by Nathaniel Hawthorne
We can be but partially acquainted even with the 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.
We have 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 stagecoach. 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
While he lay sound asleep in the shade, other people were wide
awake, and passed to and fro, afoot, on horseback, and in all
sorts of vehicles, along the sunny road by his bedchamber. Some
looked neither to the right hand nor 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 roadside. But
censure, praise, merriment, scorn, and indifference were all
one, or rather all nothing, to David Swan.
He had slept only a few moments when a brown carriage, drawn by
a handsome pair of horses, bowled easily along, and was brought
to a standstill nearly in front of David's resting-place. A
linchpin 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 sleeped 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.
"How soundly 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 untroubled
"And youth, besides," said the lady. "Healthy and quiet age
does not sleep thus. Our slumber is no more like his than
The longer they looked, the more did this elderly couple feel
interested in the unknown youth, to whom the wayside 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
"Providence seems 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?"
"To what purpose?" said the merchant, hesitating. "We know
nothing of the youth's character."
"That open countenance!" replied his wife, in the same hushed
voice, yet earnestly. "This innocent sleep!"
While these 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 burden 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.
"Shall we not waken him?" repeated the lady persuasively.
"The coach is ready, sir," said the servant, behind.
The old couple started, reddened, and hurried away, mutually
wondering that they should ever have dreamed of doing anything
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.
The carriage 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 bedchamber, 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.
"He is handsome!" thought she, and blushed redder yet.
How could 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 again.
"How sound he sleeps!" murmured the girl.
She departed, but did not trip along the road so lightly as when
Now this girl's father was a thriving country merchant in the
neighborhood, and happened, at that identical time, to be looking
out for just such a young man as David Swan. Had David formed
a wayside 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 girl 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 villainy 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,
"Hist! Do you see that bundle under his head?"
The other villain nodded, winked, and leered.
"I'll bet you a horn of brandy," said the first, "that the chap
has either a pocketbook, 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."
"But how if he wakes?" said the other.
His companion thrust aside his waistcoat, pointed to the handle
of a dirk, and nodded.
"So be it!" muttered the second villain.
They approached 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
"I must take away the bundle," whispered one.
"If he stirs, I'll strike," muttered the other.
But at 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 fountain.
"Pshaw!" said one villain. "We can do nothing now. The dog's
master must be close behind."
"Let's take a drink, and be off," said the other.
The man 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 shadow was withdrawn.
He slept, 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 burdened it. Now, he
stirred--now, moved his lips, without a sound--now, talked,
in an inward tone, to the noonday 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 stagecoach.
He started up, with all his ideas about him.
"Halloo, driver! Take a passenger?" shouted he.
"Room on top!" answered the driver.
Up mounted 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
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~