What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part I. The Melody.
Harold Dartmouth came of a family celebrated throughout its history for producing men of marked literary and political ability. Few generations had passed without a Dartmouth distinguishing himself, and those members of the family less gifted were not in the habit of having their fine intellectual qualities called to account. The consequence was that their young descendant, who inherited all the family cleverness, although as yet he had betrayed the possession of none of its higher gifts, paid the penalty of his mental patrimony. His brain was abnormally active, both through conditions of heredity and personal incitement; and the cerebral excitation necessarily produced resulted not infrequently in violent reaction, which took the form of protracted periods of melancholy. These attacks of melancholy had begun during his early school-days, when, a remarkably bright but extremely wild boy, he had been invariably fired with ambition as examinations approached, and obliged to cram to make up for lost time. As years went by they grew with his growth, and few months passed without an attack of the blues more or less violent, no matter how brief. They came after hours of brooding over his desire to distinguish himself, and his fatal want of ability; they came during his intervals of purely intellectual disgust with himself and with life; but more frequently still they came upon him from no apparent cause whatever. They were a part of his personality, just as humor, or light, unthinking gaiety, or a constantly bubbling wit may form the predominating characteristic of another man.
For a week after the night of his futile impulse to put into shape the nebulous verse which had tormented his brain, no one saw Harold Dartmouth. The violent shock and strain had induced an attack of mental and spiritual depression which amounted to prostration, and he lay on his sofa taking no notice of the days as they slipped by, eating little and speaking to no one. At first Jones, his man-servant, was not particularly disturbed. He had brought Dartmouth up, and had come to look upon his moods as a matter of course. He therefore confined himself to forcing his master to take his food and to parrying the curiosity of the French servants; he knew Dartmouth's temper too well to venture to call a doctor, and he hoped that in a few days the mood would wear itself out. But at the end of a week he became seriously alarmed. He had spent the last day but one in a desperate and fruitless attempt to rouse Dartmouth, and had used every expedient his ingenuity could suggest. Finally, at his wits' end, he determined to call in the help of Lord Bective Hollington, who was Dartmouth's most intimate friend, and had lived with him and his moods for months together. He came to this decision late on the night of the seventh day, and at eleven the next morning he presented himself at Hollington's apartments in the Rue Lincoln. Hollington was still in bed and reading the morning paper, but he put it down at once.
"Send him in," he said. "Something is the matter with Harold," he continued to himself. "Something unusual has been the matter with him all the week, when he wouldn't even see me. Well, Jones, what is it?" as that perturbed worthy entered. "You are an early visitor."
"Oh! my Lord!" exclaimed Jones, tearfully; "something dreadful hails Master 'Arold."
"What is it?" demanded Hollington, quickly. "Is he ill?"
Jones shook his head. "No, my Lord; I wish 'ee was. 'Ee's worse than hill. 'Ee's got one of 'is moods."
"Poor Harold! I thought he had got over all that since he had given himself over to the distractions of wine, woman, and song. I haven't seen him in one of his moods for three or four years."
"Ah, sir, I 'ave, then. 'Ee don't 'ave them so frequent like before he begun to travel, but hevery wunst in a while 'ee will be terrible for two hor three days; but I never see hanything like this before, heven at Crumford 'All. 'Ee 'as never spoke for a week; not since the night of the ball hat the Russian Legation."
"By Jove! you don't mean it. I thought he was on a 'private tear,' as the Americans say; but I don't like this at all. Just clear out, and I'll be dressed and over in his rooms in less than half an hour." And he sprang out of bed before Jones had closed the door.
He was but a few moments dressing, as he had promised, and was at Dartmouth's apartment before Jones had time to become impatient, nervous as he was. He pulled aside the portiere of the salon and looked in. The curtains were drawn and the room was dark, but on a sofa near the window he saw his friend lying. He picked his way over through the studiously disordered furniture and touched Dartmouth on the shoulder.
"Hal!" he said, "Hal!"
Dartmouth opened his eyes and looked up. "Is it you, Becky?" he said, languidly. "Go away and let me alone." But his words and manner indicated that the attack was at last "wearing itself out."
"I will do nothing of the sort," replied Hollington. "Get up off that sofa this moment. A week! I am ashamed of you. What would the old lady say?"
"She would understand," murmured Dartmouth. "She always understood. I wish she were here now."
"I wish she were. She would soon have you out of this. Get up. Don't be a fool."
"I am not a fool. I have got one of the worst of the old attacks, and I can't shake it off; that is all. Go away, and let me fight it out by myself."
"I will not move from this room, if I stay here for six months, until you go with me. So make up your mind to it." And he threw himself into an easy-chair, and lighting a cigar, proceeded leisurely to smoke it.
Dartmouth turned uneasily once or twice. "You know I can't bear anyone near me," he said; "I want to be alone."
"You have been alone long enough. I will do as I have said."
There was silence for a few moments, and Dartmouth's restlessness increased. Hollington watched him closely, and after a time handed him a cigar and offered him a light. Dartmouth accepted both mechanically, and for a time the two men smoked in silence. When Dartmouth finished he rose to his feet.
"Very well," he said, "have your own way. Wait until I dress and I will go out with you." He went into his dressing-room and returned about an hour later, during which time Hollington had thrown back the curtains and written a couple of letters. Dartmouth was still haggard and very pale, but his face had been shaved and he looked something like himself once more. Hollington rose and threw down his pen at once.
"I will drop in on our way back and finish this letter," he said. "You must get out of the house as quickly as possible. By Jove! how bad you look!" He put his hand on his friend's shoulder and looked at him a moment. He was the average Englishman in most of his details, tall, well-built, with a good profile, and a ruddy Saxon face. His individual characteristics were an eternal twinkle in his eye, a forehead with remarkably well-developed reflectives, and a very square chin and jaw. Just now the twinkle was less aggressive and his face had softened noticeably. "There is no help for it, I suppose, Hal, is there?" he said.
Dartmouth looked back at him with a smile, and a good deal of affection in his eyes. "No, old fellow," he replied; "I am afraid there is not. But they are rarely as bad as this last. And--thank you for coming."
They went out together and walked to the Cafe Anglais on the Boulevard des Italiens. The air was keen and cold, the walk a long one, and Dartmouth felt like another man by the time he sat down to breakfast. One or two other men joined them. Hollington was unusually witty, the conversation was general and animated, and when Dartmouth left the cafe the past week seemed an ugly dream. In the afternoon he met the wife of the American Consul-General, Mrs. Raleigh, in the Bois, and learned from her that Margaret Talbot had left Paris. This left him free to remain; and when Mrs. Raleigh reminded him that her doors were open that evening, he asked permission at once to present himself. Mrs. Raleigh not only had a distinguished and interesting salon, but she casually remarked that she expected Miss Penrhyn, and Dartmouth felt a strong desire to see the girl again.