The Scarlet Letter eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 247 pages of information about The Scarlet Letter.

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?”

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The Scarlet Letter from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.