Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter. It was immediately responded to by a light, airy, childish laugh, in which, with a thrill of the heart,--but he knew not whether of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute,--he recognized the tones of little Pearl.
When Roger Chillingworth appears out of the dark, the terrified Dimmesdale panics and asks who he is. Pearl offers to reveal his identity.
"Pearl! Little Pearl!" cried he, after a moment's pause; then, suppressing his voice,--"Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you there?"
. . .
"Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl," said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together!"
She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child's other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.
"Minister!" whispered little Pearl.
"What wouldst thou say, child?" asked Mr. Dimmesdale.
"Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" inquired Pearl.
"Nay; not so, my little Pearl!" answered the minister; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which--with a strange joy, nevertheless--he now found himself. "Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow!"
Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. But the minister held it fast.
"A moment longer, my child!" said he.
"But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, "to take my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide?"
"Not then, Pearl," said the minister, "but another time!"
"And what other time?" persisted the child.
"At the great judgment day!" whispered the minister,--and, strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and there, before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!"
Pearl laughed again.
. . .
And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.
There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes; and her face, as she glanced upward at the minister, wore that naughty smile which made its expression frequently so elvish. She withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes towards the zenith.
"Minister," said little Pearl, "I can tell thee who he is!"
"Quickly, then, child!" said the minister, bending his ear close to her lips. "Quickly!--and as low as thou canst whisper."
Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, indeed, like human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be heard amusing themselves with, by the hour together. At all events, if it involved any secret information in regard to old Roger Chillingworth, it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite clergyman, and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind. The elvish child then laughed aloud.
"Dost thou mock me now?" said the minister.
"Thou wast not bold!--thou wast not true!" answered the child. "Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide!"