Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, Part 4

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mr. Medbourne
Stop this you two! (Grasping the widow’s hand with both hands)
Mr. Medbourne
She promised me her hand fifty years ago.
Me
All three of you gentlemen, step back and give the young lady some air, please.
Colonel Killigrew
I was always her favorite dance partner  (throwing his arm about the widow’s waist)
Mr. Gascoigne
Your curls have regained their delightful color and feel!
Me
Please take your hands off her, Gascoigne! And you as well, Colonel!
Colonel Killigrew
I! Eeeek!
Me
What is the matter? You look terrified!
Colonel Killigrew
Strange, but owing to the duskiness of the chamber, your hall mirror seemed to reflect the figures of three old, gray, withered grand-sires.
Mr. Gascoigne
I too saw the illusion. The three of us ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grandam. But it is false!
Me
Indeed you are young: your burning passions prove you so.
Colonel Killigrew
We are still young!
Me
And inflamed to madness by the coquetry of the girl-widow, who as usual neither granted nor quite withheld her favors.
The Widow Wycherly
Really! I have seldom been consulted. In our day a smile was deemed coquetry. (the three rivals began to exchange more than just threatening glances)
Me
Stop it at once. Which of you threw the first punch?
The Widow Wycherly
They were just grappling fiercely at one another’s throats.
Me
Hey! There goes the youth-giving water vase! (As the men struggled, the table was overturned and the vase dashed into a thousand fragments. The precious Water flowed across the floor, moistening the wings of a butterfly which, grown old in the decline of summer, had alighted there to die. The insect fluttered lightly through the chamber and settled on the snowy head of Dr. Heidegger.)
Me
Come, come, gentlemen! Come, Madam Wycherly!
The Widow Wycherly
I too must protest against this riot! (The guests stood still and shivered, for it seemed as if gray Time were calling them back from their sunny youth far down into the chill and darksome vale of years.)
Me
Be seated everybody!
Mr. Gascoigne
Certainly, for I am deeply feeling my old afflictions again. Yes, I must sit down! (All four guests resumed their seats sinking down in apparent exhaustion.)
Me
My poor Sylvia’s rose! It appears to be fading again. (And so it was. Even while the party were looking at it the flower continued to shrivel up, till it became as dry and fragile as ever.)
Me
I love it as well thus as in its dewy freshness.
Mr. Gascoigne
A bad omen for us, though! After all, this cure for aging appears to be temporary. (While he spoke the butterfly fluttered down from the doctor’s snowy head and fell upon the floor.)
Colonel Killigrew
I feel shivers again. Also a strange dullness—whether of the body or spirit—is creeping gradually over me!
Medbourne
I feel it as well.
The Widow Wycherly
Likewise, I feel just flattened. (The guests  gazed at one another, and fancied that each fleeting moment snatched away a charm and left a deepening furrow where none had been before. Was it an illusion? Had the changes of a lifetime been crowded into so brief a space, and were they now four aged people sitting with their old friend Dr. Heidegger?)
Medbourne
Are we grown old again so soon?
Colonel Killigrew
I have. And I am to follow the butterfly’s spiral. But it was beautiful to feel so passionate again, if only for a moment! Ahhhh! (And with that exclamation, the Colonel clutched his heart, slumped forward, and dropped lifelessly to the floor.)
Me
Oh no! (Rushing to his friend’s side, the doctor felt for a pulse.)
Me
I see that the Water of Youth possesses merely a virtue more transient than that of wine; the delirium which it created has effervesced away. And the exertion of the moment has carried away our friend to the next world.
The Widow Wycherly
Yes, we are old again! (With a shuddering impulse that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before her face and wished that the coffin-lid were over it, since it could be no longer beautiful.)
Me
Yes, friends, ye are old again, and, lo! the Water of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well, in contrast to you, I bemoan it not. For if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it—no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. After all, that is the lesson ye have taught me.

But the doctor’s three friends had taught no such lesson to themselves. They resolved to make a pilgrimage to Florida and quaff at morning, noon and night from the Fountain of Youth.

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