CHAPTER 18: “THE REVELATION”
At last, the minister’s eloquent voice came to a pause. Silence fell upon the audience —and then, a murmur. Gushing forth from the doors of the church, they broke into speech, babbling praise and applause of their most holy minister. They unanimously agreed that never had a man spoken with so much sanctity as their minister did that day.
He had spoken of the relation between the Deity and mankind; and near the end of his sermon, had foretold a high and glorious destiny for their own town, one that gathered the people of the Lord.
But throughout his entire speech, majestic as it may have been, there existed a deep melancholy. In the view of the townspeople, it was his regret—the natural regret of a man soon to pass away. Their minister–whom they so loved–would soon leave them!
That moment marked the zenith of his life. No future moment could be more brilliant or full of triumph, nor had any prior moment come close. At this moment, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had reached the proudest eminence of superiority a clergyman may have exalted in New England’s earliest days.
The furor of music was heard once more as the procession proceeded out of the church-door. They would advance towards the town-hall, where a solemn banquet would complete the festivities of the day.
While the people drew back reverently as the train of venerable fathers moved through them, one man could not help but greet the minister with a shout. Was there not a halo in the air around his head? In that moment, he was so apotheosized by his worshipping admirers that he seemed ethereal. Did his feet even tread upon the earth?
Yet the man’s shout soon came to a pause. How feeble the minister looked! He was pale, as though his triumph had vanished from him, and with little energy in his steps.
One of his clerical brethren, the venerable John Wilson, stepped forward out of the procession hastily to offer his support. Yet the minister repelled his brethren’s support, and walked onwards-almost imperceptibly, towards the scaffold.
There stood Hester Prynne–the scarlet letter on her breast–and little Pearl. The minister made a pause here. The music still played, the procession beckoning him forward–but here, he made a pause.
The crowd looked on with awe, his brethren with confusion.
The minister, tremulously, turned towards the scaffold, and spread his arms wide. “Hester,” he said. “Come hither! Come, my little Pearl!”
There was something awful in his look, yet something strangely triumphant in it as well. Little Pearl flew to him, and Hester Prynne–slowly, as if against her strongest will–likewise drew year, as if impelled by an inevitable fate.
At that moment, old Roger Chillingworth emerged from the crowd, desperate to snatch his victim back. “Madman, what do you intend to do? Cast off the woman and child–do not blacken your fame! I can still save you!”
“Ha, thou art too late!” The minister cried. “With God’s help, I shall escape thee!”
He extended his hand to Hester’s, and with a startling earnestness, spoke: “Hester, in the name of Him, come hither. Wrap thy strength about me! Support me up yonder scaffold!”
The crowd was in chaos. Yet the venerable fathers were so taken aback that they remained silent. They watched, in awe, as the minister ascended the steps of the scaffold, holding little Pearl by the hand. Old Roger Chillingworth followed them, yet hung back–he too had been an actor in their drama. It was only fitting that he be there in its final act.
“There is no place,” he said, looking darkly at the clergyman, “where thou could have escaped me-save for this scaffold.”
“He hath led me here!” the minister answered.
He turned to Hester, a feeble smile upon his lips. “Is this not better than what we had dreamed?”
“Better? It is better for us three to die here-I know not, I know not!”
“God is merciful-for thee and Pearl, and for me as well. Yet my time has come. Let me follow God’s will and take my shame upon me.”
The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale then turned to the crowd–to the people, who appalled as they may have been, were tearful. The sun, little past its zenith, shone down upon the minister. He cried out, addressing them with a majestic voice.
“People of New England, behold! I should have stood here seven years ago. Instead, I have hid myself cunningly amongst you.” He stepped forward, passionately, with a sudden determination and fierceness to speak the whole truth. “Now, at this death-hour, I tell you. Look yonder, to the scarlet letter Hester wears! It is but a shadow of the brand of sin I bear upon my own breast. Behold it!”
With a violent motion, he tore away the clerical band from his breast-it was revealed! For an instant, the horrified gaze of the crowd concentrated on the ghastly miracle. The minister stood with a look of triumph on his face.
Then, crumbling, he sank down upon the scaffold. Hester partly raised him, supporting his head against her bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt beside the two-it seemed as though all life had departed from him. “Thou has escaped me!” He cried.
“May God forgive thee as well!” The minister answered. “Thou too hast sinned!”
He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on the woman and the child.
“My little Pearl,” he said, feebly. “Wilt thou kiss me now?”
Pearl kissed his lips. The spell was broken. As her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they pledged that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow-no longer do battle with it, but be a woman in it.
“Hester,” the clergyman said. “Farewell!”
“Shall we not meet again?” she whispered, bending her face close to his. “Shall we not spend our eternal life together?”
“Hush, Hester, hush!” he said, solemnly. “When we forgot our God, it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet in a pure reunion. Yet God is merciful–by giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder terrible old man to keep your torture alive! By bringing me here, to die this death of triumph and shame before the people! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell!”
That final word came forth with the minister’s last breath. And then, all was silent.
Chapter 20: “Conclusion”
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Retold By: Rachna Shah
After a few days had passed, the people had arranged their thoughts. They began to tell several differing accounts of what had occurred upon that scaffold.
Most of the witnesses reported having seen a scarlet letter upon the minister’s breast–the very same as that of Hester Prynne’s! Some believed that he had been wearing this scarlet letter upon his breast since Hester herself had taken upon the shame. Others perceived that it was only the dark magic and necromancy of old Roger Chillingworth which brought the letter to be engraved into the minister’s skin. Still others–those, perhaps, most understanding of the minister’s sensitivities–contended that the awful symbol was the effect of his remorse, Heaven’s dreadful judgment gnawing itself outwards.
Yet it is singular that despite all of these accounts, certain persons denied any existence whatsoever of a mark upon the minister’s breast. Nor did they believe that his words had any confession of guilt with regard to the fallen Hester Prynne. Rather, these highly respectable witnesses contended that the minister’s dying actions and words were intended to be a parable. Yes, a parable to convey how we are all sinners alike. We must consider this version of the story as only an instance that shows the devotion of a man’s friends to uphold his character.
From the many morals that press upon us from the unfortunate minister’s experience, however, we must express the following: “Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, some trait from which your worst may be inferred!”
Nothing was more remarkable than the change in old Roger Chillingworth after the minister has passed away. He seemed feeble, as though drained of all motivation and energy. He had long been solely driven by revenge; and now, that the Devil’s deed was done, he was left waiting for another victim.
Yet it remains a curious thing to consider—whether hate and love are not the same in the end. In life, both lovers and haters become each other’s source of sustenance, each intimate with the other’s heart. And each leaves the other forlorn and desolate. Perhaps it can be said that in the spiritual world, the old physician and the minister may have, unaware of it, found their earthly hatred transmuted into golden love.
For shortly after the minister’s passing, old Roger Chillingworth had passed away. By his last will, it was declared that his quite considerable estate would be bequeathed to little Pearl. And thus, little Pearl–the elf-child–the demon offspring–became the richest heiress of her day in the New World. Thus, it is not improbable that if she had remained in that settlement, when she came of age, her blood would have mingled with the purest of the lot.
Yet soon after the turn of events, little Pearl and her mother disappeared across the sea. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend. But its spell remained potent, for both the scaffold and the little cottage wherein Hester Prynne and Pearl had seven years dwelt were left untouched.
One afternoon, several children were at play near the cottage–and came to a pause. There, they beheld a tall woman approach the cottage door and glide, shadow-like, through it. She seemed to pause over the threshold, as if she could not bear her former dreary life. Yet she only hesitated for a moment, enough time for the scarlet letter on her breast to be seen by the children.
Hester Prynne had returned, taking up her long-forsaken shame. But where was little Pearl?
None knew whether the maiden had gone to an untimely grave or had remained across the sea. Yet much hinted at the latter-and that Pearl too had come into the love and graces of another. Letters with armorial seals came to the cottage, with trinkets of luxury and comfort-ones only wealth and affection could have purchased. And, once, Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment, one with such a lavish richness that it would have brought about uproar among the Puritans.
The gossips of that day contended that Pearl was not only happily married and mindful of her mother, but that she would have most joyfully entertained her sad mother in that lonely cottage. Yet in that desolate cottage, there was a more real life for Hester than there had or could have been elsewhere. Here had been her sin and sorrow; here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned–out of free will, for not even the sternest magistrate of that time would have imposed it–to wearing the dark scarlet letter. Never afterwards did it leave her bosom.
But the years of her life had been thoughtful and toilsome and so the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma. Rather, it was looked upon with awe, and with a sort of reverence. Women of the town–both those who had partaken in erring, wrongful sin and those who felt unsought–came to the unselfish Hester with their worries, seeking her counsel-for she too had undergone a mighty trouble. She comforted them as best as she could, and assured them of her firm belief: that a brighter period would soon come, one where the relation between man and woman would be transmuted into one of mutual happiness.
Earlier in her life, Hester had vainly imagined that she could be the prophetess of this message. Since then, she had come to believe that only a woman untouched by sin–moreover, one wise from joy rather than from sorrow–could be the messenger of this divine and ethereal truth.
After many, many years, a new grave was dug near an old and sunken one. A space remained between the two, as though even their ashes had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for them both. It bore a brief description, which may serve as a sort of motto of our now concluded legend: