The Birth-mark





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

birth-mark 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 birth-mark 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 birth-mark. 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 birth-mark. 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 birth-mark 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

birth-mark 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 vapours 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 birth-mark."



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 birth-mark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank, as if a

red-hot iron had touched her cheek.



Again Aylmer applied himself to his labours. She could hear his voice in

the distant furnace-room, giving directions to Aminadab, whose harsh,

uncouth, misshapen 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-coloured 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 terrible 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 birth-mark 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

birth-mark, 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 eyes 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

odours, 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 grip 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 birth-mark over

my labours? 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 honourable 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 colourless 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 birth-mark 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

birth-mark, 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-colour. 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! Matter 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 favoured!" 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 birth-mark--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.





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