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

About noon on Friday Milly Flaxman awoke. She lay very quiet, sleepy and comfortable, her eyes fixed idly on a curve in the jessamine-pattern paper opposite her bed. The windows were wide open, the blinds down and every now and again flapping softly, as a capricious little breeze went by, whispering through the leafy trees outside. There seemed nothing unusual in that; she always slept with her windows open. But as her senses emerged from those mists which lie on the surface of the river of sleep, she was conscious of a balmy warmth in the room, of an impression of bright sunshine behind the dark blinds, and of noises from the streets reaching her with a kind of sharpness associated with sunshine. She sat up, looked at her watch, and was shocked to find how late she had slept. She must have missed a lecture. Then the recollection of the dinner-party at the Fletchers’, the verdict of Mr. Stewart on her chance of a First, and her own hysterical outburst returned to her, overpowering all outward impressions. She felt calm and well now, but unhappy and ashamed of herself. She put her feet out of bed and looked round mechanically for her dressing-gown and slippers. Their absence was unimportant, for no sense of chill struck through her thin night-gown to her warm body, and going to the window, she drew up the blind.

The high June sun struck full upon her, hot and dazzling, but not so dazzling that she could not see the row of garden trees through whose bare branches she had yesterday descried the squalid roofs of the town. They were spreading now in a thick screen of fresh green leaves. She leaned out, as though further investigation might explain the phenomenon, and saw a red standard rose in full flower under her window. The thing was exactly like a dream, and she tried to wake up but could not. She was panic-stricken and trembling. Had she been very, very ill? Was it possible to be unconscious for six months? She looked at herself in a dressing-glass near the window, which she had never placed there, and saw that she was pale and had dark marks under her eyes, but not more so than had been the case in that yesterday so strangely and mysteriously removed in time. Her slender white arms and throat were as rounded as usual. And if she had been ill, why was she left alone like this? She found a dressing-gown not her own, and went on a voyage of discovery. But the other rooms on her floor were dismantled and tenantless. The girls were gone and the servants were “cleaning” in a distant part of the College. She felt incapable of getting into bed again and waiting for some one to come, so she began dressing herself with trembling hands. Every detail increased the sense of strangeness. There were a number of strange clothes, ball-dresses and others, hanging in her cupboard, strange odds and ends thrust confusedly into her bureau. She found at length a blue cotton frock of her own, which seemed just home from the wash. She had twisted up her hair and was putting on the blue frock, when she heard a step on the stairs, and paused with beating heart. Who was coming? How would the mystery be resolved? The door opened and Tims came in the old Tims, wrinkled face, wig, and old straw hat on one side as usual.

“Tims!” cried Milly, flying towards her and speaking with pale lips. “Please, please tell me what has happened? Have I been very ill?” And she stared in Tims’s face with a tragic mask of terror and anxiety.

“Now take it easy take it easy, M., my girl!” cried Tims, giving her a great squeeze and a clap on the shoulder. “I’m jolly glad to see you back. But don’t let’s have any more of your hysterics. No, never no more!”

“Have I been away?” asked Milly, her lips still trembling.

“I should think you had!” exclaimed Tims. “But nobody knows it except me. Don’t forget that. Here’s a note for you from old B. Read it first or we shall both forget all about it. She had to go away early this morning.”

Milly opened the note and read:

Dear Milly, I am sorry not to say good-bye, but glad you are sleeping off your fatigue. I want to tell you, between ourselves, not to go on worrying about the results of the Schools, as I think you are doing, in spite of your pretences to the contrary. I hear you have done at least one brilliant paper, and although I, of course, know nothing certain, I believe you and the College will have reason to rejoice when the list comes out.

“Yours affectionately,

Mary Burt.”

“What does it mean? oh, what can it mean?” faltered Milly, holding out the missive to Tims.

“It means you’ve been in for Greats, my girl, and done first-rate. But the strain’s been a bit too much for you, and you’ve had another collapse of memory. You had one in the end of November. You’ve been uncommonly well ever since, and worked like a Trojan, but you’ve not been quite your usual self, and I’m glad you’ve come right again, old girl. Let me tell you the whole business.”

Tims did so. She wanted social tact, but she had the tact of the heart which made her hide from Milly how very different, how much more brilliant and attractive Milly the Second had been than her normal self. She only made her friend feel that the curious episode had entailed no disgrace, but that somehow in her abnormal condition she had done well in the Schools, and probably touched the top of her ambition.

“But I don’t feel as though it had been quite straightforward to hide it up so,” said Milly. “I shall write and tell Miss Burt and Aunt Beatrice, and tell the Fletchers when I go to them.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind, you stupid,” snapped Tims. “You’ll be simply giving me away if you do. What is the good? It won’t happen again unless you’re idiot enough to overwork yourself again. Very likely not then; for, as an open-minded, scientific woman, I believe it to have been a case of hypnotism, and in France and the United States they’d have thought it a very interesting one. But in England people are so prejudiced they’d say you’d simply been out of your mind; although that wouldn’t prevent them from blaming me for hypnotizing you.”

While Tims spoke thus, there was a knocking without, and a maid delivered a note for Miss Flaxman. Milly held it in her hands and studied it musingly before opening the envelope. Her pale, troubled face colored and grew more serious. Tims had not mentioned Ian Stewart, but Milly had not forgotten him or his handwriting. Tims knew it too. She restrained her excitement while Milly turned her back and stood by the window reading the note. She must have read them several times over, the two sides of the sheet inscribed with Stewart’s small, scholarly handwriting, before she turned her transfigured face towards the anxiously expectant Tims.

“Tims, dear,” she said at length, smiling tremulously, and laying tremulous hands on Tims’s two thin shoulders “dear old Tims, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?” asked Tims, grinning delightedly. Milly threw her arms round her friend’s neck and hid her happy tears and blushes between Tims’s ear and shoulder.

“Mr. Stewart it seems too good to be true he loves me, he really does. He wants me to be his wife.”

Most girls would have hugged and kissed Milly, and Tims did hug her, but instead of kissing her, she banged and slapped her back and shoulders hard all over, shaking the while with deep internal chuckles. It hurt, but Milly did not mind, for it was sympathy. Presently she drew herself away, and wiping her damp eyes, said, smiling shyly:

“He’s never guessed how much I care about him. I’m so glad. He says he doesn’t wonder at my hesitation and talks about others more worthy to love me. But you know there isn’t any one except Mr. Toovey. Poor Mr. Toovey! I do hope I haven’t behaved very badly to him.”

“Never mind Toovey,” chuckled Tims. “Anyhow, Milly, I’ve got a good load off my mind. I didn’t half like having put that other girl into your boots. However, you’ve come back, and everything’s going to be all right.”

“All right!” breathed Milly. “Why, Tims, darling, I never thought any one in the world could be half so happy as I am.”

And Tims left Milly to write the answer for which Ian Stewart was so anxiously waiting.

The engagement proceeded after the manner of engagements. No one was surprised at it and every one was pleased. The little whirlpool of talk that it created prevented Milly’s ignorance of the events of the past six or seven months from coming to the surface. She lay awake at night, devising means of telling Ian about this strange blank in her life. But she shrank from saying things that might make him suspect her of an unsound mind. She had plainly been sane enough in her abnormal state, and there was no doubt of her sanity now. She told him she had had since the autumn, and still had, strange collapses of memory; and he said that quite explained some peculiarities of her work. She tried to talk to him about French experiments in hypnotism, and how it was said sometimes to bring to light unsuspected sides of a personality. But he laughed at hypnotism as a mixture of fraud and hysteria. So with many searchings of heart, she dropped the subject.

She was staying at the Fletchers’ and saw Ian every day. He was all that she could wish as a lover, and it never occurred to her to ask whether he felt all that he himself could have wished as such. He was very fond of Milly and quite content with her, but not perfectly content with himself. He supposed he must at bottom be one of those ordinary and rather contemptible men who care more for the excitement of the chase than for the object of it. But he felt sure he was really a very lucky fellow, and determined not to give way to the self-analysis which is always said to be the worst enemy of happiness.

Miss Flaxman had been the only woman in for Greats, and as a favor she was taken first in viva voce. The questions were directed to probing her actual knowledge in places where she had made one or two amazing blunders. But she emerged triumphant, and went in good spirits to Clewes, Aunt Beatrice’s country home in the North, whither Ian Stewart shortly followed her. Beyond the fact that she wore perforce and with shame, not having money to buy others, frocks which Lady Thomson disapproved, she was once more the adoring niece to whom her aunt was accustomed. And Lady Thomson liked Ian. She never expected men to share her fads.

In due time came the announcement of the First, bringing almost as many congratulatory letters as the engagement. And on August 2d Milly sailed for Australia, where she was to spend two or three months with her family.

In October the newspapers announced that the marriage of Miss Mildred Beatrice Flaxman, eldest daughter of the Dean of Stirling, South Australia, with Mr. Ian Stewart, Fellow of Durham College, Oxford, would take place at Oxford in the second week in December.