Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 940
Felix Kennaston tells his neighbor, Richard Harrowby, about his dreams. In writing his novels, Kennaston creates a world much different from the ordinary world of the Virginia countryside, and his dreams contain similar elements of the romantic and the marvelous. To Harrowby, the whole thing seems indecent, for Harrowby is a conventional, unimaginative gentleman farmer who makes his money in soaps and beauty aids.
Kennaston is writing a novel called The Audit at Storisende, and in his dreams he identifies himself with a character named Horvendile, who is looking for that elusive and highly improbable creature, the ideal woman. In Ettarre, his heroine, Kennaston feels he finds her. Much of his plot centers on a broken round medallion bearing mysterious symbols, a medallion he calls the sigil of Scoteia.
One afternoon, Kennaston, walking in his garden, stoops to pick up a little piece of shining metal, apparently a broken half of a small disc, and casually drops it into his pocket. Later, while looking over some books in his library, he thinks of the little piece of metal in his pocket. He brings it out and puts it where the light of the lamp falls upon it. At once, he seems to be talking with Ettarre, who explains that he picked up half the broken sigil of Scoteia and that it brings him back to her imagined world of romance and dream. As he reaches out to touch her, she disappears, and Kennaston finds himself sitting again in his library.
Kennaston’s novel is published as The Men Who Loved Allison, a title that his publisher assures him will bring better sales. When several readers, shocked by what they call indecency in the novel, write indignant letters to the newspapers, the book becomes a best seller. Mrs. Kennaston, who makes it a point never to read her husband’s books, enjoys his success. She treats Kennaston with polite boredom.
Strange things happen to Kennaston. One day at a luncheon, a famous man takes him aside and asks him whether he breeds white pigeons. This question puzzles Kennaston, as does the little mirror the man holds in his hand. Another time, he sees an ugly old woman who tells him that there is no price of admission to her world, but that one pays upon leaving. Several times he talks to Ettarre in his dreams.
One day, Kennaston receives an invitation to call on a prelate who comes to Lichfield to attend the bishop’s funeral. The prelate praises Kennaston’s book. He speaks of pigeons, too, and mentions how useful he finds his little mirror. Kennaston is frankly puzzled. He returns to his dreamland, where, as Horvendile, he experiences almost every passion and emotion known; always, as he reaches out to touch Ettarre, the dream comes to an end.
Kennaston reads widely in philosophy and the classics, and he begins to question the reason for his own existence. He comes to the conclusion that the present moment is all that is real and that the past and future have no part in the reality of today. As a man of letters, he becomes interested in the artistry of creation and decides that God must be happy over his creation of the character of Christ. Probably because of his interest in God as an artist, Kennaston is confirmed in the country church nearby. This act on his part increases his stature among the people of the neighborhood. They even elect him to the vestry.
One day, Kennaston goes to the station to meet his wife’s train. While he is waiting, a woman with whom he was once in love comes up to him and starts to talk. She is about to go back to her home in St. Louis. They recall the past, and as she leaves him to get on her train, he has a moment in which he identifies her with Ettarre. His remark to his wife about her, however, is that she is not keeping her good looks as she grows older. What haunts him, however, is that the woman drew from her purse a medallion resembling the sigil of Scoteia.
Kennaston—as Horvendile—dreams of being in many parts of the world in many eras; and one of the mysteries is that he is always a young man approximately twenty-five years of age. He is at Queen Elizabeth’s court; he is at Whitehall with Cromwell; he is at the French court of Louis XIV; he is among the aristocrats about to be beheaded during the French Revolution; always beside him is Ettarre, whose contact will bring his dreams to an end.
One afternoon he finds, quite by accident, the missing piece of the sigil of Scoteia in his wife’s bathroom. After securing the other piece, he puts them together on his wife’s dressing table and begins speculating about the relation of his wife to Ettarre. He hopes that the discovery of the entire sigil will express to her what he is never able to convey. She pays no attention to it, and their life continues its banal rounds. Eleven months later, Mrs. Kennaston dies in her sleep without ever discussing the sigil or its significance with her husband. After her death, he shows Harrowby the two halves of the sigil, by which he almost made his dreams come true. Far from being a magic emblem, the pieces prove to be merely the broken top of a cold cream jar. It is the final disillusionment for Kennaston, who is at last compelled to give up romantic, youthful dreaming for the realities of middle age.
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