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Edward Fane's Rosebud

From "Twice Told Tales"

There is hardly a more difficult exercise of fancy, than, while gazing
at a figure of melancholy age, to re-create its youth, and, without
entirely obliterating the identity of form and features, to restore
those graces which time has snatched away. Some old people,
especially women, so age-worn and woful are they, seem never to have
been young and gay. It is easier to conceive that such gloomy
phantoms were sent into the world as withered and decrepit as we
behold them now, with sympathies only for pain and grief, to watch at
death-beds, and weep at funerals. Even the sable garments of their
widowhood appear essential to their existence; all their attributes
combine to render them darksome shadows, creeping strangely amid the
sunshine of human life. Yet it is no unprofitable task, to take one
of these doleful creatures, and set fancy resolutely at work to
brighten the dim eye, and darken the silvery locks, and paint the
ashen cheek with rose-color, and repair the shrunken and crazy form,
till a dewy maiden shall be seen in the old matron's elbow-chair. The
miracle being wrought, then let the years roll back again, each sadder
than the last, and the whole weight of age and sorrow settle down upon
the youthful figure.

Wrinkles and furrows, the handwriting of Time, may thus be deciphered,
and found to contain deep lessons of thought and feeling. Such profit
might be derived, by a skilful observer, from my much-respected
friend, the Widow Toothaker, a nurse of great repute, who has breathed
the atmosphere of sick-chambers and dying breaths these forty years.

See! she sits cowering over her lonesome hearth, with her gown and
upper petticoat drawn upward, gathering thriftily into her person the
whole warmth of the fire, which, now at nightfall, begins to dissipate
the autumnal chill of her chamber. The blaze quivers capriciously in
front, alternately glimmering into the deepest chasms of her wrinkled
visage, and then permitting a ghostly dimness to mar the outlines of
her venerable figure. And Nurse Toothaker holds a teaspoon in her
right hand, with which to stir up the contents of a tumbler in her
left, whence steams a vapory fragrance, abhorred of temperance
societies. Now she sips,--now stirs,--now sips again. Her sad old
heart has need to be revived by the rich infusion of Geneva, which is
mixed half and half with hot water, in the tumbler. All day long she
has been sitting by a death-pillow, and quitted it for her home, only
when the spirit of her patient left the clay and went homeward too.
But now are her melancholy meditations cheered, and her torpid blood
warmed, and her shoulders lightened of at least twenty ponderous
years, by a draught from the true Fountain of Youth, in a case-bottle.
It is strange that men should deem that fount a fable when its liquor
fills more bottles than the Congress-water! Sip it again, good nurse,
and see whether a second draught will not take off another score of
years, and perhaps ten more, and show us, in your high-backed chair,
the blooming damsel who plighted troths with Edward Fane. Get you
gone, Age and Widowhood! Come back, unwedded Youth! But, alas! the
charm will not work. In spite of fancy's most potent spell, I can see
only an old dame cowering over the fire, a picture of decay and
desolation, while the November blast roars at her in the chimney, and
fitful showers rush suddenly against the window.

Yet there was a time when Rose Grafton--such was the pretty maiden
name of Nurse Toothaker--possessed beauty that would have gladdened
this dim and dismal chamber as with sunshine. It won for her the
heart of Edward Fane, who has since made so great a figure in the
world, and is now a grand old gentleman, with powdered hair, and as
gouty as a lord. These early lovers thought to have walked hand in
hand through life. They had wept together for Edward's little sister
Mary, whom Rose tended in her sickness, partly because she was the
sweetest child that ever lived or died, but more for love of him. She
was but three years old. Being such an infant, Death could not embody
his terrors in her little corpse; nor did Rose fear to touch the dead
child's brow, though chill, as she curled the silken hair around it,
nor to take her tiny hand, and clasp a flower within its fingers.
Afterward, when she looked through the pane of glass in the coffin-
lid, and beheld Mary's face, it seemed not so much like death, or
life, as like a waxwork, wrought into the perfect image of a child
asleep, and dreaming of its mother's smile. Rose thought her too fair
a thing to be hidden in the grave, and wondered that an angel did not
snatch up little Mary's coffin, and bear the slumbering babe to
heaven, and bid her wake immortal. But when the sods were laid on
little Mary, the heart of Rose was troubled. She shuddered at the
fantasy, that, in grasping the child's cold fingers, her virgin hand
had exchanged a first greeting with mortality, and could never lose
the earthly taint. How many a greeting since! But as yet, she was a
fair young girl, with the dewdrops of fresh feeling in her bosom; and
instead of Rose, which seemed too mature a name for her half-opened
beauty, her lover called her Rosebud.

The rosebud was destined never to bloom for Edward Fane. His mother
was a rich and haughty dame, with all the aristocratic prejudices of
colonial times. She scorned Rose Grafton's humble parentage, and
caused her son to break his faith, though, had she let him choose, he
would have prized his Rosebud above the richest diamond. The lovers
parted, and have seldom met again. Both may have visited the same
mansions, but not at the same time; for one was bidden to the festal
hall, and the other to the sick-chamber; he was the guest of Pleasure
and Prosperity, and she of Anguish. Rose, after their separation, was
long secluded within the dwelling of Mr. Toothaker, whom she married
with the revengeful hope of breaking her false lover's heart. She
went to her bridegroom's arms with bitterer tears, they say, than
young girls ought to shed at the threshold of the bridal chamber.
Yet, though her husband's head was getting gray, and his heart had
been chilled with an autumnal frost, Rose soon began to love him, and
wondered at her own conjugal affection. He was all she had to love;
there were no children.

In a year or two, poor Mr. Toothaker was visited with a wearisome
infirmity which settled in his joints, and made him weaker than a
child. He crept forth about his business, and came home at dinner-
time and eventide, not with the manly tread that gladdens a wife's
heart, but slowly, feebly, jotting down each dull footstep with a
melancholy dub of his staff. We must pardon his pretty wife, if she
sometimes blushed to own him. Her visitors, when they heard him
coming, looked for the appearance of some old, old man; but he dragged
his nerveless limbs into the parlor,--and there was Mr. Toothaker!
The disease increasing, he never went into the sunshine, save with a
staff in his right hand and his left on his wife's shoulder, bearing
heavily downward, like a dead man's hand. Thus, a slender woman,
still looking maiden-like, she supported his tall, broad-chested frame
along the pathway of their little garden, and plucked the roses for
her gray-haired husband, and spoke soothingly, as to an infant. His
mind was palsied with his body; its utmost energy was peevishness. In
a few months more, she helped him up the staircase, with a pause at
every step, and a longer one upon the landingplace, and a heavy glance
behind, as he crossed the threshold of his chamber. He knew, poor
man, that the precincts of those four walls would thenceforth be his
world,--his world, his home, his tomb,--at once a dwelling and a
burial-place, till he were borne to a darker and a narrower one. But
Rose was with him in the tomb. He leaned upon her, in his daily
passage from the bed to the chair by the fireside, and back again from
the weary chair to the joyless bed,--his bed and hers,--their
marriage-bed; till even this short journey ceased, and his head lay
all day upon the pillow, and hers all night beside it. How long poor
Mr. Toothaker was kept in misery! Death seemed to draw near the door,
and often to lift the latch, and sometimes to thrust his ugly skull
into the chamber, nodding to Rose, and pointing at her husband, but
still delayed to enter. "This bedridden wretch cannot escape me!"
quoth Death. "I will go forth, and run a race with the swift, and
fight a battle with the strong, and come back for Toothaker at my
leisure!" O, when the deliverer came so near in the dull anguish of
her worn-out sympathies, did she never long to cry, "Death, come in!"

But, no! We have no right to ascribe such a wish to our friend Rose.
She never failed in a wife's duty to her poor sick husband. She
murmured not, though a glimpse of the sunny sky was as strange to her
as him, nor answered peevishly, though his complaining accents roused
her from her sweetest dream, only to share his wretchedness. He knew
her faith, yet nourished a cankered jealousy; and when the slow
disease had chilled all his heart, save one lukewarm spot, which
Death's frozen fingers were searching for, his last words were, "What
would my Rose have done for her first love, if she has been so true
and kind to a sick old man like me!" And then his poor soul crept
away, and left the body lifeless, though hardly more so than for years
before, and Rose a widow, though in truth it was the wedding-night
that widowed her. She felt glad, it must be owned, when Mr. Toothaker
was buried, because his corpse had retained such a likeness to the man
half alive, that she hearkened for the sad murmur of his voice,
bidding her shift his pillow. But all through the next winter, though
the grave had held him many a month, she fancied him calling from that
cold bed, "Rose! Rose! come put a blanket on my feet."

So now the Rosebud was the Widow Toothaker. Her troubles had come
early, and, tedious as they seemed, had passed before all her bloom
was fled. She was still fair enough to captivate a bachelor, or, with
a widow's cheerful gravity, she might have won a widower, stealing
into his heart in the very guise of his dead wife. But the Widow
Toothaker had no such projects. By her watchings and continual cares,
her heart had become knit to her first husband with a constancy which
changed its very nature, and made her love him for his infirmities,
and infirmity for his sake. When the palsied old man was gone, even
her early lover could not have supplied his place. She had dwelt in a
sick-chamber, and been the companion of a half-dead wretch, till she
could scarcely breathe in a free air, and felt ill at ease with the
healthy and the happy. She missed the fragrance of the doctor's
stuff. She walked the chamber with a noiseless footfall. If visitors
came in, she spoke in soft and soothing accents, and was startled and
shocked by their loud voices. Often in the lonesome evening, she
looked timorously from the fireside to the bed, with almost a hope of
recognizing a ghastly face upon the pillow. Then went her thoughts
sadly to her husband's grave. If one impatient throb bad wronged him
in his lifetime,--if she had secretly repined, because her buoyant
youth was imprisoned with his torpid age,--if ever, while slumbering
beside him, a treacherous dream had admitted another into her heart,--
yet the sick man had been preparing a revenge, which the dead now
claimed. On his painful pillow, he had cast a spell around her; his
groans and misery had proved more captivating charms than gayety and
youthful grace; in his semblance, Disease itself had won the Rosebud
for a bride; nor could his death dissolve the nuptials. By that
indissoluble bond she had gained a home in every sick-chamber, and
nowhere else; there were her brethren and sisters; thither her husband
summoned her, with that voice which had seemed to issue from the grave
of Toothaker. At length she recognized her destiny.

We have beheld her as the maid, the wife, the widow; now we see her in
a separate and insulated character; she was, in all her attributes,
Nurse Toothaker. And Nurse Toothaker alone, with her own shrivelled
lips, could make known her experience in that capacity. What a
history might she record of the great sicknesses, in which she has
gone hand in hand with the exterminating angel! She remembers when
the small-pox hoisted a red banner on almost every house along the
street. She has witnessed when the typhus fever swept off a whole
household, young and old, all but a lonely mother, who vainly shrieked
to follow her last loved one. Where would be Death's triumph, if none
lived to weep? She can speak of strange maladies that have broken
out, as if spontaneously, but were found to have been imported from
foreign lands, with rich silks and other merchandise, the costliest
portion of the cargo. And once, she recollects, the people died of
what was considered a new pestilence, till the doctors traced it to
the ancient grave of a young girl, who thus caused many deaths a
hundred years after her own burial. Strange that such black mischief
should lurk in a maiden's grave! She loves to tell how strong men
fight with fiery fevers, utterly refusing to give up their breath; and
how consumptive virgins fade out of the world, scarcely reluctant, as
if their lovers were wooing them to a far country. Tell us, thou
fearful woman! tell us the death-secrets! Fain would I search out the
meaning of words, faintly gasped with intermingled sobs, and broken
sentences, half audibly spoken between earth and the judgment-seat!

An awful woman! She is the patron saint of young physicians, and the
bosom friend of old ones. In the mansions where she enters, the
inmates provide themselves black garments; the coffin-maker follows
her; and the bell tolls as she comes away from the threshold. Death
himself has met her at so many a bedside, that he puts forth his bony
hand to greet Nurse Toothaker.

She is an awful woman! And, O, is it conceivable, that this handmaid
of human infirmity and affliction--so darkly stained, so thoroughly
imbued with all that is saddest in the doom of mortals--can ever again
be bright and gladsome, even though bathed in the sunshine of
eternity? By her long communion with woe, has she not forfeited her
inheritance of immortal joy? Does any germ of bliss survive within

Hark! an eager knocking at Nurse Toothaker's door. She starts from
her drowsy revery, sets aside the empty tumbler and teaspoon, and
lights a lamp at the dim embers of the fire. Rap, rap, rap! again;
and she hurries a-down the staircase, wondering which of her friends
can be at death's door now, since there is such an earnest messenger
at Nurse Toothaker's. Again the peal resounds, just as her hand is on
the lock. "Be quick, Nurse Toothaker!" cries a man on the doorstep;
"old General Fane is taken with the gout in his stomach, and has sent
for you to watch by his death-bed. Make haste, for there is no time
to lose!"

"Fane! Edward Fane! And has he sent for me at last? I am ready! I
will get on my cloak and begone. So," adds the sable-gowned, ashen-
visaged, funereal old figure, "Edward Fane remembers his Rosebud!"

Our question is answered. There is a germ of bliss within her. Her
long-hoarded constancy--her memory of the bliss that was--remaining
amid the gloom of her after life, like a sweet-smelling flower in a
coffin, is a symbol that all maybe renewed. In some happier clime,
the Rosebud may revive again with all the dewdrops in its bosom.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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