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!