The Scarlet Letter (Chapter 1, page 1 of 2)


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Chapter 1

A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey
steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing
hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden
edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and
studded with iron spikes.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue
and happiness they might originally project, have invariably
recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to
allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another
portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it
may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built
the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill,
almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground,
on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which
subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated
sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is
that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the
town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and
other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its
beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous
iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything
else in the New World.

Like all that pertains to crime, it
seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly
edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a
grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern,
and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something
congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower
of civilised society, a prison. But on one side of the portal,
and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush,
covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which
might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to
the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he
came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature
could pity and be kind to him.

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