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AS the minister departed, in advance of Hester Prynne and little Pearl, he threw a backward glance; half expecting that he should discover only some faintly traced features or outline of the mother and the child, slowly fading into the twilight of the woods. So great a vicissitude in his life could not at once be received as real. But there was Hester, clad in her grey robe, still standing beside the tree-trunk, which some blast had overthrown a long antiquity ago, and which time had ever since been covering with moss, so that these two fated ones, with earth's heaviest burden on them, might there sit down together, and find a single hour's rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, lightly dancing from the margin of the brook- now that the intrusive third person was gone- and taking her old place by her mother's side. So the minister had not fallen asleep, and dreamed!

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity of impression, which vexed it with a strange disquietude, he recalled and more thoroughly defined the plans which Hester and himself had sketched for their departure. It had been determined between them, that the Old World, with its crowds and cities, offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment than the wilds of New England, or all America, with its alternatives of an Indian wigwam, or the few settlements of Europeans, scattered thinly along the seaboard. Not to speak of the clergyman's health, so inadequate to sustain the hardships of a forest life, his native gifts, his culture, and his entire development, would secure him a home only in the midst of civilisation and refinement; the higher the state, the more delicately adapted to it the man. In furtherance of this choice, it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour; one of those questionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsibility of character. This vessel had recently arrived from the Spanish Main, and, within three days' time, would sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne- whose vocation, as a self-enlisted Sister of Charity, had brought her acquainted with the captain and crew- could take upon herself to secure the passage of two individuals and a child, with all the secrecy which circumstances rendered more than desirable.

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little interest, the precise time at which the vessel might be expected to depart. It would probably be on the fourth day from the present. "That is most fortunate!" he had then said to himself. Now, why the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate, we hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless- to hold nothing back from the reader- it was because, on the third day from the present, he was to preach the Election Sermon; and, as such an occasion formed an honourable epoch in the life of a New England clergyman, he could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career. "At least, they shall say of me," thought this exemplary man, "that I leave no public duty unperformed, nor ill performed!" Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived! We have had, and may still have, worse things to tell of him; but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak; no evidence, at once so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle disease, that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character. No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.

The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings, as he returned from his interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical energy, and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles and less trodden by the foot of man than he remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped across the plashy places, thrust himself through the clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into the hollow, and overcame, in short, all the difficulties of the track, with an unweariable activity that astonished him. He could not but recall how feebly, and with what frequent pauses for breath, he had toiled over the same ground, only two days before. As he drew near the town, he took an impression of change from the series of familiar objects that presented themselves. It seemed not yesterday, not one, nor two, but many days, or even years ago, since he had quitted them. There, indeed, was each former trace of the street, as he remembered it, and all the peculiarities of the houses, with the due multitude of gable-peaks, and a weather-cock at every point where his memory suggested one. Not the less, however, came this importunately obtrusive sense of change. The same was true as regarded the acquaintances whom he met, and all the well-known shapes of human life, about the little town. They looked neither older nor younger now; the beards of the aged were no whiter, nor could the creeping babe of yesterday walk on his feet to-day; it was impossible to describe in what respect they differed from the individuals on whom he had so recently bestowed a parting glance; and yet the minister's deepest sense seemed to inform him of their mutability. A similar impression struck him most remarkably, as he passed under the walls of his own church. The edifice had so very strange, and yet so familiar, an aspect, that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between two ideas; either that he had seen it only in a dream hitherto, or that he was merely dreaming about it now.

This phenomenon, in the various shapes which it assumed, indicated no external change, but so sudden and important a change in the spectator of the familiar scene, that the intervening space of a single day had operated on his consciousness like the lapse of years. The minister's own will, and Hester's will, and the fate that grew between them, had wrought this transformation. It was the same town as heretofore; but the same minister returned not from the forest. He might have said to the friends who greeted him, "I am not the man for whom you take me! I left him yonder in the forest, withdrawn into a secret dell, by a mossy tree-trunk, and near a melancholy brook! Go, seek your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be not flung down there, like a cast-off garment!" His friends, no doubt, would still have insisted with him- "Thou art thyself the man!"- but the error would have been their own, not his.

Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling. In truth, nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code, in that interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortunate and startled minister. At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self than that which opposed the impulse. For instance, he met one of his own deacons. The good old man addressed him with the paternal affection and patriarchal privilege, which his venerable age, his upright and holy character, and his station in the Church, entitled him to use; and, conjoined with this, the deep, almost worshipping respect, which the minister's professional and private claims alike demanded. Never was there a more beautiful example of how the majesty of age and wisdom may comport with the obeisance and respect enjoined upon it, as from a lower social rank, and inferior order of endowment, towards a higher. Now, during a conversation of some two or three moments between the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale and this excellent and hoary-bearded deacon, it was only by the most careful self-control that the former could refrain from uttering certain blasphemous suggestions that rose into his mind, respecting the communion-supper. He absolutely trembled and turned pale as ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself, in utterance of these horrible matters, and plead his own consent for so doing, without his having fairly given it. And, even with this terror in his heart, he could hardly avoid laughing, to imagine how the sanctified old patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by his minister's impiety.

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hurrying along the street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale encountered the eldest female member of his church; a most pious and exemplary old dame; poor, widowed, lonely, and with a heart as full of reminiscences about her dead husband and children, and her dead friends of long ago, as a burial-ground is full of storied gravestones. Yet all this, which would else have been such heavy sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her devout old soul, by religious consolations and the truths of Scripture, wherewith she had fed herself continually for more than thirty years. And, since Mr. Dimmesdale had taken her in charge, the good grandam's chief earthly comfort- which, unless it had been likewise a heavenly comfort, could have been none at all- was to meet her pastor, whether casually, or of set purpose, and be refreshed with a word of warm, fragrant, heaven-breathing Gospel truth, from his beloved lips, into her dulled, but rapturously attentive ear. But, on this occasion, up to the moment of putting his lips to the old woman's ear, Mr. Dimmesdale, as the great enemy of souls would have it, could recall no text of Scripture, nor aught else, except a brief, pithy, and, as it then appeared to him, unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul. The instilment thereof into her mind would probably have caused this aged sister to drop down dead, at once, as by the effect of an intensely poisonous infusion. What he really did whisper, the minister could never afterwards recollect. There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder in his utterance, which failed to impart any distinct idea to the good widow's comprehension, or which Providence interpreted after a method of its own. Assuredly, as the minister looked back, he beheld an expression of divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and ashy pale.

Again, a third instance. After parting from the old church-member, he met the youngest sister of them all. It was a maiden newly won- and won by the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon, on the Sabbath after his vigil, to barter the transitory pleasures of the world for the heavenly hope, that was to assume brighter substance as life grew dark around her, and which would gild the utter gloom with final glory. She was fair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined within the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a religious purity. Satan, that afternoon, had surely led the poor young girl away from her mother's side, and thrown her into the pathway of this sorely tempted, or- shall we not rather say?- this lost and desperate man. As she drew nigh, the arch-fiend whispered him to condense into small compass and drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon, and bear black fruit betimes. Such was his sense of power over this virgin soul, trusting him as she did, that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of innocence with but one wicked look, and develop all its opposite with but a word. So- with a mightier struggle than he had yet sustained- he held his Geneva cloak before his face, and hurried onward, making no sign of recognition, and leaving the young sister to digest his rudeness as she might. She ransacked her conscience- which was full of harmless little matters, like her pocket, or her workbag- and took herself to task, poor thing! for a thousand imaginary faults; and went about her household duties with swollen eyelids the next morning.

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory over this last temptation, he was conscious of another impulse, more ludicrous, and almost as horrible. It was- we blush to tell it- it was to stop short in the road, and teach some very wicked words to a knot of little Puritan children who were playing there, and had but just begun to talk. Denying himself this freak, as unworthy of his cloth, he met a drunken seaman, one of the ship's crew from the Spanish Main. And here, since he had so valiantly forborne all other wickedness, poor Mr. Dimmesdale longed, at least to shake hands with the tarry blackguard, and recreate himself with a few improper jests, such as dissolute sailors so abound with, and a volley of good, round, solid, satisfactory, and heaven-defying oaths! It was not so much a better principle, as partly his natural good taste, and still more his buckramed habit of clerical decorum, that carried him safely through the latter crisis.

"What is it that haunts and tempts me thus?" cried the minister to himself, at length, pausing in the street, and striking his hand against his forehead. "Am I mad? or am I given over utterly to the fiend? Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood? And does he now summon me to its fulfilment, by suggesting the performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination can conceive?"

At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale thus communed with himself, and struck his forehead with his hand, old Mistress Hibbins, the reputed witch-lady, is said to have been passing by. She made a very grand appearance; having on a high head-dress, a rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up with the famous yellow starch, of which Ann Turner, her especial friend, had taught her the secret, before this last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder. Whether the witch had read the minister's thoughts, or no, she came to a full stop, looked shrewdly into his face, smiled craftily, and- though little given to converse with clergymen- began a conversation.

"So, reverend sir, you have made a visit into the forest," observed the witch-lady, nodding her high head-dress at him. "The next time, I pray you to allow me only a fair warning, and I shall be proud to bear you company. Without taking overmuch upon myself, my good word will go far towards gaining any strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder potentate you wot of!"

"I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with a grave obeisance, such as the lady's rank demanded, and his own good-breeding made imperative- "I profess, on my conscience and character, that I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate; neither do I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a view to gaining the favour of such personage. My one sufficient object was to greet that pious friend of mine, the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he hath won from heathendom!"

"Ha, ha, ha!" cackled the old witch-lady, still nodding her high head-dress at the minister. "Well, well, we must needs talk thus in the daytime! You carry it off like an old hand! But at midnight, and in the forest, we shall have other talk together!"

She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often turning back her head and smiling at him, like one willing to recognise a secret intimacy of connection.

"Have I then sold myself," thought the minister, "to the fiend whom, if men say true, this yellow-starched and velveted old hag has chosen for her prince and master!"

The wretched minister! He had made a bargain very like it! Tempted by a dream of happiness, he had yielded himself, with deliberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid life the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitterness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke, to tempt, even while they frightened him. And his encounter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real incident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits.

He had, by this time, reached his dwelling, on the edge of the burial-ground, and, hastening up the stairs, took refuge in his study. The minister was glad to have reached this shelter, without first betraying himself to the world by any of those strange and wicked eccentricities to which he had been continually impelled while passing through the streets. He entered the accustomed room, and looked around him on its books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried comfort of the walls, with the same perception of strangeness that had haunted him throughout his walk from the forest-dell into the town, and thitherward. Here he had studied and written; here, gone through fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here striven to pray; here, borne a hundred thousand agonies! There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses and the Prophets speaking to him, and God's voice through all! There, on the table, with the inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon, with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased to gush out upon the page, two days before. He knew that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye this former self with scornful, pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That self was gone. Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that!

While occupied with these reflections, a knock came at the door of the study, and the minister said, "Come in!"- not wholly devoid of an idea that he might behold an evil spirit. And so he did! It was old Roger Chillingworth that entered. The minister stood, white and speechless, with one hand on the Hebrew Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast.

"Welcome home, reverend sir," said the physician. "And how found you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear sir, you look pale; as if the travel through the wilderness had been too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon?"

"Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed, have done me good, after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by a friendly hand."

All this time, Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his patient. But, in spite of his outward show, the latter was almost convinced of the old man's knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion, with respect to his own interview with Hester Prynne. The physician knew then, that, in the minister's regard, he was no longer a trusted friend, but his bitterest enemy. So much being known, it would appear natural that a part of it should be expressed. It is singular, however, how long a time often passes before words embody things; and with what security two persons, who choose to avoid a certain subject, may approach its very verge, and retire without disturbing it. Thus, the minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth would touch, in express words, upon the real position which they sustained towards one another. Yet did the physician, in his dark way, creep frightfully near the secret.

"Were it not better," said he, "that you use my poor skill to-night? Verily, dear sir, we must take pains to make you strong and vigorous for this occasion of the Election discourse. The people look for great things from you; apprehending that another year may come about, and find their pastor gone."

"Yea, to another world," replied the minister, with pious resignation. "Heaven grant it be a better one; for, in good sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flitting seasons of another year! But, touching your medicine, kind sir, in my present frame of body, I need it not."

"I joy to hear it," answered the physician. "It may be that my remedies, so long administered in vain, begin now to take due effect. Happy man were I, and well deserving of New England's gratitude, could I achieve this cure!"

"I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, with a solemn smile. "I thank you, and can but requite your good deeds with my prayers."

"A good man's prayers are golden recompense!" rejoined old Roger Chillingworth, as he took his leave. "Yea, they are the current gold coin of the New Jerusalem, with the King's own mint, mark on them!"

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the house, and requested food, which, being set before him, he ate with ravenous appetite. Then, flinging the already written pages of the Election Sermon into the fire, he forthwith began another, which he wrote with such an impulsive flow of thought and emotion, that he fancied himself inspired; and only wondered that Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn music of its oracles through so foul an organ-pipe as he. However, leaving that mystery to solve itself, or go unsolved for ever, he drove his task onward, with earnest haste and ecstasy. Thus the night fled away, as if it were winged steed, and he careering on it; morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the curtains; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the study and laid it right across the minister's bedazzled eyes. There he was, with the pen still between his fingers, and a vast immeasurable tract of written space behind him!

牧师先回去了。他一面在前面走着,一面回过头来望着海丝特·白兰和小珠儿,怀着几分期望,想透过林中暮霭,再看看逐渐模糊的母女二人的身影或面容。他的生活中发生了如此巨大的变迁,他一时还无法相信是真的。但是海丝特就在那儿,身穿灰袍,仍然站在树干的旁边——那是多年前被一阵疾风吹例的,之后年深日久就长满了青蔷,于是他们这两个承受着世上最沉重的负担的同命运的人,才得以一起坐在上面,安享那难得的一小时的休憩与慰藉。那儿还有珠儿,又轻捷地从溪边蹦跳着回到了母亲身边她的老位置,因为那闯来的第三者已经离去了。这么看来,牧师刚才并没有昏昏睡去,并非在梦中才见到这一切的!

为了摆脱那搅得他莫名其妙地心烦意乱的说不清、道不明的印象,他回忆并更加彻底地澄清了一下他和海丝特为出走所安排的计划。他俩已经商妥,比起只在沿海一带疏落地散布着印第安人的茅屋或欧洲移民聚居区的新英格兰或全美洲的荒野,旧大陆人烟稠密、城市辏集,更适合于他们隐蔽或隐居式的生活。不消说,牧师的健康状况极不宜于忍受森林中的艰苦条件,何况他的天赋才能、他的文化教养以及他的全部前程,也只有在文明和优雅的环境中才能找到归宿;地位越高,他才越有用武之地。促使他们作出这一抉择的,还因为刚好有一条船停在港湾;这是那年月中时常有的一种形迹可疑的航船,虽说在深海中并非绝对地非法,却是带有极不负责任的性质在海面上游荡的。这艘船最近从拉丁美洲北部海域开来,准备在三天之内驶往英国的布利斯托尔。海丝特·白兰作为妇女慈善会的志愿人员,有机会结识了船长和海员,她可以有把握为两个大人和一个孩子弄到舱位,而且那种环境还提供了求之不得的一切保密要求。

牧师曾经兴致勃勃地向海丝特询问了那艘船可能启航的准确时间。大概是从那天算起的第四天。“那可太幸运了!”他当时曾经这样自言自语。那么,为什么丁梅斯代尔牧师先生认为狠幸运呢?我们本不大想公之于众;然而,为了对读者无所隐瞒,我们不妨说说,因为在第三天,他要在庆祝选举的布道会上宣教;由于这样一个机缘构成了新英格兰牧师一生中的荣誉时期,因此也就成了他结束他的牧师生涯的难得的最恰当的方式和时机。“至少,他们在谈起我时,”这位为人楷模的人自忖,“会认为裁并非未尽公职或草草了事!”象这位可怜的牧师如此深刻和一丝不苟的自省,居然会遭到被人欺骗的悲惨下场,委实令人伤心!我们已经说过、也许还会说到他这个人的过失;但就我们所知,没有一件比这更软弱得可怜的了;眼下也没有任何证据比这更微不足道却无可辩驳地说明:一种微妙的疾病早巳开始蚕食他性格的实体了。在相当长的时期内,谁也无法对自己装扮出一副面孔,而对众人又装扮出另一副面孔,其结果必然是连他本人都会弄不清到底哪一副是真实的了。

丁梅斯代尔先生同海丝特会面之后的归途中,他激动的感情赋予了他所不习惯曲体能,催促着他大步流星地向前走去。那林间小路在他看来,比他记忆中来时的途径,似是更加蛮荒,由于天然的高低不平面更加坎坷,而且更少有人迹了。但他跨越了积水的坑洼,穿过了绊腿的灌木,爬上了高坡,步入了低谷,总而言之,以他自己都不解的不知疲倦的活力,克服了路上的一切障碍。他不禁忆起仅仅在两天之前,在他一路辛辛苦苦地沿着这同样的途径走来时,他是多么地周身无力,气喘吁吁,走不上两步就要停下来喘上一口气。在他走近镇子的时候,一系列熟悉的东西呈现在眼前,却给了他一种似是而非的印象。好象不是昨天不是一天、两天,而是许多天,甚至好几年之前,他就离开此地了。确实,那里还有那条街道的每一个原有的痕迹,这和他记忆中的是一致的,而房舍的各个独特之处,诸如众多的山墙,各个尖顶上都有的风信鸡,凡是他记得的都应有尽有。然而,那种起了变化的突出感觉仍然丝毫不减地纠缠着他。这小镇上人们生活的种种熟悉的景象,他所遇到的熟人,本来也一成未变。他们现在的样子既没有变老,也没有年轻;长者的胡须并没有更白,那些昨天还只会爬来爬去的婴儿,今天也没有直立行走;实在说不出这些在他最近离去时还瞥过一眼的人,到底在哪些方面与原来不同了;然而,牧师最深层的感觉,似乎在告诉他,他们已经变了。当他走过他自己教堂的墙下时,这种类似的印象给他的感触最为突出。那建筑物的外观看来那么陌生,可又那么熟悉,了梅斯代尔先生在两种念头之间犹豫徘徊:到底只是他先前在梦中见过呢,还是他现在正在梦中观看。

这一变幻得千姿百态的现象,并非表明外观上起了变化,只是说明观察这些熟悉景现的人内心发生了重要的突变,以致在他的意识上有了“一日不见、如隔三秋”之感。是牧师本人的意志和海丝特的意志,以及他俩之间出现的命运,造成了这一变形。镇子还是原来的镇子;但从林中归来的牧师却不同了。他很可能对向他打招呼的朋友们说:“我不是你们心目中的那个人了!我把他留在那边那座林子里了,他退缩到一个秘密的山谷里,离一条忧郁的小溪不远,就在一棵长满青苔的树干旁边!去找找你们的牧师吧,看看他那憔悴的身形,他那消瘦的面颊,他那苞白、沉重、爬满痛苦皱纹的前额,是不是象一件扔掉的衣袍一样给遗弃在那里了!”而他的朋友们,不消说,还会继续坚持对他说:“你自己就是那个人!”——但弄错的恐怕是他们,而不是跑。

在丁梅斯代尔先生到家之前,他内心的那个人又给了他一些别的证据,说明在他的思想感情领域中已发生了彻底的变革。的确,若不是他心内的王国已经改朝换代、纲常全非的话,实在无法解释如今支配着不幸而惊惧的牧师的种种冲动。他每走一步,心中都想作出这样那样的出奇的、狂野的、恶毒的事情,他感到这种念头既非心甘情愿,却又有意为之;一方面是不由自主,然而另一方面又是发自比反对这种冲动更深层的自我。比如说,他遇见了他的一名执事,那位好心肠的老人用一种父辈的慈爱和家长般的资格跟他打招呼,那老人是由于具备受人尊敬的高龄、正直圣洁的品性和在教会由的地位所赋予的权利才这么做的;而与此相应的是,牧师则应报以深切并近乎崇拜的敬意,这同样是出于他的职业和个人品德所要求的作法。象这样社会地位较低和天赋能力较劣的人对高于自己者的毕恭毕敬,是年高德重之人如何使自己既有等严又有相应的礼敬的前所未有的绝好范例。此时,当丁梅斯代尔牧师先生和这位德高望重、须发灰白的执事谈话的片刻之间,牧师只是极其小心翼翼地控制自己,才不致把涌上心头的有关圣餐的某些亵渎神明的意思说出口来。他紧张得周身战抖,面色灰白,生怕他的舌头会不经他的认可,就会自作主张地说出那些可怕的言辞。然而,尽管他内心如此惧怕,但一想到假着他当真说出那番大不敬的话来,那位圣洁的父辈老执事会吓得何等瞠目结舌,他还是禁不住要笑出声来!

此外,还发生了另一件性质相同的事情。就在丁梅斯代尔先生匆匆沿街而行的时候,遇上了他的教堂中的一位最为年长的女教友,一位最虔诚诚和堪当楷模的老夫人;这位孤苦无依的寡妇的内心中,就象排满名人墓碑的莹地似的满怀对她已故的丈夫和子女,以及早已逝去的朋友的回忆。这一切本该成为深沉的悲哀的,但由于在长达三十余年的时间里,她不停地以宗教的慰藉和《圣经》的真理来充实自己,她在虔诚的年迈的心灵中,已经将这些回忆几乎视作一种肃穆的欢愉了。而由于丁梅斯代尔先生已经对她负起责任,这位好心的老太婆在世上的主要安慰——若不是这种今世的安慰也是一种天国的安慰,也就算不得数了——就是同她的牧师会面;不期而遇也罢,专程拜访也罢,只要能从他那可爱的双唇中说出片言只语的带有温馨的天国气息的福音真谛,送进她那虽已半聋却喜闻恭听的耳朵中,她就会精神焕然一新。然而,这一次,直到丁梅斯代尔先生把嘴唇凑近老妇人的耳畔之前,他竟如人类灵魂的大敌所愿,想不起《圣经》上的经文,也想不起别的,只是说了一句简练的反对人类灵魂不朽的话,他当时觉得这是无可辩驳的论点。这番话若是灌输到这位上了年纪的女教友的头脑之中,可能会象中了剧毒一样,让她立刻倒地死去。牧师到底耳语了些什么,他自己事后无论如何也追忆不起来了。或许,所好他语无伦次,未能使那好心的寡妇听明白什么清晰的含义,或许是上天按照自己的方式作出了解释。反正,当牧师回头看去时,只见到一副感谢天恩的狂喜神情,似乎天国的光辉正映照在她那满是皱纹的灰白色面孔之上。

还有第三个例子。他在告别了那位老教友之后,便遇到了最年轻的一位女教友。她是新近才皈依的一位少女,而且就是在聆听了丁梅斯代尔牧师先生夜游后那个安息日所作的布道才皈依的,她要以世间的短暂欢乐来换取天国的希望,当她周围的人生变得黯淡时,这希望便会益发明亮,以最后的荣光包围四下的一片昏黑。她如同天堂中开放的百合一样娇好纯真。牧师深知,他本人就供奉在她心灵的无理的圣殿之中,并用她雪白的心灵的帷幔罩着他的肖像,将爱情的温暖融进宗教,并将宗教的纯洁融进爱情。那天下午,一定是撒旦把这可怜的少女从她母亲身旁引开,并将她抛到那个被诱惑得心旌神摇的,或者,——我们不妨这样说吧,——那个迷途和绝望的人的路上。就在她走近的时候,魔王便悄声要他缩小形体,并在她温柔的心胸中投入一颗邪恶的种子,很快便会阴暗地开花,到时一定会结出黑色的果实。牧师意识到自己有权左右这个十分信任他的少女的灵魂,他感到只消他不怀好意地一瞥,她那无邪的心田就会立即枯萎,只消他说一个宇,她那纯洁的心灵就会走向反面。可是,在经历了一番前所未有的强有力的内心搏斗之后,他指起他那黑色法衣的宽袖遮住面孔,匆匆向前走去,装出没有认出她的样子,任凭那年轻的女教友去随便解释他的无礼。她察遍她的良心——那是同她的衣袋或针线盒一样,满装着各种无害的小东西的——,这可怜的姑娘,就用数以千计的想象中的错误来责备自己;次日天明,去干家务时,她两眼都哭得红肿了。

牧师还没来得及庆贺他刚刚战胜了诱惑,便又觉察到了一次冲动,这次冲动如前几次一样可怕,只是更加无稽。那是——我们说起来都脸红——那是,他想在路上停下来,对那些正在玩耍、刚刚开始学语的一伙清教徒小孩子们,教上几句极难听的话。只是由于与他身穿的法衣不相称,他才没有去做这反常之举。他又看到一个醉醺醺的水手,正是来自拉丁美洲北部海域的那艘船上的;此时,可怜的丁梅斯代尔先生既然已经勇敢地克制了前几次邪恶,却想至少要和这浑身沾满油污的粗人握一握手,并用几句水手们挂在嘴边的放荡下流的俏皮话,和一连串的十分圆滑、令人开心的亵渎神明的诅咒来寻寻开心!让他得以平安地度过这次危机的,倒不是因为他有什么更高的准则,而是因为他天生具有优雅的情趣,更主要的,是因为他那形成牢固习惯的教士礼仪。

“到底有什么东西如此纠缠和诱惑我啊?”最后,牧师停在街心,用手拍着前额,对自己这样喊着。“我是不是疯了?还是我让魔鬼完全控制了?我刚才在树林里是不是和魔鬼订了契约,并且用我的血签了字?现在他是不是传唤我按照他那最恶毒的想象力所设想出来的每一个恶行去履行契约呢?”

就在丁梅斯代尔牧师先生这样一边自言自语,一边用手拍着前额的时候,据说那有名的妖婆西宾斯老太太正好走过。她神气十足地头戴高帽,身穿富丽的丝绒长袍,颈上围着用著名的黄浆浆得笔挺的皱领,那种黄浆是按她的挚友安·特纳因谋杀托马斯·奥绍白利爵士而被绞之前教给她的秘方配制的。不管那妖婆是否看出了牧师的想法,反正她一下子停住了脚步,机灵地盯着他的面孔,狡诘地微笑着,并且开始同她从不打交道的牧师攀谈了起来。

“可敬的牧师先生,原来你去拜访了树林,”妖婆对他点点戴着高帽的头,开口说。“下一次,请你务必跟我打个招呼,我将十分自豪地陪你前往。不是我自吹,只消我说上一句好话,你知道的那位有权势的人,准会热情接待任何生客的!”

“老实讲,夫人,”牧师回答说,还郑重其事地鞠了一躬——这是那位夫人的地位所要求的,也是他的良好教养所必需的,“老实讲,以我的良心和人格担保,我对您这番话的含义实在莫名其妙!我到树林里去,绝不是去找什么有权势的人,而且在将来的任何时刻,我也没有去那儿拜访、谋求这样一个人欢心的意图。我唯一的目的是去问候我的一位虔诚的朋友,艾略特使徒,并和他一起欢庆他从邪教中争取过来的众多可贵的灵魂!”

“哈,哈,哈!”那老妖婆咯咯地笑着,还向牧师一劲儿点着戴高帽的头。“好啦,好啦,我们在这光天化日之下是得这么讲话!你倒象个深通此道的老手!不过,等到夜半时分,在树林里,我们再在一起谈些别的吧!”

她摆出一副德高年迈的姿态走开了,但仍不时回头朝他微笑,象是要一心看出他们之间不可告人的亲密关系似的。

“这样看来,我是不是已经把自己出卖给那个恶魔啦?”牧师思忖着,“如果人们所说属实,这个浆着黄领、穿着绒袍的老妖婆,早就选了那恶魔作她的王子和主人啦!”

这个不幸的牧师!他所作的那笔交易与此极其相似!他受着幸福的梦境的诱惑,经过周密的选择,居然前所未有地屈从于明知是罪大恶极的行径。面那桩罪孽的传染性毒素已经就此迅速扩散到他的整个道德体系,愚弄了一切神圣的冲动,而将全部恶念唤醒,变成活跃的生命。轻蔑、狠毒、无缘无故的恶言秽行和歹意;对善良和神圣的事物妄加嘲弄,这一切全都绘唤醒起来,虽说把他吓得要命,却仍在诱惑着他。而他和西宾斯老太太的不期而遇,如果当真只是巧合的话,也确实表明他已同恶毒的人们及堕落的灵魂的世界同流合污了。

此时,他已走到坟场边上的住所,正在匆忙地踏上楼梯,躲进他的书斋中去一避。牧师能够进到这个庇荫之地,暗自高兴,因为这样一来,他就无须向世人暴露他在街上一路走来时那不断怂恿他的种种离奇古怪的邪念了。他走进熟悉的房间,环顾四周,看着室内的书籍、窗子、壁炉、接着壁毯的赏心悦目的墙壁,但从林中谷地进城来一路纠缠着他的同样的奇异感觉依然存在。他曾在这里研读和写作;他曾在这里斋戒和夜祷,以致弄得半死不活;他曾在这里尽心尽意地祈祷;他曾在这里忍受过成千上万种折磨!这里有那本装璜精美的《圣经》,上面用古老的希伯来文印着摩西和诸先知们对他的训戒,从头到尾全是上帝的声音!在桌上饱蘸墨水的鹅毛笔旁,摆着一篇未完成的布道词,一个句子写到中间就中断了,因为两天前他的思路再也涌不到纸上。他明知道那是他本人,两颊苍白、身材消瘦的牧师做的这些事、受的这些苦,写了这么些庆祝选举的布道文的!但他却象是站在一边,带着轻蔑和怜悯,而又怀着一些羡慕的好奇心,审视着先前的自己。那个自我已经一去不复返了,是另一个人从林中归来了,是具有神秘知识的男一个益发聪明的人了——那种知识是原先那人的简单头脑从来不可能企及的。那种知识真让人哭笑不得!

就在牧师沉浸在这些冥思苦想之中的时候,书斋的房门那儿传来一声敲门声,牧师便说道,“请进!”——并非完全没有料到他可能又要看到一个邪魔了。果不其然!进来的正是老罗杰·齐灵渥斯。牧师面包苍白、默默无言地站在那里,一手放在希伯来文鲍《圣经》上,另一只手则捂住心口。

“欢迎你回到家中,可敬的牧师先生,”医生说。“你看那位圣洁的艾略特使徒可好啊?可是我看你的样子很苍白,亲爱的先生;看来你在荒野中的这次旅行过于疲惫不堪了。要不要我来帮忙你恢复一下身心健康,以便在庆祝选举的布道中祈祷呢?”

“不,我看不必了,”丁梅斯代尔牧师先生接口说。“我这次旅行,同那位圣洁的使徒的会面,以及我所呼吸到的自由空气,对我大有好处,原先我闷在书斋里的时间太长了。我想我已经不再需要你的药了,我的好心的医生,虽说那些药很好,又是一只友好的手给的。”

在这段时间里,罗杰·齐灵渥斯始终用医生审视病人的那种严肃而专注的目光盯着牧师。他虽然表面上不动声色,但几乎确信,那老人已经知道了,或者至少暗中猜测到了他同海丝特·白兰已经会过面。那么,医生也就知道了,在牧师的心目中,他已不再是一个可信赖的朋友,而是一个最恶毒的敌人了。事情既然已经昭然若揭,自然要有所流露。然而,奇妙的是,往往要经过好长一段时间才能一语道破事实;而二人为了避免某一话题,又要何等小心翼翼地刚刚触到边缘,便又马上退缩回去,才不致点破。因此,牧师不必担心罗杰·齐灵渥斯会公然说出他们彼此维持的真正地位。不过,医生以他那不为人知的手段,已经可怕地爬近了秘密。

“今天夜里,”他说,“你再采用一下我这微不足道的医术,是不是更好呢?真的,亲爱的先生,我们应该尽心竭力使你精力充沛地应付这次庆祝选举的宣讲。人们对你期望极大呢;因为他们担心,明年一到,他们的牧师就会不在了。”

“是啊,到另一个世界去了,”牧师带着一切全都听天由命的神气回答说。“但愿上天保佑,那是个更好的世界;因为,说老实话,我认为我难以再和我的教众度过转瞬即逝的另一个年头了!不过,亲爱的先生,至于你的药品嘛,就我目前的身体状况而论,我并不需要了。”

“我很高兴听到这一点,”医生回答说。“或许是,我提供的治疗长时间以来末起作用,但如今却开始生效了。我当真能成功地治好你,我会深感幸福,并且对新英格兰的感激之情受之无愧!”

“我衷心地感激你,我最尽心的朋友,”丁梅斯代尔牧师先生说着,郑重地一笑。“我感激你,只有用我的祈祷来报答你的善行。”

“一个好人的祈祷如同用黄金作酬谢!”老罗杰·齐灵渥斯一边告别,一边接口说:“是啊,那都是些新耶路撤冷通用的金币,上面铸着上帝本人的头像的!”

牧师剩下单独一个人后,便叫来住所的仆人,吩咐摆饭。饭菜放到眼前之后,他就狼吞虎咽起来。然后,他把已经写出来的庆祝选举布道词的纸页抛进炉火,提笔另写,他的思绪和激情源源涌到笔尖,他幻想着自己是受到了神启,只是不明所以为什么上天会看中他这样一件肮脏的管风琴,去传送它那神谕的崇高而肃穆的乐曲。管它呢,让那神秘去自行解答,或永无解答吧,他只顾欣喜若狂地奋笔疾书。那一夜就这样象一匹背生双翼的骏马般飞驰而去,而他就骑在马背上;清晨到来了,从窗帘中透进朝霞的红光;终于,旭日将一束金光投入书斋,正好照到牧师晕眩的双目上。他坐在那里,指间还握着笔,纸上已经写下洋洋洒洒鲍一大篇文字了!