Dream’s End - Thorne Smith - ebook
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A New York advertising executive leaves his job in the city to write poetry in a hut by the sea. Once there he finds himself caught in the coils of his attraction to two women – a situation that so unsettles his wits that he falls prey to a heavily symbolic dream obsession. The story centers on a love triangle that develops between Landor, the niece of the man he’s staying with, Scarlet and the wife of the local land baron, Hilda. „Dream’s End” is a radical departure from Thorne Smith’s humorous novels, and was, in fact, Smith’s first book rejected by publishers until his Topper novels became successful. Fans of Thorne Smith are likely to be intrigued by this book for its gothic nature and for an unexpected glimpse at a more serious side of the author.

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Contents

PART I

THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF A DREAM

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

PART II

RETURN TO THE SALT MARSHES

PART II.

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

EPILOGUE

PART I

THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF A DREAM

CHAPTER I

MANY years have passed since last I was here in this silent place on the border of the salt marshes... many years. And though time and absence have blunted somewhat the edge of my regret for the things that came to pass here and hereabouts, neither time nor absence has been able to alleviate the pain which to-day I feel as keenly as I did this day twenty years ago.

Like a living symbol of discontent, casting shadows in its wake, I have skulked drearily across a sun-lit world since last I turned my face from these marshes with a double purpose in view–to escape a tormenting memory and to recapture a lost dream. And now after the passage of all the restless years I have returned to the point of departure no better off than when I set out.

There is a difference though, and I can feel it. For as I sit here in the quiet of falling dusk, it seems to me that an odd, quivering tension is troubling the air, as though actors were silently waiting behind a curtain for the last act of a play in which I am cast for a part. Whether the actors are hostile or friendly, and what is to be the nature of my role, is still withheld from me, for that is the dénouement of the drama and the end of a long, long quest.

*     *

*

TO me this is the fairest spot in the world, and the saddest. In the days of my youth when I first came upon it, I recall how I crept through the rushes and sat watching, as now I watch, the water trails in the marshes fill up with purple and crimson shades as the sun made down the sky.

I have always heard that disappointment follows the footsteps of those who retrace their paths back to the scenes of their youth. Mountains diminish to hills, I am told, and rivers change to muddy streams, nor does the sun ever shine so brightly or the sky seem quite so blue, I have not found it true in this case. If anything, time has intensified the beauty of these marshes. The influence they exert over me is as strong to-day as it was many years ago. I look upon them now, not with diminished vision, but with added appreciation. They have become a vital part of my life.

Through all the years that I have fled this place memory has held it ever fresh in my eyes; and now, as I behold it once more in reality, nothing seems to have changed... even the peculiar stillness hovering over the spot, the sensation of finding oneself quite alone in a lost corner of the world still lingers in the air, holding the soul within me in a calm but watchful hush.

*     *

*

THAT ragged apple tree over there, extending its maimed and cramped limbs from the green curve of the bank, is as gaunt and weird an object as when I first looked on it, yet just as friendly. Perhaps a little more so, now that the years have brought me similar physical defects... but here perhaps I should apologize to this weather-blown old watcher of the marshes, for it at least has remained picturesque.

One of the fascinations of this place for me lies in the fact that it is shut off on three sides from the rest of the world by a tall and thickly laced screen of reeds, the open side giving view to the green level reaches of the salt marshes where flat creeks of water wind slowly, endlessly, and mysteriously into a fantastic and insolvable design of flowing color.

The semicircular inclosure itself is carpeted with a broad mat of springy reeds which time and the elements have beaten low. Though dead, dry and gray, these reeds, from having become so closely interwoven, still retain a feeling of buoyancy, and yield softly without breaking under the weight of the reclining body.

I have said that this natural pavilion by the marshes appeals to me because on three sides it is shut off from the world, and this statement, on second thought, seems to be no less than the truth. Perhaps I am still possessed by some compelling instinct of a distant primitive life thus to find comfort and satisfaction in having safety around me and a clear outlook in front. Whatever the reason may be, I never fail to experience a thrill of expectancy and relief whenever I turn away from the great voice of the sea that chants against the rocks on the other side of this ledge of land–to seek out this hidden pocket in the reeds.

Through fields high in wild grass and, in May time, freckled with daisies, I pick my way until at last, after a careful survey round me, I drop suddenly from view down a declivity concealed by the overgrowth. Immediately I am plunged into a land of wavering twilight and of intimate earthy smells. I pause for a moment to drink in my sensations, then parting a known opening in the rushes, I fling myself down on the mat of reeds to gaze on the green, salt marshes where the waterways slowly glide.

Before me, stretched out like a huge map, and reminiscent of an old geography, lies a silent and unpeopled country; while round me circle the whispering reeds terminating in a high, green bank from which like a garrulous old pensioner, the friendly apple tree hobbles out to greet me.

*     *

*

IN the bygone days, to my knowledge, no other person visited this spot save one who came and passed in the swift flight of a summer, and in passing left no path that mortal foot could follow.

See, over yonder, on the flat surface of the marshes, there lies a small green island decked with a plume of trees?

It was there that I lost a dream.

CHAPTER II

MEN have fought to realize a dream and men have gone down in defense of one; but my lot has been less fortunate and certainly less spectacular than these, for I have been possessed of a longing that has forced me to wander, restless and unrewarded, across the face of the world in fruitless search of a dream that I lost in the days of my youth, and I have grown old and unbecoming in the quest.

Those who have tasted and died have at least experienced the joy of the dram before the goblet was shattered at their feet, whereas I, who have quaffed from many goblets, have never yet found in any of them a liquor that would appease the flame which even now is parching my throat.

When I first set out in pursuit of this dream, I proceeded with the logical folly characteristic of many madmen. I wandered irresponsibly in strange places, but always with a definite object in view. During the first year of the search I passed through cities and foreign lands as the shadow of a cloud drifts across a field. I was not a part of anything. Places made no impression on me, and I left no impression behind. Like a sightless phantom I moved with outstretched hands, futilely plucking at the air. And in those days I dwelt in pools of spiritual silence.

Once when I was in Egypt my search carried me out into the desert, where through many days of disappointment I endeavored to concentrate on the dream that I had lost. With all my will I strove to recall it from the appalling immensity confronting my burning eyes. But the brooding consistency of the desert silence, and at night the impersonal splendor of the stars, instead of quieting my spirit, awoke within me a strong desire for human companionship. Night after night I continued to struggle alone in this vast, unresponsive stillness, hoping to force myself into that condition of spiritual calm which I knew to be vital to the success of my search. At length, unable to endure it longer, I arose one night from my rug and drew near to the camp of my guides. Their fire lay like a pool of light on the dark floor of the desert, and as I approached I caught the monotonous whining of native instruments and heard the tinkling of flying anklets. Imperceptibly, as though hypnotized, and yet clearly aware of my weakness, I drew nearer, with quickening pulse, to the half-circle of swarthy nomads. Three girls were dancing in the firelight, their supple bodies voluptuously abandoned to the rhythm of the music. And as I watched my eyes grew bright with hunger... and I no longer sought a dream.

The next day I struck camp, and retreated from the scene of my defeat. I returned to Paris and sought to capture my dream in the fleeting glance of a woman, or to hear it floating to me from the cascading notes of a symphony. All day long I walked the streets, peering into the eyes of the women I passed, and at night I drowned myself in a flood of music. But in the feverish turmoil of Paris I fared no better than I had in the austere silence of the desert.

Then, stung by remorse and self-loathing, I denied myself the companionship of my kind, and withdrew to a little hamlet far up on the snow-cloaked shoulder of a mountain. Through the long, cold winter nights, I waited for the dream to come. In the intensity of my longing I fasted for many days and punished my body with exhausting exercise and long exposure to the elements. And in the deep, still valleys of the mountains I groveled in the snow and whimpered for the return of the dream. But I who had forsaken the object of my quest was in turn forsaken. The mountains looked down on my misery and denied me peace. Then, once more, the spirit of rebellion took possession of me and I went down from the mountain to find laughter and forgetfulness in the sun- warmed dissipation of a Mediterranean watering-place... I met there many who gave me memories, but none who brought me a dream.

*     *

*

ONCE I thought I had found it. In a sultry back yard in London a girl lay dying. Childhood had hardly left her before the city had found her out, used her, enjoyed her, and passed on to its trams and pubs and laughing stalls. As she lay stretched out on a miserable cot, her hot breath falling on the tepid air around us, her wandering eyes sought comfort in the sickly green of a stunted tree.

She was known to me as Molly, and during the early days of her decline we had spent many hours together conversing on subjects which would have brought pious consternation to the matrons of the last “home” that had turned her out redeemed. Instinctively she seemed to divine that, like herself, I too belonged to the unstable and was drifting without a rudder.

Now she lay dying. From time to time a red-faced, perspiring woman came panting out of the kitchen to gaze solicitously at Molly, then returned silently to her labors. Once she wiped her large, raw hands on her apron and timidly stroked the bleached hair of the dying girl. A little later appeared a doctor, aggressively supported by a visiting nurse. After making his patient keenly aware of the fact that she was stubbornly dying the face of a pure, powerful and indignant charitable organization, he took himself off with many ominous shakings of his head. But before he left, the doctor was good enough to explain to me that it was quite a common case.

“Oh, quite common, sir, I assure you,” he said. “The wards are full of ‘em. They’re eaten up, simply eaten up. No fiber moral or physical... weak sisters This girl will die soon. You might give her a few drops from this bottle. It will steady her nerves a bit.”

As evening came on Molly grew steadily weaker, and her eyes filled up with dreams. Her thin hand groped for mine, and she made an effort to rise.

“Yes, Molly,” I said, bending over her. “What is it? What do you see?”

“Something I can’t understand,” she answered. “Something new.”

“Try, Molly, try,” I pleaded.

“It’s bright,” she gasped, “an’ green an’ there are trees waving on it in the wind. Oh, Mr. Landor, it’s ever so peaceful there.”

Her voice faded away as her life streamed out through her eyes. I was trembling violently now and clinging to her hand.

“Is that all, Molly?” I asked. “Is there anything else you see?”

“Yes; I seem to make out something... some one... Lor’! Mr. Landor,” she murmured as peace touched the lines of her face.

Quickly, before she died, I bent and kissed her lips.

*     *

*

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