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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

of office. Sagaciously, under their spectacles, did they peep
into the holds of vessels! Mighty was their fuss about little
matters, and marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness that
allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers! Whenever
such a mischance occurred,–when a wagon-load of valuable
merchandise had been smuggled ashore, at noonday, perhaps,
and directly beneath their unsuspicious noses,-nothing could
exceed the vigilance and alacrity with which they proceeded to
lock, and double-lock, and secure with tape and sealing-wax,
all the avenues of the delinquent vessel. Instead of a re-
primand for their previous negligence, the case seemed rather
to require an eulogium on their praiseworthy caution, after
the mischief had happened; a grateful recognition of the
promptitude of their zeal, the moment that there was no
longer any remedy!

Unless people are more than commonly disagreeable, it is
my foolish habit to contract a kindness for them. The better
part of my companion's character, if it have a better part, is
that which usually comes uppermost in my regard, and forms
the type whereby I recognize the man. As most of these old
Custom-House officers had good traits, and as my position in
reference to them, being paternal and protective, was favor-
able to the growth of friendly sentiments, I soon grew to like
them all. It was pleasant, in the summer forenoons,–when
the fervent heat, that almost liquefied the rest of the human
family, merely communicated a genial warmth to their half-
torpid systems,–it was pleasant to hear them chatting in the
back entry, a row of them all tipped against the wall, as
usual; while the frozen witticisms of past generations were
thawed out, and came bubbling with laughter from their lips.
Externally, the jollity of aged men has much in common with
the mirth of children; the intellect, any more than a deep
sense of humor, has little to do with the matter; it is, with
both, a gleam that plays upon the surface, and imparts a
sunny and cheery aspect alike to the green branch, and gray,

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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