Leonard Merrick.

Cynthia, a daughter of the Philistines online

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* I got her the work,' he said ; * it just happened I
knew of a vacancy.'

* Well, upon my soul I * exclaimed Humphrey. * I
wish you'd get some for me. Doesn't it just happen
that you know of another ? '

* Ah ! you aren't so easy to accommodate. Miss
Wix is a maiden, and her exes aren't large. She gets
a guinea a week, and is affluent with it. It's a
beautiful publication, sonny — a journal for young
gals — and it sells like hot cakes. I tell you. The
Outpost would give its ears for such a circulation.'

Kent stared at him incredulously.

*A journal for young girls!' he echoed. *Th6
acidulated Wix I Is this a fact, or delirium tre-
mens ? '

*Fact, I swear. She does the ** Correspondence *'

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page; she's been on it a fortnight now. She's
" Aunt " something — I forget what, at the moment ;
they're always " Aunt " something on that kind of
paper. The young gals write and ask her questions
on their personal affairs. One says she is desperately
in love with a gentleman of her own age — seventeen
— and isn't it time he told her his intentions, as his
" manner is rather like that of a lover " ? and another
inquires . if " marriage between first cousins once re-
moved is punishable by law." She calls them her
nieces, and says, " No, my dear Plaintive Girlie ; I
do not think you need despair because the gentle-
man of your own age has not avowed his feelings
yet. A true lover is shy in the presence of his
queen; but, with gentle encouragement on your
part, all will be well. I was so glad to have your
sweet letter." '

*Miss Wix?'

*Miss Wix, yes. Her comforting reply to
*^ Changed Pansy " the first week was quite a mas-
terpiece, I assure you. And occasionally she has to
invent a letter from a mercenary mother, and ad«
monish her. The admonishments to mercenary
mothers are estimated to sell fifteen thousand alone.
You should buy a copy ; it's on all the bookstalls.'

* Buy it I ' said Humphrey ; * I'd buy it if it cost a
shilling. What's it called? Well, I'm not easily
astonished, but Miss Wix comforting "Changed
Pansy " would stagger the Colossus of Rhodes.
Does she like the work ? '

*"Like" it? My boy, she execrates it — sniflb

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violently, and gets stiff in the back, whenever the
stuff is mentioned. That's the cream of the whole
affair. The disgust of that envenomed spinster as
she sits ladling out gush to romantic schoolgirls
makes me shriek with laughter in the night. IVe
got her name now — she's "Auntie Bluebell."
" Auntie Bluebell's Advice to our Readers " in Winr
some Words. One penny weekly.*

Kent began to yell himself, and but that the book-
stalls were shut when he took his leave, he would
have carried a copy home with him. He told the
news to Cynthia, and she went into such hysterics
that Sam Walford, underneath, turned on his pillow,
and remarked gruffly to Louisa that he didn't know
what Cynthia and Humphrey had got to be so lively
about, he was sure, considering their circumstances,
and he was afraid that Humphrey was ^ a damn im-
provident Bohemian.'

Their mirth was short-lived, unfortunately. The
Dailf/ News advertisement was productive of no re-
sult, and the solitary communication received after
the issue of the AthewBum was a circular from an
employment agency. The outlook now was as des-
perate as before the post on The World and his Wife
turned up, and their pecuniary position was even
worse than then. When they had been at Straw-
berry Hill a week, moreover, the warmth of the
Walfords' manner toward their son-in-law had per-
ceptibly decreased ; and though Kent did not com-
ment on the difference in his conferences with
Cynthia, he knew that she was conscious of it by her

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acquiescing when he declared that they had been
here long enough.

At this stage he would have taken a clerkship
gladly if one had been obtainable with a salary suffic-
ing for their needs ; and after they had returned to
Leamington Road, and had temporized with the land-
lord, and sold a wedding present for some taxes, and
were living on credit from the tradespeople, he began
to debate if the wisest thing he could do would not
be to drown himself, and relieve Cynthia's necessities
with the money accruing from his life policy.

The idea, which primarily presented itself as an
extravagance, came, by reason of the frequency with
which it recurred to him, to be revolved quite so-
berly, and he wondered if Cynthia would grieve
much, and if, when his boy could understand, she
would talk to him of his ' papa,' or provide him with
a stepfather. He did not, in these conjectures as to
the post-mortem proceedings, lose sight of ^ The Eye
of the Beholder,' and he devoutly trusted it would
see the light after he was dead, and make so prodi-
gious a stir that the papers disinterred its history, and
the names of the publishers who had refused it were
held up to obloquy and scorn.

He was walking through Victoria Street toward
the station one afternoon, and mentally lying in his
grave while the world wept for him, when he wa«
brought to an abrupt standstill by a greeting. He
roused himself to realities with a start, and found
that the gray-gloved hand which waited to be taken
by him belonged to Mrs. Deane-Pitt.

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* How d'ye do, Mr. Kent ? I thought at first you
meant to cut me,' she said.

*I beg your pardon, I didn't see. It's awfully
stupid of me ; I'm always passing people like that.'
' You've returned, then,' she said. * For good ? '

* Oh yes ; we live in town, you know — in the sub-
urbs, at least.'

* You told me,' she smiled. * " Battersea."

* So I did. " Battersea " is Streatham, but that's a

The mechanicalness of his utterance passed, and
animation leapt back in him as he recovered from his
surprise. The sun was shining, and the sequins of
her cape were iridescent. There was a bunch of vio-
lets in it. His impression embraced the trifles with
a confused sense that they formed a delightful whole
— ^the smart, smiling woman in the sunshine, the deep
purple of the flowers, which seemed to gain a touch
of sensuousness in her costume, and the warmth of
her familiar tones.

*So you come to Victoria every day, and you
haven't been to see me,' she said. * When did you
leave Paris ? '

*I — I've done nothing,' he replied. *0f course
you know The World and his Wife is dead, Mrs.
Deane-Pitt? When did I leave? Oh, soon after
the funeral.'

*I trust you've recovered from the bereavement,*
she laughed. * Are you on anything here ? '

* Not yet. Editors are so blind to their own in-

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* Well.' She put out her hand again, and repeated
her number. * When will you come in? I'm nearly
always at home about five. Good-bye ; I'm going to
the Army and Navy, and I shall be late.'

Kent continued his way cheerfully. The brief in-
terchange of conventionalities had diverted his
thoughts, and his glimpse of this woman who took
her debts with a shrug, and had candidly adapted
her ideals to her requirements till the former were all
gone, acted as a fillip to him. She typified success,
of a kind, and in a minute he had seemed to acquire
something of her own vigor. It made him happy,
also, to observe that the manner of their parting had
had no sequal ; and, in recalling the mood in which
he had walked through the Champs £lys4es after-
wards, he decided that he had been extremely stupid
to attach so much importance either to that or to
their acquaintance. She was an agreeable woman
toward whom his feeling was a friendship he had
once been in danger of exaggerating ; he should cer-
tainly call upon her at the first opportunity. It was
quite possible she might be able to tell him some-
thing useful too.

Before he fulfilled his intention, an unlooked-for
development occurred, however. The office of the
agent who had endeavored to find him a tenant was
on the road to the station, and a day or two later, as
he passed the door, the man ran out after him, and
asked if he was willing to let No. 64 still. Kent re-
plied shortly that the opportunity had presented it-
self too late ; but after he passed on, the gentle flow

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of detail the other had let fall caused him to reflect.
The house was wanted at once by some people who
had considered it previously. They now made an
offer of three and half guineas a week for a period of
six or twelve months. It appeared to Kent he had
been very idiotic in dismissing the suggestion off-hand.
With three and a half guineas a week, less the rent
and taxes, he could send Cynthia for a few months
to the country, which was exactly what she stood in
need of; and though he could not leave London
himself, he could retain a pound, and shift alone
somewhere till he found a berth and they rejoined

Cynthia and he discussed the idea lengthily, and
while she was opposed to the separation, she agreed
that it would be very unwise of them to refuse to let
the house. She said that they might all live to-
gether in apartments on the money, and that, al-
though the fresh air and peace would be delicious if
Kent were with her, she thought she would rather
stay with him in London than go away by herself.
This point was debated a good deal, but there was
much against it. It was absurd to deny that their
anxieties, and the restraint imposed by her charge
of the baby, had told upon her health, and in a little
village where living was cheap she would not only
recover her roses, but as soon as he earned a trifle
might be able to afford a nursemaid. If they took
lodgings together, on the other hand, town would be
impossibly dear, and they must be reconciled to go-
ing to a suburb — twice as expensive as the country,

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however — where there would be, again, the item of
railway-fares. By himself Humphrey could get a
top bedroom in Bloomsbury for the same sum that
he now spent on his third-class tickets.

The logic was inexorable, and the only further
question to decide was where she should go. She
recollected that a few years back Miss Wix had
been sent to a cottage in Monmouth to recoup after
an attack of influenza. The spinster had spoken
very highly of it all — of the picturesque surround-
ings, the attention she had received, and the cosy
accommodation. If Miss Wix praised it, there could
be little to complain of, surely. As to the terms,
Cynthia knew what her aunt had been given to
spend ; they were so moderate that they were ridic-
ulous. She determined to write immediately, and
ask her if she remembered the address.

On second thoughts, though, she declared she
must ask her in person. She had not paid her a
visit yet, nor had Kent, and an inquiry by post would
render their remissness ruder. They went the fol-
lowing morning, having looked in on the agent, and
informed him they were prepared to accept the offer,
and to give up possession at the end of the week.
The payments were of course to be made monthly
in advance.

Miss Wix resided in Hunter Street, W. C, and
they found that in her improved circumstances she
now boasted two rooms. The parlor she had ac-
quired was chiefly furnished by a large round table,
a number of Berlin-wool antimacassars, and a wax*

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work bouquet under a flyblown shade, and at the
table, which was strewn with manuscripts, the spin-
ster sat, sourly engaged upon her * Advice ' for Win-
some Words. She welcomed them politely, and
offered to have some tea made if they would like it,
but, as it was one o'clock, they said that they were
not thirsty. The request for a five-years-old address
evidently perturbed her very much, but after a rum-
mage behind the folding doors, she emerged with a
note book in which it was entered, and, to mollify
her, Cynthia referred again to her new pursuit, and
reiterated congratulations.

*Mr. Turquand told Humphrey, or we should
never have known, Aunt Emily. Why have you kept
it so quiet? We were delighted by the news; I
think it is very clever of you indeed.*

* There is nothing to be delighted about,* said Miss
Wix. *I kept it quiet because I did not wish it
known — a very suflScient reason. Mr. Turquand is
much too talkative.'

* I think you ought to be very proud,* observed
Kent — *a lady journalist I May I — am I allowed to
look at some of the copy ? *

* As I can't prevent you seeing it whenever you
like to spend a penny,' said Miss Wix bitterly, *it
would be mere mockery to prevent you now.'

*You underrate your public,' he murmured.
* Winsome Words has an enormous circulation, I

^ Among chits,' exclaimed the spinster, with sudden
wrath — ^ among chits and fools. Smack *em and

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put 'em in an asylum. Since you wish it, read it
aloud. Cynthia shall hear what I have to do in
order to live. If Louisa weren't your mamma, my
dear, I'd say that it*s a greater shame to her than to
me, I would. If she weren't your mamma, I'd be
bound to say that.'

* Well, let's hear,' said Humphrey quickly. * Where
is it? Now, then — what's this? Oh, MiseraJble
Maidie! ^^ Yours is indeed a sad story. Miserable
Maidie^ because you seem to have no one to turn to
for help and counsel. I am so glad you resolved to
come to your Auntie Bluebell, and tell her all about
it. So you and your lover have parted in anger,
and now you are heartbroken, and would give worlds
to have him back ? Ah, my dear I it's the old, old
story " '

* That'll do,' snapped Miss Wix. * " The old, old
story " I I'd " old story " the sickly little imbecile if
I had her here!' She sat bolt upright, her eyes
darting daggers, and her pink-tipped nose elevated
and disdainful. ^ la it necessary to go on, do you

*I think so,' said Kent. *I see there's one to
Anxious Parent. May I — er — ^glance at your advice
to Anxious Parent? "My dear friend, were you
never young yourself ? And didn't you love your
little Ermyntrude's papa ? If so, you can certainly
feel for two young things who rightly believe that
love is more valuable than even a good settlement.
Let them wed as they wish, and be thankful that
Ermyntrude is going to have a husband against whom

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you can bring no other objection than that he is un-
able to support her." '

* I'm a sensible woman, Cynthia,' said Miss Wix,
quivering ; ^ and for me to have to write that incomes
don't matter, and sign myself " Auntie Bluebell," is
heavy at your mother's door.'

Her mortification was so evidently genuine that
Kent gave her back her copy, with replies to A Lover
of ' Winsome Words ' and Constant Daffodil unread,
and as soon as was practicable he and Cynthia rose
and made their adieux. The apartments in the cot-
tage proved to be vacant, and as the references of
the incoming tenants were satisfactory, and the in-
ventory was taken without delay, there was nothing
in the way of the migration being effected by the
suggested date. Cynthia had proposed that her
husband should try to obtain his old bedroom at
Turquand's, where he could have the run of a sitting-
room for nothing, and this idea was adopted with
the approval of all concerned. Humphrey saw her
off at Paddington, and told her to get strong, and
the close of the week that had opened without a
hint of such an occurrence saw Cynthia living with
her baby in Monmouth, and Kent reinstalled in his
bachelor quarters in Soho.

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It was very jolly to be back with TurquancL
The earliest eveniDg, while they smoked with the
enjoyable consciousness of there being no last train
to catch, was quick with the sentiment of their old
association, and after a letter arrived from Cynthia,
in which she clapped her hands with pleasure, the
respite was complete. Kent had been impatient to
hear how the place struck her, and she wrote that
she had been agreeably astonished. The cottage
was roomier than she had expected, and beautifully
located. It was furnished very simply, of course ;
but there was a charm in its simplicity and freshness.
The landlady was a rosy-cheeked young woman who
had already * fallen in love with baby,' and over-
whelmed her with attentions. ^ If you do not see
what you want, please step inside and ask for it.*
Kent smiled at that ; it was a quotation from one of
the Streatham shop-windows. Also there was quite
a respectable garden, which her bedroom overlooked.
* There are fruit-trees in it — ^not my bedroom, the
garden — and a little, not too spidery, bench, where
I know I shall sit and read your answer when it
comes.' She wrote a very happy, spontaneous sort
of letter, and Kent's spirits rose as he read it.
There was the rustle of dimity and the odor of
lavender in the pages, and momentarily he pictured

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her sitting on the bench under the fruit-trees, and
thought that it would be delightful if he could run
down one day and surprise her there.

It was very jolly to be back with Turquand,
albeit his satisfaction, perhaps, was a shade calmer
than he had fancied it would be during the first year
of his married life, when he recalled his lost para-
dise. It was convenient, moreover, to be in town,
and a relief to feel that the unsettled accounts with
the tradespeople round Leamington Road were, at
least, not waxing mightier. Nevertheless, he missed
Cynthia a good deal ; not only in the daytime when
he was alone, but even in minutes during the even-
ing when he was in Turquand's company. It was
curious how much he did miss her — and the baby :
the baby, whose newest accomplishment was to
stroke his father's cheek, and murmur * poor ' until
the attention was reciprocated, when he bounded
violently, and grew red in the face with ridiculous
laughter. Soho, too, though it saved him train-fares,
soon began to appear as distant from a salary as
Streatham. Turquand remained powerless to put
any work in his way, and, despite his economies and
the cheapness of Monmouth, Humphrey was dis-
mayed to perceive that his expenses were heavier
than they were entitled to be. He was encroaching
on the money laid aside for the landlord and the
rates, and, if nothing turned up, there would speed-
ily be trouble again. The butcher who had supplied
No. 64 had been to the agent for Mr. Kent's address,
and presented himself and his bill with no redun*

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dancy of euphemism. When another advertisement
had been inserted ineffectually, the respite was over
and anxiety returned.

Kent had not called on Mrs. Deane-Pitt yet, and
on the afternoon following his interview with the
butcher he paid his visit to the lady. He was very
frank in his replies to her questions. He did not
disguise that it was imperative for him to secure an
appointment immediately, and when she agreed with
him that it was immensely difficult, instead of an-
swering that it was likely some opening might be
mentioned to her, his face fell. He at once felt that
it behoved him to deprecate his confidences.

* You must forgive my boring you about my af-
fairs,' he said. ^And what are you doing, Mrs.
Deane-Pitt? Are you at work on another book

^ IVe a serial running in Fashion^^ she said ; ^ and
they print such ghastly long installments that it
takes me all my time to keep pace with them. You
haven't bored me at all ; I'm very interested. A
post on a paper is a thing you may have to wait a
long time for, I'm afraid. You see, you aren't a
journalist really, are you ? You're a novelist.'

*I'm nothing,' said Kent, with rather a dreary
laugh. *For that matter, I wouldn't care if it
weren't on a paper. I'd jump at anything — ^a secre-
taryship for preference.'

* Secretaryships want personal introductions ; they
aren't got through advertisements.' She hesitated.
*/ can tell you how you might make some money, if

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you'd Kke to do it,' she added tentatively. *It's be-
tween ourselves, Mr. Kent. If it doesn't suit you,
you'll be discreet ? '

* Oh, of course,' said Kent with surprise. * But I
can promise you in advance that any means of mak-
ing some momey will suit me just now. What are
you going to say ? '

She looked at him steadily with a slow smile.

' How would you like to write a novel for me ? '
she asked.

He did not instantaneously grasp her meaning.

*How?' he exclaimed. *Do you mean you are
oflfering to collaborate with me ? *

* I can't do that,' she said quickly. * I'm sure you
know I should be delighted, but I shouldn't get the
same terms if I did, and I haven't the time. That's
just it. I'm obliged to refuse work because I haven't
time to undertake it. No ; but it might be a part-
nership as far as the payment goes. If you care to
write a novel, I can place it under my own name,
and you can have — well, a couple of hundred pounds
almost as soon as you give it to me. I can guarantee
that. You can have a couple of hundred pounds a
week or two after it is finished, whether I sell serial
rights or not.'

She took a cigarette out of a box on a table near
her and lit it, a shade nervously. Kent sat pale and
disturbed. That such things were done, at all events
in France, he knew, but her proposal startled him
more than he could say, or than he wished to say.
His primary emotion was astonishment that Mrs.

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Deane-Pitt had had the courage to place her reputa-
tion in his hands, and then, as he reflected, an awful
horror seized him at the thought of a year of his toil,
of effort and accomplishment, going out for review
with another person's name on it. The pause lasted
some time.

*I don't much fancy the idea,* he said at last
slowly, * thanks. And it wouldn't assist me, either.
I want money now, not a year hence.'

* A year hence I ' she murmured. * A year hence
would be no use to me^ but you could do it in a
month. Pray don't mistake me. I'm not anxious
to get any kudos at your expense ; I don't want you
to do the kind of thing I suppose you have done in
this novel of yours that's making the round now ; I
don't want introspection and construction, and all
that. All I want is to buy shoes for my poor little
children, and what I suggested was that you should
knock off a story at your top speed — ^good, bad, or
indifferent. I don't care a pin what it's like ; only
turn me out a hundred thousand words.'

*A hundred thousand words,' cried Kent, *in a
month ! You might as well suggest my carrying off
one of the lions out of Trafalgar Square! "The
Eye of the Beholder " isn't a hundred thousand
words, and I worked at it day and night, and then it
took me a year ! Besides, that's another thing ; it
is going the round. The story mightn't be any use
to you if I did it.'

' I can place it,' said Mrs. Deane-Pitt with empha-
gis. * Don't concern yourself about its fate, mjr

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friend ; your responsibility will be limited to writing
it. Your book took a year ? I Ve no doubt you con-
sidered, and corrected, and spent an afternoon polish-
ing a paragraph. Supposing you take six or seven
weeks, then. Do you mean to say you couldn't
write two thousands words a day?'

* No, I don't believe I could — ^not if you offered
me the Mint I ' said Kent.

*But you can put down the first that come into
your head,' she declared, ^ and leave them. Anything
will do. Naturally, it would be no use to me if you
wrote "Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard"
over all the pages, but any trivial thing in the shape
of a story, I assure you, I can arrange for at once.
Indeed, it is practically arranged for ; it only remains
for you to give it to me.*

She puffed her cigarette silently, and the young
man mused. The plan was repugnant to him, but
if, as she said, anything would serve — ^well, perhaps
he could do it in the time ; he did not know. Two
hundred pounds would certainly be salvation, and,
for seven weeks' work, a magnificent reward.

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Online LibraryLeonard MerrickCynthia, a daughter of the Philistines → online text (page 14 of 18)