The Scarlet Letter HTML version

6. Pearl
We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant that little creature, whose innocent life had
sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the
rank luxuriance of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she
watched the growth, and the beauty that became every day more brilliant, and the
intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child! Her
Pearl--for so had Hester called her; not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had
nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the
comparison. But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price--purchased with all
she had--her mother's only treasure! How strange, indeed! Man had marked this woman's
sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human
sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence
of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on
that same dishonoured bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of
mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in heaven! Yet these thoughts affected Hester
Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew that her deed had been evil; she
could have no faith, therefore, that its result would be good. Day after day she looked
fearfully into the child's expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and wild
peculiarity that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being.
Certainly there was no physical defect. By its perfect shape, its vigour, and its natural
dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought
forth in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of the angels after the
world's first parents were driven out. The child had a native grace which does not
invariably co-exist with faultless beauty; its attire, however simple, always impressed the
beholder as if it were the very garb that precisely became it best. But little Pearl was not
clad in rustic weeds. Her mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood
hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed her
imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which
the child wore before the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure when thus
arrayed, and such was the splendour of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining through the
gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an
absolute circle of radiance around her on the darksome cottage floor. And yet a russet
gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude play, made a picture of her just as perfect.
Pearl's aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite variety; in this one child there were
many children, comprehending the full scope between the wild-flower prettiness of a
peasant-baby, and the pomp, in little, of an infant princess. Throughout all, however,
there was a trait of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she never lost; and if in any of
her changes, she had grown fainter or paler, she would have ceased to be herself--it
would have been no longer Pearl!
This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly express, the various
properties of her inner life. Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety;
but--or else Hester's fears deceived her--it lacked reference and adaptation to the world