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

The diplomatic incident of the theatricals was not the only minor trouble which Milly found awaiting her. The cook’s nerves were upset by a development of rigid economy on the part of her mistress, and she gave notice; the house parlor-maid followed suit. No one seemed to have kept Ian’s desk tidy, his papers in order, or his clothes properly mended. It was a joy to her to put everything belonging to him right.

When all was arranged to her satisfaction: “Ian,” she said, sitting on his knee with her head on his shoulder, “I can’t bear to think how wretched you must have been all the time I was away.”

Ian was silent a minute.

“But you haven’t been away, and I don’t like you to talk as though you had.”

Wretched? It would have been absurd to think of himself as wretched now; yet compared with the wonderful happiness that had been his for more than half a year, what was this “house swept and garnished”? An empty thing. Words of Tims’s which he had thought irritating and absurd at the time, haunted him now. “You don’t mean to say you haven’t seen the difference?” He might not have seen it, but he had felt it. He felt it now.

There was at any rate no longer any question of Dieppe. They took lodgings at Sheringham and he made good progress with his book. Yet not quite so good as he had hoped. Milly was indefatigable in looking up points and references, in preventing him from slipping into the small inaccuracies to which he was prone; but he missed the stimulus of Mildred’s alert mind, so quick to hit a blot in logic or in taste, so vivid in appreciation.

Milly meantime guessed nothing of his dissatisfaction. She adored her husband more every day, and her happiness would have been perfect had it not been for the haunting horror of the possible “change” which might be lurking for her round the corner of any night that “change,” which other people might call what they liked, but which meant for her the robbery of her life, her young happy life with Ian. He had taken her twice to Norton-Smith before the great man went for his holiday. Norton-Smith had pronounced it a peculiar but not unprecedented case of collapse of memory, caused by overwork; and had spent most of the consultation time in condemning the higher education of women. Time, rest, and the fulfilment of woman’s proper function of maternity would, he affirmed, bring all right, since there was no sign of disease in Mrs. Stewart, who appeared to him, on the contrary, a perfectly healthy young woman. When Ian, alone with him, began tentatively to bring to the doctor’s notice the changes in character and intelligence that had accompanied the losses of memory, he found his remarks set aside like the chatter of a foolish child.

If maternity would indeed exorcise the Invader, Milly had lost no time in beginning the exorcism. And she did believe that somehow it would; not because the doctor said so, but because she could not believe God would let a child’s mother be changed in that way, at any rate while she was bearing it. To do so would be to make it more motherless than any little living thing on earth. Milly had always been quietly but deeply religious, and she struggled hard against the feeling of peculiar injustice in this strange affliction that had been sent to her. She prayed earnestly to God every night to help and protect her and her child, and the period of six or seven months, at which the “change” had come before, passed without a sign of it. In April a little boy was born. They called him Antonio, after a learned Italian, a friend and teacher of Ian’s.

The advent of the child did something to explain the comparative seclusion into which Mrs. Stewart had retired, and the curious dulling of that brilliant personality of hers. The Master of Durham was among the few of Mrs. Stewart’s admirers who declined to recognize the change in her. He had been attracted by the girl Milly Flaxman, by her gentle, shy manners and pretty face, combined with her reputation for scholarship; the brilliant Invader had continued to attract him in another way. The difference between the two, if faced, would have been disagreeably mysterious. He preferred to say and think that there was none; Mrs. Stewart was probably not very well.

Milly’s shyness made it peculiarly awkward for her to find herself in possession of a number of friends whom she would not have chosen herself, and of whose doings and belongings she was in complete ignorance. However, if she gave offence she was unconscious of it, and it came very naturally to her to shrink back into the shadow of her household gods. Ian and the baby were almost sufficient in themselves to fill her life. There was just room on the outskirts of it for a few relations and old friends, and Aunt Beatrice still held her honored place. But it was through Aunt Beatrice that she was first to learn the feel of a certain dull heartache which was destined to grow upon her like some fell disease, a thing of ceaseless pain.

She was especially anxious to get Aunt Beatrice, who had been in America all the Summer Vacation, to stay with them in the Autumn Term as Lady Thomson had been with them in May, and Milly did not like to think of the number of things, all wrong, which she was sure to have noticed in the house. Besides, what with theatricals and other engagements, it was evident that a good many people had been “in and out” in the Summer Term a condition of life which Lady Thomson always denounced. Milly was anxious for her to see that that phase was past and that her favorite niece had settled down into the quiet, well-ordered existence of which she approved.

Aunt Beatrice came; but oh, disappointment! If it had been possible to say of Lady Thomson, whose moods were under almost perfect control, that she was out of temper, Milly would have said it. She volunteered no opinion, but when asked, she compared Milly’s new cook unfavorably with her former one. When her praise was anxiously sought, she observed that it was undesirable to be careless in one’s housekeeping, but less disagreeable than to be fussy and house-proud. She added that Milly whom she called Mildred must be on her guard against relaxing into domestic dulness, when she could be so extremely clever and charming if she liked. Milly was bewildered and distressed. She felt sure that she had passed through a phase of which Aunt Beatrice ought to have disapproved. She had evidently been frivolous and neglectful of her duties; yet it seemed as though her aunt had been better pleased with her when she was like that. What could have made Aunt Beatrice, of all women, unkind and unjust?

In this way more than a year went by. The baby grew and was short-coated; the October Term came round once more, and still Milly remained the same Milly. To have wished it otherwise would have seemed like wishing for her death.

But at times a great longing for another, quite another, came over Ian. It was like a longing for the beloved dead. Of course it was mad mad! He struggled against the feeling, and generally succeeded in getting back to the point of view that the change had been more in himself, in his own emotional moods, than in Milly.

October, the golden month, passed by and November came in, soft and dim; a merry month for the hunting men beside the coverts, where the red-brown leaves still hung on the oak-trees and brushwood, and among the grassy lanes, the wide fresh fields and open hill-sides. No ill month either for those who love to light the lamp early and open their books beside a cheerful fire. But then the rain came, a persistent, soaking rain. Milly always went to her district on Tuesdays, no matter what the weather, and this time she caught a cold. Ian urged her to stop in bed next morning. He himself had to be in College early, and could not come home till the afternoon.

It was still raining and the early falling twilight was murky and brown. The dull yellow glare of the street-lamps was faintly reflected in the muddy wetness of pavements and streets. He was carrying a great armful of books and papers under his dripping mackintosh and umbrella. As he walked homeward as fast as his inconvenient load allowed, he became acutely conscious of a depression of spirits which had been growing upon him all day. It was the weather, he argued, affecting his nerves or digestion. The vision of a warm, cosey house, a devoted wife awaiting him, ought to have cheered him, but it did not. He hoped he would not feel irritable when Milly rushed into the hall as soon as his key was heard in the front door, to feel him all over and take every damp thread tragically. Poor dear Milly! What a discontented brute of a husband she had got! The fault was no doubt with himself, and he would not really be happy even if some miracle did set him down on a sunny Mediterranean shore, with enough money to live upon and nothing to think of but his book. Mildred used to say that she always went to a big dinner at Durham in the unquenchable hope of meeting and fascinating some millionaire who had sense enough to see how much better it would be to endow writers of good books than readers of silly ones.

With the recollection there rang in the ears of his mind the sound of a laugh which he had not heard for seventeen months. Something seemed to tighten about his heart. Yes, he could be quite happy without the millionaire, without the sunny skies, without even the pretty, comfortable home at whose door he stood, if somewhere, anywhere, he could hope to hear that laugh again, to hold again in his arms the strange bright bride who had melted from them like snow in spring-time but that way madness lay. He thrust the involuntary longing from him almost with horror, and turned the latch-key in his door.

The hall lamp was burning low and the house seemed very chilly and quiet. He put his books down on the oak table, threw his streaming mackintosh upon the large chest, and went up to his dressing-room, to change whatever was still damp about him before seeking Milly, who presumably was nursing her cold before the study fire. When he had thrown off his shoes, he noticed that the door leading to his wife’s room was ajar and a faint red glow of firelight showed invitingly through the chink. A fire! It was irresistible. He went in quickly and stirred the coals to a roaring blaze. The dancing flames lit up the long, low room with its few pieces of furniture, its high white wainscoting, and paper patterned with birds and trellised leaves. They lit up the low white bed and the white figure of his sleeping wife. Till then he had thought the room was empty. She lay there so deathly still and straight that he was smitten with a sudden fear; but leaning over her he heard her quiet, regular breathing and saw that if somewhat pale, she was normal in color. He touched her hand. It was withdrawn by a mechanical movement, but not before he had felt that it was warm.

A wild excitement thrilled him; it would have been truer to say a wild joy, only that it held a pang of remorse for itself. So she had lain at the Hotel du Chalet when he had left her for that long walk over the crisp mountain snow. And when he had returned, she what She? No, his brain did not reel on the verge of madness; it merely accepted under the compulsion of knowledge a truth of those truths that are too profound to admit of mere external proof. For our reason plays at the edge of the universe as a little child plays at the edge of the sea, gathering from its fringes the flotsam and jetsam of its mighty life. But miles and miles beyond the ken of the eager eye, beyond the reach of the alert hand, lies the whole great secret life of the sea. And if it were all laid bare and spread at the child’s feet, how could the little hand suffice to gather its vast treasures, the inexperienced eye to perceive and classify them?

Alone in the firelit, silent room, with this tranced form before him, Ian Stewart knew that the woman who would arise from that bed would be a different woman from the one who had lain down upon it. By what mysterious alchemy of nature transmuted he could not understand, any more than he could understand the greater part of the workings of that cosmic energy which he was compelled to recognize, although he might be cheated with words into believing that he understood them. Another woman would arise and she his Love. She had been gone so long; his heart had hungered for her so long, in silence even to himself. She had been dead and now she was about to be raised from the dead. He lighted the candles, locked the doors, and paced softly up and down, stopping to look at the figure on the bed from time to time. Far around him, close about him, life was moving at its usual jog-trot pace. People were going back to their College rooms or domestic hearths, grumbling about the weather or their digestions or their colds, thinking of their work for the evening or of their dinner engagements and suddenly a door had shut between him and all that outside world. He was no longer moving in the driven herd. He was alone, above them in an upper chamber, awaiting the miracle of resurrection.

In the visions that passed before his mind’s eye the face of Milly, pale, with pleading eyes, was not absent; but with a strange hardness which he had never felt before, he thrust the sighing phantom from him. She had had her turn of happiness, a long one; it was only fair that now they two, he and that Other, should have their chance, should put their lips to the full cup of life. The figure on the bed stirred, turned on one side, and slipped a hand under the pure curve of the young cheek. He was by the bed in a moment; but it still slept, though less profoundly, without that tranced look, as though the flame of life itself burned low within.

How would she first greet him? Last time she had leaned into the clear sunshine and laughed to him from the cloud of her amber hair; and a spirit in his blood had leaped to the music of her laugh, even while the rational self knew not it was the lady of his love. But however she came back it would be she, the Beloved. He felt exultantly how little, after all, the frame mattered. Last time he had found her, his love had been set in the sunshine and the splendor of the Alpine snows, with nothing to jar, nothing to distract it from itself. And that was good. To-day, it was opening, a sudden and wonderful bloom, in the midst of the murky discomfort of an English November, the droning hum of the machinery of his daily work. And this, too, was good.

Yes, it was better because of the contrast between the wonder and its environment, better because he himself was more conscious of his joy. He sat on the bed a while watching her impatiently. In his eyes she was already filled with a new loveliness, but he wanted her hair, her amber hair. It was brushed back and imprisoned tightly in a little plait tied with a white ribbon Milly’s way. With fingers clumsy, yet gentle, he took off the ribbon and cautiously undid the plait. Then he took a comb and spread out the silk-soft hair more as he liked to see it, pleased with his own skill in the unaccustomed task. She stirred again, but still she did not wake. He was pacing up and down the room when she raised herself a little on her pillow and looked fixedly at the opposite wall. Ian held his breath. He stood perfectly still and watched her. Presently she sat up and looked about her, looked at him with a faint, vague smile, like that of a baby. He sat down at the foot of the bed and took her hand. She smiled at him again, this time with more definite meaning.

“Do you know who it is, sweetheart?” he said in a low voice. She nodded slightly and went on smiling, as though quietly happy.

“Ian,” she breathed, at length.

“Yes, darling.”

“I’ve been away a long, long time. How long?”

He told her.

She uttered a little “Ah!” and frowned; lay quiet awhile, then drew her hand from Ian’s and sat up still more.

“I sha’n’t lie here any longer,” she said, in a stronger voice. “It’s just waste of time.” She pushed back the clothes and swung her feet out of bed. “Oh, how glad I am to be back again! Are you glad I’m back, Ian? Say you are, do say you are!”

And Ian on his knees before her, said that he was.