After meeting with Hester in the woods and resolving to run away with her to Europe, Dimmesdale returns to town an invigorated man. However, he finds himself more open to sin as he encounters three people on the way. First, Dimmesdale is tempted to spout blasphemous ideas about communion to an aged deacon. Second, he comes across an old widow comforted by the idea of heaven, since she lost her husband, children, and friends. Dimmesdale is tempted to argue against the immortality of the soul around her, which the narrator says would "have caused this aged sister to drop down dead." Lastly, he comes across a pretty young girl and is tempted to "drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil." Whether one reads the connotation as sexual or not, the temptation is strong enough that Dimmesdale runs from the girl before they can even speak. In all three cases, Dimmesdale refrains from doing any harm, but he is disturbed all the same.
Dimmesdale explains his strange behavior as temptation directly from the devil. He comes to believe that by indulging his romantic desire for Hester and agreeing to run away with her and their daughter, Pearl, he has turned his back on holy virtue. His encounter with suspected witch Mistress Hibbins only seals this idea: she speaks to him as though he were a member of her coven. Tormented by his love for Hester and his desire to serve God, which seem to be fundamentally opposed, Dimmesdale retreats to his home.