"Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven's mercy!" cried the Reverend
Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. "That little babe hath been gifted with a
voice, to second and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the
name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy
"Never!" replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep
and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. "It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot
take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!"
"Speak, woman!" said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceeding from the
crowd about the scaffold. "Speak; and give your child a father!"
"I will not speak!" answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to
this voice, which she too surely recognized. "And my child must seek a heavenly
Father; she shall never know an earthly one!"
"She will not speak!" murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony,
with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew
back, with a long respiration. "Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's
heart! She will not speak!"
Discerning the impracticable state of the poor culprit's mind, the elder
clergyman, who had carefully prepared himself for the occasion, addressed to the
multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches, but with continual reference
to the ignominious letter. So forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol, for the
hour or more during which his periods were rolling over the people's heads, that
it assumed new terrors in their imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet
hue from the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her
place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary
indifference. She had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure; and as
her temperament was not of the order that escapes from too intense suffering by
a swoon, her spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of
insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained entire. In this
state, the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon
her ears. The infant, during the latter portion of her ordeal, pierced the air
with its wailings and screams; she strove to hush it, mechanically, but seemed
scarcely to sympathize with its trouble. With the same hard demeanour, she was
led back to prison, and vanished from the public gaze within its iron-clamped
portal. It was whispered, by those who peered after her, that the scarlet letter
threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior.