Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and other profitable tales/A Dream
|←The Ocean Christ|| Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and other profitable tales by , translated by Winifred Stephens
Jean Marteau: A Dream
|The Law is dead but the Judge is living →|
Jean Marteau said that one dream had left an indelible impression on his mind.
"Was it a prophetic dream?" inquired Monsieur Goubin.
"In itself," replied Jean Marteau, "the dream was not remarkable, not even for its incoherence. But its images presented themselves with a painful vividness which is quite unique. Nothing I ever experienced, nothing, was ever so real to me, so actual as the visions of this dream. In that lies its interest. It enabled me to understand the illusions of a mystic. Had I been less rational I should certainly have taken it to be an apocalypse and a revelation, and I should have derived therefrom principles of conduct and a rule of life. I ought to tell you that I dreamed this dream under peculiar circumstances. It was in the spring of 1895; I was twenty. Having recently arrived in Paris I was in difficulties. That night I had lain down in a copse of the Versailles wood. I had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours. I suffered no pain. I was in a state of calm and ease, disturbed occasionally by a feeling of anxiety. It seemed to me as if I was neither asleep nor awake. A little girl, quite a little girl in a blue-hooded cape, and a white apron, was walking with crutches over a plain. With every step she took her crutches grew and raised her like stilts. They soon became higher than the poplars on the river's bank. A woman who saw my surprise said to me: "Don't you know that in the spring crutches grow? But there are times when the size increases with alarming rapidity."
A man whose face I could not see, added: "It is the climacteric hour."
Then with a soft and mysterious sound which alarmed me, all around me the grass began to grow. I arose and reached a plain covered with wan plants, cottony and dead. There I met Vernaux, who was my only friend in Paris, where he lived as penuriously as I. Long we walked side by side in silence. In the sky the stars, huge and rayless, were like discs of pale gold.
I knew the cause of this appearance and I explained it to Vernaux: "It is an optical phenomenon," I said, "our eyes are out of focus."
And with infinite care and minuteness I engaged in a demonstration which chiefly turned upon the exact correspondence between the human eye and the astronomical telescope. While I was reasoning thus, Vernaux found on the ground some leaden-coloured grass, an enormous black hat, boat shaped, with a brim, a band of gold braid and a diamond buckle. Putting it on his head, he said: "It is the lord mayor's hat." "Obviously," I replied, and I resumed my demonstration. So arduous was it that the perspiration dropped from my forehead. I was always losing the thread and beginning again vaguely with the phrase: "The great saurians who swam in the tepid waters of the primitive ocean had eyes constructed like a telescope. …"
I continued until I perceived that Vernaux had disappeared. It was not long before I found him again in a hollow. He was on a spit, roasting over a brushwood fire. Indians with their hair tied on the tops of their heads were basting him with a long-handled spoon and were turning the spit. In a clear voice Vernaux said to me: "Mélanie has been here."
Then only did I perceive that he had the head and neck of a chicken. But all I could think of was how to find Mélanie, who, by a sudden inspiration I knew to be the most beautiful of women. I ran, and, having reached the edge of a wood, by the moonlight I saw a white form fleeting before me. Hair of a glorious red fell over her neck. A silver light caressed her shoulders, a blue shadow filled the hollow in the middle of her gleaming back; and, as she ran, her dimples in their rise and fall seemed to smile with a divine smile. I distinctly saw the azure shadow on her leg augment or diminish according to the motion of the limb. I noticed also the pink soles of her feet. Long did I pursue her without fatigue and with a step light as the flight of a bird. But a dark shadow veiled her, and her perpetual flight led me into a path so narrow that it was blocked completely by a little iron stove. It was one of those stoves with long bent pipes which are used in studios. It was at a white heat. The door was incandescent and all around the metal was red hot. A cat with its hair all shorn was sitting on it and looking at me. As I drew near I perceived through the cracks in its scorched skin an ardent mass of liquid metal which filled its body. It was miauling, and I understood that it was asking for water. In order to find some, I descended the slope on which was a cool wood of birch and ash trees. A stream ran through it at the bottom of a ravine. But I could not approach it on account of the blocks of sandstone and tufts of dwarf oaks by which it was overhung. As I slipped on a mossy stone my left arm came away from my shoulder without causing a wound or any pain. I took it in my right hand; it was cold and numb; its touch made me shudder. I reflected that now I was in danger of losing it and how wearisome a drudgery it would be for the rest of my life to have to watch ceaselessly over it. I resolved to order an ebony box wherein I might keep it when it was not in use. As it was very cold in this damp hollow I quitted it by a rustic path which led me on to a wind-swept plateau, where all the trees were bent as if in sorrow. There along a yellow road a procession was passing. It was countrified and humble, just like the Rogation procession in the village of Brécé, which our Master, Monsieur Bergeret, knows so well. There was nothing singular about the clergy, the confraternities, or the faithful except that no one had any feet and that they all moved upon little wheels. Under the canopy I recognized Monsieur l'Abbé Lantaigne, who had become village priest and was weeping tears of blood. I wanted to call out to him: "I am ministre plenipotentiaire." But my voice choked in my throat, and a great shadow coming down upon me caused me to raise my head. It was one of the little lame girl's crutches. They had now ascended into the sky some thousand metres, and I perceived the child like a little black spot against the moon. The stars had grown still larger and paler, and among them I distinguished three planets, the spherical form of which was quite visible to the eye. I even thought I could recognize spots on their surface. But these spots did not correspond to the drawings of those on Mars, Jupiter and Saturn which I had once seen in astronomical books.
My friend Vernaux having come up, I asked him whether he could not see the canals on the planet Mars. "The Ministry is defeated," he said.
He bore no sign of the spit I had seen transfixing him, but he still had a chicken's head and neck, and he was dripping with gravy. I felt an uncontrollable desire to demonstrate my optical theory to him and to resume my argument where I had left it. "The great saurians," I said, "which swam in the tepid waters of the primitive ocean had eyes constructed like a telescope...."
Instead of listening to me, he went up to a reading-desk, which was there in the field, opened an antiphonary and began to crow like a cock.
Out of all patience, I turned my back on him and jumped into a tram that was passing. Inside I found a vast dining-hall, like those in great hotels or on board Atlantic liners. It was all flowers and glass. As far as one could see there were seated at table women in low frocks and men in evening dress in front of candelabra and crystal chandeliers forming an infinite vista of light. A steward came round with meat to which I helped myself. But it emitted a disgusting odour and it made me feel sick before I tasted it. Besides I was not hungry. The diners left the table before I had swallowed a mouthful. While the servants were taking away the candles, Vernaux came up to me and said: "You did not notice the lady in the low-necked dress who was sitting next you. It was Mélanie. Look."
And through the door he pointed to shoulders flooded with a white light, out in the darkness under the trees. I leapt out, I rushed in pursuit of the charming form. This time I caught it up, I touched it. For one moment I felt a delicious throbbing beneath my fingers. But she slipped from my arms and I was embracing briars.
That was my dream.
"Truly your dream was sad," said Monsieur Bergeret, to quote the simple Stratonice:
"'A vision of oneself may arouse no little disgust.'"