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

Ian was leaning against the high mantel-piece of his study. Above it, let into the panelling, was an eighteenth-century painting of the Bridge and Castle of St. Angelo, browned by time. He was wondering how to tell Mildred about the child, and whether she would resent its presence. She, too, was meditating, chin on hand. At length she looked up with a sudden smile.

“What about the baby, Ian? Don’t you take any notice of it yet?”

He was surprised.

“How do you know about him?”

She frowned thoughtfully.

“I seem to know things that have happened in a kind of way rather as though I had seen them in a dream. But they haven’t happened to me, you know.”

“Was it the same last time?”

“No; but the first time I came, and especially just at first, I seemed to remember all kinds of things ” She paused as though trying in vain to revive her impressions “Odd things, not a bit like anything in Oxford. I can’t recall them now, but sometimes in London I fancy I’ve seen places before.”

“Of course you have, dear.”

“And the first time I saw that old picture there I knew it was Rome, and I had a notion that I’d been there and seen just that view.”

“You’ve been seeing pictures and reading books and hearing talk all your life, and in the peculiar state of your memory, I suppose you can’t distinguish between the impressions made on it by facts and by ideas.”

Mildred was silent; but it was not the silence of conviction. Then she jumped up.

“I’m going to see Baby. You needn’t come if you don’t want.”

He hesitated.

“I’m afraid it’s too late. Milly doesn’t like ” He broke off with a wild laugh. “What am I talking about!”

“I suppose you were going to say, Milly doesn’t like people taking a candle into the room when Baby is shut up for the night. I don’t care what Milly likes. He’s my baby now, and he’s sure to look a duck when he’s asleep. Come along!”

She put her arm through his and together they climbed the steep staircase to the nursery.

Mildred had returned to the world in such excellent spirits at merely being there, that she took those awkward situations which Milly had inevitably bequeathed to her, as capital jokes. The partial and external acquaintance with Milly’s doings and points of view which she had brought back with her, made everything easier than before; but her derisive dislike of her absent rival was intensified. It pained Ian if she dropped a hint of it. Tims was the only person to whom she could have the comfort of expressing herself; and even Tims made faces and groaned faintly, as though she did not enjoy Mildred’s wit when Milly was the subject of it. She gave Milly’s cook notice at once, but most things she found in a satisfactory state particularly the family finances. More negatively satisfactory was the state of her wardrobe, since so little had been bought. Mildred still shuddered at the recollection of the trousseau frocks.

Once more Mrs. Stewart, whose social career had been like that of the proverbial rocket shot up into the zenith. But a life of mere amusement was not the fashion in the circle in which she lived, and her active brain and easily aroused sympathies made her quick to take up more serious interests.

It seemed wiser, too, to make no sudden break with Milly’s habits. Still, Emma, the nurse, opined that Baby got on all the better since Mrs. Stewart had become “more used to him like” wasn’t always changing his food, taking his temperature, wanting him to have bandages and medicine, forbidding him to be talked to or sung to, and pulling his little, curling-up limbs straight when he was going to sleep. He was a healthy little fellow and already pretty, with his soft dark hair softer than anything in the world except a baby’s hair his delicate eyebrows and bright dark eyes. Mildred loved playing with him. Sometimes when Ian heard the tiny shrieks of baby laughter, he used to think with a smile and yet with a pang of pity, how shocked poor Milly would have been at this titillation of the infant brain. But he did not want thoughts of Milly so far as he could he shut the door of his mind against them. She would come back, no doubt, sooner or later; and her coming back would mean that Mildred would be robbed of her life, his own life robbed of its joy.

At the end of Term the Master of Durham sent a note to bid the Stewarts to dine with him and meet Sir Henry Milwood, the rich Australian, and Maxwell Davison, the traveller and Orientalist. Ian remarked that Davison was a cousin, although they had not met since he was a boy. Maxwell Davison had gone to the East originally as agent for some big firm, and had spent there nearly twenty years. He was an accomplished Persian and Arabic scholar, and gossip related that he had run off with a fair Persian from a Constantinople harem and lived with her in Persia until her death. But that was years ago.

When the Stewarts entered the Master’s bare bachelor drawing-room, they found besides the Milwoods, only familiar faces. Maxwell Davison was still awaited, and with interest. He came, and that interest did not appear to be mutual, judging from the Oriental impassivity of his long, brown face, with its narrow, inscrutable eyes. He was tall, slight, sinewy as a Bedouin, his age uncertain, since his dry leanness and the dash of silver at his temples might be the effect of burning desert suns.

Mildred was delighted at first at being sent into dinner with him, but she found him disappointingly taciturn. In truth, he had acquired Oriental habits and views with regard to women. If a foolish Occidental custom demanded that they should sit at meat with the lords of creation, he, Maxwell Davison, would not pretend to acquiesce in it. Mildred, to whom it was unthinkable that any man should not wish to talk to her, merely pitied his shyness and determined to break it down; but Davison’s attitude was unbending.

After dinner the Master, his mortar-board cap on his head, opened the drawing-room door and invited them to come across to the College Library to see some bronzes and a few other things that Mr. Davison had temporarily deposited there. He had divined that Maxwell Davison would be willing to sell, and in his guileful soul the little Master may have had schemes of persuading his wealthy friend Milwood to purchase any bronzes that might be of value to the College or the University. Of the ladies, only Mildred and Miss Moore, the archaeologist, braved the chill of the mediaeval Library to inspect the collection. Davison professed to no artistic or antiquarian knowledge of the bronzes. They had come to him in the way of trade and had all been dug up in Asia Minor no, not all, for one he had picked up in England. Nevertheless he had succeeded in getting a pretty clear notion of the relative value of his bronzes the Oriental curios with them it was his business to understand. He could not help observing the sure instinct with which Mrs. Stewart selected what was best among all these different objects. She had the flair of the born collector. The learned archaeologists present leaned over the collection discussing and disputing, and took no notice of her remarks as she rapidly handled each article. But Davison did, and when at length she took up a small figure of Augustus the bronze that had not come from Asia Minor and looked at it with a peculiar doubtful intentness, he began to feel uncomfortable.

“Anything wrong with that?” he asked, in spite of himself.

She laughed nervously.

“Oh, Mr. Davison, please ask some one who knows! I don’t. Only I I seem to have seen something like it before, that’s all.”

Sanderson, roaming around the professed archaeologists, took the bronze from her hands.

“I’ll tell you where you’ve seen it, Mrs. Stewart. It’s engraved in Egerton’s Private Collections of Great Britain. I picked that up the other day first edition, 1818. I dare say the book’s here. We’ll see.”

Sanderson took a candle and went glimmering away down the long, dark room.

“What can this be?” asked Mildred, taking up what looked like a glass ball.

“Please stand over here and look into it for five minutes,” returned Davison, evasively. “Perhaps you’ll see what it is then.”

He somehow wanted to get rid of Mildred’s appraisal of his goods.

“Mr. Davison, your glass ball has gone quite cloudy!” she exclaimed, in a minute or two.

“That’s all right. Go on looking and you’ll see something more,” he returned.

Presently she said:

“It’s so curious. I see the whole room reflected in the glass now, but it’s much lighter than it really is, and the windows seem larger. It all looks so different. There is some one down there in white.”

Sanderson came up the room carrying a large quarto, open.

“Here’s your bronze, right enough,” he said, putting the book down on the table. “It’s under the heading, Hammerton Collection.”

He pointed to a small engraving inscribed, “Bronze statuette of Augustus. Very rare.

“But some fellow’s been scribbling something here,” continued Sanderson, turning the book around to read a note written along the margin. He read out: “’A forgery. Sold by Lady Hammerton to Mr. Solomons, 1819. See case Solomons versus Hammerton, 1820.’”

The turning of the book showed Mildred a full-page engraving entitled, “The Gallery, Hammerton House.” It represented a long room somewhat like the one in which they stood, but still more like the room she had seen in the crystal; and in the middle distance there was a slightly sketched figure of a woman in a light dress. Half incredulous, half frightened, she pored over the engraving which reproduced so strangely the image she had seen in Maxwell Davison’s mysterious ball.

“How funny!” she almost whispered.

“You may call it funny, of course, that Lady Hammerton succeeded in cheating a Jew, which is what it looks like,” rejoined Sanderson, bent on hunting down his quarry; “but it was pretty discreditable to her too.”

“Not at all,” Maxwell Davison’s harsh voice broke in. “That was Solomons’s look out. I sha’n’t bring a lawsuit against the fellow who sold me that Augustus, if it is a forgery. A man’s a fool to deal in things he doesn’t understand.”

“What is this glass ball, Mr. Davison?” asked Miss Moore, in her turn taking up the uncanny thing Mildred had laid down.

“It’s a divining-crystal. In the East certain people, mostly boys, look in these crystals and see all sorts of things, present, past, and to come.”

Miss Moore laughed.

“Or pretend they do!”

“Who knows? It isn’t of any interest, really. The things that have happened have happened, and the things that are to happen will happen just as surely, whether we foresee them or not.”

Miss Moore turned to the Master.

“Look, Master this is a divining-crystal, and Mr. Davison’s trying to persuade me that in the East people really see visions in it.”

The Master smiled.

“Mr. Davison has a poor opinion of ladies’ intelligence, I’m afraid. He thinks they are children, who will believe any fairy tale.”

Davison had drawn near to Mildred as the Master spoke; his eyes met hers and the impassive face wore a faint, ironical smile.

“The Wisdom of the West speaks!” he exclaimed, in a low voice. “I’d almost forgotten the sound of it.”

Then scrutinizing her pale face: “I’m afraid you’ve had a scare. What did you see?”

“I saw well, I fancy I saw the Gallery at Hammerton House and my ancestress, Lady Hammerton. It was burned, you know, and she was burned with it, trying to save her collections. I expect she condescended to give me a glimpse of them because I’ve inherited her mania. I’d be a collector, too, if I had the money.”

She laughed nervously.

“You should take Ian to the East,” returned Davison. “You could make money there and learn things the Wisdom of the East, for instance.”

Mildred, recovering her equanimity, smiled at him.

“No, never! The Wisdom of the West engrosses us; but you’ll come and tell us about the other, won’t you?”