The Dream – Introduction
The Dream is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in The Saturday Evening Post in October 1937 and in the U.K. in The Strand Magazine in February 1938.
It was later gathered and published in The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories in 1939 in the U.S. and then in the U.K. in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées in 1960.
Poirot is summoned by letter to the home of reclusive and eccentric millionaire Benedict Farley.
He is shown into the office of Farley’s personal secretary, Hugo Cornworthy, but finds the millionaire himself alone in the darkened room.
Poirot is made to sit in the light of a bright desk lamp and he is not impressed with the man, dressed in an old patchwork dressing gown and wearing thick glasses, feeling that he is stagy and a mountebank and doesn’t possess the charisma he would expect from such a rich and powerful person.
Farley tells him that he is troubled by a nightly dream in which he is seated at his desk in the next room and at exactly 3.28 p.m., he takes out the revolver he keeps in his desk drawer and shoots himself. Various doctors have been unable to explain this to him, and he has now turned to the famous detective.
Poirot wonders if he has enemies who would want to kill him, but Farley knows of no one. Poirot asks to see the room where the dream is set, but Farley refuses and Poirot therefore takes his leave. Before he goes Farley asks him for the letter he sent him to be returned, and Poirot hands it over but then realises he handed over the wrong one and Farley didn’t notice. The correct letter is exchanged.
A week later, an acquaintance, Dr Stillingfleet, phones Poirot and tells him that Farley has shot himself. Poirot goes to the house and meets the doctor, a police inspector, the dead man’s second wife, his daughter from his first marriage, Joanna, and Hugo Cornworthy in whose office Poirot had had his meeting with Farley. Poirot tells them all of the reason for the previous visit. There is surprise on the part of some members of the party, but Mrs Farley was told by her husband of the dreams, and she confirms that he kept a revolver in his desk drawer. Her husband seems to have killed himself in precisely the way and at the time the dream foretold. Two visitors were outside his room waiting to see him. Farley spoke to them briefly to tell them he wouldn’t be long and then went inside his room. After a considerable period of time, Cornworthy went in and found the dead body. No one could enter the room in the interim. There is a window with no climbable ledge and opposite the window is a blank wall.
Poirot feels that the wall is important. He examines the room and finds a pair of extendable tongs which take his interest. He asks various questions of the people gathered there, one of which is to ascertain if Farley had bad eyesight without his glasses and he is told he had.
Poirot has the solution: On his previous visit, he did not see Farley but a disguised Cornworthy. It was the secretary who sent the letter to Poirot and he gave the butler instructions to let him in and take him to his own office, not Farley’s room. Wearing thick glasses, he was unable to see that Poirot had returned the wrong letter. The act put on by Cornworthy explains why Poirot wasn’t as impressed by the man as he expected him to be.
Cornworthy lured Farley to the window of his room by a distraction and then shot him by leaning out of his own window, overseen by no one because of the blank wall. He left the man dead for a short while and then went to “find” the body, planting the revolver there. His co-conspirator was his lover, Mrs Farley, who was the only other person who claimed that the dreams were real and that the revolver was kept in the desk drawer. She gives the game away by attempting to attack Poirot but is held back by Stillingfleet.