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.”
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.