"Holy Virgin, signor," cried old dame Lisabetta, who, won by the youth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to give the chamber a habitable air, "what a sigh was that to come out of a young man's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy? For the love of heaven, then, put your head out of the window, and you will see as bright sunshine as you have left in Naples."
Guasconti mechanically did as the old woman advised, but could not quite agree with her that the Lombard sunshine was as cheerful as that of southern Italy. Such as it was, however, it fell upon a garden beneath the window, and expended its fostering influences on a variety of plants, which seemed to have been cultivated with exceeding care.
"Does this garden belong to the house?" asked Giovanni.
"Heaven forbid, signor!--unless it were fruitful of better pot-herbs than any that grow there now," answered old Lisabetta. "No; that garden is cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, the famous Doctor, who, I warrant him, has been heard of as far as Naples. It is said he distils these plants into medicines that are as potent as a charm. Oftentimes you may see the Signor Doctor at work, and perchance the Signora his daughter, too, gathering the strange flowers that grow in the garden."
The old woman had now done what she could for the aspect of the chamber, and, commending the young man to the protection of the saints, took her departure.
found no better occupation than to look down into
the garden beneath his window. From its
appearance, he judged it to be
one of those botanic gardens, which were of
earlier date in Padua than
elsewhere in Italy, or in the world. Or, not
improbably, it might once
have been the pleasure-place of an opulent family;
for there was the
ruin of a marble fountain in the centre,
sculptured with rare art, but
so wofully shattered that it was impossible to
trace the original
design from the chaos of remaining fragments. The
continued to gush and sparkle into the sunbeams as
cheerfully as ever.
A little gurgling sound ascended to the young
man's window, and made
him feel as if a fountain were an immortal spirit,
that sung its song
unceasingly, and without heeding the vicissitudes
around it; while one
century embodied it in marble, and another
While Giovanni stood at the window, he heard a rustling behind a screen of leaves, and became aware that a person was at work in the garden. His figure soon emerged into view, and showed itself to be that of no common laborer, but a tall, emaciated, sallow, and sickly looking man, dressed in a scholar's garb of black. He was beyond the middle term of life, with gray hair, a thin gray beard, and a face singularly marked with intellect and cultivation, but which could never, even in his more youthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart.
exceed the intentness with which this scientific
gardener examined every shrub which grew in his
path; it seemed as
if he was looking into their inmost nature,
The distrustful gardener, while plucking away the dead leaves or pruning the too luxuriant growth of the shrubs, defended his hands with a pair of thick gloves. Nor were these his only armor. When, in his walk through the garden, he came to the magnificent plant that hung its purple gems beside the marble fountain, he placed a kind of mask over his mouth and nostrils, as if all this beauty did but conceal a deadlier malice. But finding his task still too dangerous, he drew back, removed the mask, and called loudly, but in the infirm voice of a person affected with inward disease:
I, my father! What would you?" cried a rich
voice from the window of the opposite house; a
voice as rich as a
tropical sunset, and which made Giovanni, though
he knew not why,
think of deep hues of purple or
"Yes, Beatrice," answered the gardener, "and I need your help."
Soon there emerged from under a sculptured portal the figure of a young girl, arrayed with as much richness of taste as the most splendid of the flowers, beautiful as the day, and with a bloom so deep and vivid that one shade more would have been too much. She looked redundant with life, health, and energy; all of which attributes were bound down and compressed, as it were, and girdled tensely, in their luxuriance, by her virgin zone. Yet Giovanni's fancy must have grown morbid, while he looked down into the garden; for the impression which the fair stranger made upon him was as if here were another flower, the human sister of those vegetable ones, as beautiful as they--more beautiful than the richest of them--but still to be touched only with a glove, nor to be approached without a mask. As Beatrice came down the garden-path, it was observable that she handled and inhaled the odor of several of the plants, which her father had most sedulously avoided.
"Here, Beatrice," said the latter,--"see how many needful offices require to be done to our chief treasure. Yet, shattered as I am, my life might pay the penalty of approaching it so closely as circumstances demand. Henceforth, I fear, this plant must be consigned to your sole charge."
"And gladly will I undertake it," cried again the rich tones of the young lady, as she bent towards the magnificent plant, and opened her arms as if to embrace it. "Yes, my sister, my splendor, it shall be Beatrice's task to nurse and serve thee; and thou shalt reward her with thy kisses and perfume breath, which to her is as the breath of life!"
all the tenderness in her manner that was so
strikingly expressed in her words, she busied
herself with such
attentions as the plant seemed to require; and
But there is an influence in the light of morning that tends to rectify whatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may have incurred during the sun's decline, or among the shadows of the night, or in the less wholesome glow of moonshine. Giovanni's first movement on starting from sleep, was to throw open the window, and gaze down into the garden which his dreams had made so fertile of mysteries. He was surprised, and a little ashamed, to find how real and matter-of-fact an affair it proved to be, in the first rays of the sun, which gilded the dew-drops that hung upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighter beauty to each rare flower, brought everything within the limits of ordinary experience. The young man rejoiced, that, in the heart of the barren city, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of lovely and luxuriant vegetation. It would serve, he said to himself, as a symbolic language, to keep him in communion with Nature. Neither the sickly and thought-worn Doctor Giacomo Rappaccini, it is true, nor his brilliant daughter, were now visible; so that Giovanni could not determine how much of the singularity which he attributed to both, was due to their own qualities, and how much to his wonder-working fancy. But he was inclined to take a most rational view of the whole matter.
In the course of the day, he paid his respects to Signor Pietro Baglioni, Professor of Medicine in the University, a physician of eminent repute, to whom Giovanni had brought a letter of introduction. The Professor was an elderly personage, apparently of genial nature, and habits that might almost be called jovial; he kept the young man to dinner, and made himself very agreeable by the freedom and liveliness of his conversation, especially when warmed by a flask or two of Tuscan wine. Giovanni, conceiving that men of science, inhabitants of the same city, must needs be on familiar terms with one another, took an opportunity to mention the name of Doctor Rappaccini. But the Professor did not respond with so much cordiality as he had anticipated.
"Ill would it become a teacher of the divine art of medicine," said Professor Pietro Baglioni, in answer to a question of Giovanni, "to withhold due and well-considered praise of a physician so eminently skilled as Rappaccini. But, on the other hand, I should answer it but scantily to my conscience, were I to permit a worthy youth like yourself, Signor Giovanni, the son of an ancient friend, to imbibe erroneous ideas respecting a man who might hereafter chance to hold your life and death in his hands. The truth is, our worshipful Doctor Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the faculty--with perhaps one single exception--in Padua, or all Italy. But there are certain grave objections to his professional character."
"And what are they?" asked the young man.
friend Giovanni any disease of body or heart, that
he is so
inquisitive about physicians?" said the
Professor, with a smile.
"But as for Rappaccini, it is said of
him--and I, who know the man
well, can answer for its truth--that he cares
infinitely more for
science than for mankind. His patients are
interesting to him only
as subjects for some new experiment. He would
sacrifice human life,
his own among the rest, or whatever else was
dearest to him, for the
"Methinks he is an awful man, indeed," remarked Guasconti, mentally recalling the cold and purely intellectual aspect of Rappaccini. "And yet, worshipful Professor, is it not a noble spirit? Are there many men capable of so spiritual a love of science?"
"God forbid," answered the Professor, somewhat testily--"at least, unless they take sounder views of the healing art than those adopted by Rappaccini. It is his theory, that all medicinal virtues are comprised within those substances which we term vegetable poisons. These he cultivates with his own hands, and is said even to have produced new varieties of poison, more horribly deleterious than Nature, without the assistance of this learned person, would ever have plagued the world withal. That the Signor Doctor does less mischief than might be expected, with such dangerous substances, is undeniable. Now and then, it must be owned, he has effected--or seemed to effect--a marvellous cure. But, to tell you my private mind, Signor Giovanni, he should receive little credit for such instances of success--they being probably the work of chance--but should be held strictly accountable for his failures, which may justly be considered his own work."
The youth might have taken Baglioni's opinions with many grains of allowance, had he known that there was a professional warfare of long continuance between him and Doctor Rappaccini, in which the latter was generally thought to have gained the advantage. If the reader be inclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain black-letter tracts on both sides, preserved in the medical department of the University of Padua.
not, most learned Professor," returned
musing on what had been said of Rappaccini's
"Aha!" cried the Professor with a laugh. "So now our friend Giovanni's secret is out. You have heard of this daughter, whom all the young men in Padua are wild about, though not half a dozen have ever had the good hap to see her face. I know little of the Signora Beatrice, save that Rappaccini is said to have instructed her deeply in his science, and that, young and beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualified to fill a professor's chair. Perchance her father destines her for mine! Other absurd rumors there be, not worth talking about, or listening to. So now, Signor Giovanni, drink off your glass of Lacryma."
Guasconti returned to his lodgings somewhat heated with the wine he had quaffed, and which caused his brain to swim with strange fantasies in reference to Doctor Rappaccini and the beautiful Beatrice. On his way, happening to pass by a florist's, he bought a fresh bouquet of flowers.
his chamber, he seated himself near the window,
within the shadow thrown by the depth of the wall,
so that he could
look down into the garden with little risk of
being discovered. All
beneath his eye was a solitude. The strange
plants were basking in the
sunshine, and now and then nodding gently to one
another, as if in
acknowledgment of sympathy and kindred. In the
midst, by the shattered
fountain, grew the magnificent shrub, with its
clustering all over it; they glowed in the air,
and gleamed back again
out of the depths of the pool, which thus seemed
to overflow with
colored radiance from the rich reflection that was
steeped in it. At
first, as we have said, the garden was a solitude.
Giovanni had half hoped, half feared, would be the
appeared beneath the antique sculptured portal,
and came down
Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a passionate ardor, and drew its branches into an intimate embrace; so intimate, that her features were hidden in its leafy bosom, and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the flowers.
"Give me thy breath, my sister," exclaimed Beatrice; "for I am faint with common air! And give me this flower of thine, which I separate with gentlest fingers from the stem, and place it close beside my heart."
words, the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini
one of the richest blossoms of the shrub, and was
about to fasten it
in her bosom. But now, unless Giovanni's draughts
of wine had
bewildered his senses, a singular incident
occurred. A small orange
colored reptile, of the lizard or chameleon
species, chanced to be
creeping along the path, just at the feet of
Beatrice. It appeared
"Am I awake? Have I my senses?" said he to himself. "What is this being?--beautiful, shall I call her?--or inexpressibly terrible?"
strayed carelessly through the garden, approaching
closer beneath Giovanni's window, so that he was
compelled to thrust
his head quite out of its concealment, in order to
gratify the intense
and painful curiosity which she excited. At this
moment, there came
a beautiful insect over the garden wall; it had
through the city and found no flowers nor verdure
antique haunts of men, until the heavy perfumes of
shrubs had lured it from afar. Without alighting
on the flowers,
this winged brightness seemed to be attracted by
lingered in the air and fluttered about her head.
Now here it could
not be but that Giovanni Guasconti's eyes deceived
him. Be that as
it might, he fancied that while Beatrice was
gazing at the insect with
childish delight, it grew faint and fell at her
feet;--its bright wings
shivered; it was dead--from no cause that he could
it were the atmosphere of her breath. Again
An impulsive movement of Giovanni drew her eyes to the window. There she beheld the beautiful head of the young man--rather a Grecian than an Italian head, with fair, regular features, and a glistening of gold among his ringlets--gazing down upon her like a being that hovered in mid-air. Scarcely knowing what he did, Giovanni threw down the bouquet which he had hitherto held in his hand.
"Signora," said he, "there are pure and healthful flowers. Wear them for the sake of Giovanni Guasconti!"
"Thanks, Signor," replied Beatrice, with her rich voice that came forth as it were like a gush of music; and with a mirthful expression half childish and half woman-like. "I accept your gift, and would fain recompense it with this precious purple flower; but if I toss it into the air, it will not reach you. So Signor Guasconti must even content himself with my thanks."
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then as if inwardly ashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to respond to a stranger's greeting, passed swiftly homeward through the garden. But, few as the moments were, it seemed to Giovanni when she was on the point of vanishing beneath the sculptured portal, that his beautiful bouquet was already beginning to wither in her grasp. It was an idle thought; there could be no possibility of distinguishing a faded flower from a fresh one, at so great a distance.
days after this incident, the young man avoided
that looked into Doctor Rappaccini's garden, as if
and monstrous would have blasted his eye-sight,
had he been betrayed
into a glance. He felt conscious of having put
himself, to a certain
extent, within the influence of an unintelligible
power, by the
endeavored to assuage the fever of his spirit by a
rapid walk through the streets of Padua, or beyond
its gates; his
footsteps kept time with the throbbings of his
"Signor Giovanni!--stay, my young friend!" --cried he. "Have you forgotten me? That might well be the case, if I were as much altered as yourself."
It was Baglioni, whom Giovanni had avoided, ever since their first meeting, from a doubt that the Professor's sagacity would look too deeply into his secrets. Endeavoring to recover himself, he stared forth wildly from his inner world into the outer one, and spoke like a man in a dream.
"Yes; I am Giovanni Guasconti. You are Professor Pietro Baglioni. Now let me pass!"
"Not yet--not yet, Signor Giovanni Guasconti," said the Professor, smiling, but at the same time scrutinizing the youth with an earnest glance. "What, did I grow up side by side with your father, and shall his son pass me like a stranger, in these old streets of Padua? Stand still, Signor Giovanni; for we must have a word or two before we part."
"Speedily, then, most worshipful Professor, speedily!" said Giovanni, with feverish impatience. "Does not your worship see that I am in haste?"
he was speaking, there came a man in black along
street, stooping and moving feebly, like a person
health. His face was all overspread with a most
sickly and sallow hue,
but yet so pervaded with an expression of piercing
intellect, that an observer might easily have
overlooked the merely
physical attributes, and have seen only this
wonderful energy. As he
passed, this person exchanged a cold and distant
Baglioni, but fixed his eyes upon Giovanni with an
"It is Doctor Rappaccini!" whispered the Professor, when the stranger had passed.--"Has he ever seen your face before?"
"Not that I know," answered Giovanni, starting at the name.
"He has seen you!--he must have seen you!" said Baglioni, hastily. "For some purpose or other, this man of science is making a study of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that coldly illuminates his face, as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower;--a look as deep as Nature itself, but without Nature's warmth of love. Signor Giovanni, I will stake my life upon it, you are the subject of one of Rappaccini's experiments!"
"Will you make a fool of me?" cried Giovanni, passionately. "That, Signor Professor, were an untoward experiment."
"Patience, patience!" replied the imperturbable Professor. "I tell thee, my poor Giovanni, that Rappaccini has a scientific interest in thee. Thou hast fallen into fearful hands! And the Signora Beatrice? What part does she act in this mystery?"
But Guasconti, finding Baglioni's pertinacity intolerable, here broke away, and was gone before the Professor could again seize his arm. He looked after the young man intently, and shook his head.
not be," said Baglioni to himself. "The
youth is the son
of my old friend, and shall not come to any harm
from which the arcana
of medical science can preserve him.
Meanwhile, Giovanni had pursued a circuitous route, and at length found himself at the door of his lodgings. As he crossed the threshold, he was met by old Lisabetta, who smirked and smiled, and was evidently desirous to attract his attention; vainly, however, as the ebullition of his feelings had momentarily subsided into a cold and dull vacuity. He turned his eyes full upon the withered face that was puckering itself into a smile, but seemed to behold it not. The old dame, therefore, laid her grasp upon his cloak.
"Signor!--Signor!" whispered she, still with a smile over the whole breadth of her visage, so that it looked not unlike a grotesque carving in wood, darkened by centuries--"Listen, Signor! There is a private entrance into the garden!"
"What do you say?" exclaimed Giovanni, turning quickly about, as if an inanimate thing should start into feverish life.--"A private entrance into Doctor Rappaccini's garden!"
"Hush! hush!--not so loud!" whispered Lisabetta, putting her hand over his mouth. "Yes; into the worshipful Doctor's garden, where you may see all his fine shrubbery. Many a young man in Padua would give gold to be admitted among those flowers."
Giovanni put a piece of gold into her hand.
"Show me the way," said he.
probably excited by his conversation with
crossed his mind, that this interposition of old
perchance be connected with the intrigue, whatever
were its nature, in
which the Professor seemed to suppose that Doctor
involving him. But such
He paused--hesitated--turned half about--but again went on. His withered guide led him along several obscure passages, and finally undid a door, through which, as it was opened, there came the sight and sound of rustling leaves, with the broken sunshine glimmering among them. Giovanni stepped forth, and forcing himself through the entanglement of a shrub that wreathed its tendrils over the hidden entrance, he stood beneath his own window, in the open area of Doctor Rappaccini's garden.
is it the case, that, when impossibilities have
pass, and dreams have condensed their misty
substance into tangible
realities, we find ourselves calm, and even coldly
amid circumstances which it would have been a
delirium of joy or agony
to anticipate! Fate delights to thwart us thus.
Passion will choose
his own time to rush upon the scene, and lingers
when an appropriate adjustment of events would
seem to summon his
appearance. So was it now with Giovanni. Day
after day, his pulses had
throbbed with feverish blood, at the improbable
The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden. In fine, Giovanni recognized but two or three plants in the collection, and those of a kind that he well knew to be poisonous. While busy with these contemplations, he heard the rustling of a silken garment, and turning, beheld Beatrice emerging from beneath the sculptured portal.
not considered with himself what should be his
deportment; whether he should apologize for his
intrusion into the
garden, or assume that he was there with the
privity, at least, if not
by the desire, of Doctor Rappaccini or his
"You are a connoisseur in flowers, Signor," said Beatrice with a smile, alluding to the bouquet which he had flung her from the window. "It is no marvel, therefore, if the sight of my father's rare collection has tempted you to take a nearer view. If he were here, he could tell you many strange and interesting facts as to the nature and habits of these shrubs, for he has spent a life-time in such studies, and this garden is his world."
"And yourself, lady"--observed Giovanni--"if fame says true--you, likewise, are deeply skilled in the virtues indicated by these rich blossoms, and these spicy perfumes. Would you deign to be my instructress, I should prove an apter scholar than under Signor Rappaccini himself."
"Are there such idle rumors?" asked Beatrice, with the music of a pleasant laugh. "Do people say that I am skilled in my father's science of plants? What a jest is there! No; though I have grown up among these flowers, I know no more of them than their hues and perfume; and sometimes, methinks I would fain rid myself of even that small knowledge. There are many flowers here, and those not the least brilliant, that shock and offend me, when they meet my eye. But, pray, Signor, do not believe these stories about my science. Believe nothing of me save what you see with your own eyes."
I believe all that I have seen with my own
Giovanni pointedly, while the recollection of
former scenes made him
shrink. "No, Signora, you demand
It would appear that Beatrice understood him. There came a deep flush to her cheek; but she looked full into Giovanni's eyes, and responded to his gaze of uneasy suspicion with a queen-like haughtiness.
"I do so bid you, Signor!" she replied. "Forget whatever you may have fancied in regard to me. If true to the outward senses, still it may be false in its essence. But the words of Beatrice Rappaccini's lips are true from the heart outward. Those you may believe!"
A fervor glowed in her whole aspect, and beamed upon Giovanni's consciousness like the light of truth itself. But while she spoke, there was a fragrance in the atmosphere around her rich and delightful, though evanescent, yet which the young man, from an indefinable reluctance, scarcely dared to draw into his lungs. It might be the odor of the flowers. Could it be Beatrice's breath, which thus embalmed her words with a strange richness, as if by steeping them in her heart? A faintness passed like a shadow over Giovanni, and flitted away; he seemed to gaze through the beautiful girl's eyes into her transparent soul, and felt no more doubt or fear.
of passion that had colored Beatrice's manner
she became gay, and appeared to derive a pure
delight from her
communion with the youth, not unlike what the
maiden of a lonely
island might have felt, conversing with a voyager
from the civilized
world. Evidently her experience of life had been
confined within the
limits of that garden. She talked now about
matters as simple as the
day-light or summer-clouds, and now asked
questions in reference to
the city, or Giovanni's distant home, his friends,
his mother, and his
sisters; questions indicating such seclusion, and
such lack of
familiarity with modes and forms, that Giovanni
In this free intercourse, they had strayed through the garden, and now, after many turns among its avenues, were come to the shattered fountain, beside which grew the magnificent shrub with its treasury of glowing blossoms. A fragrance was diffused from it, which Giovanni recognized as identical with that which he had attributed to Beatrice's breath, but incomparably more powerful. As her eyes fell upon it, Giovanni beheld her press her hand to her bosom, as if her heart were throbbing suddenly and painfully.
"For the first time in my life," murmured she, addressing the shrub, "I had forgotten thee!"
"I remember, Signora," said Giovanni, "that you once promised to reward me with one of these living gems for the bouquet, which I had the happy boldness to fling to your feet. Permit me now to pluck it as a memorial of this interview."
a step towards the shrub, with extended hand. But
Beatrice darted forward, uttering a shriek that
"Touch it not!" exclaimed she, in a voice of agony. "Not for thy life! It is fatal!"
Then, hiding her face, she fled from him, and vanished beneath the sculptured portal. As Giovanni followed her with his eyes, he beheld the emaciated figure and pale intelligence of Doctor Rappaccini, who had been watching the scene, he knew not how long, within the shadow of the entrance.
was Guasconti alone in his chamber, than the image
Beatrice came back to his passionate musings,
invested with all the
witchery that had been gathering around it ever
since his first
glimpse of her, and now likewise imbued with a
tender warmth of
girlish womanhood. She was human: her nature was
endowed with all
gentle and feminine qualities; she was worthiest
to be worshipped; she
was capable, surely, on her part, of the height
and heroism of love.
Those tokens, which he had hitherto considered as
proofs of a
frightful peculiarity in her physical and moral
system, were now
either forgotten, or, by the subtle sophistry of
into a golden crown of enchantment, rendering
Beatrice the more
admirable, by so much as she was the more unique.
looked ugly, was now beautiful; or, if incapable
of such a change,
it stole away and hid itself among those shapeless
throng the dim region beyond the daylight of our
consciousness. Thus did Giovanni spend the night,
nor fell asleep,
until the dawn had begun to awake the slumbering
flowers in Doctor
Rappaccini's garden, whither his dreams doubtless
led him. Up rose the
sun in his due season, and flinging his beams upon
the young man's
eyelids, awoke him to a sense of pain. When
thoroughly aroused, he
became sensible of a burning
Oh, how stubbornly does love--or even that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart--how stubbornly does it hold its faith, until the moment come, when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapt a handkerchief about his hand, and wondered what evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice.
After the first interview, a second was in the inevitable course of what we call fate. A third; a fourth; and a meeting with Beatrice in the garden was no longer an incident in Giovanni's daily life, but the whole space in which he might be said to live; for the anticipation and memory of that ecstatic hour made up the remainder. Nor was it otherwise with the daughter of Rappaccini. She watched for the youth's appearance, and flew to his side with confidence as unreserved as if they had been playmates from early infancy--as if they were such playmates still. If, by any unwonted chance, he failed to come at the appointed moment, she stood beneath the window, and sent up the rich sweetness of her tones to float around him in his chamber, and echo and reverberate throughout his heart--"Giovanni! Giovanni! Why tarriest thou? Come down!" And down he hastened into that Eden of poisonous flowers.
all this intimate familiarity, there was still a
reserve in Beatrice's demeanor, so rigidly and
that the idea of infringing it scarcely occurred
to his imagination.
By all appreciable signs, they loved; they had
looked love, with
eyes that conveyed the holy secret from
A considerable time had now passed since Giovanni's last meeting with Baglioni. One morning, however, he was disagreeably surprised by a visit from the Professor, whom he had scarcely thought of for whole weeks, and would willingly have forgotten still longer. Given up, as he had long been, to a pervading excitement, he could tolerate no companions, except upon condition of their perfect sympathy with his present state of feeling. Such sympathy was not to be expected from Professor Baglioni.
The visitor chatted carelessly, for a few moments, about the gossip of the city and the University, and then took up another topic.
"I have been reading an old classic author lately," said he, "and met with a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may remember it. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a present to Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as the dawn, and gorgeous as the sunset; but what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath--richer than a garden of Persian roses. Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with this magnificent stranger. But a certain sage physician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard to her."
"And what was that?" asked Giovanni, turning his eyes downward to avoid those of the Professor.
"That this lovely woman," continued Baglioni, with emphasis, "had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that rich perfume of her breath, she blasted the very air. Her love would have been poison!--her embrace death! Is not this a marvellous tale?"
"A childish fable," answered Giovanni, nervously starting from his chair. "I marvel how your worship finds time to read such nonsense, among your graver studies."
"By the bye," said the Professor, looking uneasily about him, "what singular fragrance is this in your apartment? Is it the perfume of your gloves? It is faint, but delicious, and yet, after all, by no means agreeable. Were I to breathe it long, methinks it would make me ill. It is like the breath of a flower--but I see no flowers in the chamber."
there any," replied Giovanni, who had turned
pale as the
Professor spoke; "nor, I think, is there any
fragrance, except in your
worship's imagination. Odors, being a sort of
element combined of
the sensual and the spiritual, are apt to deceive
us in this manner.
The recollection of a
"Aye; but my sober imagination does not often play such tricks," said Baglioni; "and were I to fancy any kind of odor, it would be that of some vile apothecary drug, wherewith my fingers are likely enough to be imbued. Our worshipful friend Rappaccini, as I have heard, tinctures his medicaments with odors richer than those of Araby. Doubtless, likewise, the fair and learned Signora Beatrice would minister to her patients with draughts as sweet as a maiden's breath. But wo to him that sips them!"
Giovanni's face evinced many contending emotions. The tone in which the Professor alluded to the pure and lovely daughter of Rappaccini was a torture to his soul; and yet, the intimation of a view of her character, opposite to his own, gave instantaneous distinctness to a thousand dim suspicions, which now grinned at him like so many demons. But he strove hard to quell them, and to respond to Baglioni with a true lover's perfect faith.
"Signor Professor," said he, "you were my father's friend--perchance, too, it is your purpose to act a friendly part towards his son. I would fain feel nothing towards you save respect and deference. But I pray you to observe, Signor, that there is one subject on which we must not speak. You know not the Signora Beatrice. You cannot, therefore, estimate the wrong--the blasphemy, I may even say--that is offered to her character by a light or injurious word."
poor Giovanni!" answered the Professor, with
expression of pity, "I know this wretched
girl far better than
yourself. You shall hear the truth in respect to
Rappaccini, and his poisonous daughter. Yes;
poisonous as she is
beautiful! Listen; for even should you do
violence to my gray hairs,
it shall not silence me. That old fable of the
Indian woman has become
a truth, by the deep
Giovanni groaned and hid his face.
"Her father," continued Baglioni, "was not restrained by natural affection from offering up his child, in this horrible manner, as the victim of his insane zeal for science. For--let us do him justice--he is as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in an alembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a doubt, you are selected as the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to be death--perhaps a fate more awful still! Rappaccini, with what he calls the interest of science before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing."
"It is a dream!" muttered Giovanni to himself, "surely it is a dream!"
"But," resumed the Professor, "be of good cheer, son of my friend! It is not yet too late for the rescue. Possibly, we may even succeed in bringing back this miserable child within the limits of ordinary nature, from which her father's madness has estranged her. Behold this little silver vase! It was wrought by the hands of the renowned Benvenuto Cellini, and is well worthy to be a love-gift to the fairest dame in Italy. But its contents are invaluable. One little sip of this antidote would have rendered the most virulent poisons of the Borgias innocuous. Doubt not that it will be as efficacious against those of Rappaccini. Bestow the vase, and the precious liquid within it, on your Beatrice, and hopefully await the result."
Baglioni laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver phial on the table, and withdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its effect upon the young man's mind.
thwart Rappaccini yet!" thought he, chuckling
himself, as he descended the stairs. "But,
let us confess the truth of
him, he is a wonderful man!--a wonderful man
whole acquaintance with Beatrice, he had
occasionally, as we have said, been haunted by
dark surmises as to her
character. Yet, so thoroughly had she made
herself felt by him as a
simple, natural, most affectionate and guileless
creature, that the
image now held up by Professor Baglioni, looked as
incredible, as if it were not in accordance with
his own original
conception. True, there were ugly recollections
connected with his
first glimpses of the beautiful girl; he could not
quite forget the
bouquet that withered in her grasp, and the insect
amid the sunny air, by no ostensible agency save
the fragrance of
her breath. These incidents, however, dissolving
in the pure light
of her character, had no longer the efficacy of
facts, but were
acknowledged as mistaken fantasies, by whatever
testimony of the
senses they might appear to be substantiated.
There is something truer
and more real, than what we can see with the eyes,
and touch with
the finger. On such better evidence, had Giovanni
confidence in Beatrice, though rather by the
necessary force of her
high attributes, than by any deep and generous
faith on his part. But,
now, his spirit was incapable of sustaining itself
at the height to
which the early enthusiasm of passion had exalted
it; he fell down,
grovelling among earthly doubts, and defiled
therewith the pure
whiteness of Beatrice's image. Not that he gave
her up; he did but
distrust. He resolved to institute some decisive
test that should
satisfy him, once for all, whether there were
peculiarities in her physical nature, which could
not be supposed to
exist without some corresponding monstrosity of
soul. His eyes, gazing
down afar, might have deceived him as to the
lizard, the insect, and
the flowers. But
It was now the customary hour of his daily interview with Beatrice. Before descending into the garden, Giovanni failed not to look at his figure in the mirror; a vanity to be expected in a beautiful young man, yet, as displaying itself at that troubled and feverish moment, the token of a certain shallowness of feeling and insincerity of character. He did gaze, however, and said to himself, that his features had never before possessed so rich a grace, nor his eyes such vivacity, nor his cheeks so warm a hue of superabundant life.
"At least," thought he, "her poison has not yet insinuated itself into my system. I am no flower to perish in her grasp!"
thought, he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which
had never once laid aside from his hand. A thrill
horror shot through his frame, on perceiving that
those dewy flowers
were already beginning to droop; they wore the
aspect of things that
had been fresh and lovely, yesterday. Giovanni
grew white as marble,
and stood motionless before the mirror, staring at
reflection there, as at the likeness of something
remembered Baglioni's remark about the fragrance
that seemed to
pervade the chamber. It must have been the poison
in his breath!
Then he shuddered--shuddered at himself!
Recovering from his stupor,
he began to watch, with curious eye, a spider that
was busily at work,
hanging its web from the antique cornice of the
and re-crossing the artful system of interwoven
lines, as vigorous and
active a spider as ever dangled from an old
ceiling. Giovanni bent
towards the insect, and emitted a deep, long
breath. The spider
"Accursed! Accursed!" muttered Giovanni, addressing himself. "Hast thou grown so poisonous, that this deadly insect perishes by thy breath?"
At that moment, a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the garden: "Giovanni! Giovanni! It is past the hour! Why tarriest thou! Come down!"
"Yes," muttered Giovanni again. "She is the only being whom my breath may not slay! Would that it might!"
down, and in an instant, was standing before the
and loving eyes of Beatrice. A moment ago, his
wrath and despair had
been so fierce that he could have desired nothing
so much as to wither
her by a glance. But, with her actual presence,
influences which had too real an existence to be
at once shaken off;
recollections of the delicate and benign power of
her feminine nature,
which had so often enveloped him in a religious
calm; recollections of
many a holy and passionate outgush of her heart,
when the pure
fountain had been unsealed from its depths, and
made visible in its
transparency to his mental eye; recollections
which, had Giovanni
known how to estimate them, would have assured him
that all this
ugly mystery was but an earthly illusion, and
that, whatever mist of
evil might seem to have gathered over her, the
real Beatrice was a
heavenly angel. Incapable as he was of such high
faith, still her
presence had not utterly lost its magic.
Giovanni's rage was quelled
into an aspect of sullen insensibility. Beatrice,
"Beatrice," asked he abruptly, "whence came this shrub!"
"My father created it," answered she, with simplicity.
"Created it! created it!" repeated Giovanni. "What mean you, Beatrice?"
"He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of nature," replied Beatrice; "and, at the hour when I first drew breath, this plant sprang from the soil, the offspring of his science, of his intellect, while I was but his earthly child. Approach it not!" continued she, observing with terror that Giovanni was drawing nearer to the shrub. "It has qualities that you little dream of. But I, dearest Giovanni--I grew up and blossomed with the plant, and was nourished with its breath. It was my sister, and I loved it with a human affection: for--alas! hast thou not suspected it? there was an awful doom."
Here Giovanni frowned so darkly upon her that Beatrice paused and trembled. But her faith in his tenderness reassured her, and made her blush that she had doubted for an instant.
"There was an awful doom," she continued,--"the effect of my father's fatal love of science--which estranged me from all society of my kind. Until Heaven sent thee, dearest Giovanni, Oh! how lonely was thy poor Beatrice!"
"Was it a hard doom?" asked Giovanni, fixing his eyes upon her.
"Only of late have I known how hard it was," answered she tenderly. "Oh, yes; but my heart was torpid, and therefore quiet."
Giovanni's rage broke forth from his sullen gloom like a lightning-flash out of a dark cloud.
"Accursed one!" cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. "And finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me, likewise, from all the warmth of life, and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror!"
"Giovanni!" exclaimed Beatrice, turning her large bright eyes upon his face. The force of his words had not found its way into her mind; she was merely thunder-struck.
"Yes, poisonous thing!" repeated Giovanni, beside himself with passion. "Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself--a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity! Now--if our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all others--let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!"
"What has befallen me?" murmured Beatrice, with a low moan out of her heart. "Holy Virgin pity me, a poor heartbroken child!"
"Thou! Dost thou pray?" cried Giovanni, still with the same fiendish scorn. "Thy very prayers, as they come from thy lips, taint the atmosphere with death. Yes, yes; let us pray! Let us to church, and dip our fingers in the holy water at the portal! They that come after us will perish as by a pestilence. Let us sign crosses in the air! It will be scattering curses abroad in the likeness of holy symbols!"
Beatrice calmly, for her grief was beyond passion,
"Why dost thou join thyself with me thus in
those terrible words? I,
it is true, am the horrible thing thou namest me.
hast thou to do, save with one
"Dost thou pretend ignorance?" asked Giovanni, scowling upon her. "Behold! This power have I gained from the pure daughter of Rappaccini!"
There was a swarm of summer-insects flitting through the air, in search of the food promised by the flower-odors of the fatal garden. They circled round Giovanni's head, and were evidently attracted towards him by the same influence which had drawn them, for an instant, within the sphere of several of the shrubs. He sent forth a breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Beatrice, as at least a score of the insects fell dead upon the ground.
"I see it! I see it!" shrieked Beatrice. "It is my father's fatal science? No, no, Giovanni; it was not I! Never, never! I dreamed only to love thee, and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart. For, Giovanni--believe it--though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God's creature, and craves love as its daily food. But my father!--he has united us in this fearful sympathy. Yes; spurn me!--tread upon me!--kill me! Oh, what is death, after such words as thine? But it was not I! Not for a world of bliss would I have done it!"
had exhausted itself in its outburst from his
lips. There now came across him a sense,
mournful, and not without
tenderness, of the intimate and peculiar
relationship between Beatrice
and himself. They stood, as it were, in an utter
solitude, which would
be made none the less solitary by the densest
throng of human life.
Ought not, then, the desert of humanity around
them to press this
insulated pair closer together? If they should be
cruel to one
another, who was there to be kind to them?
Giovanni, might there not still be a hope of his
But Giovanni did not know it.
"Dear Beatrice," said he, approaching her, while she shrank away, as always at his approach, but now with a different impulse--"dearest Beatrice, our fate is not yet so desperate. Behold! There is a medicine, potent, as a wise physician has assured me, and almost divine in its efficacy. It is composed of ingredients the most opposite to those by which thy awful father has brought this calamity upon thee and me. It is distilled of blessed herbs. Shall we not quaff it together, and thus be purified from evil?"
"Give it me!" said Beatrice, extending her hand to receive the little silver phial which Giovanni took from his bosom. She added, with a peculiar emphasis: "I will drink--but do thou await the result."
Baglioni's antidote to her lips; and, at the same
the figure of Rappaccini emerged from the portal,
and came slowly
towards the marble fountain. As he drew near, the
pale man of
science seemed to gaze with a triumphant
expression at the beautiful
youth and maiden, as might an artist who should
spend his life in
achieving a picture or a group of statuary, and
finally be satisfied
with his success. He paused--his bent form grew
erect with conscious
power, he spread out his hand over them, in the
attitude of a father
imploring a blessing upon his children.
"My daughter," said Rappaccini, "thou art no longer lonely in the world! Pluck one of those precious gems from thy sister shrub, and bid thy bridegroom wear it in his bosom. It will not harm him now! My science, and the sympathy between thee and him, have so wrought within his system, that he now stands apart from common men, as thou dost, daughter of my pride and triumph, from ordinary women. Pass on, then, through the world, most dear to one another, and dreadful to all besides!"
"My father," said Beatrice, feebly--and still, as she spoke, she kept her hand upon her heart--"wherefore didst thou inflict this miserable doom upon thy child?"
"Miserable!" exclaimed Rappaccini. "What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts, against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy? Misery, to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath? Misery, to be as terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none?"
"I would fain have been loved, not feared," murmured Beatrice, sinking down upon the ground.--"But now it matters not; I am going, father, where the evil, which thou hast striven to mingle with my being, will pass away like a dream--like the fragrance of these poisonous flowers, which will no longer taint my breath among the flowers of Eden. Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart--but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"
To Beatrice--so radically
had her earthly part been wrought upon by
Rappaccini's skill--as poison had been life,