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CHAPTER 19: THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE
Hester turns to Dimmesdale, saying it is high time he knew his daughter. Pearl has wandered off in the woods somewhere. She is busy picking flowers and playing with small animals: squirrels, partridges, and the like.
Dimmesdale, we notice, is hardly the proud father that Hester might have hoped. Selfish as always, he worries that people may have noticed the striking resemblance between Pearl and himself. Hester, who knows how to handle her nervous lover, soothingly reminds him that, in a little while, he need not be afraid to be recognized as Pearl's father.
The minister, however, is still jumpy. Children are not at ease with him, he says. They never volunteer to kiss him or climb on his knee. (And we can see why. He is just the kind of man to complain about noise when he is trying to study, or a spot on his shirt left by a child's sticky hands. Men like Dimmesdale are not born for fatherhood.)
In the meantime, Pearl has come back.
As the child approaches, Hester and Dimmesdale are struck by her wild beauty. Decked out with flowers, Pearl resembles a native spirit of the forest.
When Pearl stops by the bank of the stream, she is reflected in a pool of water, so that there are two Pearls, both shimmering in the gloom. The double image has a kind of unreality. And Hester is seized by the fancy that Pearl has wandered off into another world, on the far side of the brook, where she will be forever cut off from her mother.
Hester's idea proves to be no fancy at all but nothing short of the truth. Pearl stubbornly refuses to obey her mother's command to jump across the stream and make friends with the minister.
Instead, the child points an accusing finger at the vacant spot on Hester's dress. She frowns, she stamps her foot. And when Hester begins to scold, Pearl throws herself into wild contortions and utters piercing shrieks that echo through the forest.
It is all too much for Dimmesdale's nerves. He begs Hester to do something-anything-fast. Hester has no choice but to pacify Pearl. She knows what the child misses, and she wades into the stream to retrieve the scarlet letter.