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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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? 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
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
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.