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THE SCARLET LETTER

the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birth-
places, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control,
shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

On emerging from the Old Manse, it was chiefly this
strange, indolent, unjoyous attachment for my native town,
that brought me to fill a place in Uncle Sam's brick edifice,
when I might as well, or better, have gone somewhere else.
My doom was on me. It was not the first time, nor the second,
that I had gone away,–as it seemed, permanently,–but yet
returned, like the bad half-penny; or as if Salem were for me
the inevitable centre of the universe. So, one fine morning,
I ascended the flight of granite steps, with the President's
commission in my pocket, and was introduced to the corps of
gentlemen who were to aid me in my weighty responsibility,
as chief executive officer of the Custom-House.

I doubt greatly–or rather, I do not doubt at all–whether
any public functionary of the United States, either in the
civil or military line, has ever had such a patriarchal body of
veterans under his orders as myself. The whereabouts of the
Oldest Inhabitant was at once settled, when I looked at them.
For upwards of twenty years before this epoch, the independ-
ent position of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-
House out of the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which
makes the tenure of office generally so fragile. A soldier,–
New England's most distinguished soldier,–he stood firmly
on the pedestal of his gallant services; and, himself secure in
the wise liberality of the successive administrations through
which he had held office, he had been the safety of his
subordinates in many an hour of danger and heart-quake.
General Miller was radically conservative; a man over whose
kindly nature habit had no slight influence; attaching himself
strongly to familiar faces, and with difficulty moved to change,
even when change might have brought unquestionable im-
provement. Thus, on taking charge of my department, I
found few but aged men. They were ancient sea-captains, for

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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