A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, was assembled in front of a wooden prison.
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as the site of a prison. Before this ugly edifice was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a prison. But, on one side of the portal was a wild rose-bush, covered with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom.
This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history. It may serve to symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
The door of the jail being opened from within, there appeared, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle. He laid his right hand upon the shoulder of a young woman; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. Hester Prynne bore in her arms an infant, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day.
When the young woman- the mother of this child- stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around her townspeople and neighbors. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. Those who had before known her and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. But the point which drew all eyes, so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time- was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.