"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 heresies 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.