On 22 November 1871, Doctor Harry Davidson and his wife are receiving friends in their sumptuous home in New Orleans. Among them, there is a young woman surrounded by guests who are bombarding her with questions. And Mrs Thilton, who has a reputation for having premonitory dreams, is answering each of them with an amiable smile.
The master of the house approaches the group and laughingly tells the lady that he forbids her to dream of him.
“Too late, dear Doctor! Last night, I had a dream about you…”
The young woman is asked to give details.
“Well, I dreamed that Doctor Davidson having very kindly invited me, I was coming to spend the day here.”
The doctor bursts out laughing and tells her that there is nothing mysterious about such a dream because she already knew that she was going to be there that day.
“It wasn’t today, but in exactly six weeks.”
Doctor Davidson says:
“Well that’s a dream which will easily come true. For I ask you, dear lady, to come to spend the day here in six weeks… As well as all of you, of course, my friends What day will it be?”
A guest consults his diary:
“Wednesday, 3 January 1872.”
The doctor laughs and says:
“Perfect. And that’s how a simple dream can be made into a dream that everyone will be able to say was premonitory…”
Mrs Thilton adds:
“But wait, that’s not all. I dreamed that upon arriving here, I found the house empty. After having looked for you in vain, I finished by noticing a big metal coffin placed in the middle of the second salon. The lid was closed, but I knew that you were inside…”
There is suddenly complete silence and no-one is laughing any more. Only Doctor Davidson continues to joke:
“You have really interesting dreams!”
Then, turning to his wife:
“In any case, Darling, I don’t want a metal coffin. I hate them! Promise me that you will give me a Brazilian rosewood coffin!…”
Mrs Davidson forces herself to adopt a light tone to answer her husband.
“If I’m still alive at the time of your death, I’ll respect your wishes…”
The doctor asks Mrs Thilton what else happened in her dream. She answers:
“Nothing. But I remember a detail. In the salon, there was only one person, you, Miss Sarah Dawson. You were standing motionless beside the coffin. Then, I approached and I saw that there were six silver roses on each side of the lid. I remember that this fact greatly impressed me in my dream. And I see myself indicating these roses to Miss Dawson, in astonishment…”
Doctor Davidson renews his invitation to everyone in six weeks and assures them that they need not fear, he will not have the bad taste to install a coffin in the salon. Then they all go to the dining room where, during dinner, the uneasiness caused by the description of Mrs Thilton’s dream slowly dissipates. At dessert, the master of the house even succeeds in making all his guests laugh until they cry, with carbine stories.
At midnight, they leave, reminding each other of the date of 3 January and, for six weeks, Doctor Davidson doesn’t stop joking about Mrs Thilton’s dream.
Then, on the evening of 2 January, he is called for an emergency at the harbour station where a railway employee has been injured. He sets off immediately, leaves his coachman and fiacre near the docks, runs across the tracks and is hit by a locomotive…
When she hears the news, Mrs Davidson falls into such a state of prostration that a doctor has her transported to a clinic. There, she asks a cousin, Jimmy Crane, to organise the funeral. Early the next morning, what is left of the body is put into a coffin and, so that no-one sees the frightfully mutilated face, the lid is immediately closed. After which, Jimmy Crane asks Miss Sarah Dawson, a friend of the family, to assure the wake.
The young girl comes immediately and takes her place beside the coffin. Jimmy Crane and all the servants then go into town to deliver cards to the doctor’s friends, informing them of his death and upcoming funeral. Around ten o’clock, someone rings the doorbell. It is Mrs Thilton whom no-one had thought to tell of Doctor Davidson’s death. She has come in answer to the invitation given six weeks beforehand.
Miss Dawson, thinking that the cook is there, does not answer the door. Mrs Thilton rings again. Finally, as the door is ajar, she enters and is very surprised to find the house empty and silent. She crosses the hall, penetrates the big salon and arrives at the little salon. There, she stops in the doorway, stunned, when she sees, just like in her dream, Miss Sarah Dawson beside a metal coffin. For an instant, she thinks that Doctor Davidson has organized an atrocious joke. But Miss Dawson’s upset face is sufficient to persuade her that it is not a staged scene.
She approaches and the young girl murmurs that he was killed the evening before, crushed by a train.
Mrs Thilton then glances at the coffin and pales when she sees that it is decorated, on both sides of the lid, with six silver roses. She takes Miss Dawson’s arm and points to them, just like in her dream, saying:
“Look: the six silver roses that I saw in my dream!…”
A few days after the funeral, Miss Dawson goes to visit Mrs Davidson who is still in the clinic. The young widow says to her:
“Do you remember that extraordinary dream that Mrs Thilton recounted to us? It all happened with astounding exactitude. Except, of course, the coffin… Thank God, in spite of my suffering, I remembered Harry’s wishes. He had his Brazilian rosewood coffin…”
The young girl bows her head:
“I must tell you the truth Mrs Davidson, Mr Crane looked in vain for a coffin in Brazilian rosewood. The funeral parlour only had one in the size needed, and it was in metal… As it had to be done quickly, we were obliged to take it… The only coffin the doctor’s size had two rows of silver roses. Everything happened just the way that Mrs Thilton described it…”
To be continued.