So Roger Chillingworth--a deformed old figure with a face that
haunted men's memories longer than they liked--took leave of
Hester Prynne, and went stooping away along the earth. He
gathered here and there a herb, or grubbed up a root and put it
into the basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the
ground as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him a little
while, looking with a half fantastic curiosity to see whether
the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath
him and show the wavering track of his footsteps, sere and
brown, across its cheerful verdure. She wondered what sort of
herbs they were which the old man was so sedulous to gather.
Would not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the
sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs of species
hitherto unknown, that would start up under his fingers? Or
might it suffice him that every wholesome growth should be
converted into something deleterious and malignant at his touch?
Did the sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really
fall upon him? Or was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of
ominous shadow moving along with his deformity whichever way he
turned himself? And whither was he now going? Would he not
suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot,
where, in due course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade,
dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the
climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance?
Or would he spread bat's wings and flee away, looking so much
the uglier the higher he rose towards heaven?
"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne, bitterly, as still she
gazed after him, "I hate the man!"
She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could not overcome
or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she thought of those
long-past days in a distant land, when he used to emerge at
eventide from the seclusion of his study and sit down in the
firelight of their home, and in the light of her nuptial smile.
He needed to bask himself in that smile, he said, in order that
the chill of so many lonely hours among his books might be taken
off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared not
otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through the dismal
medium of her subsequent life, they classed themselves among her
ugliest remembrances. She marvelled how such scenes could have
been! She marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon to
marry him! She deemed it her crime most to be repented of, that
she had ever endured and reciprocated the lukewarm grasp of his
hand, and had suffered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle
and melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence committed
by Roger Chillingworth than any which had since been done him,
that, in the time when her heart knew no better, he had
persuaded her to fancy herself happy by his side.