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THE CUSTOM-HOUSE

overflows, and along which, at the base and in the rear of the
row of buildings, the track of many languid years is seen in a
border of unthrifty grass,–here, with a view from its front
windows adown this not very enlivening prospect, and thence
across the harbour, stands a spacious edifice of brick. From the
loftiest point of its roof, during precisely three and a half
hours of each forenoon, floats or droops, in breeze or calm,
the banner of the republic; but with the thirteen stripes
turned vertically, instead of horizontally, and thus indicating
that a civil, and not a military post of Uncle Sam's govern-
ment, is here established. Its front is ornamented with a
portico of half a dozen wooden pillars, supporting a balcony,
beneath which a flight of wide granite steps descends to-
wards the street. Over the entrance hovers an enormous
specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a
shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of
intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw.
With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes
this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak
and eye and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten
mischief to the inoffensive community; and especially to
warn all citizens, careful of their safety, against intruding on
the premises which she overshadows with her wings. Never-
theless, vixenly as she looks, many people are seeking, at this
very moment, to shelter themselves under the wing of the
federal eagle; imagining I presume, that her bosom has all
the softness and snugness of an eider-down pillow. But she
has no great tenderness, even in her best of moods, and,
sooner or later,–oftener soon than late,–is apt to fling off
her nestlings with a scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a
rankling wound from her barbed arrows.

The pavement round about the above-described edifice–
which we may as well name at once as the Custom-House of
the port–has grass enough growing in its chinks to show
that it has not, of late days, been worn by any multitudinous

The Scarlet Letter > Page
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