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- Many Kingdoms - 1/34 -
AUTHOR OF "May Iverson--Her Book" "Tales of the Cloister" "Tales of Destiny" Etc. Etc.
... _"The state of man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection."_
I. VARICK'S LADY O' DREAMS II. THE EXORCISM OF LILY BELL III. HER LAST DAY IV. THE SIMPLE LIFE OF GENEVIEVE MAUD V. HIS BOY VI. THE COMMUNITY'S SUNBEAM VII. IN MEMORY OF HANNAH'S LAUGH VIII. THE QUEST OF AUNT NANCY IX. THE HENRY SMITHS' HONEYMOON X. THE CASE OF KATRINA XI. BART HARRINGTON, GENIUS
VARICK'S LADY O' DREAMS
Varick laid down the book with which he had beguiled an hour of the night, turned off the electric light in the shaded globe that hung above his head, pulled the sheets a little nearer his chin, reversed his pillow that he might rest his cheek more gratefully on the cooler linen, stretched, yawned, and composed himself to slumber with an absolutely untroubled conscience.
He was an eminently practical and almost rudely healthy young man, with an unreflecting belief in the existence of things he had seen, and considerable doubt concerning those which he had not seen. In his heart he regarded sentiment as the expression of a flabby nature in a feeble body. Once or twice he had casually redressing-case, with its array of silver toilet articles, the solid front of his chiffonnier, the carved arms of his favorite lounging-chair, even the etchings and prints on the walls. Suddenly, as he looked at these familiar objects, a light haze fell over them, giving him for an instant the impression that a gauze curtain had been dropped between them and his eyes. They slowly melted away, and in their place he saw the streets of a tiny village in some foreign country which he did not know. A moment later, in what seemed at the time a perfectly natural transition from his bed in an Adirondack club-house, he was walking up the streets of the little town, in correct tourist attire, looking in vain for a familiar landmark, and with a strange sinking of the heart. How he got there, or why he was there, was equally incomprehensible to him. It was high noon of a warm summer day, and the red roofs of the old buildings seemed to glow in the heat. Before him, at the end of the street down which he was walking, was a public square where marketing was going on in the open. It was crowded with men and women in picturesque peasant costumes he did not recognize, though he had travelled a great deal. As he drew nearer he heard them speaking, but discovered that their tongue was as unknown to him as their garb. He knew French, German, and Italian well; he had, in addition, a smattering of Spanish, and was familiar with the accents of Slavic tongues. But this babel that met his ears was something new. Taken in connection with the rest of the experience, the discovery sent a cold chill down the spinal column of Mr. Lawrence Varick. For the first time in his debonair life he was afraid, and admitted it inwardly, with a sudden whitening of the lips.
"It's so infernally queer," he told himself, uneasily. "If I could remember how I got here, or if I knew anything about the place--"
"Have you classified them?" asked a voice at his elbow. It was feminine, contralto, and exquisitely modulated. The words were English, but spoken with a slight foreign accent. With a leap of the heart Varick turned and looked at the speaker.
She was young, he saw at once--twenty-two, twenty-three, possibly twenty-four. He inclined to the last theory as he observed her perfect poise and self-possession. She was exquisitely dressed; he realized that despite the dimness of masculine perception on such points, and, much more clearly, saw that she was beautiful. She was small, and the eyes she raised to his were large and deeply brown, with long black lashes that matched in color the wavy hair under her coquettish hat. As he stared at her, with surprise, relief, and admiration struggling in his boyishly handsome face, she smiled, and in that instant the phlegmatic young man experienced a new sensation. His own white teeth flashed as he smiled back at her. Then he remembered that it was necessary to reply to her question.
"I--I--beg your pardon," he stammered, "a--a thousand times. But to tell you the truth, I'm--I'm horribly confused this morning. I--I don't seem, somehow, to place myself yet. And I can't understand what these people say. So, when you spoke English it was such a relief--"
He stopped suddenly and turned a rich crimson. It had occurred to him that this incoherent statement was not quite the one to win interest and admiration from a strange and exceedingly attractive woman. What would she think of him? Perhaps that he was intoxicated, or insane. Varick's imagination, never lively, distinguished itself during the next few seconds by the stirring possibilities it presented to his mind. He grew redder, which was very unfortunate, and shuffled miserably from one foot to the other, until he noticed that she was looking at him with a glance that was entirely dignified yet very friendly. It had an oddly sympathetic quality in it as well. His spirits rose a trifle.
"You must think me an awful duffer," he murmured, contritely. "I'm not always like this, I assure you."
"I know," she assented. "I understand. Walk on with me. Possibly I may be able to help you."
He bowed assent and the two walked toward the crowded square.
"You're awfully good," he said, feeling reassured, yet still boyish and embarrassed. "I don't want to be a nuisance, but if you'll just put me right, somehow--start me on a path that will lead me home--"
The entire idiocy of this struck him. He stopped again, then burst into his contagious, youthful laughter, in which she instantly joined. The mellow contralto and the clear tenor formed a soft and pleasant duet, but Varick noticed that not a head in the crowd around them turned their way, nor did an eye of all the peasant throng give them a glance. He spoke of this to his companion as they continued their walk.
"The most surprising thing to me in all this--unusualness," he said, "is the cool manner in which these beggars ignore us. You know how such people gape, usually; but not a soul among all these people seems to know we're here."
She looked at him with a gentle amusement and sympathy in her brown eyes.
"That is not surprising," she said, quietly. "For, you know, we are not here--really."
Varick stopped for the second time and stared at her, with a repetition of that new and annoying sinking in the region of his heart. Her words were certainly disconcerting, but she herself was delightfully human and most reassuringly natural. She had walked on, and he tried to fall into her mood as he overtook her.
"Where are we, then?" he asked, with a short and not especially mirthful laugh.
Her smooth brow wrinkled for a moment.
"I do not know," she said, frankly. "That is, I do not know this place, where we _think_ we are, though I have been here before, and the experience does not frighten me now. But I know where we _really_ are. You are asleep somewhere in America, and I--but oh, my dear, my dear, you're going to wake!"
The clock that was somewhere struck three. Varick, sitting up in his bed with eyes staring into the darkness, saw again his familiar room, the dim light, the silver, the dressing-case, the pictures. He sprang to the door opening into the hall, and tried it. It was bolted, as he had left it. So was the other door leading into his sitting-room. The darkness around him still seemed full of the refrain of the words he had just heard--where?
_"Oh, my dear, my dear, you're going to wake!"_ And her eyes--her smile--
Varick got into bed again, in a somewhat dazed condition, with a tremor running through it. Very slowly he straightened himself out, very slowly he pulled up the bedclothes. Then he swore solemnly into the obscurity of the room.
"Well, of--all--the--dreams!" he commented, helplessly.
As the months passed, after Varick got back to town and into the whirl of city life, he recalled his dream, frequently at first, then more rarely, and finally not at all. It was almost a year later when, one night, lying half awake, he saw again the fine, transparent, screen- like veil enshroud the objects in his bedroom. It was winter, and a great log was burning in the large fireplace. He had tried to choke the flames with ashes before he went to bed, but the wood had blazed up again and he had lain quiet, awaiting slumber and blinking
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