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

“‘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 rôle 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.”