The Governor's Hall
HESTER PRYNNE WENT, one day, to the mansion of Governor Bellingham, with a pair of gloves, which she had fringed and embroidered to his order, and which were to be worn on some great occasion of state; for, though the chances of a popular election had caused this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank, he still held an honourable and influential place among the colonial magistracy.
Another and far more important reason than the delivery of a pair of embroidered gloves impelled Hester, at this time, to seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears, that there was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and government, to deprive her of her child. On the supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon origin, these good people not unreasonably argued that a Christian interest in the mother's soul required them to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If the child, on the other hand, were really capable of moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all the fairer prospect of these advantages by being transferred to wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prynne's. Among those who promoted the design, Governor Bellingham was said to be one of the most busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which, in later days, would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the select men of the town, should then have been a question publicly discussed, and on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, matters of even slighter public interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state. The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of our story, when a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig, not only caused a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted in an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.
Full of concern, therefore,—but so conscious of her own right, that it seemed scarcely an unequal match between the public, on the one side, and a lonely woman, backed by the sympathies of nature, on the other,—Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. Little Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's side, and, constantly in motion from morn till sunset, could have accomplished a much longer journey than that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from caprice than necessity, she demanded to be taken up in arms, but was soon as imperious to be set down again, and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy pathway, with many a harmless trip and tumble. We have spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty; a beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints; a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black. There was fire in her and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her mother, in contriving the child's garb, had allowed the gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play; arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic, of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread. So much strength of colouring, which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made her the very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth.
But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother herself—as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain, that all her conceptions assumed its form—had carefully wrought out the similitude; lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity, to create an analogy between the object of her affection, and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, Pearl was the one, as well as the other; and only in consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.
As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from their play,—or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins,—and spake gravely one to another:—
“Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!”
But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to flight. She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant pestilence,—the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment,—whose mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, which doubtless caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake within them. The victory accomplished, Pearl returned quietly to her mother, and looked up smiling into her face.
Without further adventure, they reached the dwelling of Governor Bellingham. This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our older towns; now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occur-rences, remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and passed away, within their dusky chambers. Then, however, there was the freshness of the passing year on its exterior, and the cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the sunny windows, of a human habitation, into which death had never entered. It had indeed a very cheery aspect; the walls being overspread with a kind of stucco, in which fragments of broken glass were plentifully intermixed; so that, when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over the front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had been flung against it by the double handful. The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin's palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. It was further decorated with strange and seemingly cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the quaint taste of the age, which had been drawn in the stucco when newly laid on, and had now grown hard and durable, for the admiration of after times.
Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house, began to caper and dance, and imperatively required that the whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its front, and given her to play with.
“No, my little Pearl!” said her mother. “Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!”
They approached the door; which was of an arched form, and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or projection of the edifice, in both of which were lattice-windows, with wooden shutters to close over them at need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portal, Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was answered by one of the Governor's bond-servants; a free-born Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During that term he was to be the property of his master, and as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, or a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue coat, which was the customary garb of serving-men at that period, and long before, in the old hereditary halls of England.
“Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?” inquired Hester.
“Yea, forsooth,” replied the bond-servant, staring with wide-open eyes at the scarlet letter, which, being a new-comer in the country, he had never before seen. “Yea, his honourable worship is within. But he hath a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech. Ye may not see his worship now.”
“Nevertheless, I will enter,” answered Hester Prynne; and the bond-servant, perhaps judging from the decision of her air and the glittering symbol in her bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, offered no opposition.
So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of entrance. With many variations, suggested by the nature of his building-materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode of social life, Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, and forming a medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all the other apartments. At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by the windows of the two towers, which formed a small recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall-windows which we read of in old books, and which was provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chronicles of England, or other such substantial literature; even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes on the centre-table, to be turned over by the casual guest. The furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a table in the same taste; the whole being of the Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the Governor's paternal home. On the table—in token that the sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind—stood a large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale.
On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with armour on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were characterised by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men.
At about the centre of the oaken panels, that lined the hall, was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, an ancestral relic, but of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured by a skilful armourer in London, the same year in which Governor Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steel head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all, and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as to glow with white radiance, and scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn muster and training field, and had glittered, moreover, at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For, though bred a lawyer, and accustomed to speak of Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch, as his professional associates, the exigencies of this new country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman and ruler.
Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.
“Mother,” cried she, “I see you here. Look! Look!”
Hester looked, by way of humouring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.
“Come along, Pearl!” said she, drawing her away. “Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods.”
Pearl, accordingly, ran to the bow-window, at the further end of the hall, and looked along the vista of a garden-walk, carpeted with closely shaven grass, and bordered with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to have relinquished, as hopeless, the effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid the close struggle for subsistence, the native English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain sight; and a pumpkin-vine, rooted at some distance, had run across the intervening space, and deposited one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall-window; as if to warn the Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were a few rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees, probably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula; that half mythological personage who rides through our early annals, seated on the back of a bull.
Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose, and would not be pacified.
“Hush, child, hush!” said her mother, earnestly. “Do not cry, dear little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is coming, and gentlemen along with him!”
In fact, adown the vista of the garden-avenue, a number of persons were seen approaching towards the house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then became silent; not from any notion of obedience, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance of these new personages.
Since Pearl is a symbol of the natural world, she cannot be contained by any laws or standards. In this instance, Hawthorne suggests the desire for beauty and good are innate, and because Pearl embodies freedom of choice, she will not stop until her thirst for those desires are satisfied.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
This is a historical reference to William Blackstone (1595-1675), who is known as the first Christian to arrive in Boston. He was originally from England and came to North America on the Gorges expedition in 1623. He lived not far from where the Puritans landed in Charlestown in 1629, and invited them to settle on his land in Boston.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
Notice how the scarlet letter has consumed Hester’s reflection in the mirror, a metaphor for how it has consumed her own view of herself. We have noticed how Hester’s greatest goal is personal salvation, rather than forgiveness from the townspeople, but in this process she has created a diluted image of herself that consists mostly of the darkness of the scarlet letter.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
The armour on the soldier’s breast represent bravery and protection, a direct contrast to the scarlet letter on Hester’s breast which signifies shame and vulnerability. It is ironic that Hawthorne includes this description, perhaps to satirize the idea that men who fight wars and kill are honored while “sinners” like Hester are forever punished in this society.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
Even though it was common at this time for priests to have servants, it is still an irony that is hard to understand today. Governor Bellingham’s servants are also symbolic parallels to Hester, who was also born free but made into a sort of slave by the hand of the church.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
Pearl is attracted to the sunshine because she is a symbol of naturally born goodness. In this instance, Hester tells her she has no “sunshine,” a symbol of goodness, to give because of her own lack of self worth. This is a major difference between the two characters and represents a major theme in the story of the evils of a strictly religious society: Pearl has innate freedom and happiness in her; Hester bears the metaphorical scarlet letter not given to her by her actions, but by the judgemental evils of a religious society.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
This scene is a reminder of the scaffold scene. When Hester stood upon the scaffold, the townspeople mercilessly gossip about her sin. Here, the children reflect their parents’ hateful act of judgement and gossip. This is Hawthorne’s way of suggesting that a religious society that encourages judgement, breeds children of ill moral repute.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
By making “an analogy between the object of her affection, and the emblem of her guilt” Hester expresses her degree of ownership of her sin. This shows Hester’s level of emotional maturity and strength of character.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
By dressing Pearl up like her scarlet letter, Hester makes an unsaid statement to the priests that even if they were to take Pearl away, Hester’s sin would still not be absolved. Hester wants to keep her daughter, so she wants to make it obvious that Pearl is as much a scarlet letter as the one they made her to wear on her breast. To get rid of only one would make no difference to achieve her salvation.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
Crimson is a color very similar to scarlet, and both Hester’s scarlet letter and Pearl’s velvet tunic have gold trim. It has been implied before, but here it is made abundantly clear that Pearl is a living representation of Hester’s scarlet letter. The fact that Hester chooses to dress up Pearl to match her scarlet letter signifies Hester’s courage in taking full responsibility for her sin, and not choosing to hide it or cover it up, even years after she committed it.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
The constant remarks on Pearl’s physical beauty seem to parallel the way Hawthorne describes the beauty of flowers , a symbols of goodness and purity. The comparisons between Pearl and a flower suggest that, although she came from an act of sin, she is pure and good.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
It is ironic that, in the view of the priests, Pearl is a “stumbling block” in the way of Hester’s salvation even though Pearl is a symbol of the natural world. In this way, Hawthorne suggests that the “Christian interest” mentioned here is not always the most morally correct route.— Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
In this context, “leech” is a euphemism for doctor. Remember we have been introduced to only one doctor in this story: Roger Chillingworth.— Noelle Thompson
Here, the reader is informed that people such as Governor Bellingham as well as the leaders of the Puritan Church desire to take Pearl away from Hester.— Noelle Thompson
physiognomy – the antiquated belief that facial features indicated character— Owl Eyes Reader