"You wrong yourself in this," said Hester gently. "You have
deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you in the
days long past. Your present life is not less holy, in very
truth, than it seems in people's eyes. Is there no reality in
the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? And
wherefore should it not bring you peace?"
"No, Hester--no!" replied the clergyman. "There is no substance
in it! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me! Of
penance, I have had enough! Of penitence, there has been none!
Else, I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock
holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me
at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the
scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!
Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a
seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognises me for
what I am! Had I one friend--or were it my worst enemy!--to
whom, when sickened with the praises of all other men, I could
daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest of all sinners,
methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby. Even thus much
of truth would save me! But now, it is all falsehood!--all