Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

The Threefold Destiny

A Fairy Legend

I have sometimes produced a singular and not unpleasing effect, so far
as my own mind was concerned, by imagining a train of incidents, in
which the spirit and mechanism of the fairy legend should be combined
with the characters and manners of familiar life. In the little tale
which follows, a subdued tinge of the wild and wonderful is thrown
over a sketch of New England personages and scenery, yet, it is hoped,
without entirely obliterating the sober hues of nature. Rather than a
story of events claiming to be real, it may be considered as an
allegory, such as the writers of the last century would have expressed
in the shape of an Eastern tale, but to which I have endeavored to
give a more life-like warmth than could be infused into those fanciful

In the twilight of a summer eve, a tall, dark figure, over which long
and remote travel had thrown an outlandish aspect, was entering a
village, not in "Fairy Londe," but within our own familiar boundaries.
The staff, on which this traveller leaned, had been his companion from
the spot where it grew, in the jungles of Hindostan; the hat, that
overshadowed his sombre brow, had shielded him from the suns of Spain;
but his cheek had been blackened by the red-hot wind of an Arabian
desert, and had felt the frozen breath of an Arctic region. Long
sojourning amid wild and dangerous men, he still wore beneath his vest
the ataghan which he had once struck into the throat of a Turkish
robber. In every foreign clime he had lost something of his New
England characteristics; and, perhaps, from every people he had
unconsciously borrowed a new peculiarity; so that when the world-
wanderer again trod the street of his native village, it is no wonder
that he passed unrecognized, though exciting the gaze and curiosity of
all. Yet, as his arm casually touched that of a young woman, who was
wending her way to an evening lecture, she started, and almost uttered
a cry.

"Ralph Cranfield!" was the name that she half articulated.

"Can that be my old playmate, Faith Egerton?" thought the traveller,
looking round at her figure, but without pausing.

Ralph Cranfield, from his youth upward, had felt himself marked out
for a high destiny. He had imbibed the idea--we say not whether it
were revealed to him by witchcraft, or in a dream of prophecy, or that
his brooding fancy had palmed its own dictates upon him as the oracles
of a Sibyl--but he had imbibed the idea, and held it firmest among his
articles of faith, that three marvellous events of his life were to be
confirmed to him by three signs.

The first of these three fatalities, and perhaps the one on which his
youthful imagination had dwelt most fondly, was the discovery of the
maid, who alone, of all the maids on earth, could make him happy by
her love. He was to roam around the world till be should meet a
beautiful woman, wearing on her bosom a jewel in the shape of a heart;
whether of pearl, or ruby, or emerald, or carbuncle, or a changeful
opal, or perhaps a priceless diamond, Ralph Cranfield little cared, so
long as it were a heart of one peculiar shape. On encountering this
lovely stranger, he was bound to address her thus: "Maiden, I have
brought you a heavy heart. May I rest its weight on you?" And if she
were his fated bride,--if their kindred souls were destined to form a
union here below, which all eternity should only bind more closely,--
she would reply, with her finger on the heart-shaped jewel, "This
token, which I have worn so long, is the assurance that you may!"

And, secondly, Ralph Cranfield had a firm belief that there was a
mighty treasure hidden somewhere in the earth, of which the burial-
place would be revealed to none but him. When his feet should press
upon the mysterious spot, there would be a hand before him, pointing
downward,--whether carved of marble, or hewn in gigantic dimensions on
the side of a rocky precipice, or perchance a hand of flame in empty
air, he could not tell; but, at least, he would discern a hand, the
forefinger pointing downward, and beneath it the Latin word EFFODE,--
Dig! And digging thereabouts, the gold in coin or ingots, the
precious stones, or of whatever else the treasure might consist, would
be certain to reward his toil.

The third and last of the miraculous events in the life of this high-
destined man was to be the attainment of extensive influence and sway
over his fellow-creatures. Whether be were to be a king, and founder
of an hereditary throne, or the victorious leader of a people
contending for their freedom, or the apostle of a purified and
regenerated faith, was left for futurity to show. As messengers of
the sign, by which Ralph Cranfield might recognize the summons, three
venerable men were to claim audience of him. The chief among them, a
dignified and majestic person, arrayed, it may be supposed, in the
flowing garments of an ancient sage, would be the bearer of a wand, or
prophet's rod. With this wand, or rod, or staff, the venerable sage
would trace a certain figure in the air, and then proceed to make
known his heaven-instructed message; which, if obeyed, must lead to
glorious results.

With this proud fate before him, in the flush of his imaginative
youth, Ralph Cranfield had set forth to seek the maid, the treasure,
and the venerable sage, with his gift of extended empire. And had he
found them? Alas! it was not with the aspect of a triumphant man, who
had achieved a nobler destiny than all his fellows, but rather with
the gloom of one struggling against peculiar and continual adversity,
that he now passed homeward to his mother's cottage. He had come
back, but only for a time, to lay aside the pilgrim's staff, trusting
that his weary manhood would regain somewhat of the elasticity of
youth, in the spot where his threefold fate had been foreshown him.
There had been few changes in the village; for it was not one of those
thriving places where a year's prosperity makes more than the havoc of
a century's decay; but like a gray hair in a young man's head, an
antiquated little town, full of old maids, and aged elms, and moss-
grown dwellings. Few seemed to be the changes here. The drooping
elms, indeed, had a more majestic spread; the weather-blackened houses
were adorned with a denser thatch of verdant moss; and doubtless there
were a few more gravestones in the burial-ground, inscribed with names
that had once been familiar in the village street. Yet, summing up
all the mischief that ten years had wrought, it seemed scarcely more
than if Ralph Cranfield had gone forth that very morning, and dreamed
a daydream till the twilight, and then turned back again. But his
heart grew cold, because the village did not remember him as he
remembered the village.

"Here is the change!" sighed he, striking his hand upon his breast.
"Who is this man of thought and care, weary with world-wandering, and
heavy with disappointed hopes? The youth returns not, who went forth
so joyously!"

And now Ralph Cranfield was at his mother's gate, in front of the
small house where the old lady, with slender but sufficient means, had
kept herself comfortable during her son's long absence. Admitting
himself within the enclosure, he leaned against a great, old tree,
trifling with his own impatience, as people often do in those
intervals when years are summed into a moment. He took a minute
survey of the dwelling,--its windows, brightened with the sky-gleans,
its doorway, with the half of a mill-stone for a step, and the faintly
traced path waving thence to the gate. He made friends again with his
childhood's friend, the old tree against which he leaned; and glancing
his eye a-down its trunk, beheld something that excited a melancholy
smile. It was a half-obliterated inscription--the Latin word EFFODE--
which he remembered to have carved in the bark of the tree, with a
whole day's toil, when he had first begun to muse about his exalted
destiny. It might be accounted a rather singular coincidence, that
the bark, just above the inscription, had put forth an excrescence,
shaped not unlike a hand, with the forefinger pointing obliquely at
the word of fate. Such, at least, was its appearance in the dusky

"Now a credulous man," said Ralph Cranfield carelessly to himself,
"might suppose that the treasure which I have sought round the world
lies buried, after all, at the very door of my mother's dwelling.
That would be a jest indeed!"

More he thought not about the matter; for now the door was opened, and
an elderly woman appeared on the threshold, peering into the dusk to
discover who it might be that had intruded on her premises, and was
standing in the shadow of her tree. It was Ralph Cranfield's mother.
Pass we over their greeting, and leave the one to her joy and the
other to his rest,--if quiet rest be found.

But when morning broke, he arose with a troubled brow; for his sleep
and his wakefulness had alike been full of dreams. All the fervor was
rekindled with which he had burned of yore to unravel the threefold
mystery of his fate. The crowd of his early visions seemed to have
awaited him beneath his mother's roof, and thronged riotously around
to welcome his return. In the well-remembered chamber--on the pillow
where his infancy had slumbered--he had passed a wilder night than
ever in an Arab tent, or when he had reposed his head in the ghastly
shades of a haunted forest. A shadowy maid had stolen to his bedside,
and laid her finger on the scintillating heart; a hand of flame had
glowed amid the darkness, pointing downward to a mystery within the
earth; a hoary sage had waved his prophetic wand, and beckoned the
dreamer onward to a chair of state. The same phantoms, though fainter
in the daylight, still flitted about the cottage, and mingled among
the crowd of familiar faces that were drawn thither by the news of
Ralph Cranfield's return, to bid him welcome for his mother's sake.
There they found him, a tall, dark, stately man, of foreign aspect,
courteous in demeanor and mild of speech, yet with an abstracted eye,
which seemed often to snatch a glance at the invisible.

Meantime the Widow Cranfield went bustling about the house full of joy
that she again had somebody to love, and be careful of, and for whom
she might vex and tease herself with the petty troubles of daily life.
It was nearly noon, when she looked forth from the door, and descried
three personages of note coming along the street, through the hot
sunshine and the masses of elm-tree shade. At length they reached her
gate, and undid the latch.

"See, Ralph!" exclaimed she, with maternal pride, "here is Squire
Hawkwood and the two other selectmen coming on purpose to see you!
Now do tell them a good long story about what you have seen in foreign

The foremost of the three visitors, Squire Hawkwood, was a very
pompous, but excellent old gentleman, the head and prime mover in all
the affairs of the village, and universally acknowledged to be one of
the sagest men on earth. He wore, according to a fashion, even then
becoming antiquated, a three-cornered hat, and carried a silver-headed
cane, the use of which seemed to be rather for flourishing in the air
than for assisting the progress of his legs. His two companions were
elderly and respectable yeomen, who, retaining an ante-revolutionary
reverence for rank and hereditary wealth, kept a little in the
Squire's rear. As they approached along the pathway, Ralph Cranfield
sat in an oaken elbow-chair, half unconsciously gazing at the three
visitors, and enveloping their homely figures in the misty romance
that pervaded his mental world.

"Here," thought he, smiling at the conceit,--"here come three elderly
personages, and the first of the three is a venerable sage with a
staff. What if this embassy should bring me the message of my fate!"

While Squire Hawkwood and his colleagues entered, Ralph rose from his
seat, and advanced a few steps to receive them; and his stately figure
and dark countenance, as he bent courteously towards his guests, had a
natural dignity, contrasting well with the bustling importance of the
Squire. The old gentleman, according to invariable custom, gave an
elaborate preliminary flourish with his cane in the air, then removed
his three-cornered hat in order to wipe his brow, and finally
proceeded to make known his errand.

"My colleagues and myself," began the Squire, "are burdened with
momentous duties, being jointly selectmen of this village. Our minds,
for the space of three days past, have been laboriously bent on the
selection of a suitable person to fill a most important office, and
take upon himself a charge and rule, which, wisely considered, may be
ranked no lower than those of kings and potentates. And whereas you,
our native townsman, are of good natural intellect, and well
cultivated by foreign travel, and that certain vagaries and fantasies
of your youth are doubtless long ago corrected; taking all these
matters, I say, into due consideration, we are of opinion that
Providence Lath sent you hither, at this juncture, for our very

During this harangue, Cranfield gazed fixedly at the speaker, as if he
beheld something mysterious and unearthly in his pompous little
figure, and as if the Squire had worn the flowing robes of an ancient
sage, instead of a square-skirted coat, flapped waistcoat, velvet
breeches, and silk stockings. Nor was his wonder without sufficient
cause; for the flourish of the Squire's staff, marvellous to relate,
had described precisely the signal in the air which was to ratify the
message of the prophetic Sage, whom Cranfield had sought around the

"And what," inquired Ralph Cranfield, with a tremor in his voice,--
"what may this office be, which is to equal me with kings and

"No less than instructor of our village school," answered Squire
Hawkwood; "the office being now vacant by the loath of the venerable
Master Whitaker, after a fifty years' incumbency."

"I will consider of your proposal," replied Ralph Cranfield,
hurriedly, "and will make known my decision within three days."

After a few more words, the village dignitary and his companions took
their leave. But to Cranfield's fancy their images were still
present, and became more and more invested with the dim awfulness of
figures which had first appeared to him in a dream, and afterwards had
shown themselves in his waking moments, assuming homely aspects among
familiar things. His mind dwelt upon the features of the Squire, till
they grew confused with those of the visionary Sage, and one appeared
but the shadow of the other. The same visage, he now thought, had
looked forth upon him from the Pyramid of Cheops; the same form had
beckoned to him among the colonnades of the Alhambra; the same figure
had mistily revealed itself through the ascending steam of the Great
Geyser. At every effort of his memory he recognized some trait of the
dreamy Messenger of Destiny, in this pompous, bustling, self-
important, little great man of the village. Amid such musings Ralph
Cranfield sat all day in the cottage, scarcely hearing and vaguely
answering his mother's thousand questions about his travels and
adventures. At sunset he roused himself to take a stroll, and,
passing the aged elm-tree, his eye was again caught by the semblance
of a hand, pointing downward at the half-obliterated inscription. As
Cranfield walked down the street of the village, the level sunbeams
threw his shadow far before him; and be fancied that, as his shadow
walked among distant objects, so had there been a presentiment
stalking in advance of him throughout his life. And when he drew near
each object, over which his tall shadow had preceded him, still it
proved to be--one of the familiar recollections of his infancy and
youth. Every crook in the pathway was remembered. Even the more
transitory characteristics of the scene were the same as in bygone
days. A company of cows were grazing on the grassy roadside, and
refreshed him with their fragrant breath. "It is sweeter," thought
he, "than the perfume which was wafted to our shipp from the Spice
Islands." The round little figure of a child rolled from a doorway,
and lay laughing almost beneath Cranfield's feet. The dark and
stately man stooped down, and, lifting the infant, restored him to his
mother's arms. "The children," said he to himself, and sighed, and
smiled,--"the children are to be my charge!" And while a flow of
natural feeling gushed like a wellspring in his heart, he came to a
dwelling which he could nowise forbear to enter. A sweet voice, which
seemed to come from a deep and tender soul, was warbling a plaintive
little air, within.

He bent his head, and passed through the lowly door. As his foot
sounded upon the threshold, a young woman advanced from the dusky
interior of the house, at first hastily, and then with a more
uncertain step, till they met face to face. There was a singular
contrast in their two figures; he dark and picturesque,--one who had
battled with the world,--whom all suns had shone upon, and whom all
winds had blown on a varied course; she neat, comely, and quiet,--
quiet even in her agitation,--as if all her emotions had been subdued
to the peaceful tenor of her life. Yet their faces, all unlike as
they were, had an expression that seemed not so alien,--a glow of
kindred feeling, flashing upward anew from half-extinguished embers.

"You are welcome home!" said Faith Egerton.

But Cranfield did not immediately answer; for his eye had been caught
by an ornament in the shape of a Heart, which Faith wore as a brooch
upon her bosom. The material was the ordinary white quartz; and he
recollected having himself shaped it out of one of those Indian
arrowheads, which are so often found in the ancient haunts of the red
men. It was precisely on the pattern of that worn by the visionary
Maid. When Cranfield departed on his shadowy search he had bestowed
this brooch, in a gold setting, as a parting gift to Faith Egerton.

"So, Faith, you have kept the Heart!" said he, at length.

"Yes," said she, blushing deeply; then more gayly, and what else have
you brought me from beyond the sea?"

"Faith!" replied Ralph Cranfield, uttering the fated words by an
uncontrollable impulse, "I have brought you nothing but a heavy
heart! May I rest its weight on you?"

"This token, which I have worn so long," said Faith, laying her
tremulous finger on the Heart, "is the assurance that you may!"

"Faith! Faith!" cried Cranfield, clasping her in his arms, "you have
interpreted my wild and weary dream!"

Yes, the wild dreamer was awake at last. To find the mysterious
treasure, he was to till the earth around his mother's dwelling, and
reap its products! Instead of warlike command, or regal or religious
sway, he was to rule over the village children! And now the visionary
Maid had faded from his fancy, and in her place he saw the playmate of
his childhood! Would all, who cherish such wild wishes, but look
around them, they would oftenest find their sphere of duty, of
prosperity, and happiness within those precincts, and in that station
where Providence itself has cast their lot. Happy they who read the
riddle, without a weary world-search, or a lifetime spent in vain!

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Short Stories