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

Between noon and one o’clock on a bright June morning there is no place in the world quite so full of sunshine and summer as the quadrangle of an Oxford College. Not Age but Youth of centuries smiles from gray walls and aery pinnacles upon the joyous children of To-day. Youth, in a bright-haired, black-winged-butterfly swarm, streams out of every dark doorway, from the austere shade of study, to disport itself, two by two, or in larger eddying groups, upon the worn gravel, even venturously flits across the sacred green of the turf. There is an effervescence of life in the clear air, and the sun-steeped walls of stone are resonant with the cheerful noise of young voices. Here and there men already in flannels pass towards the gate; Dons draped in the black folds of the stately gown, stand chatting with their books under their arms; and since the season of festivity has begun, scouts hurry cautiously to and fro from buttery and kitchen, bearing brimming silver cups crowned with blue borage and floating straws, or trays of decorated viands. The scouts are grave and careworn, but from every one else a kind of physical joy and contentment seems to breathe as perfume breathes from blossoms and even leaves, in the good season of the year.

Ian Stewart did not quite resist this atmosphere of physical contentment. He stood in the sunshine exchanging a few words with passing pupils; yet at the back of his mind there was a deep distress. He had been brought up in the moral refinement, the honorable strictness of principle with regard to moral law, common to his academic class, and, besides, he had an innate delicacy and sensibility of feeling. If his intelligence perceived that there are qualities, individualities which claim exemption from ordinary rules, he had no desire to claim any such exemption for himself. Yet he found himself occupying the position of a man torn on the rack between a jealous wife for whom he has affection and esteem, and a mistress who compels his love. Only here was not alone a struggle but a mystery, and the knot admitted of no severance.

He looked around upon his pupils, upon the distant figures of his fellow Dons, robed in the same garb, seemingly living the same life as himself. Where was fact, where was reality? In yonder phantasmagoric procession of Oxford life, forever repeating itself, or in this strange tragi-comedy of souls, one in two and two in one, passing behind the thick walls of that old house in the street nearby? There he stood among the rest, part and parcel apparently of an existence as ordinary, as peaceful, as monotonous as the Victorian era could produce. Yet if he were to tell any one within sight the plain truth concerning his life, it would be regarded as a fairy tale, the fantastic invention of an overwrought brain.

There is something in college life which fosters a reticence that is almost secretiveness; and this becomes a code, a religion; yet Stewart found himself seized with an intense longing to confide in someone. And at that moment, from under the wide archway leading into the quadrangle, appeared the Master of Durham. The Master was in cap and gown, and carried some large papers under his arm; he walked slowly, as he had taken to walking of late, his odd, trotting gait transformed almost to a hobble. Meditative, he looked straight before him with unseeing eyes. No artist was ever able to seize the inner and the outer verity of that round, pink baby face, filled with the power of a weighty personality and a penetrating mind. Stewart marked him in that minute, sagacity and benevolence, as it were, silently radiating from him; and the younger man in his need turned to the wise Master, the paternal friend whose counsels had done so much to set his young feet in the way of success.

When Stewart found himself in the Master’s study, the study so familiar to his youth, with its windows looking out on the garden quadrangle, and saw the great little man himself seated before him at the writing-table, he marvelled at the temerity that had brought him there to speak on such a theme. But the cup was poured and had to be drunk. The Master left him to begin. He sat with a plump hand on each plump knee, and regarded his old pupil with silent benevolence.

“I’ve come to see you, Master,” said Stewart, “because I feel very bewildered, very helpless, in a matter which touches my wife even more than myself. You were so kind about my marriage, and you have always been good to her as well as to me.”

“Miss Flaxman was a nice young lady,” squeaked the Master. “I knew you married wisely.”

“Something happened shortly before we were engaged which she we didn’t quite grasp its importance, I mean,” Stewart began. He then spoke of those periodical lapses of memory in his wife which he had come to see involved real and extraordinary variations in her character a change, in fact, of personality. He mentioned their futile visits to Norton-Smith, the brain and nerve specialist. The Master heard him without either moving or interrupting. When he had done there was a silence. At length the Master said:

“I suspect we don’t understand women.”

“Perhaps not. But, Master, haven’t you yourself noticed a great difference in my wife at various times?”

“Not more than I feel in myself not of another character, that is. We live among men; we live among men who, generally speaking, know nothing about women. That’s why women appear to us strange and unnatural. Your wife’s quite normal, really.”

“But the memory alone, surely ”

“That’s made you nervous; but I’ve known cases not far different. You remember meeting Sir Henry Milwood here? When I knew him he was a young clergyman. He had an illness; forgot all about his clerical life, and went sheep-farming in Australia, where he made his fortune.”

“But his personality?” asked Stewart, with anxiety. “Was that changed?”

“Certainly. A colonial sheep-farmer is a different person from a young Don just in orders.”

“I don’t mean that, Master. I mean did he rise from his bed with ideas, with feelings quite opposite to those which had possessed him when he lay down upon it? Did he ever have a return of the clerical phase, during which he forgot how he became a sheep-farmer and wished to take up his old work again?”

“No no.”

There was a pause. The Master played with his gold spectacles and sucked his under lip. Then:

“Take a good holiday, Stewart,” he said.

Stewart’s clear-cut face hardened and flushed momentarily. “These are not fancies of my own, Master. Cases occur in which two, sometimes more than two, entirely different personalities alternate in the same individual. The spontaneous cases are rare, of course, but hypnotism seems to develop them pretty freely. The facts are there, but English scientists prefer to say nothing about them.”

The Master rose and trotted restlessly about.

“They’re quite right,” he returned, at length. “Such ideas can lead to nothing but mischief.”

“Surely that is the orthodox theologian’s usual objection to scientific fact.”

The Master lifted his head and looked at his rebel disciple. For although he was an officiating clergyman, he and the orthodox theologians were at daggers drawn.

“Views, statements of this kind are not knowledge,” he said, after a while, and continued moving uneasily about without looking at Stewart.

Stewart did not reply; it seemed useless to go on talking. He recognized that the Master’s attitude was what his own had been before the iron of fact had entered into his flesh and spirit. Yet somehow he had hoped that his Master’s large and keen perception of human things, his judicial mind, would have lifted him above the prejudices of Reason. He sat there cheerless, his college cap between his knees; and was seeking the moment to say good-bye when the Master suddenly sat down beside him. To any one looking in at the window, the two seated side by side on the hard sofa would have seemed an oddly assorted pair. Stewart’s length of frame, the raven black of his hair and beard, the marble pallor of his delicate features, made the little Master look smaller, pinker, plumper than usual; but his face, radiating wisdom and affection, was more than beautiful in the eyes of his old disciple.

“I took a great interest in your marriage, Stewart,” he said. “I always think of you and your wife as two very dear young friends. You must let me speak to you now as a father might and probably wouldn’t.”

Stewart assented with affectionate reverence.

“You are young, but your wife is much younger. A man marries a girl many years younger than himself and has not the same feeling of responsibility towards her as he would have towards a young man of the same age. He seldom considers her youth. Yet his responsibility is much greater towards her than towards a pupil of the same age; she needs more help, she will accept more in forming her mind and character. Now you have married a young lady who is very intelligent, very pleasing; but she has a delicate nervous system, and it has been overstrained. She lets this peculiar weakness of her memory get on her nerves. You have nerves yourself, you have imagination, and you let your mind give way to hers. That’s not wise; it’s not right. Let her feel that these moods do not affect you; be sure that they do not. What matters mainly is that your mutual love should remain unchanged. When your wife finds that her happiness, her real happiness, is quite untouched by these changes of mood, she will leave off attributing an exaggerated importance to them. So will you, Stewart. You will see them in their right proportion; you will see the great evil and danger of giving way to imagination, of accepting perverse psychological hypotheses as guides in life. Reason and Religion are the only true guides.”

The Master did not utter these sayings continuously. There were pauses which Stewart might have filled, but he did not offer to do so. The spell of his old teacher’s mind and aspect was upon him. His spirit was, as it were, bowed before his Master in a kind of humility.

He walked home with a lightened heart, feeling somewhat as a devout sinner might feel to whom his confessor had given absolution. For about twenty-four hours this mood lasted. Then he confronted the fact that the beloved Master’s advice had been largely, though not altogether, futile, because it had not dealt with actuality. And Ian Stewart saw himself to be moving in the plain, ordinary world of men as solitary as a ghost which vainly endeavors to make its presence and its needs recognized.