Before the Scarlet Letter
by Moira Brennan

Author's Notes: Title pic link - here. I'm not sure what copyrights are involved in the writing of The Scarlet Letter, but as always I have no intention of infringing on them. I'm not Nathaniel Hawthorne (duh) and I am also not related to him. I'm just a student who liked his classic novel. Although this story is free from sexual scenes and profanity, there is a suggestive scene at the end of Chapter 4 that some people may find offensive.

Chapter 1

Hester Prynne stood gripping the railing on the deck of the ship Godspeed with one hand. The other was holding tightly to her cap against the strong ocean wind that threatened to rip if off her head. Around her, sailors clambered up and down ropes with surprising grace, shouting to one another. The brilliant blue sky was marked only with a few wispy clouds that seemed to race the ship as it sped towards land.

The Captain walked up to her and took off his hat. "Mistress Prynne?" she turned. "We've reached Massachusetts Bay Colony and we'll be landing shortly in Boston." He jerked a thumb behind him. "Danny, the cabin boy, will be bringing your things to the dock for you." She nodded and he left with a slight bow. He had been doting on her ever since they had left England. No doubt Robert paid him to watch over me, she thought and felt a tremor of excitement. Robert Prynne, her scholarly older husband, stayed behind in Amsterdam, England to conclude some studies. He sent her to Massachusetts to prepare their new home in the Colony. Although it might be a sin, she couldn't help but feel excited at the prospect at spending at least a year away from her, dare I think it? boring husband.

* * *

Shading her eyes against the summer sun, Hester looked around the port of Boston. Robert had arranged with the Governor to have someone meet her and show her around and to their new home which he had bought ahead of time.

Suddenly, a strong gust of wind blew the cap off her head making her long dark curls tumble down over her shoulders. It blew towards a young man who picked it up and walked towards her smiling. He had sparkling blue eyes and somewhat tousled brown hair which heightened his youthful, pale appearance.

Hester blushed as she took it from him and put her hair back in it's stern place. To be seen in public without my cap! What he must think of me! "Thank you good sir."

"Think nothing of it, Goodwife..." he had a pleasant voice, sweet and tremulous.

"Prynne. Hester Prynne. My husband is Mister Robert Prynne of Amsterdam, England," she replied, bobbing a curtsy. The man's eyes brightened.

"How wonderful! I'm Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the Governor sent me to meet you, Goodwife Prynne, and show you around Boston."

Chapter 2
[about 3 months later]

The congregation fairly flowed with tears after Reverend Dimmesdale's stirring sermon. The young minister's cheeks were still bright pink and fevered looking as he stood greeting his parishioners. Hester hung back, as usual not taking part in the social activities of the church. She watched Arthur greet young maidens with tear stained cheeks and old women whose wrinkled hands were bent and gnarled with rheumatism.

Thoughts were whirling through her mind. Is it a sin? She kept on thinking. No, she decided. It is not. As long as impure thoughts won't enter my mind. Since the first day she had met Arthur Dimmesdale, something between them had just seemed right and so belonging. Besides his youthful comeliness, which she blushed to think about, he was the only person in the town whom she could call her friend, the other women relatively ignored her. There was a young mother that tried to be kind but she seldom had the free time to chat because of family duties.

Hester liked to think that they were jealous of her skill with the needle. But then again, she chastised herself for thinking such things about her neighbors. Arthur often talked with her, and comforted her when she was lonely with passages of Scripture.

Arthur walked up to her and took her hands, smiling. "Good Sabbath to you Mistress Prynne. How are your studies in Psalms going?"

Hester sucked in her breath when he did that, oh if only Robert had touched her with such kindness! She never felt that way during the rare times Robert touched her. "Psalms is... a beautiful book," she stammered, trying to recall what she had read the past couple of nights. "King David wrote lovely praises to the Heavenly Father."

"Reverend!" came a voice suddenly from beside them. It was a young man, only a few years younger than Hester herself. His eyes were glowing with excitement. "Your sermon inspired me so! I have prayed about it and I think God is calling me to be a minister!"

Arthur's eyes brightened and he turned to the young man. "That's wonderful William! Let us speak more of this..." The two men walked away leaving Hester alone. She sighed and started for her home.

"Ye shall have him," came a voice from behind her.

"Pardon?" she turned to see the town witch, Mistress Hibbins, smiling crookedly at her from the street corner.

"I have seen the look in thine eyes as that young reverend walks by." At the horrified look on Hester's face, Mistress Hibbins laughed, a dry humorless sound. "Ye shall have him. The Black Man has told me."

Trying to contain her growing anger and embarrassment, Hester finally spat out. "God forgive thee, witch!" Mistress Hibbins just cackled with evil glee and Hester forced herself to walk slowly back to her house.

Chapter 4
[a few days later]

Bored and incredibly lonely, Hester fingered a quilt on her bed that her mother had made for her as a wedding gift. Only a few hours before had she been rudely pushed aside by the women of the town when she had tried to attend a quilting bee. They had not allowed her to enter and she had gone home, more sad than angry. Another attempt at friend-making failed.

Suddenly a knock came at the door. She rushed to get it, any distraction from her monotonous lifestyle was gratefully welcomed these days. It was an errand boy with a letter, she took it and gave him a few pennies for his trouble.

Hester sat down in a chair near the fireplace to read it. It was from Robert, she read and felt a cold lump settle in her stomach. As she read she felt the lump get larger and larger. There was no "how are you my dear wife?" or "I miss you terribly" only rattled off facts of his findings in his studies and tedious news from England.

Hester started to cry, which was unlike her, she hardly ever cried. But all the past months of loneliness suddenly crashed in around her and she cried like she never had. Fumbling with the letter, she crumpled it up and threw it into the fireplace. Not even bothering to grab a cloak, she ran outside to go to the one person who might ease her pain.

* * *

Arthur Dimmesdale was bent over a piece of paper in his study, the ink from his quill dripping steadily onto the sheet as he desperately tried to think of the next lines for his sermon. But the words would not come, he could only picture the first time he met Hester Prynne. Running towards him, hair tumbling over her shoulders giving her such a graceful feminine look. Arthur groaned and hid his face in his hands. Dear Heavenly Father... am I being lustful?

An urgent knock suddenly came at his door, interrupting his prayer for forgiveness and strength against temptation. He rose to get it. "Mistress Prynne?" he sputtered and she stumbled in, hair loose and falling around her shoulders from the wind. "What's wrong?" he asked anxiously clasping her hands and leading her towards the study where he sat her down on the couch. In answer she threw her arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder. He tried to disentangle himself but she only held tighter, so he finally put his arms around her awkwardly and tried to comfort her.

Finally she pulled back somewhat, tears still clinging to her thick dark eyelashes. "I'm sorry Reverend... I have been so wretchedly sad lately. I could not bear it any longer..." she tearfully told him of how she had been rejected in the town since she had arrived. "And my husband doesn't love me... he never tells me so... and I don't love him!" she lowered her head, ashamed of finally admitting what she had never said out loud. Arthur gently lifted her chin and cupped her face with his hands.

"My dear Goodwife Prynne, there will always be Someone you can turn to. He knows everything and will hear your cries." Their eyes locked for a brief, trembling moment.

"Reverend..." she whispered, eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I... I..." Their faces were so close... Hester suddenly closed her eyes, leaned forward, and gently kissed his lips. Without thinking, Arthur kissed her back with a passion he didn't know that existed within him. New tears flowed down Hester's cheeks as they embraced. Never had she felt this with Robert, this was something special and sacred.

Arthur suddenly pulled back, hair tousled, eyes wide with fear, and chest heaving. "We can't!" he gasped but Hester could see it in his eyes, he needed the love of another human as badly as she did.

"Don't stop... please..." she whispered, her fingers brushing his cheek and he allowed her to pull him down to her once again.

After that there was nothing more to be said.

Chapter 5
[about a month later]

Hester Prynne pulled her cloak around her a little more securely as she walked towards Arthur's home. The autumn wind was just starting to get chilly in Boston and farmers were hurrying to harvest the last of their crops. Only a few hours before had she met with the young housewife that tried to be kind to Hester in the marketplace. The young mother's belly was swelled abnormally with her expecting child and Hester had helped her carry some groceries back home.

Once inside the woman's home, Hester had played with her two-year old son while she put the food away.

"How did you know you were with child?" Hester asked casually when the young mother came up from the pantry. She smiled and wiped her brow as she sat her large frame on a chair.

"Well, first of all it was the morning illness, I became sick when I was expecting Jonathan so I was suspicious when I started getting sick again. Then I noticed I would get tired so fast, doing simple things," the young woman replied. "I just knew, God told me I guess you could say." Hester had then excused herself and went back home to think. She herself had been experiencing the very same symptoms, and she was afraid. *I must tell Arthur*, she decided and made her way to his home.

"We need to talk," she said putting a note of urgency in her voice when a pale Arthur opened the door. They sat in the parlor. Visibly nervous, Arthur twisted his hands together in his lap while Hester gathered her thoughts.

"Arthur..." Hester started, afraid how he would react. "I am with child."

At first her words didn't seem to register but then he blinked and started to shake. "W-With child?" he repeated in a whisper. "How is that possible?" He got up and started pacing, running his hands through his hair.

"You know very well how it was possible, Arthur Dimmesdale. You were there after all," Hester stated through clenched teeth.

The distraught minister shook his head, as if not wanting to hear her. "No..." he moaned. "It isn't true, this cannot be happening..."
Hester rose to her feet and walked over to him. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she forced him to look at her. "Look at me Arthur. It did happen, we have a child." Saying so she took his hand and placed it on her belly.

At first his eyes got soft and fatherly but then he jumped back as if burned. "What are we going to do?" he whispered hoarsely, sitting back down on the chair an putting his face in his hands. "You'll be put to death..."

"Aye... My husband will be coming soon also..." Hester whispered tensely then shook her head as if to clear her thoughts.

"I've thought about this and we have only two choices. First, we can either wait until it becomes obvious that I am with child and they arrest me. Or you can take me to the magistrates now and say that I have confessed to the crime of... adultery..." Hester paused a moment as that terrible, fateful word escaped her lips. "My husband is not here, so they will have to wait to sentence me until Robert arrives." She went to Arthur's feet, telling him with her eyes. "I promise not to reveal you Arthur... It would destroy all that you've worked for..."

Their eyes locked as Hester took his hand and squeezed it gently. Arthur, pale and already sickly looking, nodded.

Chapter 6
[three months later]

Arthur Dimmesdale, bent to the biting winter wind, made his way to the prison house. Once inside, a guard took his hat and cloak. The prison house was a dark and gloomy place, designed to let the inmates feel their isolation from the village and God. New lines had appeared on the young minister's forehead and around his mouth, making him look older than he was. Villagers whispered that it was because he prayed so long and so earnestly for his parishioner to repent.

The guard led him to Hester's cell. She was sitting on a small cot, her back turned to them. "Leave us, please. I wish to pray with her alone and uninterrupted," Arthur murmured to the guard who nodded respectfully and took his leave.

"The magistrates told me that you will live..." Arthur began, talking to her back. "The ship your husband was to be on has not been spotted at sea yet... they fear for his life... Without his consent, you cannot die." He stepped forward, and closed his eyes as if in pain for her. "You are to wear a... symbol of... your sin on your clothing to be seen by all. So that you can experience punishment from God and man... It is to be..."

Hester suddenly turned, her abdomen was noticeably swelled with the child and her beautiful dark eyes were filled with such a tragic sadness that Arthur felt his heart jump with pain. She slowly removed her hand from where it had been resting on her breast to reveal something that would be branded into his mind and his soul forever...

Arthur involuntarily reached up to touch his own chest. "The Scarlet Letter," he whispered in horror

© 2001 Moria Brennan