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Cynthia, a daughter of the Philistines online

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nity. He remarked that, in narrating matters of
which she was proud, she adopted a breathless, jerky
delivery, which provoked in the hearer the perhaps
unfounded suspicion that she was inventing the facts
as she went on.

^ She is most peculiar,* she insisted. * The matches
she has refused ! Appalling I '

* No? 'he said.

*A Viscount I * she gasped. * She refused a Vis-
count in Monte Carlo last year. A splendid fellow t
Enormously wealthy. Perfectly wild about her.
She wouldn't look at him.'

* You astonish me ! * he murmured.

Mrs. Walford shook her head speechlessly, with
closed eyes.

*And there were others,' she said in a reviving
spasm — ' dazzling positions I Treated them like dirt.
She said, if she didn't care for a man, nothing would
induce her. What can one do with such a romantic

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goose ? Be grateful that you aren't a mother, Mr.

^ Some day/ he opined, .without returning thanks-
giving, * the young lady will be induced.'

^ Oh, and before long, if it comes to that.' She
nodded confidentially. * To tell you the truth, I ex-
pect somebody here next week. A young man roll-
ing in riches, and with expectations that — oh, tre-
mendous I He raves about her. She has refused
him — er — seven times — seven times. He wanted to
commit suicide after her last rejection. But she re-
$peet$ him immensely. A noble fellow he is — oh, a
most noble fellow I And when he asks her again, I
rather imagine that pity may make her accept him,
after all.'

< She must have felt it a grave responsibility,' ob»
served the journalist politely, * that a young man
said he wanted to commit suicide on her account.'

* That's just it ; she feels it a terrible responsibility.
Oh, she*s not fond of him. Sorry for him, you un-
derstand — sorry. And, between ourselves, I'm sure
I really don't know what to think would be for the
best — I don't indeed I But I wouldn't mind wager-
ing a pair of gloves that, if she doesn't meet Mr.
Right soon, she'll end by giving in, and Mr. Some-
body-else will have stolen the prize before he comes
— hee, hee, hee ! '

Ttirquand groaned in his soul. In his mental vis-
ion his friend already flopped helplessly in the web»
and he derived small encouragement from the re-

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flection that she was mistaken in the succulence of
her fly.

* You are not smoking,' she said. < Do ! I don't
mind it a bit.'

He scowled at her darkly, and was prepared to see
betrothal in the eyes of the absent pair when they
rejoined them.

As yet, however, they were still wedged in the
crowd around the tables. On their right, a fat
Frenchwoman cried ' Assez I assez I ' imploringly, as
her horse, leading by a foot, threatened at last to
glide past the winning-post, and leave victory in the
rear ; to their left, an English girl, evidently on her
honeymoon, was losing francs radiantly out of the
bridegroom's purse. Kent had paid for sixteen tick-
ets, and Miss Walford for five, before they perceived
that the others had retired.

* We had better go and look for them,' she declared.
The well-bred sea shimmered in the moonlight

now, and the terrace was so thronged that investiga-
tion could only be made in a saunter.

* I wonder where they have got to,' she murmured.
Her companion was too contented to be curious.

^ We are sure to come upon them in a minute,' he
said. * Do you also abuse Dieppe, Miss Walford? '
*Not at all — ^no. It is mamma who is bored. '

* I should like to show you Arques,' he said. ' Fm
sure your mother would be interested by that. Do
you think we might drive over one afternoon?*

* I don't know,' she replied. * Is it nice ? '

* Well, ** nice " isn't what you will call it when you

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are there. It's a ruined castle, you know ; and you
can almost " hear " the hush of the place. It's so
solemn, and still, and Norman. If you're very imagi-
native, you presently hear men clanking about in
armor as you dream in the old courtyard. You
would hear the men in armor, I think.'

*Am I imaginative ? ' she smiled.

*Aren't you ? ' he asked.

* Perhaps I am ; I don't know. What makes you
think so?'

He was puzzled to adduce any reason except that
she was so pretty. He did not pursue the subject.

* There are several things worth seeing here,' he
said. * Of course Dieppe " is only the Casino," if one
never goes anywhere else. I suppose you haven't
even heard of the Cave-dwellers? '

* The " Cave-dwellers " ? ' she repeated.

* Their homes are the caves in the clifEs. Have
you never noticed there are holes ? They are caves
when you get inside — vast ones — one room leading
out of another. The people are beggars, very dirty,
and occasionally picturesque. They exist by what
they can cadge, and, of course, they pay no rent ; it's
only when they come out that they see daylight.'

'How horrid I 'she shivered. *And you went to
look at them ? '

* Rather I They are very pleased to "receive.'*
One of the inhabitants has lived there for twenty
years. I don't think he has stirred abroad for ten ;
he sends his family. Many of the colony were born
there. Don't you consider they were worth a visit ? '

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^ I don't know/ she said ; ^ one might be robbed
and murdered in such a place.'

^ With the greatest ease in the world,' he agreed ;
^some of the inner rooms are so black that you liter-
ally can't see your hand before you. It would be a
beautiful place for a murder I The next-of-kin lures
the juvenile heiress there, and bribes the beggars to
make away with her. Unknown to him, they spare

her life because — ^because Why do they spare

her life ? — ^but keep her prisoner, and bring her up as
one of themselves. Twenty years later — I believe I
could write a sensational novel, after all.'

* What nonsense I ' laughed Miss Walford daintily.

* Do you like that kind of story? ' he inquired.

^I like plots about real life best,' she said. ^ Don't

He found this an exposition of the keenest literary
sympathies, and regarded her adoringly. She pre-
ferred analysis to adventure, and realism to romance.
What work he might accomplish, inspired by the
companionship of such a girl I

* Wherever have you been, Cynthia ? We thought
you were lost,' he heard Mrs. Walford say discord-
antly, and the next moment the party was united.

*It's where have you been, mamma, isn't it? '
** Well, I like that I We didn't stop a minute; T
made certain you saw us get up. We've been hunt-
ing for you everywhere. Mr. Turquand and I have
been out here ever so long, haven't we, Mr. Tur-
quand ? Looking at the moon, too, if you want ta
know, and— hee, hee, hee ! — talking sentiment*'

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Turquandi who was staring at Kent, allowed an
eyelid to droop for an instant at the conclusion, and
the latter stroked his moustache and smiled.

*Such a time we've been having, all by ourselves T
she persisted uproariously. ^Mr. Kent, are you
shocked? Oh, I've shocked Mr. Kent! He'll al-
ways remember it — ^I can see it in his face.'

^ I shall always remember you^ Mrs. Walford,' he
said, trying to make the enforced fatuity sound grace*

* We were left by ourselves, and we had to get on
as we could,' she cried. * Hadn't we, Mr. Turquand?
I say we had to amuse ourselves as we could. Now
Cynthia's glowering at me. Oh — hee, hee, heel —
you two young people are too respectable for U9.
We don't ask any questions, but — ^but I dare say Mr.
Turquand and I aren't the only ones — hee, hee, hee I
— who have been ** looking at the moon." '

* Shall we find chairs again?' said Kent quickly,
perceiving the frown that darkened the girl's brow.
*It's rather an awkward spot to stand stilly isn't

She agreed that it was, and a waiter brought them
ices, and Mrs. Walford was giddy over a liquor.
They remained at the table until the ladies asserted
it was time to return to their hotel. Parting from
them at its gates, the two men turned away together.
Both felt in their pockets, filled their pipes, and,
smoking silently, drifted through the rugged little
streets, back to the caf^ where they had had their
conversation after dinner.

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* " Thank you for a very pleasant evening," ' said
Turquand, breaking a long pause.

It was the only criticism he permitted himself, and
Kent did not care to inquire if it was to be regarded
as ironical.

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Afteb his friend^s departure, the mother and
daughter became the pivot round which the author's
movements revolved. Primarily his own companion-
ship and the novelty of Dieppe had been enough ;
but now he found it dreary to roam about the har-
bor, or sit sipping mazagrins, alone. Reviewing the
weeks before Turquand joined him, he wondered
what he had done with himself in various hours of
the day, and solitude hung so unfamiliarly on his
hands that Miss Walford's society was indispensable.

Soon after the matutinal chocolate, he accom-
panied the ladies to the Casino, and spent the morn-
ing beside them under the awning. Mrs. Walford
did not bathe — while people could have comfortable
baths in the vicinity of their toilet-tables, she consid-
ered the recourse to tents and the sea making an un*
necessary confidence — and she disliked Cynthia to do
so, * with a lot of Frenchmen in the water.' Whether
it was their sex, or only their nationality, that was
the objection was not clear. She usually destroyed
a novel while Mr. Kent and her daughter conversed*
Considering the speed with which she read it, in-
deed, it was constant food for astonishment to him
that she could contrive to do a book so much dam'
age. In the evening they strolled out again, and but
for the afternoon he would have had small cause for

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complaint. Even this gained a spice of excitement,
however, from the fact that it was uncertain how
long Miss Walford's siesta would last, and there was
always the chance, as he lounged about the hotel,
smoking to support the tedium, that a door would
open and cause heart-leaps.

Mrs. Walford declared that the visit to Arques
would be * very jolly,' and the excursion was made
about a week later. Kent found the girl's concur-
rence in his enthusiasm as pretty as he had promised
himself it would be, and when they had escaped from
the information of the gardien, and wandered where
they chose to go, the chaperon was the only blot
upon perfection.

Perhaps she realized the influence of the scene,
though her choice of adjectives was not happy, for
the explorations fatigued her before long, and, since
the others were so indefatigable, they might continue
them while she sat down.

It was, as Kent had said, intensely still. The prac-
tical obtruding itself for a moment, he thought how
blessed it would be to work here, where doors could
never slam and the yells of children were unknown.
They mounted a hillock, and looked across the end*
less landscape silently. In the dungeons under their
feet lay dead men's bones, but such facts concerned
him little now. Far away some cattle — or were they
deer? — browsed sleepily under the ponderous trees.
Of what consequence if they were cattle or deer?
Still further, where the blue sky dipped and the
woodland rosci, a line of light glinted like water*

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Perhaps it was water, and if not, what matter? It
was the Kingdom of Imagination ; deer, water, fame,
or love — ^the Earth was what he pleased I Among
the crumbling walls the girl's frock fluttered charm-
ingly ; his eyes left the landscape and sought her face.

* It is divine I ' she said.

He did not disguise from himself that life without
her would be unendurable.

^ I knew it would please you,' he said unsteadily.

She again regarded the questionable cattle ; his
tone had said much more.

Kent stood beside her in a pause in which he be-
lieved he struggled. He felt that she was unattain-
able ; but there was an intoxication in the moment
he was not strong enough to resist. He touched her
hand, and, his heart pounding, met her gaze as she

* Cynthia,* he said in his throat. The color left
her cheeks, and her head drooped. ^ Are you angry
with me ? * She was eminently graceful in the atti-
tude. * I love you,' he said — * I love you. What
shall I say besides ? I love you.'

She looked slowly up, and blinded him with a
smile. Its newness jumped and quivered through
his nerves.

* Cynthia I Can you care for me ? •
« Perhaps,' she whispered.

He was alone with her in Elysium ; Adam and
Eve were not more secure from human observation
when they kissed under the apple-tree. He drew
nearer to her — ^her eyes permitted. In a miracle he

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had clasped a goddess, and he would not have been
aware of it had all the pins of Birmingham been
concealed about her toilette to protest

Presently she said :

^ We must go back to mamma I *

He had forgotten she had one, and the rocoUeo-
tion was a descent.

* What will she say ? * he asked. * I'm not a mil-
lionaire, dearest ; I am afraid she won't be pleased.'

^ I will tell her when we get home. Oh, mamma
likes you ! '

^And you have a father?* he added, feeling
vaguely that the ideal marriage would be one be-
tween orphans, whose surviving relatives were abroad
and afraid of a voyage. ^ Do you think they will
give you to me ? '

^ After I have spoken to them,' she said delici*
ously. * Yes— oh, they will be nice, I am sure, Mr.
Kent ! • • • There, then I But one can't shorten
it, and it sounds a disagreeable sort of person.'

* Not as you said it'

* It was very wrong of you to make me say it so
soon. Are you a tyrant? . . . We must really gc
back to mamma I '

* Did you know I was fond of you ? ' asked Kent

* I — wondered.'

*Why did I wonder?*


*I don't know.'

* No ; tell me I Was it becaiuto— you liked me ? '

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* You are vain enough already/

* Haven't I an excuse for vanity?'

Language failed him.

* Tell me why you wondered/ he begged.

* Because You are wickedly persistent ! *

* I am everything that is awful. Cynthia ? *

* Because you liked me ? *

* Perhaps ; the weeniest scrap in the world. Oh,
you are horrid ! What things you make me say I
And we are only just '

^ Engaged ! It's a glorious word ; don't be afraid

of it;

^ I shall be afraid of you in a minute. How do
you think of your — ^your proposals in your books?*

' I have only written one book.'

^ Did you make it up ? He didn't talk as you talk
to mef^

* He wasn't so madly in love with her.*

* But he said the very sweetest things I *
•That's why.'

* You are horrid ! ' she declared again. * I don't
know what you mean a bit • • • Mr. Kent I *


* Humphrey.'

* Yes — sweetheart ? '

* Now you've put it out of my head.' She laughed
softly. * I was going to say something.'

* Let me look at you till you think what it was.'

* Perhaps that wouldn't help me.*


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* Oh, you are an angel I ' he exclaimed. * Cynthia,
we shall always remember Arques ? '

She breathed assent.

« Was this Joan of Arc's Arques ? •

*No; NoahV

* Whose f * she said.
He smiled.

*Not the Maid of Orleans ; it is spelled differently,

* I believe you're being silly,' she said, in a puzzled
tone. ^ I don't understand. Oh, we must go back
to mamma; she'll think we're lost I '

Mrs. Walford did not evince any signs of pertur-
bation, however, when they rejoined her, nor did she
ask for particulars of what they had seen. She
seemed to think it likely they might not feel talka-
tive. She said she had ^ enjoyed it all immensely,'
sitting there in the shade, and that the gardien, who
had come back to her, had imparted the most
romantic facts about the chslteau. Upon some of
them she was convinced that Mr. Kent could easily
write an historical novel, which she was sure would
be deeply interesting, though she never read histor-
ical novels herself. Had Mr. Kent and Cynthia any
idea of the quanity of pippins grown in the immedi-
ate neighborhood every summer ? The gardien had
told her that too. No ; it had nothing to do with
the chateau ; but it was simyly extraordinary, and
the bulk of the fruit was converted into cider, and
the peasantry obtained it quite for nothing, which
was a perfect godsend for them when they could not

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afford the wine, and she had do doubt much more
wholesome besides, though, personally, she had only
tasted cider once, and then it had made her ill.

They drove back down the dusty hill listening to
her. The girl spoke scarcely at all, and the onus of
appearing entertained devolved upon Kent opposite.
When the fly deposited them at the hotel door at
last, he drew a sigh in which relief and apprehension
were blended. Cynthia followed her mother up-
stairs, and he caught a glance from her, and smiled
his gratitude; but he questioned inwardly what
would be the upshot of the announcement she was
about to make. He perceived with some amusement
that he was on the verge of an experience of whose
terrors he had often read without realizing them.
He was a candidate for a young lady's hand. Yes ;
it made one nervous. He asked himself for the
twentieth time in the past few days if he had been
mistaken in supposing Mrs. Walford overestimated
his eligibility ; perhaps he was no worse off than she
thought him. But even then he quaked, for he had
seen too little society since he was a boy to be versed
in such matters, and he was by no means ready to
make an affidavit that she had extended him encour-

A signal at the entrance to the dining-room was
exciting but obscure, and there was no opportunity
for inquiries before the ladies took their seats. He
anathematized an ^pergne which to-night seemed
more than usually obstructive. Cynthia was in
white. He did not recollect having seen her in the

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gown before, and the glimpse of her queenliness
shook him. No mother would accord him so peerless
a treasure. He had been mad.

It was interminable, this procession of courses, re-
lieved by glances at a profile down the table. His
mouth was dry, and he ordered champagne to raise
his pluck. It heated him, without steadying his
nerves. The room was like a Turkish bath ; yet the
curve of cheek he descried was as pale as the corsage.
How could she manage it? He himself was be-
dewed with perspiration.

He could wait no longer. He went on to the ve-
randa and lit a cigar. He saw Mrs. Walford come
out, and, dropping it, rose to meet her. She was
alone. Where was Cynthia ? Seeking him ? or was
her absence designed ?

*I hope our excursion hasn't tired you, Mrs.

^ Oh dear no,' she assured him. She hesitated, but
her manner was blithesome. His courage mounted.
* Shall we take a turn ? ' she suggested.

* Mrs. Walford, your daughter has told you what
I ... of our conversation this afternoon, perhaps ?
I haven't many pretensions, but I am devoted to her.
She is good enough to care a little for me. Will you
give her to me, and let me spend my life in making
her happy ? '

She made a gesture of sudden artlessness.

'I was perfectly astonished !' she exclaimed. ' To
tell you the truth, Mr. Kent, I was perfectly dum-
founded when Cynthia spoke to me. I hadn't an

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idea of it. I — er — I don't know whether I'm par-
ticularly obtuse in these affairs — ^hee ! hee ! hee I —
but I hadn't a suspicion.'

* But you do not refuse your consent ? * he begged.

* You do not disapprove ? '

She waved her hands about afresh, and went on
jerkily, with a wide, fixed smile :

^I never was more astounded in my life. Of
course, I — er — ^from what we've seen of you . . .
most desirable — most desirable in many ways. At
the same time — er — Cynthia's a delicate girl ; always
been used to every luxury. So few young men are
really in a position to justify their marrying.'

* My position is this,' he said, * I've my profession
and a little money — ^not much ; a thousand pounds,
left me by a relative last year. Assisted by that
money, I reckon that my profession would certainly
enable us to live in a comfortable fashion until I
could support a wife by my pen alone.' Her jaw
dropped. He felt it before he turned, and shivered.

* I'm afraid you do not think it very excellent ? ' he

She was breathing agitatedly.

* It ... I must say — er — I fear her father would

never sanction Oh no ; I am sure. It is out

of the question.'

^ A man may keep a wife on less, Mrs. Walford,
without her suffering. My God ! if I thought that
Cynthia would ever know privation or distress, do
you suppose I would '

* A wife ! ' she said, ^ a wife I My dear Mr. Kent,

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A Daughtbb of the philistinbs. 86

a man must be prepared to provide for a family as
well. Have you — er — any expectations ? '

*I expect to succeed,' said Kent; ^I've the right
to expect it. No others.'

* May I ask how much your profession brings yoa

* I sold my novel for a hundred pounds,' he an-
swered. * It was my first,' he added, as he heard her
gasp; *it was my first . . • Mrs. Walford, I love
her. At least think it over. Let me speak to her
again ; let me ask her if she is afraid. Don't refuse
to consider.'

The pain in his voice was not without an effect on
her disgust. She was mercenary, though she did not
know it ; she was not good-natured, though she had
good impulses; she was ludicrously artificial; but
she was a woman, and he was a young man. She
did not think of her own courtship, for she had only
been sentimental when her parents approved — she
had not * married for money,' but her heart had been
providentially warmed toward the one young gentle-
man of her acquaintance who was * comfortably off.'
She thought, however, of Cynthia, who had dis-
played considerable feeling in the bedroom an hour

*' I must write to her father,' she said, in a worried
voice. * I really can't promise you anything ; I am
very vexed at this sort of thing going on without my
knowledge — vert/ vexed. I shall write to her father
to-night. I must ask to consider the whole matter
entirely indefinite until he comes. Immense respon-

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flibility • • • immense I I can't say any morei Mr.

She left him on the veranda, and reentered the
house. His sensation was that the world had been
shattered about him, and a weighty portion of the
ruin was lying on his chest.

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When Sam Walford ran over to Dieppe, in obe-
dience to his wife's summons, he said :

^Well, what's this dam nonsense, Louisa, eh?
There's nothing in this, you know — this won't do/

* Cynthia is very cut up,' she averred ; * you had
better tell her so. I'm sure I wish we had waited,
and gone to Brighton later. • • • A lot of bother.'

*An author,' he said, with amusement; ^what do
you do with authors? You do "find 'em," my

* I don't know what you mean,' she returned tartly.
* I can't help a young man taking a fancy to her, can
I? If you're so clever, it's a pity you didn't stop
here with her yourself. If you don't think it's good
enough, you must say so, and finish the matter, that's
all. You're her father.'

*ril talk to her,' he declared. * Where is she
now? Let us go and see. And where's Mr. — what
d'ye call him ? what's he like ? *

* Mr. Kent. He is a very nice fellow. If he had
been in a different position, it would have been most
satisfactory. There's no doubt he's very clever —
highly talented — the newspapers are most compli-
mentary to him. And — er — of course a novelist is
socially — er — he has a certain '

^Damn it! he can't keep a family on compliments

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Online LibraryLeonard MerrickCynthia, a daughter of the Philistines → online text (page 2 of 18)