Rappaccini's Daughter - Part Two
"I have been reading an old classic
lately," said he, "and met with a story that strangely interested me.
Possibly you may remember it. It is of an Indian
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 by," said the professor, looking uneasily about him, "what
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
"Nor are 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 perfume, the bare
idea of it, may easily be mistaken for a present reality."
"Ay; 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 woe 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
. But he strove hard to quell them and to
respond to Baglioni with a true lover's
"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."
"Giovanni! my poor Giovanni!" answered the professor, with a calm
expression of pity, "I know this wretched girl far better than
yourself. You shall hear the truth in respect to the poisoner
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 and deadly science of Rappaccini and in the person
of the lovely Beatrice."
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 vial on the table
and withdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its effect upon the
young man's mind.
"We will thwart Rappaccini yet," thought he, chuckling to himself, as
he descended the stairs; "but, let us confess the truth of him, he is
a wonderful man--a wonderful man indeed; a vile empiric, however, in
his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect
the good old rules of the medical profession."
Throughout Giovanni's 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 strange and
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
that perished 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 founded his 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 those
dreadful 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 if he could witness, at the distance of a
few paces, the sudden blight of one fresh and healthful flower in
Beatrice's hand, there would be room for no further question. With
this idea he hastened to the florist's and purchased a bouquet that
was still gemmed with the morning dew-drops
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."
With that thought he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which he had
never once laid aside from his hand. A thrill of indefinable 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
stood motionless before the mirror, staring at his own reflection
there as at the likeness of something frightful. He 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
apartment, crossing and recrossing 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 suddenly ceased its toil; the web vibrated with a
tremor originating in the body of the small artisan. Again Giovanni
sent forth a breath, deeper, longer, and imbued with a venomous
feeling out of his heart: he knew not whether he were wicked, or only
desperate. The spider made a convulsive grip with his limbs and hung
dead across the window.
"Accursed! accursed!" muttered Giovanni, addressing himself. "Hast
thou grown so poisonous that this deadly insect perishes by thy
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!"
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the bright 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 there came influences which
had too real an existence to be at once shaken off: recollections of
the delicate and benign power of her feminine
, 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, with a quick
spiritual sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness
between them which neither he nor she could pass. They walked on
together, sad and silent, and came thus to the marble fountain and to
its pool of water on the ground, in the midst of which grew the shrub
that bore gemlike blossoms. Giovanni was affrighted at the eager
enjoyment--the appetite, as it were--with which he found himself
inhaling the fragrance of the flowers.
"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
"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 thunderstruck.
"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 heart-broken
"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 go 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!"
"Giovanni," said 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. But thou--what hast
thou to do, save with one other shudder at my hideous misery to go
forth out of the garden and mingle with thy race, and forget that
there ever crawled on earth such a monster as poor Beatrice?"
"Dost thou pretend ignorance?" asked Giovanni, scowling upon her.
"Behold! this power have I gained from the pure daughter of
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."
Giovanni's passion 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? Besides, thought Giovanni,
might there not still be a hope of his returning within the limits of
ordinary nature, and leading Beatrice, the redeemed Beatrice, by the
hand? O, weak, and selfish, and unworthy spirit, that could dream of
an earthly union and earthly happiness as possible, after such deep
love had been so bitterly wronged as was Beatrice's love by Giovanni's
blighting words! No, no; there could be no such hope. She must pass
heavily, with that broken heart, across the borders of Time--she must
bathe her hurts in some fount of paradise, and forget her grief in the
light of immortality, and there be well.
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
"Give it me!
" said Beatrice,
extending her hand to receive the little silver vial which Giovanni
took from his bosom. She added, with a peculiar emphasis, "I will
drink; but do thou await the result."
She put Baglioni's antidote to her lips; and, at the same moment, 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 hands over them in the attitude of a father imploring a
blessing upon his children; but those were the same hands that had
thrown poison into the stream of their lives. Giovanni trembled.
Beatrice shuddered nervously, and pressed her hand upon her heart.
"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
"My father," said Beatrice, feebly--and still as she spoke she kept
her hand upon her heart--"wherefore didst thou inflict this miserable
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, so the powerful antidote
was death; and thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity and of thwarted
nature, and of the fatality that attends all such efforts of perverted
wisdom, perished there, at the feet of her father and Giovanni. Just
at that moment Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window,
and called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the
thunderstricken man of science--
"Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is this the upshot
of your experiment!"