What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
When Dartmouth awoke the next day, the sun was streaming across the bed and Jones's anxious face was bending over him.
"Oh, Mr. 'Arold," exclaimed Jones, "you've got it again."
Dartmouth laughed aloud. "One would think I had delirium tremens," he said.
He put his hand over his eyes, and struggled with the desire to have the room darkened. The melancholy had fastened itself upon him, and he knew that for three or four days he was to be the victim of one of his unhappiest moods. The laudanum had lulled his brain and prevented violent reaction after its prolonged tension; but his spirits were at zero, and his instinct was to shut out the light and succumb to his enemy without resistance. If he had been anywhere but at Rhyd-Alwyn he would not have thought twice about it; but if he shut himself up in his room, not only would Weir be frightened and unhappy, but it was probable that Sir Iltyd would question the desirability of a son-in-law who was given to prolonged and uncontrollable attacks of the blues. He dressed and went down-stairs, but Weir was nowhere to be found, and after a search through the various rooms and corners of the castle which she was in the habit of frequenting, he met her maid and was informed that Miss Penrhyn was not well and would not come down-stairs before dinner. The news was very unwelcome to Dartmouth. Weir at least would have been a distraction. Now he must get through a dismal day, and fight his enemy by himself. To make matters worse, it was raining, and he could not go out and ride or hunt. He went into Sir Iltyd's library and talked to him for the rest of the morning. Sir Iltyd was not exciting, at his best, and to-day he had a bad cold; so after lunch Dartmouth went up to his tower and resigned himself to his own company. He sat down before the fire, and taking his head between his hands allowed the blue devils to triumph. He felt dull as well as depressed; but for a time he made an attempt to solve the problem of the phenomenon to which he had been twice subjected. That it was a phenomenon he did not see any reason to doubt. If he had spent his life in a vain attempt to write poetry and an unceasing wish for the necessary inspiration, there would be nothing remarkable in his mind yielding suddenly to the impetus of accumulated pressure, wrenching itself free of the will's control, and dashing off on a wild excursion of its own. But he had never voluntarily taken a pen in his hand to make verse, nor had he even felt the desire to possess the gift, except as a part of general ambition. He may have acknowledged the regret that he could not immortalize himself by writing a great poem, but the regret was the offspring of personal ambition, not of yearning poetical instinct. But the most extraordinary phase of the matter was that such a tempest could take place in a brain as well regulated as his own. He was eminently a practical man, and a good deal of a thinker. He had never been given to flights of imagination, and even in his attacks of melancholy, although his will might be somewhat enfeebled, his brain could always work clearly and cleverly. The lethargy which had occasionally got the best of him had invariably been due to violent nervous shock or strain, and was as natural as excessive bodily languor after violent physical effort. Why, then, should his brain twice have acted as if he had sown it with eccentric weeds all his life, instead of planting it with the choicest seeds he could obtain, and watering and cultivating them with a patience and an interest which had been untiring?
But the explanation of his attempt to put his unborn poem into words gave him less thought to-day than it had after its first occurrence; there were other phases of last night's experience weirder and more unexplainable still. Paramount, of course, was the vision or dream--which would seem to have been induced by some magnetic property possessed and exerted by Weir. Such things do not occur without cause, and he was not the sort of man to yield himself, physically and mentally, his will and his perceptions, to the unconscious caprice of a somnambulist. And the scene had cut itself so deeply into the tablets of his memory that he found himself forgetting more than once that it was not an actual episode of his past. He wished he could see Weir, and hear her account of her mental experiences of those hours. If her dream should have been a companion to his, then the explanation would suggest itself that the scene might have been a vagary of her brain; that in some way which he did not pretend to explain, she had hypnotized him, and that his brain had received a photographic imprint of what had been in hers. It would then be merely a sort of telepathy. But why should she have dreamed a dream in which they both were so unhappily metamorphosed? and why should it have produced so powerful an impression upon his waking sense? And why, strangest of all, had he, without thought or self-surprise, gone to her, and with his soul stirred to its depths, called her "Sioned"? True, she had almost disguised herself, and had been the living counterfeit of Sioned Penrhyn; but that was no reason why he should have called a woman who had belonged to his grandmother's time by her first name. Could Weir, thoroughly imbued with the character she was unconsciously representing, have exercised her hypnotic power from the moment she entered the gallery, and left him without power to think or feel except through her own altered perceptions? He thrust out his foot against the fender, almost overturning it, and, throwing back his head, clasped his hands behind it and scowled at the black ceiling above him. He was a man who liked things explained, and he felt both sullen and angry that he should have had an experience which baffled his powers of analysis and reason. His partial solution gave him no satisfaction, and he had the uncomfortable sense of actual mystery, and a premonition of something more to come. This, however, he was willing to attribute to the depressed condition of his spirits, which threw its gloom over every object, abstract and concrete, and which induced the tendency to exaggerate any strange or unpleasant experience of which he had been the victim. It was useless to try to think of anything else; his brain felt as if it had resolved itself into a kaleidoscope, through which those three scenes shifted eternally. Finally, he fell asleep, and did not awaken until it was time to dress for dinner. Before he left his room, Weir's maid knocked at his door and handed him a note, in which the lady of Rhyd-Alwyn apologized for leaving him to himself for an entire day, and announced that she would not appear at dinner, but would meet him in the drawing-room immediately thereafter. Dartmouth read the note through with a puzzled expression: it was formal and stilted, even for Weir. She was gone when he came to his senses in the gallery the night before. Had she awakened and become conscious of the situation? It was not a pleasant reminiscense for a girl to have, and he felt honestly sorry for her. Then he groaned in spirit at the prospect of an hour's tete-a-tete with Sir Iltyd. He liked Sir Iltyd very much, and thought him possessed of several qualifications valuable in a father-in-law, among them his devotion to his library; but in his present frame of mind he felt that history and politics were topics he would like to relegate out of existence.
He put the best face on the situation he could muster, however, and managed to conceal from Sir Iltyd the fact that his spirits were in other than their normal condition. The old baronet's eyes were not very sharp, particularly when he had a cold, and he was not disposed to notice Harold's pallor and occasional fits of abstraction, so long as one of his favorite topics was under discussion. When Dartmouth found that he had got safely through the dinner, he felt that he had accomplished a feat which would have rejoiced the heart of his grandmother, and he thought that his reward could not come a moment too soon. Accordingly, for the first time since he had been at Rhyd-Alwyn, he declined to sit with Sir Iltyd over the wine, and went at once in search of Weir.
As he opened the door of the drawing-room he found the room in semi-darkness, lighted only by the last rays of the setting sun, which strayed through the window. He went in, but did not see Weir. She was not in her accustomed seat by the fire, and he was about to call her name, when he came to a sudden halt, and for the moment every faculty but one seemed suspended. A woman was standing by the open window looking out over the water. She had not heard him, and had not turned her head. Dartmouth felt a certain languor, as of one who is dreaming, and is half-conscious that he is dreaming, and therefore yields unresistingly to the pranks of his sleeping brain. Was it Weir, or was it the woman who had been a part of his vision last night? She wore a long, shining yellow dress, and her arms and neck were bare. Surely it was the other woman! She turned her head a little, and he saw her face in profile; there was the same stamp of suffering, the same pallor. Weir had never looked like that; before he had known her she had had, sometimes, a little expression of sadness and abstraction which had made her look very picturesque, but which had borne no relationship to suffering or experience. And the scene! the room filled with dying light, the glimpse of water beyond, the very attitude of the woman at the casement--all were strangely and deeply familiar to him, although not the details of the vision of last night. The only things that were wanting were the Eastern hangings to cover the dark wainscotted old walls, and the skins on the black, time-stained floor.
With a sudden effort of will he threw off the sense of mystery which had again taken possession of him, and walked forward quickly. As Weir heard him, she turned her head and met his eyes, and although a closer look at her face startled him afresh, his brain was his own again, and he was determined that it should remain so. He might yield to supernatural impressions when unprepared, but not when both brain and will were defiantly on the alert. That she was not only unaccountably altered, but that she shrank from him, was evident; and he was determined to hear her version of last night's adventure without delay. He believed that she would unconsciously say something which would throw a flood of light on the whole matter.
"Where did you get that dress?" he said, abruptly.
She started sharply, and the color flew to the roots of her hair, then, receding, left her paler than before. "Why do you ask me that?" she demanded, with unconcealed, almost terrified suspicion in her tones.
"Because," he said, looking straight into her eyes, "I had a peculiar dream last night, in which you wore a dress exactly like this. It is rather a remarkable coincidence that you should put it on to-night."
"Harold!" she cried, springing forward and catching his arm convulsively in both her hands, "what has happened? What is it? And how can you talk so calmly when to me it seems--"
He put his arm around her. "Seems what?" he said, soothingly. "Did you have a dream, too?"
"Yes," she said, her face turning a shade paler, "I had a dream."
"And in it you wore this dress?"
"Tell me your dream."
"No!" she exclaimed, "I cannot."
Dartmouth put his hand under her chin and pushed her head back against his shoulder, upturning her face. "You must tell me," he said, quietly; "every word of it! I am not asking you out of curiosity, but because the dream I had was too remarkable to be without meaning. I cannot reach that meaning unassisted; but with your help I believe I can. So tell me at once."
"Oh, Harold!" she cried, throwing her arms suddenly about him and clinging to him, "I have no one else to speak to but you: I cannot tell my father; he would not understand. No girl ever felt so horribly alone as I have felt to-day. If it had not been for you I believe I should have killed myself; but you are everything to me, only--how can I tell you?"
He tightened his arms about her and kissed her.
"Don't kiss me," she exclaimed sharply, trying to free herself.
"Why not?" he demanded, in surprise. "Why should I not kiss you?"
She let her head drop again to his shoulder. "True," she said; "why should you not? It is only that I forget that I am not the woman I dreamed I was; and for her--it was wrong to kiss you."
"Weir, tell me your dream at once. It is for your good as well as mine that I insist. You will be miserable and terrified until you take someone into your confidence. I believe I can explain your dream, as well as give you the comfort of talking it over with you."
She slipped suddenly out of his arms and walked quickly to the end of the room and back, pausing within a few feet of him. The room was growing dark, and he could distinguish little of her beyond the tall outline of her form and the unnatural brilliancy of her eyes, but he respected her wish and remained where he was.
"Very well," she said, rapidly. "I will tell you. I went to sleep without much terror, for I had told my maid to sleep in my dressing-room. But I suppose the storm and the story I had told you had unsettled my nerves, for I soon began to dream a horrid dream. I thought I was dead once more. I could feel the horrible chill and pain, the close-packed ice about me. I was dead, but yet there was a spirit within me. I could feel it whispering to itself, although it had not as yet spread its fire through me and awakened me into life. It whispered that it was tired, and disheartened, and disappointed, and wanted rest; that it had been on a long, fruitless journey, and was so weary that it would not take up the burden of life again just yet. But its rest could not be long; there was someone it must find, and before he had gone again to that boundless land, whose haunting spirits were impalpable as flecks of mist. And then it moaned and wept, and seemed to live over its past, and I went back with it, or I was one with it--I cannot define. It recalled many scenes, but only one made an impression on my memory; I can recall no other." She paused abruptly, but Dartmouth made no comment; he stood motionless in breathless expectancy. She put her hand to her head, and after a moment continued haltingly:
"I--oh--I hardly know how to tell it. I seemed to be standing with you in a room more familiar to me than any room in this castle; a room full of tapestries and skins and cushions and couches; a room which if I had seen it in a picture I should have recognized as Oriental, although I have never seen an Oriental room. I have always had an indescribable longing to see Constantinople, and it seemed to me in that dream as if I had but to walk to the window and look down upon it--as if I had looked down upon it many times and loved its beauty. But although I was with you, and your arms were about me, we were not as we are now--as we were before the dream: we had suffered all that a man and a woman can suffer who love and are held apart. And you looked as you do now, yet utterly different. You looked years older, and you were dressed so strangely. I do not know how I looked, but I know how I felt. I felt that I had made up my mind to commit a deadly sin, and that I gloried in it. I had suffered because to love you was a sin; but I only loved you the more for that reason. Then you slowly drew me further into the room and pressed me more closely in your arms and kissed me again, and then--I--oh--I do not know--it is all so vague I don't know what it meant--but it seemed as if the very foundations of my life were being swept away. And yet--oh, I cannot explain! I do not know, myself." And she would have thrown herself headlong on the sofa had not Dartmouth sprang forward and caught her.
"There, never mind," he said, quickly. "Let that go. It is of no consequence. A dream like that must necessarily end in a climax of incoherence and excitement."
He drew her down on the sofa, and for a moment said nothing further. He had to acknowledge that she had deepened the mystery, and given no key. A silence fell, and neither moved. Suddenly she raised her head. "What was your dream?" she demanded.
"The same. I don't pretend to explain it. And I shall not insult your understanding by inventing weak excuses. If it means anything we will give the problem no rest until we have solved it. If we cannot solve it, then we are justified in coming to the conclusion that there is nothing in it. But I believe we shall get to the bottom of it yet."
"Perhaps," she said, wearily; "I do not know. I only feel that I shall never be myself again, but must go through life with that woman's burden of sin and suffering weighing me down." She paused a moment, and then continued: "In that dream I wore a dress like this, and that is the reason I put it on to-night. I was getting some things in Paris before I left, and I bought it thinking you would like it; I had heard you say that yellow was your favorite color. When my maid opened the door of my wardrobe to-night to take out a dress, and I saw this hanging there, it gave me such a shock that I caught at a chair to keep from falling. And then I felt irresistibly impelled to put it on. I felt as if it were a shroud, vivid in color as it is; but it had an uncanny fascination for me, and I experienced a morbid delight in feeling both spirit and flesh revolt, and yet compelling them to do my will. I never knew that it was in me to feel so, but I suppose I am utterly demoralized by so realistically living over again that awful experience of my childhood. If it happened again I should either be carried back to the vault for good and all, or end my days in the topmost tower of the castle, with a keeper, and the storms and sea-gulls for sole companions."
She sat up in a moment, and putting her hand on his shoulder, looked him full in the face for the first time. "It seems to me that I know you now," she said, "and that I never knew you before. When I first saw you to-night I shrank from you: why, I hardly know, except that the personality of that woman had woven itself so strongly into mine that for the moment I felt I had no right to love you. But I have never loved you as I do to-night, because that dream, however little else I may have to thank it for, did for me this at least: it seemed to give me a glimpse into every nook and corner of your character; I feel now that my understanding of your strange nature is absolute. I had seen only one side of it before, and had made but instinctive guesses at the rest; but as I stood with you in that dream, I had, graven on my memory, the knowledge of every side and phase of your character as you had revealed it to me many times; and that memory abides with me. I remember no details, but that makes no difference; if I were one with you I could not know you better." She slipped her arms about his neck and pressed her face close to his. "You have one of your attacks of melancholy to-night," she murmured. "You tried to conceal it, and the effort made you appear cold. It was the first thing I thought of when I turned and saw you, in spite of all I felt myself. And although you had described those attacks before, the description had conveyed little to me; that your moods were different from other people's blues had hardly occurred to me, we had been so happy. But now I understand. I pay for the knowledge with a high price; but that is life, I suppose."