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The Scarlet Letter

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Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to make known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior consequences, the true character of the man who had crept into his intimacy. For several days, however, she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative walks which she knew him to be in the habit of taking, along the shores of the peninsula, or on the wooded hills of the neighboring country. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to the holy whiteness of the clergyman’s good fame, had she visited him in his own study; where many a penitent, ere now, had confessed sins of perhaps as deep a die as the one betokened by the scarlet letter. But, partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious heart imputed suspicion where none could have been felt, and partly that both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in, while they talked together,—for all these reasons, Hester never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky. Hester Prynne maintained her resolve to reveal to Mr. Dimmesdale the true character of the man who posed as his friend, no matter the consequences. Yet for several days she tried in vain to meet him on one of the long walks he often took along the seashore or in the wooded hills of the surrounding country. She could have visited him in his study, where many before had confessed sins perhaps as deep as that signified by the scarlet letter. There would have been no scandal in such a visit, nor danger to the minister’s reputation. But she feared the interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and her guilty heart imagined that others would be suspicious even where this was impossible. Moreover, she and the minister would need the whole wide world to breathe in when they talked together. For all of these reasons, Hester never thought of meeting him anywhere more confined than under the open sky.
At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian converts. He would probably return, by a certain hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl,—who was necessarily the companion of all her mother’s expeditions, however inconvenient her presence,—and set forth. At last, while tending to a sick man whom Mr. Dimmesdale had recently visited and prayed over, she learned that Mr. Dimmedale had just gone to visit

the Apostle Eliot

John Eliot, a Puritan minister who preached to the Massachussett tribe and translated the Bible into their language.

the Apostle Eliot
among his Indian converts. He would probably return by a certain hour in the afternoon on the next day. So at the proper time, Hester set out with little Pearl, who had to come on all of her mother’s expeditions, whether convenient or not.
The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a footpath. It straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to Hester’s mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness was always at the farther extremity of some long vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight—feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scene—withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright. After Hester and Pearl had walked some way, the road became a mere footpath straggling on into the mysterious forest, which hemmed it in on all sides. The forest was so black and dense, admitting so little light, that it seemed to Hester to represent the moral wilderness in which she had been wandering. The day was cold and grim. Gray clouds hung overhead, stirred occasionally by a breeze. Flickering sunshine played now and then along the path, though this cheerfulness was always at the very edge of sight, never close by. The playful sunlight would retreat as they approached, leaving the spots where it had danced that much drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright.
“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Now, see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” “Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself because it is afraid of something on your chest. See! There it is, playing in the distance. Stay here and let me run and catch it. I am only a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my chest yet!”
“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester. “And never shall, my child, I hope,” said Hester.
“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the beginning of her race. “Will not it come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?” “And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short just as she began to run off. “Won’t that come of its own accord when I am grown into a woman?”
“Run away, child,” answered her mother, “and catch the sunshine! It will soon be gone.” “Run away, child,” her mother answered, “and catch the sunshine. It will soon be gone.”
Pearl set forth, at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled to perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the midst of it, all brightened by its splendor, and scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion. The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn almost nigh enough to step into the magic circle too. Pearl set off at a great pace. Hester smiled to see that she did actually catch the sunshine and stood laughing in the midst of it, brightened by its splendor and glowing with the liveliness of rapid motion. The light lingered around the lonely child as if glad to have such a playmate. Her mother drew almost close enough to step into the magic circle too.
“It will go now!” said Pearl, shaking her head. “It will go now,” said Pearl, shaking her head.
“See!” answered Hester, smiling. “Now I can stretch out my hand, and grasp some of it.” “See!” replied Hester, smiling, “now I can stretch out my hand and touch some of it.”
As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to judge from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl’s features, her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into herself, and would give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There was no other attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new and untransmitted vigor in Pearl’s nature, as this never-failing vivacity of spirits; she had not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this too was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows, before Pearl’s birth. It was certainly a doubtful charm, imparting a hard, metallic lustre to the child’s character. She wanted—what some people want throughout life—a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus humanize and make her capable of sympathy. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl! As she tried to do so, the sunshine vanished. To judge from the bright expression that played across Pearl’s face, her mother could have thought that the child had absorbed the sunlight into herself. Perhaps Pearl would send it forth again, to throw a gleam along her path as they plunged into the gloomy shade. No other trait drove home to Hester the vigor of Pearl’s nature as much as the never-failing liveliness of her spirits. She did not have the disease of sadness that almost all children in these fallen days inherit from the their ancestors, along with the usual maladies. Perhaps this lack was itself a disease, the result of the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows before Pearl’s birth. It was a dubious charm, giving a hard, metallic luster to the child’s character. She lacked—as some people lack throughout their lives—a grief that would deeply touch her, making her capable of sympathy with others’ grief. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl.

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