Chapter 16 A FOREST WALK
HESTER PRYNNE remained constant in her resolve to make known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of present pain or ulterior
consequences, the true character of the man who had crept into his intimacy
. For several days, however, she vainly sought an opportunity of addressing him in some of the meditative
walks which she knew him to be in the habit of taking, along the shores of the peninsula
, or on the wooded hills of the neighbouring country. There would have been no scandal, indeed, nor peril
to the holy whiteness of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited him in his own study; where many a penitent, ere now, had confessed sins of perhaps as deep a dye
as the one betokened
by the scarlet letter. But, partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised
interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious heart imputed suspicion where none could have been felt, and partly that both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in, while they talked together- for all these reasons, Hester never though of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.
At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian converts. He would probably return, by a certain hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl- who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions
, however inconvenient
her presence- and set forth.
The road, after the two wayfarers
had crossed from the peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a footpath. It straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval
forest. This hemmed
it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed such imperfect glimpses
of the sky above, that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and sombre. Overhead was a grey expanse
of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that a gleam
of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness was always at the farther extremity
of some long vista through the forest. The sportive
sunlight- feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness
of the day and scene- withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright.