While she stands upon the scaffold, Hester thinks back over the course of her life.
Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view that
revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she had been
treading, since her happy infancy. Standing on that miserable eminence, she
saw again her native village, in Old England, and her paternal home; a
decayed house of gray stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining
a half-obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique
gentility. She saw her father's face, with its bold brow, and reverend
white beard, that flowed over the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her
mother's, too, with the look of heedful and anxious love which it always
wore in her remembrance, and which, even since her death, had so often laid
the impediment of a gentle remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw
her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the
interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
There she beheld another countenance, of a man well stricken in years, a
pale, thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and bleared by the
lamp-light that had served them to pore over many ponderous books. Yet
those same bleared optics had a strange, penetrating power, when it was
their owner's purpose to read the human soul. This figure of the study and
the cloister, as Hester Prynne's womanly fancy failed not to recall, was
slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right.
Next rose before her, in memory's picture-gallery, the intricate and narrow
thoroughfares, the tall, gray houses, the huge cathedrals, and the public
edifices, ancient in date and quaint in architecture, of a Continental
city; where a new life had awaited her, still in connection with the
misshapen scholar; a new life, but feeding itself on time-worn materials,
like a tuft of green moss on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these
shifting scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puritan settlement,
with all the townspeople assembled and levelling their stern regards at
Hester Prynne,--yes, at herself,--who stood on the scaffold of the pillory,
an infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantastically
embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom!