CHAPTER 14: THE CHILD BY THE BROOK
Hester and the minister sat upon a heap of moss, watching little Pearl.
“She is a splendid child! See with what skill she has made those flowers adorn her. But I know whose brow she has!”
“Dost thou know, Hester,” said Arthur Dimmesdale, “how this has caused me such panic? Because my own features are partly repeated in hers. I feared the world might discern (1) our relationship. Oh what a heinous (2) thought that is!” After a pause, he noted, “But she is mostly thine.”
“No!” answered the mother, with a smile. “A little longer, and thou will easily see whose child she is.”
It was with an awe-stricken feeling that they sat there awaiting Pearl.
These past seven years during which they had so desperately sought to conceal the sin of their past, Pearl has been a hieroglyphic. But their conjoinment (3) could no longer be doubted. How could it be? Pearl was the manifestation of their material and spiritual union.
Such thoughts, and many more, cast an aura of wonder upon the child.
“Do not let her see your eagerness,” Hester whispered. “Our little Pearl is intolerant (4) of emotions she cannot fathom (5). But do not fear – she loves me and will love thee!”
“O, how my heart dreads yet yearns for this meeting. Children are often wary of me, yet Pearl has shown me kindness–twice!”
Hester smiled. “Then fear nothing. She may be strange and shy at first, but will soon learn to love thee!”
By this time, Pearl had reached some distance across the brook. There she stood, gazing silently at Hester and the minister.
There, by chance, the brook reflected an impeccable (6) image of her. The other child was so nearly identical to the living Pearl that one might wonder if the child was real herself.
Indistinctly, Hester felt herself estranged from Pearl at that moment. There was truth to this, but the separation was of Hester’s doing, not of Pearl’s. Since she had strayed into the woods, another had entered her mother’s interior circle, modifying it so that when Pearl returned, she could not find her place.
“I have an uncanny (7) feeling,” observed the sensitive minister, “that this brook is a boundary between two worlds and that thou can never meet thy Pearl again.” He grew nervous. “Pray that the child hasten.”
“Come, my dearest child!” said Hester encouragingly, stretching out her arms. “Here is a friend of mine. He will be thy friend as well. Together, we will give you twice as much love as thy mother alone could give thee. Leap across the brook and come to us!”
Pearl did not react to these mellifluous (8) comments; she remained on the other side of the brook. Yet now, in the fixed scrutiny (9) of her gaze, she included the minister, as if trying to understand his relationship with her mother.
And as Pearl’s wild and bright eyes fell upon the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale’s hand stole over his heart. As though she had gained some enlightenment from these observations, Pearl then pointed her forefinger at her mother’s breast.
“My child, thou act strangely!” Hester exclaimed.
Pearl continued to point at her mother’s breast, glowering (10). As her mother continued to beckon to her with an uncharacteristically bright smile, Pearl stamped her foot.
While Hester had long become accustomed to Pearl’s elfish nature, she naturally expected Pearl to present herself more appropriately at this moment.
“Come hither, Pearl, or I shall be angry with thee!”, said she.
Pearl broke into a fit of recalcitrant (11) passion. Her body convulsed (12) and she shrieked, her childish voice piercing the air. And in that mysterious wood, Pearl’s shrieks echoed. It was as though the entire forest was lending her its sympathy and encouragement.
And all the while, she continued to point her finger at her mother’s breast.
Hester paled in realization, but then grew miffed (13). “Children will not accept changes easily.” whispered Hester. “Pearl misses what she has always seen me wear.”
“I pray you,” the minister hastily said. “If you know how to pacify the child, do so at once!”
With a heavy sigh, Hester turned towards Pearl. “Pearl,” she said sadly, “look there–before thy feet! On this side of the brook.”
The child turned her eyes to where her mother indicated. There lay the scarlet letter.
“Bring it hither!”
“Thou can come to take it!” Pearl answered.
“That child!” exclaimed Hester, aside to the minister. “But, in truth, she is right. I must bear this token until we leave the town. The forest cannot hide it, but the ocean shall swallow it up forever!”
Thus, she advanced to the brook, took the scarlet letter, and fastened it onto her bosom.
And all at once, her hour of freedom ended; the scarlet misery fell upon her once more. She gathered the heavy tresses of her hair and confined them beneath her cap. As though the letter and the cap had a withering (14) spell, her beauty and warmth departed. The sunshine faded and was replaced by an etiolated (15) shadow.
Hester turned to Pearl. “Dost thou know thy mother now, child?” she asked, reproachfully (16). “Dost thou know her, now that she is sad?”
“Yes!” the child answered. She bounded across the brook. “Now thou art my mother indeed! And I am thy little Pearl!”
In an uncharacteristically tender manner, Pearl brought down her mother’s head and kissed her cheeks. But then – as though it was impossible for her to give comfort without balancing it with anguish (17) – she kissed the scarlet letter.
“That was not kind!” said Hester. “Thou hast shown me a little love only to mock me!”
Pearl ignored her mother and focused her attention on the minister. “Why doth the minister sit here?” She asked.
“He waits to welcome and love thee. Come now, and ask for his blessing!”
“Will he enter the town with us?” She gazed into her mother’s face with acute intelligence.
“Not today, my child. But in future days he will. And he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly, as thou wilt love him.”
“But will he always keep his hand over his heart?”
“What an imprudent (18) question!” her mother exclaimed. “Come, and ask his blessing!”
But, whether influenced by jealousy or a truculent (19) impulse of her freakish nature, Pearl would do no such thing. It was only by force that her mother brought Pearl before the minister.
Painfully embarrassed, the minister hoped that a kiss might earn him the child’s kindly regards. With this intention, he bent forward and impressed one upon her forehead.
Then and there, Pearl broke away from her mother’s grip and ran to the brook. She bent over and washed her forehead until it was completely cleansed from the unwelcome kiss. She remained there, silently watching Hester and the minister, who were making arrangements to fulfill their new purposes.
And with this, the decisive interview had come to a close.
The dell was left in solitude and darkness. The lugubrious (20) brook would add this tale to its overburdened heart, its babble not the slightest bit more cheerful than it had been ages before.
1/discern(v): to recognize something by looking at it; to perceive; to learn through observation
2/heinous(adj): unspeakable; terrible beyond comprehension; utterly wicked; awful
3/conjoinment(n): the joining of two objects or people so that they either overlap or unite; the association between two people or things
4/intolerant(adj): not recognizing the views and beliefs that differ from one’s own; narrow-minded; allergic
5/fathom(v): to begin to comprehend; to wrap one’s mind around something; to understand or make sense of something difficult
6/impeccable(adj): perfect; faultless; flawless
7/uncanny(adj): uncomfortably strange in a mysterious and eerie way; otherworldly; surreal
8/mellifluous(adj): soothing; honey-sweet (to the extent that the sweetness seems fake); pleasing to the ears
9/scrutiny(n): a critical and probing investigation of something or someone; a close study or inspection
10/glower(v): to sullenly frown or scowl; to give someone or something a ‘dirty look’; to be discontented with a situation
11/recalcitrant(adj): stubborn towards figures of authority and order; rebellious; defiant; contrary with the intention of being difficult
12/convulse(v): to contort or jerk around one’s limbs and body, whether this be intentional or not; to shake, as if in pain; to thrash about
13/miff(v): to annoy someone through offending them; to argue with someone over a petty matter
14/withering(adj): devastating; describing something that has become dried and shriveled up (usually through heat); shrunken
15/etiolated(adj): weakened and sickly, as though one’s life force has been drained; pale; feeble
16/reproachfully(adv): characterizing a look of disapproval or disappointment; accusatory; critical
17/anguish(n): a state of great pain or discomfort; a state of mental or physical distress; sorrow; heartache
18/imprudent(adj): unwise; describing a hasty, rash action brought about by a lack of judgment; not caring for the consequences of one’s actions
19/truculent(adj): defiant; uncooperative; argumentative by nature
20/lugubrious(adj): mournful; cheerless; dismal, to an exaggerated extent