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- Many Kingdoms - 2/34 -
indifferently at the light. His bedroom overlooked Fifth Avenue. There was a large club-house just opposite his house, and cabs and carriages still came and went. Varick heard the slam of carriage doors, the click of horses' hoofs on the wet asphalt, and congratulated himself on the common-sense which had inspired him to go to bed at eleven instead of joining the festive throng across the street. He had dutifully spent the morning in his father's offices, and then, with a warming sense of virtue, had run out of town for a late luncheon and a trial of hunters. To-night he was pleasantly tired, but not drowsy. When the curtain fell before his surroundings, and he saw them melting imperceptibly into others quite foreign to them, he at once recalled the similar experience of the year before. With a little quickening of his steady heart-beats, he awaited developments.
Yes, here was the old town, with its red roofs, its quaint architecture, its crowded, narrow, picturesque streets. But this time they seemed almost deserted, and the whole effect of the place was bleak and dreary. The leaves had dropped from the trees, the flowers had faded, the vines that covered the cottage walls were brown and bare. He was pleasantly conscious of the warmth of a sable-lined coat he had brought from Russia two years before. He thrust his gloved hands deep into its capacious pockets and walked on, his eyes turning to right and left as he went. At intervals he saw a bulky masculine figure, queerly dressed, turn a corner or enter a house. Once or twice one came his way and passed him, but no one looked at him or spoke. For a moment Varick was tempted to knock at one of the inhospitably closed doors and ask for information and directions, but something--he did not know what--restrained him.
When she appeared it was as suddenly as she had come before, with no warning, no approach. She was at his elbow--a bewitching thing of furs and feminine beauty, French millinery and cordiality. She held out her small hand with a fine _camaraderie_.
"Is it not nice?" she asked at once. "I was afraid I should arrive first and have to wait alone. I would not have liked that."
He held her hand close, looking down at her from his great height, his gray eyes shining into hers.
"Then you knew--you were coming?" he asked, slowly.
"Not until the moment before I came. But when I saw the curtain fall-- "
"You saw that, too? A thin, gauzy thing, like a transparency?"
He relapsed into silence for a moment, as he unconsciously adapted his stride to hers, and they walked on together as naturally as if it were an every-day occurrence.
"What do you make of it all?" he at length asked.
She shrugged her shoulders with a little foreign gesture which seemed to him, even then, very characteristic.
"I do not know. It frightened me--a little--at first. Now it does not, for it always ends and I awake--at home."
"Where is that?"
"I may not tell you," she said, slowly. "I do not quite know why, but I may not. Possibly you may know some time. You, I think, are an American."
He stared hard at her, his smooth face taking on a strangely solemn expression.
"You mean to say," he persisted, "that this is all a dream--that you and I, instead of being here, are really asleep somewhere, on different continents?"
"We are asleep," she said, "on different continents, as you say. Whether we are dreaming or whether our two souls are taking a little excursion through space--oh, who shall say? Who can question the wonderful things which happen in this most wonderful world? I have ceased to question, but I have also ceased to fear."
He made no reply. Somewhere, in the back of his head, lay fear--a very definite, paralyzing fear--that something was wrong with him or with her or with them both. Instead of being in the neutral border-land of dreams, had he not perhaps passed the tragic line dividing the normal mind from the insane? She seemed to read his thoughts, and her manner became more gentle, almost tender.
"Is it so very dreadful?" she asked, softly. "We are together, you know, my friend. Would it not be worse to wander about alone?"
With a great effort he pulled himself together.
"Infinitely," he said, with gratifying conviction. "And you're--you're a trump, you know. I'm ashamed of acting like such a boor. If you'll bear with me I'll try from now on to be more like a man and less like a fretful ghost."
She clapped her hands.
"Capital!" she cried. "I knew you would--what is the word?--oh yes-- _adapt_ yourself. And it is only for a little while. You will wake very soon. But you ought to enjoy it while it lasts. There are many amusing things about it all."
Varick reflected grimly that it was the "amusing things" which occasioned his perturbation, but he kept his reflection to himself and smiled down at her sunnily.
"For example," she continued, "as we really do not exist here, and as we are not visible to these people, we cannot do anything that will affect them in any way or attract their attention. Look at that!"
They were passing a small house whose front door, opening on the street, stood ajar. Within they could see a stout woman standing at a tub and washing busily, and a little girl pouring hot water from a quaint kettle into a large pan full of soiled blue dishes. The pan stood near the edge of a wooden table, and the little girl was perched on a stool just high enough to bring her on a level with her work.
"You are, I am sure, a fine athlete," murmured the woman. "Or else your looks belie you," she added, with a roguish upward glance. "Yet with all your strength you cannot push that pan of dishes off the table."
Without a word, Varick passed through the doorway, strode into the house and up to the table. She followed him closely. He attempted to seize the pan in his powerful hands--and, to his horror, discovered that they held nothing. The pan remained on the table and the child was now unconcernedly washing the blue dishes, humming a little folk- song as she worked. As if to add to the irony of the situation, the small laborer quietly lifted the pan and moved it to a position she thought more convenient. This was the last touch. With a stifled murmur of intense exasperation, Varick put forth all his strength in a supreme effort. The pan fell, the water and broken blue dishes covering the floor. He sprang back and stood aghast, gazing at the havoc he had wrought.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" murmured the voice at his side. "I never dreamed you could do it, or I would not have suggested it. Oh, oh, the poor little darling!"
For the stout woman at the tub had hastily dropped her work, crossed the room, and was soundly chastising the unhappy infant who she supposed was responsible for the mischief. Varick caught her arm.
"Oh, I say," he cried, "this won't do at all! She didn't do it; it was all my fault. I'll pay for the things. Here--here--"
He fumbled in his pockets as he spoke and pulled out several gold pieces. But the fat arm of the old woman offered no resistance to his grasp, and the gold pieces did not exist for her. It was evident that she saw neither him nor them, nor the woman with him. With an unsparing hand she spanked the child, whose voice rose in shrill lamentations. Varick and his companion in guilt crept out of the room with a sense of great helplessness upon them, and he breathed a long breath of relief at finding himself--in bed, with a cold February sun shining in through his windows, and the faithful Parker at his side with the quieting announcement that his bath was ready.
One of Varick's boon companions in camp and hunting excursions was a distinguished New York specialist in nervous diseases. A day or two later Varick found it convenient to drop into this man's office and, quite casually, tell him the story of his dreams, giving it various light touches that he fondly imagined concealed the anxiety that lay beneath the recital. "Recurrent dreams," he then learned, were a very common human experience and not deserving of much attention.
"Don't think about it," said his friend. "Of course, if you worry over it, you'll be dreaming it all the time. Send this 'personally conducted tour' to me if you don't like it. I don't mind meeting pretty women who are 'dreams,' whether in the flesh or out of it."
As time went on and the dream did not return, Varick decided that he would not mind, either. He thought of her a great deal; he even longed for her. Eventually he deliberately tried to induce the dream by going to bed early, putting himself in the proper mental attitude, as he conceived it, and staring wide-eyed into his dimly lighted room. But only once in eighteen months was he even partly successful. Then he saw the haze, saw the familiar streets, saw her far, far ahead of him, and hurrying onward, saw her turn a sharp corner, caught one backward look from her dear brown eyes as she vanished--and awoke! He gave much thought to that look in the months which followed. He was a modest youth, singularly unconscious of his own charms; but the eloquent glance had conveyed to him a sense of longing--of more than longing.
Quite an interval elapsed before she came again. There was, first of all, the inevitable filmy effect, but, in the vision that succeeded it, instead of finding himself in the little town, he was in the depths of a great old forest, and in horrible agony. Some accident had occurred--he did not know what. He only knew that he was shot, suffering, dying! He groaned, and even as he writhed in a spasm of pain he saw her sitting on the sward beside him. He turned glazed eyes on her. Her brown ones looked back into his with a great love and pity in their depths.
"Oh, my dear," she whispered, "I know it seems terribly hard to you.
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