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But the Guardsman had vanished. For reasons of his own he did not wish to meet Garsington. Perhaps he too had been a member of a certain club.
"Oh, there you are, Honoria," said her brother, "I thought that I should be sure to find you somewhere in this beastly squash. Look here, I have something to tell you."
"Good news or bad?" said Lady Honoria, playing with her fan. "If it is bad, keep it, for I am enjoying myself very much, and I don't want my evening spoilt."
"Trust you for that, Honoria; but look here, it's jolly good, about as good as can be for that prig of a husband of yours. What do you think?
that brat of a boy, the son of old Sir Robert Bingham and the cook or some one, you know, is----"
"Not dead, not dead?" said Honoria in deep agitation.
"Dead as ditch-water," replied his lordship. "I heard it at the club.
There was a lawyer fellow there dining with somebody there, and they got talking about Bingham, when the lawyer said, 'Oh, he's Sir Geoffrey Bingham now. Old Sir Robert's heir is dead. I saw the telegram myself.'"
"Oh, this is almost too good to be true," said Honoria. "Why, it means eight thousand a year to us."
"I told you it was pretty good," said her brother. "You ought to stand me a commission out of the swag. At any rate, let's go and drink to the news. Come on, it is time for supper and I am awfully done. I must screw myself up."
Lady Honoria took his arm. As they walked down the wide flower-hung stair they met a very great Person indeed, coming up.
"Ah, Lady Honoria," said the great Person, "I have something to say that will please you, I think," and he bent towards her, and spoke very low, then, with a little bow, pa.s.sed on.
"What is the old boy talking about?" asked her brother.
"Why, what do you think? We are in luck's way to-night. He says that they are offering Geoffrey the Under Secretaryship of the Home Office."
"He'll be a bigger prig than ever now," growled Lord Garsington. "Yes, it is luck though; let us hope it won't turn."
They sat down to supper, and Lord Garsington, who had already been dining, helped himself pretty freely to champagne. Before them was a silver candelabra and on each of the candles was fixed a little painted paper shade. One of them got wrong, and a footman tried to reach over Lord Garsington's head to put it straight.
"I'll do it," said he.
"No, no; let the man," said Lady Honoria. "Look! it is going to catch fire!"
"Nonsense," he answered, rising solemnly and reaching his arm towards the shade. As he touched it, it caught fire; indeed, by touching it he caused it to catch fire. He seized hold of it, and made an effort to put it out, but it burnt his fingers.
"Curse the thing!" he said aloud, and threw it from him. It fell flaming in his sister's dress among the thickest of the filmy laces; they caught, and instantly two wreathing snakes of fire shot up her. She sprang from her seat and rushed screaming down the room, an awful ma.s.s of flame!
In ten more minutes Lady Honoria had left this world and its pleasures to those who still lived to taste them.
An hour pa.s.sed. Geoffrey still sat brooding heavily over his pipe in the study in Bolton Street and waiting for Honoria, when a knock came to his door. The servants had all gone to bed, all except the sick nurse.
He rose and opened it himself. A little red-haired, pale-faced man staggered in.
"Why, Garsington, is it you? What do you want at this hour?"
"Screw yourself up, Bingham, I've something to tell you," he answered in a thick voice.
"What is it? another disaster, I suppose. Is somebody else dead?"
"Yes; somebody is. Honoria's dead. Burnt to death at the ball."
"Great G.o.d! Honoria burnt to death. I had better go----"
"I advise you not, Bingham. I wouldn't go to the hospital if I were you.
Screw yourself up, and if you can, give me something to drink--I'm about done--I must screw myself up."
And here we may leave this most fortunate and gifted man. Farewell to Geoffrey Bingham.
Thus, then, did these human atoms work out their destinies, these little grains of animated dust, blown hither and thither by a breath which came they knew not whence.
If there be any malicious Principle among the Powers around us that deigns to find amus.e.m.e.nt in the futile vagaries of man, well might it laugh, and laugh again, at the great results of all this scheming, of all these desires, loves and hates; and if there be any pitiful Principle, well might it sigh over the infinite pathos of human helplessness. Owen Davies lost in his own pa.s.sion; Geoffrey crowned with prosperity and haunted by undying sorrow; Honoria perishing wretchedly in her hour of satisfied ambition; Beatrice sacrificing herself in love and blindness, and thereby casting out her joy.
Oh, if she had been content to humbly trust in the Providence above her; if she had but left that deed undared for one short week!
But Geoffrey still lived, and the child recovered, after hanging for a while between life and death, and was left to comfort him. May she survive to be a happy wife and mother, living under conditions more favourable to her well-being than those which trampled out the life of that mistaken woman, the ill-starred, great-souled Beatrice, and broke her father's heart.
Say--what are we? We are but arrows winged with fears and shot from darkness into darkness; we are blind leaders of the blind, aimless beaters of this wintry air; lost travellers by many stony paths ending in one end. Tell us, you, who have outworn the common tragedy and pa.s.sed the narrow way, what lies beyond its gate? You are dumb, or we cannot hear you speak.
But Beatrice knows to-day!