Scarlet Letter - Chapter 9

The Scarlet Letter 9 the leech under the

appellation of Roger Chillingworth the

reader will remember was hidden another

name which its former wearer had

resolved should Nevermore be spoken it

has been related how in the crowd that

witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominy

exposure stood a man elderly travel-worn

who just emerging from the perilous

wilderness beheld the woman in whom he

hoped to find embodied the warmth and

cheerfulness of home set up as a type of

sin before the people her matronly Fame

was trodden under all men's feet infamy

was babbling around her in the public

marketplace for her kindred should the

tidings ever reach them and for the

Companions of her unspotted life there

remained nothing but the contagion of

her dishonour which would not fail to be

distributed in strict accordance and

proportion with the intimacy and

sacredness of their previous

relationship then why

since the choice was with himself should

the individual whose connection with the

fallen woman had been the most intimate

and sacred of them all come forward to

vindicate his claim to an inheritance so

little desirable he resolved not to be

pilloried beside her on her pedestal of

shame unknown to all but Hester Prynne

and possessing the lock and key of her

silence he chose to withdraw his name

from the role of mankind and as regarded

his former ties and interest to vanish

out of life as completely as if he

indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean

with her rumor had long ago consigned

him this purpose once affected new

interests would immediately spring up

and likewise a new purpose dharak it is

true if not guilty but a force enough to

engage the full strength of his

faculties in pursuance of this resolve

he took up his residence in the piers in

town as Roger Chillingworth without

other introduction than the learning and

intelligence of which he possessed more

than a common measure as his studies

that a previous period of his life had

made him extensively acquainted with the

medical science of the day it was as a

physician that he presented himself and

as such was cordially received skillful

men of the medical and surgical

were of rare occurrence in the colony

they seldom it would appear partook of

the religious zeal that brought other

emigrants across the Atlantic in their

researches into the human frame it may

be that the higher and more subtle

faculties of such men were materialized

and that they lost the spiritual view of

existence amid the intricacies of that

wondrous mechanism which seemed to

involve art enough to comprise all of

life within itself at all events the

health of the good town of Boston so far

as medicine had aught to do with it had

hitherto lain in the guardianship of an

aged deacon and apothecary whose piety

and godly deportment were stronger

testimonials in his favor than any that

he could have produced in the shape of a

diploma the only surgeon was one who

combined the occasional exercise of that

noble art with the daily and habitual

flourish of a razor to such a

professional body Roger Chillingworth

was a brilliant acquisition

he soon manifested his familiarity with

the ponderous and imposing machinery of

antique physic in which every remedy

contained a multitude of far-fetched and

heterogeneous ingredients as elaborately

compounded as if the proposed result had

been the elixir of life in his Indian

captivity moreover he had gained much

knowledge of the properties of native

herbs and roots nor did he conceal from

his patients that these simple medicines

nature's boon to the untutored Savage

had quite as large a share of his own

confidence as the European pharmacopoeia

which so many learned doctors had spent

centuries in elaborating this learn and

stranger was exemplary as regarded at

least the outward forms of a religious

life and early after his arrival had

chosen for his spiritual guide the

Reverend mr. Dimmesdale the young divine

whose scholar like renowned still lived

in Oxford was considered by his more

fervent admirers as little less than a

heavenly ordained apostle destined

should he live in labour for the

ordinary term of life to do as great

deeds for the now feeble New England

church as the early fathers had achieved

for the infancy of the Christian faith

about this period however the health of

mr. Dimmesdale had evidently begun to

fail by those best acquainted with his

habits the paleness of the young


was accounted for by his to earnest

devotion to study his scrupulous

fulfillment of parochial duty and more

than all to the fasts and vigils of

which he made a frequent practice in

order to keep the grossest of this

earthly state from clogging and

obscuring his spiritual lamp some

declared that if mr. Dimmesdale were

really going to die it was cause enough

that the world was not worthy to be any

longer trodden by his feet he himself on

the other hand with characteristic

humility avowed his belief that if

Providence should see fit to remove him

it would be because of his own

unworthiness to perform its humblest

mission here on earth with all this

difference of opinion as to the cause of

his decline there could be no question

of the fact his form grew emaciated his

voice though still rich and sweet had a

certain melancholy prophecy of decay in


he was often observed on any slight

alarm or other sudden accident to put

his hand over his heart but first a

flush and then a paleness indicative of

pain such was the young clergyman's

condition and so imminent the prospect

that his dawning light would be

extinguished all untimely when Roger

Chillingworth made his Advent to the

town his first entry on the scene few

people could tell whence dropping down

as it were out of the sky or starting

from the nether earth had an aspect of

mystery which was easily heightened to

the miraculous

he was now known to be a man of skill it

was observed that he gathered herbs and

the blossoms of wild flowers and dug up

roots and plucked off twigs from the

forest trees like one acquainted with

hidden virtues in what was valueless to

common eyes he was heard to speak of sir

kennel and Digby and other famous men

whose scientific attainments were

esteemed hardly less than supernatural

as having been his correspondence or

associates why with such rank in the

lurid world had he come hither what

could he whose sphere was in great

cities be seeking in the wilderness in

answer to this query a rumor gained

ground and however absurd was

entertained by some very sensible people

that heaven had wrought an absolute

miracle by transporting an eminent

doctor of physic from a German

University bodily through the air

and setting him down at the door of mr.

Dimmesdale's study individuals of wiser

faiths indeed who knew that heaven

promotes its purposes without aiming at

the stage effect of what is called

miraculous interposition were inclined

to see a providential hand in roger

chillingworth's so opportune arrival

this idea was countenanced by the strong

interest which the physician ever

manifested in the young clergyman he

attached himself to him as a parishioner

and sought to win a friendly regard and

confidence from his naturally reserved

sensibility he expressed great alarm at

his pastor state of health but was

anxious to attempt the cure and if early

undertaken seemed not despondent of a

favorable result the elders the Deacons

the motherly dames and the young and

fair maidens of mr. Dimmesdale's flock

were alike importunate that he should

make trial of the physicians frankly

offered skill mr. Dimmesdale gently

repelled their entreaties I need no

medicine said he but how could the young

minister say so when with every

successive Sabbath his cheek was paler

and thinner and his voice more tremulous

than before when it had now become a

constant habit rather than a casual

gesture to press his hand over his heart

was he weary of his Labor's did he wish

to die these questions were solemnly

propounded to mr. Dimmesdale by the

elder ministers of Boston and the

Deacons of his church who to use their

own phrase dealt with him on the sin of

rejecting the aid which Providence so

manifestly held out he listened in

silence and finally promised to confer

with the physician where it God's will

said the Reverend mr. Dimmesdale when in

fulfillment of this pledge he requested

old roger chillingworth's professional

advice I could be well contented that my

Labor's and my sorrows and my sins and

my pains should shortly end with me and

what is earthly of them be buried in my

grave and the spiritual go with me to my

eternal state rather than that you

should put your skill to the proof in my

behalf ah replied Roger Chillingworth

with that quietness which whether

imposed or natural marked all his

deportment it is thus that a young

clergyman is apt to speak

youthful men not having taken a deep

root give up their hold of life so

easily and saintly men who walk with God

on earth would fain be away to walk with

him on the golden pavements of the New

Jerusalem nay rejoined the young

minister putting his hand to his heart

with a flush of pain flitting over his

brow where I worthier to walk there I

could be better content to toil here

good men ever interpret themselves to

meanly said the physician in this manner

the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth

became the medical adviser of the

Reverend mr. Dimmesdale as not only the

diseased interested the physician but he

was strongly moved to look into the

character and qualities of the patient

these two men so different in age came

gradually to spend much time together

for the sake of the minister's health

and to enable the leech to gather plants

with healing balm in them they took long

walks on the seashore or in the forest

mingling various walks with the splash

and murmur of the waves and the solemn

wind anthem among the treetops often

likewise one was the guest of the other

in his place of study and retirement

there was a fascination for the minister

in the company of the man of science in

whom he recognized an intellectual

cultivation of no moderate depth or

scope together with a range and freedom

of ideas that he would have vainly

looked for among the members of his own

profession in truth he was startled if

not shocked to find this attribute in

the physician mr. Dimmesdale was a true

priest a true religionist with the

reverential sentiment largely developed

and an order of mind that impelled

itself powerfully along the track of a

Creed and wore its passage continually

deeper with the lapse of time in no

state of society would he have been what

is called a man of liberal views it

would always be essential to his peace

to feel the pressure of a faith about

him supporting while it confined him

within its iron framework not the less

however though with a tremulous

enjoyment did he feel the occasional

relief of looking at the universe

through the medium of another kind of

intellect than those with which he

habitually held converse It was as if a

window were thrown open

admitting a freer atmosphere into the

closed and stifled study where his life

was wasting itself away amid lamplight

or obstructed day beams and the musty

fragrance be it sensual or moral that

excels from books but the air was too

fresh and chilled to be long breathed

with comfort so the minister and the

physician with him withdrew again within

the limits of what their church defined

as orthodox thus roger chillingworth

scrutinized his patient carefully both

as he saw him in his ordinary life

keeping in accustomed pathway in the

range of thoughts familiar to him and as

he appeared when thrown amidst other

moral scenery the novelty of which might

call out something new to the surface of

his character he deemed it essential it

would seem to know the man before

attempting to do him good wherever there

was a heart and an intellect the

diseases of the physical frame are

tinged with the peculiarities of these

in Arthur Dimmesdale thought and

imagination were so active and

Sensibility so intense that the bodily

infirmity would be likely to have its

ground work there so Roger Chillingworth

the man of skill the kind and friendly

physician strove to go deep into his

patient's bosom delving among his

principles prying into his recollections

and probing everything with a cautious

touch like a treasure seeker in a dark

cavern few secrets can escape an

investigator who has opportunity and

licence to undertake such a quest and

skill to follow it up a man burdened

with a secret should especially avoid

the intimacy of his physician if the

latter possess native sagacity and had

nameless something more let us call it

intuition if he show no intrusive

egotism nor disagreeable prominent

characteristics of his own if he hath

the power which must be borne with him

to bring his mind into such affinity

with his patients that this last shall

unawares have spoken what he imagines

himself only to a thought if such

revelations be received without tumult

and acknowledged not so often by an

utter sympathy as by silence an

inarticulate breath and here and there a

word to indicate that all is understood

if to these qualifications of a

confidant be joined the advantages

afforded by his recognized character as

a physician then at some inevitable


well the soul of the sufferer be

dissolved and flow forth in a dark but

transparent stream bringing all its

mysteries into the daylight Roger

Chillingworth possessed all or most of

the attributes above enumerated

nevertheless time went on a kind of

intimacy as we have said grew up between

these two cultivated minds which had as

wide a field as the whole sphere of

human thought and study to meet upon

they discussed every topic of ethics and

religion of public affairs and private

character they talked much on both sides

of matters that seemed personal to

themselves and yet no secret such as the

physician fancied must exist there ever

stole out of the minister's

consciousness into his companions ear

the latter had his suspicions indeed

that even the nature of mr. Dimmesdale's

bodily disease had never fairly been

revealed to him

it was a strange reserve after a time at

a hint from Roger Chillingworth the

Friends of mr. Dimmesdale effected an

arrangement by which the two were lodged

in the same house so that every ebb and

flow of the minister's life tide might

pass under the eye of his anxious and

attached physician there was much joy

throughout the town when this greatly

desirable object was attained it was

held to be the best possible measure for

the young clergyman's welfare unless

indeed as often aged by such as felt

authorized to do so he had selected some

one of the many blooming damsels

spiritually devoted to him to become his

devoted wife this latter step however

there was no present prospect that

Arthur Dimmesdale would be prevailed

upon to take he rejected all suggestions

of the kind as if priestly celibacy were

one of his articles of church discipline

doomed by his own choice therefore as

mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was to eat

his unsavory morsel always at another's

board and endure the lifelong chill

which must be his lot who seeks to warm

himself only at another's fireside it

truly seemed that this sagacious

experienced benevolent old physician

with his Concord of paternal and

reverential love for the young pastor

was the very man of all mankind to be

constantly within reach of his voice the

new abode of the two friends was with

the pious widow of good social rank who

dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly

the site

which the venerable structure of Kings

Chapel has since been built it had the

graveyard originally Isaac Johnson's

home field on one side and so was well

adapted to call up serious reflections

suited to their respective employments

in both minister and man of physic the

motherly care of the good Widow assigned

to mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment with

a sunny exposure and heavy window

curtains to create a noontide shadow

when desirable the walls were hung round

with tapestry said to be from the Goblin

looms and at all events representing the

scriptural story of David and Bathsheba

and Nathan the prophet in colors still

unfaded but which made the fair woman of

the scene almost as grimly picturesque

as the woad announcing seer here the

pale clergyman piled up his library rich

with parchment bound folios of the

father's and the lore of Rabbis and

monkish erudition of which the

protestant Divine's even while they

vilified and decried that class of

writers were yet constrained often to

avail themselves on the other side of

the house old Roger Chillingworth

arranged his study and laboratory not

such as a modern man of science would

reckon even tolerably complete but

provided with a distilling apparatus and

the means of compounding drugs and

chemicals which the practiced alchemists

knew well how to turn to purpose with

such commodious miss of situation these

two learned persons sat themselves down

each in his own domain yet familiarly

passing from one apartment to the other

and bestowing a mutual and not in

curious inspection into one another's

business and the Reverend Arthur

Dimmesdale 'he's best discerning friends

as we have intimated very reasonably

imagined that the hand of Providence had

done all this for the purpose besought

in so many public and domestic and

secret prayers of restoring the young

minister to health but it must now be

said another portion of the community

had latterly begun to take its own view

of the relation between students Dale

and the mysterious old physician when a

nun instructed multitude attempts to see

with its eyes it is exceedingly apt to

be deceived when however it forms its

judgment as it usually does on the

intuitions of its great and warm heart

the conclusions thus attained are often

so profound and so on

as to possess the character of truth

supernaturally revealed the people in

the case of which we speak could justify

its prejudice against Roger

Chillingworth by no fact or argument

worthy of serious refutation there was

an aged handicraftsmen it is true who

had been a citizen of London at the

period of Sir Thomas over burries murder

now some 30 years ago he testified to

having seen the physician under some

other name which the narrator of the

story had not forgotten in company with

dr. Foreman the famous old conjurer who

was implicated in the affair of over

buri two or three individuals hinted

that the man of skill during his Indian

captivity had enlarged his medical

attainments by joining in the

incantations of the savage priests who

were universally acknowledged to be

powerful enchanters often performing

seemingly miraculous cures by their

skill in the black art a large number

and many of these were persons of such

sober sense and practical observation

that their opinions would have been

valuable in other matters affirmed that

roger chillingworth's aspect had

undergone a remarkable change while he

had dwelt in town and especially since

his abode with mr. Dimmesdale at first

his expression had been calm meditative

scholar like now there was something

ugly and evil in his face which they had

not previously noticed and which grew

still the more obvious to cite the

oftener they looked upon him according

to the vulgar idea the fire in his

laboratory had been brought from the

lower regions and was fed with infernal

fuel and so as might be expected his

visit was getting with the smoke

to sum up the matter it grew to be a

widely diffused opinion that the

Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale like many

other personages of special sanctity in

all ages of the Christian world was

haunted either by Satan himself or

Satan's emissary in the guise of old

Roger Chillingworth this diabolical

agent had the divine permission for a

season to burrow into the clergyman's

intimacy and plot against his soul no

sensible man it was confessed could

doubt on which side the victory would

turn the people looked with an unshaken

hope to see the minister come forth out

of the conflict transfigured with the

glory which he would unquestionably win

meanwhile nevertheless he

was sad to think of the perchance mortal

agony through which he must struggle

towards his triumph alas to judge from

the gloom and terror in the depth of the

poor ministers eyes the battle was a

sore one and the victory anything but