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 astonishment.
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 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, 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 threshold.
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
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.
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 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 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
"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
"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
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 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
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
"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
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
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
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 eternity?"
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
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 man!" exclaimed the affrighted minister, "with what
horrible crime upon your soul are you now passing to the
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
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
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