THE SEXTON stood in the porch of Milford
meetinghouse, pulling busily at the bell rope. The old people of the village
came stooping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily
beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of
their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens,
and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on weekdays. When
the throng had mostly streamed into the porch, the sexton began to toll the bell,
keeping his eye on the Reverend Mr. Hooper's door. The first glimpse of the
clergyman's figure was the signal for the bell to cease its summons.
"But what has good Parson Hooper got upon
his face?" cried the sexton in astonishment.
All within hearing immediately turned about,
and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way toward
the meetinghouse. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if
some strange minister were coming to dust the. cushions of Mr. Hooper's pulpit.
"Are you sure it is our parson?"
inquired Goodman Gray of the sexton.
"Of a certainty it is good Mr. Hooper,"
replied the sexton. "He was to have exchanged pulpits with Parson Shute, of
Westbury; but Parson Shute sent to excuse himself yesterday, being to preach a
The cause of so much amazement may appear
sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper gentlemanly person, of about thirty, though
still a bachelor, was dressed with due clerical neatness, as if a careful wife
had starched his band, and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday's garb. There
was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and
hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath Mr. Hooper had
on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crepe,
which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably
did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all
living and inanimate things. With this gloomy shade before him, goad Mr. Hooper
walked onward, at a slow and quiet pace, stooping somewhat, and looking on the
ground, as is customary with abstracted men, yet nodding kindly to those of his
parishioners who still waited on the meetinghouse steps. But so wonderstruck
were they that his greeting hardly met with a return.
"I can't really feel as if good Mr.
Hooper's face was behind that piece of crape," said the sexton.
"I don't like it," muttered an old
woman, as she hobbled into the meetinghouse. "He has changed himself into
something awful, only by hiding his face."
"Our parson has gone mad!" cried
Goodman Gray, following him across the threshold.
A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had
preceded Mr. Hooper into the meetinghouse, and set all the congregation astir.
Few could refrain from twisting their heads toward the door; many stood upright,
and turned directly about while several little boys clambered upon the seats,
and came down again with a terrible racket. There was a general bustle, a
rustling of the women's gowns and shuffling of the men's feet, greatly at
variance with that hushed repose which should attend the entrance of the
minister. But Mr. Hooper appeared not to notice the perturbation of his people.
He entered with an almost noiseless step, bent his head mildly to the pews on
each side, and bowed as he passed his oldest parishioner, a whitehaired
great-grandsire, who occupied an armchair in the center of the aisle. It was
strange to observe how slowly this venerable man became conscious of something
singular in the appearance of his pastor. He seemed not fully to partake of the
prevailing wonder, till Mr. Hooper had ascended the stairs, and showed himself
in the pulpit, face to face with his congregation, except for the black veil.
That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured
breath, as he gave out the psalm; it threw its obscurity between him and the
holy page, as he read the Scriptures; and while he prayed, the veil lay heavily
on his uplifted countenance. Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he
Such was the effect of this simple piece of
crepe, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the
meetinghouse. Yet perhaps the pale-faced congregation was almost as fearful a
sight to the minister, as his black veil to them.
Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good
preacher, but not an energetic one; he strove to win his people heavenward by
mild, persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither by the thunders
of the Word. The sermon which he now delivered was marked by the same
characteristics of style and manner as the general series of his pulpit oratory.
But there was something, either in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in
the imagination of the auditors, which made it greatly the most powerful effort
that they had ever heard from their pastor's lips. It was tinged, rather more
darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper's temperament. The
subject had reference to secret sit, and those sad mysteries which we hide from
our nearest and dearest and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even
forgetting that the Omniscient can de tect them. A subtle power was breathed
into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the
man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his
awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought. Many
spread their clasped hands on their bosoms. There was nothing terrible in what
Mr. Hooper said, at least no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his
melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. An unsought pathos came hand in hand with
awe. So sensible were the audience of some unwonted attribute in their minister,
that they longed for a breath of wind to blow aside the veil, almost believing
that a stranger's visage would be discovered, though the form, gesture, and
voice were those of Mr. Hooper.
At the close of the services, the people
hurried out with indecorous confusion, eager to communicate their pent-up
amazement, and conscious of lighter spirits the moment they lost sight of the
black veil. Some gathered in little circles, huddled closely together, with
their mouths all whispering in the center; some went homeward alone, wrapt in
silent meditation; some talked loudly, and profaned the Sabbath day with
ostentatious laughter. A few shook, their sagacious heads, intimating that they
could penetrate the mystery; while one or two affirmed that there was no mystery
at all, but only that Mr. Hooper's eyes were so weakened by the midnight lamp as
to require a shade. After a brief interval, forth came good Mr. Hooper also, in
the rear of his flock. Turning his veiled face from one group to another, he
paid due reverence to the hoary heads, saluted the middle-aged with kind dignity
as their friend and spiritual guide, greeted the young with mingled authority
and love, and laid his hands on the little children's heads to bless them. Such
was always his custom on the Sabbath day. Strange and bewildered looks repaid
him for his courtesy. None, as on former occasions, aspired to the honor of
walking by their pastor's side. Old Squire Saunders, doubtless by an accidental
lapse of memory, neglected to invite Mr. Hooper to his table, where the good
clergyman had been wont to bless the food, almost every Sunday since his
settlement. He returned, therefore, to the parsonage, and, at the moment of
closing the door, was observed to look back upon the people, all of whom had
their eyes fixed upon the minister. A sad smile gleamed faintly from beneath the
black veil, and flickered about his mouth, glimmering as he disappeared. "How
strange," said a lady, "that a simple black veil, such as any woman
might wear on her bonnet, should become such a terrible thing on Mr. Hooper's
"Something must surely be amiss with
Hooper's intellects," observed her husband, the physician of the village.
"But the strangest part of the affair is the effect of this vagary, even on
a sober-minded man like myself. The black veil, though it covers only our
pastor's face, throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him
ghostlike from head to foot. Do you not feel it so?"
"Truly do I," replied the lady;
"and I would not be alone with him for the world. I wonder he is not afraid
to be alone with himself!"
"Men sometimes are so," said her
The afternoon service was attended with similar
circumstances. At its conclusion, the bell tolled for the funeral of a young
lady. The relatives and friends were assembled in the house, and the more
distant acquaintances stood about the door, speaking of the good qualities of
the deceased, when their talk was interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Hooper,
still covered with his black veil. It was now an appropriate emblem. The
clergyman stepped into the room where the corpse was laid, and bent over the
coffin, to take a last farewell of his deceased parishioner. As he stooped, the
veil hung straight down from his forehead, so that, if her eyelids had not been
dosed forever, the dead maiden might have seen his face. Could Mr. Hooper be
fearful of her glance, that he so hastily caught back the black veil? A person
who watched the interview between the dead and the living scrupled not to affirm,
that, at the instant when the clergyman's features were disclosed, the corpse
had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud and muslin cap, though the
countenance retained the composure of death. A superstitious old woman was the
only witness of this prodigy. From the coffin Mr. Hooper passed into the chamber
of the mourners, and thence to the head of the staircase, to make the funeral
prayer. It was a tender and heart-dissolving prayer, full of sorrow, yet so
imbued with celestial hopes, that the music of a heavenly harp, swept by the
fingers of the dead, seemed faintly to be heard among the saddest accents of the
minister. The people trembled, though they but darkly understood him when he
prayed that they, and himself, and all of mortal race, might be ready, as he
trusted this young maiden had been, for the dreadful hour that should snatch the
veil from their faces. The bearers went heavily forth, and the mourners followed,
saddening all the street, with the dead before them, and Mr. Hooper in his black
"Why do- you look back?" said one in
the procession to his partner. "I had a fancy," replied she, "that
the minister and the maiden's spirit were walking hand in hand."
"And so had I, at the same moment,"
said the other.
That night, the handsomest couple in Milford
village were to be joined in wedlock. Though reckoned a melancholy man, Mr.
Hooper had a placid cheerfulness for such occasions, which often excited a
sympathetic smile where livelier merriment would have been thrown away. There
was no quality of his disposition which made him more beloved than this. The
company at the wedding awaited his arrival with impatience, trusting that the
strange awe, which had gathered over him throughout the day, would now be
dispelled. But such was not the result. When Mr. Hooper came, the first thing
that their eyes rested on was the same horrible black veil, which had added
deeper gloom to the funeral, and could portend nothing but evil to the wedding.
Such was its immediate effect on the guests that a cloud seemed to have rolled
duskily from beneath the black crepe, and dimmed the light of the candles. The
bridal pair stood up before the minister. But the bride's cold fingers quivered
in the tremulous hand of the bridegroom, and her deathlike paleness caused a
whisper that the maiden who had been buried a few hours before was come from her
grave to be married. If ever another wedding were so dismal, it was that famous
one where they tolled the wedding knell. After performing the ceremony, Mr.
Hooper raised a glass of wine to his lips, wishing happiness to the new-married
couple in a strain of mild pleasantry that ought to have brightened the features
of the guests, like a cheerful gleam from the hearth. At that instant, catching
a glimpse of his figure in the looking glass, the black veil involved his own
spirit in the horror with which it overwhelmed all others. His frame shuddered
his lips grew white, he spilt the untasted wine upon the carpet, and rushed
forth into the darkness. For the Earth, too, had on her Black Veil.
The next day, the whole village of Milford
talked of little else than Parson Hooper's black veil. That, and the mystery
concealed behind it, supplied a topic for discussion between acquaintances
meeting in the street, and good women gossiping at their open windows. It was
the first item of news that the tavernkeeper told to his guests. The children
babbled of it on their way to school. One imitative little imp covered his face
with an old black handkerchief, thereby so affrighting his playmates that the
panic seized himself, and he well-nigh lost his wits by his own waggery.
It was remarkable that of all the busybodies
and impertinent people in the parish, not one ventured to put the plain question
to Mr. Hooper, wherefore he did this thing. Hitherto, whenever there appeared
the slightest call for such interference, he had never lacked advisers, nor
shown himself averse to be guided by their judgment. If he erred at all, it was
by so painful a degree of self-distrust, that even the mildest censure would
lead him to consider an indifferent action as a crime. Yet, though so well
acquainted with this amiable weakness, no individual among his parishioners
chose to make the black veil a subject of friendly remonstrance. There was a
feeling of dread, neither plainly confessed nor carefully concealed, which
caused each to shift the responsibility upon another, till at length it was
found expedient to send a deputation of the church, in order to deal with Mr.
Hooper about the mystery, before it should grow into a scandal. Never did an
embassy so ill discharge its duties. The minister received them with friendly
courtesy, but remained silent, after they were seated, leaving to his visitors
the whole burden of introducing their important business. The topic, it might be
supposed, was obvious enough. There was the black veil swathed round Mr.
Hooper's forehead, and concealing every feature above his placid mouth, on which,
at times, they could perceive the glimmering of a melancholy smile. But that
piece of crepe, to their imagination, seemed to hang down before his heart, the
symbol of a fearful secret between him and them. Were the veil but cast aside,
they might speak freely of it, but not till then. Thus they sat a considerable
time, speechless, confused, and shrinking uneasily from Mr. Hooper's eye, which
they felt to be fixed upon them with an invisible glance. Finally, the deputies
returned abashed to their constituents, pronouncing the matter too weighty to be
handled, except by a council of the churches, if, indeed, it might not require a
But there was one person in the village
unappalled by the awe with which the black veil had impressed all besides
herself. When the deputies returned without an explanation, or even venturing to
demand one, she, with the calm energy of her character, determined to chase away
the strange cloud that appeared to be settling round Mr. Hooper, every moment
more darkly than before. As his plighted wife, it should be her privilege to
know what the black veil concealed. At the minister's first visit, therefore,
she entered upon the subject with a direct simplicity, which made the task
easier both for him and her, After he had seated himself, she fixed her eyes
steadfastly upon the veil, but could discern nothing of the dreadful gloom that
had so overawed the multitude; it was but a double fold of crepe, hanging down
from his forehead to his mouth, and slightly stirring with his breath.
"No," said she aloud, and smiling,
"there is nothing terrible in this piece of crepe, except that it hides a
face which I am always glad to look upon. Come, good sir, let the sun shine from
behind the cloud. First lay aside your black veil; then tell me why you put it
Mr. Hooper's smile glimmered faintly.
"There is an hour to come," said he,
"when all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved
friend, if I wear this piece of crepe till then."
"Your words are a mystery, too,"
returned the young lady. "Take away the veil from them, at least."
"Elizabeth, I will," said he, "so
far as my vow may suffer me. Know, then, this veil is a type and a symbol, and I
am bound to wear it ever, both in light and darkness, in solitude and before the
gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar friends. No
mortal eye will see it withdrawn. This dismal shade must separate me from the
world; even you, Elizabeth, can never come behind it!"
"What grievous affliction hath befallen
you," she earnestly inquired, "that you should thus darken your eyes
"If it be a sign of mourning,"
replied Mr. Hooper, "I, perhaps, like. most other mortals, have sorrows
dark enough to be typified by a black veil."
"But what if the world will not believe
that it is the type of an innocent sorrow?" urged Elizabeth. "Beloved
and respected: as you are, there may be whispers that you hide your face under
the consciousness of secret sin. For the sake of your holy office, do away this
The color rose into her cheeks as she intimated
the nature of the rumors that were already abroad in the village. But Mr.
Hooper's mildness did not forsake him. He even smiled again--that same sad smile,
which always appeared like a faint glimmering of light, proceeding from the
obscurity beneath the veil.
"If I hide my face for sorrow, there is
cause enough;" he merely replied; "and if I cover it for secret sin,
what mortal might not do the same?"
And with this gentle, but unconquerable
obstinacy did he resist her entreaties. At length Elizabeth sat silent. For a
few momeets she appeared lost in thought, considering, probably, what new
methods might be tried to withdraw her foyer from so dark a fantasy, which, if
it had no other meaning, was perhaps a symptom of mental disease. Though of a
firmer character than his own, the tears rolled down her cheeks. But, in an
instant, as it were, a new feeling took the place of sorrow; her eyes were fixed
insensibly on the black veil, when, like a sudden twilight in the air, its
terrors: fell around her. She arose, and stood trembling before him.
"And do you feel it then, at last?"
said he, mournfully.
She made no reply, but covered her eyes with
her hand, and turned to leave the room. He rushed forward and caught her arm.
"Have patience with me, Elizabeth!"
cried he, passionately. "Do not desert me, though this veil must be between
us here on earth. Be mine, and hereafter there shall be no veil over my face, no
darkness between our souls! It is but a mortal veil--it is not for eternity! O!
you know not how lonely I am, and how frightened, to be alone behind my black
veil. Do not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever!"
"Lift the veil but once, and look me in
the face," said she.
"Never! It cannot be!" replied Mr.
"Then farewell!" said Elizabeth.
She withdrew her arm from his grasp, and slowly
departed, pausing at the door, to give one long shuddering gaze, that seemed
almost to penetrate the mystery of the black veil. But, even amid his grief, Mr.
Hooper smiled to think that only a material emblem had separated him from
happiness, though the horrors which it shadowed forth must be drawn darkly
between the fondest of lovers.
From that time no attempts were made to remove
Mr. Hooper's black veil, or, by a direct appeal, to discover the secret which it
was supposed to hide. By persons who claimed a superiority to popular prejudice,
it was reckoned more an eccentric whim, such as often mingles with the sober
actions of men otherwise rational, and tinges them all with its own semblance of
insanity. But with the multitude, good Mr. Hooper was irreparably a bugbear. He
could not walk the street with any peace of mind, so conscious was he that the
gentle and timid would turn aside to avoid him, and that others would make it a
point of hardihood to throw themselves in his way. The impertinence of the
latter class compelled him to give up his customary walk at sunset to the burial
ground; for when he leaned pensively over the gate, there would always be faces
behind the gravestones, peeping at his black veil. A fable went the rounds that
the stare of the dead people drove him thence. It grieved him, to the very depth
of his kind heart, to observe how the children fled from his approach, breaking
up their merriest sports, while his melancholy figure was yet afar off. Their
instinctive dread caused him to feel more strongly than aught else that a
preternatural horror was interwoven with l the threads of the black crape. In
truth, his own antipathy to the veil was known to be l so great, that he never
willingly passed before a mirror, nor stooped to drink at a still fountain, lest,
in its peaceful bosom, he should be affrighted by himself. This was what gave
plausibility to the whispers, that Mr. Hooper's conscience tortured him for some
great crime too horrible to be entirely concealed, or. otherwise than so
obscurely intimated. Thus, from beneath the black veil, there rolled a cloud
into the sunshine, an ambiguity of sin or sorrow, which enveloped the poor
minister, so that love or sympathy could never reach him. It was said that ghost
and fiend consorted with him there. With self-shudderings and outward terrors,
he walked continually in its l shadow, groping darkly within his own soul, or
gazing through a medium that saddened the whole world. Even the lawless wind, it
was believed, respected his dreadful secret, and never blew aside the veil. But
still good Mr. Hooper sadly smiled at the pale visages of the worldly throng as
he passed by.
Among all its bad influences, the black veil
had the one desirable effect, of making its wearer a very efficient clergyman.
By the aid of his mysterious emblem--for there was no other apparent cause--he
became a man of awful power over souls that were in agony of sin. His converts
always regarded him with a dread peculiar to themselves, affirming, though but
figuratively, that, before he brought them to celestial light, they had been
with him behind the black veil. Its gloom, indeed, enabled him to sympathize
with all dark affections. Dying sinners cried aloud for Mr. Hooper, and would
not yield their breath till he appeared; though ever, as he stooped to whisper
consolation, they shuddered at the veiled face so near their own. Such were the
terrors of the black veil, even when Death had bared his visage! Strangers came
long distances to attend service at his church, with the mere idle purpose of
gazing at his figure, because it was forbidden them to behold his face. But many
were made to quake ere they departed! Once, during Governor Belcher's
administration, Mr. Hooper was appointed to preach the election sermon. Covered
with his black veil, he stood before the chief magistrate, the council, and the
representatives, and wrought so deep an impression, that the legislative
measures of that year were characterized by all the gloom and piety of our
earliest ancestral sway.
In this manner Mr. Hooper spent a long life,
irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicions; kind and
loving, though unloved, and dimly feared; a man apart from men, shunned in their
health and joy, but ever summoned to their aid in mortal anguish. As years wore
on, shedding their snows above his sable veil, he acquired a name throughout the
New England churches, and they called him Father Hooper. Nearly all his
parishioners, who were of mature age when he was settled, had been borne away by
many a funeral; he had one congregation in the church, and a more crowded one in
the churchyard; and having wrought so late into the evening, and done his work
so well, it was now good Father Hooper's turn to rest.
Several persons were visible by the shaded
candlelight, in the death chamber of the old clergyman. Natural connections he
had none. But there was the decorously grave, though unmoved physician, seeking
only to mitigate the last pangs of the patient whom he could not save. There
were the deacons, and other eminently pious members of his church. There, also,
was the Reverend Mr. Clark, of Westbury, a young and zealous divine, who had
ridden in haste to pray by the bedside of the expiring minister. There was the
nurse, no hired handmaiden of death, but one whose calm affection had endured
thus long in secrecy, in solitude, amid the chill of age, and would not perish,
even at the dying hour. Who, but Elizabeth! And there lay the hoary head of good
Father Hooper upon the death pillow, with the black veil still swathed about his
brow, and reaching down over his face, so that each more difficult gasp of his
faint breath caused it to stir. All through life that piece of crepe had hung
between him and the world; it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and
woman's love, arid kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and
still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his darksome chamber,
and shade him from the sunshine of eternity.
For some time previous, his mind had been
confused, wavering doubtfully between the past and the present, and hovering
forward, as it were, at intervals, into the indistinctness of the world to come.
There had been feverish turns, which tossed him from side to side, and wore away
what little strength he had. But in his most convulsive struggles, and in the
wildest vagaries of his intellect, when no other thought retained its sober
influence, he still showed an awful solicitude lest the black veil should slip
aside. Even if his bewildered soul could have forgotten, there was a faithful
woman at his pillow, who, with averted eyes, would have covered that aged face,
which she had last beheld in the comeliness of manhood. At length the
deathstricken old man lay quietly in the torpor of mental and bodily exhaustion,
with an imperceptible pulse, and breath that grew fainter and fainter, except
when a long, deep, and irregular inspiration seemed to prelude the flight of his
The minister of Westbury approached the bedside.
"Venerable Father Hooper," said he,
"the moment of your release is at hand. Are you ready for the lifting of
the veil that shuts in time from eternity?" Father Hooper at first replied
merely by a feeble motion of his head; then, apprehensive, perhaps, that his
meaning might be doubtful, he exerted himself to speak.
"Yea," said he, in faint accents,
"my soul hath a patient weariness until that veil be lifted."
"And is it fitting," resumed the
Reverend Mr. Clark, "that a man so given to prayer, of such a blameless
example, holy in deed and thought, so far as mortal judgment may pronounce; is
it fitting that a father in the church should leave a shadow on his memory, that
may seem to blacken a life so pure? I pray you, my venerable brother, let not
this thing be! Suffer us to be gladdened by your triumphant aspect as you go to
your reward. Before the veil of eternity be lifted, let me cast aside this black
veil from your face!"
And thus speaking the Reverend Mr. Clark bent
forward to reveal the mystery of so many years. But, exerting a sudden energy,
that made all the beholders stand aghast, Father Hooper snatched both his hands
from beneath the bedclothes, and pressed them strongly on the black veil,
resolute to struggle, if the minister of Westbury would contend with a dying man.
"Never!" cried the veiled clergyman.
"On earth, never!"
"Dark old men!" exclaimed the
affrighted minister, "with what horrible crime upon your soul are you now
passing to the judgment?"
Father Hooper's breath heaved; it rattled in
his throat; but, with a mighty effort, grasping forward with his hands, he
caught hold of life, and held it back till he should speak, He even raised
himself in bed; and there he sat, shivering with the arms of death around him,
while the black veil hung down, awful, at that last moment, in the gathered
terrors of a lifetime. And yet the faint, sad smile, so often there, now seemed
to glimmer from its obscurity, and linger on Father Hooper's lips.
"Why do you tremble at me alone?"
cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble
also at each others Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children
screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it
obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crepe so awful? When the friend shows
his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not
vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret
of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived,
and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil."
While his auditors shrank from one another, in
mutual affright, Father Hooper fell back upon his pillow, a veiled corpse, with
a faint smile lingering on the lips. Still veiled, they laid him in his coffin,
and a veiled corpse they bore. him to the grave. The grass of many years has
sprung up and withered on that grave, the burial stone is moss-grown, and good
Mr. Hooper's face is dust; but awful is still the thought that it moldered
beneath the Black Veil!