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

So the summer went by; a hot summer, passed brightly enough to all appearance in the spacious rooms and gardens of Clewes and in expeditions among the neighboring fells. But to Ian it seemed rather an anxious pause in life. His work was at a stand-still, yet whatever the optimistic Aunt Beatrice might affirm, he could not feel that the shadow was lifting from his wife’s mind. To others she appeared cheerful in the quiet, serious way that had always been hers, but he saw that her whole attitude towards life, especially in her wistful, yearning tenderness towards himself and Tony, was that of a woman who feels the stamp of death to be set upon her. At night, lying upon his breast, she would sometimes cling to him in an agony of desperate love, adjuring him to tell her the truth as to that Other: whether he did not see that she was different from his own Milly, whether it were possible that he could love that mysterious being as he loved her, his true, loving wife. Ian, who had been wont to hold stern doctrines as to the paramount obligation of truthfulness, perjured himself again and again, and hoped the Recording Angel dropped the customary tear. But, however deep the perjury, before long he was sure to find himself obliged to renew it.

To a man of his sensitive and punctilious nature the situation was almost intolerable. The pity of this tender, innocent life, his care, which seemed like some little inland bird, torn by the tempest from its native fields and tossed out to be the plaything of an immense and terrible ocean whose deeps no man has sounded! The pity of that other life, so winged for shining flight, so armed for triumphant battle, yet held down helpless in those cold ocean depths, and for pity’s sake not to be helped by so much as a thought! Yet from the thorns of his hidden life he plucked one flower of comfort which to him, the philosopher, the man of Abstract Thought, was as refreshing as a pious reflection would be to a man of Religion. He had once been somewhat shaken by the dicta of the modern philosophers who relegate human love to the plane of an illness or an appetite. But where was the physical difference between the woman he so passionately loved and the one for whom he had never felt more than affection and pity? If from the strange adventure of his marriage he had lost some certainties concerning the human soul, he had gained the certainty that Love at least appertains to it.

One hot afternoon Milly was writing her Australian letter under a spreading ilex-tree on the lawn. Lady Thomson and Ian were sitting there also; he reading the latest French novel, she making notes for a speech she had to deliver shortly at the opening of a Girls’ High School.

It is sometimes difficult to find the right news for people who have been for some years out of England, and Milly, in the languor of her melancholy, had relaxed the excellent habit formed under Aunt Beatrice of always keeping her mind to the subject in hand. She sat at the table with one hand propping her chin, gazing dreamily at the bright flower-beds on the lawn and the big, square, homely house, brightened by its striped awnings. At length Aunt Beatrice looked up from her notes.

“Mooning, Milly!” she exclaimed, in her full, agreeable voice. “Now I suppose you’ll be telling your father you havn’t time to write him a long letter.”

“Milly’s not mooning; she’s making notes, like you,” Ian replied, for his wife.

Milly looked around at him in surprise, and then at her right hand. It held a stylograph and had been resting on some scattered sheets of foolscap that Ian had left there in the morning. She had certainly been scrawling on it a little, but she was not aware of having written anything. Yet the scrawl, partly on one sheet and partly on another, was writing, very bad and broken, but still with a resemblance to her own handwriting. She pored over it; then looked Ian in the eyes, her own eyes large with a bewilderment touched with fear.

“I I don’t know what it means,” she said, in a low, anxious tone.

“What’s that?” queried Aunt Beatrice. “Can’t read what you’ve written? You remind me of our old writing-master at school, who used to say tragically that he couldn’t understand how it was that when that happened to a man he didn’t just take a gun and shoot himself. I recommend you the pond, Mildred. It’s more feminine.”

“Please don’t talk to Milly like that,” retorted Ian, not quite lightly. “She always follows your advice, you know. It it’s only scrabbles.”

He had left his chair and was leaning over the table, completely puzzled, first by Milly’s terrified expression, then by what she had written, illegibly enough, across the two sheets of foolscap. He made out: “You are only miserab ...” the words were interspersed with really illegible scrawls “... Go ... go ... Let me ... I want to live, I want to ... Mild ...”

Milly now wrote in her usual clear hand: “Who wrote that?”

He scribbled with his pencil: “You.”

She replied in writing: “No. I know nothing about it.”

Lady Thomson had taken up the newspaper, a thing she never did except at odd minutes, although she contrived to read everything in it that was really worth reading. Folding it up and looking at her watch, she exclaimed:

“A quarter of an hour before the carriage is round! Now don’t go dawdling there, young people, and keep it standing in the sun.”

Milly stood up and gathered her writing-materials together. Aunt Beatrice’s tall figure, its stalwart handsomeness disguised in uncouth garments, passed with its usual vigorous gait across the burning sunlight on the lawn and broad gravel walk, to disappear under the awning of a French window. Milly, very pale, had closed her eyes and her hands were clasped. She trembled, but her voice and expression were calm and even resolute.

“The evil spirit is trying to get possession of me in another way now,” she said. “But with God’s help I shall be able to resist it.”

Ian too was pale and disturbed. It was to him as though he had suddenly heard a beloved voice calling faintly for help.

“It’s only automatic writing, dear,” he replied. “You may not have been aware you were writing, but it probably reflects something in your thoughts.”

“It does not,” returned she, firmly. “However miserable I may sometimes be, I could never wish to give up a moment of my life with you, my own husband, or to leave you and our child to the influence of this this being.”

She stretched out her arms to him.

“Please hold me, Ian, and will as I do, that I may resist this horrible invasion. I have a feeling that you can help me.”

He hesitated. “I, darling? But I don’t believe ”

She approached him, and took hold of him urgently, looking him in the eyes.

“Won’t you do it, husband dear? Please, for my sake, even if you don’t believe, promise you’ll will to keep me here. Will it, with all your might!”

What madness it was, this fantastic scene upon the well-kept lawn, under the square windows of the sober, opulent North Country house! And the maddest part of it all was the horrible reluctance he felt to comply with his wife’s wish. He seemed to himself to pause noticeably before answering her with a meaningless half-laugh:

“Of course I’ll promise anything you like, dear.”

He put his arms around her and rested his face upon her golden head.

“Will!” she whispered, and the voice was one of command rather than of appeal. “Will! You have promised.”

He willed as she commanded him.

The triple madness of it! He did not believe and yet it seemed to him that the being he loved best in all the world was struggling up from below, calling to him for help from her tomb; and he was helping her enemy to hold down the sepulchral stone above her. He put his hand to his brow, and the sweat stood upon it.

Aunt Beatrice’s masculine foot crunched the gravel. She stood there dressed and ready for the drive, beckoning them with her parasol. They came across the lawn holding each other by the hand, and Milly’s face was calm, even happy. Aunt Beatrice smiled at them broadly with her large, handsome mouth and bright brown eyes.

“What, not had enough of spooning yet, you foolish young people! The carriage will be round in one minute, and Milly won’t be ready.”