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The Shadow of a Dream

By William Dean Howells, 1890

Part First



ONE DAY seven or eight years later, when I was coming up from Lynn, where we had board for a few weeks' outing in August, I fell in with Dr. Wingate, the nervous specialist. We were members of the same dining club, and were supposed to meet every month; we really met once or twice during the winter, but then it was a great pleasure to me, and I tried always to get a place next him at table. I found in him, as I think one finds in most intelligent physicians, a sympathy for human suffering unclouded by sentiment, and a knowledge of human nature at once vast and accurate, which fascinated me far more than any forays of the imagination in that difficult region. Like physicians everywhere, he was less local in his feelings and interests than men of other professions; and I was able better to overcome with him that sense of being a foreigner, and in some sort on sufferance, which embarrassed me (quite needlessly, I dare say) with some of my commensals: lawyers, ministers, brokers, and politicians. I had a sort of affection for him; I never saw him, with the sunny, simple-hearted, boyish smile he had, without feeling glad; and it seemed to me that he liked me, too. His kindly presence must have gone a long way with his patients, whose fluttering sensibilities would hang upon his cheery strength as upon one of the main chances of life.

We rather rushed together to shake hands, and each asked how the other happened to be there at that hour in the morning. I explained my presence, and he said, as if it were some sort of coincidence: "You don't say so! Why, I've got a patient over at Swampscott, who says he knows you. A man named Faulkner."

I repeated, "Faulkner?" In the course of travel and business I had met so many people that I forgave myself for not distinguishing them very sharply by name, at once.

"He says he used to know you in your demi-semi-literary days, and he rather seemed to think you must be concealing a reputation for a poet, when I told him you were in the insurance business, and I only knew of your literary tastes. He's a Western man, and he met you out there."

"Oh!" said I. "Douglas Faulkner!" And now it was my turn to say, "You don't say so! Why of course! Is it possible!" and I lost myself in a cloud of silent reminiscences and associations, to come out presently with the question, "What in the world is he doing at Swampscott?"

The doctor looked serious; and then he looked keenly at me. "Were you and he great friends?"

"Well, we were not sworn brothers exactly. We were writers on rival newspapers; but I rather liked him. Yes, there was something charming to me about him; something good and sweet. I haven't met him, though, for ten years."

"He seemed to be rather fond of you. He said he wished I would tell you to come and see him, the next time I met you. Odd you should turn up there in the station!" By this time we were in the train, on our way to Boston.

"I will," I said, and I hesitated to add, "I hope there's nothing serious the matter?"

The doctor hesitated too. "Well, he's a pretty sick man. There's no reason I shouldn't tell you. He's badly run down; and--I don't like the way his heart behaves."

"Oh, I'm sorry--"

"He had just got home from Europe, and was on his way to the mountains when he came to see me in Boston, and I sent him to the sea-side. I came down last night--it's the beginning of my vacation--to see him, and spent the night there. He's got the Mallows place--nice old place. Do you know his wife?"

"No; he married after I came East. What sort of person is she?" I asked.

I remembered my talk with my wife about her and her name, and I felt that it was really a triumph for me when the doctor said: "Well, she's an exquisite creature. One of the most beautiful women I ever saw, and one of the most interesting. Of course, there's where the ache comes in. In a case like that, it isn't so much that one dies as that the other lives. It's none of my business; but she seemed rather lonely. They have no acquaintance among the other cottagers, and--did you think of taking your wife over? Excuse me!"

"Why of course! I'm so glad you suggested it. Mrs. March will be most happy to go with me."

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