Dreamed February 1913 by Paul Nash
Paul Nash, in the calm before World War I, was still an obscure painter. The savage portraits of trench warfare that made him famous were yet to come.
Paul's friend Rupert invited him to meet a woman he thought Paul would like: Margaret Odeh, nicknamed Bunty. Paul did like her (next month, he and Bunty got engaged; next year they married.) Head buzzing with Bunty, Paul tried to rest in a hammock at Rupert's flat, which had a scenic view: a huge ad for Wellington boots.
Here's what happened that night, from Outline: an Autobiography (Paul Nash, new ed. 2016; pp 115-121)
... I climbed into the hammock and writhed myself into a hopeful position for the night.
It was none too warm slung up there between the ceiling and the floor. Also, my mind was wide awake once more, as every detail of what had taken place that day since I first came into the room began to figure again in memory.
At last, however, the images were becoming less certain when a curious sensation was induced by the passing of a sound. A distinct scurrying noise had interrupted my falling asleep and was travelling round the room. Instantly, I was fully awake. 'Rupert.' No answer. 'Rupert.' 'What?' grudgingly. 'That damned mouse again.' 'Shut up - listen.' I waited, trying not to make the hammock creak. Suddenly, there was a loud crack. 'Got him!' cried Rupert, jumping out of bed. He lit a candle and I tumbled out of the hammock. It appeared that unknown to me Rupert had set a trap and that now the mouse had been caught.
This mouse had given him a good deal of trouble. He was horribly artful and incredibly swift. Often he had disturbed our sleep, but now we had caught him. We decided to drown him at once before he became pathetic, though we both avoided looking at him till the last moment when the pail was prepared. Then I opened the trap and shook him into the water.
I have never seen again anything equal to what happened then. The mouse struck the surface of the water, took off from it instantly, as though he had landed on a springboard, and proceeded to race round the side of the pail like a trick cyclist in the Drum of Death. The next moment he was on the rim and had leaped to freedom. By some miracle I eclipsed him with a blanket and after a wild scramble he was recaptured. Rupert now had him in his hand. He was a small black mouse with the most charming impudent expression. He did not seem very frightened, merely acutely knowing and alert.
'We can't drown tbis mouse, Rupert.'
'No, we can't, even if we could. What shall we do with him?'
I had an inspiration. 'Let's put him in the Jews' Cemetery.'
Very carefully, lest we should wake the landlord, we crept downstairs. I now held the mouse and could feel his little heart throbbing against my hand. I was rather uneasy about marooning him among the Israelites, but I hoped he might work his way back to his family. As we crossed the road two men came walking round the corner from Church Street. We almost collided.
The smaller of thc two suddenly called out, 'What's that, a mouse? Is it a young 'un? Give it to me, I eats 'em.'
With a desperate throw, I flung the mouse over the wall into the Jews' Cemetery.
Just before daybreak I had a dream. I was descending the dark stairs; in front of me, down the handrail, ran the little black mouse. I felt excited and my heart was throbbing. The mouse ran out of the door and across the street. In a flash he was up the wall and had disappeared. I climbed the wall into the Jews' Cemetery. Inside it was quiet except for the rustle of the bare branches.
Bunty was sitting on a chair placed upon one of the flat tombstones. She was wearing the brown dress with the little bows I had seen her in, and on her head was the wide fur hat. One hand was bare, the other hung down covered by a black kid glove. At a little distance Rupert was drawing at his easel. The noise I heard was not made by the trees, but by the scratching of Rupert's charcoal. I sat down on the tomb and took Bunty's gloved hand in mine.
Instantly, it became a black mouse and both figures disappeared. A head looked over the wall and, peering eagerly at what I held, said, 'What's that, a mouse? Give it to me.' I was terrified and tried to release the mouse. He was frightened, too, I could feel his little heart throbbing against my hand, which I could not unclasp. We were both trapped.
I awoke, gradually, to look into the eye of the window, where in the grey light, hung the dark silhouette of the gigantic boot.
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