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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

equally valuable, hereafter; or not impossibly may be worked
up, so far as they go, into a regular history of Salem, should my
veneration for the natal soil ever impel me to so pious a task.
Meanwhile, they shall be at the command of any gentleman,
inclined, and competent, to take the unprofitable labor off my
hands. As a final disposition, I contemplate depositing them
with the Essex Historical Society.

But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysteri-
ous package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn
and faded. There were traces about it of gold embroidery,
which, however, was greatly frayed and defaced; so that none,
or very little, of the glitter was left. It had been wrought, as
was easy to perceive, with wonderful skill of needlework; and
the stitch (as I am assured by ladies conversant with such
mysteries) gives evidence of a now forgotten art, not to be
recovered even by the process of picking out the threads. This
–rag of scarlet cloth, for time, and wear, and a sacrilegious
moth, had reduced it to little other than a rag,–on careful
examination, assumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital
letter A. By an accurate measurement, each limb proved to be
precisely three inches and a quarter in length. It had been in-
tended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental article of
dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank, honor, and
dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was a riddle
which (so evanescent are the fashions of the world in these
particulars) I saw little hope of solving. And yet it strangely
interested me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the old
scarlet letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly, there
was some deep meaning in it, most worthy of interpretation,
and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol,
subtly communicating itself to my sensibilities, but evading
the analysis of my mind.

While thus perplexed,–and cogitating, among other
hypotheses, whether the letter might not have been one of
those decorations which the white men used to contrive, in

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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