8. Two dreams
"Do you believe in dreams?" Gladys Martin inquired, as, fresh from a stroll in the garden, she joined her aunt, Miss Templeton, in the breakfast room at Pine Cottage.
"I believe in fairies," Miss Templeton rejoined, smiling indulgently as she looked at the fair face beside her. "What was the dream, dearie?"
Gladys laughed a little mischievously. "I don't quite know whether I ought to tell you," she said. "It might shock you."
"Perhaps I'm not so easily shocked as you imagine," Miss Templeton replied. "What was it?"
"Well!" Gladys began, flinging both arms round her aunt's neck and playing with the pleats in her blouse, "I dreamed that I was walking in the little wood at the end of the garden, and that the trees and flowers walked and talked with me. And we danced together—and, first of all, I had for my partner, a red rose—and then, an ash. They both made love to me, and squeezed my waist with their hot, fibrous hands. A poppy piped, a bramble played the concertina, and a lilac grew desperately jealous of me and tried to claw my hair. Then the dancing ceased, and I found myself in the midst of bluebells that shook their bells at me with loud trills of laughter. And out from among them, came a buttercup, pointing its yellow head at me. 'See! see,' it cried, 'what Gladys is carrying behind her. Naughty Gladys!' And trees and flowers—everything around me—shook with laughter. Then I grew hot and cold all over, and did not know which way to look for my confusion, till a willow, having compassion on me said, 'Take no notice of them! They don't know any better.'
"I begged him to explain to me why they were so amused, and he grew very embarrassed and uncomfortable, and stammered—oh! so funnily, 'Well if you really wish to know—it's a bud, a baby white rose, and it's clinging to your dress.'
"'A baby! A baby rose!' shrieked all the flowers.
"'And it means,' a bluebell said, stepping perkily out from amidst its fellows, 'that your lover is coming—your lover with a troll-le-loll-la—and—well, if you want to know more ask the gooseberries, the gooseberries that hang on the bushes, or the parsley that grows in the bed,'—and at that all the flowers and trees shrieked with laughter—'Ta-ta-tra-la-la'—and with my ears full of the rude laughter of the wood I awoke. What do you think of it? Isn't it rather a quaint mixture of the—of the sacred—at least the artistic—and the profane?"
"Quite so," said Miss Templeton with an amused chuckle, "but I shouldn't ask for an interpretation of it if I were you."
"Not for an interpretation of the trees and flowers?" Gladys asked innocently. "I'm sure trees and flowers have a special significance in dreams."
"Very well then, my dear, ask Mrs. Sprat."
"What! ask the Vicar's wife!" Gladys ejaculated, "when I never go to church."
"Certainly," Miss Templeton replied, laughing again, "Mrs. Sprat will quite understand. And I've always been told she is very interested in anything to do with the Occult. But hush! Here's your father. You'd better not tell him your dream. He's tired to death, he says, of hearing about your lovers, and agrees with me—there's no end to them."
"Never mind what he says—his bark's worse then his bite," Gladys rejoined, "he doesn't really care how many I have so long as they keep within bounds, and I like them! Father!"
John Martin, who entered the room at that moment, went straight to his daughter to be kissed.
"I wish you wouldn't always select that bald spot," he said testily, "I don't want to be everlastingly reminded I'm losing my hair."
"Where do you want me to kiss you, then?" Gladys argued, "on the tip of your nose? That's all very well for you, John Martin, but I prefer the top of your head. But the poor dear looks worried, what is it?"
"I didn't have a very good night," her father replied, "I dreamed a lot!" Gladys looked at Miss Templeton and laughed.
"Did you?" she said gently. "What a shame! I never dream. What was it all about?"
"Flowers!" John Martin snapped, "idiotic flowers! Roses, lilac, tulips! Bah! I do wish you would have some other hobby."
Gladys looked at her aunt again, this time with a half serious, half questioning expression.
"Shall I be a politician?" she cooed, "and fill the house with suffragettes? You bad man, I believe you would revel in it. Don't you think so, Auntie?"
"I think, instead of teasing your father so unmercifully, you had better pour him out a cup of tea," Miss Templeton replied. "Jack, there's a letter for you."
"Where? Under my plate! what a place to put it. That's you," and John Martin frowned, or rather, attempted to frown, at Gladys. "Why it's about Davenport—Dick Davenport. He's very ill—had a stroke yesterday, and the doctor declares his condition critical. His nephew, Shiel, so Anne says, has been sent for, and arrived at Sydenham last night! If that's not bad news I don't know what is!" John Martin said, thrusting his plate away from him and leaning back in his chair. "It's true I can manage the business all right myself—and there's the possibility, of course, that this young Shiel may shape all right. I suppose if anything happens he will step into Dick's shoes. I've never heard Dick mention any one else. Poor old Dick!"
"I am so sorry, father!" Gladys said, laying her hand on his. "But cheer up! It may not be as bad as you expect. Shall you go and see how he is?"
"I think so, my dear! I think so," John Martin replied, "but don't worry me about it now. Talk to your aunt and leave me out of it, I'm a bit upset. My brain's in a regular whirl!"
Undoubtedly the news was something in the nature of a blow: for Dick Davenport, apart from being John Martin's partner—partner in the firm of Martin and Davenport, the world-renowned conjurors, whose hall in the Kingsway was one of the chief amusement places in London, was John Martin's oldest friend. They had been chums at Cheltenham College, had entered the Army and gone to India together, had quitted the Service together, and, on returning together to England, had started their conjuring business, first of all in Sloane Street, and subsequently in the Kingsway. From the very start their enterprise had met with success, and, had it not been for Davenport's wild extravagance, they would have been little short of millionaires. But Davenport, though a most lovable character in every respect, could not keep money—he no sooner had it than it was gone. His house in Sydenham was little short of a palace; whilst, it was said, he almost rivalled royalty, in magnificent display, whenever he entertained. The result of all this reckless expenditure was no uncommon one—he ran through considerably more than he earned and—as there was no one else to help him—he invariably came down on John Martin. It was "Jack, old boy, I'm damned sorry, but I must have another thousand;" or, "Jack! these infernal scamps of creditors are worrying the life out of me, can you, will you, lend me a trifle—a couple of thousand will do it"—and so on—so on, ad infinitum. John Martin never refused, and at the time of Davenport's illness, the latter owed him something like a hundred thousand pounds.
Fortunately John Martin, though far from parsimonious, was careful. He had an excellent business head, and, thanks to his sagacious share in the management, the business remained solvent. He knew Davenport's capacity—that nowhere could he have found another such a brilliant genius in conjuring—nor, apart from his thriftlessness, any one so thoroughly reliable. In Davenport's keeping all the great tricks they had invented—and great tricks they undoubtedly were—were absolutely safe.
Despite the fact that they had repeatedly offered big sums of money to any one who could discover the secret of how they were done, every attempt to do so had utterly failed. The Mysteries of Martin and Davenport's Home of Wonder, in the Kingsway, baffled the world. Of course one thing had helped them enormously—namely, they had no rivals. So colossal was their reputation, that no one else had ever even thought of setting up in opposition.
And now one of the two great master-minds, that had accomplished all these marvels and acquired such universal fame, was stricken down, checkmated by the still greater power of nature; and his colleague—the only other man in existence who shared his knowledge—was obliged to rack his brain as to what was now to be done—done for the continuance and prosperity of the firm.
After finishing her breakfast Gladys joined her aunt in the garden.
"To dream of flowers and trees evidently means bad news," she said. "But as I feel in a mood for a walk, I shall call at the Vicarage."
"What, now! At this hour!" Miss Templeton cried aghast.
"Why not?" Gladys said imperturbably. "I'm not going to pay a call. They haven't called on us. I shall say I've merely come to make an inquiry. Can she tell me of any one who interprets dreams? Come with me!"
But as her aunt pleaded an excuse, Gladys went alone.
The Vicar was in the garden in his shirt sleeves, and though obviously surprised to see Gladys, seemed quite prepared to enter into conversation with her. But Gladys was not enamoured of clergymen. Her ways were not their ways, and she had come strictly on business. Consequently she somewhat curtly demanded to be conducted into the presence of his wife, who received her very affably.
"Why, how very strange," she observed when Gladys had stated the object of her visit. "I was asked a similar question only yesterday. A Miss Rosenberg, who is staying with us, had an extraordinary dream about trees and flowers—only it took the form of a poem, which she awoke repeating. There were several verses—quite doggerel it is true—but nevertheless rather remarkable for a dream. She wrote them down, and asked me if I could tell her whether there was any hidden meaning in them. Here they are," and she handed Gladys two pages of sermon paper on which was written—
"In the greenest of green valleys,
Aglow with summer sun,
Lived a maiden fair and radiant,
More radiant there was none.
"The flowers gave her their friendship;
Her couch was on the ground.
A happier, gayer maiden,
Was nowhere to be found.
"The air was filled with music
Sung by the babbling brook.
Sweet lullabies with chorus clear
In which the flowers partook.
"This maiden knew not sorrow,
Until an evil day;
When riding lone across the moors,
A hunter lost his way.
"And chancing on this valley,
He met the maiden sweet.
Her beauty overwhelmed him;
He fell love-sick at her feet.
"Despite the fervent warnings
Of her friends the flowers and trees,
She listened to his courting;
And with him roamed the leas.
"The leas, far from the valley,
They rode the livelong night;
Till a heavy mist descending
Hid the roadway from their sight.
"Uprose, then, forms of evil.
From out the mocking gloom;
And seizing horse and hunter scared,
Left the maiden to her doom.
"Travellers now within those regions,
Through the nightly grey fog see
A woman's shade crawl slow along,
To a ghastly melody.
"And those who linger—follow
The phantom pale and wan.
O'er hill and dale, and rill and vale
It slowly leads them on.
"On till they reach the valley,
A valley grim and drear,
Where lurid things with fibrous arms
Their course through darkness steer.
"And on the travellers palsied
In frenzied crowd they pour.
And those who view their faces,
Are heard but seen no more."
"Do you mean to say she dreamed all that?" Gladys exclaimed.
"Yes," the Vicar's wife said. "She told me so and I have no reason to doubt her. She doesn't romance as a rule, and is certainly not the least bit in the world poetical—on the contrary she is most practical and matter-of-fact. Her only hobby, as far as I know, is flowers."
"Mine, too!" Gladys interrupted. "Were you able to explain the verses?"
"No, I can't interpret dreams. I'm intensely interested in them; as I am in all things psychic. I was at a lecture given by Mrs. Annie Besant last night! She—"
"Do you know any one who does interpret dreams?" Gladys asked.
"Why, yes! A firm, claiming to do all sorts of wonderful things—to tell dreams, solve tricks, divine the presence of metals and water, and so on, has just set up in Cockspur Street. I read a short notice about them in this morning's paper. I will get it for you."
She left the room and in a few moments returned.
"Here it is," she said. And under the heading of "Sorcery Revived" Gladys read as follows:—
"There is really no end to the devices to which people resort nowadays to make money, but for sheer novelty, nothing, we think, beats this. Three Americans, Messrs. Hamar, Kelson and Curtis, fresh from San Francisco, California, have just bought premises in Cockspur Street, S.W., and set up there as Sorcerers!
"They style themselves 'The Modern Sorcery Company Ltd.,' and profess to interpret dreams, read people's thoughts, tell their pasts, solve all manner of tricks and detect the presence of metals and water. One wonders what next!"
"This paper evidently has its doubts," Gladys commented. "They are frauds, of course."
"I dare say they are," the Vicar's wife replied, "though I believe in thought-reading and other things they say they can do. I advised Miss Rosenberg to see them about her dream. She went in by the nine o'clock train. Had you come a few minutes earlier you would have seen her."
"Well, thanks awfully," Gladys said, "for telling me about these people. Very probably I'll go in to Town some time during the day and call at Cockspur Street. I must apologize again for calling at such an unearthly hour. Good-bye," and Gladys smilingly took her departure.