Ah! I see," he added; and, turning to Governor Bellingham,
whispered,--"This is the selfsame child of whom we have held speech
together; and behold here the unhappy woman, Hester Prynne, her mother!"
"Sayest thou so?" cried the Governor. "Nay, we might have judged that such
a child's mother must needs be a scarlet woman, and a worthy type of her of
Babylon! But she comes at a good time; and we will look into this matter
Governor Bellingham stepped through the window into the hall, followed by
his three guests.
"Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern regard on the wearer
of the scarlet letter, "there hath been much question concerning thee, of
late. The point hath been weightily discussed, whether we, that are of
authority and influence, do well discharge our consciences by trusting an
immortal soul, such as there is in yonder child, to the guidance of one who
hath stumbled and fallen, amid the pitfalls of this world. Speak thou, the
child's own mother! Were it not, thinkest thou, for thy little one's
temporal and eternal welfare, that she be taken out of thy charge, and clad
soberly, and disciplined strictly, and instructed in the truths of heaven
and earth? What canst thou do for the child, in this kind?"
"I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!" answered
Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token.
"Woman, it is thy badge of shame!" replied the stern magistrate. "It is
because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would transfer
thy child to other hands."
"Nevertheless," said the mother calmly, though growing more pale, "this
badge hath taught me,--it daily teaches me,--it is teaching me at this
moment,--lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, albeit they
can profit nothing to myself."
"We will judge warily," said Bellingham, "and look well what we are about
to do. Good Master Wilson, I pray you, examine this Pearl,--since that is
her name,--and see whether she hath had such Christian nurture as befits a
child of her age."
. . . Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly into her arms,
confronting the old Puritan magistrate with almost a fierce expression.
Alone in the world, cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to keep her
heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible rights against the
world, and was ready to defend them to the death.
"God gave me the child!" cried she. "He gave her, in requital of all things
else, which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness!--she is my torture,
none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye
not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed
with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take
her! I will die first!"
"My poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, "the child shall be well
cared for!--far better than thou canst do it."
"God gave her into my keeping," repeated Hester Prynne, raising her voice
almost to a shriek. "I will not give her up!"--And here by a sudden
impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom, up to
this moment, she had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her
eyes.--"Speak thou for me!" cried she. "Thou wast my pastor, and hadst
charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not
lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest,--for thou hast sympathies which
these men lack!--thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's
rights, and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her
child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child!
Look to it!"
At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated that Hester Prynne's
situation had provoked her to little less than madness, the young minister
at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his heart, as was his
custom whenever his peculiarly nervous temperament was thrown into
agitation. He looked now more careworn and emaciated than as we described
him at the scene of Hester's public ignominy; and whether it were his
failing health, or whatever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a
world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.
"There is truth in what she says," began the minister, with a voice sweet,
tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall reŽchoed, and the hollow
armor rang with it--"truth in what Hester says, and in the feeling which
inspires her! God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive
knowledge of its nature and requirements,--both seemingly so
peculiar,--which no other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there
not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and