CHAPTER 13: A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE
Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester’s face with a look of hope and joy. Yet, in his visage, there were hints of fear and consternation (1) at the boldness of her suggestion.
For Hester, this latitude (2) of speculation was not unusual. Her native fearlessness had only broadened her outlawed state from society. Without its rules and guidance, she had freely wandered in a moral wilderness, like a wild Indian who roams freely in the woods. The scarlet letter had become her passport into regions other women were apprehensive to venture (3) in fear of becoming estranged (4) from the town’s institutions.
Shame, Despair, Solitude! They had been her teachers, yet while they had made her strong, they had taught her much amiss.
On the other hand, the minister had never undergone an experience that would open his mind to such speculation, or even, for that matter, bring him past the laws of the Puritan establishment. Moreover, since his sole sin, he had watched his every emotion and thought with morbid (5) zeal (6).
If he sinned again, what could be his excuse? But, alas, he had been broken down. Remaining as a hypocrite seemed too heavy an onus (7) to bear to this poor pilgrim, especially now that there appeared a new and true life ahead.
“If, in all these past seven years,” he thought, “I could recall one instant of hope, I would yet endure. But now, since I am irrevocably (8) doomed, why should I not snatch this solace (9)? I can no longer live without Hester. O Thou to whom I dare not lift my eyes, wilt thou still pardon me?”
“Thou wilt go!” said Hester calmly.
As soon as the decision was made, a brightness was cast over the troubled mingling in his breast. The prison doors of his heart were flung open, freeing their long-held prisoner. It was an exhilarating (10) effect to breathe in the free air of that lawless, unchristianized region. His spirit rose.
“Do I feel joy again?” he cried in wonder. “I had long thought the germ (11) of it was dead! O Hester, thou art an angel! Why did we not live this better life sooner?”
“Let us not look back,” she answered. “The past is gone! With this, I undo it all!”
And with that, Hester undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter and threw the gleaming object into the distance. It fell on the bank by the stream, glittering like a lost jewel. Yet around it, there remained a mysterious ghost of guilt and misfortune.
With the stigma gone, Hester heaved a deep sigh of relief. By the direction of another impulse, she took off the cap that confined her hair. Dark and rich, it fell upon her shoulders. Her resplendent (12) smile and crimson-flushed cheeks that had long been so pale seemed to now be from the very epitome (13) of womanhood. In this magical hour, Hester’s youth and beauty had returned.
All at once, the gloom of the forest vanished. In its place, a flood of sunshine burst forth as though heaven smiled upon the two lovers. Such was the sympathy of Nature. Love, whether newly born or aroused from a deathlike slumber always has an aura of sunshine around it. Yet truth be told, even if the forest had maintained its caliginous (14) nature, it would have appeared bright in the eyes of Hester Prynne and in the eyes of Arthur Dimmesdale; such was their relief at that moment.
Hester looked at him, suddenly. “Thou must know Pearl!” She cried. “Our little Pearl! Thou hast seen her, but wilt see her differently now. She is a strange child, but thou wilt love her dearly, as I do.”
The minister suddenly looked disconcerted (15). “Dost thou think the child will be glad to know me? I have many times been afraid of little Pearl!”
“Ah, that is sad!” answered the mother. “But she will love thee dearly, and thou her. She is not far off; I will call her! Pearl! Pearl!”
“I see her yonder,” he observed. “On the other side of the brook.”
Hester smiled. Pearl was visible, at some distance, in a sunbeam. The ray quivered (16) back and forth, making her figure dim or distinct–now like a real child, now like a ghost.
For Pearl, the past hour had not passed slowly, for the great forest had become her playmate. It offered her the sweetest of wild-berries which she took great pleasure in eating. Creatures of the wilderness hardly moved out of their path when she approached. A partridge (17) clucked to her young ones not to be afraid of Pearl. A pigeon allowed the lonely child to pass beneath her. A squirrel even flung a nut upon her head. A fox, awakened from his sleep, looked at the child inquisitively (18). A wolf–but here, the tale has surely lapsed into the improbable–offered his head to be petted by her hand.
Yet the truth nevertheless remains that this forest recognized a kindred (19) wildness in the human child.
Here, where she was gentler than anywhere else, Pearl became a nymph-child, decorating herself with violets, anemones, and columbines. In such guise had she adorned (20) herself when she heard her mother’s voice, and thus slowly returned.
Slowly, for she saw the minister!
1/consternation(n): a state of confusion turned to distress; a feeling of anxiety due to the occurrence of something unexpected
2/latitude(n): free rein (of thought); freedom to do something; wide scope and breadth
3/venture(v): to undertake a dangerous journey; to travel to a foreign land (often without knowing what lies ahead)
4/estranged(adj): separated (can be a willing or unwilling separation); alienated
5/morbid(adj): characterized by an unhealthy interest or excitement in a subject related to death; gruesome; representative of a sickened and unhealthy mind
6/zeal(n): eagerness and intensity; passion for a specific cause or task; keenness
7/onus(n): (a symbol used to refer to) the responsibility or obligation of a person for something or someone, often a difficult task or burden to bear
8/irrevocably(adv): a word used to describe a decision or action that, once made, cannot be undone or reversed; permanent; binding
9/solace(n): a welcome relief from tension and anxiety; consolation in times of distress; calming comfort
10/exhilarating(adj): empowering; filling one up with joy or elation
11/germ(n): a small part of an organism that can develop into a newer, larger organism; a microorganism; metaphorically, a seed
12/resplendent(adj): characterized by being particularly stunning due to a certain glow or splendor; spectacular; magnificent
13/epitome(n): a person or thing that possesses the desirable features of a larger group (of people); the perfect embodiment of an ideal; an archetypal symbol
14/caliginous(adj): dim; dark; obscure, especially if marked by shadows
15/disconcerted(adj): unsettled; taken aback by something unusual; taken by surprise
16/quiver(v): to shiver; to shake (back and forth) in a light and rapid motion
17/partridge(n): a plump-bodied brown bird with a short tail that is often hunted for sport; mostly found in Europe
18/inquisitively(adv): curiously; questioning (to an extensive degree)
19/kindred(adj): comparable; connected (as though by blood relations); allied
20/adorn(v): to decorate (oneself) to improve the appearance of something; to embellish, often unnecessarily; to decorate in an ornamental manner