The Pastor and his Parishioner
Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone by before Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to attract his observation. At length she succeeded.
Arthur Dimmesdale! she said, faintly at first; then louder, but hoarsely, Arthur Dimmesdale!
Who speaks? answered the minister.
Gathering himself quickly up, he stood more erect, like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which he was reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes anxiously in the direction of the voice, he indistinctly beheld a form under the trees, clad in garments so sombre, and so little relieved from the gray twilight into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had darkened the noontide, that he knew not whether it were woman or a shadow. It may be that his pathway through life was haunted thus by a spectre that had stolen out from among his thoughts.
He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet letter.
Hester! Hester Prynne! said he; is it thou? Art thou in life?
Even so, she answered. In such life as has been mine these seven years past! And thou, Arthur Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live?
It was no wonder that they thus questioned one anothers actual and bodily existence, and even doubted of their own. So strangely did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world beyond the grave, of two spirits who had been intimately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering in mutual dread, as not yet familiar with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of disembodied beings. Each a ghost, and awestricken at the other ghost! They were awestricken likewise at themselves; because the crisis flung back to them their consciousness, and revealed to each heart its history and experience, as life never does, except at such breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away what was dreariest in the interview. They now felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere.
Without a word more spokenneither he nor she assuming the guidance, but with an unexpressed consentthey glided back into the shadow of the woods whence Hester had emerged, and sat down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting. When they found voice to speak, it was, at first, only to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two acquaintance might have made, about the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and, next, the health of each. Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, into the themes that were brooding deepest in their hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, they needed something slight and casual to run before, and throw open the doors of intercourse, so that their real thoughts might be led across the threshold.
After a while, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester Prynnes.
Hester, said he, hast thou found peace?
She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.
Hast thou? she asked.
None!nothing but despair! he answered. What else could I look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine? Where I an atheista man devoid of consciencea wretch with coarse and brutal instinctsI might have found peace long ere now. Nay, I never should have lost it! But, as matters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity there originally was in me, all of Gods gifts that were the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual torment. Hester, I am most miserable!
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