a duty towards him, and something whispered me that I was betraying it in pledging myself to keep your counsel. Since that day no man is so near to him as you. You tread behind his every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living death, and still he knows you not. In permitting this I have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was left me to be true!"

"What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger, pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, thence, peradventure, to the gallows!"

"It had been better so!" said Hester Prynne.

"What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again. "I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid his life would have burned away in torments within the first two years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For, Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. Oh, I could reveal a goodly secret! But enough. What art can do, I have exhausted on him. That he now breathes and creeps about on earth is owing all to me!"

"Better he had died at once!" said Hester Prynne.

"Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense—for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this—he knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heartstrings, and that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse and despair of pardon, as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence, the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged, and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed, he did not err, there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment."

The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognise, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. It was one of those moments—which sometimes occur only at the interval of years—when a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not improbably he had never before viewed himself as he did now.

"Hast thou not tortured him enough?" said Hester, noticing the old man's look. "Has he not paid thee all?"

"No, no! He has but increased the debt!" answered the physician, and as he proceeded, his manner lost its fiercer characteristics, and subsided into gloom. "Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I was nine years agone? Even then I was in the autumn of my days, nor was it the early autumn. But all my life had been made up of earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too, though this latter object was but casual to the other—faithfully for the advancement of human welfare. No life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with benefits conferred. Dost thou remember me? Was I not, though you might deem me cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others, craving little for himself—kind, true, just and of constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all this?"

"All this, and more," said Hester.

"And what am I now?" demanded he, looking into her face, and permitting the whole evil within him to be written on his features. "I have already told thee what I am—a fiend! Who made me so?"

"It was myself," cried Hester, shuddering. "It was I, not less than he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?"

"I have left thee to the scarlet letter," replied Roger

Chillingworth. "If that has not avenged me, I can do no more!"

 

He laid his finger on it with a smile.

"It has avenged thee," answered Hester Prynne.

"I judged no less," said the physician. "And now what wouldst thou with me touching this man?"

"I must reveal the secret," answered Hester, firmly. "He must discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result I know not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and his earthly state, and perchance his life, he is in my hands. Nor do I—whom the scarlet letter has disciplined to truth, though it be the truth of red-hot iron entering into the soul—nor do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy. Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him, no good for me, no good for thee. There is no good for little Pearl. There is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."

"Woman, I could well-nigh pity thee," said Roger Chillingworth, unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too, for there was a quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed. "Thou hadst great elements. Peradventure, hadst thou met earlier with a better love than mine, this evil had not been. I pity thee, for the good that has been wasted in thy nature."

"And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, "for the hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake, then doubly for thine own! Forgive, and leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it! I said, but now, that there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who are here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil, and stumbling at every step over the guilt wherewith we have strewn our path. It is not so! There might be good for thee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?"

"Peace, Hester—peace!" replied the old man, with gloomy sternness—"it is not granted me to pardon. I have no such power as thou tellest me of. My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil; but since that moment it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend's office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now, go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man."

He waved his hand, and betook himself again to his employment of gathering herbs.

XV. HESTER AND PEARL

So Roger Chillingworth—a deformed old figure with a face that haunted men's memories longer than they liked—took leave of Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He gathered here and there a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little while, looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs of species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? Or might it suffice him that every wholesome growth should be converted into something deleterious and malignant at his touch? Did the sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with his deformity whichever way he turned himself? And whither was he now going? Would he not suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance? Or would he spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier the higher he rose towards heaven?

"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as still she gazed after him, "I hate the man!"

She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not overcome or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she thought of those long-past days in a distant land, when he used to emerge at eventide from the seclusion of his study and sit down in the firelight of their home, and in the light of her nuptial smile. He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order that the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared not otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through the dismal medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among her ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have been! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to marry him! She deemed it her crime most to be repented of, that she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him, that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side.

"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester more bitterly than before.

"He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"

 

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their miserable fortune, as it was Roger Chillingworth's, when some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago to have done with this injustice. What did it betoken? Had seven long years, under the torture of the scarlet letter, inflicted so much of misery and wrought out no repentance?

The emotion of that brief space, while she stood gazing after the crooked figure of old Roger Chillingworth, threw a dark light on Hester's state of mind, revealing much that she might not otherwise have acknowledged to herself.

He being gone, she summoned back her child.

"Pearl! Little Pearl! Where are you?"

Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had been at no loss for amusement while her mother talked with the old gatherer of herbs. At first, as already told, she had flirted fancifully with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and—as it declined to venture—seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky. Soon finding, however, that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better pastime. She made little boats out of birch-bark, and freighted them with snailshells, and sent out more ventures on the mighty deep than any merchant in New England; but the larger part of them foundered near the shore. She seized a live horse-shoe by the tail, and made prize of several five-fingers, and laid out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she took up the white foam that streaked the line of the advancing tide, and threw it upon the breeze, scampering after it with winged footsteps to catch the great snowflakes ere they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach-birds that fed and fluttered along the shore, the naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles, and, creeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl, displayed remarkable dexterity in pelting them. One little gray bird, with a white breast, Pearl was almost sure had been hit by a pebble, and fluttered away with a broken wing. But then the elf-child sighed, and gave up her sport, because it grieved her to have done harm to a little being that was as wild as the sea-breeze, or as wild as Pearl herself.

Her final employment was to gather seaweed of various kinds, and make herself a scarf or mantle, and a head-dress, and thus assume the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited her mother's gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid's garb, Pearl took some eel-grass and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A letter—the letter A—but freshly green instead of scarlet. The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest, even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import.

"I wonder if mother will ask me what it means?" thought Pearl.

Just then she heard her mother's voice, and, flitting along as lightly as one of the little sea-birds, appeared before Hester Prynne dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the ornament upon her bosom.

"My little Pearl," said Hester, after a moment's silence, "the green letter, and on thy childish bosom, has no purport. But dost thou know, my child, what this letter means which thy mother is doomed to wear?"

"Yes, mother," said the child. "It is the great letter A. Thou hast taught me in the horn-book."

Hester looked steadily into her little face; but though there was that singular expression which she had so often remarked in her black eyes, she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl really attached any meaning to the symbol. She felt a morbid desire to ascertain the point.

"Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears this letter?"

"Truly do I!" answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother's face. "It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"

"And what reason is that?" asked Hester, half smiling at the absurd incongruity of the child's observation; but on second thoughts turning pale.

"What has the letter to do with any heart save mine?"

"Nay, mother, I have told all I know," said Pearl, more seriously than she was wont to speak. "Ask yonder old man whom thou hast been talking with,—it may be he can tell. But in good earnest now, mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean?—and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom?—and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"

She took her mother's hand in both her own, and gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and capricious character. The thought occurred to Hester, that the child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike confidence, and doing what she could, and as intelligently as she knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy. It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect. Heretofore, the mother, while loving her child with the intensity of a sole affection, had schooled herself to hope for little other return than the waywardness of an April breeze, which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of moods, and chills oftener than caresses you, when you take it to your bosom; in requital of which misdemeanours it will sometimes, of its own vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and then be gone about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure at your heart. And this, moreover, was a mother's estimate of the child's disposition. Any other observer might have seen few but unamiable traits, and have given them a far darker colouring. But now the idea came strongly into Hester's mind, that Pearl, with her remarkable precocity and acuteness, might already have approached the age when she could have been made a friend, and intrusted with as much of her mother's sorrows as could be imparted, without irreverence either to the parent or the child. In the little chaos of Pearl's character there might be seen emerging and could have been from the very first—the steadfast principles of an unflinching courage—an uncontrollable will—sturdy pride, which might be disciplined into self-respect—and a bitter scorn of many things which, when examined, might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them. She possessed affections, too, though hitherto acrid and disagreeable, as are the richest flavours of unripe fruit. With all these sterling attributes, thought Hester, the evil which she inherited from her mother must be great indeed, if a noble woman do not grow out of this elfish child.

Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enigma of the scarlet letter seemed an innate quality of her being. From the earliest epoch of her conscious life, she had entered upon this as her appointed mission. Hester had often fancied that Providence had a design of justice and retribution, in endowing the child with this marked propensity; but never, until now, had she bethought herself to ask, whether, linked with that design, there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy and beneficence. If little Pearl were entertained with faith and trust, as a spirit messenger no less than an earthly child, might it not be her errand to soothe away the sorrow that lay cold in her mother's heart, and converted it into a tomb?—and to help her to overcome the passion, once so wild, and even yet neither dead nor asleep, but only imprisoned within the same tomb-like heart?

Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in Hester's mind, with as much vivacity of impression as if they had actually been whispered into her ear. And there was little Pearl, all this while, holding her mother's hand in both her own, and turning her face upward, while she put these searching questions, once and again, and still a third time.

"What does the letter mean, mother? and why dost thou wear it? and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"

"What shall I say?" thought Hester to herself. "No! if this be the price of the child's sympathy, I cannot pay it."

Then she spoke aloud—

"Silly Pearl," said she, "what questions are these? There are many things in this world that a child must not ask about. What know I of the minister's heart? And as for the scarlet letter, I wear it for the sake of its gold thread."

In all the seven bygone years, Hester Prynne had never before been false to the symbol on her bosom. It may be that it was the talisman of a stern and severe, but yet a guardian spirit, who now forsook her; as recognising that, in spite of his strict watch over her heart, some new evil had crept into it, or some old one had never been expelled. As for little Pearl, the earnestness soon passed out of her face.

But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. Two or three times, as her mother and she went homeward, and as often at supper-time, and while Hester was putting her to bed, and once after she seemed to be fairly asleep, Pearl looked up, with mischief gleaming in her black eyes.

"Mother," said she, "what does the scarlet letter mean?"

And the next morning, the first indication the child gave of being awake was by popping up her head from the pillow, and making that other enquiry, which she had so unaccountably connected with her investigations about the scarlet letter—

"Mother!—Mother!—Why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?"

"Hold thy tongue, naughty child!" answered her mother, with an asperity that she had never permitted to herself before. "Do not tease me; else I shall put thee into the dark closet!"

XVI. A FOREST WALK

Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior consequences, the true character of the man who had crept into his intimacy. For several days, however, she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks which she knew him to be in the habit of taking along the shores of the Peninsula, or on the wooded hills of the neighbouring country. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited him in his own study, where many a penitent, ere now, had confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye as the one betokened by the scarlet letter. But, partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have been felt, and partly that both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in, while they talked together—for all these reasons Hester never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.

At last, while attending a sick chamber, whither the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian converts. He would probably return by a certain hour in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl—who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions, however inconvenient her presence—and set forth.

The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the Peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a foot-path. It straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness was always at the further extremity of some long vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight—feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scene—withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright.

"Mother," said little Pearl, "the sunshine does not love you.

It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something

on your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing a good way off.

Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child.

It will not flee from me—for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!"

 

"Nor ever will, my child, I hope," said Hester.

"And why not, mother?" asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the beginning of her race. "Will not it come of its own accord when I am a woman grown?"

"Run away, child," answered her mother, "and catch the sunshine.

It will soon be gone."

 

Pearl set forth at a great pace, and as Hester smiled to perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the midst of it, all brightened by its splendour, and scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion. The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn almost nigh enough to step into the magic circle too.

"It will go now," said Pearl, shaking her head.

"See!" answered Hester, smiling; "now I can stretch out my hand and grasp some of it."

As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to judge from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's features, her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into herself, and would give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There was no other attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new and untransmitted vigour in Pearl's nature, as this never failing vivacity of spirits: she had not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this, too, was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows before Pearl's birth. It was certainly a doubtful charm, imparting a hard, metallic lustre to the child's character. She wanted—what some people want throughout life—a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus humanise and make her capable of sympathy. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl.

"Come, my child!" said Hester, looking about her from the spot where Pearl had stood still in the sunshine—"we will sit down a little way within the wood, and rest ourselves."

"I am not aweary, mother," replied the little girl. "But you may sit down, if you will tell me a story meanwhile."

"A story, child!" said Hester. "And about what?"

"Oh, a story about the Black Man," answered Pearl, taking hold of her mother's gown, and looking up, half earnestly, half mischievously, into her face.

"How he haunts this forest, and carries a book with him a big, heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among the trees; and they are to write their names with their own blood; and then he sets his mark on their bosoms. Didst thou ever meet the Black Man, mother?"

"And who told you this story, Pearl," asked her mother, recognising a common superstition of the period.

"It was the old dame in the chimney corner, at the house where you watched last night," said the child. "But she fancied me asleep while she was talking of it. She said that a thousand and a thousand people had met him here, and had written in his book, and have his mark on them. And that ugly tempered lady, old Mistress Hibbins, was one. And, mother, the old dame said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on thee, and that it glows like a red flame when thou meetest him at midnight, here in the dark wood. Is it true, mother? And dost thou go to meet him in the nighttime?"

"Didst thou ever awake and find thy mother gone?" asked Hester. "Not that I remember," said the child. "If thou fearest to leave me in our cottage, thou mightest take me along with thee. I would very gladly go! But, mother, tell me now! Is there such a Black Man? And didst thou ever meet him? And is this his mark?"

"Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee?" asked her mother.

"Yes, if thou tellest me all," answered Pearl.

"Once in my life I met the Black Man!" said her mother. "This scarlet letter is his mark!"

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along the forest track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss; which at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending over it had flung down great branches from time to time, which choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points; while, in its swifter and livelier passages there appeared a channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock covered over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.

"Oh, brook! Oh, foolish and tiresome little brook!" cried

Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk, "Why art thou so sad?

Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and

murmuring!"

 

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course.

"What does this sad little brook say, mother?" inquired she.

"If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it," answered her mother, "even as it is telling me of mine. But now, Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise of one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to play, and leave me to speak with him that comes yonder."

"Is it the Black Man?" asked Pearl.

"Wilt thou go and play, child?" repeated her mother, "But do not stray far into the wood. And take heed that thou come at my first call."

"Yes, mother," answered Pearl, "But if it be the Black Man, wilt thou not let me stay a moment, and look at him, with his big book under his arm?"

"Go, silly child!" said her mother impatiently. "It is no Black Man! Thou canst see him now, through the trees. It is the minister!"

"And so it is!" said the child. "And, mother, he has his hand over his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why does he not wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, mother?"

"Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou wilt another time," cried Hester Prynne. "But do not stray far. Keep where thou canst hear the babble of the brook."

The child went singing away, following up the current of the brook, and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened—or making a prophetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen—within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who had enough of shadow in her own little life, chose to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set herself, therefore, to gathering violets and wood-anemones, and some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevice of a high rock.

When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made a step or two towards the track that led through the forest, but still remained under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the minister advancing along the path entirely alone, and leaning on a staff which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air, which had never so remarkably characterised him in his walks about the settlement, nor in any other situation where he deemed himself liable to notice. Here it was wofully visible, in this intense seclusion of the forest, which of itself would have been a heavy trial to the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gait, as if he saw no reason for taking one step further, nor felt any desire to do so, but would have been glad, could he be glad of anything, to fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree, and lie there passive for evermore. The leaves might bestrew him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock over his frame, no matter whether there were life in it or no. Death was too definite an object to be wished for or avoided.

To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, except that, as little Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his heart.

XVII. THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER

Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone by before Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his observation. At length she succeeded.

"Arthur Dimmesdale!" she said, faintly at first, then louder, but hoarsely—"Arthur Dimmesdale!"

"Who speaks?" answered the minister. Gathering himself quickly up, he stood more erect, like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice, he indistinctly beheld a form under the trees, clad in garments so sombre, and so little relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that he knew not whether it were a woman or a shadow. It may be that his pathway through life was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out from among his thoughts.

He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet letter.

"Hester! Hester Prynne!", said he; "is it thou? Art thou in life?"

"Even so." she answered. "In such life as has been mine these seven years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live?"

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one another's actual and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So strangely did they meet in the dim wood that it was like the first encounter in the world beyond the grave of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering in mutual dread, as not yet familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken at the other ghost. They were awe-stricken likewise at themselves, because the crisis flung back to them their consciousness, and revealed to each heart its history and experience, as life never does, except at such breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away what was dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere.

Without a word more spoken—neither he nor she assuming the guidance, but with an unexpressed consent—they glided back into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had emerged, and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting. When they found voice to speak, it was at first only to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintances might have made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and, next, the health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, into the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed something slight and casual to run before and throw open the doors of intercourse, so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold.

After awhile, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynne's.

"Hester," said he, "hast thou found peace?"

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.

"Hast thou?" she asked.

"None—nothing but despair!" he answered. "What else could I look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Were I an atheist—a man devoid of conscience—a wretch with coarse and brutal instincts—I might have found peace long ere now. Nay, I never should have lost it. But, as matters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity there originally was in me, all of God's gifts that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!"

"The people reverence thee," said Hester. "And surely thou workest good among them! Doth this bring thee no comfort?"

"More misery, Hester!—Only the more misery!" answered the clergyman with a bitter smile. "As concerns the good which I may appear to do, I have no faith in it. It must needs be a delusion. What can a ruined soul like mine effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul towards their purification? And as for the people's reverence, would that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou deem it, Hester, a consolation that I must stand up in my pulpit, and meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if the light of heaven were beaming from it!—must see my flock hungry for the truth, and listening to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were speaking!—and then look inward, and discern the black reality of what they idolise? I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And Satan laughs at it!"

"You wrong yourself in this," said Hester gently. "You have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy, in very truth, than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? And wherefore should it not bring you peace?"

"No, Hester—no!" replied the clergyman. "There is no substance in it! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me! Of penance, I have had enough! Of penitence, there has been none! Else, I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognises me for what I am! Had I one friend—or were it my worst enemy!—to whom, when sickened with the praises of all other men, I could daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me! But now, it is all falsehood!—all emptiness!—all death!"

Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to speak. Yet, uttering his long-restrained emotions so vehemently as he did, his words here offered her the very point of circumstances in which to interpose what she came to say. She conquered her fears, and spoke:

"Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for," said she, "with whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!" Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with an effort.—"Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him, under the same roof!"

The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and clutching at his heart, as if he would have torn it out of his bosom.

"Ha! What sayest thou?" cried he. "An enemy! And under mine own roof! What mean you?"

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie for so many years, or, indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. The very contiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever mask the latter might conceal himself, was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a period when Hester was less alive to this consideration; or, perhaps, in the misanthropy of her own trouble, she left the minister to bear what she might picture to herself as a more tolerable doom. But of late, since the night of his vigil, all her sympathies towards him had been both softened and invigorated. She now read his heart more accurately. She doubted not that the continual presence of Roger Chillingworth—the secret poison of his malignity, infecting all the air about him—and his authorised interference, as a physician, with the minister's physical and spiritual infirmities—that these bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel purpose. By means of them, the sufferer's conscience had been kept in an irritated state, the tendency of which was, not to cure by wholesome pain, but to disorganize and corrupt his spiritual being. Its result, on earth, could hardly fail to be insanity, and hereafter, that eternal alienation from the Good and True, of which madness is perhaps the earthly type.

Such was the ruin to which she had brought the man, once—nay, why should we not speak it?—still so passionately loved! Hester felt that the sacrifice of the clergyman's good name, and death itself, as she had already told Roger Chillingworth, would have been infinitely preferable to the alternative which she had taken upon herself to choose. And now, rather than have had this grievous wrong to confess, she would gladly have laid down on the forest leaves, and died there, at Arthur Dimmesdale's feet.

"Oh, Arthur!" cried she, "forgive me! In all things else, I have striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when thy good—thy life—thy fame—were put in question! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what I would say? That old man!—the physician!—he whom they call Roger Chillingworth!—he was my husband!"

The minister looked at her for an instant, with all that violence of passion, which—intermixed in more shapes than one with his higher, purer, softer qualities—was, in fact, the portion of him which the devil claimed, and through which he sought to win the rest. Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it lasted, it was a dark transfiguration. But his character had been so much enfeebled by suffering, that even its lower energies were incapable of more than a temporary struggle. He sank down on the ground, and buried his face in his hands.

"I might have known it," murmured he—"I did know it! Was not the secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart at the first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why did I not understand? Oh, Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!—the indelicacy!—the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this!—I cannot forgive thee!"

"Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him. "Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!"

With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom, little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her—for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman—and still she bore it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, and live!

"Wilt thou yet forgive me?" she repeated, over and over again.

"Wilt thou not frown? Wilt thou forgive?"

 

"I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister at length, with a deep utterance, out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. "I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both. We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!"

"Never, never!" whispered she. "What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other. Hast thou forgotten it?"

"Hush, Hester!" said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising from the ground.

"No; I have not forgotten!"

 

They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand, on the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life had never brought them a gloomier hour; it was the point whither their pathway had so long been tending, and darkening ever, as it stole along—and yet it unclosed a charm that made them linger upon it, and claim another, and another, and, after all, another moment. The forest was obscure around them, and creaked with a blast that was passing through it. The boughs were tossing heavily above their heads; while one solemn old tree groaned dolefully to another, as if telling the sad story of the pair that sat beneath, or constrained to forbode evil to come.

And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the forest-track that led backward to the settlement, where Hester Prynne must take up again the burden of her ignominy and the minister the hollow mockery of his good name! So they lingered an instant longer. No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest. Here seen only by his eyes, the scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallen woman! Here seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might be, for one moment true!

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to him.

"Hester!" cried he, "here is a new horror! Roger Chillingworth knows your purpose to reveal his true character. Will he continue, then, to keep our secret? What will now be the course of his revenge?"

"There is a strange secrecy in his nature," replied Hester, thoughtfully; "and it has grown upon him by the hidden practices of his revenge. I deem it not likely that he will betray the secret. He will doubtless seek other means of satiating his dark passion."

"And I!—how am I to live longer, breathing the same air with this deadly enemy?" exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand nervously against his heart—a gesture that had grown involuntary with him. "Think for me, Hester! Thou art strong. Resolve for me!"

"Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said Hester, slowly and firmly. "Thy heart must be no longer under his evil eye!"

"It were far worse than death!" replied the minister. "But how to avoid it? What choice remains to me? Shall I lie down again on these withered leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst tell me what he was? Must I sink down there, and die at once?"

"Alas! what a ruin has befallen thee!" said Hester, with the tears gushing into her eyes. "Wilt thou die for very weakness? There is no other cause!"

"The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"

"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it."

"Be thou strong for me!" answered he. "Advise me what to do."

"Is the world, then, so narrow?" exclaimed Hester Prynne, fixing her deep eyes on the minister's, and instinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so shattered and subdued that it could hardly hold itself erect. "Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but, onward, too! Deeper it goes, and deeper into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step; until some few miles hence the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man's tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"

"Yes, Hester; but only under the fallen leaves!" replied the minister, with a sad smile.

"Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!" continued Hester. "It brought thee hither. If thou so choose, it will bear thee back again. In our native land, whether in some remote rural village, or in vast London—or, surely, in Germany, in France, in pleasant Italy—thou wouldst be beyond his power and knowledge! And what hast thou to do with all these iron men, and their opinions? They have kept thy better part in bondage too long already!"

"It cannot be!" answered the minister, listening as if he were called upon to realise a dream. "I am powerless to go. Wretched and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag on my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me. Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I may for other human souls! I dare not quit my post, though an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death and dishonour, when his dreary watch shall come to an end!"

"Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight of misery," replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy him up with her own energy. "But thou shalt leave it all behind thee! It shall not cumber thy steps, as thou treadest along the forest-path: neither shalt thou freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened. Meddle no more with it! Begin all anew! Hast thou exhausted possibility in the failure of this one trial? Not so! The future is yet full of trial and success. There is happiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a mission, the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or, as is more thy nature, be a scholar and a sage among the wisest and the most renowned of the cultivated world. Preach! Write! Act! Do anything, save to lie down and die! Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear without fear or shame. Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one other day in the torments that have so gnawed into thy life? that have made thee feeble to will and to do? that will leave thee powerless even to repent? Up, and away!"

"Oh, Hester!" cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away, "thou tellest of running a race to a man whose knees are tottering beneath him! I must die here! There is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world alone!"

It was the last expression of the despondency of a broken spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach.

He repeated the word—"Alone, Hester!"

"Thou shall not go alone!" answered she, in a deep whisper.

Then, all was spoken!

 

XVIII. A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE

Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but with fear betwixt them, and a kind of horror at her boldness, who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, but dared not speak.

But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness, as vast, as intricate, and shadowy as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators had established; criticising all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.

The minister, on the other hand, had never gone through an experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally received laws; although, in a single instance, he had so fearfully transgressed one of the most sacred of them. But this had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose. Since that wretched epoch, he had watched with morbid zeal and minuteness, not his acts—for those it was easy to arrange—but each breath of emotion, and his every thought. At the head of the social system, as the clergymen of that day stood, he was only the more trammelled by its regulations, its principles, and even its prejudices. As a priest, the framework of his order inevitably hemmed him in. As a man who had once sinned, but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the fretting of an unhealed wound, he might have been supposed safer within the line of virtue than if he had never sinned at all.

Thus we seem to see that, as regarded Hester Prynne, the whole seven years of outlaw and ignominy had been little other than a preparation for this very hour. But Arthur Dimmesdale! Were such a man once more to fall, what plea could be urged in extenuation of his crime? None; unless it avail him somewhat that he was broken down by long and exquisite suffering; that his mind was darkened and confused by the very remorse which harrowed it; that, between fleeing as an avowed criminal, and remaining as a hypocrite, conscience might find it hard to strike the balance; that it was human to avoid the peril of death and infamy, and the inscrutable machinations of an enemy; that, finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his dreary and desert path, faint, sick, miserable, there appeared a glimpse of human affection and sympathy, a new life, and a true one, in exchange for the heavy doom which he was now expiating. And be the stern and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal state, repaired. It may be watched and guarded, so that the enemy shall not force his way again into the citadel, and might even in his subsequent assaults, select some other avenue, in preference to that where he had formerly succeeded. But there is still the ruined wall, and near it the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over again his unforgotten triumph.

The struggle, if there were one, need not be described. Let it suffice that the clergyman resolved to flee, and not alone.

"If in all these past seven years," thought he, "I could recall one instant of peace or hope, I would yet endure, for the sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy. But now—since I am irrevocably doomed—wherefore should I not snatch the solace allowed to the condemned culprit before his execution? Or, if this be the path to a better life, as Hester would persuade me, I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! Neither can I any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to sustain—so tender to soothe! O Thou to whom I dare not lift mine eyes, wilt Thou yet pardon me?"

"Thou wilt go!" said Hester calmly, as he met her glance.

The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoyment threw its flickering brightness over the trouble of his breast. It was the exhilarating effect—upon a prisoner just escaped from the dungeon of his own heart—of breathing the wild, free atmosphere of an unredeemed, unchristianised, lawless region. His spirit rose, as it were, with a bound, and attained a nearer prospect of the sky, than throughout all the misery which had kept him grovelling on the earth. Of a deeply religious temperament, there was inevitably a tinge of the devotional in his mood.

"Do I feel joy again?" cried he, wondering at himself. "Methought the germ of it was dead in me! Oh, Hester, thou art my better angel! I seem to have flung myself—sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened—down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! This is already the better life! Why did we not find it sooner?"

"Let us not look back," answered Hester Prynne. "The past is gone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now? See! With this symbol I undo it all, and make it as if it had never been!"

So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the withered leaves. The mystic token alighted on the hither verge of the stream. With a hand's-breadth further flight, it would have fallen into the water, and have given the little brook another woe to carry onward, besides the unintelligible tale which it still kept murmuring about. But there lay the embroidered letter, glittering like a lost jewel, which some ill-fated wanderer might pick up, and thenceforth be haunted by strange phantoms of guilt, sinkings of the heart, and unaccountable misfortune.

The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom! By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair, and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her features. There played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered themselves with her maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour. And, as if the gloom of the earth and sky had been but the effluence of these two mortal hearts, it vanished with their sorrow. All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objects that had made a shadow hitherto, embodied the brightness now. The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry gleam afar into the wood's heart of mystery, which had become a mystery of joy.

Such was the sympathy of Nature—that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth—with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly-born, or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still kept its gloom, it would have been bright in Hester's eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's!

Hester looked at him with a thrill of another joy.

"Thou must know Pearl!" said she. "Our little Pearl! Thou hast seen her—yes, I know it!—but thou wilt see her now with other eyes. She is a strange child! I hardly comprehend her! But thou wilt love her dearly, as I do, and wilt advise me how to deal with her!"

"Dost thou think the child will be glad to know me?" asked the minister, somewhat uneasily. "I have long shrunk from children, because they often show a distrust—a backwardness to be familiar with me. I have even been afraid of little Pearl!"

"Ah, that was sad!" answered the mother. "But she will love thee dearly, and thou her. She is not far off. I will call her. Pearl! Pearl!"

"I see the child," observed the minister. "Yonder she is, standing in a streak of sunshine, a good way off, on the other side of the brook. So thou thinkest the child will love me?"

Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who was visible at some distance, as the minister had described her, like a bright-apparelled vision in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or distinct—now like a real child, now like a child's spirit—as the splendour went and came again. She heard her mother's voice, and approached slowly through the forest.

Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely while her mother sat talking with the clergyman. The great black forest—stern as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and troubles of the world into its bosom—became the playmate of the lonely infant, as well as it knew how. Sombre as it was, it put on the kindest of its moods to welcome her. It offered her the partridge-berries, the growth of the preceding autumn, but ripening only in the spring, and now red as drops of blood upon the withered leaves. These Pearl gathered, and was pleased with their wild flavour. The small denizens of the wilderness hardly took pains to move out of her path. A partridge, indeed, with a brood of ten behind her, ran forward threateningly, but soon repented of her fierceness, and clucked to her young ones not to be afraid. A pigeon, alone on a low branch, allowed Pearl to come beneath, and uttered a sound as much of greeting as alarm. A squirrel, from the lofty depths of his domestic tree, chattered either in anger or merriment—for the squirrel is such a choleric and humorous little personage, that it is hard to distinguish between his moods—so he chattered at the child, and flung down a nut upon her head. It was a last year's nut, and already gnawed by his sharp tooth. A fox, startled from his sleep by her light footstep on the leaves, looked inquisitively at Pearl, as doubting whether it were better to steal off, or renew his nap on the same spot. A wolf, it is said—but here the tale has surely lapsed into the improbable—came up and smelt of Pearl's robe, and offered his savage head to be patted by her hand. The truth seems to be, however, that the mother-forest, and these wild things which it nourished, all recognised a kindred wilderness in the human child.

And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets of the settlement, or in her mother's cottage. The Bowers appeared to know it, and one and another whispered as she passed, "Adorn thyself with me, thou beautiful child, adorn thyself with me!"—and, to please them, Pearl gathered the violets, and anemones, and columbines, and some twigs of the freshest green, which the old trees held down before her eyes. With these she decorated her hair and her young waist, and became a nymph child, or an infant dryad, or whatever else was in closest sympathy with the antique wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned herself, when she heard her mother's voice, and came slowly back.

Slowly—for she saw the clergyman!

XIX. THE CHILD AT THE BROOKSIDE

"Thou wilt love her dearly," repeated Hester Prynne, as she and the minister sat watching little Pearl. "Dost thou not think her beautiful? And see with what natural skill she has made those simple flowers adorn her! Had she gathered pearls, and diamonds, and rubies in the wood, they could not have become her better! She is a splendid child! But I know whose brow she has!"

"Dost thou know, Hester," said Arthur Dimmesdale, with an unquiet smile, "that this dear child, tripping about always at thy side, hath caused me many an alarm? Methought—oh, Hester, what a thought is that, and how terrible to dread it!—that my own features were partly repeated in her face, and so strikingly that the world might see them! But she is mostly thine!"

"No, no! Not mostly!" answered the mother, with a tender smile. "A little longer, and thou needest not to be afraid to trace whose child she is. But how strangely beautiful she looks with those wild flowers in her hair! It is as if one of the fairies, whom we left in dear old England, had decked her out to meet us."

It was with a feeling which neither of them had ever before experienced, that they sat and watched Pearl's slow advance. In her was visible the tie that united them. She had been offered to the world, these seven past years, as the living hieroglyphic, in which was revealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide—all written in this symbol—all plainly manifest—had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined when they beheld at once the material union, and the spiritual idea, in whom they met, and were to dwell immortally together; thoughts like these—and perhaps other thoughts, which they did not acknowledge or define—threw an awe about the child as she came onward.

"Let her see nothing strange—no passion or eagerness—in thy way of accosting her," whispered Hester. "Our Pearl is a fitful and fantastic little elf sometimes. Especially she is generally intolerant of emotion, when she does not fully comprehend the why and wherefore. But the child hath strong affections! She loves me, and will love thee!"

"Thou canst not think," said the minister, glancing aside at Hester Prynne, "how my heart dreads this interview, and yearns for it! But, in truth, as I already told thee, children are not readily won to be familiar with me. They will not climb my knee, nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to my smile, but stand apart, and eye me strangely. Even little babes, when I take them in my arms, weep bitterly. Yet Pearl, twice in her little lifetime, hath been kind to me! The first time—thou knowest it well! The last was when thou ledst her with thee to the house of yonder stern old Governor."

"And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and mine!" answered the mother. "I remember it; and so shall little Pearl. Fear nothing. She may be strange and shy at first, but will soon learn to love thee!"

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the brook, and stood on the further side, gazing silently at Hester and the clergyman, who still sat together on the mossy tree-trunk waiting to receive her. Just where she had paused, the brook chanced to form a pool so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. This image, so nearly identical with the living Pearl, seemed to communicate somewhat of its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood, looking so steadfastly at them through the dim medium of the forest gloom, herself, meanwhile, all glorified with a ray of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward as by a certain sympathy. In the brook beneath stood another child—another and the same—with likewise its ray of golden light. Hester felt herself, in some indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl, as if the child, in her lonely ramble through the forest, had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to return to it.

There were both truth and error in the impression; the child and mother were estranged, but through Hester's fault, not Pearl's. Since the latter rambled from her side, another inmate had been admitted within the circle of the mother's feelings, and so modified the aspect of them all, that Pearl, the returning wanderer, could not find her wonted place, and hardly knew where she was.

"I have a strange fancy," observed the sensitive minister, "that this brook is the boundary between two worlds, and that thou canst never meet thy Pearl again. Or is she an elfish spirit, who, as the legends of our childhood taught us, is forbidden to cross a running stream? Pray hasten her, for this delay has already imparted a tremor to my nerves."

"Come, dearest child!" said Hester encouragingly, and stretching out both her arms. "How slow thou art! When hast thou been so sluggish before now? Here is a friend of mine, who must be thy friend also. Thou wilt have twice as much love henceforward as thy mother alone could give thee! Leap across the brook and come to us. Thou canst leap like a young deer!"

Pearl, without responding in any manner to these honey-sweet expressions, remained on the other side of the brook. Now she fixed her bright wild eyes on her mother, now on the minister, and now included them both in the same glance, as if to detect and explain to herself the relation which they bore to one another. For some unaccountable reason, as Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himself, his hand—with that gesture so habitual as to have become involuntary—stole over his heart. At length, assuming a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched out her hand, with the small forefinger extended, and pointing evidently towards her mother's breast. And beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing her small forefinger too.

"Thou strange child! why dost thou not come to me?" exclaimed

Hester.

 

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger, and a frown gathered on her brow—the more impressive from the childish, the almost baby-like aspect of the features that conveyed it. As her mother still kept beckoning to her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed smiles, the child stamped her foot with a yet more imperious look and gesture. In the brook, again, was the fantastic beauty of the image, with its reflected frown, its pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl.

"Hasten, Pearl, or I shall be angry with thee!" cried Hester Prynne, who, however, inured to such behaviour on the elf-child's part at other seasons, was naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now. "Leap across the brook, naughty child, and run hither! Else I must come to thee!"

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats any more than mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions. She accompanied this wild outbreak with piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all sides, so that, alone as she was in her childish and unreasonable wrath, it seemed as if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragement. Seen in the brook once more was the shadowy wrath of Pearl's image, crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hester's bosom.

"I see what ails the child," whispered Hester to the clergyman, and turning pale in spite of a strong effort to conceal her trouble and annoyance, "Children will not abide any, the slightest, change in the accustomed aspect of things that are daily before their eyes. Pearl misses something that she has always seen me wear!"

"I pray you," answered the minister, "if thou hast any means of pacifying the child, do it forthwith! Save it were the cankered wrath of an old witch like Mistress Hibbins," added he, attempting to smile, "I know nothing that I would not sooner encounter than this passion in a child. In Pearl's young beauty, as in the wrinkled witch, it has a preternatural effect. Pacify her if thou lovest me!"

Hester turned again towards Pearl with a crimson blush upon her cheek, a conscious glance aside clergyman, and then a heavy sigh, while, even before she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a deadly pallor.

"Pearl," said she sadly, "look down at thy feet! There!—before thee!—on the hither side of the brook!"

The child turned her eyes to the point indicated, and there lay the scarlet letter so close upon the margin of the stream that the gold embroidery was reflected in it.

"Bring it hither!" said Hester.

"Come thou and take it up!" answered Pearl.

"Was ever such a child!" observed Hester aside to the minister. "Oh, I have much to tell thee about her! But, in very truth, she is right as regards this hateful token. I must bear its torture yet a little longer—only a few days longer—until we shall have left this region, and look back hither as to a land which we have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it up for ever!"

With these words she advanced to the margin of the brook, took up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again into her bosom. Hopefully, but a moment ago, as Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep sea, there was a sense of inevitable doom upon her as she thus received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate. She had flung it into infinite space! she had drawn an hour's free breath! and here again was the scarlet misery glittering on the old spot! So it ever is, whether thus typified or no, that an evil deed invests itself with the character of doom. Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair and confined them beneath her cap. As if there were a withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed like fading sunshine, and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.

When the dreary change was wrought, she extended her hand to

Pearl.

 

"Dost thou know thy mother now, child?", asked she, reproachfully, but with a subdued tone. "Wilt thou come across the brook, and own thy mother, now that she has her shame upon her—now that she is sad?"

"Yes; now I will!" answered the child, bounding across the brook, and clasping Hester in her arms "Now thou art my mother indeed! and I am thy little Pearl!"

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her, she drew down her mother's head, and kissed her brow and both her cheeks. But then—by a kind of necessity that always impelled this child to alloy whatever comfort she might chance to give with a throb of anguish—Pearl put up her mouth and kissed the scarlet letter, too.

"That was not kind!" said Hester. "When thou hast shown me a little love, thou mockest me!"

"Why doth the minister sit yonder?" asked Pearl.

"He waits to welcome thee," replied her mother. "Come thou, and entreat his blessing! He loves thee, my little Pearl, and loves thy mother, too. Wilt thou not love him? Come he longs to greet thee!"

"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?"

"Not now, my child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him—wilt thou not?"

"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired

Pearl.

 

"Foolish child, what a question is that!" exclaimed her mother.

"Come, and ask his blessing!"

 

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems instinctive with every petted child towards a dangerous rival, or from whatever caprice of her freakish nature, Pearl would show no favour to the clergyman. It was only by an exertion of force that her mother brought her up to him, hanging back, and manifesting her reluctance by odd grimaces; of which, ever since her babyhood, she had possessed a singular variety, and could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series of different aspects, with a new mischief in them, each and all. The minister—painfully embarrassed, but hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him into the child's kindlier regards—bent forward, and impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke away from her mother, and, running to the brook, stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off and diffused through a long lapse of the gliding water. She then remained apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman; while they talked together and made such arrangements as were suggested by their new position and the purposes soon to be fulfilled.

And now this fateful interview had come to a close. The dell was to be left in solitude among its dark, old trees, which, with their multitudinous tongues, would whisper long of what had passed there, and no mortal be the wiser. And the melancholy brook would add this other tale to the mystery with which its little heart was already overburdened, and whereof it still kept up a murmuring babble, with not a whit more cheerfulness of tone than for ages heretofore.

XX. THE MINISTER IN A MAZE

As the minister departed, in advance of Hester Prynne and little Pearl, he threw a backward glance, half expecting that he should discover only some faintly traced features or outline of the mother and the child, slowly fading into the twilight of the woods. So great a vicissitude in his life could not at once be received as real. But there was Hester, clad in her gray robe, still standing beside the tree-trunk, which some blast had overthrown a long antiquity ago, and which time had ever since been covering with moss, so that these two fated ones, with earth's heaviest burden on them, might there sit down together, and find a single hour's rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, lightly dancing from the margin of the brook—now that the intrusive third person was gone—and taking her old place by her mother's side. So the minister had not fallen asleep and dreamed!

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity of impression, which vexed it with a strange disquietude, he recalled and more thoroughly defined the plans which Hester and himself had sketched for their departure. It had been determined between them that the Old World, with its crowds and cities, offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment than the wilds of New England or all America, with its alternatives of an Indian wigwam, or the few settlements of Europeans scattered thinly along the sea-board. Not to speak of the clergyman's health, so inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest life, his native gifts, his culture, and his entire development would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and refinement; the higher the state the more delicately adapted to it the man. In furtherance of this choice, it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour; one of those unquestionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character. This vessel had recently arrived from the Spanish Main, and within three days' time would sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne—whose vocation, as a self-enlisted Sister of Charity, had brought her acquainted with the captain and crew—could take upon herself to secure the passage of two individuals and a child with all the secrecy which circumstances rendered more than desirable.

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little interest, the precise time at which the vessel might be expected to depart. It would probably be on the fourth day from the present. "This is most fortunate!" he had then said to himself. Now, why the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate we hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless—to hold nothing back from the reader—it was because, on the third day from the present, he was to preach the Election Sermon; and, as such an occasion formed an honourable epoch in the life of a New England Clergyman, he could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career. "At least, they shall say of me," thought this exemplary man, "that I leave no public duty unperformed or ill-performed!" Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived! We have had, and may still have, worse things to tell of him; but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak; no evidence, at once so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character. No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings as he returned from his interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical energy, and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles, and less trodden by the foot of man, than he remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped across the plashy places, thrust himself through the clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into the hollow, and overcame, in short, all the difficulties of the track, with an unweariable activity that astonished him. He could not but recall how feebly, and with what frequent pauses for breath he had toiled over the same ground, only two days before. As he drew near the town, he took an impression of change from the series of familiar objects that presented themselves. It seemed not yesterday, not one, not two, but many days, or even years ago, since he had quitted them. There, indeed, was each former trace of the street, as he remembered it, and all the peculiarities of the houses, with the due multitude of gable-peaks, and a weather-cock at every point where his memory suggested one. Not the less, however, came this importunately obtrusive sense of change. The same was true as regarded the acquaintances whom he met, and all the well-known shapes of human life, about the little town. They looked neither older nor younger now; the beards of the aged were no whiter, nor could the creeping babe of yesterday walk on his feet to-day; it was impossible to describe in what respect they differed from the individuals on whom he had so recently bestowed a parting glance; and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to inform him of their mutability. A similar impression struck him most remarkably as he passed under the walls of his own church. The edifice had so very strange, and yet so familiar an aspect, that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between two ideas; either that he had seen it only in a dream hitherto, or that he was merely dreaming about it now.

This phenomenon, in the various shapes which it assumed, indicated no external change, but so sudden and important a change in the spectator of the familiar scene, that the intervening space of a single day had operated on his consciousness like the lapse of years. The minister's own will, and Hester's will, and the fate that grew between them, had wrought this transformation. It was the same town as heretofore, but the same minister returned not from the forest. He might have said to the friends who greeted him—"I am not the man for whom you take me! I left him yonder in the forest, withdrawn into a secret dell, by a mossy tree trunk, and near a melancholy brook! Go, seek your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be not flung down there, like a cast-off garment!" His friends, no doubt, would still have insisted with him—"Thou art thyself the man!" but the error would have been their own, not his.

Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling. In truth, nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code, in that interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortunate and startled minister. At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional, in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self than that which opposed the impulse. For instance, he met one of his own deacons. The good old man addressed him with the paternal affection and patriarchal privilege which his venerable age, his upright and holy character, and his station in the church, entitled him to use and, conjoined with this, the deep, almost worshipping respect, which the minister's professional and private claims alike demanded. Never was there a more beautiful example of how the majesty of age and wisdom may comport with the obeisance and respect enjoined upon it, as from a lower social rank, and inferior order of endowment, towards a higher. Now, during a conversation of some two or three moments between the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this excellent and hoary-bearded deacon, it was only by the most careful self-control that the former could refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions that rose into his mind, respecting the communion-supper. He absolutely trembled and turned pale as ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself in utterance of these horrible matters, and plead his own consent for so doing, without his having fairly given it. And, even with this terror in his heart, he could hardly avoid laughing, to imagine how the sanctified old patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by his minister's impiety.

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hurrying along the street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest female member of his church, a most pious and exemplary old dame, poor, widowed, lonely, and with a heart as full of reminiscences about her dead husband and children, and her dead friends of long ago, as a burial-ground is full of storied gravestones. Yet all this, which would else have been such heavy sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her devout old soul, by religious consolations and the truths of Scripture, wherewith she had fed herself continually for more than thirty years. And since Mr. Dimmesdale had taken her in charge, the good grandam's chief earthly comfort—which, unless it had been likewise a heavenly comfort, could have been none at all—was to meet her pastor, whether casually, or of set purpose, and be refreshed with a word of warm, fragrant, heaven-breathing Gospel truth, from his beloved lips, into her dulled, but rapturously attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear, Mr. Dimmesdale, as the great enemy of souls would have it, could recall no text of Scripture, nor aught else, except a brief, pithy, and, as it then appeared to him, unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul. The instilment thereof into her mind would probably have caused this aged sister to drop down dead, at once, as by the effect of an intensely poisonous infusion. What he really did whisper, the minister could never afterwards recollect. There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder in his utterance, which failed to impart any distinct idea to the good widows comprehension, or which Providence interpreted after a method of its own. Assuredly, as the minister looked back, he beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and ashy pale.

Again, a third instance. After parting from the old church member, he met the youngest sister of them all. It was a maiden newly-won—and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon, on the Sabbath after his vigil—to barter the transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hope that was to assume brighter substance as life grew dark around her, and which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely led the poor young girl away from her mother's side, and thrown her into the pathway of this sorely tempted, or—shall we not rather say?—this lost and desperate man. As she drew nigh, the arch-fiend whispered him to condense into small compass, and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black fruit betimes. Such was his sense of power over this virgin soul, trusting him as she did, that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of innocence with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite with but a word. So—with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained—he held his Geneva cloak before his face, and hurried onward, making no sign of recognition, and leaving the young sister to digest his rudeness as she might. She ransacked her conscience—which was full of harmless little matters, like her pocket or her work-bag—and took herself to task, poor thing! for a thousand imaginary faults, and went about her household duties with swollen eyelids the next morning.

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this last temptation, he was conscious of another impulse, more ludicrous, and almost as horrible. It was—we blush to tell it—it was to stop short in the road, and teach some very wicked words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing there, and had but just begun to talk. Denying himself this freak, as unworthy of his cloth, he met a drunken seaman, one of the ship's crew from the Spanish Main. And here, since he had so valiantly forborne all other wickedness, poor Mr. Dimmesdale longed at least to shake hands with the tarry black-guard, and recreate himself with a few improper jests, such as dissolute sailors so abound with, and a volley of good, round, solid, satisfactory, and heaven-defying oaths! It was not so much a better principle, as partly his natural good taste, and still more his buckramed habit of clerical decorum, that carried him safely through the latter crisis.

"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" cried the minister to himself, at length, pausing in the street, and striking his hand against his forehead.

"Am I mad? or am I given over utterly to the fiend? Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood? And does he now summon me to its fulfilment, by suggesting the performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination can conceive?"

At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus communed with himself, and struck his forehead with his hand, old Mistress Hibbins, the reputed witch-lady, is said to have been passing by. She made a very grand appearance, having on a high head-dress, a rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up with the famous yellow starch, of which Anne Turner, her especial friend, had taught her the secret, before this last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder. Whether the witch had read the minister's thoughts or no, she came to a full stop, looked shrewdly into his face, smiled craftily, and—though little given to converse with clergymen—began a conversation.

"So, reverend sir, you have made a visit into the forest," observed the witch-lady, nodding her high head-dress at him. "The next time I pray you to allow me only a fair warning, and I shall be proud to bear you company. Without taking overmuch upon myself my good word will go far towards gaining any strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder potentate you wot of."

"I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with a grave obeisance, such as the lady's rank demanded, and his own good breeding made imperative—"I profess, on my conscience and character, that I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate, neither do I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a view to gaining the favour of such personage. My one sufficient object was to greet that pious friend of mine, the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he hath won from heathendom!"

"Ha, ha, ha!" cackled the old witch-lady, still nodding her high head-dress at the minister. "Well, well! we must needs talk thus in the daytime! You carry it off like an old hand! But at midnight, and in the forest, we shall have other talk together!"

She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often turning back her head and smiling at him, like one willing to recognise a secret intimacy of connexion.

"Have I then sold myself," thought the minister, "to the fiend whom, if men say true, this yellow-starched and velveted old hag has chosen for her prince and master?"

The wretched minister! He had made a bargain very like it! Tempted by a dream of happiness, he had yielded himself with deliberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitterness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke to tempt, even while they frightened him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real incident, did but show its sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits.

He had by this time reached his dwelling on the edge of the burial ground, and, hastening up the stairs, took refuge in his study. The minister was glad to have reached this shelter, without first betraying himself to the world by any of those strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been continually impelled while passing through the streets. He entered the accustomed room, and looked around him on its books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried comfort of the walls, with the same perception of strangeness that had haunted him throughout his walk from the forest dell into the town and thitherward. Here he had studied and written; here gone through fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here striven to pray; here borne a hundred thousand agonies! There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and the Prophets speaking to him, and God's voice through all.

There on the table, with the inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon, with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased to gush out upon the page two days before. He knew that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye this former self with scornful pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That self was gone. Another man had returned out of the forest—a wiser one—with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that!

While occupied with these reflections, a knock came at the door of the study, and the minister said, "Come in!"—not wholly devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. And so he did! It was old Roger Chillingworth that entered. The minister stood white and speechless, with one hand on the Hebrew Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast.

"Welcome home, reverend sir," said the physician "And how found you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear sir, you look pale, as if the travel through the wilderness had been too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon?"

"Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed have done me good, after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by a friendly hand."

All this time Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his patient. But, in spite of this outward show, the latter was almost convinced of the old man's knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion, with respect to his own interview with Hester Prynne. The physician knew then that in the minister's regard he was no longer a trusted friend, but his bitterest enemy. So much being known, it would appear natural that a part of it should be expressed. It is singular, however, how long a time often passes before words embody things; and with what security two persons, who choose to avoid a certain subject, may approach its very verge, and retire without disturbing it. Thus the minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth would touch, in express words, upon the real position which they sustained towards one another. Yet did the physician, in his dark way, creep frightfully near the secret.

"Were it not better," said he, "that you use my poor skill tonight? Verily, dear sir, we must take pains to make you strong and vigorous for this occasion of the Election discourse. The people look for great things from you, apprehending that another year may come about and find their pastor gone."

"Yes, to another world," replied the minister with pious resignation. "Heaven grant it be a better one; for, in good sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flitting seasons of another year! But touching your medicine, kind sir, in my present frame of body I need it not."

"I joy to hear it," answered the physician. "It may be that my remedies, so long administered in vain, begin now to take due effect. Happy man were I, and well deserving of New England's gratitude, could I achieve this cure!"

"I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale with a solemn smile. "I thank you, and can but requite your good deeds with my prayers."

"A good man's prayers are golden recompense!" rejoined old Roger Chillingworth, as he took his leave. "Yea, they are the current gold coin of the New Jerusalem, with the King's own mint mark on them!"

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the house, and requested food, which, being set before him, he ate with ravenous appetite. Then flinging the already written pages of the Election Sermon into the fire, he forthwith began another, which he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought and emotion, that he fancied himself inspired; and only wondered that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn music of its oracles through so foul an organ pipe as he. However, leaving that mystery to solve itself, or go unsolved for ever, he drove his task onward with earnest haste and ecstasy.

Thus the night fled away, as if it were a winged steed, and he careering on it; morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the curtains; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the study, and laid it right across the minister's bedazzled eyes. There he was, with the pen still between his fingers, and a vast, immeasurable tract of written space behind him!

XXI. THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY

Betimes in the morning of the day on which the new Governor was to receive his office at the hands of the people, Hester Prynne and little Pearl came into the market-place. It was already thronged with the craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the town, in considerable numbers, among whom, likewise, were many rough figures, whose attire of deer-skins marked them as belonging to some of the forest settlements, which surrounded the little metropolis of the colony.

On this public holiday, as on all other occasions for seven years past, Hester was clad in a garment of coarse gray cloth. Not more by its hue than by some indescribable peculiarity in its fashion, it had the effect of making her fade personally out of sight and outline; while again the scarlet letter brought her back from this twilight indistinctness, and revealed her under the moral aspect of its own illumination. Her face, so long familiar to the townspeople, showed the marble quietude which they were accustomed to behold there. It was like a mask; or, rather like the frozen calmness of a dead woman's features; owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in respect to any claim of sympathy, and had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to mingle.

It might be, on this one day, that there was an expression unseen before, nor, indeed, vivid enough to be detected now; unless some preternaturally gifted observer should have first read the heart, and have afterwards sought a corresponding development in the countenance and mien. Such a spiritual seer might have conceived, that, after sustaining the gaze of the multitude through several miserable years as a necessity, a penance, and something which it was a stern religion to endure, she now, for one last time more, encountered it freely and voluntarily, in order to convert what had so long been agony into a kind of triumph. "Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer!"—the people's victim and lifelong bond-slave, as they fancied her, might say to them. "Yet a little while, and she will be beyond your reach! A few hours longer and the deep, mysterious ocean will quench and hide for ever the symbol which ye have caused to burn on her bosom!" Nor were it an inconsistency too improbable to be assigned to human nature, should we suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mind, at the moment when she was about to win her freedom from the pain which had been thus deeply incorporated with her being. Might there not be an irresistible desire to quaff a last, long, breathless draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes, with which nearly all her years of womanhood had been perpetually flavoured. The wine of life, henceforth to be presented to her lips, must be indeed rich, delicious, and exhilarating, in its chased and golden beaker, or else leave an inevitable and weary languor, after the lees of bitterness wherewith she had been drugged, as with a cordial of intensest potency.

Pearl was decked out with airy gaiety. It would have been impossible to guess that this bright and sunny apparition owed its existence to the shape of gloomy gray; or that a fancy, at once so gorgeous and so delicate as must have been requisite to contrive the child's apparel, was the same that had achieved a task perhaps more difficult, in imparting so distinct a peculiarity to Hester's simple robe. The dress, so proper was it to little Pearl, seemed an effluence, or inevitable development and outward manifestation of her character, no more to be separated from her than the many-hued brilliancy from a butterfly's wing, or the painted glory from the leaf of a bright flower. As with these, so with the child; her garb was all of one idea with her nature. On this eventful day, moreover, there was a certain singular inquietude and excitement in her mood, resembling nothing so much as the shimmer of a diamond, that sparkles and flashes with the varied throbbings of the breast on which it is displayed. Children have always a sympathy in the agitations of those connected with them: always, especially, a sense of any trouble or impending revolution, of whatever kind, in domestic circumstances; and therefore Pearl, who was the gem on her mother's unquiet bosom, betrayed, by the very dance of her spirits, the emotions which none could detect in the marble passiveness of Hester's brow.

This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like movement, rather than walk by her mother's side.

She broke continually into shouts of a wild, inarticulate, and sometimes piercing music. When they reached the market-place, she became still more restless, on perceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot; for it was usually more like the broad and lonesome green before a village meeting-house, than the centre of a town's business.

"Why, what is this, mother?" cried she. "Wherefore have all the people left their work to-day? Is it a play-day for the whole world? See, there is the blacksmith! He has washed his sooty face, and put on his Sabbath-day clothes, and looks as if he would gladly be merry, if any kind body would only teach him how! And there is Master Brackett, the old jailer, nodding and smiling at me. Why does he do so, mother?"

"He remembers thee a little babe, my child," answered Hester.

"He should not nod and smile at me, for all that—the black, grim, ugly-eyed old man!" said Pearl. "He may nod at thee, if he will; for thou art clad in gray, and wearest the scarlet letter. But see, mother, how many faces of strange people, and Indians among them, and sailors! What have they all come to do, here in the market-place?"

"They wait to see the procession pass," said Hester. "For the Governor and the magistrates are to go by, and the ministers, and all the great people and good people, with the music and the soldiers marching before them."

"And will the minister be there?" asked Pearl. "And will he hold out both his hands to me, as when thou ledst me to him from the brook-side?"

"He will be there, child," answered her mother, "but he will not greet thee to-day, nor must thou greet him."

"What a strange, sad man is he!" said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. "In the dark nighttime he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But, here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!"

"Be quiet, Pearl—thou understandest not these things," said her mother. "Think not now of the minister, but look about thee, and see how cheery is everybody's face to-day. The children have come from their schools, and the grown people from their workshops and their fields, on purpose to be happy, for, to-day, a new man is beginning to rule over them; and so—as has been the custom of mankind ever since a nation was first gathered—they make merry and rejoice: as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old world!"

It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jollity that brightened the faces of the people. Into this festal season of the year—as it already was, and continued to be during the greater part of two centuries—the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction.

But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, which undoubtedly characterized the mood and manners of the age. The persons now in the market-place of Boston had not been born to an inheritance of Puritanic gloom. They were native Englishmen, whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the Elizabethan epoch; a time when the life of England, viewed as one great mass, would appear to have been as stately, magnificent, and joyous, as the world has ever witnessed. Had they followed their hereditary taste, the New England settlers would have illustrated all events of public importance by bonfires, banquets, pageantries, and processions. Nor would it have been impracticable, in the observance of majestic ceremonies, to combine mirthful recreation with solemnity, and give, as it were, a grotesque and brilliant embroidery to the great robe of state, which a nation, at such festivals, puts on. There was some shadow of an attempt of this kind in the mode of celebrating the day on which the political year of the colony commenced. The dim reflection of a remembered splendour, a colourless and manifold diluted repetition of what they had beheld in proud old London—we will not say at a royal coronation, but at a Lord Mayor's show—might be traced in the customs which our forefathers instituted, with reference to the annual installation of magistrates. The fathers and founders of the commonwealth—the statesman, the priest, and the soldier—seemed it a duty then to assume the outward state and majesty, which, in accordance with antique style, was looked upon as the proper garb of public and social eminence. All came forth to move in procession before the people's eye, and thus impart a needed dignity to the simple framework of a government so newly constructed.

Then, too, the people were countenanced, if not encouraged, in relaxing the severe and close application to their various modes of rugged industry, which at all other times, seemed of the same piece and material with their religion. Here, it is true, were none of the appliances which popular merriment would so readily have found in the England of Elizabeth's time, or that of James—no rude shows of a theatrical kind; no minstrel, with his harp and legendary ballad, nor gleeman with an ape dancing to his music; no juggler, with his tricks of mimic witchcraft; no Merry Andrew, to stir up the multitude with jests, perhaps a hundred years old, but still effective, by their appeals to the very broadest sources of mirthful sympathy. All such professors of the several branches of jocularity would have been sternly repressed, not only by the rigid discipline of law, but by the general sentiment which give law its vitality. Not the less, however, the great, honest face of the people smiled—grimly, perhaps, but widely too. Nor were sports wanting, such as the colonists had witnessed, and shared in, long ago, at the country fairs and on the village-greens of England; and which it was thought well to keep alive on this new soil, for the sake of the courage and manliness that were essential in them. Wrestling matches, in the different fashions of Cornwall and Devonshire, were seen here and there about the market-place; in one corner, there was a friendly bout at quarterstaff; and—what attracted most interest of all—on the platform of the pillory, already so noted in our pages, two masters of defence were commencing an exhibition with the buckler and broadsword. But, much to the disappointment of the crowd, this latter business was broken off by the interposition of the town beadle, who had no idea of permitting the majesty of the law to be violated by such an abuse of one of its consecrated places.

It may not be too much to affirm, on the whole, (the people being then in the first stages of joyless deportment, and the offspring of sires who had known how to be merry, in their day), that they would compare favourably, in point of holiday keeping, with their descendants, even at so long an interval as ourselves. Their immediate posterity, the generation next to the early emigrants, wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, and so darkened the national visage with it, that all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up. We have yet to learn again the forgotten art of gaiety.

The picture of human life in the market-place, though its general tint was the sad gray, brown, or black of the English emigrants, was yet enlivened by some diversity of hue. A party of Indians—in their savage finery of curiously embroidered deerskin robes, wampum-belts, red and yellow ochre, and feathers, and armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed spear—stood apart with countenances of inflexible gravity, beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain. Nor, wild as were these painted barbarians, were they the wildest feature of the scene. This distinction could more justly be claimed by some mariners—a part of the crew of the vessel from the Spanish Main—who had come ashore to see the humours of Election Day. They were rough-looking desperadoes, with sun-blackened faces, and an immensity of beard; their wide short trousers were confined about the waist by belts, often clasped with a rough plate of gold, and sustaining always a long knife, and in some instances, a sword. From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of palm-leaf, gleamed eyes which, even in good-nature and merriment, had a kind of animal ferocity. They transgressed without fear or scruple, the rules of behaviour that were binding on all others: smoking tobacco under the beadle's very nose, although each whiff would have cost a townsman a shilling; and quaffing at their pleasure, draughts of wine or aqua-vitae from pocket flasks, which they freely tendered to the gaping crowd around them. It remarkably characterised the incomplete morality of the age, rigid as we call it, that a licence was allowed the seafaring class, not merely for their freaks on shore, but for far more desperate deeds on their proper element. The sailor of that day would go near to be arraigned as a pirate in our own. There could be little doubt, for instance, that this very ship's crew, though no unfavourable specimens of the nautical brotherhood, had been guilty, as we should phrase it, of depredations on the Spanish commerce, such as would have perilled all their necks in a modern court of justice.

But the sea in those old times heaved, swelled, and foamed very much at its own will, or subject only to the tempestuous wind, with hardly any attempts at regulation by human law. The buccaneer on the wave might relinquish his calling and become at once if he chose, a man of probity and piety on land; nor, even in the full career of his reckless life, was he regarded as a personage with whom it was disreputable to traffic or casually associate. Thus the Puritan elders in their black cloaks, starched bands, and steeple-crowned hats, smiled not unbenignantly at the clamour and rude deportment of these jolly seafaring men; and it excited neither surprise nor animadversion when so reputable a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth, the physician, was seen to enter the market-place in close and familiar talk with the commander of the questionable vessel.

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant figure, so far as apparel went, anywhere to be seen among the multitude. He wore a profusion of ribbons on his garment, and gold lace on his hat, which was also encircled by a gold chain, and surmounted with a feather. There was a sword at his side and a sword-cut on his forehead, which, by the arrangement of his hair, he seemed anxious rather to display than hide. A landsman could hardly have worn this garb and shown this face, and worn and shown them both with such a galliard air, without undergoing stern question before a magistrate, and probably incurring a fine or imprisonment, or perhaps an exhibition in the stocks. As regarded the shipmaster, however, all was looked upon as pertaining to the character, as to a fish his glistening scales.

After parting from the physician, the commander of the Bristol ship strolled idly through the market-place; until happening to approach the spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared to recognise, and did not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small vacant area—a sort of magic circle—had formed itself about her, into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little distance, none ventured or felt disposed to intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer; partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinctive, though no longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her fellow-creatures. Now, if never before, it answered a good purpose by enabling Hester and the seaman to speak together without risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester Prynne's repute before the public, that the matron in town, most eminent for rigid morality, could not have held such intercourse with less result of scandal than herself.

"So, mistress," said the mariner, "I must bid the steward make ready one more berth than you bargained for! No fear of scurvy or ship fever this voyage. What with the ship's surgeon and this other doctor, our only danger will be from drug or pill; more by token, as there is a lot of apothecary's stuff aboard, which I traded for with a Spanish vessel."

"What mean you?" inquired Hester, startled more than she permitted to appear. "Have you another passenger?"

"Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, "that this physician here—Chillingworth he calls himself—is minded to try my cabin-fare with you? Ay, ay, you must have known it; for he tells me he is of your party, and a close friend to the gentleman you spoke of—he that is in peril from these sour old Puritan rulers."

"They know each other well, indeed," replied Hester, with a mien of calmness, though in the utmost consternation. "They have long dwelt together."

Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. But at that instant she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself, standing in the remotest corner of the market-place and smiling on her; a smile which—across the wide and bustling square, and through all the talk and laughter, and various thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd—conveyed secret and fearful meaning.

XXII. THE PROCESSION

Before Hester Prynne could call together her thoughts, and consider what was practicable to be done in this new and startling aspect of affairs, the sound of military music was heard approaching along a contiguous street. It denoted the advance of the procession of magistrates and citizens on its way towards the meeting-house: where, in compliance with a custom thus early established, and ever since observed, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.

Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with a slow and stately march, turning a corner, and making its way across the market-place. First came the music. It comprised a variety of instruments, perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no great skill; but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to the multitude—that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to the scene of life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then lost for an instant the restless agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence throughout the morning; she gazed silently, and seemed to be borne upward like a floating sea-bird on the long heaves and swells of sound. But she was brought back to her former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the military company, which followed after the music, and formed the honorary escort of the procession. This body of soldiery—which still sustains a corporate existence, and marches down from past ages with an ancient and honourable fame—was composed of no mercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with gentlemen who felt the stirrings of martial impulse, and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms, where, as in an association of Knights Templars, they might learn the science, and, so far as peaceful exercise would teach them, the practices of war. The high estimation then placed upon the military character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company. Some of them, indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership. The entire array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, and with plumage nodding over their bright morions, had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can aspire to equal.

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came immediately behind the military escort, were better worth a thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward demeanour they showed a stamp of majesty that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more. The people possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverence, which, in their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate of public men. The change may be for good or ill, and is partly, perhaps, for both. In that old day the English settler on these rude shores—having left king, nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while still the faculty and necessity of reverence was strong in him—bestowed it on the white hair and venerable brow of age—on long-tried integrity—on solid wisdom and sad-coloured experience—on endowments of that grave and weighty order which gave the idea of permanence, and comes under the general definition of respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore—Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their compeers—who were elevated to power by the early choice of the people, seem to have been not often brilliant, but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather than activity of intellect. They had fortitude and self-reliance, and in time of difficulty or peril stood up for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a tempestuous tide. The traits of character here indicated were well represented in the square cast of countenance and large physical development of the new colonial magistrates. So far as a demeanour of natural authority was concerned, the mother country need not have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers, or make the Privy Council of the Sovereign.

Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently distinguished divine, from whose lips the religious discourse of the anniversary was expected. His was the profession at that era in which intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political life; for—leaving a higher motive out of the question it offered inducements powerful enough in the almost worshipping respect of the community, to win the most aspiring ambition into its service. Even political power—as in the case of Increase Mather—was within the grasp of a successful priest.

It was the observation of those who beheld him now, that never, since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on the New England shore, had he exhibited such energy as was seen in the gait and air with which he kept his pace in the procession. There was no feebleness of step as at other times; his frame was not bent, nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed not of the body. It might be spiritual and imparted to him by angelical ministrations. It might be the exhilaration of that potent cordial which is distilled only in the furnace-glow of earnest and long-continued thought. Or perchance his sensitive temperament was invigorated by the loud and piercing music that swelled heaven-ward, and uplifted him on its ascending wave. Nevertheless, so abstracted was his look, it might be questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard the music. There was his body, moving onward, and with an unaccustomed force. But where was his mind? Far and deep in its own region, busying itself, with preternatural activity, to marshal a procession of stately thoughts that were soon to issue thence; and so he saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing of what was around him; but the spiritual element took up the feeble frame and carried it along, unconscious of the burden, and converting it to spirit like itself. Men of uncommon intellect, who have grown morbid, possess this occasional power of mighty effort, into which they throw the life of many days and then are lifeless for as many more.

Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, felt a dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or whence she knew not, unless that he seemed so remote from her own sphere, and utterly beyond her reach. One glance of recognition she had imagined must needs pass between them. She thought of the dim forest, with its little dell of solitude, and love, and anguish, and the mossy tree-trunk, where, sitting hand-in-hand, they had mingled their sad and passionate talk with the melancholy murmur of the brook. How deeply had they known each other then! And was this the man? She hardly knew him now! He, moving proudly past, enveloped as it were, in the rich music, with the procession of majestic and venerable fathers; he, so unattainable in his worldly position, and still more so in that far vista of his unsympathizing thoughts, through which she now beheld him! Her spirit sank with the idea that all must have been a delusion, and that, vividly as she had dreamed it, there could be no real bond betwixt the clergyman and herself. And thus much of woman was there in Hester, that she could scarcely forgive him—least of all now, when the heavy footstep of their approaching Fate might be heard, nearer, nearer, nearer!—for being able so completely to withdraw himself from their mutual world—while she groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands, and found him not.

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feelings, or herself felt the remoteness and intangibility that had fallen around the minister. While the procession passed, the child was uneasy, fluttering up and down, like a bird on the point of taking flight. When the whole had gone by, she looked up into Hester's face—

"Mother," said she, "was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"

"Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. "We must not always talk in the marketplace of what happens to us in the forest."

"I could not be sure that it was he—so strange he looked," continued the child. "Else I would have run to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the people, even as he did yonder among the dark old trees. What would the minister have said, mother? Would he have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on me, and bid me begone?"

"What should he say, Pearl," answered Hester, "save that it was no time to kiss, and that kisses are not to be given in the market-place? Well for thee, foolish child, that thou didst not speak to him!"

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference to Mr. Dimmesdale, was expressed by a person whose eccentricities—insanity, as we should term it—led her to do what few of the townspeople would have ventured on—to begin a conversation with the wearer of the scarlet letter in public. It was Mistress Hibbins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a triple ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich velvet, and a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown (which subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were continually going forward, the crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the touch of her garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester Prynne—kindly as so many now felt towards the latter—the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins had doubled, and caused a general movement from that part of the market-place in which the two women stood.

"Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it?" whispered the old lady confidentially to Hester. "Yonder divine man! That saint on earth, as the people uphold him to be, and as—I must needs say—he really looks! Who, now, that saw him pass in the procession, would think how little while it is since he went forth out of his study—chewing a Hebrew text of Scripture in his mouth, I warrant—to take an airing in the forest! Aha! we know what that means, Hester Prynne! But truly, forsooth, I find it hard to believe him the same man. Many a church member saw I, walking behind the music, that has danced in the same measure with me, when Somebody was fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with us! That is but a trifle, when a woman knows the world. But this minister. Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest path?"

"Madam, I know not of what you speak," answered Hester Prynne, feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind; yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which she affirmed a personal connexion between so many persons (herself among them) and the Evil One. "It is not for me to talk lightly of a learned and pious minister of the Word, like the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale."

"Fie, woman—fie!" cried the old lady, shaking her finger at Hester. "Dost thou think I have been to the forest so many times, and have yet no skill to judge who else has been there? Yea, though no leaf of the wild garlands which they wore while they danced be left in their hair! I know thee, Hester, for I behold the token. We may all see it in the sunshine! and it glows like a red flame in the dark. Thou wearest it openly, so there need be no question about that. But this minister! Let me tell thee in thine ear! When the Black Man sees one of his own servants, signed and sealed, so shy of owning to the bond as is the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he hath a way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be disclosed, in open daylight, to the eyes of all the world! What is that the minister seeks to hide, with his hand always over his heart? Ha, Hester Prynne?"

"What is it, good Mistress Hibbins?" eagerly asked little Pearl.

"Hast thou seen it?"

 

"No matter, darling!" responded Mistress Hibbins, making Pearl a profound reverence. "Thou thyself wilt see it, one time or another. They say, child, thou art of the lineage of the Prince of Air! Wilt thou ride with me some fine night to see thy father? Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his hand over his heart!"

Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could hear her, the weird old gentlewoman took her departure.

By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered in the meeting-house, and the accents of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale were heard commencing his discourse. An irresistible feeling kept Hester near the spot. As the sacred edifice was too much thronged to admit another auditor, she took up her position close beside the scaffold of the pillory. It was in sufficient proximity to bring the whole sermon to her ears, in the shape of an indistinct but varied murmur and flow of the minister's very peculiar voice.

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment, insomuch that a listener, comprehending nothing of the language in which the preacher spoke, might still have been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence. Like all other music, it breathed passion and pathos, and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the human heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the sound was by its passage through the church walls, Hester Prynne listened with such intenseness, and sympathized so intimately, that the sermon had throughout a meaning for her, entirely apart from its indistinguishable words. These, perhaps, if more distinctly heard, might have been only a grosser medium, and have clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the low undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose itself; then ascended with it, as it rose through progressive gradations of sweetness and power, until its volume seemed to envelop her with an atmosphere of awe and solemn grandeur. And yet, majestic as the voice sometimes became, there was for ever in it an essential character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expression of anguish—the whisper, or the shriek, as it might be conceived, of suffering humanity, that touched a sensibility in every bosom! At times this deep strain of pathos was all that could be heard, and scarcely heard sighing amid a desolate silence. But even when the minister's voice grew high and commanding—when it gushed irrepressibly upward—when it assumed its utmost breadth and power, so overfilling the church as to burst its way through the solid walls, and diffuse itself in the open air—still, if the auditor listened intently, and for the purpose, he could detect the same cry of pain. What was it? The complaint of a human heart, sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, telling its secret, whether of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart of mankind; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness,—at every moment,—in each accent,—and never in vain! It was this profound and continual undertone that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power.

During all this time, Hester stood, statue-like, at the foot of the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not kept her there, there would, nevertheless, have been an inevitable magnetism in that spot, whence she dated the first hour of her life of ignominy. There was a sense within her—too ill-defined to be made a thought, but weighing heavily on her mind—that her whole orb of life, both before and after, was connected with this spot, as with the one point that gave it unity.

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother's side, and was playing at her own will about the market-place. She made the sombre crowd cheerful by her erratic and glistening ray, even as a bird of bright plumage illuminates a whole tree of dusky foliage by darting to and fro, half seen and half concealed amid the twilight of the clustering leaves. She had an undulating, but oftentimes a sharp and irregular movement. It indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit, which to-day was doubly indefatigable in its tip-toe dance, because it was played upon and vibrated with her mother's disquietude. Whenever Pearl saw anything to excite her ever active and wandering curiosity, she flew thitherward, and, as we might say, seized upon that man or thing as her own property, so far as she desired it, but without yielding the minutest degree of control over her motions in requital. The Puritans looked on, and, if they smiled, were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that shone through her little figure, and sparkled with its activity. She ran and looked the wild Indian in the face, and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than his own. Thence, with native audacity, but still with a reserve as characteristic, she flew into the midst of a group of mariners, the swarthy-cheeked wild men of the ocean, as the Indians were of the land; and they gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl, as if a flake of the sea-foam had taken the shape of a little maid, and were gifted with a soul of the sea-fire, that flashes beneath the prow in the night-time.

One of these seafaring men the shipmaster, indeed, who had spoken to Hester Prynne was so smitten with Pearl's aspect, that he attempted to lay hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Finding it as impossible to touch her as to catch a humming-bird in the air, he took from his hat the gold chain that was twisted about it, and threw it to the child. Pearl immediately twined it around her neck and waist with such happy skill, that, once seen there, it became a part of her, and it was difficult to imagine her without it.

"Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet letter," said the seaman, "Wilt thou carry her a message from me?"

"If the message pleases me, I will," answered Pearl.

"Then tell her," rejoined he, "that I spake again with the black-a-visaged, hump shouldered old doctor, and he engages to bring his friend, the gentleman she wots of, aboard with him. So let thy mother take no thought, save for herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her this, thou witch-baby?"

"Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of the Air!" cried Pearl, with a naughty smile. "If thou callest me that ill-name, I shall tell him of thee, and he will chase thy ship with a tempest!"

Pursuing a zigzag course across the marketplace, the child returned to her mother, and communicated what the mariner had said. Hester's strong, calm steadfastly-enduring spirit almost sank, at last, on beholding this dark and grim countenance of an inevitable doom, which at the moment when a passage seemed to open for the minister and herself out of their labyrinth of misery—showed itself with an unrelenting smile, right in the midst of their path.

With her mind harassed by the terrible perplexity in which the shipmaster's intelligence involved her, she was also subjected to another trial. There were many people present from the country round about, who had often heard of the scarlet letter, and to whom it had been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated rumours, but who had never beheld it with their own bodily eyes. These, after exhausting other modes of amusement, now thronged about Hester Prynne with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous as it was, however, it could not bring them nearer than a circuit of several yards. At that distance they accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the press of spectators, and learning the purport of the scarlet letter, came and thrust their sunburnt and desperado-looking faces into the ring. Even the Indians were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white man's curiosity and, gliding through the crowd, fastened their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom, conceiving, perhaps, that the wearer of this brilliantly embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high dignity among her people. Lastly, the inhabitants of the town (their own interest in this worn-out subject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with what they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quarter, and tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than all the rest, with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame. Hester saw and recognized the selfsame faces of that group of matrons, who had awaited her forthcoming from the prison-door seven years ago; all save one, the youngest and only compassionate among them, whose burial-robe she had since made. At the final hour, when she was so soon to fling aside the burning letter, it had strangely become the centre of more remark and excitement, and was thus made to sear her breast more painfully, than at any time since the first day she put it on.

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to have fixed her for ever, the admirable preacher was looking down from the sacred pulpit upon an audience whose very inmost spirits had yielded to his control. The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet letter in the marketplace! What imagination would have been irreverent enough to surmise that the same scorching stigma was on them both!

XXIII. THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER

The eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listening audience had been borne aloft as on the swelling waves of the sea, at length came to a pause. There was a momentary silence, profound as what should follow the utterance of oracles. Then ensued a murmur and half-hushed tumult, as if the auditors, released from the high spell that had transported them into the region of another's mind, were returning into themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy on them. In a moment more the crowd began to gush forth from the doors of the church. Now that there was an end, they needed more breath, more fit to support the gross and earthly life into which they relapsed, than that atmosphere which the preacher had converted into words of flame, and had burdened with the rich fragrance of his thought.

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street and the market-place absolutely babbled, from side to side, with applauses of the minister. His hearers could not rest until they had told one another of what each knew better than he could tell or hear.

According to their united testimony, never had man spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he that spake this day; nor had inspiration ever breathed through mortal lips more evidently than it did through his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descending upon him, and possessing him, and continually lifting him out of the written discourse that lay before him, and filling him with ideas that must have been as marvellous to himself as to his audience. His subject, it appeared, had been the relation between the Deity and the communities of mankind, with a special reference to the New England which they were here planting in the wilderness. And, as he drew towards the close, a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him, constraining him to its purpose as mightily as the old prophets of Israel were constrained, only with this difference, that, whereas the Jewish seers had denounced judgments and ruin on their country, it was his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for the newly gathered people of the Lord. But, throughout it all, and through the whole discourse, there had been a certain deep, sad undertone of pathos, which could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural regret of one soon to pass away. Yes; their minister whom they so loved—and who so loved them all, that he could not depart heavenward without a sigh—had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and would soon leave them in their tears. This idea of his transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the effect which the preacher had produced; it was as if an angel, in his passage to the skies, had shaken his bright wings over the people for an instant—at once a shadow and a splendour—and had shed down a shower of golden truths upon them.

Thus, there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale—as to most men, in their various spheres, though seldom recognised until they see it far behind them—an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one, or than any which could hereafter be. He stood, at this moment, on the very proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts or intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergyman in New England's earliest days, when the professional character was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the position which the minister occupied, as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the pulpit at the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the pillory, with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast!

Now was heard again the clamour of the music, and the measured tramp of the military escort issuing from the church door. The procession was to be marshalled thence to the town hall, where a solemn banquet would complete the ceremonies of the day.

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and majestic fathers were seen moving through a broad pathway of the people, who drew back reverently, on either side, as the Governor and magistrates, the old and wise men, the holy ministers, and all that were eminent and renowned, advanced into the midst of them. When they were fairly in the marketplace, their presence was greeted by a shout. This—though doubtless it might acquire additional force and volume from the child-like loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers—was felt to be an irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating in their ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and in the same breath, caught it from his neighbour. Within the church, it had hardly been kept down; beneath the sky it pealed upward to the zenith. There were human beings enough, and enough of highly wrought and symphonious feeling to produce that more impressive sound than the organ tones of the blast, or the thunder, or the roar of the sea; even that mighty swell of many voices, blended into one great voice by the universal impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many. Never, from the soil of New England had gone up such a shout! Never, on New England soil had stood the man so honoured by his mortal brethren as the preacher!

How fared it with him, then? Were there not the brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head? So etherealised by spirit as he was, and so apotheosised by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps, in the procession, really tread upon the dust of earth?

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, all eyes were turned towards the point where the minister was seen to approach among them. The shout died into a murmur, as one portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble and pale he looked, amid all his triumph! The energy—or say, rather, the inspiration which had held him up, until he should have delivered the sacred message that had brought its own strength along with it from heaven—was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully performed its office. The glow, which they had just before beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers. It seemed hardly the face of a man alive, with such a death-like hue: it was hardly a man with life in him, that tottered on his path so nervously, yet tottered, and did not fall!

One of his clerical brethren—it was the venerable John Wilson—observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibility, stepped forward hastily to offer his support. The minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old man's arm. He still walked onward, if that movement could be so described, which rather resembled the wavering effort of an infant, with its mother's arms in view, outstretched to tempt him forward. And now, almost imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress, he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold, where, long since, with all that dreary lapse of time between, Hester Prynne had encountered the world's ignominious stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand! And there was the scarlet letter on her breast! The minister here made a pause; although the music still played the stately and rejoicing march to which the procession moved. It summoned him onward—inward to the festival!—but here he made a pause.

Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an anxious eye upon him. He now left his own place in the procession, and advanced to give assistance judging, from Mr. Dimmesdale's aspect that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But there was something in the latter's expression that warned back the magistrate, although a man not readily obeying the vague intimations that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd, meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This earthly faintness, was, in their view, only another phase of the minister's celestial strength; nor would it have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so holy, had he ascended before their eyes, waxing dimmer and brighter, and fading at last into the light of heaven!

He turned towards the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms.

"Hester," said he, "come hither! Come, my little Pearl!"

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The child, with the bird-like motion, which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne—slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against her strongest will—likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him. At this instant old Roger Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd—or, perhaps, so dark, disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose up out of some nether region—to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do! Be that as it might, the old man rushed forward, and caught the minister by the arm.

"Madman, hold! what is your purpose?" whispered he. "Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonour! I can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession?"

"Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!" answered the minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. "Thy power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"

He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.

"Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnestness, "in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what—for my own heavy sin and miserable agony—I withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might!—with all his own might, and the fiend's! Come, Hester—come! Support me up yonder scaffold."

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignity, who stood more immediately around the clergyman, were so taken by surprise, and so perplexed as to the purport of what they saw—unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself, or to imagine any other—that they remained silent and inactive spectators of the judgement which Providence seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, leaning on Hester's shoulder, and supported by her arm around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend its steps; while still the little hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors, and well entitled, therefore to be present at its closing scene.

"Hadst thou sought the whole earth over," said he looking darkly at the clergyman, "there was no one place so secret—no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me—save on this very scaffold!"

"Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither!" answered the minister.

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester, with an expression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.

"Is not this better," murmured he, "than what we dreamed of in the forest?"

"I know not! I know not!" she hurriedly replied. "Better? Yea; so we may both die, and little Pearl die with us!"

"For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order," said the minister; "and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which He hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!"

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of little Pearl's, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life-matter—which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise—was now to be laid open to them. The sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.

"People of New England!" cried he, with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic—yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe—"ye, that have loved me!—ye, that have deemed me holy!—behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last—at last!—I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood, here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been—wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose—it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!"

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness—and, still more, the faintness of heart—that was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and the children.

"It was on him!" he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. "God's eye beheld it! The angels were for ever pointing at it! (The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger!) But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world!—and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner! Behold! Behold, a dreadful witness of it!"

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed.

"Thou hast escaped me!" he repeated more than once. "Thou hast escaped me!"

"May God forgive thee!" said the minister. "Thou, too, hast deeply sinned!"

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on the woman and the child.

"My little Pearl," said he, feebly and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child—"dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest! But now thou wilt?"

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was fulfilled.

"Hester," said the clergyman, "farewell!"

"Shall we not meet again?" whispered she, bending her face down

close to his. "Shall we not spend our immortal life together?

Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe!

Thou lookest far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes!

Then tell me what thou seest!"

"Hush, Hester—hush!" said he, with tremulous solemnity. "The law we broke!—the sin here awfully revealed!—let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God—when we violated our reverence each for the other's soul—it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost for ever! Praised be His name! His will be done! Farewell!"

That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.

XXIV. CONCLUSION

After many days, when time sufficed for the people to arrange their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene, there was more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold.

Most of the spectators testified to having seen, on the breast of the unhappy minister, a SCARLET LETTER—the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne—imprinted in the flesh. As regarded its origin there were various explanations, all of which must necessarily have been conjectural. Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, had begun a course of penance—which he afterwards, in so many futile methods, followed out—by inflicting a hideous torture on himself. Others contended that the stigma had not been produced until a long time subsequent, when old Roger Chillingworth, being a potent necromancer, had caused it to appear, through the agency of magic and poisonous drugs. Others, again and those best able to appreciate the minister's peculiar sensibility, and the wonderful operation of his spirit upon the body—whispered their belief, that the awful symbol was the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse, gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly, and at last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter. The reader may choose among these theories. We have thrown all the light we could acquire upon the portent, and would gladly, now that it has done its office, erase its deep print out of our own brain, where long meditation has fixed it in very undesirable distinctness.

It is singular, nevertheless, that certain persons, who were spectators of the whole scene, and professed never once to have removed their eyes from the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied that there was any mark whatever on his breast, more than on a new-born infant's. Neither, by their report, had his dying words acknowledged, nor even remotely implied, any—the slightest—connexion on his part, with the guilt for which Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet letter. According to these highly-respectable witnesses, the minister, conscious that he was dying—conscious, also, that the reverence of the multitude placed him already among saints and angels—had desired, by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman, to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choicest of man's own righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike. It was to teach them, that the holiest amongst us has but attained so far above his fellows as to discern more clearly the Mercy which looks down, and repudiate more utterly the phantom of human merit, which would look aspiringly upward. Without disputing a truth so momentous, we must be allowed to consider this version of Mr. Dimmesdale's story as only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with which a man's friends—and especially a clergyman's—will sometimes uphold his character, when proofs, clear as the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letter, establish him a false and sin-stained creature of the dust.

The authority which we have chiefly followed—a manuscript of old date, drawn up from the verbal testimony of individuals, some of whom had known Hester Prynne, while others had heard the tale from contemporary witnesses fully confirms the view taken in the foregoing pages. Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence:—"Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"

Nothing was more remarkable than the change which took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's death, in the appearance and demeanour of the old man known as Roger Chillingworth. All his strength and energy—all his vital and intellectual force—seemed at once to desert him, insomuch that he positively withered up, shrivelled away and almost vanished from mortal sight, like an uprooted weed that lies wilting in the sun. This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge; and when, by its completest triumph consummation that evil principle was left with no further material to support it—when, in short, there was no more Devil's work on earth for him to do, it only remained for the unhumanised mortal to betake himself whither his master would find him tasks enough, and pay him his wages duly. But, to all these shadowy beings, so long our near acquaintances—as well Roger Chillingworth as his companions we would fain be merciful. It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual fife upon another: each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow. In the spiritual world, the old physician and the minister—mutual victims as they have been—may, unawares, have found their earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted into golden love.

Leaving this discussion apart, we have a matter of business to communicate to the reader. At old Roger Chillingworth's decease, (which took place within the year), and by his last will and testament, of which Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Mr. Wilson were executors, he bequeathed a very considerable amount of property, both here and in England to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne.

So Pearl—the elf child—the demon offspring, as some people up to that epoch persisted in considering her—became the richest heiress of her day in the New World. Not improbably this circumstance wrought a very material change in the public estimation; and had the mother and child remained here, little Pearl at a marriageable period of life might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan among them all. But, in no long time after the physician's death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl along with her. For many years, though a vague report would now and then find its way across the sea—like a shapeless piece of driftwood tossed ashore with the initials of a name upon it—yet no tidings of them unquestionably authentic were received. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend. Its spell, however, was still potent, and kept the scaffold awful where the poor minister had died, and likewise the cottage by the sea-shore where Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter spot, one afternoon some children were at play, when they beheld a tall woman in a gray robe approach the cottage-door. In all those years it had never once been opened; but either she unlocked it or the decaying wood and iron yielded to her hand, or she glided shadow-like through these impediments—and, at all events, went in.

On the threshold she paused—turned partly round—for perchance the idea of entering alone and all so changed, the home of so intense a former life, was more dreary and desolate than even she could bear. But her hesitation was only for an instant, though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast.

And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long-forsaken shame! But where was little Pearl? If still alive she must now have been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood. None knew—nor ever learned with the fulness of perfect certainty—whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maiden grave; or whether her wild, rich nature had been softened and subdued and made capable of a woman's gentle happiness. But through the remainder of Hester's life there were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest with some inhabitant of another land. Letters came, with armorial seals upon them, though of bearings unknown to English heraldry. In the cottage there were articles of comfort and luxury such as Hester never cared to use, but which only wealth could have purchased and affection have imagined for her. There were trifles too, little ornaments, beautiful tokens of a continual remembrance, that must have been wrought by delicate fingers at the impulse of a fond heart. And once Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment with such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have raised a public tumult had any infant thus apparelled, been shown to our sober-hued community.

In fine, the gossips of that day believed—and Mr. Surveyor Pue, who made investigations a century later, believed—and one of his recent successors in office, moreover, faithfully believes—that Pearl was not only alive, but married, and happy, and mindful of her mother; and that she would most joyfully have entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fireside.

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed—of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it—resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But, in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester's life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble. Women, more especially—in the continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion—or with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought came to Hester's cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester comforted and counselled them, as best she might. She assured them, too, of her firm belief that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess, but had long since recognised the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a life-long sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful, and wise; moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such an end.

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes downward at the scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tomb-stone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate—as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport—there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's wording of which may serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow:—

"ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES"

 

The End

 

 

 



一 狱门


  一群身穿黯色长袍、头戴灰色尖顶高帽.蓄着胡须的男人,混杂着一些蒙着兜头帽或光着脑袋的女人,聚在一所木头大扇子前面。房门是用厚实的橡木做的,上面密密麻麻地钉满大铁钉。
  新殖民地的开拓者们,不管他们的头脑中起初有什么关于人类品德和幸福的美妙理想,总要在各种实际需要的草创之中,忘不了划出一片未开垦的处女地充当墓地,再则出另一片土地来修建监狱。根据这一惯例,我们可以有把握地推断:波士顿的先民们在谷山一带的某处地方修建第一座监狱,同在艾萨克.约朝逊①地段标出头一块垄地几乎是在同一时期。后来便以他的坟茔为核心,扩展成王家教堂的那一片累累墓群的古老墓地。可以确定无疑地说,早在镇子建立十五年或二十年之际,那座木造监狱就已经因风吹日晒雨淋和岁月的流逝而为它那狰狞和阴森的门面增加了几分晦暗凄楚的景象,使它那橡木大门上沉重的铁活的斑斑锈痕显得比新大陆的任何陈迹都益发古老。象一切与罪恶二字息息相关的事物一样,这座监狱似乎从来不曾经历过自己的青春韶华。从这座丑陋的大房子门前,一直到轧着车辙的街道,有一片草地,上面过于繁茂地簇生着牛蒡、茨藜、毒莠等等这类不堪入目的杂草,这些杂草显然在这块土地上找到了共通的东西,因为正是在这块土地上早早便诞生了文明社会的那栋黑花——监狱。然而,在大门的一侧,几乎就在门限处,有一丛野玫瑰挺然而立,在这六月的时分,盛开着精致的宝石般的花朵,这会使人想象,它们是在向步入牢门的囚犯或跨出阴暗的刑徒奉献着自己的芬芳和妩媚,借以表示在大自然的深深的心扉中,对他们仍存着一丝怜悯和仁慈。
  由于某种奇异的机缘,这一丛野玫瑰得以历劫而永生;至于这丛野玫瑰,是否仅仅因为原先严严实实地遮藏着它的巨松和伟橡早巳倒落,才得以在古老面苛刻的原野中侥幸存活,抑或如为人深信不疑的确凿证据所说,当年圣徒安妮.哈钦逊②踏进狱门时,它便从她脚下破士而出,我们不必费神去确定。既然我们要讲述的故事要从这一不样的门口开篇,而拾恰在门限处一眼便可望见这丛野玫瑰,我们怎能不摘下一朵玫瑰花,将其呈献给读者呢!但愿这株玫瑰花,在叙述这篇人性脆弱和人生悲哀的故事的进程中,能够象征道德之花的馥郁,而在读完故事阴晦凄惨的结局时,仍可以得到一些慰藉。
  -----------------
  ①文萨克.约翰逊,北共马萨诸塞英国殖民地的创始人。
  ②安妮.哈钦逊(1591一1643),出生于英国的英国教士,她认为灵魂的拯救只有通过个人对上帝感化的直觉,而不是依靠善行。此主张触怒马萨诺塞宗教界,并引起论战和分裂。1637遣审汛并被逐出,她和家人迁居罗得岛,后在纽约州被印第安人杀死。



二 市场

  二百多年前一个夏日的上午,狱前街上牢房门前的草地上,满满地站着好大一群波士顿的居民,他们一个个都紧盯着布满铁钉的橡木牢门。如若换成其他百姓,或是推迟到新英格兰后来的历史阶段,这些蓄着胡须的好心肠的居民们板着的冷冰冰的面孔,可能是面临凶险的征兆,至少也预示着某个臭名昭著的罪犯即将受到人们期待已久的制裁,因为在那时,法庭的判决无非是认可公众舆论的裁处。但是,由于早年清教徒性格严峻,这种推测未免过于武断。也许,是一个慷倾的奴隶或是被家长送交给当局的一名逆子要在这笞刑柱上受到管教。也许,是一位唯信仰论者①、一位教友派②的教友或信仰其它异端的教徒被鞭挞出城,或是一个闲散的印第安游民,因为喝了白人的烈酒满街胡闹,要挨着鞭子给赶进树林。也许,那是地方宫的遗愿西宾斯老夫人那样生性恶毒的巫婆,将要给吊死在绞架上。无论属于哪种情况,围观者总是摆出分毫不爽的庄严姿态;这倒十分符合早期移民的身分,因为他们将宗教和法律视同一体,二者在他们的品性中融溶为一,凡涉及公共纪律的条款,不管是最轻微的还是最严重的都同样今他们肃然起敬和望而生畏,确实,一个站在刑台上的罪人能够从这样一些旁观看身上谋得的同情是少而又少、冷而又冷的。另外,如今只意味着某种令人冷嘲热讽的惩罚,在当时却可能被赋予同死刑一样严厉的色彩。
  就在我们的故事发生的那个夏天的早晨,有一情况颇值一书:挤在人群中的好几位妇女,看来劝可能出现的任何刑罚那抱有特殊的兴趣。那年月没有那么多文明讲究,身着衬裙和撑裙的女人们公然出入于大庭广众之中,只要有可能,便要撅动姻们那并不娇弱的躯体,挤进最靠近刑台的人群中去,也不会缎入什么不成体统的感觉。那些在英伦故土上出生和成长的媳妇和姑娘们,比起她们六七代之后的漂亮的后裔来,身体要粗壮些,精神也要粗犷些;因为通过家系承袭的链条,每代母亲遗传给她女儿的,即使不是较她为少的坚实有力的性格,总会是比较柔弱的体质、更加娇小和短暂的美貌和更加纤细的身材。当时在牢门附近站着的妇女们,和那位堪称代表女性的男子气概的伊丽莎白①相距不足半个世纪。她们是那位女王的乡亲:她们家多的牛肉和麦酒,佐以未经提炼的精神食粮,大量充实进她们的躯体。因此,明亮的晨感所照射着的,是宽阔的肩膀、发育丰满的胸脯和又圆又红的双颊——她们都是在通远的祖国本岛上长大成人的,远还没有在新英格兰的气氛中变得白皙与瘦削些。尤其令人瞩目的是,这些主妇们多数人一开口便是粗喉咙、大嗓门,要是在今天,她们的言谈无论是含义还是音量,都足以使我们瞠目结舌。
  “婆娘们,”一个满脸横肉的五十岁的老婆子说,“我跟你们说说我的想法。要是我们这些上了一把年纪、名声又好的教会会友,能够处置海丝特白兰那种坏女人,倒是给大伙办了件好事。你们觉得怎么样,婆娘们?要是那个破靶站在眼下咱们这五个姐们儿跟前听候判决,她能够带着那些可敬的官老爷们赏给她的判决溜过去吗?老天爷,我才不信呢!”
  “听人说,”另一个女人说,“尊敬的丁梅斯代尔教长,就是她的牧师,为了在他的教众中出了这桩丑事,简直伤心透顶啦。”
  “那帮宫老爷都是敬神的先生,可惜慈悲心太重陛——这可是真事,”第三个人老珠黄的婆娘补充说。“最起码,他们应该在海丝特·白兰的脑门上烙个记号。那总能让海丝特大太有点怕,我敢这么说。可她——那个破烂货——她才不在乎他们在她前襟上贴个什么呢!哼,你们等着瞧吧,她准会别上个胸针,或者是异教徒的什么首饰,档住胸口,照样招摇过市!”
  “啊,不过,”一个手里领着孩子的年轻媳妇轻声插嘴说,“她要是想挡着那记号就随她去吧,反正她心里总会受折磨的。”
  “我们扯什么记号不记号的,管它是在她前襟上还是脑门上呢?”另一个女人叫嚷着,她在这几个自命的法官中长相最丑,也最不留情。“这女人给我们大伙都丢了脸,她就该死。难道说没有管这种事的法律吗?明明有嘛,圣经里和法典上全都写着呢。那就请这些不照章办事的宫老爷们的太太小姐们去走邪路吧,那才叫自作自受呢!”
  “天哪,婆娘们,”人群中一个男人惊呼道,“女人看到绞刑架就害怕,除去这种廉耻之心,她们身上难道就没有德性了吗?别把话说得太重了!轻点,喂,婆娘们!牢门的锁在转呢,海丝特太太本人就要出来了。”
  牢门从里面给一下子打开了,最先露面的是狱吏,他腰侧挎着剑,手中握着权杖,那副阴森可怖的模样象个暗影似的出现在日光之中。这个角色的尊容便是清教徒法典全部冷酷无情的象征和代表,对触犯法律购人最终和最直接执法则是他的差事。此时他伸出左手举着权杖,右手抓着一个年轻妇女的肩头,挽着她向前走;到了牢门口,她用了一个颇能说明她个性的力量和天生的尊严的动作,推开狱吏,象是出于她自主的意志一般走进露天地。她怀里抱着一个三个月左右的婴儿,那孩子眨着眼睛,转动她的小脸躲避着过分耀眼的阳光——自从她降生以来,还只习惯于监狱中的土牢或其它暗室那种昏晦的光线呢。
  当那年轻的妇女——就是婴儿的母亲——全身位立在人群面前时,她的第一个冲动似乎就是把孩子抱在胸前;她这么做与其说是出于母爱的激情,不如说可以借此掩盖钉在她衣裙上的标记。然而,她很快就醒悟过来了,用她的耻辱的一个标记来掩盖另一个标记是无济于事的,于是,索兴用一条胳膊架着孩子,她虽然面孔红得发烧,却露出高傲的微笑,用毫无愧色的目光环视着她的同镇居民和街坊邻里。她的裙袍的前胸上露出了一个用红色细布做就、周围用金丝线精心绣成奇巧花边的一个字母A。这个字母制作别致,体现了丰富面华美的匠心,佩在衣服上构成尽美尽善的装饰,而她的衣服把她那年月的情趣衬托得恰到好处,只是其艳丽程度大大超出了殖民地俭补标准的规定。
  那年轻妇女身材颀长,体态优美之极。她头上乌黑的浓发光彩夺目,在阳光下说说熠熠生辉。她的面孔不仅皮肤滋润、五官端正、容貌秀丽,而且还有一对鲜明的眉毛和一双漆黑的深目,十分楚楚动人。就那个时代女性举止优雅的风范而论,她也属贵妇之列;她自有一种端庄的风韵,并不同子如今人们心目中的那种纤巧、轻盈和不可言喻的优雅。即使以当年的概念而吉,海丝特.白兰也从来没有象步出监狱的此时此刻这样更象贵妇。那些本来就认识她的人,原先满以为她经历过这一魔难,会缀然失色,结果却惊得都发呆了,因为他们所看到的,是她焕发的美丽,竟把笼罩着她的不幸和耻辱凝成一轮光环。不过,目光敏锐的旁观者无疑能从中觉察出一种微妙的痛楚。她在狱中按照自己的想象,专门为这场合制作的服饰,以其特有的任性和别致,似乎表达了她的精神境界和由绝望而无所顾忌的心情。但是,吸引了所有的人的目光而且事实上使海丝特·白兰焕然一新的,则是在她胸前额频闪光的绣得妙不可言的那个红字,以致那些与她熟识的男男女女简直感到是第一次与她谋面。这个红字具有一种震慑的力量,竟然把她从普通的人间关系中超脱出来,紧裹在自身的氛围里。
  “她倒做得一手好针线,这是不用说的,”一个旁观的女人说,“这个厚脸皮的淫妇居然想到用这一手来显白自己,可真是从来汲见过t我说,婆娘们,这纯粹是当面笑话我们那些规规矩矩的宫老爷,这不是借火入先生们判的刑罚来大出风头吗?”
  “我看啊!”一个面孔板得最紧的老太婆咕哦着,“要是我们能把海丝特太大那件讲究的衣袍从她秀气的肩膀上扒下来,倒挺不钱;至于她绣得稀奇古怪的那个红字嘛,我倒愿意货给她一块我害风湿病用过的法兰绒破布片,做出来才更合适呢I”
  “噢,安静点,街坊们,安静点!”她们当中最年轻的同伴悄声说;“别让她听见体们的话!她绣的那个宇,针针线线全都扎到她心口上呢。”
  狱吏此时用权杖做了个姿势。
  “让开路,好心的人们,让开路,看在国王的份上!”他叫嚷着。“让开一条队我向诸位保证,白兰太太要站的地方,无论男女老少都可以看清她的漂亮的衣服,从现在起直到午后一点,保你们看个够。祝福光明正大的马萨诸塞殖民地,一切罪恶都得拉出来见见太阳!过来,海丝特太大,在这市场上亮亮你那鲜红的字母吧!”
  围观的人群中挤开了一条通路。海丝特·白兰跟着在前面开路的狱吏,身后昆随着拧眉攒目购男人和心狠面恶的女人的不成形的队伍,走向指定让她示众的地方。一大群怀着好奇心来凑热闹的小男孩,对眼前的事态不明所以,只晓得学校放了他们半天假,他们一边在头前跑着,一边不时回过头来盯着她的脸、她怀中抱着的眨着眼的婴儿、还有她胸前那个丢人现眼的红字。当年,从牢门到市场没有几步路。然而,要是以囚犯的体验来测量,恐怕是一个路途迢迢的旅程;因为她虽说是高视阔步,但在人们逼视的目光下,每迈出一步都要经历一番痛苦,似乎她的心已经给抛到满心,任凭所有的人碾踩践踏。然而,在我们人类的本性中,原有一条既绝妙又慈悲的先天准备:遭受苦难的人在承受痛楚的当时并不能觉察到其剧烈的程度,反倒是过后延绵的折磨最能使其撕心裂肺。因此,海丝特·白兰简直是以一种安详的举止,度过了此时的磨难,来到市场西端的刑台跟前。这座刑台几乎就竖在波士顿最早的教堂的檐下,看上去象是教堂的附属建筑。
  事实上,这座刑台是构成整个惩罚机器的一个组成部分,时隔二、三代入的今天,它在我们的心目中只不过是一个历史和传统的纪念,但在当年,却如同法国大革命时期恐怖党人的断头台一样,被视为教化劝善的有效动力。简言之,这座刑台是一座枷号示众的台子,上面竖着那个惩罚用的套枷,做得刚好把人头紧紧卡使,以便引颈翘旨供人观赡。设计这样一个用铁和木制成的家伙显然极尽羞辱之能事。依我看来,无论犯有何等过失,再没有比这种暴行更违背我们的人性的了,其不准罪人隐藏他那羞惭的面容的险溺用心实在无以复加;而这侩洽是这一刑罚的本意所在。不过,就海丝特·白兰的例子而论,例和多数其它案子相仿,她所受到的惩处是要在刑台上罚站示众一段时间,而无需受扼颈囚首之苦,从而幸免于这一丑陋的机器最为凶残的手段。她深知自己此时的角色的意义,举步登上一段木梯,站到齐肩高的台上,展示在围观人群的众目睽睽之前。
  设若在这一群清教徒之中有一个罗马天主教徒的话,他就会从这个服饰和神采如画、怀中紧抱婴儿的美妇身上,联想起众多杰出画家所竞先描绘的圣母的形象,诚然,他的这种联想只能在对比中才能产生,因为圣像中那圣洁清白的母性怀中的婴儿是献给世人来赎罪的。然而在她身上,世俗生活中最神圣的品德,却被最深重的罪孽所玷污了,其结果,只能使世界由于这妇人的美丽而更加晦默,由于她生下的婴儿而益发沉沦。
  在人类社会尚未腐败到极点之前,目睹这种罪恶与羞辱的场面,人们还不致以淡然一笑代替不寒而栗,总会给留下一种敬畏心理。亲眼看到海丝特·白兰示众的人们尚未失去他们的纯真。如果她被判死刑,他们会冷冷地看着她死去,而不会咕哝一句什么过于严苛;但他们谁也不会象另一种社会形态中的人那样,把眼前的这种示众只当作笑柄。即使有人心里觉得这事有点可笑,也会因为几位至尊至贵的大人物的郑重出席,而吓得不敢放肆。总督、他的几位参议、一名法官、一名将军和镇上的牧师们就在议事厅的阳台上或坐或立,俯视着刑台。能有这样一些人物到场,而不失他们地位的显赫和职务的威严,我们可以有把握地推断,所做的法律判决肯定具有真挚而有效的含义。因之,人群也显出相应的阴郁和庄重。这个不幸的罪人,在数百双无情的日光紧盯着她、集中在她前胸的重压之下,尽一个妇人的最大可能支撑着自己。这实在是难以忍受的。她本是一个充满热情、容易冲动的人,此时她已使自己坚强起来,以面对用形形色色的侮辱来发泄的公愤的毒刺和利刃;但是,人们那种庄重的情绪反倒隐含着一种可做得多的气氛,使她宁可看到那一张张僵刻的面孔露出轻蔑的嬉笑来嘲弄她。如果从构成这一群人中的每一个男人、每一个女人和每一个尖嗓门的孩子的口中爆发出轰笑,海丝特·白兰或许可以对他们所有的人报以倔傲的冷笑。可是,在她注定要忍受的这种沉闷的打击之下,她时时感到要鼓尼胸腔中的全部力量来尖声呼号,并从刑台上翻到地面,否则,她会立刻发疯的。
  然而,在她充当众目所瞩的目标的全部期间,她不时感到眼前茫茫一片,至少,人群象一大堆支离破碎、光怪陆离的幻象般地朦胧模糊。她的思绪,尤其是她的记忆,却不可思议地活跃,越出这蛮荒的大洋西岸边缘上的小镇的祖创的街道,不断带回来别的景色与场面;她想到的,不是那些尖顶高帽帽植下藐视她的面孔。她回忆起那些最琐碎零散、最无关紧要的事情;孩提时期和学校生活,儿时的游戏和争哆,以及婚前在娘家的种种琐事蜂拥回到她的脑海,其中还混杂着她后来生活中最重大的事件的种种片断,一切全都历历如在目前;似乎全都同等重要,或者全都象一出戏。可能,这是她心理上的一种本能反应:通过展现这些备色各样、变幻莫测的画面,把自己的精神从眼前这残酷现实的无情重压下解脱出来。
  无论如何,这座示众刑台成了一个了望点,在海丝特·白兰面前展现山自从她幸福的童年以来的全都轨迹。她痛苦地高高站在那里,再次看见了她在老英格兰故乡的村落和她父母的家园:那是一座破败的灰色石屋,虽说外表是一派衰微的景象,但在门廊上方还残存着半明半暗的盾形家族纹章,标志着远祖的世系。她看到厂她父亲的面容:光秃秃的额头和飘洒在伊丽莎白时代老式环状皱领上的威风凛凛的白须;她也看到了她母亲的面容,那种无微不至和牵肠挂肚的爱的表情,时时在她脑海中索绕,即使在母亲去世之后,仍在女儿的人生道路上经常留下温馨忆念的告诫。她看到了自己少女时代的光彩动人的美貌,把她惯于映照的那面昏暗的镜子的整个镜心都照亮了。她还看到了另一副面孔,那是一个年老力衰的男人的面孔,苍白而瘦削,看上去一副学者模样,由于在灯光下研读一册册长篇巨著而老眼昏花。然而正是这同一双昏花的烂眼,在一心接窥测他人的灵魂时,又具有那么奇特的洞察力。尽管海丝特·白兰那女性的想象力竭力想摆脱他的形象,但那学者和隐士的身影还是出现了:他略带畸形,左肩比右肩稍高。在她回忆的画廊中接卜来升到她眼前的,是欧洲大陆一座城市里的纵横交错又显得狭窄的街道,以及年深日久、古色古香的公共建筑物,宏伟的天主教堂和高大的灰色住宅③;一种崭新的生活在那里等待着她,不过仍和那个陶形的学者密切相关;那种生活象是附在颓垣上的一簇青苔,只能靠腐败的营养滋补自己。最终,这些接踵而至的场景烟消云散,海丝特·白兰又回到这片清教徒殖民地的简陋的市场上,全镇的人都聚集在这里,一双双严厉的眼睛紧紧盯着她——是的,盯着她本人——她站在示众刑台上,怀中抱着婴儿,胸前钉着那个用金丝线绝妙地绣着花边的鲜红的字母A!
  这一切会是真的吗?她把孩子往胸前猛地用力一抱,孩子昨地一声哭了;她垂下眼睛注视着那鲜红的字母,甚至还用指头触摸了一下,以便使自己确信婴儿和耻辱都是实实在在的。是啊——这些便是她的现实,其余的一切全都消失了!
  ------------
  ①一种主张基督徒可以按照福育书小所阐明的受到感化阴美德而摆脱道德法律约束的教源。
  ②或称“员格汲”或公谊会”,足一个没有明确的教义,也没有常任牧师,而靠内心灵光指引的教派。
  ③指衡兰的阿姆浙特丹,可参见下章。据历史记载,当年在英国受迫害的清教徒.先逃亡到荷兰,随后力移居新大陆。



三 相认

  这个身佩红字的人终于从充当众目严历注视的对象的强烈意识中解脱出来,因为她此时注意到人群的外围站着一个身影,那个人立刻不可遏止地占据了她的头脑。一个身着土著装束的印第安人正站在那里,但在这块英国殖民地中,红种人并非鲜见,此时有这么一个人站在那儿,不会引起海丝特·白兰的任何注意,更不会把一切其它形象和思绪一概从她的头脑中排挤出去。在那个印第安人的身边,站着一个身上混穿着文明与野蛮服装的白种人,无疑是那印第安人的同伴。
  他身材矮小,满脆皱纹,不过还很难说年事已高。他一望可知是个智慧出众的人,似乎智力上的高度发展不可能不引起形体上的变化,从而在外表上具备了显著的特征。尽管他似乎是漫不经心地随便穿了件土人的衣服,其实是要遮掩或减少身体的怪异之处,但海丝特·白兰仍一眼便看出那个人的两肩并不一般高。她一看到了那人瘦削、多皱的面孔和稍稍变形的躯体,便不由自主地再一次把婴儿紧楼在胸前,直弄得那可怜的孩子义疼得哭出了声。但作母亲的好象对此听而不闻。
  在那个不速之客来到市场、海丝特·白兰还没看到他之前,他的目光早已直勾勾地盯上了她。起初,他的目光只是随随便便的,象是一个习惯于洞察他人内心的人,除非外表上的什么东西与内心有关,否则外观便既无价值又不重要。然而,他的目光很快就变得犀利而明察秋毫了。他的面孔上掠过一阵痛苦的恐怖,象是一条蛇在上面迅速蜿蜒,因稍停片刻,而使那盘踞的形体清晰可见。他的脸色由于某种强有力的内心冲动而变得阴暗,不过他人刻用一种意志力控制住,使这种脸色稍纵即逝,换上了一副可以说是平静的表情。仅仅过了瞬间,那种痉挛就几乎消逝得无影无踪,终于沉积在他天性的深渊。当他发现海丝特·白兰的目光与他的目光相遇,并且看来已经认出了他时,他便缓慢而乎落地举起一个手指,在空中做了一个姿势,然后把手指放在自己的嘴唇上。
  随后,他碰了碰旁边站着的一个本镇居民的肩膀,礼数周到地开了腔。
  “我请问您,好心的先生,”他说,“这位妇女是淮?——为什么要站在这里示众受辱?”
  “你大概在这儿人生地不熟,朋友,”那个镇上人一边回答,一边好奇地打量这个发问的人和他的不开化的同伴,“不然的话,你一定会听到过海丝特·白兰太太,还有她干的丑事了。我可以向你保证,她在虔诚的丁梅斯代尔牧师的教堂里已经引起了公愤。”
  “您算说对了,”那人接口说。“我是个外地人,一直迫不得已地到处流浪。我在海上和陆上屡遭险衅,在南方不信教的人当中给囚禁了很久;如今又给这个印第安人带到这里来找人赎身。因此,请问您肯不肯告诉我,海丝特·白兰——我把她的名字说对了吗?——这个女人犯了什么过错,给带到那座刑台上呢?”
  “真的,朋友,我想,你在人迹罕到的地方历经劫难之后,”那个镇上人说,“终于来到我们这块敬仰上帝的新英格兰,心里一定挺高兴的;这里的一切罪恶都要当众揭发出来,在长官和百姓面前加以惩罚呢。那上边站着的女人嘛,先生,你应该知道,是一个有学问的人的妻子,男人生在英国,但已经长期在阿姆斯特丹定居,不知为了什么,他好久以前想起要飘洋过海,搬到我们马萨诸塞这地方来。为此,他先把他妻子送来,自己留在那边处理那些免不了的事。天啊,好心的光生,在差不多两年的时间里,也许还没那么久呢,这女人一直是我们波士顿这儿的居民,那位学者白兰先生却始终没有一点音讯;而他这位年轻的老婆,你看,就自个儿走上了邪道——”
  “啊!——啊哈!——我明白了,”那陌生人苦笑着说。“照您说的,这位饱学之士本应在他的书本中也学到这一点的。那么,您能不能开个思告诉我,先生,谁可能是那婴儿的父亲呢?我看,那孩子——就是白兰太太怀里抱着的,也就有三四个月吧。”
  “说实在的,朋友,那件事还是一个谜呢;象但以理①那样聪明的解谜人,我们这儿还没有哪,”那镇上人回答说。“海丝特太大守口如瓶,地方官挖空心思也白费劲。说不定那个犯下罪的人正站在这儿看这个让人伤心的场面呢,可别人还不知道正是他干的,他可忘了上帝正盯着他哪,”
  “那个学者,”那陌生人又冷笑着评论说,“应该亲自来调查调查这桩奇案。”
  “要是他还活着,是该由他来办的,”那镇上人附和着说o“唉,好心的先生,我们马萨诸塞的当局认为,这个女人年轻漂亮,准是受了极大的诱惑才堕落的——何况,很可能,她的丈夫已经葬身海底——那些当官的不敢大胆地用我们正义的法律强制判她极刑。论罪,她是该处死的。但是,由于他们心肠软,大慈大悲,只判了白兰太太在刑台上站三个小时,以后,在她的有生之年,胸前要永远佩戴一个耻辱的标记。”
  “好聪明的判决!”那陌生人沉重地垂下头说。“这样她就成了告诫人们抵制罪恶的活训条了,直到那个耻辱的字母刻到她的墓碑上为止。不过,让我不痛快的是,那个和她通同犯罪的人居然没有在刑台上陪她站着,这本来是最起码的嘛。反正他会让人知道的!——会让人知道的!——他一定会让人知道的!”
  他向和他谈话的那镇上人恭恭敬敬地鞠了一躬,又跟他的印第安随从耳语了几句,便双双穿过人群按到前边去了。
  在这段时间里,海丝特·白兰一直站在高台上,牢牢盯视着那陌生人;她的注意力完全集中到他身上,那一阵子,她的视界内的一切目标全都从她眼前消失了,只剩下了他和她两个人。或许,在另外一种场合同他邂逅要益发可怕。如今呢,她那本来只该在壁炉旁恬静的柔光中b在家中幸福的暗处或在教堂的庄严气氛笼罩下才能看到的姿容,却在聚拢来的全镇人面前,被大家象看热闹似的死盯着:炎炎的午日烧灼着她的面孔,照亮了脸上的耻辱,她胸前佩着丑陋的鲜红标记,怀中抱着因罪孽而生下的婴儿。此情此景虽然可怕,但她却感到这数以千计的旁观者的存在倒是一种庇护。她这样站着,在她和他之间隔着这么多入,总比只有他们俩面面相溯要好受一些。她确实向这种示众场面寻求着避难之所,唯恐这项保护伞会从她身边撤掉。她的脑际充满了这种种念头,对于她身后传来的话语竟然充耳不闻y直到后来那严肃的话音越来越高地一再重复她的名字,使得在场的所有的人都听得一清二楚了。
  “听我说,海丝特·白兰!”那声音喊道。
  前面已经提及,就在海丝特·白兰站立的高台的正上方.有一处阳台,或者说是露天走廊,是从议事厅延伸出来的。当年,在地方陡官开会中间如果要发布什么公告,需要镇民都来出席聆听时,就在这里举行种种仪式。今天,为了目睹我们上面所描写的场面,贝灵汉总督亲自坐阵,椅子后面站着四个持朝的警卫充当仪仗。他帽子上插着一支黑羽毛,大氅上绣着花边,里面衬着的是黑丝绒紧身衣;他是一位中长的绅士,皱纹中印下了他的艰苦的经历。他出任这一地区的首脑和代表很适当,因为这一殖民地的起源和发展及其现状,并非取决于青春的冲动,而有赖于成年的严厉和老练,以及老中的权谋和手腕;他们所以能成就颇多,恰恰因为他们的幻想和希望有限。环绕着这位总督的其他显要,一个个都威风凛凛,因为他们所属的时代,官方机构被公认为具有神权制度的仲圣性。不消说,他们都是为人圣洁、主持正义的好人。然而,要从整个人类大家庭中遴选出同等数量的英明贤德之士绝非易举,假如让这种人坐下来审判一个犯了罪的女人的心灵,并分清善与恶的交错盘结,比起海丝特·白兰此时转过身来面对着的这伙表情倡滞的圣人们,不一定高明多少。确实,她似乎深知这一点,不管她期待着什么样的同情,只能到人群中的博大及温暖曲胸怀中去寻求,因此,当她始眼朝阳台上望去时,这个不幸的女人立时面色苍白,周身战栗了。
  刚才呼喊她注意的声音发自德高望重的约翰·威尔逊牧师,他是波士顿神职人员中年事最高的一位,如同当年从事这一职业的他的同辈人一样,他也是一位大学者,此外,他还是个亲切和蔼的人。不过,他的这种待人亲切和蔼的心肠,并没有象他那聪明才智的头脑一样得到仔细认真的栽培,老实讲,于他来说,这种好心肠与其值得自我庆幸,不如视作一种耻辱。他站在那里,便帽下面露出一绺灰白的假发;他那双习惯于他的书斋中朦胧光线的灰色眼睛,在这纤变不染的阳光中,也象海丝特的婴儿的眼睛一样眨着。他那副样子就象我们在古旧的经书扉页上看到的黑色木刻肖像;而当他此时迈步向前,干与人类的罪孽、情欲和苦恼时,他的权力也并不比那些肖像为多。“海丝特·白兰,”那牧师说道,“我已经同我这里这位年轻的兄弟争论过,而你正是有幸坐听他布道的,”——此时威尔逊先生把手放在身边一个脸色苍白的年轻人的肩头——“我说,我曾经试图说服这位虔诚的青年,要由他面对苍天,在这些英明而正直的长官面前,在全体人民的旁听之下,来处理你的问题,触及你罪孽中邪恶而阴暗的一面。由于他比我更了解你的秉性,他应该是个更合格的法官,他更清楚应该选用什么样的刚柔相济的辞令,来克服你的桀骜不驯;以使你不再隐瞒那个诱惑你如此堕落的人的姓名。然而,尽管他的才华超出了他的年龄,却仍有年轻人的优柔,他同我争辩说,强制一个妇女在光天化日之下和大庭广众之中,敞开自己内心的隐私,是和妇女的本性格格不入的。确实,我试图说服他,耻辱在于苟且罪孽的当时,面不在于袒露罪孽的事后。你再说一遍吧,丁梅斯代尔兄弟,你对此看法如何?到底该由你呢还是由我,来探究这可怜的罪人的灵魂呢?”
  阳台上那些道貌岸然、可尊可敬的先生们彼此一阵交头接耳,贝灵汉总督表达了这阵窃窃私语的主旨,他说话时语气庄重威严,不过仍含有对他招呼着的那年轻牧师的尊敬。
  “善心的了梅斯代尔牧师先生,”他说,“你对这女人的灵魂负有极大的责任。因此,应该由你来规劝她悔过和招供,以证明你尽职尽责并非枉然。”
  这番直截了当的要求把整个人群的目光都吸引到了丁彻斯代尔牧师的身上;他是毕业于英国—所名牌大学的年轻牧师,把当时的全部学识都梢到我们这片荒野密林曲地带来了。他那雄辩的口才和宗教的热情早已预示了他在自己的职业中将要飞黄腾达。他的外貌颇员舱力,有着高箕、白哲的额头和一双忧郁的褐色大眼,至于他的嘴唇,如果不是紧紧闭着,就会易于颤抖,表明了他既有神经质的敏感又有极大的自制力。尽管他有极高的天赋和学者般的造诣,这位年轻的牧师身上却流露出一种忧心仲仲和惊慌失措的神色,恰似一个人在人生道路上偏离了方向,颇有迷惘之感,只有把自己封闭起来才觉得安然。因此,只要他的职责允许,他就在浓荫密布的小径上漫步,借以保持他自己的纯真和稚气;必要时,便会带着清新馥郁和露水般晶莹纯洁的思想迈步走出来,正如许多人所说,使他们感受到天使般的言辞。
  威尔逊牧师先生和总督大人作了公开介绍并引起大家注意的,正是这样一个年轻人。他们要他在众人当场路听的情况下,来盘诘那个女人灵魂中的秘密——而她的灵魂虽然受到玷污,依然神圣不可侵犯。他被置于随她的境地,直通得他面颊上失去血色,双唇不停地颤抖。
  “跟这个女人谈谈吧,我的兄弟,”威尔逊先生说。“这是她灵魂的关键时刻,而正如令人崇敬的总督大人所说,由于你对她的灵魂负有职责,因此,这对你自己的灵魂也同样是关键时刻。劝诫她招认真情吧!”
  丁梅斯代尔牧师先生低下头去,象是在默默祈祷,然后便迈步向前。
  “海丝特·白兰,”他俯身探出阳台,坚定地朝下凝视着她的眼睛说着,“你已经听到了这位好心的先生所讲的话,也已经看到了我所肩负的重任。如果你感到这样做了可以使你的灵魂得以平静,使你现世所受的惩罚可以更有效地拯救你的灵魂,那么我就责令你说出同你一起犯罪的同伙和同你一起遭罪的难友!不要由于对他抱有错误的怜悯和温情而保持沉默吧;因为,请你相信我的话,海丝特,虽然那样一来,他就要从高位上走下来,站到你的身边,和你同受示众之辱,但总比终生埋藏着一颗罪恶的心灵要好受得多。你的沉默对他能有何用?无非是诱引他——明,事实上是迫使他——在罪孽上再蒙以虚伪!上天已经赐给你一个当众受辱的机会,你就该借以光明磊落地战胜你内心的邪恶和外表的悲伤。现在呈献到你唇边的那杯辛辣而有益的苦酒,那人或许缺乏勇气去接过来端给自己,可我要提请你注意,不要阻止他去接受吧!”
  青年牧师的话音时断时续,听起来甜美、丰润而深沉,实在撼人心肺。那明显表达出来的感情,要比言词的直接涵义更能拨动每个人的心弦,因此博得了听众一致的同情。甚至海丝特怀中那可怜的婴儿都受到了同样的感染:因为她此时正转动始终还是空泛的视线,盯向丁梅斯代尔先生,还举起两条小胳膊,发出一阵似忧似喜的声音。牧师的规劝实在具有说服力,以致在场的所有的人都相信,海丝特·白兰就要说出那罪人的姓名了;否则,那个犯罪的男人自己,不资此时站在高处或低位,也会在内心必然的推动之下,走上前来,被迫登上刑台。
  海丝特摇了摇头。
  “女人,你违背上天的仁慈,可不要超过限度!”威尔逊牧师先生更加严厉地嚷道。“你那小小的婴儿都用她那天赐的声音,来附和并肯定你所听到的规劝了。把那人的姓名说出来吧!那样,再加上你的悔改,将有助于从你胸前取下那红字。”
  “我永远不会说的!”海丝特·白兰回答说,她的眼睛没有去看威尔逊先生,而是凝视着那年轻牧师的深沉而忧郁的眼睛。“这红字烙得太深了。你是取不下来的。但愿我能在忍受我的痛苦的同时,也忍受住他的痛苦!”
  “说吧,女人!”从刑台附近的人群中发出的另一个冷酪的声音说。“说出来吧:让你的孩子有一个父亲!”
  “我不说!”海丝特回答着,她的脸色虽然变得象死人一样惨白,但还是对那个她确认无疑的声音作出了答复。“我的孩子应该寻求一个上天的父亲!她将永远不会知道有一个世俗的父亲的!”
  “她不肯说!”丁梅斯代尔先生嗫嘘着。他一直俯身探出阳台,一只手捂住心口,特候着听他呼吁的结果,这时他长长吐了一口气,缩回了身体。“一个女人的心胸是多么坚强和宽阔啊!她不肯说!”
  那年长的牧师看出来这可怜的罪人一意孤行,他对此早已成竹在胸,便对人群发表了一通论述罪恶的演讲,他列举了形形色色的罪过,并且时时涉及那不光彩的字母。他在长达一个多小时的演讲中,详尽地叙述着这个标记,他那强有力的言辞在人们的耳际反复轰鸣,在他们的心头引起了新的恐惧,似乎把这个标记用炼狱之火染得通红。与此同时,海丝特·白兰始终带着一种疲惫的淡然神情,在她的耻辱台上凝眸端立。那天早晨,她忍受了人性所能承担的一切;由于她的气质决定了她不会以昏厥来逃避过于强烈的苦难,她的精神只能躲藏在麻木的石质硬壳下,而令动物生命助机能依然无损。因此,那位布道者的声音虽在她耳畔残酷无情地响如雷鸣,但却无济于事。在她备受折磨的这后一段时间,那婴儿的尖声哭号直贯云霄;她虽下意识地想哄着孩子安静下来,但似乎对婴儿的不安无动于衷。她就这样木雕泥塑般地又给带回监狱,从众人眼前捎失在钉满铁钉的牢门后面。那些目光随着她身影窥视的人耳语着说,她胸前的红字在中内黑漆漆的通路上投下了一道血红的闪光。
  ------
  ①据传为《旧约·但以理书》的作者,被视为最贤明的裁判者。






四 会面

  海丝特·白兰返回监狱之后,便陷入一阵神经质的激动之中,必须有人片刻不离地看守着她,以防止她作出自自戕之举,或在一时狂乱之中对可怜的婴儿有所伤害。夜幕将临,人们发现无论是大声呵斥抑或是以惩罚作威胁,对于她的不顺从都无济于事,看守布莱基特先生便主张请来一个医生给她看看。按照他的介绍,那医生不但精通基督教的各种医术,面且熟谙从野蛮人那里学来的长在林间的一切草药。老实讲,需要医生诊治的,不仅是海丝特本人,倒是那孩子更为急迫。由于她要从母亲的乳汁中汲取营养,似乎同时吸进了渗透在母亲肌体中的一切骚动、痛楚和绝望。此时,她正在痛苦的痉挛中扭动着,那小小的身躯成了海丝特·白兰一天中所忍受的馈神上的极度痛苦的有力的具体表现。
  那个外表奇特的陌生人紧跟在看守身后走进了凄凉的中房,他上午在人群中露面的时候,曾经引起了红字佩戴者的深切注意。长官们后来安排他暂时栖身狱中,倒不是担心他会作出什么有害之举,面是在和印第安头人们协商他的赎身问题之前,只有如此才最为方便妥善。据称他名叫罗杰·齐灵渥斯。看守把他领进牢房之后,刚逗留了片刻,室内居然随那人的到来面安静下来,使看守颇为诧异;此时婴儿虽然依旧呻唤不止,海丝特·白兰却立刻象死去一般地僵呆了。
  “朋友,请让我和我的病人单独呆一会儿,”那医生说道。“请相信我吧,好看守,你管的这间牢房很快就会安静下来的;而且我还向你保证,白兰太太将从此遵从执法长官,不会再象原先那样了。”
  “嘿,要是你老先生能够做到这一条,”布莱基特看守回答说,“我可要承认你真是手到病除了!真的,这女人一直象是魔鬼缠身;我简直使尽了招数,就盏用鞭子把撤旦从她身上赶走啦。”
  陌生人心平气和地走进牢房,那态度倒和他自称的医生职业相称。看守退出以后,只剩他和那女人面面相对时,他依然平静如初,尽管她在人群中曾经那么专注地望着他,已经说明他俩之间的关系密切异常。他先诊视那孩子,是啊,那婴儿躺在轮床上辗转哭泣,使他不能不撇下其它,把平息她作为当务之急,他仔细地诊视了孩子,然后从怀里掏出一个皮匣。里面象是装着药物,他取出一粒,搅进一杯水里。
  “我过去对炼金术的研究,”他述说着,“再加上过去一年里生活在一个精通草药品性的民族中间,使我比许多科班出身的医生更高明。听我说,妇人!这孩于是你的——和我毫无血缘——她也不会把我的音容认作是她父亲的。所以,还是由你亲手给她喂药吧。”
  海丝特推开了他举着的那剂药,两眼疑虑重重地紧盯着他的面孔。
  “你打算在这无辜的婴儿身上发泄你的仇恨吗?”她悄声说。
  “愚蠢的女人!”那医生不冷不热地应道。“加害于这样一个不幸的私生婴儿,难道我发疯了?给她喝下去会药到病除的;即使她是我的孩子——对,既是我的,当然也就是你的!——我也没有更好的药了。”
  她仍然迟疑不决,事实上,她的头脑此时已经不清醒了。他便借机抱过婴儿,亲自给她喂了药。药力很快便见了效,看来医生说话算数。患病的小家伙的呻唤平息了,痉挛般的扭动也逐渐停止了,过了一会几,她就象病儿解除痛苦之后惯见的那样,香甜地进入了梦乡。那医生如今可以当之无愧了,这才探视作形亲的:他仔细认真、专心致志地为她摸脉,还观察她的眼睛——他的盯视本是如此熟悉,此时却陌生而冷酷,只看得她的心都抽搐了,收紧了——最后,他满意地结束了诊断,开始调和另一剂药。
  “我不懂得什么迷魂汤或忘忧草之类的东西,”他说道,“但我在那些野蛮人中间学到了许多新诀窍,这里的就是其中一种——这是一个印第安人教给我的一种偏方,以报答我传授给他的象巴拉塞尔苏斯①那样一些老掉牙的知识。喝下去吧!这药也许不如一颗无罪曲良心那样让人舒服。那种良心我可没办法给你。不过,这剂药象是把油倒在暴风雨掀起的海浪上,总可以平息你那澎湃翻腾的情欲。”
  他把杯子端给海丝特,而她在接过杯子的时候,眼睛缓缓地打量着他的面孔,她的目光中说不上有什么恐惧,倒是充满了怀疑和探究,想弄清他的目的何在。她接着又看了看她那熟睡的孩子。
  “我想到过死,”她说,——“我巴不得去死——甚至还祈祷过上帝要我去死,如果我还能够有所祈求的话。不过,要是这杯药可以致我于死地,在你眼看着我一口吞下去之前,我请求你再想一想。看!杯子已经沾到我嘴唇了。”
  “那就喝吧,”他回答着,依然冷酷如前,不动声色。“难道你这么不了解我吗,海丝特·白兰?我的目标会如此浅薄吗?即使我心里想着复仇的念头,为了达到我的目标;比起让你活着——比起给你药吃,让你解除身体的危害——以便让这灼热的耻辱可以继续烧烫你的胸膛,难道我还有什么更高明的作法吗?”他一边说着,一边把长长的食指放到那红字上,那字立刻火烧火燎地象是烙进了海丝特的胸膛。他注意到她那不由自主的姿势,微微一笑。“所以说,还是活下去吧,在男男女女的眼前,——在你确曾称作丈夫的人眼前,——在这个孩子的眼前,承受你注定的命运吧!那么,为了你可以活下去,把这药吃下去。”
  海丝特·白兰无需再听劝告,也没有再加拖延,使举杯将药一饮而尽,然后,按照这个手段高明的男人的示意,坐到了孩子睡着的床上;面他则拉过牢房中唯一的一把椅子,坐在她的旁边。她面对这种种安排,不由得局身颤栗起来;因为她感觉到——在完成这一切由人道或原则,或者,果真如此的话,由一种优雅的残忍迫使他做出这些解脱她肉体上痛苦的事情之后——下一步,他就要作为被她无可挽回地深深伤害了的入来对待她了。
  “海丝特,”他说,“我不对你盘诘:出于什么原因或以何种方式,你堕入了深渊,或者宁可说,你登上了耻辱的刑台——我正是在那儿见到你的。原因唾手可寻。那就是我的愚蠢和你的软弱。我,——一个有头脑的人,——一个博览群书的蛀书虫,——一个已经老朽的人,已经把我的太好年华都用来充实我对知识的饥渴之梦了,——我与你这样的青春与美貌已经无关了!敌生来畸形,我怎能自欺,竟以为知识和智能可以在年轻站娘的心目中掩盖肉体的缺陷!人们都认为我聪明,如果智者有自知之明,我早就该预见到这一切了。我原先就应料到,当我走出那浩渺的莽林,步入这基督徒的居位区别,首先映入我眼帘的就是份本人,海丝特·白兰,作为不光彩的形象,高高站在众人面前。唉,从我们新婚燕尔,一起走下那古老教堂的门防的那一刻起,我就应该看到:在我们道路的尽头燃着红字的熊熊烈火!”
  “你知道,”海丝特说,——尽管她十分沮丧,但依旧无法忍受刚才在她耻辱的标记上那平和的一戳——“你知道我一向对你很坦率。我没有感受到爱情,我也不想装假。”
  “的确,”他回答说。“那是我的愚蠢!我刚才已经说过了。不过,直到我生命的那一刻为止,我都白活了。整个世界都是那么郁郁寡欢t我的心宽敞得可以容下好多客人,但孤寂而凄凉,没有一处家居的壁炉。我多盼望能点燃一护火啊!看来这并非非分之想,——尽管我年老,我阴沉,我畸形,——可这种天南地北人人都可以用来温暖自己的最朴素的福份,我也能够享有才是。于是,海丝特,我就把你装进了心窝:放进最深的地方,想用你给我的温暖来温暖你!”
  “我让你太受委屈了,”海丝特讷讷着说。
  “我们彼此都让对方受了委屈,”他回答说。“是我先委屈了你,我把你含苞的青春同我这朽木错误地、不自然地嫁接在一起,从而断送了你。因此,作为一个没有白白具有思想而且懂得哲理的人,我对你既不谋求报复,也不怀有邪念。在你我之间,天平保持了相当的平衡。不过,那个坑害了你我二人的人还活着,海丝特!他是谁?”
  “不要问我!”海丝特·白兰定晴望着他的面扎回答说。“这一点你永远不会知道的!”
  “永远不,你是这么说的吗?”他接口说,脸上露出阴沉和自信的笑意。“永远不会知道他!相信我吧,海丝特,还没有什么事情,——无论是在外部世界上的,还是在不可见的某种思想深处之中的——都没有什么事情能够逃过一个对解决神秘问题孜孜以求的人的眼睛。你可以对那些刨根问底的群众隐藏你的秘密。你也可以对那些牧师和大人们掩饰你的秘密,即使在他们象今天所作的那样,竭力想把那入的名字从你心中挤轧出来,让你们结伴示众的时候,也是枉然。至于我呢,我要用他们所不具备的其它感觉来寻求答案。我要象我在书本中探索真理、用炼金术提炼黄金那样去找出这个男人。我可以靠一种共同感应来觉察出他来。我要看着他浑身战抖。我会突然而不自主地感到自己在颤栗。或迟或早,他必将落入我的掌握之中!”
  那个满脸皱纹的学者的眼睛,亮闪闪地死盯住海丝特·白兰,直逼得她用双手紧紧捂住胸口,唯恐他马上从那儿读到她的秘密,
  “你不想说出他的名字吗?反正他逃不出我的手心,”他接着说,露出得意的神情,似乎是他在主宰命运。“他的衣服上级有象你一样缝着耻辱的字毋;但我仍可以洞察他的内心。不过不必为他担心!不要以为我会扰乱上天的惩治方法,或者,把他揭露出来,诉请人间的法律去制裁,那样我会得不偿失。你也不要猜想我会设法勾消他的中命;不,我也不会低毁他的名誉的,要是我判断得对,他是一个颇有名望的人。让他活着吧!反正他逃不出我的手心!”
  “你的行动象是在发慈悲,”海丝特困惑面惊恐地说。“可你的言辞只能让人感到害怕!”
  “既然你曾经是我的妻子,我要求你必须做到一点,”那学者继续说。“你始终不肖泄露你的奸夫。那就也为我保密吧!这地方没人认识我。绝对不要对任何人露一点口风,说我曾经是你的丈夫?这里,在地球的这块蛮荒野地里,我要扎下我的帐篷,因为在别的地方我也是一个飘泊者,与世人的兴趣隔绝,但在这里我发现了一个女人、一个男人、一个孩子,我和他们之间存在着最紧密的联系。不管是爱还是惯;也不管是对还是错!你和你的人,海丝特·白兰,都属于我。你在哪儿,他在哪儿,我的家就安在哪儿。但你别把我泄露出去!”
  “你为什么要这样呢?”海丝特怯生生地问,她也说不清她怎么会由于这一秘密的约束而畏缩了。“你为什么不公开站出来,把我立刻抛弃呢?”
  “可能是,”他答道,“因为我不愿意蒙受一个不忠实的女人给丈夫带来玷辱。也许是别的什么原因。总之,我的目标是生生死死不为人所知。因此,让这里的人都以为你丈夫已经死了吧,关于他,不应再有任何消息了。无论从言谈间,从表情上,还是从动作上,都要装作不认识我!别露一点口风,尤其对你恋着的那个男人。要是你在这点上坏了我的事,你就小心点吧!他的名誉,他的地位,他的生命,全都握在我的于心里。当心吧!”
  “我将象为他保密一样来为你保密,”海丝特说。
  “发个誓吧!”他接茬说。
  她于是起了誓。
  “现在,白兰太太,”老罗杰·齐灵渥斯说——从今以后我们就这么称呼他了,“我丢下你不管了!让你和你的婴儿,还有那红字,一起过日子吧!怎么样,海丝特?判决是不是规定你睡觉时也要佩着那标记?你难道不怕睡魇和凶梦吗?”
  “你干嘛要这样子冲我笑?”海丝特对着他的目光费解地问。“你打算象那个在森林里作祟的黑男人一样纠缠着我们吗?你是不是已经把我引进了一个圈套,证明我的灵魂给毁绰了呢?”
  “不是你的灵魂,”他说着,又露齿一笑。“不,不是你的!”
  -------------
  ①巴拉塞尔苏斯(1493一1941),瑞士的炼金术士和医生。






五 海丝特做针线

  海丝特·白兰的监禁期满了。牢门打开,她迈步走到阳光下。普照众生的日光,在她那病态的心灵看来,似乎只是为了暴露她胸前的红字。这是她第一次独自步出牢门,比超前面所描写的在众目睽睽之下前呼后拥,走上千夫所指的示众受辱台,这才是一次真正的折磨。那天,她为一种反常的神经紧张和个性中全部好斗的精神所支撑,使她能够将那种场面变成一种惨淡的胜利。更主要的,那是在她一生中独一无二的一次各别的孤立事件,因此她可以不借调动在平静的岁月中足够多年消耗的生命力去应付一时之需。就惩办她示众的法律而论,那是一个外貌狰狞的巨人,其铁腕既可以消灭她,也可以支撑她,正是法律本身扶持着她挺过了那示众的可怕煎熬。然而此时此刻,从不然一身步出狱门起,她就要开始过一天又一天的正常生活了;她必须以自身的普通体力支撑自己活下去,否则只有倒在生活下面。她再也不能靠预支生命力来帮助自己度过目前的悲痛。明天还要有明天的考验与之俱来,后天也会如此,再下一天仍会如此;每天都有每天的考验,然而在忍受难以言喻的痛苦这一点士又都是一样的。遥远的未来的时日,仍有其要由她承载的重荷,需要她一步步摄下去,终生背负着,永远不得抛却;日复一日,年复一年,都将在耻辱曲堆积上再叠上层层苦难。她将在长年累月之中,放弃她的个性,面成为布道师和道学家指指点点的一般象征,借以形象具体地说明女性的脆弱与罪孽的情欲。他们将教育纯沾的年轻人望着她——这个胸前佩戴着灼热鲜明的红字的女人;望着她——这个有着可敬的父母的孩子;望着她———这个有着今后会长成女人的婴儿的母亲;望着她——这个原本是纯洁无辜的女人;把她当作罪恶的形象、罪恶的肉体和罪恶的存在。而她必将带到坟墓中去的那个耻辱,将是矗立在她坟上的唯一墓碑。
  这事说来令人不可思议:既然她的判决词中没有限制她不得超越清教徒居民区的条款,那么在这片边远偏僻的土地之外,她面对着整个世界,原可以自由地回到她的出生地或任何其它欧洲国家,改头换面,隐姓埋名,一切从新开始;她还面对着通向阴森莫测的莽林的道路,也可以在那里逃脱制裁她的法律,使自己不驯顺的本性在生活习俗完全两样的民族中相得益彰。看来实在不可思议的是,她竟然仍把这地方视作自己的家园;而恰恰在这里,况且也只有在这里,她才会成为耻辱的典型。但确实有一种天数,一种具有冥冥之力的如此不可抗拒和难以避免的感情,迫使人们象幽灵般出汲并滞留在发生过为他终生增色添辉、引人瞩目的重大事件的地方,而且那事件的悲伤色调愈浓,人们也就愈难以背离那块地方。她的罪孽,她的耻辱,便是她深扎于此地的根。她在这块土地上好象获得了比她降生人世更具融熔力量的新生,海丝特·白兰的这一新生把所有其他移民和飘泊者仍感到格格不入的森林地带,变成了她自己荒凉阴郁但却是终生安身立命之家。世界上别的景色,甚至包括她度过幸福的童年和无暇的少女时期的英格兰乡村——象是早巳换下的衣服,交给她母亲去保管了——,相比之下,那些地方在她眼里那是它乡异地了。将她束缚在这里的,是源源傲进她心灵深处的铁打的锁链,永远不可能断裂了。
  虽然她向自己隐藏着那个秘密,但只要那个秘密象蟒蛇出洞似的从她心中一钻出来,她就会面色苍白,这或许是——应该说无疑是,将她滞留在如此息息攸关的场地和小路上的另一种感情。在这场地上居住着一个人,在这里的小路上踏着他的脚步,虽说不为世人所认可,她却自信他俩已结成一体,井将共同来到末日审判的席位前凭栏而立,在那里举行神圣的婚礼,以共同承担未来的永无止期的报应。人类灵魂的诱惑者一再把这个念头塞进海丝特的脑海,还嘲笑着搜住她的情欲和狂喜,然后又竭力让她抛掉这一念头。她只能对这个念头匆匆一瞥,便又急忙将其闭锁在它的地窖里。终于,她分析出自己在新英格兰继续后留下来的动机,并且迫使自己去相信,其实只有一半是真情,另一半则是自欺。她对自己说,这里曾是她犯下罪孽的地方,这愿也应是她接受人问惩罚的地方;这样,或许她逐日受到的耻辱的折磨最终会荡涤她的灵魂,并产生出比她失去的那个还要神圣的另一个纯洁,因为这是她殉道的结果。
  因此,海丝特·白兰并没有出走。在镇郊半岛的边缘上,有—间小茅屋远离居民区。这是原先的一名移民建起后又放弃了的,因为那一带土地过了贫瘠,不宜耕种,况且离群索居,而社会活动当时已成为移民的一个显著的习惯。茅屋位于岸边,隔着一做海水与西边一片浓荫覆盖的小山相望。半岛上只长着一丛孤零零的矮树,非但没有遮住茅屋,反倒象是在指示出这里有一个目标,而那个目标原本不情愿或至少是应该被挡得看不见的。就在这间孤随的小屋里,海丝特从仍在严密监视她的当局处获准,用她那菲薄的手段来养活她日己和她的孩于。一个疑虑重重的神秘阴影立刻就缠住了这块地方。年纪尚幼、不理解这个女人为什么会被人类的仁慈拒之门外的孩子们,会蹑手蹑脚地走近前来,窥视她在茅屋窗边飞针走线,窥视她位立门前,窥视她在小花园中耕作,窥视她踏上通往镇子的小径:待到看清她胸前的红字,便怀着一种害怕受到传染的奇异的恐惧,迅速逃开了。尽管海丝特处境孤立,世上没有一个朋友敢于露面,然而她倒不致缺衣少穿。她掌握了一门手艺,即使在那片没有太大施展余地的地方,也还足以养活她自己和日见长大的婴儿。这门手艺,无论在当时抑或在现在,几乎都是女性唯一可以一学便会的,那就是做针线活。她胸前佩戴的那个绣得十分绝妙的字母,就是她精致和富于想象力的技艺的一个样品;那些宫廷贵妇们为了在自己的夹金丝织物上增加手工艺装饰品的绚丽和灵性,恐怕也巴不得对此加以利用。诚然,在这里,请教徒们的服饰一般以深黑和简朴为特色,她那些精美的针线活儿可能很少有人间津。不过,时尚总在日益增加对这类精美制品的需求,这也不会影响不到我们严肃的祖先们,他们也确曾抛弃过许许多多看来是难以废除的风气。象授任圣职、官吏就任,以及一个新政府可以对人民显示威仅的种种形式这样一些公众典礼,作为一种成规,执行得庄严有序,显示出一种阴沉而又做作的壮丽。高高的环状皱领、核心编织的饰带和刺绣华丽的手套,都被认定是居官的人夸耀权势的必需品;而且,尽管禁止奢侈的法律不准平民等级效法这一类铺张,但是地位高或财富多的人,随时都可得到韶免。在丧葬活动中也是一样,诸如死者的装碴,或是遗属志哀用的黑丧服和白麻布上种种象征性的图案,都对海丝特·白兰这样的人能够诞供的劳动有经常和具体的需求。而婴儿的服装——当时的婴儿是穿袍服的——也为她提供了依靠劳动获得收入的机会。
  没过多久,她的针线活就逐渐成为如今称作时时髦的款式了。或许是出于对这位如此命苦的女人的怜悯;或许是出于对平淡无奇的事情也要故弄玄虚的少见多怪;或许是出于某种难以解释的原因——这在当时和今天都是有的——某些人苦求不得的、别人却可予取予夺、或许是因为海丝特确实填补了原先的一项空白;不管是什么原因吧,反正求她做针线的活路源源不断,只要她乐意于多少钟点,总有很不错的收入。一些人可能是为了抑制自己的虚荣心,才在一些堂皇庄重的场合专门穿戴由她那双有罪的手缝制的服装。于是,她的针线活便出现在总督的皱领上、军人的绶带上、牧师的领结上;装饰在婴儿的小帽上,还给封闭在死人的棺木中霉烂掉。但是从来没人求她为新娘刺绣遮盖她们纯洁的额颜的白色面纱,这是记载中绝对没有的。这一绝无仅有的例外说明,社会对她的罪孽始终是深恶痛绝的。海丝特除去维持生计之外一无所求;她自己过着极其艰苦朴素的生活,对孩子的衣食则稍有宽容。她自己的衣裙用的是最祖糙的料子和最晦暗的颜色,上面只有一件饰物,就是那红字——那是她注定非戴不可的。反之,那孩子的服饰却显得别出心裁,给人一种充满幻想、勿宁说是奇思异想的印象,确实增加了那小妨娘早早就开始显露出来的活泼动人之美,不过,做母亲的给她这样打扮,似乎还有更深的含义。这一点我们以后再说。
  海丝特除去在打扮孩子上稍有花费外,她把全部积蓄都用在了救济他人上面,尽管那些入并不比她更为不幸,而且还时常忘思负义地对她横加侮辱。她时常替穷人制作粗布衣服,而如果她把这些时间用来发挥她的手艺,收入原可以更多的。她做这种活计可能有忏悔的念头,不过,她花这么多时间干粗活,确实牺牲了乐趣。她天生就有一种追求富足和奢华的东方人的秉性——一种喜欢穷奢极欲的情调,但这一点在她的全部生活中,除去在她那精美的针线手士中尚可施展之外,已经别无表现的可能了。女人从一针一线的操劳中所能获得的乐趣,是男人无法理解的。对海丝特·白兰来说,可能只有靠这样一种抒发形式,才能慰藉自己对生活的激情。但即使对这绝无仅有的一点乐趣,她也不例外地象看待其它乐趣一样地视为罪过。把良心和一件无关紧要的事情病态地联系在一起,恐怕并不能说明真心实意的仟悔,其背后可能有些颇值怀疑和极其荒谬的东西。
  就这样,海丝特·白兰在人世上有了自己的一席之地。由于她生性倔强而且才能出众,虽说人们让她佩戴了一个对女性的心灵来说比烙在该隐①额上的印记还要难堪的标志,部无法彻底摒弃她。然而,她在同社会的一切交往中,却只能有格格不入之感。同她有所接触的那些人的一举一动、一言一行、甚至他们的沉默不语,都在暗示,往往还表明:她是被排除在外的;而她的孤凄的处境似乎证明:她是生活在另一个世界中的,只有靠与众不同的感官来同其余的人类交流。对于人们感兴趣的道德问题,她避之犹恐不及,却又不能不关心,恰似一个幽灵重返故宅,但又无法让家入看见或感到,不能和家中的亲人们共笑同悲;即使得以表现出为人禁止的同情,也只能唤起别人的恐惧与厌恶。事实上,她的这种心情以及随之而来的最辛辣的嘲讽,似乎成了她在世人心目中所保留曲唯一份额了。在那感情还不够细腻的时代,虽然她深知自己的处境,时刻不敢忘怀,但由于人们不时最粗暴地触痛她最嫩弱的地方,使她清晰地自我感觉到一次次新的剧痛。如前所述,她一心一意接济穷苦人,但她伸出的救援之手所得到的回根却是谩骂。同样,她由于职业关系而迈入富室时,上流社会的夫人们却惯于向她心中滴入苦汁;有时她们不动声色地对她施展阴谋,因为女人们最善于利用日常琐事调制微妙的毒剂;有时她们则明目张长胆地攻汗她那毫无防御的心灵,犹如在渍烂的创口上再重重地一击。海丝特长期以来对此泰然处之;她毫无反手之力,只是在苍白的面颊上不禁泛起红潮,然后便潜入内心深处。她事事忍让,确实是一位殉道者,但她不准自己为敌人祈祷——她尽管宽宏大量,却唯恐自己用来祝福的语言会顽强地扭曲成对他们的诅咒。
  清教徒的法庭对她极其狡狯地安排下的惩罚,时刻不停地以种种方式使她感到永无休止的悸痛。牧师会在街心停住脚步,对她规劝一番,还会招来一群人围任这可怜的有罪的女人,对她又是嘻笑,又是蹙额。当地走进教堂,一心以为自己会分享众生之父在安息日的微笑时,往往不幸地发现,她正是讲道的内容。她对孩子们渐生畏惧之心,因为他们从父母那里摄取到一种模模糊糊的概念;这个除去一个小孩之外从无伴侣、在镇上蹈踊独行的可怕的女人,身上有着某种骇人之处。于是,他们先放她过去,再远远尾随着她尖声喊叫,那些出于无心肠口而出的语言,对他们本无明确的含义,可她听来却同样可畏。她的耻辱似乎已广为传播,连整个自然界都无有不晓了;即使树时在窃窃私语这一隐私;夏口的微风在悄然四散,冬天的寒风在高声疾呼,她的痛楚也不过如此!此外,一双陌生的眼睛的凝视也会让她感到特别难过。当不速之客毫无例外地好奇地盯着她那红字时,就把那标记又一次烙进海丝特的灵魂;以致她常常禁不住,但终归还是控制使自己,不去用手捂住那象征。其实,熟人的目光又何尝不给地带来苦恼!那种习以为常的冷冷的一瞥真叫她受不了。简而言之,海丝特·白兰始终感到被人们注视那标记的可怕的痛苦;那地方不但众远不会结痂,相反;看来还会随着逐日的折磨而变得益发敏感。
  但也有时候——好多天有这么一次,或者要好几个月才有这么一次,她会感到一双眼睛——一双人类的眼睛望着她那耻辱的印记,似乎能给她片刻的宽慰,象是分担了她的一半痛苦。但那瞬向一过,更深的刺病便疾速返回;因为在这短暂的邂逅中,她又重新犯了罪。难道海丝特是独自犯下这罪过的吗?
  奇特而孤独的生活的折磨,已经在一定程度上影响了她的思绪,设若她精神上怯懦些,心理上脆弱些,这种影响就会更加严重。当地在这个与她表面上保持着联系的小小天地中迈着孤独的步伐走来定去时,海丝特似乎时时觉得,——如果全然出于幻觉,其潜在的力量也是不可抗拒的——她感到或者说想象着,那红字赋予了她一种新的体验。她战战兢兢又不由得不去相信,那字母让她感应到别人内心中隐藏着的罪孽。她对这些启示诚惺诚恐。这些启示意昧着什么呢?如若不是那个邪恶的天使的阴险的挑动,难道还能是别的吗?他一心想说服这个目前还只是他的半个牺牲品的、劳苦挣扎着的女人:表面的贞洁不过是骗人的伪装,如果把一处处真情全都暴露在光天化日之下的话,除去海丝特·白兰之外,好多人的胸前都会有红字闪烁的。或许,她应该把那些如此含糊又如此明晰的暗示当作真理来接受吧?在她所有的不幸遭遇中,再没有比这种感受更使她难堪和厌恶的了。这种感受总是不合时宜地涌上心头,令她既困惑又震惊。有时候,当她走过一位德高望重的长官或牧师身边时,她胸前的红色耻辱就会感应出一种悸动——这些人可都是虔诚的楷模和正义的化身,在那个崇尚古风的年代,他们都是人间天使,令人肃然起敬的。每逢这种时刻,海丝特总会自忖:“我又遇到什么魔障了吗?”可是,在她勉强抬起的眼睛前面,除去那位活圣人的身形之外,却看不到别人!也有时候,当她遇到某位太太时,望着她们那神圣凛然的面孔,心中便会油然生出一种神秘的妹妹之感,而那位太太却是被众口一词地公认为从来都是冷若冰霜的。那位太太胸中的未见阳光的冰雪和海丝特·白兰胸前的灼热逼人的耻辱,这二者之间有何共同之处呢?还有时候,她周身通电似的战栗会警告说;“看啊,海丝特,这位可是你的伙伴!”而她抬头一看,就会发现一双少女的眼睛,羞怯地对红字一瞥,便连忙榴开,脸上迅速泛起一片隐隐可见的冰冷的赧颜,似乎她的女贞因这刹那的一瞥就此受到某种珐辱。啊,用那个致命的象征为护符的恶魔,你无论在青年人还是老年人身上,难道不肯给这个可怜的罪人留下一点值得祟敬的东西吗?——象这样的丧失信仰从来都是罪恶的一种最悲惨的结果咽。所幸,海丝特·白兰仍在竭力使自己相信,世人还没有象她那样罪孽深重;如果承认这一点,就足以证明:这个自身脆弱和男人的严酷法律的可怜的牺牲品,还没有彻底堕落。
  在那个压抑人性的古老年月里,凡夫俗子们对他们感兴趣的事情,总要涂上一层荒诞恐怖的色彩,他们就此杜撰了一篇关于红字的故事,我们完全可以随手写成一个骇人的传说。他们曾经断言,那个象征不仅是人间的染缸中染出来的红布,而且还由炼狱之火烧得通红,每逢海丝待·白兰夜间外出,那红字便闪闪发光。而我们应该说,那红字深深烙进海丝特的胸膛,因此在那个传说中包含着比我们如今将信将疑的更多的真理。
  ---------
  ①《旧约.创世记》中说,该隐是亚当及夏接之长于,固妒嫉而杀死弟弟亚伯。






六 珠儿

  我们迄今尚未谈及那个婴儿;那个小家伙是秉承着高深莫测的天意而诞生的一个清白无辜的生命,是在一次罪恶的情欲泛滥中开放的一株可爱而不谢的花朵。当那个凄惨的女人眼睁睁看着她长大,看着她日益增辉添色的娇美,看着她那如颤抖的阳光般笼罩在她小小脸蛋上的智慧的时候,做母亲的感到多么惊诧啊!这是她的珠儿!海丝待这么叫她,并非出于她的外表,因为她绝无珍珠的涵义所包含的那种柔和、洁白和平静的光泽。她给她的婴儿取名“珠儿”,是因为这孩子极其昂贵,是花费了她全部所有才得至的,是她这做母亲的唯一财富!真是太奇妙了!人们用一个红字来标明这女人的罪孽,其潜在的灾难性的功效之深远,佼她得不到任何人间的同情,除非那同情和她本人一样罪孽深重。作为她因之受惩的罪孽的直接后果,上帝却赐予了她一个可爱的孩子,令其在同一个不光彩的怀抱中成长,成为母亲同人类世代繁衍的永恒联系,最后居然要让这孩子的灵魂在天国中受到祝福!然而,这种种想法给海丝特·白兰带来的影响,主要还是忧虑而不是希望。她知道她有过罪孽的行为,因此她不相信会有好的结果。她日复一日地心怀悸惧地观察着孩子逐渐成长的天性,唯恐发现什么阴郁狂野的特征,与带来孩子生命的罪孽相应。
  诚然,孩子身上没有生理缺陷。达婴儿体形完美、精力旺盛,在她稚嫩的四肢的动作中具有天生的灵活,称得起是出生在伊甸园中的;可说是在世上第一对父母被逐出之后,留在园中当作天使们的玩物的。达孩子有一种天然的优雅,这可不是无瑕的丽质所一定具备的;她的衣服无论怎样简朴,见到的人总会认为只有这样穿着才能极尽其美。当然,小珠儿穿的并不是破衣烂衫。她的母亲怀着一种病态的动机——这一点我们以后会看得更加清楚,尽其所能购买最昂贵的衣料,并殚精竭虑来装点孩子的衣裙,供人们去观赏。这个小家伙经这么一打扮,实在漂亮动人,在那晦暗的茅屋的地面上,简直象有一轮圣洁的光环围绕着她——当然,这也是珠儿自身有恰到好处的美丽的光彩,若是把这身灿烂的袍子穿到一个不那么可爱的孩子身上,反例会骤然失色的。不过,珠儿即使身穿土布袍子,满地打滚地玩,弄得衣服破烂、硬梆,她的姿质仍是照样完美。珠儿的外貌中蕴含着万千变化之美:在她这一个孩子身上,综合着从农家婴儿野花似的美到小公主的典雅高贵的气质的无所不包的独到之处。不过,透过这一切,有一种热情的特性和浓重的色调是她永远不会失去的;而这种特性和色调如果在她的任何变化中变得黯淡或苍白,她也就不再是她自己,不再是珠儿了。
  外表上的千变万化说明——其实是恰到好处地表现出;她内在生命的多方面的特性。看来除去多方面的特性之外,她也具备深沉之处,只是对她所降临的这个世界还缺乏了解和适应的能力——也许只是由于海丝特忧心钟仲才误以为如此。这孩子根本不懂得循规蹈矩。随着她的诞生,就破坏了一条重大法律;其结果便是:构成这小家伙的素质或许可以说是美艳照人的,但都错了位,或许是本有其独特的次序,只是其安排和变化的要点,实在难以或不可能发现。海丝特只能靠回忆自己当时的情况来分析这孩子的性格:在珠儿从精神世界汲取自己的灵魂、从世上购物质中形成自己的躯体曲关键内期,她本人如何如何;但这样推断出来的孩子的性格,仍然是十分模糊不全的。做母亲的激动心态始终是将道德生活的光束传送给孕育着的胎儿的媒介;不管这些光束原先是多么洁白,总要深深地染上中问体的排红和金黄、火焰般的光辉、漆黑曲阴影和飘忽不定的光彩。而最主要的是,当时海丝特的好斗精神也永远注入了珠儿的身心。她能够看到当时笼罩着自己心灵的那种狂野、绝望和挑战的情绪,任性的脾气,甚至还有某种阴郁和沮丧的愁云。如今,这一切都在这小孩子的气质中略见端倪,眼下犹如晨曦照射,在今后的人生岁月中将会充满面骤风狂。
  当年的家规可耍比现在严厉得多。怒目瞪视、厉声呵斥和始手就打,全都有《圣经》可依,这些手段不仅是对错误言行的处罚,而且是作为培养儿童品德的有益措施。然而,海丝特·白兰和珠儿是寡母孤儿,她绝不会对孩子失之苛责。她多少出于自己的失足和不幸,早早便想对她受权负责的婴儿施以慈爱而严格的管教。但这一职责非她所能胜任。海丝特对珠儿试过用笑脸相劝或厉声训斥,但两种办法都不能奏效,最后只好被迫站在一旁,听凭孩子随心所欲了。当然,体罚和管柬在施行的当时还是有效的。至于对孩子思想或感情的任何其它教育开导,小珠儿也可能听,也可能不听,全看她当时是否高兴了。还在珠儿是婴儿的时候,她母亲就渐渐熟悉了她的一种特别的神情,那是在告诉母亲,此时对她的一切强制、劝说或请求都将无济于事。那一种神情极其聪慧,又极其费解,极其刚健,有时又极其凶狠,但总是伴随着一种奔放的情绪,令海丝特在此时无法盘洁,珠儿到底是不是一个凡人的子嗣。她更象是—个飘忽的精灵,在茅屋的地面上作过一阵奇思异想的游戏之后,使要面带嘲笑地飞走了。每逢她那狂野、明亮、漆黑的眼暗中出现那种神情时,她便蒙上一层远不可及的神秘色彩,仿佛正在空中翱翔,随时都可能消失,就象不知来自何处、去往何方的闪光似的。海丝特一看到这情景,就要象追逐逃跑的小精灵那样向孩子扑去,而珠儿也一定要开始逃跑;母亲抓住孩子,把她紧紧贴在胸前,热切地亲吻着,这样做倒不是出自爱的洋溢,而是使自己确信,珠儿是个血肉之躯,并非虚幻之物。但珠儿被抓住的时候,她咯咯的笑声中虽然充满欢乐和鸣,却使母亲较前益发困惑。
  海丝特把她花了极其高昂的代价才得到的珠儿,看作她唯一的财富和全部的天地,但她看到在自己和孩子之间十分经常地插入这令她困惑的魔障,则痛心不已,有时还流下热泪。此时,珠儿或许就会——因为无法预见那魔障可能对她有何影响——攥起小手,紧皱眉头,板起面孔,在小肠上露出不满的冷冷表情。也有不少时候,她会再次咯咯大笑,比前一次笑得还响,就象是个对人类的哀伤无从知晓的东西。还有更罕见的,她会因一阵悲恸而全身抽搐,还会抽抽噎噎地说出几个不连贯的词语来表达她对母亲的爱,似乎要用心碎证明她确实有一颗心。不过,海丝特毫无把握使自己相信这种来得快、去得疾助旋风般的柔情。这位母亲将这一切情况前思后想之后,觉得自己象是一个呼唤精灵的人,但是由于没有按照魔法的步骤行事,尚把握不住制服这个还闹不清底细的新精灵的咒语。只有在孩子躺下安然入睡时,她才感到真正的宽心;这时她才能确定她的存在,体陈上几小时的沁人肺腑的恬静和幸福,直到小珠儿一觉醒来——也许就在孩子刚刚睁眼的时候,那种倔劲又表现出来了!
  好快啊,真是迅速得出奇呢!珠儿已经长到不满足于母亲脸上常挂着的微笑和嘴里唠叨的闲言碎语,能够与社会交往的年纪了!若是海丝特·白兰能够在别的孩子高声叫嚷的童声中,听到珠儿那莺啼燕啭般的清脆嗓音,能够从一群嬉戏的儿童的喧哗之中辨明她自己的宝贝儿的腔调.她该有多么幸福啊!但这是绝不可能的。珠儿生来便是那婴孩天地的弃儿。她是一个邪恶的小妖精,是罪孽的标志和产物,无极脐身于受洗的婴孩之列。最值得注意的是,这孩子仿佛有一种理解自己孤独处境的本能;懂得自己周围有一条命中注定不可逾越的鸿沟;简言之,她知道自己与其他孩子迥然不同的特殊地位。自从海丝特出狱以来,她从来都带着珠儿出现在人们面前。她在镇上四处走动,珠儿也始终都在她身边;起初是她怀中的婴儿,后来又成了她的小伙伴,满把握着她的一根食指,得蹦蹦跳跳地用三四步才赶上海丝特的一步。珠儿看到过这块殖民地上的小孩子们,在路边的草地上或是在自家门前,做着请教徒童规所允许的种种怪里怪气的游戏:有时装作一起去教堂,或是拷问教友派的教徒,或是玩同印第安人打仗和剥头皮的把戏,或是模仿巫术的怪样互相吓唬。珠儿在一劳瞅着,注视着,但从来没打算和他们结识。如果这时和勉说话,她也不会咬声。如果孩子们有时围起她来,她就发起小脾气,变得非常凶狠,她会抄起石于向他们扔去,同时发出连续的尖声怪叫,跟巫婆用没入能懂的咒语喊叫极其相似,吓得她母亲浑身直抖。
  事实上,这伙小清教徒们是世上最不容人的,他们早就在这对母女身上模模糊糊地看出点名堂,觉得她们不象是人世间的人,古里古怪地与众不同;于是便从心里蔑视她们,嘴里时常不干不净地诅咒她们。珠儿觉察出这种情绪,便以一个孩子心胸中所能激起的最刻毒的仇恨反唇相讥,这种大发脾气对她母亲颇有价值,甚至是一种慰藉,因为在这种气氛中,她至少表现出一种显而易见的真诚,替代了那种刺痛她母亲的一阵阵的任性发作。然而,海丝特吃惊地从中又辨出了曾存在她自己身上的那种邪恶的阴影的反射。这一切仇恨和热情,都是珠儿理所当然地从海丝特心中承袭下来的。母女二人一起被摒弃在人间社会之外,在珠儿降生之前折磨着海丝特·白兰、在孩子出生后随母性的温柔而渐渐平息下去的那些不安定成分,似乎都植根于珠儿的天性之中了。
  珠儿在家中,并不想在母亲茅屋的里里外外结识很多各种各样的伙伴。她那永不停歇的创造精神会进发出生命的魔力,并同丰万种物体交流,犹如一个火炬可以点燃一切。那些最不值一玩的东西——一根棍子、一块破布、一朵小花——都是珠儿巫术的玩偶,而且无需经过任何外部变化,便可以在她内心世界的舞台上的任何戏剧中,派上想象中的用场。她用自己一人的童音扮作想象中的形形色色、老老少少的角色相互交谈。在风中哼哼唧唧或是发出其它忧郁呻吟的苍劲肃穆的松树,无需变形,就可充当清教徒的长者,面园中最丑陋的杂草便权充他们的子孙,珠儿会毫不留情地将这些“儿童”踩倒,再连根拔起。真是绝妙之极!她开动脑筋幻化出来的备色各样的形体,虽然缺乏连续性,但确实活脱跳跃,始终充满超越自然的活力——这种活力很快便消沉下去,仿佛在生命之潮的急剧而热烈的进发之中衰竭了,继之而来的又是另一种有狂野精力的形象。这和北极光的变幻不定极其相似。然而,单从一个正在成长着的头脑喜欢想象和活泼好动来说,珠儿比起其他聪慧的儿童并没有什么明显的长处,只不过是由于缺乏玩伴,她同自己创造出来的幻想中的人群更加接近而己。她的独特之处在于她对自己心灵和头脑中幻化出来的所有的人都怀着敌对情绪。她从来没有创造过一个朋友,却总象是在大面积地播种龙牙①,从而收获到一支敌军,她便与之厮杀。看到孩子还这么年幼,居然对一个同自己作对的世界有如此坚定的认识,而且猛烈地训练自己的实力,以便在肯定会有的争斗中确保自己获胜,是多么让人心酸得难以形容啊!而当一个母亲在内心中体会到这一切都是由她才引起的,又是多么深切地哀伤啊!
  海丝特·白兰眼望着珠儿,常常把手里的活计放到膝上,由于强忍不下的痛苦而哭出声来,那泪泪涌出的声音,半似说话,半似鸣咽:“噢,天上的圣父啊——如果您还是我的圣父的话——我带到这人世上来的是一个什么样的生命啊!”珠儿呢,在一旁听到了这迸射而出的语言,或是通过某种更微妙的渠道感受到了那痛苦的悸动,便会把她那美丽动人的小脸转向她母亲,露着精灵般聪慧的笑容,然后继续玩起她的游戏。
  这孩子的举止上还有一个特点也要说一说。她降生以来所注意到的头一件事情是——什么呢?不是母亲的微笑——别的孩子会学着用自己的小嘴浅浅一笑来呼应,事后会记忆模糊,以致热烈地争论那到底是不是真的在笑。珠儿意识到的第一个目标绝不是母亲的微笑!似乎是——我们要不要说出来呢?是海丝特胸前的红字!一天,当她母亲脑身在摇篮上的时候,婴儿的眼睛被那字母四周绣着的金钱的闪光吸引住了;接着便伸出小手朝那字母抓去,脸上还带着确定无疑的笑容,闪出果断的光彩,使她的表情象个大得多的孩子。当时,海丝特·白兰喘着粗气,紧紧抓住那致命的标记,本能地试图把它扯下来;珠儿那小手这莫测的一触,纷她带来了多么无穷无尽的熬煎啊。此时,小珠几以为她母亲那痛苦的动作只不过是在和她逗着玩,便盯着母亲的眼睛,微微一笑。从那时起,除非这孩子在睡觉,海丝特设有过片刻的安全感,也没有过片刻的宁静和由孩子带来的欢乐。确实,有时一连几个星期过去了,其间珠儿再没有注视过一次红字;之后,又会冷不丁地象瘁死地一抖似的看上一眼,而且脸上总要露出那特有的微笑,眼睛也总要带着那古怪的表情。
  一次,当海斯特象做母亲的喜欢做的那样,在孩子的眼睛中看着自己的影象时,珠儿的眼睛巾又出现了那种不可捉摸的精灵似的目光;由于内心烦闷的妇女常常为莫名其妙的幻象所萦绕,她突然幻想着,她在珠儿的眼睛那面小镜子中看到的不是她自己的小小的肖像,而是另外一张面孔。那张魔鬼似的面孔上堆满恶狠狠的微笑,可是长的容貌象她极其熟悉的面孔,不过她熟悉的那面容很少有笑脸,更从来不会是恶狠狠的。刚才就象有一个邪恶精灵附在了孩子身上,并且探出头来嘲弄地望着她。事后,海丝特曾多次受到同一幻觉的折磨,不过那幻觉没有那么活生生地强烈了。
  一个夏日的午后,那时珠儿已经长大,能够到处跑了。孩子采集了一把野花自己玩着,她把野花一朵接一朵地掷到母亲胸口上;每当花朵打中红字,她就象个小精灵似的蹦蹦跳跳。海丝特的第一个动作就是想用合着的双手来捂住胸膛。可是,不知是出于自尊自豪还是出于容忍顺从,抑或是感到她只有靠这种难言的痛苦才能最好地完成自己赎罪的苦行,她压抑下了这一冲动,坐得挺挺的,脸色变得死一般地苍白,只是伤心地盯着珠儿的狂野的眼睛。此时,花朵仍接二连三地抛来,几乎每一下都未中那标记,使母亲曲胸口布满伤痛,不但在这个世界上她找不到止痛药膏,就是在另一个世界上,她也不知道如何去找这种灵丹妙药。终于,孩子的弹药全都耗尽了,她一动不动地站在那里瞪着海丝特,从她那深不可测的黑眼睛中,那小小的笑眯眯的魔鬼形象又在探出头来望着她了——或者,根本没那么国事,只是她母亲这么想象罢了。
  “孩子,你到底是个什么呀?”母亲叫着。
  “噢,我是你的小珠儿!”孩子回答。
  珠儿边说边放声笑着,并且用小妖精的那种调皮样子蹦蹦跳跳着,她的下一步想入非非的行动可能是从烟囱中飞出去。
  “你真一点不假是我的孩子吗?”海丝特问。
  她提出这样一个问题绝不是漫不经心的,就当时而论,她确实带着几分诚心诚意;因为珠儿这么鬼精鬼灵的,她母亲吃不大准,她未必还不清楚自己的身世之谜,现在只不过还不打算亲口说出来。
  “是啊!我是小珠儿!”孩子又说了一遍,同时继续着她的调皮动作。
  “你不是我的孩子!你不是我的珠儿!”母亲半开玩笑地说;因为就在她最为痛苦的时候,往往会涌来一阵寻开心的冲动。“那就告诉我吧,你是什么?是推把你打发到这儿来的?”
  “告诉我吧,妈妈!”孩子走到海丝特跟前,紧紧靠着她膝头,一本正经地说。“一定跟我说说吧!”
  “是你的天父把你送来的!”海丝特·白兰回答说。
  但她说话时有点犹豫,这没有逃过孩子犀利的目光。不知孩于和往常一样想要调皮,还是受到一个邪恶的精灵的指使,她举起她小小的食指,去摸那红字。
  “不是他把我送来的!”她明确地说。“我没有天父!”
  “嘘,珠儿,嘘!你不许这么说!”母亲咽下一声哀叹,回答说。“我们所有的人都是他送到这世上来的。连我——你妈妈,都是他送来的。就更不用说你了!要不是这样,你这个怪里怪气的小妖精似的孩子是从哪儿来的?”
  “告诉我!告诉我!”珠儿一再喊着,这次不再板着面孔,而是笑出了声,还在地上跳着脚。“你非告诉我不可!”
  对这一逼问,海丝特可没法作答了,因为连她自己也尚在阴暗的迷宫中徘徊呢。她面带微笑、周身战栗地想起了镇上邻居的说法,他们遍寻这孩子的父亲没有结果,又观察到珠儿的古怪作为,就声称可怜的小珠儿是一个妖魔助产物。自从古天主教时代以来,世上常见这种孩子,都是由于做母亲的有罪孽,才生下来以助长肮脏恶毒的目的。按照路德②在教会中那些敌人的谣言,他本人就是那种恶魔的孽种;而在新英格兰的请教徒中闯,有这种可疑血缘的,可不仅仅珠儿一个孩子。
  -----------
  ①希腊种话中说,腓尼基王子卡德马斯杀一龙后种其齿,遂长出一支军队,相互征战,最后余下五人,与卡德马斯建立底比斯国。
  ②马丁.路德(1482一1546),德国神学家,家教改革的领袖。






七 总督的大厅

  一天,海丝特·白兰到贝灵汉总督的宅邸去交他订做的手套,这副绣了花并镶了边的手套是总督要在某个重大的政典上戴的;因为这位前任统治者虽然在一次普选中从最高的品级上降了一两级,但他在殖民地的行政长官中仍然保持着举足轻重和受人尊崇的地位。
  此时,还有比呈递一副绣好的手套远为重要的另一个原因,促使她去谋求晋见一位在殖民地事务中有权有势的人物的一次机会。她耳闻,有几位力主在宗教和政府的原则上要严加治理的头面人物,正在谋划夺走她的孩子。前面已经暗示过,珠儿既然可能是妖魔的孽种,这些好心肠的人们就不无理由地主张:为了对做母亲的灵魂表示基督教的关怀,他们应该从她的道路上搬掉这样一块绊脚石。反之,如果这孩子当真能够接受宗教和道德的教化,并且具备最终获救的因素,那么,把孩子移交给比海丝特·白兰更高明的监护人,珠儿就可以更充分地发挥这些条件,从而肯定享有更美好的前途。在推进这一谋划的人们当中,据说贝灵汉总督是最为热心奔走的一个。这类事情如果推迟若干年,最多交由市镇行政管理委员会这一级去裁处,而在当时,居然要兴师动众地加以讨论,而且还耍有显要人物来参与,看来未免稀奇,也确实有点荒唐可笑。然而,在早年的纯朴时期,哪怕对公众利益来说,比起海丝特和她孩子的安置问题还要次要的事情,都要由立法者审议并由政府立法,岂不妙哉。就在我们这个故事发生之前并不很久的时期,曾经发生过涉及一日猪的所有权的争议,其结果,不仅在这块殖民地的立法机构中引起了不可开交的激烈辩论,而且还导致了该机构组织上的重大变更。
  眼前涉及海丝特·白兰自身权利的这件事,虽然一方面是广大公众,另一方面是只以自然的同情为后盾的弧身女人,双方众寡悬殊,难以对垒,但她还是忧心仲仲地从她那孤零零的小茅屋中出发去力争了。不消说,小珠儿仍然陪伴着她。珠儿如今已经长到能够在母亲身边轻快跑动的年龄,一天到晚不肯闲着,就是比这再远的路也能走到了。不过,她经常还要母亲抱着走,其实并不是因为走不动,而是想撒娇;可是没抱几步就又迫不及待地要下来,蹦蹦跳跳地在海丝特前面走着,跑着,不时还在长草的小路上磕磕绊绊,不过绝不会摔出伤来。我们曾经谈到珠儿洋溢着光彩照人的美丽,是个浓墨重彩、生动活泼的小姑娘:她有晶莹的皮肤,一双大眼睛既专注深沉又炯炯有神,头发此时已是润泽的深棕色,再过几年就几乎是漆黑色的了。她浑身上下有一团火,向四下发散着,象是在激情时刻不期而孕的一个子嗣。她母亲在给孩子设计服装时呕心沥血,充分发挥了华丽的倾向,用鲜红的天鹅绒为她裁剪了一件式样独特的束腰裙衫,还用金丝线在上面绣满新奇多采的花样。这种强烈的色调,如果用来衬托一个不够红润的面颊,会使容貌显得苍白黯淡,但却与珠儿的美貌相得益彰,使她成了世上前所未有的活跳跳的一小团焰目的火焰。
  然而,这身衣裙,老实讲,还有这孩子的整个外貌,实在引人注目,使目睹者不可遏止也难以避免地想到海丝特·白兰胸前注定要佩戴的那个标记。孩子是另一种形式的红字,是被赋予了生命的红字!做母亲的头脑中似乎给这红色的耻辱所深深印烙,她的一切观念都采取了它的形式,才精心制作出来了这个相仿的对应物;她不借花费许多时间,用病态的才智创造出这个既象她的慈爱的对象又象她的罪孽和折磨的标志的作品。然而,事实上,恰恰是珠儿集二者于一身;而且,也正因为有了这个同一性,海丝特才能如此完美地用孩子的外表率象征她的红字。
  当这两个行路人来到镇区之时,那些清教徒的孩子们停下了游戏——那些闷闷不乐的小家伙们其实也没什么可玩的,抬起眼来,一本正经地互相议论着:
  “瞧,还真有个戴红字的女人;还且,一点不假,还有个象红字似的小东西在她身边跑着呢!这下可好啦,咱们朝她们扔泥巴吧!”
  珠儿可是个谁也不怕的孩子,她在皱眉、跺脚、挥着小手作出各种吓人的姿势之后,突然朝这伙敌人冲去,把他们全都赶跑了。她怒气冲冲地追着他们,简直象个小瘟神——猩红热或某个羽毛未丰的专司惩罚的这类小天使,其使命就是惩处正在成长的一代人的罪孽。她尖呼高叫,其音量之骇人,无疑会使这些逃跑的孩子心儿狂跳不止。珠儿大获全胜,不声不晌地凯旋面归,她回到母亲身边,微笑着抬眼望着母亲的脸。
  之后,她们便一路平安地来到了贝灵汉总督的住所。这是一座宏大的木造宅邸,那种建筑形式在今天的一些老城镇的街道上仍可见其遗风;不过如今已是盲苔丛生,招摇欲坠,其昏暗的房间中发生过并消逝了的那些悲欢离合,无论是记忆犹新还是全然忘却,都令人缀然伤感。然而在当年,这样的宅邸,外观上仍保持着初建年代的清新,从洒满阳光的窗中闪烁着人丁的欢乐,家中还没有人去世。确实,住宅呈现着一派欣然景象:墙面除着一层拉毛灰泥,由于里面掺和着大量的碎玻璃碴,当阳光斜照到大厦的前脸时,便会闪着熔目的光芒,伤像有一双手在向它抛撤着钻石。这种夺目的光彩或许更适合阿拉丁①的宫殿,面对于一个庄重的清教徒统治者则并不相宜。大厦的前脸还装饰着当年显得情调古雅、怪模怪样、看着很神秘的人形和图象,都是在涂灰泥时画就的,此时已变得坚实耐久,供后世观赏了。
  珠儿望着这幢灿烂而奇妙的住宅,开始雀跃起来,使劲要求从住宅前腿上把整整一层阳光给剥下来,好让她玩个痛快。
  “不行,我的小珠儿!”她母亲说。“你要采集你自己的阳光。我可没有阳光可以给你!”
  她们走近了大门;那建筑物有一座拱形门洞,两侧各有一座细高的塔楼或者说是突出的前脸,上面镶着格子窗,里面还有木制的百叶窗,必要时可以关上。海丝特·白兰举起吊在门口的腿于,敲了一下门;总督的一个家奴应声而至,他本是一个英国的自由民,但已当了七年奴仆了。这期间,他只是主人的财产,无非是和一头公牛或一把折椅一样可以交易和出售的一件商品。那奴仆按照当时和早先英国世袭击宅中仆人的习惯装束,穿着一件蓝色号衣。
  “贝灵汉总督大人在吗?”海丝特问。
  “是的,在家,”那家奴一边回答,一边睁大眼睛瞪着那红字,他来到这地方只有几年,以前还从未见过那标记。“是的,大人在。只是他有—两位牧师陪着,还有一个医生。你此刻恐怕不能见大人。”
  “不过,我还是要进去,”海丝特·白兰回答说,那家奴大概是从她那不容置辩曲神气和胸前闪光的标志判断,把她当作了本地的一位贵妇,没有表示反对。
  于是,母亲和小珠儿被引进了入门的大厅。贝灵汉总督是按照故乡广有土地的乡绅的住宅样式来设计他在殖民地的新居的,但又因他所使用的建筑树料的性质、此地气候的差异以及社交生活的不同模式,作了不少变动。于是,这座宅邸中就有了—座宽敞而高度恰到好处的大厅,前后贯穿整个住宅,形成一个公共活动的中心,与宅中所有的房间都直接或伺接地连通着。这座敞亮的大厅的一头,由两座塔楼的窗户透进阳光,在门的两侧各形成一个小小的方框。另一头,却由一扇让窗帘遮着一部分的凸肚窗照得十分明亮。这种凸肚窗——我们在古书中读到过,深深凹进墙中,而且还有铺了垫子的座位。在这扇窗子的座垫上放着一部对开本的厚书,可能是《英格兰编年史》这—f类的大部头著作;正如同时至今,我们还会将一些烫金的书卷散放在室中的桌上,供来客翻阅消遣。大厅中的家具,包括几把笨重的椅子,椅背上精雕着团团簇簇的橡树花,还有一张与椅子配套的桌子,以及一整套伊丽莎白时代的全部设备,说不定还是从更早的年代祖传下来的,由总督从故土运到了这里。桌子上面,为表明英格兰好客的遗风犹存,摆着一个硕大的锡制单柄酒杯,如果海丝特或珠儿往杯里张望的话,还可看见杯底上残存着刚喝光的啤酒的泡沫。
  墙上悬着一排肖像,都是贝灵汉家族的先祖,有的胸前护着铠甲,有的则穿着衬有环状皱领的乎日的长袍,但个个面露威严,这是当年的肖像所必备的特征,似乎他们都是已放的风云人物的鬼魂而不是他们的画像,以苛刻掘狭的批评目光审视着活人的活动和娱乐。
  大厅四周全都镶嵌着橡木护墙板,正中位置上悬接着一副甲胄,那可不象画中的那种遗物,面是当时的最新制品;因为那是在贝灵汉总督跨海来到新英格兰那一年,由伦敦的一位技术熟练的工匠打造的,包括一具头盔、一面护胸、一个颈套、一对护腔、一副臂销和吊在下面的一把长剑。这全套甲胃,尤其是头盔和护胸,都擦得授亮,闪着白色的光辉,把四下的地板照得通明。这套明晃晃的盔甲,可不只是摆设,总督确曾穿着它多次在庄严的阅兵式郝演武场上耀武扬威,而且,更重要的,也确曾穿着它在皮廓德之战②中冲锋陷阵。因为贝灵汉总督虽是律师出身,而且惯于在谈到培根③、柯克④、诺职和芬奇⑤时,将他们引为同道相知,但这一新国家的事态已经将他变成了政治家和统治者,同时也变成了军人。
  小珠儿就象她刚才对宅瞪闪光的前脸大为高兴一样,此时对那明晃晃的盔甲也兴奋异常,她在擦得缀亮的护胸镜前照了好长时间。
  “妈妈,”她叫道,“我在这里面看见你了。瞧啊!。瞧啊!”
  海丝特出哄孩子高兴的愿望,往里隔了瞧;由于这一凸面镜的特殊功能,她看到红字的映象极为夸张,显得比例极大,成了她全身最显著的特征。事实上,她仿佛完全给红字遮住了。珠儿还向上指着头盔中一个相似的映象,一边向母亲笑着,小脸上又露出了那常有的鬼精灵的表现。她那又调皮又开心的神情,也同样映现在盔甲的凸面镇中,显得益发夸张和专注,使海丝特·白兰觉得,那似乎不是她自已孩子的形象,而是一个精灵正在试图变作珠儿的模样,
  “走吧,珠儿,”海丝特说着,便拉着她走开。“来看看这座漂亮的花园。我们也许能在那儿看到一些花,比我们在树林里找得到的还要好看呢。”
  于是珠儿便跑到大厅最远端的凸肚窗前,沿着困中小径望过去,小径上铺着剪得矮矮的青草,两侧夹着一些由外行人粗粗种下的灌木。但花园的主人似乎已经看到:在大西洋的此岸,在坚硬的土地上和剧烈的生存竞争中,要把故乡英格兰的装点园艺的情趣移植过来,实在是枉费心机,从而决定放弃了这一努力。圆白菜长得平乎常常;远远种着的一株南瓜藤,穿过空隙,在大厅窗下,端端结下—颗硕大的果实,似乎在提酸总督:这颗金黄色的大南瓜,已经是新英格兰的土壤能够为他奉献的最丰富多采的点缀了。不过,园中还有几丛玫瑰花和几株苹果树,大概是布莱克斯通牧师先生⑥所栽植株曲质裔。这位波士额半岛的第一位定居人和半神话的人物,在我们早期的编年史中,常可读到他骑在中背上四处行走。’
  珠儿看见了玫瑰丛,开始叫着要一朵红玫瑰,而且怎么哄都不听,
  “轻点,孩子,轻点!”她母亲正正经经地说。“别嚷,亲爱的小珠儿!我听见花园里有人说话。总督走来了,还有几位先生跟他在一起呢!”
  事实上,可以看见从花园中曲林荫路的那头,有几个人正朝房子走过来。珠儿对母亲劝她安静下来毫不在乎,反倒发出一声怪叫,然后才不吱声,而且也不是出于听话,只因为她那种瞬息万变的好奇心此时被几个新出现的人激励起来了。
  ----------------
  ①见《一千零一夜》中阿拉丁与神灯的故事,他的宫殿是灯神所建,故辉煌异常。
  ②皮廓德本是印第安阿尔员钦人之部落,17世组韧定居新英格兰南部,此战在1636—1638年。
  ③弗兰西斯·培根(1561—1636),英国著名散文家、哲学家和政治家,文艺复兴的杰出代表。
  ④爱德华·橱克爵士(1552—1624),英国法理学家和法律学作家。
  ⑤诺职(Noye)和芬奇(Finch),生平不详,当是园培根和柯克园时代的名人6成是由作者故意杜撰出来,讽绸贝舜汉的。
  ⑥威廉·布莱克斯通牧师(1595—1g75),原为英国教会牧师,是波士顿及罗德岛的第一位定居者,先于1623年到达波士损,后因1635年教会论战令失败,迁居罗德岛。参见本书第一章安摄·哈钦逊注释。






八 小鬼和牧师

  贝灵汉总督身穿一件宽大的长袍,头戴一项上年纪的绅士居家独处时喜欢用的便帽,他走在最前面,象是在炫耀他的产业,并且论说着他正在筹划着的种种改进方案。他的灰色胡须下面,围着詹姆斯国王统治期间①那种老式的精致而宽大的环状皱领,使得他的脑袋颇有点象托盘中的洗礼者约翰②的头颅。他外貌刻板威严,再加上垂暮之年的老气横秋,由此给人的印象,与他显然竭力使自己耽于世俗享乐的措施,二者很难协调起来。我们严肃的先人们虽然习惯于港里这么说,而且心里也这么想,认为人类的生存无非是经受考验和斗争,并且诚心诚意地准备好一声令下即要牺牲自己的财富和生命,但如果认定他们从道义上会拒绝唾手可得的享乐或奢侈,那可就大错特错了。例如,可尊可敬的约翰·威尔逊牧师,就从来没有宣讲过这一信条。此时他正跟在贝灵汉总督的身后,越过总督的肩膀,可以看见他的雪白的胡须。他建议说,梨和桃可以在新英格兰的气候中驯化,面紫葡萄也可能靠在日照的园墙上得以繁茂地生长。这位在英国教会的丰满乳汁中养育出来的老牧师,早已对一切美好舒适的东西怀有合法的嗜好;而且,无论他在布道坛上或是在公开谴责海丝特·白兰的罪名时显得多么声色惧厉,但他在私生活上的温和宽厚为他赢得的热爱之情,是胜过他的同辈神职人员的。
  随在总督和威尔逊先生身后定来的,是另外两名客人:一位就是大家记得在海丝特·白兰示众的场面中短短地扮演了一个不情愿的角色的阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔牧师;另一位紧紧伴着他的是老罗杰·齐灵渥斯,这位精通医术的人已经在镇上定居了两三年了。由于年轻的牧师在教会事务上过于不道余力地尽职尽责,自我牺牲,最近健康状况严重受损,因此,学者成为他的医生和朋友,也就可以理解了。
  走在客人前面的总督,踏上一两级台阶,打开了大厅的窗户,发现了眼前的小珠儿。但窗帘的阴影罩住了海丝特·白兰,遮往了她的部分身形。
  “我们这儿有个什么呀?”贝灵汉总督吃惊地望着眼前这个鲜红的小人儿,说道。“我敢说,自从我在老王詹姆斯时代荣获恩宠,时常被召进宫中参加假面舞会、大出风头的岁月以来,我还从来没见过这样的小家伙呢。那时候,每逢节日,常有成群的这种小精灵,我们都把他们叫作司戏者③的孩子。可这样一位客人怎么会跑到我的大厅里来了?”
  “叹,真的!”好心肠的威尔逊老先生叫道。“长着这么鲜红羽毛的会是什么小鸟呢?我想,当阳光穿过五彩绘就的窗户、在地板上级射出金黄和绯红的形象时,我看到过这样子的人物。可那是在故乡本土的。请问你,小家伙,你是谁呀?你母亲为什么把你打扮成这副怪模样啊?你是基督徒的孩子吗,啊?你懂得《教义问答手册》吗?也许,你是那种调皮的小妖精或小仙女吧?我们还以为,连同罗马天主教的其它遗物,全都给留在快乐的老英格兰了呢。”
  “我是我妈妈的孩子,”那鲜红的幻象回答说,“我叫珠儿!”
  “珠儿?——还不如叫红宝石呢!——要不就叫红珊瑚!——要不就叫红玫瑰,从你的颜色来看,这可是最起码的呢!”老牧师答应着,伸出一只手,想拍拍小珠儿的脸蛋,可是汉成功。“可你的妈妈在哪儿呢?啊!我明白了,”他又补充了一句;然后转向贝灵汉总督,悄悄说;“这就是我们一起议论过的那个孩子,往这儿瞧,那个不幸的女人,海丝特·白兰,就是她母亲!”
  “你是这么说的吗?”总督叫道。“不,我们满可以判断,这样一个孩子的母亲,应该是一个鲜红色的女人,而且要当之无愧是个巴比伦式的女人④。不过,她来得正好!我们就来办办这件事吧。”
  贝灵汉总督跨过窗户,步人大厅,后面跟着他的三位客人。
  “海丝特·白兰,”他说着,把生来严峻的目光盯住这戴红字的女人,“最近,关于你的事议论得不少。我们已经郑重地讨论过,把一个不朽的灵魂,比如说那边那孩子,交付给一个跌进现世的陷阱中的人来指导,我们这些有权势的人能够心安理得吗?你说吧,孩子的母亲!你想一想吧,要是把她从你身边带走,让她穿上朴素的衣服,受到严格的训练,学会天上和人间的真理,是不是对这小家伙的目前和长远利益有好处呢?在这方面,你又能为这孩子做些什么呢?”
  “我能教我的小珠儿我从这里学到的东西!”海丝特·白兰把手指放到那红色标志上回答。
  “女人,那是你的耻辱牌啊!”那严厉的官老爷回答道。“正是因为那字母所指明的污点,我们才要把你的孩子交给别人。”
  “可是,”母亲乎静地说,不过面色益发苍白了,“这个牌牌已经教会了我——它每日每时都在教育我,此时此刻也正在教育我,我要接受教训,让我的孩子可以变得更聪明。更美好,尽管这一切对我本人已毫无好处了。”
  “我们会做出慎重的判断的,”贝灵汉说,“而且也会认真考虑我们即将果取的措施的。善良的威尔逊先生,我请求你检查一下这个珠儿——我们权且这么叫她吧——看看她具备不具备这个年龄的孩子应受的基督徒教养。”
  老牧师在一张安乐椅中就坐之后,想把珠儿拉到他的膝间。但那孩子除去她母亲之外还不习惯别人的亲热,立即穿过敞开的窗户逃了出去,站在最高一层的台阶上,象一只长着斑斓羽毛的热带鸟儿似的,随时准备飞上天空,逃之天天。威尔逊先生对这一反抗举动颇为吃惊——因为他是老爷爷般的人物,通常极受孩子们的喜爱——但他仍继续他的测验。
  “珠儿,”他郑重其事地说,“你应当留心听取教诲,这样,到时候你才可能在胸前佩戴价值连城的珠宝。你能不能告诉我,我的孩子,是谁造出了你?”
  如今珠儿十分清楚是谁造出了她,因为海丝特·白兰是个出身于虔诚教徒家庭的女儿,在同孩子谈过她的天父之后不久,就开始终她灌输那些真理,而一个人的心灵哪怕再不成熟,都会以热烈曲兴趣来吸取这些真理的。因此,珠儿虽然年仅三岁,却已颇有造诣,完全经得起《新英梧兰入门》或《西敏寺教义问答手册》初阶的测验尽管她连这两部名著是什么样子都不知道。但一舷孩子多少都有的那种任性,小珠儿本来就甚于别的儿童十倍,而在目前这最不合时宜的当儿,更是彻底地支配了她:她不是闭口不言,就是给逼得说岔了。这孩子把手指放到嘴里,对好心肠的成尔逊先生的问题,一再粗野地拒不回答,最后居然宣称她根本不是造出来的,面是她妈妈从长在牢门边的野玫瑰丛中采下来的。
  大概是由于珠儿正站在窗边,附近就有总督的红玫瑰,再加上她想起来时走过狱前见到的玫瑰丛,就受到启示,生出了这样一种奇思异想,
  老罗杰·齐灵渥斯面带微笑,对着年轻牧师耳语了几句。海丝特·白兰望着这位医生,即使此刻对她命运仪关,也还是惊讶地发现,他的外貌发生了多么大的变化——自从她熟悉他的时候以来,他的黑皮肤变得益发晦暗,他的身体益发畸形了。她积他的目光接触了瞬间,立即便把全部注意力集中在眼前正在进行的场面中去了。
  “这太可怕了!”总督叫着,渐渐从珠儿的应答所带给他的震惊中恢复过来。“这是个三岁的孩子,可她根本说不出是谁造出了她!毫无疑问,她对自己的灵魂,对目前的堕落,对未来的命运,全然一无所知!依我看,诸位先生,我们无需再问了。”海丝特抓住珠儿,强把她拉进自己的怀里,面对着那几乎是满险凶相的清教徒长官。她被这个世界所抛弃,只剩下孤身一人,只有这一件珍宝才能维持她心灵的生存,她感到她有不可剥夺的权利来对抗这个世界,而且准备好维护自己的权利一直到死。
  “上帝给了我这个孩子!”她大声说道。“他把她给了我是为了补偿你们从我手中夺走的一切。她是我的幸福!——也分毫不爽地是我的拆磨!是珠儿叫我还活在世上!也是珠儿叫我受着惩罚!你们看见没有?她就是红字,只不过能够受到喜爱,因此也具有千万倍的力量来报应我的罪孽!你们带不走她!我情愿先死给你们看!”
  “我可怜的女人,”那不无慈悲的老牧师说,“这孩子会受到很好的照顾的!——远比你能办到的要强。”
  “上帝把这孩子交给了我来抚养,”海丝特·白兰重复说,嗓音大得简直象喊叫了。“我绝不会放弃她的!”说到这里,她突然一阵冲动,转向了年轻的牧师丁梅斯代尔先生,此前她简直始终没有正眼看过他。“你来替我说一句话嘛!”她说。“你原来是我的牧师,曾经对我的灵魂负责,你比这些人更了解我。我不能失去这个孩子!替我说句话吧!你了解我——而且你还具有这些人所缺乏的同情心!你了解我心里的想法,也了解一个母亲的权利,而当那位母亲只有她的孩子和红字的时候,这种权利就更烟强烈!请你关注一下吧!我绝不会失去这个孩子的!关注一下吧!”
  这种狂野独特独特的吁请,意味着海丝特·白兰的处境已经把她快逼疯了。于是,那年轻的牧师马上走上前来,他面色苍氏一只手捂住心口——只要他那古怪的神经质一发作,他就会做出这个习惯的动作。他此时的样子,比起上次海丝特示众时我们所描绘的,还要疲惫和憔悴;不管是由于他那每况愈下的健康状况,抑或其它什么原因,他那双又大又黑的眼睛的深处,在烦恼和忧郁之中还有一个痛苦的天地。
  “她所说的确有道理,”年轻的牧师开口说,他那甜蜜柔和的嗓音虽然微微发颤,却强劲有力地在大厅中回荡着,直震得那空壳铠中部随之轰鸣,“她的话确有道理,鼓舞她的感情也没有错!上帝赐给了她这个孩子,也就赋予了她了解孩子天性和需求的本能——而这孩子的天性和需求看来又是如此与众不同——她作母亲的这种本能别人是不可能具备的。何况,在她们的母女关系之中难道没有一种令人敬畏的神圣之处吗?”
  “喂!——这是怎么讲,善良的丁梅斯代尔先生?”总督接口说。“我请你把话说得明白些!”
  “尤其是,”年轻牧师接着说,“如果我们换一个角度来看待这件事,我们岂不是说,那创造了一切肉体的天父,只是随便地承认了一次罪行,而对亵渎的淫秽和神圣的爱情之间毫不加以区别吗?这孩子是她父亲的罪孽和她母亲的耻辱的产物,但却来自上帝之手,面上帝要通过许多方式来感化做母亲的心灵,因此她才这么诚挚地、怀着这么痛苦的精神来祈求养育孩子的极利。她是在祈求祝福,向赐于孩子生命的上帝祈求祝福!毫无疑问,诚如这母亲自己对我们所说,她也是在祈求一种报应;她在祈求一种折磨,让她在意想不到的许多时刻体会到这种折磨;她在祈求一阵剧痛,一下刺扎,一种时时复发的、纠缠着她的快乐的痛楚!在这可怜的孩子的衣服上,她不是表达了她的这种想法吗?这身衣服不是有力地提醒我们那烙进她胸口的红色象征吗?”
  “还是你说得高明I”好心肠的威尔逊先生叫道。“我本来担心这女人除去拿她的孩子装幌子再也没有更好的想法呢!”
  “噢,并非如此!——并非如此!”丁梅斯代尔先生继续说。“请相信我,她已经认识到了上帝在这个孩子的存在上所创造的神圣的奇迹。而且她可能也感受到了——我想恰恰如此——上帝赐给她这个孩子,尤其意味着,要保持母亲的灵魂的活力,防止她陷入罪恶的更黑暗的深渊,否则撒旦还会设法诱惑她的!因此,给这个可怜而有罪的女人留下一个不朽助婴儿,一个可能带来永恒的欢乐或悲伤的生命,对她会大有好处;让她去抚养孩子,让她培养孩子走上正路,这样才能随时提醒她记着自己的堕落;因为这也是对造物主的神圣誓言,同时教育她,如果她能把孩子送上天国,那么孩子也就能把她带到天国!就此而论,有罪的母亲可要比那有罪的父亲有幸。因此,为了海丝特·白兰,也同样为这可怜的孩子的缘故,我们还是按照天意对她们的安排,不去管她们吧!”
  “我的朋友,你讲这番话,真是诚挚得出奇呢,”老罗杰·齐灵温斯对他笑着说。
  “而且,我这年轻兄弟的话里的重要意义还满有分量呢,”威尔逊牧师先生补充说。“你怎么看,尊敬的贝灵汉老爷?他为这可怜的女人所作的请求满好吧?”
  “确实不错,”那长官回答,“并且还引证了这些论据,我们只好让事情依旧如此喽,至少,只要没有人说这女人的闲话就行。不过,我们还是要认真,对这孩子要按时进行《教义问答手册》的正式考核,这事就交给你和丁梅斯代尔先生吧。再有,到了适当时候,耍让十户长注意送她上学校和做礼拜。”
  那年轻的牧师说完话之后,便离开人群,后退几步,让窗帘厚厚的褶襞住了他部分面孔;而阳光在地板上照出的他的身影,还在由于刚才激昂的呼吁面颤抖。珠儿那野性子的轻灵小鬼,轻手轻脚地偷偷溜到他身旁,用双手握住他的手,还把小脸贴在上面;那抚爱是那么温柔,而且还那么从容,使得在一旁看着的海丝特不禁自问:“那是我的珠儿吗?”然而她明白,这孩子的心中是有着爱的,不过这种爱通常是以激情的形式来表达的;她生来恐怕还没有第二次这样温文尔雅呢。而牧师呢——除去追寻已久的女性的关心之外,再没有这种孩子气的爱的表示更为甜蜜的了,由于这种爱发自精神本能,因此似乎是在暗示着,我们身上确实具有一些值得一爱的东西——此时他环顾四周,将一只手放在孩子的头上,迟疑了一会儿,然后吻了她的额头。小珠儿这种不寻常的温情脉脉到此为止,她放声笑着,朝大厅另一头轻捷地蹦跳而去,威尔逊老先生甚至怀疑,她的脚尖是否触到了地板。
  “这小姑娘准是有魔法附体,我敢说,”他对丁梅斯代尔先生说。“她根本用不着老女巫的笤帚就能飞行!”“没见过这样的孩子!”老罗杰·齐灵渥斯评论说。“很容易在她身上看出她母亲的素质。先生们,请你们想一想,耍分析这孩子的天性,要根据她的体态和气质来对她的父亲作出聪明的猜测,是不是超出了哲学家的研究范畴了呢?”
  “不;在这样一个问题上,要追踪非宗教的哲学的暗示,是罪过的,”威尔逊先生说。“最好还是靠斋戒和祈祷来解决吧;而最好的办法可能莫过于,留着这宗秘密不去管它,听凭天意自然地揭示好了。这样,每一个信奉基督的好男人,便都有权对这可怜的被遗弃的孩子,表示奖爱了。”
  这件事就此圆满地解决了,海丝特·白兰便带着珠儿离开了宅邸。在她们走下台阶的时候,据信有一间小屋的格子窗给打开了,西宾斯太大把头探出来,伸到阳光下,她是贝灵汉总督的姐姐,脾气古怪刻毒,就是她,在若干年之后,作为女巫面被处决了。
  “喂,喂!”她说,她那不祥的外貌象是给这座住宅的欣欣向荣的气氛投上了一层阴影。“你们今晚愿意同我们一道去吗?树林里要举行一次联欢,我已经答应过那黑男人,海丝特·白兰要来参加呢。”
  “请你替我向他抱歉吧!”海丝特带着凯旋的笑容回答说。“我得呆在家里,照顾好我的小珠儿。要是他们把她从我手中夺走,我也许会心甘情愿地跟你到树林里去,在黑男人的名册上也签上我的名字,而且还要用我的鲜血来签呢!”
  “我们下一次再在那儿见吧!”那巫婆皱着眉头说罢,就缩回了脑袋。
  如果我们假定,西宾斯太大和海丝特·白兰之间的这次谋面有根有据而并非比拟象征的话,那么,年轻牧师反对拆散一个堕落的母亲和因她的脆弱而诞生的女儿的论点,就已经得到了证明:这孩子早在此时就已挽救了她免坠撒旦的陷阱。
  --------------
  ①指詹姆斯一世,斯图亚特王朝的国王,1567年起为苏格兰壬,16O3年继伊丽莎白女王统治英国,
  ②《新约·马太福音》言,赦洛提王氏寿,以施洗礼着约翰之头盛于盘中,赏给舞姬汲莎罗美。
  ③l5和16世纪时圣诞节联欢活动中,招定监督嬉闹游戏的官员。
  ④《新约·启示录》云,巴比伦的卖淫妇身穿紫红色衣服。






九 医生

  读者会记得,在罗杰·齐灵渥斯的称呼背后,还隐藏着另一个姓名,原来叫那姓名的人下了决心再不让人提起。前面已经叙述过,在目睹海丝特·白兰示众的人群中,站着一个风尘仆仆的上了年纪的男人,他刚刚逃出危险的荒野,却看到体现着他所希冀的家庭温暖和欢乐的女人,在众人面前作为罪孽的典型高高站在那里。她那主妇的声名任凭所有的人践踏在脚下。在公共市场上,她周围泛滥着对她丑行的种种议论。若是这些浪潮传到她的亲属或是她身无暇疵时代的同伴那里,除去染上她的耻辱之外,别无其它!这种耻辱,会随原有关系的亲密和神圣程度,而严格成比例地在亲友中相应加以分配。那么,作为与这个堕落的女人关系最亲密和最神圣的一个人,既然他还有选挥的余地,何必前来公开要求这份并非求之不得的遗产呢?他决心不同她在那受辱台上并肩而立。由于除海丝特·白兰之外谁都不认识他,而且他还掌握着锁钥,让她缄口不言,他打定主意将自己的姓名从人类的名单上勾销;即使考虑到他原先的关系和利益,他也要从生活中彻底消失,就象他当真如早已风传的那样葬身海底了。这一目的一旦达到,就立刻涌现了新的利益,于是也就又有了新的目标;这个目标即使不是罪过的,也实在是见不得人的,但其力量之强,足以运用他的全部机能与精力去奋争。
  为了实现自己的决心,他以罗杰·齐灵漫斯的名义在这座清教徒城镇中居住下来,他毋须其它介绍,只消他所具备的异乎寻常的学识就成了。由于他的前半生对当时的医学科学作了广泛的研究,于是他就以所熟悉的医生这—行当为业、出现在这里,并且受到了热烈欢迎。当时在殖民地,精通内外科医术的人尚不多见。看来,医生们并不具备促使其他人飘洋过海的那种宗教热情。他们在深入钻研人体内部时,可能把更高明、更微妙的能力表现在物质上,错综复杂的人体机构令人惊诧,似乎其内部包含着全部生命,具备足够的艺术,从而对生命的存在丧失了精伸方面的看法。无论如何,波士顿这座美好城镇的健康,凡涉及医学二字的,以往全都置于一位年老的教会执事兼任药剂师的监督之下,他那驾信宗教的举止就是明证,比起靠一纸文凭配出的药剂,更能赢得人们的信赖。唯一的外科医生则是一位每日惯于操刀为人忙于理发的人,只是偶尔才实践一下这种高贵的技艺。与这两位同行相比,罗杰·齐灵渥斯成了夺目的新星。他很快就证明他对博大精深的古典医道了如指掌,其中每个偏方都含有许多四处接寻面来、形形色色的成分,其配制之精良,似是要获得长生不老药的效果。况且,在他被印第安人俘虏囚禁期间,又对当地的草药的性质掌握了大量的知识;他对病人毫不隐讳地说,大自然恩赐给那些未开化的野蛮入的这些简单药物,同众多博学的医生在试验室中花费了数世纪才积累起来的欧洲药典,几乎可以取得他本人同等的信任。
  人们认为,这位陌生的学者至少在宗教生活的表面形式上看,堪称楷模;他来到之后不久,就选定丁梅斯代尔牧师先生作他精神上的导师。这位年轻的圣徒在牛津始终享有学者般的声誊,他的最热心的崇拜者认为,在他的有生之年,只要他能为如今尚属无力的新英格兰教会做出象古代圣徒在基督教信仰初期所成就的那种伟业,便可与上天指定的使徒相提并论。然而,就在此时,丁梅斯代尔先生的健康开始明显地恶化。据那些最熟悉他日常生活的人说,这位年轻牧师的面颊之所以苍白,是因为他过分热衷于潜心研究学问和一丝不苟地完成教区的职守,尤其是为使粗鄙的世俗环境不致遮蔽他精神上的明灯,他经常彻夜不眠并施行斋戒。还有人宣称,如果丁梅斯代尔先生当真要死,无非是因为这个世界不配他的脚再在上面踩踏。反之,他本人则以他特有的谦逊申明他的信念:如果天意认为他应该离世,那就是因为他没有资格在这人世间执行其最卑微的使命。虽说对他健康每况愈下的原因众说纷纭,但事实却是不容质疑的。他身体日见消损,他的嗓畜虽仍然丰润而甜美,却含有某种预示衰颓的忧郁;人们时常观察到,每逢稍有惊恐或其它突发事件,他就会用手捂住心口,脸上一红一自,说明他很痛苦。
  这位青年牧师的身体就是这种状况,当罗杰·齐灵渥斯初到镇上的时候,情况已经相当危险,这年轻人的曙光眼见就要过早地殒灭了。齐灵渥斯首次登场时,谁也说不出所以然,简直象是从天而降或从地狱钻出,这就具有一种神秘色彩,从而很容易被夸大成奇迹。如今无人不晓他是一名医生!人们注意到他采集药草、摘取野花、挖掘植根,还从树上折取细校,常人眼中的无用之物,他似是熟知其隐含的价值。人们听到他提起坎奈姆·狄戈比爵士①和其他名人——他们的科学造诣简直被视作超自然的,但他却说是他的笔友或熟人。他既然在学术界地位如此之高,为什么要到这里来呢?他的天地理应在大城市,在这蛮荒野地中又能寻找到什么呢?为了回答这些疑问,于是就有了谣言的土壤,不管一些风传多么离奇,也为一些明智的人所接受:说是上天创造了一个绝对的奇迹,把一位著名的医学博士,从一所德意志大学里,凭空摄到了丁梅斯代尔先生书斋的门前。而一些具有更加聪慧的信仰的人明知,上天为实现其目的,不必求助于所谓奇迹的插曲来达到舞台效果,但也乐于看到罗杰·齐灵握斯是假上天之手才及时到来的。
  由于医生对年轻的牧师从一开始就显示出强烈的兴趣,上述想法就得到了鼓励;医生以一个教民随身份与他形影相随,并且想战胜他天性中的含蓄和敏感,来赢得他的友谊和信任。他对他的牧师的健康深为震惊,还急切地给予治疗,他认为,如果及早诊治的话,总不会不见疗效的。丁梅斯代尔先生教团中的长老、执事、修女,以及年轻貌美的少女们都众口一词地再三要求他对医生自告奋勇的治疗不妨一试。但丁梅斯代尔先生却委婉地拒绝了这些恳求。
  “我不需要医药,”他说。
  但这位年轻牧师怎么能这样讲呢?一个接一个安息日,他的面颊越来越苍白消瘦,他的声音也比先前更加颤抖,而且他用手捂心口的动作,已经从漫不经心的姿态变成时时都有的习惯了。是他厌倦了他的工作吗?是他想死吗?丁梅斯代尔先生一路受到波土顿的长老们如此的盘诘和他教堂中的执事们的——用他们自己的话说——“规劝”:上天如此明显地伸出救援之手,拒绝是有罪的。他默默不语地听着,终于答应和医生谈谈看。
  “如果这是上帝的意旨,”丁梅斯代尔牧师先生为了实现自己的诺言,向老罗杰·齐灵渥斯医生讨教时说,“我宁愿不要你为我的缘故来证明你医道精熟,我要满意地让我的辛劳、我的悲哀、我的罪孽和我的痛苦都尽快与我同归于尽,令其世俗部分埋在我的墓中,而将其精神部分随我同去永恒的境界。”
  “啊,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯说,不管是做作的还是天生的,他的举止总是安详得令人瞩目,“一个年轻的牧师确实喜欢这么讲话。年轻人啊,都还没有扎下深根呢,就这么轻易地放弃生命吗?在人世间和上帝同行的圣人们,都会欣然随他而去,定在新耶路撤冷的黄金铺路上的。”
  “不是的,”年轻的牧师插话说,他把手放在心口上,额上拣过一抹痛苦的红潮,“如果我还有资格到那里去走动的话,我倒宁愿留在这里来吃苦。”
  “好心的人从来都是把自己说得十分卑微的,”医生说。就这样,神秘的老罗杰·齐灵渥斯成了丁梅斯代尔牧师先生的健康顾问。这位医生不仅对疾病感到兴趣,而且还对他的病人的个性和品质严加窥测。这两个人虽然在年纪上相差悬殊,但逐渐共同消磨超更多的时间了。为了牧师的健康,而且也使医生能够收集具有奇效的植物,他俩在海滨、林间长时间散步,聆听海浪的低语与林涛的戾鸣。同样,他俩也时常到彼此的书斋和卧室中去作客。对牧师来说,这位科学家的陪伴中自有一种魅力,因为从他身上可以看出广博精深的知识修养,以及浩渺无际的自由观念——这在自己的同行中是万难找到的。事实上,他在医生身上发现了这些特色,即使没有引起震惊,也足以深感诧异。丁梅斯代尔先生是一个地道的牧师,一个真正的笃信宗教的人,他有高度发展的虔诚的感情和有力地推动着自身沿着信仰的道路前进的心境,而且会随着时间的流逝面日渐深入。无论在何种社会形态中,他都不会是那种所谓有自由见解的人;他总要感到周国有一种信仰的压力,才能心平气和,这信仰既支撑着他,又将他禁闭在其铁笼之中。然而当他放弃惯常采用的认识而换用另一种知识媒介来观察字宙时,他也确实感到一种偶然的舒畅,尽管这种喜悦之中仍带着几分震颤。犹如打开了一扇窗户,使一种更自由的气息得以进入那闭锁和窒人的书斋,而他通常就在这里的灯光或遮着的阳光之下,伴着从经书中散发出来的霉烂气味——不管是感官上还是道德上的,消耗看他的生命。但这破窗而入的空气又过于清冷,使他无法坦然地长久吸取。于是,牧师和陪伴他的医生只好再龟缩到他们的教会划为正宗的禁区之内。
  罗杰·齐灵渥斯就是这样仔细检查他的病人的:一方面,观察他的日常生活,看他在熟悉的思绪上所保持的惯常的途径,另一方面,也观察他被投入另一种道德境界时的表现,因为那种境界的新意可能唤起某些新东西浮出他性格的表面。看来,医生认为首先要了解其人,然后才能对症下药。凡有心智的东西,其躯体上的病痛必然染有心智上的特色。在阿瑟,丁梅斯代尔的身上,他的思维和想象力十分活跃,他的情感又是十分专注,他身体上的病症大概根源于此。于是,罗杰·齐灵渥斯,那位和善友好又技艺精湛的医生,就竭力深入他病人的心扉,挖掘于他的准则之中,探询着他的记忆,而且如同一个在黑暗的洞穴中寻找宝藏的人一样,小心翼翼地触摸每一件东西。象他这样一个得到机会和特许来从事这种探索,而且又有熟巧将其进行下去的调查人,很少有秘密能逃过他的眼睛。一个荷有秘密的人应该特别避免与医生亲密相处。假如那医生有天生的洞察力,还有难以名状的某种能力——我们姑且称之为直觉吧,假如他没有流露出颐指气使的唯我独尊,他自己又没有鲜明的难以相处的个性,假如他生来就有一种与病人脉脉相通鲍能力,借此使病人丧失警觉,以致自言自语地说出心中所想的事,假如他平静地听到这些表白,只是偶尔用沉默无声的同情,用自然而然的喘息,以及间或的一两个字眼,表示充分的理解,假如在一个可信赖的人的这些品格上加上他那医生身分所提供的有利条件——那么,在某些难以避免的时刻,患者的灵魂便会融解,在一个黑暗而透明的小溪中涓涓向前,把全部隐私带到光天化日之下。
  上述这些特色,罗杰·齐灵渥斯全部或者大部分具备。然面,随着时间的流逝,如我们所说,在这两个有教养的头脑之间发展起了亲密无间的关系,他们有如同人类思维与研究的整个领域那么广阔的地带可以交汇;他们讨论涉及伦理和宗教、公共事业和私人性格的各种题目;他们就似乎涉及两人自己私事的问题大量交谈;然而医生想象中肯定存在的那种隐私,却始终没有溜出牧师的意识传进他的同伴的耳中。的确,医生怀疑连丁梅斯代尔先生身体痼疾的本质都从来没有坦率地泄露给他。这种含蓄实在是太奇特了!
  过了一段时间,在罗杰·齐灵渥斯的暗示之下,丁梅斯代尔先生的朋友们作出安排,让他俩同住在一栋房子里;这样,牧师生活之潮的每一个起落都只能在他的这位形影相随的热心医生的眼皮底下发生。这一众望所瞩的目的达到之后,举镇欢腾。人们认为,这是有利于年轻牧师的最好的可行措施。除非,当真如某些自认为有权威的人所一再催促的那样,他从那众多的如花似玉、在精神上崇拜他的年轻姑娘当中选择一位充当他忠实的妻子。然而,目前尚无迹象表明阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔已经屈从众愿采取这一步骤;他对这类建议一概加以拒绝,仿佛僧侣的独身主义是他教会规章中的一项条款。因此,既然丁梅斯代尔先生明显地作了这种选择,他就注定耍永远在别人的饭桌上吃无味的配餐,除去在别人的炉火旁取暖之外,只有忍受终生寒冷的份;看来,这位洞察一切、经验丰富、慈爱为本的老医生,以父兄般的关怀和教民的敬爱对待这年轻的牧师,确实是全人类中与他如影随形的最恰当的人选了。
  这两位朋友的新居属于一个虔信宗教的寡妇,她有着不错的社会地位,她这所住宅所占的地皮离后来修建的王家教堂相距不远,一边有一块墓地,就是原先艾萨克·约翰逊的旧宅,这里易于唤起严肃认真的回忆,很适合牧师和医生双方各自的职业。那好心肠的寡妇,以慈母般的关怀,分配丁梅斯代尔先生住在前室,那里有充分的阳光,还有厚实的窗帘,如果愿意的话,中午也可把房间遮得十分幽暗。四壁悬挂着据说是戈白林②织机上织出的织锦,不管真假,上面确实绣着《圣经》上面所记载的大卫、拔示巴和预言者拿单的故事③,颜色尚未褪掉,可惜画中的美妇简直如那宣告灾难的预言者一样面目可憎了。面色苍白的牧师在这里摞起他的丰富藏书,其中有对开桑皮纸精装本的先哲们的著作、拉比④们记下的传说、以及许多僧院的考证——对这类文献,请教教士们尽管竭力诋毁,却不得不备作不时之需。在住宅的另一侧,老罗杰·齐灵渥斯布置下他的书斋和实验室;在一位现代科学家看来,连勉强齐备都称不上,但总还有一个蒸馏釜及一些配药和化验的设备,都是这位惯于实验的炼丹术士深知如何加以利用的。有了这样宽敞的环境,这两位学者便在各自的房间里坐了下来,不过经常不拘礼节地互访,彼此怀着好奇心观察另一个人的事情。
  我们已经提及,阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔牧师那些最明智的朋友于是便顺理成章地认为,是上天接受了人们在公开场合、在家中以及私下的许多祈祷,才安排了这一切,以达到恢复年轻牧师健康的目的。但是,我们现在必须说明的是,后来另外一部分居民开始对丁梅斯代尔先生和那神秘的老医生之间的关系持有异议了。当没有受过教育的人们试图用自己的眼光来看问题时,是极其容易上当的。不过,当他们通常凭自己伟大面温暖的心胸的直觉来形成自己的判断时,他们的结论往往深刻无误,具有超自然表象的真理的特征。就我们所谈的这些人而论,他们对罗杰,齐灵渥斯的偏见,其事实或理由都不值认真一驳。有一个上年纪的手艺人,在三十多年以前托玛斯·奥佛白利爵士⑤被害的时代,确曾是伦敦的一个市民;他出面证明说,他曾经看见这位医生——当时叫的是另外一个名字,笔者如今已经忘了,陷着那位著名的老术士福尔曼博士⑥,而那个老博士涉嫌与奥佛白利被害一事有关。还有两三个人暗示说,这位医术高明的人在被印第安人俘获的时期,曾经参与野蛮人法师的念咒活动,以此来增加其医学上的造诣;那些印第安法师的法力无边,这是众所周知的,他们时常用邪门歪道奇迹艇地把人治好。还有一大批人——其中不少都是头脑拎静、观察务实的,他们在别的事情上:的见解一向颇有价值——肯定地说,罗杰·齐灵渥斯自从在镇上定居,尤其是和丁梅斯代尔先生伙居一宅以来,外貌上发生了明显的变化。起初,他外表安详而沉思,一派学者模样;而如今,他的险上有一种前所末见的丑陋和邪恶,而且他们对他看得越多,那丑陋和邪恶就变得越明显。按照一种粗俗的说法,他实验室中的火来自下界,而且是用炼狱的柴薪来燃烧的;因此,理所当然地,他的面孔也就给那烟熏得越来越黑了。
  总而言之,有一种广为流传的看法,认为阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔牧师和基督教世界各个时期特别圣洁的许多其他人一样,脑海中萦绕着的不是撒旦本人,就是扮作老罗杰·齐灵渥斯的撒旦的使者。这个恶魔的代理人获得神圣的特许,在一段时问里,钻入牧师的内心,阴谋破坏他的灵魂。人们断言,任何有理智的人都不会怀疑哪一方会得到胜利。人们都怀着不可动摇的希望,等着看到牧师焕发着必胜的荣光,走出这场争斗。然而,一想到他为了赢得胜利而在挣扎中所经受的致命的折磨,同时又令人神伤。
  天啊!从这可怜的牧师眼睛深处的阴郁和恐怖来判断,这场争斗极其剧烈,而且远不能说胜利在握。
  -------------
  ①狄戈比爵士(1603一1685),英国作家、航海家和外交家,皇家学会理事。他还发现了植物对氧的需要。
  ②15世纪时法国的一著名染织家族所建的同名织锦及壁毯场。
  ③《旧约·撤母耳记下》言,以色列王大卫杀死乌利亚,并夺其美妻拔示巴,面拿单则预言大卫必自取其祸。
  ④犹太教教士,基督教的诞生与古犹太教有渊源,战古犹太教拉比的著述有基督教古文献价值。
  ⑤奥佛白利爵士(1581一1613)英国诗人和散文家后因反对其恩主之婚姻,被投入伦敦塔监禁,并被慢性毒药毒死,
  ⑥福尔曼博士(Drrorman),生平不详,可能是作者假托的人物。






十 医生和病人

  老罗杰·齐灵渥斯一生中都是个脾气平和的人,他虽无温暖的爱,但却心地慈悲,而且在涉及同各方面的关系时,始终是一个纯粹而正直的人。照他自己的想象,他是以一个法官的同等的严峻与公正来开始一次调查的,他只向往真理,简直把间题看得既不包含人类的情感,也不卷入个人的委屈,完全如同几何学中抽象的线和形一般。但在他着手进行这一调查的过程中,一种可怕的迷惑力,一种尽管依然平静、却是猛烈的必然性,却紧紧地将这老人攫在自己的掌握之中,而且在他未完成它的全部旨意之前。绝不肯将他放松。如今,他象一个矿工搜寻黄金似的掘进这可怜的牧师鲍内心:或者更确切地说,象一个掘葱人挖进一座坟墓,可能原指望找到陪葬在死者胸部的珠宝。结果却除去死尸及腐烂之外一无所获。假若那里果真有他要我的东西的话,天啊,让我们为他自己的灵魂哀叹吧!
  有时候,从医生的眼中闪出一线光芒,象是炉火映照似的,燃着蓝幽幽的不祥之光,或者我们也可以说,象是班扬那山边可怕的门洞中射出、在朝圣者的脸上跳动着的鬼火的闪光①。那是因为这个阴沉的矿工所挖掘的土地中刚好显露了鼓励他的一些迹象。
  “这个人,”他在一次这种场合中自言自语说,“尽管人们相信他很纯洁,尽管他看来极其高尚神圣,但他从他父亲或母亲身上继承了一种强烈的兽性。让我们沿着这一矿脉再向前掘进一点吧!”
  之后,他就对这位牧师的幽暗的内心加以长时间的搜寻,翻出了许多宝资的东西,都是由思想和钻研而强化的、由天启而燃亮的,诸如对灵魂的热爱、纯洁的情操、自然的虔诚等等,均以对人类的福祉的高尚志向为其形式——然而这一切无价之宝于那位探矿人无异于一堆废物——他只好沮丧地转回身来,朝着另一个方向开始寻求。他鬼鬼祟祟,左顾右盼,小心翼翼地向前探索,犹如一个偷儿进入一间卧室,想去窃取主人视如服珠的宝物,而主人却躺在那里半睡半醒——或者可能还大睁着眼睛。尽管他事先策划周密,但地板会不时吱嘎作响,他的衣服也会细碎有声。而且到了,近在咫尺的禁地,他的身影也会投射到被窃人的身上。另一方面,丁梅斯代尔先生的敏感的神经时常会产生一种精神直觉的功效,他会模模糊糊地意识到,对他的平静抱有敌意的某种东西已经同他发生了关联。面老罗杰·齐灵渥斯也具备近乎直觉的感知能力;当牧师向他投来惊恐的目光时,医生就会坐在那里,成了关切和同情牧师的好心朋友,绝不打探他的隐私了。
  而丁梅斯代尔先生如果没有病人常有的某种病态,以致对整个人类抱着猜疑的态度的话,他或许会对此人的品性看得更充分些。由于他不把任何人视为可信赖的朋友,故此当敌人实际上已出现时,仍然辨认不出。所以,他依旧同老医生:随意倾谈,每天都在书斋中接待他;或者到他的实验室去拜访他,并且出于消遣的目的,在一旁观看他如何把药草制成有效的药剂。
  一天,他用一只手支着前额,肘部垫在朝坟墓开着的窗子的窗台上,同罗杰·齐灵渥斯谈话,那老人正在检看一簇难看的植物。
  “在哪儿,”他斜眼看着那簇植物开口问道——最近牧师有个特点,他很少直视任何东西,不管是人还是无生命的——“我好心的朋友,你在哪儿搜集到的这些药草,叶子这么黝黑松软?”“在这跟前的坟地里就有,”医生一边继续干他的活,一边回答。“我以前还没见过这种草。我是在一座坟墓上发现的。那座坟上没有墓碑,除去长着这种丑陋的野草也没有其它东西纪念死者。这种草是从死者的心里长出来的,或许是显示了某种随同死者一起埋葬的隐私,要是能在生前公开承认就好了。”“也可能,”丁梅斯代尔先生说,“他诚心诚意地切望如此,但他办不到。”
  “那又为什么呢?”医生接口说。“既然一切自然力量都这么诚挚地要求仟侮罪过,连这些黑色杂草都从死者的心中生长出来,宣布了一桩没有说出口的罪行,为什么办不到呢?”
  “这样解释,好先生,不过是你自己的想象,”牧师答道。“如果我的预感不错的话,除去上天的仁慈,没有什么力量,无论是通过讲出来的语言或是任何形式的标志,能够揭示可能埋在一个人心里的秘密。那颗因怀有这种秘密而有负罪感的心,也就此必然将秘密保持下去,直到一切隐秘的事情都要予以揭示的那一天。就我阅读和宣讲的《圣经》而论,我并不认为,人们的思想和行为到了非揭示不可的时刻,就一定是一种报应。这种看法确实是非常肤浅的。绝非如此;除非我的见解根本不对,我认为这种揭示仅仅意昧着促使一切智者在知识上的满足,他们将在那一天立等看到人生中的阴暗问题得以揭示;需要有一种对人心的知识来彻底解决那一问题。何况,我还设想,如你所说的那种怀有这些痛苦的隐私的心,到了最后那一天非袒露不可的时候,不是不情愿的,倒是带着一种难言的愉快的。”
  “那么,何必不及时说出来呢?”罗杰·齐灵渥斯平静地斜睨着牧师说。“有负罪感的人为什么不尽早地让自己获得这种难言的慰藉呢?”
  “他们大多能这么做,”牧师一边说着,一边紧紧捂住自己的心口,象是有揪心的疼痛纠缠着他。“许许多多可怜的灵魂向我作过仟悔,不仅是在生命弥留的病倔上,而且也在精力旺盛、名声良好的时刻。何况,我还亲眼看到,在作了这样一番倾诉之后,那些负罪的兄弟们有多么轻松!就象是被自己污浊的呼吸长时间窒息之后,终于吸进了自由的空气。还能是别的情况吗?一个倒霉的人,比如说犯了谋杀罪吧,怎么可能宁愿把死尸埋在自己心中,而不肯把尸体马上抛出去,听凭世界去安排呢!”“然而,有些人就是这样埋葬着自己的秘密的,”那安详的医生评论着。
  “确实;有这种人,”丁梅斯代尔先生回答说。“不过,不必去设想更加明显的原因,我们就可以说,他们之所以缄口不言,正是出于他们的本性。或者——我们能不能这样假设呢?——他们尽管有着负罪感,然而却保持着对上帝的荣光和人类的福扯的热情,他们畏畏缩缩,不肯把自己的阴暗和污秽展现在人们眼前;因为,如此这般一来,是做不出任何善举的,而且,以往的邪恶也无法通过改过来赎罪。于是,他们默默忍受着难言曲折磨,在同伴中走来走去,表面象新落下的雪一般地纯洁,而内心却沾满了无法洗刷的斑痕。”
  “这些人在自欺,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯用异乎寻常的强调口吻说,还伸出食指轻轻比了一下。“他们不敢于接受理应属于他们自己的耻辱。他们对人类的爱,他们为上帝服务的热忱——这种种神圣的冲动在他们的内心中,或者可以或者无法同邪恶的伙伴同处共存,然而这些邪恶的伙伴既是他们的罪孽开门放进来的,就必然会在他们心中繁衍起一个魔鬼的种籽。不过,要是他们追求为上帝增辉添光,那就不要把肮脏的双手朝天举起吧!要是他们想为同伴们服务,那就先强制自己仟悔他们的卑下,以表明良心的力量和存在吧!噢,明智和虔诚的朋友,你难道让我相信,虚伪的表现比起上帝自己的真理能够对上帝的荣光和人类的福扯更有好处吗?相信我吧,这种人是在自欺!”
  “可能是这样的,”年轻的牧师谈淡地说,象是放弃了这个他认为不相干和没道理的讨论。的确,他总有一种本领,能够随时摆脱使他那过于敏感和神经质的气质激动起来的任何话题。“不过,目前嘛,我例要向我的技艺高超的医生讨教一下,他对我的赢弱的体格的好心关照,是否当真叫我获益了呢?”
  罗杰·齐灵渥斯还没有来得及回答,就听到从邻近的墓地里传来了一个小孩子的清澈而狂野的笑声。当时正是夏天,牧师不自主地从打开的窗子向外面望去,看到海丝特.白兰和小珠儿在穿越围栏的小径上走着。珠儿的模样如白昼一般美丽,但处于那种调皮任性的兴致之中,每当此刻,她便象完全脱离了人性的共鸣与交往的范围。此时她正大不敬地从一个坟墓跳到另一个坟墓;终于来到一位逝去的大人物——说不定正是艾萨克,约翰逊本人——的宽大、平整、带纹章的墓石跟前,在那上面跳起舞来。听到她母亲又是命令又是恳求地要她放规矩些,小珠儿才不再跳舞,从长在墓旁的一株高大的牛蒡上采集多刺的果实。她摘了满满一把之后,便在缀在母亲胸前的红字周围,沿着笔画一一插满,这些带刺的牛蒡便牢牢地扎在上面了。海丝特并没有把它们取下。
  罗杰·齐灵渥斯这时已走到窗前,面带狞笑地向下望着。“在那孩子的气质中,根本没有法律,没有对权威的敬重,对于人类的法令或意向,不管正确与否,也不屑一顾,”他这样讲着,与其说是在同他的同伴谈话,倒更象是自言自语。“有一天,我看到她在春巷的畜槽边,竟然往总督身上泼水。我的天,她究竟是个什么东西呢?这小鬼是不是彻头彻尾地邪恶了?她有感情吗?在她身上能看到什么人性原则吗?”
  “完全没有——只有把法律破坏得支离破碎的自由,”丁梅斯代尔先生回答说,其态度之安详,简直象是对此自问自答。“至于能否为善,我可就不得而知了。”
  那孩子可能是远远听到了他俩的声音;因为她抬头看着窗户,面带欢快而聪明的顽皮笑容,朝丁梅斯代尔牧师先生扔上一颗带刺的牛蒡。那敏感的牧师怀着神经质的恐惧,将身子一缩,躲开了那轻飘的飞弹。珠儿发现了他的激动,在极度狂喜之中,拍起了小手。海丝特.白兰也同样禁不住始眼来看;于是这老老少少四个人便默默地互相瞅着;后来,孩子出声笑了,还大叫着——“走吧,妈妈!走吧,要不,那老黑人就抓住你了!他已经抓住了牧师。走吧,妈妈,要不他就抓住你了!可他抓不住小珠儿!”
  于是她在死者的坟墓间蹦蹦跳跳,欢快雀跃地拽着她母亲走开了,她那出奇的劲头似乎说明她与那逝去并埋葬的一代毫无共同之处,也不承认她自己与他们同属一个族类。仿佛她是由新元素刚刚做成的,因此必得获准去过她自身的生活,并自有其定法,面不能将她的怪异看作是一种罪过。
  “那边走着一个妇人,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯停了一会儿后接着说,“她不论有什么过错,绝不会被你认为如此难以忍受的隐蔽着的负罪感所左右。你看,海丝特·白兰是不是胸前佩戴了那红字,就不那么痛苦了呢?”
  “我的确十分相信这一点,”牧师回答说。“不过我无法为她作答。她面孔上有一种痛楚的表情,那是我不情愿看到的。话说回来,我认为,一个受折磨的人能够象这可怜的妇人海丝特这样,有自由来表达自己的痛苦,总比全都闷在心里要强。”又是一阵停顿;医生开始重新动手检查和整理他采集来的植物。
  “刚才你在问我,”他终于开口说,“我对你的健康有何看法。”
  “是啊,”牧师回答说,“我很乐于听一听。我请你坦率地讲出来,不管我是该活还是该死。”’
  “那我就坦率直陈吧,”医生说着,一边仍然忙着摆弄他那些药草,一边始终不动声色地睨视着丁梅斯代尔先生,“你的身体失调很奇怪,症候本身并不严重,也不象表现出来的那样厉害——到目前为止,至少我所观察到的症状是如此。我的好先生,我每日都在观察你,注意你的表象,如今已经有几个月过去了,我应该说你是一个病得很重的人,不过也还没有病到连一个训练有素而且克尽职守的医生都感到无望和不治的地步。可是——我不知道说什么才是——这病我似乎知道,可又不明白。”
  “你是在打哑谜,博学的先生,”牧师斜瞥着窗外说。
  “那我就说得再明确些,”医生继续说,“出于我谈话所不得不有的坦率,我要请你原谅,先生——如果看来确实需要的话。作为你的朋友——作为受命于天,对你的生命和身体健康负有责任的人,我来问问你,你是否已经把你的全部症状暴露给我并向我详加说明了呢?”
  “你怎么能这样盘问呢?”牧师问道。“的确,请来医生,却又向他隐瞒病情,岂不成了儿戏嘛!”
  “那么,你就是说,我已经全部了然了?”罗杰,齐灵渥斯故意这样说着,同时用透着精明的炯炯目光盯着牧师的面孔。“但愿如此吧!不过,我还是要说!只了解病症表象的人;通常也不过只掌握了要他医治的疾病的一半症状。一种由体上的疾病,我们以为是全部症状了,其实呢,很可能只是精神上某种失调的征候。如果我的话有丝毫冒犯的话,我的好先生,就再次请你原谅。先生,在我所认识的一切人当中,你的肉体同你的精神,可啤说是最相融熔、合二而一的了,对你而言,身体不过是精神的工具罢了。”
  “这样看来,我就不必多问了,”牧师说着,有点匆忙地从椅子上站起身。“我是这样理解的,你并不经营治疗灵魂的药物!”
  “这就是说,一种疾病,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯用原先的语气继续侃侃而谈,似乎没有留意刚才的话被打断了——只是站起身来,把自己那矮小、黝黑和畸形的身体面对着形容憔悴、双颊苍白的牧师——“如果我们能这么叫的话,你精神上的一种疾病,一处痛楚,会立即在你肉体上出现恰如其分的反应。因此,你能叫你的医生只诊治你肉体上的病症吗?你要是不肯首先向他袒示你灵魂上的创伤或烦恼,他又怎能对症下药呢?”
  “我不!——不会对你说!——我不会对一个世俗的医生讲的!”丁梅斯代尔先生激动地叫喊起来,同时把他那双瞪得又圆又亮、带着一种恶狠狠目光的眼睛,转向老罗杰·齐灵渥斯。“我不会对你说的!不过,果真我得的是灵魂上的疾病,那我就把自己交给灵魂的唯一的医生!只要他高兴,他可以治愈我,也可以杀死我!让他以他的公正和智慧,随心所欲地处置我吧。然而,你算什么?竟要来插一手?——竟敢置身于受磨难的人和他的上帝之间?”
  他作了个发狂般的姿势,便冲出屋去了。
  “迈出这一步倒也好,”罗杰·齐灵涯斯望着牧师的背影,阴沉地一笑,自言自语地说。“一无所失。我们很快还会重新成为朋友的。不过看看吧,如今,激情如何完全左右了这个人,让他无法自主了!这种激情能如此,另一种激情当然也一样!这位。虚诚的丁梅斯代尔牧师,以前也曾在他内心热烈的激情的驱使之下,于出过荒唐事的!”
  事实证明,在这两个伙伴之间,同以往一样,在同一基础上重建同一程度的亲密关系,并不困难。年轻的牧师经过数小时独处之后,意识到自己神经的失调促使他出现了不自觉的大发脾气,其实,从医生的言谈话语之中丝毫找不出为自己辩解或掩饰的借口。他确实为自己对那善良的老人粗暴的发泄感到惊讶,人家不过是在尽职尽责地忠言相劝,何况也正是牧师他本人所求之不得的呢;他怀着懊悔不选曲心情,迫不及待地去向医生赔礼道歉,并请他这位朋友继续为他诊治,即使没有成功地恢复他的健康,但总算把他的病弱之躯维系到目前嘛。罗杰.齐灵渥斯欣然同意,并继续为牧师进行医疗监督;他诚心诚意地尽力而为,但在每次诊视之后,总要在嘴上带着神秘而迷惑的笑意,离开病人的房间。医生的这一表情在丁梅斯代尔先生面前是看不出的,但他穿过前厅时就变得十分明显了。
  “一种罕见的病例!”他喃喃地说。“我一定要更深入地观察。这是灵魂和肉体之间一种奇妙的共鸣!即使仅仅出于医术的缘故,我也要穷根究底!”
  就在上述那场面发生之后不久的一天正午,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生毫不知觉地陷入了沉睡之中,他坐在椅子上,前面的桌上摊开一大本黑皮的书卷。那准是一部催眠派文献中卓有功效的作品。象牧师这样的深沉酣睡,尤其值得注意,因为他属于那种通常睡眠极轻、时断时续,如同在嫩枝上雀跃的小鸟般极易受惊的人。无论如何,他这种非同寻常的酣睡,已经让他的精神完全收缩到自己的天地,以致当老罗杰。齐灵渥斯并没有特别蹑手蹑脚地走进他的房间时,他居然没有在椅子里惊动一下。医生直接走到他的病人跟前,把手放在牧师的胸口,扯开到目前为止连诊视时都没解开过的法衣;
  此时,丁梅斯代尔先生确实抖了抖,微微一动。
  那医生稍停一会儿,就转身走了。
  然而,他却带有一种多么狂野的惊奇、欢乐和恐惧的表情网!事实上,他的那种骇人的狂喜,绝不仅仅是由跟睛和表情所能表达的,因之要从他整个的丑陋身躯进发出来,他将两臂伸向天花板,一只脚使劲跺着地面,以这种非同寻常的姿态来益发放纵地表现他的狂喜!若是有人看到老罗杰·齐灵渥斯此时的忘乎所以,他就不必去询问:当一个宝贵的人类灵魂失去了天国,堕入撤旦的地狱之中时,那魔王该如何举动了。
  不过,那医生的狂喜同撒旦的区别在于,其中尚有惊奇的成分!
  -----------
  ①这是英国作家约翰·班扬(1628一1688)在其代表作《天路历程》中所写的作者梦中所见。






十一 内心

  在上面描述的那件事之后,牧师和医生间的交往,虽然表面上同原先没什么两样,但却具有了不同的性质。罗杰·齐灵渥斯的思路如今变得十分平坦了。的确,那倒不一定就是他要追寻的途径。他虽然表面上平静、温和、不动感情,然而我们却担心,在这个不幸的老人心中至今仍深深埋藏着的恶毒,此时却要活跃起来,从而会引导他想象出超乎常人的更直接的向敌人复仇的手段。他把自己装扮成那人的可信赖的朋友,让对方向他吐露一切恐惧、自责、烦恼、徒劳的懊悔、回潮的负罪感,而且丝毫不能苟且!那些向世界隐瞒着的一切内疚,本可以获得世界的博大心胸的怜悯和原谅的,如今却要揭示给他这个毫无怜悯心的人,给他这个不肯原谅人的人!那珍藏着的一切隐私,竟然滥施给这样一个人,最最恰如其分地让他得偿复仇之夙债。
  由于牧师生性羞赧和敏感,他的沉默寡言与自我克制阻遏了这一阴谋的得逞。然而,罗杰·齐灵渥斯对事态如此进展,几乎投有表现出什么不满,因为上天既然要改变他的阴险手段,天意对复仇者和他的牺牲者自有一定安排,或许就是要原谅本来罪责当罚的人。他几乎可以说,他已获得一个启示,至于这一启示是来自上苍,抑或其它什么地方,对他的目标来说,并不足道;由于有这启示之助,在他同丁梅斯代尔先生随后的关系中,不仅牧师外表的言行举止,而且连牧师最深藏的灵魂,似乎都一一展现在他的眼前,致使他能看清和理解牧师每时每刻的变化。这样,他在那可怜的牧师的内心世界中,就不仅是个旁观者,而且成了一名主要演员了。他可以随心所欲地利用牧师。他要引起牧师一阵痛苦的悸动吗?那牺牲者反正永远处于遭受煎熬的状态;只消知道控制引擎的弹簧就成了,而医生对此恰擒了如指掌!他要让牧师因突来的恐惧而大惊失色吗?他只消象一个魔法师一般把魔杖一挥,就会升起一个面目可怖的幽灵——升起数以千计的幽灵——以千奇百怪的死亡或更加可怖的外形,全都聚在牧师周围,手指直戳他的胸膛!
  这一切都完成得十分巧妙诡秘,牧师虽时常模糊地感到有某个邪恶的势力在死死盯住自己不放,却从未能明了其实质。的确,他望着那老医生的畸形身躯时是满怀疑虑和恐惧的——有时甚至带有仇恨的刻毒和厌恶。在牧师的眼中,那医生的姿态和步法,他的灰白胡须,他的最轻微和最无关紧要的动作,乃至他袍服的那种样式,都是可憎的;在牧师的心中,本有一种对他更深的反感,这原是不言而喻的,但牧师却不肯承认。因为,既然不可能为这种怀疑和厌恶找到理由,而且明知一处病灶的毒素正在侵染他的整个心脏,于是丁梅斯代尔先生也就不把他的一切不样预感归咎于其它了。他自责不该对罗杰.齐灵渥斯抱有反感,并忽略了本应从这种反感中吸取的教训,却竭力来根除这种反感。尽管他无法做到这一点,却遵循一般原则,继续保持他和那老人的亲密交往,从而不断为对方提供实现他目的的机会——那可怜而孤凄的老人,着实比他的牺牲品更加不幸——为达此目的,那复仇者已经倾尽全力了。
  就在丁梅斯代尔牧师先生饱尝肉体上疾病的痛苦,备受精神上某种阴险的烦恼的折磨,还要听凭他的死敌的诡计的摆布的期间,他在他的圣职上却大放异彩,广受欢迎。事实上,他在很大程度上是靠他的悲伤才获得这一切的。他的智慧的天赋,他在道德上的感知,他经受和表达感情的能力,都是由于他在日常生活中所受的刺痛,才得以保持一种异乎寻常的状态的。他的名声虽然仍处于上升阶段,却已超过了他的同行,其中有好几位还颇有声望。他们中间有些学者在神学领域中追求深奥的学识所花费的岁月,比丁梅斯代尔先生的年纪还要长;因此完全可能比他们的小兄弟取得更加扎实和更有价值的成就。也有些人比他具备更坚强的心地,富于更多的机敏和如钢铁或岩石般坚定的理解力;如果再加之适量的教义的交融,就会形成一种极受尊敬、颇有效验又高高在上的牧师的典型。还有一些人是地道的神父,他们的官能由于刻苦钻研书籍和冷静耐心的思考面变得精细复杂,尤其由于同美好世界的精神交流而变得虚无飘渺,他们虽仍寄生于必死的皮囊之中,但他们神圣的自身几乎已经由于纯净的生活而被引入那美好世界中去了。他们所唯一缺乏的,只是在圣灵降临节①时天赐绘特选圣徒们的天才,即火焰的舌头②;这象征着的似乎不是运用外国的和人所不晓的语言演讲的能力,而是以心灵中的方言对全体人类兄弟讲话的能力。这些本来可以成为圣徒的神父们,缺乏的就是上天赐给他们行使职务的最后也是最难得的一个资格,即伞焰的舌头。他们即使确曾梦想过运用日常语言和譬喻这种最普通的媒介来表达最崇高的真理的能力,然而他们的这种追求也是徒劳的。他们的声音发自他们惯处的高位,听来遥远而模糊不清。
  丁梅斯代尔先生出于他自身性格的许多特点,自然无疑地本应属于这最后一类人的。他原可攀上信仰和圣洁的巅峰,司借由于身负重荷——管它是罪孽呢还是痛苦呢,这一趋势受到了阻挠,如今注定要瞒硼而行了。这重荷将他压到最底层;他本是今颇具灵性的人,他的声音本来连天使都会来路听和应答的!然而,正是由于这一重荷,他才能够同人类的负罪的兄弟们有如此同气相求的共鸣,佼他的心能够同他们的心谐振,使他的心能够接受他们的痛楚,并把他的心悸的痛楚用洋洋洒洒的悲切和动人心弦的辞令传送给成千上万颗这样的心。他的辞令通常都能打动人心,但有时也让人心惊肉跳!人们并不知晓他何以有如此动人的能力。他们一心认为这年轻的牧师是神圣的奇迹。他们把他想象成传达上天智慧、谴责和博爱的代言人。在他们的心目中,他脚踏的地面都是圣洁的。他教堂中的处女们,围在他身边,一个个变得面色苍白,成了情欲的牺牲品,她们的情欲中渗透着宗教的情调,连她们自己都认为纯属宗教激情,将其公然收进自己洁白的心胸,作为在祭坛前最该接受的祭品。他的教众中的年长者,眼见丁梅斯代尔先生身体如此赢弱,尽管他们自己也深受病弱之苦,却相信他一定会先他们面赴天堂,遂谆谆嘱告他们的儿女;一定要把他们的老骨头葬在他们年轻牧师的神圣坟墓近旁。而就在可怜的丁梅斯代尔先生虑及他的坟墓的时候,或许一直在扪心自问:既然墓中葬着一个可诅咒的东西,那坟上还会不会长出青草!
  公众对他的景仰是如何折磨着他,那痛苦是难以想见的!他的真诚的冲动就在于崇尚真理,并把缺乏以神圣本质为其生命的一切生物,视为阴影,从而否定其份量或价值。如此说来,他自己又是什么呢?是一种实体呢,抑或只是所有阴影中最昏暗的一个?他渴望从他自己的布道坛上,用最高亢的声音说话,告诉大家他是什么。“我,你们目睹身着牧师黑袍的这个人;我,登上神圣的讲坛,将苍白的面孔仰望上天,负责为你们向至高无上的、无所不知的上帝传达感情的人;我,你们将其日常生活视如以诺③般圣洁的人;我,你们以为在其人间旅途上踏—下的印痕会放出光明,指引朝圣者能随之步入天国的人;我,亲手为你们的孩子施洗的人;我,为你们弥留的朋友们诵念临终祈祷,让他们隐隐听到从已经告别的世上传来“阿门”之声的人;我,你们如此敬仰和信赖的牧师,却是一团污浊,一个骗子!”
  丁梅斯代尔先生不只一次在登上布道坛时打定主意,不把上述这番话说出来,就不再走下来。他不只一次清好喉咙,颤抖着深吸一日长气,准备在再度吐气的同时,把他灵魂深处的阴暗秘密装上,一吐为快。他不只一次——应该说不只上百次——已经实际上这样说了!说出来了!可是又如何呢?他一再告诉他的听众,他是个彻头彻尾的卑鄙小人,是最卑鄙的人当中尤为卑鄙的一个伙伴,是最恶劣的一个罪人,一个令人憎恶的货色,是一个难以想象的邪恶之物;而唯一奇怪的是:他们竟然看不见,他那肮脏的肉体已经被全能的上帝的怒火所焚,在他们的眼前枯萎了!难道还能有比这番话说得更明白的吗?人们难道不该在一时冲动中从座位上站起身来,把他从被他玷污的布道坛上技下来吗?设出现过这种事,当真没有!他们全都听进了耳朵,但他们都对他益发敬重。他们绝少去猜疑,在他那番自我谴责的言辞中潜藏着多么殊死的涵义。“这位神圣的青年!”他们彼此喁喁私语。“这位人间的圣者!天哪!既然他在自己洁白的灵魂中都能觉察出这样的罪孽,那他在你我心中又会看到多么骇人的样子呢!”牧师深知这一切——他是一个多么难以捉摸又懊悔不迭的伪君子啊!——他深知他那含糊其词的仟悔在人们心目中是一种什么反映。他竭力想把自己负罪的良心公之于众来自欺,但赢得的却仅仅是另一种罪孽,以及自知之耻,面毫无片刻的自欺之宁。他说的本来都是真情实话,结果却变成了弥天大谎。然而,他天生热爱真理,厌恶谎言,为旁人所不及。因此,他厌恶不幸的自我尤胜其它!
  他内心的烦恼,驱使着他的行动坐卧与古老腐败的罗马天主教的信条暗相啮合,反倒背离了自他生来便哺育他的新教的较好的灵光。在丁梅斯代尔先生深锁的密室中,有一条血淋淋的刑鞭。这位新教和清教的牧师,时常一边对自己苦笑,一边鞭打自己的肩膀,而随着那苦笑,就鞭打得更加无情。他也象许多别的虔诚的清教徒一样,有斋戒的习惯——不过,别人斋戒是为了净化肉体,使之更适合于天光照耀,他的斋戒则不同,他严格地当作一种自我惩罚,直到双膝在下面颤抖为止。他还彻夜不眠地祝祷,一夜接着一夜,有时在一片漆黑之中,有时只伴着一盏昏灯,有时则在脸上照着最强的光线面对一面镜子。他就这样不断地自省,其实只是在自我折磨,丝毫得不到自我净化。在长夜不眠的祝祷之中,他的头脑时常晕眩,似乎有许多幻象在他眼前飞舞;这些幻象有时在内室的昏暗中自身发着微光,看着似有似无,有时则出现在镜子之中,近在咫尺,显得更清晰些。这些幻象时而是一群凶暴的恶魔,对着这位牧师狞笑嘲弄,呼唤他随他们而去;时而是一伙闪光的天使,象是满载哀伤的重荷,沉重地向上飞去,但随着越飞越高,而变得轻灵起来;时而又来了他年轻时那些夭折的朋友,还有他那面带圣者般的蹙容、须发花白的父亲,以及在走过时却扭转面孔不理睬他的母亲。在我看来,一个母亲的幽灵——一个母亲的最淡漠的幻影——也会对她儿子投以怜悯的目光吧!随之,在被这些光怪陆离的奇思异想弄得十分阴森可怖的内室中,海丝特.白兰领着身穿猩红袍服的珠儿飘然而过,那孩子伸出食指,先指指母亲胸前的红字,然后又指指牧师本人的胸膛。
  这些幻象从来没有一个令他产生过什么错觉。无论任何时候,他依靠自己的意志力,都能在层层迷雾般的虚幻中辨别出其实质,使自己坚信:它们在本质上都不象一旁那张雕刻着花纹的橡木桌或是那本皮面铜扣的方型大卷神学著作那样,并非坚实的实体。然而,尽管如此,在一种意义上,它们又都是这可怜的牧师所应付的最真实又最具体的东西。象他过的这种虚假的生活,实在有难言的痛苦,因为我们周围的无论什么现实,原是由上天注定赐给我们的精神上的喜悦和营养,但对他来说,其精髓和实质却被窃取一空。对那个不真实的人来说,整个宇宙都是虚伪的——都是难以触摸的,在他的把握之中化为子虚乌有。至于他本人,迄今为止在虚伪的光线中所显示出的自身,已经变成一个阴影,或者更确切地说,已不复存在了。继续赋予丁梅斯代尔先生在地球上一种真实存在感的唯一事实,就是他灵魂最深处的痛苦,以及由此在他外貌上造成的毫不掩饰的表情。假如他一度找到了微笑的能力,并在脸上堆满欢快的笑意,也就不曾有过他这样一个人了!
  在我们微有暗示却避免进一步描绘的这样一个丑恶的夜晚,牧师从他的椅子上惊跳而起。一个新的念头在他心中油然而生,他或许在其中可以获得瞬间的安宁。此时他象赴公众礼拜一样,着意将自己,打扮一番,然后以相应的一丝不苟的姿态,蹑手蹑脚地走下楼梯,打开房门,向前走去。
  -----------
  ①基督教的圣灵降临节即犹太人的五旬节。在复活节后的第七个星期日,其间五十天为复活节季节。
  ②《新约,使徒行传》云:“五旬斋来临,门徒聚在一处;天上忽发来响声,仿佛吹过一阵大风,弥漫屋宇;又有舌如火焰,分别降在各人头上,他们拿为圣灵所罩,遂依圣灵所赐之口才,说起异国言语。”
  ③以诺,在《旧约·创世记》第五章第24节中是爱国者玛土撤拉的父亲,上帝的同行者;而在第四章第17节中则是该隐之一子。、此处当为前者。






十二 牧师的夜游

  丁梅斯代尔先生当真是在一种梦幻的阴影中行走,或许实际上是在一种梦游的影响下行走,他一直来到当初海丝特.白兰第一次公开受辱数小时的地点。还是那一座平台或刑台,由于七年悠长岁月的风吹日晒雨淋已经变得斑驳黎黑,而且由于又有许多犯人登台示众已经给践踏得高低不平,不过它依然矗立在议事厅的阳台之下。牧师一步步走上台阶。
  那是五月初的一个朦胧的夜晚。一望无际的云幕蒙住了从天顶到地乎线的整个夜空。假如当年海丝特.白兰忍辱受罚时站在那里围观的人群能够重新召集起来的话,他们在这昏黑的午夜依然无法分辨台上人的面孔,甚至也难以看清那人的轮廓。不过,整个城镇都在睡梦之中,不会有被人发观的危险。只要牧师愿意,他可以在那儿一直站到东方泛红。除去阴冷的空气会钻进他的肌体,风湿症会弄僵他的关节,粘膜炎和咳嗽会妨碍他的喉咙之外,绝无其它风险可担;果真染上这些症状,也无非是让翌日参加祈祷和布道的听众的殷殷期望落空而已。没有谁的眼睛会看到他,尽是要除掉那一双始终警觉的眼睛——那人已经看到过他在内室中用血淋淋的鞭子捆打自己了。既然如此,他为什么还要到这里来呢?难道只是对仟悔加以嘲弄吗?这确实是一种嘲弄,但是在这种嘲弄之中,他的灵魂却在自嘲!这种嘲弄,天使会为之胀红着脸哭泣,而恶魔则会嬉笑着称庆!他是被那追逐得他无地自容的“自责”的冲动驱赶到这里来的,而这“自责”的胞妹和密友则是“怯懦”。每当“自责”的冲动催促他到达坦白的边缘时,“怯懦”就一定会用颤抖的双手拖他回去。可怜的不幸的人啊!象他这样一个柔弱的人如何承受得起罪恶的重负呢?罪恶是那种神经如钢铁的人干的,他们自己可以选择:要么甘心忍受;要么在受压过甚时便运用自己凶猛的蛮力,振臂一甩,以达目的!这个身体赢弱而精神敏感的人两者都不能做到,却又不停地彷徨于二者之间,时而这,时而那,终将滔天之罪的痛苦与徒劳无益的悔恨纠缠在一起,形成死结。
  就这样,丁梅斯代尔先生站立到刑台之上,进行这场无济于事的赎罪表演,这时,一种巨大的恐怖感攫佐了他,仿佛整个宇宙都在盯视他裸露的胸膛上正在心口处的红色标记。就在那块地方,肉体痛苦的毒牙确确实实在咬啮着他,而且已经为时很久了。他没有了任何意志力或控制力,便大吼一声,这一声嘶叫直插夜空,在一家家住宅间震响,并回荡在背后的丛山之中,象是有一伙魔鬼发现这声音中有如许多的不幸和恐怖,便将它当作玩物,来来回回地摆弄起来。
  “这下子完了!”牧师用双手遮住脸,喃喃自语。“全镇的人都会惊醒,匆忙跑来,在这儿发现我了!”
  但是并没有发生这种情况。,那声尖叫,在他自己受惊的耳朵听起来,要比实际的音响大得多。镇上人并没有惊醒,就算惊醒了,那些睡得昏昏沉沉的人也会误以为这喊叫是梦中的惊悸或是女巫的吵闹——在那个年月,当女巫们随着撒旦飞过天际时,她们的声音时常在居民区或孤独的茅屋上空掠过,被人们听见。因此,牧师没有听见任何骚动的征象,便不再捂着眼,并四下张望。在稍远的另一条街上,在贝灵汉总督宅邸的一个内室的窗口,他看到那位老长官露出头来,手中拿着一盏灯,头上戴着一顶白色睡帽,周身上下裹着一件白色长袍。他那副样子就象是一个从坟墓中不合时宜地钻出来的鬼魂。显然是那叫声惊醒了他。还有,那座房子的另一个窗口,出现了总督的姐姐,,西宾斯老夫人,她手里也拿着一盏灯,尽管距离这么远,仍然能看出她脸上那种乖戾不满的表情。她把头探出窗格,不安地朝天仰望。不消说,这位令人敬畏的老妖婆已经听到了丁梅斯代尔先生的叫喊,并且由于那无数的回声和反响,她还以为是恶魔和夜间飞行的女巫的喧嚣呢,人们都知道,她常同它们一起在林中嬉游。那老夫人一发现贝灵汉总督的灯光,就赶紧一日吹熄了自己的灯,消失不见了。很可能她飞上了云端。牧师再也望不见她‘的踪影了。总督在小心翼翼地向暗中观察一番之后,也缩回了身子,当然,在这般黑夜中他看不了多远,比起要望穿一块磨石相差无几。
  牧师渐渐地比较平静了。不过,他的目光很快便迎到一道微弱的闪光,起初还在远处,后来便沿街逐渐接近了。那闪光投在周围,可以辨出这里有一根立枝,那里有一段园篱;这儿有一扇格窗玻璃,那儿有一个卿筒和满槽的水;近处还有一座拱形橡木大门,上面有铁制扣环,下面是一段粗木充当台阶。可敬的丁梅斯代尔先生尽管此时坚信,他的末日已经在他听到的脚步声中悄悄临近,但还是注意到了这些细小之物;而且再过几分钟,那闪亮的灯光就要照到他,暴露出他隐藏已久的秘密。当那灯光越来越近时,他在那一晕光圈之中看到了他的牧师兄弟——或者说得更确切些,是他同道中的父辈,也是他极为敬重的朋友——可敬的威尔逊先生;据丁梅斯代尔先生此时的推断,他一定是刚从某个弥留者的病榻边祈祷归来。事实果然如此。这位好心的老牧师正是刚刚从温斯洛普总督的停尸房中回来,那位大人就在这一时辰中从尘世升入了天国。此时,老牧师象旧日的圣者似的,周围罩着一圈光环,使他在这罪孽的昏夜中发出荣光——似乎那已故的总督把自己的荣光遗赠绘了他,又好象当老牧师仰望那凯旋的朝圣者跨进天国时,那遥远的天光洒到了他身上——简而言之,此财那好心的神父威尔逊正借助灯光为自己引路,一步步走回家去!也正是那盏灯的昏光,触发了丁梅斯代尔先生的上述奇思异想,使他绽出了微笑——不,他简直是对那想法放声大笑——之后就怀疑自己是否要发疯了。可敬的威尔逊先生走过刑台时,一手将黑色宽袖长法衣紧紧裹住他的身躯,另一手将灯举到胸前,就在此刻,丁梅斯代尔牧师几乎禁不住要说出口了:
  “晚上好,可敬的威尔逊神父!我请求你到这里来,陪我过上一小时欢乐的时光吧!”
  天啊!丁梅斯代尔先生当真说出声了吗?在一刹那间,他相信这些话确实已经说出了口。其实只是在他的想象之中发出了声。那可敬的威尔逊神父依旧缓缓地朝前走着,眼睛死盯住脚下的泥径,根本没朝刑台侧头瞥上一眼。在那闪亮的灯光渐渐消逝在远处之后,牧师在袭来的一阵昏迷中发现,刚才那一刻间,确实有一种非常焦心的危机;尽管他内心不禁竭力用一种凄凉的强颜欢笑来加以宽慰。
  不久,在他脑海中的肃穆幻象中又悄悄夹杂进来同样可怕的古怪念头。他感到由于不惯于夜间的凉意,四肢逐渐发僵,并且怀疑自己还能否走下刑台的台阶。天将破晓,他会被人发现站在台上。四邻将开始起身。最早起床的人踏人晨曦的微光,将会看到有个轮廓模糊的身形高高站在耻辱台上;于是便会在半惊骇半好奇之中走开去,敲开一家又一家的大门,叫人们出来看这已死的罪人的鬼魂——那人一定会这么想的。一阵破晓时的喧闹将从一家飞到另一家。之后,曙光渐明,老汉们会匆忙爬起身,穿上法兰绒长袍,主妇们则顾不上脱下她们的睡衣。那伙衣冠楚楚的人物,平素里从来没人见过他们有一丝头发散乱,此时也会遭了梦魇股的衣冠不整地就跑到了众人眼前。老总督贝灵汉会歪戴着他那詹姆士王时期的环状皱领,绷紧面孔走出来;西宾斯太太,由于彻夜邀游不曾阖眼,脸色会较平时更加难看,而裙上还会沾着林中细校;好心的威尔逊神父也会来的,他在死者床边熬了半夜,对于这么早就给从光荣的圣徒的美梦中惊醒,满肚子不高兴。到这里来的还会有了梅斯代尔先生教堂中的长老们和执事们,以及那些对自己的牧师祟拜之极、在她们洁白的心胸中为他立了圣龛的少女们;顺便说一下,她们此时正在慌乱之中,会根本来不及蒙上面巾。总而言之,所有的人都会磕磕绊绊地通过门槛,在刑台四周抬起惊惶的面孔。他们会依稀看到那里站着一个人,额上映着东方的红光,那会是谁呢?除去可敬的阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔先生还能是谁!他已经冻得半死,正满面羞惭地站在海丝特·白兰曾经示众的地方!
  牧师的神思随着这一荒唐可怖的画面驰骋,在不知不觉之中突然爆发出一阵狂笑,一连他自己都大吃一惊。这狂笑立刻得到一声轻灵的童稚笑声的响应,随着一阵心悸——不过他弄不清到底是出于剧烈的痛楚抑或极度的欢乐——,他从笑声中辨出了小珠儿的腔调。
  “珠儿!小珠儿!”他稍停片刻就喊道;然后,他压低了嗓音说:“海丝特!海丝特·白兰!是你在那儿吗?”
  “是的;我是海丝特·白兰!”她应答着,语调中充满惊奇;接着牧师听到了她走下便道,逐渐接近的脚步声。“是我,还有我的小珠儿。”
  “你从哪里来,海丝特?”牧师问道。“你怎么到这儿来啦?”
  “我刚刚守护在一个死者的床边,”海丝特·白兰回答说,“是在温斯洛普总督床边,给他量了袍子的尺寸,现在我正往家里走。”
  “上这儿来吧,海丝特,你,还有小珠儿,”可敬的丁梅斯代尔先生说。“你们母女俩以前已经在这儿站过了,可是我当时没和你们在一起。再上来一次吧,我们三日人一起站着吧!”
  她默默地踏上台阶,并且站到了台上,手中一直牵着小珠儿。牧师够着孩子的另一只手,也握住了。就在他这么做的瞬间,似有一般不同于他自己生命的新生命的激越之潮,急流般涌入他的心房,冲过他周身的血管,仿佛那母女俩正把她们生命的温暖传递给他半麻木的躯体。三人构成了一条闭合的电路。
  “牧师!”小珠儿悄声说。
  “你要说什么啊,孩子?”丁梅斯代尔先生问道。
  “你愿意在明天中午的时候,跟妈妈和我一块站在这儿吗?”珠儿询问着。
  “不成;不能那样,我的小珠儿,”牧师回答说;由于那瞬间的新精力,长期以来折磨着他生命的对示众的种种恐惧,又重新回到他心头;而且,他对目前的这种团聚——虽说也有一种陌生的欢偷——已经颤栗不安了。“那样不成,我的孩子。真的,终有一天,我一定同你妈妈和你站在一起,不过明天还不成。”珠儿笑着,想抽出她的手。但牧师紧紧地握住了。
  “再稍待一会儿,我的孩子!”他说。
  “可你一定要答应,”殊儿问道,“明天中午握着我的手和妈妈的手,好吧?”
  “明天还不成,珠儿,”牧师说着,“得换换时间。”
  “那在什么时候呢?”孩子一劲地追问。
  “在最后审判日,”牧师耳语说——说来奇怪,是他身为传播真理的牧师的职业感迫使他这么答复孩子的。“到了那一天,在审判座前面,你妈妈,你,还有我,应该站在一起。但这个世界的光天化日是不会看到我们在一起的!”珠儿又笑了。
  但不等丁梅斯代尔先生把话讲完,乌云遮蔽的夜空上便远远地闪过一道宽阔的亮光。那无疑是一颗流星发出来的,守夜人可能经常看到这种流星在空旷的苍窜中燃成灰烬。它发散出的光辉十分强烈,把天地间浓厚的云层照得通明。那广漠的天穹变得雪亮,犹如一盏巨灯的圆顶。它就象白昼一般清晰地勾勒出街上熟悉的景色,但也乎添了那种由不寻常的光线照到熟悉的物体上总要产生的可怕印象。那些附有突出的楼层和古怪的角顶的木屋;那台阶和门槛,以、及周围早早破土而出的青草;那些覆着新翻出的黑土的园圃;那些有点发旧,甚至在市场一带两侧都长满了绿草的车道——这一切全都清晰可见,不过都露出一种独特的模样,似是给这些世上的事物一种前所未有的另一种道义上的解释。就在那儿,站着牧师,他一手捂着心口;还有海丝特,白兰,胸前闪着刺绣的字母;以及小珠儿,她本人就是一个象征着他同她之间连接的环节。他们三人站在亮如白昼的奇妙而肃穆的光辉里,似乎正是那光辉要揭示一切隐秘,而那白昼则要将所有相属的人结合在一起。
  小珠儿的眼中闪着妖气,当她仰望牧师时,脸上带着那种调皮的微笑,使她的表情时常都是那么鬼精灵似的。她从牧师手中抽出手来,指着街道对面。但他紧握双手捂在胸前,抬眼眺望天顶。
  在那年代,凡是流星出现和不象日月升落这么规律的其它自然现象,统统都被解释为超自然力量所给予的启示,这是再普通不过的事了。于是,在午夜的天空中,如果看到一支闪光的长矛、一支冒着烈焰的剑、一张弓、一簇箭这类形象,便会认为是印第安人要打仗的预兆。瘟疫,则人所周知是由一阵红光示警的。从移民时期直到革命年代,凡是发生在新英格兰的重大事件,无论好也罢,坏也罢,恐怕都受过这类性质的某种景象的事先警告。许多人都曾多次见过。不过,更多的情况是,这种景象的可信性不过是某个单独的目睹者心诚所致,他用想象中那种有色的、放大的和变形的中介来看待这种奇迹,再在事后的回忆中更加清晰地勾勒出来。国家的命运居然会在无限的天际中用这些可怕而费解的符号揭示出来,这种念头实在伟大。对于上苍来说,在这样广漠的轴卷上写下对一个民族的判决,恐怕也不能算太大。我们的先祖笃信这类事情倒是好事,因为这说明,他们的新生的共和国,是在天意的格外垂青和严格监视之下的。但是,当某人发现出现在同样大幅的卷面上的一个启示只是针对他一人的时候,我们又该作何评论呢?在这种情况下——当一个人由于长期的和强烈的隐痛而备受自我反省的煎熬,他把自我已经扩展到整个大自然,以致天空本身不过是适于书写他的历史和命运的纸张时,这种“启示”只能是他精神状态极度混乱的症状罢了!
  因此,当牧师抬眼眺望天顶,看到出现了用暗红色的光线勾出的巨大字母“A”时,我们只能归结为他由于心病而眼睛出了毛病。这并非是说,当时根本没有流星出现并在云霭中隐隐燃烧;而是说并没有他那负罪的想象力所赋予的那种形状;或者,至少不是那么确定无疑——别的罪人也可能从中看到另一种象征呢。
  当时还有一个特殊的细节可以说明了梅斯代尔先生的心理状态。在仰望天顶的整个过程中,他始终非常清楚,小珠儿在指着站得离刑台不远的老罗杰·齐灵渥斯。牧师似乎用辨出那神奇字母的同样目光,也看见了他。流星的亮光,如同对一切其它物体一样,也给予他的容貌一种崭新的表情;也可能是,医生当时没有象乎素那样小心地掩饰他看着自己的牺牲品时的那种恶毒样子。诚然,如果那流星照亮了天空,显现了大地,并以末日审判来威胁海丝特·白兰和牧师的话,那么,罗杰·齐灵渥斯就可以看作是魔王,他怒目狞笑地站在那里,等候着来认领他们。他的表情如此真切,或者说,牧师对其感觉是那么强烈,直到那流星殒落、街道及一切其它东西都立即湮灭之后,依然如画般地保持在黑暗中。
  “那人是谁,海丝特?”丁梅斯代尔先生心惊胆战地喘着气说。“我一见他就发抖!你认识那人吗?我恨他,海丝特!”她记起了她的誓言,便默不作声。
  “我告诉你,一见到他,我的灵魂就发抖!”牧师又嗫嚅着说。“他是谁?他是谁?你不能帮我一下吗?我对那人有一种无名的恐惧!”
  “牧师,”小珠儿说,“我能告诉你他是谁!”
  “那就快说吧,孩子!”牧师说着,弯腰把耳朵凑近她的嘴唇。
  “快说吧!——悄悄地,尽量小声点。”
  珠儿在他耳边嘀咕了几句,听着倒真象说话,其实只是儿童们在一起玩的时候所发的莫名其妙的音符。无论如何,即使其中包含着有关老罗杰·齐灵握斯的秘密信息,也是博学的牧师所不懂的,只能徒增他的困惑面已。接着那小精灵似的孩子笑出了声。
  “你在拿我开心吗?”牧师说。
  “你胆小!——你不老实!”那孩子回答说。“你不愿意答应明天中午拉着我和妈妈的手!”
  “尊贵的先生,”医生一边应声说,一边走到平台脚下。“虔诚的丁梅斯代尔牧师,难道当真是你吗?哎哟哟,果然是的!我们这些作学问的人,就知埋头书本,确实需要好好照看!我们会醒着作梦,睡着走路的。来吧,好先生,我的亲爱的朋友,我请求你啦,让我带你回家吧!”
  “你怎么会知道我在这儿呢?”牧师惊惧地问。
  “说真的,我讲的是实话,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯回答,“我对此一无所知。’我在那令人崇敬的温斯洛普总督的床边呆了大半夜,尽拙技之能为他减轻痛苦。他现正返回他美好世界的家,我呢,也在回家的路上,就在这时闪出了那道奇怪的光。跟我走吧,我求求你,可敬的先生;不然的话,明天安息日你就没法尽好责任了。啊哈!瞧啊,这些书本多么烦人啊——这些书本!——这些书本!你要少读点书,好先生,想法散散心;否则,这夜游症在你身上会越来越重的。”
  “我就跟你一起回家吧,”丁梅斯代尔先生说。
  他就象一个刚刚从噩梦中惊醒的人,周身无力,心中懊丧得发冷,便听凭那医生把自己领走了。
  第二天恰好是安息日,他的布道被认为是他宣讲过的最丰富、最有力,也是最充满神启的。据称,不只一个人而是很多的灵魂领悟了那次布道的真谛,在内心中发誓今后要永远怀着对丁梅斯代尔先生的神圣的感激之情。但是,就在他走下讲坛的阶梯时,那灰胡须的教堂司役上来迎着他。那人手中举着一只黑手套,牧师认出了是自己的。
  “这是,”那司役说,“今天一早在干了坏事的人示众的刑台那儿发现的。我想,准是撒旦丢在那儿,有意中伤阁下您的。不过,说实在的,他还是跟平常一样,又瞎又蠢;而且会总是这样的。一只纯洁的手是不需要用手套来遮掩的!”
  “谢谢你,我的好朋友,”牧师庄重地说,心头却暗吃一惊;因为他的记忆已经紊乱,竟然把昨夜的事情看作是幻象了。“是啊,看来是我的手套,真的!”,
  “那么,既然撒旦瞅机会偷了它去,阁下您以后就应该不戴手套去对付他了,”那老司役狞笑着说。“不过,阁下您听说昨天夜里人们看见的征兆了吗?——天上显出一个大红字母‘A’,我们都解释是代表‘天使’①。因为,昨天夜里,我们那位善心的温斯洛普总督成了天使,所以不用说,上天要显显象才是呢!”“没有,”牧师答道,“我没听说这件事。”
  ①英文“天使”一词为Angel,也是以“A”起始。






十三 海丝特的另一面

  在海丝特·白兰最近园丁梅斯代尔先生的那次独特的会面中,她发现牧师的健康状况大为下降,并为此深感震惊。他的神经系统似乎已彻底垮了。他的精神力量已经衰颓,低得不如孩子。虽说他的智能还保持着原有的力量,或者说,可能已经达到了只有疾病才会造成的一种病态的亢奋,但他的精神力量已经到了无能为力的地步了。由于她了解一系列不为他人所知的隐情,她立即推断出,在丁梅斯代尔先生自己良知的正常活动之外,他的宁静已经受到一部可怕的机器的干扰,而且那机器仍在开动,他还得忍受。由于她了解这个可怜的堕落的人的以往,所以当他吓得心惊胆战地向她——被人摒弃的女人——求救,要她帮他对付他靠本能发现的敌人的时候;她的整个灵魂都受到了震动。她还认为,他有权要她倾力相助。海丝特在长期的与世隔绝之中,已经不惯于以任何外界标准来衡量她的念头的对或错了,她懂得——或者似乎懂得——她对牧师负有责任,这种责任是她对任何别人、对整个世界都毋庸承担的。她和别的人类的任何联系——无论是花的、是丝的、是银的,还是随便什么物质的——全都断绝了。然而他和她之间却有着共同犯罪的铁链,不管他还是她都不能打破。这一联系,如同一切其它纽带一样,有与之紧相伴随的义务。
  海丝特·白兰如今所处的地位已同她当初受辱时我们所看到的并不完全一样了。春来秋往,年复一年。珠儿此时已经七岁了。她母亲胸前闪着的刺绣绝妙的红字,早已成为镇上人所熟悉的目标。如果一个人在大家面前有着与众不同的特殊地位,而同时又不干涉任何公共或个人的利益和方便,他就最终会赢得普遍的尊重,海丝特·白兰的情况也正是如此除去自私的念头占了上峰、得以表现之外,爱总要比恨来得容易,这正是人类本性之所在。只要不遭到原有的敌意不断受到新的挑动的阻碍,恨甚至会通过悄悄渐进的过程转变成爱。就海丝特。白兰的情况而论,她既没受到旧恨的挑动,也没有增添新的愠怒。她从来与世无争,只是毫无怨尤地屈从于社会的最不公平的待遇;她也没有因自己的不幸而希冀什么报偿;她同样不依重于人们的同情。于是,在她因犯罪而丧失了权利、被迫独处一隅的这些年月里,她生活的纯洁无理,大大地赢得了人心。既然她在人们的心目中已经再无所失,再无所望,而且似乎也再无所愿去得到什么,那么这个可怜人的迷途知返,也只能被真诚地看作是美德感召的善果了。
  人们也注意到:海丝特除去呼吸共同的空气,并用双手一丝不苟的劳作为她自已和小珠儿挣得每日的面包之外,对分享世上的特权连最卑微的要求都从不提出;反之,一有施惠于人的机会,她立即承认她与人类的姊妹之情。对于穷苦人的每一种需要,她比谁都快地就提供了她菲薄的支援;尽管那些心肠狠毒的穷人对她定期送到门口的食物或她用本可刺绣王袍的手指做成的衣物,竟会反唇相讥。在镇上蔓延瘟疫的时候,谁也没有海丝特那样忘我地献身。每逢灾难,无论是普遍的还是个人的,这个为社会所摒弃的人,都会马上挺身而出。她来到愁云紧锁的家庭,并非作为客人,而是作为理应到来的亲人;似乎那室内晦暗的微光成了她有权与她的同类进行交往的中介。她胸前绣着的字母闪着的非凡的光辉,将温暖舒适带给他人。那字母本来是罪恶的标记,此时在病室中却成了一支烛光。在受难者痛苦的弥留之际,那字母甚至会将其光辉跨越时间的界限:在砚世的光亮迅速暗淡下去、而来世的光亮还没照到死者之前,为他照亮踏脚的地方。在这种紧急情况下,海丝特显示了她那可贵的温厚秉性:那是人类温情的可靠源泉,对任何真正的需要都有求必应,哪怕需要再大,也绝不会枯竭。她的胸口虽然佩着耻辱牌,对有所需要的人却是柔软的枕头。她是自我委任的“慈善的姊妹”;或者,我们完全可以说,人世的沉重的手掌曾经这样委任了她。但当时无论人世或她本人都没有期待着她会不负所望。那字母成了她响应感召的象征。由于从她身上可以得到那么多的支援——她深富同情心又极肯助人——许多人都不肯再按本意来解释那红色的字母“A”了。他们说,那字母的意思是“能干”①;海丝特·白兰只是个弱女子,但她太有力量了。
  只有阴暗的住房才能容纳她。当太阳再次升起的时候,她已经不在了。她的身影跨过门槛消逝了;这个大有助益的亲人离去了,根本没有回过头来看一眼应得的感谢——如果她刚刚如此热心地尽过力的那些人的心中肯于感激她的话。有时在街上遇到他们,她从来不抬头接受他们的致意。如果他们执意要和她搭汕,她就用一个手指按任那红宇,侧身而过。这或许是骄傲,但极似谦卑,反正在众人的心目中产生了谦卑品格的全部软化人心的影响。公众的情绪是蛮不讲理的:当常理上的公道作为一种权利加以过分要求时,可能遭到拒绝;但是一旦完全投其所好、吁请暴虐的人们慷慨大度时,倒常常会得到超出公道的奖赏。由于社会把海丝特·白兰的举止解释成这类性质的吁请,因此反倒宁可对其原先的牺牲品,显示出一种比她所乐于接受的、或者说比她实际应得的更加宽厚的态度。
  居民区的统治者和有识之士比起一般百姓花费了更长的时间才认识到海丝特的优秀品质的影响。他们对海丝特所共同持有的偏见,被推论的铁框所禁锢,要想摆脱就得付出远为坚韧的努力。然而,日复一日,他们脸上那种敌视的僵死的皱纹逐渐松弛下来,伴随岁月的流逝,可以说变成了一种近乎慈爱的表情。那些身居要位、从而对公共道德负有监护之责的人的情况就是如此。与此同时,不担任公务的普通百姓已经差不多彻底原谅了海丝特.白兰因脆弱而造成的过失;不仅如此,他们还开始不再把那红字看作是罪过的标记——她为此已忍受了多么长时间的阴惨惨的惩罚啊——而是当成自那时起的许多善行的象征。“你看见那个佩戴刺绣的徽记的好人了吗?”他们会对陌生人这样说。“她是我们的海丝特——我们这镇上自己的海丝特,她对穷人多么好心肠,对病人多么肯帮忙,对遭难的人多么有安慰啊!”之后,出于人类本性中对别人说三道四的癖病,他们也确实悄声说起若干年前那桩见不得人的丑事。不过,即使在讲话人的心目中,那红字仍有修女胸前的红十字的效果。那红字赋予其佩戴者一种神圣性,使她得以安度一切危难。假若她落入盗贼之手,那红字也会保她平安无事。据传,而且有不少人情以为真,有一个印第安人曾瞄准那红字射箭,那飞箭虽然射中目标,却落到了地上,对她毫无伤害。
  那象征物,或者更确切地说,它所代表的社会地位,在海丝特,白兰本人的头脑中,有着强烈而独特的作用。她性格中一切轻松优雅的绿叶,全都因那火红的徽记而枯萎,并且早已落得精光,只剩下了光秃秃的粗糙的轮廓,如果说她还有朋友和伙伴的话,恐怕也早就为此而规避了。就连她人品上的魅力也经历了类似的变化。这可能部分由于她着装上故作严肃简朴,部分因为她举止上有意不动声色。还有一个令人伤感的变化:她那满头丰盈的秀发,不是剪得短短的,就是让一顶帽子完全遮住,以致从来没有一绺在阳光下闪烁。除去这一切原因之外,再加上其它一些因素,看来,在海丝特的面孔上已不再有任何“爱情”可仔细揣摩之处,在海丝特那端庄和雕像般的身材上,不再有任何使“情欲”梦想投入其紧紧拥抱之处,在海丝特的胸膛中也不再有任何能够使“慈爱”落枕之处了。作为一个女性本来不可或缺的某些秉性,在她身上已不复存在。当女人遭遇井经受了一场非同一般的苛刻的惩罚时,她那女性的品格通常会遭受这种命运并经历这种严峻的变化。如果她只有柔情,她就会死掉。如果她侥幸活下去,她的柔情要么从她身上给排挤出去,要么在她心中给深深碾碎,永远不再表露出来。这两种情况在外人看来没什么不同,而后者或许更符合实际。她既然曾经是女人,虽然一时不再是女人,但只消有魔法点化一下,完全可以随时重新变成女人的。我们将要看到海丝特,白兰以后会不会受到这种点化,再变成女人。
  海丝特给人的那种如大理石般冰冷的印象,大部要归咎于这一事实:她的生活,在很大程度上已经从情和欲变成了思想。她形只影单地立足于世上——孤独得对社会无所依靠,只有小珠儿需要她指点和保护,——孤独得对恢复她的地位已不抱希望,即使她还没有鄙夷这种愿望,但是她已把断裂的锁链的碎片全然抛弃了。人世间的法律并非她心目中的法律。当年正处于人类智慧初获解放的时代,比起以前的许多世纪,有着广阔得多的天地任其驰骋。手执利剑的人已经推翻了王室贵胄。比他们更勇敢的人,则将与古代准则密切相关的古代偏见的完整体系,并非实际地,而是在理论范围之内——这是那些王室贵胃真正的藏身之地——予以颠覆并重新安排了。海丝特。白兰汲取了这一精神。她采取了思想自由的观点,这在当年的大西洋彼岸本是再普通不过的事,但设若我们的移民祖先们对这种自由思想有所了解的话,她的观点会被认为比红字烙印所代表的罪恶还要致命的。在她那独处海边的茅舍里,拜访她的那些思想是不敢进入新英格兰的其它住宅的;假如有人看见这些影子般的客人轻叩她的门扉的话,就会把接待他们的主人视同魔鬼般危险了。
  值得重视的是,那些具有最大胆的思想观点的人,对于外界的清规戒律也最能泰然处之。他们满足于思想观点,并不想赋予其行动的血肉。海丝特的情况似乎就是这样。不过,假若小珠儿未曾从精神世界来到她身边的话,她的情况也许就会大不一样了。那样的话,她也许会同安妮·哈钦逊携手并肩,作为一个教派的创始人,名标青史。她也许会在自己的某一时期成为一名女先知。她也许会——并非不可能——因企图颠覆清教制度的基础,而被当时严厉的法官处以死刑。但她的思想热情,因为她成了母亲,得以在教育孩子之中宣泄出去。上天把这小女孩交付给海丝特,就是要她保护女性的幼芽和蓓蕾,在众多的困难中加以抚育和培养。一切都与她作对。世界在以她为敌。孩子的本性中含有欠妥之处,不断表明她降临到这个世界上是个错误——是她母亲无视法律的激情的发泄,而且时常迫使海丝特辛酸地扪心自问:这个可怜的小家伙降生到世上,究竟是祸还是福。
  事实上,她心中也时常升腾起涉及全人类女性的同样阴郁的问题:即使对女性中最幸福的人来说,那人的生存有价值吗?至于她自己本人的生存,她早已予以否定,并且作为已决之点不再重提。勤于思考,虽说可以对女人起到和对男人相同的作用——使人安静下来,但却使她感到伤感。也许她已经看清了自己面临的任务是无望的。首先,整个社会制度要彻底推翻并予以重建。其次,男人的本性,或者说由于世代沿袭的习惯面变得象是本性的东西,应该从本质上加以改变,然后妇女才可能取得似是公平合理的地位。最后,即使排除掉一切其它困难,妇女也必须先进行一番自身的更有力的变化,才能享有这些初步改革的成果,然而到那时,,凝聚着她的女性的最真实的生命的精髓,或许巳然蒸发殆尽了。一个女人,无论如何运用她的思维,也无法解决这些问题。或许只有一条出路才能解决这些问题:如果她的精神能够主宰一切,这些问题便会不复存在。然面,由于海丝特。白兰的心脏已经不再有规律而健康的搏动,她便只有茫无头绪地徘徊在思考的幽暗迷宫之中:时而因无法攀越的峭壁而转弯,时而因深陷的断层而返回。她周围是一道恐怖的野景,四处不见舒适的家园。不时有一种可怕的疑虑攫佐她的灵魂,不知是否该把珠儿马上送上天庭,自己也走向“永恒的裁判”所断定的来世,才更好些。
  那个红字尚未克尽厥责。
  但是此时,自从那天夜里丁梅斯代尔先生夜游时他俩见了一面以来,她又有了一个新的题目去思索;在她看来,为了达到那一目标,她简直值得耗尽一切精力并作出一切牺牲。她已经目睹了牧师是在多么剧烈的痛苦之中挣扎着——或者说得更准确些,是怎样停止挣扎的。她亲眼看到,他已经站到发疯的边缘——如果说他还没有跨过那边缘处于疯狂状态的话。无庸置疑,不管自责的秘刺中有什么致痛的功效,那只提供救援之手又在那螫刺中注入了致他死命的毒液。一个秘密的敌人,假借朋友和救护者之名,时刻不离他的方前左右,并借此机会撬动丁梅斯代尔先生秉性中纤弱的锁簧。海丝特不禁自问:是否由于她这方面在真诚、勇气及忠贞上本来存在着缺陷,才造成牧师被抛进凶隙横生、毫无祥兆的境地呢?她唯一能够自我辩解的就是:除去默许罗杰·齐灵渥斯隐姓埋名之外,她原本别无它法使牧师免遭比她承受的还要阴暗的毁灭。在那种动机之下,她作出了自己的抉择,而如今看来,她所选定购却是二者之间更加不幸的方案。她决心在尽可能的情况下来补偿自己的过失。经过多年艰苦和严正的考验,她已经坚强有力多了,自信不象当年那个夜晚那样不是罗杰·齐灵渥斯的对手了:当晚他俩在牢房中谈话时,她是刚刚肩负犯罪的重压,并为羞耻之心逼得半疯的。从那晚起,她已在自己的道路上攀登到一个新高度了。面另一方面;那个老人呢,由于不顾一切地寻求复仇,则使自己降低到同她接近或许比她还低的水平了。
  终于,海丝特,白兰打定主意去会她原先的丈夫,尽她的全力来解救显然已落入对方掌握之中的牺牲品。没过多久;她便找到了机会;一天下午,在半岛上一处荒无人烟的地点,她带着珠儿散步,刚好看见那老医生,一手挽着篮子,另一只手往着拐杖,正弯着腰在地上一路搜寻可以配药的树根和药草。
  ①“A”本是“通奸”(Adultery)的首字,现在被人们释作“能干”(Able)的首字。






十四 海丝特和医生

  海丝特打发小珠儿跑到水边去玩贝壳和缠结的海藻,好让她同那边那采药人谈一会儿话。那孩子便象鸟儿般地飞了开去,她那双赤裸着的自白的小脚丫,一路拍着水在潮湿的海边跑着。她不时停下身来,把退潮留下的水洼当作镜子,好奇地朝里面照着她自己的面孔。水洼里,一个满头长着乌黑闪亮的鬃发、眼中露着小精灵般微笑的小姑娘,在朝她窥视,珠儿由于没有别的玩伴,便伸手邀她同自己进行一场赛跑。但那映象的小鼓娘,也同样和她伸手招呼,仿佛在说:“这地方更好些!你到水洼里来吧!”珠儿一脚踏进去,水没到了膝盖,她看见的只是水底的自己的白脚丫;同时,从更深的一层水下,映出了一种支离破碎的微笑,在动荡的水中上下漂浮闪动。与此同时,她母亲已和那医生搭话了。
  “我想跟你谈一谈,”她说,“谈谈同我们至关紧要的事。”
  “啊哈!原来是海丝特太太有话要和老罗杰。齐灵渥斯说么?”他直起腰来回答说。“高兴之极!噢,太太,我从各处都听到有关你的好消息!就在昨天晚上,一位长官,一位圣明的人,还谈起了你的事,海丝特太太,他悄悄告诉我,在议会中曾经提及有关你的问题:大家议论起,要是把你胸前的红字取下来,会不会对公众的好运有妨碍。我敢发誓,海丝特,我当即恳求那可敬的长官,这事应予立即施行!”
  “那些长官们可不乐于取下这徽记,”海丝特平静地应道。
  “要是我有资格把这玩艺儿取下来,它就会自然而然地落下去,或是变成表示别的意思的东西了。”
  “那就别取下来啦,既然你觉得合适,就继续戴下去吧,”他接着说。“触及女人的装饰一事,那可得随着她自己的心气儿。那字母绣得那么鲜艳,戴在你胸前,恰到好处地显示了你的勇敢!”
  在他俩谈话的这段时间里,海丝特一直不错眼珠地盯着那老人,她惊奇地注意到,在这七年之间,他发生了多么明显的变化。那倒不是说他又老了许多;因为虽然可以看出他年事益高的痕迹,但就他的年纪而论,仍有坚韧的精力和机敏,然而,她原来印象最深的他先前那种聪慧好学的品格,那种平和安详的风度,如今已经踪影皆无,取而代之的是一种急切窥测的神色,近乎疯狂而又竭力掩饰。他似乎有意用微笑来遮掩,但那种微笑却暴露出他的虚伪,在他脸上时隐时现,似是在捉弄他,使旁人益发清楚地看出他的阴险。他的眼睛中还不时闪出阵阵红光;象是那老人的灵魂正在燃烧,却憋在胸中闯着,只是偶尔不小心受到激情的鼓吹,才喷出瞬间的火焰。而他则尽快地将这火焰压下去,竭力装出一副没发生过这种事的样子。
  总之,老罗杰·齐灵渥斯是一个显而易见的实例,证明人只要甘心从事魔鬼的勾当,经过相当一段时间,就可以靠他本人的智能将良身变成魔鬼。这个闷闷不乐的人之所以发生了这一变化,就是由于他在七年的时间里全力以赴地剖析一颗充满痛苦的心灵并从中取乐,甚至还要对他正剖析并观察着的剧烈痛苦幸灾乐祸地火上浇油。
  红字在海丝特·白兰的胸上燃烧。因为这里又多了一个被毁灭的人,其责任,部分要归咎于她。
  “你在我脸上看到了什么,”医生问道,“让你盯得这么紧?”
  “要是我还有多余的心酸的泪的话,我会为一件事而哭泣的,”她回答说。“不过,算了吧!我还是来谈谈那个不幸的人吧。”
  “谈他的什么事呢?”罗杰·齐灵渥斯迫不及待地叫着,仿佛他喜爱这个话题,巴不得有个机会能同这个唯一可以谈谈悄悄话的人讨论一番。“咱们不说假话,海丝特太太,这会儿我刚好正忙着在那位先生身上转着念头。你就随便说吧,我会作出答复的。”
  “我们上次在一起交谈的时候,”海丝特说,“是在七年以前,当时你迫使我答应为你我之间原先的关系保密。由于那个人的生命和名声全都在你的把握之中,我除去遵从你的意志保持沉默之外,似乎已别无出路。’然而我受到这一承诺的约束,不能不疑虑重重;因为我虽然抛弃了对其他人的一切责任,却还保有对他的责任;而有一个声音在悄悄对我说,在我发誓为你保密之时,就背叛了这一职责。从那一天起,谁都没有象你这么接近他。你跟踪着他的沉重的脚步。你无论睡着醒着都守在他的身旁。你搜寻着他的思想。你挖掘并折磨他的心灵!你玩弄他于你的股掌之上,让他镇日里备受死去活来之苦;然而他对你竟依旧毫不了解。他是上天留给我保持忠诚的唯一的一个人,我却允许你对他这般肆虐,我确实扮演了一个虚伪的角色!”“难道你还有别的出路吗?”罗杰,齐灵渥斯问道。“我的手指指着他,只消一动,就可以把他从布道坛上抛到牢狱中去——甚至还会把他抛到绞刑架上!”
  “那样也许倒好些!”海丝特,白兰说。
  “我对那人作了什么坏事呢?”罗杰·齐灵渥斯又问道。“我跟你说,海丝特。白兰,自古以来,就连帝王付给医生的最大报酬,也无法买到我在这不幸的牧师身上所花费的心血!要不是我假以援手,他和你犯下罪孽之后的头两年里,他的生命便会在备受折磨之中烧光了。海丝特,因为他的精神缺乏你那种力量,挺不住你所受的红宇的那种重压。嗅,我完全可以揭发一项天大的秘密!只要一说出口就足够了!可是我在他身上尽了最大努力,凡医术能做到的,无不设法。如今他得以在这个世界上苟延残喘,全靠我的努力呢!”
  “他还不如马上死掉呢!”海丝特,白兰说。
  “是啊,妇人,你算说对了!”老罗杰。齐灵渥斯叫着,内心的火焰在她眼前烧得一片血红。“他不如马上死掉!他遭的那份罪还没有一个活人受过呢。而且这一切的一切全都让他最恶毒的政手看在眼里!他已经意识到我这个人了。’他已经感觉到有个象是诅咒的势力始终在他身边徘徊。他通过某种精神的感觉——造物主从来没有造过象他这样敏感的人——得知,拉扯他心弦的并不是什么友谊之手,而且还知道,有一双好奇的眼睛正在窥视他的内心,一心要寻找邪恶,并且已经找到了。不过他并不清楚,那双眼和那只手就是我的!他也有他的牧师兄弟们所共有的那种迷信,幻想着自己已被交给一个恶魔,受尽骇人的梦幻、绝望的念头、悔恨的螫刺和无望的宽怨的折磨;象是让他预先尝试一下等待着他的进入坟墓之后的是什么滋味。然而这恰恰是我的无所不在的暗影!——一个受到他最卑劣的委屈的人的最紧密的接触!——那个人已经变得只是出于极端的复仇的毒剂的永恒的驱使才活着了!是啊,他是对的!他没有弄错!他肘腋边确有一个恶魔!一个曾经有过人心的活人已经变成专门折磨他的恶魔了!”
  那不幸的医生,一边说着这番话,一边神色恐怖地举起双手,仿佛他看到了某个不认识的怪影在镜中侵夺了他的映象。这属于那种多少年才出现一次的时刻:此时,一个人的精神风貌一丝不苟地显示在他心灵的眼前。他恐怕从来没有象此时这样看清他自己——这样说大概没有什么不要。
  “难道你还没有把他折磨够吗?”海丝特注意到了那老人的神色,就这么问他,“难道他还没有偿还你的一切吗?”“没有!——没有!他只不过增加了他的负债!”那医生回答说;在他接下去说着的时候,他的神情不再是恶狠狠的,而变得阴郁了。“你还记得我九年前的样子吗,海丝特?即使在那时;我也到了垂暮之秋,而且还不是初秋。但我的全部生活都是由真诚、勤学、沉思和宁静的岁月所构成的,我忠实地将其奉献给为自己增加知识,也同样忠实地将其奉献给为人类造福——虽说这后一个目标与前一个相比只是附带的。谁也比不上我生活得那样平和,那样纯真;很少有人象我那样生活得富于裨益。你还记得那时的我吗?虽说你可能认为我冷酷无情,难道我不是为他人着想,很少替自己打算吗?——就算我不是温情脉脉,难道我不是善良、真诚、正直,对爱情始终不渝的人吗?过去的我难道不就是这样子吗?”
  “是这样子的,而且还不只这些,”海丝特说。
  “可我现在成了什么样子呢?”他紧盯着她的面孔,逼问着,同时让他内心的全部邪恶都无保留地表露在他的外貌上。“我已经告诉过你我是什么了!一个恶魔!是谁把我弄成这样子的?”“就是我!”海丝特周身战抖着说。“是我!我的责任并不比他小。可你为什么不对我报复呢?”
  “我把你留给了红宇,”罗杰·齐灵渥斯回答说。“如果红字还不能为我出气,我也别无它法了!”
  他面带微笑,把一个指头放在红字上面。
  “它已经替你报复了!”海丝特.白兰说。
  “我正是这么看的,”那医生说。“那么,如今你要我对那个人怎么办呢?”
  “我要揭露这一秘密,”海丝特坚定地回答说。“他应该辨清你的真实面目。其结果会如何,我并不知道。但我长期以来向他隐瞒真相的这笔债,现在总该偿还了——正是因为我才毁掉他的啊。至于他的良好的名声和他在世间的地位,或许还有他的生命,予取予夺都在你的掌握之中。我的情况就不一样了——红字已经使我皈依了真理,尽管那真理如熨铁一般火热,深源地烙进了我的灵魂,——而他那鬼一般空虚的生活再延迟下去,我也看不出还有什么好处,因此我也不会卑躬屈膝地乞求你的慈悲。你对他尽管随心所欲好了!对他不会有什么好处,一一对我不会有什么好处,——对你也没什么好处!对小珠儿不会有什么好处!没有任何指引我们跳出这阴惨的迷津的道路!”“女人,我满可以可怜你的!”罗杰.齐灵渥斯说,由于她表现出的绝望中有一种近乎庄严的气质,连他也不由得不肃然起敬了。“你具有了不起的天赋。如果你早些得到强过于我的爱,这件邪恶就不会发生了。我可怜你,因为你美好的天性横遭荒废!”
  “我也同样地可怜你,”海丝特.白兰回答说,“因为仇恨已经把一个聪明而正直的人变成了恶魔!你还愿意把仇恨从心中排挤出去,再恢复成人吗?即使不是为了他的缘故,那么总是加倍地为了你自己嘛!你放宽容些,把对他来世的报应交给有极处理此事的神灵吧!我刚才说过了,象目前这样,无论对他,对你,或者对我,都不会有任何好处,我们是在这片阴惨的邪恶迷律中一起徘徊,在我们铺撤在路上的罪孽上每走一步都要跌跌撞撞。事情本不该这样的!由于你一直深深受到委屈,你就拥有一切极力来宽怨,你可以因此从中获益,而且只有你一人单独获益。你难道要放弃那唯一的特权吗?你难道要反对这没本钱的利益吗?”
  “安静点,海丝特,安静点!”那老人阴沉而严厉地回答说。
  “上天没有赐给我宽恕的品德,我也没有你所说的那种权力。我那早已忘掉的老信仰,如今又回到了我身上,要对我们所做出和所遭受的一切给予解释。由于第一步走歪了,你就种下了邪恶的胚胎;但自从那时起,它也就成了一种阴暗的必然。不过,使我受到伤害的,除非处于一种典型的错觉之中,倒不是罪过;而我呢,虽然从魔鬼的手中夺得了他的职责,但我跟恶魔毕竟不一样。这是我们的命运。让那黑色之花随它去开吧!如今,你去走你的路,随你自己的意愿去处理同那人的关系吧。”他挥了挥手,又继续采集药草了。






十五 海丝特和珠儿

  就这样,罗杰·齐灵渥斯——那个身材畸形的老人,他那张面孔会长时间地萦绕在人们的脑海,想忘都忘不掉——离开了海丝特·白兰,一路弯着腰走开了。他东一处西一处地采集一棵药草或挖掘一个树根,然后装进他挎着的提篮里。他深猫着腰朝前走着,灰白的胡须几乎触到了地面。海丝特在他身后盯视了一小会儿,怀着一种有点想入非非的好奇心,想看清楚早春的嫩草会不会在他脚下枯萎,那一片欣欣向荣的葱翠会不会显出一条枯褐、弯曲的足迹。她不晓得那老人如此勤快地采集的是哪种药草。坟地会不会在他目光的感应下立刻产生邪意,在他手指的一触之下马上生出一种从不知名的毒草来迎接他呢?或者说,大地会不会把每一种良木益草在他接触之后都变成毒木莠草来满足他呢?那普照四方的明亮的太阳是不是也当真能照到他身上呢?或者说,是不是有一圈不样的阴影,当真象看上去的那样,始终伴随着他那畸形的身躯,任凭他走到哪里都如影随形呢?那么,现在他又往哪里去了呢?他会不会突然沉入地下?从而留下一块枯荒之地,很需要经过一段时间,才会看见龙葵、山茱萸、杀生草以及其它种种在这一气候中能够生长的毒草,可怕地滋生蔓延起来。或者说,他会不会展开蝙蝠的翅膀腾空飞去,飞得越高,样子越丑呢?
  “不管是不是罪过,”海丝特.白兰一边继续注视着他的背影,一边狠狠地说,“我反正恨这个人!”
  她为这种感情而自责,但她既不能抑制也不能减少这种感情。为了克制这种感情,她回忆起那些早巳逝去的岁月,那是在遥远的土地上,那时候他每到傍晚便从幽静的书斋中出来,坐在他们家的壁炉旁,沉浸在他妻子容光焕发的娇笑之中。他那时常说,他需要在她的微笑中温暖自己,以便从他那学者的心中驱散长时间埋头书卷所积郁的寒气。这种情景也曾经作为幸福而出现过;但如今,透过她随之而来的生活的悲惨的折射,只能归类于她回忆中最不堪入目的部分了。她惊诧何以会有过这种情景!她惊诧自己何以会最终嫁给了他!她认为,她以前竟然忍受并回握了他那不冷不热的篡握,竟然以自己眉眼和嘴唇的微笑来迎合他的笑意,实在是她最应追悔的罪过。在她看来,罗杰。齐灵渥斯对她的触犯,就是在她不谙世事时便使她误以为追随在他身边便是幸福,而这比起他后来受到的伤害要大得多。
  “是啊,我是恨他!”海丝特又重复了一句,口气更狠了。“他害苦了我!他伤我要比我伤他厉害得多!”
  让那些只赢得女人首肯婚约但没有同时赢得她们内心最深处的激情的男人们发抖吧!他们会象罗杰。齐灵渥斯一样遭到不幸的:因为当某一个比他们更有力的接触唤醒她们的全部感知时,即使是他们当作温暖的现实而要加诸女人的那种平静的满足,那种坚如磐石的幸福形象,都要统统受到指责。但海丝特早就应该对这种不公乎处之泰然了。不公平又能怎样?难道在七年漫长的岁月中,在红字曲折磨下备受痛苦,还悟不出一些仟悔之意吗?
  当她站在那儿盯着老罗杰.齐灵渥斯躬腰驼背的身影时,那瞬间油然而生的心情,在海丝特心头援下了一束黯光,照出了她平时无论如何也不会对自己承认的念头。
  在他走开之后,她才叫孩子回来。
  “珠儿!小珠儿!你在哪儿?”
  珠儿的精神从来十足,当她母亲同那采药老人谈话时,她一直玩得挺带劲。起初,她象前面说的那样,异想天开地和映在水接中的自己的倒影戏耍,招呼那映象出来,由于它不肯前进一步,她便想为自己寻找一条途径进入那不可捉摸的虚幻的天地中去。然而,她很快就发觉,要么是她,要么是那映象,总有一个是不真实的,于是便转身走开去玩更开心的游戏了。她用桦树皮做了许多小船,在上面装好蜗牛壳,让它们飘向大海,其数量之多,胜过新英格兰任何一个商人的船队;可惜大部分都在离岸不远的地方沉没了。她抓着尾巴逮住了一条活鲎鱼,捕获了好几只海星,还把一个水母放到温暖的阳光下融化。后来,她捞起海潮前缘上的白色泡沫,迎风撤去,再一蹦三跳地跟在后面,想在这些大雪花落下之前就抓在手里。接着,她看到一群海鸟在岸上飞来飞去地觅食,这调皮的孩子就拣满一围裙小石子,在岩石间爬着追逐着那些海鸟,投出一颗颗石子,显出不见的身手。珠儿把握十足地相信,她援中了一只白胸脯的小灰鸟,那小鸟带着一只折断的翅膀鼓翼而飞了。可随后这小精灵般的孩子却叹了口气,放弃了这种玩法;因为她伤害了一个如海风或者说和珠儿她本人一样狂野的小家伙,很为此伤心。
  她最后一件事是采集各种海草,给自己做了一条围巾或披肩,还有一圈头饰,把自己打扮成一个小人鱼的模样。她倒是继承了她母亲那种制做服装衣饰的天才。珠儿拿过一片大叶藻给她那身人鱼的装束做最后的点缀:她在自己的胸前,尽力模仿着她所极熟悉的她母亲胸上的装饰,也为自己佩了一个。一个字母“A";,不过不是腥红的,而且鲜绿的!这孩子把下额抵到胸口,怀着奇妙的兴致端详着这一玩艺儿,仿佛她诞生到这个世界上的唯一目的就是弄清其隐秘的含义。
  “我不知道妈妈会不会问我这是什么意思!”珠儿想道。
  就在这时,她听到了她母亲的呼唤,就象一只小海鸟似的一路轻快地跑跳着,来到海丝特.白兰的面前,又跳又笑地用手指着自己胸前的装饰。
  “我的小珠儿,”海丝特沉默了一会儿之后说,“那绿色的字母,在你童稚鲍胸口是没有意义的。不过,我的孩子,你可知道你妈妈非戴不可的这个字母的意思吗?”。
  “知道的,妈妈,”那孩子说。“那是一个大写的A宇。你已经在字帖土教过我了。”
  海丝特目不转睛地盯着她的小脸;然而,孩子那黑眼睛中虽然带着平时极其独特的表情,她却说不准珠儿是否当真把什么意思同那象征联系到了一起。她感到有一种病态的欲望想弄明白这一点。
  “孩子,你知道你妈妈为什么要戴这个字母吗?”
  “我当然知道!”珠儿说着,闪光的眸子紧盯着她母亲的面孔。“这和牧师用手捂住心口都是出于同样的原因!”
  “那究竟是什么原因呢?”海丝特问道,起初还因为孩子那番话荒诞不经而面带微笑;但转念一想,面孔就苍白了。“除去我的心之外,这字母跟别人的心又有什么关系呢?”
  “那我可不知道了,妈妈,我知道的全都说了,”珠儿说道,那神情比平时说话要严肃认真得多。“问问你刚刚同他谈话的那个老头儿吧!他也许能告诉你。不过,现在说真格的,我的好妈妈,这红宇是什么意思呢?——为什么你要在胸前戴着它?——为什么牧师要把手捂在心口上?”
  她用双手握住她母亲的一只手,用她那狂野和任性的个性中少见的一本正经的神情盯着母亲的眼睛。这时海丝特突然闪过一个念头:这孩子也许当真在以她孩提的信任来寻求同自己接近,并且尽其智慧所能来建起一个同情的交汇点。这表现出珠儿的不同往常的另一副面孔。此前,做母亲的虽以极其专一的钟爱爱着她的孩子,却总在告诫自己,且莫指望得到比任性的四月的微风更多的回报——那微风以飘渺的运动来消磨时光,具有一种难以名状的突发的激情,会在心情最好时勃然大怒,当你放它吹进怀中时,经常是给你寒气而不是爱抚;为了补偿这种过失,它有时会出于模糊的目的,以一种值得怀疑的温柔,亲吻你的面颊,轻柔地抚弄你的头发,然后便跑到一边去作别的无所事事的举动,只在你的心中留下一种梦幻般的快感。何况,这还是母亲对她孩子的气质的揣摩呢。至于别的旁观者,恐怕不会看出什么讨人喜欢的品性,只能说出些糟糕得多的评价。但此时闯入海丝特脑海的念头是:珠儿早熟和敏感得出奇,或许已然到了可以作为朋友的年龄,可以尽其所能分担母亲的忧伤,而不会对母女任何一方造成不敬了。在珠儿那小小的混沌的个性中,或许可以见到开始呈现出——也可能从一开始就一直存在着——一种毫无畏缩、坚定不移的气质,一种无拘无束的意志,一种可以培养成自尊心的桀骜不驯的骄傲,而且对许多事物抱有一种极度的轻蔑,而对这些事物如果加以推敲,就可能会发现其甲确有虚伪的污点。她还具有丰富的情感,尽管至今还象末熟的果子那样酸涩得难以入口。海丝特自忖,这个小精灵似的孩子已经具备了这些纯正的秉赋,如若再不能成长为一个高贵的妇人,那就是她从母亲身上继承到的邪恶实在太大了。
  珠儿一味纠缠着要弄清红字之谜,看来是她的一种内在的天性。从她开始懂事的时候起,就对这一问题当作指定的使命来琢磨。海丝特从那时起就常常想象:上天赋予这孩子这种突出的倾向,是有其惩恶扬善的果报意图在内的;但直到最近,她才扪心自问,是否还有一个与那个意图相关的施赐仁慈与恩惠的目的。如果把小珠儿不仅当作一个尘世的孩子,也当‘作一个精神使者,对她抱有忠诚与信任,那么,她难道就不能承担起她的使命,把冷冷地藏在她母亲心中、从而把那颗心变成坟墓的忧伤扫荡净尽吗?——并帮助母亲克制那一度十分狂野、至今仍未死去或入睡、而只是禁锢在同一颗坟墓般的心中的激情呢?此时在海丝特头脑中翻腾的就是这些念头;其印象之活跃生动,不啻在她耳畔低语。而且眼前就有小珠儿,在这段时间里始终用双手握住母亲的手,还仰起脸来望着母亲,同时一而再、再而三地刨根问底。
  “这字母到底是什么意思,妈妈?——你干嘛要戴着它?——牧师干嘛总要用手捂着心口?”
  “我该说什么才好呢?”海丝特心中自忖。“不成!如果这是换取孩子同情的代价,我是不能支付的。”
  于是她开口说话了。
  “傻珠儿,”她说,“这是些什么问题呢?这世上有许多事情是一个小孩子不该问的。我怎么会知道关于牧师的心的事情呢?至于这红字嘛,我戴上是因为金线好看。”
  在过去的七今年头中,海丝特·白兰还从来没有就她胸前的标记说过假话。很可能,那红字虽是一个严苛的符咒,但同时也是一个守护神,不过现在那守护神抛弃了她,正是由于看到了这一点,尽管红字依然严格地守在她心口,但某个新的邪恶已经钻了进去,或者说某个旧的邪恶始终没有被驱逐出来。至于小珠儿呢,那种诚挚的神情很快就从她脸上消失了。
  但那孩子仍不肯就此罢休。在她母亲领她回家的路上,她又问了两三次,在吃晚饭时和海丝特送她上床时又问了两三次,在她象是已经入睡之后又问了一次:珠儿抬起头来,黑眼睛中闪着捣蛋的光芒。
  “妈妈,”她说,“这红字到底是什么意思?”
  第二天一早,那孩子醒来的第一个表示,就是从枕头上猛地把头一始,闷起另外那个问题,不知为什么她总是把那个问题同探询红宇的问题搅在一起——
  “妈妈!——妈妈!——牧师于嘛总用手捂住心口呢?”
  “闭嘴,调皮鬼!”她母亲回答说,语气之严厉,是她以前从来不准自己有的。“别缠我了,要不我就把你关进橱柜里去了!”






十六 林中散步

  海丝特,白兰不管眼下有什么痛苦或日后有什么结果,也甘冒风险,一心要对丁梅斯代尔先生揭示那个钻到他身边的人的真实身分。她知道他有一个习惯,喜欢沿着半岛的岸边或邻近的乡间的山林中边散步边思考,但接连好几天,她都没能趁着这个时间找个机会同他交谈。当然,她就是到他自己的书斋去拜访,也不会引起谣言,更不会对牧师那圣洁的名声有什么影响,因为原本就有许多人到他的书斋中去仟侮,他们所招认的罪孽之深重,或许不亚于红字所代表的那种。然而,一来她担心老罗杰·齐灵渥斯会暗中或公然搅扰;一来她自己心里疑神疑鬼,虽说别人并不会猜测;一来她和牧师谈话时,两人都需要整个旷野来呼吸空气——出于这一切原因,海丝特从来没想过不在光天化日之下面在什么狭窄的私下场所去见他。
  后来,她到一家病人的房中去帮忙,而丁梅斯代尔牧师先生先前也曾应邀去作道祈祷,她才在那里听说他已经在前一天就走了——到他的印第安信徒中拜访使徒艾略特去了。他可能要在第二天下午的某个时刻回来。于是,到了次日那个钟点,海丝特就带上珠儿出发了——只要母亲外出,不管带着她方便与否,她反正总是必不可少的伴侣。
  这两个行路人穿过半岛踏上大陆之后,脚下便只有一条人行小径可走了。这条小路婉蜒伸入神秘的原始森林之中。树木紧紧夹位窄窄的小路,耸立在两旁,浓密蔽荫,让人举目难见青天。在海丝特看来,这恰是她多年来徘徊其中的道德荒野的写照。天气阴沉面寒冷。头上是灰蒙蒙的云天,时而被微风轻拂;因而不时可见缕缕阳光,孤寂地在小径上闪烁跳跃。这种转瞬即逝的欢快,总是闪现在森林纵深的远端。在天气和景色的一片阴霾中,那嬉戏的阳光——充其量不过是微弱的闪跃——在她们走近时就退缩了,她们原本希望阳光闪跃过的地方会明亮些,但走到跟前倒显得益发阴暗了。
  “妈妈,”小珠儿说,“阳光并不爱你。它跑开躲起来了,因为它害怕你胸口的什么东西。你瞧嘛!它在那儿跳呢,远远地。你站在这儿,让我跑过去抓住它。我只不过是个孩子。它不会逃避我的,因为我胸前还什么都没戴呢!”
  “我的孩子,我但愿你一辈子也别戴吧,”海丝特说。
  “于嘛不戴呢,妈妈?”珠儿问道,她刚要拔腿朝前跑,忽地停下了脚步。“等我长成大人,难道它不会自然就来了吗?”
  “快跑吧,孩子,”她母亲回答,“去抓住阳光!它会转眼就跑掉的。”
  珠儿拔腿飞快地跑去,海丝特微笑着看到,她还真的抓住了阳光,并且站在阳光中放声大笑,全身披着的灿烂的彩晖,还随着她快速移动的活跃激荡着而闪闪发亮。那光亮依傍在孤独的孩子身边,似是因为有了这样一个玩伴而兴高采烈,一直到她母亲差不多也要迈步进入那充满魔力的光圈为止。
  “这下它要走了,”珠儿摇着头说。
  “瞧!”海丝特微笑着回答。“现在我可以伸出手来,抓住一些阳光了。”
  就在她打算这么做时,阳光又消失了;或者,从珠儿脸上闪跃着的焕发的容光来判断,她母亲也可能想象是孩子把阳光吞了进去,单等她们步入更幽暗的地方时,再放出来照亮她们的小径。在珠儿的秉性中,这种永不衰竭的精神活力带有一种蕴含着的崭新精力的感觉,给她的印象最为深刻;珠儿没有忧郁症——如今几乎所有的孩子都从他们先辈的烦恼中,把这种症状同瘟病一起继承了下来。也许这种活泼同样是一种疾病,不过是珠儿降生之前海丝特用来遏制自己的忧伤的那种野性的反映。这种活力在孩子的性格上增加了一种坚硬的金属般的光泽,其魅力甚属可疑。她需要——一些人终生都需要一些东西——一种阴郁来源源地触动她,以便增加她的人性,并使她能够同情。好在对小珠儿来说,还有的是时间呢。
  “过来,我的孩子!”海丝特一边说着,士边从珠儿刚刚在阳光中站着不动的地方向四下望着。“我们要在林子里坐下来,休息一下。”
  “我还不累呢,妈妈,”那小姑娘回答说。“不过,你要是愿意借这个机会给我讲个故事的话,倒是可以坐下来。”
  “讲个故事,孩子!”海丝特说。“关于什么的故事呢?”
  “噢,讲个关于黑男人的故事吧,”珠儿回答着,一边攥住她母亲的袍子,一边又真诚又调皮地抬头盯着母亲的面孔。“讲讲他怎么在这座林子里走动,还随身带着一本书——一本又大又重的册子,上面还有铁箍;讲讲这个长得挺丑的黑男人怎么向在这林子里遇到的每一个人拿出他的册子和一支铁笔;让他们用自己的血写下他们的名字。然后他就在他们的胸前打上他的记号!你以前遇到过这个黑男人吗,妈妈?”
  “谁给你讲的这个故事,珠儿?”她母亲这样问着,心里明白这是当时的一种普遍的迷信。
  “就是昨天夜里你照看的那家的老太婆,她在屋角的炉灶那儿讲的,”那孩子说。“不过她讲的时候,还以为我睡着了呢。她说,有成千成千的人在这儿遇见过他,在他的册子上写下了名字,身上也让他打了记号。那个脾气挺坏的西宾斯老太太就是一个。还有,妈妈,那个老太婆说,这个红字就是黑男人打在你身上的记号,夜里在这黑林子里遇见他时,红字就会家红色火苗一样闪闪发光。这是真的吗,妈妈?你是在夜里去见他的吗?”
  “你夜里醒来时,可曾发现你妈妈出去了?”海丝特问。
  “我不记得有过,”孩子说。“要是你害怕把我一个人留在咱们的小屋里,你可以带我一块儿去那儿嘛。我可高兴去呢!不过,妈妈,现在就告诉我吧!有没有这么一个黑男人?你到底见过他没有?这红字是不是他的记号?”
  “要是我告诉你,你肯不肯让我安静安静?”她母亲问。
  “成,你可得全告诉我,”珠儿回答。
  “我活这么大就见过那黑男人一次!”她母亲说。“这个红字就是他的记号!”
  母女俩一边这么谈着,就走进了树林挺深的地方,在这儿她们很安全,绝不会被任何随便走过林中小径的路人看到。她们这时在一堆繁茂的青苔上坐了下来,这地方在一百多年以前,曾经长过一棵巨松,树冠高耸入云,树根和树干遮在浓荫之中。她们所坐的地方是一个小小的山谷,两侧的缓坡上铺满树叶,中间流着一条小溪,河底淹没着落时。悬在溪上的树木常年来投下的大树枝,阻逼了溪流,在一些地方形成了漩涡和深潭;而在溪水畅通、流得欢快的地段,则露出河底的石子和闪光的褐砂。她们放眼沿河道望去,可以看见在林中不远的地方水面粼粼的反光,但没多久,就在盘错的树干和灌木中失去了踪迹,而不时为一些长满灰色地衣的巨石遮住视线。所有这些大树和巨石似乎有意为这条小小的溪流蒙上一层神秘的色彩;或许是害怕它那喋喋不休的多嘴多舌会悄悄道出它所流经的古老树林的内心秘密,或者是害怕它那流过池塘时的光滑水面会映出其隐衷。确实,当小溪不停地偷偷向前流动时,一直在潺潺作响,那声音和蔼、平静又亲切,但总带点忧郁,就象一个婴儿时期没有玩痛快的小孩子,仍然不知如何在伤心的伙伴和阴暗的事件中自得其乐。
  “啊,小河啊!啊,蠢得烦人的小河啊!”珠儿聆听了一阵儿流水的谈话后这样叫着人“你为什么这样伤心?打起点精神来,别总是哀声叹气的!”
  但在林间流过它短短生命的溪水,其经历是那样地肃穆,不可能不把它讲出来,而且看来也别无其它可说。珠儿与那溪水就有点相似,她的生命也是涌自一个神秘之泉,并流经同样阴沉的暗景。但同溪水不同的是,她是一路蹦蹦跳跳地走过来的,她容光焕发,谈吐轻快。
  “这条伤心的小河都说些什么啊;妈妈?”她询问道。
  “如果你有自己的忧伤,那么小溪也可以跟你把它说出来的,”她母亲回答,“就象它在对我谈我的忧伤一样!不过,珠儿,这会儿我听到有脚步声沿着小路走来,—还有拨开树枝的声音。我想让你自己去玩一会儿,留下我和走来的那人谈一谈。”
  “是那个黑男人吗?”珠儿问。
  “你去玩儿好吗,孩子?”她母亲又说了一遍。“可是别在林子里走得太远。留点心,我一叫你就回来。”
  “好的,妈妈,”珠儿回答说。“不过,要是那个黑男人,你就让我稍稍呆上一会儿,看上他一眼,他还挟着那本大册子呢,不是吗?”
  “走吧,傻孩子!”她母亲不耐烦地说。“他不是黑男人!你现在就能看到他,正在穿过林子走来。那是牧师!”
  “原来是他!”孩子说。“妈妈,他用手捂着心口呢!是不是因为牧师在册子上写下名字的时候,黑男人在那地方打下了记号?可是他干嘛不象你一样,把记号戴在胸口外面呢,妈妈?”
  “现在快走吧,孩子,过一会儿再来缠我,‘”海丝特·白兰叫喊着。“不过别走远。就在能听到流水声的地方好了。”
  那孩子沿着溪流唱着走开了,她想把更明快的歌声融进溪水的忧郁腔调中。但那小溪并没有因此而得到安慰,仍然不停地唠叨着在这阴森的树林中已经发生的一些十分哀伤的故事——或是预言某些将要发生的事情的伤心之处——诉说着其中莫测的隐秘。于是,在她小小的生命中已经有了太多的阴影的珠儿,便放弃了这条如泣如诉的小溪,不再和它交往。因此,她就一心采集紫罗兰和木莲花,以及她发现长在一块高大石头的缝隙中的一些腥红的耧斗菜。
  海丝特。白兰等她的小精灵孩子走远之后,便向那穿过森林的小径上走了一两步,但仍遮在树木的暗影之中。她看到牧师正沿着小径走来,他只身一人,只是手中接着一根从路边砍下的手杖。他样子憔悴无力,露出一种失魂落魄的沮丧神情,这是他在居民区周围或其它他认为显眼的地方散步时,从来在他身上看不到的。但在这里,在这与世隔绝的密林中,在这密林本身就使人深感精神压力的地方,他这种沮丧神情却暴露无遗,令人目不忍睹。他无精打采,举步维艰;仿佛他不明所以,不肯向前,也根本不想再迈一步,如果他还有什么可高兴的,大概就是巴不得在最近的一棵树下躺倒,无所事事地躺上一辈子。树叶会撒落在他身上,泥土会逐渐堆积,从而在他身上形成一个小土丘,无需过问他的躯体内还有无生命。死亡这个十分明确的目标,是不必巴望,也不必回避的。
  在海丝特的眼中,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生除去象小珠儿曾经说过的那样,总用手捂着心口之外,没有表现出显面易见的受折磨的征候。






十七 教长和教民

  尽管牧师走得很慢,也几乎要走过去了,可海丝特·白兰还是提不起声音喊他。最后,她总算叫了出来。
  “阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔!”她说,起初有气无力,后来声音倒是放开了,可是有些沙哑。“阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔!”
  “是谁在说话?”牧师应声说。
  他立刻提起精神,挺直身子站住了,就象是一个人正处于不想被人看见的心情之中,突然吃了一惊似的。他急切地循声望去,模模糊糊地看见树下有个人影,身上的服色十分晦暗,在阴霾的天空和浓密的树荫遮得连正午都极为膝脆的昏幽之中,简直难以分辨,’他根本说不上那儿是个女人还是个影子。也许,在他的人生旅途上,常有这么一个幽灵从他的思想里溜出来纠缠他吧。
  他向前迈了一步,发现了红字。
  “海丝特!海丝特,白兰!”他说。“是你吗?你是活人吗?”
  “岂止如此!”她回答说。“我已经这样生活了七年了!而你呢,阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔,你还活着吗?”
  他俩这样互相询问对方的肉体的实际存在,甚至怀疑自己还活着,是不足为奇的。他们在这幽暗的树林中如此不期而遇,简直象是两个幽灵,出了坟墓之后在世上首次避遁:他们的前世曾经关系密切,但如今却站在那里打着冷战,都让对方给吓坏了;似乎既不熟悉自己的状态,又不惯于与脱离了肉体的存在为伴。双方都是鬼魂,但又被对方的鬼魂吓得不知所措!他们其实也被自己吓得不知所措;因为这一紧急关头又重新勾起他们的意识,并向各自的心头揭示了自己的历史和经历,那是除去这种令人窒息的时刻,平常的人生中所从来没有的。灵魂在逝去的瞬间的镜子中看到了自己的模样。阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔恰恰是心怀恐惧,周身战抖,并且事实上缓慢而勉强地伸出他那死人一般冰冷的手,触摸到海丝特·白兰的发凉的手。这两手的相握虽然冷漠,但却驱散了相会时最阴沉的东西。他们此时至少感到双方是同一天地中的居民了。
  他俩没再多说,况且哪一个也没有引路,只是凭着一种默契,便十起退到海丝特刚才走出的树荫中,双双坐在她和珠儿坐过的那堆青苔上。他们好不容易才开口讲话,起初只是象两个熟人那样搭汕两句,说说天空阴沉,就要有暴风雨了,后来便谈到各自的健康情况。他们就这样谈下去,小心翼翼地,一步一步地,扯到深深埋藏在心底的话题。由于命运和环境这多年来将他们相互隔绝,他们就需要些轻松的阔谈来开头,然后再敞开交谈的大门,把他们的真实思想领进门限。
  过了一会,牧师的目光紧紧盯住海丝特·白兰的眼睛。
  “海丝特,”他,说,“你得到平静了吗?”
  她凄楚地笑了笑,垂下眼睛看着自己胸前。
  “你呢?”她反问……
  “没有!——除了绝望再无其它!”他回答说。“作为我这样一个人,过着我这样的生活,我又能指望什么呢?如果我是一个无神论者,——一个丧尽良心的人,——一个本性粗野的恶棍,——或许我早就得到了平静。不,我本来就不该失去它的!不过,就我的灵魂而论,无论我身上原先有什么好品质,上帝所赐予的一切最精美的天赋已经全都变成了精神折磨的执行者。海丝特,我实在太痛苦了!”
  “人们都尊重你,”海丝特说。“而且说实在的,你在他们中间确实做着好事!这一点难道还不能给你带来慰藉吗?”
  “益发痛苦,海丝特!——只能是益发痛苦!”牧师苦笑着回答说。“至于我表面上做的那些好事,我也毫无信念可言。那不过是一种幻觉罢了。象我这样一个灵魂已经毁灭的人,又能为拯救他人的灵魂做出什么有效之举呢?——或者说,一个亵渎的灵魂能够净化他人吗?至于别人对我的尊重,我宁愿统统变成轻蔑与愤懑!我不得不站在布道坛上,迎着那么多仰望着我的面孔的眼睛,似乎我脸上在发散天国之光!我不得不看着我那群渴望真理的羔羊聆听我的话语,象是一只‘火焰的舌头’在讲话!可是我再向自己的内心一看,却辨出了他们所崇拜的东西中丑陋的真相!海丝特,你能认为这是一种慰藉吗?我曾在内心的极度辛酸悲苦之中,放声嘲笑我的表里不一!撒旦也是这样嘲笑的!”
  “你在这一点上冤枉了自己,”海丝特温和地说。“你已经深刻而痛彻地悔过了。’你的罪过早已在逝去的岁月中被你抛弃在身后了。说实在的,你目前的生活并不比人们心目中的神圣的弥差什么。你这样大做好事来弥补和证实你的悔过,难道还不是真心诚意,实实在在的吗?为什么还不能给你带来平静呢?”“不成,海丝特,不成啊!”牧师应道。“其中并没有实实在在的东西!那是冰冷与死寂的,对我毫无用处!忏悔嘛,我已经做得够多的了!可是悔过呢,还一点没有!不然的话,我早就该抛掉这貌似神圣的道袍,象人们在最后审判席上看到我的那样,袒露给他们看了。你是有幸的,海丝特,因为你能把红字公开地戴在胸前!可我的红字却在秘密地灼烧!你简直想象不出,在经过七年之久的欺骗的折磨之后,看到一双眼睛能够认清我是什么货色,我的心内有多么轻松!假如我有一个朋友——或者说,哪怕他是我最恶毒的敌人!——能够让我在受到别人赞扬得难过的时候,随时到他那儿去一下,让他知道我是一切罪人中最可耻的,我想,这样我的灵魂或许还可得以生存。只消这小小的一点真诚就可以挽救我!可是,如今呢,一切全是虚伪!——全是空虚!——全是死亡!”
  海丝特·白兰凝视着他的面孔,迟迟没有开口。不过,他如此激烈地说出长期压抑的情感,这番话倒给了她一个机会,正好借以说出她来此想谈的事。她克服了内心的畏惧,终于启齿了。
  “象你此时所希望有的那样一个朋友,”她说,“以便可以哭诉一下你的罪过,不是已经有我了嘛——我是你的同案犯啊!”——她又迟疑了,但还是咬了咬牙,把话说了出来。——“你也早就有了那样一个敌人,你还和他同住在一所房子里呢2”牧师猛地站起身来,大口喘着租气,紧紧抓住胸口,象是要把心抠出来。
  “啊!你说什么!”他叫道。“一个敌人!而且跟我住在一起!你是什么意思?”
  海丝特,白兰如今才充分意识到,这个不幸的男人所受的伤害有多深,她对此是有责任的,她不该允许那个一心抱着恶毒动机的人在他身边摆布他这么些年,其实即使是一瞬间也不该的。那个心怀匣测的人不管蒙上什么面具来遮掩,仅仅接近一下象阿瑟,丁梅斯代尔那样敏感的人,就足以扰乱他的方寸了。有一段时间,海丝特没怎么动脑筋考虑这一点;也许是因为她自己痛不欲生,而把他的厄运看得比较容易忍受,也就没去过问他。但自从他那天晚上夜游以来,最近她对他的全部同情都变得又温柔又有力了。如今她对他的心看得更准了。她毫不怀疑,罗杰·齐灵渥斯没日没夜地守在他身边,他那不可告人的险恶用心毒化了他周围的气氛,他那医生的身分对牧师的身心痈疾具有权威性的影响——这一切都构成了达到残酷目的的可乘之机。凡此种种,使那个受苦人的良心始终处于一种烦躁状态,长此以往,不但不会以有益健康的痛苦治愈他,反而会紊乱和腐蚀他的精神生命。其结果,他在世间难以不弄得精神错乱,之后则与“真”和“善”永远绝缘,其现世的表现就是疯狂。
  这就是她带给那个男人的毁灭,而那个男人正是她一度——唉,我们何必不直说呢?——而且至今仍满怀激情地爱恋着的!海丝特觉得,正如她最近对罗杰,齐灵渥斯所说,牺牲掉牧师的好名声,甚至让他死掉,都比她原先所选择的途径要强得多。如今,与其把这极其严重的错误坦白出来,她宁可高高兴兴地躺在这林中落叶之上,死在阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔脚旁。
  “啊,阿瑟,”她叫道,“原谅我吧!不管我有什么不好,我可一直想努力作一个诚实的人!诚实是我可以仅守的美德,而且不管有什么艰难险阻,我也确实牢牢守住了这一美德;只有一条例外,那就是当你的利益、你的生命、你的名誉受到挑战的时候!只有在这种时候,我才同意采取欺骗的手段。但说谎永远不能算是好事,哪怕退路是死亡的威胁!你难道还不明白我要说的话吗?那个老人!——那个医生!——就是人们叫他罗杰·齐灵渥斯的那个人!——他是我过去的丈夫!”
  牧师以他的激情的全部冲动,看了她一会儿,这种激情以备种形态同他那比较高尚、比较纯洁、比较温柔的品德混杂在一起,事实上是恶魔在他身上所占领的阵地,并借以战胜其它的那部分。海丝特还从来没见过这么阴暗、这么凶猛的脸色。在那理额皱眉的刹那间,那可真是一种阴森的变脸。但他本人已经给折磨得十分虚弱,即使这种较低劣的表现也只能是转瞬即逝的挣扎。他一屁股坐在地上,把脸埋在双手之中。
  “我早就该明白了,”他油油地说。“我其实早就知道了!从我第一眼看到他起,直到后来每次见到他,我的心都会退缩,这难道不是向我泄露了秘密吗?我怎么还没明白呢?噢,海丝特,白兰,你简直,你根本不懂这件事有多可怕!有多无耻!——有多粗鄙!——竟然把一颗病弱和犯罪构心暴露给幸灾乐祸地既视着的眼睛,丑得有多可怕啊!女人啊,女人啊,你要对此负责的!我不能原谅你!”
  “你应当原谅我!”海丝特一边叫着,一边扑倒在落叶上,躺在他身边。“让上帝来惩罚吧!你得原谅我!”
  她怀着突然和绝望的柔情,猛地伸出两臂搂住了他,并且把他的头靠在她胸前;她没有顾及这样一来,他的面颊恰好贴在那红字上。他本想抽身出来,但是动弹不得。海丝特不肯放松他,以免看见他盯望着她面孔的那种严厉表情。整整七年,全世界都曾经对她,对她这孤苦无依的女人,皱起眉头,但她还是挺过来了,从来没有一次掉转开她那坚定而伤心的目光。上天也同样向她皱眉,但她活了过来。然而,这个苍白虚弱、负罪而伤透心的男人的皱眉,却是海丝特所忍受不了,会让她死掉的!
  “你还得原谅我!”她一遍又一遍地重复着。“你别皱眉好吗?你肯原谅我吗?”
  “我一定原谅你,海丝特,”牧师终于回答了,同时深深地叹了一口气,那是发自悲伤而不是气愤的深渊的。“我现在爽快地原谅你。愿上帝饶恕我们俩吧!海丝特,我们并不是世上最坏的罪人。还有一个人,甚至比受到玷污的教士还要坏!那老人的复仇比我的罪过更见不得人。他阴险地凌辱一颗神圣不可侵犯的心灵。你和我,海丝特,从来没干过这种事!”
  “从来没有,从来没有!”她悄声说。“我们的所作所为其本身是一种神圣的贡献。我们是这样看的!我们在一起说过的!你忘了吗?”
  “嘘,海丝特!”阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔说着,从地上站起身来。
  “没有;我没忘!”’
  他俩重新坐下;肩并着肩,手握着手,就这样坐在长满青苔的倒下的树干上。这是生命赋予他们的最阴郁的时刻;这是生命旅途早就引导他们走来的地方,而且在他们的不知不觉之中越走越黑暗;然而此时此地却包含着一种魅力,叫他们留连忘返,期望着能够再停留一会儿,再停留一会儿,终归仍是再停留一会儿。四下的森林朦胧一片,一阵风吹过,响起噼啪之声。粗大的树枝在他们的头上沉重地摇晃;一棵肃穆的老树对另一棵树悲声低吟,仿佛在倾诉树下坐着的这一对人儿的伤心的故事,或是在不得不预告那行将到来的邪恶。
  然而他们仍然不肯回去。那通往居民区的林中小路看来有多么沉闷,一回到那居民区,海丝特·白兰就得重新负起她那耻辱的重荷,而牧师则要再次戴上他那好名声的空虚的面具!因此他们就又多呆了一会儿。金色的光辉从来没有象在这黑树林的幽暗中这么可贵。在这里,红字只有他一个人的眼睛能够看见,也就不必烧进那堕落的女人的胸膛中去了!在这里,对上帝和人类都虚伪的阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔也只有她一人的眼睛能够看见,也就在这片刻之间变得诚实了!
  他为突然闪现的一个念头面惊跳起来。
  “海丝特,”他叫道,“如今又有了一种新的可怕之处!罗杰·齐灵渥斯既然知道了你有意要揭示他的真实身分,那么,他还肯继续保持我们的秘密吗?今后他将采取什么途径来复仇呢?”
  “他生性喜欢诡秘从事,”海丝特沉思着回答说;“而且这一秉性已经随着他悄悄行使他的复仇计划而益发牢固了。我认为他大概不会泄露这个秘密。他肯定会谋求另外的手段来满足他那不可告人的感情。”
  “可是我啊!——同这样一个死对头呼吸同一处的空气,我又怎么能够活得长久呢?”阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔惊呼着,心里一沉,神经质地用手去捂住心口——他的这种姿势已经变得不由自主了。“为我想一想吧,海丝特!你是坚强的。替我想个办法吧!”
  “你不能继续跟他住在一起了,”海丝特说,语气徐缓而坚定。“你的心再也不能处于他那双邪恶的眼睛朗监视之下了!
  “这可比死还要糟糕得多!”牧师应道。“但是怎么来避免呢?我还有什么选择呢?你刚才告诉我他是什么人时,我就一屁股坐在了这些枯叶上,可是我还要倒在这里吗?我应该沉沦于此,并且马上死掉吗?”
  “天啊!你已经给毁成什么样子啦!”海丝特说着,泪水涌进了她的眼睛。“你难道就因为软弱而要死吗?此外再没有别的原因了!”
  “上帝的裁判正落在我身上,”那位受到良心震撼的牧师回答说。“那力量太强大,我挣扎不动了!”
  “上帝会显示仁慈的,”海丝特接口说,“只要你有力气来接受就成。”
  “你帮我振作振作吧!”他回答说。“给我出个主意该怎么办。”
  “你说,这世界是这么狭小吗?”海丝特,白兰一边高声说着,一边用她那深沉的目光注视着牧师的眼睛,她的目光本能地有一种磁石般的效力,作用在那涣散消沉得简直无法撑持自己的精神之上。“难道整个天地就只在那边那小镇的范围之内吗?只在不久之前,那里还是一片撒满落时的荒野,和我们现在呆的这地方差不多凄凉。那林中小径是通往何处的呢?你会说,是返回居民区的!不错;但是还可以再往前走啊。它越往深处去,就更源源地通向蛮荒野地,每走一步,人们就会越看不清它,直到再走不多久,枯黄的落叶上便不见白人的足迹了。到那里,你就自由了!只消走这短短的一程路,就可以把你从使你万分苦恼的世界带到你仍可享受到幸福的地方!在这无边无际的大森林里难道还没有一处树荫足以将你的心隐藏起来,不让罗杰·齐灵渥斯监视吗?”
  “是有的,海丝特;不过只是在这些落叶之下!”牧师苦笑着回答说。
  “何况还有海上的宽阔航道!”海丝特继续说。“是它把你带到了这里。只要你愿意,它还可以把你再送回去。在我们的祖国,不管是在偏僻的农村,还是在大城市伦敦——或者,当然还有德国、法国、以及令人愉快的意大利,——你都会超出他努力所及并且不为他所知晓!到那时,你与这些铁石心肠的人们,还有他们的看法,又有什么关系呢?他们已经尽其所能把你禁锢这么久了!”
  “那可不成!”牧师回答,听他那口气,就象是要他去实现一场梦。“我根本没力气去。象我这样一个悲惨的罪人,只有—个念头,就是在上天已经安排给我的地域里了此残生。既然我已经失去了自己的灵魂,我只有继续尽我所能来拯救别的灵魂!虽说我是个不忠于职守的哨兵,等到这种沉网的守望终了的时候,我所能得到的报酬只能是不光彩的死亡,但我仍不敢擅离岗位!”
  “你已经给这长达七年的不幸的重荷压垮了,”海丝特应着,热心地用自己的精力给他鼓劲。“但是你应该把这一切都抛在身后!当你沿着林中小径走去时,你不该让它拖累你的脚步,如果你想跨海东归,你也不该把它带到船上。把你遭受到的一切损害都留在发生地吧。不要再去理睬它!一切从新开始!这次尝试失败了,你就不可能再干了吗?不是这样的!未来还是充满尝试和成功的。还有幸福有待你去享有!还有好事要你去做!把你的虚伪的生活变成真实的生活吧。如果你的精神召唤你去从事这一使命,就到红种印第安人中间去作牧师和使徒吧。或者,——也许更符合你的秉性——在有教养的世界的那些最聪明和最著名的人们中间去作一名学者和圣哲吧。你可以去布道!去写作!去有一番作为!你可以做任何事情,只要不躺下死掉!放弃阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔这个姓名,给你自己另起一个,换一个更高贵的,好使你在那姓名下不会感到恐惧和耻辱。你何必还要一天天陷在蚕食着你生命的痛苦之中!——它已经削弱了你的意志和行动!——它已经折磨得你甚至无力去悔改了!挺身起来,离开这里吧!”
  “噢,海丝特!”阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔喊道,她的热情在他的眼中燃起一道闪光,亮了一下就又熄灭了,“你是在鼓励一个两膝发抖的人去赛跑!我身上已经没有力量和勇气独自到那广袤、陌生和困难的天地去闯荡了!”
  这是一颗破碎的心完全沮丧的最后表示。他没有力气去抓住那似是唾手可得的幸运。
  他又重复了一遍那个字眼。
  “独自一人啊,海丝特!”
  “不会叫你独自一人前往的!”她深沉地悄声回答说。
  这样,话就全讲明了!






十八 一片阳光

  阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔凝视着海丝特的面孔,他的神情中确实闪烁着希望和欣喜,但其中也夹杂着畏缩,以及对她的胆识的一种惊惧,因为她说出了他隐约地暗示而没敢说出的话。
  但是,海丝特·白兰天生具有勇敢和活跃的气质,加之这多年来不仅被人视如陌窖,而且为社会所摒弃,所以就形成了那样一种思考问题的高度,对牧师来说简直难以企及。她一直漫无目标地在道德的荒野中徘徊;那荒野同这荒林一样广漠、一样错综、一样阴森,而他俩如今正在这幽暗的林中进行决定他们命运的会谈。她的智慧和心灵在这里适得其所,她在荒漠之处自由漫游,正如野蛮的印第安人以林为家。在过去这些年中,她以陌生人的目光看待人类的风俗制度,以及由教士和立法者所建立的一切;她几乎和印第安人一样,以不屑的态度批评牧师的丝带、法官的黑袍、颈手枷、绞刑架、家庭或教会。她的命运发展的趋向始终是放纵她自由的。红字则是她进入其他妇女不敢涉足的禁区的通行证。耻辱,绝望,孤寂!——这些就是她的教师,而且是一些严格粗野的教师,他们既使她坚强,也教会她出岔于。
  而在牧师那一方面,却从来没有过一种经历会引导他跨越雷池一步;虽说只有一例,他曾经那么可怕地冒犯了其中最为神圣的戒条。但那只是情感冲动造成的罪过,并非原则上的对抗,甚至不是故意而为。从那倒霉的时日起,他一直以病态的热情,小心翼翼地监视着自己的,不是他的行为——因为这很容易调整——,而是他的每一丝情绪和每一个念头。当年,牧师们是身居社会首位的,因此他只能更受戒律、原则甚至偏见的束缚。身为牧师,他的等级观必然也会限制他。作为一个一度犯罪、但又因未愈的伤口的不断刺激而良心未泯并备受折磨的人,他或许会认为比起他从未有过罪孽反倒在道德上更加保险。
  这样,我们似乎就明白了:就海丝特·白兰而论,这备受摒弃和耻辱的整整七年的时间,只不过是为此时此刻做好准备而已。但阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔可不同!倘使象他这样一个人再次堕落的话,还能为减轻罪行作何辩白呢?没有了;除非可以勉强说什么:他被长期的剧烈痛苦压垮了;他的头脑已经被自责折磨得阴暗和混乱了;他要么承认是一名罪犯而逃走,要么继续充当一名伪君子而留下,但他的良心已难以从中取得平衡;为了避免死亡和耻辱的危险,以及一个敌人的莫测的诡计,出走原是合乎情理的;最后,还可以说,这个可怜的朝圣者,在他凄凉的旅途中,倍感昏迷、病痛和悲惨的折磨,却瞥见一道充满仁爱和同情的闪光,其中有崭新和真实的生活,可以取代他目前正在赎罪的沉重的命运。如果把那严酷而伤感的真理说出来,那就是:罪孽一旦在人的灵魂中造成一个蹿隙,今世便万难弥合。当然,你尽可以用心守望,以防敌人再度闯进禁地,甚至还可以预防他在随后的袭击中选择另一条比他原来成功的突破曰更好的途径。但是,那断壁颓垣仍然存在,敌人就在附近暗中移动,试图再次获得难忘的胜利。
  如果这算是一场激争,那是无须描述的。只消一句话就足够了:牧师决心出走,但不是一个人。
  “在这过去的七个年头中,”他想着,“如果我还能回忆起有过瞬间的宁静或希望,我也会看在上天的仁慈的诚意上忍受下去的。可是如今,我既已命中注定无法挽回,又何必不去捕捉已经定罪的犯人临刑前所能得到的那点慰藉呢?或者说,象海丝特规劝我的那样,如果这是一条通往美好生活的途径,我踏上它肯定不是舍弃什么光明的前程!何况,没有她的陪伴,我再也活不下去了;她对我的支撑是那样有力,她对我的抚慰是那么温柔!啊,我不敢抬眼仰望的天神啊,你还肯再饶恕我吧!”“你就走吧!”海丝特说,当他迎到她的目光时,她是那么安详。
  这决定一旦做出之后,一般欣喜异常的色彩便将其跳动的光辉投射到他胸中的烦恼之上。这种振奋人心的决定对于一个刚刚逃脱自己心灵禁锢的囚犯来说,有如踏上一片未受基督教化的、尚无法律管理的荒土,让他呼吸到那旷野的自由空气。他的精神就此一下升腾起来,比起被悲惨心境压得匍匐在地时,更近地看到了天空的景色。他是一个深具宗教气质的人,因此他的情绪上便必然会染上虔敬的色调。
  “我重新尝到喜悦了吗?”他对自己诧异地叫道。“我还以为喜悦的胚胎已经在我心中死掉了呢1嗅,海丝特,你可真是我的好天使呢!我似乎已经把我这个疾病缠身、罪孽玷污和忧愁满腹的人抛到了这林中落叶之上,再站起来时已经脱胎换骨,周身充满新生的力量来为仁慈的上帝增光!如今我这条生命已经好得多了!我们怎么没有早点想到这一步呢?”
  “咱们不要回头看了,”海丝特·白兰回答说。“过去的已经一去不复返了!现在我们又何必去留恋呢?瞧!我取下这个标志,也就同时取下了与此相关的一切,就象从来没发生过这件事一样!”
  她一边这样说着,一边解开别着红字的胸针,从胸前取下红字,远远地抛到枯叶之中。那神秘的标志落在离小溪不远的地方。只消再飞这几指宽的距离,红字就会落进水里,那样的话,小溪除去连续不断地喃喃诉说着的莫测的故事之外,又要载着另一段哀怨流淌了。但那个刺绣的红字落在岸边,象一颗遗失的珠宝似的闪闪发光,某个倒霉的流浪者可能会把它拣起来,从此便会被神秘的罪恶幽灵、沉沦的心灵和难言的不幸所萦绕了。
  海丝特除掉那耻辱的标志之后,深深长叹一声,她的精神就此解脱了耻辱和苦闷的重荷,轻松得简直飘然欲仙了!她如今感到了自由,才明白那重荷的份量!随着另一次冲动,她摘下了那顶束发的正正经经的帽子;满头乌黑浓密的秀发立刻飘洒在肩头,厚实之中显出光影婆婆,为她的容貌乎添了柔和之美。她的嘴角和眼波中散发出温柔的嫣然笑意,似是涌自她女性的心头。长期以来十分苍白的面颊也泛起红潮。她的女性,她的青春,和她各方面的美,都从所谓的无可挽回的过去中恢复了,伴随而来的是她少女时期的希望和一种前所不知的幸福,都在此时此刻的魔圈中荟萃一堂。而且,那种天昏地暗似乎是这两个人心中流泄出来的,此时也随着他们忧伤的消逝而消散了。突然之间,天空似乎一下子绽出微笑,立时阳光四射,将灿烂的光芒洒向膝腕的树林,使每一片绿叶都兴高采烈,把所有枯黄的落时染成金黄,连肃穆的树木的灰色树干也闪出亮光。原先造成阴影的东西,如今也成了发光体。小溪的河道也愉快地粼粼闪光,溯源而上可以直抵树林的那神秘心脏。此时也已成为一种欢乐的神秘。
  这就是大自然——从未被人类法律管制过的、也从未被更高的真理照射过的蛮荒的、异端的、森林中的大自然——对这两个人精神的祝福所表示的同情!无论是新诞生的、抑或是从昏死般沉睡中醒来的爱情,总要产生一种阳光,将内心充满,并洋溢而出,喷薄到外界。此时即使林中仍然幽暗如故,在海丝特的眼中,在阿瑟。丁梅斯代尔的眼中,也仍然会是光芒四射的!
  海丝特望着他,心头又是一阵喜悦的震颤。
  “你应该认识一下珠儿!”她说。“我们的小珠儿!你已经见过她了,——是啊,我知道的!——但现在你要用另一副目光来见她。她是一个怪孩子!我简直不理解她!但你会象我一样亲亲热热地爱她,还要给我出出主意怎么对付她。”
  “你看孩子会高兴认识我吗?”牧师有点不安地问。“我躲着小孩子已有好长时间了,因为他们常常对我表示不信任——一种回避和我亲近的态度。我甚至一直害怕小珠儿!”
  “唉,那可太让人难过了!”做母亲的回答说。“但是她会亲亲热热地爱你的,你也会一样爱她的。她就在不远的地方。我来叫叫她!珠儿!珠儿!”
  “我看见孩子了,”牧师说。“她就在那边,站在一道阳光下,离这儿还有一段路,在小溪的对岸。你是说这孩子会爱我?”
  海丝特莞尔一笑,又叫了一声珠儿,这时可以看见她了,就在一段距离之外,正如牧师所说,她站在透过树弯照到她身上的一道阳光之中,象是个被了一层灿烂衣装的幻影。那阳光来回抖动,使得她的身影忽明忽暗——一会儿象是个活生生的孩子,一会儿又象是孩子的精灵——随着阳光去面复返。她听到了她母亲的呼唤,慢慢穿过树林走了过来。
  她母亲坐在那儿和牧师谈话的当儿,珠儿并不觉得时间过得无聊。那座阴森森的大树林——对那些把世间的罪孽和烦恼都装进胸扉的人们来说,虽然显得那么严厉,但却成了那孤独的幼儿的玩伴,而且懂得怎么陪着她玩。大森林尽管阴沉忧郁,却露出最亲切的心情来欢迎她。向她提供了红树浆果,那是去年秋天长出,今年春天才成熟的,此时红得象珠珠血滴,树在枯叶上。珠儿采集了这些浆果,很喜欢那种野果的滋味。那些野生的小动物,都不肯从她的小径上走开。一只身后随着十只雏鸟的雌鹧鸪,确曾冲上前来威吓她,但很快就后悔那么凶,还咯咯叫着她的孩子不必害怕。一只独栖在低校上的野鸽,在珠儿来到树下时没有飞开,只是发出一声既象问候又象惊讶的叫声。一只松鼠从它作巢的高树的密时中叽叽咕咕,不知是生气还是高兴——因为松鼠本是爱发怒又逗人爱的小家伙,它的脾气实在让人捉摸不定——它边向那孩子叽叽咕咕,还扔下一颖坚果在她的头上。那是一颗去年结下的坚果,已经被它的利齿咬啮过了。一只狐狸被她踏在落时上的轻轻的脚步声所惊醒,探头探脑地望着珠儿,似乎拿不定主意,是悄悄溜走,还是呆在原地继续它的瞌睡。据说——故事叙述到这里确实有些荒唐了——,还有一只狼走上前来,嗅了嗅珠儿的衣服,还把它那野兽的头仰起来让她拍拍。不过,实情大概是:那森林母亲及其养育的这些野兽,全都在这人类的孩子身上辨出了一种亲切的野味。
  而她在这林中,也要比在居民区两边铺了草的街道上,或是她母亲的茅屋中,显得温和些。花朵象是明白这一点;在她经过时,就会有那么一两朵悄声低语:“用我来打扮打扮你自己吧,你这漂亮的孩子,用我来打扮打扮你自己吧!”——而为了让它们高兴,珠儿也就摘了几朵紫罗兰、银莲花和耧斗菜,以及一些从老树上垂到她眼前的翠绿的嫩枝。她用这些花枝编成花环,戴往头发上,缠在腰肢间,于是便成了一个小仙子,或是林中小仙女,或是同古老的树林最为亲密无间的什么精灵。珠儿把自己这样打扮好了,便听到她母亲的呼唤,慢慢地往回走去。
  她走得很慢,因为她看到了牧师。






十九 溪边的孩子

  “你会十分喜爱她的,”海丝特.白兰又说了下遍,这时她和牧师正坐在那里瞅着小珠儿。“你难道不认为她很美吗?你看,她天生有多大的本事用那些普通的花朵来装扮自己啊!就算她能在林中采到珍珠、钻石和红宝石,也不会把自己打扮得比这更漂亮了。她是一个十分出色的孩子!但我知道她的额头长得象谁!”
  “你知道,海丝特,”阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔带着不安的微笑说,
  “这个总是在你身边蹦蹦跳跳的可爱的孩子,曾经多次引起我心惊肉跳吗?我认为,——噢,海丝特,这是个什么样的念头,而且产生这种顾虑又是多么可怕啊!——我自己的一部分面容重现在她的脸上,而且那么酷似,我真怕人们会认出来!不过,她主要还是象你!”
  “不,不!不是主要象我!”做母亲的露出温柔的微笑回答说。“过不多久,你就不必担心人们会追究她是谁的孩子了。她头发上戴着那些野花,显得她的模样漂亮得多么不平常啊!仿佛有一个被我们留在我们亲爱的老英格兰的仙子,把自己打扮好,跑来迎接我们了。”
  他俩坐在那里,正是怀着一种他们谁也没有体验过的感情来注视着珠儿慢慢走来。在她身上能够看出把他俩连系在一起的纽带。过去这七年里,她作为如同有生命的象形文字,被奉献给人类社会,在她身上揭示了他们竭力要隐藏的秘密,要是有一位先知或法师有本领破解这个火焰般的文字的话,就会懂得一切全都写在这个象征之中,一切全都显示得明明白自!而珠儿就是他俩生命的合而为一。不管以往的邪恶可能是什么,当他们一起看到,由他们交汇并将永在一起共存的肉体结晶和精神概念时,他们怎么可能会怀疑,他们在凡世的生命和未来的命运已经密不可分呢?象这样的想法,以及其它一些他们没有承认或尚未定形的可能的想法,当那孩子向前走着的时候,在她身上投射出一种使人敬畏的色彩。
  “你跟她搭话的时候,别让她看出什么不同寻常的地方,既不要太热情,也不要太急切,”海丝特轻声说。“我们的珠儿有时候是个一阵阵让人捉摸不定的小精灵。尤其是在她不大明白缘由的时候,很难接受别人的激情。不过,这孩子有着强烈的爱!她爱我,而且也会爱你的!”
  “你难以想象,”牧师说着,偏过头来瞥了一眼海丝特·白兰,“我又害怕这次见面,又盼着这次见面的那种心理!不过,说实话,就象我刚才跟你说的,孩子们是不大乐于同我亲近的。他们不会爬上我的膝头,不肯和我说悄悄话,也不愿回报我的微笑,而只是远远地站着,奇怪地打量着我。连小小的婴儿都一样;我把他们抱在怀里时,他们就使劲哭。可珠儿长这么大,竟有两次对我特别好!头一次,——你知道得很清楚!第二次就是你领她到板着面孔的老总督的那所房子里去的时候。”
  “那次你大胆地为了她和我进行了申辩!”做母亲的回答。
  “我记得清清楚楚,小珠儿也会记得的。别怕!她开头也许会认生、害躁,但很快就会爱起你来的!”
  这时,珠儿已经来到小溪对岸,站在那儿不出声地瞅着海丝特和牧师,他俩依旧并肩坐在长满青苔的树干上,等着见她。就在她停下脚步的地方,小溪恰好聚成一个池塘,水面平静而光滑,把珠儿那小小的身影完满地映砚出来:她腰缠嫩枝编的花带,使她的美貌绚丽如画,比本人还要精美,更象仙女。那映象几乎与真的珠儿分毫不爽,似乎将其自身的某种阴影般莫测的品性传递给孩子本人了。奇妙的是,珠儿站在那里,不错眼珠地透过林中的幽暗盯视着他们;与此同时,她全身都沐浴在仿佛是被某种感应吸引到她身上的一道阳光中。在她脚下的小溪中站着另一个孩子——是另外一个,但又一模一样——身上同样洒满阳光。海丝特模糊而痛心地感到,她自己好象同珠儿变得陌生起来;好象那孩子独自在森林中游荡时,走出了她和她母亲同居的范围,如今正在徒劳地想回来。
  这种印象有正确的一面,也有错误的一面;孩子和母亲是变得生疏了,但那要归咎于海丝特,而不是珠儿。自从孩子从她身边走开,另外一个亲人来到了母亲的感情圈内,从而改变了他们三人的地位,以致珠儿这个归来的流浪儿,找不到她一向的位置,几乎不知自己身在何方了。
  “我有一种奇怪的幻想,”敏感的牧师说,“这条小溪是两个世界之间的分界线,你永远不会再和珠儿相会了。要不,说不定她是个小精灵,象我们儿时的童话所教的,她是不准渡过流淌的溪流的吧?请你赶快催催她;这么耽搁着,已经把我的神经弄得颤抖起来了。”
  “过来,乖宝贝儿!”海丝特给孩子鼓劲说,同时伸出了双臂。
  “你走得太慢慢腾腾了!你什么时候象现在这样懒洋洋过?这儿有我的一个朋友,他也该是你的朋友。从今以后,你就不只有你妈妈一个人的爱了,你要得到双倍的爱的!跳过小溪,到我们这儿来。你不是可以象一头小鹿一样地跳嘛!”
  珠儿对这些甜蜜的话语不理不睬,仍然呆在小溪的对岸。此时她那一对明亮而狂野的脖子,时而盯着她母亲,时而盯着牧师,时而同时盯住他们两个;仿佛耍想弄清并给自己解释他们两人之间的关系。出于某种难以名状的原因,阿瑟·丁梅斯代尔感到孩子助目光落在他身上时,他的手以习惯成自然的姿势,悄悄捂到了心口上。最后,珠儿作出一副独特的不容置辩的神情,伸出她小小的食指,显然是指着她母亲的胸部。在她脚下,映在镜面般的溪水中的那个戴着花环、浴满阳光的小珠儿的影象,也指点着她的小小的食指。
  “你这个怪孩子,为什么不到我身边来呢?”海丝特叫道。
  珠儿依旧用她的食指指点着;眉间渐渐皱起;由于这姿态表情来自一个满脸稚气、甚至象婴儿般面孔的孩子,就给人印象尤深。而由于她母亲仍在不断呼唤她,而且脸上堆满非比寻常的笑容,那孩子便以更加专横的神情和姿态使劲跺着两脚。同样,在小溪中那个美得出奇的形象,也映出了皱着的眉头、伸出的手指和专横的姿态,为小珠儿的模样平添了效果。
  “快点,珠儿;要不我可要跟你生气了!”海丝特·白兰嚷道,她平时尽管已经熟习了这小精灵似的孩子的这种举止,但此时自然巴不得她能表现得更懂规矩些。“跳过小溪来,顽皮的孩子,跑过来!要不我就过去了!”
  珠儿刚才对她母亲的请求无动于衷,此时对母亲的吓唬也毫不惊惶;却突然大发脾气,做出激烈的姿态,把她小小的身躯弄得七扭八歪。她一边这样狂暴地扭动着,一边厉声尖叫,震得四下的树木一起回响;因此,虽说她只是独自一人毫无道理地大发小孩脾气,却象是有一群不露面的人在同情地绘她助威。此时在小溪中又一次看到殊儿温怒的身影:头戴花冠,腰缠花带,脚下使劲地跺着,身子狂暴地扭着,同时那小小的食指也始终指着海丝特的胸口!
  “我明白这孩子是怎么回事了,”海丝特对牧师低声说着,由于强按心中的忧烦而变得面色苍白。“孩子们对于每日在眼前司空见惯的东西容不得有丝毫改变。珠儿是看不见我不离身地佩戴的东西了!”
  “我恳求你了,”牧师回答说,“如果你有什么办法能让这孩子安静下来,赶紧拿出来吧!除去象西宾斯太太那样的老妖婆发疯式的愤怒,”他强笑着补充说,“再没有比看到这孩子发脾气更让人不情愿的了。在年幼、美丽的珠儿身上,和那满脸皱纹的老妖婆一样,准有一种超自然的力量。要是你爱我,就让她安静下来吧!”
  海丝特又转向珠儿,这时她脸上泛起红潮,故意斜睨了牧师一眼,然后重重地叹了口气;但她还没来得及开口,红潮就褪成死一般的苍白了。
  “珠儿,”她伤心地说,“往你脚下瞧!就在那儿!——在你跟前!——在小溪的这边岸上!”
  那孩子的目光转向指给她看的地方;红字就躺在那里,紧靠着岸边,金丝刺绣还在溪中反着光。
  “把它拣回来!”海丝特说。
  “你过来拾吧!”珠儿回答道。
  “哪有这样的孩子!”海丝特回头对牧师评论着。“噢,我有好多她的事要告诉你呢!不过,的的确确,她对这可恨的标记的看法是没错的。我还得再忍受一下这折磨人的玩艺儿,——也就是几天吧,——到那时我们就已经离开这块地方,再回头看看,就只是一块我们曾经梦想过的土地了。这片森林还藏不住它!但汪洋大海可以从我手里把它取走,并且永远把它吞没!”她一边这样说着,一边走到小溪边上,把红字拣起来,重新钉到胸前。仅仅片刻之前,海丝特还满怀希望地谈到要把红字沉进深深的海底,但当她从命运之神的手中重新接过这死一般的象征时,就感到一种难以避免的阴沉笼罩着她。她已经把它抛进了无限的空间!——她曾经吸进了一小时的自由空气!——可现在那红色的悲惨又重新在老地方闪闪发光了!事情从来如此,一种邪恶的行为不管有否这种表征,从来都带有这种厄运的品性。接着,海丝特挽起她浓密的发绺,用帽子罩了起来。似乎在这令人哀伤的字母中有一种枯萎的符咒,她的美丽,她那女性的丰满和温暖,都象落日般地离去了;一抹灰蒙蒙的阴影似是落在了她身上。
  这一阴郁的变化完成之后,她向珠儿伸出了手。
  “现在你认识你妈妈了吧,孩子?”她压着声音责问说。“现在你妈妈又戴上了她的耻辱,——她又悲伤了,你愿意走过河来,认她了吧?”
  “是啊;现在我愿意过去了!”孩子回答着,跳过小溪,抱住了海丝特。“现在你才真是我妈妈了!而我也是你的小珠儿了!”珠儿以一种她不常有的温柔劲,往下拽着她母亲的头,亲了她母亲的额头和双颊。可是,似乎有一种必要推动着这孩子,在她偶然给人的某种安慰中溶进一阵极度的苦恼,接着,珠儿抬起她的嘴唇,也把那红字亲吻了一下。
  “这可不好!”海丝特说。“你对我表示出一点点爱的时候,却要嘲弄我!”
  “牧师干嘛坐在那儿?”珠儿问。
  “他等着欢迎你呢,”她母亲回答。“你过来,恳求他的祝福吧!他爱你,我的小珠儿,而且也爱你妈妈。难道你不肯爱他吗?来啊!他可想问候你呢!”
  “他爱我们吗?”珠儿说着,目光中流露出明察秋毫的聪慧,抬起眼睛瞅着她母亲的面孔。“他会跟我们手拉着手一起回去——我们三个人一起进镇子去吗?”
  “这会儿还不成,我的乖孩子,”海丝特回答说。“但是在未来的日子里,他会跟我们手拉手地一起走的。我们会有我们的一个家和壁炉;你呢,将要坐在他的膝头;而他会教给你许多事情,会亲亲热热地爱你。你也会爱他的;不是吗?”
  “那他还会用手捂着心口吗?”珠儿探询着。
  “傻孩子,这算什么问题啊!”她母亲惊讶地大声说。“过来请脑祝福吧!”
  但是,不知是出于一切受宠的小孩子那种似乎是本能的对危险的对手的妒嫉,还是她那种异想天开的天性又发作了出来,珠儿不肯对牧师表示丝毫好感。只是在她母亲连拉带拽之后,才总算把她领到了他跟前,可她还是往后坠着,脸上还做着怪样,表示她的不情愿;从她还是婴儿时期起,她就会做出各色各样的怪模样,把她那活泼的面容变成一系列的不同表情,每一种表情中都带有一种新的恶作剧。牧师给弄得既难过又尴尬,但他想,一次亲吻或许可以起到一种奇异的效果,让孩子能把他看得亲近些,抱着这样的希望,他弯腰向前,在她的额头上亲了一下。珠儿立刻挣脱她母亲拉着她的手,跑到小溪边上,猫下身子,洗起她的额头,直到那不受欢迎的亲吻完全给洗净,散进潺潺流逝的溪水之中。然后她便远远地呆在一边,默默地望着海丝特和牧师;此时,两个大人正在一起谈着,根据他们很快要去实现的新目标和新处境,做出种种安排。
  这次命运恢关的会见此时已接近尾声。那小小的山谷将被遗弃在幽暗和古老的树木中间,孤独而寂寞地聆听着那些树木的众多舌头长时间地悄声议论着在这里发生过的不为人知的事情。而这条忧郁的小溪也将在它那已经过于沉重的小小心灵中再加上另一个神秘的故事,它将继续潺潺向前,悄声低语,其音调比起先前的多少世纪绝不会有半点欢快。






二十 迷悯中的牧师

  牧师先回去了。他一面在前面走着,一面回过头来望着海丝特·白兰和小珠儿,怀着几分期望,想透过林中暮霭,再看看逐渐模糊的母女二人的身影或面容。他的生活中发生了如此巨大的变迁,他一时还无法相信是真的。但是海丝特就在那儿,身穿灰袍,仍然站在树干的旁边——那是多年前被一阵疾风吹例的,之后年深日久就长满了青蔷,于是他们这两个承受着世上最沉重的负担的同命运的人,才得以一起坐在上面,安享那难得的一小时的休憩与慰藉。那儿还有珠儿,又轻捷地从溪边蹦跳着回到了母亲身边她的老位置,因为那闯来的第三者已经离去了。这么看来,牧师刚才并没有昏昏睡去,并非在梦中才见到这一切的!
  为了摆脱那搅得他莫名其妙地心烦意乱的说不清、道不明的印象,他回忆并更加彻底地澄清了一下他和海丝特为出走所安排的计划。他俩已经商妥,比起只在沿海一带疏落地散布着印第安人的茅屋或欧洲移民聚居区的新英格兰或全美洲的荒野,旧大陆人烟稠密、城市辏集,更适合于他们隐蔽或隐居式的生活。不消说,牧师的健康状况极不宜于忍受森林中的艰苦条件,何况他的天赋才能、他的文化教养以及他的全部前程,也只有在文明和优雅的环境中才能找到归宿;地位越高,他才越有用武之地。促使他们作出这一抉择的,还因为刚好有一条船停在港湾;这是那年月中时常有的一种形迹可疑的航船,虽说在深海中并非绝对地非法,却是带有极不负责任的性质在海面上游荡的。这艘船最近从拉丁美洲北部海域开来,准备在三天之内驶往英国的布利斯托尔。海丝特·白兰作为妇女慈善会的志愿人员,有机会结识了船长和海员,她可以有把握为两个大人和一个孩子弄到舱位,而且那种环境还提供了求之不得的一切保密要求。
  牧师曾经兴致勃勃地向海丝特询问了那艘船可能启航的准确时间。大概是从那天算起的第四天。“那可太幸运了!”他当时曾经这样自言自语。那么,为什么丁梅斯代尔牧师先生认为狠幸运呢?我们本不大想公之于众;然而,为了对读者无所隐瞒,我们不妨说说,因为在第三天,他要在庆祝选举的布道会上宣教;由于这样一个机缘构成了新英格兰牧师一生中的荣誉时期,因此也就成了他结束他的牧师生涯的难得的最恰当的方式和时机。“至少,他们在谈起我时,”这位为人楷模的人自忖,“会认为裁并非未尽公职或草草了事!”象这位可怜的牧师如此深刻和一丝不苟的自省,居然会遭到被人欺骗的悲惨下场,委实令人伤心!我们已经说过、也许还会说到他这个人的过失;但就我们所知,没有一件比这更软弱得可怜的了;眼下也没有任何证据比这更微不足道却无可辩驳地说明:一种微妙的疾病早巳开始蚕食他性格的实体了。在相当长的时期内,谁也无法对自己装扮出一副面孔,而对众人又装扮出另一副面孔,其结果必然是连他本人都会弄不清到底哪一副是真实的了。
  丁梅斯代尔先生同海丝特会面之后的归途中,他激动的感情赋予了他所不习惯曲体能,催促着他大步流星地向前走去。那林间小路在他看来,比他记忆中来时的途径,似是更加蛮荒,由于天然的高低不平面更加坎坷,而且更少有人迹了。但他跨越了积水的坑洼,穿过了绊腿的灌木,爬上了高坡,步入了低谷,总而言之,以他自己都不解的不知疲倦的活力,克服了路上的一切障碍。他不禁忆起仅仅在两天之前,在他一路辛辛苦苦地沿着这同样的途径走来时,他是多么地周身无力,气喘吁吁,走不上两步就要停下来喘上一口气。在他走近镇子的时候,一系列熟悉的东西呈现在眼前,却给了他一种似是而非的印象。好象不是昨天不是一天、两天,而是许多天,甚至好几年之前,他就离开此地了。确实,那里还有那条街道的每一个原有的痕迹,这和他记忆中的是一致的,而房舍的各个独特之处,诸如众多的山墙,各个尖顶上都有的风信鸡,凡是他记得的都应有尽有。然而,那种起了变化的突出感觉仍然丝毫不减地纠缠着他。这小镇上人们生活的种种熟悉的景象,他所遇到的熟人,本来也一成未变。他们现在的样子既没有变老,也没有年轻;长者的胡须并没有更白,那些昨天还只会爬来爬去的婴儿,今天也没有直立行走;实在说不出这些在他最近离去时还瞥过一眼的人,到底在哪些方面与原来不同了;然而,牧师最深层的感觉,似乎在告诉他,他们已经变了。当他走过他自己教堂的墙下时,这种类似的印象给他的感触最为突出。那建筑物的外观看来那么陌生,可又那么熟悉,了梅斯代尔先生在两种念头之间犹豫徘徊:到底只是他先前在梦中见过呢,还是他现在正在梦中观看。
  这一变幻得千姿百态的现象,并非表明外观上起了变化,只是说明观察这些熟悉景现的人内心发生了重要的突变,以致在他的意识上有了“一日不见、如隔三秋”之感。是牧师本人的意志和海丝特的意志,以及他俩之间出现的命运,造成了这一变形。镇子还是原来的镇子;但从林中归来的牧师却不同了。他很可能对向他打招呼的朋友们说:“我不是你们心目中的那个人了!我把他留在那边那座林子里了,他退缩到一个秘密的山谷里,离一条忧郁的小溪不远,就在一棵长满青苔的树干旁边!去找找你们的牧师吧,看看他那憔悴的身形,他那消瘦的面颊,他那苞白、沉重、爬满痛苦皱纹的前额,是不是象一件扔掉的衣袍一样给遗弃在那里了!”而他的朋友们,不消说,还会继续坚持对他说:“你自己就是那个人!”——但弄错的恐怕是他们,而不是跑。
  在丁梅斯代尔先生到家之前,他内心的那个人又给了他一些别的证据,说明在他的思想感情领域中已发生了彻底的变革。的确,若不是他心内的王国已经改朝换代、纲常全非的话,实在无法解释如今支配着不幸而惊惧的牧师的种种冲动。他每走一步,心中都想作出这样那样的出奇的、狂野的、恶毒的事情,他感到这种念头既非心甘情愿,却又有意为之;一方面是不由自主,然而另一方面又是发自比反对这种冲动更深层的自我。比如说,他遇见了他的一名执事,那位好心肠的老人用一种父辈的慈爱和家长般的资格跟他打招呼,那老人是由于具备受人尊敬的高龄、正直圣洁的品性和在教会由的地位所赋予的权利才这么做的;而与此相应的是,牧师则应报以深切并近乎崇拜的敬意,这同样是出于他的职业和个人品德所要求的作法。象这样社会地位较低和天赋能力较劣的人对高于自己者的毕恭毕敬,是年高德重之人如何使自己既有等严又有相应的礼敬的前所未有的绝好范例。此时,当丁梅斯代尔牧师先生和这位德高望重、须发灰白的执事谈话的片刻之间,牧师只是极其小心翼翼地控制自己,才不致把涌上心头的有关圣餐的某些亵渎神明的意思说出口来。他紧张得周身战抖,面色灰白,生怕他的舌头会不经他的认可,就会自作主张地说出那些可怕的言辞。然而,尽管他内心如此惧怕,但一想到假着他当真说出那番大不敬的话来,那位圣洁的父辈老执事会吓得何等瞠目结舌,他还是禁不住要笑出声来!
  此外,还发生了另一件性质相同的事情。就在丁梅斯代尔先生匆匆沿街而行的时候,遇上了他的教堂中的一位最为年长的女教友,一位最虔诚诚和堪当楷模的老夫人;这位孤苦无依的寡妇的内心中,就象排满名人墓碑的莹地似的满怀对她已故的丈夫和子女,以及早已逝去的朋友的回忆。这一切本该成为深沉的悲哀的,但由于在长达三十余年的时间里,她不停地以宗教的慰藉和《圣经》的真理来充实自己,她在虔诚的年迈的心灵中,已经将这些回忆几乎视作一种肃穆的欢愉了。而由于丁梅斯代尔先生已经对她负起责任,这位好心的老太婆在世上的主要安慰——若不是这种今世的安慰也是一种天国的安慰,也就算不得数了——就是同她的牧师会面;不期而遇也罢,专程拜访也罢,只要能从他那可爱的双唇中说出片言只语的带有温馨的天国气息的福音真谛,送进她那虽已半聋却喜闻恭听的耳朵中,她就会精神焕然一新。然而,这一次,直到丁梅斯代尔先生把嘴唇凑近老妇人的耳畔之前,他竟如人类灵魂的大敌所愿,想不起《圣经》上的经文,也想不起别的,只是说了一句简练的反对人类灵魂不朽的话,他当时觉得这是无可辩驳的论点。这番话若是灌输到这位上了年纪的女教友的头脑之中,可能会象中了剧毒一样,让她立刻倒地死去。牧师到底耳语了些什么,他自己事后无论如何也追忆不起来了。或许,所好他语无伦次,未能使那好心的寡妇听明白什么清晰的含义,或许是上天按照自己的方式作出了解释。反正,当牧师回头看去时,只见到一副感谢天恩的狂喜神情,似乎天国的光辉正映照在她那满是皱纹的灰白色面孔之上。
  还有第三个例子。他在告别了那位老教友之后,便遇到了最年轻的一位女教友。她是新近才皈依的一位少女,而且就是在聆听了丁梅斯代尔牧师先生夜游后那个安息日所作的布道才皈依的,她要以世间的短暂欢乐来换取天国的希望,当她周围的人生变得黯淡时,这希望便会益发明亮,以最后的荣光包围四下的一片昏黑。她如同天堂中开放的百合一样娇好纯真。牧师深知,他本人就供奉在她心灵的无理的圣殿之中,并用她雪白的心灵的帷幔罩着他的肖像,将爱情的温暖融进宗教,并将宗教的纯洁融进爱情。那天下午,一定是撒旦把这可怜的少女从她母亲身旁引开,并将她抛到那个被诱惑得心旌神摇的,或者,——我们不妨这样说吧,——那个迷途和绝望的人的路上。就在她走近的时候,魔王便悄声要他缩小形体,并在她温柔的心胸中投入一颗邪恶的种子,很快便会阴暗地开花,到时一定会结出黑色的果实。牧师意识到自己有权左右这个十分信任他的少女的灵魂,他感到只消他不怀好意地一瞥,她那无邪的心田就会立即枯萎,只消他说一个宇,她那纯洁的心灵就会走向反面。可是,在经历了一番前所未有的强有力的内心搏斗之后,他指起他那黑色法衣的宽袖遮住面孔,匆匆向前走去,装出没有认出她的样子,任凭那年轻的女教友去随便解释他的无礼。她察遍她的良心——那是同她的衣袋或针线盒一样,满装着各种无害的小东西的——,这可怜的姑娘,就用数以千计的想象中的错误来责备自己;次日天明,去干家务时,她两眼都哭得红肿了。
  牧师还没来得及庆贺他刚刚战胜了诱惑,便又觉察到了一次冲动,这次冲动如前几次一样可怕,只是更加无稽。那是——我们说起来都脸红——那是,他想在路上停下来,对那些正在玩耍、刚刚开始学语的一伙清教徒小孩子们,教上几句极难听的话。只是由于与他身穿的法衣不相称,他才没有去做这反常之举。他又看到一个醉醺醺的水手,正是来自拉丁美洲北部海域的那艘船上的;此时,可怜的丁梅斯代尔先生既然已经勇敢地克制了前几次邪恶,却想至少要和这浑身沾满油污的粗人握一握手,并用几句水手们挂在嘴边的放荡下流的俏皮话,和一连串的十分圆滑、令人开心的亵渎神明的诅咒来寻寻开心!让他得以平安地度过这次危机的,倒不是因为他有什么更高的准则,而是因为他天生具有优雅的情趣,更主要的,是因为他那形成牢固习惯的教士礼仪。
  “到底有什么东西如此纠缠和诱惑我啊?”最后,牧师停在街心,用手拍着前额,对自己这样喊着。“我是不是疯了?还是我让魔鬼完全控制了?我刚才在树林里是不是和魔鬼订了契约,并且用我的血签了字?现在他是不是传唤我按照他那最恶毒的想象力所设想出来的每一个恶行去履行契约呢?”
  就在丁梅斯代尔牧师先生这样一边自言自语,一边用手拍着前额的时候,据说那有名的妖婆西宾斯老太太正好走过。她神气十足地头戴高帽,身穿富丽的丝绒长袍,颈上围着用著名的黄浆浆得笔挺的皱领,那种黄浆是按她的挚友安·特纳因谋杀托马斯·奥绍白利爵士而被绞之前教给她的秘方配制的。不管那妖婆是否看出了牧师的想法,反正她一下子停住了脚步,机灵地盯着他的面孔,狡诘地微笑着,并且开始同她从不打交道的牧师攀谈了起来。
  “可敬的牧师先生,原来你去拜访了树林,”妖婆对他点点戴着高帽的头,开口说。“下一次,请你务必跟我打个招呼,我将十分自豪地陪你前往。不是我自吹,只消我说上一句好话,你知道的那位有权势的人,准会热情接待任何生客的!”
  “老实讲,夫人,”牧师回答说,还郑重其事地鞠了一躬——这是那位夫人的地位所要求的,也是他的良好教养所必需的,“老实讲,以我的良心和人格担保,我对您这番话的含义实在莫名其妙!我到树林里去,绝不是去找什么有权势的人,而且在将来的任何时刻,我也没有去那儿拜访、谋求这样一个人欢心的意图。我唯一的目的是去问候我的一位虔诚的朋友,艾略特使徒,并和他一起欢庆他从邪教中争取过来的众多可贵的灵魂!”
  “哈,哈,哈!”那老妖婆咯咯地笑着,还向牧师一劲儿点着戴高帽的头。“好啦,好啦,我们在这光天化日之下是得这么讲话!你倒象个深通此道的老手!不过,等到夜半时分,在树林里,我们再在一起谈些别的吧!”
  她摆出一副德高年迈的姿态走开了,但仍不时回头朝他微笑,象是要一心看出他们之间不可告人的亲密关系似的。
  “这样看来,我是不是已经把自己出卖给那个恶魔啦?”牧师思忖着,“如果人们所说属实,这个浆着黄领、穿着绒袍的老妖婆,早就选了那恶魔作她的王子和主人啦!”
  这个不幸的牧师!他所作的那笔交易与此极其相似!他受着幸福的梦境的诱惑,经过周密的选择,居然前所未有地屈从于明知是罪大恶极的行径。面那桩罪孽的传染性毒素已经就此迅速扩散到他的整个道德体系,愚弄了一切神圣的冲动,而将全部恶念唤醒,变成活跃的生命。轻蔑、狠毒、无缘无故的恶言秽行和歹意;对善良和神圣的事物妄加嘲弄,这一切全都绘唤醒起来,虽说把他吓得要命,却仍在诱惑着他。而他和西宾斯老太太的不期而遇,如果当真只是巧合的话,也确实表明他已同恶毒的人们及堕落的灵魂的世界同流合污了。
  此时,他已走到坟场边上的住所,正在匆忙地踏上楼梯,躲进他的书斋中去一避。牧师能够进到这个庇荫之地,暗自高兴,因为这样一来,他就无须向世人暴露他在街上一路走来时那不断怂恿他的种种离奇古怪的邪念了。他走进熟悉的房间,环顾四周,看着室内的书籍、窗子、壁炉、接着壁毯的赏心悦目的墙壁,但从林中谷地进城来一路纠缠着他的同样的奇异感觉依然存在。他曾在这里研读和写作;他曾在这里斋戒和夜祷,以致弄得半死不活;他曾在这里尽心尽意地祈祷;他曾在这里忍受过成千上万种折磨!这里有那本装璜精美的《圣经》,上面用古老的希伯来文印着摩西和诸先知们对他的训戒,从头到尾全是上帝的声音!在桌上饱蘸墨水的鹅毛笔旁,摆着一篇未完成的布道词,一个句子写到中间就中断了,因为两天前他的思路再也涌不到纸上。他明知道那是他本人,两颊苍白、身材消瘦的牧师做的这些事、受的这些苦,写了这么些庆祝选举的布道文的!但他却象是站在一边,带着轻蔑和怜悯,而又怀着一些羡慕的好奇心,审视着先前的自己。那个自我已经一去不复返了,是另一个人从林中归来了,是具有神秘知识的男一个益发聪明的人了——那种知识是原先那人的简单头脑从来不可能企及的。那种知识真让人哭笑不得!
  就在牧师沉浸在这些冥思苦想之中的时候,书斋的房门那儿传来一声敲门声,牧师便说道,“请进!”——并非完全没有料到他可能又要看到一个邪魔了。果不其然!进来的正是老罗杰·齐灵渥斯。牧师面包苍白、默默无言地站在那里,一手放在希伯来文鲍《圣经》上,另一只手则捂住心口。
  “欢迎你回到家中,可敬的牧师先生,”医生说。“你看那位圣洁的艾略特使徒可好啊?可是我看你的样子很苍白,亲爱的先生;看来你在荒野中的这次旅行过于疲惫不堪了。要不要我来帮忙你恢复一下身心健康,以便在庆祝选举的布道中祈祷呢?”
  “不,我看不必了,”丁梅斯代尔牧师先生接口说。“我这次旅行,同那位圣洁的使徒的会面,以及我所呼吸到的自由空气,对我大有好处,原先我闷在书斋里的时间太长了。我想我已经不再需要你的药了,我的好心的医生,虽说那些药很好,又是一只友好的手给的。”
  在这段时间里,罗杰·齐灵渥斯始终用医生审视病人的那种严肃而专注的目光盯着牧师。他虽然表面上不动声色,但几乎确信,那老人已经知道了,或者至少暗中猜测到了他同海丝特。白兰已经会过面。那么,医生也就知道了,在牧师的心目中,他已不再是一个可信赖的朋友,而是一个最恶毒的敌人了。事情既然已经昭然若揭,自然要有所流露。然而,奇妙的是,往往要经过好长一段时间才能一语道破事实;而二人为了避免某一话题,又要何等小心翼翼地刚刚触到边缘,便又马上退缩回去,才不致点破。因此,牧师不必担心罗杰·齐灵渥斯会公然说出他们彼此维持的真正地位。不过,医生以他那不为人知的手段,已经可怕地爬近了秘密。
  “今天夜里,”他说,“你再采用一下我这微不足道的医术,是不是更好呢?真的,亲爱的先生,我们应该尽心竭力使你精力充沛地应付这次庆祝选举的宣讲。人们对你期望极大呢;因为他们担心,明年一到,他们的牧师就会不在了。”
  “是啊,到另一个世界去了,”牧师带着一切全都听天由命的神气回答说。“但愿上天保佑,那是个更好的世界;因为,说老实话,我认为我难以再和我的教众度过转瞬即逝的另一个年头了!不过,亲爱的先生,至于你的药品嘛,就我目前的身体状况而论,我并不需要了。”
  “我很高兴听到这一点,”医生回答说。“或许是,我提供的治疗长时间以来末起作用,但如今却开始生效了。我当真能成功地治好你,我会深感幸福,并且对新英格兰的感激之情受之无愧!”
  “我衷心地感激你,我最尽心的朋友,”丁梅斯代尔牧师先生说着,郑重地一笑。“我感激你,只有用我的祈祷来报答你的善行。”
  “一个好人的祈祷如同用黄金作酬谢!”老罗杰·齐灵渥斯一边告别,一边接口说:“是啊,那都是些新耶路撤冷通用的金币,上面铸着上帝本人的头像的!”
  牧师剩下单独一个人后,便叫来住所的仆人,吩咐摆饭。饭菜放到眼前之后,他就狼吞虎咽起来。然后,他把已经写出来的庆祝选举布道词的纸页抛进炉火,提笔另写,他的思绪和激情源源涌到笔尖,他幻想着自己是受到了神启,只是不明所以为什么上天会看中他这样一件肮脏的管风琴,去传送它那神谕的崇高而肃穆的乐曲。管它呢,让那神秘去自行解答,或永无解答吧,他只顾欣喜若狂地奋笔疾书。那一夜就这样象一匹背生双翼的骏马般飞驰而去,而他就骑在马背上;清晨到来了,从窗帘中透进朝霞的红光;终于,旭日将一束金光投入书斋,正好照到牧师晕眩的双目上。他坐在那里,指间还握着笔,纸上已经写下洋洋洒洒鲍一大篇文字了!






二十一 新英格兰的节日

  在新总督从人民手中接受他的职位的那天早晨,海丝特·白兰和小珠儿来到市场。那地方已然挤满了数量可观的工匠和镇上的其他黎民百姓;其中也有许多粗野的身形,他们身上穿的鹿皮衣装,表明他们是这个殖民地小都会周围的林中居民。在这个公共假日里,海丝特和七年来的任何场合一样,仍然穿着她那身灰色粗布作的袍子。这身衣服的颜色,尤其是那说不出来的独特的样式,有一种使她轮廓模糊、不引人注目的效果;然而,那红字又使她从朦胧难辨之中跳出来,以其自身的闪光,把她显示在其精神之下。她那早巳为镇上居民所熟悉的面孔,露出那种常见的大理石般的静穆,伊如一副面具,或者更象一个亡妇脸上的那种僵死的恬静;如此令人沮丧的类比,是因为事实上海丝特无权要求任何同情,犹如实际上死去一般,她虽然看来似混迹于人间,确已经辞世。
  这一天,她脸上或许有一种前所未见的表情,不过此时尚未清晰可察;除非有一个具备超自然秉赋的观察者能够首先洞悉她的内心,然后才会在她的表情和举止上找到相应的变化。这样一个能够洞悉内心的观察者或许可以发现,历经七年痛苦岁月,她将众目睽睽的注视作为一种必然、一种惩罚和某种宗教的严峻煎熬忍受着,如今,已是最后一次了,她要自由而自愿地面对人们的注视,以便把长期的苦难一变而为胜利。“再最后看一眼这红字和佩戴红字的人吧!”人们心目中的这个牺牲品和终身奴仆会对他们这样说。“不过再过一段时间,她就会远走高飞了!只消几个小时,那深不可测的大海将把你们在她胸前灼烧的标记永远淹没无存!”假如我们设想,当海丝特此时此刻即将从与她深深相联的痛苦中赢得自由时,心中可能会升起一丝遗憾之感,恐怕也并不有悼于人之本性。既然自从她成为妇人以来的多年中,几乎始终品尝着苦艾和芦荟,难道这时就不会有一种难以逼止的欲望要最后一次屏住气吸上一大杯这种苦剂吗?今后举到她唇边的、盛在雕花的金色大杯中的生活的美酒,肯定是醇厚、馥郁和令人陶醉的;不然的话,在她喝惯了具有强效的兴奋剂式的苦酒渣之后,必然会产生一种厌烦的昏昏然之感。
  她把珠儿打扮得花枝招展。人们简直难以猜测,这个如阳光般明媚的精灵竟然来自那灰暗的母体;或者说,人们简直难以想象,设计那孩子服饰所需的华丽与精巧,与赋予海丝特那件简朴长袍以明显特色的——这任务或许更困难,竟然同时出自一人之手。那身衣裙穿在小珠儿身上恰到好处,俨如她个性的一种流露,或是其必然发展和外部表现,就象蝴蝶翅膀上的绚丽多彩或灿烂花朵上的鲜艳光辉一样无法与本体分割开来。衣裙之于孩子,也是同一道理,完全与她的本性浑自天成。更何况,在这事关重大的一天,她情绪上有一种特殊的不安和兴奋,极象佩在胸前的钻石,会随着心口的种种悸动而闪光生辉。孩子们与同他们相关的人们的激动总是息息相通;在家庭环境中出现了什么麻烦或迫在眉睫的变动时,尤其如此;因此,作为悬在母亲不安的心口上的一颗宝石,珠儿以她那跳动的精神,暴露了从海丝特眉间磐石般的平静中谁都发现不了的内心感情。
  她兴高采烈得不肯安分地走在她母亲身边,而且象鸟儿一样地蹦跳着。她不停地狂呼乱叫,也不知喊些什么,有时还尖着嗓子高唱。后来,她们来到了市场,看到那里活跃喧闹的气氛,她就益发不得安宁了;因为那地方平时与其说是镇上的商业中心,不如说象是村会所前的宽阔而孤寂的绿草地。
  “咦,这是什么啊,妈妈?”她叫道。“大伙儿于嘛今天都不于活儿啦?今天全世界都休息吗?瞧啊,铁匠就在那儿!他洗掉了满脸煤烟,穿上了过星期日的衣服,象是只要有个好心人教教他,就要痛痛快快地玩玩哪!那位老狱吏布莱基特先生,还在那儿朝我点头微笑呢。他干嘛要这样呢,妈妈?”
  “他还记得你是个小小的婴儿的样子呢,我的孩子,”海丝特回答说。
  “那个长得又黑又吓人、眼睛很丑的老头儿,才不会因为这个对我点头微笑呢!”珠儿说。“他要是愿意,倒会向你点头的;因为你穿一身灰,还戴着红字。可是瞧啊,妈妈,这儿有多少生人的面孔啊,里边还有印第安人和水手呢!他们都到这市场上来干嘛呢?”
  “他们等着看游行队伍经过,”海丝特说。“因为总督和官员们要从这里走过,还有牧师们,以及所有的大人物和好心人,前面要有乐队和士兵开路呢。”
  “牧师会在那儿吗?”珠儿问。“他会朝我伸出双手,就象你从小河边领着我去见他的时候那样吗?”
  “他会在那儿的,孩子,”她母亲回答。“但是他今天不会招呼你;你也不该招呼他。”
  “他是一个多么奇怪、多么伤心的人啊!”孩子说,有点象是自言自语。“在那个黑夜里,他叫咱们到他跟前去,还握住你和我的手,陪他一起站在那边那个刑台上。而在深源的树林里,只有那些老树能够听见、只有那一线青天可以看见的地方,他跟你坐在一堆青苔上谈话!他还亲吻了我的额头,连小河的流水都洗不掉啦!可是在这几,天上晴晴的,又有这么些人,他却不认识我们;我们也不该认识他!他真是个又奇怪又伤心的人,总是用手捂着心口!”
  “别作声,珠儿!你不明白这些事情,”她母亲说。“这会儿别想着牧师,往周围看看吧,看看大伙今天脸上有多高兴,孩子们都从学校出来了,大人也都从店铺和农田里走来了,为的就是高兴一下子。因为,今天要有一个新人来统治他们了;自从人类第一次凑成一个国家就有这种习惯了,所以嘛,他们就病痛快快地来欢庆一番;就象又老又穷的世界终于要过上一个黄金般的好年景了!”
  海丝特说得不错,人们的脸上确实闪耀着非同凡响的欢乐。过去已然这样,在随后两个世纪的大部分年月里依然如此,清教徒们把自认为人类的弱点所能容忍的一切欢乐和公共喜庆,全都压缩在一年中的这一节日中;因此,他们总算拨开积年的阴霾,就这独一无二的节日而论,他们的神情才不致比大多数别处的居民倒霉时的面容要严峻些。
  不过,我们也许过于夸张了这种灰黑的色调,尽管那确实是当年的心情和举止的特色。此刻在波士顿市场上的人们,并非生来就继承了清教徒的阴郁。他们本来都生在英国,其父辈曾在伊丽莎白时代的明媚和丰饶中生活;当时英国的生活,大体上看,堪称世界上前所未见的庄严、壮丽和欢乐。假若新英格兰的定居者们遵依传统的趣味,他们就会用篝火、宴会、表演和游行来装点一切重大的公共事件。而且,在隆重的典礼仪式中,把欢欣的消遣同庄重结合起来,就象国民在这种节日穿戴的大礼服上饰以光怪陆离的刺绣一样,也就没什么不实际的了。在殖民地开始其政治年度的这一天庆祝活动中,还有这种意图的影子。在我们祖先们所制定的每年一度的执政官就职仪式中,还能窥见他们当年在古老而骄傲的伦敦——我们妨且不谈国王加冕大典,只指市长大人的就职仪式——所看到的痕迹的重现,不过这种反映已经模糊,记忆中的余辉经多次冲淡已然褪色。当年,我们这个合众国的奠基人和先辈们——那些政治家、牧师和军人,将注重外表的庄严和威武视为一种职责,按照古老的风范,那种打扮正是社会贤达和政府委员的恰当装束。他们在人们眼前按部就班地一一定来,以使那刚刚组成的政府的简单机构获得所需的威严。
  在这种时刻,人们平日视如宗教教义一般严加施行的种种勤俭生活方式,即使没有受到鼓励吧,总可以获准稍加放松。诚然,这里没有伊丽莎白时代或詹姆斯时代在英国比比皆是的通俗娱乐设施,没有演剧之类的粗俗表演,没有弹着竖琴唱传奇歌谣的游吟诗人,没有奏着音乐耍猴的走江湖的人,没有变戏法的民间艺人,也没有逗得大家哄堂大笑的“快乐的安德鲁”①说那些由于笑料选出、虽已流传上百年、仍让人百听不厌的笑话。从事这种种滑稽职业的艺人们,不仅为严格的法律条文所严厉禁止,也遭到使法律得以生效的人们感情上的厌恶。然而,普通百姓那一本正经和老成持重的面孔上依然微笑着,虽说可能有点不自然,却也很开心。竞技活动也不算缺乏,诸如移民们好久以前在英国农村集市和草地上看到和参加的格斗比赛,由于本质上发扬了英武和阳刚精神,被视为应于这片新大陆上加以保留。在康沃尔和德文郡的种种形式的角力比赛,在这里的市场周围随处可见;在一个角落里,正在进行一场使用铁头木棍作武器的友谊较量;而最吸引大家兴趣的,是在刑台上——这地方在我们书中已经颇为注目了,有两位手执盾牌和宽剑的武士,正在开始一场公开表演。但是,使大家扫兴的是,刑台上的这场表演因遭到镇上差役的干涉而中断,他认为对这祭献之地妄加滥用,是侵犯了法律的尊严,是绝对不能允许的。
  当时的居民还是第一代没有欢乐活动的人,而且又是那些活着时深诸如何行乐曲父辈们的直接后裔,就过节这一点而论,比起他们的子孙,乃至相隔甚久的我们这些人,算是懂得快活的了,我们作这种一般性的结论,恐怕并不过分。早期移民的子嗣,也就是他们的下一代后人,受清教主义阴影笼罩最深,从而使国家的形象黯淡无光,以致在随后的多年中都不足以清洗干净。我们只好重新学习这门忘却已久的寻欢作乐曲本领。
  市场上的这幅人生图画,虽说基调是英国移民的忧伤的灰色、褐色和黑色,也还固间有一些其它色彩而显得活跃。一群印第安人,身穿有着野蛮人华丽的、绣着奇形怪状图案的鹿皮袍,腰束贝壳缀成的带子,头戴由红色和黄色赭石及羽毛做成的饰物,背挎弓箭,手执石尖长矛,站在一旁,他们脸上那种严肃刚毅的神情,比清教徒们还有过之而无不及。但这些周身涂得花花绿绿的野蛮人,还算不上当场最粗野的景象;更能充分表现这一特色的,是一批从那艘来自拉丁美洲北部海域的船上的水手,他们上岸来就是为了观看庆祝选举日的热闹的。他们是一伙外貌粗鲁的亡命之徒,个个面孔晒得黝黑,蓄着大胡子;又肥又短的裤子在腰间束着宽腰带,往往用一片粗金充当扣子,总是插着一柄长刀,偶尔是短剑。宽檐棕榈叶帽子下面闪着的那双眼睛,即使在心情好、兴致高的时候,也露出一股野兽般的凶光。他们肆元忌惮地违犯着约束着众人的行为准则;公然在差役的鼻子底下吸烟,尽管镇上人每这样吸上一日就要被罚一先令;他们还随心所欲地从衣袋里掏出酒瓶,大口喝着葡萄酒或烈性洒,并且随随便便地递给围周那些目蹬口呆的人们。这充分说明了当年道德标准的缺欠,我们虽然认为十分严格,但对那些浪迹海洋的人却网开一面,不仅容忍他们在陆上为所欲为,而且听凭他们在自己的天地里,更加无法无天。当年的那些水手,几乎与如今的海盗无异。就以这艘船上的船员为例吧,他们虽然不是海上生涯中那种声名狼藉的人物,但用我们的话说,肯定犯有劫掠西班牙商船的罪行,在今天的法庭上,都有处以绞刑的危险。
  但是那时候的大海,汹涌澎湃、掀浪卷沫,很大程度上是我行我素,或仅仅臣服于狂风暴雨,从来没有道接受人类法律束缚的念头。那些在风口浪尖上谋生的海盗们,只要心甘情愿,可以洗手不干,立刻成为岸上的一名正直诚实的君子;面即使在他们任意胡为的生涯中,人们也并不把他们视为不屑一颐或与之稍打交道就有损自己名声的人。因此,那些穿着黑色礼服、挺着浆过的环状皱领、戴着尖顶高帽的清教徒长者们,对于这帮快活的水手们的大声喧哗和粗野举动,反倒报以不无慈爱的微笑;而当人们看到老罗杰·齐灵渥斯这样一个德高望重的居民和医生走进市场、同那艘形迹可疑的船只曲船长亲密面随便地交谈的时候,既没有引起惊讶之感,也没有议论纷纷。
  就那位船长的服饰而论,无论他出现在人群中的什么地方,都是一个最显眼、最英武的人物。他的衣服上佩戴着备色奢华的缎带,帽子上缠着一圈金色丝绦,还缀着一根金链,上面插着一根羽毛。他胁下挎着一柄长剑,额头上留着一块伤疤——从他蓄的发式来看,似乎更急切地要显露出来而不是要加以掩盖。一个陆地上的人,若是周身这股穿戴、露出这副尊容,而且还得意洋洋地招摇过市,恐怕很难不被当宫的召去传讯,甚至会被课以罚金或判处监禁,也许会枷号示众。然而,对于这位船长而言,这一切都和他的身份相依相附,犹如鱼身上长着闪光的鳞片。
  准备开往布利斯托尔的那艘船的船长,和医生分手后,就悠闲地踱过市场;后来他刚好走近海丝特·白兰站立的地方,他好象认识她,径直上前去打招呼。和通常一样,凡是海丝特所站之处,周围就会形成一小块空地,似乎有一种魔圈围着,圈外的人尽管在附近摩肩擦背地挤作一团,也没人甘冒风险或乐于闯进那块空地。这正是红字在注定要佩戴它的人四周所形成的一种强制性的精神上的孤立;这固然是由于她自己的回避,但也是由于她的同胞们的本能的退缩,尽管这种退缩早已不那么不友好了。如果说这种隔离圈以前毫无裨益的话,此时倒是大有好处,因为海丝特能够同那位船长交谈而不致冒被人听到的风险j何况海丝特。白兰在众人间的声名已经大有改变,即使是镇上以恪守妇道最为著称的妇人进行这种谈话,都不会比她少受风言风语的指责。
  “啊,太太,”船长说,“我得让船员在你要求的席位之外,再多安排一个!那就不必担心路上得坏血症或斑疹伤寒这类疾病了!有了船上的外科医生和另外这位医生,我们唯一的危险就差药剂或药丸了;其实,我船上还有一大批药物,是跟一艘西班牙船换的。”
  “你这是什么意思啊?”海丝特问道,脸上禁不佳露出了惊诧神色。“你还有另一位乘客吗?”
  “怎么,你还不知道?”船长大声说,”这儿的这位医生——他自称齐灵渥斯——打算同你一道尝尝我那船上饭菜的滋味呢,唉,唉,你准已经知道了;因为他告诉我,他是你们的一伙,还是你提到的那位先生的密友呢——你不是说那位先生正受着这些讨厌的老清教徒统治者的迫害嘛!”
  “的确,他们彼此很了解,”海丝特神色平静地回答说,尽管内心十分惊愕。“他们已经在一起往了好久了。”
  船长和海丝特·白兰没有再说什么。但就在此时,她注意到老罗杰。齐灵渥斯本人,正站在市场远远的角落里,朝她微笑着,那副笑容越过宽阔熙攘的广场,穿透一切欢声笑语以及人群中的一切念头、情绪和兴趣,传达着诡秘而可怕的含义。①一个小丑、弄臣或江湖医生侍者的形象,据说源出亨利八世的医生安德鲁’博尔德。






二十二 游行

  海丝特·白兰还没来得及集中她的思路,考虑采取什么切实的措施来应付这刚刚出现的惊人局面,已经从毗邻的街道上传来了越来越近的军乐声。这表示官民们的游行队伍正在朝着议事厅前进;按照早已确立并一直遵照执行的规矩,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生将在那里进行庆祝选举的布道。
  不久就可看到游行队伍的排头,缓慢而庄严地前进着,转过街角,朝市场走来。走在最前面的军乐队,由各式各样的乐器组成,或许彼此之间不很和谐,而且演奏技巧也不高明;然而那军鼓和铜号的合奏对于大众来说,却达到了要在他们眼前通过的人生景象上增添更加崇高和英雄的气氛这一伟大目标。小珠儿起初拍着手掌,但后来却忽而失去了整个上午她始终处于的那种兴奋不安的情绪;她默不作声地注视着,似乎象一只盘旋的海鸟在汹涌澎湃的声涛中扶播直上。但在乐队之后接踵而来、充当队伍光荣的前卫的军人们,他们那在阳光下闪闪发光的明亮的甲胄和武器,又使她回到了原来的心情之中。这个士兵组成的方阵,里面没有一个是雇佣兵,因此仍然保持着一个整体面存在,他们从拥有古老而荣誉的声名的过去的岁月中齐步走来。队列中有不少绅士,他们体会到尚武精神的冲动,谋求建立一种军事学院,以便在那里象在“圣堂骑士”那种社团那样,学习军事科学,至少能在和平时期学会演习战争。这支队伍中人人趾高气昂,从中可以看出当年对军人是多么尊崇。其中有些人也确实由于在低地国家①服役和在其它战场上作战,而赢得了军人的头衔和高傲。何况,他们周身裹着捏亮的铠甲,耀眼的钢盔上还晃动着羽毛,那种辉煌气概,实非如今的阅兵所能媲美。
  而紧随卫队而来的文职官员们,却更值得有头脑的旁观者瞩目。单从举止外貌来说,那种庄严神气,就使那群高视阔步的武夫们即使没有显得怪模怪样,也是俗不可耐了。那个时代,我们所说的天才远没有今天这样备受重视,但形成坚定与尊严购人格的多方面的因素却要大受青睐。人们通过世袭权而拥有的受人尊敬的缘由,在其后裔身上,即使仍能侥幸存在,其比例也要小得多,而且由于官员需要公选和评估,他们的势力也要大大减少。这一变化也许是好事,也许是坏事,也许好坏兼而有之。在那旧时的岁月,移民到这片荒滩上的英国定居者,虽然已经把王公贵族以及种种令人生畏的显要抛在脑后,但内心中仍有很强的敬畏的本能和需要,便将此加诸老者的苍苍白发和年迈的额头,加诸久经考验的诚笃,加诸坚实的智慧和悲哀色彩的经历,加诺那种庄重的制度中的才能——那种制度来自“体面”的一般涵义并提供永恒的概念。因此,早年被人们推举而当政的政治家,——勃莱斯特里特、思狄柯特、杜德莱、贝灵汉以及他们的同辈,似乎并非十分英明,但却具备远胜睿智行动的老练沉稳。他们坚定而自信,在困难和危险的时刻,为了国家利益挺身而出,犹如一面危崖迎击拍岸的怒涛。这里提及的性格特点,充分体现在这些新殖民地执政官们的四方脸庞和大块头体格上。就这些生就的当权者的举止而论,这些实行民主的先驱们,即使被接受为贵族院的成员,或委以枢密院顾问之要职,也无愧于他们的英格兰报国的。
  跟在官员们后面依次而来的,是那拉声名显赫的青年牧师,人们正期待着从他嘴里听到庆祝日的宗教演说。在那个时代,他从事的职业所显示出的智能要远比从政生涯为多,撇开更高尚的动机不谈,这种职业在引起居民们近乎崇拜的这一点上,就具有极强的诱惑力,足以吸引最有泡负的人侧身其间。甚至连政权都会落在一个成功牧师的掌握之中,英克利斯·马瑟②就是一例。
  此时,那些殷殷里着他的人注意到,自从了梅斯代尔先生初次踏上新英格兰海岸以来,他还从来没有显示过这样允沛的精力,人们看到他精神抖擞地健步走在队伍之中。他的步履不象平时那样虚弱,他的躯干不再弯曲,他的手也没有病态地捂在心口。然而,如果没有看错的话,牧师的力量似乎并不在身体上,倒是在精神上,而且是由天使通过宗教仪式赋予他的。那力量可能是潜在热情的兴奋表现,是从长期不断的诚挚思想的熔炉中蒸馏出来的。或者,也许是,他的敏感的气质受到了那向天升腾并把他托着飞升的响亮而尖利的音乐的鼓舞。然而,他的目光是那么茫然,人们不禁纳闷,丁梅斯代尔先生到底听没听见那音乐。只见他的躯体正在以一种不同寻常的力量向前移动,但他的心灵何在呢?他的心灵正深深地蕴藏在自己的领域,忙不迭地进行着超自然的活动,以便安排那不久就要源源讲出的一系列庄严的思想,因此,他对于周围的一切全都视而不见,听而不闻,也毫不知晓;但这精神的因素正提携着那虚弱的躯体向前行进,不但毫不感到它的重量,而且将它生成象自身一样的精神。拥有非凡的智力而且已经病体缠身的人,通过巨人努力而获得的这种偶然的能力,能够把许多天凝聚于一时,而随后的那么多天却变得没有生命力了。
  不错眼神地紧盯着牧师的海丝特·白兰,感到一种阴沉的势力渗透她的全身,至于这种势力出于什么原因和从何而来,她却无从知晓:她只觉得他离她自己的天地十分遥远,已经全然不可及了。她曾经想象过。他俩之问需要交换一次彼此心照的眼色。她回忆起那阴暗的树林,那孤寂的山谷,那爱情,那极度的悲痛,那长满青苔的树干,他们携手并坐,将他们哀伤而热情的谈活交溶在小溪的忧郁的低语之中。当时,他俩是多么息息相通啊!眼前的这个人就是他吗?她此时简直准以辨认他了!
  他在低沉的乐声中,随着那些威严而可敬的神父们,高傲地走了过去,他在尘世的地位已经如此高不可攀,而她此时所看到的他.正陷入超凡脱俗的高深莫测的思绪之中,益发可望而不可及了!她认为一切全都是一场梦幻,她虽然梦得如此真切,但在牧师和她本人之间不可能有任何真实的联系,她的精神随着这种念头而消沉了。而由于海丝特身上存在着那么多女性的东西,她简直难以原谅他——尤其是此时此刻,当他们面临的命运之神的沉重的脚步已经可以听得见是越走越近的时候!——因为他居然能够从他俩的共同世界中一千二净地抽身出去,却把她留在黑暗中摸索,虽伸出她冰冷的双手,却遍寻他而不得见。珠儿对她母亲的感情或者是看出了,或者是感应到了,要不就是她自己也觉得牧师已经笼罩在遥不可及之中了。当游行队伍走过时,珠儿就象一只跃跃欲飞的鸟儿一般不安地跳起又落下。队伍全部过完之后,她抬头盯着海丝特的面孔。
  “妈妈,”她说,“他就是那个在小溪边亲吻过我的牧师吗?”
  “别出声,亲爱的小珠儿!”她母亲悄悄说。“我们在市场这儿可不准谈起我们在树林里遇到的事。”
  “我弄不准那是不是他;他刚才的样子真怪极了,”孩子接着说。“要不我就朝他跑过去,当着所有人的面要他亲我了——就象他在那片黑黑的老树林子里那样。牧师会说些什么呢,妈妈?他会不会用手捂着心口,对我瞪起眼睛,要我走开呢?”
  “他能说些什么呢,珠儿?”海丝特回答说,“他只能说,这不是亲你的时候,而且也不能在市场上亲你。总算还好,傻孩子,你没跟他讲话!”
  对于丁梅斯代尔牧师,还有一个人也表达了同样的感觉,那人居然荒唐——或者我们应该说成是疯狂——到干出镇上绝少有人做得出的事情:在大庭广众之中与红字的佩戴者讲起话来。那个人就是西宾斯太太。她套着三层皱领,罩着绣花胸衣,穿着华丽的绒袍,还握着根金头手杖,打扮得富丽堂皇地出来看游行。在当年巫术风行一时之际,这位老太婆因在其中担任主角而颇有名气(后来竟为此付出了生命作代价);人们纷纷趋避,仿佛唯恐碰上她的衣袍,就象是那华丽的褶襞中夹带着瘟疫似的。虽说目前已有好多人对海丝特·白兰怀有好感,但人们看到西宾斯太太和她站到一起,由那老太婆引起的恐惧更增加了一倍,于是便从她俩站立的地方纷纷后撤。
  “瞧啊,这些凡夫俗子是绝对想象不出的!”那老太婆对海丝特耳语着悄悄话。“瞧那神圣的人!人们都把他看作世间的圣者,而且连我都得说,他的样子真象极了!眼睁睁看着他在游行队伍中走过的人们,谁会规得到,就在不久之前,他还走出他的书斋,——我担保,他嘴里还念念有词地诵着希伯来文的《圣经》,——到森林中去逍遥呢!啊哈!我们清楚那意味着什么,海丝特·白兰!不过,说老实话,我简直不敢相信他就是那同一个人呢。我看见这么多教堂里的人跟在乐队后面游行,他们都曾随着我踏着同样的舞步,由某个人物演奏着提琴,或许,还有一个印第安人的祭司或拉普兰人③的法师同我们牵着手呢!只要一个女人看透了这个世界,这原本是小事一桩。但这个人可是牧师啊!海丝特,你说得准他是不是在林间小路上和你相遇的那同一个人呢?”
  “夫人,我实在不明白你讲的话,”海丝特.白兰觉得西宾斯太大有点老糊涂了,就这么回答说;然而,听老太婆说这么多人(包括她本人在内)和那个邪恶的家伙发生了个人联系,她异常吃惊并且吓得要命。“我可投资格随便乱谈象丁梅斯代尔牧师先生那样有学问又虔信《圣经》的牧师!”
  “呸,女人,呸!”那老太婆向海丝特摇着一个指头喊道。“你以为我到过那树林里那么多次,居然还没本领判断还有谁去过那儿吗?我当然有;虽说他们在跳舞时戴的野花环没有在他们的头发上留下叶子!我可认识你,海丝特,因为我看见了那个标记。我们在光天化日之下全都可以看见它,而在黑暗中,它象红色火焰一样闪光。你是公开戴着它的,因此绝不会弄错。可是这位牧师!听我在你耳根上告诉你吧!当那个黑男人看见一个他的签过名、盖了章的仆人,象丁梅斯代尔先生那样羞怯地不敢承认有这么个盟约时,他便有一套办法,把那标记在大庭广众之中暴露在世人面前。牧师总用手捂着心口,他想掩藏什么呢?哈,海丝特·白兰!”
  “到底是什么啊,好西宾斯太太?”小珠儿急切地问着。“你见过吗?”
  “别去管这个吧,乖孩子!”西宾斯太太对珠儿毕恭毕敬地说。“总有一天,你自己会看到的。孩子,他们都说你是‘空中王子’的后代呢!你愿意在一个晚上和我一起驾云上天去看你父亲吗?到那时你就会明白,牧师总把手指在心口上的原因了!”那怪模怪样的老夫人尖声大笑着走开了,惹得全市场的人都听到了。
  此时,议事厅中已经作完场前祈祷,可以听到了梅斯代尔牧师先生开始布道的声音了。一种不可抑制的情感促使海丝特向近处靠去。由于神圣的大厦中挤得人山人海,再也无法容纳新的听讲人,她只好在紧靠刑台的地方占了个位置。这地方足以听到全部说教.虽说不很响亮,但牧师那富有特色的声音象是流水的低吟,缓缓送入她的耳鼓。
  那发育器官本身就是一种圆润的天赋;对一个听讲人来说,哪怕全然不懂牧师布道的语言,仍然可以随着那声腔的抑扬顿挫而心往神驰。那声音如同一切音乐一般,传达着热情与悲抢,传达着高昂或温柔的激动,不管你在何地受的教育,听起来内心都会感到亲切熟悉。那声音虽因穿过教堂的重重墙壁而显得低沉,但海丝特·白兰听得十分专注,产生了息息相通的共鸣,那布道对她有着一种与其难以分辨的词句全然无关的完整的含义。这些话如果所得分明些,或许只是一种粗俗的媒介,反倒影响了其精神意义。如今她聆听着那低低的音调,犹如大风缓吹,逐渐平患一般;然后,她又随着那步步上升的甜美和力量飞腾,直到那音量似乎用敬畏和庄严的宏体氛围将她包裹起来。然而,尽管那声音有时变得很威严,但其中始终有一种娓娓动听的本色。那听起来时而如低语,时面如高叫的忽低忽高地表达出来的极度痛苦和受难的人生,触动着每个人心扉的感受!那低沉而悲怆的旋律时时成为你所能听到的全部声音,隐约地在凄凉的沉默之中哀叹。但是甚至当牧师的声音变得高亢而威严,当他的声音不可遏止地直冲云霄,当他的声音达到了最为宽厚有力的音量,以致要充斥整个教堂,甚至要破壁而出,弥漫到户外的空气之中的时候,如果一个听讲人洗耳恭听,他仍然会由此而得以清晰地分辨出同样的痛苦的呼号。那是什么呢?那是一颗人心的哀怨,悲痛地或许是负疚地向人类的伟大胸怀诉说着深藏的秘密,不管是罪孽还是悲伤;它无时无刻不在通过每一个音素祈求着同情或谅解,而且从来都不是徒劳无益的!牧师正是靠了这种深邃而持续的低沉语调而获得了恰到好处的力量。在整个这段时间,海丝特都如泥塑木雕般地僵立在刑台脚下。如果不是牧师的声音把她吸引在那里的话,就必然还有一个不可或缺的磁力让她离不开这块她经受了耻辱生活第一个小时的地方。她内心有一种感觉,虽说难于明晰地表现为一种思想,但却沉重地区在她心头,那就是,她的全部生活轨道,无论过去还是未来,都和这地方密不可分,似乎是由这一点才把她的生活连成一体。
  与此同时,小珠儿早已离开了她母亲的身边,随心所欲地在市场里到处玩耍。她以自己的闪烁不定的光辉,使忧郁的人群欢快起来,就象是一只长着光彩夺目的羽毛的鸟儿跳来跳去,在幽暗的时簇中时隐时现,把一棵树的枝枝叶叶全都照亮了。她行踪飘忽,时常会作出突然而意外的动作。这表明了她那永不止歇的精神活力,而今天,由于受到她母亲不平静的心情的拨弄和挑动,她那足尖舞跳得益发不知疲倦。珠儿只要看到有什么激励她的永远活跃的好奇心,就会飞到那儿,只要她愿意,我们可以说,她会把那个人或物当作自己的财产一般抓到手里;而绝不因此而稍稍控制一下自己的行动。那些看着她的清教徒们,只见到那小小的躯体发射着难以言状的美丽和古怪的魅力,并且随着她的动作而闪着光芒,他们即使笑容满面,依然不得不把这孩子说成是妖魔的后裔。她跑去紧盯着野蛮的印第安人的面孔;那人便意识到一种比他自己还要狂野的天性。然后,她出于天生的放肆,但仍然带着特有的冷漠,又飞进了那伙水手中间,这些黑脸膛的汉子犹如陆地上的印第安人一样,是海上的野蛮人,他们惊羡地瞅着殊儿,似乎她是变成小姑娘模样的海水的泡沫,被赋予了海中发光生物的灵魂,于夜晚在船下闪烁。
  这些水手当中有一个人就是同海丝特·白兰谈过话的那位船长,他被珠儿的容貌深深吸引,试图把一双手放在她头上,并月.打算亲亲她。但他发现要想碰到她简直象抓住空中飞鸣而过的鸟儿一样根本不可能,于是就从他的帽子上取下缠在上边的金链,扔给了那孩子。珠儿立刻用巧妙的手法把金链绕在颈上和腰间,使人看上去觉得那金链本来就是她的一部分,难以想象她怎么能够没有它。
  “你妈妈就是那边那个戴红字的女人吗?”那船长说。“你替我给她捎个口信好吗?”
  “要是那口信讨我喜欢,我就捎,”珠儿回答说。
  “那就告诉她,”他接着说,“我又跟那个黑脸、驼背的老医生谈了,他保证要带他的朋友,也就是你妈妈认识的那位先生,随他上船。所以嘛,你妈妈除去她和你,就不必操别的心了。你把这话告诉她好吗,你这小妖精?”
  “西宾斯太太说,我爸爸是‘空中王子’!”殊儿带着调皮的微笑大声说。“要是你叫我这么难听的名字,我就跟他告你的状,他就会用暴风雨追你的船!”
  孩子沿着一条弯弯曲曲的路线穿过市场,回到她母亲身边,把船长的话转告给她。海丝特那种坚强、镇定、持久不变的精神,在终于看到那不可避免的命运的阴森面目之后,几乎垮了;就在牧师和她自己挣出悲惨的迷宫,眼前似乎有一条通路向他们敞开的时候,这副带着无情微笑的阴森面孔却出现在他们通路的中间。
  船长的这一通知将她投入了可怕的困惑之中,折磨得她心烦意乱,可这时她还要面对另一个考验。市场上有许多从附近乡下来的人,他们时常听人谈起红字,而且由于数以百计的虚构和夸张的谣传,红字对他们已经骇人听闻,但他们谁也没有亲眼目睹过。这伙人在看腻了诸色开心事之后,此时已粗鲁无礼地围在海丝特·白兰的身边。然而,他们尽管毫无顾忌地挤过来,却只停在数步之遥的圈子以外。他们就这样站在那个距离处,被那神秘的符号所激起的反感离心力钉佐了。那帮水手们也注意到了人群拥到了一处,并且弄明白了红字的涵义,便也凑近来,把让太阳晒得黑黑的亡命徒的面孔伸进了圈子。连那些印第安人都受到了白人的好奇心的无声的影响,也眯起他们那蛇一般的黑眼睛,把目光穿过人群,斜腕着海丝特的胸前;他们或许以为佩戴这个光彩动人的丝绣徽记的人准是她那一伙人中德高望重的人士。最后,镇上的居民们(他们自己对这个陈旧的题目的兴趣,由于看到了别人的反应,也无精打采地恢复了)也慢吞吞地挪到这一角落,用他们那冰冷而惯见的目光凝视着海丝特·白兰的熟悉的耻辱标记,这或许比别人对她折磨尤甚。海丝特看见并认出了七年前等着她走出狱门的那伙人的同一副女监督式的面孔;其中只缺少一人,就是她们当中最年轻又是唯一有同情心的姑娘,海丝特后来给她做了葬服。就在她即将甩掉那灼人的字母之前的最后时刻,它居然莫名其妙地成为更令人瞩目和激动的中心,因而也使她自从第一天佩戴它以来,此时最为痛苦地感到它在烫烧着她的胸膜。
  就在海丝特站在那耻辱的魔圈中,似乎被对她作出的狡诈而残忍的判决永远钉住了的时候,那位令人赞美的牧师正在从那神圣的祭坛上俯视他的听众,他们最内在的精神已经完全被他攫住了。那位教堂中神圣的牧师!那位市场中佩戴红字的女人!谁能够竟然大不敬列猜想出,他俩身上会有着同样的灼热的耻辱烙印呢!
  ------------
  ①指荷兰、比利时和卢森堡。
  ②英克利斯’马瑟(1639一1723),美国教士和神学家,曾出任哈佛学院院长,在萨莱姆驱巫案审讯小起过重要作用。
  ③居住在斯堪地那维亚半岛和科技半岛北部的拉普人。






二十三 红字的显露

  犹如汹涌的海港般载着听众的灵魂高高升起的雄辩的话音,终于告一段落。那一刹那的静穆,如同宣告了神谕之后一般深沉。随后便是一阵窃窃私语和压低嗓门的瞳哗;似乎听众们从把他们带到另中种心境去的高级咒语中解脱出来,如今依然怀着全部惊惧的重荷重新苏醒了。过了一会儿,人群便开始从教堂的大门蜂拥而出。如今布道已经结束,他们步出被牧师化作火一般语言的、满载着他思想的香馥的气氛,需要换上另一种空气,才更适合支持他们的世俗生活。
  来到户外,他们如醉如痴的狂喜进发成语言。街道上、市场中、到处都翻腾着对牧师的腆美之词。他的听众们滔滔不绝地彼此诉说着每个人所知道的一切,直到全都说尽听够为止。他们异口同声地断言,从来没有淮象他今天这样讲得如此睿智、如此祟高、如此神圣;也没有哪个凡人的口中能够象他这样吐出如此鲜明的启示。显而易见,那启示的力量降临到了他身上,左右着他,不断地把他从面前的讲稿上提高,并以一些对他本人和对听众都妙不可言的观念充实着他。他所讲的主题音乐是上帝与人类社会的关系,尤指他们在这里垦荒播种的新英格兰。当他的布道接近结尾的时候,似是预言的一种精神降临在他身上,如同当年支配着以色列的老预言家一样强有力地迫使他就范;唯一不同的是,犹太人预言家当年宣告的是他们国内的天罚和灭亡,而他的使命则是预示新近在这里集结起来的上帝的臣民们的崇高而光荣的命运。但是,贯穿布道词始终的,一直有某种低沉、哀伤的悲调,使人们只能将其解释为一个即将告别人世的人的自然的仟悔。是啊;他们如此爱戴、也如此热爱他们的牧师不能不叹息一声就离开他们飞向天国啊!他们的牧师已经预感到那不合时宜的死亡的降临,很快就要在他们的哭声中离他们而去了!想到牧师弥留世上的时间已经不长,他那番布道词所产生的效果就更增加了最终强调的力量;如同一个天使在飞往天国的途中在人们的头上扇动了一下明亮的翅膀,随着一片阴影和一束光彩,向他们洒下了一阵黄金般的真理。
  于是,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生来到了他一生中空前绝后的最辉煌也是最充满胜利的时期,许多人在他们不同的领域里也曾有过这样的时期;只是经过好久以后他们往往才意识到。此时,他是站在最骄傲的卓越地位之上,在早期的新英格兰,牧师这一职业本身已然是一座高高的础座,而一个牧师要想达到他如今那种高度,还有赖于智慧的天赋、丰富的学识、超凡的口才和最无理的圣洁的名声。当我们的这位牧师结束了他在庆祝选举日的布道,在讲坛的靠垫上向前垂着头时,所处的正是这样一个高位。与此同时,海丝特·白兰却站在刑台的旁边,胸前依然灼烧着红字!
  这时又听到了铿锵的音乐和卫队的整齐的步伐声从教堂门口传出。游行队伍将从那里走到镇议事厅,以厅中的一个庄严的宴会来结束这一天的庆典。
  于是,人们又一次看到,由令人肃然起敬的威风凛凛的人士组成的队伍走在宽宽的通道上,夹道观看的群众在总督和官员们、贤明的长者、神圣的牧师以及一切德高望重的人们走道他们身边时,纷纷敬畏地向后退避。这支队伍出现在市场时,人群中进发出一阵欢呼,向他们致意。这种欢呼无疑额外增加了声势,表明了当年人们对其统治者孩提式的忠诚,但也让人感到,仍在听众耳际回荡的高度紧张的雄辩布道所激起的热情借此而不可遏止地爆发。每一个人不但自身感到了这种冲动,而且也从旁边的人身上感受到了程度相当的冲动。在教堂里的时候,这种冲动已经难以遏制;如今到了露天,便扶摇直冲云霄。这里有足够多的人,也有足够高的激昂交汇鲍情感,可以发出比狂风的呼啸、闪电的雷鸣或大海的咆哮更为震撼人心的声响;众心结成一心,形成一致的冲动,众声融成一声,发出巨大的浪涛声。在新英格兰的土壤中还从未进发出这样响彻云霄的欢呼!在新英格兰的土地上还从未站立过一个人象这位布道师那样受到他的人间兄弟的如此尊崇!
  那么他本人又如何呢?他头上的空中不是有光环在光芒四射吗?他既然被神灵感化得如此空灵,为崇拜者奉若神明,他那在队伍中移动着的脚步,当真是踏在尘埃之上吗?
  军人和文官的队伍向前行进的时候,所有的目光全都投向牧师在大队中慢慢走来的方向。随着人群中一部分又一部分的人瞥见了他的身影,欢呼声渐渐乎息为一种喃喃声。他在大获全胜之际,看起来是多么虚弱和苍白啊!他的精力——或者毋宁说,那个支撑着他传达完神圣的福音并由上天借此赋予他该福音本身的力量的神启——在他忠诚地克尽厥责之后,已经被撤回去了。人们刚才看到的在他面颊上烧灼的红光已经黯淡,犹如在余烬中无可奈何地熄灭的火焰。他脸色那样死灰,实在不象一个活人的面孔;他那样无精打采地踉跄着,实在不象一个体内尚有生命的人;然而他还在跌跌撞撞地前进着,居然没有倒下!
  他的一位担任教职的兄弟,就是年长的约翰,威尔逊,观察到了丁梅斯代尔先生在智慧和敏感退潮之后陷入的状态,慌忙迈步上前来搀扶他。而丁梅斯代尔牧师却哆里哆嗦地断然推开了那老人的胳臂。他还继续朝前“走”着——如果我们还把那种动作说成是“走”的话,其实更象一个婴儿看到了母亲在前面伸出双手来鼓励自己前进时那种播摇晃晃的学步。此时,牧师已经茫茫然,不知移步迈向何方,他来到了记忆犹新的那座因风吹日晒雨淋而发黑的刑台对面,在相隔许多凄风苦雨的岁月之前,海丝特·白兰曾经在那上面遭到世人轻辱的白眼。现在海丝特就站在那儿,手中领着小珠儿!而红字就在她胸前!牧师走到这里停下了脚步,然而,音乐依然庄严地演奏着,队伍合着欢快的进行曲继续向前移动。乐声召唤他向前进,乐声召唤他去赴宴!但是他却停了下来。
  贝灵汉在这几分钟里始终焦虑地注视着他。此时贝灵汉离开了队伍中自己的位置,走上前来帮助他,因为从丁梅斯代尔先生的面容来判断,不去扶他一把就一定会摔倒的。但是,牧师的表情中有一种推拒之意,令这位达官不敢上前,尽管他并不是那种乐于听命于人与人之间心息相通的隐约暗示的人。与此同时,人群则怀着谅惧参半的心情观望着。在他们看来,这种肉体的衰竭只不过是牧师的神力的另一种表现;设若象他这样神圣的人,就在众人眼前飞升,渐黯又渐明,最终消失在天国的光辉中,也不会被视为难以企及的奇迹。
  他转向刑台,向前伸出双臂。
  “海丝特,”他说,“过来呀!来,我的小珠儿!”
  他盯着她们的眼神十分可怖;但其中马上就映出温柔和奇异的胜利的成分。那孩子,以她特有的鸟儿一般的动作,朝他飞去,还搂住了他的双膝。海丝特·白兰似乎被必然的命运所推动,但又违背她的坚强意志,也缓缓向前,只是在她够不到他的地方就站住了。就在此刻,老罗杰·齐灵渥斯从人群中脱颖而出——由于他的脸色十分阴暗、十分慌乱、十分邪恶,或许可以说他是从地狱的什么地方钻出来的——想要抓住他的牺牲品,以免他会做出什么举动!无论如何吧,反正那老人冲到前面,一把抓住了牧师的胳臂。
  “疯子,稳住!你要干什么?”他小声说。“挥开那女人!甩开这孩子!一切都会好的!不要玷污你的名声,不光彩地毁掉自己!我还能拯救你!你愿意给你神圣的职业蒙受耻辱吗?”
  “哈,诱惑者啊!我认为你来得太迟了!”牧师畏惧而坚定地对着他的目光,回答说。“你的权力如今已不象以前了!有了上帝的帮助,我现在要逃脱你的羁绊了!”他又一次向戴红字的女人伸出了手。
  “海丝特·白兰,”他以令人撕心裂肺的真诚呼叫道,“上帝啊,他是那样的可畏,又是那样的仁慈,在这最后的时刻,他已恩准我——为了我自己沉重的罪孽和悲惨的痛楚——来做七年前我规避的事情,现在过来吧,把你的力量缠绕到我身上吧!你的力量,海丝特;但要让那力量遵从上帝赐于我的意愿的指导!这个遭受委屈的不幸的老人正在竭力反对此事!竭尽他自己的,以及魔鬼的全力!来吧,海丝特,来吧!扶我登上这座刑台吧!”人群哗然,骚动起来。那些紧靠在牧师身边站着的有地位和身分的人万分震惊,对他们目睹的这一切实在不解:既不能接受那显而易见的解释,又想不出别的什么涵义,只好保持沉默,静观上天似乎就要进行的裁决。他们眼睁睁地瞅着牧师靠在海丝特的肩上,由她用臂膀搀扶着走近刑台,跨上台阶;而那个由罪孽而诞生的孩子的小手还在他的手中紧握着。老罗杰.齐灵渥斯紧随在后,象是与这出他们几人一齐参加演出的罪恶和悲伤的戏剧密不可分,因此也就责无旁贷地在闭幕前亮了相。
  “即使你寻遍全世界,”他阴沉地望着牧师说,“除去这座刑台,再也没有一个地方更秘密——高处也罢,低处也罢,使你能够逃脱我了!”
  “感谢上帝指引我来到了这里!”牧师回答说。
  然而他却颤抖着,转向海丝特,眼睛中流露着疑虑的神色,嘴角上也同样明显地带着一丝无力的微笑。
  “这样做,”他咕哝着说,“比起我们在树林中所梦想的,不是更好吗?”
  “我不知道!我不知道!”她匆匆回答说。“是更好吗?是吧;这样我们就可以一起死去,还有小珠儿陪着我们!”
  “至于你和珠儿,听凭上帝的旨意吧,”牧师说;“而上帝是仁慈的!上帝已经在我眼前表明了他的意愿,我现在就照着去做。海丝特,我已经是个垂死的人了。那就让我赶紧承担起我的耻辱吧!”
  丁梅斯代尔牧师先生一边由海丝特.白兰撑持着,一边握着小珠儿的手,转向那些年高望重的统治者;转向他的那些神圣的牧师兄弟;转向在场的黎民百姓——他们的伟大胸怀已经给彻底惊呆了,但仍然泛滥着饱含泪水的同情,因为他们明白,某种深透的人生问题——即使充满了罪孽,也同样充满了极度的痛苦与悔恨——即将展现在他们眼前。刚刚越过中天的太阳正照着牧师,将他的轮廓分明地勾勒出来,此时他正高高矗立在大地之上,在上帝的法庭的被告栏前,申诉着他的罪过。
  “新英格兰的人们!”他的声音高昂、庄严而雄浑,一直越过他们的头顶,但其中始终夹杂着颤抖,有时甚至是尖叫,因为那声音是从痛苦与悔恨的无底深渊中挣扎出来的,“你们这些热爱我的人!——你们这些敬我如神的人!——向这儿看,看看我这个世上的罪人吧!终于!——终于!——我站到了七年之前我就该站立的地方;这儿,是她这个女人,在这可怕的时刻,以她的无力的臂膀,却支撑着我爬上这里,搀扶着我不致扑面跌倒在地!看看吧,海丝特佩戴着的红字!你们一直避之犹恐不及!无论她走到哪里,——无论她肩负多么悲惨的重荷,无论她可能多么巴望能得到安静的休息,这红字总向她周围发散出使人畏惧、令人深恶痛绝的幽光。但是就在你们中间,却站着一个人,他的罪孽和耻辱并不为你们所回避!”
  牧师讲到这里,仿佛要留下他的其余的秘密不再揭示了。但他击退了身体的无力,尤其是妄图控制他的内心的软弱。他甩掉了一切支持,激昂地向前迈了一步,站到了那母女二人之前。“那烙印就在他身上!”他激烈地继续说着,他是下定了决心要把一切全盘托出了。“上帝的眼睛在注视着它!天使们一直都在指点着它!魔鬼也知道得一清二楚,不时用他那燃烧的手指的触碰来折磨它!但是他却在人们面前狡猾地遮掩着它,神采奕奕地定在你们中间;其实他很悲哀,因为在这个罪孽的世界上人们竟把他看得如此纯洁!——他也很伤心,因为他思念他在天国里的亲属!如今,在他濒死之际,他挺身站在你们面前!他要求你们再看一眼海丝特的红字!他告诉你们,她的红字虽然神秘而可怕,只不过是他胸前所戴的红字的影像而已,而即使他本人的这个红色的耻辱烙印,仍不过是他内心烙印的表象罢了!站在这里的人们,有谁要怀疑上帝对一个罪人的制裁吗?看吧!看看这一个骇人的证据吧!”
  他哆哆嗦嗦地猛地扯开法衣前襟的饰带。露出来了!但是要描述这次揭示实在是大不敬。刹那间,惊慌失措的人们的凝视的目光一下子聚集到那可怖的奇迹之上;此时,牧师却面带胜利的红光站在那里,就象一个人在备受煎熬的千钧一发之际却赢得了胜利。随后,他就瘫倒在刑台上了!海丝特撑起他的上半身,让他的头靠在自己的胸前。老罗杰.齐灵渥斯跪在他身旁,表情呆滞,似乎已经失去了生命。
  “你总算逃过了我!”他一再地重复说。“你总算逃过了我!”“愿上帝饶恕你吧!”牧师说。“你,同样是罪孽深重的!”他从那老人的身上取回了失神的目光,紧紧盯着那女人和孩子。
  “我的小珠儿,”他有气无力地说——他的脸上泛起甜蜜而温柔的微笑,似是即将沉沉酣睡;甚至,由于卸掉了重荷,他似乎还要和孩子欢蹦乱跳一阵呢——“亲爱的小珠儿,你现在愿意亲亲我吗?那天在那树林里你不肯亲我!可你现在愿意了吧?”
  珠儿吻了他的嘴唇。一个符咒给解除了。连她自己都担任了角色的这一伟大的悲剧场面,激起了这狂野的小孩子全部的同情心;当她的泪水滴在她父亲的面颊上时,那泪水如同在发誓:她将在人类的忧喜之中长大成人,她绝不与这世界争斗,而要在这世上作一个妇人。珠儿作为痛苦使者的角色,对她母亲来说,也彻底完成了。
  “海丝特,”牧师说,“别了!”
  “我们难道不能再相会了吗?”她俯下身去,把脸靠近他的脸,悄声说。“我们难道不能在一起度过我们永恒的生命吗?确确实实,我们已经用这一切悲苦彼此赎救了!你用你那双明亮的垂死的眼睛遥望着永恒!那就告诉我,你都看见了什么?”
  “别作声,海丝特,别作声!”他神情肃穆,声音颤抖地说。“法律,我们破坏了!这里的罪孽,如此可怕地揭示了!——你就只想着这些好了!我怕!我怕啊!或许是,我们曾一度忘却了我们的上帝,我们曾一度互相冒犯了各自灵魂的尊严,因此,我们希望今后能够重逢,在永恒和纯洁中结为一体,恐怕是徒劳的了。上帝洞察一切;而且仁慈无边!他已经在我所受的折磨中,最充分地证明了他的仁慈。他让我忍受这胸前灼烧的痛楚!他派遣那边那个阴森可怖的老人来,使那痛楚一直火烧火燎!他把我带到这里,让我在众人面前,死在胜利的耻辱之中!若是这些极度痛苦缺少了一个,我就要永世沉沦了!赞颂他的圣名吧!完成他的意旨吧!别了!”
  随着这最后一句话出口,牧师吐出了最后一口气。到此时始终保持静默的人们,进出了奇异而低沉的惊惧之声,他们实在还找不出言辞,只是用这种沉沉滚动的声响,伴送着那辞世的灵魂。







二十四 尾声

  过了许多天,人们总算有了充分的时间来调整有关那件事的看法,于是对于他们所看到的刑台上的情景就有了多种说法。
  许多在场的人断言,他们在那个不幸的牧师的胸前看到了一个嵌在肉里的红字,与海丝特·白兰所佩戴的十分相似。至于其来源,则有着种种解释,当然都是些臆测。一些人一日咬定,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生自从海丝特.白兰戴上那耻辱的徽记的第一天开始,就进行他的苦修,随后一直用各色各样的劳而无功的方法,对自己施加骇人的折磨。另一些人则争诊说,那烙印是经过很长时间之后,由那个有法力的巫师老罗杰·齐灵渥斯,靠着魔法和毒剂的力量,才把它显示出来的。还有一些人是最能理解牧师的特殊的敏感和他的精神对肉体的奇妙作用的,他们悄悄提出看法,认为那可怕的象征是悔恨的牙齿从内心向外不停地咬啮的结果,最后才由这个有形的字母宣告了上天的可怕的裁决。读者可以从这几种说法中自行选择。关于这件怪事,我们所能掌握的情况已经全都披露了,既然这一任务已经完成,而长时间的思考已在我们的头脑中印下了并非我们所愿的清晰印象,我们倒很高兴把这深深的印记抹掉。
  不过,也有一些从头至尾都在场的人持有异议,他们声明,他们的跟睛始终没离开道丁梅斯代尔牧师先生,但他们否认曾经在他胸脯上看到有任何表记,那上面和新生婴儿的胸脯一样光洁。据他们讲,他的临终致辞,既没有承认,也没有丝毫暗示,他同海丝特,白兰长期以来戴着的红字所代表的罪过有过些微的牵连。按照这些极其值得尊敬的证人的说法,牧师意识到自己形将辞世,也意识到了众人已经把他尊崇到圣者和天使中间,于是便希望能在那堕落的女人的怀抱中咽气,以便向世界表明,一个人类的精英的正直是多么微不足道。他在竭力为人类的精神的美好耗尽了生命之后,又以他自己死的方式作为一种教谕,用这个悲恸有力的教训使他的崇拜者深信:在无比纯洁的上帝的心目中,我们都是相差无几的罪人。他要教育他们:我们当中最神圣的人无非比别人高得能够更清楚地分辨俯视下界的仁慈的上帝,能够更彻底地否定一般人翘首企望的人类功绩的幻影。对这样一个事关重大的真理,我们毋庸争辩,不过,应该允许我们把有关丁梅斯代尔先生的故事的这种说法,仅仅看作是那种墨守忠诚的实例,证明一个人的朋友们——尤其是一个牧师的朋友们,即使在证据确凿得如同正午的阳光照在红字上一般,指明他是尘埃中一个虚伪和沾满罪恶的生物时,有时还要维护他的人格。
  我们这篇故事所依据的权威性素材,是记载了许多人口述的一部古旧书稿①,其中有些人曾经认识海丝特.白兰,另一些人则从当时的目击者口中听说了这个故事,该书稿完全证实了前面诸页所取的观点。从那可怜的牧师的悲惨经历中,我们可以汲取许多教训,但我们只归结为一句话:“要真诚!要真诚!一定要真诚!即使不把你的最坏之处无所顾忌地显示绘世人,至少也要流露某些迹象,让别人借以推断出你的最坏之处!”
  最引人注目的是,丁梅斯代尔先生死后不久,在被叫作罗杰·齐灵渥斯的那老人容貌和举止上所发生的变化。他的全部体力和精力——他的全部活力和智力,象是立即抛弃了他;以致他明显地凋谢了,枝萎了,几乎如同拔出地面、绘太阳晒蔫的野草一般从人们眼界中消失了。这个不快的人给自己的生活确立的准则是不断地按部就班地执行他的复仇计划;但是,当他取得了彻底的胜利和完满的结果,那一邪恶的准则再也没有物质来支撑的时候,简言之,当他在世上再也没有魔鬼给的任务可进行的时候,这个没有人性曲人只有到他的主中那里去谋职并领取相应的报酬了。然而,对于所有这些阴影式的人物,只要是我们的熟人——不管是罗杰·齐灵渥斯,抑或是他的伙伴,我们还不得不显示点仁慈。一个值得探讨的、引人人胜的课题是:恨和爱,归根结底是不是同一的东西。二者在发展到极端时,都必须是高度的密不可分和息患相通;二者都可以使一个人向对方谋求爱慕和精神生活的食粮;二者在完成其课题之后,都能够将自己热爱的人或痛恨的人同样置于孤寂凄凉的境地。因此,从哲学上看,这两种感情在本质上似乎是相同的,只不过一种刚好显现于神圣的天光中,而另一种则隐蔽在晦暗的幽光里。老医生和牧师这两个事实上相互成为牺牲品的人,在神灵的世界中,或许会.不知不觉地发现他俩在尘世所贮藏的怨恨和厌恶变成了黄金般的热爱。
  我们先把这一讨论撇在一旁,把一件正事通报给读者。不出一年,老罗杰·齐灵渥斯便死了;根据他的最后意愿和遗嘱——贝灵汉总督和威尔逊牧师先生是其执行人——,他把一笔数目可观的遗产,包括在此地和在英国的,都留给了海丝特·白兰的女儿,小珠儿。
  于是,小珠儿——那个小精灵,那个直到那时人们还坚持认为是恶魔的后裔,就成了当年新大陆的最富有的继承人。自然,这种景况引起了公众评价的很实际的变化;如果母女俩留在当地,小珠儿在到达结婚年龄之后,很可能会把她那野性的血液,同那里最虔诚的清教徒的血统结合起来。但是,医生死后不久,红字的佩戴者就消失了,而珠儿也跟她走了。多年之中,虽然不时有些模糊的传闻跨过大洋——犹如一块不成形的烂木头漂到岸上,上面只有姓氏的第一个字母,但从未接到过有关她们的可靠消息。红字的故事渐渐变成了传说。然而,它的符咒的效力依旧,使那可怜的牧师死在上面的刑台和海丝特.白兰居住过的海边茅屋都令人望面生畏。一天下午,有些孩子正在那茅屋的近旁玩耍,他们忽然看见一个身穿灰袍的高个子女人走进了屋门;那些年来,屋门从来没有打开过一次;不知是那女人开了锁,还是那腐朽了的木头和铁页在她手里散落了,或是她象影子一般穿过这重重障碍。反正她是进了屋。
  她在门限处停下了脚步,还侧转了身体,或许,只身一人走进以往过着提心吊胆生活、如今已经面貌全非的家,连她都受不了那种阴森凄凉的劲头。但她只迟疑了片刻,不过人们还是来得及看到她胸前的红字。
  海丝特.白兰又回来了,又拣起了久已抛弃的耻辱!可是小珠儿在哪里呢?如果她还活着,如今应该是个楚楚动人的少女了。谁也不知道,谁也没有得到十足确切的消息,那个小精灵般的孩于是不是早已过早地埋进了少女的坟墓,还是她那狂野而多彩的本性已经被软化和驯服,从而得以享受一个女人的温雅的幸福。不过,从海丝特后半世的生活来看,有迹象表明,这位佩戴红字的幽居者是居住在另一片国度里的某个人热爱和关怀的对象。寄来的信件上印有纹章,不过那是英格兰家系上所没有记载的。在那间茅屋里,有一些奢侈的享受品,这些东西海丝特是从来不屑一用的,但这些东西只有富人才能买得起,只有对她充满感情的人才会想得到。还有一些小玩艺儿,一些小小的饰物,以及一些表示持续的怀念的精美的纪念品,想必是一颗爱心冲动之财,用一双纤手制作的。有一次,人们看到海丝特在刺绣一件婴儿的袍服,那种华美的样式和奢侈的色彩,如果有哪个婴儿穿在身上在我们这晦暗的居民区中招摇,一定会引起轩然大波的。
  总而言之,当年的那些爱讲闲话的人相信,一个世纪后对此作过调查的海关督察普先生相信,而最近接替他职务的一个人②益发忠实地相信,珠儿不但活在世上,而且结了婚,生活很幸福,一直惦记着她母亲,要是她孤凄的母亲能够给接到她家里,她将无比高兴。
  但对海丝特·白兰来说,住在新英格兰这里,比起珠儿建立了家园的陌生的异乡,生活更加真实。这里有过她的罪孽,这里有过她的悲伤,这里也还会有她的忏悔。因此,她回来了,并且又戴上了使我们讲述了这篇如此阴暗故事的象征,此举完全出于她自己的自由意志,因为连那冷酷时代的最严厉的官员也不会强迫她了。从那以后,那红字就再也没离开过她的胸前。但是随着那构成海丝特生活的含辛茹苦、自我献身和对他人的体贴入微的岁月的流逝,那红字不再是引起世人嘲笑和毒骂的耻辱烙印,却变成了一种引人哀伤,令人望面生畏又起敬的标志。而由于海丝特·白兰毫无自私的目的,她的生活既非为自己谋私利又非贪图个人的欢愉,人们就把她视为饱经忧患的人,带着他们的所有的哀伤和困惑,来寻求她的忠告。尤其是妇女们,因为她们会不断经受感情的考验:受伤害、被滥用、遭委屈、被玩弄、入歧途、有罪过,或是因为不受重视和未被追求而无所寄托的心灵的忧郁的负担,而来到海丝特的茅屋,询问她们为什么这么凄苦,要如何才能得到解脱!海丝特则尽其所能安慰和指点她们。她还用她自己的坚定信仰使她们确信,到了更光明的时期,世界就会为此而成熟,也就是到了天国自己的时间,就会揭示一个新的真理,以便在双方幸福的更可靠的基础上建立起男女之间的全部关系。海丝特年轻时也曾虚妄地幻想过,她本人或许就是命定的女先知,但从那以后,她早已承认了:任何上界的神秘真理的使命是不可能委托给一个为罪孽所玷污、为耻辱所压倒或者甚至为终生的忧愁而沉闷的女人的。将来宣示真理的天使和圣徒必定是一个女性,但应是一个高尚、纯洁和美丽的女性;尤其应是一个其聪慧并非来自忧伤而是来自飘渺的喜悦的女性;而且还应是一个通过成功地到达这一目的的真实生活的考验显示出神圣的爱将如何使我们幸福的女性!
  海丝特·白兰就一边这么说着,一边垂下双眸瞅着那红字。又经过许多许多年之后,在一座下陷的老坟附近,又挖了一座新坟,地点就是后来在一旁建起王家教堂的那块墓地。这座新坟靠近那座下陷的老坟,但中间留着一处空地,仿佛两位长眠者的骨殖无权相混。然而两座坟却共用一块墓碑。周围全是刻着家族纹章的碑石;而在这一方简陋的石板上——好奇的探索者仍会看见,却不明所以了——有着类似盾形纹章的刻痕。上面所刻的铭文,是一个专司宗谱纹章的官员的词句,可以充当我们现在结束的这个传说的箴言和简短描述;这传说实在阴惨,只有一点比阴影还要幽暗的永恒的光斑稍稍给人一点宽慰:
  “一片墨黑的土地,一个血红的A字。”
  ①参见本书《译本序》。
  ②指作者本人,请参看本书《译本序》。



       



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