The stranger had entered the room with the characteristic quietude of the
profession to which he announced himself as belonging. Nor did his
demeanour change, when the withdrawal of the prison-keeper left him face to
face with the woman, whose absorbed notice of him, in the crowd, had
intimated so close a relation between himself and her. His first care was
given to the child; whose cries, indeed, as she lay writhing on the
trundle-bed, made it of peremptory necessity to postpone all other business
to the task of soothing her. He examined the infant carefully, and then
proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he took from beneath his dress.
It appeared to contain certain medical preparations, one of which he
mingled with a cup of water.
"My old studies in alchemy," observed he, "and my sojourn, for above a year
past, among a people well versed in the kindly properties of simples, have
made a better physician of me than many that claim the medical degree.
Here, woman! The child is yours,--she is none of mine,--neither will she
recognize my voice or aspect as a father's. Administer this draught,
therefore, with thine own hand."
Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same time gazing with strongly
marked apprehension into his face.
"Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?" whispered she.
"Foolish woman!" responded the physician, half coldly, half soothingly.
"What should ail me to harm this misbegotten and miserable babe? The
medicine is potent for good; and were it my child,--yea, mine own, as well
as thine!--I could do no better for it."
As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable state of mind, he
took the infant in his arms, and himself administered the draught. It soon
proved its efficacy, and redeemed the leech's pledge. The moans of the
little patient subsided; its convulsive tossings gradually ceased; and in a
few moments, as is the custom of young children after relief from pain, it
sank into a profound and dewy slumber. The physician, as he had a fair
right to be termed, next bestowed his attention on the mother. With calm
and intent scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into her eyes,--a gaze that
made her heart shrink and shudder, because so familiar, and yet so strange
and cold,--and, finally, satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to
mingle another draught.
"I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he; "but I have learned many new
secrets in the wilderness, and here is one of them,--a recipe that an
Indian taught me, in requital of some lessons of my own, that were as old
as Paracelsus. Drink it! It may be less soothing than a sinless conscience.
That I cannot give thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy
passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous sea."
He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with a slow, earnest look
into his face; not precisely a look of fear, yet full of doubt and
questioning, as to what his purposes might be. She looked also at her
"I have thought of death," said she,--"have wished for it,--would even have
prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should pray for any thing. Yet,
if death be in this cup, I bid thee think again, ere thou beholdest me
quaff it. See! It is even now at my lips."
"Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold composure. "Dost thou
know me so little, Hester Prynne? Are my purposes wont to be so shallow?