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

George Goring was never so confident in himself as when he was fighting an apparently losing game; and the refusal of Mildred to come to him, a refusal based, as he supposed, on nothing but an insurmountable prejudice against doing what was not respectable, struck him as a stage in their relations rather than as the end of them. He did not attempt to see her until the close of the Easter Vacation. People began to couple their names, but lightly, without serious meaning, for Goring being popular with women, had a somewhat exaggerated reputation as a flirt. When a faithful cousin hinted things about him and Mrs. Stewart to Lady Augusta, she who believed herself to have seen a number of similar temporary enslavers, put the matter by, really glad that a harmless nobody should have succeeded to Maud Langham with her dangerous opinions.

Ian Stewart on his side was barely acquainted with Goring. Sir John Ireton and the newspapers informed him that George Goring was a flashy, untrustworthy politician; and the former added that he was a terrible nuisance to poor Lord Ipswich and Lady Augusta. That such a man could attract Mildred would never have occurred to him.

The fear of Milly’s return, which she could not altogether banish, still at times checked and restrained Mildred. Could she but have secured Tims’s assistance in keeping Milly away, she would have felt more confident of success. It was hopeless to appeal directly to the hypnotist, but her daring imagination began to conceive a situation in which mere good sense and humanity must compel Tims to forbid the return of Milly to a life made impossible for her. She had not seen Tims for many weeks, not since the Easter Vacation, which had already receded into a remote distance; so far had she journeyed since then along the path of her fate. Nor had she so much as wondered at not seeing Tims. But now her mind was turned to consider the latent power which that strange creature held over her life, her dearest interests; since how might not Milly comport herself with George?

Then it was that she realized how long it had been since Tims had crept up the stairs to her drawing-room; pausing probably in the middle of them to wipe away with hasty pocket-handkerchief some real or fancied trace of her foot on a carpet which she condemned as expensive.

Mildred had written her a note, but it was hardly posted when the door was flung open and Miss Timson was formally announced by the parlor-maid. Tony, who was looking at pictures with his mother, rose from her side, prepared to take a hop, skip, and jump and land with his arms around Tims’s waist. But he stopped short and contemplated her with round-eyed solemnity. The ginger-colored man’s wig had developed into a frizzy fringe and the rest of the coiffure of the hour. A large picture hat surmounted it, and her little person was clothed in a vivid heliotrope dress of the latest mode. It was a handsome dress, a handsome hat, a handsome wig, yet somehow the effect was jarring. Tony felt vaguely shocked. “Bless thee! Thou art translated!” he might have cried with Quince; but being a polite child, he said nothing, only put out a small hand sadly. Tims, however, unconscious of the slight chill cast by her appearance, kissed him in a perfunctory, patronizing way, as ladies do who are afraid of disarranging their veils. She greeted Mildred also with a parade of mundane elegance, and sat down deliberately on the sofa, spreading out her heliotrope skirts.

“You can run away just now, little man,” she said to Tony. “I want to talk to your mother.”

“How smart you are!” observed Mildred, seeing that comment of some kind would be welcome. “Been to Sir James Carus’s big party at the Museum, I suppose. You’re getting a personage, Tims.”

“I dare say I shall look in later, but I shouldn’t trouble to dress up for that, my girl. Clothes would be quite wasted there. But I think one should always try to look decent, don’t you? One’s men like it.”

Mildred smiled.

“I suppose Ian would notice it if I positively wasn’t decent. But, Tims, dear, does old Carus really criticise your frocks?”

For indeed the distinguished scientist, Miss Timson’s chief, was the only man she could think of to whom Tims could possibly apply the possessive adjective. Tims bridled.

“Of course not; I was thinking of Mr. Fitzalan.”

That she had for years been very kind to a lonely little man of that name who lived in the same block of chambers, Mildred knew, but Heavens! Even Mildred’s presence of mind failed her, and she stared. Meeting her amazed eye, Tims’s borrowed smile suddenly broke its bounds and became her own familiar grin, only more so:

“We’re engaged,” she said.

“My dear Tims!” exclaimed Mildred, suppressing an inclination to burst out laughing. “What a surprise!”

“I quite thought you’d have been prepared for it,” returned Tims. “A bit stupid of you not to guess it, don’t you know, old girl. We’ve been courting long enough.”

Mildred hastened to congratulate the strange bride and wish her happiness, with all that unusual grace which she knew how to employ in adorning the usual.

“I thought I should like you to be the first to know,” said Tims, sentimentally, after a while; “because I was your bridesmaid, you see. It was the prettiest wedding I ever saw, and I should love to have a wedding like yours all of us carrying lilies, you know.”

“I remember there were green stains on my wedding-dress,” returned Mildred, with forced gayety.

Tims, temporarily oblivious of all awkward circumstances, continued, still more sentimentally:

“Then I was there, as I’ve told you, when Ian’s pop came to poor old M. Poor old girl! She was awfully spifligatingly happy, and I feel just the same now myself.”

“Well, it wasn’t I, anyhow, who felt ‘awfully spifligatingly happy’ on that occasion,” replied Mildred, with a touch of asperity in her voice.

Tims, legitimately absorbed in her own feelings, did not notice it. She continued:

“I dare say the world will say Mr. Fitzalan had an eye on my money; and it’s true I’ve done pretty well with my investments. But, bless you! he hadn’t a notion of that. You see, I was brought up to be stingy, and I enjoy it. He thought of course I was a pauper, and proposed we should pauper along together. He was quite upset when he found I was an heiress. Wasn’t it sweet of him?”

Mildred said it was.

“Flora Fitzalan!” breathed Tims, clasping her hands and smiling into space. “Isn’t it a pretty name? It’s always been my dream to have a pretty name.” Then suddenly, as though in a flash seeing all those personal disadvantages which she usually contrived to ignore:

“Life’s a queer lottery, Mil, my girl. We know what we are, we know not what we shall be, as old Billy says. Who’d ever have thought that a nice, quiet girl like Milly, marrying the lad of her heart and all that, would come to such awful grief; while look at me a queer kind of girl you’d have laid your bottom dollar wouldn’t have much luck, prospering like anything, well up in the Science business, and now, what’s ever so much better, scrumptiously happy with a good sort of her own. Upon my word, Mil, I’ve half a mind to fetch old M. back to sympathize with me, for although you’ve said a peck of nice things, I don’t believe you understand what I’m feeling the way the old girl would.”

Mildred went a little pale and spoke quickly.

“You won’t do that really, Tims? You won’t be so cruel to to every one?”

“I don’t know. I don’t see why you’re always to be jolly and have everything your own way. Oh, Lord! When I think how happy old M. was when she was engaged, the same as I am, and then on her wedding-day just the same as I shall be on mine.”

Mildred straightened out the frill of a muslin cushion cover, her head bent.

“Just so. She had everything her own way that time. I gave her that happiness, it was all my doing. She’s had it and she ought to be content. Don’t be a fool, Tims ” she lifted her face and Tims was startled by its expression “Can’t you see how hard it is on me never to be allowed the happiness you’ve got and Milly’s had? Don’t you think I might care to know what love is like for myself? Don’t you think I might happen to want I tell you I’m a million times more alive than Milly and I want I want everything a million times more than she does.”

Tims was astonished.

“But it’s always struck me, don’t you know, that Ian was a deal more in love with you than he ever was with poor old M.”

“And you pretend to be in love and think that’s enough! It’s not enough; you must know it’s not. It’s like sitting at a Barmecide feast, very hungry, only the Barmecide’s sitting opposite you eating all the time and talking about his food. I tell you it’s maddening, perfectly maddening ” There was a fierce vehemence in her face, her voice, the clinch of her slender hands on the muslin frill. That strong vitality which before had seemed to carry her lightly as on wings, over all the rough places of life, had now not failed, but turned itself inwards, burning in an intense flame at once of pain and of rebellion against its own pain.

Tims in the midst of her happiness, felt vaguely scared. Mildred seeing it, recovered herself and plunged into the usual engagement talk. In a few minutes she was her old beguiling self the self to whose charm Tims was as susceptible in her way as Thomas the Rhymer had been in his.

When she had left, and from time to time thereafter, Tims felt vaguely uncomfortable, remembering Mildred’s outburst of vehement bitterness on the subject of love. It was so unlike her usual careless tone, which implied that it was men’s business, or weakness, to be in love with women, and that only second-rate women fell in love themselves.

Mildred seemed altogether more serious than she used to be, and Milly herself could not have been more sympathetic over the engagement. Even Mr. Fitzalan, when Tims brought him to call on the Stewarts was not afraid of her, and found it possible to say a few words in reply to her remarks. Tims’s ceremonious way of speaking of her betrothed, whom she never mentioned except as Mr. Fitzalan, made Ian reflect with sad humor on the number of offensively familiar forms of address which he himself had endured from her, and on the melancholy certainty that she had never spoken of him in his absence by any name more respectful than the plain unprefixed “Stewart.” But he hoped that the excitement of her engagement had wiped out of her remembrance that afternoon when poor Milly had tried to return. For he did not like to think of that moment of weakness in which he had allowed Tims to divine so much of a state of mind which he could not unveil even to himself without a certain shame.