University of Virginia Library


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19. XIX.

Thou wilt love her dearly,” repeated Hester
Prynne, as she and the minister sat watching little
Pearl. “Dost thou not think her beautiful? And
see with what natural skill she has made those simple
flowers adorn her! Had she gathered pearls, and diamonds,
and rubies, in the wood, they could not have
become her better. She is a splendid child! But I
know whose brow she has!”

“Dost thou know, Hester,” said Arthur Dimmesdale,
with an unquiet smile, “that this dear child, tripping
about always at thy side, hath caused me many an
alarm? Methought—O Hester, what a thought is
that, and how terrible to dread it!—that my own features
were partly repeated in her face, and so strikingly
that the world might see them! But she is mostly

“No, no! Not mostly!” answered the mother
with a tender smile. “A little longer, and thou needest
not to be afraid to trace whose child she is. But
how strangely beautiful she looks, with those wild
flowers in her hair! It is as if one of the fairies, whom
we left in our dear old England, had decked her out
to meet us.”


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It was with a feeling which neither of them had
ever before experienced, that they sat and watched
Pearl's slow advance. In her was visible the tie that
united them. She had been offered to the world, these
seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in which
was revealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide,
—all written in this symbol,—all plainly manifest,
—had there been a prophet or magician skilled to
read the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness
of their being. Be the foregone evil what it might,
how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future
destinies were conjoined, when they beheld at once the
material union, and the spiritual idea, in whom they
met, and were to dwell immortally together? Thoughts
like these—and perhaps other thoughts, which they
did not acknowledge or define—threw an awe about
the child, as she came onward.

“Let her see nothing strange—no passion nor
eagerness—in thy way of accosting her,” whispered
Hester. “Our Pearl is a fitful and fantastic little elf,
sometimes. Especially, she is seldom tolerant of emotion,
when she does not fully comprehend the why and
wherefore. But the child hath strong affections! She
loves me, and will love thee!”

“Thou canst not think,” said the minister, glancing
aside at Hester Prynne, “how my heart dreads this
interview, and yearns for it! But, in truth, as I already
told thee, children are not readily won to be
familiar with me. They will not climb my knee,
nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to my smile; but
stand apart, and eye me strangely. Even little babes,


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when I take them in my arms, weep bitterly. Yet
Pearl, twice in her little lifetime, hath been kind to
me! The first time,—thou knowest it well! The
last was when thou ledst her with thee to the house of
yonder stern old Governor.”

“And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and
mine!” answered the mother. “I remember it; and
so shall little Pearl. Fear nothing! She may be strange
and shy at first, but will soon learn to love thee!”

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the
brook, and stood on the farther side, gazing silently
at Hester and the clergyman, who still sat together on
the mossy tree-trunk, waiting to receive her. Just
where she had paused the brook chanced to form a
pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect
image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness
of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers
and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized
than the reality. This image, so nearly identical with
the living Pearl, seemed to communicate somewhat of
its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child
herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood,
looking so stedfastly at them through the dim medium
of the forest-gloom; herself, meanwhile, all glorified
with a ray of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward
as by a certain sympathy. In the brook beneath stood
another child,—another and the same,—with likewise
its ray of golden light. Hester felt herself, in some
indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl;
as if the child, in her lonely ramble through the forest,
had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her


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mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to
return to it.

There was both truth and error in the impression;
the child and mother were estranged, but through Hester's
fault, not Pearl's. Since the latter rambled from
her side, another inmate had been admitted within the
circle of the mother's feelings, and so modified the
aspect of them all, that Pearl, the returning wanderer,
could not find her wonted place, and hardly knew
where she was.

“I have a strange fancy,” observed the sensitive
minister, “that this brook is the boundary between
two worlds, and that thou canst never meet thy Pearl
again. Or is she an elfish spirit, who, as the legends
of our childhood taught us, is forbidden to cross a running
stream? Pray hasten her; for this delay has already
imparted a tremor to my nerves.”

“Come, dearest child!” said Hester encouragingly,
and stretching out both her arms. “How slow thou
art! When hast thou been so sluggish before now?
Here is a friend of mine, who must be thy friend also.
Thou wilt have twice as much love, henceforward, as
thy mother alone could give thee! Leap across the
brook and come to us. Thou canst leap like a young

Pearl, without responding in any manner to these
honey-sweet expressions, remained on the other side
of the brook. Now she fixed her bright, wild eyes
on her mother, now on the minister, and now included
them both in the same glance; as if to detect and explain
to herself the relation which they bore to one


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another. For some unaccountable reason, as Arthur
Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himself, his
hand—with that gesture so habitual as to have become
involuntary—stole over his heart. At length,
assuming a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched out
her hand, with the small forefinger extended, and
pointing evidently towards her mother's breast. And
beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the
flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing
her small forefinger too.

“Thou strange child, why dost thou not come to
me?” exclaimed Hester.

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger; and a frown
gathered on her brow; the more impressive from the
childish, the almost baby-like aspect of the features that
conveyed it. As her mother still kept beckoning to
her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed
smiles, the child stamped her foot with a yet
more imperious look and gesture. In the brook, again,
was the fantastic beauty of the image, with its reflected
frown, its pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving
emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl.

“Hasten, Pearl; or I shall be angry with thee!”
cried Hester Prynne, who, however inured to such
behaviour on the elf-child's part at other seasons, was
naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now.
“Leap across the brook, naughty child, and run
hither! Else I must come to thee!”

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats,
any more than mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly
burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently,


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and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant
contortions. She accompanied this wild outbreak with
piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all
sides; so that, alone as she was in her childish and
unreasonable wrath, it seemed as if a hidden multitude
were lending her their sympathy and encouragement.
Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath
of Pearl's image, crowned and girdled with flowers,
but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the
midst of all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hester's

“I see what ails the child,” whispered Hester to the
clergyman, and turning pale in spite of a strong effort
to conceal her trouble and annoyance. “Children
will not abide any, the slightest, change in the accustomed
aspect of things that are daily before their eyes.
Pearl misses something which she has always seen me

“I pray you,” answered the minister, “if thou hast
any means of pacifying the child, do it forthwith!
Save it were the cankered wrath of an old witch, like
Mistress Hibbins,” added he, attempting to smile.
“I know nothing that I would not sooner encounter
than this passion in a child. In Pearl's young beauty,
as in the wrinkled witch, it has a preternatural effect.
Pacify her, if thou lovest me!”

Hester turned again towards Pearl, with a crimson
blush upon her cheek, a conscious glance aside at the
clergyman, and then a heavy sigh; while, even before
she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a deadly


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“Pearl,” said she, sadly, “look down at thy feet!
There!—before thee!—on the hither side of the

The child turned her eyes to the point indicated;
and there lay the scarlet letter, so close upon the margin
of the stream, that the gold embroidery was reflected
in it.

“Bring it hither!” said Hester.

“Come thou and take it up!” answered Pearl.

“Was ever such a child!” observed Hester aside
to the minister. “O, I have much to tell thee about
her. But, in very truth, she is right as regards this
hateful token. I must bear its torture yet a little longer,
—only a few days longer,—until we shall have left
this region, and look back hither as to a land which we
have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide it! The
mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it
up for ever!”

With these words, she advanced to the margin of the
brook, took up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again
into her bosom. Hopefully, but a moment ago, as
Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep sea, there
was a sense of inevitable doom upon her, as she thus
received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate.
She had flung it into infinite space!—she had drawn
an hour's free breath!—and here again was the scarlet
misery, glittering on the old spot! So it ever is,
whether thus typified or no, that an evil deed invests
itself with the character of doom. Hester next
gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair, and confined
them beneath her cap. As if there were a withering


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spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness
of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine;
and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her.

When the dreary change was wrought, she extended
her hand to Pearl.

“Dost thou know thy mother now, child?” asked
she, reproachfully, but with a subdued tone. “Wilt
thou come across the brook, and own thy mother, now
that she has her shame upon her,—now that she is

“Yes; now I will!” answered the child, bounding
across the brook, and clasping Hester in her arms.
“Now thou art my mother indeed! And I am thy
little Pearl!”

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her,
she drew down her mother's head, and kissed her brow
and both her cheeks. But then—by a kind of necessity
that always impelled this child to alloy whatever
comfort she might chance to give with a throb of
anguish—Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the
scarlet letter too!

“That was not kind!” said Hester. “When thou
hast shown me a little love, thou mockest me!”

“Why doth the minister sit yonder?” asked Pearl.

“He waits to welcome thee,” replied her mother.
“Come thou, and entreat his blessing! He loves thee,
my little Pearl, and loves thy mother too. Wilt thou
not love him? Come! he longs to greet thee!”

“Doth he love us?” said Pearl, looking up with
acute intelligence into her mother's face. “Will he
go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into
the town?”


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“Not now, dear child,” answered Hester. “But in
days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We
will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou
shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many
things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him;
wilt thou not?”

“And will he always keep his hand over his heart?”
inquired Pearl.

“Foolish child, what a question is that!” exclaimed
her mother. “Come and ask his blessing!”

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems
instinctive with every petted child towards a dangerous
rival, or from whatever caprice of her freakish nature,
Pearl would show no favor to the clergyman. It was
only by an exertion of force that her mother brought
her up to him, hanging back, and manifesting her reluctance
by odd grimaces; of which, ever since her
babyhood, she had possessed a singular variety, and
could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series
of different aspects, with a new mischief in them, each
and all. The minister—painfully embarrassed, but
hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him
into the child's kindlier regards—bent forward, and
impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke
away from her mother, and, running to the brook,
stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome
kiss was quite washed off, and diffused through
a long lapse of the gliding water. She then remained
apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman;
while they talked together, and made such arrangements
as were suggested by their new position, and the
purposes soon to be fulfilled.


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And now this fateful interview had come to a close.
The dell was to be left a solitude among its dark, old
trees, which, with their multitudinous tongues, would
whisper long of what had passed there, and no mortal
be the wiser. And the melancholy brook would add
this other tale to the mystery with which its little heart
was already overburdened, and whereof it still kept
up a murmuring babble, with not a whit more cheerfulness
of tone than for ages heretofore.