Read CHAPTER I of A Great Success, free online book, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, on

“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 and mistress.

The driver turned at her call.

“Hi! ­Stop!  You’ve been over-paid!”

The man grinned all over, made her a low bow, and made off as fast as he could.

Arthur Meadows, behind her, went into a fit of laughter, and as his wife, discomfited, turned back into the room he threw a triumphant arm around her.

“I had to give him half a crown, dear, or burst.  Just look at these letters ­and you know what a post we had this morning!  Now don’t bother about the taxi!  What does it matter?  Come and open the post.”

Whereupon Doris Meadows felt herself forcibly drawn down to a seat on the sofa beside her husband, who threw a bundle of letters upon his wife’s lap, and then turned eagerly to open others with which his own hands were full.

“H’m! ­Two more publishers’ letters, asking for the book ­don’t they wish they may get it!  But I could have made a far better bargain if I’d only waited a fortnight.  Just my luck!  One ­two ­four ­autograph fiends!  The last ­a lady, of course! ­wants a page of the first lecture.  Calm!  Invitations from the Scottish Athenaeum ­the Newcastle Academy ­the Birmingham Literary Guild ­the Glasgow Poetic Society ­the ’British Philosophers’ ­the Dublin Dilettanti! ­Heavens! ­how many more!  None of them offering cash, as far as I can see ­only fame ­pure and undefiled!  Hullo! ­that’s a compliment! ­the Parnassians have put me on their Council.  And last year, I was told, I couldn’t even get in as an ordinary member.  Dash their impudence!...  This is really astounding!  What are yours, darling?”

And tumbling all his opened letters on the sofa, Arthur Meadows rose ­in sheer excitement ­and confronted his wife, with a flushed countenance.  He was a tall, broadly built, loose-limbed fellow, with a fine shaggy head, whereof various black locks were apt to fall forward over his eyes, needing to be constantly thrown back by a picturesque action of the hand.  The features were large and regular, the complexion dark, the eyes a pale blue, under bushy brows.  The whole aspect of the man, indeed, was not unworthy of the adjective “Olympian,” already freely applied to it by some of the enthusiastic women students attending his now famous lectures.  One girl artist learned in classical archaeology, and a haunter of the British Museum, had made a charcoal study of a well-known archaistic “Diespiter” of the Augustan period, on the same sheet with a rapid sketch of Meadows when lecturing; a performance which had been much handed about in the lecture-room, though always just avoiding ­strangely enough ­the eyes of the lecturer....  The expression of slumbrous power, the mingling of dream and energy in the Olympian countenance, had been, in the opinion of the majority, extremely well caught.  Only Doris Meadows, the lecturer’s wife, herself an artist, and a much better one than the author of the drawing, had smiled a little queerly on being allowed a sight of it.

However, she was no less excited by the batch of letters her husband had allowed her to open than he by his.  Her bundle included, so it appeared, letters from several leading politicians:  one, discussing in a most animated and friendly tone the lecture of the week before, on “Lord George Bentinck”; and two others dealing with the first lecture of the series, the brilliant pen-portrait of Disraeli, which ­partly owing to feminine influence behind the scenes ­had been given verbatim and with much preliminary trumpeting in two or three Tory newspapers, and had produced a real sensation, of that mild sort which alone the British public ­that does not love lectures ­is capable of receiving from the report of one.  Persons in the political world had relished its plain speaking; dames and counsellors of the Primrose League had read the praise with avidity, and skipped the criticism; while the mere men and women of letters had appreciated a style crisp, unhackneyed, and alive.  The second lecture on “Lord George Bentinck” had been crowded, and the crowd had included several Cabinet Ministers, and those great ladies of the moment who gather like vultures to the feast on any similar occasion.  The third lecture, on “Palmerston and Lord John” ­had been not only crowded, but crowded out, and London was by now fully aware that it possessed in Arthur Meadows a person capable of painting a series of La Bruyere-like portraits of modern men, as vivid, biting, and “topical” ­mutatis mutandis ­as the great French series were in their day.

Applications for the coming lecture on “Lord Randolph” were arriving by every post, and those to follow after ­on men just dead, and others still alive ­would probably have to be given in a much larger hall than that at present engaged, so certain was intelligent London that in going to hear Arthur Meadows on the most admired ­or the most detested ­personalities of the day, they at least ran no risk of wishy-washy panegyric, or a dull caution.  Meadows had proved himself daring both in compliment and attack; nothing could be sharper than his thrusts, or more Olympian than his homage.  There were those indeed who talked of “airs” and “mannerisms,” but their faint voices were lost in the general shouting.

“Wonderful!” said Doris, at last, looking up from the last of these epistles.  “I really didn’t know, Arthur, you were such a great man.”

Her eyes rested on him with a fond but rather puzzled expression.

“Well, of course, dear, you’ve always seen the seamy side of me,” said Meadows, with the slightest change of tone and a laugh.  “Perhaps now you’ll believe me when I say that I’m not always lazy when I seem so ­that a man must have time to think, and smoke, and dawdle, if he’s to write anything decent, and can’t always rush at the first job that offers.  When you thought I was idling ­I wasn’t!  I was gathering up impressions.  Then came an attractive piece of work ­one that suited me ­and I rose to it.  There, you see!”

He threw back his Jovian head, with a look at his wife, half combative, half merry.

Doris’s forehead puckered a little.

“Well, thank Heaven that it has turned out well!” she said, with a deep breath.  “Where we should have been if it hadn’t I’m sure I don’t know!  And, as it is ­By the way, Arthur, have you got that packet ready for New York?” Her tone was quick and anxious.

“What, the proofs of ‘Dizzy’?  Oh, goodness, that’ll do any time.  Don’t bother, Doris.  I’m really rather done ­and this post is ­well, upon my word, it’s overwhelming!” And, gathering up the letters, he threw himself with an air of fatigue into a long chair, his hands behind his head.  “Perhaps after tea and a cigarette I shall feel more fit.”

“Arthur! ­you know to-morrow is the last day for catching the New York mail.”

“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 couldn’t go.”

Meadows sat up with a jerk, all languor dispelled, and held out his hand for the letter.

“Lady Dunstable!  By George!  I thought she’d ask us, ­though you don’t deserve it, Doris, for you didn’t take any trouble at all about her first invitation ­”

“We were engaged!” cried Doris, interrupting him, her eyebrows mounting.

“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.

                              “Yours sincerely,
                                   “Rachel Dunstable.

    “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 sharply.

Doris shook her head.

“The fourth in six months!” she said, sighing.  “And she really is a good girl.”

“I suppose, as usual, she complains of me!” The voice was that of an injured man.

“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, indignantly.

“I dare say it is.  But it has to be cleaned.  When it arrived Jane came to see me in this room, shut the door, and put her back against it ‘There’s another of them beastly copper coal-scuttles come!’ You should have seen her eyes blazing.  ’And I should like to know, ma’am, who’s going to clean it ­’cos I can’t.’  And I just had to promise her it might go dirty.”

“Lazy minx!” said Meadows, good-humouredly, with his mouth full of tea-cake.  “At last I have something good to look at in this room.”  He turned his eyes caressingly towards the new coal-scuttle.  “I suppose I shall have to clean it myself!”

Doris laughed again ­this time almost hysterically ­but was checked by a fresh entrance of Jane, who, with an air of defiance, deposited a heavy parcel on a chair beside her mistress, and flounced out again.

“What is this?” said Doris in consternation. “Books?  More books?  Heavens, Arthur, what have you been ordering now!  I couldn’t sleep last night for thinking of the book-bills.”

“You little goose!  Of course, I must buy books!  Aren’t they my tools, my stock-in-trade?  Haven’t these lectures justified the book-bills a dozen times over?”

This time Arthur Meadows surveyed his wife in real irritation and disgust.

“But, Arthur! ­you could get them all at the London Library ­you know you could!”

“And pray how much time do I waste in going backwards and forwards after books?  Any man of letters worth his salt wants a library of his own ­within reach of his hand.”

“Yes, if he can pay for it!” said Doris, with plaintive emphasis, as she ruefully turned over the costly volumes which the parcel contained.

“Don’t fash yourself, my dear child!  Why, what I’m getting for the Dizzy lecture is alone nearly enough to pay all the book bills.”

“It isn’t!  And just think of all the others!  Well ­never mind!”

Doris’s protesting mood suddenly collapsed.  She sat down on a stool beside her husband, rested her elbow on his knee, and, chin in hand, surveyed him with a softened countenance.  Doris Meadows was not a beauty; only pleasant-faced, with good eyes, and a strong, expressive mouth.  Her brown hair was perhaps her chief point, and she wore it rippled and coiled so as to set off a shapely head and neck.  It was always a secret grievance with her that she had so little positive beauty.  And her husband had never flattered her on the subject.  In the early days of their marriage she had timidly asked him, after one of their bridal dinner-parties in which she had worn her wedding-dress ­“Did I look nice to-night?  Do you ­do you ever think I look pretty, Arthur?” And he had looked her over, with an odd change of expression ­careless affection passing into something critical and cool: ­“I’m never ashamed of you, Doris, in any company.  Won’t you be satisfied with that?” She had been far from satisfied; the phrase had burnt in her memory from then till now.  But she knew Arthur had not meant to hurt her, and she bore him no grudge.  And, by now, she was too well acquainted with the rubs and prose of life, too much occupied with house-books, and rough servants, and the terror of an overdrawn account, to have any time or thought to spare to her own looks.  Fortunately she had an instinctive love for neatness and delicacy; so that her little figure, besides being agile and vigorous ­capable of much dignity too on occasion ­was of a singular trimness and grace in all its simple appointments.  Her trousseau was long since exhausted, and she rarely had a new dress.  But slovenly she could not be.

It was the matter of a new dress which was now indeed running in her mind.  She took up Lady Dunstable’s letter, and read it pensively through again.

“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 determined.

“I haven’t got a single frock that’s fit for Crosby Ledgers.  And I’m not going on tick for a new one!”

“I never heard anything so absurd!  Shan’t we have more money in a few weeks than we’ve had for years?”

“I dare say.  It’s all wanted.  Besides, I have my work to finish.”

“My dear Doris!”

A slight red mounted in Doris’s cheeks.

“Oh, you may be as scornful as you like!  But ten pounds is ten pounds, and I like keeping engagements.”

The “work” in question meant illustrations for a children’s book.  Doris had accepted the commission with eagerness, and had been going regularly to the Campden Hill studio of an Academician ­her mother’s brother ­who was glad to supply her with some of the “properties” she wanted for her drawings.

“I shall soon not allow you to do anything of the kind,” said Meadows with decision.

“On the contrary!  I shall always take paid work when I can get it,” was the firm reply ­“unless ­”

“Unless what?”

“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 seven!”

She stood, half amused, half frowning, beside the bed on which lay her one evening frock.  But the frown passed away, effaced by an expression much softer and tenderer than anything she had allowed Arthur to see of late.  Of course she delighted in Arthur’s success; she was proud, indeed, through and through.  Hadn’t she always known that he had this gift, this quick, vivacious power of narrative, this genius ­for it was something like it ­for literary portraiture?  And now at last the stimulus had come ­and the opportunity with it.  Could she ever forget the anxiety of the first lecture ­the difficulty she had had in making him finish it ­his careless, unbusiness-like management of the whole affair?  But then had come the burst of praise and popularity; and Arthur was a new man.  No difficulty ­or scarcely ­in getting him to work since then!  Applause, so new and intoxicating, had lured him on, as she had been wont to lure the black pony of her childhood with a handful of sugar.  Yes, her Arthur was a genius; she had always known it.  And something of a child too ­lazy, wilful, and sensuous ­that, too, she had known for some time.  And she loved him with all her heart.

“But I won’t have him spoilt by those fine ladies!” she said to herself, with frowning clear-sightedness.  “They make a perfect fool of him.  Now, then, I’d better write to Lady Dunstable.  Of course she ought to have written to me!”

So she sat down and wrote: 

    Dear Lady Dunstable, ­We have much pleasure in accepting your kind
    invitation, and I will let you know our train later.  I have no maid,
    so ­

But at this point Mrs. Meadows, struck by a sudden idea, threw down her pen.

“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.

                              Yours sincerely,
                                   DORIS MEADOWS.

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 trouble.

“The dreadful thing, my dear, is the games they play!” said the wife of a dramatist, whose one successful piece had been followed by years of ill-fortune.

Games?” said Doris.  “Do you mean cards ­for money?”

“Oh, dear no!  Intellectual games. Bouts-rimes; translations ­Lady Dunstable looks out the bits and some people think the words ­beforehand; paragraphs on a subject ­in a particular style ­Pater’s, or Ruskin’s, or Carlyle’s.  Each person throws two slips into a hat.  On one you write the subject, on another the name of the author whose style is to be imitated.  Then you draw.  Of course Lady Dunstable carries off all the honours.  But then everybody believes she spends all the mornings preparing these things.  She never comes down till nearly lunch.”

“This is really appalling!” said Doris, with round eyes.  “I have forgotten everything I ever knew.”

As for her own impressions of the great lady, she had only seen her once in the semi-darkness of the lecture-room, and could only remember a long, sallow face, with striking black eyes and a pointed chin, a general look of distinction and an air of one accustomed to the “chief seat” at any board ­whether the feasts of reason or those of a more ordinary kind.

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 privilege.

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.