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[Illustration: "Look there, Doris - you see that path? Let's go on to
the moor a little."]

A Great Success


Mrs. Humphry Ward
Author of "Eltham House," "Delia Blanchflower," etc.

New York
Hearst's International Library Co.



"Arthur, - what did you give the man?"

"Half a crown, my dear! Now don't make a fuss. I know exactly what
you're going to say!"

"_Half a crown!_" said Doris Meadows, in consternation. "The fare was
one and twopence. Of course he thought you mad. But I'll get it back!"

And she ran to the open window, crying "Hi!" to the driver of a
taxi-cab, who, having put down his fares, was just on the point of
starting from the door of the small semi-detached house in a South
Kensington street, which owned Arthur and Doris Meadows for its master
and mistress.

The driver turned at her call.

"Hi! - Stop! You've been over-paid!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris's forehead puckered a little.

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

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

"Arthur! - you know to-morrow is the last day for catching the New York

"Well, hang it, if I don't catch it, they must wait, that's all!" said
Meadows peevishly. "If they won't take it, somebody else will."

"They" represented the editor and publisher of a famous New York
magazine, who had agreed by cable to give a large sum for the "Dizzy"
lecture, provided it reached them by a certain date.

Doris twisted her lip.

"Arthur, _do_ think of the bills!"

"Darling, don't be a nuisance! If I succeed I shall make money. And if
this isn't a success I don't know what is." He pointed to the letters on
his lap, an impatient gesture which dislodged a certain number of them,
so that they came rustling to the floor.

"Hullo! - here's one you haven't opened. Another coronet! Gracious! I
believe it's the woman who asked us to dinner a fortnight ago, and we
couldn't go."

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

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

"We were _engaged_!" cried Doris, interrupting him, her eyebrows

"We could have got out of it perfectly. But now, listen to this:

"Dear Mr. Meadows, - I hope your wife will excuse my writing to you
instead of to her, as you and I are already acquainted. Can I induce
you both to come to Crosby Ledgers for a week-end, on July 16? We
hope to have a pleasant party, a diplomat or two, the Home
Secretary, and General Hichen - perhaps some others. You would, I am
sure, admire our hill country, and I should like to show you some of
the precious autographs we have inherited.

"Yours sincerely,

"If your wife brings a maid, perhaps she will kindly let me know."

Doris laughed, and the amused scorn of her laugh annoyed her husband.
However, at that moment their small house-parlourmaid entered with the
tea-tray, and Doris rose to make a place for it. The parlourmaid put it
down with much unnecessary noise, and Doris, looking at her in alarm,
saw that her expression was sulky and her eyes red. When the girl had
departed, Mrs. Meadows said with resignation -

"There! that one will give me notice to-morrow!"

"Well, I'm sure you could easily get a better!" said her husband

Doris shook her head.

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

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

"Yes, dear, she does! They all do. You give them a lot of extra work
already, and all these things you have been buying lately - oh, Arthur,
if you _wouldn't_ buy things! - mean more work. You know that copper
coal-scuttle you sent in yesterday?"

"Well, isn't it a beauty? - a real Georgian piece!" cried Meadows,

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

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

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

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

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

This time Arthur Meadows surveyed his wife in real irritation and

"But, Arthur! - you could get them _all_ at the London Library - you know
you could!"

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

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

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

"It isn't! And just think of all the others! Well - never mind!"

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

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

"You can accept for yourself, Arthur, of course," she said, looking up.
"But I can't possibly go."

Meadows protested loudly.

"You have no excuse at all!" he declared hotly. "Lady Dunstable has
given us a month's notice. You _can't_ get out of it. Do you want me to
be known as a man who accepts smart invitations without his wife? There
is no more caddish creature in the world."

Doris could not help smiling upon him. But her mouth was none the less

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

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

"I dare say. It's all wanted. Besides, I have my work to finish."

"My dear Doris!"

A slight red mounted in Doris's cheeks.

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

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

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

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

"Unless what?"

"You know," she said quietly. Meadows was silent a moment, then reached
out for her hand, which she gave him. They had no children; and, as he
well knew, Doris pined for them. The look in her eyes when she nursed
her friends' babies had often hurt him. But after all, why despair? It
was only four years from their wedding day.

But he was not going to be beaten in the matter of Crosby Ledgers. They
had a long and heated discussion, at the end of which Doris surrendered.

"Very well! I shall have to spend a week in doing up my old black gown,
and it will be a botch at the end of it. But - _nothing - will induce
me_ - to get a new one!"

She delivered this ultimatum with her hands behind her, a defeated, but
still resolute young person. Meadows, having won the main battle, left
the rest to Providence, and went off to his "den" to read all his
letters through once more - agreeable task! - and to write a note of
acceptance to the Home Secretary, who had asked him to luncheon. Doris
was not included in the invitation. "But anybody may ask a husband - or a
wife - to lunch, separately. That's understood. I shan't do it often,
however - that I can tell them!" And justified by this Spartan temper as
to the future, he wrote a charming note, accepting the delights of the
present, so full of epigram that the Cabinet Minister to whom it was
addressed had no sooner read it than he consigned it instanter to his
wife's collection of autographs.

Meanwhile Doris was occupied partly in soothing the injured feelings of
Jane, and partly in smoothing out and inspecting her one evening frock.
She decided that it would take her a week to "do it up," and that she
would do it herself. "A week wasted!" she thought - "and all for nothing.
What do we want with Lady Dunstable! She'll flatter Arthur, and make him
lazy. They all do! And I've no use for her at all. _Maid_ indeed! Does
she think nobody can exist without that appendage? How I should like to
make her live on four hundred a year, with a husband that will spend

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

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

So she sat down and wrote:

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

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

"Heavens! - suppose I took Jane? Somebody told me the other day that
nobody got any attention at Crosby Ledgers without a maid. And it might
bribe Jane into staying. I should feel a horrid snob - but it would be
rather fun - especially as Lady Dunstable will certainly be immensely
surprised. The fare would be only about five shillings - Jane would get
her food for two days at the Dunstables' expense - and I should have a
friend. I'll do it."

So, with her eyes dancing, Doris tore up her note, and began again:

Dear Lady Dunstable, - We have much pleasure in accepting your kind
invitation, and I will let you know our train later. As you kindly
permit me, I will bring a maid.

Yours sincerely,

* * * * *

The month which elapsed between Lady Dunstable's invitation and the
Crosby Ledgers party was spent by Doris first in "doing up" her frock,
and then in taking the bloom off it at various dinner-parties to which
they were already invited as the "celebrities" of the moment; in making
Arthur's wardrobe presentable; in watching over the tickets and receipts
of the weekly lectures; in collecting the press cuttings about them; in
finishing her illustrations; and in instructing the awe-struck Jane, now
perfectly amenable, in the mysteries that would be expected of her.

Meanwhile Mrs. Meadows heard various accounts from artistic and literary
friends of the parties at Crosby Ledgers. These accounts were generally
prefaced by the laughing remark, "But anything _I_ can say is ancient
history. Lady Dunstable dropped us long ago!"

Anyway, it appeared that the mistress of Crosby Ledgers could be
charming, and could also be exactly the reverse. She was a creature of
whims and did precisely as she pleased. Everything she did apparently
was acceptable to Lord Dunstable, who admired her blindly. But in one
point at least she was a disappointed woman. Her son, an unsatisfactory
youth of two-and-twenty, was seldom to be seen under his parents' roof,
and it was rumoured that he had already given them a great deal of

"The dreadful thing, my dear, is the _games_ they play!" said the wife
of a dramatist, whose one successful piece had been followed by years of

"_Games?_" said Doris. "Do you mean cards - for money?"

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

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

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

As the days went on, Doris, for all her sturdy self-reliance, began to
feel a little nervous inwardly. She had been quite well-educated, first
at a good High School, and then in the class-rooms of a provincial
University; and, as the clever daughter of a clever doctor in large
practice, she had always been in touch with the intellectual world,
especially on its scientific side. And for nearly two years before her
marriage she had been a student at the Slade School. But since her
imprudent love-match with a literary man had plunged her into the
practical work of a small household, run on a scanty and precarious
income, she had been obliged, one after another, to let the old
interests go. Except the drawing. That was good enough to bring her a
little money, as an illustrator, designer of Christmas cards, etc.; and
she filled most of her spare time with it.

But now she feverishly looked out some of her old books - Pater's
"Studies," a volume of Huxley's Essays, "Shelley" and "Keats" in the
"Men of Letters" series. She borrowed two or three of the political
biographies with which Arthur's shelves were crowded, having all the
while, however, the dispiriting conviction that Lady Dunstable had been
dandled on the knees of every English Prime Minister since her birth,
and had been the blood relation of all of them, except perhaps Mr. G.,
whose blood no doubt had not been blue enough to entitle him to the

However, she must do her best. She kept these feelings and preparations
entirely secret from Arthur, and she saw the day of the visit dawn in a
mood of mingled expectation and revolt.


It was a perfect June evening: Doris was seated on one of the spreading
lawns of Crosby Ledgers, - a low Georgian house, much added to at various
times, and now a pleasant medley of pillared verandahs, tiled roofs,

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Online LibraryMrs. Humphry WardA Great Success → online text (page 1 of 8)