As Chapter II of The Scarlet Letter opens, Hawthorne indicates that a witness of the stern Puritans might think that a witch will be sentenced, or a "heterodox religionsit" or "vagrant Indian" who had become drunk and disorderly may be punished, but appearances are deceiving. However, there are several women in the crowd who appear to take a "peculiar interest" in the sentencing.
As these women talk, a "hard-featured dame of fifty" says that she and the other women who are mature and good church members should be allowed themselves to deal with such "malefactresses as this Hester Prynne." This woman also alludes to Hester as a "hussy." Another mentions that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale is upset about such a scandal. Still another suggests that Hester be branded upon her forehead. And yet another woman declares that Hester has "brought shame upon us all, and ought to die."
These remarks by women suggest that "Mistress Prynne" has committed a woman's crime, one that brings them all shame. So, from the stringent language of the women, the reader infers that the single woman--"Mistress"--has been involved in an illicit act with a man, "a scandal."