“I do!” she said, with energy. “Can’t somebody stop that? It will break their hearts!”
Doris and Uncle Charles looked at her in amazement.
“Whose hearts?” said the painter.
“Lord and Lady Dunstable’s.”
“You know them?” exclaimed Doris.
“I used to know them—quite well,” said the girl, quietly. “My father had one of Lord Dunstable’s livings. He died last year. He didn’t like Lady Dunstable. He quarrelled with her, because—because she once did a very rude thing to me. But this would be too awful! And poor Lord Dunstable! Everybody likes him. Oh—it must be stopped!—it must!”
When Doris reached home that evening, the little Kensington house, with half its carpets up and all but two of its rooms under dust-sheets, looked particularly lonely and unattractive. Arthur’s study was unrecognisable. No cheerful litter anywhere. No smell of tobacco, no sign of a male presence! Doris, walking restlessly from room to room, had never felt so forsaken, so dismally certain that the best of life was done. Moreover, she had fully expected to find a letter from Arthur waiting for her; and there was nothing.
It was positively comic that under such circumstances anybody should expect her—Doris Meadows—to trouble her head about Lady Dunstable’s affairs. Of course she would feel it if her son made a ridiculous and degrading marriage. But why not?—why shouldn’t he come to grief like anybody else’s son? Why should heaven and earth be moved in order to prevent it?—especially by the woman to whose possible jealousy and pain Lady Dunstable had certainly never given the most passing thought.
All the same, the distress shown by that odd girl, Miss Wigram, and her appeal both to the painter and his niece to intervene and save the foolish youth, kept echoing in Doris’s memory, although neither she nor Bentley had received it with any cordiality. Doris had soon made out that this girl, Alice Wigram, was indeed the clergyman’s daughter whom Lady Dunstable had snubbed so unkindly some twelve months before. She was evidently a sweet-natured, susceptible creature, to whom Lord Dunstable had taken a fancy, in his fatherly way, during occasional visits to her father’s rectory, and of whom he had spoken to his wife. That Lady Dunstable should have unkindly slighted this motherless girl, who had evidently plenty of natural capacity under her shyness, was just like her, and Doris’s feelings of antagonism to the tyrant were only sharpened by her acquaintance with the victim. Why should Miss Wigram worry her self? Lord Dunstable? Well, but after all, capable men should keep such wives in order. If Lord Dunstable had not been scandalously weak, Lady Dunstable would not have become a terror to her sex.