The Dream of an Hour
KNOWlNG THAT Mrs. Mallard was afflicted1 with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as
gently as possible the news of her husband's death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled2 hints that revealed in half
concealing. Her husband's friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the
newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard's name
leading the list of "killed." He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second
telegram, and had hastened to forestall3 any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its
significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of
grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by
a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver4 with the new
spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his
wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows
were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above
the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless except when a sob came
up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke5 repression6 and even a certain strength. But now
there was a dull stare in her eyes whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue
sky. lt was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know;
it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her
through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching
to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will - as powerless as her two white slender
hands would have been.
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and
over under her breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it
went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and
relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted
perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.
She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that
had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment
a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her
arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would
be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a
right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act
seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him - sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved
mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion7 which she suddenly recognized as the
strongest impulse of her being!
'Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the key-hole, imploring for admission.
"Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door - you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise?
For heaven's sake open the door."
"Go away. I am not making myself ill." No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of
days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday
she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister's importunities8. There was a feverish triumph in
her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister's waist,
and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little
travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of
accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine's piercing cry; at
Richards' quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
But Richards was too late.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills.
From 'A Pair of Silk Stockings' (see below), pp. 52-54
1. to be afflicted with - an etwas leiden
2. veiled - verschleiert (fig.)
3. to forestall s.o. - jdm. zuvorkommen
4. aquiver - erwartungsvoll
5. to bespeak - hinweisen auf, erkennen lassen
6. repression - Unterdrückung, Unterwerfung
7. self-assertion - Durchsetzungskraft
8. importunity - Aufdringlichkeit
1. Briefly describe the events that took place after Richard brought the news of Mr. Mallard's death.
2. Comment on the last phrase which says that 'she had died of heart disease - of joy that kills'.
3. Comment on the perception that it is 'blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a
private will upon a fellow-creature'.
4. What is it that Louise was dreaming of being free?
5. What in the story would you consider as being a typical short story?