10. How the dreams were interpreted
"Tell Miss Rosenberg I'll see her now," Matt Kelson said; and as he leaned back in his luxurious chair with that dignity of self-assurance only the man who is rich can maintain, it was hard to realise that he and the Matt Kelson of a year ago were the same. A year ago he had been a poor, underpaid, ill nourished pen-driver, with all the odious marks of a pen-driver's servility thick upon him. It was true he had been fastidious as to his appearance—that is to say, as fastidious as any one can be, who has to buy clothes ready made and can only afford to pay a few dollars for them; that he had sacrificed meals to wear white shirts—boiled shirts as one called them in San Francisco—and to get his things got up decently at a respectable laundry; but his teeth in those days did not receive the attention they ought to have received (he could not afford a dentist), the tobacco he smoked was often offensive; and there were to be found in him sundry other details that one usually finds in clerks, and in most other people who literally have to fight for a living.
But now, all that was changed. Kelson was rich. He bought his suits at Poole's, his hats at Christie's, his boots in Regent Street. He patronized a dentist in Cavendish Square, and a manicurist in Bond Street. He belonged to a crack club in Pall Mall, and never smoked anything but the most expensive cigars. His ambition had been speedily realized. He had passionately longed to be a fop—he was one. The only thing that troubled him, was that he could not be an aristocrat at the same time. But, after all, what did that matter? The girls looked at him all the same, and that was all he wanted. He worshipped, he adored, pretty girls; and he was most anxious that they should adore him.
Consequently, his first thought, when he saw Lilian Rosenberg's name on the form the commissionaire presented him, was "Is she pretty?" And the first thing he said to himself directly the door opened to admit her was, "By Jove! she is."
Then he assumed an air more suited to a partner in a big London firm, and flourishing a richly bejewelled hand, said "Pray take a seat, madam. What can I do for you?"
"I want you to tell me the meaning of these verses," Lilian Rosenberg said, handing him two sheets of foolscap and then sitting down. "They were suggested to me in my sleep—in other words, I dreamed them."
"You dreamed them, did you!" Kelson said, noticing with approval that the girl had well-kept white hands, and that her clothes, though not particularly expensive, were chic, and up-to-date. "Do you want me only to interpret this poem, or shall I tell you something about yourself first?"
"By all means tell me something about myself first—if you can," Lilian Rosenberg said. "I want to get as much as I can out of you. Your fees are exorbitant."
"Very well, then," Kelson rejoined with a smile. "Don't blame me if I tell you too much. You were born at sea. Being a troublesome girl at home, you were sent to a boarding-school, where you distinguished yourself in various ways, and last but not least, by making the headmistress—a married woman—desperately jealous. This led to your being removed. Removed is a more delicate term than 'expelled.' Am I right?"
"Yes! I believe you are inspired by the devil."
"Shall I go on?"
"Yes—I think so. Yes, go on, please."
"You came home. Your mother died. Your father married again. You disliked your stepmother—you considered she ill treated you."
"I won't dispute it. At all events you had your revenge. You pretended to commit suicide, and wrote several letters—to the police amongst others—declaring that you were about to drown yourself owing to the cruelty of your stepmother. And so cleverly did you manage it, that every one believed you were drowned, and blamed your stepmother accordingly. Changing your name to Lilian Rosenberg you came direct to London. For some time you worked in a milliner's shop in Beauchamp Gardens, and then you set up as a manicurist in Woodstock Street. Among your clients was the wife of the Vicar of St. Katherine's, Kew, who took a great liking to you—you have extraordinary personal magnetism. Unable, however, to do more than pay your way at legitimate manicuring you—"
"That will do," Lilian Rosenberg cried, a faint flow of colour pervading her cheeks. "That will do! Explain the verses."
"As you will!" Kelson said, "but mind, I don't insist on the necessity of your paying the slightest heed to my explanation. According to the usual method of interpreting dreams, the valley of flowers is symbolical of innocence and self-restraint—of that path in life with which the goody-goodies say every young lady should be satisfied.
"The hunter is representative of the love of change and excitement; the horse—of self-indulgence. The misty moon means ruin, the metamorphosis into the crawling phantasm—death. Leave the path of virtue, and give way to self-indulgence and a craving for everlasting change and excitement, and a miserable ending will be your mead—and has been the mead of all others who have done the same thing."
"Then the dream is a warning?"
Kelson was about to reply, when the door opened, and Hamar, with an apology for intruding, beckoned to him.
He spoke with him for several moments relative to a matter of some consequence, and then, glancing at Miss Rosenberg, and drawing Kelson still further aside, whispered, "Let me caution you again, Matt. On no account let your soft feelings with regard to the other sex get the better of you. Remember it is imperative for us to do evil not good—to lead our clients into temptation, not out of it. I am doing my best to follow the injunctions of the Unknown, but we must all work in harmony—that is the most vital point in our compact, and you know if we do not keep the compact something frightful will happen to us. I can't impress this fact on you too much. Only yesterday I had to pull you up for giving good advice to a lady. Damn your good advice, give bad—bad advice, I say; anything that will do people harm—no matter whether they are ugly or pretty—and if you are not jolly well careful, pretty girls will be your—and our—undoing. I see you have a pretty girl here now—and from what I can read in her face, she is not a saint. Rub it in to her—rub it into her well—persuade her to be a bigger sinner still. Now I can't wait to say more, I must go."
"I asked you," Lilian Rosenberg said, as Kelson resumed his seat, "if the dream was a warning?"
"No," Kelson said, "I shouldn't take it as such. Despite the rather peculiar form it took, I am inclined to think it isn't a dream with any real significance—but merely a chance dream—a dream compounded of sayings and actions of the past that have come back to you all higgledy-piggledy, as they so often do in dreams. You learned a lot of poetry I suppose when you were at school?"
"Yes, but none like this."
"No, I didn't suppose so, but the mere fact that your mind was at one time used to verses—acquainted with metre and rhythm, would account for the form adopted by your dream. I assure you it was purely chance—and that there is no significance in it! You are on the look out for work, is it not so?"
"I am," Lilian Rosenberg said. "Can you tell me where to go to get it?"
"I am just thinking," Kelson replied, "I believe my partner, Mr. Hamar, wants a secretary. I can't, of course, say whether you would suit him. Do you type?"
"I can type and do shorthand," Lilian Rosenberg replied eagerly, "and I can correspond in German and French."
"And the salary? Would two hundred a year do?"
"Yes," after a slight pause, "I could make it do. I should want one half-day holiday—from one o'clock—every week; and Sundays—and three weeks' holiday in the summer, and one at Christmas, and of course, the usual Bank Holidays."
"I see!" Kelson said thoughtfully; "you want plenty of time for amusement. Well! I will speak about it to Mr. Hamar, and if you leave me your address I will give it him. How nicely you keep your hands."
"I manicure them every day," Lilian Rosenberg said; then looking up at him from under the long lashes which swept her cheeks, she added, "You won't forget to tell Mr. Hamar about me, will you? I am very anxious to get a post. You don't know what it is to be hard up, do you?"
The earnest, pleading expression in her long, dark eyes appealed to Kelson as nothing else had ever appealed to him. Since his arrival in London, he had seen many pretty faces, many beautiful eyes, but assuredly none so lovely as these. And what features! what teeth! what lips! what a chin! what a figure! It seemed to him that she was not like an ordinary girl, that she was not of the same composition as any of the girls he had ever met; that she was something hardly human—something elfish, something generated by the beautiful English woods and glades, filled with the soft glamour of the moon and stars. And all the while he was thinking thus, his heart rising in rebellion against the words of Hamar, the girl continued gazing up at him, and toying with the rings on her slender, milk-white fingers.
At last he dare look at her no longer, but stammering out his promise to do all he could to get her the vacant post, he pressed her hand gently, and bade her good morning.
Then he returned to his chair, and, leaning back in it, was seeing once again in his mind's eye the fair face of the girl who had just left him, when there was a rap at the door, and the commissionaire announced Miss Martin.
"Another of them," Kelson said to himself. "And about as pretty in her way as the last. Now I wonder what she wants." He looked closely at her, but no past rose up before him—as far as this client was concerned his power of divination in that direction was nil—she was a blank.
"I've come to ask you the meaning of a dream I had last night," she began, inwardly shuddering at the sight of so much pomade and jewellery.
"Yes," he said with an encouraging smile, "what was it?"
Of course she did not tell him all, but merely that she had dreamed of certain flowers and trees as, curiously enough, so had her father.
Kelson looked at her thoughtfully. Once he opened his mouth to speak and then checked himself; and it was some seconds before he actually broke silence.
"Taken separately," he said at last, "the ash tree portends an unexpected visit; a poppy, a visit from a man; red roses, falling in love; lilac, a present; a willow, kisses—heaps of them; bluebells, a proposal; brambles, difficulties in the way—for example, tiresome relatives; buttercups, a marriage; an ash tree, a son and heir—a dear little——"
"Thank you!" Gladys remarked, rising frigidly. Thank you! I will go now. What is your fee?"
"I trust, madam, you are pleased," Kelson said in great distress.
"Will you kindly take your fee and let me out," Gladys demanded, as he nervously placed himself in her way. "Thank you. Good morning!"
And as she swept regally past him and down the stone passage, Hamar came out of his room and passed by her on his way to Kelson's office.
"Ye gods!" he exclaimed, eyeing the discomfited Kelson wrathfully. "What in the world have you done to offend the lady? I never saw any one look so angry in my life. D—n it all! I hope you didn't insult her!"
"It was all your fault!" Kelson wailed. "She asked me to tell her the meaning of a dream which was brimful of warnings against us."
"Yes, against us! I have never listened to such admonitions in a dream before. She must have some very friendly spirits watching over her. Well! what was I to do? I did my best. Mindful of what you said to me a short time ago, I put her entirely off the track; gave her an entirely misleading—and as I thought very pleasant—interpretation of the dream."
"What did you say?"
Kelson told him.
"Jackass!" Hamar exclaimed. "Jackass! You were far too broad. What pleases a San Francisco girl shocks a London lady. For goodness sake have more tact another time, we don't want to get into hot water. I feel quite convinced that if any harm befalls us—if that compact is in any way broken—it will be through you. I wish to heaven the Unknown had given you some other power."
"So do I," Kelson groaned.
"At all events," Hamar went on, "the first three months is nearly at an end. Who was she?"
"Miss Gladys Martin!"
"Where does she live?"
"I don't know. I could divine nothing about her. She can't have any vices."
"I don't suppose she has," Hamar remarked dryly, "Not from the look of her anyway. But there is time yet. Matt! I've taken a fancy to that girl and I mean to get hold of her somehow. I wonder if she is related to Martin—Davenport's partner! Jerusalem! What sport if she is!"
"Why? Why sport?" Kelson asked.
"Dolt! Don't you see! Martin is at our mercy. We are more than his rivals. We can drive him out of London any moment we like. His tricks indeed! Pshaw! Curtis can do them all right off the reel! And Curtis shall—we will show Martin up—make a laughing stock of him—ruin him! Unless—unless—"
"Great Scott! Don't look so alarmed! Unless—supposing that girl is his daughter—unless he gives me permission to pay my addresses to her!"—and Hamar laughed coarsely.