Without further expostulation or delay, Hester Prynne drained
the cup, and, at the motion of the man of skill, seated herself
on the bed, where the child was sleeping; while he drew the only
chair which the room afforded, and took his own seat beside her.
She could not but tremble at these preparations; for she felt
that--having now done all that humanity, or principle, or, if so
it were, a refined cruelty, 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," said he, "I ask not wherefore, nor how thou hast
fallen into the pit, or say, rather, thou hast ascended to the
pedestal of infamy on which I found thee. The reason is not far
to seek. It was my folly, and thy weakness. I--a man of
thought--the book-worm of great libraries--a man already in
decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of
knowledge--what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine
own? Misshapen from my birth-hour, how could I delude myself
with the idea that intellectual gifts might veil physical
deformity in a young girl's fantasy? Men call me wise. If sages
were ever wise in their own behoof, I might have foreseen all
this. I might have known that, as I came out of the vast and
dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Christian men, the
very first object to meet my eyes would be thyself, Hester
Prynne, standing up, a statue of ignominy, before the people.
Nay, from the moment when we came down the old church-steps
together, a married pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of
that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!"