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The Shadow of a Dream

By William Dean Howells, 1891

Part Third



IN SPITE OF my wife's care that I should not be made conscious in Mrs. Faulkner's presence by knowing just the terms of her husband's dream, I must have been rather embarrassed in setting off upon her homeward journey with her if she had seemed aware of any strangeness in it. But she seemed aware of nothing. I could not help seeing that my company, or the supervision of some one, was essential to her. She was like a person mentally be-numbed; all the currents of her thought were turned so deeply inward, toward the one trouble which engrossed them, that she appeared incapable of motion from herself. She did what I bade her with a mute passivity, as if she were my mesmeric subject, and with a sort of unseeing stare, like a sleep-walker's. My wife came with us to the station to take leave of her, but Hermia had parted with her at the moment of being left alone with Dr. Wingate the night before, and I think could not have been fully sensible of any of us since. I had a fantastic notion of being like something in a dream to her, and I am afraid I must have been like something very harassing, with the attentions I was obliged to offer her.

I tried to make them as few as possible, and to confine them to the elemental questions of eating and sleeping. These were very simply settled: she neither ate nor slept throughout the journey. I spent all the time I could in the smoking car. When I came to her with the announcement that at this or that next station we were to have five, or ten, or twenty minutes for refreshment, after the barbarous custom of the days before dining cars, she said she wanted nothing, so definitively that I could not urge her; and in the morning, after my nightmares in my berth, I found her sitting in one corner of the section I had secured for her, with every appearance of not having moved from her place since she first took it on coming aboard the car. Her cheek was propped on the palm of one hand, and she had that blind, straightforward stare.

It was a strange journey; and if our fellow-passengers made their conjectures about us, it must have been to the effect that I was in charge of a mild case of melancholia, and was rather negligent of my charge. I left her as much to herself as I could, for I understood with what a painful strain she would have to detach herself from the trouble on which her thoughts were bent, if I interrupted them, and that I could in no manner relieve her, or help her to puzzle it out. Toward the end of the second afternoon we came to one of the last stations between us and our destination, and then she started up with a long sigh, and after a moment began to put together the little bags and wraps which women travel with.

"Here we are at Blue Clay," I said, coming up to her.

"Yes," she answered; "this is the last stop the express makes before we get home."

Probably she had taken note of every point and incident in the journey with that superficial consciousness which is so active in times of trouble. She now showed an alertness like that of one awakened from a refreshing sleep, and I had an increasing sense of her having cast off the burden that had oppressed her. There was nothing of levity in her apparent relief; her exaltation was noble and dignified as her dejection had been. Perhaps she had not reached any solution of her trouble; perhaps she had simply cast it from her by a natural reaction as we do when we have suffered enough, for one time, and was destined to take it up again. But I felt that I could not be mistaken in the fact of her relief. If I was mistaken, then it was because she had a strength to conceal her suffering which I could not imagine because she had so frankly shown her suffering before. Her present behavior might have been a woman's ideal of the way she would wish to behave in the circumstances; but I still think Hermia Faulkner had found freedom, at that moment, from the stress of her preoccupation, and began to assume a certain hospitality of manner toward me, because she was able without pain to do so. She thanked me with ingenuous sweetness for coming home with her, and expressed a sense of the sacrifice which would have satisfied even the exacting woman who had made me make it. She asked if I had slept well, as if I had just got up; and she hoped I would not suffer by the great kindness which Mrs. March and I had both shown her, and which she would never forget. I protested, of course, that it was all nothing, and said that I had long wished to revisit the scenes of my youth, and had eagerly seized the excuse that the hope of being useful to her gave me for coming now. She answered, "Yes; that is what Mrs. March told me." As we drew near our destination she sympathized with the interest I felt in approaching the place where I had spent the happiest years of my young manhood, and helped me to make out some of the landmarks by which I hoped to identify the city I remembered. But the new city was built all out over and beyond them, and our approach was hurried by finding them within it, so that before I realized it the train was slowing up in the grandiose depot of vaulted brick and glass which replaced the shabby wooden shed of former days. I had intended to renew there the emotions with which I parted from a friend long since dead, the night I started for Europe; but I was distracted by the change, as well as by the hurly-burly of arrival, and I willingly abandoned myself to the friendly care of the black serving-man of Mrs. Faulkner who was there to meet us, and who at once brevetted me one of the family. He took my bag, and led the way out to Mrs. Faulkner's carriage, and put it in with her things before I thought to stop him.

"Oh, I can't let you take the trouble of driving me to a hotel," I said. "I will get a hack here."

"Why, surely," she answered in a tone of wounded expectation, "you are coming to us?"

"No; I shall be here such a little while, and--"

"But that's all the more reason why you should be our guest. My mother would be hurt if you went anywhere else; we will leave you free to come and go as you like; only you must stay with us."

It was useless to protest, and I got into the carriage with her.

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