Somebody was knocking outside, and with trembling fingers I turned the knob of the door. In came a tall, slender girl with a blue lounging-robe caught hurriedly around her. Her bright hair was disordered as though she had just sprung from her bed.
“Is someone sick?” she asked in a breathless voice. “I live down the hall—I heard cries.” Her round blue eyes were studying my face, which must have been ghastly pale. “You see, I’m a trained nurse, and perhaps——”
“Thank God you did come!” I broke in, unceremoniously but honestly, and went before her to turn on every lamp in the parlor.
It was she who, without guidance, searched out my whisky and siphon and mixed for me a highball of grateful strength. My teeth rang nervously on the edge of the glass as I gulped it down. After that I got my own robe—a becoming one, with satin facings—and sat with her on the divan to tell of my adventure. When I had finished, she gazed long at the painting of the dancers, then back at me. Her eyes, like two chips of the April sky, were full of concern and she held her rosy lower lip between her teeth. I thought that she was wonderfully pretty.
“What a perfectly terrible nightmare!” she said.
“It was no nightmare,” I protested.
She smiled and argued the point, telling me all manner of comforting things about mental associations and their reflections in vivid dreams.
To clinch her point she turned to the painting.
“This line about a ‘living picture’ is the peg on which your slumbering mind hung the whole fabric,” she suggested, her slender fingertip touching the painted scribble. “Your very literal subconscious self didn’t understand that the artist meant his picture would live only figuratively.”
“Are you sure that’s what the artist meant?” I asked, but finally I let her convince me. One can imagine how badly I wanted to be convinced.
She mixed me another highball, and a short one for herself. Over it she told me her name—Miss Dolby—and finally she left me with a last comforting assurance. But, nightmare or no, I did not sleep again that night. I sat in the parlor among the lamps, smoking and dipping into book after book. Countless times I felt my gaze drawn back to the painting over the fireplace, with the cross and the nail-pierced wretch and the shimmering pink dancers.
After the rising sun had filled the apartment with its honest light and cheer I felt considerably calmer. I slept all morning, and in the afternoon was disposed to agree with Miss Dolby that the whole business had been a bad dream, nothing more. Dressing, I went down the hall, knocked on her door and invited her to dinner with me.
It was a good dinner….