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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

“Dreaming True”

By George du Maurier (1834–1896)

From ‘Peter Ibbetson’

AS I sat down on a bench by the old willow (where the rat lived), and gazed and gazed, it almost surprised me that the very intensity of my desire did not of itself suffice to call up the old familiar faces and forms, and conjure away these modern intruders. The power to do this seemed almost within my reach: I willed and willed and willed with all my might, but in vain; I could not cheat my sight or hearing for a moment. There they remained, unconscious and undisturbed, those happy, well-mannered, well-appointed little French people, and fed the gold and silver fish; and there with an aching heart I left them.

Oh, surely, surely, I cried to myself, we ought to find some means of possessing the past more fully and completely than we do. Life is not worth living for many of us, if a want so desperate and yet so natural can never be satisfied. Memory is but a poor rudimentary thing that we had better be without, if it can only lead us to the verge of consummation like this, and madden us with a desire it cannot slake. The touch of a vanished hand, the sound of a voice that is still, the tender grace of a day that is dead, should be ours forever at our beck and call, by some exquisite and quite conceivable illusion of the senses.

Alas! alas! I have hardly the hope of ever meeting my beloved ones again in another life. Oh, to meet their too dimly remembered forms in this, just as they once were, by some trick of my own brain! To see them with the eye, and hear them with the ear, and tread with them the old obliterated ways as in a waking dream! It would be well worth going mad, to become such a self-conjurer as that.


I GOT back to my hotel in the Rue de la Michodière.

Prostrate with emotion and fatigue, the tarantella still jingling in my ears, and that haunting, beloved face, with its ineffable smile, still printed on the retina of my closed eyes, I fell asleep.

And then I dreamed a dream, and the first phase of my real, inner life began!

All the events of the day, distorted and exaggerated and jumbled together after the usual manner of dreams, wove themselves into a kind of nightmare and oppression. I was on my way to my old abode; everything that I met or saw was grotesque and impossible, yet had now the strange, vague charm of association and reminiscence, now the distressing sense of change and desolation.

As I got near to the avenue gate, instead of the school on my left there was a prison; and at the door a little thick-set jailer, three feet high and much deformed, and a little deformed jaileress no bigger than himself, were cunningly watching me out of the corners of their eyes, and toothlessly smiling. Presently they began to waltz together to an old familiar tune, with their enormous keys dangling at their sides; and they looked so funny that I laughed and applauded. But soon I perceived that their crooked faces were not really funny; indeed, they were fatal and terrible in the extreme, and I was soon conscious that these deadly dwarfs were trying to waltz between me and the avenue gate for which I was bound—to cut me off, that they might run me into the prison, where it was their custom to hang people of a Monday morning.

In an agony of terror I made a rush for the avenue gate, and there stood the Duchess of Towers, with mild surprise in her eyes and a kind smile—a heavenly vision of strength and reality.

“You are not dreaming true!” she said. “Don’t be afraid—those little people don’t exist! Give me your hand and come in here.”

And as I did so she waved the troglodytes away, and they vanished; and I felt that this was no longer a dream, but something else—some strange thing that had happened to me, some new life that I had woke up to.

For at the touch of her hand my consciousness, my sense of being I, myself, which hitherto in my dream (as in all previous dreams up to then) had been only partial, intermittent, and vague, suddenly blazed into full, consistent, practical activity—just as it is in life, when one is well awake and much interested in what is going on; only with perceptions far keener and more alert.

I knew perfectly who I was and what I was, and remembered all the events of the previous day. I was conscious that my real body, undressed and in bed, now lay fast asleep in a small room on the fourth floor of an hôtel garni in the Rue de la Michodière. I knew this perfectly; and yet here was my body too, just as substantial, with all my clothes on; my boots rather dusty, my shirt collar damp with the heat, for it was hot. With my disengaged hand I felt in my trousers pocket; there were my London latch-key, my purse, my penknife; my handkerchief in the breast pocket of my coat, and in its tail pockets my gloves and pipe-case, and the little water-color box I had bought that morning. I looked at my watch; it was going, and marked eleven. I pinched myself, I coughed, I did all one usually does under the pressure of some immense surprise, to assure myself that I was awake; and I was, and yet here I stood, actually hand in hand with a lady to whom I had never been introduced (and who seemed much tickled at my confusion); and staring now at her, now at my old school.

The prison had tumbled down like a house of cards, and lo! in its place was M. Saindou’s maison d’éducation, just as it had been of old. I even recognized on the yellow wall the stamp of a hand in dry mud, made fifteen years ago by a day boy called Parisot, who had fallen down in the gutter close by, and thus left his mark on getting up again; and it had remained there for months, till it had been whitewashed away in the holidays. Here it was anew, after fifteen years.

The swallows were flying and twittering. A yellow omnibus was drawn up to the gates of the school; the horses stamped and neighed, and bit each other, as French horses always did in those days. The driver swore at them perfunctorily.

A crowd was looking on—le Père et la Mère François, Madame Liard the grocer’s wife, and other people, whom I remembered at once with delight. Just in front of us a small boy and girl were looking on, like the rest, and I recognized the back and the cropped head and thin legs of Mimsey Seraskier.

A barrel organ was playing a pretty tune I knew quite well, and had forgotten.

The school gates opened, and M. Saindou, proud and full of self-importance (as he always was), and half a dozen boys whose faces and names were quite familiar to me, in smart white trousers and shining boots, and silken white bands round their left arms, got into the omnibus, and were driven away in a glorified manner—as it seemed—to heaven in a golden chariot. It was beautiful to see and hear.

I was still holding the duchess’s hand, and felt the warmth of it through her glove; it stole up my arm like a magnetic current. I was in Elysium; a heavenly sense had come over me that at last my periphery had been victoriously invaded by a spirit other than mine—a most powerful and beneficent spirit. There was a blessed fault in my impenetrable armor of self, after all, and the genius of strength and charity and loving-kindness had found it out.

“Now you’re dreaming true,” she said. “Where are those boys going?”

“To church, to make their première communion,” I replied.

“That’s right. You’re dreaming true because I’ve got you by the hand. Do you know that tune?”

I listened, and the words belonging to it came out of the past, and I said them to her, and she laughed again, with her eyes screwed up deliciously.

“Quite right—quite!” she exclaimed. “How odd that you should know them! How well you pronounce French for an Englishman! For you are Mr. Ibbetson, Lady Cray’s architect?”

I assented, and she let go my hand.

The street was full of people—familiar forms and faces and voices, chatting together and looking down the road after the yellow omnibus; old attitudes, old tricks of gait and manner, old forgotten French ways of speech—all as it was long ago. Nobody noticed us, and we walked up the now deserted avenue.

The happiness, the enchantment of it all! Could it be that I was dead, that I had died suddenly in my sleep, at the hotel in the Rue de la Michodière? Could it be that the Duchess of Towers was dead too—had been killed by some accident on her way from St. Cloud to Paris? and that, both having died, so near each other, we had begun our eternal after-life in this heavenly fashion?

That was too good to be true, I reflected; some instinct told me that this was not death, but transcendent earthly life—and also, alas! that it would not endure forever!

I was deeply conscious of every feature in her face, every movement of her body, every detail of her dress,—more so than I could have been in actual life,—and said to myself, “Whatever this is, it is no dream.” But I felt there was about me the unspeakable elation which can come to us only in our waking moments when we are at our very best; and then only feebly, in comparison with this, and to many of us never. It never had to me, since that morning when I had found the little wheelbarrow.

I was also conscious, however, that the avenue itself had a slight touch of the dream in it. It was no longer quite right, and was getting out of drawing and perspective, so to speak. I had lost my stay—the touch of her hand.

“Are you still dreaming true, Mr. Ibbetson?”

“I am afraid not quite,” I replied.

“You must try by yourself a little—try hard. Look at this house; what is written on the portico?”

I saw written in gold letters the words “Tête Noire,” and said so.

She rippled with laughter, and said, “No, try again;” and just touched me with the tip of her finger for a moment.

I tried again, and said “Parvis Notre Dame.”

“That’s rather better,” she said, and touched me again; and I read, “Parva sed Apta,” as I had so often read there before in old days.

“And now look at that old house over there,” pointing to my old home; “how many windows are there in the top story?”

I said seven.

“No; there are five. Look again!” and there were five; and the whole house was exactly, down to its minutest detail, as it had been once upon a time. I could see Thérèse through one of the windows, making my bed.

“That’s better,” said the duchess; “you will soon do it—it’s very easy—ce n’est que le premier pas! My father taught me; you must always sleep on your back with your arms above your head, your hands clasped under it and your feet crossed, the right one over the left, unless you are left-handed; and you must never for a moment cease thinking of where you want to be in your dream till you are asleep and get there; and you must never forget in your dream where and what you were when awake. You must join the dream on to reality. Don’t forget. And now I will say good-by; but before I go, give me both your hands, and look round everywhere as far as your eye can see.”

It was hard to look away from her; her face drew my eyes, and through them all my heart; but I did as she told me, and took in the whole familiar scene, even to the distant woods of Ville d’Avray, a glimpse of which was visible through an opening in the trees; even to the smoke of a train making its way to Versailles, miles off; and the old telegraph, working its black arms on the top of Mont Valérien.

“Is it all right?” she asked. “That’s well. Henceforward, whenever you come here, you will be safe as far as your sight can reach,—from this spot,—all through my introduction. See what it is to have a friend at court! No more little dancing jailers! And then you can gradually get farther by yourself.

“Out there, through that park, leads to the Bois de Boulogne—there’s a gap in the hedge you can get through; but mind and make everything plain in front of you—true, before you go a step farther, or else you’ll have to wake and begin it all over again. You have only to will it, and think yourself as awake, and it will come—on condition, of course, that you have been there before. And mind, also, you must take care how you touch things or people—you may hear, see, and smell; but you mustn’t touch, nor pick flowers or leaves, nor move things about. It blurs the dream, like breathing on a window-pane. I don’t know why, but it does. You must remember that everything here is dead and gone by. With you and me it is different; we’re alive and real—that is, I am; and there would seem to be no mistake about your being real too, Mr. Ibbetson, by the grasp of your hands. But you’re not; and why you are here, and what business you have in this my particular dream, I cannot understand; no living person has ever come into it before. I can’t make it out. I suppose it’s because I saw your reality this afternoon, looking out of the window at the Tête Noire, and you are just a stray figment of my over-tired brain—a very agreeable figment, I admit; but you don’t exist here just now—you can’t possibly; you are somewhere else, Mr. Ibbetson; dancing at Mabille, perhaps, or fast asleep somewhere, and dreaming of French churches and palaces, and public fountains, like a good young British architect—otherwise I shouldn’t talk to you like this, you may be sure!

“Never mind. I am very glad to dream that I have been of use to you, and you are very welcome here, if it amuses you to come—especially as you are only a false dream of mine, for what else can you be? And now I must leave you: so good-by.”

She disengaged her hands and laughed her angelic laugh, and then turned towards the park. I watched her tall straight figure and blowing skirts, and saw her follow some ladies and children into a thicket that I remembered well, and she was soon out of sight.

I felt as if all warmth had gone out of my life; as if a joy had taken flight; as if a precious something had withdrawn itself from my possession, and the gap in my periphery had closed again.

Long I stood in thought, with my eyes fixed on the spot where she had disappeared; and I felt inclined to follow, but then considered this would not have been discreet. For although she was only a false dream of mine, a mere recollection of the exciting and eventful day, a stray figment of my over-tired and excited brain—a more than agreeable figment (what else could she be!)—she was also a great lady, and had treated me, a perfect stranger and a perfect nobody, with singular courtesy and kindness; which I repaid, it is true, with a love so deep and strong that my very life was hers to do what she liked with, and always had been since I first saw her, and always would be as long as there was breath in my body! But this did not constitute an acquaintance without a proper introduction, even in France—even in a dream. Even in dreams one must be polite, even to stray figments of one’s tired, sleeping brain.

And then what business had she in this, my particular dream—as she herself had asked of me?

But was it a dream? I remembered my lodgings at Pentonville, that I had left yesterday morning. I remembered what I was—why I came to Paris; I remembered the very bedroom at the Paris hotel where I was now fast asleep, its loudly ticking clock, and all the meagre furniture. And here was I, broad awake and conscious in the middle of an old avenue that had long ceased to exist—that had been built over by a huge brick edifice covered with newly painted trellis-work. I saw it,—this edifice,—myself, only twelve hours ago. And yet here was everything as it had been when I was a child; and all through the agency of this solid phantom of a lovely young English duchess, whose warm gloved hands I had only this minute been holding in mine! The scent of her gloves was still in my palm. I looked at my watch; it marked twenty-three minutes to twelve. All this had happened in less than three-quarters of an hour!

Pondering over all this in hopeless bewilderment, I turned my steps towards my old home, and to my surprise, was just able to look over the garden wall, which I had once thought about ten feet high.

Under the old apple-tree in full bloom sat my mother, darning small socks; with her flaxen side-curls (as it was her fashion to wear them) half concealing her face. My emotion and astonishment were immense. My heart beat fast. I felt its pulse in my temples, and my breath was short.

At a little green table that I remembered well sat a small boy, rather quaintly dressed in a bygone fashion, with a frill round his wide shirt collar, and his golden hair cut quite close at the top, and rather long at the sides and back. It was Gogo Pasquier. He seemed a very nice little boy. He had pen and ink and copy-book before him, and a gilt-edged volume bound in red morocco. I knew it at a glance; it was ‘Elegant Extracts.’ The dog Médor lay asleep in the shade. The bees were droning among the nasturtiums and convolvulus.

A little girl ran up the avenue from the porter’s lodge and pushed the garden gate, which rang the bell as it opened, and she went into the garden, and I followed her; but she took no notice of me, nor did the others. It was Mimsey Seraskier.

I went and sat at my mother’s feet, and looked long in her face.

I must not speak to her nor touch her—not even touch her busy hand with my lips, or I should “blur the dream.”

I got up and looked over the boy Gogo’s shoulder. He was translating Gray’s Elegy into French; he had not got very far, and seemed to be stumped by the line

  • “And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”
  • Mimsey was silently looking over his other shoulder, her thumb in her mouth, one arm on the back of his chair. She seemed to be stumped also; it was an awkward line to translate.

    I stooped and put my hand to Médor’s nose, and felt his warm breath. He wagged his rudiment of a tail, and whimpered in his sleep. Mimsey said:—

    “Regarde Médor, comme il remue la queue! C’est le Prince Charmant qui lui chatouille le bout du nez.”

    Said my mother, who had not spoken hitherto:—

    “Do speak English, Mimsey, please.”

    O my God! My mother’s voice, so forgotten, yet so familiar, so unutterably dear! I rushed to her and threw myself on my knees at her feet, and seized her hand and kissed it, crying, “Mother, mother!”

    A strange blur came over everything; the sense of reality was lost. All became as a dream—a beautiful dream, but only a dream; and I woke.