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The Scarlet Letter > Page
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In the second story of the Custom-House, there is a large room, in which the brick-work and naked rafters have never
been covered with panelling and plaster. The edifice–orig-
inally projected on a scale adapted to the old commercial
enterprise of the port, and with an idea of subsequent pros-
perity destined never to be realized–contains far more space
than its occupants know what to do with. This airy hall,
therefore, over the Collector's apartments, remains unfinished
to this day, and, in spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon its
dusky beams, appears still to await the labor of the carpenter
and mason. At one end of the room, in a recess, were a num-
ber of barrels, piled one upon another, containing bundles of
official documents. Large quantities of similar rubbish lay lum-
bering the floor. It was sorrowful to think how many days,
and weeks, and months, and years of toil, had been wasted on
these musty papers, which were now only an encumbrance on
earth, and were hidden away in this forgotten corner, never
more to be glanced at by human eyes. But, then, what
reams of other manuscripts–filled, not with the dulness of
official formalities, but with the thought of inventive brains
and the rich effusion of deep hearts–had gone equally to ob-
livion; and that, moreover, without serving a purpose in their
day, as these heaped- up papers had, and–saddest of all–
without purchasing for their writers the comfortable livelihood
which the clerks of the Custom-House had gained by these
worthless scratchings of the pen! Yet not altogether worthless,
perhaps, as materials of local history. Here, no doubt, statistics
of the former commerce of Salem might be discovered, and
memorials of her princely merchants,–old King Derby,–old
Billy Gray,– old Simon Forrester,–and many another mag-
nate in his day; whose powdered head, however, was scarcely
in the tomb, before his mountain-pile of wealth began to
dwindle. The founders of the greater part of the families
which now compose the aristocracy of Salem might here be
traced, from the petty and obscure beginnings of their traffic,

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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