Doctor Heidegger's Experiment
That very unusual man, old Doctor Heidegger, once invited four friends to meet him in his office. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne. And, there was a thin old lady whose husband had died, so she was called the Widow Wycherly.
They were all sad old creatures who had been unfortunate in life. As a young man, Mr. Medbourne had lost all his money in a badly planned business deal. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years and health enjoying the pleasures of women and drink. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician with an evil past.
Doctor Heidegger's office was a very strange place. The dark room was filled with books, cobwebs, and dust. An old mirror hanging between two bookcases was said to show the ghosts of all the doctor's dead patients.
On another wall hung a painting of the young woman Doctor Heidegger was to have married long ago. But she died the night before their wedding after drinking one of the doctor's medicines. The most mysterious object in the room was a large book covered in black leather. It was said to be a book of magic.
"This rose," said the doctor, "was given to me fifty-five years ago by Sylvia Ward, whose painting hangs on this wall. I was to wear it at our wedding. Would you think it possible that this ancient rose could ever bloom again?"
He reached for the vase and threw the dried rose into the water it contained. Soon, a change began to appear. The crushed and dried petals moved and slowly turned from brown to red. And there was the rose of half a century looking as fresh as when Sylvia Ward had first given it to her lover.
"Did you ever hear of the Fountain of Youth?" asked Doctor Heidegger. "The Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon went in search of it centuries ago. But he was not looking in the right place. If I am rightly informed, the famous Fountain of Youth is in southern Florida. A friend of mine has sent me the water you see in the vase."
The doctor filled the four glasses with water from the Fountain of Youth. The liquid produced little bubbles that rose up to the silvery surface. The old guests agreed to drink the water, although they did not believe in its power.
"Before you drink, my friends," the doctor said, "you should draw up a few general rules as guidance before you pass a second time through the dangers of youth. You have had a lifetime of experience to direct you. Think what a shame it would be if the wisdom of your experiences did not act as a guide and teacher."
They raised the glasses to their lips. If the liquid really was magical, it could not have been given to four human beings who needed it more. They seemed as though they had never known youth or pleasure. They looked like they had always been the weak, unhappy creatures who were bent over the doctor's table.
There was an almost immediate improvement among the guests. A cheerful glow like sunshine brightened their faces. They looked at one another imagining that some magic power had really started to smooth the lines on their faces.
Again he filled their glasses. The four guests drank the liquid in one swallow. As the liquid passed down their throats it seemed to change their whole systems. Their eyes grew clear and bright. Their hair turned from silver to darker shades.
The doctor had already filled the glasses again. It was now near sunset and the room was darker than ever. But a moon-like light shined from within the vase. The doctor sat in his chair watching. As the four guests drank their third glass of water, they were silenced by the expression on the doctor's mysterious face.
The next moment, the exciting rush of young life shot through their blood. They were now at the happy height of youth. The endless cares, sadness, and diseases of age were remembered only as a troubled dream from which they had awoken.
As the three fought for the woman's favor, they reached violently for each other's throats. In their struggle, they turned over the table. The vase broke into a thousand pieces. The Water of Youth flowed in a bright stream across the floor.
"Yes, friends, you are old again," the doctor said. "And the Water of Youth lies wasted on the ground. But even if it flowed in a river at my door, I still would not drink it. This is the lesson you have taught me!"
You have heard the American Story "Doctor Heidegger's Experiment" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Your storyteller was Barbara Klein. This story was adapted into Special English and produced by Dana Demange. Listen again next week for another American Story in VOA Special English.