When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne made a step or
two towards the track that led through the forest, but still
remained under the deep shadow of the trees. She beheld the
minister advancing along the path entirely alone, and leaning on
a staff which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and
feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air, which
had never so remarkably characterised him in his walks about the
settlement, nor in any other situation where he deemed himself
liable to notice. Here it was wofully visible, in this intense
seclusion of the forest, which of itself would have been a heavy
trial to the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gait, as
if he saw no reason for taking one step further, nor felt any
desire to do so, but would have been glad, could he be glad of
anything, to fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree,
and lie there passive for evermore. The leaves might bestrew
him, and the soil gradually accumulate and form a little hillock
over his frame, no matter whether there were life in it or no.
Death was too definite an object to be wished for or avoided.
To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale exhibited no
symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, except that, as
little Pearl had remarked, he kept his hand over his heart.