Read CHAPTER III of The Invader A Novel , free online book, by Margaret L. Woods, on

Tims was proud of the combined style and economy of her dress. She was constantly discovering and revealing to an unappreciative world the existence of superb tailors who made amazingly cheap dresses. For two years she had been vainly advising her friends to go to the man who had made her the frock she still wore for morning; a skirt and coat of tweed with a large green check in it, a green waistcoat with gilt buttons, and green gaiters to match. In this costume and coiffed with a man’s wig, of the vague color peculiar to such articles, Tims came down at her usual hour, prepared to ask Milly what she thought of hypnotism now. But there was no Milly over whom to enjoy this petty triumph. She climbed to the top story as soon as breakfast was over, and entering Milly’s room, found her patient still sleeping soundly, low and straight in the bed, just as she had been the preceding night. She was breathing regularly and her face looked peaceful, although her eyes were still stained with tears. The servant came in as Tims was looking at her.

“I’ve tried to wake Miss Flaxman, miss,” she said. “She’s always very particular as I should wake her, but she was that sound asleep this morning, I ’adn’t the ’eart to go on talking. Poor young lady! I expect she’s pretty well wore out, working away at her books, early and late, the way she does.”

“Better leave her alone, Emma,” agreed Tims. “I’ll let Miss Burt know about it.”

Miss Burt was glad to hear Milly Flaxman was oversleeping herself. She had not been satisfied with the girl’s appearance of late, and feared Milly worked too hard and had bad nights.

Tims had to go out at ten o’clock and did not return until luncheon-time. She went up to Milly’s room and knocked at the door. As before, there was no answer. She went in and saw the girl still sound asleep, straight and motionless in the bed. Her appearance was so healthy and natural that it was absurd to feel uneasy at the length of her slumber, yet remembering the triumph of hypnotism, Tims did feel a little uneasy. She spoke to Miss Burt again about Milly’s prolonged sleep, but Miss Burt was not inclined to be anxious. She had strictly forbidden Tims to hypnotize or as she called it, mesmerize any one in the house, so that Tims said no more on the subject. She was working at the Museum in the early part of the afternoon, only leaving it when the light began to fail. But after work she went straight back to Ascham. Milly was still asleep, but she had slightly shifted her position, and altogether there was something about her aspect which suggested a slumber less profound than before. Tims leaned over her and spoke softly:

“Wake up, M., wake up! You’ve been asleep quite long enough.”

Milly’s body twitched a little. A responsive flicker which was almost a convulsion, passed over her face; but she did not awake. It was evident, however, that her spirit was gradually floating up to the surface from the depths of oblivion in which it had been submerged. Tims took off her Tam-o’-Shanter and ulster, and revealed in the simple elegance of the tweed frock with green waistcoat and gaiters, put the kettle on the fire. Then she went down-stairs to fetch some bread and butter and an egg, wherewith to feed the patient when she awoke.

She had not long left the room when the slumberer’s eyes opened gradually and stared with the fixity of semi-consciousness at a stem of blossoming jessamine in the wall-paper. Then she slowly stretched her arms above her head until some inches of wrist, slight and round and white, emerged from the strictly plain night-gown sleeve. So she lay, till suddenly, almost with a start, she pulled herself up and looked about her. The gaze of her wide-open eyes travelled questioningly around the quiet-toned room which two windows at right angles to each other still kept light with the reflection of a yellow winter sunset. She pushed the bedclothes down, dropped first one bare white foot, then the other to the ground and looked doubtfully at a pair of worn felt slippers which were placed beside the bed, before slipping her feet into them. With the same air as of one assuming garments which do not belong to her, she put on the faded blue flannel dressing-gown. Then she walked to the southern window. None of the glories of Oxford were visible from it; only the bare branches of trees through which appeared a huddle of somewhat sordid looking roofs and the unimposing spire of St. Aloysius. With the same air, questioning yet as in a dream, she turned to the western window, which was open. Below, in its wintry dulness, lay the garden of the College, bounded by an old gray wall which divided it from the straggling street; beyond that, a mass of slate roofs. But a certain glory was on the slate roofs and all the garden that was not in shadow. For away over Wytham, where the blue vapor floated in the folds of the hills, blending imperceptibly with the deep brown of the leafless woods, sunset had lifted a wide curtain of cloud and showed between the gloom of heaven and earth, a long straight pool of yellow light.

She leaned out of the window. A mild fresh air which seemed to be pouring over the earth through that rift in heaven which the sunset had made, breathed freshly on her face and the yellow light shone on her amber hair, which lay on her shoulders about the length of the hair of an angel in some old Florentine picture.

Miss Burt in galoshes and with a wrap over her head was coming up the garden. She caught sight of that vision of gold and pale blue in the window and smiled and waved her hand to Milly Flaxman. The vision withdrew, trembling slightly as though with cold, and closed the window.

Tims came in, carrying a boiled egg and a plate of bread and butter. Tims put down the egg-cup and the plate on the table before she relaxed the wrinkle of carefulness and grinned triumphantly at her patient.

“Well, old girl,” she asked; “what do you say to hypnotism now? Put you to sleep, right enough, anyhow. Know what time it is?”

The awakened sleeper made a few steps forward, leaned her hands on the table, on the other side of which Tims stood, and gazed upon her with startling intentness. Then she began to speak in a rapid, urgent voice. Her words were in themselves ordinary and distinct, yet what she said was entirely incomprehensible, a nightmare of speech, as though some talking-machine had gone wrong and was pouring out a miscellaneous stock of verbs, nouns, adjectives and the rest without meaning or cohesion. Certain words reappeared with frequency, but Tims had a feeling that the speaker did not attach their usual meaning to them. This travesty of language went on for what appeared to the transfixed and terrified listener quite a long time. At length the serious, almost tragic, babbler, meeting with no response save the staring horror of Tims’s too expressive countenance, ended with a supplicating smile and a glance which contrived to be charged at once with pathos and coquetry. This smile, this look, were so totally unlike any expression which Tims had ever seen on Milly’s countenance that they heightened her feeling of nightmare. But she pulled herself together and determined to show presence of mind. She had already placed a basket-chair by the fire ready for her patient, and now gently but firmly led Milly to it.

“Sit down, Milly,” she said and the use of her friend’s proper name showed that she felt the occasion to be serious “and don’t speak again till you’ve had some tea. Your head will be clearer presently, it’s a bit confused now, you know.”

The stranger Milly, still so unlike the Milly of Tims’s intimacy, far from exerting the unnatural strength of a maniac, passively permitted herself to be placed in the chair and listened to what Tims was saying with the puzzled intentness of a child or a foreigner, trying to understand. She laid her head back in its little cloud of amber hair, and looked up at Tims, who, frowning portentously, once more with lifted finger enjoined silence. Tims then concealing her agitation behind a cupboard-door, reached down the tea-things. By some strange accident the methodical Milly’s teapot was absent from its place; a phenomenon for which Tims was thankful, as it imposed upon her the necessity of leaving her patient for a few minutes. Shaking her finger again at Milly still more emphatically, she went out, and locked the door behind her. After a moment’s thought, she reluctantly decided to report the matter to Miss Burt. But Miss Burt was closeted with the treasurer and an architect from London, and was on no account to be disturbed. So Tims went up to her own room and rapidly revolved the situation. She was certain that Milly was not physically ill; on the contrary, she looked much better than she had looked on the previous day. This curious affection of the speech-memory might be hysterical, as her sobbing the night before had been, or it might be connected with some little failure of circulation in the brain; an explanation, perhaps, pointed to by the extraordinary length of her sleep. Anyhow, Tims felt sceptical as to a doctor being of any use.

She went to her cupboard to take out her own teapot, and her eye fell upon a small medicine bottle marked “Brandy.” Milly was a convinced teetotaller; all the more reason, thought Tims, why a dose of alcohol should give her nerves and circulation a fillip, only she must not know of it, or she would certainly refuse the remedy.

Pocketing the bottle and flourishing the teapot, Tims mounted again to Milly’s room. Her patient, who had spent the time wandering about the room and examining everything in it, as well as she could in the fast-falling twilight, resumed her position in the chair as soon as she heard a step in the passage, and greeted her returning keeper with an attractive smile. Tims uttering words of commendation, slyly poured some brandy into one of the large teacups before lighting the candles.

“Now, my girl,” she said, when she had made the tea, “drink this, and you’ll feel better.”

Milly leaned forward, her round chin on her hand, and looked intently at the tea-service and at the proffered cup. Then she suddenly raised her head, clapped her hands softly, and cried in a tone of delighted discovery, “Tea!”

“Excuse me,” she added, taking the cup with a little bow; and in two seconds had helped herself to three lumps of sugar. Tims was surprised, for Milly never took sugar in her tea.

“That’s right, M., you’re going along well!” cried Tims, standing on the hearth-rug, with one hand under her short coat-tails, while she gulped her own tea, and ate two pieces of bread and butter put together. Milly ate hers and drank her tea daintily, looking meanwhile at her companion with wonder which gradually gave way to amusement. At length leaning forward with a dimpling smile, she interrogated very politely and quite lucidly.

“Pardon me, sir, you are ? Ah, the doctor, no doubt! My poor head, you see!” and she drew her fingers across her forehead.

Tims started, and grabbed her wig, as was her wont in moments of agitation. She stood transfixed, the teacup at a dangerous angle in her extended hand.

“Good God!” she ejaculated. “You are mad and no mistake, my poor old girl.”

The “old girl” made a supreme effort to contain herself, and then burst into a pretty, rippling laugh in which there was nothing familiar to Tims’s ear. She rose from her chair vivaciously and took the cup from Tims’s hand, to deposit it in safety on the chimney piece.

“How silly I was!” she cried, regarding Tims sparklingly. “Do you know I was not quite sure whether you were a man or a woman. Of course I see now, and I’m so glad. I do like men, you know, so much better than women.”

“Milly,” retorted Tims, sternly, settling her wig. “You are mad, you need not be bad as well. But it’s my own fault for giving you that brandy. You know as well as I do that I hate men nasty, selfish, guzzling, conceited, guffawing brutes! I never wanted to speak to a man in my life, except in the way of business.”

Milly waved her amber head gracefully for a moment as though at a loss, then returned playfully, “That must be because the women spoil you so.”

Tims smiled sardonically; but regaining her sense of the situation, out of which she had been momentarily shocked, applied herself to the problem of calling back poor Milly’s wandering mind.

“Sit down, my girl,” she said, abruptly, putting her arm around Milly’s body, so soft and slender in the scanty folds of the blue dressing-gown. Milly obeyed precipitately. Then drawing a small chair close to her, Tims said in gentle tones which could hardly have been recognized as hers:

“M., darling, do you know where you are?”

Milly turned on her a face from which the unnatural vivacity had fallen like a mask; the appealing face of a poor lost child.

“Am I am I in a maison de santé?” she asked tremulously, fixing her blue eyes on Tims, full of piteous anxiety.

“A lunatic asylum? Certainly not,” replied Tims. “Now don’t begin crying again, old girl. That’s how the trouble began.”

“Was it?” asked Milly, dreamily. “I thought it was ” she paused, frowning before her in the air, as though trying to pursue with her bodily vision some recollection which had flickered across her consciousness only to disappear.

“Well, never mind that now,” said Tims, hastily; “get your bearings right first. You’re in Ascham College.”

“A College!” repeated Milly vaguely, but in a moment her face brightened, “I know. A place of learning where they have professors and things. Are you a professor?”

“No, I’m a student. So are you.”

Milly looked fixedly at Tims, then smiled a melancholy smile. “I see,” she said, “we’re both studying medicine medicine for the mind.” She stood up, locked her hands behind her head in her soft hair and wailed miserably. “Oh, why won’t some kind person come and tell me where I am, and what I was before I came here?”

Tears of wounded feelings sprang to Tims’s eyes. “Milly, my beauty!” she cried despairingly, “I’m trying to be kind to you and tell you everything you want to know. Your name is Mildred Flaxman and you used to live in Oxford here, but now all your people have gone to Australia because your father’s got a deanery there.”

“Have they left me here, mad and by myself?” asked Milly; “have I no one to look after me, no one to give me a home?”

“I suppose Lady Thomson or the Fletchers would,” returned Tims, “but you haven’t wanted one. You’ve been quite happy at Ascham. Do try and remember. Can’t you remember getting your First in Mods. and how you’ve been working to get one in Greats? Your brain’s been right enough until to-day, old girl, and it will be again. I expect it’s a case of collapse of memory from overwork. Things will come back to you soon and I’ll help you all I can. Do try and recollect me Tims.” There was an unmistakable choke in Tims’s voice. “We have been such chums. The others are all pretty nasty to me sometimes they seem to think I’m a grinning, wooden Aunt Sally, stuck up for them to shy jokes at. But you’ve never once been nasty to me, M., and there’s precious few things I wouldn’t do to help you. So don’t go talking to me as though there weren’t any one in the world who cared a brass farthing about you.”

“I’m sure I’m most thankful to find I have got some one here who cares about me,” returned Milly, meekly, passing her hand across her eyes for lack of a handkerchief. “You see, it’s dreadful for me to be like this. I seem to know what things are, and yet I don’t know. A little while ago it seemed to me I was just going to remember something something different from what you’ve told me. But now it’s all gone again. Oh, please give me a handkerchief!”

Tims opened one of Milly’s tidy drawers and sought for a handkerchief. When she had found it, Milly was standing before the high chimney-piece, over which hung a long, low mirror about a foot wide and divided into three parts by miniature pilasters of tarnished gilt. The mirror, too, was tarnished here and there, but it had been a good glass and showed undistorted the blue Delft jars on the mantel-shelf, glimpses of flickering firelight in the room, amber hair and the tear-bedewed roses of a flushed young face. Suddenly Milly thrust the jars aside, seized the candle from the table, and, holding it near her face, looked intently, anxiously in the glass. The anxiety vanished in a moment, but not the intentness. She went on looking. Tims had always perceived Milly’s beauty which had an odd way of slipping through the world unobserved but had never seen her look so lovely as now, her eyes wide and brilliant, and her upper lip curved rosily over a shining glimpse of her white teeth.

Beauty had an extraordinary fascination for Tims, poor step-child of nature! Now she stood looking at the reflection of Milly without noticing how in the background her own strange, wizened face peered dim and grotesque from the tarnished mirror, like the picture of a witch or a goblin behind the fair semblance of some princess in a fairy tale.

“I do remember myself partly,” said Milly, doubtfully; “and yet somehow not quite. I suppose I shall remember you and this queer place soon, if they don’t put me into a mad-house at once.”

“They sha’n’t,” said Tims, decisively. “Trust to me, M., and I’ll see you through. But I’m afraid you’ll have to give up all thought of your First.”

“My what,” asked Milly, turning round inquiringly.

“Your First Class, your place, you know, in the Final Honors School, Lit. Hum., the biggest examination of the lot.”

“Do I want it very much, my First?”

“Want it? I should just think you do want it!”

Milly stared at the fire for a minute, warming one foot before she spoke again. Then:

“How funny of me!” she observed, meditatively.