A Great Success
by Mrs Humphry Ward
[Illustration: “Look there, Doris—you see that path? Let's go on to
the moor a little.”]
A Great Success
Mrs. Humphry Ward Author of “Eltham House,” “Delia Blanchflower,”
New York Hearst's International Library Co. 1916
“Arthur,—what did you give the man?”
“Half a crown, my dear! Now don't make a fuss. I know exactly what
you're going to say!”
“Half a crown!” said Doris Meadows, in consternation. “The
fare was one and twopence. Of course he thought you mad. But I'll get
And she ran to the open window, crying “Hi!” to the driver of a
taxi-cab, who, having put down his fares, was just on the point of
starting from the door of the small semi-detached house in a South
Kensington street, which owned Arthur and Doris Meadows for its master
The driver turned at her call.
“Hi!—Stop! You've been over-paid!”
The man grinned all over, made her a low bow, and made off as fast
as he could.
Arthur Meadows, behind her, went into a fit of laughter, and as his
wife, discomfited, turned back into the room he threw a triumphant arm
“I had to give him half a crown, dear, or burst. Just look at these
letters—and you know what a post we had this morning! Now don't bother
about the taxi! What does it matter? Come and open the post.”
Whereupon Doris Meadows felt herself forcibly drawn down to a seat
on the sofa beside her husband, who threw a bundle of letters upon his
wife's lap, and then turned eagerly to open others with which his own
hands were full.
“H'm!—Two more publishers' letters, asking for the book—don't they
wish they may get it! But I could have made a far better bargain if I'd
only waited a fortnight. Just my luck! One—two—four—autograph
fiends! The last—a lady, of course!—wants a page of the first
lecture. Calm! Invitations from the Scottish Athenaeum—the Newcastle
Academy—the Birmingham Literary Guild—the Glasgow Poetic Society—the
'British Philosophers'—the Dublin Dilettanti!—Heavens!—how many
more! None of them offering cash, as far as I can see—only fame—pure
and undefiled! Hullo!—that's a compliment!—the Parnassians have put
me on their Council. And last year, I was told, I couldn't even get in
as an ordinary member. Dash their impudence!... This is really
astounding! What are yours, darling?”
And tumbling all his opened letters on the sofa, Arthur Meadows
rose—in sheer excitement—and confronted his wife, with a flushed
countenance. He was a tall, broadly built, loose-limbed fellow, with a
fine shaggy head, whereof various black locks were apt to fall forward
over his eyes, needing to be constantly thrown back by a picturesque
action of the hand. The features were large and regular, the complexion
dark, the eyes a pale blue, under bushy brows. The whole aspect of the
man, indeed, was not unworthy of the adjective “Olympian,” already
freely applied to it by some of the enthusiastic women students
attending his now famous lectures. One girl artist learned in classical
archaeology, and a haunter of the British Museum, had made a charcoal
study of a well-known archaistic “Diespiter” of the Augustan period, on
the same sheet with a rapid sketch of Meadows when lecturing; a
performance which had been much handed about in the lecture-room,
though always just avoiding—strangely enough—the eyes of the
lecturer.... The expression of slumbrous power, the mingling of dream
and energy in the Olympian countenance, had been, in the opinion of the
majority, extremely well caught. Only Doris Meadows, the lecturer's
wife, herself an artist, and a much better one than the author of the
drawing, had smiled a little queerly on being allowed a sight of it.
However, she was no less excited by the batch of letters her husband
had allowed her to open than he by his. Her bundle included, so it
appeared, letters from several leading politicians: one, discussing in
a most animated and friendly tone the lecture of the week before, on
“Lord George Bentinck”; and two others dealing with the first lecture
of the series, the brilliant pen-portrait of Disraeli, which—partly
owing to feminine influence behind the scenes—had been given
verbatim and with much preliminary trumpeting in two or three Tory
newspapers, and had produced a real sensation, of that mild sort which
alone the British public—that does not love lectures—is capable of
receiving from the report of one. Persons in the political world had
relished its plain speaking; dames and counsellors of the Primrose
League had read the praise with avidity, and skipped the criticism;
while the mere men and women of letters had appreciated a style crisp,
unhackneyed, and alive. The second lecture on “Lord George Bentinck"
had been crowded, and the crowd had included several Cabinet Ministers,
and those great ladies of the moment who gather like vultures to the
feast on any similar occasion. The third lecture, on “Palmerston and
Lord John”—had been not only crowded, but crowded out, and London was
by now fully aware that it possessed in Arthur Meadows a person capable
of painting a series of La Bruyere-like portraits of modern men, as
vivid, biting, and “topical”—mutatis mutandis—as the great
French series were in their day.
Applications for the coming lecture on “Lord Randolph” were arriving
by every post, and those to follow after—on men just dead, and others
still alive—would probably have to be given in a much larger hall than
that at present engaged, so certain was intelligent London that in
going to hear Arthur Meadows on the most admired—or the most
detested—personalities of the day, they at least ran no risk of
wishy-washy panegyric, or a dull caution. Meadows had proved himself
daring both in compliment and attack; nothing could be sharper than his
thrusts, or more Olympian than his homage. There were those indeed who
talked of “airs” and “mannerisms,” but their faint voices were lost in
the general shouting.
“Wonderful!” said Doris, at last, looking up from the last of these
epistles. “I really didn't know, Arthur, you were such a great man.”
Her eyes rested on him with a fond but rather puzzled expression.
“Well, of course, dear, you've always seen the seamy side of me,”
said Meadows, with the slightest change of tone and a laugh. “Perhaps
now you'll believe me when I say that I'm not always lazy when I seem
so—that a man must have time to think, and smoke, and dawdle, if he's
to write anything decent, and can't always rush at the first job that
offers. When you thought I was idling—I wasn't! I was gathering up
impressions. Then came an attractive piece of work—one that suited
me—and I rose to it. There, you see!”
He threw back his Jovian head, with a look at his wife, half
combative, half merry.
Doris's forehead puckered a little.
“Well, thank Heaven that it has turned out well!” she said,
with a deep breath. “Where we should have been if it hadn't I'm sure I
don't know! And, as it is—By the way, Arthur, have you got that packet
ready for New York?” Her tone was quick and anxious.
“What, the proofs of 'Dizzy'? Oh, goodness, that'll do any time.
Don't bother, Doris. I'm really rather done—and this post is—well,
upon my word, it's overwhelming!” And, gathering up the letters, he
threw himself with an air of fatigue into a long chair, his hands
behind his head. “Perhaps after tea and a cigarette I shall feel more
“Arthur!—you know to-morrow is the last day for catching the New
“Well, hang it, if I don't catch it, they must wait, that's all!”
said Meadows peevishly. “If they won't take it, somebody else will.”
“They” represented the editor and publisher of a famous New York
magazine, who had agreed by cable to give a large sum for the “Dizzy"
lecture, provided it reached them by a certain date.
Doris twisted her lip.
“Arthur, do think of the bills!”
“Darling, don't be a nuisance! If I succeed I shall make money. And
if this isn't a success I don't know what is.” He pointed to the
letters on his lap, an impatient gesture which dislodged a certain
number of them, so that they came rustling to the floor.
“Hullo!—here's one you haven't opened. Another coronet! Gracious! I
believe it's the woman who asked us to dinner a fortnight ago, and we
Meadows sat up with a jerk, all languor dispelled, and held out his
hand for the letter.
“Lady Dunstable! By George! I thought she'd ask us,—though you
don't deserve it, Doris, for you didn't take any trouble at all about
her first invitation—”
“We were engaged!” cried Doris, interrupting him, her
“We could have got out of it perfectly. But now, listen to this:
“Dear Mr. Meadows,—I hope your wife will excuse my writing to
instead of to her, as you and I are already acquainted. Can I
you both to come to Crosby Ledgers for a week-end, on July 16?
hope to have a pleasant party, a diplomat or two, the Home
Secretary, and General Hichen—perhaps some others. You would,
sure, admire our hill country, and I should like to show you
the precious autographs we have inherited.
“If your wife brings a maid, perhaps she will kindly let me
Doris laughed, and the amused scorn of her laugh annoyed her
husband. However, at that moment their small house-parlourmaid entered
with the tea-tray, and Doris rose to make a place for it. The
parlourmaid put it down with much unnecessary noise, and Doris, looking
at her in alarm, saw that her expression was sulky and her eyes red.
When the girl had departed, Mrs. Meadows said with resignation—
“There! that one will give me notice to-morrow!”
“Well, I'm sure you could easily get a better!” said her husband
Doris shook her head.
“The fourth in six months!” she said, sighing. “And she really is a
“I suppose, as usual, she complains of me!” The voice was that of an
“Yes, dear, she does! They all do. You give them a lot of extra work
already, and all these things you have been buying lately—oh, Arthur,
if you wouldn't buy things!—mean more work. You know that
copper coal-scuttle you sent in yesterday?”
“Well, isn't it a beauty?—a real Georgian piece!” cried Meadows,
“I dare say it is. But it has to be cleaned. When it arrived Jane
came to see me in this room, shut the door, and put her back against it
'There's another of them beastly copper coal-scuttles come!' You should
have seen her eyes blazing. 'And I should like to know, ma'am, who's
going to clean it—'cos I can't.' And I just had to promise her it
might go dirty.”
“Lazy minx!” said Meadows, good-humouredly, with his mouth full of
tea-cake. “At last I have something good to look at in this room.” He
turned his eyes caressingly towards the new coal-scuttle. “I suppose I
shall have to clean it myself!”
Doris laughed again—this time almost hysterically—but was checked
by a fresh entrance of Jane, who, with an air of defiance, deposited a
heavy parcel on a chair beside her mistress, and flounced out again.
“What is this?” said Doris in consternation. “Books? More
books? Heavens, Arthur, what have you been ordering now! I couldn't
sleep last night for thinking of the book-bills.”
“You little goose! Of course, I must buy books! Aren't they my
tools, my stock-in-trade? Haven't these lectures justified the
book-bills a dozen times over?”
This time Arthur Meadows surveyed his wife in real irritation and
“But, Arthur!—you could get them all at the London
Library—you know you could!”
“And pray how much time do I waste in going backwards and forwards
after books? Any man of letters worth his salt wants a library of his
own—within reach of his hand.”
“Yes, if he can pay for it!” said Doris, with plaintive emphasis, as
she ruefully turned over the costly volumes which the parcel contained.
“Don't fash yourself, my dear child! Why, what I'm getting for the
Dizzy lecture is alone nearly enough to pay all the book bills.”
“It isn't! And just think of all the others! Well—never mind!”
Doris's protesting mood suddenly collapsed. She sat down on a stool
beside her husband, rested her elbow on his knee, and, chin in hand,
surveyed him with a softened countenance. Doris Meadows was not a
beauty; only pleasant-faced, with good eyes, and a strong, expressive
mouth. Her brown hair was perhaps her chief point, and she wore it
rippled and coiled so as to set off a shapely head and neck. It was
always a secret grievance with her that she had so little positive
beauty. And her husband had never flattered her on the subject. In the
early days of their marriage she had timidly asked him, after one of
their bridal dinner-parties in which she had worn her
wedding-dress—“Did I look nice to-night? Do you—do you ever think I
look pretty, Arthur?” And he had looked her over, with an odd change of
expression—careless affection passing into something critical and
cool:—“I'm never ashamed of you, Doris, in any company. Won't you be
satisfied with that?” She had been far from satisfied; the phrase had
burnt in her memory from then till now. But she knew Arthur had not
meant to hurt her, and she bore him no grudge. And, by now, she was too
well acquainted with the rubs and prose of life, too much occupied with
house-books, and rough servants, and the terror of an overdrawn
account, to have any time or thought to spare to her own looks.
Fortunately she had an instinctive love for neatness and delicacy; so
that her little figure, besides being agile and vigorous—capable of
much dignity too on occasion—was of a singular trimness and grace in
all its simple appointments. Her trousseau was long since exhausted,
and she rarely had a new dress. But slovenly she could not be.
It was the matter of a new dress which was now indeed running in her
mind. She took up Lady Dunstable's letter, and read it pensively
“You can accept for yourself, Arthur, of course,” she said, looking
up. “But I can't possibly go.”
Meadows protested loudly.
“You have no excuse at all!” he declared hotly. “Lady Dunstable has
given us a month's notice. You can't get out of it. Do you want
me to be known as a man who accepts smart invitations without his wife?
There is no more caddish creature in the world.”
Doris could not help smiling upon him. But her mouth was none the
“I haven't got a single frock that's fit for Crosby Ledgers. And I'm
not going on tick for a new one!”
“I never heard anything so absurd! Shan't we have more money in a
few weeks than we've had for years?”
“I dare say. It's all wanted. Besides, I have my work to finish.”
“My dear Doris!”
A slight red mounted in Doris's cheeks.
“Oh, you may be as scornful as you like! But ten pounds is ten
pounds, and I like keeping engagements.”
The “work” in question meant illustrations for a children's book.
Doris had accepted the commission with eagerness, and had been going
regularly to the Campden Hill studio of an Academician—her mother's
brother—who was glad to supply her with some of the “properties” she
wanted for her drawings.
“I shall soon not allow you to do anything of the kind,” said
Meadows with decision.
“On the contrary! I shall always take paid work when I can get it,”
was the firm reply—“unless—”
“You know,” she said quietly. Meadows was silent a moment, then
reached out for her hand, which she gave him. They had no children;
and, as he well knew, Doris pined for them. The look in her eyes when
she nursed her friends' babies had often hurt him. But after all, why
despair? It was only four years from their wedding day.
But he was not going to be beaten in the matter of Crosby Ledgers.
They had a long and heated discussion, at the end of which Doris
“Very well! I shall have to spend a week in doing up my old black
gown, and it will be a botch at the end of it. But—nothing—will
induce me—to get a new one!”
She delivered this ultimatum with her hands behind her, a defeated,
but still resolute young person. Meadows, having won the main battle,
left the rest to Providence, and went off to his “den” to read all his
letters through once more—agreeable task!—and to write a note of
acceptance to the Home Secretary, who had asked him to luncheon. Doris
was not included in the invitation. “But anybody may ask a husband—or
a wife—to lunch, separately. That's understood. I shan't do it often,
however—that I can tell them!” And justified by this Spartan temper as
to the future, he wrote a charming note, accepting the delights of the
present, so full of epigram that the Cabinet Minister to whom it was
addressed had no sooner read it than he consigned it instanter to his
wife's collection of autographs.
Meanwhile Doris was occupied partly in soothing the injured feelings
of Jane, and partly in smoothing out and inspecting her one evening
frock. She decided that it would take her a week to “do it up,” and
that she would do it herself. “A week wasted!” she thought—“and all
for nothing. What do we want with Lady Dunstable! She'll flatter
Arthur, and make him lazy. They all do! And I've no use for her at all.
Maid indeed! Does she think nobody can exist without that
appendage? How I should like to make her live on four hundred a year,
with a husband that will spend seven!”
She stood, half amused, half frowning, beside the bed on which lay
her one evening frock. But the frown passed away, effaced by an
expression much softer and tenderer than anything she had allowed
Arthur to see of late. Of course she delighted in Arthur's success; she
was proud, indeed, through and through. Hadn't she always known that he
had this gift, this quick, vivacious power of narrative, this
genius—for it was something like it—for literary portraiture? And now
at last the stimulus had come—and the opportunity with it. Could she
ever forget the anxiety of the first lecture—the difficulty she had
had in making him finish it—his careless, unbusiness-like management
of the whole affair? But then had come the burst of praise and
popularity; and Arthur was a new man. No difficulty—or scarcely—in
getting him to work since then! Applause, so new and intoxicating, had
lured him on, as she had been wont to lure the black pony of her
childhood with a handful of sugar. Yes, her Arthur was a genius; she
had always known it. And something of a child too—lazy, wilful, and
sensuous—that, too, she had known for some time. And she loved him
with all her heart.
“But I won't have him spoilt by those fine ladies!” she said to
herself, with frowning clear-sightedness. “They make a perfect fool of
him. Now, then, I'd better write to Lady Dunstable. Of course she ought
to have written to me!”
So she sat down and wrote:
Dear Lady Dunstable,—We have much pleasure in accepting your
invitation, and I will let you know our train later. I have no
But at this point Mrs. Meadows, struck by a sudden idea, threw down
“Heavens!—suppose I took Jane? Somebody told me the other day that
nobody got any attention at Crosby Ledgers without a maid. And it might
bribe Jane into staying. I should feel a horrid snob—but it would be
rather fun—especially as Lady Dunstable will certainly be immensely
surprised. The fare would be only about five shillings—Jane would get
her food for two days at the Dunstables' expense—and I should have a
friend. I'll do it.”
So, with her eyes dancing, Doris tore up her note, and began again:
Dear Lady Dunstable,—We have much pleasure in accepting your
invitation, and I will let you know our train later. As you
permit me, I will bring a maid.
* * * * *
The month which elapsed between Lady Dunstable's invitation and the
Crosby Ledgers party was spent by Doris first in “doing up” her frock,
and then in taking the bloom off it at various dinner-parties to which
they were already invited as the “celebrities” of the moment; in making
Arthur's wardrobe presentable; in watching over the tickets and
receipts of the weekly lectures; in collecting the press cuttings about
them; in finishing her illustrations; and in instructing the awe-struck
Jane, now perfectly amenable, in the mysteries that would be expected
Meanwhile Mrs. Meadows heard various accounts from artistic and
literary friends of the parties at Crosby Ledgers. These accounts were
generally prefaced by the laughing remark, “But anything I can
say is ancient history. Lady Dunstable dropped us long ago!”
Anyway, it appeared that the mistress of Crosby Ledgers could be
charming, and could also be exactly the reverse. She was a creature of
whims and did precisely as she pleased. Everything she did apparently
was acceptable to Lord Dunstable, who admired her blindly. But in one
point at least she was a disappointed woman. Her son, an unsatisfactory
youth of two-and-twenty, was seldom to be seen under his parents' roof,
and it was rumoured that he had already given them a great deal of
“The dreadful thing, my dear, is the games they play!” said
the wife of a dramatist, whose one successful piece had been followed
by years of ill-fortune.
“Games?” said Doris. “Do you mean cards—for money?”
“Oh, dear no! Intellectual games. Bouts-rimes;
translations—Lady Dunstable looks out the bits and some people think
the words—beforehand; paragraphs on a subject—in a particular
style—Pater's, or Ruskin's, or Carlyle's. Each person throws two slips
into a hat. On one you write the subject, on another the name of the
author whose style is to be imitated. Then you draw. Of course Lady
Dunstable carries off all the honours. But then everybody believes she
spends all the mornings preparing these things. She never comes down
till nearly lunch.”
“This is really appalling!” said Doris, with round eyes. “I have
forgotten everything I ever knew.”
As for her own impressions of the great lady, she had only seen her
once in the semi-darkness of the lecture-room, and could only remember
a long, sallow face, with striking black eyes and a pointed chin, a
general look of distinction and an air of one accustomed to the “chief
seat” at any board—whether the feasts of reason or those of a more
As the days went on, Doris, for all her sturdy self-reliance, began
to feel a little nervous inwardly. She had been quite well-educated,
first at a good High School, and then in the class-rooms of a
provincial University; and, as the clever daughter of a clever doctor
in large practice, she had always been in touch with the intellectual
world, especially on its scientific side. And for nearly two years
before her marriage she had been a student at the Slade School. But
since her imprudent love-match with a literary man had plunged her into
the practical work of a small household, run on a scanty and precarious
income, she had been obliged, one after another, to let the old
interests go. Except the drawing. That was good enough to bring her a
little money, as an illustrator, designer of Christmas cards, etc.; and
she filled most of her spare time with it.
But now she feverishly looked out some of her old books—Pater's
“Studies,” a volume of Huxley's Essays, “Shelley” and “Keats” in the
“Men of Letters” series. She borrowed two or three of the political
biographies with which Arthur's shelves were crowded, having all the
while, however, the dispiriting conviction that Lady Dunstable had been
dandled on the knees of every English Prime Minister since her birth,
and had been the blood relation of all of them, except perhaps Mr. G.,
whose blood no doubt had not been blue enough to entitle him to the
However, she must do her best. She kept these feelings and
preparations entirely secret from Arthur, and she saw the day of the
visit dawn in a mood of mingled expectation and revolt.
It was a perfect June evening: Doris was seated on one of the
spreading lawns of Crosby Ledgers,—a low Georgian house, much added to
at various times, and now a pleasant medley of pillared verandahs,
tiled roofs, cupolas, and dormer windows, apparently unpretending, but,
as many people knew, one of the most luxurious of English country
Lady Dunstable, in a flowing dress of lilac crepe and a large black
hat, had just given Mrs. Meadows a second cup of tea, and was clearly
doing her duty—and showing it—to a guest whose entertainment could
not be trusted to go of itself. The only other persons at the
tea-table—the Meadowses having arrived late—were an elderly man with
long Dundreary whiskers, in a Panama hat and a white waistcoat, and a
lady of uncertain age, plump, kind-eyed, and merry-mouthed, in whom
Doris had at once divined a possible harbour of refuge from the terrors
of the situation. Arthur was strolling up and down the lawn with the
Home Secretary, smoking and chatting—talking indeed nineteen to the
dozen, and entirely at his ease. A few other groups were scattered over
the grass; while girls in white dresses and young men in flannels were
playing tennis in the distance. A lake at the bottom of the sloping
garden made light and space in a landscape otherwise too heavily walled
in by thick woodland. White swans floated on the lake, and the June
trees beyond were in their freshest and proudest leaf. A church tower
rose appropriately in a corner of the park, and on the other side of
the deer-fence beyond the lake a herd of red deer were feeding. Doris
could not help feeling as though the whole scene had been lately
painted for a new “high life” play at the St. James's Theatre, and she
half expected to see Sir George Alexander walk out of the bushes.
“I suppose, Mrs. Meadows, you have been helping your husband with
his lectures?” said Lady Dunstable, a little languidly, as though the
heat oppressed her. She was making play with a cigarette and her
half-shut eyes were fixed on the “lion's” wife. The eyes fascinated
Doris. Surely they were artificially blackened, above and below? And
the lips—had art been delicately invoked, or was Nature alone
“I copy things for Arthur,” said Doris. “Unfortunately, I can't
At the sound of the young and musical voice, the gentleman with the
Dundreary whiskers—Sir Luke Malford—who had seemed half asleep,
turned sharply to look at the speaker. Doris too was in a white dress,
of the simplest stuff and make; but it became her. So did the straw
hat, with its wreath of wild roses, which she had trimmed herself that
morning. There was not the slightest visible sign of tremor in the
young woman; and Sir Luke's inner mind applauded her.
“No fool!—and a lady,” he thought. “Let's see what Rachel will make
“Then you don't help him in the writing?” said Lady Dunstable, still
with the same detached air. Doris laughed.
“I don't know what Arthur would say if I proposed it. He never lets
anybody go near him when he's writing.”
“I see; like all geniuses, he's dangerous on the loose.” Was Lady
Dunstable's smile just touched with sarcasm? “Well!—has the success of
the lectures surprised you?”
“No,” she said at last, “not really. I always thought Arthur had it
“But you hardly expected such a run—such an excitement!”
“I don't know,” said Doris, coolly. “I think I did—sometimes. The
question is how long it will last.”
She looked, smiling, at her interrogator.
The gentleman with the whiskers stooped across the table.
“Oh, nothing lasts in this world. But that of course is what makes a
good time so good.”
Doris turned towards him—demurring—for the sake of conversation.
“I never could understand how Cinderella enjoyed the ball.”
“For thinking of the clock?” laughed Sir Luke. “No, no!—you can't
mean that. It's the expectation of the clock that doubles the pleasure.
Of course you agree, Rachel!”—he turned to her—“else why did you read
me that very doleful poem yesterday, on this very theme?—that it's
only the certainty of death that makes life agreeable? By the way,
George Eliot had said it before!”
“The poem was by a friend of mine,” said Lady Dunstable, coldly. “I
read it to you to see how it sounded. But I thought it poor stuff.”
“How unkind of you! The man who wrote it says he lives upon your
“That, perhaps, is why he's so thin.”
Sir Luke laughed again.
“To be sure, I saw the poor man—after you had talked to him the
other night—going to Dunstable to be consoled. Poor George! he's
always healing the wounds you make.”
“Of course. That's why I married him. George says all the civil
things. That sets me free to do the rude ones.”
“Rachel!” The exclamation came from the plump lady opposite, who was
smiling broadly, and showing some very white teeth. A signal passed
from her eyes to those of Doris, as though to say “Don't be alarmed!”
But Doris was not at all alarmed. She was eagerly watching Lady
Dunstable, as one watches for the mannerisms of some well-known
performer. Sir Luke perceived it, and immediately began to show off his
hostess by one of the sparring matches that were apparently frequent
between them. They fell to discussing a party of guests—landowners
from a neighbouring estate—who seemed to have paid a visit to Crosby
Ledgers the day before. Lady Dunstable had not enjoyed them, and her
tongue on the subject was sharpness itself, restrained by none of the
ordinary compunctions. “Is this how she talks about all her guests—on
Monday morning?” thought Doris, with quickened pulse as the biting
sentences flew about.
... “Mr. Worthing? Why did he marry her? Oh, because he wanted a
stuffed goose to sit by the fire while he went out and amused
himself.... Why did she marry him? Ah, that's more difficult to answer.
Is one obliged to credit Mrs. Worthing with any reasons—on any
subject? However, I like Mr. Worthing—he's what men ought to be.”
“And that is—?” Doris ventured to put in.
“Just—men,” said Lady Dunstable, shortly.
Sir Luke laughed over his cigarette.
“That you may fool them? Well, Rachel, all the same, you would die
of Worthing's company in a month.”
“I shouldn't die,” said Lady Dunstable, quietly. “I should murder.”
“Hullo, what's my wife talking about?” said a bluff and friendly
voice. Doris looked up to see a handsome man with grizzled hair
“Mrs. Meadows? How do you do? What a beautiful evening you've
brought! Your husband and I have been having a jolly talk. My
word!—he's a clever chap. Let me congratulate you on the lectures.
Biggest success known in recent days!”
Doris beamed upon her host, well pleased, and he settled down beside
her, doing his kind best to entertain her. In him, all those protective
feelings towards a stranger, in which his wife appeared to be
conspicuously lacking, were to be discerned on first acquaintance.
Doris was practically sure that his inner mind was thinking—“Poor
little thing!—knows nobody here. Rachel's been scaring her. Must look
And look after her he did. He was by no means an amusing companion.
Lazy, gentle, and ineffective, Doris quickly perceived that he was
entirely eclipsed by his wife, who, now that she was relieved of Mrs.
Meadows, was soon surrounded by a congenial company—the Home
Secretary, one or two other politicians, the old General, a literary
Dean, Lord Staines, a great racing man, Arthur Meadows, and one or two
more. The talk became almost entirely political—with a dash of
literature. Doris saw at once that Lady Dunstable was the centre of it,
and she was not long in guessing that it was for this kind of talk that
people came to Crosby Ledgers. Lady Dunstable, it seemed, was capable
of talking like a man with men, and like a man of affairs with the men
of affairs. Her political knowledge was astonishing; so, evidently, was
her background of family and tradition, interwoven throughout with
English political history. English statesmen had not only dandled her,
they had taught her, walked with her, written to her, and—no
doubt—flirted with her. Doris, as she listened to her, disliked her
heartily, and at the same time could not help being thrilled by so much
knowledge, so much contact with history in the making, and by such a
masterful way, in a woman, with the great ones of the earth. “What a
worm she must think me!” thought Doris—“what a worm she does
think me—and the likes of me!”
At the same time, the spectator must needs admit there was something
else in Lady Dunstable's talk than mere intelligence or mere
mannishness. There was undoubtedly something of “the good fellow,” and,
through all her hard hitting, a curious absence—in conversation—of
the personal egotism she was quite ready to show in all the trifles of
life. On the present occasion her main object clearly was to bring out
Arthur Meadows—the new captive of her bow and spear; to find out what
was in him; to see if he was worthy of her inner circle. Throwing all
compliment aside, she attacked him hotly on certain statements—certain
estimates—in his lectures. Her knowledge was personal; the knowledge
of one whose father had sat in Dizzy's latest Cabinet, while, through
the endless cousinship of the English landed families, she was as much
related to the Whig as to the Tory leaders of the past. She talked
familiarly of “Uncle This” or “Cousin That,” who had been apparently
the idols of her nursery before they had become the heroes of England;
and Meadows had much ado to defend himself against her store of
anecdote and reminiscence. “Unfair!” thought Doris, breathlessly
watching the contest of wits. “Oh, if she weren't a woman, Arthur could
easily beat her!”
But she was a woman, and not at all unwilling, when hard pressed, to
take advantage of that fact.
All the same, Meadows was stirred to most unwonted efforts. He
proved to be an antagonist worth her steel; and Doris's heart swelled
with secret pride as she saw how all the other voices died down, how
more and more people came up to listen, even the young men and
maidens,—throwing themselves on the grass, around the two disputants.
Finally Lady Dunstable carried off the honours. Had she not seen Lord
Beaconsfield twice during the fatal week of his last general election,
when England turned against him, when his great rival triumphed, and
all was lost? Had he not talked to her, as great men will talk to the
young and charming women whose flatteries soften their defeats; so
that, from the wings, she had seen almost the last of that well-graced
actor, caught his last gestures and some of his last words?
“Brava, brava!” said Meadows, when the story ceased, although it had
been intended to upset one of his own most brilliant generalisations;
and a sound of clapping hands went round the circle. Lady Dunstable, a
little flushed and panting, smiled and was silent. Meadows, meanwhile,
was thinking—“How often has she told that tale? She has it by heart.
Every touch in it has been sharpened a dozen times. All the same—a
Lord Dunstable, meanwhile, sat absolutely silent, his hat on the
back of his head, his attention fixed on his wife. As the group broke
up, and the chairs were pushed back, he said in Doris's ear—“Isn't she
an awfully clever woman, my wife?”
Before Doris could answer, she heard Lady Dunstable carelessly—but
none the less peremptorily—inviting her women guests to see their
rooms. Doris walked by her hostess's side towards the house. Every
trace of animation and charm had now vanished from that lady's manner.
She was as languid and monosyllabic as before, and Doris could only
feel once again that while her clever husband was an eagerly welcomed
guest, she herself could only expect to reckon as his appendage—a
piece of family luggage.
Lady Dunstable threw open the door of a spacious bedroom. “No doubt
you will wish to rest till dinner,” she said, severely. “And of course
your maid will ask for what she wants.” At the word “maid,” did Doris
dream it, or was there a satiric gleam in the hard black eyes?
“Pretender,” it seemed to say—and Doris's conscience admitted the
And indeed the door had no sooner closed on Lady Dunstable before an
agitated knock announced Jane—in tears.
She stood opposite her mistress in desperation.
“Please, ma'am—I'll have to have an evening dress—or I can't go in
“What on earth do you mean?” said Doris, staring at her.
“Every maid in this 'ouse, ma'am, 'as got to dress for supper. The
maids go in the 'ousekeeper's room, an' they've all on 'em got dresses
V-shaped, or cut square, or something. This black dress, ma'am, won't
do at all. So I can't have no supper. I couldn't dream, ma'am, of goin'
in different to the others!”
“You silly creature!” said Doris, springing up. “Look here—I'll
lend you my spare blouse. You can turn it in at the neck, and wear my
white scarf. You'll be as smart as any of them!”
And half laughing, half compassionate, she pulled her blouse out of
the box, adjusted the white scarf to it herself, and sent the
bewildered Jane about her business, after having shown her first how to
unpack her mistress's modest belongings, and strictly charged her to
return half an hour before dinner. “Of course I shall dress
myself,—but you may as well have a lesson.”
The girl went, and Doris was left stormily wondering why she had
been such a fool as to bring her. Then her sense of humour conquered,
and her brow cleared. She went to the open window and stood looking
over the park beyond. Sunset lay broad and rich over the wide stretches
of grass, and on the splendid oaks lifting their dazzling leaf to the
purest of skies. The roses in the garden sent up their scent, there was
a plashing of water from an invisible fountain, and the deer beyond the
fence wandered in and out of the broad bands of shadow drawn across the
park. Doris's young feet fidgeted under her. She longed to be out
exploring the woods and the lake. Why was she immured in this stupid
room, to which Lady Dunstable had conducted her with a chill politeness
which had said plainly enough “Here you are—and here you stay!—till
“If I could only find a back-staircase,” she thought, “I would soon
be enjoying myself! Arthur, lucky wretch, said something about playing
golf. No!—there he is!”
And sure enough, on the farthest edge of the lawn going towards the
park, she saw two figures walking—Lady Dunstable and Arthur! “Deep in
talk of course—having the best of times—while I am shut up
here—half-past six!—on a glorious evening!” The reflection, however,
was, on the whole, good-humoured. She did not feel, as yet, either
jealous or tragic. Some day, she supposed, if it was to be her lot to
visit country houses, she would get used to their ways. For Arthur, of
course, it was useful—perhaps necessary—to be put through his paces
by a woman like Lady Dunstable. “And he can hold his own. But for me? I
contribute nothing. I don't belong to them—they don't want me—and
what use have I for them?”
Her meditations, however, were here interrupted by a knock. On her
saying “Come in”—the door opened cautiously to admit the face of the
substantial lady, Miss Field, to whom Doris had been introduced at the
“Are you resting?” said Miss Field, “or only 'interned'?”
“Oh, please come in!” cried Doris. “I never was less tired in my
Miss Field entered, and took the armchair that Doris offered her,
fronting the open window and the summer scene. Her face would have
suited the Muse of Mirth, if any Muse is ever forty years of age. The
small, up-turned nose and full red lips were always smiling; so were
the eyes; and the fair skin and still golden hair, the plump figure and
gay dress of flower-sprigged muslin, were all in keeping with the part.
“You have never seen my cousin before?” she inquired.
“Lady Dunstable? Is she your cousin?”
Miss Field nodded. “My first cousin. And I spend a great part of the
year here, helping in different ways. Rachel can't do without me now,
so I'm able to keep her in order. Don't ever be shy with her! Don't
ever let her think she frightens you!—those are the two indispensable
“I'm afraid I should break them,” said Doris, slowly. “She does
“Ah, well, you didn't show it—that's the chief thing. You know
she's a much more human creature than she seems.”
“Is she?” Doris's eyes pursued the two distant figures in the park.
“You'd think, for instance, that Lord Dunstable was just a cipher?
Not at all. He's the real authority here, and when he puts his foot
down Rachel always gives in. But of course she's stood in the way of
Doris shrank a little from these indiscretions. But she could not
keep her curiosity out of her eyes, and Miss Field smilingly answered
“She's absorbed him so! You see he watches her all the time. She's
like an endless play to him. He really doesn't care for anything
else—he doesn't want anything else. Of course they're very rich. But
he might have done something in politics, if she hadn't been so much
more important than he. And then, naturally, she's made
enemies—powerful enemies. Her friends come here of course—her old
cronies—the people who can put up with her. They're devoted to her.
And the young people—the very modern ones—who think nice manners
'early Victorian,' and like her rudeness for the sake of her
cleverness. But the rest!—What do you think she did at one of these
parties last year?”
Doris could not help wishing to know.
“She took a fancy to ask a girl near here—the daughter of a
clergyman, a great friend of Lord Dunstable's, to come over for the
Sunday. Lord Dunstable had talked of the girl, and Rachel's always on
the look-out for cleverness; she hunts it like a hound! She met the
young woman too somewhere, and got the impression—I can't say
how—that she would 'go.' So on the Saturday morning she went over in
her pony-carriage—broke in on the little Rectory like a hurricane—of
course you know the people about here regard her as something
semi-divine!—and told the girl she had come to take her back to Crosby
Ledgers for the Sunday. So the poor child packed up, all in a flutter,
and they set off together in the pony-carriage—six miles. And by the
time they had gone four Rachel had discovered she had made a
mistake—that the girl wasn't clever, and would add nothing to the
party. So she quietly told her that she was afraid, after all, the
party wouldn't suit her. And then she turned the pony's head, and drove
her straight home again!”
“Oh!” cried Doris, her cheeks red, her eyes aflame.
“Brutal, wasn't it?” said the other. “All the same, there are fine
things in Rachel. And in one point she's the most vulnerable of women!”
“Her son?” Doris ventured.
Miss Field shrugged her shoulders.
“He doesn't drink—he doesn't gamble—he doesn't spend money—he
doesn't run away with other people's wives. He's just nothing!—just
incurably empty and idle. He comes here very little. His mother
terrifies him. And since he was twenty-one he has a little money of his
own. He hangs about in studios and theatres. His mother doesn't know
any of his friends. What she suffers—poor Rachel! She'd have given
everything in the world for a brilliant son. But you can't wonder.
She's like some strong plant that takes all the nourishment out of the
ground, so that the plants near it starve. She can't help it. She
doesn't mean to be a vampire!”
Doris hardly knew what to say. Somehow she wished the vampire were
not walking with Arthur! That, however, was not a sentiment easily
communicable; and she was just turning it into something else when Miss
Field said—abruptly, like someone coming to the real point—
“Does your husband like her?”
“Why yes, of course!” stammered Doris. “She's been awfully kind to
us about the lectures, and—he loves arguing with her.”
“She loves arguing with him!” 'said Miss Field triumphantly.
“She lives just for such half-hours as that she gave us on the lawn
after tea—and all owing to him—he was so inspiring, so stimulating.
Oh, you'll see, she'll take you up tremendously—if you want to be
The smiling blue eyes looked gaily into Doris's puzzled countenance.
Evidently the speaker was much amused by the Meadowses' situation—more
amused than her sense of politeness allowed her to explain. Doris was
conscious of a vague resentment.
“I'm afraid I don't see what Lady Dunstable will get out of me,” she
Miss Field raised her eyebrows.
“Are you going then to let him come here alone? She'll be always
asking you! Oh, you needn't be afraid—” and this most candid of
cousins laughed aloud. “Rachel isn't a flirt—except of the
intellectual kind. But she takes possession—she sticks like a limpet.”
There was a pause. Then Miss Field added:
“You mustn't think it odd that I say these things about Rachel. I
have to explain her to people. She's not like anybody else.”
Doris did not quite see the necessity, but she kept the reflection
to herself, and Miss Field passed lightly to the other guests—Sir
Luke, a tame cat of the house, who quarrelled with Lady Dunstable once
a month, vowed he would never come near her again, and always
reappeared; the Dean, who in return for a general submission, was
allowed to scold her occasionally for her soul's health; the
politicians whom she could not do without, who were therefore handled
more gingerly than the rest; the military and naval men who loved
Dunstable and put up with his wife for his sake; and the young
people—nephews and nieces and cousins—who liked an unconventional
hostess without any foolish notions of chaperonage, and always enjoyed
themselves famously at Crosby Ledgers.
“Now then,” said Miss Field, rising at last, “I think you have the
carte du pays—and there they are, coming back.” She pointed to
Meadows and Lady Dunstable, crossing the lawn. “Whatever you do, hold
your own. If you don't want to play games, don't play them. If you want
to go to church to-morrow, go to church. Lady Dunstable of course is a
heathen. And now perhaps, you might really rest.”
“Such a jolly walk!” said Meadows, entering his wife's room flushed
with exercise and pleasure. “The place is divine, and really Lady
Dunstable is uncommonly good talk. Hope you haven't been dull, dear?”
Doris replied, laughing, that Miss Field had taken pity on what
would otherwise have been solitary confinement, and that now it was
time to dress. Meadows kissed her absently, and, with his head
evidently still full of his walk, went to his dressing-room. When he
reappeared, it was to find Doris attired in a little black gown, with
which he was already too familiar. She saw at once the dissatisfaction
in his face.
“I can't help it!” she said, with emphasis. “I did my best with it,
Arthur, but I'm not a genius at dressmaking. Never mind. Nobody will
take any notice of me.”
He quite crossly rebuked her. She really must spend more on her
dress. It was unseemly—absurd. She looked as nice as anybody when she
was properly got up.
“Well, don't buy any more copper coal-scuttles!” she said slyly, as
she straightened his tie, and dropped a kiss on his chin. “Then we'll
They went down to dinner, and on the staircase Meadows turned to say
to his wife in a lowered voice:
“Lady Dunstable wants me to go to them in Scotland—for two or three
weeks. I dare say I could do some work.”
“Oh, does she?” said Doris.
* * * * *
What perversity drove Lady Dunstable during the evening and the
Sunday that followed to match every attention that was lavished on
Arthur Meadows by some slight to his wife, will never be known. But the
fact was patent. Throughout the diversions or occupations of the
forty-eight hours' visit, Mrs. Meadows was either ignored, snubbed, or
contradicted. Only Arthur Meadows, indeed, measuring himself with
delight, for the first time, against some of the keenest brains in the
country, failed to see it. His blindness allowed Lady Dunstable to run
a somewhat dangerous course, unchecked. She risked alienating a man
whom she particularly wished to attract; she excited a passion of
antagonism in Doris's generally equable breast, and was quite aware of
it. Notwithstanding, she followed her whim; and by the Sunday evening
there existed between the great lady and her guest a state of veiled
war, in which the strokes were by no means always to the advantage of
Doris, for instance, with other guests, expressed a wish to attend
morning service on Sunday at a famous cathedral some three miles away.
Lady Dunstable immediately announced that everybody who wished to go to
church would go to the village church within the park, for which alone
carriages would be provided. Then Doris and Sir Luke combined, and
walked to the cathedral, three miles there and three miles back—to the
huge delight of the other and more docile guests. Sunday evening,
again, was devastated by what were called “games” at Crosby Ledgers.
“Gad, if I wouldn't sooner go in for the Indian Civil again!” said Sir
Luke. Doris, with the most ingratiating manner, but quite firmly,
begged to be excused. Lady Dunstable bit her lip, and presently, a
propos de bottes, launched some observations on the need of
co-operation in society. It was shirking—refusing to take a hand, to
do one's best—false shame, indeed!—that ruined English society and
English talk. Let everybody take a lesson from the French! After which
the lists were opened, so to speak, and Lady Dunstable, Meadows, the
Dean, and about half the young people produced elegant pieces of
translation, astounding copies of impromptu verse, essays in all the
leading styles of the day, and riddles by the score. The Home
Secretary, who had been lassoed by his hostess, escaped towards the
middle of the ordeal, and wandered sadly into a further room where
Doris sat chatting with Lord Dunstable. He was carrying various slips
of paper in his hand, and asked her distractedly if she could throw any
light on the question—“Why is Lord Salisbury like a poker?”
“I can't think of anything to say,” he said helplessly, “except
'because they are both upright.' And here's another—'Why is the Pope
like a thermometer?' I did see some light on that!” His countenance
cheered a little. “Would this do? 'Because both are higher in Italy
than in England.' Not very good!—but I must think of something.”
Doris put her wits to his. Between them they polished the riddle;
but by the time it was done the Home Secretary had begun to find
Meadows's little wife, whose existence he had not noticed hitherto,
more agreeable than Lady Dunstable's table with its racked
countenances, and its too ample supply of pencils and paper. A deadly
crime! When Lady Dunstable, on the stroke of midnight, swept through
the rooms to gather her guests for bed, she cast a withering glance on
Doris and her companion.
“So you despised our little amusements?” she said, as she handed
Mrs. Meadows her candle.
“I wasn't worthy of them,” smiled Doris, in reply.
* * * * *
“Well, I call that a delightful visit!” said Meadows as the train
next morning pulled out of the Crosby Ledgers station for London. “I
feel freshened up all over.”
Doris looked at him with rather mocking eyes, but said nothing. She
fully recognised, however, that Arthur would have been an ungrateful
wretch if he had not enjoyed it. Lady Dunstable had been, so to speak,
at his feet, and all her little court had taken their cue from her. He
had been flattered, drawn out, and shown off to his heart's content,
and had been most naturally and humanly happy. “And I,” thought Doris
with sudden repentance, “was just a spiky, horrid little toad! What was
wrong with me?” She was still searching, when Meadows said
“I thought, darling, you might have taken a little more trouble to
make friends with Lady Dunstable. However, that'll be all right. I told
her, of course, we should be delighted to go to Scotland.”
“Arthur!” cried Doris, aghast. “Three weeks! I couldn't, Arthur!
Don't ask me!”
“And, pray, why?” he angrily inquired.
“Because—oh, Arthur, don't you understand? She is a man's woman.
She took a particular dislike to me, and I just had to be stubborn and
thorny to get on at all. I'm awfully sorry—but I couldn't stay
with her, and I'm certain you wouldn't be happy either.”
“I should be perfectly happy,” said Meadows, with vehemence. “And so
would you, if you weren't so critical and censorious. Anyway”—his
Jove-like mouth shut firmly—“I have promised.”
“You couldn't promise for me!” cried Doris, holding her head very
“Then you'll have to let me go without you?”
“Which, of course, was what you swore not to do!” she said,
provokingly. “I thought my wife was a reasonable woman! Lady Dunstable
rouses all my powers; she gives me ideas which may be most valuable. It
is to the interest of both of us that I should keep up my friendship
“Then keep it up,” said Doris, her cheeks aflame. “But you won't
want me to help you, Arthur.”
He cried out that it was only pride and conceit that made her behave
so. In her heart of hearts, Doris mostly agreed with him. But she
wouldn't confess it, and it was presently understood between them that
Meadows would duly accept the Dunstables' invitation for August, and
that Doris would stay behind.
After which, Doris looked steadily out of the window for the rest of
the journey, and could not at all conceal from herself that she had
never felt more miserable in her life. The only person in the trio who
returned to the Kensington house entirely happy was Jane, who spent the
greater part of the day in describing to Martha, the cook-general, the
glories of Crosby Ledgers, and her own genteel appearance in Mrs.
During the weeks that followed the Meadowses' first visit to Crosby
Ledgers, Doris's conscience was by no means asleep on the subject of
Lady Dunstable. She felt that her behaviour in that lady's house, and
the sudden growth in her own mind of a quite unmanageable dislike, were
not to be defended in one who prided herself on a general temper of
coolness and common sense, who despised the rancour and whims of other
women, hated scenes, and had always held jealousy to be the smallest
and most degrading of passions. Why not laugh at what was odious, show
oneself superior to personal slights, and enjoy what could be enjoyed?
And above all, why grudge Arthur a woman friend?
None of these arguments, however, availed at all to reconcile Doris
to the new intimacy growing under her eyes. The Dunstables came to
town, and invitations followed. Mr. and Mrs. Meadows were asked to a
large dinner-party, and Doris held her peace and went. She found
herself at the end of a long table with an inarticulate schoolboy of
seventeen, a ward of Lord Dunstable's, on her left, and with an elderly
colonel on her right, who, after a little cool examination of her
through an eyeglass, decided to devote himself to the debutante
on his other side, a Lady Rosamond, who was ready to chatter hunting
and horses to him through the whole of dinner. The girl was not pretty,
but she was fresh and gay, and Doris, tired with “much serving,” envied
her spirits, her evident assumption that the world only existed for her
to laugh and ride in, her childish unspoken claim to the best of
everything—clothes, food, amusements, lovers. Doris on her side made
valiant efforts with the schoolboy. She liked boys, and prided herself
on getting on with them. But this specimen had no conversation—at any
rate for the female sex—and apparently only an appetite. He ate
steadily through the dinner, and seemed rather to resent Doris's
attempts to distract him from the task. So that presently Doris found
herself reduced to long tracts of silence, when her fan was her only
companion, and the watching of other people her only amusement.
Lord and Lady Dunstable faced each other at the sides of the table,
which was purposely narrow, so that talk could pass across it. Lady
Dunstable sat between an Ambassador and a Cabinet Minister, but Meadows
was almost directly opposite to her, and it seemed to be her chief
business to make him the hero of the occasion. It was she who drew him
into political or literary discussion with the Cabinet Minister, so
that the neighbours of each stayed their own talk to listen; she who
would insist on his repeating “that story you told me at Crosby
Ledgers;” who attacked him abruptly—rudely even, as she had done in
the country—so that he might defend himself; and when he had slipped
into all her traps one after the other, would fall back in her chair
with a little satisfied smile. Doris, silent and forgotten, could not
keep her eyes for long from the two distant figures—from this new
Arthur, and the sallow-faced, dark-eyed witch who had waved her wand
Wasn't she glad to see her husband courted—valued as he
deserved—borne along the growing stream of fame? What matter, if she
could only watch him from the bank?—and if the impetuous stream were
carrying him away from her? No! She wasn't glad. Some cold and deadly
thing seemed to be twining about her heart. Were they leaving the dear,
poverty-stricken, debt-pestered life behind for ever, in which, after
all, they had been so happy: she, everything to Arthur, and he, so
dependent upon her? No doubt she had been driven to despair, often, by
his careless, shiftless ways; she had thirsted for success and money;
just money enough, at least, to get along with. And now success had
come, and money was coming. And here she was, longing for the old,
hard, struggling past—hating the advent of the new and glittering
future. As she sat at Lady Dunstable's table, she seemed to see the
little room in their Kensington house, with the big hole in the carpet,
the piles of papers and books, the reading-lamp that would smoke, her
work-basket, the house-books, Arthur pulling contentedly at his pipe,
the fire crackling between them, his shabby coat, her shabby
dress—Bliss!—compared to this splendid scene, with the great Vandycks
looking down on the dinner-table, the crowd of guests and servants, the
costly food, the dresses, and the diamonds—with, in the distance,
her Arthur, divided, as it seemed, from her by a growing chasm,
never remembering to throw her a look or a smile, drinking in a tide of
flattery he would once have been the first to scorn, captured,
exhibited, befooled by an unscrupulous, egotistical woman, who would
drop him like a squeezed orange when he had ceased to amuse her. And
the worst of it was that the woman was not a mere pretender! She had a
fine, hard brain,—“as good as Arthur's—nearly—and he knows it. It is
that which attracts him—and excites him. I can mend his socks; I can
listen while he reads; and he used to like it when I praised. Now, what
I say will never matter to him any more; that was just sentiment and
nonsense; now, he only wants to know what she says;—that's
business! He writes with her in his mind—and when he has finished
something he sends it off to her, straight. I may see it when all the
world may—but she has the first-fruits!”
And in poor Doris's troubled mind the whole scene—save the two
central figures, Lady Dunstable and Arthur—seemed to melt away. She
was not the first wife, by a long way, into whose quiet breast Lady
Dunstable had dropped these seeds of discord. She knew it well by
report; but it was hateful, both to wifely feeling and natural vanity,
that she should now be the victim of the moment, and should know
no more than her predecessors how to defend herself. “Why can't I be
cool and cutting—pay her back when she is rude, and contradict her
when she's absurd? She is absurd often. But I think of the right
things to say just five minutes too late. I have no nerve—that's the
point!—only l'esprit d'escalier to perfection. And she has been
trained to this sort of campaigning from her babyhood. No good
growling! I shall never hold my own!”
Then, into this despairing mood there dropped suddenly a fragment of
her neighbour, the Colonel's, conversation—“Mrs. So-and-so? Impossible
woman! Oh, one doesn't mind seeing her graze occasionally at the other
end of one's table—as the price of getting her husband, don't you
Doris's sudden laugh at the Colonel's elbow startled that gentleman
so that he turned round to look at her. But she was absorbed in the
menu, which she had taken up, and he could only suppose that something
in it amused her.
A few days later arrived a letter for Meadows, which he handed to
his wife in silence. There had been no further discussion of Lady
Dunstable between them; only a general sense of friction, warnings of
hidden fire on Doris's side, and resentment on his, quite new in their
relation to each other. Meadows clearly thought that his wife was
behaving very badly. Lady Dunstable's efforts on his behalf had already
done him substantial service; she had introduced him to all kinds of
people likely to help him, intellectually and financially; and to help
him was to help Doris. Why would she be such a little fool? So unlike
her, too!—sensible, level-headed creature that she generally was. But
he was afraid of losing his own temper, if he argued with her. And
indeed his lazy easy-goingness loathed argument of this domestic sort,
loathed scenes, loathed doing anything disagreeable that could be put
But here was Lady Dunstable's letter:
Dear Mr. Arthur,—Will your wife forgive me if I ask you to come
a tiny men's dinner-party next Friday at 8.15—to meet
President of the Duma, and another Russian, an intimate friend
Tolstoy's? All males, but myself! So I hope Mrs. Meadows will
“Of course, I won't go if you don't like it, Doris,” said Meadows
with the smile of magnanimity.
“I thought you were angry with me—once—for even suggesting that
you might!” Doris's tone was light, but not pleasing to a husband's
ears. She was busy at the moment in packing up the American proofs of
the Disraeli lecture, which at last with infinite difficulty she had
persuaded Meadows to correct and return.
“Well—but of course—this is exceptional!” said Meadows, pacing up
and down irresolutely.
“Everything's exceptional—in that quarter,” said Doris, in the same
tone. “Oh, go, of course!—it would be a thousand pities not to go.”
Meadows at once took her at her word. That was the first of a series
of “male” dinners, to which, however, it seemed to Doris, if one might
judge from Arthur's accounts, that a good many female exceptions were
admitted, no doubt by way of proving the rule. And during July, Meadows
lunched in town—in the lofty regions of St. James's or Mayfair—with
other enthusiastic women admirers, most of them endowed with long
purses and long pedigrees, at least three or four times a week. Doris
was occasionally asked and sometimes went. But she was suffering all
the time from an initial discouragement and depression, which took away
self-reliance, and left her awkwardly conscious. She struggled, but in
vain. The world into which Arthur was being so suddenly swept was
strange to her, and in many ways antipathetic; but had she been happy
and in spirits she could have grappled with it, or rather she could
have lost herself in Arthur's success. Had she not always been his
slave? But she was not happy! In their obscure days she had been
Arthur's best friend, as well as his wife. And it was the old
comradeship which was failing her; encroached upon, filched from her,
by other women; and especially by this exacting, absorbing woman, whose
craze for Arthur Meadows's society was rapidly becoming an amusement
and a scandal even to those well acquainted with her previous records
of the same sort.
* * * * *
The end of July arrived. The Dunstables left town. At a concert, for
which she had herself sent them tickets, Lady Dunstable met Doris and
her husband, the night before she departed.
“In ten days we shall expect you at Pitlochry,” she said, smiling,
to Arthur Meadows, as she swept past them in the corridor. Then,
pausing, she held out a perfunctory hand to Doris.
“And we really can't persuade you to come too?”
The tone was careless and patronising. It brought the sudden red to
Doris's cheek. For one moment she was tempted to say—“Thank you—since
you are so kind—after all, why not?”—just that she might see the
change in those large, malicious eyes—might catch their owner
unawares, for once. But, as usual, nerve failed her. She merely said
that her drawing would keep her all August in town; and that London,
empty, was the best possible place for work. Lady Dunstable nodded and
The ten days flew. Meadows, kept to it by Doris, was very busy
preparing another lecture for publication in an English review. Doris,
meanwhile, got his clothes ready, and affected a uniformly cheerful and
indifferent demeanour. On Arthur's last evening at home, however, he
came suddenly into the sitting-room, where Doris was sewing on some
final buttons, and after fidgeting about a little, with occasional
glances at his wife, he said abruptly:
“I say, Doris, I won't go if you're going to take it like this.”
She turned upon him.
“Oh, don't pretend!” was the impatient reply. “You know very well
that you hate my going to Scotland!”
Doris, all on edge, and smarting under the too Jovian look and frown
with which he surveyed her from the hearthrug, declared that, as it was
not a case of her going to Scotland, but of his, she was entirely
indifferent. If he enjoyed it, he was quite right to go. She was
going to enjoy her work in Uncle Charles's studio.
Meadows broke out into an angry attack on her folly and unkindness.
But the more he lost his temper, the more provokingly Doris kept hers.
She sat there, surrounded by his socks and shirts, a trim, determined
little figure—declining to admit that she was angry, or jealous, or
offended, or anything of the kind. Would he please come upstairs and
give her his last directions about his packing? She thought she had put
everything ready; but there were just a few things she was doubtful
And all the time she seemed to be watching another Doris—a creature
quite different from her real self. What had come over her? If anybody
had told her beforehand that she could ever let slip her power over her
own will like this, ever become possessed with this silent, obstinate
demon of wounded love and pride, never would she have believed them!
She moved under its grip like an automaton. She would not quarrel with
Arthur. But as no soft confession was possible, and no mending or
undoing of what had happened, to laugh her way through the difficult
hours was all that remained. So that whenever Meadows renewed the
attempt to “have it out,” he was met by renewed evasion and “chaff” on
Doris's side, till he could only retreat with as much offended dignity
as she allowed him.
It was after midnight before she had finished his packing. Then,
bidding him a smiling good night, she fell asleep—apparently—as soon
as her head touched the pillow.
The next morning, early, she stood on the steps waving farewell to
Arthur, without a trace of ill-humour. And he, though vaguely
uncomfortable, had submitted at last to what he felt was her fixed
purpose of avoiding a scene. Moreover, the “eternal child” in him,
which made both his charm and his weakness, had already scattered his
compunctions of the preceding day, and was now aglow with the sheer joy
of holiday and change. He had worked very hard, he had had a great
success, and now he was going to live for three weeks in the lap of
luxury; intellectual luxury first and foremost—good talk, good
company, an abundance of books for rainy days; but with the addition of
a supreme chef, Lord Dunstable's champagne, and all the
amenities of one of the best moors in Scotland.
Doris went back into the house, and, Arthur being no longer in the
neighbourhood, allowed herself a few tears. She had never felt so
lonely in her life, nor so humiliated. “My moral character is gone,”
she said to herself. “I have no moral character. I thought I was a
sensible, educated woman; and I am just an ''Arriet,' in a temper with
her ''Arry.' Well—courage! Three weeks isn't long. Who can say that
Arthur mayn't come back disillusioned? Rachel Dunstable is a born
tyrant. If, instead of flattering him, she begins to bully him, strange
things may happen!”
The first week of solitude she spent in household drudgery. Bills
had to be paid, and there was now mercifully a little money to pay them
with. Though it was August, the house was to be “spring-cleaned,” and
Doris had made a compact with her sulky maids that when it began she
would do no more than sleep and breakfast at home. She would spend her
days in the Campden Hill studio, and sup on a tray—anywhere. On these
terms, they grudgingly allowed her to occupy her own house.
The studio in which she worked was on the top of Campden Hill, and
opened into one of the pleasant gardens of that neighbourhood. Her
uncle, Charles Bentley, an elderly Academician, with an ugly, humorous
face, red hair, red eyebrows, a black skull-cap, and a general weakness
for the female sex, was very fond of his niece Doris, and inclined to
think her a neglected and underrated wife. He was too fond of his own
comfort, however, to let Meadows perceive this opinion of his; still
less did he dare express it to Doris. All he could do was to befriend
her and make her welcome at the studio, to advise her about her
illustrations, and correct her drawing when it needed it. He himself
was an old-fashioned artist, quite content to be “mid” or even “early"
Victorian. He still cultivated the art of historical painting, and was
still as anxious as any contemporary of Frith to tell a story. And as
his manner was no less behind the age than his material, his pictures
remained on his hands, while the “vicious horrors,” as they seemed to
him, of the younger school held the field and captured the newspapers.
But as he had some private means, and no kith or kin but his niece, the
indifference of the public to his work caused him little disturbance.
He pleased his own taste, allowing himself a good-natured contempt for
the work which supplanted him, coupled with an ever-generous hand for
any post-Impressionist in difficulties.
On the August afternoon when Doris, escaping at last from her maids
and her accounts, made her way up to the studio, for some hours' work
on the last three or four illustrations wanted for a Christmas book,
Uncle Charles welcomed her with effusion.
“Where have you been, child, all this time? I thought you must have
Doris explained—while she set up her easel—that for the first time
in their lives she and Arthur had been seeing something of the great
world, and—mildly—“doing” the season. Arthur was now continuing the
season in Scotland, while she had stayed at home to work and rest.
Throughout her talk, she avoided mentioning the Dunstables.
“H'm!” said Uncle Charles, “so you've been junketing!”
Doris admitted it.
“Did you like it?”
Doris put on her candid look.
“I daresay I should have liked it, if I'd made a success of it. Of
course Arthur did.”
“Too much trouble!” said the old painter, shaking his head. “I was
in the swim, as they call it, for a year or two. I might have stayed
there, I suppose, for I could always tell a story, and I wasn't afraid
of the big-wigs. But I couldn't stand it. Dress-clothes are the deuce!
And besides, talk now is not what it used to be. The clever men who can
say smart things are too clever to say them. Nobody wants 'em! So let's
'cultivate our garden,' my dear, and be thankful. I'm beginning a new
picture—and I've found a topping new model. What can a man want more?
Very nice of you to let Arthur go, and have his head. Where is
it?—some smart moor? He'll soon be tired of it.”
Doris laughed, let the question as to the “smart moor” pass, and
came round to look at the new subject that Uncle Charles was laying in.
He explained it to her, well knowing that he spoke to unsympathetic
ears, for whatever Doris might draw for her publishers, she was a
passionate and humble follower of those modern experimentalists who
have made the Slade School famous. The subject was, it seemed, to be a
visit paid to Joanna the mad and widowed mother of Charles V., at
Tordesillas, by the envoys of Henry VII., who were thus allowed by
Ferdinand, the Queen's father, to convince themselves that the Queen's
profound melancholia formed an insuperable barrier to the marriage
proposals of the English King. The figure of the distracted Queen,
crouching in white beside a window from which she could see the tomb of
her dead and adored husband, the Archduke Philip, and some of the
splendid figures of the English embassy, were already sketched.
“I have been fit to hang myself over her!” said Bentley, pointing to
the Queen. “I tried model after model. At last I've got the very thing!
She comes to-day for the first time. You'll see her! Before she comes,
I must scrape out Joanna, so as to look at the thing quite fresh. But I
daresay I shall only make a few sketches of the lady to-day.”
“Who is she, and where did you get her!”
Bentley laughed. “You won't like her, my dear! Never mind. Her
appearance is magnificent—whatever her mind and morals may be.”
And he described how he had heard of the lady from an artist friend
who had originally seen her at a music-hall, and had persuaded her to
come and sit to him. The comic haste and relief with which he had now
transferred her to Bentley lost nothing in Bentley's telling. Of course
she had “a fiend of a temper.” “Wish you joy of her! Oh, don't ask me
about her! You'll find out for yourself.” “I can manage her,” said
Uncle Charles tranquilly. “I've had so many of 'em.”
“She is Spanish?”
“Not at all. She is Italian. That is to say, her mother was a
Neapolitan, the daughter of a jeweller in Hatton Garden, and her father
an English bank clerk. The Neapolitans have a lot of Spanish blood in
them—hence, no doubt, the physique.”
“And she is a professional model!”
“Nothing of the sort!—though she will probably become one. She is a
writer—Heaven save the mark!—and I have to pay her vast sums to get
her. It is the greatest favour.”
“Poetess!—and journalist!” said Uncle Charles, enjoying Doris's
puzzled look. “She sent me her poems yesterday. As to journalism”—his
eyes twinkled—“I say nothing—but this. Watch her hats! She has
the reputation—in certain circles—of being the best-hatted woman in
London. All this I get from the man who handed her on to me. As I said
to him, it depends on what 'London' you mean.”
“Oh dear no, though of course she calls herself 'Madame' like the
rest of them—Madame Vavasour. I have reason, however, to believe that
her real name is Flink—Elena Flink. And I should say—very much on the
look-out for a husband; and meanwhile very much courted by boys—who go
to what she calls her 'evenings.' It is odd, the taste that some youths
have for these elderly Circes.”
“Elderly?” said Doris, busy the while with her own preparations. “I
was hoping for something young and beautiful!”
“Young?—no!—an unmistakable thirty-five. Beautiful? Well, wait
till you see her ... H'm—that shoulder won't do!”—Doris had just
placed a preliminary sketch of one of her “subjects” under his
eyes—“and that bit of perspective in the corner wants a lot of seeing
to. Look here!” The old Academician, brought up in the spirit of
Ingres—“le dessin, c'est la probite!—le dessin, c'est
l'honneur!”—fell eagerly to work on the sketch, and Doris watched.
They were both absorbed, when there was a knock at the door. Doris
turned hastily, expecting to see the model. Instead of which there
entered, in response to Bentley's “Come in!” a girl of four or five and
twenty, in a blue linen dress and a shady hat, who nodded a quiet “Good
afternoon” to the artist, and proceeded at once with an air of business
to a writing-table at the further end of the studio, covered with
“Miss Wigram,” said the artist, raising his voice, “let me introduce
you to my niece, Mrs. Meadows.”
The girl rose from her chair again and bowed. Then Doris saw that
she had a charming tired face, beautiful eyes on which she had just
placed spectacles, and soft brown hair framing her thin cheeks.
“A novelty since you were here,” whispered Bentley in Doris's ear.
“She's an accountant—capital girl! Since these Liberal budgets came
along, I can't keep my own accounts, or send in my own income-tax
returns—dash them! So she does the whole business for me—pays
everything—sees to everything—comes once a week. We shall all be run
by the women soon!”
* * * * *
The studio had grown very quiet. Through some glass doors open to
the garden came in little wandering winds which played with some loose
papers on the floor, and blew Doris's hair about her eyes as she
stooped over her easel, absorbed in her drawing. Apparently absorbed:
her subliminal mind, at least, was far away, wandering on a craggy
Scotch moor. A lady on a Scotch pony—she understood that Lady
Dunstable often rode with the shooters—and a tall man walking beside
her, carrying, not a gun, but a walking stick:—that was the vision in
the crystal. Arthur was too bad a shot to be tolerated in the Dunstable
circle; had indeed wisely announced from the beginning that he was not
to be included among the guns. All the more time for conversation, the
give and take of wits, the pleasures of the intellectual
tilting-ground; the whole watered by good wine, seasoned with the best
of cooking, and lapped in the general ease of a house where nobody ever
thought of such a vulgar thing as money except to spend it.
Doris had in general a severe mind as to the rich and aristocratic
classes. Her own hard and thrifty life had disposed her to see them
en noir. But the sudden rush of a certain section of them to crowd
Arthur's lectures had been certainly mollifying. If it had not been for
the Vampire, Doris was well aware that her standards might have given
As it was, Lady Dunstable's exacting ways, her swoop, straight and
fierce, on the social morsel she desired, like that of an eagle on the
sheepfold, had made her, in Doris's sore consciousness, the
representative of thousands more; all greedy, able, domineering,
inevitably getting what they wanted, and more than they deserved;
against whom the starved and virtuous intellectuals of the professional
classes were bound to contend to the death. The story of that poor
girl, that clergyman's daughter, for instance—could anything have been
more insolent—more cruel? Doris burned to avenge her.
Suddenly—a great clatter and noise in the passage leading from the
small house behind to the studio and garden.
“Here she is!”
Uncle Charles sprang up, and reached the studio door just as a
shower of knocks descended upon it from outside. He opened it, and on
the threshold there stood two persons; a stout lady in white,
surmounted by a huge black hat with a hearse-like array of plumes; and,
behind her, a tall and willowy youth, with—so far as could be seen
through the chinks of the hat—a large nose, fair hair, pale blue eyes,
and a singular deficiency of chin. He carried in his arms a tiny black
Spitz with a pink ribbon round its neck.
The lady looked, frowning, into the interior of the studio. She held
in her hand a very large fan, with the handle of which she had been
rapping the door; and the black feathers with which she was canopied
seemed to be nodding in her eyes.
“Maestro, you are not alone!” she said in a deep, reproachful voice.
“My niece, Mrs. Meadows—Madame Vavasour,” said Bentley, ushering in
Doris turned from her easel and bowed, only to receive a rather
“And your friend?” As he spoke the artist looked blandly at the
“I brought him to amuse me, Maestro. When I am dull my countenance
changes, and you cannot do it justice. He will talk to me—I shall be
animated—and you will profit.”
“Ah, no doubt!” said Bentley, smiling. “And your friend's name?”
“Herbert Dunstable—Honourable Herbert Dunstable!—Signor Bentley,”
said Madame Vavasour, advancing with a stately step into the room, and
waving peremptorily to the young man to follow.
Doris sat transfixed and staring. Bentley turned to look at his
niece, and their eyes met—his full of suppressed mirth. The son!—the
unsatisfactory son! Doris remembered that his name was Herbert. In the
train of this third-rate sorceress!
Her thoughts ran excitedly to the distant moors, and that
magnificent lady, with her circle of distinguished persons,
holiday-making statesmen, peers, diplomats, writers, and the like. Here
was a humbler scene! But Doris's fancy at once divined a score of links
between it and the high comedy yonder.
Meanwhile, at the name of Dunstable, the girl accountant in the
distance had also moved sharply, so as to look at the young man. But in
the bustle of Madame Vavasour's entrance, and her passage to the
sitter's chair, the girl's gesture passed unnoticed.
“I'm just worn out, Maestro!” said the model languidly, uplifting a
pair of tragic eyes to the artist. “I sat up half the night writing. I
had a subject which tormented me. But I have done something splendid! Isn't it splendid, Herbert?”
“Ripping!” said the young man, grinning widely.
“Sit down!” said Madame, with a change of tone. And the youth sat
down, on the very low chair to which she pointed him, doing his best to
dispose of his long legs.
“Give me the dog!” she commanded. “You have no idea how to hold
The dog was handed to her; she took off her enormous hat with many
sighs of fatigue, and then, with the dog on her lap, asked how she was
to sit. Bentley explained that he wished to make a few preliminary
sketches of her head and bust, and proceeded to pose her. She accepted
his directions with a curious pettishness, as though they annoyed her;
and presently complained loudly that the chair was uncomfortable, and
the pose irksome. He handled her, however, with a good-humoured mixture
of flattery and persuasion, and at last, stepping back, surveyed the
There was no doubt whatever that she was a very handsome woman, and
that her physical type—that of the more lethargic and heavily built
Neapolitan—suggested very happily the mad and melancholy Queen. She
had superb black hair, eyes profoundly dark, a low and beautiful brow,
lips classically fine, a powerful head and neck, and a complexion
which, but for the treatment given it, would have been of a clear and
beautiful olive. She wore a draggled dress of cream-coloured muslin,
very transparent over the shoulders, somewhat scandalously wanting at
the throat and breast, and very frayed and dirty round the skirt. Her
feet, which were large and plump, were cased in extremely pointed shoes
with large paste buckles; and as she crossed them on the stool provided
for them she showed a considerable amount of rather clumsy ankle. The
hands too were large, common, and ill-kept, and the wrists laden with
bracelets. She was adorned indeed with a great deal of jewellery,
including some startling earrings of a bright green stone. The hat,
which she had carefully placed on a chair beside her, was truly a
monstrosity!—but, as Doris guessed, an expensive monstrosity, such as
the Rue de la Paix provides, at anything from a hundred and fifty to
two hundred and fifty francs, for those of its cosmopolitan customers
whom it pillages and despises. How did the lady afford it? The rest of
her dress suggested a struggle with small means, waged by one who was
greedy for effect, obtained at a minimum of trouble. That she was
rouged and powdered goes without saying.
And the young man? Doris perceived at once his likeness to his
father—a feeble likeness. But he was evidently simple and
good-natured, and to all appearance completely in the power of the
enchantress. He fanned her assiduously. He picked up all the various
belongings—gloves, handkerchiefs, handbag—which she perpetually let
fall. He ran after the dog whenever it escaped from the lady's lap and
threatened mischief in the studio; and by way of amusing her—the
purpose for which he had been imported—he kept up a stream of small
cryptic gossip about various common acquaintances, most of whom seemed
to belong to the music-hall profession, and to be either “stars” or the
satellites of “stars.” Madame listened to him with avidity, and
occasionally broke into a giggling laugh. She had, however, two
manners, and two kinds of conversation, which she adopted with the
young man and the Academician respectively. Her talk with the youth
suggested the jealous ascendency of a coarse-minded woman. She
occasionally flattered him, but more generally she teased or “ragged"
him. She seemed indeed to feel him securely in her grip; so that there
was no need to pose for him, as—figuratively as well as
physically—she posed for Bentley. To the artist she gave her opinions
on pictures or books—on the novels of Mr. Wells, or the plays of Mr.
Bernard Shaw—in the languid or drawling tone of accepted authority;
dropping every now and then into a broad cockney accent, which produced
a startling effect, like that of unexpected garlic in cookery.
Bentley's gravity was often severely tried, and Doris altered the
position of her own easel so that he and she could not see each other.
Meanwhile Madame took not the smallest notice of Mr. Bentley's niece,
and Doris made no advances to the young man, to whom her name was
clearly quite unknown. Had Circe really got him in her toils? Doris
judged him soft-headed and soft-hearted; no match at all for the lady.
The thought of her walking the lawns or the drawing-rooms of Crosby
Ledgers as the betrothed of the heir stirred in Arthur Meadows's wife a
silent, and—be it confessed!—a malicious convulsion. Such mothers, so
self-centred, so set on their own triumphs, with their intellectual
noses so very much in the clouds, deserved such sons! She promised
herself to keep her own counsel, and watch the play.
The sitting lasted for two hours. When it was over, Uncle Charles,
all smiles and satisfaction, went with his visitors to the front door.
He was away some little time, and returned, bubbling, to the studio.
“She's been cross-examining me about her poems! I had to confess I
hadn't read a word of them. And now she's offered to recite next time
she comes! Good Heavens—how can I get out of it? I believe, Doris,
she's hooked that young idiot! She told me she was engaged to him. Do
you know anything of his people?”
The girl accountant suddenly came forward. She looked flushed and
“I do!” she said, with energy. “Can't somebody stop that? It will
break their hearts!”
Doris and Uncle Charles looked at her in amazement.
“Whose hearts?” said the painter.
“Lord and Lady Dunstable's.”
“You know them?” exclaimed Doris.
“I used to know them—quite well,” said the girl, quietly. “My
father had one of Lord Dunstable's livings. He died last year. He
didn't like Lady Dunstable. He quarrelled with her, because—because
she once did a very rude thing to me. But this would be too
awful! And poor Lord Dunstable! Everybody likes him. Oh—it must be
When Doris reached home that evening, the little Kensington house,
with half its carpets up and all but two of its rooms under
dust-sheets, looked particularly lonely and unattractive. Arthur's
study was unrecognisable. No cheerful litter anywhere. No smell of
tobacco, no sign of a male presence! Doris, walking restlessly from
room to room, had never felt so forsaken, so dismally certain that the
best of life was done. Moreover, she had fully expected to find a
letter from Arthur waiting for her; and there was nothing.
It was positively comic that under such circumstances anybody should
expect her—Doris Meadows—to trouble her head about Lady Dunstable's
affairs. Of course she would feel it if her son made a ridiculous and
degrading marriage. But why not?—why shouldn't he come to grief like
anybody else's son? Why should heaven and earth be moved in order to
prevent it?—especially by the woman to whose possible jealousy and
pain Lady Dunstable had certainly never given the most passing thought.
All the same, the distress shown by that odd girl, Miss Wigram, and
her appeal both to the painter and his niece to intervene and save the
foolish youth, kept echoing in Doris's memory, although neither she nor
Bentley had received it with any cordiality. Doris had soon made out
that this girl, Alice Wigram, was indeed the clergyman's daughter whom
Lady Dunstable had snubbed so unkindly some twelve months before. She
was evidently a sweet-natured, susceptible creature, to whom Lord
Dunstable had taken a fancy, in his fatherly way, during occasional
visits to her father's rectory, and of whom he had spoken to his wife.
That Lady Dunstable should have unkindly slighted this motherless girl,
who had evidently plenty of natural capacity under her shyness, was
just like her, and Doris's feelings of antagonism to the tyrant were
only sharpened by her acquaintance with the victim. Why should Miss
Wigram worry her self? Lord Dunstable? Well, but after all, capable men
should keep such wives in order. If Lord Dunstable had not been
scandalously weak, Lady Dunstable would not have become a terror to her
As for Uncle Charles, he had simply declined all responsibility in
the matter. He had never seen the Dunstables, wouldn't know them from
Adam, and had no concern whatever in what happened to their son. The
situation merely excited in him one man's natural amusement at the
folly of another. The boy was more than of age. Really he and his
mother must look after themselves. To meddle with the young man's love
affairs, simply because he happened to visit your studio in the company
of a lady, would be outrageous. So the painter laughed, shook his head,
and went back to his picture. Then Miss Wigram, looking despondently
from the silent Doris to the artist at work, had said with sudden
energy, “I must find out about her! I'm—I'm sure she's a horrid woman!
Can you tell me, sir”—she addressed Bentley—“the name of the
gentleman who was painting her before she came here?”
Bentley had hummed and hawed a little, twisting his red moustache,
and finally had given the name and address; whereupon Miss Wigram had
gathered up her papers, some of which had drifted to the floor between
her table and Doris's easel, and had taken an immediate departure, a
couple of hours before her usual time, throwing, as she left the
studio, a wistful and rather puzzled look at Mrs. Meadows.
Doris congratulated herself that she had kept her own counsel on the
subject of the Dunstables, both with Uncle Charles and Miss Wigram.
Neither of them had guessed that she had any personal acquaintance with
them. She tried now to put the matter out of her thoughts. Jane brought
in a tray for her mistress, and Doris supped meagrely in Arthur's
deserted study, thinking, as the sunset light came in across the dusty
street, of that flame and splendour which such weather must be kindling
on the moors, of the blue and purple distances, the glens of rocky
mountains hung in air, “the gleam, the shadow, and the peace supreme”!
She remembered how on their September honeymoon they had wandered in
Ross-shire, how the whole land was dyed crimson by the heather, and how
impossible it was to persuade Arthur to walk discreetly rather than,
like any cockney tripper, with his arm round his sweetheart. Scotland
had not been far behind the Garden of Eden under those circumstances.
But Arthur was now pursuing the higher, the intellectual joys.
She finished her supper, and then sat down to write to her husband.
Was she going to tell him anything about the incident of the afternoon?
Why should she? Why should she give him the chance of becoming more
than ever Lady Dunstable's friend—pegging out an eternal claim upon
Doris wrote her letter. She described the progress of the spring
cleaning; she reported that her sixth illustration was well forward,
and that Uncle Charles was wrestling with another historical picture, a
machine neither better nor worse than all the others. She thought
that after all Jane would soon give warning; and she, Doris, had spent
three pounds in petty cash since he went away; how, she could not
remember, but it was all in her account book.
And she concluded:
I understand then that we meet at Crewe on Friday fortnight? I
heard of a lodging near Capel Curig which sounds delightful. We
might do a week's climbing and then go on to the sea. I really
shall want a holiday. Has there not been ten minutes
you arrived—to write a letter in?—or a postcard? Shall I send
a few addressed?
Having thus finished what seemed to her the dullest letter she had
ever written in her life, she looked at it a while, irresolutely, then
put it in an envelope hastily, addressed, stamped it, and rang the bell
for Jane to run across the street with it and post it. After which, she
sat idle a little while with flushed cheeks, while the twilight
* * * * *
The gate of the trim front garden swung on its hinges. Doris turned
to look. She saw, to her astonishment, that the girl-accountant of the
morning, Miss Wigram, was coming up the flagged path to the house. What
could she want?
“Oh, Mrs. Meadows—I'm so sorry to disturb you—” said the visitor,
in some agitation, as Doris, summoned by Jane, entered the dust-sheeted
drawing-room. “But you dropped an envelope with an address this
afternoon. I picked it up with some of my papers and never discovered
it till I got home.”
She held out the envelope. Doris took it, and flushed vividly. It
was the envelope with his Scotch address which Arthur had written out
for her before leaving home—“care of the Lord Dunstable, Franick
Castle, Pitlochry, Perthshire, N.B.” She had put it in her portfolio,
out of which it had no doubt slipped while she was at work.
She and Miss Wigram eyed each other. The girl was evidently
agitated. But she seemed not to know how to begin what she had to say.
Doris broke the silence.
“You were astonished to find that I know the Dunstables?”
“Oh, no!—I didn't think—” stammered her visitor—“I supposed some
friend of yours might be staying there.”
“My husband is staying there,” said Doris, quietly. Really it was
too much trouble to tell a falsehood. Her pride refused.
“Oh, I see!” cried Miss Wigram, though in fact she was more
bewildered than before. Why should this extraordinary little lady have
behaved at the studio as if she had never heard of the Dunstables, and
be now confessing that her husband was actually staying in their house?
Doris smiled—with perfect self-possession.
“Please sit down. You think it odd, of course, that I didn't tell
you I knew the Dunstables, while we were talking about them. The fact
is I didn't want to be mixed up with the affair at all. We have only
lately made acquaintance with the Dunstables. Lady Dunstable is my
husband's friend. I don't like her very much. But neither of us knows
her well enough to go and tell her tales about her son.”
Miss Wigram considered—her gentle, troubled eyes bent upon Doris.
“Of course—I know—how many people dislike Lady Dunstable. She did
a—rather cruel thing to me once. The thought of it humiliated and
discouraged me for a long time. It made me almost glad to leave home.
And of course she hasn't won Mr. Herbert's confidence at all. She has
always snubbed and disapproved of him. Oh, I knew him very little. I
have hardly ever spoken to him. You saw he didn't recognise me this
afternoon. But my father used to go over to Crosby Ledgers to coach him
in the holidays, and he often told me that as a boy he was terrified
of his mother. She either took no notice of him at all, or she was
always sneering at him, and scolding him. As soon as ever he came of
age and got a little money of his own, he declared he wouldn't live at
home. His father wanted him to go into Parliament or the army, but he
said he hated the army, and if he was such a dolt as his mother thought
him it would be ridiculous to attempt politics. And so he just drifted
up to town and looked out for people that would make much of him, and
wouldn't snub him. And that, of course, was how he got into the toils
of a woman like that!”
The girl threw up her hands tragically.
Doris sat up, with energy.
“But what on earth,” she said, “does it matter to you or to me?”
“Oh, can't you see?” said the other, flushing deeply, and with the
tears in her eyes. “My father had one of Lord Dunstable's livings. We
lived on that estate for years. Everybody loved Lord Dunstable. And
though Lady Dunstable makes enemies, there's a great respect for the
family. They've been there since Queen Elizabeth's time. And it's
dreadful to think of a woman like—well, like that!—reigning at
Crosby Ledgers. I think of the poor people. Lady Dunstable's good to
them; though of course you wouldn't hear anything about it, unless you
lived there. She tries to do her duty to them—she really does—in her
own way. And, of course, they respect her. No Dunstable has ever
done anything disgraceful! Isn't there something in 'Noblesse
oblige'? Think of this woman at the head of that estate!”
“Well, upon my word,” said Doris, after a pause, “you are
feudal. Don't you feel yourself that you are old-fashioned?”
Mrs. Meadows's half-sarcastic look at first intimidated her visitor,
and then spurred her into further attempts to explain herself.
“I daresay it's old-fashioned,” she said slowly, “but I'm sure it's
what father would have felt. Anyway, I went off to try and find out
what I could. I went first to a little club I belong to—for
professional women—near the Strand, and I asked one or two women I
found there—who know artists—and models—and write for papers. And
very soon I found out a great deal. I didn't have to go to the man
whose address Mr. Bentley gave me. Madame Vavasour is a horrid
woman! This is not the first young man she's fleeced—by a long way.
There was a man—younger than Mr. Dunstable, a boy of nineteen—three
years ago. She got him to promise to marry her; and the parents came
down, and paid her enormously to let him go. Now she's got through all
that money, and she boasts she's going to marry young Dunstable before
his parents know anything about it. She's going to make sure of a
peerage this time. Oh, she's odious! She's greedy, she's vulgar, she's
false! And of course”—the girl's eyes grew wide and scared—“there may
be other things much worse. How do we know?”
“How do we know indeed!” said Doris, with a shrug. “Well!”—she
turned her eyes full upon her guest—“and what are you going to do?”
An eager look met hers.
“Couldn't you—couldn't you write to Mr. Meadows, and ask him to
warn Lady Dunstable?”
Doris shook her head.
“Why don't you do it yourself?”
The girl flushed uncomfortably. “You see, father quarrelled with her
about that unkind thing she did to me—oh, it isn't worth telling!—but
he wrote her an angry letter, and they never spoke afterwards. Lady
Dunstable never forgives that kind of thing. If people find fault with
her, she just drops them. I don't believe she'd read a letter from me!”
“Les offenses, etc.,” said Doris, meditating. “But what are
the facts? Has the boy actually promised to marry her? She may have
been telling lies to my uncle.”
“She tells everybody so. I saw a girl who knows her quite well. They
write for the same paper—it's a fashion paper. You saw that hat, by
the way, she had on? She gets them as perquisites from the smart shops
she writes about. She has a whole cupboard of them at home, and when
she wants money she sells them for what she can get. Well, she told me
that Madame—they all call her Madame, though they all know quite well
that she's not married, and that her name is Flink—boasts perpetually
of her engagement. It seems that he was ill in the winter—in his
lodgings. His mother knew nothing about it—he wouldn't tell her, and
Madame nursed him, and made a fuss of him. And Mr. Dunstable thought he
owed her a great deal—and she made scenes and told him she had
compromised herself by coming to nurse him—and all that kind of
nonsense. And at last he promised to marry her—in writing. And now
she's so sure of him that she just bullies him—you saw how she ordered
him about to-day.”
“Well, why doesn't he marry her, if he's such a fool—why hasn't he
married her long ago?” cried Doris.
Miss Wigram looked distressed.
“I don't know. My friend thinks it's his father. She believes, at
least, that he doesn't want to get married without telling Lord
Dunstable; and that, of course, means telling his mother. And he hates
the thought of the letters and the scenes. So he keeps it hanging on;
and lately Madame has been furious with him, and is always teasing and
sniffing at him. He's dreadfully weak, and my friend's afraid that
before he's made up his own mind what to do that woman will have
carried him off to a registry office—and got the horrid thing done for
good and all.”
There was silence a moment. After which Doris said, with a cold
“You can't imagine how absurd it seems to me that you should come
and ask me to help Lady Dunstable with her son. There is nobody in the
world less helpless than Lady Dunstable, and nobody who would be less
grateful for being helped. I really cannot meddle with it.”
She rose as she spoke, and Miss Wigram rose too.
“Couldn't you—couldn't you—” said the girl pleadingly—“just ask
Mr. Meadows to warn Lord Dunstable? I'm thinking of the villagers, and
the farmers, and the schools—all the people we used to love. Father
was there twenty years! To think of the dear place given over—some
day—to that creature!”
Her charming eyes actually filled with tears. Doris was touched, but
at the same time set on edge. This loyalty that people born and bred in
the country feel to our English country system—what an absurd and
unreal frame of mind! And when our country system produces Lady
“They have such a pull!”—she thought angrily—“such a hideously
unfair pull, over other people! The way everybody rushes to help them
when they get into a mess—to pick up the pieces—and sweep it all up!
It's irrational—it's sickening! Let them look after themselves—and
pay for their own misdeeds like the rest of us.”
“I can't interfere—I really can't!” she said, straightening her
slim shoulders. “It is not as though we were old friends of Lord and
Lady Dunstable. Don't you see how very awkward it would be? Let me
advise you just to watch the thing a little, and then to apply to
somebody in the Crosby Ledgers neighbourhood. You must have some
friends or acquaintances there, who at any rate could do more than we
could. And perhaps after all it's a mare's nest, and the young man
doesn't mean to marry her at all!”
The girl's anxious eyes scanned Doris's unyielding countenance; then
with a sigh she gave up her attempt, and said “Good-bye.” Doris went
with her to the door.
“We shall meet to-morrow, shan't we?” she said, feeling a vague
compunction. “And I suppose this woman will be there again. You can
keep an eye on her. Are you living alone—or are you with friends?”
“Oh, I'm in a boarding-house,” said Miss Wigram, hastily. Then as
though she recognised the new softness in Doris's look, she added, “I'm
quite comfortable there—and I've a great deal of work. Good night.”
* * * * *
“All alone!—with that gentle face—and that terrible amount of
conscience—hard lines!” thought Doris, as she reflected on her
visitor. “I felt a black imp beside her!”
All the same, the letter which Mrs. Meadows received by the
following morning's post was not at all calculated to melt the “black
imp” further. Arthur wrote in a great hurry to beg that she would not
go on with their Welsh plans—for the moment.
Lady D——has insisted on my going on a short yachting cruise
her and Miss Field, the week after next. She wants to show me
West Coast, and they have a small cottage in the Shetlands
should stay a night or two and watch the sea-birds. It may
away another week or fortnight, but you won't mind, dear, will
I am getting famously rested, and really the house is very
agreeable. In these surroundings Lady Dunstable is less of the
bas-bleu, and more of the woman. You must make up
your mind to
come another year! You would soon get over your prejudice and
friends with her. She looks after us all—she talks
I haven't seen her rude to anybody since I arrived. There are
very nice people here, and altogether I am enjoying it. Don't
work too hard—and don't let the servants harry you. Post just
going. Good night!
Another week or fortnight!—five weeks, or nearly, altogether. Doris
was sorely wounded. She went to look at herself in the mirror over the
chimney-piece. Was she not thin and haggard for want of rest and
holiday? Would not the summer weather be all done by the time Arthur
graciously condescended to come back to her? Were there not dark lines
under her eyes, and was she not feeling a limp and wretched creature,
unfit for any exertion? What was wrong with her? She hated her
drawing—she hated everything. And there was Arthur, proposing to go
yachting with Lady Dunstable!—while she might toil and moil—all
alone—in this August London! The tears rushed into her eyes. Her pride
only just saved her from a childish fit of crying.
But in the end resentment came to her aid, together with an angry
and redoubled curiosity as to what might be happening to Lady
Dunstable's precious son while Lady Dunstable was thus absorbed in
robbing other women of their husbands. Doris hurried her small
household affairs, that she might get off early to the studio; and as
she put on her hat, her fancy drew vindictive pictures of the scene
which any day might realise—the scene at Franick Castle, when Lady
Dunstable, unsuspecting, should open the letter which announced to her
the advent of her daughter-in-law, Elena, nee Flink—or should
gather the same unlovely fact from a casual newspaper paragraph. As for
interfering between her and her rich deserts, Doris vowed to herself
she would not lift a finger. That incredibly forgiving young woman,
Miss Wigram, might do as she pleased. But when a mother pursues her own
selfish ends so as to make her only son dislike and shun her, let her
take what comes. It was in the mood of an Erinnys that Doris made her
way northwards to Campden Hill, and nobody perceiving the slight erect
figure in the corner of the omnibus could possibly have guessed at the
The August day was hot and lifeless. Heat mist lay over the park,
and over the gardens on the slopes of Campden Hill. Doris could hardly
drag her weary feet along, as she walked from where the omnibus had set
her down to her uncle's studio. But it was soon evident that within the
studio itself there was animation enough. From the long passage
approaching it Doris heard someone shouting—declaiming—what appeared
to be verse. Madame, of course, reciting her own poems—poor Uncle
Charles! Doris stopped outside the door, which was slightly open, to
listen, and heard these astonishing lines—delivered very slowly and
pompously, in a thick, strained voice:
“My heart is adamant! The tear-drops drip and drip—
Force their slow path, and tear their desperate way.
The vulture Pain sits close, to snip—and snip—and snip
My sad, sweet life to ruin—well-a-day!
I am deceived—a bleating lamb bereft!—who goes
Baa-baaing to the moon o'er lonely lands.
Through all my shivering veins a tender fervour flows;
I cry to Love—'Reach out, my Lord, thy hands!
And save me from these ugly beasts who ramp and rage
Around me all day long—beasts fell and sore—
Envy, and Hate, and Calumny!—do thou assuage
Their impious mouths, O splendid Love, and floor
Their hideous tactics, and their noisome spleen,
Withering to dust the awful “Might-Have-Been!”'“
“Goodness! 'Howls the Sublime' indeed!” thought Doris, gurgling with
laughter in the passage. As soon as she had steadied her face she
opened the studio door, and perceived Lady Dunstable's prospective
daughter-in-law standing in the middle of the studio, head thrown back
and hands outstretched, invoking the Cyprian. The shriek of the first
lines had died away in a stage whisper; the reciter was glaring
fiercely into vacancy.
Doris's merry eyes devoured the scene. On the chair from which the
model had risen she had deposited yet another hat, so large, so
audacious and beplumed that it seemed to have a positive personality, a
positive swagger of its own, and to be winking roguishly at the
audience. Meanwhile Madame's muslin dress of the day before had been
exchanged for something more appropriate to the warmth of her poetry—a
tawdry flame-coloured satin, in which her “too, too solid” frame was
tightly sheathed. Her coal-black hair, tragically wild, looked as
though no comb had been near it for a month, and the gloves drawn
half-way up the bare arms hardly remembered they had ever been white.
A slovenly, dishevelled, vulgar woman, reciting bombastic nonsense!
And yet!—a touch of Southern magnificence, even of Southern grace,
amid the cockney squalor and finery. Doris coolly recognised it, as she
stood, herself invisible, behind her uncle's large easel. Thence she
perceived also the other persons in the studio:—Bentley sitting in
front of the poetess, hiding his eyes with one hand, and nervously
tapping the arm of his chair with the other; to the right of him—seen
sideways—the lanky form, flushed face, and open mouth of young
Dunstable; and in the far distance, Miss Wigram.
Then—a surprising thing! The awkward pause following the recitation
was suddenly broken by a loud and uncontrollable laugh. Doris,
startled, turned to look at young Dunstable. For it was he who had
laughed. Madame also shook off her stage trance to look—a thunderous
frown upon her handsome face. The young man laughed on—laughed
hysterically—burying his face in his hands. Madame Vavasour—all
attitudes thrown aside—ran up to him in a fury.
“Why are you laughing? You insult me!—you have done it before. And
now before strangers—it is too much! I insist that you explain!”
She stood over him, her eyes blazing. The youth, still convulsed,
did his best to quiet the paroxysm which had seized him, and at last
“I was—I was thinking—of your reciting that at Crosby Ledgers—to
my mother—and—and what she would say.”
Even under her rouge it could be seen that the poetess turned a grey
“And pray—what would she say?”
The question was delivered with apparent calm. But Madame's eyes
were dangerous. Doris stepped forward. Her uncle stayed her with a
gesture. He himself rose, but Madame fiercely waved him aside. Miss
Wigram, in the distance, had also moved forward—and paused.
“What would she say?” demanded Madame, again—at the sword's point.
“I—I don't know—” said young Dunstable, helplessly, still shaking.
“I—I think—she'd laugh.”
And he went off again, hysterically, trying in vain to stop the fit.
Madame bit her lip. Then came a torrent of Italian—evidently a torrent
of abuse; and then she lifted a gloved hand and struck the young man
violently on the cheek.
“Take that!—you insolent—you—you barbarian! You are my fiance,—my promised husband—and you mock at me; you will encourage your
stuck-up mother to mock at me—I know you will! But I tell you—”
The speaker, however, had stopped abruptly, and instead of saying
anything more she fell back panting, her eyes on the young man. For
Herbert Dunstable had risen. At the blow, an amazing change had passed
over his weak countenance and weedy frame. He put his hand to his
forehead a moment, as though trying to collect his thoughts, and then
he turned—quietly—to look for his hat and stick.
“Where are you going, Herbert?” stammered Madame. “I—I was carried
away—I forgot myself!”
“I think not,” said the young man, who was extremely pale. “This is
not the first time. I bid you good morning, Madame—and good-bye!”
He stood looking at the now frightened woman, with a strange,
surprised look, like one just emerging from a semi-conscious state; and
in that moment, as Doris seemed to perceive, the traditions of his
birth and breeding had returned upon him; something instinctive and
inherited had reappeared; and the gentlemanly, easy-going father, who
yet, as Doris remembered, when matters were serious “always got his
way,” was there—strangely there—in the degenerate son.
“Where are you going?” repeated Madame, eyeing him. “You promised to
give me lunch.”
“I regret—I have an engagement. Mr. Bentley—when the sitting is
over—will you kindly see—Miss Flink—into a taxi? I thank you very
much for allowing me to come and watch your work. I trust the picture
will be a success. Good-bye!”
He held out his hand to Bentley, and bowed to Doris. Madame made a
rush at him. But Bentley held her back. He seized her arms, indeed,
quietly but irresistibly, while the young man made his retreat. Then,
with a shriek, Madame fell back on her chair, pretending to faint, and
Bentley, in no hurry, went to her assistance, while Doris slipped out
after young Dunstable. She overtook him on the door-step.
“Mr. Dunstable, may I speak to you?”
He turned in astonishment, showing a grim pallor which touched her
“I know your mother and father,” said Doris hurriedly; “at least my
husband and I were staying at Crosby Ledges some weeks ago, and my
husband is now in Scotland with your people. His name is Arthur
Meadows. I am Mrs. Meadows. I—I don't know whether I could help you.
You seem”—her smile flashed out—“to be in a horrid mess!”
The young man looked in perplexity at the small, trim lady before
him, as though realising her existence for the first time. Her honest
eyes were bent upon him with the same expression she had often worn
when Arthur had come to her with some confession of folly—the
expression which belongs to the maternal side of women, and is at once
mocking and sweet. It said—“Of course you are a great fool!—most men
are. But that's the raison d'etre of women! Suppose we go into
“You're very kind—” he groaned—“awfully kind. I'm ashamed you
should have seen—such a thing. Nobody can help me—thank you very
much. I am engaged to that lady—I've promised to marry her. Oh, she's
got any amount of evidence. I've been an ass—and worse. But I can't
get out of it. I don't mean to try to get out of it. I promised of my
own free will. Only I've found out now I can never live with her. Her
temper is fiendish. It degrades her—and me. But you saw! She has made
my life a burden to me lately, because I wouldn't name a day for us to
be married. I wanted to see my father quietly first—without my mother
knowing—and I have been thinking how to manage it—and funking it of
course—I always do funk things. But what she did just now has settled
it—it has been blowing up for a long time. I shall marry her—at a
registry office—as soon as possible. Then I shall separate from her,
and—I hope—never see her again. The lawyers will arrange that—and
money! Thank you—it's awfully good of you to want to help me—but you
Doris had drawn her companion into her uncle's small dining-room and
closed the door. She listened to his burst of confidence with a puzzled
“Why must you marry her?” she said abruptly, when he paused. “Break
it off! It would be far best.”
“No. I promised. I—” he stammered a little—“I seem to have done
her harm—her reputation, I mean. There is only one thing could let me
off. She swore to me that—well!—that she was a good woman—that there
was nothing in her past—you understand—”
“And you know of nothing?” said Doris, gravely.
“Nothing. And you don't think I'm going to try and ferret out things
against her!” cried the youth, flushing. “No—I must just bear it.”
“It's your parents that will have to bear it!”
His face hardened.
“My mother might have prevented it,” he said bitterly. “However, I
won't go into that. My father will see I couldn't do anything else. I'd
better get it over. I'm going to my lawyers now. They'll take a few
days over what I want.”
“You'll tell your father?”
“I—I don't know,” he said, irresolutely. She noticed that he did
not try to pledge her not to give him away. And she, on her side, did
not threaten to do so. She argued with him a little more, trying to get
at his real thoughts, and to straighten them out for him. But it was
evident he had made up such mind as he had, and that his sudden
resolution—even the ugly scene which had made him take it—had been a
relief. He knew at last where he stood.
So presently Doris let him go. They parted, liking each other
decidedly. He thanked her warmly—though drearily—for taking an
interest in him, and he said to her on the threshold:
“Some day, I hope, you'll come to Crosby Ledgers again, Mrs.
Meadows—and I'll be there—for once! Then I'll tell you—if you
care—more about it. Thanks awfully! Good-bye.”
* * * * *
Later on, when “Miss Flink,” in a state of sulky collapse, had been
sent home in her taxi, Doris, Bentley, and Miss Wigram held a
conference. But it came to little. Bentley, the hater of “rows,” simply
could not be moved to take the thing up. “I kept her from scalping
him!—” he laughed—“and I'm not due for any more!” Doris said little.
A whirl of arguments and projects were in her mind. But she kept her
own counsel about them. As to the possibility of inducing the man to
break it off, she repeated the only condition on which it could be
done; at which Uncle Charles laughed, and Alice Wigram fell into a long
and thoughtful silence.
* * * * *
Doris arrived at home rather early. What with the emotions of the
day, the heat, and her work, she was strangely tired and over-done.
After tea she strolled out into Kensington Gardens, and sat under the
shade of trees already autumnal, watching the multitude of
children—children of the people—enjoying the nation's park all to
themselves, in the complete absence of their social betters. What ducks
they were, some of them—the little, grimy, round-faced things—rolling
on the grass, or toddling after their sisters and brothers. They turned
large, inquisitive eyes upon her, which seemed to tease her
And suddenly,—it was in Kensington Gardens that out of the heart of
a long and vague reverie there came a flash—an illumination—which
wholly changed the life and future of Doris Meadows. After the thought
in which it took shape had seized upon her, she sat for some time
motionless; then rising to her feet, tottering a little, like one in
bewilderment, she turned northwards, and made her way hurriedly towards
Lancaster Gate. In a house there, lived a lady, a widowed lady, who was
Doris's godmother, and to whom Doris—who had lost her own mother in
her childhood—had turned for counsel before now. How long it was since
she had seen “Cousin Julia”!—nearly two months. And here she was,
hastening to her, and not able to bear the thought that in all human
probability Cousin Julia was not in town.
But, by good luck, Doris found her godmother, perching in London
between a Devonshire visit and a Scotch one. They talked long, and
Doris walked slowly home across the park. A glory of spreading sun lay
over the grassy glades; the Serpentine held reflections of a sky barred
with rose; London, transfigured, seemed a city of pearl and fire. And
in Doris's heart there was a glory like that of the evening,—and, like
the burning sky, bearing with it a promise of fair days to come. The
glory and the promise stole through all her thoughts, softening and
“When he grows up—if he were to marry such a woman—and I
didn't know—if all his life—and mine—were spoilt—and nobody
said a word!”
Her eyes filled with tears. She seemed to be walking with Arthur
through a world of beauty, hand in hand.
How many hours to Pitlochry? She ran into the Kensington house,
asking for railway guides, and peremptorily telling Jane to get down
the small suitcase from the box-room at once.
“'Barbarians, Philistines, Populace!'“
The young golden-haired man of letters who was lounging on the grass
beside Arthur Meadows repeated the words to himself in an absent voice,
turning over the pages meanwhile of a book lying before him, as though
in search of a passage he had noticed and lost. He presently found it
again, and turned laughing towards Meadows, who was trifling with a
“Do you remember this passage in Culture and Anarchy—'I
often, therefore, when I want to distinguish clearly the aristocratic
class from the Philistines proper, or middle class, name the former, in
my own mind, the Barbarians. And when I go through the country,
and see this or that beautiful and imposing seat of theirs crowning the
landscape, “There,” I say to myself, “is a great fortified post of the
The youth pointed smiling to the fine Scotch house seen sideways on
the other side of the lawn. Its turreted and battlemented front rose
high above the low and spreading buildings which made the bulk of the
house, so that it was a feudal castle—by no means, however, so old as
it looked—on a front view, and a large and roomy villa from the rear.
Meadows, looking at it, appreciated the fitness of the quotation, and
laughed in response.
“Ungrateful wretch,” he said—“after that dinner last night!”
“All the same, Matthew Arnold had that dinner in mind—chef
and all! Listen! 'The graver self of the Barbarian likes honours and
consideration; his more relaxed self, field-sports and pleasures.'
Isn't it exact? Grouse-driving in the morning—bridge, politics,
Cabinet-making, and the best of food in the evening. And I should put
our hostess very high—wouldn't you?—among the chatelaines of the
'great fortified posts'?”
Meadows assented, but rather languidly. The day was extremely hot;
he was tired, moreover, by a long walk with the guns the day before,
and by conversation after dinner, led by Lady Dunstable, which had
lasted up to nearly one o'clock in the morning. The talk had been
brilliant, no doubt. Meadows, however, did not feel that he had come
off very well in it. His hostess had deliberately pitted him against
two of the ablest men in England, and he was well aware that he had
disappointed her. Lady Dunstable had a way of behaving to her favourite
author or artist of the moment as though she were the fancier and he
the cock. She fought him against the other people's cocks with
astonishing zeal and passion; and whenever he failed to kill, or lost
too many feathers in the process, her annoyance was evident.
Meadows was in truth becoming a little tired of her dictation,
although it was only ten days since he had arrived under her roof.
There was a large amount of lethargy combined with his ability; and he
hated to be obliged to live at any pace but his own. But Rachel
Dunstable was an imperious friend, never tired herself, apparently,
either in mind or body; and those who could not walk, eat, and talk to
please her were apt to know it. Her opinions too, both political and
literary, were in some directions extremely violent; and though, in
general, argument and contradiction gave her pleasure, she had her days
and moods, and Meadows had already suffered occasional sets-down, of a
kind to which he was not accustomed.
But if he was—just a little—out of love with his new friend, in
all other respects he was enjoying himself enormously. The long days on
the moors, the luxurious life indoors, the changing and generally
agreeable company, all the thousand easements and pleasures that wealth
brings with it, the skilled service, the motors, the costly cigars, the
wines—there was a Sybarite in Meadows which revelled in them all. He
had done without them; he would do without them again; but there they
were exceedingly good creatures of God, while they lasted; and only the
hypocrites pretended otherwise. His sympathy, in the old
poverty-stricken days, would have been all with the plaintive
American—“There's d——-d good times in the world, and I ain't in
All the same, the fleshpots of Pitlochry had by no means put his
wife out of his mind. His incurable laziness and procrastination in
small things had led him to let slip post after post; but that very
morning, at any rate, he had really written her a decent letter. And he
was beginning to be anxious to hear from her about the yachting plan.
If Lady Dunstable had asked him a few days later, he was not sure he
would have accepted so readily. After all, the voyage might be stormy,
and the lady—difficult. Doris must be dull in London,—“poor little
But then a very natural wrath returned upon him. Why on earth had
she stayed behind? No doubt Lady Dunstable was formidable, but so was
Doris in her own way. “She'd soon have held her own. Lady D. would have
had to come to terms!” However, he remembered with some compunction
that Doris did seem to have been a good deal neglected at Crosby
Ledgers, and that he had not done much to help her.
* * * * *
It was an “off” day for the shooters, and Lady Dunstable's guests
were lounging about the garden, writing letters or playing a little
leisurely golf on the lower reaches of the moor. Some of the ladies,
indeed, had not yet appeared downstairs; a sleepy heat reigned over the
valley with its winding stream, and veiled the distant hills. Meadows's
companion, Ralph Barrow, a young novelist of promise, had gone fast
asleep on the grass; Meadows was drowsing over his book; the dogs slept
on the terrace steps; and in the summer silence the murmur of the river
far below stole up the hill on which the house stood, and its soft song
held the air.
Suddenly there was a disturbance. The dogs sprang up and barked.
There was a firm step on the gravel. Lady Dunstable, stick in hand, her
short leather-bound skirt showing boots and gaiters of the most
business-like description, came quickly towards the seat on which
“Mr. Meadows, I summon you for a walk! Sir Luke and Mr. Frome are
coming. We propose to get to the tarn and back before lunch.”
The tarn was at least two miles away, a stiff climb over difficult
moor. Meadows, startled from something very near sleep, looked up, and
a spirit of revolt seized upon him, provoked by the masterful tone and
eyes of the lady.
“Very sorry, Lady Dunstable!—but I must write some letters before
“Oh no!—put them off! I have been thinking of what you told me
yesterday of your scheme for your new set of lectures. I have a great
deal to say to you about it.”
“I really shouldn't be worth talking to now,” laughed Meadows; “this
heat has made me so sleepy. To-night—or after tea—by all means!”
Lady Dunstable looked annoyed.
“I am expecting the Duke's party at tea,” she said peremptorily.
“This will be my only chance to-day.”
“Then let's put it off—till to-morrow!” said Meadows, as he rose,
still smiling. “It is most kind of you, but I really must write my
letters, and my brains are pulp. But I will escort you through the
garden, if I may.”
His hostess turned sharply, and walked back towards the front of the
house where Sir Luke and Mr. Frome, a young and rising Under-Secretary,
were waiting for her. Meadows accompanied her, but found her
exceedingly ungracious. She did, however, inform him, as they followed
the other two towards the exit from the garden, that she had come to
the conclusion that the subject he was proposing for his second series
of lectures, to be given at Dunstable House during the winter, “would
“Famous Controversies of the Nineteenth Century—political and
religious.” The very sound of it was enough to keep people away! “What
people expect from you is talk about persons—not ideas. Ideas
are not your line!”
Meadows flushed a little. What his “line” might be, he said, he had
not yet discovered. But he liked his subject, and meant to stick to it.
Lady Dunstable turned on him a pair of sarcastic eyes.
“That's so like you clever people. You would die rather than take
“Advice!—yes. As much as you like, dear lady. But—”
“But what—” she asked, imperatively, nettled in her turn.
“Well—you must put it prettily!” said Meadows, smiling. “We want a
great deal of jam with the powder.”
“You want to be flattered? I never flatter! It is the most
despicable of arts.”
“On the contrary—one of the most skilled. And I have heard you do
it to perfection.”
His daring half irritated, half amused her. It was her turn to
flush. Her thin, sallow face and dark eyes lit up vindictively.
“One should never remind one's friends of their vices,” she said
“Ah—if they are vices! But flattery is merely a virtue out
of place—kindness gone wrong. From the point of view of the moralist,
that is. From the point of view of the ordinary mortal, it is what no
men—and few women—can do without!”
She smiled grimly, enjoying the spar. They carried it on a little
while, Meadows, now fairly on his mettle, administering a little deft
though veiled castigation here and there, in requital for various acts
of rudeness of which she had been guilty towards him and others during
the preceding days. She grew restive occasionally, but on the whole she
bore it well. Her arrogance was not of the small-minded sort; and the
best chance with her was to defy her.
At the gate leading on to the moor, Meadows resolutely came to a
“Your letters are the merest excuse!” said Lady Dunstable. “I don't
believe you will write one of them! I notice you always put off
“Give me credit at least for the intention.”
Smiling, he held the gate open for her, and she passed through,
discomfited, to join Sir Luke on the other side. Mr. Frome, the
Under-Secretary, a young man of Jewish family and amazing talents, who
had been listening with amusement to the conversation behind him,
turned back to say to Meadows, at a safe distance—“Keep it up!—Keep
it up! You avenge us all!”
* * * * *
Presently, as she and her two companions wound slowly up the moor,
Sir Luke Malford, who had only arrived the night before, inquired gaily
of his hostess:
“So she wouldn't come?—the little wife?”
“I gave her every chance. She scorned us.”
“You mean—'she funked us.' Have you any idea, I wonder, how
alarming you are?”
Lady Dunstable exclaimed impatiently:
“People represent me as a kind of ogre. I am nothing of the kind. I
only expect everybody to play up.”
“Ah, but you make the rules!” laughed Sir Luke. “I thought that
young woman might have been a decided acquisition.”
“She hadn't the very beginnings of a social gift,” declared his
companion. “A stubborn and rather stupid little person. I am much
afraid she will stand in her husband's way.”
“But suppose you blow up a happy home, by encouraging him to come
without her? I bet anything she is feeling jealous and ill-used. You
ought—I am sure you ought—to have a guilty conscience; but you look
Sir Luke's banter was generally accepted with indifference, but on
this occasion it provoked Lady Dunstable. She protested with vehemence
that she had given Mrs. Meadows every chance, and that a young woman
who was both trivial and conceited could not expect to get on in
society. Sir Luke gathered from her tone that she and Mrs. Meadows had
somewhat crossed swords, and that the wife might look out for
consequences. He had been a witness of this kind of thing before in
Lady Dunstable's circle; and he was conscious of a passing sympathy
with the pleasant-faced little woman he remembered at Crosby Ledgers.
At the same time he had been Rachel Dunstable's friend for twenty
years; originally, her suitor. He spent a great part of his life in her
company, and her ways seemed to him part of the order of things.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Meadows walked back to the house. He had been a good deal
nettled by Lady Dunstable's last remark to him. But he had taken pains
not to show it. Doris might say such things to him—but no one else.
They were, of course, horribly true! Well—quarrelling with Lady
Dunstable was amusing enough—when there was room to escape her. But
how would it be in the close quarters of a yacht?
On his way through the garden he fell in with Miss Field—Mattie
Field, the plump and smiling cousin of the house, who was apparently as
necessary to the Dunstables in the Highlands, as in London, or at
Crosby Ledgers. Her role in the Dunstable household seemed to Meadows
to be that of “shock absorber.” She took all the small rubs and jars on
her own shoulders, so that Lady Dunstable might escape them. If the
fish did not arrive from Edinburgh, if the motor broke down, if a gun
failed, or a guest set up influenza, it was always Miss Field who came
to the rescue. She had devices for every emergency. It was generally
supposed that she had no money, and that the Dunstables made her
residence with them worth while. But if so, she had none of the ways of
the poor relation. On the contrary, her independence was plain; she had
a very free and merry tongue; and Lady Dunstable, who snubbed
everybody, never snubbed Mattie Field. Lord Dunstable was clearly
devoted to her.
She greeted Meadows rather absently.
“Rachel didn't carry you off? Oh, then—I wonder if I may ask you
Meadows assured her she might ask him anything.
“I wonder if you will save yourself for a walk with Lord Dunstable.
Will you ask him? He's very low, and you would cheer him up.”
Meadows looked at her interrogatively. He too had noticed that Lord
Dunstable had seemed for some days to be out of spirits.
“Why do people have sons!” said Miss Field, briskly.
Meadows understood the reference. It was common knowledge among the
Dunstables' friends that their son was anything but a comfort to them.
“Anything particularly wrong?” he asked her in a lowered voice, as
they neared the house. At the same time, he could not help wondering
whether, under all circumstances—if her nearest and dearest were made
mincemeat in a railway accident, or crushed by an earth-quake—this
fair-haired, rosy-cheeked lady would still keep her perennial smile. He
had never yet seen her without it.
Miss Field replied in a joking tone that Lord Dunstable was
depressed because the graceless Herbert had promised his parents a
visit—a whole week—in August, and had now cried off on some excuse or
other. Meadows inquired if Lady Dunstable minded as much as her
“Quite!” laughed Miss Field. “It is not so much that she wants to
see Herbert as that she's found someone to marry him to. You'll see the
lady this afternoon. She comes with the Duke's party, to be looked at.”
“But I understand that the young man is by no means manageable?”
Miss Field's amusement increased.
“That's Rachel's delusion. She knows very well that she hasn't been
able to manage him so far; but she's always full of fresh schemes for
managing him. She thinks, if she could once marry him to the right
wife, she and the wife between them could get the whip hand of him.”
“Does she care for him?” said Meadows, bluntly.
Miss Field considered the question, and for the first time Meadows
perceived a grain of seriousness in her expression. But she emerged
from her meditations, smiling as usual.
“She'd be hard hit if anything very bad happened!”
“What could happen?”
“Well, of course they never know whether he won't marry to please
himself—produce somebody impossible!”
“And Lady Dunstable would suffer?”
Miss Field chuckled.
“I really believe you think her a kind of griffin—a stony creature
with a hole where her heart ought to be. Most of her friends do.
Rachel, of course, goes through life assuming that none of the
disagreeable things that happen to other people will ever happen to
her. But if they ever did happen—”
“The very stones would cry out? But hasn't she lost all influence
with the youth?”
“She won't believe it. She's always scheming for him. And when he's
not here she feels so affectionate and so good! And directly he
“I see! A tragedy—and a common one! Well, in half an hour I shall
be ready for his lordship. Will you arrange it? I must write a letter
Miss Field nodded and departed. Meadows honestly meant to follow her
into the house and write some pressing business letters. But the
sunshine was so delightful, the sight of the empty bench and the
abandoned novel on the other side of the lawn so beguiling, that after
all he turned his lazy steps thither-ward, half ashamed, half amused to
think how well Lady Dunstable had read his character.
The guests had all disappeared. Meadows had the garden to himself,
and all its summer prospect of moor and stream. It was close on noon—a
hot and heavenly day! And again he thought of Doris cooped up in
London. Perhaps, after all, he would get out of that cruise!
Ah! there was the morning train—the midnight express from King's
Cross just arriving in the busy little town lying in the valley at his
feet. He watched it gliding along the valley, and heard the noise of
the brakes. Were any new guests expected by it? he wondered. Hardly!
The Lodge seemed quite full.
* * * * *
Twenty minutes later he threw away the novel impatiently. Midway,
the story had gone to pieces. He rose from his feet, intending this
time to tackle his neglected duties in earnest. As he did so, he heard
a motor climbing the steep drive, and in front of it a lady, walking.
He stood arrested—in a stupor of astonishment.
Doris!—by all the gods!—Doris!
It was indeed Doris. She came wearily, looking from side to side,
like one uncertain of her way. Then she too perceived Meadows, and
Meadows was conscious of two mixed feelings—first, a very lively
pleasure at the sight of her, and then annoyance. What on earth had she
come for? To recover him?—to protest against his not writing?—to make
a scene, in short? His guilty imagination in a flash showed her to him
throwing herself into his arms—weeping—on this wide lawn—for all the
world to see.
But she did nothing of the kind. She directed the motor, which was
really a taxi from the station, to stop without approaching the front
door, and then she herself walked quickly towards her husband.
“Arthur!—you got my letter? I could only write yesterday.”
She had reached him, and they had joined hands mechanically.
“Letter?—I got no letter! If you posted one, it has probably
arrived by your train. What on earth, Doris, is the meaning of this? Is
there anything wrong?”
His expression was half angry, half concerned, for he saw plainly
that she was tired and jaded. Of course! Long journeys always knocked
her up. She meanwhile stood looking at him as though trying to read the
impression produced on him by her escapade. Something evidently in his
manner hurt her, for she withdrew her hand, and her face stiffened.
“There is nothing wrong with me, thank you! Of course I did not come
without good reason.”
“But, my dear, are you come to stay?” cried Meadows, looking
helplessly at the taxi. “And you never wrote to Lady Dunstable?”
For he could only imagine that Doris had reconsidered her refusal of
the invitation which had originally included them both, and—either
tired of being left alone, or angry with him for not writing—had
devised this coup de main, this violent shake to the
kaleidoscope. But what an extraordinary step! It could only cover them
both with ridicule. His cheeks were already burning.
Doris surveyed him very quietly.
“No—I didn't write to Lady Dunstable—I wrote to you—and
sent her a message. I suppose—I shall have to stay the night.”
“But what on earth are we to say to her?” cried Meadows in
desperation. “They're out walking now—but she'll be back directly.
There isn't a corner in the house! I've got a little bachelor room in
the attics. Really, Doris, if you were going to do this, you should
have given both her and me notice! There is a crowd of people here!”
Frown and voice were Jovian indeed. Doris, however, showed no
“Lady Dunstable will find somewhere to put me up,” she said, half
scornfully. “Is there a telegram for me?”
“A telegram? Why should there be a telegram? What is the meaning of
all this? For heaven's sake, explain!”
Doris, however, did not attempt to explain. Her mood had been very
soft on the journey. But Arthur's reception of her had suddenly stirred
the root of bitterness again; and it was shooting fast and high.
Whatever she had done or left undone, he ought not to have been
able to conceal that he was glad to see her—he ought not to
have been able to think of Lady Dunstable first! She began to take a
pleasure in mystifying him.
“I expected a telegram. I daresay it will come soon. You see I've
asked someone else to come this afternoon—and she'll have to be put up
“Asked someone else!—to Lady Dunstable's house!” Meadows stood
bewildered. “Really, Doris, have you taken leave of your senses?”
She stood with shining eyes, apparently enjoying his astonishment.
Then she suddenly bethought herself.
“I must go and pay the taxi.” Turning round, she coolly surveyed the
“fortified post.” “It looks big enough to take me in. Arthur!—I think
you may pay the man. Just take out my bag, and tell the footman to put
it in your room. That will do for the present. I shall sit down here
and wait for Lady Dunstable. I'm pretty tired.”
The thought of what the magnificent gentleman presiding over Lady
Dunstable's hall would say to the unexpected irruption of Mrs. Meadows,
and Mrs. Meadows's bag, upon the “fortified post” he controlled, was
simply beyond expressing. Meadows tried to face his wife with dignity.
“I think we'd better keep the taxi, Doris. Then you and I can go
back to the hotel together. We can't force ourselves upon Lady
Dunstable like this, my dear. I'd better go and tell someone to pack my
things. But we must, of course, wait and see Lady Dunstable—though how
you will explain your coming, and get yourself—and me—out of this
absurd predicament, I cannot even pretend to imagine!”
Doris sat down—wearily.
“Don't keep the taxi, Arthur. I assure you Lady Dunstable will be
very glad to keep both me—and my bag. Or if she won't—Lord Dunstable
Meadows came nearer—bent down to study her tired face.
“There's some mystery, of course, Doris, in all this! Aren't you
going to tell me what it means?”
His wife's pale cheeks flushed.
“I would have told you—if you'd been the least bit glad to see me!
But—if you don't pay the taxi, Arthur, it will run up like anything!”
She pointed peremptorily to the ticking vehicle and the impatient
driver. Meadows went mechanically, paid the driver, shouldered the bag,
and carried it into the hall of the Lodge. He then perceived that two
grinning and evidently inquisitive footmen, waiting in the hall for
anything that might turn up for them to do, had been watching the whole
scene—the arrival of the taxi, and the meeting between the unknown
lady and himself, through a side window.
Burning to box someone's ears, Meadows loftily gave the bag to one
of them with instructions that it should be taken to his room, and then
turned to rejoin his wife.
As he crossed the gravel in front of the house, his mind ran through
all possible hypotheses. But he was entirely without a clue—except the
clue of jealousy. He could not hide from himself that Doris had been
jealous of Lady Dunstable, and had perhaps been hurt by his rather too
numerous incursions into the great world without her, his apparent
readiness to desert her for cleverer women. “Little goose!—as if I
ever cared twopence for any of them!”—he thought angrily. “And now she
makes us both laughing-stocks!”
And yet, Doris being Doris—a proud, self-contained, well-bred
little person, particularly sensitive to ridicule—the whole proceeding
became the more incredible the more he faced it.
One o'clock!—striking from the church tower in the valley! He
hurried towards the slight figure on the distant seat. Lady Dunstable
might return at any moment. He foresaw the encounter—the great lady's
insolence—Doris's humiliation—and his own. Well, at least let him
agree with Doris on a common story, before his hostess arrived.
He sped across the grass, very conscious, as he approached the seat,
of Doris's drooping look and attitude. Travelling all those hours!—and
no doubt without any proper breakfast! However Lady Dunstable might
behave, he would carry Doris into the Lodge directly, and have her
properly looked after. Miss Field and he would see to that.
Suddenly—a sound of talk and laughter, from the shrubbery which
divided the flower garden from the woods and the moor. Lady Dunstable
emerged, with her two companions on either hand. Her vivid, masculine
face was flushed with exercise and discussion. She seemed to be
attacking the Under-Secretary, who, however, was clearly enjoying
himself; while Sir Luke, walking a little apart, threw in an occasional
“I tell you your land policy here in Scotland will gain you nothing;
and in England it will lose you everything.—Hullo!”
Lady Dunstable's exclamation, as she came to a stop and put up a
tortoise-shell eyeglass, was clearly audible.
“Doris!” cried Meadows excitedly in his wife's ear—“Look
here!—what are you going to say!—what am I to say! that you got tired
of London, and wanted some Scotch air?—that we intend to go off
together?—For goodness' sake, what is it to be?”
Doris rose, her lips breaking irrepressibly into smiles.
“Never mind, Arthur; I'll get through somehow.”
The two ladies advanced towards each other across the lawn, while
Meadows followed his wife in speechless confusion and annoyance,
utterly at a loss how to extricate either himself or Doris; compelled,
indeed, to leave it all to her. Sir Luke and the Under-Secretary had
paused in the drive. Their looks as they watched Lady Dunstable's
progress showed that they guessed at something dramatic in the little
Nothing could apparently have been more unequal than the two chief
actors in it. Lady Dunstable, with the battlements of “the great
fortified post” rising behind her, tall and wiry of figure, her black
hawk's eyes fixed upon her visitor, might have stood for all her class;
for those too powerful and prosperous Barbarians who have ruled and
enjoyed England so long. Doris, small and slight, in a blue cotton coat
and skirt, dusty from long travelling, and a childish garden hat, came
hesitatingly over the grass, with colour which came and went.
“How do you do, Mrs. Meadows! This is indeed an unexpected pleasure!
I must quarrel with your husband for not giving us warning.”
Doris's complexion had settled into a bright pink as she shook hands
with Lady Dunstable. But she spoke quite composedly.
“My husband knew nothing about it, Lady Dunstable. My letter does
not seem to have reached him.”
“Ah? Our posts are very bad, no doubt; though generally, I must say,
they arrive very punctually. Well, so you were tired of London?—you
wanted to see how we were looking after your husband?”
Lady Dunstable threw a sarcastic glance at Meadows standing
tongue-tied in the background.
“I wanted to see you,” said Doris quietly, with a slight accent on
Lady Dunstable looked amused.
“Did you? How very nice of you! And you've—you've brought your
luggage?” Lady Dunstable looked round her as though expecting to see it
at the front door.
“I brought a bag. Arthur took it in for me.”
“I'm so sorry! I assure you, if I had only known—But we haven't a
corner! Mr. Meadows will bear me out—it's absurd, but true. These
Scotch lodges have really no room in them at all!”
Lady Dunstable pointed with airy insolence to the spreading pile
behind her. Doris—for all the agitation of her hidden purpose—could
have laughed outright. But Meadows, rather roughly, intervened.
“We shall, of course, go to the hotel, Lady Dunstable. My wife's
letter seems somehow to have missed me, but naturally we never dreamed
of putting you out. Perhaps you will give us some lunch—my wife seems
rather tired—and then we will take our departure.”
Doris turned—put a hand on his arm—but addressed Lady Dunstable.
“Can I see you—alone—for a few minutes—before lunch?”
“Before lunch? We are all very hungry, I'm afraid,” said Lady
Dunstable, with a smile. Meadows was conscious of a rising fury. His
quick sense perceived something delicately offensive in every word and
look of the great lady. Doris, of course, had done an incredibly
foolish thing. What she had come to say to Lady Dunstable he could not
conceive; for the first explanation—that of a silly jealousy—had by
now entirely failed him. But it was evident to him that Lady Dunstable
assumed it—or chose to assume it. And for the first time he thought
Doris seemed to guess it, for she pressed his arm as though to keep
“Before lunch, please,” she repeated. “I think—you will soon
understand.” With an odd, and—for the first time—slightly puzzled
look at her visitor, Lady Dunstable said with patronising politeness—
“By all means. Shall we come to my sitting-room?”
She led the way to the house. Meadows followed, till a sign from
Doris waved him back. On the way Doris found herself greeted by Sir
Luke Malford, bowed to by various unknown gentlemen, and her hand
grasped by Miss Field.
“You do look done! Have you come straight from London? What—is
Rachel carrying you off? I shall send you in a glass of wine and a
Doris said nothing. She got somehow through all the curious eyes
turned upon her; she followed Lady Dunstable through the spacious
passages of the Lodge, adorned with the usual sportsman's trophies,
till she was ushered into a small sitting-room, Lady Dunstable's
particular den, crowded with photographs of half the celebrities of the
day—the poets, savants, and artists, of England, Europe, and
America. On an easel stood a masterly small portrait of Lord Dunstable
as a young man, by Bastien Lepage; and not far from it—rather pushed
into a corner—a sketch by Millais of a fair-haired boy, leaning
against a pony.
By this time Doris was quivering both with excitement and fatigue.
She sank into a chair, and turned eagerly to the wine and biscuits with
which Miss Field pursued her. While she ate and drank, Lady Dunstable
sat in a high chair observing her, one long and pointed foot crossed
over the other, her black eyes alive with satiric interrogation, to
which, however, she gave no words.
The wine was reviving. Doris found her voice. As the door closed on
Miss Field, she bent forward:—
“Lady Dunstable, I didn't come here on my own account, and had there
been time of course I should have given you notice. I came entirely on
your account, because something was happening to you—and Lord
Dunstable—which you didn't know, and which made me—very sorry for
Lady Dunstable started slightly.
“Happening to me?—and Lord Dunstable?”
“I have been seeing your son, Lady Dunstable.”
An instant change passed over the countenance of that lady. It
darkened, and the eyes became cold and wary.
“Indeed? I didn't know you were acquainted with him.”
“I never saw him till a few days ago. Then I saw him—in my uncle's
studio—with a woman—a woman to whom he is engaged.”
Lady Dunstable started again.
“I think you must be mistaken,” she said quickly, with a slight but
haughty straightening of her shoulders.
Doris shook her head.
“No, I am not mistaken. I will tell you—if you don't mind—exactly
what I have heard and seen.”
And with a puckered brow and visible effort she entered on the story
of the happenings of which she had been a witness in Bentley's studio.
She was perfectly conscious—for a time—that she was telling it
against a dead weight of half scornful, half angry incredulity on Lady
Dunstable's part. Rachel Dunstable listened, indeed, attentively. But
it was clear that she resented the story, which she did not believe;
resented the telling of it, on her own ground, by this young woman whom
she disliked; and resented above all the compulsory discussion which it
involved, of her most intimate affairs, with a stranger and her social
inferior. All sorts of suspicions, indeed, ran through her mind as to
the motives that could have prompted Mrs. Meadows to hurry up to
Scotland, without taking even the decently polite trouble to announce
herself, bringing this unlikely and trumped-up tale. Most probably, a
mean jealousy of her husband, and his greater social success!—a
determination to force herself on people who had not paid the same
attention to herself as to him, to make them pay attention,
willy-nilly. Of course Herbert had undesirable acquaintances, and was
content to go about with people entirely beneath him, in birth and
education. Everybody knew it, alack! But he was really not such a
fool—such a heartless fool—as this story implied! Mrs. Meadows had
been taken in—willingly taken in—had exaggerated everything she said
for her own purposes. The mother's wrath indeed was rapidly rising to
the smiting point, when a change in the narrative arrested her.
“And then—I couldn't help it!”—there was a new note of agitation
in Doris's voice—“but what had happened was so horrid—it was
so like seeing a man going to ruin under one's eyes, for, of course,
one knew that she would get hold of him again—that I ran out after
your son and begged him to break with her, not to see her again, to
take the opportunity, and be done with her! And then he told me quite
calmly that he must marry her, that he could not help himself,
but he would never live with her. He would marry her at a registry
office, provide for her, and leave her. And then he said he would do it
at once—that he was going to his lawyers to arrange everything as
to money and so on—on condition that she never troubled him again. He
was eager to get it done—that he might be delivered from her—from her
company—which one could see had become dreadful to him. I implored him
not to do such a thing—to pay any money rather than do it—but not to
marry her! I begged him to think of you—and his father. But he said he
was bound to her—he had compromised her, or some such thing; and he
had given his word in writing. There was only one thing which could
stop it—if she had told him lies about her former life. But he had no
reason to think she had; and he was not going to try and find out. So
then—I saw a ray of daylight—”
She stopped abruptly, looking full at the woman opposite, who was
now following her every word—but like one seized against her will.
“Do you remember a Miss Wigram, Lady Dunstable—whose father had a
living near Crosby Ledgers?”
Lady Dunstable moved involuntarily—her eyelids flickered a little.
“Certainly. Why do you ask?”
“She saw Mr. Dunstable—and Miss Flink—in my uncle's studio,
and she was so distressed to think what—what Lord Dunstable”—there
was a perceptible pause before the name—“would feel, if his son
married her, that she determined to find out the truth about her. She
told me she had one or two clues, and I sent her to a cousin of mine—a
very clever solicitor—to be advised. That was yesterday morning. Then
I got my uncle to find out your son—and bring him to me yesterday
afternoon before I started. He came to our house in Kensington, and I
told him I had come across some very doubtful stories about Miss Flink.
He was very unwilling to hear anything. After all, he said, he was not
going to live with her. And she had nursed him—”
“Nursed him!” said Lady Dunstable, quickly. She had risen, and was
leaning against the mantelpiece, looking sharply down upon her visitor.
“That was the beginning of it all. He was ill in the winter—in his
“I never heard of it!” For the first time, there was a touch of
something natural and passionate in the voice.
Doris looked a little embarrassed.
“Your son told me it was pneumonia.”
“I never heard a word of it! And this—this creature nursed him?”
The tone of the robbed lioness at last!—singularly inappropriate under
all the circumstances. Doris struggled on.
“An actor friend of your son brought her to see him. And she really
devoted herself to him. He declared to me he owed her a great deal—”
“He need have owed her nothing,” said Lady Dunstable, sternly. “He
had only to send a postcard—a wire—to his own people.”
“He thought—you were so busy,” said Doris, dropping her eyes to the
A sound of contemptuous anger showed that her shaft—her mild
shaft—had gone home. She hurried on—“But at last I got him to promise
me to wait a week. That was yesterday at five o'clock. He wouldn't
promise me to write to you—or his father. He seemed so desperately
anxious to settle it all—in his own way. But I said a good deal about
your name—and the family—and the horrible pain he would be
giving—any way. Was it kind—was it right towards you, not only to
give you no opportunity of helping or advising him—but also to
take no steps to find out whether the woman he was going to marry
was—not only unsuitable, wholly unsuitable—that, of course, he
knows—but a disgrace? I argued with him that he must have some
suspicion of the stories she has told him at different times, or he
wouldn't have tried to protect himself in this particular way. He
didn't deny it; but he said she had looked after him, and been kind to
him, when nobody else was, and he should feel a beast if he pressed her
“'When nobody else was'!” repeated Lady Dunstable, scornfully, her
voice trembling with bitterness. “Really, Mrs. Meadows, it is very
difficult for me to believe that my son ever used such words!”
Doris hesitated, then she raised her eyes, and with the happy
feeling of one applying the scourge, in the name of Justice, she said
with careful mildness:—
“I hope you will forgive me for telling you—but I feel as if I
oughtn't to keep back anything—Mr. Dunstable said to me: 'My mother
might have prevented it—but—she was never interested in me.'“
Another indignant exclamation from Lady Dunstable. Doris hurried on.
“Only this is the important point! At last I got his promise, and I got
it in writing. I have it here.”
Dead silence. Doris opened her little handbag, took out a letter, in
an open envelope, and handed it to Lady Dunstable, who at first seemed
as if she were going to refuse it. However, after a moment's
hesitation, she lifted her long-handled eyeglass and read it. It ran as
DEAR MRS. MEADOWS,—I do not know whether I ought to do what you
me. But you have asked me very kindly—you have really been
good to me, in taking so much trouble. I know I'm a stupid
fool—they always told me so at home. But I don't want to do
anything mean, or to go back on a woman who once did me a good
with whom also once—for I may as well be quite honest about
thought I was in love. However, I see there is something in
say, and I will wait a week before marrying Miss Flink. But if
tell my people—I suppose you will—don't let them imagine they
break it off—except for that one reason. And I shan't
finger to break it off. I shall make no inquiries—I shall go
with the lawyers, and all that. My present intention is to
Miss Flink—on the terms I have stated—in a week's time. If
see my people—especially my father—tell them I'm awfully
be such a nuisance to them. I got myself into the mess without
meaning it, and now there's really only one way out. Thank you
Lady Dunstable crushed the letter in her hand. All pretence of
incredulity was gone. She began to walk stormily up and down. Doris
sank back in her chair, watching her, conscious of the most strangely
mingled feelings, a touch of womanish triumph indeed, a pleasing sense
of retribution, but, welling up through it, something profound and
tender. If he should ever write such a letter to a stranger,
while his mother was alive!
Lady Dunstable stopped.
“What chance is there of saving my son?” she said, peremptorily.
“You will, of course, tell us all you know. Lord Dunstable must go to
town at once.” She touched an electric bell beside her.
“Oh no!” cried Doris, springing up. “He mustn't go, please, until we
have some more information. Miss Wigram is coming—this afternoon.”
Rachel Dunstable stood stupefied—with her hand on the bell.
“Don't you see?” cried Doris. “She was to spend all yesterday
afternoon and evening in seeing two or three people—people who know.
There is a friend of my uncle's—an artist—who saw a great deal of
Miss Flink, and got to know a lot about her. Of course he may not have
been willing to say anything, but I think he probably would—he was so
mad with her for a trick she played him in the middle of a big piece of
work. And if he was able to put us on any useful track, then Miss
Wigram was to come up here straight, and tell you everything she could.
But I thought there would have been a telegram—from her—” Her voice
dropped on a note of disappointment.
There was a knock at the door. The butler entered, and at the same
moment the luncheon gong echoed through the house.
“Tell Miss Field not to wait luncheon for me,” said Lady Dunstable
sharply. “And, Ferris, I want his lordship's things packed at once, for
London. Don't say anything to him at present, but in ten minutes' time
just manage to tell him quietly that I should like to see him here. You
understand—I don't want any fuss made. Tell Miss Field that Mrs.
Meadows is too tired to come in to luncheon, and that I will come in
The butler, who had the aspect of a don or a bishop, said “Yes, my
lady,” in that dry tone which implied that for twenty years the house
of Dunstable had been built upon himself, as its rock, and he was not
going to fail it now. He vanished, with just one lightning turn of the
eyes towards the little lady in the blue linen dress; and Lady
Dunstable resumed her walk, sunk in flushed meditation. She seemed to
have forgotten Doris, when she heard an exclamation:—
“Ah, there is the telegram!”
And Doris, running to the window, waved to a diminutive telegraph
boy, who, being new to his job, had come up to the front entrance of
the Lodge instead of the back, and was now—recognising his
misdeed—retreating in alarm from the mere aspect of “the great
fortified post.” He saw the lady at the window, however, and checked
“For me!” cried Doris, triumphantly—and she tore it open.
Can't arrive till between eight and nine. Think I have got all
want. Please take a room for me at hotel.—ALICE WIGRAM.
Doris turned back into the room, and handed the telegram to Lady
Dunstable, who read it slowly.
“Did you say this was the Alice Wigram I knew?”
“Her father had one of your livings,” repeated Doris. “He died last
“I know. I quarrelled with him. I cannot conceive why Alice Wigram
should do me a good turn!” Lady Dunstable threw back her head, her
challenging look fixed upon her visitor. Doris was certain she had it
in her mind to add—“or you either!”—but refrained.
“Lord Dunstable was always a friend to her father,” said Doris, with
the same slight emphasis on the “Lord” as before. “And she felt for the
estate—the poor people—the tenants.”
Rachel Dunstable shook her head impatiently.
“I daresay. But I got into a scrape with the Wigrams. I expect that
you would think, Mrs. Meadows—perhaps most people would think, as of
course her father did—that I once treated Miss Wigram unkindly!”
“Oh, what does it matter?” cried Doris, hastily,—“what does
it matter? She wants to help—she's sorry for you. You should see
that woman! It would be too awful if your son was tied to her for
She sat up straight, all her soul in her eyes and in her pleasant
There was a pause. Then Lady Dunstable, whose expression had
changed, came a little nearer to her.
“And you—I wonder why you took all this trouble?”
Doris said nothing. She fell back slowly in her chair, looking at
the tall woman standing over her. Tears came into her
eyes—brimmed—overflowed—in silence. Her lips smiled. Rachel
Dunstable bent over her in bewilderment.
“To have a son,” murmured Doris under her breath, “and then to see
him ruined like this! No love for him!—no children—no grandchildren
for oneself, when one is old—”
Her voice died away.
“'To have a son'?” repeated Lady Dunstable, wondering—“but you have
Doris said nothing. Only she put up her hand feebly, and wiped away
the tears—still smiling. After which she shut her eyes.
Lady Dunstable gasped. Then the long, sallow face flushed deeply.
She walked over to a sofa on the other side of the room, arranged the
pillows on it, and came back to Doris.
“Will you, please, let me put you on that sofa? You oughtn't to have
had this long journey. Of course you will stay here—and Miss Wigram
too. It seems—I shall owe you a great deal—and I could not have
expected you—to think about me—at all. I can do rude things. But I
can also—be sorry for my sins!”
Doris heard an awkward and rather tremulous laugh. Upon which she
opened her eyes, no less embarrassed than her hostess, and did as she
was told. Lady Dunstable made her as comfortable as a hand so little
used to the feminine arts could manage.
“Now I will send you in some luncheon, and go and talk to Lord
Dunstable. Please rest till I come back.”
* * * * *
Doris lay still. She wanted very much to see Arthur, and she
wondered, till her head ached, whether he would think her a great fool
for her pains. Surely he would come and find her soon. Oh, the time
people spent on lunching in these big houses!
The vibration of the train seemed to be still running through her
limbs. She was indeed wearied out, and in a few minutes, what with the
sudden quiet and the softness of the cushions which had been spread for
her, she fell unexpectedly asleep.
When she woke, she saw her husband sitting beside
her—patiently—with a tray on his knee.
“Oh, Arthur!—what time is it? Have I been asleep long?”
“Nearly an hour. I looked in before, but Lady Dunstable wouldn't let
me wake you. She—and he—and I—have been talking. Upon my word,
Doris, you've been and gone and done it! But don't say anything! You've
got to eat this chicken first.”
He fed her with it, looking at her the while with affectionate and
admiring eyes. Somehow, Doris became dimly aware that she was going to
be a heroine.
“Have they told you, Arthur?”
“Everything that you've told her. (No—not everything!—thought
Doris.) You are a brick, Doris! And the way you've done it!
That's what impresses her ladyship! She knows very well that she would
have muffed it. You're the practical woman! Well, you can rest on your
laurels, darling! You'll have the whole place at your feet—beginning
with your husband—who's been dreadfully bored without you. There!”
He put down his Jovian head, and rubbed his cheek tenderly against
hers, till she turned round, and gave him the lightest of kisses.
“Was he an abominable correspondent?” he said, repentantly.
“Did you hate him!”
“Whenever I had time. When do you start on your cruise, Arthur!”
“Any time—some time—never!” he said, gaily. “Give me that Capel
Curig address, and I'll wire for the rooms this afternoon. I came to
the conclusion this morning that the same yacht couldn't hold her
ladyship and me.”
“Oh!—so she's been chastening you?” said Doris, well
“The rod has not been spared—since Sunday. It was then she got
tired of me. I mark the day, you see, almost the hour. My goodness!—if
you're not always up to your form—epigrams, quotations—all pat—”
“She plucks you—without mercy. Down you slither into the second
class!” Doris's look sparkled.
“There you go—rejoicing in my humiliations!” said Meadows, putting
an arm round the scoffer. “I tell you, she proposes to write my next
set of lectures for me. She gave me an outline of them this morning.”
Then they both laughed together like children. And Doris, with her
head on a strong man's shoulder, and a rough coat scrubbing her cheek,
suddenly bethought her of the line—“Journeys end in lovers' meeting—“
and was smitten with a secret wonder as to how much of her impulse to
come north had been due to an altruistic concern for the Dunstable
affairs, and how much to a firm determination to recapture Arthur from
his Gloriana. But that doubt she would never reveal. It would be so bad
She rose to her feet.
“Where are they?”
“Lord and Lady Dunstable? Gone off to Dunkeld to find their
solicitor and bring him back to meet Miss Wigram. They'll be home by
tea. I'm to look after you.”
“Are we going to an hotel?”
Meadows laughed immoderately.
“Come and look at your apartment, my dear. One of her ladyship's
maids has been told off to look after you. As I expect you have arrived
with little more than a comb-and-brush bag, there will be a good deal
Doris caught him by the coat-fronts.
“You don't mean to say that I shall be expected to dine to-night! I
have not brought an evening dress.”
“What does that matter? I met Miss Field in the passage, as I was
coming in to you, and she said: 'I see Mrs. Meadows has not brought
much luggage. We can lend her anything she wants. I will send her a few
of Rachel's tea-gowns to choose from.'“
Doris's laugh was hysterical; then she sobered down.
“What time is it? Four o'clock. Oh, I wish Miss Wigram was here! You
know, Lord Dunstable must go to town to-night! And Miss Wigram can't
arrive till after the last train from here.”
“They know. They've ordered a special, to take Lord Dunstable and
the solicitor to Edinburgh, to catch the midnight mail.”
“Oh, well—if you can bully the fates like that!—” said Doris, with
a shrug. “How did he take it?”
Meadows's tone changed.
“It was a great blow. I thought it aged him.”
“Was she nice to him?” asked Doris, anxiously.
“Nicer than I thought she could be,” said Meadows, quietly. “I heard
her say to him—'I'm afraid it's been my fault, Harry.' And he took her
hand, without a word.”
“I will not cry!” said Doris, pressing her hands on her eyes.
“If it comes right, it will do them such a world of good! Now show me
But in the hall, waiting to waylay them, they found Miss Field,
beaming as usual.
“Everything is ready for you, dear Mrs. Meadows, and if you want
anything you have only to ring. This way—”
“The ground-floor?” said Doris, rather mystified, as they followed.
“We have put you in what we call—for fun—our state-rooms. Various
Royalties had them last year. They're in a special wing. We keep them
for emergencies. And the fact is we haven't got another corner.”
Doris, in dismay, took the smiling lady by the arm.
“I can't live up to it! Please let us go to the inn.”
But Meadows and Miss Field mocked at her; and she was soon ushered
into a vast bedroom, in the midst of which, on a Persian carpet, sat
her diminutive bag, now empty. Various elegant “confections” in the
shape of tea-gowns and dressing-gowns littered the bed and the chairs.
The toilet-table showed an array of coroneted brushes. As for the
superb Empire bed, which had belonged to Queen Hortense, and was still
hung with the original blue velvet sprinkled with golden bees, Doris
eyed it with a firm hostility.
“We needn't sleep in it,” she whispered in Meadows's ear. “There are
Meanwhile Miss Field and others flitted about, adding all the
luxuries of daily use to the splendour of the rooms. Gardeners appeared
bringing in flowers, and an anxious maid, on behalf of her ladyship,
begged that Mrs. Meadows would change her travelling dress for a
comfortable white tea-gown, before tea-time, suggesting another
“creation” in black and silver for dinner. Doris, frowning and
reluctant, would have refused; but Miss Field said softly “Won't you?
Rachel will be so distressed if she mayn't do these little things for
you. Of course she doesn't deserve it; but—”
“Oh yes—I'll put them on—if she likes,” said Doris, hurriedly. “It
Miss Field laughed. “I don't know where all these things come from,”
she said, looking at the array. “Rachel buys half of them for her
maids, I should think—she never wears them. Well, now I shall leave
you till tea-time. Tea will be on the lawn—Mr. Meadows knows where. By
the way—” she looked, smiling, at Meadows—“they've put off the Duke.
If you only knew what that means.”
She named a great Scotch name, the chief of the ancient house to
which Lady Dunstable belonged. Miss Field described how this prince of
Dukes paid a solemn visit every year to Franick Castle, and the eager
solicitude—almost agitation—with which the visit was awaited, by Lady
Dunstable in particular.
“You don't mean,” cried Doris, “that there is anybody in the whole
world who frightens Lady Dunstable?”
“As she frightens us? Yes!—on this one day of the year we are all
avenged. Rachel, metaphorically, sits on a stool and tries to please.
To put off 'the Duke' by telephone!—what a horrid indignity! But I've
just inflicted it.”
Mattie Field smiled, and was just going away when she was arrested
by a timid question from Doris.
“Please—shall Arthur go down to Pitlochry and engage a room for
Miss Field turned in amusement.
“A room! Why, it's all ready! She is your lady-in-waiting.”
And taking Doris by the arm she led her to inspect a spacious
apartment on the other side of a passage, where the Lady Alice or Lady
Mary without whom Royal Highnesses do not move about the world was
generally put up.
“I feel like Christopher Sly,” said Doris, surveying the scene, with
her hands in her jacket pockets. “So will she. But never mind!”
* * * * *
Events flowed on. Lord and Lady Dunstable came back by tea-time,
bringing with them the solicitor, who was also the chief factor of
their Scotch estate. Lord Dunstable looked old and wearied. He came to
find Doris on the lawn, pressing her hand with murmured words of
“If that child Alice Wigram—of course I remember her well!—brings
us information we can go upon, we shall be all right. At least there's
hope. My poor boy! Anyway, we can never be grateful enough to you.”
As for Lady Dunstable, the large circle which gathered for tea under
a group of Scotch firs talked indeed, since Franick Castle existed for
that purpose, but they talked without a leader. Their hostess sat
silent and sombre, with thoughts evidently far away. She took no notice
of Meadows whatever, and his attempts to draw her fell flat. A
neighbour had walked over, bringing with him—maliciously—a Radical
M.P. whose views on the Scotch land question would normally have struck
fire and fury from Lady Dunstable. She scarcely recognised his name,
and he and the Under-Secretary launched into the most despicable land
heresies under her very nose—unrebuked. She had not an epigram to
throw at anyone. But her eyes never failed to know where Doris Meadows
was, and indeed, though no one but the two or three initiated knew why,
Doris was in some mysterious but accepted way the centre of the party.
Everybody spoiled her; everybody smiled upon her. The white tea-gown
which she wore—miracle of delicate embroidery—had never suited Lady
Dunstable; it suited Doris to perfection. Under her own simple hat, her
eyes—and they were very fine eyes—shone with a soft and dancing
humour. It was all absurd—her being there—her dress—this tongue-tied
hostess—and these agreeable men who made much of her! She must get
Arthur out of it as soon as possible, and they would look back upon it
and laugh. But for the moment it was pleasant, it was stimulating! She
found herself arguing about the new novels, and standing at bay against
a whole group of clever folk who were tearing Mr. Augustus John and
other gods of her idolatry to pieces. She was not shy; she never really
had been; and to find that she could talk as well as other people—or
most other people—even in these critical circles, excited her. The
circle round her grew; and Meadows, standing on the edge of it, watched
her with astonished eyes.
* * * * *
The northern evening sank into a long and glowing twilight. The
hills stood in purple against a tawny west, and the smoke from the
little town in the valley rose clear and blue into air already
autumnal. The guests of Franick had scattered in twos and threes over
the gardens and the moor, while Doris, her host and hostess, and the
solicitor, sat and waited for Alice Wigram. She came with the evening
train, tired, dusty, and triumphant; and the information she brought
with her was more than enough to go upon. The past of Elena Flink—poor
lady!—shone luridly out; and even the countenance of the solicitor
cleared. As for Lord Dunstable, he grasped the girl by both hands.
“My dear child, what you have done for us! Ah, if your father were
And bending over her, with the courtly grace of an old man, he
kissed her on the brow. Alice Wigram flushed, turning involuntarily
towards Lady Dunstable.
“Rachel!—don't we owe her everything,” said Lord Dunstable with
emotion—“her and Mrs. Meadows? But for them, our boy might have
wrecked his life.”
“He appears to have been a most extraordinary fool!” said Lady
Dunstable with energy:—a recrudescence of the natural woman, which was
positively welcome to everybody. And it did not prevent the passage of
some embarrassed but satisfactory words between Herbert Dunstable's
mother and Alice Wigram, after Lady Dunstable had taken her latest
guest to “Lady Mary's” room, bidding her go straight to bed, and be
Lord Dunstable and the lawyer departed after dinner to meet their
special train at Perth. Lady Dunstable, with variable spirits, kept the
evening going, sometimes in a brown study, sometimes as brilliant and
pugnacious as ever. Doris slipped out of the drawing-room once or twice
to go and gossip with Alice Wigram, who was lying under silken
coverings, inclined to gentle moralising on the splendours of the
great, and much petted by Miss Field and the house-keeper.
“How nice you look!” said the girl shyly, on one occasion, as Doris
came stealing in to her. “I never saw such a pretty gown!”
“Not bad!” said Doris complacently, throwing a glance at the large
mirror near. It was still the white tea-gown, for she had firmly
declined to sample anything else, in truth well aware that Arthur's
eyes approved both it and her in it.
“Lord Dunstable has been so kind,” whispered Miss Wigram. “He said I
must always henceforth look upon him as a kind of guardian. Of course I
should never let him give me a farthing!”
“Why no, that's the kind of thing one couldn't do!” said Doris with
decision. “But there are plenty of other ways of being nice. Well—here
we all are, as happy as larks; and what we've really done, I suppose,
is to take a woman's character away, and give her another push to
“She hadn't any character!” cried Alice Wigram indignantly. “And she
would have gone to perdition without us, and taken that poor youth with
her. Oh, I know, I know! But morals are a great puzzle to me. However,
I firmly remind myself of that 'one in the eye,' and then all my doubts
depart. Good-night. Sleep well! You know very well that I should have
shirked it if it hadn't been for you!”
* * * * *
A little later the Meadowses stood together at the open window of
their room, which led by a short flight of steps to a flowering garden
below. All Franick had gone to bed, and this wing in which the
“state-rooms” were, seemed to be remote from the rest of the house.
They were alone; the night was balmy; and there was a flood of secret
joy in Doris's veins which gave her a charm, a beguilement Arthur had
never seen in her before. She was more woman, and therefore more
divine! He could hardly recall her as the careful housewife, harassed
by lack of pence, knitting her brows over her butcher's books, mending
endless socks, and trying to keep the nose of a lazy husband to the
grindstone. All that seemed to have vanished. This white sylph was pure
romance—pure joy. He saw her anew; he loved her anew.
“Why did you look so pretty to-night? You little witch!” he murmured
in her ear, as he held her close to him.
“Arthur!”—she drew herself away from him. “Did I look
pretty? Honour bright!”
“Delicious! How often am I to say it?”
“You'd better not. Don't wake the devil in me, Arthur! It's all this
tea-gown. If you go on like this, I shall have to buy one like it.”
“Buy a dozen!” he said joyously. “Look there, Doris—you see that
path? Let's go on to the moor a little.”
Out they crept, like truant children, through the wood-path and out
upon the moor. Meadows had brought a shawl, and spread it on a rock,
full under the moonlight. There they sat, close together, feeling all
the goodness and glory of the night, drinking in the scents of heather
and fern, the sounds of plashing water and gently moving winds. Above
them, the vault of heaven and the friendly stars; below them, the great
hollow of the valley, the scattered lights, the sounds of distant
“She didn't kiss me when she said good-night!” said Doris suddenly.
“She wasn't the least sentimental—or ashamed—or grateful! Having said
what was necessary, she let it alone. She's a real lady—though rather
a savage. I like her!”
“Who are you talking of? Lady Dunstable? I had forgotten all about
her. All the same, darling, I should like to know what made you do all
this for a woman you said you detested!”
“I did detest her. I shall probably detest her again. Leopards don't
change their spots, do they? But I shan't—fear her any more!”
Something in her tone arrested Meadows's attention.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, what I say!” cried Doris, drawing herself a little from him,
with a hand on his shoulder. “I shall never fear her, or anyone, any
more. I'm safe! Why did I do it? Do you really want to know? I did
it—because—I was so sorry for her—poor silly woman,—who can't get
on with her own son! Arthur!—if our son doesn't love me better than
hers loves her—you may kill me, dear, and welcome!”
“Doris! There is something in your voice—! What are you hiding from
* * * * *
But as to the rest of that conversation under the moon, let those
imagine it who may have followed this story with sympathy.