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As Dimmesdale heads back to town, he glances back at Hester and Pearl, half-expecting that he just imagined the whole thing.
Nope. Still there.
He thinks about how they wanted to return to the Old World, and remember that there's actually a ship in the harbor at that exact moment, just waiting to sail for Bristol, England.
Hester has met the captain and crew, so she should be able to secure passage for two adults and a child.
They'll sail in four days, which will give Dimmesdale just enough time to leave his career on a high note by preaching his final sermon, the Election Sermon.
(Quick Brain Snack: the "Election Sermon" was a sermon that basically meditated on the religious and civil duties of elected officials (and those who elect them) as allegedly laid out in the Bible. Pretty important stuff in a mid-17th century Puritan community.)
When Dimmesdale gets back to town, though, he feels… weird.
When he meets a deacon in the church, he almost blurts out some really blasphemous things.
He even—prepare yourself—thinks about arguing against the immortality of the soul.
And when he meets a new church member, he totally blows her off—making her wonder what she's done wrong.
Oh, and he's tempted to teach some naughty words to some Puritan children playing by the road.
He wonders if he is mad. Did he make a contract with the devil in the forest?
Eh, we've all been there. Right?
Just then, he passes the witch-lady Mistress Hibbins.
She gives him a knowing smile and tell him to let her know next time he heads off into the woods, and she'll come along too.
In fact, why doesn't join her at midnight in the forest, i.e., come to one of her fun witch parties?
Now Dimmesdale is getting pretty nervous, wondering if he actually has sold his soul to the devil.
Uh, actually, yes: the narrator says that deliberately choosing to sin is pretty much like dealing with the devil.
"Wicked mortals" have a lot in common with "perverted spirits" (20.17).
Back at his house, Dimmesdale is studying the Election Sermon (which he obviously wrote pre-encounter in the woods, since we'd hate to see what he came up with post-encounter), when Chillingworth comes in.
Does he need medicinal strength for his sermon?
Nope. In fact, he doesn't need any more of Chillingworth's drugs.
Chillingworth mulls this over for a bit, and Dimmesdale starts to worry that he knows about the moment in the woods.
He doesn't. But he does realize that Dimmesdale knows Chillingworth has it in for him. After a little back-and-forth about the medicine, Chillingworth finally leaves.
Alone, Dimmesdale throws his Election Sermon in the fire and pulls an all-nighter writing a new one.