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

When Doris reached home that evening, the little Kensington house, with half its carpets up and all but two of its rooms under dust-sheets, looked particularly lonely and unattractive.  Arthur’s study was unrecognisable.  No cheerful litter anywhere.  No smell of tobacco, no sign of a male presence!  Doris, walking restlessly from room to room, had never felt so forsaken, so dismally certain that the best of life was done.  Moreover, she had fully expected to find a letter from Arthur waiting for her; and there was nothing.

It was positively comic that under such circumstances anybody should expect her ­Doris Meadows ­to trouble her head about Lady Dunstable’s affairs.  Of course she would feel it if her son made a ridiculous and degrading marriage.  But why not? ­why shouldn’t he come to grief like anybody else’s son?  Why should heaven and earth be moved in order to prevent it? ­especially by the woman to whose possible jealousy and pain Lady Dunstable had certainly never given the most passing thought.

All the same, the distress shown by that odd girl, Miss Wigram, and her appeal both to the painter and his niece to intervene and save the foolish youth, kept echoing in Doris’s memory, although neither she nor Bentley had received it with any cordiality.  Doris had soon made out that this girl, Alice Wigram, was indeed the clergyman’s daughter whom Lady Dunstable had snubbed so unkindly some twelve months before.  She was evidently a sweet-natured, susceptible creature, to whom Lord Dunstable had taken a fancy, in his fatherly way, during occasional visits to her father’s rectory, and of whom he had spoken to his wife.  That Lady Dunstable should have unkindly slighted this motherless girl, who had evidently plenty of natural capacity under her shyness, was just like her, and Doris’s feelings of antagonism to the tyrant were only sharpened by her acquaintance with the victim.  Why should Miss Wigram worry her self?  Lord Dunstable?  Well, but after all, capable men should keep such wives in order.  If Lord Dunstable had not been scandalously weak, Lady Dunstable would not have become a terror to her sex.

As for Uncle Charles, he had simply declined all responsibility in the matter.  He had never seen the Dunstables, wouldn’t know them from Adam, and had no concern whatever in what happened to their son.  The situation merely excited in him one man’s natural amusement at the folly of another.  The boy was more than of age.  Really he and his mother must look after themselves.  To meddle with the young man’s love affairs, simply because he happened to visit your studio in the company of a lady, would be outrageous.  So the painter laughed, shook his head, and went back to his picture.  Then Miss Wigram, looking despondently from the silent Doris to the artist at work, had said with sudden energy, “I must find out about her!  I’m ­I’m sure she’s a horrid woman!  Can you tell me, sir” ­she addressed Bentley ­“the name of the gentleman who was painting her before she came here?”

Bentley had hummed and hawed a little, twisting his red moustache, and finally had given the name and address; whereupon Miss Wigram had gathered up her papers, some of which had drifted to the floor between her table and Doris’s easel, and had taken an immediate departure, a couple of hours before her usual time, throwing, as she left the studio, a wistful and rather puzzled look at Mrs. Meadows.

Doris congratulated herself that she had kept her own counsel on the subject of the Dunstables, both with Uncle Charles and Miss Wigram.  Neither of them had guessed that she had any personal acquaintance with them.  She tried now to put the matter out of her thoughts.  Jane brought in a tray for her mistress, and Doris supped meagrely in Arthur’s deserted study, thinking, as the sunset light came in across the dusty street, of that flame and splendour which such weather must be kindling on the moors, of the blue and purple distances, the glens of rocky mountains hung in air, “the gleam, the shadow, and the peace supreme”!  She remembered how on their September honeymoon they had wandered in Ross-shire, how the whole land was dyed crimson by the heather, and how impossible it was to persuade Arthur to walk discreetly rather than, like any cockney tripper, with his arm round his sweetheart.  Scotland had not been far behind the Garden of Eden under those circumstances.  But Arthur was now pursuing the higher, the intellectual joys.

She finished her supper, and then sat down to write to her husband.  Was she going to tell him anything about the incident of the afternoon?  Why should she?  Why should she give him the chance of becoming more than ever Lady Dunstable’s friend ­pegging out an eternal claim upon her gratitude?

Doris wrote her letter.  She described the progress of the spring cleaning; she reported that her sixth illustration was well forward, and that Uncle Charles was wrestling with another historical picture, a machine neither better nor worse than all the others.  She thought that after all Jane would soon give warning; and she, Doris, had spent three pounds in petty cash since he went away; how, she could not remember, but it was all in her account book.

And she concluded: 

I understand then that we meet at Crewe on Friday fortnight?  I have heard of a lodging near Capel Curig which sounds delightful.  We might do a week’s climbing and then go on to the sea.  I really shall want a holiday.  Has there not been ten minutes even ­since you arrived ­to write a letter in? ­or a postcard?  Shall I send you a few addressed?

Having thus finished what seemed to her the dullest letter she had ever written in her life, she looked at it a while, irresolutely, then put it in an envelope hastily, addressed, stamped it, and rang the bell for Jane to run across the street with it and post it.  After which, she sat idle a little while with flushed cheeks, while the twilight gathered.

The gate of the trim front garden swung on its hinges.  Doris turned to look.  She saw, to her astonishment, that the girl-accountant of the morning, Miss Wigram, was coming up the flagged path to the house.  What could she want?

“Oh, Mrs. Meadows ­I’m so sorry to disturb you ­” said the visitor, in some agitation, as Doris, summoned by Jane, entered the dust-sheeted drawing-room.  “But you dropped an envelope with an address this afternoon.  I picked it up with some of my papers and never discovered it till I got home.”

She held out the envelope.  Doris took it, and flushed vividly.  It was the envelope with his Scotch address which Arthur had written out for her before leaving home ­“care of the Lord Dunstable, Franick Castle, Pitlochry, Perthshire, N.B.”  She had put it in her portfolio, out of which it had no doubt slipped while she was at work.

She and Miss Wigram eyed each other.  The girl was evidently agitated.  But she seemed not to know how to begin what she had to say.

Doris broke the silence.

“You were astonished to find that I know the Dunstables?”

“Oh, no! ­I didn’t think ­” stammered her visitor ­“I supposed some friend of yours might be staying there.”

“My husband is staying there,” said Doris, quietly.  Really it was too much trouble to tell a falsehood.  Her pride refused.

“Oh, I see!” cried Miss Wigram, though in fact she was more bewildered than before.  Why should this extraordinary little lady have behaved at the studio as if she had never heard of the Dunstables, and be now confessing that her husband was actually staying in their house?

Doris smiled ­with perfect self-possession.

“Please sit down.  You think it odd, of course, that I didn’t tell you I knew the Dunstables, while we were talking about them.  The fact is I didn’t want to be mixed up with the affair at all.  We have only lately made acquaintance with the Dunstables.  Lady Dunstable is my husband’s friend.  I don’t like her very much.  But neither of us knows her well enough to go and tell her tales about her son.”

Miss Wigram considered ­her gentle, troubled eyes bent upon Doris.  “Of course ­I know ­how many people dislike Lady Dunstable.  She did a ­rather cruel thing to me once.  The thought of it humiliated and discouraged me for a long time.  It made me almost glad to leave home.  And of course she hasn’t won Mr. Herbert’s confidence at all.  She has always snubbed and disapproved of him.  Oh, I knew him very little.  I have hardly ever spoken to him.  You saw he didn’t recognise me this afternoon.  But my father used to go over to Crosby Ledgers to coach him in the holidays, and he often told me that as a boy he was terrified of his mother.  She either took no notice of him at all, or she was always sneering at him, and scolding him.  As soon as ever he came of age and got a little money of his own, he declared he wouldn’t live at home.  His father wanted him to go into Parliament or the army, but he said he hated the army, and if he was such a dolt as his mother thought him it would be ridiculous to attempt politics.  And so he just drifted up to town and looked out for people that would make much of him, and wouldn’t snub him.  And that, of course, was how he got into the toils of a woman like that!”

The girl threw up her hands tragically.

Doris sat up, with energy.

“But what on earth,” she said, “does it matter to you or to me?”

“Oh, can’t you see?” said the other, flushing deeply, and with the tears in her eyes.  “My father had one of Lord Dunstable’s livings.  We lived on that estate for years.  Everybody loved Lord Dunstable.  And though Lady Dunstable makes enemies, there’s a great respect for the family.  They’ve been there since Queen Elizabeth’s time.  And it’s dreadful to think of a woman like ­well, like that! ­reigning at Crosby Ledgers.  I think of the poor people.  Lady Dunstable’s good to them; though of course you wouldn’t hear anything about it, unless you lived there.  She tries to do her duty to them ­she really does ­in her own way.  And, of course, they respect her.  No Dunstable has ever done anything disgraceful!  Isn’t there something in ‘Noblesse oblige’?  Think of this woman at the head of that estate!”

“Well, upon my word,” said Doris, after a pause, “you are feudal.  Don’t you feel yourself that you are old-fashioned?”

Mrs. Meadows’s half-sarcastic look at first intimidated her visitor, and then spurred her into further attempts to explain herself.

“I daresay it’s old-fashioned,” she said slowly, “but I’m sure it’s what father would have felt.  Anyway, I went off to try and find out what I could.  I went first to a little club I belong to ­for professional women ­near the Strand, and I asked one or two women I found there ­who know artists ­and models ­and write for papers.  And very soon I found out a great deal.  I didn’t have to go to the man whose address Mr. Bentley gave me.  Madame Vavasour is a horrid woman!  This is not the first young man she’s fleeced ­by a long way.  There was a man ­younger than Mr. Dunstable, a boy of nineteen ­three years ago.  She got him to promise to marry her; and the parents came down, and paid her enormously to let him go.  Now she’s got through all that money, and she boasts she’s going to marry young Dunstable before his parents know anything about it.  She’s going to make sure of a peerage this time.  Oh, she’s odious!  She’s greedy, she’s vulgar, she’s false!  And of course” ­the girl’s eyes grew wide and scared ­“there may be other things much worse.  How do we know?”

“How do we know indeed!” said Doris, with a shrug.  “Well!” ­she turned her eyes full upon her guest ­“and what are you going to do?”

An eager look met hers.

“Couldn’t you ­couldn’t you write to Mr. Meadows, and ask him to warn Lady Dunstable?”

Doris shook her head.

“Why don’t you do it yourself?”

The girl flushed uncomfortably.  “You see, father quarrelled with her about that unkind thing she did to me ­oh, it isn’t worth telling! ­but he wrote her an angry letter, and they never spoke afterwards.  Lady Dunstable never forgives that kind of thing.  If people find fault with her, she just drops them.  I don’t believe she’d read a letter from me!”

Les offenses, etc.,” said Doris, meditating.  “But what are the facts?  Has the boy actually promised to marry her?  She may have been telling lies to my uncle.”

“She tells everybody so.  I saw a girl who knows her quite well.  They write for the same paper ­it’s a fashion paper.  You saw that hat, by the way, she had on?  She gets them as perquisites from the smart shops she writes about.  She has a whole cupboard of them at home, and when she wants money she sells them for what she can get.  Well, she told me that Madame ­they all call her Madame, though they all know quite well that she’s not married, and that her name is Flink ­boasts perpetually of her engagement.  It seems that he was ill in the winter ­in his lodgings.  His mother knew nothing about it ­he wouldn’t tell her, and Madame nursed him, and made a fuss of him.  And Mr. Dunstable thought he owed her a great deal ­and she made scenes and told him she had compromised herself by coming to nurse him ­and all that kind of nonsense.  And at last he promised to marry her ­in writing.  And now she’s so sure of him that she just bullies him ­you saw how she ordered him about to-day.”

“Well, why doesn’t he marry her, if he’s such a fool ­why hasn’t he married her long ago?” cried Doris.

Miss Wigram looked distressed.

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

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