The Scarlet Letter
16. A Forest Walk
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 neighbouring
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 dye 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 imparted 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.
At last, while attending a sick chamber, whither the Rev. 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.
The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the Peninsula to the mainland, was no
other than a foot-path. 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 further 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.
"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!"
"Nor ever will, 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?"