"Better he had died at once!" said Hester Prynne.
"Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting
the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had he died
at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all,
in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt
an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual
sense,--for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this,--he
knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that an
eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it.
But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition
common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to
be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of
remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond
the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!--the closest
propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!--and who had grown
to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed!--he
did not err!--there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a
human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!"
The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his hands
with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which
he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass.
It was one of those moments--which sometimes occur only at the interval
of years--when a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's
eye. Not improbably, he had never before viewed himself as he did now.