1843

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1843

TWICE-TOLD TALES

THE BIRTHMARK

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

IN THE LATTER PART of the last century, there lived a man of

science- an eminent proficient in every branch of natural

philosophy- who, not long before our story opens, had made

experience of a spiritual affinity, more attractive than any

chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of an

assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace-smoke, washed

the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful woman

to become his wife. In those days, when the comparatively recent

discovery of electricity, and other kindred mysteries of nature,

seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual

for the love of science to rival the love of woman, in its depth and

absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit,

and even the heart, might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits

which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from

one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher

should lay his hand on the secret of creative force, and perhaps

make new worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed this

degree of faith in man’s ultimate control over nature. He had

devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies, ever

to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young

wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by

intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength

of the latter to its own.

Such an union accordingly took place, and was attended with truly

remarkable consequences, and a deeply impressive moral. One day,

very soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife, with

a trouble in his countenance that grew stronger, until he spoke.

"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the mark

upon your cheek might be removed?"

"No, indeed, said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness of

his manner, she blushed deeply. "To tell you the truth, it has been so

often called a charm, that I was simple enough to imagine it might

be so."

"Ah, upon another face, perhaps it might," replied her husband.

"But never on yours! No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect

from the hand of Nature, that this slightest possible defect- which we

hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty- shocks me, as being the

visible mark of earthly imperfection."

"Shocks you, my husband!" cried Georgiana, deeply hurt; at first

reddening with momentary anger, but then bursting into tears. "Then

why did you take me from my mother’s side? You cannot love what shocks

you!"

To explain this conversation, it must be mentioned, that, in the

centre of Georgiana’s left cheek, there was a singular mark, deeply

interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance of her face. In

the usual state of her complexion- a healthy, though delicate bloom-

the mark wore a tint of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined

its shape amid the surrounding rosiness. When she blushed, it

gradually became more indistinct, and finally vanished amid the

triumphant rush of blood, that bathed the whole cheek with its

brilliant glow. But, if any shifting emotion caused her to turn

pale, there was the mark again, a crimson stain upon the snow, in what

Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful distinctness. Its shape bore

not a little similarity to the human hand, though of the smallest

pigmy size. Georgiana’s lovers were wont to say, that some fairy, at

her birth-hour, had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek, and

left this impress there, in token of the magic endowments that were to

give her such sway over all hearts. Many a desperate swain would

have risked life for the privilege of pressing his lips to the

mysterious hand. It must not be concealed, however, that the

impression wrought by this fairy sign-manual varied exceedingly,

according to the difference of temperament in the beholders. Some

fastidious persons- but they were exclusively of her own sex- affirmed

that the Bloody Hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the

effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even

hideous. But it would be as reasonable to say, that one of those small

blue stains, which sometimes occur in the purest statuary marble,

would convert the Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculine observers,

if the birthmark did not heighten their admiration, contented

themselves with wishing it away, that the world might possess one

living specimen of ideal loveliness, without the semblance of a

flaw. After his marriage- for he thought little or nothing of the

matter before- Aylmer discovered that this was the case with himself.

Had she been less beautiful- if Envy’s self could have found

aught else to sneer at- he might have felt his affection heightened by

the prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely portrayed, now lost,

now stealing forth again, and glimmering to and fro with every pulse

of emotion that throbbed within her heart. But, seeing her otherwise

so perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable,

with every moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of

humanity, which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably

on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and

finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The

Crimson Hand expressed the ineludible gripe, in which mortality

clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them

into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom

their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as

the symbol of his wife’s liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death,

Aylmer’s sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark

a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever

Georgiana’s beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.

At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he

invariably, and without intending it- nay, in spite of a purpose to

the contrary- reverted to this one disastrous topic. Trifling as it at

first appeared, it so connected itself with innumerable trains of

thought, and modes of feeling, that it became the central point of

all. With the morning twilight, Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife’s

face, and recognized the symbol of imperfection; and when they sat

together at the evening hearth, his eyes wandered stealthily to her

cheek, and beheld, flickering with the blaze of the wood fire, the

spectral Hand that wrote mortality where he would fain have

worshipped. Georgiana soon learned to shudder at his gaze. It needed

but a glance, with the peculiar expression that his face often wore,

to change the roses of her cheek into a death-like paleness, amid

which the Crimson Hand was brought strongly out, like a bas-relief

of ruby on the whitest marble.

Late, one night, when the lights were growing dim, so as hardly

to betray the stain on the poor wife’s cheek, she herself, for the

first time, voluntarily took up the subject.

"Do you remember, my dear Aylmer," said she, with a feeble

attempt at a smile- "have you any recollection of a dream, last night,

about this odious Hand?"

"None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then he

added in a dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealing the

real depth of his emotion: "I might well dream of it; for, before I

fell asleep, it had taken a pretty firm hold of my fancy."

"And you did dream of it," continued Georgiana, hastily; for she

dreaded lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had to say-

"A terrible dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is it possible

to forget this one expression? ‘It is in her heart now- we must have

it out!’ Reflect, my husband; for by all means I would have you recall

that dream."

The mind is in a sad state, when Sleep, the all-involving, cannot

confine her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but suffers

them to break forth, affrighting this actual life with secrets that

perchance belong to a deeper one. Aylmer now remembered his dream.

He had fancied himself, with his servant Aminadab, attempting an

operation for the removal of the birthmark. But the deeper went the

knife, the deeper sank the Hand, until at length its tiny grasp

appeared to have caught hold of Georgiana’s heart; whence, however,

her husband was inexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away.

When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer

sat in his wife’s presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often finds

its way to the mind close-muffled in robes of sleep, and then speaks

with uncompromising directness of matters in regard to which we

practise an unconscious self-deception, during our waking moments.

Until now, he had not been aware of the tyrannizing influence acquired

by one idea over his mind, and of the lengths which he might find in

his heart to go, for the sake of giving himself peace.

"Aylmer," resumed Georgiana, solemnly, "I know not what may be

the cost to both of us, to rid me of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps its

removal may cause cureless deformity. Or, it may be, the stain goes as

deep as life itself. Again, do we know that there is a possibility, on

any terms, of unclasping the firm gripe of this little Hand, which was

laid upon me before I came into the world?"

"Dearest Georgiana, I have spent much thought upon the subject,"

hastily interrupted Aylmer- "I am convinced of the perfect

practicability of its removal."

"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued

Georgiana, "let the attempt be made, at whatever risk. Danger is

nothing to me; for life- while this hateful mark makes me the object

of your horror and disgust- life is a burthen which I would fling down

with joy. Either remove this dreadful Hand, or take my wretched

life! You have deep science! All the world bears witness of it. You

have achieved great wonders! Cannot you remove this little, little

mark, which I cover with the tips of two small fingers! Is this beyond

your power, for the sake of your own peace, and to save your poor wife

from madness?"

"Noblest- dearest- tenderest wife!" cried Aylmer, rapturously.

"Doubt not my power. I have already given this matter the deepest

thought- thought which might almost have enlightened me to create a

being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeper

than ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent

to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most

beloved, what will be my triumph, when I shall have corrected what

Nature left imperfect, in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when his

sculptured woman assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will

be."

"It is resolved, then," said Georgiana, faintly smiling- "And,

Aylmer, spare me not, though you should find the birthmark take refuge

in my heart at last."

Her husband tenderly kissed her cheek- her right cheek- not that

which bore the impress of the Crimson Hand.

The next day, Aylmer apprised his wife of a plan that he had

formed, whereby he might have opportunity for the intense thought

and constant watchfulness which the proposed operation would

require; while Georgiana, likewise, would enjoy the perfect repose

essential to its success. They were to seclude themselves in the

extensive apartments occupied by Aylmer as a laboratory, and where,

during his toilsome youth, he had made discoveries in the elemental

powers of Nature, that had roused the admiration of all the learned

societies in Europe. Seated calmly in this laboratory, the pale

philosopher had investigated the secrets of the highest

cloud-region, and of the profoundest mines; he had satisfied himself

of the causes that kindled and kept alive the fires of the volcano;

and had explained the mystery of fountains, and how it is that they

gush forth, some so bright and pure, and others with such rich

medicinal virtues, from the dark bosom of the earth. Here, too, at

an earlier period, he had studied the wonders of the human frame,

and attempted to fathom the very process by which Nature assimilates

all her precious influences from earth and air, and from the spiritual

world, to create and foster Man, her masterpiece. The latter

pursuit, however, Aylmer had long laid aside, in unwilling recognition

of the truth, against which all seekers sooner or later stumble,

that our great creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently

working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep

her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows us

nothing but results. She permits us indeed to mar, but seldom to mend,

and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to make. Now, however,

Aylmer resumed these half-forgotten investigations; not, of course,

with such hopes or wishes as first suggested them; but because they

involved much physiological truth, and lay in the path of his proposed

scheme for the treatment of Georgiana.

As he led her over the threshold of the laboratory, Georgiana was

cold and tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into her face, with

intent to reassure her, but was so startled with the intense glow of

the birthmark upon the whiteness of her cheek, that he could not

restrain a strong convulsive shudder. His wife fainted.

"Aminadab! Aminadab!" shouted Aylmer, stamping violently on the

floor.

Forthwith, there issued from an inner apartment a man of low

stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage,

which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace. This personage had

been Aylmer’s under-worker during his whole scientific career, and was

admirably fitted for that office by his great mechanical readiness,

and the skill with which, while incapable of comprehending a single

principle, he executed all the practical details of his master’s

experiments. With his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky

aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that encrusted him, he seemed

to represent man’s physical nature; while Aylmer’s slender figure, and

pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual

element.

"Throw open the door of the boudoir, Aminadab," said Aylmer, "and

burn a pastille."

"Yes, master," answered Aminadab, looking intently at the

lifeless form of Georgiana; and then he muttered to himself: "If she

were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark."

When Georgiana recovered consciousness, she found herself breathing

an atmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle potency of which

had recalled her from her death-like faintness. The scene around her

looked like enchantment. Aylmer had converted those smoky, dingy,

sombre rooms, where he had spent his brightest years in recondite

pursuits, into a series of beautiful apartments, not unfit to be the

secluded abode of a lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous

curtains, which imparted the combination of grandeur and grace, that

no other species of adornment can achieve; and as they fell from the

ceiling to the floor, their rich and ponderous folds, concealing all

angles and straight lines, appeared to shut in the scene from infinite

space. For aught Georgiana knew, it might be a pavilion among the

clouds. And Aylmer, excluding the sunshine, which would have

interfered with his chemical processes, had supplied its place with

perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hue, but all uniting in a

soft, empurpled radiance. He now knelt by his wife’s side, watching

her earnestly, but without alarm; for he was confident in his science,

and felt that he could draw a magic circle round her, within which

no evil might intrude.

"Where am I? Ah, I remember!" said Georgiana, faintly; and she

placed her hand over her cheek, to hide the terrible mark from her

husband’s eyes.

"Fear not, dearest!" exclaimed he. "Do not shrink from me!

Believe me, Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection,

since it will be such a rapture to remove it."

"Oh, spare me!" sadly replied his wife. "Pray do not look at it

again. I never can forget that convulsive shudder."

In order to soothe Georgiana, and, as it were, to release her

mind from the burthen of actual things, Aylmer now put in practice

some of the light and playful secrets which science had taught him

among its profounder lore. Airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas,

and forms of unsubstantial beauty, came and danced before her,

imprinting their momentary footsteps on beams of light. Though she had

some indistinct idea of the method of these optical phenomena, still

the illusion was almost perfect enough to warrant the belief that

her husband possessed sway over the spiritual world. Then again,

when she felt a wish to look forth from her seclusion, immediately, as

if her thoughts were answered, the procession of external existence

flitted across a screen. The scenery and the figures of actual life

were perfectly represented, but with that bewitching, yet

indescribable difference, which always makes a picture, an image, or a

shadow, so much more attractive than the original. When wearied of

this, Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon a vessel, containing a

quantity of earth. She did so, with little interest at first, but

was soon startled, to perceive the germ of a plant, shooting upward

from the soil. Then came the slender stalk- the leaves gradually

unfolded themselves- and amid them was a perfect and lovely flower.

"It is magical!" cried Georgiana, "I dare not touch it."

"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer, "pluck it, and inhale its brief

perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments, and

leave nothing save its brown seed-vessels- but thence may be

perpetuated a race as ephemeral as itself."

But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant

suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black, as if by the

agency of fire.

"There was too powerful a stimulus," said Aylmer thoughtfully.

To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take her

portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to be

effected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of metal.

Georgiana assented- but, on looking at the result, was affrighted to

find the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while the

minute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been.

Aylmer snatched the metallic plate, and threw it into a jar of

corrosive acid.

Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the

intervals of study and chemical experiment, he came to her, flushed

and exhausted, but seemed invigorated by her presence, and spoke in

glowing language of the resources of his art. He gave a history of the

long dynasty of the Alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the

universal solvent, by which the Golden Principle might be elicited

from all things vile and base. Aylmer appeared to believe, that, by

the plainest scientific logic, it was altogether within the limits

of possibility to discover this long-sought medium; but, he added, a

philosopher who should go deep enough to acquire the power, would

attain too lofty a wisdom to stoop to the exercise of it. Not less

singular were his opinions in regard to the Elixir Vitae. He more than

intimated, that it was at his option to concoct a liquid that should

prolong life for years- perhaps interminably- but that it would

produce a discord in nature, which all the world, and chiefly the

quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would find cause to curse.

"Aylmer, are you in earnest?" asked Georgiana, looking at him

with amazement and fear; "it is terrible to possess such power, or

even to dream of possessing it.

"Oh, do not tremble, my love!" said her husband, "I would not wrong

either you or myself, by working such inharmonious effects upon our

lives. But I would have you consider how trifling, in comparison, is

the skill requisite to remove this little Hand."

At the mention of the birthmark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank, as if

a red-hot iron had touched her cheek.

Again Aylmer applied himself to his labors. She could hear his

voice in the distant furnace-room, giving directions to Aminadab,

whose harsh, uncouth, mis-shapen tones were audible in response,

more like the grunt or growl of a brute than human speech. After hours

of absence, Aylmer reappeared, and proposed that she should now

examine his cabinet of chemical products, and natural treasures of the

earth. Among the former he showed her a small vial, in which, he

remarked, was contained a gentle yet most powerful fragrance,

capable of impregnating all the breezes that blow across a kingdom.

They were of inestimable value, the contents of that little vial; and,

as he said so, he threw some of the perfume into the air, and filled

the room with piercing and invigorating delight.

"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal

globe, containing a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to the

eye, that I could imagine it the Elixir of Life."

"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer, "or rather the Elixir of

Immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted in

this world. By its aid, I could apportion the life-time of any

mortal at whom you might point your finger. The strength of the dose

would determine whether he were to linger out years, or drop dead in

the midst of a breath. No king, on his guarded throne, could keep

his life, if I, in my private station, should deem that the welfare of

millions justified me in depriving him of it."

"Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" inquired Georgiana in

horror.

"Do not mistrust me, dearest!" said her husband, smiling; "its

virtuous potency is yet greater than its harmful one. But, see! here

is a powerful cosmetic. With a few drops of this, in a vase of

water, freckles may be washed away as easily as the hands are

cleansed. A stronger infusion would take the blood out of the cheek,

and leave the rosiest beauty a pale ghost."

"Is it with this lotion that you intend to bathe my cheek?" asked

Georgiana, anxiously.

"Oh, no!" hastily replied her husband- "this is merely superficial.

Your case demands a remedy that shall go deeper."

In his interviews with Georgiana, Aylmer generally made minute

inquiries as to her sensations, and whether the confinement of the

rooms, and the temperature of the atmosphere, agreed with her. These

questions had such a particular drift, that Georgiana began to

conjecture that she was already subjected to certain physical

influences, either breathed in with the fragrant air, or taken with

her food. She fancied, likewise- but it might be altogether fancy-

that there was a stirring up of her system: a strange, indefinite

sensation creeping through her veins, and tingling, half-painfully,

half-pleasurably, at her heart. Still, whenever she dared to look into

the mirror, there she beheld herself, pale as a white rose, and with

the crimson birthmark stamped upon her cheek. Not even Aylmer now

hated it so much as she.

To dispel the tedium of the hours which her husband found it

necessary to devote to the processes of combination and analysis,

Georgiana turned over the volumes of his scientific library. In many

dark old tomes, she met with chapters full of romance and poetry. They

were the works of the philosophers of the middle ages, such as

Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and the famous friar

who created the prophetic Brazen Head. All these antique naturalists

stood in advance of their centuries, yet were imbued with some of

their credulity, and therefore were believed, and perhaps imagined

themselves, to have acquired from the investigation of nature a

power above nature, and from physics a sway over the spiritual

world. Hardly less curious and imaginative were the early volumes of

the Transactions of the Royal Society, in which the members, knowing

little of the limits of natural possibility, were continually

recording wonders, or proposing methods whereby wonders might be

wrought.

But, to Georgiana, the most engrossing volume was a large folio

from her husband’s own hand, in which he had recorded every experiment

of his scientific career, with its original aim, the methods adopted

for its development, and its final success or failure, with the

circumstances to which either event was attributable. The book, in

truth, was both the history and emblem of his ardent, ambitious,

imaginative, yet practical and laborious, life. He handled physical

details, as if there were nothing beyond them; yet spiritualized

them all, and redeemed himself from materialism, by his strong and

eager aspiration towards the infinite. In his grasp, the veriest

clod of earth assumed a soul. Georgiana, as she read, reverenced

Aylmer, and loved him more profoundly than ever, but with a less

entire dependence on his judgment than heretofore. Much as he had

accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid

successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the

ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest

pebbles, and felt to be so by himself, in comparison with the

inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach. The volume, rich

with achievements that had won renown for its author, was yet as

melancholy a record as ever mortal hand had penned. It was the sad

confession, and continual exemplification, of the short-comings of the

composite man- the spirit burthened with clay and working in matter;

and of the despair that assails the higher nature, at finding itself

so miserably thwarted by the earthly part. Perhaps every man of

genius, in whatever sphere, might recognize the image of his own

experience in Aylmer’s journal.

So deeply did these reflections affect Georgiana, that she laid her

face upon the open volume, and burst into tears. In this situation she

was found by her husband.

"It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer’s books," said he, with a

smile, though his countenance was uneasy and displeased. "Georgiana,

there are pages in that volume, which I can scarcely glance over and

keep my senses. Take heed lest it prove as detrimental to you!"

It has made me worship you more than ever," said she.

"Ah! wait for this one success," rejoined he, "then worship me if

you will. I shall deem myself hardly unworthy of it. But, come! I have

sought you for the luxury of your voice. Sing to me, dearest!"

So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the

thirst of his spirit. He then took his leave, with a boyish exuberance

of gaiety, assuring her that her seclusion would endure but a little

longer, and that the result was already certain. Scarcely had he

departed, when Georgiana felt irresistibly impelled to follow him. She

had forgotten to inform Aylmer of a symptom, which, for two or three

hours past, had begun to excite her attention. It was a sensation in

the fatal birthmark, not painful, but which induced a restlessness

throughout her system. Hastening after her husband, she intruded,

for the first time, into the laboratory.

The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and

feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which, by the

quantities of soot clustered above it, seemed to have been burning for

ages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation. Around the

room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus of

chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate

use. The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with

gaseous odors, which had been tormented forth by the processes of

science. The severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its

naked walls and brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as

Georgiana had become to the fantastic elegance of her boudoir. But

what chiefly, indeed almost solely, drew her attention, was the aspect

of Aylmer himself.

He was pale as death, anxious, and absorbed, and hung over the

furnace as if it depended upon his utmost watchfulness whether the

liquid, which it was distilling, should be the draught of immortal

happiness or misery. How different from the sanguine and joyous mien

that he had assumed for Georgiana’s encouragement!

"Carefully now, Aminadab! Carefully, thou human machine! Carefully,

thou man of clay!" muttered Aylmer, more to himself than his

assistant. "Now, if there be a thought too much or too little, it is

all over!"

"Hoh! hoh!" mumbled Aminadab- "look, master, look!"

Aylmer raised his eyes hastily, and at first reddened, then grew

paler than ever, on beholding Georgiana. He rushed towards her, and

seized her arm with a gripe that left the print of his fingers upon

it.

"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?"

cried he impetuously. "Would you throw the blight of that fatal

birthmark over my labors? It is not well done. Go, prying woman, go!"

Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana, with the firmness of which she

possessed no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to

complain. You mistrust your wife! You have concealed the anxiety

with which you watch the development of this experiment. Think not

so unworthily of me, my husband! Tell me all the risk we run; and fear

not that I shall shrink, for my share in it is far less than your

own!"

"No, no, Georgiana!" said Aylmer impatiently, "it must not be."

"I submit," replied she calmly. "And, Aylmer, I shall quaff

whatever draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle

that would induce me to take a dose of poison, if offered by your

hand."

"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the height

and depth of your nature, until now. Nothing shall be concealed.

Know, then, that this Crimson Hand, superficial as it seems, has

clutched its grasp into your being, with a strength of which I had no

previous conception. I have already administered agents powerful

enough to do aught except to change your entire physical system. Only

one thing remains to be tried. If that fail us, we are ruined!"

"Why did you hesitate to tell me this?" asked she.

"Because, Georgiana," said Aylmer, in a low voice, "there is

danger!"

"Danger? There is but one danger- that this horrible stigma shall

be left upon my cheek!" cried Georgiana. "Remove it! remove it!-

whatever be the cost- or we shall both go mad!"

"Heaven knows, your words are too true," said Aylmer, sadly. "And

now, dearest, return to your boudoir. In a little while, all will be

tested."

He conducted her back, and took leave of her with a solemn

tenderness, which spoke far more than his words how much was now at

stake. After his departure, Georgiana became wrapt in musings. She

considered the character of Aylmer, and did it completer justice

than at any previous moment. Her heart exulted, while it trembled,

at his honorable love, so pure and lofty that it would accept

nothing less than perfection, nor miserably make itself contented with

an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of. She felt how much more

precious was such a sentiment, than that meaner kind which would

have borne with the imperfection for her sake, and have been guilty of

treason to holy love, by degrading its perfect idea to the level of

the actual. And, with her whole spirit, she prayed, that, for a single

moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception. Longer

than one moment, she well knew, it could not be; for his spirit was

ever on the march- ever ascending- and each instant required something

that was beyond the scope of the instant before.

The sound of her husband’s footsteps aroused her. He bore a crystal

goblet, containing a liquor colorless as water, but bright enough to

be the draught of immortality. Aylmer was pale; but it seemed rather

the consequence of a highly wrought state of mind, and tension of

spirit, than of fear or doubt.

"The concoction of the draught has been perfect," said he, in

answer to Georgiana’s look. "Unless all my science have deceived me,

it cannot fail."

"Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer," observed his wife, "I

might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing

mortality itself, in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad

possession to those who have attained precisely the degree of moral

advancement at which I stand. Were I weaker and blinder, it might be

happiness. Were I stronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being

what I find myself, methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die."

"You are fit for heaven without tasting death!" replied her

husband. "But why do we speak of dying? The draught cannot fail.

Behold its effect upon this plant!"

On the window-seat there stood a geranium, diseased with yellow

blotches, which had overspread all its leaves. Aylmer poured a small

quantity of the liquid upon the soil in which it grew. In a little

time, when the roots of the plant had taken up the moisture, the

unsightly blotches began to be extinguished in a living verdure.

"There needed no proof," said Georgiana, quietly. "Give me the

goblet. I joyfully stake all upon your word."

"Drink, then, thou lofty creature!" exclaimed Aylmer, with fervid

admiration. "There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit. Thy

sensible frame, too, shall soon be all perfect!"

She quaffed the liquid, and returned the goblet to his hand.

"It is grateful," said she, with a placid smile. "Methinks it is

like water from a heavenly fountain; for it contains I know not what

of unobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness. It allays a feverish

thirst, that had parched me for many days. Now, dearest, let me sleep.

My earthly senses are closing over my spirit, like the leaves around

the heart of a rose, at sunset."

She spoke the last words with a gentle reluctance, as if it

required almost more energy than she could command to pronounce the

faint and lingering syllables. Scarcely had they loitered through

her lips, ere she was lost in slumber. Aylmer sat by her side,

watching her aspect with the emotions proper to a man, the whole value

of whose existence was involved in the process now to be tested.

Mingled with this mood, however, was the philosophic investigation,

characteristic of the man of science. Not the minutest symptom escaped

him. A heightened flush of the cheek- a slight irregularity of breath-

a quiver of the eyelid- a hardly perceptible tremor through the frame-

such were the details which, as the moments passed, he wrote down in

his folio volume. Intense thought had set its stamp upon every

previous page of that volume; but the thoughts of years were all

concentrated upon the last.

While thus employed, he failed not to gaze often at the fatal Hand,

and not without a shudder. Yet once, by a strange and unaccountable

impulse, he pressed it with his lips. His spirit recoiled, however, in

the very act, and Georgiana, out of the midst of her deep sleep, moved

uneasily and murmured, as if in remonstrance. Again, Aylmer resumed

his watch. Nor was it without avail. The Crimson Hand, which at

first had been strongly visible upon the marble paleness of

Georgiana’s cheek now grew more faintly outlined. She remained not

less pale than ever; but the birthmark, with every breath that came

and went, lost somewhat of its former distinctness. Its presence had

been awful; its departure was more awful still. Watch the stain of the

rainbow fading out of the sky; and you will know how that mysterious

symbol passed away.

"By Heaven, it is well-nigh gone!" said Aylmer to himself, in

almost irrepressible ecstasy. "I can scarcely trace it now. Success!

Success! And now it is like the faintest rose-color. The slightest

flush of blood across her cheek would overcome it. But she is so

pale!"

He drew aside the window-curtain, and suffered the light of natural

day to fall into the room, and rest upon her cheek. At the same

time, he heard a gross, hoarse chuckle, which he had long known as his

servant Aminadab’s expression of delight.

"Ah, clod! Ah, earthly mass!" cried Aylmer, laughing in a sort of

frenzy. "You have served me well! Master and Spirit- Earth and Heaven-

have both done their part in this! Laugh, thing of the senses! You

have earned the right to laugh."

These exclamations broke Georgiana’s sleep. She slowly unclosed her

eyes, and gazed into the mirror, which her husband had arranged for

that purpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips, when she recognized

how barely perceptible was now that Crimson Hand, which had once

blazed forth with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare away all

their happiness. But then her eyes sought Aylmer’s face, with a

trouble and anxiety that he could by no means account for.

"My poor Aylmer!" murmured she.

"Poor? Nay, richest! Happiest! Most favored!" exclaimed he. "My

peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!"

"My poor Aylmer!" she repeated, with a more than human

tenderness. "You have aimed loftily! you have done nobly! Do not

repent, that, with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the

best the earth could offer. Aylmer- dearest Aylmer, I am dying!"

Alas, it was too true! The fatal Hand had grappled with the mystery

of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in

union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark-

that sole token of human imperfection- faded from her cheek, the

parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere,

and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward

flight. Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does

the gross Fatality of Earth exult in its invariable triumph over the

immortal essence, which, in this dim sphere of half-development,

demands the completeness of a higher state. Yet, had Aylmer reached a

profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness,

which would have woven his mortal life of the self-same texture with

the celestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he

failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once for

all in Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present.

THE END

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