"Goodwives," said a hard-featured
dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof
, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses
as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy
stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates
have awarded? Marry, I trow not!"
"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor
, takes it very grievously
to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation
"The magistrates are God-fearing
gentlemen, but merciful
overmuch-that is a truth," added a third autumnal
matron. "At the very least,they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madam Hester would have winced
at that, I warrant
me. But she- the naughty baggage- little will she care what they put upon the bodice
of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch
, or such like heathenish adornment
, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"
"Ah, but," interposed
, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "Let her cover the mark as she will, the pang
of it will be always in her heart."
"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice
of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted
judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book
. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray
"Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome
fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush, now, gossips! for the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."