Leonard Merrick.

Cynthia, a daughter of the Philistines online

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the difference on earth. What shall we call him ? '

* Him I You're not going to get a man ? '

* Baby, you silly 1 Have you thought of a name ?
J have.'

He was still wishing she had a sense of humor,
and occasionally made a witty remark.

* What ? ' he inquired.

* Yours. I want to call him Humphrey. What
do you say to it ? *

* What for? It's ugly. You said so the first time
you jerked it out, I think we might choose some-
thing better than that.'

* But it's yours,' she persisted. ' I want him called
by your name — ^I do, I do I ' She held his hand
tightly, and her lips trembled. * If ... if I were
ever to lose you, Humphrey, I should like our child
to be called by your name. Don't laugh at me ; I
can't help feeling that. That night when he was
born— oh, that night! shall I ever forget it? — and
Dr. Roberts looked across me and said, '^ Well, you

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have a little son come to see you, Mrs. Kent," the
first thing I thought was, "We can call him Hum-
phrey." I wanted to say it to you when they let you
in, but I couldn't, I was so tired ; I thought it in-
stead. When nurse brought him over to me, or he
cried, or I could see him moving under the blanket
in the bassinet, I thought, " There's my other Hum*

He kissed her, and sat staring at the fire, his con-
science clamorous. He had not realized that he had
grown so dear to her, and the discovery made his
own dissatisfaction crueller. He felt a thankless
brute, a beast. It seemed to him momentarily that
the situation would be much less painful if the dis-
appointment were mutual — if she, too, were discon-
tented with the bargain she had made. To listen
to her speaking in such a fashion, and accept her de-
votion, knowing how little devotion she inspired in
return, stabbed him. He asked himself what he had
done that she should love him so fondly. He had
not openly neglected her, but secretly he had done it
often, and with relief. Had she missed him when he
had shut himself in his room, not to write, but to
wish he had never met her ? His mind smote him.

The question obtruded itself into his reveries dur-
ing the following days, but now at least his plea of being
busy was always genuine enough, and he was writing
fiercely. The pile of manuscript to which he added
sheet after sheet was heavy and thick, and then there
came a morning when he went to bed at three, and
rose again at eight, to begin his final chapter, having

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told the servant he should not go down for luncheon,
but that she was to bring a sandwich and a glass of
claret into the room. When one o'clock struck, and
she entered, tobacco had left him with no appetite
and a furred tongue. He thiew a *' thank you ' at
her, and remained in the same bent attitude, his pen
traversing the paper steadily. He was working with
an exaltation which rarely seized him, and with
which the novelist of fiction is depicted as working
all the time. In his aspect he was untidy enough to
have served as an admirable model for that person-
age. He had not shaved for three days, and a growth
of stubbly beard intensified his look of weariness, due
to the want of sufficient sleep.

The wind was causing the fire to be more a nui-
sance than a comfort, and every now and again a
gust of smoke shot out of the narrow stove, obscuring
the page before him, and making him cough and
swear. The atmosphere was villainous, but, saving
in these moments, he was unconscious of it. He was
near the closing lines. His empty pipe was gripped
between his teeth, and he wanted to refill it, but was
averse to take his eyes from the paper while he
stretched for his pouch and the matches. He was
instinctively aware that he should refill it the instant
he had written the last words, but now an access of
uncertainty assailed him, and he could not decide
upon them. He stared at the paper without daring
to set a sentence down, and drew at the empty bowl
mechanically, his palate craving for the taste of
tobacco, while his sight was magnetized by the pen's

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point hovering under his hand. He sat so for a
quarter of an hour. Then he wrote with supreme
satisfaction what he had thought of first, and rejected
as impossible. His pen was dropped. He drew a
breath of thanksgiving and relief, and lit his pipe.
His novel was done.

Unlike the novelist of fiction whom he resembled
exteriorly, he did not weep that the characters who
had peopled his solitude for the past twelvemonths,
and whom he loved, were about to leave him for the
harsher criticism of the world. He was profoundly
glad. He felt exhilaration leap in his jaded veins as
he picked up his pen again and added * The End.'
He felt that he was free of an enormous load, a tre-
mendous responsibility, of which he had acquitted
himself well. Every morning, with rare exceptions,
for a year he had, so to speak, awakened with this
unfinished novel staring him in the face ; every night
during a year he had gone up the stairs to the bed-
room remembering what a lump of writing remained
to be added to it still. And now it was finished ; nor
could he do it better. Blessed thought I If he re-
cast it chapter by chapter and phrase by phrase, he
could not handle the idea more carefully or strongly
than he had handled it in the bulky package that lay
in front of him — the story told I

He was anxious to forward it to the publishers
without delay, but Turquand had so recently referred
to his expectation of reading in the manuscript, that
he despatched it to Soho first. ^Send it back
quickly,' he begged, and the journalist's answer m

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returning the parcel reached him on the next even*
ing but one. He showed it to Cynthia delightedly,
Turquand wrote very warmly. The manuscript was
sent to Messrs. Cousins with a note, requesting them
to give it their early consideration ; and now Kent
was asked constantly by the Walfords if they had
written yet, and what terms he had obtained. Cyn-
thia had not regained enough strength to care to
travel at present, and her parents and brother gener-
ally spent the evening at No. 64, where, truth to
tell, Kent found the interest his wife's parents mani-
fested in the matter rather a nuisance. His father-
in-law evidently held that it was derogatory for him
to be kept waiting a fortnight for his publishers*
offer, and Mrs. Walford made so many foolish in-
quiries and ridiculous suggestions that he was some-
times in danger of being rude. Caesar alone dis-
played no curiosity in a matter so frivolous, but lis-
tened with his superior air, which tried Kent's pa-
tience even more. The fat young man's d^but had
been postponed again. Now he was to appear for
certain in the spring, and he explained, in a tone im-
plying that he could, if he might, impart esoteric and
extraordinary facts, that the delay had been politic.

* No outsider can have any idea,' he said languidly,
•what wheels within wheels there are in our world.*
(He meant the operatic world, into which he was
ambitious to squeeze a foot.) ^ This last season it
would have been madness for a new bass to sing in
London ; he was doomed before he opened his mouth
• — doomed I ' He looked at the ceiling with a medi-

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tative smile, as if dwelling upon curiously amusing
circumstances. * Very funny ! ' he added.

Excepting his master, he did not know a pro-
fessional singer in England, and, whenever a benefit
concert was to be given, would chase the organizer
all over the town in hansoms, and telegraph him for
an appointment * on urgent business,' in the hope of
prevailing upon him to let him appear at it; but his
assurance was so consummate that — albeit one was
aware he had not yet done anything at all — he al-
most persuaded one while he talked that he was the
pivot round which the musical world revolved.
CsBsar excepted, Kent had really no grounds for
complaint against the Walfords. The others' queries
might worry him, but their cordiality was extreme ;
and they made Cynthia relate Turquand's opinion of
the book — ^for which no title had been found — ^again
and again. Even the stock-jobber's view that a fort-
night's silence was surprising was due to an exag-
gerated estimate of the author's importance, and
Mrs. Walford, when she refrained from giving him
advice, appeared to think him a good deal cleverer
now that the manuscript was in Messrs. Cousins'
hands than she had done while it was lying on his
desk. Indeed, there were moments at this stage when
his mother-in-law gushed at him with an ardor that
reminded him of the early days of his acquaintance
with her in Dieppe.

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* Well, have those publishers of yours made you
an offer yet ? "

*' No, sir ; I haven't heard from them.'

* You should drop them a line,' said Walford ir-
ritably. *Dam nonsense 1 How long have they had
the thing now ? '

* About three weeks.*

* Drop 'em a line ! They may keep you waiting a
month if you don't wake them up. Don't you think
so, Cynthia ? He ought to write.'

* I dare say we shaU have a letter in a day or two,
papa. We were afraid you weren't coming round
this evening ; you're late. How d'ye do, mamma ?
How d'ye do, Aunt Emily ? '

* And how are you? ' asked Mrs. Walford. * Have
you made up your mind about Bournemouth yet ?
She is quite fit to go now, Humphrey. You ought
to pack her off at once; there's nothing to wait
for now you've got your nurse. How does she suit

* She seems all right,' said Cynthia, rather doubt-
fully. *A little consequential, perhaps — ^that is

*' Oh, you mustn't stand any airs and graces ; put
her in her place at the start. What has she done?'

* She hasn't done anything, only '

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* She's our first,' explained Kent, * and we're some*
what in awe of her. She was surprised to find that
there weren't two nurseries — she is frequently " sur-
prised," and then we apologize to her.'

* Don't be so absurd!' murmured his wife; *he
does exaggerate so, mamma ! No ; but, of course,
she has always been in better situations, with people
richer than us. . . . " Us ? " ' she repeated ques-
tioningly, looking at Kent with a smile.

He laughed a negative.

* Than wcy then I And she is the least bit in the
world too self-important.'

*Than "we"?' echoed Mrs. Walford. *Thaii
** we " ? Nonsense I " Than W5 " I '

Kent pulled his moustache silently, and there was
a moment's pause.

* Than u% ! ' said the lady again defiantly. * Un-
questionably it is " than wa " 1 '

* Very well,' he replied ; * I'm not arguing about it,

* I always say " than us," ' said Sam Walford good*
humoredly. * Ain't it right ? '

* No,' said Miss Wix ; * of course it isn't, Sam.*

* Ridiculous I ' declared Mrs. Walford, with as-
perity. * " Than we " is quite wrong — quite un-
grammatical. I don't care who says it isn't— I say
it ««.'

<A literary man might have been supposed to
know,' said Miss Wix ironically. * But Humphrey
is mistaken too, then?'

*What is the difference — ^what does it matter?*

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put in Cynthia. * There is nothing to get excited
abont, mamma.'

*I'm not in the least excited,' said her mother,
with a white face ; * but I don't accept anybody's con-
tradiction on such a point. I'm not to be conyinced
to the contrary when I'm sure I'm correct.'

^Well, let's return to our muttons,' said EenL
• Once upon a time there was a nurse, and ^

*0h, you are very fuuny I' she exclaimed. *Let
me tell you, you don't know anything about it. And
as to Emily, I don't take any notice of her at alL
She may say what she likes.'

* What I like is the Queen's English,' said Miss
Wix, * since you don't mind. This lively conversa-
tion must be very good for Cynthia. Humphrey,
you're quite a member of the family, you see. We
are rude to one another in front of you. Isn't it

*I shouldn't come to you to learn politeness,
either,' retorted Mrs. Walford hotly. * I shouldn't
come to you to learn politeness or grammar, either.
You are most rude yourself — ^most ill-bred I '

♦That'll do— that'll do,' said the stock-jobber;
•we don't want a row. Damn it! let everybody
say what they choose ; it ain't a hanging matter, I
suppose, if they're wrong.'

*I'm not wrong, Sam. Humphrey, just tell me
this : Do you say " than whom " or " than who " 1
Now, then ! '

* You say " than whom," but it's the one instance
where the comparative does govern the objective in

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English. AdcI Angus, or Morell, or somebody
august, even denies that it ought to govern it there.*
She looked momentarily disconcerted. Then she
said :

* All I maintain is that " than we " is very pedan*
tic in ordinary conversation — ^very pedantic indeed ;
and I shall stick to my opinion if you argue for ever.
^ Than us " is much more usual, and much more
euphonious. I consider it's much more euphoniotu
than the other. I prefer it altogether.'

Miss Wix emitted a little tart laugh.

•You may consider it more euphonious to say
•*heggs " and " happles," ' she observed ; * but I sup-
pose you don't do it.'

Her sister turned to her wrathfuUy, and the ensu-
ing passage at arms was terminated by the spinster
putting her handkerchief to her eyes and beginning
to cry.

* I am not to be spoken to so,' she faltered — * I am
not! Oh, I quite understand — I know what it
means ; but this is the last time I will be trampled
on and insulted — the last time, Sam.'

* Don't be a fool, Emily; nobody wants to "tram-
ple " on you. You can give as good as you get, too.
What an infernal rumpus about nothing, anyhow I
'Pon my soul I I think you have both gone crazy.'

* I am in the way — yes ; and I am shown every
hour that I'm in the way ! ' she sobbed, in crescendo.
* Humphrey is a witness how I am treated. I will
not stop where I'm not wanted. This is the end of
it. I will go — ^I will take a situation 1 '

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Everybody excepting the offender endeavored to
pacify her. Cynthia put an arm about her waist,
and spoke consolingly, while Walford patted her on
the back. Humphrey brought her whisky-and-
water, but she waved it aside violently, reiterating
her resolve.

^I will take a situation; I have made up my
mind. Thank Heaven I I'm not quite dependent on
a sister and a brother-in-law yet. Thank Heaven I
I have the health to work for my living. I would
rather live in one room on a pound a week than re-
main with you. I shall leave your house the mo-
ment I can get something to do. I will be a paid
" companion " — I will go into a shop ! ' And she
went into hysterics.

When she recovered from the attack, she drank
the whisky-and-water tearfully, and begged Kent to
escort her back to The Hawthorns at once. He
complied amiably, and attempted on the way to dis-
suade her from the determination she had expressed.
It was his first experience of this phase of Miss
Wix, and he was a good deal surprised by the valor
she displayed. Her weakness had passed, and the
light of resolution shone in the little woman's eye.
Her nostrils were expanded ; her carriage was firm
and erect. He fejt it was no empty boast when she
asserted stoutly that she should go to a registry-office
on the morrow — ^nor was it ; she probably would do
as much as that. She was quite sincere. But the
prospect of employment was as the martyr's stake
or an arena full of lions, to her mind; and, after the

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oflSce had been visited, the decision of her manner
would perceptibly decrease, and the heroism in her
eye subside, until at last she trembled in a cold per-
spiration lest her relatives meant to take her at her

* It will be a small household if you go,' he said ;
*I suppose Caesar won't live at home after he
" comes out," and your sister and brother-in-law will
be left by themselves.'

Miss Wix snifiPed.

* When he " comes out." *

* Yes ; he seems to have been rather a long while
doing it,' answered Kent. * But there can't be any
doubt about it this time; the agreement for the
spring is drawn up, and signed, I hear.*

They were passing a lamp-post. Miss Wix's
mouth was the size of a sixpence, and her eyebrows
had entirely disappeared under her bonnet.

*It always is,' she said. *The agreements are
always drawn up, and signed, and written in invisi-
ble ink. I don't seem to remember the time when
that young man woBnH coming out " next spring,"
and I knew him in his cradle. He was an affected
horror then.'

Kent laughed to himself in walking home ; he
had suspected the accuracy of the proud parents*
statements before, just as he suspected when he had
been invited to meet an operatic celebrity at dinner
at The Hawthorns, who sent the telegram of excuse
which was shown him to explain the non-arrival of
the star. He wondered how much the Walfords'

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foolishness and his pupil's vanity had been worth to
the Italian singing-master, who gesticulated about
the drawing and foretold such triumphs.

When he reentered No. 64, he was relieved to find
the company quite cheerful again ; they even seemed
to be in high spirits, and the cause was promptly
ascertained. Cynthia pointed radiantly to a letter
that was lying on the table.

' For you,' she cried, ' from " Cousins. " Read it
quickly; we're all dying of impatience, but I
wouldn't open it. How did you leave Aunt
Emily ? '

* She is going to bed,' he said, tearing the envelope

His heart had leapt, and he only trusted he was
not destined to be damped by the suggested price.
The others sat eagerly regarding him, waiting for
him to speak. Cynthia tried to guess the amount
by his expression.

' Well,' said Mrs. Walford at last— ^ well ? What
do they say?'

Kent put the note down slowly with a face from
which all the color had gone. His lips shook, and
his voice was not under control as he answered.

♦They haven't accepted it,' he said huskily ; *they
are returning it to me. They don't think it's good.'

* What ? ' she ejaculated.

* Oh, Humphrey I ' she heard Cynthia gasp ; and
then there was some seconds in which he was con-
scious that everyone was staring at him, and would
have given a five-pound note to be in the room alone.

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That Messrs. Cousins might refuse the book after
such reviews as had been written upon his last was
a calamity that he had never eontemplated, and he
felt absolutely paralyzed and speechless. When he
had been despondent he had imagined the publishers
proposing to pay a couple of hundred pounds for it ;
when he had been gloomier still, he had fancied the
sum would be a hundred and fifty ; in moments of
profound depression he had even groaned, * I shan't
obtain a shilling more for it than I did for the other
one.' But to be rejected, * declined with thanks,'
was a shock for which he was totally unprepared. It
almost dazed him.

*What do you mean?' demanded Sam Walford,
breaking the silence angrily. *Not accepting it?
But — ^but — ^this is a fine sort of thing I It takes you
a year to write, and then they don't accept it. A
dam good business you're in, upon my word ! '

* Hush, Sam I ' said Mrs. Walford, * What do they
say? what reason do they give? Let me look.'

Kent handed her the letter mutely, his wife watch-
ing him with startled, compassionate eyes, and she
read it aloud :


* ** We are obliged for the kind offer of your
MS., to which our most careful consideration has been
given." '

(* Been better if they'd considered it a little less,*
remarked Walford.)

* " We regret to say, however, that, in view of our

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reader's report, we are reluctantly forced to decide
that the construction of the story precludes any hope
of its succeeding. The faults seem inherent to the
story, and irremediable, and we are therefore return-
ing the MS. to you to-day, with our compliments and

* Ha, ha I ' said Kent wildly ; * they return it with
their compliments I '

^ I don't see anything to laugh at,' said his mother-
in-law with temper ; ^ I call it dreadful I Anything
but funny, I'm sure.'

* Do you think so ? ' he said. * J call it very funny.
There's a touch of humor about their ^^ compliments "
that would be hard to beat.'

* Ah,' said Walford disagreeably, *your mother-in-
law's sense of humor isn't so keen and ^^ literary " as
yours. She only sees that your year's work isn't
worth a tinker's curse ! *

* Papa I ' murmured Cynthia, wincing.
Kent's mouth closed viciously.

* Against your judgment on such a matter, sir,' he
said, ^ of course there can be no appeal.'

*It ain't my judgment,' answered Walford; *it'8
your own publishers'. It's no good putting on the
sarcastic, my boy. Here ' — he caught up the letter
as he spoke, and slapped it — * here you've got the
opinion of a practical man, and he tells you the
thing's valueless. There's no getting away from

^ And I say the thing's strong, sound work,' ex-

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claimed Kent, ^ and the reader's an ass ! Oh, what's
the use of arguing with you I You see it rejected,
and so to you it's rubbish ; and when you see it paid
for, to you it will be very good. I want some whisky
—has " Aunt Emily " drunk it all ? ' He helped him-
self liberally, and invited his father-in-law to follow
his example. Walford shook his head with a grunt.
* You won't have a drink ? I will; I want to return
thanks for Messrs. Cousins' compliments. It's very
flattering to receive compliments from one's pub-
lishers. I'm afraid you none of you appreciate
it as much as you ought. We are having a very jolly
evening, aren't we, with hysterics and rejections?
And whisky's good for both. Well, sir, what have
you got to say next? *

* I think we'll say " good-night," said Mrs. Walford
coldly ; * I will be round in the morning, Cynthia.
Come, Sam, it's past ten.*

She rose, and put on her cape, Kent assisting her.
The stock-jobber took leave of him with a scowl;
and when the last adieu had been exchanged, Cynthia
and the unfortunate author stood on the hearth vis4-
vis. The girl was relieved that her parents were
gone. The atmosphere had been electric, and made
her nervous of what might happen next. She had
been looking forward, besides, to consoling him when
the door closed — ^to his lying in her arms under her
kisses, while she smoothed away his mortification.
She could enter into his mood to-night better than
she had entered into any of them yet, and she ached
with pity for him. To turn to his wife on any mat-

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ters connected with his work, however, never entered
his head any more, so that when she murmured dep-
recatingly, * Papa didn't mean anything by what he
said, darling, I know; you mustn't be vexed with
him,' all he did was to reply, * Oh, he hasn't made an
enemy for life, my dear! If you are going up to
your room now, I think I'll take a stroll.'

She said, * Do, and — and cheer up ; ' but her heart
sank miserably. He dropped a kiss on her cheek
with a response as feeble as her own, and went out.
A woman may have little comprehension of her hus-
band's work, and yet feel the tenderest sympathies
for disappointments that it brings him, but of this
platitude the novelist had shown himself ignorant.

Cynthia did not go up to her room at once. She
sat down beside the dying fire and ruminated. She
asked herself — ^in the hour in which she had come
mentally nearest to him — ^if, after all, Humphrey
and she were united so closely as she had supposed.

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SwE loved him. When they married, perhaps
neither had literally loved the other, but the girl had
aroused much stronger feelings in the man than the
man had wakened in the girl ; to-day the position

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Online LibraryLeonard MerrickCynthia, a daughter of the Philistines → online text (page 7 of 18)