THE MADO NNA OF THE SLEEPING CARS MAURICE DEKO B RA T RANSLAT ED BY N E A L WA I N W R I G H T AF T E RWOR D BY RENÉ STEINKE
Author’s Dedication— To NEAL WAINWRIGHT: Truly, cher ami, you are my American pen. You have known how to make two languages speak as one. I dedicate “The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” to you. MAURICE DEKOBRA
THE MADONNA OF THE SLEEPING CARS Originally published in French as La Madone des sleepings by Maurice Dekobra, 1927 Copyright © 2006 Zulma Translation © Neal Wainwright, 1927 Afterword © René Steinke, 2012 Design by Christopher King First Melville House printing: August 2012 Melville House Publishing 145 Plymouth Street Brooklyn, NY 11201 www.mhpbooks.com ISBN: 978-1-61219-058-7 Printed in the United States of America 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dekobra, Maurice, 1885-1973. [Madone des sleepings. English] The madonna of the sleeping cars / Maurice Dekobra ; translated by Neal Wainwright. pages cm ISBN 978-1-61219-058-7 (pbk.) I. Wainwright, Neal, translator. II. Title. PQ2607.E22M313 2012 843’.912--dc23 2011053352
CHAPTER ONE A N EXCEPTIO NALLY STUPI D GENTLEM A N L A D Y D I A N A W Y N H A M WAS R E S T I N G . H E R L E G S,
enmeshed in a silken web, caressed a small beige cushion. The other half of her lovely self was hidden behind a copy of the Times unfolded in her snowy arms. Her tiny feet quivered in their cerise and silver mules, seriously endangering the future of a real Wedgwood cup on the table at her side. “Gerard,” she exclaimed, “I must have a consultation with Professor Traurig.” I had just mutilated a piece of sugar with a ridiculously small spoon which bore the coat of arms of the Duke of Inverness. Always anxious to satisfy Lady Diana’s slightest whim, I stopped drinking her bad coffee—the coffee they drink in London out of cups the size of a plover’s egg. “Nothing simpler, my dear. I’ll telephone him at the Ritz,” I said. “Please do, Gerard.” The boudoir telephone stood upright in its ebony tomb. I picked up the receiver. “Hello! Is this Professor Siegfried Traurig? Prince Séliman speaking. Lady Diana Wynham’s secretary. Lady Diana wishes an interview with you on a matter of utmost importance.” A guttural voice said, “I can receive her at four o’clock this afternoon.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” I told Lady Diana. Like lightning that blond hair and that pure and classic face, only slightly ravaged by all-night revels at the Jardin de Ma Soêur or at the Ambassadors, appeared from behind the paper screen—but what is the use of describing Lady Diana’s beauty? Anyone could look at her for the price of a copy of the Tatler or the Bystander. Weekly magazines all over the world in that period of some twenty years ago never failed to include a picture of Lady Diana Wynham playing golf, cuddling a baby bull, driving a Rolls-Royce, shooting a grouse on the Scotch moors, or climbing the slopes above Monte Carlo, in a white sweater. In Paris there was a saying that when an Englishwoman is beautiful she is very beautiful. Lady Diana was no exception to this esthetic truism. She was the type of woman who would have brought tears to the eyes of John Ruskin—beautiful from the point of view of people who go in for high cheekbones, sensual lips, and limpid, deceiving eyes which glow from behind long lashes. “You must come with me,” she said. “Yes, you must, Gerard! I insist upon your being there. I have an important reason for interviewing this eminent neurologist. I have been reading a criticism of his work in the Times—I didn’t understand one word of it—Gerard, do explain it to me. You’re always so sweet!” Fancy explaining Traurig’s ideas! This profound medico, Doctor Siegfried Traurig—a disciple of Freud—had been heralded for years in those European clinics where they dug up the soul with the shovel of introspection and where they sliced apart the elements of the will with the chisel of psychopathic analysis. They talked about him; they imitated him; they scoffed at him; they admired him.
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“Lady Diana,” I said modestly, “the Professor can certainly explain himself far better than I can. Be perfectly frank with him! He will take the arterial tension of your impulses and the temperature of your subconscious.” “How does one get into the subconscious?” “What did you say, Lady Diana?” “Through what natural doorway does one arrive at the real self?” “Through a moral buttonhole, then an invisible pin promptly pricks and deflates the balloon of one’s personality.” Lady Diana burst out laughing—a harmonious laugh in an unaffected mi, consisting of a descending sharp and a rising flat. This Scotchwoman’s indefatigable hilarity was one of her most poignant charms. I had no personal acquaintance with those paradises in which one might wander with Lady Diana. I was her private secretary; I was her confidant. But not once had I even dreamed of trying to cross the threshold which separated business from pleasure. I don’t deny having read her a bit of Boccaccio, some of Lord Byron’s privately printed poems, and a few choice lines of Jean Lorrain, but my lectures always remained unillustrated. We arrived at the Ritz on the dot of four o’clock. After waiting a short five minutes we were received by an old man dressed in black who presented himself with a click of his heels and a deep bow. “Doctor Funkelwitz, madam,” he began, with a strong German accent. “I am the great man’s first assistant. He will be at your disposal in a few moments.” “Thank you, Doctor,” said Lady Diana. “I appreciate this more than I can tell you. I understand that Professor Traurig has been frightfully busy since he came to London.”
“Yes, Milady. Two princesses have just left his office. This evening we have an appointment with Lloyd George. Tomorrow morning we expect Marie Tempest, the Viceroy of India, and Charlie Chaplin.” It was the year 1927, remember. Dr. Funkelwitz bristled with pride as he pronounced these famous names. A bell rang. He disappeared. Turning to Lady Diana, I whispered: “This reminds me of Barnum’s Circus.” “Gerard! You’re perfectly outrageous. You don’t even respect the most solid reputation.” “Not when it’s built on big words and breezy theories.” The old man in black returned and beckoned us to follow. We entered a parlor done in mauve and gold. The Professor stood motionless behind a table littered with papers and books. I had never seen any pictures of Siegfried Traurig. In my mind’s gallery I had portrayed him as a medieval necromancer. I would have had him receive us in a flowing robe of black silk, adorned with stars and the equations of the cabala, but Imagination, when all is said and done, is the subordinate who salutes Intelligence, his superior. I was disappointed not to find Siegfried Traurig surrounded by angora cats, in front of a cauldron of boiling rabbits, herbs, and blood. Nevertheless this old Privatdozent, from the University of Jena, was an impressive person. His gray hair stood up in mad disorders on a wolf ’s head with a wrinkled brow. One could never forget his piercing gaze through those bushy lashes. A veritable Mephistopheles, attired by a Sackville Street tailor. Tall, thin as a shadow, and clean shaven. His narrow lips were protected by the beak of a bird of prey. He spoke English, French, and German with the utmost fluency. After the usual formalities he took us into his office—an
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ordinary enough hotel parlor except for the strange electrical apparatus. The consultation was about to begin. Professor Traurig scowled at me. I caught the meaning of his glance and was going to withdraw when Lady Diana stopped me with a gesture. “No, no, I want the Prince to stay. I have no secrets from him.” The all-knowing psychiatrist waved his beautiful patient into an armchair and waited for the explanation of her case. “Doctor,” said Lady Diana, “although I am far too ignorant ever to understand your celebrated work, I am intrigued by your extraordinary theories, especially in regard to the will, the senses, and decadence. I am not ill, in the true sense of the word. I am a thoroughly healthy woman who would like, with your assistance, to solve a difficult problem. It has to do with a dream—a weird dream which haunts and upsets me.” “Very well, Lady Wynham, but before you go on, permit me to ask you if the details which I possess in regard to your intimate life are correct.” The Professor opened a drawer and took out a typewritten sheet of paper. As Lady Diana appeared surprised he explained. “I never give a consultation until one of my secretaries has compiled a little brief on the patient. This is how yours reads, madam—you may correct any errors: Lady Diana Mary Dorothea Wynham. Born at Glensloy Castle, Scotland, the twentyfourth of April, 1897. Only daughter of the Duke of Inverness. Sporting education at Salisbury College. Married in 1916 to Ralph Edward Timothy, Lord Wynham, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., K.C.V.O., former British Ambassador to Russia. A marriage of convenience. Fidelity of short duration on the part of Lady Wynham. . .”
Here the Professor paused before declaring with icy politeness, “There must be some mistake.” But Lady Diana made no protest. “It is entirely correct,” she confirmed, extracting a perfumed cigarette from a platinum case set with diamonds. “Then I will continue,” said the Professor, referring once more to his paper: “Lady Wynham’s devoted admirers, in chronological order, have been Lord Howard Dewallpen; the Duke de Massignac, Secretary at the Embassy; George Wobbly, the burlesque singer; Somerset Wiffle, M.P.; and Leo Tito, the dancer at the Ambassadors—” Lady Diana carelessly flicked the ashes from her cigarette. “Excuse me, Doctor, but they were contemporaneous.” Professor Traurig bowed again, and remarked: “That was merely an error in punctuation.” He read on—“And several unidentified intimates.” Lady Diana acquiesced: “Exactly—I quite agree. Is that all, Doctor?” “No, madam. There are a few more lines of a psychic nature: Lady Diana, although she has tried morphine and opium, is not the slave of any drug. She is merely a seeker after new sensations. No tendency toward religious mysticism. Unbounded ambition.” The Professor folded the paper. Lady Diana spoke: “Your information is correct, Doctor. You have a perfect synopsis of my life and my character. I am neither a semi-idiot, nor a nymphomaniac. I do what I do quite openly and without the slightest regard for that false modesty which is so dear to my fellow countrymen.” The Professor arose from his chair. His hands clasped behind him, he walked back and forth in front of the fireplace. His interrogation began. It was a precise questionnaire, strewn
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with crude words and intimate details, which he announced gravely and with no frivolous intent nor double meaning. “Lady Wynham, when did you discover love?” “I was married at nineteen.” “Had you any precocious tendencies in your infancy?” “After I was thirteen—I was curious—I used to read—” “No, I mean your real childhood—didn’t you have some intuitive knowledge of things?” “None whatever.” “All right. Before you were married you doubtless had several rather serious flirtations?” “Of course, but never too serious.” “Do you consider yourself hypersensitive?” “Why, no—I suppose I am like all women, Doctor.” “Then you don’t get any particularly pleasing reaction if someone hugs you very tight, so that it hurts?” “I adore it, Doctor—but that, for me—how shall I put it?” Professor Traurig scrutinized Lady Wynham with his steel-gray eyes. I was, at the same time, amused and a trifle shocked by the astonishing implication, which Lady Diana had volunteered so casually. Comfortably relaxed in her armchair, her legs crossed beneath her seal-skin coat, she talked as frankly as if she had been pouring tea at a garden party. The psychiatrist went on: “Do you enjoy looking at yourself in a mirror?” “You want to know if I am inspired by my own beauty?” “Just that! You see, Lady Wynham, in the profession we attach great importance to that question.” “Well, then, I will admit that I consider myself an unusually alluring woman. But the dream I had last night—” The Professor interrupted his patient with a wave of his hand. “One minute, madam—now I am beginning to see a
little more clearly into your psychic machinery. Before you narrate your dream, you must allow me to take the spectral analysis of your reactions.” “What—Doctor?” “This is the point, madam. You have probably heard about the spectral analysis of luminous rays which helped us so much to discover the various simple bodies of which the stars and planets are composed. The position of the dark streaks in the spectrum of such a ray enables us to prove that there is hydrogen in Aldebaran or potassium in Vega. I have applied the same process to the study of the peculiarities of a given individual and that study makes it possible for me to form interesting deductions as to the person’s character. The best way is to observe the subject during the fleeting instants of love-contact.” “I understand, Doctor.” “Therefore, Lady Wynham, you must come in front of this radiograph, which I invented, and which, with its Roentgen rays, will give me the spectral analysis of your innermost emotions.” “I see—I see, Doctor,” and Lady Diana added with a smile, “I see the apparatus, but who is going to provide the contact?” Professor Traurig evidently objected strenuously to any frivolity where his science was concerned, for he replied sarcastically: “Madam, my office is thoroughly equipped to meet any contingency connected with its service. However, inasmuch as the Prince Séliman does us the honor to be present, I am certain that he can play the part of Don Juan to the Queen’s taste.” And the great man retired behind the black screen which covered his miraculous piece of mechanism. Lady Diana turned to me with an ironical smile.
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“My dear Gerard,” she whispered, “it appears that I must step on the accelerator of my passions—as the master would say. Can I depend upon you to direct me?” I admit, frankly, that I have never been in a more difficult situation. My social position is one which, obviously, must be handled with extreme care. During the five months that I had enjoyed Lady Diana’s absolute confidence I had meticulously guarded against making myself a subject for the gossiping tongues of the world by stepping over the white line of our intimacy. A ruined prince, if you like, but inevitably, an honest man, I couldn’t afford to accept checks on the threshold of her boudoir. I was working for her without compensation. I couldn’t bear the thought that she should value my kisses in terms of pounds sterling. There was no lie in our connection and we could always unblushingly face sly looks, rotten remarks, and insinuating smiles. “Lady Diana,” I replied in my turn, “for the sake of science I will break an otherwise inviolable rule. Do you want me to kiss you before the magic eye? Or can you, perhaps, in recalling some past experience, provide the Professor with a beautiful spectral analysis?” “Gerard, will you never be serious?” she protested, and before I knew what was happening she dragged me in front of the huge lens and entwined me in those supple arms of hers. Intoxicated by this sudden embrace, I returned the kiss. I suppose I must have been on the point of mumbling some needless word of love when a harsh monosyllable broke the spell: “Stop!” The Professor, as brutal as a German Infantry Captain, had come out of his black post of command. Lady Diana seemed to wilt from my arms. I strove to get back to reality. “Thank you, Lady Wynham,” the Professor said curtly; “Dr.
Funkelwitz will give you a photograph of your analysis. As for me, I am much better informed as to the surprises, the reactions, and the somersaults of your subconscious. Among other things, I can tell you that from your earliest days you have secretly entertained an uncontrollable need for riches, power, and absolutism. You would like an Emperor for a husband. You have a perfection neurosis. You are looking for something which does not exist. Like Columbus, you are making the voyage of human passion to discover an America inhabited by supermen, who dispense limitless sensations along with infinite material generosity. Now, Lady Wynham, sit down once more in that chair! Tell me about the dream that brought you here.” Lady Diana obeyed the Professor. How could anyone question the commands of that tyrannical psychiatrist? “I must tell you, to begin with, Doctor, that ordinarily my dreams are utterly devoid of interest. Like all women I dream frequently. Sometimes I have burlesque nightmares; sometimes exquisite experiences. The dream I had last night, on the contrary, sticks in my mind because there is a sort of logic in the enchantment of its pictures, and that makes me attribute to it all the value of a premonition. I found myself—I don’t know how—in the middle of a red country—entirely red— the earth, the grass, the trees, the foliage were all bright red. It was almost impossible for me to walk because my ankles were tied—a chain, or a rope. Whatever it was, a little red man tugged at the end behind me. Not exactly a dwarf—a true Lilliputian about a foot high. His chief, the size of my fist, wore a crazy bonnet and a horrible costume. Five or six scalps were hanging at his belt. “I stumbled painfully through the carmine dust in the road and every time I wanted to stop a pin prick in the calf of my leg forced me to continue my painful journey. All of a sudden
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a miniature crystal palace, like a doll’s house, rose up ahead of me. A transparent palace with tiny towers and doors like pigeonholes. Some people whom I couldn’t see were chattering in a strange language within the glass walls and this babble of sharp voices reminded me of the gibbering of twenty cockatoos in a grilled cage. The little red man ordered me to enter the palace. But how could I get through that narrow door? I slipped my hand in, then my wrist and, finally, my arm up to the shoulder. I struggled desperately to go further; I wept in despair while the little red man prodded me with the pin. “Suddenly, my left hand—the one which was inside the palace—was seized by innumerable, birdlike hands, which nearly pulled my fingers from their sockets. At last—and this is a detail I shall not forget for a long time—I felt them placing a plain round ring on my wedding finger. Simultaneously burning lips kissed my hand. I still tremble when I think of that invisible kiss, so greedy, so peremptory. It was a kiss which both repulsed and thrilled me. “It must have been at that instant that I screamed, for I awoke with a start and was surprised to see my maid standing beside the bed. I asked her what she was doing. It seems that I had cried so loudly that she had rushed into the room. I sent her away, went back to sleep and dreamed no more that night. “There, Doctor, is the nightmare which disturbs me. I’m rather superstitious. This worries me. What do you think about it?” Professor Traurig had listened most attentively to his patient. He spoke: “Lady Wynham, ever since Aristotle began the study of the psychology of dreams, countless wise men have imitated him. Some have found only vegetative reactions; others have attributed them to more or less plausible psychopathic causes. For
my part, I content myself with trying to determine whether a given dream is the result of excitement or merely the realization of a suppressed desire. “Now, let us consider our case. I find in your nightmare an alternation of the sense of sight since you saw things red which are normally green. That might occur from a purely accidental cause, such as the irritation produced by the rubbing of your eyelids on the lace of your pillow.” “I never sleep on pillows, Doctor. When I wake up I invariably find them on the floor under the bed or behind the dressing-table.” “Your dream also presents deformation of normal dimensions. This diminution of the exterior world may be due to your having slept in a nightgown too small for you.” “Doctor,” observed Lady Diana, with an almost imperceptible smile, “I never wear a nightgown at night. In the winter time I wear pajama coats. In the summer, nothing at all.” Lady Diana’s remark seemed in no way to upset the methodical serenity of the illustrious Professor. He continued, “I also see in your erotic hallucination—I mean that invisible, troublesome kiss—an extreme excitement, doubtless caused by the memory of some former pleasure.” Professor Traurig had explained everything, but Lady Diana did not appear to be satisfied, for, with an impatient gesture, she asked, “What I want to know, Doctor, is the significance of my dream. I thank you for having tried to unearth the scientific causes, but what interests me is to know what all this may have to do with my future—” Professor Traurig’s silence was threatening, ominous. He had arisen. His imperious regard rested on his patient. His long hands were shoved into his trousers pockets and, supremely sarcastic, in a brief, cutting voice, he said:
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“You have entered the wrong door, Lady Wynham. If you want to know what your dream portends, go to any of the countless imposters who provide the heights of happiness for jealous dressmakers and romantic country girls.” Professor Traurig rang a bell and added, with an obsequious bow, “My respects, Lady Wynham. Dr. Funkelwitz will show you out and will give you your spectral analysis.” Lady Diana and I went into the parlor. “He’s a great savant,” I said. “You mistook him for an ultralucid somnambulist.” “Stuff and nonsense, Gerard! Will you pay the little old man for the consultation?” “Of course.” I made out a check. I had a book of blank checks signed by Lady Diana. Two minutes later, seated beside my companion in her lemon cabriolet, I opened the envelope and looked curiously at the analysis of our fugitive thrill. Leaning over my shoulder, she glanced at the striped shadows on the photographic spectrum and exclaimed laughingly: “There is your kiss, Gerard!” I pointed out the dark lines between the clear zones. “Here, Lady Diana, you flinched—your voluptuous propensity promised better things. What a character, that Professor Traurig! Just show me your spectrum and I’ll tell you if you love me!” I joked in an effort to dispel from my mind the delightful memory which lingered from Lady Diana’s kiss. But I had counted without her intuition. “You have a troubled look, Gerard. What’s the matter?” “Ah, my dear lady, have you ever tasted a delicacy only to have it snatched away too quickly by some facetious head waiter?”
“If I understand you, Gerard, you would have preferred to have my analysis about six hundred feet long.” “That is a low estimate!” “Then what prevents you from adding to it?” “My self-respect.” Lady Diana looked at me in silence. Suddenly she declared, “You may be a gentleman, but you are an exceptionally stupid one.”