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

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 hérésies 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.