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
"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
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 was addressing?
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.
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 face."
"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 husband.
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 veil behind.
"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 general synod.
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 on."
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 forever?"
"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 scandal!"
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
"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
"Lift the veil but once, and look me in the face," said she.
"Never! It cannot be!" replied Mr. Hooper.
"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
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 spirit.
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
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!
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