Part 3 out of 6
des petits pâtés sur la tête--comme Madame Seraskier!"
And oh, how thou beatest them all for beauty! In _my_ estimation, at
least--like--like Madame Seraskier again!
And hast thou done growing at last?
Nay, indeed; thou art not even yet a bread-and-butter miss--thou art but
a sweet baby, one year old, and seven feet high, tottering midway
between some blessed heaven thou hast only just left and the dull home
of us poor mortals.
The sweet one-year-old baby of our kin puts its hands upon our knees and
looks up into our eyes with eyes full of unutterable meaning. It has so
much to say! It can only say "ga-ga" and "ba-ba"; but with oh! how
searching a voice, how touching a look--that is, if one is fond of
babies! We are moved to the very core; we want to understand, for it
concerns us all; we were once like that ourselves--the individual and
the race--but for the life of us we cannot _remember_.
And what canst _thou_ say to us yet, Euterpe, but thy "ga-ga" and thy
"ba-ba," the inarticulate sweetness whereof we feel and cannot
comprehend? But how beautiful it is--and what a look thou hast, and
what a voice--that is, if one is fond of music!
"Je suis las des mois--je suis d'entendre
Ce qui peut mentir;
J'aime mieux les sons, qu'au lieu de comprendre
je n'ai qu'à sentir."
Next day I would buy or beg or borrow the music that had filled me with
such emotion and delight, and take it home to my little square piano,
and try to finger it all out for myself. But I had begun too late
To sit, longing and helpless, before an instrument one cannot play, with
a lovely score one cannot read! Even Tantalus was spared such an
ordeal as that.
It seemed hard that my dear father and mother, so accomplished in music
themselves, should not even have taught me the musical notes, at an age
when it was so easy to learn them; and thus have made me free of that
wonder-world of sound in which I took such an extraordinary delight, and
might have achieved distinction--perhaps.
But no, my father had dedicated me to the Goddess of Science from before
my very birth; that I might some day be better equipped than he for the
pursuit, capture, and utilization of Nature's sterner secrets. There
must be no dallying with light Muses. Alas! I have fallen between
And thus, Euterpe absent, her enchantment would pass away; her
handwriting was before me, but I had not learned how to decipher it, and
my weary self would creep back into its old prison--my soul.
[Illustration: (no caption)]
Self-sickness-_selbstschmerz, le mal do soi!_ What a disease! It is not
to be found in any dictionary, medical or otherwise.
I ought to have been whipped for it, I know; but nobody was big enough,
or kind enough, to whip me!
* * * * *
At length there came a day when that weary, weak, and most ridiculous
self of mine was driven out--and exorcised for good--by a still more
potent enchanter than even Handel or Beethoven or Schubert!
There was a certain Lord Cray, for whom Lintot had built some laborers'
cottages in Hertfordshire, and I sometimes went there to superintend the
workmen. When the cottages were finished, Lord Cray and his wife (a very
charming, middle-aged lady) came to see them, and were much pleased with
all that had been done, and also seemed to be much interested in _me_,
of all people in the world! and a few days later I received a card of
invitation to their house in town for a concert.
At first I felt much too shy to go; but Mr. Lintot insisted that it was
my duty to do so, as it might lead to business; so that when the night
came, I screwed up my courage to the sticking-place, and went.
That evening was all enchantment, or would have been but for the
somewhat painful feeling that I was such an outsider.
But I was always well content to be the least observed of all observers,
and felt happy in the security that here I should at least be left
alone; that no perfect stranger would attempt to put me at my ease by
making me the butt of his friendly and familiar banter; that no gartered
duke, or belted earl (I have no doubt they were as plentiful there as
blackberries, though they did not wear their insignia) would pat me on
the back and ask me if I would sooner look a bigger fool than I was, or
be a bigger fool than I looked. (I have not found a repartee for that
insidious question yet; that is why it rankles so.)
I had always heard that the English were a stiff people. There seemed to
be no stiffness at Lady Cray's; nor was there any facetiousness; it put
one at one's ease merely to look at them. They were mostly big, and
strong, and healthy, and quiet, and good-humored, with soft and
pleasantly-modulated voices. The large, well-lighted rooms were neither
hot nor cold; there were beautiful pictures on the walls, and an
exquisite scent of flowers came from an immense conservatory. I had
never been to such a gathering before; all was new and a surprise, and
very much to my taste, I confess. It was my first glimpse of "Society;"
and last--but one!
There were crowds of people--but no crowd; everybody seemed to know
everybody else quite intimately, and to resume conversations begun an
hour ago somewhere else.
Presently these conversations were hushed, and Grisi and Mario sang! It
was as much as I could do to restrain my enthusiasm and delight. I could
have shouted out loud--I could almost have sung myself!
In the midst of the applause that followed that heavenly duet, a lady
and gentleman came into the room, and at the sight of that lady a new
interest came into my life; and all the old half-forgotten sensations of
mute pain and rapture that the beauty of Madame Seraskier used to make
me feel as a child were revived once more; but with a depth and
intensity, in comparison, that were as a strong man's barytone to a
small boy's treble.
It was the quick, sharp, cruel blow, the _coup de poignard_, that beauty
of the most obvious, yet subtle, consummate, and highly-organized order
can deal to a thoroughly prepared victim.
And what a thoroughly prepared victim was I! A poor, shy,
over-susceptible, virginal savage--Uncas, the son of Chingachgook,
astray for the first time in a fashionable London drawing-room.
A chaste mediaeval knight, born out of his due time, ascetic both from
reverence and disgust, to whom woman in the abstract was the one
religion; in the concrete, the cause of fifty disenchantments a day!
A lusty, love-famished, warm-blooded pagan, stranded in the middle of
the nineteenth century; in whom some strange inherited instinct had
planted a definite, complete, and elaborately-finished conception of
what the ever-beloved shape of woman should be--from the way the hair
should grow on her brow and her temples and the nape of her neck, down
to the very rhythm that should regulate the length and curve and
position of every single individual toe! and who had found, to his pride
and delight, that his preconceived ideal was as near to that of Phidias
as if he had lived in the time of Pericles and Aspasia.
For such was this poor scribe, and such he had been from a child, until
this beautiful lady first swam into his ken.
She was so tall that her eyes seemed almost on a level with mine, but
she moved with the alert lightness and grace of a small person. Her
thick, heavy hair was of a dark coppery brown, her complexion clear and
pale, her eyebrows and eyelashes black, her eyes a light bluish gray.
Her nose was short and sharp, and rather tilted at the tip, and her red
mouth large and very mobile; and here, deviating from my preconceived
ideal, she showed me how tame a preconceived ideal can be. Her perfect
head was small, and round her long, thick throat two slight creases went
parallel, to make what French sculptors call _le collier de Vénus;_ the
skin of her neck was like a white camellia, and slender and
square-shouldered as she was, she did not show a bone. She was that
beautiful type the French define as _la fausse maigre_, which does not
mean a "false, thin woman."
She seemed both thoughtful and mirthful at once, and genial as I had
never seen any one genial before--a person to confide in, to tell all
one's troubles to, without even an introduction! When she laughed she
showed both top and bottom teeth, which were perfect, and her eyes
nearly closed, so that they could no longer be seen for the thick lashes
that fringed both upper and under eyelids; at which time the expression
of her face was so keenly, cruelly sweet that it went through one like a
knife. And then the laugh would suddenly cease, her full lips would
meet, and her eyes beam out again like two mild gray suns, benevolently
humorous and kindly inquisitive, and full of interest in everything and
everybody around her. But there--I cannot describe her any more than one
can describe a beautiful tune.
Out of those magnificent orbs kindness, kindness, kindness was shed like
a balm; and after a while, by chance, that balm was shed for a few
moments on me, to my sweet but terrible confusion. Then I saw that she
asked my hostess who I was, and received the answer; on which she shed
her balm on me for one moment more, and dismissed me from her thoughts.
Madame Grisi sang again--Desdemona's song from _Othello_--and the
beautiful lady thanked the divine singer, whom she seemed to know quite
intimately; and I thought her thanks--Italian thanks--even diviner than
the song--not that I could quite understand them or even hear them
well--I was too far; but she thanked with eyes and hands and shoulders--
slight, happy movements--as well as words; surely the sweetest and
sincerest words ever spoken.
She was much surrounded and made up to--evidently a person of great
importance; and I ventured to ask another shy man standing in my corner
who she was, and he answered--
"The Duchess of Towers."
She did not stay long, and when she departed all turned dull and
commonplace that had seemed so bright before she came; and seeing that
it was not necessary to bid my hostess good-night and thank her for a
pleasant evening, as we did in Pentonville, I got myself out of the
house and walked back to my lodgings an altered man.
I should probably never meet that lovely young duchess again, and
certainly never know her; but her shaft had gone straight and true into
my very heart, and I felt how well barbed it was, beyond all possibility
of its ever being torn out of that blessed wound; might this never heal;
might it bleed on forever!
She would be an ideal in my lonely life, to live up to in thought and
word and deed. An instinct which I felt to be infallible told me she was
as good as she was fair--
_"Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of
[Illustration: THE DUCHESS OP TOWERS.]
And just as Madame Seraskier's image was fading away, this new star had
arisen to guide me by its light, though seen but for a moment; breaking
once, through a parted cloud, I knew in which portion of the heavens it
dwelt and shone apart, among the fairest constellations; and ever after
turned my face that way. Nevermore in my life would I do or say or think
a mean thing, or an impure, or an unkind one, if I could help it.
* * * * *
Next day, as we walked to the Foundling Hospital for divine service,
Mrs. Lintot severely deigned--under protest, as it were--to
cross-examine me on the adventures of the evening.
I did not mention the Duchess of Towers, nor was I able to describe the
different ladies' dresses; but I described everything else in a manner I
thought calculated to interest her deeply--the flowers, the splendid
pictures and curtains and cabinets, the beautiful music, the many lords
and ladies gay.
She disapproved of them all.
Existence on such an opulent scale was unconducive to any qualities of
real sterling value, either moral or intellectual. Give _her_, for one,
plain living and high thinking!
"By-the-way," she asked, "what kind of supper did they give you?
Something extremely _recherché_, I have no doubt. Ortolans,
nightingales' tongues, pearls dissolved in wine?"
Candor obliged me to confess there had been no supper, or that if there
had I had managed to miss it. I suggested that perhaps everybody had
dined late; and all the pearls, I told her, were on the ladies' necks
and in their hair; and not feeling hungry, I could not wish them
anywhere else; and the nightingales' tongues were in their throats to
sing heavenly Italian duets with.
"And they call that hospitality!" exclaimed Lintot, who loved his
supper; and then, as he was fond of summing up and laying down the law
when once his wife had given him the lead, he did so to the effect that
though the great were all very well in their superficial way, and might
possess many external charms for each other, and for all who were so
deplorably weak as to fall within the sphere of their attraction, there
was a gulf between the likes of them and the likes of us, which it would
be better not to try and bridge if one wished to preserve one's
independence and one's self-respect; unless, of course, it led to
business; and this, he feared, it would never do with me.
"They take you up one day and they drop you like a 'ot potato the next;
and, moreover, my dear Peter," he concluded, affectionately linking his
arm in mine, as was often his way when we walked together (although he
was twelve good inches shorter than myself), "inequality of social
condition is a bar to any real intimacy. It is something like disparity
of physical stature. One can walk arm in arm only with a man of about
one's own size."
This summing up seemed so judicious, so incontrovertible, that feeling
quite deplorably weak enough to fall within the sphere of Lady Cray's
attraction if I saw much of her, and thereby losing my self-respect, I
was deplorably weak enough not to leave a card on her after the happy
evening I had spent at her house.
Snob that I was, I dropped her--"like a 'ot potato" for fear of her
Besides which I had on my conscience a guilty, snobby feeling that in
merely external charms at least these fine people were more to my taste
than the charmed circle of my kind old friends the Lintots, however
inferior they might be to these (for all that I knew) in sterling
qualities of the heart and head--just as I found the outer aspect of
Park Lane and Piccadilly more attractive than that of Pentonville,
though possibly the latter may have been the more wholesome for such as
I to live in.
But people who can get Mario and Grisi to come and sing for them (and
the Duchess of Towers to come and listen); people whose walls are
covered with beautiful pictures; people for whom the smooth and
harmonious ordering of all the little external things of social life has
become a habit and a profession--such people are not to be dropped
without a pang.
So with a pang I went back to my usual round as though nothing had
happened; but night and day the face of the Duchess of Towers was ever
present to me, like a fixed idea that dominates a life.
* * * * *
On reading and rereading these past pages, I find that I have been
unpardonably egotistic, unconscionably prolix and diffuse; and with such
small beer to chronicle!
And yet I feel that if I strike out this, I must also strike out that;
which would lead to my striking out all, in sheer discouragement; and I
have a tale to tell which is more than worth the telling!
Once having got into the way of it, I suppose, I must have found the
temptation to talk about myself irresistible.
It is evidently a habit easy to acquire, even in old age--perhaps
especially in old age, for it has never been my habit through life. I
would sooner have talked to you about yourself, reader, or about you to
somebody else--your friend, or even your enemy; or about them to you.
But, indeed, at present, and until I die, I am without a soul to talk to
about anybody or anything worth speaking of, so that most of my talking
is done in pen and ink--a one-sided conversation, O patient reader, with
yourself. I am the most lonely old man in the world, although perhaps
Still, it is not always amusing where I live, cheerfully awaiting my
translation to another sphere.
There is the good chaplain, it is true, and the good priest; who talk to
me about myself a little too much, methinks; and the doctor, who talks
to me about the priest and the chaplain, which is better. He does not
seem to like them. He is a very witty man.
But, my brother maniacs!
They are lamentably _comme tout le monde_, after all. They are only
interesting when the mad fit seizes them. When free from their awful
complaint they are for the most part very common mortals: conventional
Philistines, dull dogs like myself, and dull dogs do not like
Two of the most sensible (one a forger, the other a kleptomaniac on an
important scale) are friends of mine. They are fairly well educated,
respectable city men, clean, solemn, stodgy, punctilious, and resigned,
but they are both unhappy; not because they are cursed with the double
brand of madness and crime, and have forfeited their freedom in
consequence; but because they find there are so few "ladies and
gentlemen" in a criminal lunatic asylum, and they have always been used
to "the society of ladies and gentlemen." Were it not for this, they
would be well content to live here. And each is in the habit of
confiding to me that he considers the other a very high-minded,
trustworthy fellow, and all that, but not altogether "quite a
gentleman." I do not know what they consider me; they probably confide
that to each other.
Can anything be less odd, less eccentric or interesting?
Another, when quite sane, speaks English with a French accent and
demonstrative French gestures, and laments the lost glories of the old
French régime, and affects to forget the simplest English words. He
doesn't know a word of French, however. But when his madness comes on,
and he is put into a strait-waistcoat, all his English comes back, and
very strong, fluent, idiomatic English it is, of the cockneyest kind,
with all its "h's" duly transposed.
Another (the most unpleasant and ugliest person here) has chosen me for
the confidant of his past amours; he gives me the names and dates and
all. The less I listen the more he confides. He makes me sick. What can
I do to prevent his believing that I believe him? I am tired of killing
people for lying about women. If I call him a liar and a cad, it may
wake in him Heaven knows what dormant frenzy--for I am quite in the dark
as to the nature of his mental infirmity.
Another, a weak but amiable and well-intentioned youth, tries to think
that he is passionately fond of music; but he is so exclusive, if you
please, that he can only endure Bach and Beethoven, and when he hears
Mendelssohn or Chopin, is obliged to leave the room. If I want to please
him I whistle "Le Bon Roi Dagobert," and tell him it is the _motif_ of
one of Bach's fugues; and to get rid of him I whistle it again and tell
him it is one of Chopin's impromptus. What his madness is I can never be
quite sure, for he is very close, but have heard that he is fond of
roasting cats alive; and that the mere sight of a cat is enough to rouse
his terrible propensity, and drive all wholesome, innocent, harmless,
natural affectation out of his head.
There is a painter here who (like others one has met outside) believes
himself the one living painter worthy of the name. Indeed, he has
forgotten the names of all the others, and can only despise and abuse
them in the lump. He triumphantly shows you his own work, which consists
of just the kind of crude, half-clever, irresponsible, impressionist
daubs you would expect from an amateur who talks in that way; and you
wonder why on earth he should be in a lunatic asylum, of all places in
the world. And (just as would happen outside, again) some of his
fellow-sufferers take him at his own valuation and believe him a great
genius; some of them want to kick him for an impudent impostor (but that
he is so small); and the majority do not care.
His mania is arson, poor fellow; and when the terrible wish comes over
him to set the place on fire he forgets his artistic conceit, and his
mean, weak, silly face becomes almost grand.
And with the female inmates it is just the same. There is a lady who has
spent twenty years of her life here. Her father was a small country
doctor, called Snogget; her husband an obscure, hard-working curate; and
she is absolutely normal, common-place, and even vulgar. For her hobby
is to discourse of well-born and titled people and county families, with
whom (and with no others) it has always been her hope and desire to mix;
and is still, though her hair is nearly white, and she is still here.
She thinks and talks and cares about nothing else but "smart people,"
and has conceived a very warm regard for me, on account of
Lieutenant-colonel Ibbetson, of Ibbetson Hall, Hopshire; not because I
killed him and was sentenced to be hanged for it, or because he was a
greater criminal than I (all of which is interesting enough); but
because he was my relative, and that through him I must be distantly
connected, she thinks, with the Ibbetsons of Lechmere--whoever they may
be, and whom neither she nor I have ever met (indeed, I had never heard
of them), but whose family history she knows almost by heart. What can
be tamer, duller, more prosaic, more sordidly humdrum, more hopelessly
sane, more characteristic of common, under-bred, provincial
And yet this woman, in a fit of conjugal jealousy, murdered her own
children; and her father went mad in consequence, and her husband cut
In fact, during their lucid intervals it would never enter one's mind
that they were mad at all, they are so absolutely like the people one
meets every day in the world--such narrow-minded idiots, such deadly
bores! One might as well be back in Pentonville or Hopshire again, or
live in Passionate Brompton (as I am told it is called); or even in
Belgravia, for that matter!
For we have a young lord and a middle-aged baronet--a shocking pair, who
should not be allowed to live; but for family influence they would be
doing their twenty years' penal servitude in jail, instead of living
comfortably sequestered here. Like Ouida's high-born heroes, they "stick
to their order," and do not mingle with the rest of us. They ignore us
so completely that we cannot help looking up to them in spite of their
vices--just as we should do outside.
And we, of the middle class, we stick to our order, too, and do not
mingle with the small shop-keepers--who do not mingle with the laborers,
artisans, and mechanics--who (alas, for them!) have nobody to look down
upon but each other--but they do not; and are the best-bred people in
Such are we! It is only when our madness is upon us that we cease to be
commonplace, and wax tragical and great, or else original and grotesque
and humorous, with that true deep humor that compels both our laughter
and our tears, and leaves us older, sadder, and wiser than it found us.
"_Sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt_."
(So much, if little more, can I recall of the benign Virgil.)
And now to my small beer again, which will have more of a head to it
* * * * *
Thus did I pursue my solitary way, like Bryant's Water-fowl, only with a
less definite purpose before me--till at last there dawned for me an
ever-memorable Saturday in June.
I had again saved up enough money to carry my long longed-for journey to
Paris into execution. The _Seine's_ boiler got up its steam, the
_Seine's_ white awning was put up for me as well as others; and on a
beautiful cloudless English morning I stood by the man at the wheel, and
saw St. Paul's and London Bridge and the Tower fade out of sight; with
what hope and joy I cannot describe. I almost forgot that I was me!
And next morning (a beautiful French morning) how I exulted as I went up
the Champs Elysées and passed under the familiar Arc de Triomphe on my
way to the Rue de la Pompe, Passy, and heard all around the familiar
tongue that I still knew so well, and rebreathed the long-lost and
half-forgotten, but now keenly remembered, fragrance of the _genius
loci_; that vague, light, indescribable, almost imperceptible scent of a
place, that is so heavenly laden with the past for those who have lived
there long ago--the most subtly intoxicating ether that can be!
When I came to the meeting of the Rue de la Tour and the Rue de la
Pompe, and, looking in at the grocer's shop at the corner, I recognized
the handsome mustachioed groceress, Madame Liard (whose mustache twelve
prosperous years had turned gray), I was almost faint with emotion. Had
any youth been ever so moved by that face before?
There, behind the window (which was now of plate-glass), and among
splendid Napoleonic wares of a later day, were the same old India-rubber
balls in colored net-work; the same quivering lumps of fresh paste in
brown paper, that looked so cool and tempting; the same three-sou boxes
of water-colors (now marked seventy-five centimes), of which I had
consumed so many in the service of Mimsey Seraskier! I went in and
bought one, and resmelt with delight the smell of all my by-gone
dealings there, and received her familiar sounding--
"Merci, monsieur! faudrait-il autre chose?" as if it had been a
blessing; but I was too shy to throw myself into her arms and tell her
that I was the "lone, wandering, but not lost" Gogo Pasquier. She might
"Eh bien, et après?"
The day had begun well.
Like an epicure, I deliberated whether I should walk to the old gate in
the Rue de la Pompe, and up the avenue and back to our old garden, or
make my way round to the gap in the park hedge that we had worn of old
by our frequent passage in and out, to and from the Bois de Boulogne.
I chose the latter as, on the whole, the more promising in exquisite
gradations of delight.
The gap in the park hedge, indeed! The park hedge had disappeared, the
very park itself was gone, cut up, demolished, all parcelled out into
small gardens, with trim white villas, except where a railway ran
through a deep cutting in the chalk. A train actually roared and panted
by, and choked me with its filthy steam as I looked round in
stupefaction on the ruins of my long-cherished hope.
If that train had run over me and I had survived it, it could not have
given me a greater shock; it all seemed too cruel and brutal an outrage.
A winding carriage-road had been pierced through the very heart of the
wilderness; and on this, neatly-paled little brand-new gardens abutted,
and in these I would recognize, here and there, an old friend in the
shape of some well-remembered tree that I had often climbed as a boy,
and which had been left standing out of so many, but so changed by the
loss of its old surroundings that it had a tame, caged, transplanted
look--almost apologetic, and as if ashamed of being found out at last!
Nothing else remained. Little hills and cliffs and valleys and
chalk-pits that had once seemed big had been levelled up, or away, and I
lost my bearings altogether, and felt a strange, creeping chill of
blankness and bereavement.
But how about the avenue and my old home? I hastened back to the Rue de
la Pompe with the quick step of aroused anxiety. The avenue was
gone--blocked within a dozen yards of the gate by a huge brick building
covered with newly-painted trellis-work! My old house was no more, but
in its place a much larger and smarter edifice of sculptured stone. The
old gate at least had not disappeared, nor the porter's lodge; and I
feasted my sorrowful eyes on these poor remains, that looked snubbed
and shabby and out of place in the midst of all this new splendor.
Presently a smart concierge, with a beautiful pink ribboned cap, came
out and stared at me for a while, and inquired if monsieur
I could not speak.
"Est-ce que monsieur est indisposé? Cette chaleur! Monsieur ne parle pas
le Français, peut-être?"
When I found my tongue I explained to her that I had once lived there in
a modest house overlooking the street, but which had been replaced by
this much more palatial abode.
"O, oui, monsieur--on a balayé tout ça!" she replied.
"Balayé!" What an expression for _me_ to hear!
And she explained how the changes had taken place, and how valuable the
property had become. She showed me a small plot of garden, a fragment of
my old garden, that still remained, and where the old apple-tree might
still have been, but that it had been sawed away. I saw the stump; that
did duty for a rustic table.
Presently, looking over a new wall, I saw another small garden,
and in it the ruins of the old shed where I had found the toy
wheelbarrow--soon to disappear, as they were building there too.
I asked after all the people I could think of, beginning with those of
least interest--the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.
Some were dead; some had retired and had left their "commerce" to their
children and children-in-law. Three different school-masters had kept
the school since I had left. Thank Heaven, there was still the
school--much altered, it is true. I had forgotten to look for it.
[Illustration: THE OLD APPLE-TREE.]
She had no remembrance of my name, or the Seraskiers'--I asked, with a
beating heart. We had left no trace. Twelve short years had effaced all
memory of us! But she told me that a gentleman, _décoré, mais tombé en
enfance_, lived at a _maison de santé_ in the Chaussée de la Muette,
close by, and that his name was le Major Duquesnois; and thither I
went, after rewarding and warmly thanking her.
I inquired for le Major Duquesnois, and I was told he was out for a
walk, and I soon found him, much aged and bent, and leaning on the arm
of a Sister of Charity. I was so touched that I had to pass him two or
three times before I could speak. He was so small--so pathetically small!
[Illustration: M. LE MAJOR.]
It was a long time before I could give him an idea of who I was--Gogo
Then after a while he seemed to recall the past a little.
"Ha, ha! Gogo--gentil petit Gogo!--oui--oui--l'exercice? Portez ...
arrrmes! arrmes ... bras? Et Mimsé? bonne petite Mimsé! toujours mal
à la tête?"
He could just remember Madame Seraskier; and repeated her name several
times and said, "Ah! elle était bien belle, Madame Seraskier!"
In the old days of fairy-tale telling, when he used to get tired and I
still wanted him to go on, he had arranged that if, in the course of the
story, he suddenly brought in the word "Cric," and I failed to
immediately answer "Crac," the story would be put off till our next walk
(to be continued in our next!) and he was so ingenious in the way he
brought in the terrible word that I often fell into the trap, and had to
forego my delight for that afternoon.
I suddenly thought of saying "Cric!" and he immediately said "Crac!" and
laughed in a touching, senile way--"Cric!--Crac! c'est bien ça!" and
then he became quite serious and said--
"Et la suite au prochain numéro!"
After this he began to cough, and the good Sister said--
"Je crains que monsieur ne le fatigue un peu!"
So I had to bid him good-bye; and after I had squeezed and kissed his
hand, he made me a most courtly bow, as though I had been a
I rushed away, tossing up my arms like a madman in my pity and sorrow
for my dear old friend, and my general regret and disenchantment. I
made for the Bois de Boulogne, there to find, instead of the old
rabbit-and-roebuck-haunted thickets and ferneries and impenetrable
growth, a huge artificial lake, with row-boats and skiffs, and a rockery
that would have held its own in Rosherville gardens. And on the way
thither, near the iron gates in the fortifications, whom should I meet
but one of my friends the couriers, on his way from St. Cloud to the
Tuileries! There he rode with his arms jogging up and down, and his low
glazed hat, and his immense jack-boots, just the same as ever, never
rising in his stirrups, as his horse trotted to the jingle of the sweet
little chime round its neck.
[Illustration: GREEN AND GOLD]
Alas! his coat was no longer the innocent, unsophisticated blue and
silver livery of the bourgeois king, but the hateful green and gold of
Farther on the Mare d'Auteuil itself had suffered change and become
respectable--imperially respectable. No more frogs or newts or
water-beetles, I felt sure; but gold and silver fish in vulgar
No words that I can find would give any idea of the sadness and longing
that filled me as I trod once more that sunlit grassy brink--the goal of
my fond ambition for twelve long years.
It was Sunday, and many people were about--many children, in their best
Sunday clothes and on their best behavior, discreetly throwing crumbs to
the fish. A new generation, much quieter and better dressed than my
cousins and I, who had once so filled the solitude with the splashing of
our nets, and the excited din of our English voices.
As I sat down on a bench by the old willow (where the rat lived), and
gazed and gazed, it almost surprised me that the very intensity of my
desire did not of itself suffice to call up the old familiar faces and
forms, and conjure away these modern intruders. The power to do this
seemed almost within my reach; I willed and willed and willed with all
my might, but in vain; I could not cheat my sight or hearing for a
moment. There they remained, unconscious and undisturbed, those happy,
well-mannered, well-appointed little French people, and fed the gold and
silver fish; and there, with an aching heart, I left them.
Oh, surely, surely, I cried to myself, we ought to find some means of
possessing the past more fully and completely than we do. Life is not
worth living for many of us if a want so desperate and yet so natural
can never be satisfied. Memory is but a poor, rudimentary thing that we
had better be without, if it can only lead us to the verge of
consummation like this, and madden us with a desire it cannot slake. The
touch of a vanished hand, the sound of a voice that is still, the tender
grace of a day that is dead, should be ours forever, at out beck and
call, by some exquisite and quite conceivable illusion of the senses.
Alas! alas! I have hardly the hope of ever meeting my beloved ones again
in another life. Oh, to meet their too dimly remembered forms in _this_,
just as they once were, by some trick of my own brain! To see them with
the eye, and hear them with the ear, and tread with them the old
obliterated ways as in a waking dream! It would be well worth going mad
to become such a self-conjurer as that.
Thus musing sadly, I reached St. Cloud, and _that_, at least, and the
Boulogne that led me to it, had not been very perceptibly altered, and
looked as though I had only left them a week ago. The sweet aspect from
the bridge, on either side and beyond, filled me with the old
enchantment. There, at least, the glory had not departed.
I hastened through the gilded gates and up the broad walk to the grand
cascade. There, among the lovely wreathed urns and jars of geranium,
still sat or reclined or gesticulated, the old, unalterable gods; there
squatted the grimly genial monsters in granite and marble and bronze,
still spouting their endless gallons for the delectation of hot Parisian
eyes. Unchanged, and to all appearance unchangeable (save that they were
not nearly so big as I had imagined), their cold, smooth, ironical
patience shamed and braced me into better cheer. Beautiful, hideous,
whatever you please, they seemed to revel in the very sense of their
insensibility of their eternal stability--their stony scorn of time and
wind and weather, and the peevish, weak-kneed, short-lived discontent of
man. It was good to fondly pat them on the back once more--when one
could reach them--and cling to them for a little while, after all the
dust and drift and ruin I had been tramping through all day.
Indeed, they woke in me a healthy craving for all but forgotten earthly
joys--even for wretched meat and drink--so I went and ordered a
sumptuous repast at the Tête Noire--a brand-new Tête Noire, alas! quite
white, all in stone and stucco, and without a history!
It was a beautiful sunset. Waiting for my dinner, I gazed out of the
first-floor window, and found balm for my disappointed and regretful
spirit in all that democratic joyousness of French Sunday life. I had
seen it over and over again just like that in the old days; _this_, at
least, was like coming back home to something I had known and loved.
The cafés on the little "Place" between the bridge and the park were
full to overflowing. People chatting over their _consommations_ sat
right out, almost into the middle of the square, so thickly packed that
there was scarcely room for the busy, lively, white-aproned waiters to
move between them. The air was full of the scent of trodden grass and
macaroons and French tobacco, blown from the park; of gay French
laughter and the music of _mirlitons_; of a light dusty haze, shot with
purple and gold by the setting sun. The river, alive with boats and
canoes, repeated the glory of the sky, and the well-remembered,
thickly-wooded hills rose before me, culminating in the Lanterne
I could have threaded all that maze of trees blindfolded.
Two Roman pifferari came on to the Place and began to play an
extraordinary and most exciting melody that almost drew me out of the
window; it seemed to have no particular form, no beginning or middle or
end; it went soaring higher and higher, like the song of a lark, with
never a pause for breath, to the time of a maddening jig--a tarantella,
perhaps--always on the strain and stress, always getting nearer and
nearer to some shrill climax of ecstasy quite high up and away, beyond
the scope of earthly music; while the persistent drone kept buzzing of
the earth and the impossibility to escape. All so gay, so sad, there is
no name for it!
Two little deformed and discarded-looking dwarfs, beggars, brother and
sister, with large toothless gaps for mouths and no upper lip, began to
dance; and the crowd laughed and applauded. Higher and higher, nearer
and nearer to the impossible, rose the quick, piercing notes of the
piffero. Heaven seemed almost within reach--the nirvana of music after
its quick madness--the region of the ultra-treble that lies beyond
the ken of ordinary human ears!
A carriage and four, with postilions and "guides," came clattering
royally down the road from the palace, and dispersed the crowd as it
bowled on its way to the bridge. In it were two ladies and two
gentlemen. One of the ladies was the young Empress of the French; the
other looked up at my window--for a moment, as in a soft flash of summer
lightning, her face seemed ablaze with friendly recognition--with a
sweet glance of kindness and interest and surprise--a glance that
pierced me like a sudden shaft of light from heaven.
It was the Duchess of Towers!
I felt as though the bagpipes had been leading up to this! In a moment
more the carriage was out of sight, the sun had quite gone down, the
pifferari had ceased to play and were walking round with the hat, and
all was over.
I dined, and made my way back to Paris on foot through the Bois de
Boulogne, and by the Mare d'Auteuil, and saw my old friend the water-rat
swim across it, trailing the gleam of his wake after him like a silver
"Allons-nous-en, gens de la nous!
Allons-nous-en chacun chez nous!"
So sang a festive wedding-party as it went merrily
arm in arm through the long high street of Passy,
with a gleeful trust that would have filled the heart
with envy but for sad experience of the vanity of
_Chacun chez nous!_ How charming it sounds!
Was each so sure that when he reached his home
he would find his heart's desire? Was the bridegroom
himself so very sure?
[Illustration: THE OLD WATER-RAT.]
The heart's desire--the heart's regret! I flattered
myself that I had pretty well sounded the uttermost
depths of both on that eventful Sunday!
I got back to my hotel in the Rue de la Michodière.
Prostrate with emotion and fatigue, the tarantella still jingling in my
ears, and that haunting, beloved face, with its ineffable smile still
printed on the retina of my closed eyes, I fell asleep.
And then I dreamed a dream, and the first phase of my real, inner life
All the events of the day, distorted and exaggerated and jumbled
together after the usual manner of dreams, wove themselves into a kind
of nightmare and oppression. I was on my way to my old abode: everything
that I met or saw was grotesque and impossible, yet had now the strange,
vague charm of association and reminiscence, now the distressing sense
of change and loss and desolation.
As I got near to the avenue gate, instead of the school on my left there
was a prison; and at the door a little thick-set jailer, three feet high
and much deformed, and a little deformed jaileress no bigger than
himself, were cunningly watching me out of the corners of their eyes,
and toothlessly smiling. Presently they began to waltz together to an
old, familiar tune, with their enormous keys dangling at their sides;
and they looked so funny that I laughed and applauded. But soon I
perceived that their crooked faces were not really funny; indeed, they
were fatal and terrible in the extreme, and I was soon conscious that
these deadly dwarfs were trying to waltz between me and the avenue gate
for which I was bound--to cut me off, that they might run me into the
prison, where it was their custom to hang people of a Monday morning.
In an agony of terror I made a rush for the avenue gate, and there stood
the Duchess of Towers, with mild surprise in her eyes and a kind
smile--a heavenly vision of strength and reality.
"You are not dreaming true!" she said. "Don't be afraid--those little
people don't exist! Give me your hand and come in here."
And as I did so she waved the troglodytes away, and they vanished; and
I felt that this was no longer a dream, but something else--some strange
thing that had happened to me, some new life that I had woke up to.
For at the touch of her hand my consciousness, my sense of being I,
myself, which hitherto in my dream (as in all previous dreams up to
then) had been only partial, intermittent, and vague, suddenly blazed
into full, consistent, practical activity--just as it is in life, when
one is well awake and much interested in what is going on--only with
perceptions far keener and more alert.
I knew perfectly who I was and what I was, and remembered all the events
of the previous day. I was conscious that my real body, undressed and in
bed, now lay fast asleep in a small room on the fourth floor of an
_hôtel garni_ in the Rue de la Michodière. I knew this perfectly; and
yet here was my body, too, just as substantial, with all my clothes on;
my boots rather dusty, my shirt-collar damp with the heat, for it was
hot. With my disengaged hand I felt in my trousers-pocket; there were my
London latch-keys, my purse, my penknife; my handkerchief in the
breastpocket of my coat, and in its tail-pockets my gloves and
pipe-case, and the little water-color box I had bought that morning. I
looked at my watch; it was going, and marked eleven. I pinched myself, I
coughed, I did all one usually does under the pressure of some immense
surprise, to assure myself that I was awake; and I _was_, and yet here I
stood, actually hand in hand with a great lady to whom I had never been
introduced (and who seemed much tickled at my confusion); and staring
now at her, now at my old school.
The prison had tumbled down like a house of cards, and loi! in its place
was M. Saindou's _maison d'éducation_, just as it had been of old. I
even recognized on the yellow wall the stamp of a hand in dry mud, made
fifteen years ago by a day boy called Parisot, who had fallen down in
the gutter close by, and thus left his mark on getting up again; and it
had remained there for months, till it had been whitewashed away in the
holidays. Here it was anew, after fifteen years.
The swallows were flying and twittering. A yellow omnibus was drawn up
to the gates of the school; the horses stamped and neighed, and bit each
other, as French horses always did in those days. The driver swore at
A crowd was looking on--le Père et la Mère François, Madame Liard, the
grocer's wife, and other people, whom I remembered at once with delight.
Just in front of us a small boy and girl were looking on, like the rest,
and I recognized the back and the cropped head and thin legs of Mimsey
A barrel-organ was playing a pretty tune I knew quite well, and had
The school gates opened, and M. Saindou, proud and full of
self-importance (as he always was), and half a dozen boys whose faces
and names were quite familiar to me, in smart white trousers and shining
boots, and silken white bands round their left arms, got into the
omnibus, and were driven away in a glorified manner--as it seemed--to
heaven in a golden chariot. It was beautiful to see and hear.
I was still holding the duchess's hand, and felt the warmth of it
through her glove; it stole up my arm like a magnetic current. I was in
Elysium; a heavenly sense had come over me that at last my periphery had
been victoriously invaded by a spirit other than mine--a most powerful
and beneficent spirit. There was a blessed fault in my impenetrable
armor of self, after all, and the genius of strength and charity and
loving-kindness had found it out.
"Now you're dreaming true," she said. "Where are those boys going?"
"To church, to make their _première communion_," I replied.
"That's right. You're dreaming true because I've got you by the hand. Do
you know that tune?"
I listened, and the words belonging to it came out of the past and I
said them to her, and she laughed again, with her eyes screwed up
"Quite right--quite!" she exclaimed. "How odd that you should know them!
How well you pronounce French for an Englishman! For you are Mr.
Ibbetson, Lady Cray's architect?"
I assented, and she let go my hand.
The street was full of people--familiar forms and faces and voices,
chatting together and looking down the road after the yellow omnibus;
old attitudes, old tricks of gait and manner, old forgotten French ways
of speech--all as it was long ago. Nobody noticed us, and we walked up
the now deserted avenue.
The happiness, the enchantment of it all! Could it be that I was dead,
that I had died suddenly in my sleep, at the hotel in the Rue de la
Michodière! Could it be that the Duchess of Towers was dead too--had
been killed by some accident on her way from St. Cloud to Paris? and
that, both having died so near each other, we had begun our eternal
afterlife in this heavenly fashion?
That was too good to be true, I reflected; some instinct told me that
this was not death, but transcendent earthly life--and also, alas! that
it would not endure forever!
I was deeply conscious of every feature in her face, every movement of
her body, every detail of her dress--more so then I could have been in
actual life--and said to myself, "Whatever this is, it is no dream." But
I felt there was about me the unspeakable elation which can come to us
only in our waking moments when we are at our very best; and then only
feebly, in comparison with this, and to many of us never, ft never had
to me, since that morning when I had found the little wheelbarrow.
I was also conscious, however, that the avenue itself had a slight touch
of the dream in it. It was no longer quite right, and was getting out of
drawing and perspective, so to speak. I had lost my stay--the touch
of her hand.
"Are you still dreaming true, Mr. Ibbetson?"
"I am afraid not quite," I replied.
"You must try by yourself a little--try hard. Look at this house; what
is written on the portico?"
I saw written in gold letters the words, "Tête Noire," and said so.
She rippled with laughter, and said, "No; try again"; and just touched
me with the tip of her finger for a moment.
I tried again and said, "Parvis Notre Dame."
"That's rather better," she said, and touched me again; and I read,
"Parva sed Apta," as I had so often read there before in old days.
"And now look at that old house over there," pointing to my old home;
"how many windows are there in the top story?"
I said seven.
"No; there are five. Look again!" and there were five; and the whole
house was exactly, down to its minutest detail, as it had been once upon
a time. I could see Thérèse through one of the windows, making my bed.
"That's better," said the duchess; "you will soon do it--it's very
easy--_ce n'est que le premier pas!_ My father taught me; you must
always sleep on your back with your arms above your head, your hands
clasped under it and your feet crossed, the right one over the left,
unless you are left-handed; and you must never for a moment cease
thinking of where you want to be in your dream till you are asleep and
get there; and you must never forget in your dream where and what you
were when awake. You must join the dream on to reality. Don't forget.
And now I will say good-bye; but before I go give me both hands and look
round everywhere as far as your eyes can see."
It was hard to look away from her; her face drew my eyes, and through
them all my heart; but I did as she told me, and took in the whole
familiar scene, even to the distant woods of Ville d'Avray, a glimpse
of which was visible through an opening in the trees; even to the smoke
of a train making its way to Versailles, miles off; and the old
telegraph, working its black arms on the top of Mont Valérien.
[Illustration: "It was hard to look away from her."]
"Is it all right?" she asked. "That's well. Henceforward, whenever you
come here, you will be safe as far as your sight can reach--from this
spot--all through my introduction. See what it is to have a friend at
court! No more little dancing jailers! And then you can gradually get
farther by yourself.
"Out there, through that park, leads to the Bois de Boulogne--there's a
gap in the hedge you can get through; but mind and make everything plain
in front of you--_true_, before you go a step farther, or else you'll
have to wake and begin it all over again. You have only to will it, and
think of yourself as awake, and it will come--on condition, of course,
that you have been there before. And mind, also, you must take care how
you touch things or people--you may hear, and see, and smell; but you
mustn't touch, nor pick flowers or leaves, nor move things about. It
blurs the dream, like breathing on a window-pane. I don't know why, but
it does. You must remember that everything here is dead and gone by.
With you and me it is different; we're alive and real--that is, _I_ am;
and there would seem to be no mistake about your being real too, Mr.
Ibbetson, by the grasp of your hands. But you're _not_; and why you are
here, and what business you have in this, my particular dream, I cannot
understand; no living person has ever come into it before. I can't make
it out. I suppose it's because I saw your reality this afternoon,
looking out of the window at the 'Tête Noire,' and you are just a stray
figment of my overtired brain--a very agreeable figment, I admit; but
you don't exist here just now--you can't possibly; you are somewhere
else, Mr. Ibbetson; dancing at Mabille, perhaps, or fast asleep
somewhere, and dreaming of French churches and palaces, and public
fountains, like a good young British architect--otherwise I shouldn't
talk to you like this, you may be sure!
"Never mind. I am very glad to dream that I have been of use to you, and
you are very welcome here, if it amuses you to come--especially as you
are only a false dream of mine, for what else _can_ you be? And now I
must leave you, so good-bye."
She disengaged her hands, and laughed her angelic laugh, and then
turned towards the park. I watched her tall, straight figure and blowing
skirts, and saw her follow some ladies and children into a thicket that
I remembered well, and she was soon out of sight.
I felt as if all warmth had gone out of my life; as if a joy had taken
flight; as if a precious something had withdrawn itself from my
possession, and the gap in my periphery had closed again.
Long I stood in thought, with my eyes fixed on the spot where she had
disappeared; and I felt inclined to follow, but then considered this
would not have been discreet. For although she was only a false dream of
mine, a mere recollection of the exciting and eventful day, a stray
figment of my overtired and excited brain--a _more_ than agreeable
figment (what else _could_ she be!)--she was also a great lady, and had
treated me, a perfect stranger and a perfect nobody, with singular
courtesy and kindness; which I repaid, it is true, with a love so deep
and strong that my very life was hers, to do what she liked with, and
always had been since I first saw her, and always would be as long as
there was breath in my body! But this did not constitute an acquaintance
without a proper introduction, even in France--even in a dream. Even in
dreams one must be polite, even to stray figments of one's tired,
And then what business had _she_, in _this_, _my_ particular dream--as
she herself had asked of me?
But _was_ it a dream? I remembered my lodgings at Pentonville, that I
had left yesterday morning. I remembered what I was--why I came to
Paris; I remembered the very bedroom at the Paris hotel where I was now
fast asleep, its loudly-ticking clock, and all the meagre furniture. And
here was I, broad awake and conscious, in the middle of an old avenue
that had long ceased to exist--that had been built over by a huge brick
edifice covered with newly-painted trellis-work. I saw it, this edifice,
myself, only twelve hours ago. And yet here was everything as it had
been when I was a child; and all through the agency of this solid
phantom of a lovely young English duchess, whose warm gloved hands I had
only this minute been holding in mine! The scent of her gloves was still
in my palm. I looked at my watch; it marked twenty-three minutes to
twelve. All this had happened in less than three-quarters of an hour!
Pondering over all this in hopeless bewilderment, I turned my steps
towards my old home, and, to my surprise, was just able to look over the
garden wall, which I had once thought about ten feet high.
Under the old apple-tree in full bloom sat my mother, darning small
socks; with her flaxen side-curls (as it was her fashion to wear them)
half-concealing her face. My emotion and astonishment were immense. My
heart beat fast. I felt its pulse in my temples, and my breath
At a little green table that I remembered well sat a small boy, rather
quaintly dressed in a by-gone fashion, with a frill round his wide
shirt-collar, and his golden hair cut quite close at the top, and rather
long at the sides and back. It was Gogo Pasquier. He seemed a very nice
little boy. He had pen and ink and copy-book before him, and a
gilt-edged volume bound in red morocco. I knew it at a glance; it was
_Elegant Extracts_. The dog Médor lay asleep in the shade. The bees
were droning among the nasturtiums and convolvulus.
A little girl ran up the avenue from the porter's lodge and pushed the
garden gate, which rang the bell as it opened, and she went into the
garden, and I followed her; but she took no notice of me, nor did the
others. It was Mimsey Seraskier.
I went out and sat at my mother's feet, and looked long in her face.
I must not speak to her, nor touch her--not even touch her busy hand
with my lips, or I should "blur the dream."
I got up and looked over the boy Gogo's shoulder. He was translating
Gray's _Elegy_ into French; he had not got very far, and seemed to be
stumped by the line--
_"And leaves the world to darkness and to me."_
Mimsey was silently looking over his other shoulder, her thumb in her
mouth, one arm on the back of his chair. She seemed to be stumped also:
it was an awkward line to translate.
I stooped and put my hand to Médor's nose, and felt his warm breath. He
wagged his rudiment of a tail, and whimpered in his sleep. Mimsey said--
"Regarde Médor, comme il remue la queue! _C'est le Prince Charmant qui
lui chatouille le bout du nez._"
Said my mother, who had not spoken hitherto: "Do speak English, Mimsey,
Oh, my God! My mother's voice, so forgotten, yet so familiar, so
unutterably dear! I rushed to her, and threw myself on my knees at her
feet, and seized her hand and kissed it, crying, "Mother, mother!"
A strange blur came over everything; the sense of reality was lost. All
became as a dream--a beautiful dream--but only a dream; and I woke.
* * * * *
I woke in my small hotel bedroom, and saw all the furniture, and my hat
and clothes, by the light of a lamp outside, and heard the ticking of
the clock on the mantel-piece, and the rumbling of a cart and cracking
of a whip in the street, and yet felt I was not a bit more awake than I
had been a minute ago in my strange vision--not so much!
I heard my watch ticking its little tick on the mantel-piece by the side
of the clock, like a pony trotting by a big horse. The clock struck
twelve, I got up and looked at my watch by the light of the gas-lit
streets; it marked the same. My dream had lasted an hour--I had gone to
bed at half-past ten.
I tried to recall it all, and did so to the smallest particular--all
except the tune the organ had played, and the words belonging to it;
they were on the tip of my tongue, and refused to come further, I got up
again and walked about the room, and felt that it had not been like a
dream at all; it was more "recollectable" than all my real adventures of
the previous day. It had ceased to be like a dream, and had become an
actuality from the moment I first touched the duchess's hand to the
moment I kissed my mother's, and the blur came. It was an entirely new
and utterly bewildering experience that I had gone through.
In a dream there are always breaks, inconsistencies, lapses,
incoherence, breaches of continuity, many links missing in the chain;
only at points is the impression vivid enough to stamp itself afterwards
on the waking mind, and even then it is never so really vivid as the
impression of real life, although it ought to have seemed so in the
dream: One remembers it well on awaking, but soon it fades, and then it
is only one's remembrance of it that one remembers.
[Illustration: "MOTHER, MOTHER!"]
There was nothing of this in my dream.
It was something like the "camera-obscura" on Ramsgate pier: one goes
in and finds one's self in total darkness; the eye is prepared; one is
thoroughly expectant and wide-awake.
Suddenly there flashes on the sight the moving picture of the port and
all the life therein, and the houses and cliffs beyond; and farther
still the green hills, the white clouds, and blue sky.
Little green waves chase each other in the harbor, breaking into crisp
white foam. Sea-gulls wheel and dash and dip behind masts and ropes and
pulleys; shiny brass fittings on gangway and compass flash in the sun
without dazzling the eye; gay Liliputians walk and talk, their white
teeth, no bigger than a pin's point, gleam in laughter, with never a
sound; a steamboat laden with excursionists comes in, its paddles
churning the water, and you cannot hear them. Not a detail is
missed--not a button on a sailor's jacket, not a hair on his face. All
the light and color of sea and earth and sky, that serve for many a
mile, are here concentrated within a few square feet. And what color it
is! A painter's despair! It is light itself, more beautiful than that
which streams through old church windows of stained glass. And all is
framed in utter darkness, so that the fully dilated pupils can see their
very utmost. It seems as though all had been painted life-size and then
shrunk, like a Japanese picture on crape, to a millionth of its natural
size, so as to intensify and mellow the effect.
It is all over: you come out into the open sunshine, and all seems
garish and bare and bald and commonplace. All magic has faded out of
the scene; everything is too far away from everything else; everybody
one meets seems coarse and Brobdingnagian and too near. And one has been
looking at the like of it all one's life!
Thus with my dream, compared to common, waking, every-day experience;
only instead of being mere flat, silent little images moving on a dozen
square feet of Bristol-board, and appealing to the eye alone, the things
and people in my dream had the same roundness and relief as in life, and
were life-size; one could move among them and behind them, and feel as
if one could touch and clasp and embrace them if one dared. And the ear,
as well as the eye, was made free of this dark chamber of the brain: one
heard their speech and laughter as in life. And that was not all, for
soft breezes fanned the cheek, the sparrows twittered, the sun gave out
its warmth, and the scent of many flowers made the illusion complete.
And then the Duchess of Towers! She had been not only visible and
audible like the rest, but tangible as well, to the fullest extent of
the sensibility that lay in my nerves of touch; when my hands held hers
I felt as though I were drawing all her life into mine.
With the exception of that one figure, all had evidently been as it
_had_ been in _reality_ a few years ago, to the very droning of an
insect, to the very fall of a blossom!
Had I gone mad by any chance? I had possessed the past, as I had longed
to do a few hours before.
What are sight and hearing and touch and the rest?
Five senses in all.
The stars, worlds upon worlds, so many billions of miles away, what are
they for us but mere shiny specks on a net-work of nerves behind the
eye? How does one _feel_ them there?
The sound of my friend's voice, what is it? The clasp of his hand, the
pleasant sight of his face, the scent of his pipe and mine, the taste of
the bread and cheese and beer we eat and drink together, what are they
but figments (stray figments, perhaps) of the brain--little thrills
through nerves made on purpose, and without which there would be no
stars, no pipe, no bread and cheese and beer, no voice, no friend,
And is there, perchance, some sixth sense embedded somewhere in the
thickness of the flesh--some survival of the past, of the race, of our
own childhood even, etiolated by disuse? or some rudiment, some effort
to begin, some priceless hidden faculty to be developed into a future
source of bliss and consolation for our descendants? some nerve that now
can only be made to thrill and vibrate in a dream, too delicate as yet
to ply its function in the light of common day?
And was I, of all people in the world--I, Peter Ibbetson, architect and
surveyor, Wharton Street, Pentonville--most futile, desultory, and
uneducated dreamer of dreams--destined to make some great psychical
Pondering deeply over these solemn things, I sent myself to sleep again,
as was natural enough--but no more to dream. I slept soundly until late
in the morning, and breakfasted at the Bains Deligny, a delightful
swimming-bath near the Pont de la Concorde (on the other side), and
spent most of the day there, alternately swimming, and dozing, and
smoking cigarettes, and thinking of the wonders of the night before, and
hoping for their repetition on the night to follow.
I remained a week in Paris, loafing about by day among old haunts of my
childhood--a melancholy pleasure--and at night trying to "dream true" as
my dream duchess had called it. Only once did I succeed.
I had gone to bed thinking most persistently of the "Mare d'Auteuil,"
and it seemed to me that as soon as I was fairly asleep I woke up there,
and knew directly that I had come into a "true dream" again, by the
reality and the bliss. It was transcendent _life_ once more--a very
ecstasy of remembrance made actual, and _such_ an exquisite surprise!
There was M. le Major, in his green frock-coat, on his knees near a
little hawthorn-tree by the brink, among the water-logged roots of which
there dwelt a cunning old dytiscus as big as the bowl of a
table-spoon--a prize we had often tried to catch in vain.
M. le Major had a net in his hand, and was watching the water intently;
the perspiration was trickling down his nose; and around him, in silent
expectation and suspense, were grouped Gogo and Mimsey and my three
cousins, and a good-humored freckled Irish boy I had quite forgotten,
and I suddenly remembered that his name was Johnstone, that he was very
combative, and that he lived in the Rue Basse (now Rue Raynouard).
On the other side of the pond my mother was keeping Médor from the
water, for fear of his spoiling the sport, and on the bench by the
willow sat Madame Seraskier--lovely Madame Seraskier--deeply
interested. I sat down by her side and gazed at her with a joy there is
An old woman came by, selling conical wafer-cakes, and singing--"_V'lâ
l'plaisir, mesdames--V'lâ l'plaisir!_" Madame Seraskier bought ten sous'
M. le Major made a dash with his net--unsuccessfully, as usual. Médor
was let loose, and plunged with a plunge that made big waves all round
the mare, and dived after an imaginary stone, amid general shouts and
shrieks of excitement. Oh, the familiar voices! I almost wept.
Médor came out of the water without his stone and shook himself,
twisting and barking and grinning and gyrating, as was his way, quite
close to me. In my delight and sympathy I was ill-advised enough to try
and stroke him, and straight the dream was "blurred"--changed to an
ordinary dream, where all things were jumbled up and incomprehensible; a
dream pleasant enough, but different in kind and degree--an ordinary
dream; and in my distress thereat I woke, and failed to dream again (as
I wished to dream) that night.
Next morning (after an early swim) I went to the Louvre, and stood
spellbound before Leonardo da Vinci's "Lisa Gioconda," trying hard to
find where the wondrous beauty lay that I had heard so extravagantly
extolled; and not trying very successfully, for I had seen Madame
Seraskier once more, and felt that "Gioconda" was a fraud.
Presently I was conscious of a group just behind me, and heard a
pleasant male English voice exclaim--
[Illustration: "Lisa Giaconda"]
"And now, duchess, let me present to you my first and last and only
love, Mona Lisa." I turned round, and there stood a soldier-like old
gentleman and two ladies (one of whom was the Duchess of Towers),
staring at the picture.
As I made way for them I caught her eye, and in it again, as I felt
sure, a kindly look of recognition--just for half a second. She
evidently recollected having seen me at Lady Cray's, where I had stood
all the evening alone in a rather conspicuous corner. I was so
exceptionally tall (in those days of not such tall people as now) that
it was easy to notice and remember me, especially as I wore my beard,
which it was unusual to do then among Englishmen.
She little guessed how _I_ remembered _her_; she little knew all she was
and had been to me--in life and in a dream!
My emotion was so great that I felt it in my very knees; I could
scarcely walk; I was as weak as water. My worship for the beautiful
stranger was becoming almost a madness. She was even more lovely than
Madame Seraskier. It was cruel to be like that.
It seems that I was fated to fall down and prostrate myself before very
tall, slender women, with dark hair and lily skins and light angelic
eyes. The fair damsel who sold tripe and pigs' feet in Clerkenwell was
also of that type, I remembered; and so was Mrs. Deane. Fortunately for
me it is not a common one!
All that day I spent on quays and bridges, leaning over parapets, and
looking at the Seine, and nursing my sweet despair, and calling myself
the biggest fool in Paris, and recalling over and over again that
gray-blue kindly glance--my only light, the Light of the World for ME!
* * * * *
My brief holiday over, I went back to London--to Pentonville--and
resumed my old occupations; but the whole tenor of my existence
The day, the working-day (and I worked harder than ever, to Lintot's
great satisfaction), passed as in an unimportant dream of mild content
and cheerful acquiescence in everything, work or play.
There was no more quarrelling with my destiny, nor wish to escape from
myself for a moment. My whole being, as I went about on business or
recreation bent, was suffused with the memory of the Duchess of Towers
as with a warm inner glow that kept me at peace with all mankind and
myself, and thrilled by the hope, the enchanting hope, of once more
meeting her image at night in a dream, in or about my old home at Passy,
and perhaps even feeling once more that ineffable bliss of touching her
hand. Though why should she be there?
When the blessed hour came round for sleep, the real business of my life
began. I practised "dreaming true" as one practises a fine art, and
after many failures I became a professed expert--a master.
I lay straight on my back, with my feet crossed, and my hands clasped
above my head in a symmetrical position; I would fix my will intently
and persistently on a certain point in space and time that was within my
memory--for instance, the avenue gate on a certain Christmas afternoon,
when I remembered waiting for M. le Major to go for a walk--at the same
time never losing touch of my own present identity as Peter Ibbetson,
architect, Wharton Street, Pentonville; all of which is not so easy to
manage as one might think, although the dream duchess had said, "Ce
n'est que le premier pas qui coûte;" and finally one night, instead of
dreaming the ordinary dreams I had dreamed all my life (but twice), I
had the rapture of _waking up_, the minute I was fairly asleep, by
the avenue gate, and of seeing Gogo Pasquier sitting on one of the stone
posts and looking up the snowy street for the major. Presently he jumped
up to meet his old friend, whose bottle-green-clad figure had just
appeared in the distance. I saw and heard their warm and friendly
greeting, and walked unperceived by their side through Auteuil to the
_mare_, and back by the fortifications, and listened to the thrilling
adventures of one Fier-à-bras, which, I confess, I had completely
[Illustration: THE STORY OF THE GIANT FIER-A-BRAS.]
As we passed all three together through the "Porte de la Muette," M. le
Major's powers of memory (or invention) began to flag a little--for he
suddenly said, "_Cric!_" But Gogo pitilessly answered, "_Crac!_" and
the story had to go on, till we reached at dusk the gate of the
Pasquiers' house, where these two most affectionately parted, after
making an appointment for the morrow; and I went in with Gogo, and sat
in the school-room while Thérèse gave him his tea, and heard her tell
him all that had happened in Passy that afternoon. Then he read and
summed and translated with his mother till it was time to go up to bed,
and I sat by his bedside as he was lulled asleep by his mother's
harp... how I listened with all my ears and heart, till the sweet strain
ceased for the night! Then out of the hushed house I stole, thinking
unutterable things--through the snow-clad garden, where Médor was baying
the moon--through the silent avenue and park--through the deserted
streets of Passy--and on by desolate quays and bridges to dark quarters
of Paris; till I fell awake in my tracks and found that another dreary
and commonplace day had dawned over London--but no longer dreary and
commonplace for me, with such experiences to look back and forward
to--such a strange inheritance of wonder and delight!
I had a few more occasional failures, such as, for instance, when the
thread between my waking and sleeping life was snapped by a moment's
carelessness, or possibly by some movement of my body in bed, in which
case the vision would suddenly get blurred, the reality of it destroyed,
and an ordinary dream rise in its place. My immediate consciousness of
this was enough to wake me on the spot, and I would begin again, _da
capo_ till all went as I wished.
Evidently our brain contains something akin both to a photographic
plate and a phonographic cylinder, and many other things of the same
kind not yet discovered; not a sight or a sound or a smell is lost; not
a taste or a feeling or an emotion. Unconscious memory records them all,
without our even heeding what goes on around us beyond the things that
attract our immediate interest or attention.
Thus night after night I saw reacted before me scenes not only fairly
remembered, but scenes utterly forgotten, and yet as unmistakably true
as the remembered ones, and all bathed in that ineffable light, the
light of other days--the light that never was on sea or land, and yet
the light of absolute truth.
How it transcends in value as well as in beauty the garish light of
common day, by which poor humanity has hitherto been content to live and
die, disdaining through lack of knowledge the shadow for the substance,
the spirit for the matter! I verified the truth of these sleeping
experiences in every detail: old family letters I had preserved, and
which I studied on awaking, confirmed what I had seen and heard in my
dream; old stories explained themselves. It was all by-gone truth,
garnered in some remote corner of the brain, and brought out of the dim
past as I willed, and made actual once more.
And strange to say, and most inexplicable, I saw it all as an
independent spectator, an outsider, not as an actor going again through
scenes in which he has played a part before!
Yet many things perplexed and puzzled me.
For instance, Gogo's back, and the back of his head, when I stood
behind him, were as visible and apparently as true to life as his face,
and I had never seen his back or the back of his head; it was much later
in life that I learned the secret of two mirrors. And then, when Gogo
went out of the room, sometimes apparently passing through me as he did
so and coming out at the other side (with a momentary blurring of the
dream), the rest would go on talking just as reasonably, as naturally,
as before. Could the trees and walls and furniture have had ears and
eyes, those long-vanished trees and walls and furniture that existed now
only in my sleeping brain, and have retained the sound and shape and
meaning of all that passed when Gogo, my only conceivable
remembrancer, was away?
Françoise, the cook, would come into the drawing-room to discuss the
dinner with my mother when Gogo was at school; and I would hear the
orders given, and later I would assist at the eating of the meal (to
which Gogo would invariably do ample justice), and it was just as my
mother had ordered. Mystery of mysteries!
What a pleasant life it was they led together, these ghosts of a by-gone
time! Such a genial, smooth, easygoing, happy-go-lucky state of
things--half bourgeois, half Bohemian, and yet with a well-marked
simplicity, refinement, and distinction of bearing and speech that were
The servants (only three--Thérèse the house-maid, Françoise the cook,
and English Sarah, who had been my nurse and was now my mother's maid)
were on the kindliest and most familiar terms with us, and talked to us
like friends, and interested themselves in our concerns, and we in
theirs; I noticed that they always wished us each good-morning and
good-night--a pretty French fashion of the Passy bourgeoisie in Louis
Philippe's time (he was a bourgeois king).
Our cuisine was bourgeoise also. Peter Ibbetson's mouth watered (after
his tenpenny London dinner) to see and smell the steam of "soupe à la
bonne femme," "soupe aux choux," "pot au feu," "blanquette de veau,"
"boeuf à la mode," "cotelettes de porc à la sauce piquante,"
"vinaigrette de boeuf bouilli"--that endless variety of good things on
which French people grow fat so young--and most excellent claret (at one
franc a bottle in those happy days): its bouquet seemed to fill the room
as soon as the cork was drawn!
Sometimes, such a repast ended, "le beau Pasquier," in the fulness of
his heart, would suddenly let off impossible fireworks of vocalization,
ascending rockets of chromatic notes which would explode softly very
high up and come down in full cadences, trills, roulades, like beautiful
colored stars; and Thérèse would exclaim, "Ah, q'c'est beau!" as if she
had been present at a real pyrotechnic display; and Thérèse was quite
right. I have never heard the like from any human throat, and should not
have believed it possible. Only Joachim's violin can do such beautiful
things so beautifully.
Or else he would tell us of wolves he had shot in Brittany, or
wild-boars in Burgundy--for he was a great sportsman--or of his
adventures as a _garde du corps_ of Charles Dix, or of the wonderful
inventions that were so soon to bring us fame and fortune; and he would
loyally drink to Henri Cinq; and he was so droll and buoyant and witty
that it was as good to hear him speak as to hear him sing.
But there was another and a sad side to all this strange comedy of
They built castles in the air, and made plans, and talked of all the
wealth and happiness that would be theirs when my father's ship came
home, and of all the good they would do, pathetically unconscious of the
near future; which, of course, was all past history to their loving
audience of one.
And then my tears would flow with the unbearable ache of love and pity
combined; they would fall and dry on the waxed floors of my old home in
Passy, and I would find them still wet on my pillow in Pentonville
when I woke.
* * * * *
Soon I discovered by practice that I was able for a second or two to be
more than a mere spectator--to be an actor once more; to turn myself
(Ibbetson) into my old self (Gogo), and thus be touched and caressed by
those I had so loved. My mother kissed me and I felt it; just as long as
I could hold my breath I could walk hand in hand with Madame Seraskier,
or feel Mimsey's small weight on my back and her arms round my neck for
four or five yards as I walked, before blurring the dream; and the blur
would soon pass away, if it did not wake me, and I was Peter Ibbetson
once more, walking and sitting among them, hearing them talk and laugh,
watching them at their meals, in their walks; listening to my father's
songs, my mother's sweet playing, and always unseen and unheeded by
them. Moreover, I soon learned to touch things without sensibly blurring
the dream. I would cull a rose, and stick it in my buttonhole, and
there it remained--but lo! the very rose I had just culled was still on
the rose-bush also! I would pick up a stone and throw it at the wall,
where it disappeared without a sound--and the very same stone still lay
at my feet, however often I might pick it up and throw it!
No waking joy in the world can give, can equal in intensity, these
complex joys I had when asleep; waking joys seem so slight, so vague in
comparison--so much escapes the senses through lack of concentration and
undivided attention--the waking perceptions are so blunt.
It was a life within a life--an intenser life--in which the fresh
perceptions of childhood combined with the magic of dream-land, and in
which there was but one unsatisfied longing; but its name was Lion.
It was the passionate longing to meet the Duchess of Towers once more in
that land of dreams.
* * * * *
Thus for a time I went on, more solitary than ever, but well compensated
for all my loneliness by this strange new life that had opened itself to
me, and never ceasing to marvel and rejoice--when one morning I received
a note from Lady Cray, who wanted some stables built at Cray, their
country-seat in Hertfordshire, and begged I would go there for the day
I was bound to accept this invitation, as a mere matter of business, of
course; as a friend, Lady Cray seemed to have dropped me long ago, "like
a 'ot potato," blissfully unconscious that it was I who had dropped her.
But she received me as a friend--an old friend. All my shyness and
snobbery fell from me at the mere touch of her hand.
I had arrived at Cray early in the afternoon, and had immediately set
about my work, which took several hours, so that I got to the house only
just in time to dress for dinner.
When I came into the drawing-room there were several people there, and
Lady Cray presented me to a young lady, the vicar's daughter, whom I was
to take in to dinner.
I was very much impressed on being told by her that the company
assembled in the drawing-room included no less a person than Sir Edwin
Landseer. Many years ago I had copied an engraving of one of his
pictures for Mimsey Seraskier. It was called "The Challenge," or "Coming
Events cast their Shadows before Them." I feasted my eyes on the
wondrous little man, who seemed extremely chatty and genial, and quite
unembarrassed by his fame.
A guest was late, and Lord Cray, who seemed somewhat peevishly impatient
for his food, exclaimed--
"Mary wouldn't be Mary if she were punctual!"
Just then Mary came in--and Mary was no less a person than the Duchess
My knees trembled under me; but there was no time to give way to any
such tender weakness. Lord Cray walked away with her; the procession
filed into the dining room, and somewhere at the end of it my young
vicaress and myself.
The duchess sat a long way from me, but I met her glance for a moment,
and fancied I saw again in it that glimmer of kindly recognition.
My neighbor, who was charming, asked me if I did not think the Duchess
of Towers the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
I assented with right good-will, and was told that she was as good as
she was beautiful, and as clever as she was good (as if I did not know
it); that she would give away the very clothes off her back; that there
was no trouble she would not take for others; that she did not get on
well with her husband, who drank, and was altogether bad and vile; that
she had a great sorrow--an only child, an idiot, to whom she was
devoted, and who would some day be the Duke of Towers; that she was
highly accomplished, a great linguist, a great musician, and about the
most popular woman in all English society.
Ah! Who loved the Duchess of Towers better than this poor scribe, in
whose soul she lived and shone like a bright particular star--like the
sun; and who, without his knowing, was being rapidly drawn into the
sphere of her attraction, as Lintot called it; one day to be finally
absorbed, I trust, forever!
"And who was this wonderful Duchess of Towers before she married?" I
"She was a Miss Seraskier. Her father was a Hungarian, a physician, and
a political reformer--a most charming person; that's where she gets her
manners. Her mother, whom she lost when she was quite a child, was a
very beautiful Irish girl of good family, a first cousin of Lord
Cray's--a Miss Desmond, who ran away with the interesting patriot. They
lived somewhere near Paris. It was there that Madame Seraskier died of
cholera--... What is the matter--are you ill?"
I made out that I was faint from the heat, and concealed as well as I
could the flood of emotion and bewilderment that overwhelmed me.
I dared not look again at the Duchess of Towers.
"Oh! little Mimsey dear, with your poor thin arms round my neck, and
your cold, pale cheek against mine. I felt them there only last night!
To have grown into such a splendid vision of female health and strength
and beauty as this--with that enchanting, ever-ready laugh and smile!
Why, of course, those eyes, so lashless then, so thickly fringed
to-day!--how could I have mistaken them? Ah, Mimsey, you never smiled or
laughed in those days, or I should have known your eyes again! Is it
possible--is it possible?"
Thus I went on to myself till the ladies left, my fair young companion
expressing her kind anxiety and polite hope that I would soon be
I sat silent till it was time to join the ladies (I could not even
follow the witty and brilliant anecdotes of the great painter, who held
the table); and then I went up to my room. I could not face _her_ again
so soon after what I had heard.
The good Lord Cray came to make kind inquiries, but I soon satisfied him
that my indisposition was nothing. He stayed on, however, and talked;
his dinner seemed to have done him a great deal of good, and he wanted
to smoke (and somebody to smoke with), which he had not been able to do
in the dining-room on account of some reverend old bishop who was
present. So he rolled himself a little cigarette, like a Frenchman, and
puffed away to his heart's content.
He little guessed how his humble architect wished him away, until he
began to talk of the Duchess of Towers--"Mary Towers," as he called
her--and to tell me how "Towers" deserved to be kicked, and whipped at
the cart's tail. "Why, she's the best and most beautiful woman in
England, and as sharp as a needle! If it hadn't been for her, he'd have
been in the bankruptcy court long ago," etc. "There's not a duchess in
England that's fit to hold the candle to her, either for looks or
brains, or breedin' either. Her mother (the loveliest woman that ever
lived, except Mary) was a connection of mine; that's where she gets her
Thus did this noble earl make music for me--sweet and bitter music.
Mary! It is a heavenly name, especially on English lips, and spelled in
the English mode with the adorable _y_! Great men have had a passion for
it--Byron, Shelley, Burns. But none, methinks, a greater passion than I,
nor with such good cause.
And yet there must be a bad Mary now and then, here or there, and even
an ugly one. Indeed, there was once a Bloody Mary who was both! It seems
Mary, indeed! Why not Hecuba? For what was I to the Duchess of Towers?
When I was alone again I went to bed, and tried to sleep on my back,
with my arms up, in the hope of a true dream; but sleep would not come,
and I passed a white night, as the French say. I rose early and walked
about the park, and tried to interest my self in the stables till it was
breakfast-time. Nobody was up, and I breakfasted alone with Lady Cray,
who was as kind as she could be. I do not think she could have found me
a very witty companion. And then I went back to the stables to think,
and fell into a doze.
At about twelve I heard the sound of wooden balls, and found a lawn
where some people were playing "croquet." It was quite a new game, and a
few years later became the fashion.
[Illustration: SWEET AND BITTER MUSIC.]
I sat down under a large weeping-ash close to the lawn; it was like a
tent, with chairs and tables underneath.
Presently Lady Cray came there with the Duchess of Towers. I wanted to
fly, but was rooted to the spot.
[Illustration: The Introduction.]
Lady Cray presented me, and almost immediately a servant came with a
message for her, and I was left with the One Woman in the World! My
heart was in my mouth, my throat was dry, my pulse was beating in
She asked me, in the most natural manner, if I played "croquet."
"Yes--no--at least, sometimes--that is, I never of it--oh--I forget!" I
groaned at my idiocy and hid my face in my hands. She asked if I were
still unwell, and I said no; and then she began to talk quite easily
about anything, everything, till I felt more at my ease.
Her voice! I had never heard it well but in a dream, and it was the
same--a very rich and modulated voice--low--contralto, with many varied
and delightful inflexions; and she used more action in speaking than the
generality of Englishwomen, thereby reminding me of Madame Seraskier. I
noticed that her hands were long and very narrow, and also her feet, and
remembered that Mimsey's were like that--they were considered poor
Mimsey's only beauty. I also noticed an almost imperceptible scar on her
left temple, and remembered with a thrill that I had noticed it in my
dream as we walked up the avenue together. In waking life I had never
been near enough to her to notice a small scar, and Mimsey had no scar
of the kind in the old days--of that I felt sure, for I had seen much of
I grew more accustomed to the situation, and ventured to say that I had
once met her at Lady Cray's in London.
"Oh yes; I remember. Giulia Grisi sand the 'Willow Song.'" And then she
crinkled up her eyes, and laughed, and blushed, and went on: "I noticed
you standing in a corner, under the famous Gainsborough. You reminded me
of a dear little French boy I once knew who was very kind to me when I
was a little girl in France, and whose father you happen to be like. But
I found that you were Mr. Ibbetson, an English architect, and, Lady Cray
tells me, a very rising one"
"I _was_ a little French boy once. I had to change my name to please a
relative, and become English--that is, I was always _really_ English,
"Good Heavens, what an extraordinary thing! What _was_ your name, then?"
"Pasquier-Gogo Pasquier!" I groaned, and the tears came into my eyes,
and I looked away. The duchess made no answer, and when I turned and
looked at her she was looking at me, very pale, her lips quite white,
her hands tightly clasped in her lap, and trembling all over.
I said, "You used to be little Mimsey Seraskier, and I used to carry you
"Oh don't! oh don't!" she said, and began to cry.
I got up and walked about under the ash-tree till she had dried her
eyes. The croquet-players were intent upon their game.
I again sat down beside her; she had dried her eyes, and at length she
"What a dreadful thing it was about your poor father and mother, and
_my_ dear mother! Do you remember her? She died a week after you left. I
went to Russia with papa--Dr. Seraskier. What a terrible break-up it
And then we gradually fell to talking quite naturally about old times,
and dear dead people. She never took her eyes off mine. After a while
"I went to Passy, and found everything changed and built over. It
nearly drove me mad to see. I went to St. Cloud, and saw you driving
with the Empress of the French. That night I had such an extraordinary
dream! I dreamed I was floundering about the Rue de la Pompe, and had
just got to the avenue gate, and you were there."
"Good heavens!" she whispered, and turned white again, and trembled all
over, "what do you mean?"
"Yes," I said, "you came to my rescue. I was pursued by gnomes and
_She._ "Good heavens! by--by two little jailers, a man and his wife, who
danced and were trying to hem you in?"
It was now my turn to ejaculate "Good heavens!" We both shook and
I said: "You gave me your hand, and all came straight at once. My old
school rose in place of the jail."
_She._ "With a yellow omnibus? And boys going off to their _première
_I._ "Yes; and there was a crowd--le Père et la Mère
François, and Madame Liard, the grocer's wife, and--and
Mimsey Seraskier, with her cropped head. And
an organ was playing a tune I knew quite well, but
cannot now recall." ...
_She._ "Wasn't it 'Maman, les p'tits bateaux?'"
_I._ Oh, of _course!_
_"'Maman, les p'tits bateaux
Qui vont sur l'eau,
Ont-ils des jambes?'"_
_She_. "That's it!"
_"'Eh oui, petit bêta!
S'ils n'avaient pas
Ils n'march'raient pas!'"_
She sank back in her chair, pale and prostrate. After a while--
_She_. "And then I gave you good advice about how to dream true, and we
got to my old house, and I tried to make you read the letters on the
portico, and you read them wrong, and I laughed."
_I_. "Yes; I read 'Tête Noire.' Wasn't it idiotic?"
_She_. "And then I touched you again and you read 'Parvis Notre Dame.'"
_I_. "Yes! and you touched me _again_, and I read 'Parva sed
Apta'--small but fit."
_She_. "Is _that_ what it means? Why, when you were a boy, you told me
_sed apta_ was all one word, and was the Latin for 'Pavilion.' I
believed it ever since, and thought 'Parva sed Apta' meant _petit
_I_. "I blush for my bad Latin! After this you gave me good advice
again, about not touching anything or picking flowers. I never have. And
then you went away into the park--the light went out of my life,
sleeping or waking. I have never been able to dream of you since. I
don't suppose I shall ever meet you again after to-day!"
After this we were silent for a long time, though I hummed and hawed now
and then, and tried to speak. I was sick with the conflict of my
feelings. At length she said--
"Dear Mr. Ibbetson, this is all so extraordinary that I must go away
and think it all over. I cannot tell you what it has been to me to meet
you once more. And that double dream, common to us both! Oh, I am dazed
beyond expression, and feel as if I were dreaming now--except that this
all seems so unreal and impossible--so untrue! We had better part now. I
don't know if I shall ever meet you again. You will be often in my
thoughts, but never in my dreams again--that, at least, I can
command--nor I in yours; it must not be. My poor father taught me how to
dream before he died, that I might find innocent consolation in dreams
for my waking troubles, which are many and great, as his were. If I can
see that any good may come of it, I will write--but no--you must not
expect a letter. I will now say good-bye and leave you. You go to-day,
do you not? That is best. I think this had better be a final adieu. I
cannot tell you of what interest you are to me and always have been. I
thought you had died long ago. We shall often think of each other--that
is inevitable--_but never, never dream. That will not do._
"Dear Mr. Ibbetson, I wish you all the good that one human being can
wish another. And now goodbye, and may God in heaven bless you!"
She rose, trembling and white, and her eyes wet with tears, and wrung
both my hands, and left me as she had left me in the dream.
The light went out of my life, and I was once more alone--more
wretchedly and miserably alone than if I had never met her.
I went back to Pentonville, and outwardly took up the thread of my
monotonous existence, and ate, drank, and worked, and went about as
usual, but as one in an ordinary dream. For now dreams--true dreams--had
become the only reality for me.
[Illustration: A FAREWELL.]
So great, so inconceivable and unexampled a wonder had been wrought in a
dream that all the conditions of life had been altered and reversed.
I and another human being had met--actually and really met--in a double
dream, a dream common to us both, and clasped each other's hands! And
each had spoken words to the other which neither ever would or ever
And this other human being and I had been enshrined in each other's
memory for years--since childhood--and were now linked together by a tie
so marvellous, an experience so unprecedented, that neither could ever
well be out of the other's thoughts as long as life and sense and
Her very self, as we talked to each other under the ash-tree at Cray,
was less vividly present to me than that other and still dearer self of
hers with whom I had walked up the avenue in that balmy dream
atmosphere, where we had lived and moved and had our being together for
a few short moments, yet each believing the other at the time to be a
mere figment of his own (and her) sleeping imagination; such stuff as
dreams are made of!
And lo! it was all true--as true as the common experience of every-day
life--more (ten times more), because through our keener and more exalted
sense perceptions, and less divided attention, we were more conscious of
each other's real inner being--linked closer together for a space--than
two mortals had probably ever been since the world began.
That clasp of the hands in the dream--how infinitely more it had
conveyed of one to the other than even that sad farewell clasp at Cray!
In my poor outer life I waited in vain for a letter; in vain I haunted
the parks and streets--the street where she lived--in the hope of seeing
her once more. The house was shut; she was away--in America, as I
afterwards learned--with her husband and child.
At night, in the familiar scenes I had learned so well to conjure up, I
explored every nook and corner with the same yearning desire to find a
trace of her. I was hardly ever away from "Parva sed Apta." There were
Madame Seraskier and Mimsey and the major, and my mother and Gogo, at
all times, in and out, and of course as unconscious of my solid presence
as though I had never existed. And as I looked at Mimsey and her mother
I wondered at my obtuseness in not recognizing at the very first glance
who the Duchess of Towers had been, and whose daughter. The height, the
voice, the eyes, certain tricks of gait and gesture--how could I have
failed to know her again after such recent dream opportunities?
And Seraskier, towering among them all, as his daughter now towered
among women. I saw that he lived again in his daughter; _his_ was the
smile that closed up the eyes, as hers did; had Mimsey ever smiled in
those days, I should have known her again by this very characteristic
Of this daughter of his (the Mimsey of the past years, not the duchess
of to-day) I never now could have enough, and made her go through again
and again all the scenes with Gogo, so dear to my remembrance, and to
hers. I was, in fact, the Prince Charmant, of whose unseen attendance
she had been conscious in some inconceivable way. What a strange
foresight! But where was the fée Tarapatapoum? Never there during this
year of unutterable longing; she had said it; never, never again should
I be in her dream, or she in mine, however constantly we might dwell in
each other's thoughts.
So sped a twelvemonth after that last meeting in the flesh at Gray.
* * * * *
And now with an unwilling heart and most reluctant pen, I must come to
the great calamity of my life which I will endeavor to tell in as few
words as possible.
The reader, if he has been good enough to read without skipping, will
remember the handsome Mrs. Deane, to whom I fancied I lost my heart, in
Hopshire, a few years back.
I had not seen her since--had, indeed, almost forgotten her--but had
heard vaguely that she had left Hopshire, and come to London, and
married a wealthy man much older than herself.
Well, one day I was in Hyde Park, gazing at the people in the drive,
when a spick-and-span and very brand-new open carriage went by, and in
it sad Mrs. Deane (that was), all alone in her glory, and looking very
sulky indeed. She recognized me and bowed, and I bowed back again, with
just a moment's little flutter of the heart--an involuntary tribute to
auld lang syne--and went on my way, wondering that I could ever had
admired her so.
Presently, to my surprise, I was touched on the elbow. It was Mrs. Deane
again--I will call her Mrs. Deane still. She had got out and followed
me on foot. It was her wish that I should drive round the park with her
and talk of old times. I obeyed, and for the first and last time found
myself forming part of that proud and gay procession I had so often
watched with curious eyes.
She seemed anxious to know whether I had ever made it up with Colonel
Ibbetson, and pleased to hear that I had not, and that I probably never
should, and that my feeling against him was strong and bitter and
likely to last.
She appeared to hate him very much.
She inquired kindly after myself and my prospects in life, but did not
seem deeply interested in my answers--until later, when I talked of my
French life, and my dear father and mother, when she listened with eager
sympathy, and I was much touched. She asked if I had portraits of them;
I had--most excellent miniatures; and when we parted I had promised to
call upon her next afternoon, and bring these miniatures with me.
She seemed a languid woman, much ennuyée, and evidently without a large
circle of acquaintance. She told me I was the only person in the whole
park whom she had bowed to that day. Her husband was in Hamburg, and she