So Pearl--the elf-child,--the demon offspring, as some people, up to that epoch
, persisted in considering her--became the richest heiress of her day, in the New World. Not improbably, this circumstance wrought a very material change in the public estimation
; and, had the mother and child remained here, little Pearl, at a marriageable period of life, might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage
of the devoutest Puritan among them all. But, in no long time after the physician's death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl along with her. For many years, though a vague report would now and then find its way across the sea,--like a shapeless piece of driftwood tost ashore, with the initials of a name upon it,--yet no tidings of them unquestionably authentic
were received. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a legend. Its spell, however, was still potent
, and kept the scaffold awful where the poor minister had died, and likewise the cottage by the sea-shore, where Hester Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter spot, one afternoon, some children were at play, when they beheld a tall woman, in a gray robe, approach the cottage-door. In all those years it had never once been opened; but either she unlocked it, or the decaying wood and iron yielded to her hand, or she glided shadow-like through these impediments
,--and, at all events, went in.
On the threshold
she paused,--turned partly round,--for, perchance
, the idea of entering, all alone, and all so changed, the home of so intense a former life, was more dreary
than even she could bear. But her hesitation was only for an instant, though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her breast.
And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her long-forsaken shame. But where was little Pearl? If still alive, she must now have been in the flush
and bloom of early womanhood. None knew--nor ever learned, with the fulness
of perfect certainty--whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maiden grave; or whether her wild, rich nature had been softened and subdued, and made capable of a woman's gentle happiness. But, through the remainder of Hester's life, there were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest with some inhabitant of another land. Letters came, with armorial
seals upon them, though of bearings unknown to English heraldry
. In the cottage there were articles of comfort and luxury, such as Hester never cared to use, but which only wealth could have purchased, and affection have imagined for her. There were trifles, too, little ornaments, beautiful tokens of a continual remembrance
, that must have been wrought by delicate fingers, at the impulse of a fond heart. And, once, Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment, with such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have raised a public tumult, had any infant, thus apparelled, been shown to our sobre-hued community.
In fine, the gossips of that day believed,--and Mr. Surveyor Pue, who made investigations a century later, believed,--and one of his recent successors in office, moreover, faithfully believes,--that Pearl was not only alive, but married, and happy, and mindful
of her mother; and that she would most joyfully have entertained that sad and lonely mother at her fireside.