Chapter 04 THE INTERVIEW
"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 bookworm
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
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 churchsteps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path!"
"Thou knowest," said Hester- for, depressed as she was, she could not endure
this last quiet stab
at the token of her shame- "thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned
"True," replied he. "It was my folly! I have said it. But, up to that epoch
of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation
large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle
one! It seemed not so wild a dream- old as I was, and sombre
as I was, and misshapen as I was- that the simple bliss
, which is scattered far and wide, for all mankind to gather up, might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its innermost
chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made there!"
"I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester.
"We have wronged each other," answered he. "Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding
youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not thought and philosophised in vain, I seek no vengeance
, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me the scale hangs fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?"