CHAPTER 3 : THE INTERVIEW
After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was in a state of nervous excitement that demanded constant watchfulness, lest she should perpetrate (1) violence on herself or the poor babe. As night approached, it proving impossible to quell (2) her insubordination (3), Master Brackett, the jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician.
There was much need of professional assistance, not merely for Hester, but for the child–who, drawing its sustenance (4) from the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil, anguish and despair, which pervaded (5) the mother’s system. It now writhed (6) in pain.
Closely following the jailer into the apartment, appeared that individual, whose presence in the crowd had been of such interest to the wearer of the scarlet letter. His name was announced as Roger Chillingworth.
The jailer, after ushering (7) him into the room, remained a moment, marvelling at the quiet that followed his entrance; Hester Prynne had immediately become as still as death.
“Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient,” said the practitioner.
He had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the profession. Nor did his demeanour change when the withdrawal of the prison keeper left him face to face with the woman.
His first care was given to the child. He examined the infant carefully, and proceeded to unclasp a case. It appeared to contain medical preparations, one of which he mingled (8) with a cup of water.
“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 with thine own hand.”
Hester repelled (9) the offered medicine, 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, he took the infant and administered the draught. It soon proved its efficacy (10). The moans of the little patient subsided; it sank into slumber.
The physician next bestowed his attention on the mother. With calm and intent scrutiny, he looked into her eyes–a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder, because it was so familiar, and yet so strange and cold–and, finally, satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle another draught.
“Drink it! It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience -that I cannot give thee-but it will calm thy passion.”
He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow, earnest look into his face; not precisely fear, yet doubt and questioning as to what his purposes might be.
“I have thought of death,” said she–“have wished for it yet, if death be in this cup, I bid thee to think again.”
“Drink,” replied he, with the same cold composure. “Dost thou know me so little, Hester Prynne? Even if I imagine vengeance, what could I do better for my object than to let thee live so that this burning shame may blaze upon thy bosom?” As he spoke, he laid his long fore-finger on the scarlet letter, which seemed to scorch (11) into Hester’s breast. He noticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. “Live, therefore, and bear thy doom with thee!”
Without further delay, Hester Prynne drained the cup, and seated herself on the bed; he drew a chair, and took his own seat beside her.
She could not but tremble for she felt that–having now done all that humanity, or principle, 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, I ask not why nor how thou hast ascended to the pedestal of infamy on which I found thee. It was my folly (12), and thy weakness. I having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge–what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine own? Men call me wise. If sages’ wiseness ever advantaged them, I might have foreseen all this. Nay, from the moment we came down the old church-steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the 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–“that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned (13) any.”
“True. It was my folly (12)! But, up to that time in my life, the world had been so cheerless! It seemed not so wild a dream–old, sombre, and misshapen as I was–that the simple bliss might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart and sought to warm thee!”
“I have greatly wronged thee,” murmured Hester.
“We have wronged each other. Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. I seek no vengeance (14) 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. Thou shall never know!”
“Never?” rejoined he, with a smile of dark intelligence. “There are few things hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. I shall seek this man. 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 he should read the secret there at once.
“He bears no letter of infamy, as thou do, but I shall read it on his heart. Yet do not fear for him! Do not imagine that I shall contrive (15) against his life; nor against his fame. Let him live! Let him hide himself in outward honour, if he may! Nevertheless he shall be mine!”
“Thy acts are like mercy,” said Hester, bewildered (16) and appalled (17); “but thy words make you seem a terror!”
“One thing,” continued the scholar. “Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour (18). Keep, likewise, mine! There are none in this land that know me. Breathe not to any human soul that thou ever called me husband! Here, I shall pitch my tent. Thou, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is where thou art and where he is. But betray me not!”
“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 (19) the husband of a faithless woman. It may be for other reasons. Enough, it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Recognise me not! 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.”
And she took the oath.
“And now, Mistress Prynne,” said old Roger Chillingworth, “I leave thee 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 (20) me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?”
“Not thy soul,” he answered, with another smile. “No, not thine!”
1/perpetrate(v): to do, to carry out, to bring about
2/quell(v): to calm, to bring an end to
3/insubordination(n): the action of refusing to listen to orders or rules
4/sustenance(n): the food or drink that is necessary to keep oneself alive
5/pervaded(v): to spread through and fill every part of with
6/writhed(v): to twist and squirm, unpleasantly
7/ushering(v): to guide somebody (into) somewhere
9/repelled(v): to push away
10/efficacy(n): effectiveness; having its intended result, serving its original purpose
11/scorch(v): to burn
12/folly(n): a mistake caused by foolishness
13/feign(v): to fake
14/vengeance(n): revenge for a particular misdeed or wrong committed
15/contrive(v): to plot, to bring about an undesirable situation
16/bewilder(v): to perplex, to confuse
17/appall(v): to disgust, to horrify
18/paramour(n): the illicit lover of a married person
19/besmirch(v): to tarnish or damage one’s reputation
20/entice(v): to draw in, to tempt