From Twice-Told Tales 1837, 1851
WE CAN BE
partially acquainted even with
events which actually influence our course through
life, and our final destiny. There are
innumerable other events, if such they may be
called, which come close upon us, yet pass away
without actual results, or even betraying their
near approach, by the reflection of any light or
shadow across our minds. Could we know all the
vicissitudes of our fortunes, life would be too
full of hope and fear, exultation or
disappointment, to afford us a single hour of true
serenity. This idea may be illustrated by a page
from the secret history of David Swan.
nothing to do with David, until we find
him, at the age of twenty, on the high road from
his native place to the city of Boston, where his
uncle, a small dealer in the grocery line, was to
take him behind the counter. Be it enough to say,
that he was a native of New Hampshire, born of
respectable parents, and had received an ordinary
school education, with a classic finish by a year
at Gilmanton academy. After journeying on foot,
from sunrise till nearly noon of a summer's day,
his weariness and the increasing heat determined
him to sit down in the first convenient shade, and
await the coming up of the stage coach. As if
planted on purpose for him, there soon appeared a
little tuft of maples, with a delightful recess in
the midst, and such a fresh bubbling spring, that
it seemed never to have sparkled for any wayfarer
but David Swan. Virgin or not, he kissed it with
his thirsty lips, and then flung himself along the
brink, pillowing his head upon some shirts and a
pair of pantaloons, tied up in a striped cotton
handkerchief. The sunbeams could not reach him;
the dust did not yet rise from the road, after the
heavy rain of yesterday; and his grassy lair
suited the young man better than a bed of down.
The spring murmured drowsily beside him; the
branches waved dreamily across the blue sky,
overhead; and a deep sleep, perchance hiding
dreams within its depths, fell upon David Swan.
But we are to relate events which he did not dream
lay sound asleep in the shade, other
people were wide awake, and passed to and fro,
a-foot, on horseback, and in all sorts of
vehicles, along the sunny road by his bedchamber.
Some looked neither to the right hand nor to the
left, and knew not that he was there; some merely
glanced that way, without admitting the slumberer
among their busy thoughts; some laughed to see how
soundly he slept; and several, whose hearts were
brimming full of scorn, ejected their venomous
superfluity on David Swan. A middle aged widow,
when nobody else was near, thrust her head a
little way into the recess, and vowed that the
young fellow looked charming in his sleep. A
temperance lecturer saw him, and wrought poor
David into the texture of his evening's discourse,
as an awful instance of dead drunkenness by the
road-side. But, censure, praise, merriment,
scorn, and indifference, were all one, or rather
all nothing, to David Swan.
slept only a few moments, when a brown
carriage, drawn by a handsome pair of horses,
bowled easily along, and was brought to a
stand-still, nearly in front of David's resting
place. A finch pin had fallen out, and permitted
one of the wheels to slide off. The damage was
slight, and occasioned merely a momentary alarm to
an elderly merchant and his wife, who were
returning to Boston in the carriage. While the
coachman and a servant were replacing the wheel,
the lady and gentleman sheltered themselves
beneath the maple trees, and there espied the
bubbling fountain, and David Swan asleep beside
it. Impressed with the awe which the humblest
sleeper usually sheds around him, the merchant
trod as lightly as the gout would allow; and his
spouse took good heed not to rustle her silk gown,
lest David should start up, all of a sudden.
he sleeps!" whispered the old
gentleman. "From what a depth he draws that easy
breath! Such sleep as that, brought on without an
opiate, would be worth more to me than half my
income; for it would suppose health, and an
besides," said the lady. "Healthy and
quiet age does not sleep thus. Our slumber is no
more like his, than our wakefulness."
they looked, the more did this elderly
couple feel interested in the unknown youth, to
whom the way side and the maple shade were as a
secret chamber, with the rich gloom of damask
curtains brooding over him. Perceiving that a
stray sunbeam glimmered down upon his face, the
lady contrived to twist a branch aside, so as to
intercept it. And having done this little act of
kindness, she began to feel like a mother to him.
to have laid him here,"
whispered she to her husband, "and to have brought
us hither to find him, after our disappointment in
our cousin's son. Methinks I can see a likeness
to our departed Henry. Shall we waken him?"
purpose?" said the merchant, hesitating.
"We know nothing of the youth's character."
countenance!" replied his wife, in the
same hushed voice, yet earnestly. "This innocent
whispers were passing, the sleeper's
heart did not throb, nor his breath become
agitated, nor his features betray the least token
of interest.--Yet Fortune was bending over him,
just ready to let fall a burthen of gold. The old
merchant had lost his only son, and had no heir to
his wealth, except a distant relative, with whose
conduct he was dissatisfied. In such cases,
people sometimes do stranger things than to act
the magician, and awaken a young man to splendor,
who fell asleep in poverty.
not waken him?" repeated the lady,
is ready, Sir," said the servant,
couple started, reddened, and hurried
away, mutually wondering, that they should ever
have dreamed of doing any thing so very
ridiculous. The merchant threw himself back in
the carriage, and occupied his mind with the plan
of a magnificent asylum for unfortunate men of
business. Meanwhile, David Swan enjoyed his nap.
could not have gone above a mile or
two, when a pretty young girl came along, with a
tripping pace, which showed precisely how her
little heart was dancing in her bosom. Perhaps it
was this merry kind of motion that caused--is there
any harm in saying it?--her garter to slip its
knot. Conscious that the silken girth, if silk it
were, was relaxing its hold, she turned aside
into the shelter of the maple trees, and there
found a young man asleep by the spring! Blushing,
as red as any rose, that she should have intruded
into a gentleman's bed-chamber, and for such a
purpose too, she was about to make her escape on
tiptoe. But, there was peril near the sleeper. A
monster of a bee had been wandering overhead--buzz,
buzz, buzz--now among the leaves, now flashing
through the strips of sunshine, and now lost in
the dark shade, till finally he appeared to be
settling on the eyelid of David Swan. The sting
of a bee is sometimes deadly. As free-hearted as
she was innocent, the girl attacked the intruder
with her handkerchief, brushed him soundly, and
drove him from beneath the maple shade. How sweet
a picture! This good deed accomplished, with
quickened breath, and a deeper blush, she stole a
glance at the youthful stranger, for whom she had
been battling with a dragon in the air.
handsome!" thought she, and blushed redder
it be that no dream of bliss grew so
strong within him, that, shattered by its very
strength, it should part asunder, and allow him to
perceive the girl among its phantoms? Why, at
least, did no smile of welcome brighten upon his
face? She was come, the maid whose soul,
according to the old and beautiful idea, had been
severed from his own, and whom, in all his vague
but passionate desires, he yearned to meet. Her,
only, could he love with a perfect love--him, only,
could she receive into the depths of her heart--and
now her image was faintly blushing in the
fountain, by his side; should it pass away, its
happy lustre would never gleam upon his life
he sleeps!" murmured the girl.
but did not trip along the road so
lightly as when she came.
girl's father was a thriving country
merchant in the neighbourhood, and happened, at
that identical time, to be looking out for just
such a young man as David Swan. Had David formed
a way side acquaintance with the daughter, he
would have become the father's clerk, and all else
in natural succession. So here, again, had good
fortune--the best of fortunes--stolen so near, that
her garments brushed against him; and he knew
nothing of the matter.
was hardly out of sight, when two men
turned aside beneath the maple shade. Both had
dark faces, set off by cloth caps, which were
drawn down aslant over their brows. Their dresses
were shabby, yet had a certain smartness. These
were a couple of rascals, who got their living by
whatever the devil sent them, and now, in the
interim of other business, had staked the joint
profits of their next piece of villany on a game
of cards, which was to have been decided here
under the trees. But, finding David asleep by the
spring, one of the rogues whispered to his fellow,
see that bundle under his head?"
villain nodded, winked, and leered.
you a horn of brandy," said the first,
"that the chap has either a pocket book, or a snug
little hoard of small change, stowed away amongst
his shirts. And if not there, we shall find it in
his pantaloons' pocket."
if he wakes?" said the other.
thrust aside his waistcoat, pointed
to the handle of a dirk, and nodded.
it!" muttered the second villain.
the unconscious David, and, while
one pointed the dagger towards his heart, the
other began to search the bundle beneath his head.
Their two faces, grim, wrinkled, and ghastly with
guilt and fear, bent over their victim, looking
horrible enough to be mistaken for fiends, should
he suddenly awake. Nay, had the villains glanced
aside into the spring, even they would hardly have
known themselves, as reflected there. But David
Swan had never worn a more tranquil aspect, even
when asleep on his mother's breast.
take away the bundle," whispered one.
stirs, I'll strike," muttered the other.
this moment, a dog, scenting along the
ground, came in beneath the maple trees, and gazed
alternately at each of these wicked men, and then
at the quiet sleeper. He then lapped out of the
one villain. "We can do nothing
now. The dog's master must be close behind."
a drink, and be off," the other.
with the dagger, thrust back the weapon
into his bosom, and drew forth a pocket pistol,
but not of that kind which kills by a single
discharge. It was a flask of liquor, with a block
tin tumbler screwed upon the mouth. Each drank a
comfortable dram, and left the spot, with so many
jests, and such laughter at their unaccomplished
wickedness, that they might be said to have gone
on their way rejoicing. In a few hours, they had
forgotten the whole affair, nor once imagined that
the recording angel had written down the crime of
murder against their souls, in letters as durable
as eternity. As for David Swan, he still slept
quietly, neither conscious of the shadow of death
when it hung over him, nor of the glow of renewed
life, when that a, shadow was withdrawn.
but no longer so quietly as at first.
An hour's repose had snatched, from his elastic
frame, the weariness with which many hours of toil
had burthened it. Now, he stirred--now, moved his
lips, without a sound--now, talked, in an inward
tone, to the noon-day spectres of his dream. But
a noise of wheels came rattling louder and louder
along the road, until it dashed through the
dispersing mist of David's slumber--and there was
the stage coach. He started up, with all his
ideas about him.
a passenger?" shouted he.
top!" answered the driver.
David, and bowled away merrily towards
Boston, without so much as a parting glance at
that fountain of dreamlike vicissitude. He knew
not that a phantom of Wealth had thrown a golden
hue upon its waters--nor that one of Love had
sighed softly to their murmur--nor that one of
Death had threatened to crimson them with his
blood--all, in the brief hour since he lay down to
sleep. Sleeping or waking, we hear not the airy
footsteps of the strange things that almost
happen. Does it not argue a superintending
Providence, that, while viewless and unexpected
events thrust themselves continually athwart our
path, there should still be regularity enough, in
mortal life, to render foresight even partially
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