"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 philosophized 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?"
"Ask me not!" replied Hester Prynne, looking firmly into his face. "That
thou shalt never know!"
"Never, sayest thou?" rejoined he, with a smile of dark and self-relying
intelligence. "Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are few
things,--whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the
invisible sphere of thought,--few things hidden from the man, who devotes
himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery. Thou
mayest cover up thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest conceal
it, too, from the ministers and magistrates, even as thou didst this day,
when they sought to wrench the name out of thy heart, and give thee a
partner on thy pedestal. But, as for me, I come to the inquest with other
senses than they possess. I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in
books; as I have sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that will make
me conscious of him. I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder,
suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!"
The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely upon her, that Hester
Prynne clasped her hands over her heart, dreading lest he should read the
secret there at once.
"Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less he is mine," resumed he, with
a look of confidence, as if destiny were at one with him. "He bears no
letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost; but I shall read
it on his heart. Yet fear not for him! Think not that I shall interfere
with Heaven's own method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to
the gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine that I shall contrive aught
against his life; no, nor against his fame; if, as I judge, he be a man of
fair repute. Let him live! Let him hide himself in outward honor, if he
may! Not the less he shall be mine!"
"Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered and appalled. "But thy
words interpret thee as a terror!"
"One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin upon thee," continued
the scholar. "Thou hast kept the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise,
mine! There are none in this land that know me. Breathe not, to any human
soul, that thou didst ever call me husband! Here, on this wild outskirt of
the earth, I shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated
from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and
myself there exist the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or
hate; no matter whether of right or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne,
belong to me. My home is where thou art, and where he is. But betray me