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THE eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listening audience had been borne aloft as on the swelling waves of the sea, at length came to a pause. There was a momentary silence, profound as what should follow the utterance of oracles. Then ensued a murmur and half-hushed tumult; as if the auditors, released from the high spell that had transported them into the region of another's mind, were returning into themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy on them. In a moment more, the crowd began to gush forth from the doors of the church. Now that there was an end, they needed other breath, more fit to support the gross and earthly life into which they relapsed, than that atmosphere which the preacher had converted into words of flame, and had burdened with the rich fragrance of his thought.

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. The street and the market-place absolutely babbled, from side to side, with applauses of the minister. His hearers could not rest until they had told one another of what each knew better than he could tell or hear. According to their united testimony, never had man spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he that spake this day; nor had inspiration ever breathed through mortal lips more evidently than it did through his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descending upon him, and possessing him, and continually lifting him out of the written discourse that lay before him, and filling him with ideas that must have been as marvellous to himself as to his audience. His subject, it appeared, had been the relation between the Deity and the communities of mankind, with a special reference to the New England which they were here planting in the wilderness. And, as he drew towards the close, a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him, constraining him to its purpose as mightily as the old prophets of Israel were constrained; only with this difference, that, whereas the Jewish seers had denounced judgments and ruin on their country, it was his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for the newly gathered people of the Lord. But, throughout it all, and through the whole discourse, there had been a certain deep, sad undertone of pathos, which could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural regret of one soon to pass away. Yes; their minister whom they so loved- and who so loved them all, that he could not depart heavenward without a sigh- had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and would soon leave them in their tears! This idea of his transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the effect which the preacher had produced; it was as if an angel, in his passage to the skies, had shaken his bright wings over the people for an instant- at once a shadow and a splendour- and had shed down a shower of golden truths upon them.

Thus, there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale- as to most men, in their various spheres, though seldom recognised until they see it far behind them- an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one, or that any which could hereafter be. He stood, at this moment, on the very proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts of intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergyman in New England's earliest days, when the professional character was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the position which the minister occupied, as he bowed his head forward on the cushions of the pulpit, at the close of his Election Sermon. Meanwhile Hester Prynne was standing beside the scaffold of the pillory, with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast!

Now was heard again the clangour of the music, and the measured tramp of the military escort, issuing from the church-door. The procession was to be marshalled thence to the town-hall, where a solemn banquet would complete the ceremonies of the day.

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and majestic fathers was seen moving through a broad pathway of the people, who drew back reverently, on either side, as the Governor and magistrates, the old and wise men, the holy ministers, and all that were eminent and renowned, advanced into the midst of them. When they were fairly in the market-place, their presence was greeted by a shout. This- though doubtless it might acquire additional force and volume from the child- like loyalty which the age awarded to its rulers- was felt to be an irrepressible outburst of enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating in their ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and, in the same breath, caught it from his neighbour. Within the church, it had hardly been kept down; beneath the sky, it pealed upward to the zenith. There were human beings enough, and enough of highly wrought and symphonious feeling, to produce that more impressive sound than the organ tones of the blast, or the thunder, or the roar of the sea, even that mighty swell of many voices, blended into one great voice by the universal impulse which makes likewise one vast heart out of the many. Never, from the soil of New England, had gone up such a shout! Never, on New England soil, had stood the man so honoured by his mortal brethren as the preacher!

How fared it with him then? Were there not the brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head! So etherealised by spirit as he was, and so apotheosised by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps, in the procession, really tread upon the dust of earth?

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved onward, all eyes were turned towards the point where the minister was seen to approach among them. The shout died into a murmur, as one portion of the crowd after another obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble and pale he looked, amid all his triumph! The energy- or say, rather, the inspiration which had held him up, until he should have delivered the sacred message that brought its own strength along with it from heaven- was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully performed its office. The glow, which they had just before beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late-decaying embers. It seemed hardly the face of a man alive, with such a deathlike hue; it was hardly a man with life in him, that tottered on his path so nervelessly, yet tottered, and did not fall!

One of his clerical brethren- it was the venerable John Wilson- observing the state in which Mr. Dimmesdale was left by the retiring wave of intellect and sensibility, stepped forward hastily to offer his support. The minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old man's arm. He still walked onward, if that movement could be so described, which rather resembled the wavering effort of an infant, with its mother's arms in view, outstretched to tempt him forward. And now, almost imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress, he had come opposite the well-remembered and weather-darkened scaffold, where, long since, with all that dreary lapse of time between, Hester Prynne had encountered the world's ignominious stare. There stood Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand! And there was the scarlet letter on her breast! The minister here made a pause; although the music still played the stately and rejoicing march to which the procession moved. It summoned him onward- onward to the festival!- but here he made a pause.

Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an anxious eye upon him. He now left his own place in the procession, and advanced to give assistance; judging, from Mr. Dimmesdale's aspect, that he must otherwise inevitably fall. But there was something in the latter's expression that warned back the magistrate, although a man not readily obeying the vague intimations that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd, meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This earthly faintness was, in their view, only another phase of the ministers' celestial strength; nor would it have seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so holy, had he ascended before their eyes, waxing dimmer and brighter, and fading at last into the light of heaven!

He turned towards the scaffold, and stretched forth his arms.

"Hester," said he, "come hither! Come, my little Pearl!"

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The child, with the bird-like motion which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne- slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against her strongest will- likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him. At this instant, old Roger Chillingworth thrust himself through the crowd- or, perhaps, so dark, disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose up out of some nether region- to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do! Be that as it might, the old man rushed forward, and caught the minister by the arm.

"Madman, hold! what is your purpose?" whispered he. "Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonour. I can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession?"

"Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!" answered the minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. "Thy power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"

He again extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.

"Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnestness, "in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what- for my own heavy sin and miserable agony- I withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! This wretched and wronged old man is opposing it with all his might!- with all his own might, and the fiend's! Come, Hester, come! Support me up yonder scaffold!"

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and dignity, who stood more immediately around the clergyman, were so taken by surprise, and so perplexed as to the purport of what they saw- unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself, or to imagine any other- that they remained silent and inactive spectators of the judgment which Providence seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, leaning on Hester's shoulder, and supported by her arm around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend its steps; while still the little hand of the sin-born child was clasped in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and sorrow in which they had all been actors, and well entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing scene.

"Hadst thou sought the whole earth over," said he, looking darkly at the clergyman, "there was no one place so secret- no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me- save on this very scaffold!"

"Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither" answered the minister.

Yet he trembled, and turned to Hester with an expression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.

"Is not this better," murmured he, "than what we dreamed of in the forest?"

"I know not! I know not!" she hurriedly replied. "Better? Yea; so we may both die, and little Pearl die with us!"

"For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order," said the minister; "and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which He hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me!"

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one hand of little Pearl's, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life-matter- which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise- was now to be laid open to them. The sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.

"People of New England!" cried he, with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic- yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe- "ye, that have loved me!- ye, that have deemed me holy- behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last!- at last!- I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been- wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose- it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered!"

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness- and, still more, the faintness of heart- that was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and the child.

"It was on him!" he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. "God's eye beheld it! The angels were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world!- and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He bids you look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!"

With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentred on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed.

"Thou hast escaped me!" he repeated more than once. "Thou hast escaped me!"

"May God forgive thee!" said the minister. "Thou, too, hast deeply sinned!"

犹如汹涌的海港般载着听众的灵魂高高升起的雄辩的话音,终于告一段落。那一刹那的静穆,如同宣告了神谕之后一般深沉。随后便是一阵窃窃私语和压低嗓门的瞳哗;似乎听众们从把他们带到另中种心境去的高级咒语中解脱出来,如今依然怀着全部惊惧的重荷重新苏醒了。过了一会儿,人群便开始从教堂的大门蜂拥而出。如今布道已经结束,他们步出被牧师化作火一般语言的、满载着他思想的香馥的气氛,需要换上另一种空气,才更适合支持他们的世俗生活。

来到户外,他们如醉如痴的狂喜进发成语言。街道上、市场中、到处都翻腾着对牧师的腆美之词。他的听众们滔滔不绝地彼此诉说着每个人所知道的一切,直到全都说尽听够为止。他们异口同声地断言,从来没有淮象他今天这样讲得如此睿智、如此祟高、如此神圣;也没有哪个凡人的口中能够象他这样吐出如此鲜明的启示。显而易见,那启示的力量降临到了他身上,左右着他,不断地把他从面前的讲稿上提高,并以一些对他本人和对听众都妙不可言的观念充实着他。他所讲的主题音乐是上帝与人类社会的关系,尤指他们在这里垦荒播种的新英格兰。当他的布道接近结尾的时候,似是预言的一种精神降临在他身上,如同当年支配着以色列的老预言家一样强有力地迫使他就范;唯一不同的是,犹太人预言家当年宣告的是他们国内的天罚和灭亡,而他的使命则是预示新近在这里集结起来的上帝的臣民们的崇高而光荣的命运。但是,贯穿布道词始终的,一直有某种低沉、哀伤的悲调,使人们只能将其解释为一个即将告别人世的人的自然的仟悔。是啊;他们如此爱戴、也如此热爱他们的牧师不能不叹息一声就离开他们飞向天国啊!他们的牧师已经预感到那不合时宜的死亡的降临,很快就要在他们的哭声中离他们而去了!想到牧师弥留世上的时间已经不长,他那番布道词所产生的效果就更增加了最终强调的力量;如同一个天使在飞往天国的途中在人们的头上扇动了一下明亮的翅膀,随着一片阴影和一束光彩,向他们洒下了一阵黄金般的真理。

于是,丁梅斯代尔牧师先生来到了他一生中空前绝后的最辉煌也是最充满胜利的时期,许多人在他们不同的领域里也曾有过这样的时期;只是经过好久以后他们往往才意识到。此时,他是站在最骄傲的卓越地位之上,在早期的新英格兰,牧师这一职业本身已然是一座高高的础座,而一个牧师要想达到他如今那种高度,还有赖于智慧的天赋、丰富的学识、超凡的口才和最无理的圣洁的名声。当我们的这位牧师结束了他在庆祝选举日的布道,在讲坛的靠垫上向前垂着头时,所处的正是这样一个高位。与此同时,海丝特·白兰却站在刑台的旁边,胸前依然灼烧着红字!

这时又听到了铿锵的音乐和卫队的整齐的步伐声从教堂门口传出。游行队伍将从那里走到镇议事厅,以厅中的一个庄严的宴会来结束这一天的庆典。

于是,人们又一次看到,由令人肃然起敬的威风凛凛的人士组成的队伍走在宽宽的通道上,夹道观看的群众在总督和官员们、贤明的长者、神圣的牧师以及一切德高望重的人们走道他们身边时,纷纷敬畏地向后退避。这支队伍出现在市场时,人群中进发出一阵欢呼,向他们致意。这种欢呼无疑额外增加了声势,表明了当年人们对其统治者孩提式的忠诚,但也让人感到,仍在听众耳际回荡的高度紧张的雄辩布道所激起的热情借此而不可遏止地爆发。每一个人不但自身感到了这种冲动,而且也从旁边的人身上感受到了程度相当的冲动。在教堂里的时候,这种冲动已经难以遏制;如今到了露天,便扶摇直冲云霄。这里有足够多的人,也有足够高的激昂交汇鲍情感,可以发出比狂风的呼啸、闪电的雷鸣或大海的咆哮更为震撼人心的声响;众心结成一心,形成一致的冲动,众声融成一声,发出巨大的浪涛声。在新英格兰的土壤中还从未进发出这样响彻云霄的欢呼!在新英格兰的土地上还从未站立过一个人象这位布道师那样受到他的人间兄弟的如此尊崇!

那么他本人又如何呢?他头上的空中不是有光环在光芒四射吗?他既然被神灵感化得如此空灵,为崇拜者奉若神明,他那在队伍中移动着的脚步,当真是踏在尘埃之上吗?

军人和文官的队伍向前行进的时候,所有的目光全都投向牧师在大队中慢慢走来的方向。随着人群中一部分又一部分的人瞥见了他的身影,欢呼声渐渐乎息为一种喃喃声。他在大获全胜之际,看起来是多么虚弱和苍白啊!他的精力——或者毋宁说,那个支撑着他传达完神圣的福音并由上天借此赋予他该福音本身的力量的神启——在他忠诚地克尽厥责之后,已经被撤回去了。人们刚才看到的在他面颊上烧灼的红光已经黯淡,犹如在余烬中无可奈何地熄灭的火焰。他脸色那样死灰,实在不象一个活人的面孔;他那样无精打采地踉跄着,实在不象一个体内尚有生命的人;然而他还在跌跌撞撞地前进着,居然没有倒下!

他的一位担任教职的兄弟,就是年长的约翰,威尔逊,观察到了丁梅斯代尔先生在智慧和敏感退潮之后陷入的状态,慌忙迈步上前来搀扶他。而丁梅斯代尔牧师却哆里哆嗦地断然推开了那老人的胳臂。他还继续朝前“走”着——如果我们还把那种动作说成是“走”的话,其实更象一个婴儿看到了母亲在前面伸出双手来鼓励自己前进时那种播摇晃晃的学步。此时,牧师已经茫茫然,不知移步迈向何方,他来到了记忆犹新的那座因风吹日晒雨淋而发黑的刑台对面,在相隔许多凄风苦雨的岁月之前,海丝特·白兰曾经在那上面遭到世人轻辱的白眼。现在海丝特就站在那儿,手中领着小珠儿!而红字就在她胸前!牧师走到这里停下了脚步,然而,音乐依然庄严地演奏着,队伍合着欢快的进行曲继续向前移动。乐声召唤他向前进,乐声召唤他去赴宴!但是他却停了下来。

贝灵汉在这几分钟里始终焦虑地注视着他。此时贝灵汉离开了队伍中自己的位置,走上前来帮助他,因为从丁梅斯代尔先生的面容来判断,不去扶他一把就一定会摔倒的。但是,牧师的表情中有一种推拒之意,令这位达官不敢上前,尽管他并不是那种乐于听命于人与人之间心息相通的隐约暗示的人。与此同时,人群则怀着谅惧参半的心情观望着。在他们看来,这种肉体的衰竭只不过是牧师的神力的另一种表现;设若象他这样神圣的人,就在众人眼前飞升,渐黯又渐明,最终消失在天国的光辉中,也不会被视为难以企及的奇迹。

他转向刑台,向前伸出双臂。

“海丝特,”他说,“过来呀!来,我的小珠儿!”

他盯着她们的眼神十分可怖;但其中马上就映出温柔和奇异的胜利的成分。那孩子,以她特有的鸟儿一般的动作,朝他飞去,还搂住了他的双膝。海丝特·白兰似乎被必然的命运所推动,但又违背她的坚强意志,也缓缓向前,只是在她够不到他的地方就站住了。就在此刻,老罗杰·齐灵渥斯从人群中脱颖而出——由于他的脸色十分阴暗、十分慌乱、十分邪恶,或许可以说他是从地狱的什么地方钻出来的——想要抓住他的牺牲品,以免他会做出什么举动!无论如何吧,反正那老人冲到前面,一把抓住了牧师的胳臂。

“疯子,稳住!你要干什么?”他小声说。“挥开那女人!甩开这孩子!一切都会好的!不要玷污你的名声,不光彩地毁掉自己!我还能拯救你!你愿意给你神圣的职业蒙受耻辱吗?”

“哈,诱惑者啊!我认为你来得太迟了!”牧师畏惧而坚定地对着他的目光,回答说。“你的权力如今已不象以前了!有了上帝的帮助,我现在要逃脱你的羁绊了!”他又一次向戴红字的女人伸出了手。

“海丝特·白兰,”他以令人撕心裂肺的真诚呼叫道,“上帝啊,他是那样的可畏,又是那样的仁慈,在这最后的时刻,他已恩准我——为了我自己沉重的罪孽和悲惨的痛楚——来做七年前我规避的事情,现在过来吧,把你的力量缠绕到我身上吧!你的力量,海丝特;但要让那力量遵从上帝赐于我的意愿的指导!这个遭受委屈的不幸的老人正在竭力反对此事!竭尽他自己的,以及魔鬼的全力!来吧,海丝特,来吧!扶我登上这座刑台吧!”人群哗然,骚动起来。那些紧靠在牧师身边站着的有地位和身分的人万分震惊,对他们目睹的这一切实在不解:既不能接受那显而易见的解释,又想不出别的什么涵义,只好保持沉默,静观上天似乎就要进行的裁决。他们眼睁睁地瞅着牧师靠在海丝特的肩上,由她用臂膀搀扶着走近刑台,跨上台阶;而那个由罪孽而诞生的孩子的小手还在他的手中紧握着。老罗杰·齐灵渥斯紧随在后,象是与这出他们几人一齐参加演出的罪恶和悲伤的戏剧密不可分,因此也就责无旁贷地在闭幕前亮了相。

“即使你寻遍全世界,”他阴沉地望着牧师说,“除去这座刑台,再也没有一个地方更秘密——高处也罢,低处也罢,使你能够逃脱我了!”

“感谢上帝指引我来到了这里!”牧师回答说。

然而他却颤抖着,转向海丝特,眼睛中流露着疑虑的神色,嘴角上也同样明显地带着一丝无力的微笑。

“这样做,”他咕哝着说,“比起我们在树林中所梦想的,不是更好吗?”

“我不知道!我不知道!”她匆匆回答说。“是更好吗?是吧;这样我们就可以一起死去,还有小珠儿陪着我们!”

“至于你和珠儿,听凭上帝的旨意吧,”牧师说;“而上帝是仁慈的!上帝已经在我眼前表明了他的意愿,我现在就照着去做。海丝特,我已经是个垂死的人了。那就让我赶紧承担起我的耻辱吧!”

丁梅斯代尔牧师先生一边由海丝特·白兰撑持着,一边握着小珠儿的手,转向那些年高望重的统治者;转向他的那些神圣的牧师兄弟;转向在场的黎民百姓——他们的伟大胸怀已经给彻底惊呆了,但仍然泛滥着饱含泪水的同情,因为他们明白,某种深透的人生问题——即使充满了罪孽,也同样充满了极度的痛苦与悔恨——即将展现在他们眼前。刚刚越过中天的太阳正照着牧师,将他的轮廓分明地勾勒出来,此时他正高高矗立在大地之上,在上帝的法庭的被告栏前,申诉着他的罪过。

“新英格兰的人们!”他的声音高昂、庄严而雄浑,一直越过他们的头顶,但其中始终夹杂着颤抖,有时甚至是尖叫,因为那声音是从痛苦与悔恨的无底深渊中挣扎出来的,“你们这些热爱我的人!——你们这些敬我如神的人!——向这儿看,看看我这个世上的罪人吧!终于!——终于!——我站到了七年之前我就该站立的地方;这儿,是她这个女人,在这可怕的时刻,以她的无力的臂膀,却支撑着我爬上这里,搀扶着我不致扑面跌倒在地!看看吧,海丝特佩戴着的红字!你们一直避之犹恐不及!无论她走到哪里,——无论她肩负多么悲惨的重荷,无论她可能多么巴望能得到安静的休息,这红字总向她周围发散出使人畏惧、令人深恶痛绝的幽光。但是就在你们中间,却站着一个人,他的罪孽和耻辱并不为你们所回避!”

牧师讲到这里,仿佛要留下他的其余的秘密不再揭示了。但他击退了身体的无力,尤其是妄图控制他的内心的软弱。他甩掉了一切支持,激昂地向前迈了一步,站到了那母女二人之前。“那烙印就在他身上!”他激烈地继续说着,他是下定了决心要把一切全盘托出了。“上帝的眼睛在注视着它!天使们一直都在指点着它!魔鬼也知道得一清二楚,不时用他那燃烧的手指的触碰来折磨它!但是他却在人们面前狡猾地遮掩着它,神采奕奕地定在你们中间;其实他很悲哀,因为在这个罪孽的世界上人们竟把他看得如此纯洁!——他也很伤心,因为他思念他在天国里的亲属!如今,在他濒死之际,他挺身站在你们面前!他要求你们再看一眼海丝特的红字!他告诉你们,她的红字虽然神秘而可怕,只不过是他胸前所戴的红字的影像而已,而即使他本人的这个红色的耻辱烙印,仍不过是他内心烙印的表象罢了!站在这里的人们,有谁要怀疑上帝对一个罪人的制裁吗?看吧!看看这一个骇人的证据吧!”

他哆哆嗦嗦地猛地扯开法衣前襟的饰带。露出来了!但是要描述这次揭示实在是大不敬。刹那间,惊慌失措的人们的凝视的目光一下子聚集到那可怖的奇迹之上;此时,牧师却面带胜利的红光站在那里,就象一个人在备受煎熬的千钧一发之际却赢得了胜利。随后,他就瘫倒在刑台上了!海丝特撑起他的上半身,让他的头靠在自己的胸前。老罗杰·齐灵渥斯跪在他身旁,表情呆滞,似乎已经失去了生命。

“你总算逃过了我!”他一再地重复说。“你总算逃过了我!”“愿上帝饶恕你吧!”牧师说。“你,同样是罪孽深重的!”他从那老人的身上取回了失神的目光,紧紧盯着那女人和孩子。

“我的小珠儿,”他有气无力地说——他的脸上泛起甜蜜而温柔的微笑,似是即将沉沉酣睡;甚至,由于卸掉了重荷,他似乎还要和孩子欢蹦乱跳一阵呢——“亲爱的小珠儿,你现在愿意亲亲我吗?那天在那树林里你不肯亲我!可你现在愿意了吧?”

珠儿吻了他的嘴唇。一个符咒给解除了。连她自己都担任了角色的这一伟大的悲剧场面,激起了这狂野的小孩子全部的同情心;当她的泪水滴在她父亲的面颊上时,那泪水如同在发誓:她将在人类的忧喜之中长大成人,她绝不与这世界争斗,而要在这世上作一个妇人。珠儿作为痛苦使者的角色,对她母亲来说,也彻底完成了。

“海丝特,”牧师说,“别了!”

“我们难道不能再相会了吗?”她俯下身去,把脸靠近他的脸,悄声说。“我们难道不能在一起度过我们永恒的生命吗?确确实实,我们已经用这一切悲苦彼此赎救了!你用你那双明亮的垂死的眼睛遥望着永恒!那就告诉我,你都看见了什么?”

“别作声,海丝特,别作声!”他神情肃穆,声音颤抖地说。“法律,我们破坏了!这里的罪孽,如此可怕地揭示了!——你就只想着这些好了!我怕!我怕啊!或许是,我们曾一度忘却了我们的上帝,我们曾一度互相冒犯了各自灵魂的尊严,因此,我们希望今后能够重逢,在永恒和纯洁中结为一体,恐怕是徒劳的了。上帝洞察一切;而且仁慈无边!他已经在我所受的折磨中,最充分地证明了他的仁慈。他让我忍受这胸前灼烧的痛楚!他派遣那边那个阴森可怖的老人来,使那痛楚一直火烧火燎!他把我带到这里,让我在众人面前,死在胜利的耻辱之中!若是这些极度痛苦缺少了一个,我就要永世沉沦了!赞颂他的圣名吧!完成他的意旨吧!别了!”

随着这最后一句话出口,牧师吐出了最后一口气。到此时始终保持静默的人们,进出了奇异而低沉的惊惧之声,他们实在还找不出言辞,只是用这种沉沉滚动的声响,伴送着那辞世的灵魂。