CHAPTER 5: THE ELF CHILD AND THE MINISTER
Hester Prynne went one day to Governor Bellingham’s mansion.
It had reached her ears that there was a design to deprive (1) her of her child. On supposition (2) that Pearl was of demonic origin, people argued that a Christian interest in the mother’s soul required them to remove such a stumbling…block. If the child, on the other hand, was really capable of growth, then it would enjoy fairer prospect by being transferred to a wiser guardianship.
Full of concern, Hester set forth. Little Pearl was her companion, arrayed (3) in a crimson velvet tunic. It was the scarlet letter endowed (4) with life! The mother had sought to create an analogy between the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, Pearl was the one as well as the other, and only in consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.
They reached the dwelling of Governor Bellingham. It had a very cheery aspect, walls in which glass was intermixed so that when sunshine fell over the front, they sparkled. Pearl, looking at this wonder, began to dance and required that the sunshine be given to her to play with.
“No, thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!”
They approached the door. Lifting the hammer, Hester gave a summon (5) which was answered by a servant. “Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within?” inquired (12) Hester.
“Yes,” he replied. “But he has a minister or two with him, and a leech. Ye may not see his worship now.”
“Nevertheless, I will enter,” answered Hester. They were admitted.
Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land.
At the centre of oaken panels was a suit of mail. Little Pearl, who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontpiece of the house, spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.
“Mother,” cried she, “I see you here. Look!”
Hester looked and saw that, owing to the effect of this arched mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated proportions. She seemed hidden behind it. Pearl smiled at her mother. That look of naughty merriment was reflected and it made Hester feel it must be an imp.
“Come along, Pearl,” said she, drawing her away, “Come and look into this fair garden.”
Pearl looked; there were a few rose–bushes. Seeing them, she began to cry for a red rose.
“Hush!” said her mother. “I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is coming.”
Pearl then became silent, not from obedience, but because her curiosity was excited by the appearance of new personages.
Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and old Roger Chillingworth. It was understood that this man was the physician and friend of the young minister, whose health had severely suffered lately due to his unreserved self–sacrifice to the labours of the pastoral relation.
The Governor found himself close to little Pearl. The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester, and partially concealed her. “What have we here?” he said.
“Indeed!” cried Mr. Wilson. “Young one, art thou a Christian child or one of those naughty elfs?”
“I am my mother’s child,” answered the scarlet vision, “and my name is Pearl!”
“But where is this mother? Ah! I see. Behold Hester Prynne!”
Governor Bellingham stepped into the hall. “Hester Prynne,” said he, fixing his stern (6) regard on her, “were it not for thy little one’s welfare that she be taken out of thy charge, and disciplined strictly? What canst thou do for the child?”
“I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!” answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token. “This badge has taught me lessons from which my child may be wiser.”
“We will judge,” said Bellingham, “Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this Pearl and see whether she hath such a Christian nurture (7) as befits a child of her age.”
The old minister seated himself and made an effort to draw Pearl between his knees but the child escaped through the open window, like a bird ready to take flight. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at this outbreak, essayed (8), however, to proceed. “Pearl,” said he, with great solemnity (9), “Canst thou tell me who made thee?”
Pearl knew well enough who made her, but her perversity (10) impelled (11) her to speak amiss. She announced she had not been made at all, but plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison–door.
“This is awful!” cried the Governor. “Here is a child who cannot tell who made her! We need inquire (12) no further.”
Hester caught hold of Pearl, confronting (13) the magistrate with a fierce expression. “God gave me the child! She is my happiness, my torture! Ye shall not take her!”
“My poor woman,” said the minister, “the child shall be well cared for!”
“I will not give her up!”—And by a sudden impulse, she turned to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom she had seemed hardly so much as looked at once. “Speak for me!” cried she. “Thou was my pastor and knows me better. I will not lose the child!”
At this wild appeal, the young minister came forward, holding his hand over his heart. “There is truth in what she says,” he began. “God gave her the child. Is there not an awful sacredness in their relation?”
“Ay—how is that?” interrupted the Governor.
“If we say otherwise, do we not say that the Heavenly Father made no distinction between unhallowed (14) lust and holy love?”
“Well said!” cried Mr. Wilson. “I feared the woman had no better thought than to make a mountebank (15) of her child!”
“Oh, not so!” continued Mr. Dimmesdale. “She recognises the miracle which God hath brought about in the existence of that child. It was meant to keep her from blacker depths of sin! For Hester Prynne’s sake, let us leave them!”
“You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness,” said old Roger Chillingworth, smiling at him.
“Indeed,” answered the magistrate; “Yet we will leave the matter as it now stands.”
The young minister had withdrawn. Pearl came towards him, and taking his hand in her own, laid her cheek against it, a caress (16) so tender, that her mother asked herself—“Is that my Pearl?” The minister looked round, laid his hand on the child’s head, hesitated, and then kissed her brow.
Little Pearl’s mood lasted no longer; she laughed, and went capering (17) down the hall.
“A strange child!” remarked Roger Chillingworth. “Would it be beyond a philosopher’s research to analyze that child’s nature and give a guess at the father?”
“Nay; it would be sinful,” said Mr. Wilson. “Better to leave the mystery as we find it.”
Hester, with Pearl, departed. As they did, a chamber–window was thrown open, out came the face of Mistress Hibbins, Governor Bellingham’s sister, who, a few years later, was executed as a witch. “Here!” said she. “Will thou go with us to–night to the forest? I promised the Black Man* that Hester Prynne should come.”
“Excuse my absence!” answered Hester, with a triumphant smile. “I must keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee, and signed my name in the Black Man’s book too!”
“We shall have thee soon!” said the witch–lady, frowning as she drew back.
But here—if we suppose this interview between Mistress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic and not a parable (18)—was already an illustration of the young minister’s argument. Even this early, the child had saved her from Satan’s snare (19).
*Black Man – a Satan-like figure
1/deprive(v): to deny somebody from having someone or something, to take away somebody’s possession
2/supposition(n): an inference, a suspicion, a speculation
3/array(v): to display or assemble in a particular manner
4/endow(v): to give a certain quality to
5/summons(n): an order for somebody to appear; a beckoning; a call
6/stern(adj): strict and unrelenting, referring to some figure of authority and discipline
8/essay(v): to attempt despite some difficulty, to endeavor, to try
9/solemnity(n): a state of seriousness
10/perversity(n): a state of mischievous contrariness, especially at the wrong time; purposeful disobedience
11/impel(v): to compel, to be driven (to do something)
12/inquire(v): to investigate and ask information from somebody
13/confront(v): to face or approach someone with argumentative or accusatory intent
14/unhallowed(adj): unholy, not sacred
15/mountebank(n): a deception, an imposter, a trickster
16/caress(n): a gentle, loving touch
17/caper(v): to dance or skip, playfully
18/parable(n): a simple story with a moralistic purpose, a fable intended to teach a lesson
19/snare(n): a trap