Can a dream foretell the future? That is one of the central questions of Armadale, one of Wilkie Collins’ lesser-known novels. But even though it is not as famous as The Woman in White or The Moonstone, it is still written with the psychological awareness and piercing character studies of the best of Collins’ work.
It was the opening of the season of eighteen hundred and thirty–two, at the Baths of Wildbad. The evening shadows were beginning to gather over the quiet little German town, and the diligence was expected every minute. Before the door of the principal inn, waiting the arrival of the first visitors of the year, were assembled the three notable personages of Wildbad, accompanied by their wives—the mayor, representing the inhabitants; the doctor, representing the waters; the landlord, representing his own establishment. Beyond this select circle, grouped snugly about the trim little square in front of the inn, appeared the towns–people in general, mixed here and there with the country people, in their quaint German costume, placidly expectant of the diligence—the men in short black jackets, tight black breeches, and three–cornered beaver hats; the women with their long light hair hanging in one thickly plaited tail behind them, and the waists of their short woolen gowns inserted modestly in the region of their shoulder–blades. Round the outer edge of the assemblage thus formed, flying detachments of plump white–headed children careered in perpetual motion; while, mysteriously apart from the rest of the inhabitants, the musicians of the Baths stood collected in one lost corner, waiting the appearance of the first visitors to play the first tune of the season in the form of a serenade. The light of a May evening was still bright on the tops of the great wooded hills watching high over the town on the right hand and the left; and the cool breeze that comes before sunset came keenly fragrant here with the balsamic odor of the first of the Black Forest. "Mr. Landlord," said the mayor's wife (giving the landlord his title), "have you any foreign guests coming on this first day of the season?"