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THE SCARLET LETTER

Mistress Prynne, give to your predecessor's memory the credit
which will be rightfully its due!" And I said to the ghost of
Mr. Surveyor Pue,–"I will!"

On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestowed much
thought. It was the subject of my meditations for many an
hour, while pacing to and fro across my room, or traversing,
with a hundredfold repetition, the long extent from the front-
door
of the Custom-House to the side-entrance, and back
again. Great were the weariness and annoyance of the old In
spector and the Weighers and Gaugers, whose slumbers were
disturbed by the unmercifully lengthened tramp of my passing
and returning footsteps. Remembering their own former
habits, they used to say that the Surveyor was walking the
quarter-deck. They probably fancied that my sole object–and,
indeed, the sole object for which a sane man could ever put
himself into voluntary motion–was, to get an appetite for
dinner. And to say the truth, an appetite, sharpened by the
east-wind that generally blew along the passage, was the only
valuable result of so much indefatigable exercise. So little
adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom-House to the delicate
harvest of fancy and sensibility, that, had I remained there
through ten Presidencies yet to come, I doubt whether the tale
of "The Scarlet Letter" would ever have been brought before
the public eye. My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It
would not reflect, or only with miserable dimness, the figures
with which I did my best to people it. The characters of the
narrative would not be warmed and rendered malleable, by any
heat that I could kindle at my intellectual forge. They would
take neither the glow of passion nor the tenderness of senti-
ment, but retained all the rigidity of dead corpses, and stared
me in the face with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous
defiance. "What have you to do with us?" that expression
seemed to say. "The little power you might once have pos-
sessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone! You have bartered
it for a pittance of the public gold. Go, then, and earn your

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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