The Minister's Black Veil
 Another clergyman in New England, Mr. Joseph Moody, of York, Maine,
made himself remarkable by the same eccentricity that is here related of
the Reverend Mr. Hooper. In his case, however, the symbol had a
different import. In early life he had accidentally killed a beloved
friend, and from that day till the hour of his own death, he hid his
face from men.
The sexton stood in the porch of Milford meeting-house, 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 week
days. 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
All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of
Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards 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
"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 funeral sermon."
The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr.
Hooper, a 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 crape, 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, good 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 meeting-house steps. But so
wonder-struck 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
meeting-house. "He has changed himself into something awful, only by
hiding his face."
"Our parson has gone mad!" cried Goodman Gray, following him across the
A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had preceded Mr. Hooper into
the meeting-house, and set all the congregation astir. Few could
refrain from twisting their heads towards 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 white-haired great grandsire, who occupied an
arm-chair in the centre 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 crape, that more than one
woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting-house. 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 sin, 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 detect 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 centre; 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
"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.
"Something must surely be amiss with Mr. 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 closed 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 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 crape, 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 tavern-keeper 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 all of 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 then with friendly
courtesy, but became 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 crape, 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 beside 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 crape, 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 crape, 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
crape 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
"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
And with this gentle, but unconquerable obstinacy did he resist all her
entreaties. At length Elizabeth sat silent. For a few moments she
appeared lost in thought, considering, probably, what new methods might
be tried to withdraw her lover 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. 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 merely 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 the threads of the black crape. In truth, his own
antipathy to the veil was known to be 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 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 for 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 crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from
cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and 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 this pillow, who, with averted
eyes, would have covered that aged face, which she had last beheld in
the comeliness of manhood. At length the death-stricken 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
Father Hooper at first replied merely by a feeble motion of his head;
then, apprehensive, perhaps, that his meaning might be doubted, 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
"Never!" cried the veiled clergyman. "On earth, never!"
"Dark old man!" 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
"Why do you tremble at me alone?" cried he, turning his veiled face
round the circle of pale spectators. "Tremble also at each other! 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 crape 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 mouldered beneath the Black Veil!