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Ocf Hawthorne Mosses From Old Manse

Ocf Hawthorne Mosses From Old Manse

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Published by Wm Monroe

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Published by: Wm Monroe on Sep 17, 2011
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*****Project Gutenberg Etexts from Mosses From An Old Manse*****#4 in our series by Nathaniel HawthorneContentsThe BirthmarkYoung Goodman BrownRappaccini's DaughterMrs. BullfrogThe Celestial RailroadThe Procession of LifeFeathertop: A Moralized LegendEgotism; or, The Bosom SerpentDrowne's Wooden ImageRoger Malvin's BurialThe Artist of the BeautifulFROM MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSETHE BIRTHMARKIn the latter part of the last century there lived a man ofscience, an eminent proficient in every branch of naturalphilosophy, who not long before our story opens had madeexperience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than anychemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of anassistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke,washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded abeautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when thecomparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindredmysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region ofmiracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival thelove of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higherintellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart mightall find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some oftheir ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step ofpowerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher shouldlay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make newworlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed thisdegree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature. He haddevoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studiesever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love forhis young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it couldonly be by intertwining itself with his love of science, anduniting the strength of the latter to his own.Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with trulyremarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day,very soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wifewith a trouble in his countenance that grew stronger until hespoke."Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the markupon 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 hasbeen so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagineit might be so.""Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband;"but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearlyperfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possibledefect, 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 firstreddening with momentary anger, but then bursting into tears."Then why did you take me from my mother's side? You cannot lovewhat shocks you!"To explain this conversation it must be mentioned that in thecentre of Georgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark,deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance ofher face. In the usual state of her complexion--a healthy thoughdelicate bloom--the mark wore a tint of deeper crimson, whichimperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness. Whenshe blushed it gradually became more indistinct, and finallyvanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that bathed the wholecheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting motion causedher to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain uponthe snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearfuldistinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the humanhand, though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana's lovers werewont to say that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tinyhand upon the infant's cheek, and left this impress there intoken of the magic endowments that were to give her such swayover all hearts. Many a desperate swain would have risked lifefor the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand. Itmust not be concealed, however, that the impression wrought bythis fairy sign manual varied exceedingly, according to thedifference of temperament in the beholders. Some fastidiouspersons--but they were exclusively of her own sex--affirmed thatthe bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed theeffect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered her countenance evenhideous. But it would be as reasonable to say that one of thosesmall blue stains which sometimes occur in the purest statuarymarble would convert the Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculineobservers, if the birthmark did not heighten their admiration,contented themselves with wishing it away, that the world mightpossess one living specimen of ideal loveliness without thesemblance of a flaw. After his marriage,--for he thought littleor nothing of the matter before,--Aylmer discovered that this wasthe case with himself.Had she been less beautiful,--if Envy's self could have foundaught else to sneer at,--he might have felt his affectionheightened by the prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguelyportrayed, now lost, now stealing forth again and glimmering toand fro with every pulse of emotion that throbbed within herheart; but seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this onedefect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of theirunited lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, inone shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions,either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that theirperfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand
 
expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches thehighest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindredwith the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom theirvisible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it asthe symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, anddeath, Aylmer's sombre imagination was not long in rendering thebirthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horrorthan ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or sense, had givenhim delight.At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, heinvariably and without intending it, nay, in spite of a purposeto the contrary, reverted to this one disastrous topic. Triflingas it at first appeared, it so connected itself with innumerabletrains of thought and modes of feeling that it became the centralpoint of all. With the morning twilight Aylmer opened his eyesupon his wife's face and recognized the symbol of imperfection;and when they sat together at the evening hearth his eyeswandered stealthily to her cheek, and beheld, flickering with theblaze of the wood fire, the spectral hand that wrote mortalitywhere he would fain have worshipped. Georgiana soon learned toshudder at his gaze. It needed but a glance with the peculiarexpression that his face often wore to change the roses of hercheek into a deathlike paleness, amid which the crimson hand wasbrought strongly out, like a bass-relief of ruby on the whitestmarble.Late one night when the lights were growing dim, so as hardly tobetray the stain on the poor wife's cheek, she herself, for thefirst time, voluntarily took up the subject."Do you remember, my dear Aylmer," said she, with a feebleattempt at a smile, "have you any recollection of a dream lastnight about this odious hand?""None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then headded, in a dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealingthe real depth of his emotion, "I might well dream of it; forbefore I fell asleep it had taken a pretty firm hold of myfancy.""And you did dream of it?" continued Georgiana, hastily; for shedreaded lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had tosay. "A terrible dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is itpossible to forget this one expression?--'It is in her heart now;we must have it out!' Reflect, my husband; for by all means Iwould have you recall that dream."The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannotconfine her spectres within the dim region of her sway, butsuffers them to break forth, affrighting this actual life withsecrets that perchance belong to a deeper one. Aylmer nowremembered his dream. He had fancied himself with his servantAminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of thebirthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank thehand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught holdof Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorablyresolved to cut or wrench it away.When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer

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