Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, Maria Khomenko and
PG Distributed Proofreaders
[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," etc.
Hearst's International Library Co.
"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 it back!"
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
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
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,
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 fit."
"Arthur!--you know to-morrow is the last day for catching the New York
"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
"We were _engaged_!" cried Doris, interrupting him, her eyebrows
"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 you
instead of to her, as you and I are already acquainted. Can I induce
you both to come to Crosby Ledgers for a week-end, on July 16? We
hope to have a pleasant party, a diplomat or two, the Home
Secretary, and General Hichen--perhaps some others. You would, I am
sure, admire our hill country, and I should like to show you some of
the precious autographs we have inherited.
"If your wife brings a maid, perhaps she will kindly let me know."
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 good
"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
"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
This time Arthur Meadows surveyed his wife in real irritation and
"But, Arthur!--you could get them _all_ at the London Library--you know
"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 through
"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 less
"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
"I shall soon not allow you to do anything of the kind," said Meadows
"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 surrendered.
"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
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 kind
invitation, and I will let you know our train later. I have no maid,
But at this point Mrs. Meadows, struck by a sudden idea, threw down her
"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 kind
invitation, and I will let you know our train later. As you kindly
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 of her.
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
"_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 houses.
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 responsible?
"I copy things for Arthur," said Doris. "Unfortunately, I can't type."
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 of
"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 in
"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
... "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 approaching.
"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 after
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 charge.
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 to
"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 dinner!"
"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 life."
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 rules
"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 his
Doris shrank a little from these indiscretions. But she could not keep
her curiosity out of her eyes, and Miss Field smilingly answered it.
"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 taken
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 see."
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 Lady
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 reproachfully:
"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
"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 high.
"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 with her."
"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 over him.
_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
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
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 off.
But here was Lady Dunstable's letter:
Dear Mr. Arthur,--Will your wife forgive me if I ask you to come to
a tiny _men's_ dinner-party next Friday at 8.15--to meet the
President of the Duma, and another Russian, an intimate friend of
Tolstoy's? All males, but myself! So I hope Mrs. Meadows will let
"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
"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 passed on.
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
"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 about.
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
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 the
Doris turned from her easel and bowed, only to receive a rather scowling
"And your friend?" As he spoke the artist looked blandly at the young
"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
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 stopped!--it _must_!"
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 sex.
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 her
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 have
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 even--since
you arrived--to write a letter in?--or a postcard? Shall I send you
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 gathered.
* * * * *
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
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
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