A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Agatha Christie’s first ever short story, originally titled ‘House of Beauty’, explores insanity, death and immortality in a brief tale about the effects of a macabre recurring dream on a man’s life…
The House of Dreams
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
Copyright © 2008 Agatha Christie Ltd.
Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2014
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Ebook Edition © JUNE 2014 ISBN 9780007560233
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The House of Dreams (#ulink_ea1be63c-a4b2-5efa-89dc-56c5a8fd08a7)
‘The House of Dreams’ was first published in The Sovereign Magazine, January 1926. According to Agatha Christie’s autobiography, it was a revised version of the unpublished ‘The House of Beauty’, written before the First World War and ‘the first thing I ever wrote that showed any kind of promise’.
This is the story of John Segrave – of his life, which was unsatisfactory; of his love, which was unsatisfied; of his dreams, and of his death; and if in the two latter he found what was denied in the two former, then his life may, after all, be taken as a success. Who knows?
John Segrave came of a family which had been slowly going downhill for the last century. They had been landowners since the days of Elizabeth, but their last piece of property was sold. It was thought well that one of the sons at least should acquire the useful art of money making. It was an unconscious irony of Fate that John should be the one chosen.
With his strangely sensitive mouth, and the long dark blue slits of eyes that suggested an elf or a faun, something wild and of the woods, it was incongruous that he should be offered up, a sacrifice on the altar of Finance. The smell of the earth, the taste of the sea salt on one’s lips, and the free sky above one’s head – these were the things beloved by John Segrave, to which he was to bid farewell.
At the age of eighteen he became a junior clerk in a big business house. Seven years later he was still a clerk, not quite so junior, but with status otherwise unchanged. The faculty for ‘getting on in the world’ had been omitted from his make-up. He was punctual, industrious, plodding – a clerk and nothing but a clerk.
And yet he might have been – what? He could hardly answer that question himself, but he could not rid himself of the conviction that somewhere there was a life in which he could have – counted. There was power in him, swiftness of vision, a something of which his fellow toilers had never had a glimpse. They liked him. He was popular because of his air of careless friendship, and they never appreciated the fact that he barred them but by that same manner from any real intimacy.
The dream came to him suddenly. It was no childish fantasy growing and developing through the years. It came on a midsummer night, or rather early morning, and he woke from it tingling all over, striving to hold it to him as it fled, slipping from his clutch in the elusive way dreams have.
Desperately he clung to it. It must not go – it must not – he must remember the house. It was the House, of course! The House he knew so well. Was it a real house, or did he merely know it in dreams? He didn’t remember – but he certainly knew it – knew it very well.
The faint grey light of the early morning was stealing into the room. The stillness was extraordinary. At four-thirty a.m. London, weary London, found her brief instant of peace.
John Segrave lay quiet, wrapped in the joy, the exquisite wonder and beauty of his dream. How clever it had been of him to remember it! A dream flitted so quickly as a rule, ran past you just as with waking consciousness your clumsy fingers sought to stop and hold it. But he had been too quick for this dream! He had seized it as it was slipping swiftly by him.
It was really a most remarkable dream! There was the house and – his thoughts were brought up with a jerk, for when he came to think of it, he couldn’t remember anything but the house. And suddenly, with a tinge of disappointment, he recognized that, after all, the house was quite strange to him. He hadn’t even dreamed of it before.
It was a white house, standing on high ground. There were trees near it, blue hills in the distance, but its peculiar charm was independent of surroundings for (and this was the point, the climax of the dream) it was a beautiful, a strangely beautiful house. His pulses quickened as he remembered anew the strange beauty of the house.
The outside of it, of course, for he hadn’t been inside. There had been no question of that – no question of it whatsoever.
Then, as the dingy outlines of his bed-sitting-room began to take shape in the growing light, he experienced the disillusion of the dreamer. Perhaps, after all, his dream hadn’t been so very wonderful – or had the wonderful, the explanatory part, slipped past him, and laughed at his ineffectual clutching hands? A white house, standing on high ground – there wasn’t much there to get excited about, surely? It was rather a big house, he remembered, with a lot of windows in it, and the blinds were all down, not because the people were away (he was sure of that), but because it was so early that no one was up yet.
Then he laughed at the absurdity of his imaginings, and remembered that he was to dine with Mr Wetterman that night.
Maisie Wetterman was Rudolf Wetterman’s only daughter, and she had been accustomed all her life to having exactly what she wanted. Paying a visit to her father’s office one day, she had noticed John Segrave. He had brought in some letters that her father had asked for. When he had departed again, she asked her father about him. Wetterman was communicative.
‘One of Sir Edward Segrave’s sons. Fine old family, but on its last legs. This boy will never set the Thames on fire. I like him all right, but there’s nothing to him. No punch of any kind.’
Maisie was, perhaps, indifferent to punch. It was a quality valued more by her parent than herself. Anyway, a fortnight later she persuaded her father to ask John Segrave to dinner. It was an intimate dinner, herself and her father, John Segrave, and a girl friend who was staying with her.
The girl friend was moved to make a few remarks.
‘On approval, I suppose, Maisie? Later, father will do it up in a nice little parcel and bring it home from the city as a present to his dear little daughter, duly bought and paid for.’
‘Allegra! You are the limit.’
Allegra Kerr laughed.
‘You do take fancies, you know, Maisie. I like that hat – I must have it! If hats, why not husbands?’
‘Don’t be absurd. I’ve hardly spoken to him yet.’
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