Three o'clock in the morning had just struck, and he had been walking thus for five hours, almost uninterruptedly, when he at length allowed himself to drop into his chair.
There he fell asleep and had a dream.
This dream, like the majority of dreams, bore no relation to the situation, except by its painful and heart-rending character, but it made an impression on him. This nightmare struck him so forcibly that he wrote it down later on. It is one of the papers in his own handwriting which he has bequeathed to us. We think that we have here reproduced the thing in strict accordance with the text.
Of whatever nature this dream may be, the history of this night would be incomplete if we were to omit it: it is the gloomy adventure of an ailing soul.
Here it is. On the envelope we find this line inscribed, "The Dream I had that Night."
"I was in a plain; a vast, gloomy plain, where there was no grass. It did not seem to me to be daylight nor yet night.
"I was walking with my brother, the brother of my childish years, the brother of whom, I must say, I never think, and whom I now hardly remember.
"We were conversing and we met some passers-by. We were talking of a neighbor of ours in former days, who had always worked with her window open from the time when she came to live on the street. As we talked we felt cold because of that open window.
"There were no trees in the plain. We saw a man passing close to us. He was entirely nude, of the hue of ashes, and mounted on a horse which was earth color. The man had no hair; we could see his skull and the veins on it. In his hand he held a switch which was as supple as a vine-shoot and as heavy as iron. This horseman passed and said nothing to us.
"My brother said to me, 'Let us take to the hollow road.'
"There existed a hollow way wherein one saw neither a single shrub nor a spear of moss. Everything was dirt-colored, even the sky. After proceeding a few paces, I received no reply when I spoke: I perceived that my brother was no longer with me.
"I entered a village which I espied. I reflected that it must be Romainville. (Why Romainville?)
"The first street that I entered was deserted. I entered a second street. Behind the angle formed by the two streets, a man was standing erect against the wall. I said to this man:—
"'What country is this? Where am I?' The man made no reply. I saw the door of a house open, and I entered.
"The first chamber was deserted. I entered the second. Behind the door of this chamber a man was standing erect against the wall. I inquired of this man, 'Whose house is this? Where am I?' The man replied not.
"The house had a garden. I quitted the house and entered the garden. The garden was deserted. Behind the first tree I found a man standing upright. I said to this man, 'What garden is this? Where am I?' The man did not answer.
"I strolled into the village, and perceived that it was a town. All the streets were deserted, all the doors were open. Not a single living being was passing in the streets, walking through the chambers or strolling in the gardens. But behind each angle of the walls, behind each door, behind each tree, stood a silent man. Only one was to be seen at a time. These men watched me pass.
"I left the town and began to ramble about the fields.
"After the lapse of some time I turned back and saw a great crowd coming up behind me. I recognized all the men whom I had seen in that town. They had strange heads. They did not seem to be in a hurry, yet they walked faster than I did. They made no noise as they walked. In an instant this crowd had overtaken and surrounded me. The faces of these men were earthen in hue.
"Then the first one whom I had seen and questioned on entering the town said to me:—
"'Whither are you going! Do you not know that you have been dead this long time?'
"I opened my mouth to reply, and I perceived that there was no one near me."
He woke. He was icy cold. A wind which was chill like the breeze of dawn was rattling the leaves of the window, which had been left open on their hinges. The fire was out. The candle was nearing its end. It was still black night.
He rose, he went to the window. There were no stars in the sky even yet.
From his window the yard of the house and the street were visible. A sharp, harsh noise, which made him drop his eyes, resounded from the earth.
Below him he perceived two red stars, whose rays lengthened and shortened in a singular manner through the darkness.
As his thoughts were still half immersed in the mists of sleep, "Hold!" said he, "there are no stars in the sky. They are on earth now."
But this confusion vanished; a second sound similar to the first roused him thoroughly; he looked and recognized the fact that these two stars were the lanterns of a carriage. By the light which they cast he was able to distinguish the form of this vehicle. It was a tilbury harnessed to a small white horse. The noise which he had heard was the trampling of the horse's hoofs on the pavement.
"What vehicle is this?" he said to himself. "Who is coming here so early in the morning?"
At that moment there came a light tap on the door of his chamber.
He shuddered from head to foot, and cried in a terrible voice:—
"Who is there?"
Some one said:—
"I, Monsieur le Maire."
He recognized the voice of the old woman who was his portress.
"Well!" he replied, "what is it?"
"Monsieur le Maire, it is just five o'clock in the morning."
"What is that to me?"
"The cabriolet is here, Monsieur le Maire."
"Did not Monsieur le Maire order a tilbury?"
"No," said he.
"The coachman says that he has come for Monsieur le Maire."
"M. Scaufflaire's coachman."
That name sent a shudder over him, as though a flash of lightning had passed in front of his face.
"Ah! yes," he resumed; "M. Scaufflaire!"
If the old woman could have seen him at that moment, she would have been frightened.
A tolerably long silence ensued. He examined the flame of the candle with a stupid air, and from around the wick he took some of the burning wax, which he rolled between his fingers. The old woman waited for him. She even ventured to uplift her voice once more:—
"What am I to say, Monsieur le Maire?"
"Say that it is well, and that I am coming down."