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unusual man, old Doctor Heidegger, once invited four friends to meet him
in his office. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mister
Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mister Gascoigne. And, there was a
thin old lady whose husband had died, so she was called the Widow
They were all sad old creatures who had been unfortunate in life. As a
young man, Mister 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. Mister Gascoigne was a ruined
politician with an evil past.
As for the Widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that she was once a great
beauty. But shocking stories about her past had led the people of the
town to reject her. So, she lived very much alone.
It is worth stating that each of these three men were early lovers of
the Widow Wycherly. And they had once been on the point of killing each
other over her.
"My dear old friends," said Doctor Heidegger, "I would like your help in
one of my little experiments." He motioned for them to sit down.
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.
On the summer afternoon of our story, a black table stood in the middle
of the room. On it was a beautiful cut-glass vase. Four glasses were
also on the table.
Doctor Heidegger was known for his unusual experiments. But his four
guests did not expect anything very interesting.
The doctor picked up his black leather book of magic. From its pages he
removed a dried-up old rose.
"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
"Nonsense!" said the Widow Wycherly with a toss of her head. "You might
as well ask if an old woman's lined face could ever bloom again."
"See!" answered Doctor Heidegger.
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.
"That is a very pretty trick," said the doctor's friends. "What is the
"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."
The doctor's four friends answered him with a laugh. The idea that they
would ever repeat the mistakes of their youth was very funny.
"Drink, then," said the doctor. "I am happy that I have so well chosen
the subjects of my experiment."
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.
They drank the water.
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.
"Quick! Give us more of this wondrous water!" they cried. "We are
younger, but we are still too old!"
"Patience!" said Doctor Heidegger who watched the experiment with
scientific coolness. "You have been a long time growing old. Surely you
could wait half an hour to grow young!"
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.
"My dear widow, you are lovely!" cried Colonel Killigrew, who watched as
the signs of age disappeared from her face.
The widow ran to the mirror.
The three men started to behave in such a way that proved the magic of
the Fountain of Youth's water.
Mister Gascoigne's mind turned to political topics. He talked about
nationalism and the rights of the people. He also told secrets softly to
All this time Colonel Killigrew had been shouting out happy drinking
songs while his eyes turned towards the curvy body of the Widow Wycherly.
Mister Medbourne was adding dollars and cents to pay for a proposed
project. It would supply the East Indies with ice by linking a team of
whales to the polar icebergs.
As for the Widow Wycherly, she stood in front of the mirror greeting her
image as a friend she loved better than anything in the world.
"My dear old doctor," she cried, "please give me another glass!"
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.
"We are young!" they cried.
The guests were a group of happy youngsters almost crazy with energy.
They laughed at the old-fashioned clothing they wore. They shouted
happily and jumped around the room.
The Widow Wycherly - if such a young lady could be called a widow - ran
to the doctor's chair and asked him to dance.
"Please excuse me," answered the doctor quietly. "My dancing days were
over long ago. But these three young men would be happy to have such a
The men began to argue violently about who would dance with her. They
gathered around the widow, each grabbing for her.
Yet, by a strange trick owing to the darkness of the room, the tall
mirror is said to have reflected the forms of three old, gray men
competing for a faded, old woman.
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.
The guests stood still. A strange coldness was slowly stealing over them
all. They looked at Doctor Heidegger who was holding his treasured rose.
The flower was fading and drying up once more.
The guests looked at each other and saw their looks changing back. "Are
we grown old again so soon?" they cried.
In truth they had. The Water of Youth had powers that were only
"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
But the doctor's four friends had learned no such lesson. They decided
at that moment to travel to Florida and drink morning, noon, and night
from the Fountain of Youth.
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