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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Minister’s Vigil
By Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
 

SHORTLY afterwards, the like grisly sense of the humorous again stole in among the solemn phantoms of his thought. He felt his limbs growing stiff with the unaccustomed chilliness of the night, and doubted whether he should be able to descend the steps of the scaffold. Morning would break, and find him there. The neighborhood would begin to rouse itself. The earliest riser, coming forth in the dim twilight, would perceive a vaguely defined figure aloft on the place of shame; and half crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, would go knocking from door to door, summoning all the people to behold the ghost—as he needs must think it—of some defunct transgressor. A dusky tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. Then, the morning light still waxing stronger, old patriarchs would rise up in great haste, each in his flannel gown, and matronly dames without pausing to put off their night-gear. The whole tribe of decorous personages who had never heretofore been seen with a single hair of their heads awry, would start into public view with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. Old Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth with his King James’s ruff fastened askew; and Mistress Hibbins with some twigs of the forest clinging to her skirts, and looking sourer than ever, as having hardly got a wink of sleep after her night ride; and good Father Wilson too, after spending half the night at a death-bed, and liking ill to be disturbed thus early out of his dreams about the glorified saints. Hither likewise would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale’s church, and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms; which now, by-the-by, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All people, in a word, would come stumbling over their thresholds, and turning up their amazed and horror-stricken visages around the scaffold. Whom would they discern there, with the red eastern light upon his brow? Whom but the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, half frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, and standing where Hester Prynne had stood!  1
  Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a light, airy, childish laugh, in which with a thrill of the heart—but he knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute—he recognized the tones of little Pearl.  2
  “Pearl! little Pearl!” cried he after a moment’s pause; then, suppressing his voice,—“Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you there?”  3
  “Yes, it is Hester Prynne!” she replied, in a tone of surprise; and the minister heard her footsteps approaching from the sidewalk, along which she had been passing. “It is I, and my little Pearl.”  4
  “Whence come you, Hester?” asked the minister. “What sent you hither?”  5
  “I have been watching at a death-bed,” answered Hester Prynne; “at Governor Winthrop’s death-bed, and have taken his measure for a robe, and am now going homeward to my dwelling.”  6
  “Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl,” said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. “Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together!”  7
  She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.  8
  “Minister!” whispered little Pearl.  9
  “What wouldst thou say, child?” asked Mr. Dimmesdale.  10
  “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?” inquired Pearl.  11
  “Nay, not so, my little Pearl,” answered the minister; for with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him, and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which—with a strange joy, nevertheless—he now found himself. “Not so, my child. I shall indeed stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow.”  12
  Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the minister held it fast.  13
  “A moment longer, my child!” said he.  14
  “But wilt thou promise,” asked Pearl, “to take my hand and mother’s hand, to-morrow noontide?”  15
  “Not then, Pearl,” said the minister, “but another time.”  16
  “And what other time?” persisted the child.  17
  “At the great Judgment Day,” whispered the minister,—and strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. “Then and there, before the judgment seat, thy mother, and thou, and I must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!”  18
  Pearl laughed again.  19
  But before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors which the night watcher may so often observe burning out to waste in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So powerful was its radiance that it thoroughly illuminated the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth. The great vault brightened, like the dome of an immense lamp. It showed the familiar scene of the street with the distinctness of midday, but also with the awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects by an unaccustomed light. The wooden houses, with their jutting stories and quaint gable peaks; the doorsteps and thresholds, with the early grass springing up about them; the garden plots, black with freshly turned earth; the wheel track, little worn, and even in the market-place margined with green on either side,—all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor; as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.  20
 
 
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