Rapacini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Many years ago a young man named Giovanni Guasconti left his home in Naples to study in Northern Italy. He rented a small room on the top floor of a dark and ancient palace. Long ago the building had belonged to a noble family. Now an old woman, Seniora Lisabetta rented its rooms to students at the University of Padua. Giovanni’s room had a small window. From it he could see a large garden that had many plants and flowers.
“Does the garden belong to you?” he asked Seniora Lisabetta one day.
“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “That garden belongs to the famous doctor Giacomo Rapacini. People say he uses those plants to make strange kinds of medicine. He lives in that small brown house in the garden with his daughter Beatrice.”
Giovanni often sat by his window to look at the garden. He had never seen so many different kinds of plants. They all had enormous green leaves and magnificent flowers in every color of the rainbow. Giovanni’s favorite plant was in a white marble vase near the house. It was covered with big purple flowers.
One day when Giovanni was looking out his window he saw an old man in a black cape walking in the garden. The old man was tall and thin. His face was an unhealthy yellow color. His black eyes were very cold. The old man wore thick gloves on his hands and a mask over his mouth and nose. He walked carefully among the plants as if he were walking among wild animals or poisonous snakes. Although he looked at the flowers very closely he did not touch or smell any of them.
When the old man arrived at the plant with the big purple flowers he stopped. He took off his mask and called loudly, “Beatrice! Come help me!”
“I’m coming, Father. What do you want?” answered a warm young voice from inside the house.
A young woman came into the garden. Her thick dark hair fell around her shoulders in curls. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes were large and black. She seemed full of life, health and energy as she walked along the plants. Giovanni thought she was as beautiful as the purple flowers in the marble vase.
The old man said something to her. She nodded her head as she touched and smelled the flowers that her father had been so careful to avoid.
Several weeks later Giovanni went to visit Pietro Baglioni, a friend of his father’s. Professor Baglioni taught medicine at the University. During the visit Giovanni asked about Dr. Rapacini.
“He is a great scientist,” Professor Baglioni replied. “But he is also a dangerous man.”
“Why?” asked Giovanni.
The older man shook his head slowly.
“Because Rapacini cares more about science than he does about people. He has created many terrible poisons from the plants in his garden. He thinks he can cure sickness with these poisons. It is true, and several times he has cured a very sick person that everyone thought would die. But Rapacini’s medicine has also killed many people. I think he would sacrifice any life, even his own, for one of his experiments.”
“But, what about his daughter?” Giovanni said. “I’m sure he loves her.”
The old professor smiled at the young man.
“So,” he said, “you have heard about Beatrice Rapacini. People say she is very beautiful. But few men in Padua have ever seen her. She never leaves her father’s garden.”
Giovanni left Professor Baglioni’s house as the sun was setting. On his way home he stopped at a flower shop where he bought some fresh flowers.
He returned to his room and sat by the window. There the little sunlight was left. The garden was quiet. The purple flowers on Giovanni’s favorite plant seemed to glow in the evening’s fading light. Then someone came out of the doorway of the little brown house. It was Beatrice. She entered the garden and walked along the plants. She bent to touch the leaves of a plant or to smell a flower. Rapacini’s daughter seemed to grow more beautiful with each step.
When she reached the purple plant she burled her face in its flowers. Giovanni heard her say, “Give me your breath, my sister. The ordinary air makes me weak. And give me one of your beautiful flowers.”
Beatrice gently broke off one of the largest flowers. As she lifted it to put it in her dark hair a few drops of liquid from the flower fell to the ground. One of the drops landed on the head of a tiny lizard crawling near the feet of Beatrice. For a moment the small animal twisted violently. Then, it moved no more. Beatrice did not seem surprised. She sighed and placed the flower in her hair.
Giovanni leaned out of the window so he’d see her better. At this moment a beautiful butterfly flew over the garden wall. It seemed to be attracted by Beatrice and flew once around her head. Then the insect’s bright wings stopped and it fell to the ground dead. Beatrice shook her head sadly.
Suddenly, she looked up to Giovanni’s window. She saw the young man looking at her. Giovanni picked up the flowers he had bought and threw them down to her.
“Young lady,” he said. “Wear these flowers as a gift from Giovanni Guasconti.”
“Thank you,” Beatrice answered.
She picked up the flowers from the ground and quickly ran to the house. She stopped at the door for a moment to wave shyly at Giovanni. It seemed to him that his flowers were beginning to turn brown in her hands.
For many days the young man stayed away from the window that looked out in Rapacini’s garden. He wished he’d not talked to Beatrice. Because now he felt under the power of her beauty. He was a little afraid of her too. He could not forget how the little lizard and the butterfly had died.
One day while he was returning home from his classes he met Professor Baglioni on the street.
“Well, Giovanni,” the old man said. “Have you forgotten me?” Then he looked closely at the young man. “What is wrong, my friend? Your appearance has changed since the last time we met.”
It was true, Giovanni had become very thin. His face was white and his eyes seemed to burn with fever.
As they stood talking a man dressed in a long black cape came down the street. He moved slowly like a person in poor health. His face was yellow but his eyes were sharp and black. It was the man Giovanni had seen in the garden. As he passed them the old man nodded coldly to Professor Baglioni, but he looked at Giovanni with a great deal of interest.
“It’s Dr. Rapacini,” Professor Baglioni whispered after the old man had passed them. “Has he ever seen your face before?”
Giovanni shook his head.
“No,” he answered. “I don’t think so.”
Professor Baglioni looked worried. “I think he has seen you before. I know that cold look of his. He looks the same way when he examines an animal he has killed in one of his experiments. Giovanni, I will bet my life on it, you are the subject of one of Rapacini’s experiments.”
Giovanni stepped away from the old man. “You are Joking,” he said.
“No, I’m serious.” The professor took Giovanni’s arm. “Be careful, my young friend. You are in great danger.”
Giovanni pulled his arm away. “I must be going,” he said. “Good night.”
As Giovanni hurried to his room he felt confused and a little frightened. Seniora Lisabetta was waiting for him outside his door. She knew he was interested in Beatrice.
“I have good news for you,” she said. “I know where there is a secret entrance into Rapacini’s garden.”
Giovanni could not believe his ears.
“Where is it?” he asked. “Show me the way!”
He went in. The plants all seemed wild and unnatural. Giovanni realized that Rapacini must have created these strange and terrible flowers through his experiments.
Suddenly, Rapacini’s daughter came into the garden. She moved quickly among the flowers until she reached him.
Giovanni apologized for coming into the garden without an invitation. But Beatrice smiled at him and made him feel welcome.
“I see you love flowers,” she said. “And so you have come to take a closer look at my father’s rare collection.”
While she spoke Giovanni noticed a perfume in the air around her. He wasn’t sure if this wonderful smell came from the flowers or from her breath.
She asked him about his home and his family. She told him she had spent her life in this garden. Giovanni felt as if he were talking to a very small child. Her spirits sparkled like clear water.
They walked slowly through the garden as they talked. At last, they reached a beautiful plant that was covered with large purple flowers. He realized that the perfume from those flowers was like the perfume of Beatrice’s breath, but much stronger.
The young man reached out to break off one of the purple flowers, but Beatrice gave a scream that went through his heart like a knife. She caught his hand and pulled it away from the plant with all her strength.
“Don’t ever touch those flowers!” she cried. “They will take your life.”
Hiding her face she ran into the house.
Then Giovanni saw Dr. Rapacini standing in the garden.
That night Giovanni could not stop thinking about how sweet and beautiful Beatrice was. Finally, he fell asleep.
But, when the morning came he woke up in great pain. He felt as if one of his hands was on fire. It was the hand that Beatrice had grabbed in hers when he had reached for one of the purple flowers. Giovanni looked down at his hand. There was a purple mark on it that looked like four small fingers and a little thumb. But, because his heart was full of Beatrice Giovanni forgot about the pain in his hand.
He began to meet her in the garden every day. At last she told him that she loved him. But she would never let him kiss her or even hold her hand.
One morning several weeks later Professor Baglioni visited Giovanni.
“I was worried about you,” the older man said. “You have not come to your classes at the University for more than a month. Is something wrong?”
Giovanni was not pleased to see his old friend. “No, nothing is wrong. I am fine, thank you.”
He wanted Professor Baglioni to leave, but the old man took off his hat and sat down.
“My dear Giovanni,” he said, “you must stay away from Rapacini and his daughter. Her father has given her poison from the time she was a baby. The ‘poison is in her blood and on her breath. If Rapacini did this to his own daughter what is he planning to do to you?”
Giovanni covered his face with his hands. “Oh, my god!” he cried.
“Don’t worry,” the old man continued. “It is not too late to save you. And we may succeed in helping Beatrice, too. Do you see this little silver bottle? It holds a medicine that will destroy even the most powerful poison. Give it to your Beatrice to drink.”
Professor Baglioni put the little bottle on the table and left Giovanni’s room.
The young man wanted to believe that Beatrice was a sweet and Innocent girl, and yet, Professor Bagllonl’s words had put doubts in his heart.
It was nearly time for his daily meeting with Beatrice. As Giovanni combed his hair he looked at himself in the mirror near his bed. He could not help noticing how handsome he was. His eyes looked particularly bright, and his face had a healthy warm glow. He said to himself, “At least her poison has not gotten into my body yet.”
As he spoke he happened to look at some flowers he had Just bought that morning. A shock of horror went through his body. The flowers were turning brown. Giovanni’s face became very white as he stared at himself in the mirror. Then he noticed a spider crawling near his window. He bent over the insect and blew a breath of air at it. The spider trembled and fell dead.
“I am cursed,” Giovanni whispered to himself. “My own breath is poisoned.”
At that moment, a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the garden, “Giovanni, you are late. Come down!”
“You are a monster!” Giovanni shouted as soon as he reached her. “And with your poison you have made me into a monster too. I am a prisoner of this garden.”
“Giovanni!” Beatrice cried looking at him with her large bright eyes. “Why are you saying these terrible things? It is true that I can never leave this garden. But you are free to go wherever you wish.”
Giovanni looked at her with hate in his eyes. “Don’t pretend that you don’t know what you’ve done to me!”
A group of insects had flown into the garden. They came toward Giovanni and flew around his head. He blew his breath at them. The insects fell to the ground dead.
“I see it! I see it! My father’s science has done this to us. Believe me, Giovanni. I did not ask him to do this to you. I only wanted to love you.”
Giovanni’s anger changed to sadness. Then he remembered the medicine that Professor Baglioni had given him. Perhaps, the medicine would destroy the poison in their bodies and help them to become normal again.
“Dear Beatrice,” he said. “Our fate is not so terrible.” He showed her the little silver bottle and told her what the medicine inside it might do.
“I will drink first,” she said. “You must wait to see what happens to me before you drink it.”
She put Baglioni’s medicine to her lips and took a small sip. At the same moment Rapacini came out of his house and walked slowly toward the two young people. He spread his hands out to them as if he were giving them a blessing.
“My daughter,” he said. “You are no longer alone in the world. Give Giovanni one of the purple flowers from your favorite plant. It will not hurt him now. My science and your love have made him different from ordinary men.”
“My father,” Beatrice said weakly, “why did you do this terrible thing to your own child?”
Rapacini looked surprised. “What do you mean, my daughter?” he asked. “You have power no other woman has. You can defeat your strongest enemy with only your breath. Would you rather be a weak woman?”
“I want to be loved, not feared,” Beatrice replied. “But now it does not matter. I am leaving you, Father. I’m going where the poison you have given me will do no harm. Good-bye to you, Giovanni.”
Beatrice dropped to the ground. She died at the feet of her father and Giovanni. The poison had been too much a part of the young woman. The medicine that destroyed the poison destroyed her as well.