Dreeme, Asleep Edit

A current of wintry wind flowed in as Locksley lifted the sash.

“Fresh air is prime for the inside,” said he. “But warm air for the outside is the next best thing. Shall I light a fire in the stove?”

“Do; but first hand me that plaid.”

I wrapped my unresisting patient in the shawl. He was a mere dead weight in my hands. I shuddered to think that his life might be drifting away, just out of my reach.

“I hope we are not too late,” I said.

“Shall I fetch a doctor?” asked Locksley.

“Fire first. Then doctor — if he does not revive.”

“There’s no kindling-wood,” says Locksley, from the closet. “I’ll run down to your place, Mr. Byng, and get some.”

“Pray do!”

He hurried off. I was left alone with the tranced man. I repeated the little dose of brandy, and stood aside to let the light of the candle fall upon his face.

“Stop!” said Delicacy. “Respect the young man’s resolute incognito.”

“Too late!” I thought in reply. “Incognito has nearly murdered him. I shall knock it in the head without ceremony. Besides, Fate has appointed me his physician; how can I doctor him intelligently without feeling the pulse of his soul by studying his face?”

The first question I asked the pale, voiceless countenance was, whether I was not committing the impertinence of trying to force a man to live who had wished to kill himself. Suicide? No; I don’t see any blood. I smell no laudanum. Here has been unhappiness, but no despair, no self-disgust. A pure life and a clear intellect, — so the face publishes. Such a youth might wear out with work or a wound; he would never abdicate his birthright to live and learn, to suffer and be strong. Clearly no suicide.

“No,” my thought continued rapidly, “Locksley has supplied the theory of Mr. Dreeme’s case. His face illustrates and confirms it. A man of genius, ardent, poor, and nursing a wound. The wound may be merely a scratch, he may merely have had the poet’s quarrel with vulgar life; but, great or small, the hurt has consigned him to this unwholesome solitude, and here he has lavished his mind and body on his art. No, Cecil Dreeme, you are dying because you have ignorantly lived too intensely. But the world does not willingly let such faces die. I myself feel the need of you. Even with your eyes closed, the light gone, your countenance tells me of the presence of a character and an experience riper and deeper than my own. What have you been taught by suffering, what have you divined by genius, that you wear maturity so patiently upon your sad young face?”

I took the candle and held it to his lips. Did he breathe? The flame flickered. But the air flowing in from without might have caused that; and I would not close the window until the keen northern blast had scourged out every breath of languor from the stifling room.

I withdrew the candle. Curiosity urged me to study the face more in detail. But that seemed disloyal to the sleeper. I had made up my mind that my patient was worthy of all my care. He was not dead, that I should dissect him. While a face can protect itself by the eye, — which is shield to ward, blade to parry, and point to assail, — one feels not much scruple in staring. But what right had I to profit by this chance lifting of the visor of a disarmed man, who wished to do his battle of life unknown?

I therefore stopped intentionally short of a thorough analysis of his countenance. Fair play and my anxiety both made me content with my general impressions. It is error to waste the first look and the first few moments, if one wishes to comprehend a face, — to see into it. No after observations are so sharp and so unprejudiced.

Roughly then, — Cecil Dreeme’s face was refined and sensitive, the face of a born artist. Separately, the features were all good, well cut and strong. Their union did not produce beauty. It was a face not harmonized by its construction, but by expression, — by the impression it gave of a vigorous mind, controlling varied and perhaps discordant elements of character into unison. There was force, energy, passion, and no lack of sweetness. Short, thick, black hair grew rather low over a square forehead. The eyebrows were heavy and square. The hollow cheeks were all burnt away by the poor fellow’s hermit life. He wore no beard, so that he was as far from the frowzy Düsseldorfer of my fancy as from the pretty, poetic young Raphael. This was a man of another order, not easy to classify. His countenance seemed to interpret his strange circumstances. The face and the facts were consistent, and both faithful to their mystery.

All this while I was chafing his hands, and watching intently for some tremor of revival.

Presently the silence and the lifeless touch grew so appalling, that I was moved to call aloud: “Dreeme! Cecil Dreeme!”

I half fancied that he stirred at this.

Yes! No!

Trance was master still. Life must be patient. If it wrestled too soon, it might get a fatal fall. I dreaded the thought of my invalid giving one gasp, shuddering with one final spasm, and then drooping into my arms — dead.

Locksley now came clattering into the lobby, dropping billets from an over-load of kindling-wood.

He shot down his armful by the stove, and approached the figure in the arm-chair.

“Any pulse?” said he, taking the cold hand in his.

“Is there any?” I asked, eagerly.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” he replied, “if the blood was starting, just a little, like water under ice in the early spring.” Locksley repeated the experiment with the candle.

“He breathes,” he whispered.

There was for a moment no draught, and the flame certainly trembled before Dreeme’s lips.

“He can’t be said to be coming to,” again whispered the janitor. “That’s too far ahead. But he’s out of the woods, and struck the cart-track leadin’ to the turnpike.”

“Thank God!”

“Ay! that always!” said Locksley, gravely. “Now here goes at the fire! You’ll hear a rumblin’ in this stove before many minutes that would boost a chimney-sweep.”

He heaped in his kindling-stuff, and lighted it. The pleasant noise of fire began. Locksley left the stove, intoning hollow music, like an automaton bassoon, and turned to me: “Looks pretty gritty, — Mr. Dreeme, — don’t he? And pretty mild too?”

“Both,” said I.

“Not many would have stood it out alone in such a bare barn as this.”

For the first time I gave myself an instant to glance about the studio.

A bare barn indeed! Half-carpeted, furnished with a table, a chest of drawers, and two or three chairs. The three doors, corresponding to my bath-room, bedroom, and lumber-room, were the only objects to break the monotony of the unadorned walls. After the lavish confusion of Rubbish Palace, this place looked doubly bleak and forlorn. To paint here, without one single attractive bit of color or form to relieve the eye and subsidize the fancy, was a tour de force, like a blind man’s writing a Paradise Lost, or a deaf man’s composing a symphony.

“He’s had to wind his whole picture out of his head,” said Locksley, following my glance. “and it ain’t so bad either, if you could see it fair by daylight. Look at it there! It’s one of those pictures that make a man feel savage and sorry all at once.”

Lear and his Daughters, — that was the picture on Dreeme’s easel. I glanced at it, as I continued my offices about him.

The faint light of one candle gave it a certain mysterious reality. The background retired, the figures projected. They stirred almost, almost spoke. It seemed that I ought to know them, but that, if I did not catch the likeness at the first look, I could never see it. “That large and imposing figure, the King! — wipe out the hate from his face, and I have surely seen the face. The Regan is in shadow; but the Goneril, — what features do I half remember that scorn might so despoil of beauty? Ah! that is the power of a great artist. His creations become facts. This is not imagination, it is history. At last here is my vague conception of Lear realized.”

The Cordelia I recognized at once. “Cecil Dreeme himself. He needed, it seems, but little womanizing. A very noble figure, even as I see it faintly. Tenderness, pity, undying love for the harsh father, for the false sisters, all these Dreeme’s Cordelia — Dreeme’s self idealized — expresses fully.”

These observations, made in the dim light, were interrupted by a little stir and gasp of our patient.

We watched anxiously and in silence. Fresh air, warm wrappings, brandy, and the magnetism of human touch and human presence, were prevailing. Yes; there could be no doubt; he breathed faintly.

The fire in the stove was now roaring loud. That lusty sound and the dismal wind without could not overpower the low, feeble gasps of the unconscious man.

“We’ve got him, hooray!” said Locksley, in an excited whisper.

We shook hands, like victors after a charge. I could have seized the bristly janitor, and whirled him into a Pyrrhic breakdown, without respect to my ceiling below.

“Air he’s got,” says Locksley, “and fire he’s got, and a friend he’s got; now for some food for him! If you say so, I’ll just jiff round to Bagpypes, first block in Broadway, and get some oysters. He hasn’t touched a mouthful to-day, unless he can eat anthracite out of the coal-bin. Starvation’s half the trouble. An oyster is all the world in one bite. Let’s get some oysters into him, and we’ll build him up higher than a shot-tower in an hour’s time!”

“Just the thing!” said I. “But here, take some money!”

“You may go your halves,” says the honest fellow. “But, Mr. Byng,” — he hesitated, and looked at me doubtfully, —“suppose he wakes up while I’m gone, and finds a stranger here?”

“I’ll justify you. I will show him that I’m a friend before he’s made me out a stranger.”

“That’s right, sir. I think you’ve got a call here, a loud call. See how things has worked round. You come home, with nobody to look after, you come into Chrysalis, and the very first night a scare is sent to me. I go after Mr. Churm, as is ordered by my wife and the prickles of the scare. I don’t find him; I do find you. You don’t say, ‘Janitor, this is none of my business. Apply at the sign of the Good Samaritan, across the way!’ No; you know it’s a call. You take hold; and here we are, and the boy a coming to on the slow train. When he gets to the depot, Mr. Byng, I hope you’ll stand by him and stick to him.”

“I will be a brother to him, Locksley, if he will let me.”

“Let or no let, Mr. Byng. You’ve got a call to pad to him like a soldier-coat to a Governor’s Guard. But here I go talkin’ off, and where’s the oysters?”

He hurried away. I was left alone with Cecil Dreeme.

Locksley’s urgent plea was hardly needed. I felt every moment more brotherly to this desolate being, consigned to me by Fate.

“Poor fellow!” I thought. “He, I am sure, will not requite me with harm for saving him, as old proverbs too truly say the baser spirits may.”

I wheeled him close to the stove. The room still seemed a dark and cheerless place to come back to life in. I tried to light the gas. It was chilled. There was a little ineffectual sputter as I touched the tube; a few sparks sprang up, but no flame backed them.

“It must be compelled to look a shade more cheerful, this hermitage!” I thought. So I ran down in the dark to my own quarters for more light.

Rubbish Palace was generous as Fortunatus’s purse. Whatever one wanted came to hand. More light was my present demand. I found it in a rich old bronze candelabrum, bristling with candles. More wrappings, too, I thought my patient might require. I flung across my arm a blanket from my bed, and that gorgeous yellow satin coverlet, once Louis Philippe’s.

Perhaps, also, Dreeme might fancy some other drink than brandy when the oysters came. There was Ginevra’s coffer, again presenting a plenteous choice. I snatched up another old flask, beaming with something vinous and purple, pocketed another Venetian goblet, and, thus reinforced, hastened up-stairs.

Now that the deadly distress of my alarm for the painter was reduced to a healthy anxiety, I could think what a picture I presented marching along, with my antique branch of six lighted candles in one hand, the mass of shining drapery on my arm, and in the other hand the glass, flashing with the red glimmers of its wine. But this walking tableau met no critics on the stairs; and when I pushed open Dreeme’s door, he did not turn, as I half hoped he might, and survey the night-scene with a painter’s eye.

I deposited my illumination on the table. Then I began to envelop my tranced man in that soft satin covering, whose color alone ought to warm him.

All at once, as, kneeling, I was arranging this robe of state about Dreeme’s feet, I became conscious, by I know not what magnetism, that he had opened his eyes, and was earnestly looking at me.

I would not glance up immediately. Better that he should recognize me as a friend, at a friend’s work, before I as a person challenged him, eye to eye.

I kept my head bent down, and let him examine me, as I felt that he was doing, with hollow, melancholy eyes.