After parting from the physician, the commander of the Bristol ship
strolled idly through the market-place; until, happening to approach the
spot where Hester Prynne was standing, he appeared to recognize, and did
not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case wherever Hester stood,
a small, vacant area--a sort of magic circle--had formed itself about her,
into which, though the people were elbowing one another at a little
distance, none ventured, or felt disposed to intrude. It was a forcible
type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated
wearer; partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinctive, though no
longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her fellow-creatures. Now, if never
before, it answered a good purpose, by enabling Hester and the seaman to
speak together without risk of being overheard; and so changed was Hester
Prynne's repute before the public, that the matron in town most eminent for
rigid morality could not have held such intercourse with less result of
scandal than herself.
"So, mistress," said the mariner, "I must bid the steward make ready one
more berth than you bargained for! No fear of scurvy or ship-fever, this
voyage! What with the ship's surgeon and this other doctor, our only danger
will be from drug or pill; more by token, as there is a lot of apothecary's
stuff aboard, which I traded for with a Spanish vessel."
"What mean you?" inquired Hester, startled more than she permitted to
appear. "Have you another passenger?"
"Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, "that this physician
here--Chillingworth, he calls himself--is minded to try my cabin-fare with
you? Ay, ay, you must have known it; for he tells me he is of your party,
and a close friend to the gentleman you spoke of,--he that is in peril from
these sour old Puritan rulers!"
"They know each other well, indeed," replied Hester, with a mien of
calmness, though in the utmost consternation. "They have long dwelt
Nothing further passed between the mariner and Hester Prynne. But, at that
instant, she beheld old Roger Chillingworth himself, standing in the
remotest corner of the market-place, and smiling on her; a smile
which--across the wide and bustling square, and through all the talk and
laughter, and various thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd--conveyed
secret and fearful meaning.