While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing on her
pedestal, still with a fixed gaze towards the stranger--so fixed
a gaze that, at moments of intense absorption, all other objects
in the visible world seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her.
Such an interview, perhaps, would have been more terrible than
even to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day sun
burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame; with the
scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant
in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival,
staring at the features that should have been seen only in the
quiet gleam of the fireside, in the happy shadow of a home, or
beneath a matronly veil at church. Dreadful as it was, she was
conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand
witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with so many betwixt him
and her, than to greet him face to face--they two alone. She
fled for refuge, as it were, to the public exposure, and dreaded
the moment when its protection should be withdrawn from her.
Involved in these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind
her until it had repeated her name more than once, in a loud and
solemn tone, audible to the whole multitude.
"Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne!" said the voice.