Stage 4 (Sage): The Scarlet Letter, chapter 6

CHAPTER 6: THE LEECH

Under Roger Chillingworth was hidden another name, which its former wearer had resolved should never more be spoken. In pursuance of an unknown resolve, he took up his residence in the Puritan town as Roger Chillingworth. It was as a physician that he presented himself and as such was cordially (1) received.

This learned stranger had chosen for his spiritual guide the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.

About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale had begun to fail. The paleness of the young minister’s cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to study. Some declared, that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was because the world was not worthy to be trodden by his feet. He, on the other hand, with characteristic humility, avowed (2) his belief that if Providence should see fit to remove him, it would be because of his own unworthiness of performing its humblest mission here on earth.

Such was the young clergyman’s condition when Roger Chillingworth made his advent (3) to the town. Why, with such rank in the learned world, had he come here? In answer to this query, a rumour gained ground that Heaven had performed a miracle, transporting an eminent (4) Doctor of Physic through the air and setting him down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale’s study!

This idea was countenanced (5) by the strong interest which the physician manifested (6) in the young clergyman, whose health he expressed great concern for.

Mr. Dimmesdale gently repelled his entreaties (7) , however.“I need no medicine,” said he. “Were it God’s will, I could be well content that my labours, sorrows, sins, and pains, should end with me – 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 use your skill for my behalf.”

“Ah,” replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quietness, which, whether imposed (8) or natural, marked all his deportment, “it is thus that a young clergyman is likely 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 gladly 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, “were I worthy to walk there, I could be better content to toil (9) here.”

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medical adviser of Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. 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. There was a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of science, in whom he recognized an intellectual cultivation of no moderate depth, with a range and freedom of ideas that he would have vainly (10) looked for among members of his own profession.

 

In no state of society would Dimmesdale 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 above him, supporting, while it confined him within its iron framework.

However with a tremulous (11) 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. 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 (12).

Roger Chillingworth scrutinised (13) his patient carefully. He deemed it essential to know the man before attempting to do him good, and strove to go deep into his patient’s bosom.

A man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the latter possess native sagacity (14) and intuition, then, at some inevitable (15) moment,  the soul of the sufferer will be dissolved, bringing all its mysteries into the daylight.

Roger Chillingworth possessed such attributes.

They talked much of personal matters yet to the physician’s disappointment, no secret ever stole out of the minister’s consciousness into his companion’s ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed, that even the true nature of Mr. Dimmesdale’s bodily disease had never been revealed to him. It was a strange reserve!

After a time, 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 as Arthur Dimmesdale rejected all suggestions of a wife, as if priestly celibacy (16) were one of the articles of Church discipline.

The new abode was shared by a pious widow, of comparable social rank. The good motherly widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale the frontmost apartment, with sunny exposure and heavy window–curtains. The walls were hung round with tapestry representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet. Here the pale clergyman piled up his library.

On the other side of the house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory.

Meanwhile, another portion of the community had begun to take its own view of the relation between 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 on the intuitions of its great and warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often so profound (17) and so unerring (18) as to possess the character of truth supernaturally revealed.

The people could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation (19). Two or three individuals hinted that the man of skill, during his Indian captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by using the black art. A large number affirmed that Roger Chillingworth’s physical appearance had undergone a remarkable change from his first days in the settlement. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar–like. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face.

It grew to be a widely diffused opinion that Arthur Dimmesdale was haunted either by Satan himself or Satan’s emissary (20), in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine permission to burrow into the clergyman’s intimacy and plot against his soul.

The people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out of the conflict which he would unquestionably win. Nevertheless, it was sad to think of the mortal agony through which he must struggle towards his triumph.

Judging 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.


 

+GLOSSARY

 

1/cordially(adv): friendly; politely; warmly in an accepting and welcoming manner

2/avow(v): to reaffirm; to swear and assert firmly

3/advent(n): an arrival; an appearance (of someone or something)

4/eminent(adj): well-known; well regarded; prestigious

5/countenance(v): to support; to allow; to stand for

6/manifest(v): to take; to invest; to exhibit or reveal

7/entreaty(n): an earnest request or plea made on the behalf of another

8/imposed(adj): forced; pressured (into doing something)

9/toil(v): to work; to labor

10/vainly(adv): unsuccessfully; fruitlessly

11/tremulous(adj): shaking; quivering

12/orthodox(adj): customary; conservative; traditional

13/scrutinize(v): to look at and examine closely

14/sagacity(n): the quality of having sound judgment akin to wiseness

15/inevitable(adj): unavoidable

16/celibacy(n): the state of living in which one never marries nor has romantic/sexual relations with another

17/profound(adj): insightful; unusually perceptive

18/unerring(adj): faultless; the state of never being wrong

19/refutation(n): an act of disproving something, usually with evidence

20/emissary(n): a messenger; an ambassador

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