Leonard Merrick.

Cynthia, a daughter of the Philistines online

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remark upon his lips was not one that would have
been productive of more than a monosyllabic assent
under any circumstances.

Their front-garden slept. He unlocked the door,
and, saying that she was very tired, Cynthia held up
her face immediately and went upstairs. After he
had extinguished the gas, Kent mounted to the little

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room where he worked, and lit the lamp. Beyond
the window, over the bare trees, the moon was shin-
ing whitely. He stood for a few moments staring
out, and thinking he scarcely knew of what ; then
he seated himself, and began to re-read the last page
of the manuscript that lay on the desk. He had
just commenced to write, when Cynthia stole in and
joined him.

* Are you busy? * she asked.

* No, dearest,' he said, surprised. * What is it ? '
She came forward, and hung beside him, fingering

the pen he had laid down. She had put on her
dressing-gown, and her hair was loose. She was very
lovely, very youthful, so ; she looked like a child
playing at being a woman. The sleeves fell away,
giving a glimpse of the delicate forearms,- and he
thought the softness of the neck she displayed
seemed made for a parent's kisses.

^How cold it is I ' she murmured; ^ don't you feel

♦You shouldn't have come in,' he said; * you'll
take a chill. You'd be better off in bed, Baby.'

She shook her head.

* I want to stop.'

* Then, let me get you a rug and wrap you up/
He rose, but she stayed him petulantly.

* I don't want you to go away ; I want to speak to
you. . . . Humphrey ^

* Is anything the matter ? '

•I've something to tell you.' She pricked the
paper nervously with the pen-point. •Something

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. . . can*t you guess what it is, Humphrey ? Think
— ^it's about m«.*

A tear splashed on the paper between them.
Kent's heart gave one loud throb of comprehension,
and then yearned over her with the truest emotion
that she had wakened in him yet. He caught her
close and caressed her, while she clung to him sob-
bing spasmodically.

• Oh, you do love me ? You do love me, don't
you ? ' she gasped. < I'm not a disappointment, am

She slipped on to the hassock at his feet, resting
her head on his leg, with the tumbled fairness of her
hair across his trouser ; as she crouched there she
looked more like a child than ever, a penitent child
begging forgiveness for some fault. He swore she
had fulfilled and exceeded his most ardent dreams,
that she was sweeter in reality than his imagination
had promised him ; and he pitied her vehemently
and remorsefully as he spoke, because in such a mo-
ment she was answered by a lie. The lamp, which
the servant had neglected, flickered and expired, and
on a sudden the room, and the two bent figures be-
fore the desk, were lit only by the pallor of the
moon. Cynthia turned herself, and looked up in his
face deprecatingly :

^ Oh, I am so sorry ; I meant to remind her. See,
I'm punished — ^I'm left in the dark myself.*

He stooped and kissed her. The fondness he felt
for her normally, intensified by compassion, assumed
in this ephemeral circumscription of idea the quality

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of love, and he rejoiced to think that, after all, he was
deceived, and their union was indeed, indeed, the men-
tal companionship to which he had looked forward.
He did not withdraw his lips ; her mouth lay beneath
them like a flower, and, his arms enclosing her, she
nestled to him voicelessly, pervaded by a deep sense
of restfulness and content. In a transient ecstasy of
illusive union their spirits met, and life seemed to
him divine.

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As, chapter by chapter, the novel grew under his
hand, Kent saw, from the little back-window, the
snow disappear and the bare trees grow green, till at
last a fire was no longer necessary in the room, and
the waving fields that he overlooked were yellow
with buttercups.

He rose at six now, and accomplished about three
hours* work before Cynthia went down. Then they
breakfasted, and, with an effort to throw some inter-
est into her voice, she would inquire how he had
been getting on. He probably felt that he had not
been ^getting on ' at all, and his response was not en-
couraging. Afterwards he would make an attempt
to read the newspaper, with his thoughts wandering
back to his manuscript, and Cynthia had an inter-
view with Ann. This interview, ostensibly con-
cluded before he returned to his desk, was generally
reopened as soon as he took his seat, and for some
unexplained reason the sequel usually occurred on
the stairs. < Oh, what from the grocer's, ma'am ? '

* So and so, and so and so.* * Yes, ma'am.' * Oh,
and — Ann I * • What do you say, ma'am ? ' More
instructions, interrupted by a prolonged summons at
the tradesman's door, and the girl's rush to open it.
•What is it, Ann?' *The fishmonger, ma'am.'

* Nothing this morning.' ^Nothing this morning/

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echoed by Ann ; the boy's departing whistle, * Ann I *
*Ye8, ma'am.' *Ask him how much a pound the
sahnon is to-day.' ^ Hi I how much a pound's the
salmon?' While Kent beat his fists on the desk,
and swore. Once he had pitched his pen at the
wall in a frenzy, and dashed on to the landing
to remonstrate; but he felt such a brute when
Cynthia cried, and declared he had insulted her
before the servant, and it had wasted so much of
bis morning, kissing her into serenity again, that he
decided it would hinder him less on the whole to
bear the nuisance without complaint.

The ink-splashes on the wall paper testified to his
having raged in private on more than the one occa-
sion, however, and the superior person's feet ap-
peared to him to grow heavier every week. The do-
mestic machinery was in his ears from morning till
nightfall — from the time she began to bang about
the house for cleaning purposes to the hour that
heard her rattle the last of the dinner things in the
scullery and go to bed. It often seemed to him that
it could not take much longer washing the plates and
dishes supplied for a Lord Mayor's banquet than
Ann took to wash those used for his and Cynthia's
simple meals, and when, like the report of a cannon,
she slammed the oven door, he yearned for his re-
linquished apartment in Soho as for a lost paradise.

Nor was this all. His wife was less companion-
able to him daily. Fifty times he had registered a
mental oath that he would abandon his hope of culti-
vating her, and resign himself to her remaining what

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she was ; but he had too much affection for her to
succeed in doing it yet, and with every fresh en-
deavor and failure that he made his dissatisfaction
was intensified. He burned to talk about his work,
about other men*s work, to speak of his ambitions,
to laugh with someone over a witty article ; instead,
their conversation was of Caesar, whose d^ut had
been postponed till the autumn ; of the engagement
of Dolly Brown, whom he did not know, to young
Styles, of Norwood, whom he had not met ; of the
laundress, who had formerly charged fourpence for a
blouse, and who now asked fivepence. When he
pretended to be entertained, she spoke of such things
with animation. When he dropped the mask, her
manner as well as her topics was dull, for she was as
sensitive as she was uninteresting. Her wistful
question, whether she had proved a disappointment,
frequently recurred to him, and to avoid wounding
her he i^ected good spirits more often than he
yawned; but the strain was awful, and when he
escaped from it at length, and sank into a chair alone,
it was with the sense of exhaustion one feels after
having been saddled for an afternoon with a talka-
tive child. The oases in his desert were Turquand's
visits, but Turquand never came without a definite
invitation. Streatham was a long distance from
Soho, and there was always the risk of finding that
they had gone to the Walfords'. It was necessary to
book to Streatham Hill, besides, from the West End,
and the service was appalling, with the delays at the
Btations and the stoppages between them, especially

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on the return journey, when the train staggered to a
standstill at almost every hundred yards.

One evening when he dined them, Humphrey gave
him some sheets of his manuscript to read. He did
not expect eulogies from Turquand, but he would
rather have had to listen to intelligent disapproval
than refrain from discussing the book any longer,
and when the other praised the work he was de-

^ You really think it good ? ' he asked. * Better
than the last? You don't think they'll say I
haven't fulfilled its promise? Honest Injun, you

^ Seems very strong,' said Turquand, sucking his
pipe. * No, I don't think you need tremble if these
pages aren't the top strawberries. Rather Mere-
dithian, that line about her eyes in the pause, isn't
it? You remember the one I mean, of course? '

Kent laughed gaily.

* It came like that,' he said. ^ Fact ! Does it look
like a deliberate imitation? Would you alter it?
Oh, I say, talking of lines, I'm ill with envy. " Oc-
casionally a girl kissed from behind as she stretched
to reach a honeysuckle, rent with a scream the
sickly-colored, airless evening." The " sickly-colored,
airless evening." Isn't it admirable ? What do you
think of that for atmosphere ? And he's got it with
the two adjectives. But the " honeysuckle " — the
** honeysuckle " in conjunction with that " sickly-
colored, airless " — ^it's perfect I *


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^ Moore's. I opened the book the other day, and
it was the first thing I saw. I had been hammering
out a lane and summer evening paragraph myself,
and when I read that I knew there wasn't an ^^ im-
pression " in all my two hundred words.'

^You shouldn't allow him to read, Mrs. Kent,
while he has work on the stocks,' said the journalist.

♦ I know this sort of phase in your husband of old.'

* Yes, and you used to be very rude,' put in Kent
perfunctorily. * My wife isn't. I can be depressed
now without being abused.'

Cynthia laughed. She was very pretty where she
lay back in the rocker by the window. Her face was
a trifle drawn now, but she looked girlish and grace-
ful still. She looked a wife whom any man might
be proud to possess.

* You didn't mention it,' she said ; * I didn't know.
But I don't see anything wonderful in what you
quoted, I must say. Do you, Mr. Turquand?
I'm sure "sickly-colored" doesn't mean anything
at all.'

^It means a good deal to me,' answered Kent.

* I'd give a fiver to have found that line.'

* Cousins wouldn't give you any more for your
book if you had,' said Turquand. * Put money in
thy purse I I suppose you'll stick to Cousins ? '

* Why not? Life's too short to find a publisher
who'll pay you what you think you're worth ; and
they were affable. Aflfability covers a multitude of
sins, and there's a lot of compensation in a compli-
ment. Cousins senior told me I'd a " great gift." '

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* Perhaps he was referring to his hundred pounds.'

* He was referring to my talent, though I says it
as shouldn't. That was your turn, Cynthia ! '

* Yes,' said Turquand ; * a wife's very valuable at
those moments, isn't she, Mrs. Kent ? '

* How do you mean? ' said Cynthia, who found the
conversational pace inconveniently rapid.

*I shall send it to Cousins,' pursued Humphrey
hastily; ^and I want two hundred and fifty this

* They won't give it you.'

* Partly because you'll accept less. And you
haven't got into a second edition, remember.'

* Look at the reviews I *

^ Cousins's will look at the sale. The thing will
have to be precious good for you to get as much as

*It will be precious good,' said Kent seriously.
♦I'm doing all I know! You shall wade right
through it when it's finished, if you will, and tell me
your honest opinion. I won't say it's going to
"live," or any rot like that; but it's the best work it
is in me to do, and it will be an advance on the
other, that I'll swear.'

* Mrs. St. Julian's last goes into a fourth edition
next week,' observed Turquand grimly, * if that is
any encouragement to you.'

* Good Lord,' said Kent, * it only came out in Jan-
uary ! Is that a fact ? '

* One of Life's Little Ironies! Hers is the kind of


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stuff to sell, my boy I The largest public don't want
nature and style ; they want a pooty story and vir-
tue rewarded. The poor " companion " rambles in
the moonlight and book-muslin, and has love pas-
sages in the grounds at midnight, which wouldn't
be respectable, only she's so innocent. The heiress
sighs for a title and an establishment in Park Lane ;
and the poor ** companion " says, " Give me a cot-
tage, with the man I love," making eyes at the big-
gest catch in the room, no doubt, though the writer
doesn't tell you that, and hooks him. Blessed is the
** companion " whose situation is in a lady-novelists's
story, for she shall be called the wife of the lord.
Sonny, the first mission of a novel is to be a pecuni-
ary success — you are an idiot I Excuse me, Mrs.

♦ You may give him all the good advice you can,*
she responded. ^ I've said before that I like Mrs.
St. Julian's stories, but Humphrey has made up his
mind not to. That's firmness, I suppose, as he is a

She laughed.

• Mr. Turquand scarcely implied that he liked them
either,' replied Kent. * Isn't it painful, though, to
think of the following a woman like that can com-
mand ? What a world to write for — ^it breaks one's

* It's an overrated place,' said Turquand ; * it's a
fiat-headed, misguided, beast of a world ! '

♦It isn't the world,' said Cynthia brightly; *it'»
the people in it I '

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A ghastly silence followed her comment, a pause
in which the journalist stared at the stove ornament,
affecting not to have heard her, and Kent felt the
sickness of death in his soul. Shame that his wife
should show herself so stupid in Turquand's pres-
ence paralyzed his tongue, and the latter, pitying his
embarrassment, turned to the girl with an inquiry
about her relatives. Humphrey had taken him to
The Hawthorns, as requested, and Turquand, with
characteristic perversity, professed to have discov-
ered a congenial spirit in Miss Wix. It was about
Miss Wix that he asked now.

Cynthia laughed again.

*Yes, your favorite is quite well,' she answered —
* as cheerful as ever.'

* Fate hasn't been kind to Miss Wix,' said Tur-
quand; ^ she's been chastened and chidden too
much. Under other circumstances ^

* Skittles I ' said Humphrey.

* Under other circumstances, she might have been
sweeter, and less amusing. Personally, I am grate-
ful that there were not other circumstances. I like
Miss Wix as she is ; she refreshes me.'

* I wish she had that effect on we,' said Kent, as
the other rose to go, and he reflected gloomily that
he would hear nothing refreshing until the next time
they met. He begged him to remain a little longer,
and, when Turquand withstood his persuasions, in-
sisted on accompanying him to the station, and
parted from him on the platform with almost senti*
mental regret.

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Only his interest in his book sustained him. He
had got deep enough into it to feel the fascination of
it on him now, and, though there were still days
when he did not produce more than a single page,
there were others on which composition was sponta-
neous and delightful, and happy sentences seemed to
fall off his pen's point of their own accord. He
wrote under difficulties when the summer came, for
Cynthia required more and more attention; but
while he often devoted whole mornings or afternoons
to her, he made up for it by working on the novel
half through the night. More than once he worked
through it entirely, merely forsaking his desk to
splash in a bath before joining her at breakfast. On
such occasions, he was in a very good humor, and,
to have completed his felicity, it was only necessary
for him to have breakfasted with a woman to whom
he could have reported his progress, and cried, * IVe
come to such a point,' or, ^ That difficulty we fore-
saw, you know, is overcome — a grand idea I ' His
exhilaration speedily evaporated at breakfast, and,
if he returned to his room an hour later, he did so
feeling far less fresh than when he had left it.

Yes, Cynthia demanded many attentions through
the summer months ; she was petulant, capricious,
and dissolved in tears at the smallest provocation.
There was much for Kent to consider besides the
novel, and also there were anticipations in which
they momentarily united, and he felt her to be as
close to him as she was dear. But these moments
could not make a life, and despite the fact that the

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date when their child was expected to be born was
rapidly approaching, he was living more and more
within himself. Cynthia had no complaint to make
against him ; if marriage was not altogether the
elysium she had imagined it would prove, she did
not hold that to be Humphrey's fault. She found
him, if eccentric, tender and considerate on the
whole, but he was bored and weary. His feeling for
her was the affection of a man for a child, tinged
more or less consciously by compassion, since he
knew that she would sob her heart out if she sus-
pected how tedious she appeared to him. Though
she would have been a happier woman with a differ-
ent man, the cost of the mistake they had made was
far more heavy to him than to her. He realized
what a mistake it had been, while she was uncon-
scious of it, and for this, at least, he was glad.

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She was very ill after her confinement, and for
several weeks it was doubtful if she would recover.
The boy throve, but the mother seemed sinking.
The local doctor came three times a day, and a physi-
cian was summoned for consultation, and then other
consultations were held between the physician and a
specialist, and it appeared to Kent that he was never
remembered by Mrs. Walford or the nurse during
this period, excepting when he was required to write
a check. 'You shall see her for a moment by-and-
by,' one or the other of them would say ; ' she is to
be kept very quiet this afternoon. Yes, yes, now
you're not to worry ; go and work, and you shall be
sent for later on.' Then he would wander round
the neglected little sitting-room, and note drearily,
and without its striking him he might attend to
them, that the ferns in the dusty majolica pots were
dying for want of water, or go to his desk, and com*
pose, by a dogged effort, at the rate of a word a
minute, asking himself more anxiously than he had
done hitherto what sum he might safely expect from
Messrs. Cousins. His banking account was dimin-
ishing rapidly under the demands made upon it at
this period, and he found it almost as hard to write
a chapter of a novel now as a man who had never
attempted such a thing before. He returned thanks

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to Heaven that he was not a journalist, to whom the
necessity for covering a certain number of pages by
a stated hour daily was unavoidable, and wished
himself a mechanic or a petty tradesman, whose
avocations, he presumed, could be fulfilled independ-
ently of their moods.

It was not until the crisis was past, and Cynthia
was downstairs again in a wrapper on the sofa, that
he began to feel he was within measurable distance
of the conclusion. The nine months in which he
had anticipated completing the task had long gone
by, but that it would have taken him a year did not
trouble him, for he knew the work to be good. He
told her so on an afternoon when they were alone
together again, she with her couch drawn to the fire,
and he sitting at the edge, holding her hand.

♦I'm satisfied,' he declared. *When I say ^^satis-
fied," you know what I mean, of course ; it's as well
done as I expected to do it. Another week, darling,
will see it finished.'

She patted his arm.

* Poor old boy I it hasn't been a happy time for
him either, has it?'

*I've known jollier. But you're all right again
now, thank God I and I'm going to pack you off to
Bournemouth or somewhere soon, to bring your
color back. I was speaking to Dr. Roberts about
it this morning. He said it was just what you

* I've been very expensive, Humphrey,' she said
wistfully. * How much ? We didn't think it would

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cost 80 much as it has, did we ? You should have

married a big, strong woman, Humphrey, or '

'Or what?'

* Or nobody,' she murmured.

The eyes she fixed upon the fire glittered. He
squeezed her hand, and laughed constrainedly.

* I'm quite contented, thank you,' he said, in as
light a tone as he could manage. * What are you
crying for ? Your nurse will look daggers at me, and
think I've been bullying you. Tell me — was she
kind to you ? I've been haunted by the idea she was
treating you badly, and you were too frightened of
her to let anyone know. You're such a kid, little
woman, in some things — such an awful kid.'

* Not such a kid as you imagine,' she said. * I've
been thinking; I've thought of many things since
baby was born. Often when they believed I was
asleep, I used to lie and think and think, till I was

*What did you think of?' asked Kent indul-

* You mustn't be vexed with me if I tell you.
I've thought that, perhaps, although you don't feel it
yet — though you don't suppose you ever will feel it
— that it might have been best for you, seriously and
really, if you had married nobody, Humphrey ; if
you had had nothing to interfere with your work,
and had lived on with Mr. Turquand just as you
were. There, now you are vexed. Bend down, and
let me smooth that frown away.'

* Whatever put such a stupid idea into your

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head?' said Kent, wishing pityingly that he had not
felt it quite so often. 'Don't be a goose, sweet-
heart ! What nonsense ! I should be perfectly lost
without you.'

' I think I suit you better than any other woman
would,' she said, with pathetic confidence ; * but if
you had kept single — that's what I've doubted : if
you wouldn't be better off without a wife at all. Oh,
you should hear some of the stories nurse has told
me of places she haslbeen in ! I didn't think there
could be such awfulness in the world. And in the
first confinement, too ! It makes one fear that no
woman can ever expect to understand any man.'

*Hang your nurse I' responded Humphrey.
« Cackling old fool ! I suppose in every situation she
is in she talks scandal about the last, and where there
wasn't any, she makes it up. When does she go ? '

* She can't leave baby until we get another, you
know. At least, I hope she won't have to.'

* Another ? ' said Kent.

* Another nurse. Mamma is going to advertise in
the Morning Post for us at once. We want a thor-
oughly experienced woman, don't we, dear? We
don't know anything about babies ourselves, and

*0h, an experienced one by all means,' he an-
swered. * Poor little soul ! we owe him as much as
that. Life is the cost of the parents' pleasure de-
frayed by the child. We'll make the world as desir-
able to him as we can.'

He paused for her to comment on his impromptu

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definition of life, by which he was agreeably con-
scious he had said something brilliant; but it passed
by her unheeded. He reflected that Turquand would
either have accorded it approval, or picked it to
pieces, and that for it to go unnoticed altogether was

She looked at him tenderly.

*I knew you would say so,' she replied. 'It
doesn't really make much difference to our expenses
whether we pay twenty pounds a year or twenty-five,
and to the kind of nurse we shall get it makes all

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Online LibraryLeonard MerrickCynthia, a daughter of the Philistines → online text (page 6 of 18)