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

Not long afterwards Mildred received a letter the very address of which had an original appearance, looking as if it were written with a stick in a fist rather than with a pen between fingers. It caught her attention at once from half a dozen others.

“DEAR MRS. STEWART, Yesterday I was at Cochrane’s studio and he told me Meres was the greatest authority in England on tapestry, and also a cousin of yours. Please remember (or forgive) the supper on Tuesday, and of your kindness, ask him to let me see his lot and give me his opinion on mine. Cochrane had a folly he called a portrait of you in his studio. I turned its face to the wall; and in the end he admitted I was right.

“Yours sincerely,


Accordingly, on a very hot day early in July, Goring met Mildred again, at Sir Cyril Meres’s house on Campden Hill. The long room at one end of which stood the small dining-table looked on the greenness of a lawny, lilac-sheltered garden, so that such light as filtered through the green jalousies was green also. There was a great block of ice somewhere in the room, and so cool it was, so greenly dim there, that it seemed almost like a cavern of the sea. Mildred wore a white dress, and, as was the fashion of the moment, a large black hat shadowed with ostrich-feathers. Once more on seeing her he had a startled impression of looking upon an ethereal creature, a being somehow totally distinct from other beings; and for lack of some more appropriate name, he called her again in his mind “Undine.” As the talk, which Cyril Meres had a genius for making general, became more animated, he half lost that impression in one of a very clever, charming woman, with a bright wit sailing lightly over depths of knowledge to which he was unaccustomed in her sex.

The party was not intended to number more than eight persons, of whom Lady Thomson was one, and they sat down seven. When Sir Cyril observed: “We won’t wait any longer for Davison,” Mildred was too much interested in Goring’s presence to inquire who this Davison might be.

She sparkled on half through luncheon to the delight of every one but Miss Ormond the actress, who would have preferred to play the lead herself. Then came a pause. A door was opened at the far end of the dim room, and the missing guest appeared. Sir Cyril rose hastily to greet him. He advanced without any apologetic hurry in his gait; the same impassive Maxwell Davison as before, but leaner, browner, more silver-headed from three more years of wandering under Oriental suns. Mildred could hardly have supposed it possible that the advent of any human being could have given her so disagreeable a sensation.

Sir Cyril was unaware that she knew Maxwell Davison; surprised to hear that he was a cousin of Stewart’s, between whom and himself there existed a mutual antipathy, expressing itself in terms of avoidance. His own acquaintance with Davison was recent and in the way of business. He had had the fancy to build for the accommodation of his Hellenic treasures a room in imitation of the court of a Graeco-Roman house which he had helped to excavate in Asia Minor. He had commissioned Davison to buy him hangings for it to harmonize with an old Persian carpet in cream color and blue of which he was already possessed. Davison had brought these with him and a little collection of other things which he thought Meres might care to look at. He did not know the Stewarts had moved to London, and it was an unpleasant surprise to find himself seated at the same table with Mildred; he had not forgotten, still less forgiven, the lure of her coquetry, the insult of her rebuff.

Lady Thomson was next him and questioned him exhaustively about his book on Persian Literature and the travels of his lifetime. Miss Ormond took advantage of Mrs. Stewart’s sudden silence to talk to the table rather cleverly around the central theme of herself. Goring conversed apart with Mrs. Stewart.

Coffee was served in the shrine which Sir Cyril had reared for his Greek collection, of which the gem was a famous head of Aphrodite an early Aphrodite, divine, removed from all possible pains and agitations of human passion. The room was an absurdity on Campden Hill, said some, but undeniably beautiful in itself. The columns, of singular lightness and grace, were of a fine marble which hovered between creamy white and faint yellow, and the walls and floor were of the same tone, except for a frieze on a Greek model, very faintly colored, and the old Persian carpet. In fine summer weather the large skylight covering the central space was withdrawn, and such sky as London can show looked down upon it. The new hangings which Maxwell Davison had brought with him were already displayed on a tall screen, and his miscellaneous collection of antiquities, partly sent from Durham College, partly lately acquired, were arranged on a marble bench.

“I shouldn’t have brought these things, Sir Cyril,” he said; “if I’d known Mrs. Stewart was here. She’s got a way of hinting that my most cherished antiquities are forgeries; and the worst of it is, she makes every one believe her, including myself.”

Mildred protested.

“I don’t pretend to know anything about antiquities, Mr. Davison. I’m sure I never suspected you of a forgery, and if I had, I hope I shouldn’t have been rude enough to tell you so.”

Maxwell Davison laughed his harsh laugh.

“Do you want me to believe you can’t be rude, Mrs. Stewart?”

“I’m almost afraid she can’t be,” interposed Lady Thomson’s full voice. “People who make a superstition of politeness infallibly lose the higher courtesy of truth.”

Here Sir Cyril Meres called Davison away to worship at the shrine of the Aphrodite, while Goring invited Mrs. Stewart into a neighboring corridor where some tapestries were hanging.

The divining crystal was among the objects returned from Oxford, and had been included in the collection which Davison had brought with him, on the chance that the painter might fancy such curiosities. When Goring and Mildred returned from their leisurely inspection of the tapestries, Miss Ormond had it in her hand, and Lady Thomson was commenting on some remark of hers.

“I’ve no doubt, as you say, it has played a wicked part before now in Oriental intrigues. But of course the poor crystal is perfectly innocent of the things read into it by rascals, practising on the ignorant and superstitious.”

“Sometimes, perhaps, Lady Thomson,” returned Miss Ormond; “but sometimes people do see extraordinary visions in a crystal.”

Lady Thomson sniffed.

“Excitable, imaginative people do, I dare say.”

“On the contrary, prosaic people are far more likely to see things than highly strung imaginative creatures like myself. I’ve tried several times and have never seen anything. I believe having a great deal of brain-power and emotion and all that tells against it. I shouldn’t be at all surprised now if Mrs. Stewart, who is well, I should fancy, just a little cold, very bright and all that on the surface, you know I shouldn’t wonder if she could crystal-gaze very successfully. I should like to know whether she’s ever tried.”

“I’m sure she’s not,” replied Lady Thomson, firmly. “My niece, Mrs. Stewart, is a great deal too sensible and well-educated.”

“Mrs. Stewart can’t honestly say the same for herself,” interposed Davison; “she gazed in this very crystal some years ago and certainly saw something in it.”

Miss Ormond exclaimed in triumph. Mildred froze. She did not desire the rôle of Society Seer.

“What did I see, Mr. Davison?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing of importance. You saw a woman in a light dress. Perhaps it was Lady Hammerton the collector, originally guilty, you remember, in the matter of the forged Augustus.”

“Mildred had only to peep in any glass to see Lady Hammerton, or some one sufficiently like her,” observed Meres.

“That idea was started when David Fletcher picked up the fancy picture which he chose to call a portrait of Lady Hammerton,” cried Lady Thomson, who was just taking her leave. “Such nonsense! I protest against my own niece and a scholar of Ascham being likened to that scandalous woman.”

Cyril Meres smiled and stroked his soft, silvery beard.

“Quite right of you to protest, Beatrice. Still, I’m glad Lady Hammerton didn’t stick heroically to her Professor as Mildred here does. We should never have been proud of her as an ancestress if she had.”

“Heroically?” repeated Maxwell Davison under his breath, and laughed. But the meaning of his laugh was lost on every one except Mildred. She flushed hotly at the thought of having to bear the responsibility of that ridiculous scene on the Cherwell; it was humiliating, indeed. She took up the crystal to conceal her chagrin.

“Do please see something, Mrs. Stewart!” exclaimed Miss Ormond.

“What sort of thing?”

“Anything! Whatever you see, it will be quite thrilling.

“Please see me, Mrs. Stewart,” petitioned Goring, wandering towards the crystal-gazer. “I should so like to thrill Miss Ormond.”

“It’s no good your trying that way,” smiled the lady, playing fine eyes. “It’s only shadows that are thrilling in the crystal; shadows of something happening a long way off; or sometimes a coming event casts a shadow before and that’s the most thrilling of all.”

“A coming event! That’s exactly what I am, a tremendous coming Political Event. You ask them in the House,” cried Goring, thrusting out his chin and aiming a provocative side-smile at a middle-aged Under-Secretary of State who discreetly admired Miss Ormond.

“Modest creature!” ejaculated the Under-Secretary playfully with his lips; and in his heart vindictively, “Conceited devil!”

“Please see me, Mrs. Stewart!” pleaded Goring, half kneeling on a chair and leaning over the crystal.

“I do,” she returned. “I’d rather not. You look so distorted and odd; and so do I, don’t I? Dreadful! But the crystal’s getting cloudy.”

“Then you’re going really to see something!” exclaimed Miss Ormond. “How delightful! Come away directly, Mr. Goring, or you’ll spoil everything.”

Sir Cyril and Davison looked up from some treasure of Greek art. The conversation was perfunctory, every one’s curiosity waiting on Mildred and the crystal.

“Don’t you see anything yet, Mrs. Stewart?” asked Miss Ormond at length, impatiently.

“No,” replied Mildred, hesitatingly. “At least, not exactly. I see something like rushing water and foam.”

“The reflection of clouds overhead,” pronounced the Under-Secretary, dogmatically, glancing upward.

“I’m sure it’s nothing of the kind,” asserted Miss Ormond. “Please go on looking, Mrs. Stewart, and perhaps you’ll see a water-spirit.”

“Why do you want her to see a water-spirit?” asked Davison, ironically. “In all countries of the world they are reckoned spiteful, treacherous creatures. I was once bitten by one severely, and I have never wanted to see one since.”

“Oh, Mr. Davison! Are you serious? What do you mean?” questioned Miss Ormond.

Mrs. Stewart hastily put down the crystal. “I don’t want to see one,” she said; “I’m afraid it might bring me bad luck, and, besides, I can’t wait for it, I’ve got several calls to make before I go home, and I think there’s a storm coming.” She shivered. “I’m quite cold.”

Miss Ormond said that must be the effect of the crystal, as the afternoon was still oppressively hot.

Goring caught up with Mrs. Stewart in the gravel drive outside the house and walked through Kensington Gardens with her. It seemed to them both quite natural that they should be walking together, and their talk was in the vein of old friends who have met after a long separation rather than in that of new acquaintances. When he left her and turned to walk across Hyde Park towards Westminster, he examined his impressions and perceived that he was in a state of mind foreign to his nature, and therefore the butt of his ridicule; a state in which, if he and Mrs. Stewart had been unmarried persons, he would have said to himself, “That is the woman I shall marry.” It would not have been a passion or an emotion that would have made him say that; it would have been a conviction. As it was, the thing was absurd. Cochrane had told him, half in jest, that Mrs. Stewart was a breaker of hearts, but had not hinted that her own was on the market. Her appearance made it surely an interesting question whether she had a heart at all.

And for himself? He hated to think of his marriage, because he recognized in it the fatal “little spot” in the yet ungarnered fruit of his life. He was only thirty, but he had been married seven years and had two children, both of them the image of all the Barthops that had ever been, except his own father. In moments of depression he saw himself through all the coming years being gradually broken, crushed under a weight of Barthops father-in-law, wife and children moulded into a thin semblance of a Marquis of Ipswich, a bastard Marquis. No one but himself knew the weakness of his character explosive, audacious in alarums or excursions, but without the something, call it strength or hardness or stupidity, which enables the man or woman possessing it to resist constant domestic pressure the unconscious pressure of radically opposed character. The crowd applauds the marriage of such opposites because their side almost always wins; partly by its own weight and partly by their weight behind. But the truth is that two beings opposed in emotional temperament and mental processes are only a few degrees more able to help and understand each other in the close union of marriage than the two personalities of Milly Stewart in the closer union of her body.

From one point of view it was Goring’s fatal weakness to have a real affection for his father-in-law, who was a pattern of goodness and good-breeding. Consequently, that very morning he had promised Lord Ipswich to walk in the straightest way of the party, for one year at least; and if he must slap faces, to select them on the other side of the House. Nevertheless, if he really wished to give sincere gratification to Lord Ipswich and to dear Augusta, he must needs give up his capricious and offensive tactics altogether. These things might give him a temporary notoriety in the House and country, but they were not in the traditions of the Ipswich family, which had held a high place in politics for two hundred years. The Marquis said that he had always tried to make George feel that he was received as a true son of the family and heir of its best traditions, if not of its name. There had been a great deal of good faith on both sides. Yet now a solitary young man, looking well in the frock-coat and tall hat of convention, might have been observed stopping and striking the gravel viciously as he reflected on the political future which his father-in-law was mapping out for him.