In Chapter Twenty - "The Minister in a Maze," Dimmesdale realizes that he is not fit to find freedom in relief in the Indian wilderness but that he must flee to a more civilized, less rugged Europe. Curiously, Dimmesdale has found energy through his decision to join with Hester and flee his moral prison. The wilderness energizes him and he meets the challenge of the tough terrain.
In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and duplicity of impression,
which vexed it with a strange disquietude, he recalled and more thoroughly
defined the plans which Hester and himself had sketched for their departure.
It had been determined between them, that the Old World, with its crowds
and cities, offered them a more eligible shelter and concealment than the
wilds of New England, or all America, with its alternatives of an Indian
wigwam, or the few settlements of Europeans, scattered thinly along the
sea-board. Not to speak of the clergyman's health, so inadequate to sustain
the hardships of a forest life, his native gifts, his culture, and his entire
development would secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and
refinement; the higher the state, the more delicately adapted to it the
man. Dimmesdale meets Mistress Hibbons who suspects he has had traffic with
the Black man, but Dimmesdale explains that he visited the Indian Apostle
Eliot, and they celebrated the many converts the Indian has made. When Dimmesdale
sees his sermon notes for the Election Sermon, he finds he is a changed
man since his visit to the forest. He has gained a wisdom. Dimmesdale refuses
Chillingworth's aid and realizes that the fresh air of the forest and the
honest purity of Apostle Eliot are ingredients that are more healing than
The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings, as he returned from his interview with Hester, lent him unaccustomed physical energy, and hurried him townward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natural obstacles, and less trodden by the foot of man, than he remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped across the plashy places, thrust himself through the clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into the hollow, and overcame, in short, all the difficulties of the track, with an unweariable activity that astonished him.
"I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with a grave obeisance, such as the lady's rank demanded, and his own good-breeding made imperative,--"I profess, on my conscience and character, that I am utterly bewildered as touching the purport of your words! I went not into the forest to seek a potentate; neither do I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a view to gaining the favor of such personage. My one sufficient object was to greet that pious friend of mine, the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many precious souls he hath won from heathendom!"
There, on the table, with the inky pen beside it, was an unfinished sermon, with a sentence broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased to gush out upon the page two days before. He knew that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minister, who had done and suffered these things, and written thus far into the Election Sermon! But he seemed to stand apart, and eye this former self with scornful pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That self was gone! Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that!
"Welcome home, reverend Sir!" said the physician. "And how found you that godly man, the Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear Sir, you look pale; as if the travel through the wilderness had been too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put you in heart and strength to preach your Election Sermon?"
"Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. "My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed, have done me good, after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by a friendly hand."