Twice Told Tales HTML version

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
That very singular man old Dr. Heidegger once invited four venerable friends to meet
him in his study. There were three white-bearded gentlemen—Mr. Medbourne, Colonel
Killigrew and Mr. Gascoigne—and a withered gentlewoman whose name was the widow
Wycherly. They were all melancholy old creatures who had been unfortunate in life, and
whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves. Mr.
Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant, but had lost his all
by a frantic speculation, and was now little better than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew
had wasted his best years and his health and substance in the pursuit of sinful pleasures
which had given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout and divers other torments of
soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man of evil fame—or, at least,
had been so till time had buried him from the knowledge of the present generation and
made him obscure instead of infamous. As for the widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that
she was a great beauty in her day, but for a long while past she had lived in deep
seclusion on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the
town against her. It is a circumstance worth mentioning that each of these three old
gentlemen—Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew and Mr. Gascoigne—were early lovers
of the widow Wycherly, and had once been on the point of cutting each other's throats for
her sake. And before proceeding farther I will merely hint that Dr. Heidegger and all his
four guests were sometimes thought to be a little beside themselves, as is not infrequently
the case with old people when worried either by present troubles or woeful recollections.
"My dear old friends," said Dr. Heidegger, motioning them to be seated, "I am desirous
of your assistance in one of those little experiments with which I amuse myself here in
my study."
If all stories were true, Dr. Heidegger's study must have been a very curious place. It was
a dim, old-fashioned chamber festooned with cobwebs and besprinkled with antique dust.
Around the walls stood several oaken bookcases, the lower shelves of which were filled
with rows of gigantic folios and black-letter quartos, and the upper with little parchment-
covered duodecimos. Over the central bookcase was a bronze bust of Hippocrates, with
which, according to some authorities, Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold
consultations in all difficult cases of his practice. In the obscurest corner of the room
stood a tall and narrow oaken closet with its door ajar, within which doubtfully appeared
a skeleton. Between two of the bookcases hung a looking-glass, presenting its high and
dusty plate within a tarnished gilt frame. Among many wonderful stories related of this
mirror, it was fabled that the spirits of all the doctor's deceased patients dwelt within its
verge and would stare him in the face whenever he looked thitherward. The opposite side
of the chamber was ornamented with the full-length portrait of a young lady arrayed in
the faded magnificence of silk, satin and brocade, and with a visage as faded as her dress.
Above half a century ago Dr. Heidegger had been on the point of marriage with this
young lady, but, being affected with some slight disorder, she had swallowed one of her
lover's prescriptions and died on the bridal-evening. The greatest curiosity of the study
remains to be mentioned: it was a ponderous folio volume bound in black leather, with