The Scarlet Letter (Chapter 3, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 3

From this intense consciousness of being the object of severe
and universal observation, the wearer of the scarlet letter was
at length relieved, by discerning, on the outskirts of the
crowd, a figure which irresistibly took possession of her
thoughts. An Indian in his native garb was standing there; but
the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English
settlements that one of them would have attracted any notice
from Hester Prynne at such a time; much less would he have
excluded all other objects and ideas from her mind. By the
Indian's side, and evidently sustaining a companionship with
him, stood a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized
and savage costume.

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which as yet
could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence
in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental
part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself and
become manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, by a seemingly
careless arrangement of his heterogeneous garb, he had
endeavoured to conceal or abate the peculiarity, it was
sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man's
shoulders rose higher than the other. Again, at the first
instant of perceiving that thin visage, and the slight deformity
of the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom with so
convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of
pain. But the mother did not seem to hear it.

At his arrival in the market-place, and some time before she saw
him, the stranger had bent his eyes on Hester Prynne. It was
carelessly at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look
inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and
import, unless they bear relation to something within his mind.
Very soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative. A
writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake
gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all
its wreathed intervolutions in open sight. His face darkened
with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so
instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save
at a single moment, its expression might have passed for
calmness. After a brief space, the convulsion grew almost
imperceptible, and finally subsided into the depths of his
nature. When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his
own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and
calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and
laid it on his lips.

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