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Twice Told Tales

The Toll-Gatherer's Day
A SKETCH OF TRANSITORY LIFE.
Methinks, for a person whose instinct bids him rather to pore over the current of life than
to plunge into its tumultuous waves, no undesirable retreat were a toll-house beside some
thronged thoroughfare of the land. In youth, perhaps, it is good for the observer to run
about the earth, to leave the track of his footsteps far and wide, to mingle himself with the
action of numberless vicissitudes, and, finally, in some calm solitude to feed a musing
spirit on all that he has seen and felt. But there are natures too indolent or too sensitive to
endure the dust, the sunshine or the rain, the turmoil of moral and physical elements, to
which all the wayfarers of the world expose themselves. For such a man how pleasant a
miracle could life be made to roll its variegated length by the threshold of his own
hermitage, and the great globe, as it were, perform its revolutions and shift its thousand
scenes before his eyes without whirling him onward in its course! If any mortal be
favored with a lot analogous to this, it is the toll-gatherer. So, at least, have I often
fancied while lounging on a bench at the door of a small square edifice which stands
between shore and shore in the midst of a long bridge. Beneath the timbers ebbs and
flows an arm of the sea, while above, like the life-blood through a great artery, the travel
of the north and east is continually throbbing. Sitting on the aforesaid bench, I amuse
myself with a conception, illustrated by numerous pencil-sketches in the air, of the toll-
gatherer's day.
In the morning—dim, gray, dewy summer's morn—the distant roll of ponderous wheels
begins to mingle with my old friend's slumbers, creaking more and more harshly through
the midst of his dream and gradually replacing it with realities. Hardly conscious of the
change from sleep to wakefulness, he finds himself partly clad and throwing wide the
toll-gates for the passage of a fragrant load of hay. The timbers groan beneath the slow-
revolving wheels; one sturdy yeoman stalks beside the oxen, and, peering from the
summit of the hay, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished lantern over the toll-house is
seen the drowsy visage of his comrade, who has enjoyed a nap some ten miles long. The
toll is paid; creak, creak, again go the wheels, and the huge hay-mow vanishes into the
morning mist. As yet nature is but half awake, and familiar objects appear visionary. But
yonder, dashing from the shore with a rattling thunder of the wheels and a confused
clatter of hoofs, comes the never-tiring mail, which has hurried onward at the same
headlong, restless rate all through the quiet night. The bridge resounds in one continued
peal as the coach rolls on without a pause, merely affording the toll-gatherer a glimpse at
the sleepy passengers, who now bestir their torpid limbs and snuff a cordial in the briny
air. The morn breathes upon them and blushes, and they forget how wearily the darkness
toiled away. And behold now the fervid day in his bright chariot, glittering aslant over the
waves, nor scorning to throw a tribute of his golden beams on the toll-gatherer's little
hermitage. The old man looks eastward, and (for he is a moralizer) frames a simile of the
stage-coach and the sun.
While the world is rousing itself we may glance slightly at the scene of our sketch. It sits
above the bosom of the broad flood—a spot not of earth, but in the midst of waters which
 
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