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The Scarlet Letter

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Once, this freakish, elvish cast came into the child’s eyes, while Hester was looking at her own image in them, as mothers are fond of doing; and, suddenly,—for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are pestered with unaccountable delusions,—she fancied that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another face in the small black mirror of Pearl’s eye. It was a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features that she had known full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with malice, in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child, and had just then peeped forth in mockery. Many a time afterwards had Hester been tortured, though less vividly, by the same illusion. Once, this strange, elfish look came into Pearl’s eyes while Hester was gazing at her own image in them, as mothers are fond of doing. Lonely women, or those with troubled hearts, are pestered by delusions—so Hester imagined that she saw a face other than her own in the small black mirror of Pearl’s eye. It was a demonic face, full of gleeful malice. It resembled a face she knew quite well, though that face rarely smiled, and it was never malicious. It was as if an evil spirit had possessed the child, and just then peeked out to mock Hester. After this, Hester was often tortured by a less-intense recurrence of the illusion.
In the afternoon of a certain summer’s day, after Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild-flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom; dancing up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester’s first motion had been to cover her bosom with her clasped hands. But, whether from pride or resignation, or a feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, she resisted the impulse, and sat erect, pale as death, looking sadly into little Pearl’s wild eyes. Still came the battery of flowers, almost invariably hitting the mark, and covering the mother’s breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in this world, nor knew how to seek it in another. At last, her shot being all expended, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that littte, laughing image of a fiend peeping out—or, whether it peeped or no, her mother so imagined it—from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes. One summer afternoon, after Pearl had grown big enough to run around, she was amusing herself by gathering handfuls of wild flowers and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom. She danced like a little elf whenever a flower hit the scarlet letter. Hester’s first instinct had been to cover her bosom with her hands, but, whether from pride, resignation, or a sense that this incredible pain might be penance for her sin, she resisted the impulse. She sat up straight, pale as death, and looked into little Pearl’s wild eyes. The assault of flowers continued, almost always hitting the mark and covering Hester’s breast with wounds that could not be healed. When Pearl was finally out of ammunition, she stood still and gazed at Hester. That little laughing image of a demon peeped out from the deep abyss of Pearl’s black eyes—or if it didn’t, Hester imagined it did.
“Child, what art thou?” cried the mother. “What are you, child?” cried Hester.
“O, I am your little Pearl!” answered the child. “Oh, I am your little Pearl!” answered the child.
But, while she said it, Pearl laughed and began to dance up and down, with thc humorsome gesticulation of a little imp, whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney. Pearl laughed while she spoke, and began to dance with the humorous motion of a little sprite whose next trick might be to fly up the chimney.
“Art thou my child, in very truth?” asked Hester. “Are you truly my child?” asked Hester.
Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for the moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness; for, such was Pearl’s wonderful intelligence, that her mother half-doubted whether she were not acquainted with the secret spell of her existence, and might not now reveal herself. The question was not entirely meaningless, but half in earnest at that moment. Pearl was so intelligent that her mother half-suspected she must be a magical spirit who was about to reveal herself.
“Yes; I am little Pearl!” repeated the child, continuing her antics. “Yes, I am little Pearl!” repeated the child, continuing her antics.
“Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!” said the mother, half-playfully; for it was often the case that a sportive impulse came over her, in the midst of her deepest suffering. “Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee hither?” “You are not my child! You are no Pearl of mine!” said the mother playfully, for she often felt playful in the midst of her deepest suffering. “Tell me, what are you and who sent you here?”
“Tell me, mother!” said the child, seriously, coming up to Hester, and pressing herself close to her knees. “Do thou tell me!” “You tell me, mother!” said the child, seriously, coming up to Hester and pressing herself close to her knees. “Do tell me that!”
“Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!” answered Hester Prynne. “Your heavenly Father sent you!” answered Hester Prynne.
But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness of the child. Whether moved only by her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up her small forefinger, and touched the scarlet letter. But she said it with a hesitation that the perceptive child noticed. Whether because of her own contrariness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, Pearl raised her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter.
“He did not send me!” cried she, positively. “I have no Heavenly Father!” “He did not send me!” she cried with certainty. “I don’t have a heavenly Father!”
“Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!” answered the mother, suppressing a groan. “He sent us all into this world. He sent even me, thy mother. Then, much more, thee! Or, if not, thou strange and elfish child, whence didst thou come?” “Hush, Pearl, hush! You must not talk like that!” answered the mother, stifling a groan. “He sent us all into the world. He even sent me, your mother—so of course he sent you! If he didn’t, you strange, elfish child, where did you come from?”
“Tell me! Tell me!” repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laughing, and capering about the floor. “It is thou that must tell me!” “You tell me! You tell me!” repeated Pearl, no longer serious, but laughing and dancing about the floor. “It’s you who must tell me!”
But Hester could not resolve the query, being herself in a dismal labyrinth of doubt. She remembered—betwixt a smile and a shudder—the talk of the neighbouring townspeople; who, seeking vainly elsewhere for the child’s paternity, and observing some of her odd attributes, had given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring; such as, ever since old Catholic times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of their mothers’ sin, and to promote some foul and wicked purpose. Luther, according to the scandal of his monkish enemies, was a brat of that hellish breed; nor was Pearl the only child to whom this inauspicious origin was assigned, among the New England Puritans. But Hester, lost in a dark maze of doubt, could not answer. She remembered, with a half-smile and half-shudder, the rumor the townspeople had spread that Pearl was the child of a demon. Since old Catholic times, people believed sinful mothers sometimes gave birth to demons who appeared on earth to carry out some wicked act.

Luther

Martin Luther was a 16th-century monk and Catholic Church reformer credited with sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Luther
’s opponents, for example, spread the rumor that he was such a demon. Pearl was not the only child assumed by the New England Puritans to have such an unfortunate origin.

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