Constance Dunlap/Chapter 6
"Do you believe in dreams?" Constance Dunlap looked searchingly at her interrogator, as if her face or manner betrayed some new side of her character.
Mrs. deForest Caswell was an attractive woman verging on forty, a chance acquaintance at a shoppers' tea room downtown who had proved to be an uptown neighbor.
"I have had some rather strange experiences, Mildred," confessed Constance tentatively. "Why?"
"Because—" the other woman hesitated, then added, "why should I not tell you! Last night, Constance, I had the strangest dream. It has left such an impression on me that I can't shake it off, although I have tried all day."
"Yes? Tell me about it."
Mildred Caswell paused a moment, then began slowly, as if not to omit anything from her story.
"I dreamt that Forest was dying. I could see him, could see the doctor and the nurse, everything. And yet somehow I could not get to him. I was afraid, with such an oppressive fear. I tried—oh, how I tried! I struggled, and how badly I felt!" and she shuddered at the very recollection.
"There seemed to be a wall," she resumed, "a narrow wall in the way and I couldn't get over it. As often as I tried, I fell. And then I seemed to be pursued by some kind of animal, half bull, half snake. I ran. It followed closely. I seemed to see a crowd of people and I felt that if I could only get to that crowd, somehow I would be safe, perhaps might even get over the wall and—I woke up—almost screaming."
The woman's face was quite blanched.
"My dear," remonstrated Constance, "you must not take it so. Remember—it was only a dream.
"I know it was only a dream," she said, "but you don't know what is back of it."
Mildred Caswell had from time to time hinted to Constance of the growing incompatibility of her married life, but as Constance was getting used to confidences, she had kept silent, knowing that her friend would tell her in time.
"You must have guessed," faltered Mrs. Caswell, "that Forest and I are not—not on the best of terms, that we are getting further and further apart."
It rather startled Constance to hear frankly stated what she already had observed. She wondered how far the estrangement had gone. The fact was that she had rather liked deForest Caswell, although she had only met her friend's husband a few times. In fact she was surprised that momentarily there flashed through her mind the query as to whether Mildred herself might be altogether blameless in the growing uncongeniality.
Mildred Caswell had drawn out of her chatelaine a bit of newspaper and handed it to Constance, not as if it was of any importance to herself but as if it would explain better than she could tell what she meant.
THE VEILED PROPHETESS
Born with a double veil, educated in occult mysteries in Egypt and India. Without asking a question, tells your name and reads your secret troubles and the remedy. Reads your dreams. Great questions of life quickly solved. Failure turned to success, the separated brought together, advice on all affairs of life, love, marriage, divorce, business, speculation, and investments. Overcomes all evil influences. Ever ready to help and advise those with capital to find a safe and paying investment. No fee until it succeeds. Could anything be fairer?
—— W. 47th Street.
"Won't you come with me to Madame Cassandra?" asked Mrs. Caswell, as Constance finished reading. "She always seems to do me so much good."
"Who is Madame Cassandra?" asked Constance, rereading the last part of the advertisement.
"I suppose you would call her a dream doctor," said Mildred.
It was a new idea to Constance, this of a dream doctor to settle the affairs of life. Only a moment she hesitated, then she answered simply, "Yes, I'll go."
"The retreat" was just off Longacre Square among quite a nest of fakers. A queue of automobiles before the place testified, however, to the prosperity of Madame Cassandra, as they entered the bronze grilled plate glass door and turned on the first floor toward the home of the Adept. Constance had an uncomfortable feeling as they entered of being watched behind the shades of the apartment. Still, they had no trouble in being admitted, and a soft-voiced colored attendant welcomed them.
The esoteric flat of Madame Cassandra was darkened except for the electric lights glowing in amber and rose-colored shades. There were several women there already. As they entered Constance had noticed a peculiar, dreamy odor. There did not seem to be any hurry, any such thing as time here, so skilfully was the place run. There was no noise; the feet sank in half-inch piles of rugs, and easy-chairs and divans were scattered about.
Once a puff of light smoke appeared, and Constance awoke to the fact that some were smoking little delicately gold-banded cigarettes. Indeed it was all quite recherche.
Mrs. Caswell took one from a maid. So did Constance, but after a puff or two managed to put it out and later to secure another which she kept.
Madame Cassandra herself proved to be a tall, slender, pale woman with dark hair and a magnetic eye, an eye that probably accounted more than anything else for her success. She was clad in a house gown of purplish silk which clung tightly to her, and at her throat a diamond pendant sparkled, as well as other brilliants on her long, slender fingers.
She met Mildred and Constance with outstretched hands.
"So glad to see you, my dears," purred Madame, leading the way into an inner sanctum.
Mrs. Caswell had seated herself with the air of one who worshiped at the shrine, while Constance gazed about curiously.
"Madame," she began a little tremulously, "I have had another of those dreadful dreams."
"You poor dear soul," soothed Madame, stroking her hand. "Tell me of it—all."
Quickly Mrs. Caswell poured forth her story as she had already told it to Constance.
"My dear Mrs. Caswell," remarked the high priestess slowly, when the story was complete, "it is all very simple. His love is dead. That is what you fear and it is the truth. The wall is the wall that he has erected against you. Try to forget it—to forget him. You would be better off. There are other things in the world—"
"Ah, but I cannot live as I am used to without money," murmured Mrs. Caswell.
"I know," replied Madame. "It is that that keeps many a woman with a brute. When financial and economic independence come, then woman will be free and only then. Now, listen. Would you like to be free—financially? You remember that delightful Mr. Davies who has been here? Yes? Well, he is a regular client of mine, now. He is a broker and never embarks in any enterprise without first consulting me. Just the other day I read his fortune in United Traction. It has gone up five points already and will go fifteen more. If you want, I will give you a card to him. Let me see—yes, I can do that. You too will be lucky in speculation."
Constance, with one ear open, had been busy looking about the room. In a bookcase she saw a number of books and paused to examine their titles. She was surprised to see among the old style dream books several works on modern psychology, particularly on the interpretation of dreams.
"Of course, Mrs. Caswell, I don't want to urge you," Madame was saying. "I have only pointed out a way in which you can be independent. And, you know, Mr. Davies is a perfect gentleman, so courteous and reliable. I know you will be successful if you take my advice and go to him."
Mildred said nothing for a few moments, but as she rose to go she remarked, "Thank you very much. I'll think about it. Anyhow, you've made me feel better."
"So kind of you to say it," murmured the Adept. "I'm sorry you must go, but really I have other appointments. Please come again—with your friend. Good-bye."
"What do you think of her?" asked Mrs. Caswell on the street.
"Very clever," answered Constance dubiously.
Mrs. Caswell looked up quickly. "You don't like her?"
"To tell the truth," confessed Constance quietly, "I have had too much experience in Wall Street myself to trust to a clairvoyant."
They had scarcely reached the corner before Constance again had that peculiar feeling which some psychologists have noted, of being stared at. She turned, but saw no one. Still the feeling persisted. She could stand it no longer.
"Don't think me crazy, Mildred," she said, "but I just have a desire to walk back a block."
Constance had turned suddenly. As she glanced keenly about she was aware of a familiar figure gazing into the window of an art store across the street. He had stopped so that although his back was turned he could, by a slight shift of his position, still see by means of a mirror in the window what was going on across the street behind him.
One look was enough. It was Drummond, the detective. What did it mean?
Neither woman said much as they rode uptown, and parted on the respective floors of their apartment house. Still Constance could not get out of her head the recollection of the dream doctor and of Drummond.
Restless, she determined that night to go down to the Public Library and see whether any of the books at the clairvoyant's were on the shelves. Fortunately she found some, found indeed that they were not all, as she had half suspected, the works of fakers but that quite a literature had been built up around the new psychology of dreams.
Deeply she delved into the fascinating subjects that had been opened by the studies of the famous Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna, and as she read she found that she began to understand much about Mrs. Caswell—and, with a start, about her own self.
At first she revolted against the unpleasant feature of the new dream philosophy—the irresistible conclusion that all humanity, underneath the shell, is sensuous or sensual in nature, that practically all dreams portray some delight of the senses and that sexual dreams are a large proportion of all visions. But the more she thought of it, the more clearly was she able to analyze Mrs. Caswell's dream and to get back at the causes of it, in the estrangement from her husband and perhaps the brutality of his ignorance of woman. And then, too, there was Drummond. What was he doing in the case?
She did not see Mildred Caswell again until the following afternoon. But then she seemed unusually bright in contrast with the depression of the day before. Constance was not surprised. Her intuition told her that something had happened and she hardly needed to guess that Mrs. Caswell had followed the advice of the clairvoyant and had been to see the wonderful Mr. Davies, to whom the mysteries of the stock market were an open book.
"Have you had any other dreams?" asked Constance casually.
"Yes," replied Mildred, "but not like the one that depressed me. Last night I had a very pleasant dream. It seemed that I was breakfasting with Mr. Davies. I remember that there was a hot coal fire in the grate. Then suddenly a messenger came in with news that United Traction had advanced twenty points. Wasn't it strange?"
Constance said nothing. In fact it did not seem strange to her at all. The strange thing to her, now that she was a sort of amateur dream reader herself, was that Mrs. Caswell did not seem to see the real import of her own dream.
"You have seen Mr. Davies to-day?" Constance ventured.
Mrs. Caswell laughed. "I wasn't going to tell you. You seemed so set against speculating in Wall Street. But since you ask me, I may as well admit it."
"When did you see him before?" went on Constance. "Did you have much invested with him already?"
Mrs. Caswell glanced up, startled. "My—you are positively uncanny, Constance. How did you know I had seen him before?"
"One seldom dreams," said Constance, "about anything unless it has been suggested by an event of the day before. You saw him today. That would not have inspired the dream of last night. Therefore I concluded that you must have seen him and invested before. Madame Cassandra's mention of him yesterday caused the dream of last night. The dream of last night probably influenced you to see him again to-day, and you invested in United Traction. That is the way dreams work. Probably more of conduct than we know is influenced by dream life. Now, if you should get fifteen or twenty points you would be in a fair way to join the ranks of those who believe that dreams do come true."
Mrs. Caswell looked at her almost alarmed, then attempted to turn it off with a laugh, "And perhaps breakfast with him?"
"When I do set up as interpreter of dreams," answered Constance simply, "I'll tell you more."
On one point she had made up her mind. That was to visit Mr. Davies herself the next day.
She found his office a typical bucket shop, even down to having a section partitioned off for women clients of the firm. She had not intended to risk anything, and so was prepared when Mr. Davies himself approached her courteously. Instinctively Constance distrusted him. He was too cordial, too polite. She could feel the claws hidden in his velvety paw, as it were. There was a assurance about him, the air of a man who thought he understood women, and indeed did understand a certain type. But to Constance, who was essentially a man's woman, Davies was only revolting.
She managed to talk without committing herself, and he in his complacency was glad to hope that he was making a new customer. She had to be careful not to betray any of the real and extensive knowledge about Wall Street which she actually possessed. But the glib misrepresentations about United Traction quite amazed her.
When she rose to go, Davies accompanied her to the door, then out into the hall to the elevator. As he bent over to shake hands, she noted that he held her hand just a little longer than was necessary.
"He's a swindler of the first water," she concluded as she was whisked down in the elevator. "I'm sure Mildred is in badly with this crowd, one urging her on in her trouble, the other making it worse and fleecing her into the bargain."
At the entrance she paused, undecided which was the quickest route home. As by chance she turned just for a moment she thought she caught a fleeting glimpse of Drummond dodging behind a pillar. It was only for an instant but even that apparition was enough.
"I will get her out of this safely," resolved Constance. "I will keep one more fly from his web."
Constance felt as if, even now, she must see Mildred and, although she knew nothing, at least put her on her guard. She did not have long to wait for her chance. It was late in the afternoon when her door buzzer sounded.
"Constance, I've been looking for you all day," sighed Mildred, dropping sobbing into a chair. "I am—distracted."
"Why, my dear, what's the matter?" asked Constance. "Let me make you a cup of coffee."
Over the steaming little cups Mildred grew more calm.
"Forest has found out in some way that I am speculating in Wall Street," she confided at length. "I suppose some of his friends—he has lots down there—told him."
Momentarily the picture of Drummond back of the post in Davies' building flashed over Constance.
"And he is awfully angry. Oh, I never knew him to be so angry—and sarcastic, too."
"Was it wholly over your money?" asked Constance. "Was there nothing else?"
Mrs. Caswell started. "You grow more weird, every day, Constance. Yes—there was something else."
Mildred had risen. "Don't—don't—" she cried.
"Then you do really—care for him!" asked Constance mercilessly.
"No—no, a thousand times—no. How can I? I have put all such thoughts out of my mind—long ago." She paused, then went on more calmly, "Constance, believe me or not—I am just as good a woman to-day as I was the day I married Forest. No—I would not even let the thought enter my head—never!"
For perhaps an hour after her friend had gone, Constance sat thinking. What should she do? Something must be done and soon. As she thought, suddenly the truth flashed over her.
Caswell had employed Drummond to shadow his wife in the hope that he might unearth something that might lead to a divorce. Drummond, like so many divorce detectives, was not averse to guiding events, to put it mildly. He had ingratiated himself, perhaps, with the clairvoyant and Davies. Constance had often heard before of clairvoyants and brokers who worked in conjunction to fleece the credulous. Now another and more serious element than the loss of money was involved. Added to them was a divorce detective—and honor itself was at stake. She remembered the doped cigarettes. She had heard of them before at clairvoyants'. She saw it all—Madame Cassandra playing on Mildred's wounded affections, the broker on both that and her desire to be independent—and Drummond pulling the wires that all might take advantage of her woman's frailty.
That moment Constance determined on action.
First she telephoned to deForest Caswell at his office. It was an unconventional thing to do to ask him to call, but she made some plausible pretext. She was surprised to find that he accepted it without hesitating. It set her thinking. Drummond must have told him something of her and he had thought this as good a time as any to face her. In that case Drummond would probably come too. She was prepared.
She had intended to have one last talk with Mildred, but had no need to call her. Utterly wretched, the poor little woman came in again to see her as she had done scores of times before, to pour out her heart. Forest had not come home to dinner, had not even taken the trouble to telephone. Constance did not say that she herself was responsible.
"Do you really want to know the truth about your dreams?" asked Constance, after she had prevailed upon Mildred to eat a little.
"I do know," she returned.
"No, you don't," went on Constance, now determined to tell her the truth whether she liked it or not. "That clairvoyant and Mr. Davies are in league, playing you for a sucker, as they say."
Mrs. Caswell did not reply for a moment. Then she drew a long breath and shut her eyes. "Oh, you don't know how true what she says is to me. She—"
"Listen," interrupted Constance. "Mildred, I'm going to be frank, brutally frank. Madame Cassandra has read your character, not the character as you think it is, but your unconscious, subconscious self. She knows that there is no better way to enter into the intimate life of a client, according to the new psychology, than by getting at and analyzing the dreams. And she knows that you can't go far in dream analysis without finding sex. It is one of the strongest natural impulses, yet subject to the strongest repression, and hence one of the weakest points of our culture.
"She is actually helping along your alienation for that broker. You yourself have given me the clue in your dreams. Only I am telling you the truth about them. She holds it back and tells you plausible falsehoods to help her own ends. She is trying to arouse in you those passions which you have suppressed, and she has not scrupled to use drugged cigarettes with you and others to do it. You remember the breakfast dream, when I said that much could be traced back to dreams? A thing happens. It causes a dream. That in turn sometimes causes action. No, don't interrupt. Let me finish first.
"Take that first dream," continued Constance, rapidly thrusting home her interpretation so that it would have its full effect. "You dreamed that your husband was dying and you were afraid. She said it meant love was dead. It did not. The fact is that neurotic fear in a woman has its origin in repressed, unsatisfied love, love which for one reason or another is turned away from its object and has not succeeded in being applied. Then his death. That simply means that you have a feeling that you might be happier if he were away and didn't devil you. It is a survival of childhood, when death is synonymous with absence. I know you don't believe it. But if you had studied the subject as I have in the last few days you'd understand. Madame Cassandra understands.
"And the wall. That was Wall Street, probably, which does divide you two. You tried to get over it and you fell. That means your fear of actually falling, morally, of being a fallen woman."
Mildred was staring wildly. She might deny but in her heart she must admit.
"The thing that pursued you, half bull, half snake, was Davies and his blandishments. I have seen him. I know what he is. The crowd in a dream always denotes a secret. He is pursuing you, as in the dream. But he hasn't caught you. He thinks there is in you the same wild demimondaine instinct that with many an ardent woman, slumbers unknown in the back of her mind.
"Whatever you may say, you do think of him. When a woman dreams of breakfasting cozily with some one other than her husband it has an obvious meaning. As for the messenger and the message about the United Traction, there, too, was a plain wish, and, as you must see, wishes in one form or another, disguised or distorted, lie at the basis of dreams. Take the coal fire. That, too, is susceptible of interpretation. I think you must have heard the couplet:
"'No coal, no fire so hotly glows
As the secret love that no one knows.'"
Mildred Caswell had risen, an indignant flush on her face.
Constance put her hand on her arm gently to restrain her, knowing that such indignation was the first sign that she had struck at the core of truth in her interpretation.
"My dear," she urged, "I'm only telling you the truth, for your own sake, and not to take advantage of you as Madame Cassandra is doing. Please—remember that the best evidence of your normal condition is just what I find, that absence of love would be abnormal. My dear, you are what the psychologists call a consciously frigid, unconsciously passionate woman. Consciously you reject this Davies; unconsciously you accept him. And it is the more dangerous, although you do not know it, because some one else is watching. It was not one of his friends who told your husband——"
Mrs. Caswell had paled. "Is—is there a—detective?" she faltered.
Mildred had collapsed completely. She was sobbing in a chair, her head bowed in her hands, her little lace handkerchief soaked. "What shall I do? What shall I do?"
There was a sudden tap at the door.
"Quick—in there," whispered Constance, shoving her through the portières into the drawing room.
It was Forest Caswell.
For a moment Constance stood irresolute, wondering just how to meet him, then she said, "Good evening, Mr. Caswell. I hope you will pardon me for asking you to call on me, but, as you know, I've come to know your wife—perhaps better than you do."
"Not better," he corrected, seeming to see that it was directness that she was aiming at. "It is bad enough to get mixed up badly in Wall Street, but what would you yourself say—you are a business woman—what would you say about getting into the clutches of a—a dream doctor—and worse?"
He had put Constance on the defensive in a sentence.
"Don't you ever dream?" she asked quietly.
He looked at her a moment as if doubting even her mentality.
"Lord," he exclaimed in disgust, "you, too, defend it?"
"But, don't you dream?" she persisted.
"Why, of course I dream," he answered somewhat petulantly. "What of it? I don't guide my actions by it."
"Do you ever dream of Mildred?" she asked.
"Sometimes," he admitted reluctantly.
"Ever of other—er—people?" she pursued.
"Yes," he replied, "sometimes of other people. But what has that to do with it? I cannot help my dreams. My conduct I can help and I do help."
Constance had not expected him to be frank to the extent of taking her into his confidence. Still, she felt that he had told her just enough. She discerned a vague sense of jealousy in his tone which told her more than words that whatever he might have said or done to Mildred he resented, unconsciously, the manner in which she had striven to gain sympathy outside.
"Fortunately he knows nothing of the new theories," she said to herself.
"Mrs. Dunlap," he resumed, "since you have been frank with me, I must be equally frank with you. I think you are far too sensible a woman not to understand in just what a peculiar position my wife has placed me."
He had taken out of his pocket a few sheets of closely typewritten tissue paper. He did not look at them. Evidently he knew the contents by heart. Constance did not need to be told that this was a sheaf of the daily reports of the agency for which Drummond worked.
He paused. She had been watching him searchingly. She was determined not to let him justify himself first.
"Mr. Caswell," she persisted in a low, earnest tone, "don't be so sure that there is nothing in this dream, business. Before you read me those reports from Mr. Drummond, let me finish."
Forest Caswell almost dropped them in surprise.
"Dreams," she continued, seeing her advantage, "are wishes, either suppressed or expressed. Sometimes the dream is frank and shows an expressed wish. Other times it shows a suppressed wish, or a wish which in its fulfilment in the dream is disguised or distorted.
"You are the cause of your wife's dreams. She feels in them anxiety. And, according to the modern psychologists who have studied dreams carefully and scientifically, fear and anxiety represent love repressed or suppressed."
She paused to emphasize the point, glad to note that he was following her.
"That clairvoyant," she went on, "has found out the truth. True, it may not have been the part of wisdom for Mildred to have gone to her in the first place. I pass over that. I do not know whether you or she was most to blame at the start. But that woman, in the guise of being her friend, has played on every string of your wife's lonely heart, which you have wrung until it vibrates.
"Then," she hastened on, "came your precious friend Drummond, Drummond who has, no doubt, told you a pack of lies about me. You see that!"
She had flung down on the table a cigarette which she had managed to get at Madame Cassandra's.
He lighted it gingerly, took a puff or two, puckered his face, frowned, and rubbed the lighted end on the fireplace to extinguish it.
"What is it?" he asked suspiciously.
"Hashish," she answered tersely. "Things were not going fast enough to suit either Madame Cassandra or Drummond. Madame Cassandra helped along the dreams by a drug noted for its effect on the passions. More than that," added Constance, leaning over toward him and catching his eye, "Madame Cassandra was working in league with a broker, as so many of the fakers do. Drummond knew it, whether he told you the truth about it or not. That broker was a swindler named Davies."
She was watching the effect on him. She saw that he had been reserving this for a last shot at her, that he realized she had stolen his own ammunition and appropriated it to herself.
"They were only too glad when Drummond approached them. There you are, three against that poor little woman—no, four, including yourself. Perhaps she was foolish. But it was not so much to her discredit as to those who cast her adrift when she had a natural right to protection. Here was a woman with passions which she herself did not understand, and a little money—alone. Her case appealed to me. I knew her dreams. I studied them."
Caswell was listening in amazement. "It is dangerous to be with a person who pays attention to such little things," he said.
Evidently Drummond himself must have been listening. The door buzzer sounded and he stepped in, perhaps to bolster up his client in case he should be weakening.
As he met Constance's eye he smiled superciliously and was about to speak. But she did not give him time even to say good evening.
"Ask him," she cried, her eyes flashing, for she realized that it had been part of the plan to confront her, perhaps worm out of her just enough to confirm Drummond's own story to Caswell, "ask him to tell the truth—if he is capable of it—not the truth that will make a good daily report of a hired shadow who colors his report the way he thinks his client desires it, but the real truth."
"Mr. Caswell," interrupted Drummond, "this woman——"
"Mr. Drummond," cried Constance, rising and shaking the burnt stub of the little gold-banded cigarette at him to impress it on his mind, "Mr. Drummond, I don't care whether I am a—a she-devil"—she almost hissed the words at him—"but I have evidence enough to go before the district attorney of this city and the grand jury and get indictments for conspiracy against a certain clairvoyant and a bucket shop operator. To save themselves, they will probably tell all they know about a certain crook who has been using them."
Caswell looked at her, amazed at her denunciation of the detective. As for Drummond, he turned his back on her as if to ignore her utterly.
"Mr. Caswell," he said bitterly, "in those reports——"
"Forest Caswell," insisted Constance, rising and facing him, "if you have in that heart of yours one shred of manhood it should move you. You—this man—the others—have placed in the path of a woman every provocation, every temptation for financial, physical, and moral ruin. She has consulted a clairvoyant—yes. She has speculated—yes. Yet she was proof against something greater than that. And I know—because I know her unconscious self which her dreams reveal, her inmost soul—I know her better than you do, better than she does herself. I know that even now she is as good and true and would be as loving as—"
Constance had paused and taken a step toward the drawing room. Before she knew it, the portières flew apart and an eager little woman had rushed past her and flung her arms about the neck of the man.
Caswell's features were working, as he gently disengaged her arms, still keeping one hand. Half shoving her aside, ignoring Constance, he had faced Drummond. For a moment the brazen detective flinched.
As he did so, deForest Caswell crumpled up the mass of tissue paper reports and flung them into the fireplace.
"Get out!" he said, suppressing his voice with difficulty. "Send me—your bill. I'll pay it—but, mind, if it is one penny more than it should be, I'll—I'll fight if it takes me from the district attorney and the grand jury to the highest court of the State. Now—go!"
Caswell turned slowly again toward his wife.
"I've been a brute," he said simply.
Something almost akin to jealousy rose in Constance's heart as she saw Mildred, safe at last.
Then Caswell turned slowly to her. "You," he said, stroking his wife's hand gently but looking at Constance, "you are a real clairvoyant."