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A Great Success by Mrs Humphry Ward

Part 2 out of 2

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mother knew nothing about it--he wouldn't tell her, and Madame nursed
him, and made a fuss of him. And Mr. Dunstable thought he owed her a
great deal--and she made scenes and told him she had compromised herself
by coming to nurse him--and all that kind of nonsense. And at last he
promised to marry her--in writing. And now she's so sure of him that she
just bullies him--you saw how she ordered him about to-day."

"Well, why doesn't he marry her, if he's such a fool--why hasn't he
married her long ago?" cried Doris.

Miss Wigram looked distressed.

"I don't know. My friend thinks it's his father. She believes, at least,
that he doesn't want to get married without telling Lord Dunstable; and
that, of course, means telling his mother. And he hates the thought of
the letters and the scenes. So he keeps it hanging on; and lately Madame
has been furious with him, and is always teasing and sniffing at him.
He's dreadfully weak, and my friend's afraid that before he's made up
his own mind what to do that woman will have carried him off to a
registry office--and got the horrid thing done for good and all."

There was silence a moment. After which Doris said, with a cold
decision:

"You can't imagine how absurd it seems to me that you should come and
ask me to help Lady Dunstable with her son. There is nobody in the world
less helpless than Lady Dunstable, and nobody who would be less grateful
for being helped. I really cannot meddle with it."

She rose as she spoke, and Miss Wigram rose too.

"Couldn't you--couldn't you--" said the girl pleadingly--"just ask Mr.
Meadows to warn Lord Dunstable? I'm thinking of the villagers, and the
farmers, and the schools--all the people we used to love. Father was
there twenty years! To think of the dear place given over--some day--to
that creature!"

Her charming eyes actually filled with tears. Doris was touched, but at
the same time set on edge. This loyalty that people born and bred in the
country feel to our English country system--what an absurd and unreal
frame of mind! And when our country system produces Lady Dunstables!

"They have such a pull!"--she thought angrily--"such a hideously unfair
pull, over other people! The way everybody rushes to help them when they
get into a mess--to pick up the pieces--and sweep it all up! It's
irrational--it's sickening! Let them look after themselves--and pay for
their own misdeeds like the rest of us."

"I can't interfere--I really can't!" she said, straightening her slim
shoulders. "It is not as though we were old friends of Lord and Lady
Dunstable. Don't you see how very awkward it would be? Let me advise
you just to watch the thing a little, and then to apply to somebody in
the Crosby Ledgers neighbourhood. You must have some friends or
acquaintances there, who at any rate could do more than we could. And
perhaps after all it's a mare's nest, and the young man doesn't mean to
marry her at all!"

The girl's anxious eyes scanned Doris's unyielding countenance; then
with a sigh she gave up her attempt, and said "Good-bye." Doris went
with her to the door.

"We shall meet to-morrow, shan't we?" she said, feeling a vague
compunction. "And I suppose this woman will be there again. You can keep
an eye on her. Are you living alone--or are you with friends?"

"Oh, I'm in a boarding-house," said Miss Wigram, hastily. Then as though
she recognised the new softness in Doris's look, she added, "I'm quite
comfortable there--and I've a great deal of work. Good night."

* * * * *

"All alone!--with that gentle face--and that terrible amount of
conscience--hard lines!" thought Doris, as she reflected on her visitor.
"I felt a black imp beside her!"

All the same, the letter which Mrs. Meadows received by the following
morning's post was not at all calculated to melt the "black imp"
further. Arthur wrote in a great hurry to beg that she would not go on
with their Welsh plans--for the moment.

Lady D---- has insisted on my going on a short yachting cruise with
her and Miss Field, the week after next. She wants to show me the
West Coast, and they have a small cottage in the Shetlands where we
should stay a night or two and watch the sea-birds. It _may_ keep me
away another week or fortnight, but you won't mind, dear, will you?
I am getting famously rested, and really the house is very
agreeable. In these surroundings Lady Dunstable is less of the
_bas-bleu_, and more of the woman. You _must_ make up your mind to
come another year! You would soon get over your prejudice and make
friends with her. She looks after us all--she talks brilliantly--and
I haven't seen her rude to anybody since I arrived. There are some
very nice people here, and altogether I am enjoying it. Don't you
work too hard--and don't let the servants harry you. Post just
going. Good night!

Another week or fortnight!--five weeks, or nearly, altogether. Doris was
sorely wounded. She went to look at herself in the mirror over the
chimney-piece. Was she not thin and haggard for want of rest and
holiday? Would not the summer weather be all done by the time Arthur
graciously condescended to come back to her? Were there not dark lines
under her eyes, and was she not feeling a limp and wretched creature,
unfit for any exertion? What was wrong with her? She hated her
drawing--she hated everything. And there was Arthur, proposing to go
yachting with Lady Dunstable!--while she might toil and moil--all
alone--in this August London! The tears rushed into her eyes. Her pride
only just saved her from a childish fit of crying.

But in the end resentment came to her aid, together with an angry and
redoubled curiosity as to what might be happening to Lady Dunstable's
precious son while Lady Dunstable was thus absorbed in robbing other
women of their husbands. Doris hurried her small household affairs, that
she might get off early to the studio; and as she put on her hat, her
fancy drew vindictive pictures of the scene which any day might
realise--the scene at Franick Castle, when Lady Dunstable, unsuspecting,
should open the letter which announced to her the advent of her
daughter-in-law, Elena, _nee_ Flink--or should gather the same unlovely
fact from a casual newspaper paragraph. As for interfering between her
and her rich deserts, Doris vowed to herself she would not lift a
finger. That incredibly forgiving young woman, Miss Wigram, might do as
she pleased. But when a mother pursues her own selfish ends so as to
make her only son dislike and shun her, let her take what comes. It was
in the mood of an Erinnys that Doris made her way northwards to Campden
Hill, and nobody perceiving the slight erect figure in the corner of the
omnibus could possibly have guessed at the storm within.

The August day was hot and lifeless. Heat mist lay over the park, and
over the gardens on the slopes of Campden Hill. Doris could hardly drag
her weary feet along, as she walked from where the omnibus had set her
down to her uncle's studio. But it was soon evident that within the
studio itself there was animation enough. From the long passage
approaching it Doris heard someone shouting--declaiming--what appeared
to be verse. Madame, of course, reciting her own poems--poor Uncle
Charles! Doris stopped outside the door, which was slightly open, to
listen, and heard these astonishing lines--delivered very slowly and
pompously, in a thick, strained voice:

"My heart is adamant! The tear-drops drip and drip--
Force their slow path, and tear their desperate way.
The vulture Pain sits close, to snip--and snip--and snip
My sad, sweet life to ruin--well-a-day!
I am deceived--a bleating lamb bereft!--who goes
Baa-baaing to the moon o'er lonely lands.
Through all my shivering veins a tender fervour flows;
I cry to Love--'Reach out, my Lord, thy hands!
And save me from these ugly beasts who ramp and rage
Around me all day long--beasts fell and sore--
Envy, and Hate, and Calumny!--do thou assuage
Their impious mouths, O splendid Love, and floor
Their hideous tactics, and their noisome spleen,
Withering to dust the awful "Might-Have-Been!"'"

"Goodness! 'Howls the Sublime' indeed!" thought Doris, gurgling with
laughter in the passage. As soon as she had steadied her face she opened
the studio door, and perceived Lady Dunstable's prospective
daughter-in-law standing in the middle of the studio, head thrown back
and hands outstretched, invoking the Cyprian. The shriek of the first
lines had died away in a stage whisper; the reciter was glaring fiercely
into vacancy.

Doris's merry eyes devoured the scene. On the chair from which the model
had risen she had deposited yet another hat, so large, so audacious and
beplumed that it seemed to have a positive personality, a positive
swagger of its own, and to be winking roguishly at the audience.
Meanwhile Madame's muslin dress of the day before had been exchanged for
something more appropriate to the warmth of her poetry--a tawdry
flame-coloured satin, in which her "too, too solid" frame was tightly
sheathed. Her coal-black hair, tragically wild, looked as though no comb
had been near it for a month, and the gloves drawn half-way up the bare
arms hardly remembered they had ever been white.

A slovenly, dishevelled, vulgar woman, reciting bombastic nonsense! And
yet!--a touch of Southern magnificence, even of Southern grace, amid the
cockney squalor and finery. Doris coolly recognised it, as she stood,
herself invisible, behind her uncle's large easel. Thence she perceived
also the other persons in the studio:--Bentley sitting in front of the
poetess, hiding his eyes with one hand, and nervously tapping the arm of
his chair with the other; to the right of him--seen sideways--the lanky
form, flushed face, and open mouth of young Dunstable; and in the far
distance, Miss Wigram.

Then--a surprising thing! The awkward pause following the recitation was
suddenly broken by a loud and uncontrollable laugh. Doris, startled,
turned to look at young Dunstable. For it was he who had laughed. Madame
also shook off her stage trance to look--a thunderous frown upon her
handsome face. The young man laughed on--laughed hysterically--burying
his face in his hands. Madame Vavasour--all attitudes thrown aside--ran
up to him in a fury.

"Why are you laughing? You insult me!--you have done it before. And now
before strangers--it is too much! I insist that you explain!"

She stood over him, her eyes blazing. The youth, still convulsed, did
his best to quiet the paroxysm which had seized him, and at last said,
gasping:

"I was--I was thinking--of your reciting that at Crosby Ledgers--to my
mother--and--and what she would say."

Even under her rouge it could be seen that the poetess turned a grey
white.

"And pray--what would she say?"

The question was delivered with apparent calm. But Madame's eyes were
dangerous. Doris stepped forward. Her uncle stayed her with a gesture.
He himself rose, but Madame fiercely waved him aside. Miss Wigram, in
the distance, had also moved forward--and paused.

"What would she say?" demanded Madame, again--at the sword's point.

"I--I don't know--" said young Dunstable, helplessly, still shaking.
"I--I think--she'd laugh."

And he went off again, hysterically, trying in vain to stop the fit.
Madame bit her lip. Then came a torrent of Italian--evidently a torrent
of abuse; and then she lifted a gloved hand and struck the young man
violently on the cheek.

"Take that!--you insolent--you--you barbarian! You are my _fiance_,--my
promised husband--and you mock at me; you will encourage your stuck-up
mother to mock at me--I know you will! But I tell you--"

The speaker, however, had stopped abruptly, and instead of saying
anything more she fell back panting, her eyes on the young man. For
Herbert Dunstable had risen. At the blow, an amazing change had passed
over his weak countenance and weedy frame. He put his hand to his
forehead a moment, as though trying to collect his thoughts, and then he
turned--quietly--to look for his hat and stick.

"Where are you going, Herbert?" stammered Madame. "I--I was carried
away--I forgot myself!"

"I think not," said the young man, who was extremely pale. "This is not
the first time. I bid you good morning, Madame--and good-bye!"

He stood looking at the now frightened woman, with a strange, surprised
look, like one just emerging from a semi-conscious state; and in that
moment, as Doris seemed to perceive, the traditions of his birth and
breeding had returned upon him; something instinctive and inherited had
reappeared; and the gentlemanly, easy-going father, who yet, as Doris
remembered, when matters were serious "always got his way," was
there--strangely there--in the degenerate son.

"Where are you going?" repeated Madame, eyeing him. "You promised to
give me lunch."

"I regret--I have an engagement. Mr. Bentley--when the sitting is
over--will you kindly see--Miss Flink--into a taxi? I thank you very
much for allowing me to come and watch your work. I trust the picture
will be a success. Good-bye!"

He held out his hand to Bentley, and bowed to Doris. Madame made a rush
at him. But Bentley held her back. He seized her arms, indeed, quietly
but irresistibly, while the young man made his retreat. Then, with a
shriek, Madame fell back on her chair, pretending to faint, and Bentley,
in no hurry, went to her assistance, while Doris slipped out after young
Dunstable. She overtook him on the door-step.

"Mr. Dunstable, may I speak to you?"

He turned in astonishment, showing a grim pallor which touched her pity.

"I know your mother and father," said Doris hurriedly; "at least my
husband and I were staying at Crosby Ledges some weeks ago, and my
husband is now in Scotland with your people. His name is Arthur Meadows.
I am Mrs. Meadows. I--I don't know whether I could help you. You
seem"--her smile flashed out--"to be in a horrid mess!"

The young man looked in perplexity at the small, trim lady before him,
as though realising her existence for the first time. Her honest eyes
were bent upon him with the same expression she had often worn when
Arthur had come to her with some confession of folly--the expression
which belongs to the maternal side of women, and is at once mocking and
sweet. It said--"Of course you are a great fool!--most men are. But
that's the _raison d'etre_ of women! Suppose we go into the business!"

"You're very kind--" he groaned--"awfully kind. I'm ashamed you should
have seen--such a thing. Nobody can help me--thank you very much. I am
engaged to that lady--I've promised to marry her. Oh, she's got any
amount of evidence. I've been an ass--and worse. But I can't get out of
it. I don't mean to try to get out of it. I promised of my own free
will. Only I've found out now I can never live with her. Her temper is
fiendish. It degrades her--and me. But you saw! She has made my life a
burden to me lately, because I wouldn't name a day for us to be married.
I wanted to see my father quietly first--without my mother knowing--and
I have been thinking how to manage it--and funking it of course--I
always do funk things. But what she did just now has settled it--it has
been blowing up for a long time. I shall marry her--at a registry
office--as soon as possible. Then I shall separate from her, and--I
hope--never see her again. The lawyers will arrange that--and money!
Thank you--it's awfully good of you to want to help me--but you
can't--nobody can."

Doris had drawn her companion into her uncle's small dining-room and
closed the door. She listened to his burst of confidence with a puzzled
concern.

"Why must you marry her?" she said abruptly, when he paused. "Break it
off! It would be far best."

"No. I promised. I--" he stammered a little--"I seem to have done her
harm--her reputation, I mean. There is only one thing could let me off.
She swore to me that--well!--that she was a good woman--that there was
nothing in her past--you understand--"

"And you know of nothing?" said Doris, gravely.

"Nothing. And you don't think I'm going to try and ferret out things
against her!" cried the youth, flushing. "No--I must just bear it."

"It's your parents that will have to bear it!"

His face hardened.

"My mother might have prevented it," he said bitterly. "However, I won't
go into that. My father will see I couldn't do anything else. I'd better
get it over. I'm going to my lawyers now. They'll take a few days over
what I want."

"You'll tell your father?"

"I--I don't know," he said, irresolutely. She noticed that he did not
try to pledge her not to give him away. And she, on her side, did not
threaten to do so. She argued with him a little more, trying to get at
his real thoughts, and to straighten them out for him. But it was
evident he had made up such mind as he had, and that his sudden
resolution--even the ugly scene which had made him take it--had been a
relief. He knew at last where he stood.

So presently Doris let him go. They parted, liking each other decidedly.
He thanked her warmly--though drearily--for taking an interest in him,
and he said to her on the threshold:

"Some day, I hope, you'll come to Crosby Ledgers again, Mrs.
Meadows--and I'll be there--for once! Then I'll tell you--if you
care--more about it. Thanks awfully! Good-bye."

* * * * *

Later on, when "Miss Flink," in a state of sulky collapse, had been sent
home in her taxi, Doris, Bentley, and Miss Wigram held a conference. But
it came to little. Bentley, the hater of "rows," simply could not be
moved to take the thing up. "I kept her from scalping him!--" he
laughed--"and I'm not due for any more!" Doris said little. A whirl of
arguments and projects were in her mind. But she kept her own counsel
about them. As to the possibility of inducing the man to break it off,
she repeated the only condition on which it could be done; at which
Uncle Charles laughed, and Alice Wigram fell into a long and thoughtful
silence.

* * * * *

Doris arrived at home rather early. What with the emotions of the day,
the heat, and her work, she was strangely tired and over-done. After tea
she strolled out into Kensington Gardens, and sat under the shade of
trees already autumnal, watching the multitude of children--children of
the people--enjoying the nation's park all to themselves, in the
complete absence of their social betters. What ducks they were, some of
them--the little, grimy, round-faced things--rolling on the grass, or
toddling after their sisters and brothers. They turned large,
inquisitive eyes upon her, which seemed to tease her heart-strings.

And suddenly,--it was in Kensington Gardens that out of the heart of a
long and vague reverie there came a flash--an illumination--which wholly
changed the life and future of Doris Meadows. After the thought in which
it took shape had seized upon her, she sat for some time motionless;
then rising to her feet, tottering a little, like one in bewilderment,
she turned northwards, and made her way hurriedly towards Lancaster
Gate. In a house there, lived a lady, a widowed lady, who was Doris's
godmother, and to whom Doris--who had lost her own mother in her
childhood--had turned for counsel before now. How long it was since she
had seen "Cousin Julia"!--nearly two months. And here she was, hastening
to her, and not able to bear the thought that in all human probability
Cousin Julia was not in town.

But, by good luck, Doris found her godmother, perching in London between
a Devonshire visit and a Scotch one. They talked long, and Doris walked
slowly home across the park. A glory of spreading sun lay over the
grassy glades; the Serpentine held reflections of a sky barred with
rose; London, transfigured, seemed a city of pearl and fire. And in
Doris's heart there was a glory like that of the evening,--and, like the
burning sky, bearing with it a promise of fair days to come. The glory
and the promise stole through all her thoughts, softening and
transmuting everything.

"When _he_ grows up--if he were to marry such a woman--and I didn't
know--if all _his_ life--and mine--were spoilt--and nobody said a word!"

Her eyes filled with tears. She seemed to be walking with Arthur through
a world of beauty, hand in hand.

How many hours to Pitlochry? She ran into the Kensington house, asking
for railway guides, and peremptorily telling Jane to get down the small
suitcase from the box-room at once.

PART III

CHAPTER V

"'Barbarians, Philistines, Populace!'"

The young golden-haired man of letters who was lounging on the grass
beside Arthur Meadows repeated the words to himself in an absent voice,
turning over the pages meanwhile of a book lying before him, as though
in search of a passage he had noticed and lost. He presently found it
again, and turned laughing towards Meadows, who was trifling with a
French novel.

"Do you remember this passage in _Culture and Anarchy_--'I often,
therefore, when I want to distinguish clearly the aristocratic class
from the Philistines proper, or middle class, name the former, in my own
mind, _the Barbarians_. And when I go through the country, and see this
or that beautiful and imposing seat of theirs crowning the landscape,
"There," I say to myself, "is a great fortified post of the
Barbarians!"'"

The youth pointed smiling to the fine Scotch house seen sideways on the
other side of the lawn. Its turreted and battlemented front rose high
above the low and spreading buildings which made the bulk of the house,
so that it was a feudal castle--by no means, however, so old as it
looked--on a front view, and a large and roomy villa from the rear.
Meadows, looking at it, appreciated the fitness of the quotation, and
laughed in response.

"Ungrateful wretch," he said--"after that dinner last night!"

"All the same, Matthew Arnold had that dinner in mind--_chef_ and all!
Listen! 'The graver self of the Barbarian likes honours and
consideration; his more relaxed self, field-sports and pleasures.'
Isn't it exact? Grouse-driving in the morning--bridge, politics,
Cabinet-making, and the best of food in the evening. And I should put
our hostess very high--wouldn't you?--among the chatelaines of the
'great fortified posts'?"

Meadows assented, but rather languidly. The day was extremely hot; he
was tired, moreover, by a long walk with the guns the day before, and by
conversation after dinner, led by Lady Dunstable, which had lasted up to
nearly one o'clock in the morning. The talk had been brilliant, no
doubt. Meadows, however, did not feel that he had come off very well in
it. His hostess had deliberately pitted him against two of the ablest
men in England, and he was well aware that he had disappointed her. Lady
Dunstable had a way of behaving to her favourite author or artist of the
moment as though she were the fancier and he the cock. She fought him
against the other people's cocks with astonishing zeal and passion; and
whenever he failed to kill, or lost too many feathers in the process,
her annoyance was evident.

Meadows was in truth becoming a little tired of her dictation, although
it was only ten days since he had arrived under her roof. There was a
large amount of lethargy combined with his ability; and he hated to be
obliged to live at any pace but his own. But Rachel Dunstable was an
imperious friend, never tired herself, apparently, either in mind or
body; and those who could not walk, eat, and talk to please her were apt
to know it. Her opinions too, both political and literary, were in some
directions extremely violent; and though, in general, argument and
contradiction gave her pleasure, she had her days and moods, and Meadows
had already suffered occasional sets-down, of a kind to which he was not
accustomed.

But if he was--just a little--out of love with his new friend, in all
other respects he was enjoying himself enormously. The long days on the
moors, the luxurious life indoors, the changing and generally agreeable
company, all the thousand easements and pleasures that wealth brings
with it, the skilled service, the motors, the costly cigars, the
wines--there was a Sybarite in Meadows which revelled in them all. He
had done without them; he would do without them again; but there they
were exceedingly good creatures of God, while they lasted; and only the
hypocrites pretended otherwise. His sympathy, in the old
poverty-stricken days, would have been all with the plaintive
American--"There's d-----d good times in the world, and I ain't in
'em."

All the same, the fleshpots of Pitlochry had by no means put his wife
out of his mind. His incurable laziness and procrastination in small
things had led him to let slip post after post; but that very morning,
at any rate, he had really written her a decent letter. And he was
beginning to be anxious to hear from her about the yachting plan. If
Lady Dunstable had asked him a few days later, he was not sure he would
have accepted so readily. After all, the voyage might be stormy, and the
lady--difficult. Doris must be dull in London,--"poor little cat!"

But then a very natural wrath returned upon him. Why on earth had she
stayed behind? No doubt Lady Dunstable was formidable, but so was Doris
in her own way. "She'd soon have held her own. Lady D. would have had to
come to terms!" However, he remembered with some compunction that Doris
did seem to have been a good deal neglected at Crosby Ledgers, and that
he had not done much to help her.

* * * * *

It was an "off" day for the shooters, and Lady Dunstable's guests were
lounging about the garden, writing letters or playing a little leisurely
golf on the lower reaches of the moor. Some of the ladies, indeed, had
not yet appeared downstairs; a sleepy heat reigned over the valley with
its winding stream, and veiled the distant hills. Meadows's companion,
Ralph Barrow, a young novelist of promise, had gone fast asleep on the
grass; Meadows was drowsing over his book; the dogs slept on the terrace
steps; and in the summer silence the murmur of the river far below stole
up the hill on which the house stood, and its soft song held the air.

Suddenly there was a disturbance. The dogs sprang up and barked. There
was a firm step on the gravel. Lady Dunstable, stick in hand, her short
leather-bound skirt showing boots and gaiters of the most business-like
description, came quickly towards the seat on which Meadows sat.

"Mr. Meadows, I summon you for a walk! Sir Luke and Mr. Frome are
coming. We propose to get to the tarn and back before lunch."

The tarn was at least two miles away, a stiff climb over difficult moor.
Meadows, startled from something very near sleep, looked up, and a
spirit of revolt seized upon him, provoked by the masterful tone and
eyes of the lady.

"Very sorry, Lady Dunstable!--but I must write some letters before
luncheon."

"Oh no!--put them off! I have been thinking of what you told me
yesterday of your scheme for your new set of lectures. I have a great
deal to say to you about it."

"I really shouldn't be worth talking to now," laughed Meadows; "this
heat has made me so sleepy. To-night--or after tea--by all means!"

Lady Dunstable looked annoyed.

"I am expecting the Duke's party at tea," she said peremptorily. "This
will be my only chance to-day."

"Then let's put it off--till to-morrow!" said Meadows, as he rose, still
smiling. "It is most kind of you, but I really must write my letters,
and my brains are pulp. But I will escort you through the garden, if I
may."

His hostess turned sharply, and walked back towards the front of the
house where Sir Luke and Mr. Frome, a young and rising Under-Secretary,
were waiting for her. Meadows accompanied her, but found her exceedingly
ungracious. She did, however, inform him, as they followed the other two
towards the exit from the garden, that she had come to the conclusion
that the subject he was proposing for his second series of lectures, to
be given at Dunstable House during the winter, "would never do."

"Famous Controversies of the Nineteenth Century--political and
religious." The very sound of it was enough to keep people away! "What
people expect from you is talk about _persons_--not ideas. Ideas are not
your line!"

Meadows flushed a little. What his "line" might be, he said, he had not
yet discovered. But he liked his subject, and meant to stick to it.

Lady Dunstable turned on him a pair of sarcastic eyes.

"That's so like you clever people. You would die rather than take
advice."

"Advice!--yes. As much as you like, dear lady. But--"

"But what--" she asked, imperatively, nettled in her turn.

"Well--you must put it prettily!" said Meadows, smiling. "We want a
great deal of jam with the powder."

"You want to be flattered? I never flatter! It is the most despicable of
arts."

"On the contrary--one of the most skilled. And I have heard you do it to
perfection."

His daring half irritated, half amused her. It was her turn to flush.
Her thin, sallow face and dark eyes lit up vindictively.

"One should never remind one's friends of their vices," she said with
animation.

"Ah--if they _are_ vices! But flattery is merely a virtue out of
place--kindness gone wrong. From the point of view of the moralist, that
is. From the point of view of the ordinary mortal, it is what no
men--and few women--can do without!"

She smiled grimly, enjoying the spar. They carried it on a little while,
Meadows, now fairly on his mettle, administering a little deft though
veiled castigation here and there, in requital for various acts of
rudeness of which she had been guilty towards him and others during the
preceding days. She grew restive occasionally, but on the whole she bore
it well. Her arrogance was not of the small-minded sort; and the best
chance with her was to defy her.

At the gate leading on to the moor, Meadows resolutely came to a stop.

"Your letters are the merest excuse!" said Lady Dunstable. "I don't
believe you will write one of them! I notice you always put off
unpleasant duties."

"Give me credit at least for the intention."

Smiling, he held the gate open for her, and she passed through,
discomfited, to join Sir Luke on the other side. Mr. Frome, the
Under-Secretary, a young man of Jewish family and amazing talents, who
had been listening with amusement to the conversation behind him, turned
back to say to Meadows, at a safe distance--"Keep it up!--Keep it up!
You avenge us all!"

* * * * *

Presently, as she and her two companions wound slowly up the moor, Sir
Luke Malford, who had only arrived the night before, inquired gaily of
his hostess:

"So she wouldn't come?--the little wife?"

"I gave her every chance. She scorned us."

"You mean--'she funked us.' Have you any idea, I wonder, how alarming
you are?"

Lady Dunstable exclaimed impatiently:

"People represent me as a kind of ogre. I am nothing of the kind. I only
expect everybody to play up."

"Ah, but you make the rules!" laughed Sir Luke. "I thought that young
woman might have been a decided acquisition."

"She hadn't the very beginnings of a social gift," declared his
companion. "A stubborn and rather stupid little person. I am much afraid
she will stand in her husband's way."

"But suppose you blow up a happy home, by encouraging him to come
without her? I bet anything she is feeling jealous and ill-used. You
ought--I am sure you ought--to have a guilty conscience; but you look
perfectly brazen!"

Sir Luke's banter was generally accepted with indifference, but on this
occasion it provoked Lady Dunstable. She protested with vehemence that
she had given Mrs. Meadows every chance, and that a young woman who was
both trivial and conceited could not expect to get on in society. Sir
Luke gathered from her tone that she and Mrs. Meadows had somewhat
crossed swords, and that the wife might look out for consequences. He
had been a witness of this kind of thing before in Lady Dunstable's
circle; and he was conscious of a passing sympathy with the
pleasant-faced little woman he remembered at Crosby Ledgers. At the same
time he had been Rachel Dunstable's friend for twenty years; originally,
her suitor. He spent a great part of his life in her company, and her
ways seemed to him part of the order of things.

* * * * *

Meanwhile Meadows walked back to the house. He had been a good deal
nettled by Lady Dunstable's last remark to him. But he had taken pains
not to show it. Doris might say such things to him--but no one else.
They were, of course, horribly true! Well--quarrelling with Lady
Dunstable was amusing enough--when there was room to escape her. But how
would it be in the close quarters of a yacht?

On his way through the garden he fell in with Miss Field--Mattie Field,
the plump and smiling cousin of the house, who was apparently as
necessary to the Dunstables in the Highlands, as in London, or at Crosby
Ledgers. Her role in the Dunstable household seemed to Meadows to be
that of "shock absorber." She took all the small rubs and jars on her
own shoulders, so that Lady Dunstable might escape them. If the fish did
not arrive from Edinburgh, if the motor broke down, if a gun failed, or
a guest set up influenza, it was always Miss Field who came to the
rescue. She had devices for every emergency. It was generally supposed
that she had no money, and that the Dunstables made her residence with
them worth while. But if so, she had none of the ways of the poor
relation. On the contrary, her independence was plain; she had a very
free and merry tongue; and Lady Dunstable, who snubbed everybody, never
snubbed Mattie Field. Lord Dunstable was clearly devoted to her.

She greeted Meadows rather absently.

"Rachel didn't carry you off? Oh, then--I wonder if I may ask you
something?"

Meadows assured her she might ask him anything.

"I wonder if you will save yourself for a walk with Lord Dunstable.
Will you ask him? He's very low, and you would cheer him up."

Meadows looked at her interrogatively. He too had noticed that Lord
Dunstable had seemed for some days to be out of spirits.

"Why do people have sons!" said Miss Field, briskly.

Meadows understood the reference. It was common knowledge among the
Dunstables' friends that their son was anything but a comfort to them.

"Anything particularly wrong?" he asked her in a lowered voice, as they
neared the house. At the same time, he could not help wondering whether,
under all circumstances--if her nearest and dearest were made mincemeat
in a railway accident, or crushed by an earth-quake--this fair-haired,
rosy-cheeked lady would still keep her perennial smile. He had never yet
seen her without it.

Miss Field replied in a joking tone that Lord Dunstable was depressed
because the graceless Herbert had promised his parents a visit--a whole
week--in August, and had now cried off on some excuse or other. Meadows
inquired if Lady Dunstable minded as much as her husband.

"Quite!" laughed Miss Field. "It is not so much that she wants to see
Herbert as that she's found someone to marry him to. You'll see the lady
this afternoon. She comes with the Duke's party, to be looked at."

"But I understand that the young man is by no means manageable?"

Miss Field's amusement increased.

"That's Rachel's delusion. She knows very well that she hasn't been able
to manage him so far; but she's always full of fresh schemes for
managing him. She thinks, if she could once marry him to the right wife,
she and the wife between them could get the whip hand of him."

"Does she care for him?" said Meadows, bluntly.

Miss Field considered the question, and for the first time Meadows
perceived a grain of seriousness in her expression. But she emerged from
her meditations, smiling as usual.

"She'd be hard hit if anything very bad happened!"

"What could happen?"

"Well, of course they never know whether he won't marry to please
himself--produce somebody impossible!"

"And Lady Dunstable would suffer?"

Miss Field chuckled.

"I really believe you think her a kind of griffin--a stony creature with
a hole where her heart ought to be. Most of her friends do. Rachel, of
course, goes through life assuming that none of the disagreeable things
that happen to other people will ever happen to her. But if they ever
did happen--"

"The very stones would cry out? But hasn't she lost all influence with
the youth?"

"She won't believe it. She's always scheming for him. And when he's not
here she feels so affectionate and so good! And directly he comes--"

"I see! A tragedy--and a common one! Well, in half an hour I shall be
ready for his lordship. Will you arrange it? I must write a letter
first."

Miss Field nodded and departed. Meadows honestly meant to follow her
into the house and write some pressing business letters. But the
sunshine was so delightful, the sight of the empty bench and the
abandoned novel on the other side of the lawn so beguiling, that after
all he turned his lazy steps thither-ward, half ashamed, half amused to
think how well Lady Dunstable had read his character.

The guests had all disappeared. Meadows had the garden to himself, and
all its summer prospect of moor and stream. It was close on noon--a hot
and heavenly day! And again he thought of Doris cooped up in London.
Perhaps, after all, he would get out of that cruise!

Ah! there was the morning train--the midnight express from King's Cross
just arriving in the busy little town lying in the valley at his feet.
He watched it gliding along the valley, and heard the noise of the
brakes. Were any new guests expected by it? he wondered. Hardly! The
Lodge seemed quite full.

* * * * *

Twenty minutes later he threw away the novel impatiently. Midway, the
story had gone to pieces. He rose from his feet, intending this time to
tackle his neglected duties in earnest. As he did so, he heard a motor
climbing the steep drive, and in front of it a lady, walking.

He stood arrested--in a stupor of astonishment.

Doris!--by all the gods!--_Doris_!

It was indeed Doris. She came wearily, looking from side to side, like
one uncertain of her way. Then she too perceived Meadows, and stopped.

Meadows was conscious of two mixed feelings--first, a very lively
pleasure at the sight of her, and then annoyance. What on earth had she
come for? To recover him?--to protest against his not writing?--to make
a scene, in short? His guilty imagination in a flash showed her to him
throwing herself into his arms--weeping--on this wide lawn--for all the
world to see.

But she did nothing of the kind. She directed the motor, which was
really a taxi from the station, to stop without approaching the front
door, and then she herself walked quickly towards her husband.

"Arthur!--you got my letter? I could only write yesterday."

She had reached him, and they had joined hands mechanically.

"Letter?--I got no letter! If you posted one, it has probably arrived
by your train. What on earth, Doris, is the meaning of this? Is there
anything wrong?"

His expression was half angry, half concerned, for he saw plainly that
she was tired and jaded. Of course! Long journeys always knocked her up.
She meanwhile stood looking at him as though trying to read the
impression produced on him by her escapade. Something evidently in his
manner hurt her, for she withdrew her hand, and her face stiffened.

"There is nothing wrong with me, thank you! Of course I did not come
without good reason."

"But, my dear, are you come to stay?" cried Meadows, looking helplessly
at the taxi. "And you never wrote to Lady Dunstable?"

For he could only imagine that Doris had reconsidered her refusal of the
invitation which had originally included them both, and--either tired
of being left alone, or angry with him for not writing--had devised this
_coup de main_, this violent shake to the kaleidoscope. But what an
extraordinary step! It could only cover them both with ridicule. His
cheeks were already burning.

Doris surveyed him very quietly.

"No--I didn't write to Lady Dunstable--I wrote to _you_--and sent her a
message. I suppose--I shall have to stay the night."

"But what on earth are we to say to her?" cried Meadows in desperation.
"They're out walking now--but she'll be back directly. There isn't a
corner in the house! I've got a little bachelor room in the attics.
Really, Doris, if you were going to do this, you should have given both
her and me notice! There is a crowd of people here!"

Frown and voice were Jovian indeed. Doris, however, showed no tremors.

"Lady Dunstable will find somewhere to put me up," she said, half
scornfully. "Is there a telegram for me?"

"A telegram? Why should there be a telegram? What is the meaning of all
this? For heaven's sake, explain!"

Doris, however, did not attempt to explain. Her mood had been very soft
on the journey. But Arthur's reception of her had suddenly stirred the
root of bitterness again; and it was shooting fast and high. Whatever
she had done or left undone, he ought _not_ to have been able to conceal
that he was glad to see her--he ought _not_ to have been able to think
of Lady Dunstable first! She began to take a pleasure in mystifying him.

"I expected a telegram. I daresay it will come soon. You see I've asked
someone else to come this afternoon--and she'll have to be put up too."

"Asked someone else!--to Lady Dunstable's house!" Meadows stood
bewildered. "Really, Doris, have you taken leave of your senses?"

She stood with shining eyes, apparently enjoying his astonishment. Then
she suddenly bethought herself.

"I must go and pay the taxi." Turning round, she coolly surveyed the
"fortified post." "It looks big enough to take me in. Arthur!--I think
you may pay the man. Just take out my bag, and tell the footman to put
it in your room. That will do for the present. I shall sit down here and
wait for Lady Dunstable. I'm pretty tired."

The thought of what the magnificent gentleman presiding over Lady
Dunstable's hall would say to the unexpected irruption of Mrs. Meadows,
and Mrs. Meadows's bag, upon the "fortified post" he controlled, was
simply beyond expressing. Meadows tried to face his wife with dignity.

"I think we'd better keep the taxi, Doris. Then you and I can go back to
the hotel together. We can't force ourselves upon Lady Dunstable like
this, my dear. I'd better go and tell someone to pack my things. But we
must, of course, wait and see Lady Dunstable--though how you will
explain your coming, and get yourself--and me--out of this absurd
predicament, I cannot even pretend to imagine!"

Doris sat down--wearily.

"Don't keep the taxi, Arthur. I assure you Lady Dunstable will be very
glad to keep both me--and my bag. Or if she won't--Lord Dunstable will."

Meadows came nearer--bent down to study her tired face.

"There's some mystery, of course, Doris, in all this! Aren't you going
to tell me what it means?"

His wife's pale cheeks flushed.

"I would have told you--if you'd been the least bit glad to see me!
But--if you don't pay the taxi, Arthur, it will run up like anything!"

She pointed peremptorily to the ticking vehicle and the impatient
driver. Meadows went mechanically, paid the driver, shouldered the bag,
and carried it into the hall of the Lodge. He then perceived that two
grinning and evidently inquisitive footmen, waiting in the hall for
anything that might turn up for them to do, had been watching the whole
scene--the arrival of the taxi, and the meeting between the unknown lady
and himself, through a side window.

Burning to box someone's ears, Meadows loftily gave the bag to one of
them with instructions that it should be taken to his room, and then
turned to rejoin his wife.

As he crossed the gravel in front of the house, his mind ran through all
possible hypotheses. But he was entirely without a clue--except the clue
of jealousy. He could not hide from himself that Doris had been jealous
of Lady Dunstable, and had perhaps been hurt by his rather too numerous
incursions into the great world without her, his apparent readiness to
desert her for cleverer women. "Little goose!--as if I ever cared
twopence for any of them!"--he thought angrily. "And now she makes us
both laughing-stocks!"

And yet, Doris being Doris--a proud, self-contained, well-bred little
person, particularly sensitive to ridicule--the whole proceeding became
the more incredible the more he faced it.

One o'clock!--striking from the church tower in the valley! He hurried
towards the slight figure on the distant seat. Lady Dunstable might
return at any moment. He foresaw the encounter--the great lady's
insolence--Doris's humiliation--and his own. Well, at least let him
agree with Doris on a common story, before his hostess arrived.

He sped across the grass, very conscious, as he approached the seat, of
Doris's drooping look and attitude. Travelling all those hours!--and no
doubt without any proper breakfast! However Lady Dunstable might
behave, he would carry Doris into the Lodge directly, and have her
properly looked after. Miss Field and he would see to that.

Suddenly--a sound of talk and laughter, from the shrubbery which divided
the flower garden from the woods and the moor. Lady Dunstable emerged,
with her two companions on either hand. Her vivid, masculine face was
flushed with exercise and discussion. She seemed to be attacking the
Under-Secretary, who, however, was clearly enjoying himself; while Sir
Luke, walking a little apart, threw in an occasional gibe.

"I tell you your land policy here in Scotland will gain you nothing; and
in England it will lose you everything.--Hullo!"

Lady Dunstable's exclamation, as she came to a stop and put up a
tortoise-shell eyeglass, was clearly audible.

"Doris!" cried Meadows excitedly in his wife's ear--"Look here!--what
are you going to say!--what am I to say! that you got tired of London,
and wanted some Scotch air?--that we intend to go off together?--For
goodness' sake, what is it to be?"

Doris rose, her lips breaking irrepressibly into smiles.

"Never mind, Arthur; I'll get through somehow."

CHAPTER VI

The two ladies advanced towards each other across the lawn, while
Meadows followed his wife in speechless confusion and annoyance, utterly
at a loss how to extricate either himself or Doris; compelled, indeed,
to leave it all to her. Sir Luke and the Under-Secretary had paused in
the drive. Their looks as they watched Lady Dunstable's progress showed
that they guessed at something dramatic in the little scene.

Nothing could apparently have been more unequal than the two chief
actors in it. Lady Dunstable, with the battlements of "the great
fortified post" rising behind her, tall and wiry of figure, her black
hawk's eyes fixed upon her visitor, might have stood for all her class;
for those too powerful and prosperous Barbarians who have ruled and
enjoyed England so long. Doris, small and slight, in a blue cotton coat
and skirt, dusty from long travelling, and a childish garden hat, came
hesitatingly over the grass, with colour which came and went.

"How do you do, Mrs. Meadows! This is indeed an unexpected pleasure! I
must quarrel with your husband for not giving us warning."

Doris's complexion had settled into a bright pink as she shook hands
with Lady Dunstable. But she spoke quite composedly.

"My husband knew nothing about it, Lady Dunstable. My letter does not
seem to have reached him."

"Ah? Our posts are very bad, no doubt; though generally, I must say,
they arrive very punctually. Well, so you were tired of London?--you
wanted to see how we were looking after your husband?"

Lady Dunstable threw a sarcastic glance at Meadows standing tongue-tied
in the background.

"I wanted to see you," said Doris quietly, with a slight accent on the
"you."

Lady Dunstable looked amused.

"Did you? How very nice of you! And you've--you've brought your
luggage?" Lady Dunstable looked round her as though expecting to see it
at the front door.

"I brought a bag. Arthur took it in for me."

"I'm so sorry! I assure you, if I had only known--But we haven't a
corner! Mr. Meadows will bear me out--it's absurd, but true. These
Scotch lodges have really no room in them at all!"

Lady Dunstable pointed with airy insolence to the spreading pile behind
her. Doris--for all the agitation of her hidden purpose--could have
laughed outright. But Meadows, rather roughly, intervened.

"We shall, of course, go to the hotel, Lady Dunstable. My wife's letter
seems somehow to have missed me, but naturally we never dreamed of
putting you out. Perhaps you will give us some lunch--my wife seems
rather tired--and then we will take our departure."

Doris turned--put a hand on his arm--but addressed Lady Dunstable.

"Can I see you--alone--for a few minutes--before lunch?"

"_Before_ lunch? We are all very hungry, I'm afraid," said Lady
Dunstable, with a smile. Meadows was conscious of a rising fury. His
quick sense perceived something delicately offensive in every word and
look of the great lady. Doris, of course, had done an incredibly foolish
thing. What she had come to say to Lady Dunstable he could not conceive;
for the first explanation--that of a silly jealousy--had by now entirely
failed him. But it was evident to him that Lady Dunstable assumed it--or
chose to assume it. And for the first time he thought her odious!

Doris seemed to guess it, for she pressed his arm as though to keep him
quiet.

"Before lunch, please," she repeated. "I think--you will soon
understand." With an odd, and--for the first time--slightly puzzled look
at her visitor, Lady Dunstable said with patronising politeness--

"By all means. Shall we come to my sitting-room?"

She led the way to the house. Meadows followed, till a sign from Doris
waved him back. On the way Doris found herself greeted by Sir Luke
Malford, bowed to by various unknown gentlemen, and her hand grasped by
Miss Field.

"You do look done! Have you come straight from London? What--is Rachel
carrying you off? I shall send you in a glass of wine and a biscuit
directly!"

Doris said nothing. She got somehow through all the curious eyes turned
upon her; she followed Lady Dunstable through the spacious passages of
the Lodge, adorned with the usual sportsman's trophies, till she was
ushered into a small sitting-room, Lady Dunstable's particular den,
crowded with photographs of half the celebrities of the day--the poets,
_savants_, and artists, of England, Europe, and America. On an easel
stood a masterly small portrait of Lord Dunstable as a young man, by
Bastien Lepage; and not far from it--rather pushed into a corner--a
sketch by Millais of a fair-haired boy, leaning against a pony.

By this time Doris was quivering both with excitement and fatigue. She
sank into a chair, and turned eagerly to the wine and biscuits with
which Miss Field pursued her. While she ate and drank, Lady Dunstable
sat in a high chair observing her, one long and pointed foot crossed
over the other, her black eyes alive with satiric interrogation, to
which, however, she gave no words.

The wine was reviving. Doris found her voice. As the door closed on Miss
Field, she bent forward:--

"Lady Dunstable, I didn't come here on my own account, and had there
been time of course I should have given you notice. I came entirely on
your account, because something was happening to you--and Lord
Dunstable--which you didn't know, and which made me--very sorry for
you!"

Lady Dunstable started slightly.

"Happening to me?--and Lord Dunstable?"

"I have been seeing your son, Lady Dunstable."

An instant change passed over the countenance of that lady. It darkened,
and the eyes became cold and wary.

"Indeed? I didn't know you were acquainted with him."

"I never saw him till a few days ago. Then I saw him--in my uncle's
studio--with a woman--a woman to whom he is engaged."

Lady Dunstable started again.

"I think you must be mistaken," she said quickly, with a slight but
haughty straightening of her shoulders.

Doris shook her head.

"No, I am not mistaken. I will tell you--if you don't mind--exactly what
I have heard and seen."

And with a puckered brow and visible effort she entered on the story of
the happenings of which she had been a witness in Bentley's studio. She
was perfectly conscious--for a time--that she was telling it against a
dead weight of half scornful, half angry incredulity on Lady Dunstable's
part. Rachel Dunstable listened, indeed, attentively. But it was clear
that she resented the story, which she did not believe; resented the
telling of it, on her own ground, by this young woman whom she
disliked; and resented above all the compulsory discussion which it
involved, of her most intimate affairs, with a stranger and her social
inferior. All sorts of suspicions, indeed, ran through her mind as to
the motives that could have prompted Mrs. Meadows to hurry up to
Scotland, without taking even the decently polite trouble to announce
herself, bringing this unlikely and trumped-up tale. Most probably, a
mean jealousy of her husband, and his greater social success!--a
determination to force herself on people who had not paid the same
attention to herself as to him, to _make_ them pay attention,
willy-nilly. Of course Herbert had undesirable acquaintances, and was
content to go about with people entirely beneath him, in birth and
education. Everybody knew it, alack! But he was really not such a
fool--such a heartless fool--as this story implied! Mrs. Meadows had
been taken in--willingly taken in--had exaggerated everything she said
for her own purposes. The mother's wrath indeed was rapidly rising to
the smiting point, when a change in the narrative arrested her.

"And then--I couldn't help it!"--there was a new note of agitation in
Doris's voice--"but what had happened was so _horrid_--it was so like
seeing a man going to ruin under one's eyes, for, of course, one knew
that she would get hold of him again--that I ran out after your son and
begged him to break with her, not to see her again, to take the
opportunity, and be done with her! And then he told me quite calmly that
he _must_ marry her, that he could not help himself, but he would never
live with her. He would marry her at a registry office, provide for her,
and leave her. And then he said he would do it _at once_--that he was
going to his lawyers to arrange everything as to money and so on--on
condition that she never troubled him again. He was eager to get it
done--that he might be delivered from her--from her company--which one
could see had become dreadful to him. I implored him not to do such a
thing--to pay any money rather than do it--but not to marry her! I
begged him to think of you--and his father. But he said he was bound to
her--he had compromised her, or some such thing; and he had given his
word in writing. There was only one thing which could stop it--if she
had told him lies about her former life. But he had no reason to think
she had; and he was not going to try and find out. So then--I saw a ray
of daylight--"

She stopped abruptly, looking full at the woman opposite, who was now
following her every word--but like one seized against her will.

"Do you remember a Miss Wigram, Lady Dunstable--whose father had a
living near Crosby Ledgers?"

Lady Dunstable moved involuntarily--her eyelids flickered a little.

"Certainly. Why do you ask?"

"_She_ saw Mr. Dunstable--and Miss Flink--in my uncle's studio, and she
was so distressed to think what--what Lord Dunstable"--there was a
perceptible pause before the name--"would feel, if his son married her,
that she determined to find out the truth about her. She told me she had
one or two clues, and I sent her to a cousin of mine--a very clever
solicitor--to be advised. That was yesterday morning. Then I got my
uncle to find out your son--and bring him to me yesterday afternoon
before I started. He came to our house in Kensington, and I told him I
had come across some very doubtful stories about Miss Flink. He was very
unwilling to hear anything. After all, he said, he was not going to live
with her. And she had nursed him--"

"Nursed him!" said Lady Dunstable, quickly. She had risen, and was
leaning against the mantelpiece, looking sharply down upon her visitor.

"That was the beginning of it all. He was ill in the winter--in his
lodgings."

"I never heard of it!" For the first time, there was a touch of
something natural and passionate in the voice.

Doris looked a little embarrassed.

"Your son told me it was pneumonia."

"I never heard a word of it! And this--this creature nursed him?" The
tone of the robbed lioness at last!--singularly inappropriate under all
the circumstances. Doris struggled on.

"An actor friend of your son brought her to see him. And she really
devoted herself to him. He declared to me he owed her a great deal--"

"He need have owed her nothing," said Lady Dunstable, sternly. "He had
only to send a postcard--a wire--to his own people."

"He thought--you were so busy," said Doris, dropping her eyes to the
carpet.

A sound of contemptuous anger showed that her shaft--her mild shaft--had
gone home. She hurried on--"But at last I got him to promise me to wait
a week. That was yesterday at five o'clock. He wouldn't promise me to
write to you--or his father. He seemed so desperately anxious to settle
it all--in his own way. But I said a good deal about your name--and the
family--and the horrible pain he would be giving--any way. Was it
kind--was it right towards you, not only to give you _no_ opportunity of
helping or advising him--but also to take no steps to find out whether
the woman he was going to marry was--not only unsuitable, wholly
unsuitable--that, of course, he knows--but _a disgrace_? I argued with
him that he must have some suspicion of the stories she has told him at
different times, or he wouldn't have tried to protect himself in this
particular way. He didn't deny it; but he said she had looked after him,
and been kind to him, when nobody else was, and he should feel a beast
if he pressed her too hardly."

"'When nobody else was'!" repeated Lady Dunstable, scornfully, her voice
trembling with bitterness. "Really, Mrs. Meadows, it is very difficult
for me to believe that my son ever used such words!"

Doris hesitated, then she raised her eyes, and with the happy feeling of
one applying the scourge, in the name of Justice, she said with careful
mildness:--

"I hope you will forgive me for telling you--but I feel as if I oughtn't
to keep back anything--Mr. Dunstable said to me: 'My mother might have
prevented it--but--she was never interested in me.'"

Another indignant exclamation from Lady Dunstable. Doris hurried on.
"Only this is the important point! At last I got his promise, and I got
it in writing. I have it here."

Dead silence. Doris opened her little handbag, took out a letter, in an
open envelope, and handed it to Lady Dunstable, who at first seemed as
if she were going to refuse it. However, after a moment's hesitation,
she lifted her long-handled eyeglass and read it. It ran as follows:

DEAR MRS. MEADOWS,--I do not know whether I ought to do what you ask
me. But you have asked me very kindly--you have really been awfully
good to me, in taking so much trouble. I know I'm a stupid
fool--they always told me so at home. But I don't want to do
anything mean, or to go back on a woman who once did me a good turn;
with whom also once--for I may as well be quite honest about it--I
thought I was in love. However, I see there is something in what you
say, and I will wait a week before marrying Miss Flink. But if you
tell my people--I suppose you will--don't let them imagine they can
break it off--except for that one reason. And _I_ shan't lift a
finger to break it off. I shall make no inquiries--I shall go on
with the lawyers, and all that. My present intention is to marry
Miss Flink--on the terms I have stated--in a week's time. If you do
see my people--especially my father--tell them I'm awfully sorry to
be such a nuisance to them. I got myself into the mess without
meaning it, and now there's really only one way out. Thank you
again.
Yours gratefully,
HERBERT DUNSTABLE.

Lady Dunstable crushed the letter in her hand. All pretence of
incredulity was gone. She began to walk stormily up and down. Doris sank
back in her chair, watching her, conscious of the most strangely mingled
feelings, a touch of womanish triumph indeed, a pleasing sense of
retribution, but, welling up through it, something profound and tender.
If _he_ should ever write such a letter to a stranger, while his mother
was alive!

Lady Dunstable stopped.

"What chance is there of saving my son?" she said, peremptorily. "You
will, of course, tell us all you know. Lord Dunstable must go to town at
once." She touched an electric bell beside her.

"Oh no!" cried Doris, springing up. "He mustn't go, please, until we
have some more information. Miss Wigram is coming--this afternoon."

Rachel Dunstable stood stupefied--with her hand on the bell.

"Miss Wigram--coming."

"Don't you see?" cried Doris. "She was to spend all yesterday afternoon
and evening in seeing two or three people--people who know. There is a
friend of my uncle's--an artist--who saw a great deal of Miss Flink, and
got to know a lot about her. Of course he may not have been willing to
say anything, but I think he probably would--he was so mad with her for
a trick she played him in the middle of a big piece of work. And if he
was able to put us on any useful track, then Miss Wigram was to come up
here straight, and tell you everything she could. But I thought there
would have been a telegram--from her--" Her voice dropped on a note of
disappointment.

There was a knock at the door. The butler entered, and at the same
moment the luncheon gong echoed through the house.

"Tell Miss Field not to wait luncheon for me," said Lady Dunstable
sharply. "And, Ferris, I want his lordship's things packed at once, for
London. Don't say anything to him at present, but in ten minutes' time
just manage to tell him quietly that I should like to see him here. You
understand--I don't want any fuss made. Tell Miss Field that Mrs.
Meadows is too tired to come in to luncheon, and that I will come in
presently."

The butler, who had the aspect of a don or a bishop, said "Yes, my
lady," in that dry tone which implied that for twenty years the house of
Dunstable had been built upon himself, as its rock, and he was not going
to fail it now. He vanished, with just one lightning turn of the eyes
towards the little lady in the blue linen dress; and Lady Dunstable
resumed her walk, sunk in flushed meditation. She seemed to have
forgotten Doris, when she heard an exclamation:--

"Ah, there _is_ the telegram!"

And Doris, running to the window, waved to a diminutive telegraph boy,
who, being new to his job, had come up to the front entrance of the
Lodge instead of the back, and was now--recognising his
misdeed--retreating in alarm from the mere aspect of "the great
fortified post." He saw the lady at the window, however, and checked his
course.

"For me!" cried Doris, triumphantly--and she tore it open.

Can't arrive till between eight and nine. Think I have got all we
want. Please take a room for me at hotel.--ALICE WIGRAM.

Doris turned back into the room, and handed the telegram to Lady
Dunstable, who read it slowly.

"Did you say this was the Alice Wigram I knew?"

"Her father had one of your livings," repeated Doris. "He died last
year."

"I know. I quarrelled with him. I cannot conceive why Alice Wigram
should do me a good turn!" Lady Dunstable threw back her head, her
challenging look fixed upon her visitor. Doris was certain she had it in
her mind to add--"or you either!"--but refrained.

"Lord Dunstable was always a friend to her father," said Doris, with the
same slight emphasis on the "Lord" as before. "And she felt for the
estate--the poor people--the tenants."

Rachel Dunstable shook her head impatiently.

"I daresay. But I got into a scrape with the Wigrams. I expect that you
would think, Mrs. Meadows--perhaps most people would think, as of course
her father did--that I once treated Miss Wigram unkindly!"

"Oh, what does it matter?" cried Doris, hastily,--"what _does_ it
matter? She wants to help--she's sorry for you. You should _see_ that
woman! It would be too awful if your son was tied to her for life!"

She sat up straight, all her soul in her eyes and in her pleasant face.

There was a pause. Then Lady Dunstable, whose expression had changed,
came a little nearer to her.

"And you--I wonder why you took all this trouble?"

Doris said nothing. She fell back slowly in her chair, looking
at the tall woman standing over her. Tears came into her
eyes--brimmed--overflowed--in silence. Her lips smiled. Rachel Dunstable
bent over her in bewilderment.

"To have a son," murmured Doris under her breath, "and then to see him
ruined like this! No love for him!--no children--no grandchildren for
oneself, when one is old--"

Her voice died away.

"'To have a son'?" repeated Lady Dunstable, wondering--"but you have
none!"

Doris said nothing. Only she put up her hand feebly, and wiped away the
tears--still smiling. After which she shut her eyes.

Lady Dunstable gasped. Then the long, sallow face flushed deeply. She
walked over to a sofa on the other side of the room, arranged the
pillows on it, and came back to Doris.

"Will you, please, let me put you on that sofa? You oughtn't to have had
this long journey. Of course you will stay here--and Miss Wigram too. It
seems--I shall owe you a great deal--and I could not have expected
you--to think about me--at all. I can do rude things. But I can also--be
sorry for my sins!"

Doris heard an awkward and rather tremulous laugh. Upon which she
opened her eyes, no less embarrassed than her hostess, and did as she
was told. Lady Dunstable made her as comfortable as a hand so little
used to the feminine arts could manage.

"Now I will send you in some luncheon, and go and talk to Lord
Dunstable. Please rest till I come back."

* * * * *

Doris lay still. She wanted very much to see Arthur, and she wondered,
till her head ached, whether he would think her a great fool for her
pains. Surely he would come and find her soon. Oh, the time people spent
on lunching in these big houses!

The vibration of the train seemed to be still running through her limbs.
She was indeed wearied out, and in a few minutes, what with the sudden
quiet and the softness of the cushions which had been spread for her,
she fell unexpectedly asleep.

When she woke, she saw her husband sitting beside her--patiently--with
a tray on his knee.

"Oh, Arthur!--what time is it? Have I been asleep long?"

"Nearly an hour. I looked in before, but Lady Dunstable wouldn't let me
wake you. She--and he--and I--have been talking. Upon my word, Doris,
you've been and gone and done it! But don't say anything! You've got to
eat this chicken first."

He fed her with it, looking at her the while with affectionate and
admiring eyes. Somehow, Doris became dimly aware that she was going to
be a heroine.

"Have they told you, Arthur?"

"Everything that you've told her. (No--not everything!--thought Doris.)
You _are_ a brick, Doris! And the way you've done it! That's what
impresses her ladyship! She knows very well that she would have muffed
it. You're the practical woman! Well, you can rest on your laurels,
darling! You'll have the whole place at your feet--beginning with your
husband--who's been dreadfully bored without you. There!"

He put down his Jovian head, and rubbed his cheek tenderly against hers,
till she turned round, and gave him the lightest of kisses.

"Was he an abominable correspondent?" he said, repentantly.

"Abominable!"

"Did you hate him!"

"Whenever I had time. When do you start on your cruise, Arthur!"

"Any time--some time--never!" he said, gaily. "Give me that Capel Curig
address, and I'll wire for the rooms this afternoon. I came to the
conclusion this morning that the same yacht couldn't hold her ladyship
and me."

"Oh!--so she's been chastening _you_?" said Doris, well pleased.

Meadows nodded.

"The rod has not been spared--since Sunday. It was then she got tired of
me. I mark the day, you see, almost the hour. My goodness!--if you're
not always up to your form--epigrams, quotations--all pat--"

"She plucks you--without mercy. Down you slither into the second class!"
Doris's look sparkled.

"There you go--rejoicing in my humiliations!" said Meadows, putting an
arm round the scoffer. "I tell you, she proposes to write my next set of
lectures for me. She gave me an outline of them this morning."

Then they both laughed together like children. And Doris, with her head
on a strong man's shoulder, and a rough coat scrubbing her cheek,
suddenly bethought her of the line--"Journeys end in lovers' meeting--"
and was smitten with a secret wonder as to how much of her impulse to
come north had been due to an altruistic concern for the Dunstable
affairs, and how much to a firm determination to recapture Arthur from
his Gloriana. But that doubt she would never reveal. It would be so bad
for Arthur!

She rose to her feet.

"Where are they?"

"Lord and Lady Dunstable? Gone off to Dunkeld to find their solicitor
and bring him back to meet Miss Wigram. They'll be home by tea. I'm to
look after you."

"Are we going to an hotel?"

Meadows laughed immoderately.

"Come and look at your apartment, my dear. One of her ladyship's maids
has been told off to look after you. As I expect you have arrived with
little more than a comb-and-brush bag, there will be a good deal to do."

Doris caught him by the coat-fronts.

"You don't mean to say that I shall be expected to dine to-night! I have
_not_ brought an evening dress."

"What does that matter? I met Miss Field in the passage, as I was coming
in to you, and she said: 'I see Mrs. Meadows has not brought much
luggage. We can lend her anything she wants. I will send her a few of
Rachel's tea-gowns to choose from.'"

Doris's laugh was hysterical; then she sobered down.

"What time is it? Four o'clock. Oh, I wish Miss Wigram was here! You
know, Lord Dunstable must go to town to-night! And Miss Wigram can't
arrive till after the last train from here."

"They know. They've ordered a special, to take Lord Dunstable and the
solicitor to Edinburgh, to catch the midnight mail."

"Oh, well--if you can bully the fates like that!--" said Doris, with a
shrug. "How did he take it?"

Meadows's tone changed.

"It was a great blow. I thought it aged him."

"Was she nice to him?" asked Doris, anxiously.

"Nicer than I thought she could be," said Meadows, quietly. "I heard
her say to him--'I'm afraid it's been my fault, Harry.' And he took her
hand, without a word."

"I will _not_ cry!" said Doris, pressing her hands on her eyes. "If it
comes right, it will do them such a world of good! Now show me my room."

But in the hall, waiting to waylay them, they found Miss Field, beaming
as usual.

"Everything is ready for you, dear Mrs. Meadows, and if you want
anything you have only to ring. This way--"

"The ground-floor?" said Doris, rather mystified, as they followed.

"We have put you in what we call--for fun--our state-rooms. Various
Royalties had them last year. They're in a special wing. We keep them
for emergencies. And the fact is we haven't got another corner."

Doris, in dismay, took the smiling lady by the arm.

"I can't live up to it! Please let us go to the inn."

But Meadows and Miss Field mocked at her; and she was soon ushered into
a vast bedroom, in the midst of which, on a Persian carpet, sat her
diminutive bag, now empty. Various elegant "confections" in the shape of
tea-gowns and dressing-gowns littered the bed and the chairs. The
toilet-table showed an array of coroneted brushes. As for the superb
Empire bed, which had belonged to Queen Hortense, and was still hung
with the original blue velvet sprinkled with golden bees, Doris eyed it
with a firm hostility.

"We needn't sleep in it," she whispered in Meadows's ear. "There are two
sofas."

Meanwhile Miss Field and others flitted about, adding all the luxuries
of daily use to the splendour of the rooms. Gardeners appeared bringing
in flowers, and an anxious maid, on behalf of her ladyship, begged that
Mrs. Meadows would change her travelling dress for a comfortable white
tea-gown, before tea-time, suggesting another "creation" in black and
silver for dinner. Doris, frowning and reluctant, would have refused;
but Miss Field said softly "Won't you? Rachel will be so distressed if
she mayn't do these little things for you. Of course she doesn't deserve
it; but--"

"Oh yes--I'll put them on--if she likes," said Doris, hurriedly. "It
doesn't matter."

Miss Field laughed. "I don't know where all these things come from," she
said, looking at the array. "Rachel buys half of them for her maids, I
should think--she never wears them. Well, now I shall leave you till
tea-time. Tea will be on the lawn--Mr. Meadows knows where. By the
way--" she looked, smiling, at Meadows--"they've put off the Duke. If
you only knew what that means."

She named a great Scotch name, the chief of the ancient house to which
Lady Dunstable belonged. Miss Field described how this prince of Dukes
paid a solemn visit every year to Franick Castle, and the eager
solicitude--almost agitation--with which the visit was awaited, by Lady
Dunstable in particular.

"You don't mean," cried Doris, "that there is anybody in the whole world
who frightens Lady Dunstable?"

"As she frightens us? Yes!--on this one day of the year we are all
avenged. Rachel, metaphorically, sits on a stool and tries to please. To
put off 'the Duke' by telephone!--what a horrid indignity! But I've just
inflicted it."

Mattie Field smiled, and was just going away when she was arrested by a
timid question from Doris.

"Please--shall Arthur go down to Pitlochry and engage a room for Miss
Wigram?"

Miss Field turned in amusement.

"A room! Why, it's all ready! She is your lady-in-waiting."

And taking Doris by the arm she led her to inspect a spacious apartment
on the other side of a passage, where the Lady Alice or Lady Mary
without whom Royal Highnesses do not move about the world was generally
put up.

"I feel like Christopher Sly," said Doris, surveying the scene, with her
hands in her jacket pockets. "So will she. But never mind!"

* * * * *

Events flowed on. Lord and Lady Dunstable came back by tea-time,
bringing with them the solicitor, who was also the chief factor of their
Scotch estate. Lord Dunstable looked old and wearied. He came to find
Doris on the lawn, pressing her hand with murmured words of thanks.

"If that child Alice Wigram--of course I remember her well!--brings us
information we can go upon, we shall be all right. At least there's
hope. My poor boy! Anyway, we can never be grateful enough to you."

As for Lady Dunstable, the large circle which gathered for tea under a
group of Scotch firs talked indeed, since Franick Castle existed for
that purpose, but they talked without a leader. Their hostess sat silent
and sombre, with thoughts evidently far away. She took no notice of
Meadows whatever, and his attempts to draw her fell flat. A neighbour
had walked over, bringing with him--maliciously--a Radical M.P. whose
views on the Scotch land question would normally have struck fire and
fury from Lady Dunstable. She scarcely recognised his name, and he and
the Under-Secretary launched into the most despicable land heresies
under her very nose--unrebuked. She had not an epigram to throw at
anyone. But her eyes never failed to know where Doris Meadows was, and
indeed, though no one but the two or three initiated knew why, Doris was
in some mysterious but accepted way the centre of the party. Everybody
spoiled her; everybody smiled upon her. The white tea-gown which she
wore--miracle of delicate embroidery--had never suited Lady Dunstable;
it suited Doris to perfection. Under her own simple hat, her eyes--and
they were very fine eyes--shone with a soft and dancing humour. It was
all absurd--her being there--her dress--this tongue-tied hostess--and
these agreeable men who made much of her! She must get Arthur out of it
as soon as possible, and they would look back upon it and laugh. But for
the moment it was pleasant, it was stimulating! She found herself
arguing about the new novels, and standing at bay against a whole group
of clever folk who were tearing Mr. Augustus John and other gods of her
idolatry to pieces. She was not shy; she never really had been; and to
find that she could talk as well as other people--or most other
people--even in these critical circles, excited her. The circle round
her grew; and Meadows, standing on the edge of it, watched her with
astonished eyes.

* * * * *

The northern evening sank into a long and glowing twilight. The hills
stood in purple against a tawny west, and the smoke from the little town
in the valley rose clear and blue into air already autumnal. The guests
of Franick had scattered in twos and threes over the gardens and the
moor, while Doris, her host and hostess, and the solicitor, sat and
waited for Alice Wigram. She came with the evening train, tired, dusty,
and triumphant; and the information she brought with her was more than
enough to go upon. The past of Elena Flink--poor lady!--shone luridly
out; and even the countenance of the solicitor cleared. As for Lord
Dunstable, he grasped the girl by both hands.

"My dear child, what you have done for us! Ah, if your father were
here!"

And bending over her, with the courtly grace of an old man, he kissed
her on the brow. Alice Wigram flushed, turning involuntarily towards
Lady Dunstable.

"Rachel!--don't we owe her everything," said Lord Dunstable with
emotion--"her and Mrs. Meadows? But for them, our boy might have wrecked
his life."

"He appears to have been a most extraordinary fool!" said Lady Dunstable
with energy:--a recrudescence of the natural woman, which was positively
welcome to everybody. And it did not prevent the passage of some
embarrassed but satisfactory words between Herbert Dunstable's mother
and Alice Wigram, after Lady Dunstable had taken her latest guest to
"Lady Mary's" room, bidding her go straight to bed, and be waited on.

Lord Dunstable and the lawyer departed after dinner to meet their
special train at Perth. Lady Dunstable, with variable spirits, kept the
evening going, sometimes in a brown study, sometimes as brilliant and
pugnacious as ever. Doris slipped out of the drawing-room once or twice
to go and gossip with Alice Wigram, who was lying under silken
coverings, inclined to gentle moralising on the splendours of the great,
and much petted by Miss Field and the house-keeper.

"How nice you look!" said the girl shyly, on one occasion, as Doris came
stealing in to her. "I never saw such a pretty gown!"

"Not bad!" said Doris complacently, throwing a glance at the large
mirror near. It was still the white tea-gown, for she had firmly
declined to sample anything else, in truth well aware that Arthur's
eyes approved both it and her in it.

"Lord Dunstable has been so kind," whispered Miss Wigram. "He said I
must always henceforth look upon him as a kind of guardian. Of course I
should never let him give me a farthing!"

"Why no, that's the kind of thing one couldn't do!" said Doris with
decision. "But there are plenty of other ways of being nice. Well--here
we all are, as happy as larks; and what we've really done, I suppose, is
to take a woman's character away, and give her another push to
perdition."

"She hadn't any character!" cried Alice Wigram indignantly. "And she
would have gone to perdition without us, and taken that poor youth with
her. Oh, I know, I know! But morals are a great puzzle to me. However, I
firmly remind myself of that 'one in the eye,' and then all my doubts
depart. Good-night. Sleep well! You know very well that I should have
shirked it if it hadn't been for you!"

* * * * *

A little later the Meadowses stood together at the open window of their
room, which led by a short flight of steps to a flowering garden below.
All Franick had gone to bed, and this wing in which the "state-rooms"
were, seemed to be remote from the rest of the house. They were alone;
the night was balmy; and there was a flood of secret joy in Doris's
veins which gave her a charm, a beguilement Arthur had never seen in her
before. She was more woman, and therefore more divine! He could hardly
recall her as the careful housewife, harassed by lack of pence, knitting
her brows over her butcher's books, mending endless socks, and trying to
keep the nose of a lazy husband to the grindstone. All that seemed to
have vanished. This white sylph was pure romance--pure joy. He saw her
anew; he loved her anew.

"Why did you look so pretty to-night? You little witch!" he murmured in
her ear, as he held her close to him.

"Arthur!"--she drew herself away from him. "_Did_ I look pretty? Honour
bright!"

"Delicious! How often am I to say it?"

"You'd better not. Don't wake the devil in me, Arthur! It's all this
tea-gown. If you go on like this, I shall have to buy one like it."

"Buy a dozen!" he said joyously. "Look there, Doris--you see that path?
Let's go on to the moor a little."

Out they crept, like truant children, through the wood-path and out upon
the moor. Meadows had brought a shawl, and spread it on a rock, full
under the moonlight. There they sat, close together, feeling all the
goodness and glory of the night, drinking in the scents of heather and
fern, the sounds of plashing water and gently moving winds. Above them,
the vault of heaven and the friendly stars; below them, the great hollow
of the valley, the scattered lights, the sounds of distant trains.

"She didn't kiss me when she said good-night!" said Doris suddenly. "She
wasn't the least sentimental--or ashamed--or grateful! Having said what
was necessary, she let it alone. She's a real lady--though rather a
savage. I like her!"

"Who are you talking of? Lady Dunstable? I had forgotten all about her.
All the same, darling, I should like to know what made you do all this
for a woman you _said_ you detested!"

"I did detest her. I shall probably detest her again. Leopards don't
change their spots, do they? But I shan't--fear her any more!"

Something in her tone arrested Meadows's attention.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, what I say!" cried Doris, drawing herself a little from him, with
a hand on his shoulder. "I shall never fear her, or anyone, any more.
I'm safe! Why did I do it? Do you really want to know? I did
it--because--I was so sorry for her--poor silly woman,--who can't get on
with her own son! Arthur!--if our son doesn't love me better than hers
loves her--you may kill me, dear, and welcome!"

"Doris! There is something in your voice--! What are you hiding from
me?"

* * * * *

But as to the rest of that conversation under the moon, let those
imagine it who may have followed this story with sympathy.

THE END

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