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CHAPTER 21: THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY
In this chapter, Hawthorne shows us a lighter side of Puritanism. We have come to think of these first colonists as unreservedly gloomy. Here we find them in a brighter, gayer mood.
We come upon the colonists in a highly unusual act: celebrating. To mark the election of new magistrates, the colony has set aside its work. The citizens of Boston have gathered in the market-place to make merry as best they can. There is a parade planned, with music, and wrestling matches, too.
Hester and Pearl are part of the celebration. Though Hester stands on the sidelines, wearing her usual austere dress and her usual stony expression, the note of celebration echoes in her heart. Beneath her poker face, Hester is exultant. She has come to the market-place, she imagines, wearing the scarlet letter for the last time. She silently invites the crowd of spectators to look their last on her badge of shame. In a little while, the letter will lie at the bottom of the sea. And Boston won't have Hester Prynne to kick around any more.
Hester has made plans to leave the colony that very day. She has booked passage for Dimmesdale, Pearl, and herself on a ship, now berthed in the harbor, that is due to sail for England with the evening tide.
Yes, Hester is triumphant, but her triumph is premature. The holiday mood of the market-place is deceptive, so far as she is concerned. As Hester speaks to the shipmaster, she discovers that Chillingworth has booked passage on the same boat. The leech will stick to his patient all the way to England. There will be no shaking him off.
Hester is shaken by the shipmaster's news. As she digests this unwelcome piece of information, she catches sight of Chillingworth on the other side of the square. He is watching her across the mass of gaily chattering people. On his face, he wears the implacable smile of fate.