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- BEATRICE - 30/60 -
"Oh, did she?" he said.
At that moment the parlourmaid came to say that Lady Honoria and the "gentleman" were waiting for dinner. Geoffrey asked her casually what time Miss Effie had reached home.
"About half-past five, sir. Anne said the cab was blocked in the fog."
"Very well. Tell her ladyship that I shall be down in a minute."
"Daddy," said the child, "I haven't said my prayers. Mother did not come, and Anne said it was all nonsense about prayers. Auntie did always hear me my prayers."
"Yes, dear, and so will I. There, kneel upon my lap and say them."
In the middle of the prayers--which Effie did not remember as well as she might have done--the parlourmaid arrived again.
"Please, sir, her ladyship----"
"Tell her ladyship I am coming, and that if she is in a hurry she can go to dinner! Go on, love."
Then he kissed her and put her to bed again.
"Daddy," said Effie, as he was going, "shall I see auntie Beatrice any more?"
"I hope so, dear."
"And shall you see her any more? You want to see her, don't you, daddy? She did love you very much!"
Geoffrey could bear it no longer. The truth is always sharper when it comes from the mouth of babes and sucklings. With a hurried good-night he fled.
In the little drawing-room he found Lady Honoria, very well dressed, and also her friend, whose name was Mr. Dunstan. Geoffrey knew him at once for an exceedingly wealthy man of small birth, and less breeding, but a burning and a shining light in the Garsington set. Mr. Dunstan was anxious to raise himself in society, and he thought that notwithstanding her poverty, Lady Honoria might be useful to him in this respect. Hence his presence there to-night.
"How do you do, Geoffrey?" said his wife, advancing to greet him with a kiss of peace. "You look very well. But what an immense time you have been dressing. Poor Mr. Dunstan is starving. Let me see. You know Mr. Dunstan, I think. Dinner, Mary."
Geoffrey apologised for being late, and shook hands politely with Mr. Dunstan--Saint Dunstan he was generally called on account of his rather clerical appearance and in sarcastic allusion to his somewhat shady reputation. Then they went in to dinner.
"Sorry there is no lady for you, Geoffrey; but you must have had plenty of ladies' society lately. By the way, how is Miss--Miss Granger? Would you believe it, Mr. Dunstan? that shocking husband of mine has been passing the last month in the company of one of the loveliest girls I ever saw, who knows Latin and law and everything else under the sun. She began by saving his life, they were upset together out of a canoe, you know. Isn't it romantic?"
Saint Dunstan made some appropriate--or, rather inappropriate--remark to the effect that he hoped Mr. Bingham had made the most of such unrivalled opportunities, adding, with a deep sigh, that no lovely young lady had ever saved his life that he might live for her, &c., &c.
Here Geoffrey broke in without much ceremony. To him it seemed a desecration to listen while this person was making his feeble jokes about Beatrice.
"Well, dear," he said, addressing his wife, "and what have you been doing with yourself all this time?"
"Mourning for you, Geoffrey, and enjoying myself exceedingly in the intervals. We have had a delightful time, have we not, Mr. Dunstan? Mr. Dunstan has also been staying at the Hall, you know."
"How could it be otherwise when you were there, Lady Honoria?" answered the Saint in that strain of compliment affected by such men, and which, to tell the truth, jarred on its object, who was after all a lady.
"You know, Geoffrey," she went on, "the Garsingtons have re-furnished the large hall and their drawing-room. It cost eighteen hundred pounds, but the result is lovely. The drawing-room is done in hand- painted white satin, walls and all, and the hall in old oak."
"Indeed!" he answered, reflecting the while that Lord Garsington might as well have paid some of his debts before he spent eighteen hundred pounds on his drawing-room furniture.
Then the Saint and Lady Honoria drifted into a long and animated conversation about their fellow guests, which Geoffrey scarcely tried to follow. Indeed, the dinner was a dull one for him, and he added little or nothing to the stock of talk.
When his wife left the room, however, he had to say something, so they spoke of shooting. The Saint had a redeeming feature--he was somewhat of a sportsman, though a poor one, and he described to Geoffrey a new pair of hammerless guns, which he had bought for a trifling sum of a hundred and forty guineas, recommending the pattern to his notice.
"Yes," answered Geoffrey, "I daresay that they are very nice; but, you see, they are beyond me. A poor man cannot afford so much for a pair of guns."
"Oh, if that is all," answered his guest, "I will sell you these; they are a little long in the stock for me, and you can pay me when you like. Or, hang it all, I have plenty of guns. I'll be generous and give them to you. If I cannot afford to be generous, I don't know who can!"
"Thank you very much, Mr. Dunstan," answered Geoffrey coldly, "but I am not in the habit of accepting such presents from my--acquaintances. Will you have a glass of sherry?--no. Then shall we join Lady Honoria?"
This speech quite crushed the vulgar but not ill-meaning Saint, and Geoffrey was sorry for it a moment after he had made it. But he was weary and out of temper. Why did his wife bring such people to the house? Very shortly afterwards their guest took his leave, reflecting that Bingham was a conceited ass, and altogether too much for him. "And I don't believe that he has got a thousand a year," he reflected to himself, "and the title is his wife's. I suppose that is what he married her for. She's a much better sort than he is, any way, though I don't quite make her out either--one can't go very far with her. But she is the daughter of a peer and worth cultivating, but not when Bingham is at home--not if I know it."
"What have you said to Mr. Dunstan to make him go away so soon, Geoffrey?" asked his wife.
"Said to him? oh, I don't know. He offered to give me a pair of guns, and I told him that I did not accept presents from my acquaintances. Really, Honoria, I don't want to interfere with your way of life, but I do not understand how you can associate with such people as this Mr. Dunstan."
"Associate with him!" answered Lady Honoria. "Do you suppose I want to associate with him? Do you suppose that I don't know what the man is? But beggars cannot be choosers; he may be a cad, but he has thirty thousand a year, and we simply cannot afford to throw away an acquaintance with thirty thousand a year. It is too bad of you, Geoffrey," she went on with rising temper, "when you know all that I must put up with in our miserable poverty-stricken life, to take every opportunity of making yourself disagreeable to the people I think it wise to ask to come and see us. Here I return from comfort to this wretched place, and the first thing that you do is make a fuss. Mr. Dunstan has got boxes at several of the best theaters, and he offered to let me have one whenever I liked--and now of course there is an end of it. It is too bad, I say!"
"It is really curious, Honoria," said her husband, "to see what obligations you are ready to put yourself under in search of pleasure. It is not dignified of you to accept boxes at theatres from this gentleman."
"Nonsense. There is no obligation about it. If he gave us a box, of course he would make a point of looking in during the evening, and then telling his friends that it was Lady Honoria Bingham he was speaking to--that is the exchange. I want to go to the theatre; he wants to get into good society--there you have the thing in a nutshell. It is done every day. The fact of the matter is, Geoffrey," she went on, looking very much as though she were about to burst into a flood of angry tears, "as I said just now, beggars cannot be choosers--I cannot live like the wife of a banker's clerk. I must have /some/ amusement, and /some/ comfort, before I become an old woman. If you don't like it, why did you entrap me into this wretched marriage, before I was old enough to know better, or why do you not make enough money to keep me in a way suitable to my position?"
"We have argued that question before, Honoria," said Geoffrey, keeping his temper with difficulty, "and now there is another thing I wish to say to you. Do you know that detestable woman Anne stopped for more than half an hour at Paddington Station this evening, flirting with a ticket collector, instead of bringing Effie home at once, as I told her to do. I am very angry about it. She is not to be relied on; we shall have some accident with the child before we have done. Cannot you discharge her and get another nurse?"
"No, I cannot. She is the one comfort I have. Where am I going to find another woman who can make dresses like Anne--she saves me a hundred a year--I don't care if she flirted with fifty ticket collectors. I suppose you got this story from Effie; the child ought to be whipped for tale-bearing, and I daresay that it is not true."
"Effie will certainly not be whipped," answered Geoffrey sternly. "I warn you that it will go very badly with anybody who lays a finger on her."
"Oh, very well, ruin the child. Go your own way, Geoffrey! At any rate I am not going to stop here to listen to any more abuse. Good-night," and she went.
Geoffrey sat down, and lit a cigarette. "A pleasant home-coming," he
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